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Alien Explosions (Zerconian Warriors Book 12) by Sadie Carter (1)

Chapter One

 

“What do you think you are doing? You will get down from there! Now!”

Oh shit. Busted.

Saffron glanced down at a clearly furious Moroco. The glare he aimed her way was hot enough to melt the polar ice-caps.

The ones that were still left, anyway. Climate change had taken care of most of them back on Earth and Zerconia was too hot for any ice or snow. Why was she thinking about this when she had an angry Zerconian scowling at her?

Because she had an angry Zerconian scowling at her and as usual when he was around, her body wavered between wanting to kick him or kiss him.

Both choices would be a bad idea.

“You know you’re supposed to knock before you enter someone’s house, right?” she snapped, figuring her best defense was a good offense.

“Why would I knock?”

Patience, Saffron. Patience.

“Because it’s polite? Because you can’t just barge on into another person’s place? What if I’d been dancing around naked?”

His eyes widened.

Okay, that probably wasn’t the best example to use.

“Do you do that?”

“What? Walk into people’s houses? No, I knock.”

“Dance around naked.”

Yeah, she knew that was what he’d meant, but she’d been hoping he’d get the hint and drop the subject. Grabbing hold of the top of the chair she’d been standing on, she climbed down. As soon as she was safely down, he moved back, as though afraid she’d brush against him.

Anyone would think she had some horrible disease. It was kind of hard not to be insulted by how much he obviously didn’t want to touch her.

“What are you doing here, Moroco?”

“The skinny girl who talks too much was leaving as I walked up to the door. She allowed me entrance.”

“The skinny girl’s name is Ashley. Ash-lee.”

He waved that off impatiently as he placed his bag on the coffee table.

“What were you doing on that chair?”

Crap. What could she tell him? Not the truth.

“Dusting the ceiling.”

He gazed up, clearly in disbelief. Considering the ceilings were at least ten feet high, it was pretty safe to say she hadn’t really been about to clean them.

Besides, who the hell cleaned ceilings?

“You had no cleaning supplies.”

“Just checking to see if I could reach. I can’t. I repeat, what are you doing here?”

He frowned, his face darkening.

“Jesus, who stole your sunshine this morning?”

“Stole my sunshine?”

“It’s a saying. It means you’re grumpy. You have a face like a thundercloud.”

“And you think I have no good reason to be angry? You did not to come to your scheduled appointment this morning, meaning I have had to rearrange my day to visit you. Is such rudeness typical of all humans or just you?”

She ground her teeth together.

“And when I arrive here, you are standing on a chair. Something you have been forbidden to do.”

“I wasn’t forbidden to stand on chairs,” she snapped, scowling at him. “And I don’t like the word forbidden.”

He shook his head. “This is my fault.”

“That I’m now angry at you? Yes, it is.” Arrogant, know-it-all, thinks-he’s-better-than-everyone-else doctor. Honestly. “Don’t they teach you bedside manners when you are training to be a doctor?”

“Why would they do that?”

“So that you could reassure your patients that everything will be okay?”

“Warriors do not need reassurance.”

“But you don’t just deal with warriors, right? Shouldn’t doctors have some level of patience?”

“I am patient.”

“Uh-huh,” she replied skeptically.

“I have far more patience now than I did previously.”

Jesus. That was a scary thought.

“You were told not to do anything strenuous while recovering from being shot. I did not realize I had to supply a list of things that you could and could not do. Obviously, it was a mistake on my behalf to think that you would have the intelligence to know that climbing onto a chair, from which you could easily fall and hurt yourself, was a foolish idea!”

“Are you calling me stupid?” She stepped closer to him, feeling ridiculously triumphant when he took another step back. She knew he wasn’t actually scared of her; he just had this dislike of touching her. Except to examine her. And then, he always put on gloves.

It might be a little insulting if she cared what he thought of her. Which she most certainly did not. She was the first to admit she wasn’t a people person. She didn’t have much time for anyone other than her sister, Sophie.

Moroco gave her a condescending look before reaching into his bag to grab a pair of gloves. They weren’t like the latex ones used back home. These sort of molded themselves onto his hands until you couldn’t even see them. And there wasn’t any of that gross smell or feeling that latex had.

