Authors: Zoe York
hen Aldric Gunter
shows up and offers Navena Johnson an easy way off the prison planet she’s stuck on, the answer should be an easy yes. But when the next thing she needs to say is “I do”, the choice gets more complicated, because the Viking warrior wants a high price for the marriage of convenience—he wants her heart.
y fictional planet
of Midgard is a long way from the small towns I usually set my romances in, but who doesn’t like a sexy Viking space romp? I first wrote in this world last year, in
A Viking’s Peace
, and was thrilled to return with
A Viking’s Bride
. Book 3,
A Viking’s Need,
will be out later this year. Each story is a standalone romance.
ll of my
stories share a common theme of second chances, and if you like this one, I encourage you to check out my other series. If you join
my mailing list
, you’ll hear about all my new releases, including opportunities to read my latest story before it’s released for sale.
ldric Gunter hefted
his sword in the air and grinned at his opponent. “I’m starting to think you like losing to me.”
“Hardly,” Sergeant Navena Johnson said with a coy smile before she sliced her own blade toward him with disturbing speed. “On the other hand, I very much enjoy lulling you into a false sense of macho security before taking—”
He twisted his hand in time to block her return swipe, lower than she’d been going before. It didn’t matter. She kept going, spinning all the way around.
Showing her back to the enemy was a mistake.
But Aldric wasn’t Navena’s enemy, not even when sparring. He waited for her, and that was his greatest weakness—on more levels than just a friendly clash of steel.
When she struck again, she threw herself in the air, her blade coming down at him instead of across his body, and he lost his balance as she crashed into him.
Together, they tumbled to the ground, and when the dust settled, Aldric was on his back and Navena was straddling him, her sword resting casually across his exposed neck.
“Taking what I want,” she whispered triumphantly, her black hair swirling around her beautiful face.
He almost did the same. Almost pulled her mouth to his and plundered between her lips with his tongue. Almost allowed himself to finally take what
wanted more than anything else in the universe.
But then she winked at him and leapt off, sheathing her sword in the scabbard hanging from her belt in a single, fluid motion that broke whatever moment he’d imagined they could have had.
He shoved to his feet and held out his hand. “You’re getting better,” he admitted gruffly as they shared a firm handshake.
It had been almost a year since he’d first taught her how to hold a sword. What to watch for in an opponent’s stance. Almost a year since she’d wiggled those hips against his as he showed her the correct way to swing her arms, since he’d breathed in the scent of her hair.
A year since he’d fallen head over heels in love with a woman who only stopped by when she was in the quadrant, which was every few months if he was lucky.
This was their third visit. She was here for a single day.
It would feel like a lifetime, though, as he buried the truth of his feelings—keeping how he felt from her because it was easier that way.
He cleared his throat and busied himself re-braiding his hair with the leather strap that had come loose in their battle. “You’ve been working on your technique.”
She nodded, her cheeks flushing. He might be imagining the small play of a smile at the corner of her delicate mouth, but the rosy-pink telltale sign of pride couldn’t be a figment of his lust-addled brain. “It’s become my go-to workout. Plus it comes with the added bonus of terrifying my troops.”
“I bet.” He chuckled under his breath as they fell into an easy silence. It was a short walk to Reinn and Ashleigh’s farmhouse from where they’d been sparring in the stable yard. It would be easy to think that Navena walked as slowly as he did for the same reasons, but this woman flew in and out of his life with ease. If she’d dialled back her usual double-time pace to a leisurely stroll, it was to be polite and nothing more.
“Are you staying for dinner?” she asked, sliding him a glance.
Don’t read anything into
. “I was planning to, yes.”
“Good. I have a close combat training plan that I’m re-jigging and I’d love to run it past you. The new troops we’re getting are strictly trained for peacekeeping, and they’re useless. We have a lot of time on transport ships and I figure…might as well make the most of it.”
Ah. He nodded and fixed his gaze on the farmhouse ahead. “Of course. Anything I can do to help.”
He felt her hand before it settled on the bare skin of his forearm. The heat of her palm made his skin sizzle and his balls draw tight to his body.
