by Rowena Cherry
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Tigron Empire of the Djinn
ARK IMPERIAL, Operating Theater
Damn them! Prince Djetthro-Jason eyed the masked males and the unpleasant array of implements they were preparing to use on him.
I haven’t told them everything, and I’m not about to. No way am I going to invite anyone to take a laser to my privates. Ahhh, Fewmet!
The “battlefield analgesia” was wearing off. During the duel that he’d begun as Commander Jason and ended —defeated— as Prince Djetthro-Jason, he’d felt almost no pain despite the damage Tarrant-Arragon had inflicted.
Now, his massively bruised thigh throbbed heavily, his neck muscles ached, and his jaw… it hurt even to think about his jaw. Perhaps worse —but less so by the moment— was the damage to his alpha-male machismo as he lay strapped down, stark naked, in his enemy’s operating theater, preparing his mind for surgery without anesthetic. Also for “the fate worse than death” which was to come.
If Tarrant-Arragon had observed Great Djinn tradition, the duel they’d fought less than an hour ago ought to have been to the death.
Why hadn’t Tarrant-Arragon killed me then and there? To the victor went the Empire, the Ark Imperial, and gods-Right to any female he wanted… and we both want the same female.
Damn it! Even if he wanted to stop, I should’ve fought on after he’d crippled my leg and shattered my bloody jaw. Why didn’t I? What’s left for me?
I’ll be the Djinn equivalent of a broken thoroughbred stallion put out to stud. It’s fairly obvious why Tarrant-Arragon made an excuse not to finish me off.
The Great Djinn are nearly extinct. In twenty years’ time, Tarrant-Arragon’s and Djinni-vera’s children will need true-Djinn mates, all entitled to the silent D- prefix to their royal Djinn names. That’s why!
When the “fate worse than death” had been spelled out, it had been sheer bravado to mumble that he wanted to marry Princess Martia-Djulia.
Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t.
It hurt how much he still wanted Djinni-vera, who’d been the last Djinn virgin in all the Communicating Worlds —and beyond— and betrothed to be his, until Tarrant-Arragon abducted her by force and took her virginity.
What consolation would it be to have Tarrant-Arragon’s sexy, fashionista bitch of a sister in his power and in his bed instead?
Djetth winced at the savagery of his thoughts about Martia-Djulia. Shards of pain shot along his broken jawline. Hell’s Teeth! If he and Martia-Djulia were going to make a go of it, she’d have to have a shorter name. Maybe Marsh. Or Jewel….
“Well, Djetthro-Jason, are you ready to be carved up for your new identity and your new life as my little sister’s glorified love slave?”
From somewhere out of Djetth’s line of sight, Tarrant-Arragon taunted him, stressing the part of Djetth’s real name that he’d used until his cover as “Commander Jason” was blown and he was overpowered and arrested.
Djetth did not turn his head. The pain in his face and head was intolerable enough without moving.
“Ahhh, I do believe that Our Imperial surgeons are ready to take out that distinctive jagged scar on your cheek,” Tarrant-Arragon crooned. “And screw up your jaw.”
What else might they do while he was under the laser and the knife? While his face was open, might they carve out a sensory gland or two? Implant a tracking device? Use his broken jaw as an excuse to weld a mask over his head?
Prince Djetthro-Jason would be a latter day “Man In The Iron Mask” if they realized how closely he resembled Crown Prince Tarrant-Arragon. Which he would, without his scars, his colorful contact lenses and his long, blond-dyed hair.
Djetth glanced at the treacherous, turncoat ’Rhett, who’d been his bloody useless “second” at the duel, and who was still hanging around.
What for? Damn him. ’Rhett was way too much the intergalactic statesman for his own —or anyone else's— good.
If the patient lost consciousness, Tarrant-Arragon could decide that the chances for galactic peace would be better if Djetthro-Jason were neutered… one way or another. Given the secrets ’Rhett knew, ’Rhett might agree.
"No—" Djetth groaned with the unexpected agony of trying to speak. He wanted to refuse anesthetic again. How he wished there was somebody present whom he could trust!
A door swished open.
“Does he have to be in such pain?” The cause of all the trouble spoke from the doorway. She sounded on edge, as if she felt his pain telepathically.
Djinni-vera! No longer his Djinni. By conquest, by the irrevocable exchange of vows, and finally by her own choice, she was Tarrant-Arragon’s.
By All the Lechers of Antiquity, how he loved her! At that moment. For coming. Mentally Djetth qualified his thoughts. Djinni-vera might not love him now, but she was honorable to the core. Tarrant-Arragon wouldn’t dare do anything dastardly in front of her.
As she glided to his surgical table, Djetth looked at her wildly, helplessly, with mute appeal, hoping that she would read his mind and help him this one last time.
Djinni-vera’s amethyst eyes widened as if she had Heard him and understood. Her gaze averted, she reached out and dropped a gauzy white cloth of some sort over his monstrously inappropriate erection.
To others, her action might have looked like public modesty on her part. Djetth assumed that Djinni had read the part of his mind that was worrying about his striking tattoo that only showed up in the dark or when suitably excited.
Thank you! he thought. Please help me. Stay.