“Not stupid. Just lacking the same intellect that other races have.”

Right, so stupid. “Races like yours, you mean?”

“Exactly. Sit on the sofa. I will examine your wound.”

“I don’t have a wound. It’s completely healed.” A few weeks ago, Sophie’s ex-boyfriend Maxwell had shot her before he’d attempted to force Sophie to leave with him. “Your medical machine fixed me all up. Which is why I didn’t need to come to my appointment this morning. I explained all this to your yes-man.”

“Yes man?”

“Aston. ‘Yes sir, no sir, how high would you like me to jump, sir’.” She tried to imitate Aston’s deep rumble.

Did Moroco’s lips just twitch? Surely not.

“That shit would annoy the hell out of me, but I guess you probably like him kissing your ass.”

“I do not allow him to kiss my ass!” he boomed.

A gasping noise made them both turn and Saffron winced as she saw Ashley standing there. Not skinny, redhead Ashley, but blonde, short Ashley.

That’s right, she lived with two Ashley’s. And they were each as ditzy and shallow as the other one. This is why you shouldn’t piss off the person who assigned housing.

Blonde Ashley opened her mouth then closed it. She looked like a fish. Saffron barely managed not to tell her that. She had promised her sister to make some effort to get along with everyone. Sophie and Toriq had offered her a room at their place, but she’d refused. She was happy her sister was happy, but being constantly surrounded by all that mated bliss would make her break out in hives.

But she figured that promise didn’t extend to Moroco. As far as she could tell, no one got along well with the prickly healer. He had the ability to push her buttons quicker than anyone else she’d ever met—and she’d met her fair share of irritating people.

“Could you give us some privacy for a bit?” she asked blonde Ashley. “Moroco just came over to check my wound.”

“Sure. Sure.” She kept her gaze on Moroco as she stepped slowly away. As though he was a predator she was worried would pounce.

Finally, she disappeared and Saffron turned to Moroco.

“That was weird.”

He shrugged. “All of you humans seem odd to me. Now, sit. I shall check your wound.”

With a sigh, she sat.

“What is that?” Moroco asked, pointing at the tree branch beside her.

She sighed. “It’s a Christmas tree.” Sort of. It was the worst Christmas tree she’d ever seen. “The Ashleys insisted on having one.”

Personally, she didn’t think much of Christmas. They’d never had much growing up, so Christmas had really been just another day. And now, well, she didn’t see the point of celebrating. She’d hoped that being here on Zerconia meant she wouldn’t have to put up with all that Christmas bullshit.

No such luck.

The Empress had a thing for Christmas and had arranged a celebration dinner for everyone to attend. Saffron had gone for a few hours, not wanting to piss Zoey off, then snuck home. At least the madness was over for another year.

“Christmas,” Moroco muttered as she pulled her loose shirt up to reveal the slight scar. “Yet another human custom I do not understand.”

“Preaching to the converted there, buddy.”

“What?”

“Doesn’t matter.” She pointed at her shoulder. “See! All healed. It looks amazing considering it’s only been a few weeks. That regeneration machine is amazing.”

Too bad it couldn’t fix her back. Although, it hadn’t been too bad lately.

“It should not have scarred at all. If you had not lost so much blood or there had not been such a delay in getting you to treatment you would have completely healed. Luckily, our drugs are far superior to your human drugs.”

“Of course, they are.” Everything about humans was inferior in Moroco’s view.

Moroco frowned as he grew closer. “Then these visits would not be necessary.”

“Aw, but then I’d miss out on these lovely chats with you, you big charmer.” She stared down at the wound. “Getting shot sucks.”

“I have heard this word, ‘sucks’, it means bad?”

“Yeah, basically. If something sucks it’s not good.”

He gave her a look she couldn’t decipher. “Then the best idea would be not to get shot in the first place, would it not?”

Damn it. She hated when he talked to her like she was three years old.

“Well, of course it would be a good idea not to get shot in the first place. It’s not like I meant to get shot, you know.”

He made a grumbling noise under his breath then stood and pulled off his gloves. “You have healed well.”

“Then I guess growling at me about being up on that chair was unnecessary, huh?”

He glared at her. “You could still fall and hurt yourself.”

