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Amber Kell

Copyright 2013 by Amber Kell

Second Edition: 2017

Smashwords edition


Editor: Jason Bradley

Proofers: Beany Sparks, Cristina Manole

Cover design: Meredith Russell


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer-to-peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of US Copyright Law


Contents



Dedication

Dictionary


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten


Talan’s Treasure (Sample)

Author



When fate spins two lives into turmoil, rising above their issues may be the only way to find true love.

Prince Bleine always had female mates before. As a Thresl he’d never been given a choice. The animal within chose who it chose. However when his brother-in-law Kreslan mates Bleine to a man in order to save his life, Bleine quickly learns to adapt and that what he's always thought he wanted isn’t exactly what he needs.

Sarler left his home planet to escape their restrictive ways. Interested in pursuing his interest in men, he had been unsure how to start. When he is inadvertently bonded to Prince Bleine, he is struck by how little he understands about handsome princes or life at court.

Secrets and mysteries surround them. Can they discover everything about each other while keeping their enemies at bay? When Sarler is injured, he realises he has to take a chance if he ever hopes to find love with the prince of his dreams. Can he convince Bleine that he sincerely wants to give their relationship a try, or has he waited until it’s too late?

The Thresl Chronicles



Soldier Mine (Book #1)

Prince Claimed (Book #2)

Politician Won (Book #3)

Bonded Broken (Book #4)

Duke Betrayed (Book #5)

Saint Returns (Book #6)

Dedication



To my sci-fi fans who didn’t laugh when I created a species of futuristic cat people.


Dictionary



Nillre - home planet of the Thresls.


King-Mate - the bonded human of the Thresl king. He reincarnates and meets back up with the Thresl king every resurrection.


Thresl - species of cat shifters who need a human to bond with to make them complete.


The Purge (aka the Great Purge) - when a maniacal Thresl convinced others they could live without their human counterparts. The humans were killed and hundreds of Thresls either went mad or committed suicide.


Coren - the man who started the purge after his human lover became infected with a virus and died. He went insane and decided he was better off without his bondmate. He convinced others the humans were evil and needed to be kept only for conversion. The ones who went along with his beliefs started a war and ended up dead or mad.


Chapter One



Bleine bit his lip to hold back a shout as cum splattered across his bedsheets and dripped down his fist in long sticky strands. The stench of sex filled the room without the happy afterglow of a partner to cuddle with afterward.

Gulping air in fast desperate breaths, Bleine blinked to clear his vision. It took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust. When they finally did, he grabbed the box of tissues he kept on his bedside table. His nightly releases had ruined more than one washcloth so he’d moved on to disposables. Tendrils of dream memories wafted through his mind. Bleine licked his lips. The sweet flavor of honey still coated his tongue. Tasting like his mate Sarler after eating a sticky bun. His heart, empty and aching, beat sluggishly in his chest as the hollow feeling expanded to wrap him completely in despair. Without his bonded mate, he almost ceased to exist. Instead of finding pleasure in each day, he wandered as an aimless shadow without focus or meaning.

A peek at the wall clock revealed it was still several hours before morning. Was Sarler sleeping well? He turned back to thoughts of his mate, focusing on him like a flower seeking the sun.

Mate bonding went easier when going from Thresl cat to human form. Since Bleine had been human when he’d met Sarler, the process of joining souls took longer. It might take forever if he couldn’t coax his mate to stay the night. Three days had passed since they’d bonded and already he could feel his mind beginning to unravel. Without the grounding of his mate’s touch, Bleine would soon fall into madness. No one knew how close he skated to losing his identity. He wouldn’t pressure Sarler into a deeper bond or mention his troubles to his brother, King Vohne.

Vohne had enough issues of his own, trying to arrange a bonding ceremony with his fractious mate. They’d already pushed back the wedding a month in order to get everything together and allow time for guests outside the galaxy. A coveted invitation to the Thresl king’s wedding could make a political career. Invitees had to be chosen with care and those not chosen picked with even greater caution. They didn’t need extra enemies because of one missed invitation.

During his waking hours, Bleine spent his time focused on finding the group of people plotting against the king. Only when sleeping did images of Sarler haunt him. Beautiful Sarler. With his pale hair and sweet gray eyes. He reminded Bleine of the picture of a wood sprite he had once seen in a childhood storybook. His mother used to read to him of forest dwellers who bonded with the wildlife and lived in peace. He’d been enchanted with the idea as a boy and often searched for sprites when he went camping.

He’d never found one, but Sarler came damn close. Unfortunately he was having as much luck capturing his mate as he did finding a forest sprite.

“Fuck!” He slammed his palms onto the mattress. Discontent radiated through him. He wanted to wake up beside Bleine, not all alone with no one for company but his hand.

Damn Kreslan.