“Thank you,” she said softly. Navena never did soft. He jerked around to look at her, but he didn’t see in her face any of the heat he felt burning through his veins. Just kindness, which wasn’t something to resent. She tipped her head to the side and smiled. “I do appreciate it, you know.”
“I know.” He did. Even as his insides rubbed raw from wanting something different, he knew that when she stopped by his planet, it wasn’t just to see Ashleigh, her former commander. Navena sought him out, because she wanted to see him.
So what if it wasn’t the same way he wanted to see her? Naked and panting, writhing because of his touch. Bare and exposed—just for him.
But she was a career FedNat soldier. Loyal to a world his ancestors had long left behind. They were both human, and they both liked being able to best an opponent whenever needed. And that was where their commonalities ended.
His dumb luck to let himself get hooked on her.
At least he had the fact that she thought of him as a good friend.
“I wish we had more time…” she trailed off, and he was glad for it. Either way, he didn’t want to hear her finish that sentence. More time to explore his one-sided feelings? More time to try to see if she could feel the same? Or more time to painfully lock him down as just a friend? That last possibility might just kill him.
Not literally—at least he was pretty sure of that.
“Got lots to do myself,” he muttered, turning away from her bright eyes and parted lips. There lay a temptation he could not resist.
“What does Reinn have you doing these days?”
“Envoy stuff most of the time.” His boss and best friend was a new father, and both Reinn and Ashleigh stuck close to the farm, far from Midgard’s capital city, Ny København. There were some top-secret missions that took him off-planet, but he couldn’t let himself think about Navena during those trips. It wouldn’t do any good to think about the freedom that was almost at his fingertips, because the leash that let him fly through the stars wasn’t as long as it needed to be to go and find her.
And even if he did, she had a job to do.
A job that didn’t allow for a Viking mate.
“That’s vague,” she teased as she stopped just outside the kitchen door.
He lifted his shoulders and avoided her gaze. “That’s the job sometimes.”
“I guess that’s true. Speaking of which…I may not be around as much over the next year or so. You’re going to need to take care of our godson, okay?”
Blood roared through his head as he jerked his eyes to meet hers. “Why?”
She shrugged, echoing his own body language of a minute before. “That’s the job sometimes.”
He ground his teeth together, taking a beat before responding. “You’ve always been allowed leave when you get here.”
Wincing, she stepped back. Out of grabbing range? He wished he could haul her against his body and forbid her to leave. “My unit is being moved to another quadrant. We won’t be escorting the transports back and forth to Midgard any longer. But I’ll still come and visit on my annual leave.”
Aldric opened his mouth but any protest he could think of was inappropriate. Eventually he just nodded and yanked open the kitchen door. “Then I’ll see you in a year,” he said as she slid past him, wafting her unique scent of orange oil and warm leather under his nose. For a woman that lived in a FedNat uniform, she always smelled like a Viking bride.
Fucking wishful thinking
, his subconscious taunted him.
Now more than ever.
Once inside, Aldric let the door slam behind them, not caring if anyone noticed.
It was time to find a way to get over Navena Johnson.
rison planets were
the absolute worst.
Navena had been stuck on this one for nineteen days, and she was definitely over the grunge and the stink and the constant threat of sexual violence.
If the FedNat didn’t rescue her soon, she was going to have to escape, and that would cause an inter-galactic incident, which was always awkward. She’d give them two more days. Three weeks was really her limit for respecting diplomatic process.
At least the Hefderian jail wasn’t underground. Navena shuddered at the thought of being trapped below hundreds of feet of rock. On the other hand, the reason they were jailed on the surface was because, for the right price, any prisoner could be sold to an interested party.
She’d done her best to stay completely uninteresting since her arrival. Head down, take some hits, dole some out—not enough to threaten anyone, just enough to keep herself safe. And always be vigilant for an opportunity. So far, none had miraculously appeared.
As if fate had finally decided to smile upon her, the cell doors all rattled, a now-familiar warning echoing through the three-story building that the locks had just been lifted. Then with a metal scrape, the barrier between her and the other prisoners slid open. It wasn’t yet lunch time, so this was something new and different than the daily routine.
New and different might just mean an opportunity—for information, if not escape. Yet.
A couple more days, then she was finding a way off this green-sky hell hole.