She sighed. “All right, what is it?”

“What is what?”

“What has got your knickers in a twist? You’ve been grumpy at me ever since I got shot, before that actually, so don’t try to say it’s just about me climbing a chair.”

“I do not wear underwear.”

“Huh?” What the heck?

“I do not wear underwear; therefore, they are not in a twist.”

“Right, of course you don’t.” Jesus, she didn’t need to know that. She wasn’t sure what it was about this guy. He was a prickly asshole, with little-to-no-manners and bossy as all hell and yet the thought that he didn’t wear underwear under those oh-so-tight leather pants was kind of…well…fascinating. Arousing.

What was wrong with her? What did she care if he went commando, wore tighty-whities or pink and purple striped bungee-smugglers?

“You are staring at me.”

“What?”

His gaze narrowed and she thought she saw a flash of amber. But that couldn’t be right. Zerconian eyes changed color with some strong emotions. Purple was happiness, red was anger, blue was sorrow, and amber was arousal. But the last thing Moroco felt towards her was arousal, right?

“You were staring down at my shaft. Were you trying to imagine what it looks like?”

She actually felt her jaw drop open and she stared at him in stupefaction.

Get it together, Saffron. Think of something witty to say. Something to hide the fact that staring was pretty much what you were doing.

“Was not.”

Yep, that was brilliant. Her wit and intellect were definitely on display today.

He raised one eyebrow. “It certainly looked that way to me. If you wish to see it, you only have to ask.”

“Wh-wh-wh…” Okay, things were rapidly spiraling out of control. Had she entered some weird alternate reality?

He tilted his head to one side. “Then again, perhaps I should make you beg?”

Beg? Was he serious?

“I am not begging!” Finally, she found her voice again. Funny, she’d never had that problem in the past. He’d done the impossible. He’d rendered her speechless.

“No?”

“No!”

“What a shame. I should like to see you beg.”

“I think you better leave.” She crossed her arms over her chest. So he could see she was serious. And to hide her hardening nipples.

From the way he stared at her chest, she thought she might have been too late. He picked up his bag.

“Yes, I believe it best that I leave now. I do not want you to think that I reward bad behavior.”

Reward bad behavior?

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You seem to have a propensity to go against orders given for your health and safety. These behaviors should be discouraged not rewarded.”

Was this guy for real?

He turned and walked out of the room.

“Wait. Hey, you can’t just walk away after saying something truly idiotic like that! Are you seriously trying to tell me that you’re punishing me? For what?”

Wait, that’s not what she’d meant to say. She should tell him that she wouldn’t be interested in him if he was the last guy left in the universe.

Only, that wasn’t true, was it?

“As if you have any right to punish me for anything! I’m not a child who needs someone to correct their behavior!”

He turned and she caught a flash of something out of the corner of her eye. It looked like blonde hair. Great. Just what she needed, an audience listening in.

“I am well aware that you are not a child.” He stepped towards her. She forced herself to stand her ground. She raised her chin and glared up at him, hoping he couldn’t tell that her heart was beating rapidly.

He loomed over her, not touching her but intimidating the hell out of her nonetheless. Saffron was used to being shorter than everyone else. But Moroco wasn’t just tall, he was huge. His shoulders were wide, his biceps bulged against the tight top he wore. A lot of warriors wore vests that left little to the imagination, but Moroco always wore tops that covered his chest and yet at the same time, made you itch to see what was underneath. The man was ripped. Huge. Gorgeous.

And a total prick.

“A child would have the good sense to listen to those who knew more than she did. A child would be more obedient. A child would learn from her mistakes.”

He did not just say that.

She opened her mouth and he leaned in closer. She hastily closed her mouth as his eyes flared red. Oh shit. He was really angry. And she was here alone with him. Well, one of the Ashley’s was here, but she hardly counted. Yet, she wasn’t as scared as she should be. She should be screaming for help or trying to run. Instead, she stood here, frozen, unable to believe the crap coming out of his mouth.

Why the hell wasn’t she more frightened of him? He could hurt her without even breaking a sweat.

“You continue to make foolish, stupid decisions that place your health and safety in danger.”

“For God’s sake, I was standing on a chair, not trying to climb some mountain or jump out of a plane. Will you get over yourself!”