Bleine sighed. As much as he wanted to blame his future brother-in-law, he couldn’t. If Kreslan hadn’t interfered, he’d be dead. Kres had saved Bleine’s life by finding him a bondmate as soon as Bleine broke free of the cryopod. The scheming bitch who’d shattered his tube hadn’t counted on Kres’s quick action to find Bleine a replacement.

Fortunately, unlike his brother, Bleine could re-bond. If Kres died, Vohne would quickly follow. A cryo-chamber couldn’t save the king if his one and only mate lost his life. As hundreds of years before, Kres and Vohne would reincarnate together.

One advantage to not being the true king, Bleine’s mates didn’t reincarnate. Sadly, without fate’s assistance, his romantic heart often led him to choose the wrong people. His first bonded had died in the Great Purge, killed by a fanatic while Bleine had been out fighting, his second bonded tried to kill his brother, and his third didn’t want him. So far, his record hasn’t been stellar.

Sarler, his current bonded, was actively avoiding Bleine.

He didn’t know what to do to get his bondmate’s attention. Even with his patience failing, becoming a stalker wasn’t on his to-do list.

The fact that his newly bonded had never had sex with a male added to their complications. Part of their issues had to do with Sarler’s nerves. Although Bleine had always bonded with females, the Thresl as a species didn’t discriminate between men and women partners. They chose the person, not their sex. Did Sarler have the same outlook? Bleine still didn’t know. Humans sometimes weren’t as flexible with their sexuality. If Sarler fixated on Bleine being a man rather than his mate, they might never become closer.

He had hoped that Sarler’s empathic powers might make it harder for him to resist the bond, to resist Bleine. So far, that hadn’t proved to be the case.

The compulsion to touch, cuddle, and keep Sarler from all harm rode Bleine like a driving force, until he wished to go to the counseling center and snatch his mate from the presence of others. Sarler worked as an empath for those coming into the cryogenic center, to help them transition either to or from the chambers and monitor their condition once frozen. After the Great Purge, hundreds of Thresl had to be put in cryo-chambers to retain their sanity after the slaughter of their mates.

The emotional trauma experienced when coming out of a frozen environment could be overpowering for some, and not everyone survived. Only Kres’s quick action had saved Bleine from going into shock after his abrupt exit from hibernation. Any Thresl who had already converted and lost their mate, could die or go mad from the lack of the bond that kept Thresls in their final form.

It didn’t make it any easier that now, although bonded, Bleine woke up alone. The kiss they’d shared at their initial pairing had seared through Bleine hotter than any of his previous sexual encounters.

He would do just about anything to taste Sarler’s mouth again. To feel his mate’s body against him and their lips sliding together in a combustible combination of want and need.

A knock on the door pulled Bleine away from his thoughts.

Curious about who could be visiting in the middle of the night, he slid on a pair of sleep pants and rushed to answer it. People never came to deliver good news at two in the morning. Yanking the door open, he stopped and stared, unable to think of a single word.

Sarler stood in his doorway, his blond hair sticking out on all sides. He wore red pajama bottoms, a thin white shirt, and no shoes, and he glared at Bleine with red-rimmed eyes as if he’d committed a terrible crime.

“What’s up?” He tried to sound casual while his heartbeat raced and his cock valiantly tried to harden again.

Sarler pushed Bleine aside, stomping past him and into Bleine’s suite.

Confused, he closed the door. He frowned as he leaned against the firm wood surface, needing the extra support for whatever news his mate came to share.

Sarler opened his mouth a few times only to close it again without saying anything.

“Are you okay?” Bleine asked tentatively. He tried to keep his tone neutral. Sarler had a skittish twitch about him, and Bleine didn’t want to scare him off.

However, Sarler’s scowl didn’t reassure him. His mate didn’t appear happy to be in Bleine’s rooms as he ran a hand through his hair and began to pace. Bleine kept still, not wanting to interrupt whatever thoughts were spinning through Sarler’s head until his mate was ready to share them. He’d learned patience in his years as ruler. Moments of importance couldn’t be rushed.

Finally, words burst out of Sarler like heavy rain, frantic and pounding. “I can’t sleep. I can barely eat. I think about you every minute of every day.” Sarler spun around and pointed at Bleine. “You need to stay out of my head. And please, by the Gods, please stop touching yourself! I wake up every morning with this!”

Sarler pointed to his crotch. His large erection stood out in sharp relief against the front of his soft sleep pants. Bleine’s mouth watered. He knew exactly how to help with that particular problem. Hell, he even had some porn he’d be happy to share. The past few days, he’d been a good researcher and done his homework.

“I’d be glad to help you with that,” Bleine offered. Images flashed through his head. Pictures of Sarler’s face as Bleine sucked him off, the beauty of Sarler’s expression when Bleine brought him to completion. Oh, yes he had plenty of ideas.

