Authors: Scarlett Grove,Juno Wells
Lexi sat at her desk and wrote out a list of every possible variable involved in her situation. No matter how she arranged her lists, there seemed to be no way out. Her father’s debt, Mario’s threats, Melody’s innocence, five hundred thousand dollars. It all seemed to line up. The only solution was for her to go and sacrifice herself to the dragon that would be her husband.
Lexi had never even wanted a husband. It hadn’t been something that crossed her mind in years. She’d been focused on pushing herself to do as well as possible in school. The only things she had ever thought of were getting out of the ghetto, protecting her sister, and making a better life for both of them.
Now, none of that seemed to matter. All those years of hard work and struggle, for what? To be served up to an alien male, who would do God knows what with her? It all just seemed so surreal.
She ripped the piece of paper from her pad, wadded it up, and threw it in the wastepaper basket. Today was the day she was supposed to meet the man the Draconian computers had chosen for her. She didn’t know who he was. She hadn’t been given any photographs or names. All she knew was that her online profile now had a big red slash through it that read, ‘Mated’.
From what she understood from the website, that meant that the computers had found her a match. A Draconian and Lexi had all of the right genetic markers. The Draconians called that ‘fate’. They believed that whichever female was genetically matched with them by the computers, was their destined mate.
Even if Lexi believed in something metaphysical like soulmates, which all the old Hollywood movies seemed to advocate, she couldn’t bring herself to believe that a computer could find you one. Still, this was the Draconian way of doing things. Nothing they did seemed to make any sense.
She pushed her thick glasses up the bridge of her nose, and with a deep sigh, opened the door of her bedroom. She was dressed in her best outfit—a pair of jeans that weren’t faded yet, the tennis shoes that didn’t have any holes in the bottoms, and a trendy suit jacket that she’d recently purchased from the thrift store.
Out in the living room, her father and sister were dressed equally well. They would be escorting her to the Draconian base in downtown Seattle. Butterflies smashed against the insides of her stomach. They seemed to be made of iron, and were fighting each other to the death. She wanted to throw up, but instead she smiled and showed a strong face for her little sister.
There were still several days left before Mario’s deadline. Her father would have the money from her dowry deposited directly into his bank account. After that, it was his responsibility.
She hoped that this time he would actually do what was right—pay off his debts, get off the drugs, and use all of his computer technology to make an actual living that he could use to support Melody as long as she needed.
“You look nice, Lexi,” Melody said, in her sweet voice.
Her father had taken a break from his computer to ride downtown with her, and give her away to her new husband.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Lexi said. She had resolved herself to a lifetime of misery at the hands of an evil race of men who were bent on destroying her people and taking all of their women.
She picked up her bag and hurried out the front door without a word, leaving all of her schoolbooks and education behind. She stood in front of the bus stop down the street from her house, without saying anything to her father or her sister. She wasn’t angry at Melody. She was very sad that she would probably never see her sister again. But, Lexi couldn’t speak. She was too overcome with raw emotion, and didn’t want anyone to see it bubble through to the surface.
Some of the thugs she’d seen on the street a few days before, shooting at the Dragon, were back on the street corner again. They hooted at her from across the street and slowly made their way toward her, holding up their baggy pants as they walked.
“We heard you were gonna marry one of those dragon bastards,” one of them said, posturing above Lexi. She didn’t have one of her smart responses right now. She didn’t have any response whatsoever. A tear clung to the corner of her eye and she turned away, blinking it back. She didn’t want to let these assholes see her cry.
“Go away, hoodlums,” her father said.
Too little too late, Dad,
she thought. He
start to become protective just when she was about to go spend the rest of her life on a spaceship.
“Have fun taking that dragon dick,” the second one said, as they laughed and jogged back across the street to their corner. Lexi let out a rage-filled groan just as the bus pulled up in front of them.
Not a moment too soon.
She was about to flip out and totally lose it. She’d go down in a blaze of gunfire and glory, and there would be nothing left for the Draconian to take from her. But instead, she stepped onto the bus, found a seat near the back with her sister and father, and watched her neighborhood slide past as the bus drove away.
About a half an hour later, they filed off the bus into downtown Seattle, where the new Draconian consulate was located. It was a domed building with flags flying all around. One of these domed buildings had been built in every major city on Earth, as a gateway between the Draconians and the human women they craved.
The sight of it made Lexi want to faint. Usually an extremely emotionally tough person, Lexi was overcome with fear and anxiety. She’d never felt so vulnerable in her entire life. The only other time that she had felt this level of intense emotion was when her mother passed away from cancer, just before the Draconians arrived.
Standing at the bottom of the stairs that led to the Draconian consulate, Lexi felt that her heart would jump out of her chest and her brain would explode inside her head. She couldn’t breathe. Her limbs were numb, and her head was dizzy. Melody took her hand and helped her climb the stairs, her father’s hand pressed into the small of her back, pushing her up toward the front door.
The doors slid open and they walked inside. The vast domed room held a single desk, with a Draconian male sitting behind it.
“I’m Lexi Garcia,” she said, her voice hoarse and quiet.
“What’s that?” the man behind the desk asked her. He had the beautiful, sharp features, and the extraordinary height of all Draconians. His skin glistened with the undertone of forest green, and the hint of his sharp, canine teeth showed below his lips.
“This is Lexi Garcia. She entered the mating lottery and has been mated,” her father said, pushing her up toward the desk.
The man looked down at his computer screen, typed into a keyboard, and then looked back up at her. “Yes, I have you here. You’ve been mated with—Oh, you’ve been mated with the Commander. Lucky you,” he said.