“You left your house without an escort. Without my permission. As your minder, it was up to me to protect you and I failed because you could not follow a simple order for your safety. You were shot! You could have died!”

Okay, so it seemed he was still a bit pissy about all of that. He’d been assigned as her temporary minder a few weeks ago after Maria had been murdered. And yeah, she’d completely disregarded the order given to all women not to walk around unescorted. But she hadn’t been about to call him to ask permission to see her own sister.

“I am a grown woman. I don’t need a minder.”

“Obviously, you do since you ended up shot!”

All right, it was kind of hard to argue that, but still, she should give it a go.

“On Earth

“I do not care what happens on Earth!” he roared.

She rubbed at her ears. “Jesus, man, you need to learn to use your inside voice.”

“Here on Zerconia, you follow our rules. You follow my rules.” While he hadn’t stepped back, he did lower his voice.

“You aren’t my minder anymore. You aren’t in charge of me.”

He snorted. “Thank the stars for that.”

His relief kind of stung a little. She knew she was a pain in the butt. People didn’t tend to like her. She was short-tempered, she rarely thought before she spoke, and she wasn’t that interested in other people’s petty problems.

But for a moment there…she’d kind of thought he wanted her. After all, he had offered to show her his cock.

And she was betting that he had a magnificent cock.

“You need to learn caution, to think before you act, to obey those who are charged with your care.”

Okay, enough was enough. She was about to tell him where he could shove his opinions— forcefully—when a siren blasted through the room.

“What the hell is that?” she asked, startled.

Blonde Ashley ran into the room, giving up the pretense of hiding while she listened in on their conversation. And wasn’t that just great. Saffron just loved providing plenty of material for the gossip mill.

Moroco grew grim. Well, grimmer than usual. “It is an emergency siren. Both of you must stay inside. Place the house into lockdown mode. It will mean no one can enter or leave. Once the siren has been turned off, then you are safe to leave.”

“Lockdown mode? What’s that?” Ashley asked, her voice rising to a high pitch that was worse than the siren.

“Emergency siren?” Alarm filled her. “What’s going on?” Her first thought went to Sophie, and she moved towards the communicator at the door. Nothing happened. She turned back to Moroco, fear slicing through her. “I can’t get through to Sophie.”

Moroco shook his head. “All communications except through the emergency channel will be suspended.”

“But what about Sophie?”

He stared at her for a moment. “Toriq will take care of his mate.”

Yes, she supposed so, but just because Sophie no longer needed her didn’t mean she didn’t worry about her sister. She’d taken care of Sophie all her life; it was hard to turn that off.

Moroco pressed something on the communicator attached to a strap around his wrist.

“I will show you how to turn on lockdown mode,” he told her, turning towards the door.

“What? Where are you going? What is going on?” Ashley grabbed hold of his arm.

Saffron had to bite back a growl. The urge to snatch Ashley’s hand off his arm was almost impossible to control.

Holy shit, Saffron. Get yourself under control.

Obviously, she needed to get laid. It was the only explanation she could think of for this weird attraction to Moroco. She felt a surge of satisfaction as he shrugged off Ashley’s hand and gave her an irritated look.

“I am needed.” He brought up something on the communicator screen by the front door. “Press here after I have left and the house will go into lockdown.”

“What about Ashley?” Ashley said. “She’s out there alone. What if there is a psychopath running around murdering people? Or a wild pack of animals? She’s probably frightened. Anything could happen to her.”

Her concern might have been more believable if there hadn’t been a note of excitement in her voice.

“I have a headache.” Saffron rubbed at her temples.

“Once the house is in lockdown, the noise of the siren will quieten,” Moroco told her.

“It’s not the siren that’s the problem.” She glared at blonde Ashley who now had crocodile tears running down her face. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

Ashley turned to scowl at her. “Ashley is my friend! I’m worried about her. Everyone knows that you have no friends, so I guess you wouldn’t understand.”

She knew the other woman meant it as a dig but Saff didn’t care about her lack of friends. She had her sister.

Except now she had to share her with Toriq. And when Sophie needed something, she would go to him first, not Saffron. She didn’t need Saffron any longer. They would drift further and further apart until…

She was alone.