“Stop it!” Sarler said through gritted teeth. He blushed, his pale skin turning redder than a jungle blood flower. Bleine smiled, entranced by the beautiful color on his mate’s cheeks.

“I–I’ve never been with a man. That isn’t allowed on my planet.” Sarler’s shaky tone revealed he nervousness.

“Then it’s a good thing we aren’t on your planet. Anything is allowed here as long as it is between consenting adults.”

Sarler licked his lips, drawing Bleine’s attention to the wet slick left behind. The urge to taste Sarler’s shiny mouth struck him like a fist to the gut.

He made a soft noise of need, barely vocal.

“That’s what I’m talking about. Stop that.” Sarler’s eyes flashed with temper and heat. His expression did nothing to cool Bleine’s ardor.

Bleine closed his eyes to block out the tempting sight of his gorgeous mate before he did something unwise, like jumping him. “I can’t. You’re my bonded.”

He could hear the desperation in his voice but could do nothing to stop it. If Sarler didn’t even welcome his touch, they were going to have the shortest mating in history. Bleine didn’t look forward to returning to the cryogenic chamber, but he wouldn’t bond an unwilling person to him for life. Whether his brother would agree to let Sarler go was an entirely different matter.

“What are we going to do?” Confusion caused a sharp crease in Sarler’s forehead. “We can’t go on this way. I need rest. I can barely function. Images of you fill my head all the fucking time.”

The curse in Sarler’s gentle voice made Bleine smile. Some people couldn’t swear effectively. It pleased him that his mate appeared to be one of them.

“Come.” Bleine straightened from his spot against the door and held out his hand.

Sarler examined Bleine for a long minute, not moving from his spot. Bleine waited, no point in rushing when he was so close to getting his wish. Eventually, cautiously, Sarler slid his hand into Bleine’s.

“Let’s get some sleep.” There was so much more he’d like to do to his bonded than sleeping together, but building a link between them ranked higher in importance than having sex despite whatever his needy body tried to tell him.

“Okay.” Sarler smiled at Bleine. A small smile but a good sign over all. Without another word in case he frightened off his nervous mate, Bleine led Sarler to the bedroom.

Once they were through the door, Bleine released Sarler’s hand. He crawled onto the bed then slipped between the sheets. He scooted all the way to one side to make room. Sarler hesitated before putting a knee on the bed to climb up.

“Take off your shirt.”

“I don’t…” Sarler gave him a hesitant look as if unsure of what to do about his demand.

“Now! We need contact to soothe the nervous energy between us. As a counselor, you should know skin-to-skin contact is the best.” Bleine needed to feel Sarler’s flesh against his own. To calm the craving for his mate’s touch. If he had to make it an official command, he would. Being a prince had a few benefits.

Sarler yanked off his top, exposing a smooth line of skin and muscle. Frowning his displeasure, he asked, “What about my pants?”

Bleine looked at the pajama bottoms. “You can keep them on if you like.” He wanted to insist Sarler strip completely, but pushing his luck at this point could be more detrimental than what the benefits of having a naked cuddle with his mate could be.

To Bleine’s disappointment, Sarler remained half dressed.

Holding back a sigh, Bleine lifted the covers. Sarler slid all the way to Bleine’s side before turning to face away from him.

Not willing to miss an opportunity to snuggle his mate, Bleine wrapped an arm around Sarler. Strong sinewy muscles moved beneath his palm and a deep purr rolled up his throat. Sarler’s physique didn’t resemble Bleine’s larger body at all. A round mole on his mate’s shoulder caught Bleine’s attention. Unable to resist, he placed a soft kiss on the mark.

“What are you doing?” Sarler asked, stiffening in Bleine’s arms.

“Sorry. Your beauty spot needed kissing,” Bleine replied. There was only so much control one man could be expected to have. He congratulated himself on his restraint.

“Oh.” Sarler relaxed in Bleine’s hold as if calmed by his explanation.

Bleine stayed awake for hours, watching Sarler sleep until eventually his mate’s slow, even breathing soothed him into closing his eyes.

Soft kisses woke Bleine. Lips landed on his cheeks, his chin, and that special spot behind his ear that made him purr. Bleine sighed as a warm wave of contentment washed over him like pools of sunshine. He didn’t want to open his eyes. If he did, Sarler might stop kissing him. He tilted his head up, offering his neck for more kisses.

“I know you’re awake,” Sarler whispered in his ear.

Bleine languidly opened his eyes, hoping to prolong the perfect moment. “I didn’t want to discourage you.”

Waking up to Sarler’s attention—better than any dream. He’d do anything he could to encourage continued touching. His Thresl nature made him want to conform to please his mate. If Sarler had found Bleine in his animal form, he might have become a female instead of male. However, now that he’d already been created, changes could only occur internally. His personality would gradually transform over time to become the one most suited to his bonded, but physically, he would always remain as he was now.