She shoved off her cot and paced to the open cell door. The stench permeated everything, but it was worse in the open. Old sweat mingled with fresh, coppery blood and other odors she didn’t want to spend any time analyzing.
Didn’t want to, but she still did. After nearly three weeks of observing her fellow inmates, she knew who jerked off obsessively and who fucked anyone who moved. She cataloged the perverts and the sadists like any other combatant in war—even though she’d been on a peacekeeping mission, she was still a soldier. And fragile galactic peace or not, she’d fight for her freedom if it came to that. Until that point came, she’d store every bit of information that might be useful for if—no, when—it was time to leave.
The rest of her unit had been taken elsewhere, and so far, she hadn’t been able to glean where they were. She did know there were four other facilities in the compound, and each prisoner was tagged. So there
be a way of finding Captain Singh and Corporals Worst and Chin if she could get to a computer.
The building she was in, while filthy, was modern and secure. The Hefdarians seemed to be big fans of touch screen interfaces, the lazy bastards, so hopefully she’d be able to hack something. Like a hand off one of the guards, to bypass their fingerprint recognition.
That would make her happy.
After their transport ship had been bogusly detained by Hefdarian security forces, and she realized they were going to be held for trespassing into the solar system, she’d activated a secret sub-space signaling device that would send a distress message to her former commander. Ashleigh Tavistock-Ragnarson may now be a happily retired wife and mother on the Viking planet of Midgard, but she was also still totally badass. Navena had no doubt that if FedNat forces weren’t on their way to her right now, Ashleigh would be.
As soon as she could get into open space, she’d find her friend or hitch a ride with frankly anyone, and get the hell away from this place.
Doing her best to look completely bored, Navena lazily looked around the wide perimeter of the main room. Cells lined the space, and in each open doorway, other prisoners now stood just like her, watching with vague disinterest. But everyone was still watching, because being let out this early in the day meant
was rarely a good thing.
On the overhead speaker, an alien voice barked alien words. Her pulse no longer twitched into overdrive at the foreign sounds, because in about ten seconds, a speaker behind her would squeak to life, and an English translation would purr creepily in her ear.
Three, two, one… “Step out of the cells. All prisoners must move into the center of the room.”
Well, damn. That spiked her heart rate. This was new and different, and in her experience
were never good things. Head down just enough for her face to not be easily observed by the guards watching from above, she did as instructed. She found a space in the crowd between two bigger women, ignoring the damp stench rolling off the purple-skinned one. Better to be stinky than stand out in the crowd.
But hiding proved difficult when a high-powered spotlight was turned on the crowd, and when it lingered on Navena on a second pass, she started to get a sick feeling in her gut.
No, no, no.
After the world’s longest second, the spotlight moved on, and Navena tried not to react as three female prisoners—all of them vaguely fitting her description—were tranquilized by drones that whizzed out of nowhere. As the crowd grew restless, the speakers crackled to life again, a chaotic mess of noises as they were told to return to their cells in a dozen different languages.
She didn’t look back until she was safely in the shadows of her now-even-more-terrifying home, and when she did, she saw the three women being lifted into the air by mechanical arms.
Fuck two days. She had a new plan—get the fuck out of here as soon as humanly possible.
the yelling from outside as he approached the Ragnarson farmhouse. His boss’s fiery young wife was still adjusting to the ways of their people, so this wasn’t an unusual situation. As they were expecting him for dinner, he let himself in and quietly scooped up their toddler son, who waved a chicken drumstick at him and giggled as his parents faced off near the kitchen counter.
Aldric wasn’t stupid enough to try and save Reinn when the man faced certain death—figuratively speaking, of course. Because he kept talking! Even Aldric, who’d never been anywhere close to settling down, knew that when your wife got that look in her eye and started to
tell you something
, you shut up and listened.
He settled himself and little Soren at the long, worn table.
“What the hell do you mean, you forbid me from going?”
Ashleigh shook with anger as she sliced carrots and
, pausing every few menacing chops to point her knife at her husband.
The idiot didn’t get the hint. “It’s not safe. And you’re pregnant.”
“I am?” She blinked, wide-eyed with mock shock. “Tell me more about how the very normal physiological process of making your heirs renders me incapable of flying a personal space craft.”