Ashley turned to Moroco. “You have to find her!”

He stared down at her in horror and took a step back. Saffron nearly smiled. Obviously, he was not a man who could cope with tears. Good to know. “I am certain she is fine. If I see her, I will direct her to safety.”

“But you can’t leave us here!”

“Oh, for God’s sake, you just told him to go rescue your BFF, how is he supposed to do that if he’s here?”

Moroco’s communicator buzzed and he looked down at it. “Sophie is fine. Toriq said she is at home.”

He’d asked after Sophie for her? That was actually kind of sweet. And totally unexpected.

“Thank you.”

“Enough talking. I must go.” He turned to her and pointed his finger. “Set the security on to lockdown mode and remain here. Do you understand me? You will stay here where it is safe. I will not be disobeyed in this, Saffron.”

And now he was back to being the jerk. She had a vision of biting that waggling finger. Damn, that would be satisfying. Instead, she gave him a disgruntled look. “Just go.”

“Wait.” Ashley reached for him again. That girl was just asking for a slapping. “You’re just leaving? Aren’t you supposed to take care of us?” Tears dripped down her face. Damn her for being an attractive crier. Saffron wasn’t. She got snotty, she hiccupped, her face grew blotchy and her nose went bright red.

Bat. Bat. Bat went Ashley’s eyelashes. She did have amazing eyelashes. Quite dark for someone who was supposedly blonde, but then Saffron had her doubts whether the carpet matched the drapes. Did women still have carpet nowadays? It was so long since Saffron had bothered to think about her personal grooming down there that she didn’t know.

Jesus, who cared? Wasn’t like she was going to get laid anytime soon.

“No.”

Saffron bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Moroco turned to Saffron. “Take a pain inhibitor if that headache continues and remain inside.” He left with another firm look aimed her way.

Saffron placed the house on lockdown mode. A loud beeping noise sounded, then all the windows closed, shutters coming across them. Lights flickered on throughout the room and thankfully, the siren noise did fade.

Blonde Ashley turned to her. “Why are you throwing yourself at him? Everyone knows you don’t want a mate.”

Wait, what?

“Me throw myself at Moroco?” She started laughing as she turned and walked into the kitchen. She needed a drink. She didn’t care that it was only eleven in the morning. She poured herself a glass of minca. It wasn’t as nice as sola, but her budget didn’t extend to sola. Actually, her budget didn’t extend to anything. If the Zerconians hadn’t been paying her living costs, she’d be homeless and hungry. It was a scary thought. She hated being reliant on anyone.

She’d come to Zerconia because it had been the easiest way of leaving Earth, and Maxwell, Sophie’s psycho ex.

But Maxwell was dead now. Sophie had a huge-ass warrior to take care of her every need. And Saffron had no real reason to stay here. She should leave on the next transporter heading for Earth. After all, she’d come here under false pretenses. She had no intention of becoming a mate to one of these Zerconian warriors. She never had. Of course, she hadn’t expected Sophie to mate with one of them either.

Could she really leave her sister? Her pregnant sister?

But how could she stay?

“I see the way you look at him. You’re brave to go after someone with his background, I’ll give you that.”

“God, are we still talking about this?” she asked, pretending to feign boredom as she stared at the contents inside the cooling unit. She wasn’t at all hungry. Her stomach was tied up into too many knots to even think about eating. The siren continued to blast outside. The fact that it was muted made it no less alarming. What was going on out there? Concern filled her. No doubt whatever it was, Moroco would be in the thick of it.

Not that she cared about him.

“Everybody knows you didn’t come here to find a mate,” Ashley stated, as though it was a terrible crime.

“Well, whoop-dee-do.” Saffron was really growing tired of the other woman. She shut the cooling unit’s door.

“You’re here mooching off the Zerconians when you have no intention of mating any of them. I’ve heard they’re getting ready to tell you to leave.”

They wouldn’t, would they? Even though she’d been just thinking about leaving, she felt a surge of alarm at the thought. No, of course they wouldn’t. She was Sophie’s sister. Toriq wouldn’t allow them to send her away. But what could he do if the Emperor ordered her to go?

“You know that fucking him doesn’t mean you get to stay, right?”