Hopefully, Sarler would come to appreciate the Thresl he got. Bleine needed to do whatever he could to keep Sarler’s attention. He couldn’t risk another bonding. He just couldn’t. The trauma of matching up with a human shouldn’t be done more than once. The fact he’d survived a third connection had palace gossips wagging their tongues and muttering how he must have delved into questionable dealings with fate.

Vohne had put most of those rumors to rest and talk had ceased for the moment, but even the king couldn’t protect Bleine from sly looks and considering stares.

Sarler leaned over him, a smile curving his lips. The sight of his mate, warm and willing, pulled Bleine’s mind from unpleasant thoughts. How could he dwell on anything negative with this beautiful man above him?

“Good morning.” Bleine’s voice had a rough, sleepy edge. He sat up and poured a glass of water from the pitcher by his bed. “Thirsty?”

Tipping his head, he offered Sarler a drink.

“No, thank you,” Sarler replied, more politely than a half-naked man in Bleine’s bed should be.

He tried to keep it casual, but his morning erection brushed against Sarler’s thigh when he turned back around.

Bleine drank greedily, his mind racing to figure out what to say, how to ask if Sarler had changed his mind about wanting him. While Sarler had never come out and denied him, he hadn’t exactly rushed into Bleine’s arms before last night. Bleine didn’t count sharing a bed over lack of sleep as Sarler accepting him as a mate. He didn’t want to read too much into that or the kisses that followed.

“Did you sleep well?” Some people couldn’t rest in a bed with others.

“Better than I have in days,” Sarler admitted. He examined Bleine with wary gray eyes as if waiting for Bleine to boot him out of bed. Bleine flashed him a reassuring smile.

Setting down his glass, Bleine searched for the right words. For a prince taught diplomacy at his father’s knee, all his smooth persuasion had deserted him. He’d never done well with voicing his feelings to those closest to him. Give him a dinner with a viper-tongued lord or lady, and he’d be fine. Right now, he’d almost prefer it. The lust and longing glowing in Sarler’s eyes demanded he say something profound or useful or anything at all to ease the growing tension between them.

Words stuck in Bleine’s throat. He wanted to demand more. Insist on more but he had to put his bonded mate’s needs above his own. He couldn’t rush him. “I know you aren’t sure about this bonding thing, but if you want to sleep here every night, it would at least help you function during the day.”

He held his breath as he waited for Sarler’s answer.

After several minutes of heart-pounding silence, Sarler nodded. “I’d like that.”

He traced Bleine’s mouth with the tip of his index finger. Bleine waited for further words, but none were forthcoming. Maybe talking was overrated. The light touching, maddening and compelling, drove him insane. He fought the animalistic urge to roll over and pin Sarler’s slimmer frame beneath him. His muscles ached as he clenched his body to resist throwing himself at his mate. First he needed verbal permission, and then he could pounce.

“I can feel your anxiety, your need,” Sarler explained at Bleine’s questioning look. “It burns through my body like an insatiable itch I can’t reach to scratch. Only you can stop it.”

Bleine could think of all kinds of places he’d like to scratch, but he didn’t want to scare Sarler away. As much as Sarler talked about feeling Bleine’s desire, he didn’t voice any himself. Before he touched Sarler sexually, he needed to know the passion was two-sided. He didn’t want to be accused of rushing into anything.

“Sorry,” Bleine offered. He didn’t know what else to say. He couldn’t stop the nerves swirling like a dust devil through his body or the dragon fire of want scorching his veins. Craving his mate was a natural Thresl response to a bond.

“Don’t be sorry,” Sarler said. “I decided last night to give us a try. We can either curse our connection for the rest of our lives or cherish it. Besides, you’re a beautiful man. If I were going to choose a male, you would be at the top of my list.”

A shy smile crossed Sarler’s face.

“Can you overlook the fact I’m a man? That seemed like a big deal to you.” Bleine barely breathed as he waited for Sarler’s answer.

Sarler sighed. “I know. I’m still concerned about it. On my world, I would be put to death for daring to enter a same-sex contract. But like you said, I don’t live there anymore, and we’re going to be together a long time. Denying our connection only hurts us both. I’m willing to work on our relationship if you are.”

Bleine narrowed his eyes at his mate. Although Sarler appeared sincere, the fast change in perspectives worried him. “Why the quick about-face? Last night, you were almost hysterical from feeling my desire.”

“I was tired.” Sarler brushed it off. “I hadn’t slept since we bonded. I needed some rest before I could think clearly. I’m an empath, Bleine. I could feel you even when we weren’t in the same room. Besides, if you need me that much, I can’t let you suffer. I know what happens to Thresls who don’t bond.”

Bleine stiffened beside Sarler. His stomach swirled like a whirlpool while a tension headache clawed at his brain. This wasn’t what he wanted, for Sarler to sacrifice himself for the good of the Thresl. He’d die before he accepted a mate who pitied him.