. That was rich. Lexi saw herself as anything but lucky. Cursed maybe. Lucky? Never.
“How does this work, now?” her father asked.
“You say your goodbyes. The bride will be taken into the back, where she will be prepared to board the transport vessel to the Commander’s ship. The Commander has an exceptional lifestyle among the Draconians.”
“You hear that, Lexi? You’ve been matched with the Commander. He’s rich!”
“Great,” Lexi managed through clenched teeth.
“So, when will I get the dowry?” her father asked. Lexi narrowed her eyes at him.
,” Melody whined. “Can we just talk about the money later? Now is the time to say goodbye to Lexi. We may never see her again.”
Melody threw her arms around Lexi, and hugged her tightly. “I’m going to miss you, sis,” she said, tears dripping from her eyes.
“As a matter of fact, after the Commander claims Lexi as his bride, she is allowed to return to Earth to visit. But until the groom properly claims the bride, she must remain aboard the ship. There are no exceptions. No visitors. I hope you will understand.”
“So, she can come visit us?” Melody asked.
“Yes, I don’t see why not. The Draconian armada is scheduled to be here for the next ten Earth years. During that time, the brides may continue to spend time with their families on the surface of the planet. Are you prepared?” he asked Lexi.
Lexi was anything but prepared. She wanted to run screaming from the building, as if she was being threatened by a psycho murderer. Every cell in her body was telling her to run as fast as she could away from this. But, she was trapped. She had to help her family, and this was the only way possible.
She would rather be a dragon’s bride, than let her sister be taken into prostitution by a man like Mario. That was never going to happen. Instead, Lexi was being sold into a fate perhaps worse than being sold into Mario’s brothels.
She took a deep breath and nodded her head in the affirmative. She still couldn’t talk. It was all too much for her. For a girl who was seldom tongue-tied and always had a smart comment, this was out of character. It was one of the most desperate moments of her life—it didn’t even feel real.
“Well, say goodbye, and let’s get going,” the man said from behind the desk.
Melody hugged her again, and after she released her, her father hugged her. Lexi accepted the embrace grudgingly, cringing at her disloyal father’s touch.
“Follow me, Lexi Garcia. The transport vessel is waiting.”
She followed the Draconian through the vast, open dome, turning one last time to wave goodbye to her family before stepping through the back door. Where they emerged was a narrow hallway with computer screens across an entire wall. The Draconian started pressing and flicking at the screens, until one of the walls slid open with a whoosh.
“This is the transport vessel,” he said, pointing to the open door. “You will enter and wait. The doors will slide closed. You will sit in your seat and safety restraints will cover your body. You will feel the rush into space. Do not be alarmed. When the doors slide open again, you will enter the starship, and be greeted by your new mate. Do you understand?”
Lexi bit her lip at the lecture and nodded her head. “I need your verbal confirmation,” the man said, moving toward the open door
“I understand.” Lexi’s voice came out quivering and hoarse. She didn’t even recognize it. She cleared her throat, trying to get rid of the sound of the scared little girl hiding in the pit of her chest.
She passed through the sliding door, and inspected the vessel within. There was one seat. The Draconian watched her sit down, and then the safety restraints automatically strapped over her body. The butterflies in her stomach had become more like charging elephants. Her stomach threatened to empty itself again, but she gulped it back down. She gripped the armrests of the chair, trying to give herself strength.
“You’re ready for takeoff,” the man said, stepping outside the door.
The sliding doors shut behind him, and Lexi was alone in the small craft. She felt the room began to vibrate and she gasped, crushing her eyes closed. Even though she wasn’t religious, she prayed anyway.
The vessel suddenly shot up into the air, slamming her down into the seat. She gasped, but she could barely bring air into her lungs. It was as if she was on the fastest roller coaster that ever existed in the history of the world, taking off into outer space.
There were no windows in the vessel, and she couldn’t see how far she had risen. Only a few moments later the violent thrust subsided. She was sailing smoothly through what she assumed was outer space. The vessel stilled as quickly as it had started, and the doors abruptly slid open. The safety restraints pulled away from her as she stared out the sliding door.
No one was there. No one had come to meet her. Perhaps, it had all been a mistake. Perhaps she hadn’t been mated with a Draconian, and she could go home. She stood up from her seat, still shaking from a mixture of anxiety and fear, and the aftermath of the trip through space.
She peeked out the door, slowly taking in her surroundings. She was in a quiet transport bay, full of other small craft like the one she rode in.
“Hello?” Her voice echoed throughout the vast room.
“It’s you,” a deep, masculine voice rumbled from behind her. She swung around, expecting to find a monster. Instead, she found the man she’d seen on television—the one who’d made her tingle between her legs. She let out a gasping moan under her breath, as surprise and arousal overtook her.
Commander Nash Or of the Draconian Navy strode toward her across the transport bay. His impossibly broad shoulders and seven-foot tall form seemed to fill the massive room. As he approached, she could see the curves and dips of his musculature under the skintight uniform he wore. It showed every contour of his body, including what he was packing below the waist.
When her eyes grazed over that part of him, her mouth dropped open and her eyes grew wide.
He arrived next to her suddenly, grasping her in his arms. She had expected a dragon to be cold to the touch, but instead she found him hot. The warmth of his body radiated through the skintight suit, and warmed her chilled skin.
The scent of him was strong and overpowering. He smelled of something astringent, like pine with an undertone of deep, masculine musk that made her instantly weak in the knees. She let out a deep breath as he held her tight to his chest. At five foot three, she barely reached the 7-foot tall man’s pectoral muscles.