“What the hell are you talking about? I’m not going to fuck Moroco.” And if this cow kept this up then Saffron was going to teach her what happened to mouthy bitches in her neighborhood. Blonde Ashley practically cried when she broke a nail.

Saffron had grown up fighting. And fighting dirty. It really wouldn’t be a fair fight.

But she didn’t give a shit about fair.

“I get why you chose him. He’s got to be desperate for sex by now.”

Ashley gave her the once-over, making it clear that she pretty much thought he would have to be desperate to sleep with Saffron. For God’s sake, she wasn’t some ogre. With the right clothes and some make-up she could actually look presentable. She just wasn’t interested in dressing up for some man. They were way more trouble than they were worth. What did she need a man for? Sex? She had a vibrator if she got horny and it didn’t pester her for cuddles afterwards or want reassurance about how big it was and how it was the best.

Men. So needy.

“Are you implying that he would have to be desperate to have sex with me?”

“Yes.”

She laughed. She couldn’t help it. Even when red started to fill Ashley’s cheeks, which wasn’t a good look for someone with such pale skin. She wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Wow. You are such a bitch. I don’t want Moroco.”

Liar. Liar.

She turned away, ready to end this conversation by leaving.

“Did you know that he had a mate?”

She paused. It felt like a stab to her gut. He’d had a mate? Why hadn’t he said? Why had no one told her?

Ah, maybe because the only time he talks to you is to scold you or remind you how stupid you are. And why would anyone else tell you that? It’s not like you’re interested in him.

“None of my business.” She forced herself to keep moving to her bedroom even though she longed to press Ashley for details. What did she look like? What was her name? Where was she now?

“He killed her.”

All right. Even she couldn’t ignore that. She spun on her heels.

“He didn’t.” He was an asshole. Prickly as hell. Bossy. But she knew, deep down, that he wouldn’t have harmed someone in his care. Especially not a mate.

“Did he tell you that? And you believed him?” Ashley looked at her with fake-sympathy. Poor little Saffron, falling for the big, bad Zerconian’s lies. Saffron snorted to herself. She was nobody’s doormat.

“He hasn’t said anything to me.” Not about his mate and certainly not that he had killed her. “But he would never harm his mate.”

“That’s not what I heard. I heard he disobeyed the Emperor and took her off-planet. She never came back.”

“That doesn’t mean he killed her.” Saffron turned away again. This conversation was ridiculous.

“That’s not what her family thinks. They think he killed her. They wanted him put on trial. Instead, the Emperor sent him to the Academy.”

“Because the Emperor didn’t believe he killed her.”

“Because he’s a good healer and the Emperor didn’t want to lose his skills,” Ashley retorted.

“So he gets away with murdering someone because he’s a good healer? Does something seem a little off about that?”

Ashley just looked confused. Lord help her.

“Listen to me.” Saffron strode closer to the other woman, making her face grow cold. She knew a bit about intimidation tactics. She didn’t care what this woman thought of her, but spreading lies about Moroco was not something she could just stand by and let happen. “You’re going to stop spreading lies about him, you understand me? Bad enough the poor man lost his mate but now he has people spreading rumors that he killed her? If I hear you saying that he killed her again I’m going to rearrange that oh-so-perky nose for you.”

It was a bluff. But when Ashley paled and took a step back she knew it had worked.

“You can’t threaten me!”

“Wasn’t a threat, sweetheart. It was a promise.” Oh dear, this was almost too easy. Then Ashley’s eyes filled with tears. And this time she thought they were real tears.

Wonderful.

“It’s okay for you, your sister is mated to one of them. You’re not going to be forced onto that transporter in a few weeks to head back to hell.” Because of all the excitement around here lately, the transporter headed back to Earth had been delayed several times and was now scheduled to leave mid-January.

“I thought you said they were getting ready to ask me to leave.”

“That was a lie and you know it.”

Actually, she hadn’t known it.

“He was my last hope until I heard he’d already been mated.”

“What? Moroco was your last hope? You and Moroco?” She bit down on her lip to hold back a laugh. It was just so ridiculous. But the miserable look on Ashley’s face stopped her.

She was serious.

“You thought you and Moroco were a good match?”

“We don’t have to be a good match, do we? Just a match. If I have a mate I can stay. I don’t have to return to Earth.”