Swallowing back his nausea, Bleine set the record straight.

“I held a world together for a hundred years during the Great Purge while waiting for my brother to return. I’ve survived the death of two bondmates and being cryogenically frozen. I might want you, but I don’t need a pity fuck,” Bleine snarled.

He slid out of bed, then headed for the shower. He refused to have a mate out of a sense of duty or mercy or whatever story Sarler told himself to make it all right in his mind to mate with a man.

Bleine had lived a long life, and if he needed to end it now, he’d happily sacrifice himself for his people. They had their king back and didn’t really need him anymore. He’d rather be dead than have a bondmate unable to love him. He’d always suspected Jallryne had bonded with him for the power, but at least, she’d wanted him for something even if she had to die in the end. He didn’t have anything Sarler wanted, and he refused to take pity. A Thresl bonding should be an honor, not a burden.

He hoped by the time he finished his shower Sarler would take the hint and left.

Chapter Two



Sarler sighed. He blinked back tears as he realized what a huge mistake he’d just made. Looking around the beautiful suite, he felt lower than a two-inch Tarkadi worm.

He’d tried to put a positive spin on their situation, never thinking Bleine would take it as an insult. Sarler sat up, uncomfortable now lying in Bleine’s bed when he’d ruined everything. Not ever having had a male partner and not wanting one weren’t the same thing. One of the reasons he’d left his rigidly moral home world was because they didn’t approve of same-sex pairings or really even mixed ones. Sex was for procreation only in their minds. Pleasure was frowned upon.

Sarler hoped Bleine would give him another chance. So far, the prince had been more than patient with him, letting Sarler take all the time he needed to get his head on straight and figure out what to do.

“He has to give me a chance. He could die,” Sarler whispered to the empty room. Bonding with a Thresl wasn’t like gaining a temporary lover. Thresls committed for life. Theirs. As it was, Bleine was well within his rights to demand Sarler sleep in his bed. Not only was he a prince but Thresls were given a lot of leeway when it came to handling their bonded. If Bleine had tossed Sarler over his shoulder and dragged him off to his room, no one would’ve lifted a hand to help Sarler.

Instead, Bleine had let Sarler come to him and what had he done? Blown the entire thing. He’d hoped by waking the prince with kisses, he’d conveyed his interest in pursuing their bond. Instead, he’d convinced Bleine he’d talked himself into being his mate.

“I’m an idiot,” he whispered to the empty room.

His heart ached with the emotional pain pouring from the bathroom. He might as well have taken a knife and filleted the prince to spare him the agony of being unwanted. It would’ve been kinder.

The problem was he did like the prince. Unfortunately, being an empath didn’t make him any less socially awkward. Knowing a person’s emotions didn’t always lead to better understanding. Prince Bleine’s complex personality made him harder to read than most and being the prince’s bonded didn’t give Sarler any additional insight into the man.

Most people imagined once you bonded with a Thresl, everything magically worked out and all your relationship issues were over. Sadly, they didn’t understand that although a Thresl couldn’t leave his or her mate without tragic consequences, it didn’t mean problems or misunderstandings didn’t occur. Fights sometimes got worse when you couldn’t leave. Even when meeting happy couples, Sarler could sometimes spot tiny fractures in their bond, pieces that didn’t quite align. Only the royal couple of the king and his mate perfectly meshed together. They might fight quite publicly sometimes, but there was never any true heat to their actions. Love flared between them strong enough that Sarler sometimes got an empathic high simply from being in their presence. He wanted the same relationship with Bleine. Now he had to try to figure out how to fix the mess he’d caused.

The water continued to run, and Sarler knew Bleine was stalling; probably hoping that when he returned Sarler would be gone.

“I’m leaving, but I’ll be back later,” Sarler whispered to the empty room. Even with his Thresl hearing, Bleine wouldn’t have heard him. It still felt good to say.

They both needed some time to regroup. Sarler crawled out of bed, pulled on his shirt, then ran his fingers through his hair. The prince deserved some time alone, and Sarler needed to get to work. Maybe he could talk to the King-Mate about Bleine later. If nothing else, Kreslan owed Sarler a few minutes of advice for bonding him to Bleine without his permission anyway.

Resolved to talk to Kreslan as soon as he got the chance, Sarler left Bleine’s suite.

He nodded to the prince’s bodyguards as he passed. He didn’t know their names and didn’t care to learn them right now anyway, but they’d been kind enough to let him in despite his agitated state the previous night.

A quick stop at his small room for a shower and change of clothes had him ready for the day. Finally refreshed after nights of not sleeping, Sarler walked to the lab with a lighter step. He might need to work details out with Bleine, but the prince couldn’t deny him when he came over that night to sleep. He would try to convey with his body what he wasn’t smart enough to state with words.