Reinn’s nostrils flared and he stalked toward his wife, apparently undeterred by the blade pointed at his chest. He didn’t pause as he took the last step, his fingers wrapping around her wrist, flicking the knife onto the counter as he yanked her hard against his body. “It turns me into a possessive, protective man, my wife. That’s what I can tell you.”
“I’ll be fine. There’s been a mistake, and I just need to—”
Aldric snapped his head up at the growled command, panic straining out around the edges of the word. What the hell was going on? Decades of training kept him silent, observant, waiting for the right moment to offer his assistance.
Reinn’s knuckles turned white as he squeezed his wife closer to his body. “There’s more at stake here than you know, Ashleigh.”
She shoved him away. “Damn it, why do you insist on keeping me in the dark? I trusted you when I asked you to help. Don’t make me think that was a mistake.”
“If I tell you what I’ve found out, you’ll go racing into battle. As much as I admire that protective spark in your eye right now, it runs counter to my need to keep you safe.”
“Safe…fine, I appreciate that. Ignorant, no. Not acceptable.”
“That was never my intention.” He growled under his breath. “Of course we can work together to get her back. But you aren’t leaving this planet.”
“I’m surprised you’re not confining me to this farm,” she murmured, her voice softening to a point where Aldric started to feel embarrassed for being witness to their intimacy.
Reinn and Ashleigh—an Earthling who fell in love with the second son of Midgard’s king while visiting their planet on a diplomatic mission—had a different kind of relationship than Aldric was used to. Much more private, but when he saw moments like this, he knew that behind closed doors, they had the same Viking passion most of his contemporaries were happy to demonstrate in public.
“I would if I thought you’d stay put.” Reinn’s voice scratched on the last few words, worry rolling off him.
Ashleigh was undeterred. “She needs me, my Viking. I’ll be safe.”
Aldric sat up taller, all the muscles up his spine tensing as he clued in to what they were talking about. Who they were talking about. White hot rage pulsed through his veins and his hands shook as he set Soren down on the floor, then stood up to the full stretch of his six and a half foot height. “You are discussing Navena?”
Ashleigh glanced over her shoulder, then winced. Maybe the look on his face was frightening. Maybe he didn’t care.
“Where is she?”
“She was on a peacekeeping mission…” His boss’s wife trailed off as he loomed even larger. Intimidating a pregnant woman—this wasn’t his finest hour.
But it was Navena. A woman he couldn’t stop thinking about, even though he’d sworn he’d forget her. Of course, in the intervening months since her last visit, he’d realized that was impossible. He clenched his jaw. “I will go.”
“You can’t.” Ashleigh shook her head, her face twisting in misery. “Midgard can’t get involved in a dispute between Earth and Hefder. The King will never allow it.”
Aldric shot a hard look at Reinn. He was going, one way or another, but it would be good if he had the other man’s support. His boss—his best friend, for whom he’d been a loyal second for more than a decade, since they were teens and headed to university together—took his time in responding, because Reinn was a cautious man.
Even when a woman was in trouble.
Not just any woman.
No, Navena Johnson also had the misfortune of being Aldric’s mate.
She just didn’t know it yet.
He hadn’t realized it himself, either. Not until it was too late, and she’d been gone a while.
He’d meant to broach the subject the next time they were in the same solar system. Was prepared for her to laugh at him, because he had a lifetime to prove to her he wasn’t kidding.
Now the stakes had changed. And since she’d never shown any interest in him, she probably wouldn’t like that fact much when he eventually broke it to her, because he had a gut-feeling that he’d be using that fact to bust her out of whatever hell she’d fallen into.
He couldn’t wait any longer for Reinn to weigh in. “I won’t go as a Midgardian,” he said slowly, a plan forming in his mind.
“What are you going to do?” Ashleigh’s voice wavered between hopeful and worried.
“You just give me her coordinates. The less you know the better.”
Reinn swore under his breath. “Because that’s how all good plans start.”
“You have a better idea?” Aldric clenched his fists as he swivelled his head between Reinn and Ashleigh. Their silence spoke volumes. “Exactly. Now tell me why the FedNat haven’t rescued her already.”