“There are hundreds of other warriors.”

“And none of them are my mate.” Ashley frowned. “I felt sure one of them would be. But I touched them all. Nothing.”

Seriously? She’d touched them all?

“Well, that’s…um…dedication.” Very weird dedication. Actually, it was kind of creepy.

“I’ve been trying to think of a way to get him to touch me. Today is the closest I’ve ever gotten to him. I thought maybe I should injure myself. Like you did. Then he’d have to touch me.”

“Wait a darn minute.” She held up her hand. “First of all, I did not injure myself. I was shot. Second of all, were you seriously considering injuring yourself just so he’d touch you? That’s-that’s—”

What to say that wouldn’t sound insulting. Idiotic? No. Ridiculous? No. Absolutely fucking insane? Hmm, tempting but perhaps not.

“Really not a good idea,” she finished lamely.

“I know that now. He’s already had a mate. Apparently, he’s one of the few Zerconians to survive losing their mate. But if he’s not my mate that means none of them are.” A look filled the other woman’s eyes. Something desperate. And real.

Oh, shit. The last thing she wanted was to feel sorry for this woman. She was self-centered, shallow, and an idiot. But there was some reason why she was desperate to find a mate.

Saffron sat on one of the stools at the kitchen bench. The siren continued on and she didn’t want to think about what that meant. Surely, they weren’t under attack. Wouldn’t someone have come to warn them? Not knowing what was going on was really killing her.

But hey, she had a distraction now. Trying to figure out why blonde Ashley was so desperate for a mate.

“You don’t want to go home?”

Ashley let out a laugh that sounded all too sad and desperate. And real. For once, Saffron didn’t believe she was playing a part. “More like I can’t go home.”

“Why? You wanted for armed robbery or something?”

“What? No!” Ashley’s eyes widened and she took a step back. “Are you?”

“Jesus. It was a joke. And no, I’m not wanted for armed robbery.” Why was she trying to talk to this woman?

“I can’t go back because my family disowned me.”

“They disowned you? Why?” And she did realize this wasn’t the nineteenth century, right? She wasn’t suddenly a social pariah because her family gave her the boot.

“Because I got pregnant.”

She looked down at her the other woman’s very flat and toned stomach. Saffron tried to accept herself for who she was, flabby stomach and all. Sometimes she still had flashes of envy, though. All her life, she’d heard about how beautiful Sophie was, how lovely. She got it. She was round, pudgy, her nose was too big, her mouth was too wide and her boobs were definitely more than a handful. Sometimes it had been hard not to resent Sophie for getting all the good genes. But Sophie was so genuinely nice it was hard to hold a grudge against her for long.

“Um, so where is the baby?”

“It was a false positive.”

Alright then. “So, why did they kick you out?”

Ashley gave her a look of disbelief. “Because I told them I was pregnant. That I’d been sleeping with Denny Dennison.”

“Awesome name.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.” What sort of backward family did this woman come from? “Look, I’m sure it really hurt having your family reject you when you probably needed them most. But you know what, screw them.”

“What?”

“Come on, if they’re going to kick you out when you’re pregnant then they’re obviously not much of a family.”

“My dad is mayor of our town. We have a nice house, lots of money, social status. That all went away when they kicked me out.”

Saffron rubbed her head. “So, you go back and you make something of yourself and you show them that you don’t need them and they’re the losers for rejecting you.”

The other woman looked thoughtful. She tapped her chin. “You know, you’re right. I jumped on this transporter because I was broke and scared. But I could just as easily find a guy to take care of me back home as I can here. A rich guy. I mean, look at me. What man wouldn’t be thankful to have me on his arm?”

“Um, that’s not what I—”

“Thanks, Saffron. You know, I always thought you were a real bitch. Ashley and I begged not to have to room with you. But you’ve turned out to be okay. I’m going to go research some possibilities. I’ll get some money from my trip here from the government when I get home. I’ll use that to live on while I find myself a man. Yeah, that’ll work. Better than mating with Doctor Death anyway.” She shuddered. “I can’t believe I was actually considering sleeping with him. What a relief I don’t have to.”

Yes, Saffron figured he’d feel the same way if he knew.