Maybe he’d be brave enough to take off all his clothes this time. Surely Bleine wouldn’t be able to resist? Various scenarios of seductive traps for his handsome prince danced through Sarler’s mind. Caught in his own thoughts, he didn’t pay attention to where he was walking. He turned the corner and slammed into a hard body. He gasped as he stumbled back. Oh crap, the king.

“I-I’m sorry, Your Highness.” Sarler gave an awkward, hurried bow. Kreslan might not intimidate him much, but the king was a different matter. King Vohne stood several impressive inches taller than Sarler’s smaller frame and had the presence of someone three times the size.

“No need for that. We’re family,” King Vohne said. He frowned at Sarler. “Is something wrong?”

“Your brother hates me,” Sarler replied sadly.

Vohne gave Sarler a sympathetic smile. He could feel the king’s compassion rolling over him in long soothing waves and wrapping around him in a comforting blanket of emotion. If Sarler were Thresl, he would’ve purred.

“I doubt he hates you. Bleine dislikes few people. He tries to find the good in everyone, despite how foolish most people are,” Vohne reassured him.

Sarler couldn’t hold back the sigh. The king didn’t know how badly he’d screwed things up, so he could be excused for his optimism. “Trust me, I’m the exception.”

“Want to talk about it?” Vohne asked, apparently prepared to lend an ear to the poor sap bonded with his brother.

The king’s invitation to discuss Bleine tugged at Sarler, but right then he just needed to escape before he confessed what kind of idiot had joined the royal family. He’d been chosen at random to patch a problem, not carefully screened. He should put himself on a poster of what not to do in a bonding.

“No, thank you. I’m late for work.” Sarler tried to be polite and escape before he sobbed out his story on the king’s sympathetic shoulder.

“If you want to talk, come find me later.” Vohne stepped aside to let him pass.

Sarler thought it over before hesitantly asking. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk to your mate? I mean as the human half of your relationship, he might have a better insight into my problems. I mean if I had problems.”

The king smiled, amusement dancing in his gold eyes. “I love my mate, but his idea of a relationship is running until I hunt him down. Besides, you probably know more about human and Thresl interaction than most bondmates. You just need to learn about a Bleine interaction.”

Sarler nodded at the king’s wisdom. He hoped he learned before he messed everything up.

“Thank you. I might take you up on your offer later. I’ve got to get to work.” Mindful of the time, Sarler waved goodbye and rushed off. A quick glance at his watch had his heart sinking. Two hours behind. Damn. Although he didn’t clock in at work, he did have office hours for consultation. He mentored humans seeking to bond with a Thresl and relatives visiting their cryogenic loved ones. Pushing back his irritation at his late start, he sped up his pace. People might be waiting for him.

A few minutes later, his guess proved right.

“Hello, Earl,” Sarler said with little favor. Earl had been pushing Sarler for a bonding recommendation for the past three months. After careful evaluation, Sarler had determined Earl didn’t deserve a Thresl. Vain, petty, and with a wide mean streak, he would make a horrible bondmate. If Sarler had his way, Earl would never be allowed in the cryo chamber to try to connect with any of the Thresl there.

“Sarl, when are you going to approve me?” he snarled, not bothering with a greeting.

Pushing back his irritation at the shortening of his name, Sarler responded, trying to keep a diplomatic front. “I haven’t found anyone I think will bond well with you.”

He kept hoping Earl would take the hint and return to whatever horrible place he came from. Sarler had shared Earl’s evaluation with all the other matchers so they wouldn’t let him through the screening process. No one in the lab would offer Earl a Thresl, not while Sarler still breathed.

“Come on, Sarl. Aren’t we buddies?” A weird light filled Earl’s eyes as if he saw something no one else could see.

Creepy.

Sarler barely resisted giving in to the full-body shudder threatening to tear through him.

“Earl, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think you’ll ever be ready for a Thresl. You don’t have the right mindset to be a match.” Maybe honesty would work. He’d tried everything else. Earl’s emotions always had a manic feel that Sarler couldn’t see would work well in a Thresl bond.

A frightening look crossed Earl’s face as if he’d lost control of his inner psycho and didn’t plan on pulling it back in anytime soon. Sarler took a large step back from Earl.

“And you do!” Earl shouted. “You were just at the right place at the right time, and you bagged a prince! I have more of a right to have a Thresl than some skinny pencil pusher. How dare you hold me back from my mate!”

Earl’s rant ended in a high-pitched scream of rage that had Sarler wincing at the sound. His own temper rose as Earl’s words sank in. Earl thought he was worthy because Sarler had found a bonded. Did that mean everyone on the freaking planet would now think they were worthy? It had taken several years to get humans interested in coming to the planet to mate with a Thresl after the Great Purge, and now Sarler sometimes wished they would go away again.

Even now, the majority of humans wanted a Thresl in cat form who would change to meet to their own specific wants and needs, like a designer mate. As if they were adopting a pet, not bonding with a life-mate. Thresls were loyal, dedicated lovers who protected their mates with their lives.

Humans might think any match was a good match, but Sarler wanted the right mate for both sides. He was very protective of the Thresl in the cryo wing. Every day, he walked the length of the tubes and talked to his favorites. No way would he hand the fate of one single Thresl to the ignorant asshole before him. He gritted his teeth to hold back the words he wished to say.

Despite taking a deep breath, he lost his patience. “Thresls aren’t belongings. They are sentient beings who live, love, and bond with a specific human. You don’t own a Thresl, you partner with one. Maybe you should try a different facility. None of the Thresls here will be a good match for you,” Sarler said in a low tone.

An odd calm wrapped around Earl like a blanket, dulling Sarler’s perception. Going from raging emotions to nothing threw Sarler off. He nervously checked around, but no one else stood in the halls.

“Is that right? Not one Thresl will suit me, you think?” Earl asked.

“Yes.” Sarler stood firm. No one could convince him that this idiot should mate with a Thresl. Sarler might not deserve his prince, but he’d never be intentionally cruel. The mean streak Earl had shown in his interview had set off alarms in Sarler.

“Well, guess what? An opening just came up.” Earl pulled a laser pistol from his jacket and shot Sarler in the chest.

Pain exploded throughout his body as Sarler tumbled to the ground. Gasping for breath, he looked up as Earl aimed, ready to shoot him again.

“What are you doing?” a voice shouted.

Sarler’s head lolled to the side as he tried to spot the new speaker and warn him. He couldn’t form words. All his energy went toward holding back the screams pushing to escape. A painful haze sapped him of energy, but he could almost make out the shape of a soldier through his teary eyes. The uniform blurred, but the shiny badge caught his limited attention. He felt more than saw Earl run away.

“Call a medic!” the same voice ordered. “Damn, he did a number on you, Sarler. Hang in there. The prince won’t forgive me if you die.”

Sarler struggled to speak. “Tell Bleine I would’ve made him a good mate.”

“You can tell him yourself,” the soldier said cryptically.

A loud roar echoed in the hall. Emotions slammed through Sarler, feelings that didn’t belong to him. Agony pierced his mind alongside his body.

Rage. Pain. Despair.

“Sarler. Mate,” a familiar voice rumbled, but Bleine’s normal smooth tones were rougher, almost unrecognizable.

Bleine fell to his knees beside Sarler and grabbed his hand. All his emotions floated in the air and jolted through Sarler like an electric current. He would’ve objected, but the relief at Bleine’s presence overwhelmed all the other feelings except pain.

“Medic is on the way. Don’t you dare die on me!” Bleine shouted. His gold eyes glowed with emotion until they resembled fiery suns in Sarler’s admittedly poor vision.

“You need to go back into cryo,” Sarler whispered through the searing agony in his chest. His words were slow and slurred, but he had to get his message across. “They’ll find you a good mate. Ask for Dyan. He’s the best.”

Bleine would need a good matcher. A few of them weren’t as diligent in their matchups, but Sarler wouldn’t take any chances with his prince. Bleine had already suffered enough poor mates. He deserved a good one. Dyan would make sure Bleine ended up with a worthy bonded.

“You’re going to live,” Bleine vowed. “Where’s the fucking medic! Medic!”

Bleine’s swearing increased when no one magically appeared.

“We’re here, Your Highness,” a breathless voice spoke just outside of Sarler’s vision.

A pair of men in white scrubs moved into Sarler’s view, rolling a stretcher between them. With a smooth, choreographed motion, they transferred him from the ground to a firm padded surface only slightly softer than the cement floor.

Sarler let out a cry of pain he had tried to hold inside.

“Careful!” Bleine growled. “If he dies, so do you.”

A look of fear crossed the face of the medic by Sarler’s feet. He couldn’t see the medic by his head, but terror rolled over him from that direction too, poking holes into Sarler’s defenses. Due to his injury, Sarler’s usual mental shields wavered. With his usual protections down, emotions pressed in on him from every living person in the palace, threatening to overload his brain. Sarler closed his eyes to outside stimuli and struggled, heart pounding, to raise his shields again. He couldn’t. Fear, anxiety, and Bleine’s despair swallowed him. Unable to handle the overload, everything went white.

“Sarler!” Bleine’s frantic shout echoed in his ears before he lost consciousness.


Chapter Three



“He’ll be fine, Your Majesty,” the medic said once again in soft professional tones.

Bleine nodded even though his focus didn’t leave his mate’s bloody body. He didn’t believe the medic. How could Sarler be fine? He had an open wound in his chest and brutal seizures kept making his eyes roll back into his head. Bleine touched his mate’s hand, hoping skin contact would soothe him. It seemed to end the convulsions at least.

“Come on, honey, you can get through this. We’ll get you all healed up and better in no time,” he promised in a low tone.

The link between them, tenuous before, stretched even thinner. He could almost see the bond reaching its breaking point, but Bleine refused to give up. They still had issues to work through, problems he couldn’t fix on his own.

“Hold on, mate!” Bleine whispered as he raced alongside the stretcher back to the medic wing of the castle. He didn’t want to disturb their concentration by talking too loudly. Not when his entire life depended on Sarler’s survival. He needed the empath to open his eyes and glare at him. Even a look of total disdain would make everything better. Any sign of his mate reviving would lift the weight off Bleine’s chest. Regret knifed through him as he remembered how they had parted earlier. If they’d stayed in bed to work things out, Sarler wouldn’t have been there to face the psychopath who shot him.

Sarler could die and Bleine would never be able to tell him how much he needed him. If he lost Sarler, he’d wander into the forest to end his life so his brother wouldn’t try to save him again. Three bondmates was his limit. His Thresl DNA had been pushed as far as possible to accommodate his human half. Now he needed to move on, either to properly bond with Sarler or to let him go and end his own existence.

He’d done his duty to his people. Vohne and Kres were strong enough to hold the kingdom together. They were probably strong enough to take care of a couple planets between them and still have the energy to quell any uprising that dared to thwart their power. Bleine smiled as he thought of the love between the royal duo. If only he could find the same success in his own matches.

As the medics pushed Sarler through the double doors, Bleine remained outside. He couldn’t watch them stitch Sarler up. His stomach churned uneasily. If he never saw his mate bleeding on the floor again, it would be too soon.

He’d watched one mate die already. The memory of his first bonded, bright, vibrant Klia who died in his arms from a stomach wound flashed through his head and made his stomach swirl in queasy circles. He couldn’t lose another one.

He just couldn’t.

Bleine took a deep breath and tried to gather his inner calm. He needed to stay strong for his mate. If Sarler woke and experienced Bleine’s despair, it could cause psychological damage or make him try to find Bleine and help him. Empaths tended to have fewer self-preservation instincts than other specialists

A large hand gripped his shoulder. Bleine turned to meet his brother’s eyes. Kres stood beside Vohne, his expression solemn.

“We heard,” Vohne said. He pulled Bleine into a tight hug that threatened to crack his bones before releasing him. “There’s an alert out to find Earl. With everyone focused on Sarler, he escaped the palace. It will be hard to find him in the city, but with enough people searching, we’ll have captured soon.”

Bleine growled in frustration. His anger spiked and burned with the incandescent fury of a new star. He longed to tear Earl apart and bathe in his blood. For a second, his fingertips tingled, distracting him from his seething.

“We’ll catch him, Bleine. If he’s in the city, he’ll be hunted down and brought to justice,” Vohne vowed.

Bleine didn’t care about justice. His inner beast demanded death and nothing less.

Frowning, he shook his head to clear the darker impulses from his mind. This wasn’t like him. He’d used diplomacy and persuasion his entire career. Why now did he wish such destruction? He’d lost a mate before without this much angst.

“You okay, Bleine?” Kres asked.

“I think so.” Bleine didn’t mention his unnatural rage. How could he explain how uncomfortable his skin had suddenly become? Was he changing for Sarler? He didn’t think that was possible beyond the initial bonding. Did something in his gentle empath need Bleine to be more warrior than peacemaker? Neither humans nor Threslkind had ever properly deciphered the hows and whys of the Thresl change, and now, with his mate’s life in danger, Bleine had little interest in decrypting the puzzle of his DNA.

“Here’s the medic,” Vohne murmured.

Bleine’s head snapped up, forcing his attention to the present. No use worrying about what he might become. He would change into whatever Sarler needed. Unfortunately, since the empath wasn’t Bleine’s original mate, he couldn’t become the woman of Sarler’s preference. He brushed aside his negative thoughts. Now wasn’t about him. It was about Sarler.

The human medic had pretty salt-and-pepper hair and compassionate blue eyes. Bleine knew the man had been working for them for three years since his Thresl mate had died in a rare space shuttle accident. His name was Richard or Ronan or something like that.

“Your Majesties.” The medic gave a half bow to the trio before turning his attention to Bleine. “Empath Sarler is going to be fine. We’ve sealed his wound. Some internal tenderness will continue for two to three weeks, but after a transfusion and some mild painkillers, he’ll be good to take home by this evening, barring any unforeseen problems.”

Relief swept through Bleine. He hadn’t realized how tightly he’d been clenching his muscles until he relaxed them all.

“I need to see him.” The urge to set eyes on Sarler clawed at him with a compulsion that wouldn’t be denied.

The medic nodded. “Right this way.”


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