She nodded, and took his fettered hand with her undamaged left. "You’ve been macho about this too long, J-J. Why won’t you let them put you to sleep?”
“Careful, my love,” Tarrant-Arragon said, moving possessively to her side. “You can never call him J-J again. Nor may you use any of his other damned traitor’s aliases. Not J-J, not Commander Jason. Traitors cannot be seen to survive their attempts on my life. Commander Jason is officially dead, and everyone —including Martia-Djulia— must believe it. From this day forward, he’s Prince Djetthro-Jason.”
“What a mouthful…” Djinni began, then her changing expression told him that she must have read a thought-pun he couldn’t resist. “Djetth!”
She frowned sternly.
“I know you Great Djinn males can’t help thinking of sex all the time. But, it’s not helpful, Djetth. As long as you have your saturniid gland, you’re dangerous."
Not dangerous to you, kid. You won’t ovulate while you’re pregnant, and probably not for a while after that, he thought back at her.
Her mouth twisted in a wry smile.
“You'd be safer if you let them remove it.”
Some aspects of Royal Djinn maleness one would rather die than surrender,, he rejoined, hoping she would not read his darker thoughts.
“Martia-Djulia would be better off if you couldn’t have the rut-rage again, too….” As she spoke, Djinni tossed her head as if shaking off a bothersome fly.
Djetth wondered if Djinni had unexpectedly Channeled someone else’s reasoning. Djinni couldn’t possibly know how savagely Martia-Djulia liked to be served in bed.
“I saw Palace footage of you having the rut-rage with Martia-Djulia.” The little mind-reader’s voice rose in protest at the thought he hadn’t meant her to sense.
You saw? You saw what, exactly? His thought question was a ploy to distract her from thinking about the rut-rage, but no sooner had he asked than he dreaded how detailed her reply might be.
“What you might expect, given that the camera was behind a mirrored ceiling, and you were on top,” she retorted, keeping his tattoo a secret. “Tarrant-Arragon fast-forwarded you, because you went at it so long.”
“Not that long,” Tarrant-Arragon murmured maliciously, probably to remind them that he was listening to Djinni’s half of the conversation.
“Long enough,” Djinni said. “Djetth, you might already be a father.”
“Granted, that is remotely possible,” Tarrant-Arragon sneered while appearing to examine a wicked looking lancet. “Let’s hope you weren’t that thorough, Djetthro-Jason, or your firstborn would have to be—and remain—a bastard. Unfortunately, my slack-wit of a sister can’t keep a secret. If Martia-Djulia thinks Commander Jason got her pregnant, the rumor will be all over Court before we get home, and before she hears that her lover is dead.”
Djetth felt an inexplicable distress at the idea that he could never claim this theoretically possible child as his own.
“Shall we begin?” Tarrant-Arragon’s too perceptive eyes ranged over Djetth’s body, lingering for an instant on the cloth covering his penis. Not for the first time in his life, Djetth thanked the Great Originator that Tarrant-Arragon had lost the power to read minds.
“I am staying with him,” Djinni announced, gripping his hand tightly.
Djetth was careful not to wrap his fingers around hers or to respond to Djinni’s comforting touch in any discernable way. Touching the Heir Apparent’s Mate was yet another act of high treason punishable by death.
“Very well, my love. You may stay as long as you keep your gaze on his face.” Tarrant-Arragon's lips curled into a sneer. He had certainly noticed the hand-holding.
“Djetthro-Jason, I’ll ask you for the last time: Have you declared every identifying mark on your body that my sister might recognize? Every scar…?”
“Yes!” Djetth snarled back, one eye on Djinni to see whether her face betrayed his lie.
Head turned, distracted by Djinni and the explosion of pain in his face from speaking aloud, Djetth forgot that his neck was exposed where ’Rhett could reach it.
He felt a cold, numbing touch of ’Rhett’s fingers on his most vital acu-pressure point, strove to turn his head, and couldn't.
’Rhett is using Djinncraft to put me to sleep! Damn ’Rhett and his secret agendas!
The growing paralysis had not yet reached Djetth’s eyes. As his vision dimmed, his desperate gaze met the cool green, inscrutable eyes of his bastard cousin and half-brother, ’Rhett.
He'd be lucky to wake up with a new face, a new and dangerous identity. If he woke up.
ARK IMPERIAL, Imperial Suite
Ohhh, Jason. You’re so big! Ohhh. So healthy! Ohhh! Martia-Djulia’s softly sighed grunts came more often and more forcefully in response to her lover’s faster, and increasingly savage thrusts.
Sex-flushed and well and truly tumbled, Martia-Djulia moved her face restlessly from side to side. A glossy, dampened strand of her silvery hair caught in her open-smiling mouth unnoticed.
Martia-Djulia braced her pale, beautifully cared-for hands on Commander Jason’s tanned, broad shoulders, as if she wanted to push him back down her body, to stop him from driving quite so hard and so deeply into her.
He kept it up.
“What am I not seeing?” Tarrant-Arragon mused, thoughtfully tapping his pursed lips with two fingers. “There must be something remarkable about this particular sex marathon.”
He rewound the retrieved back-up fragment of footage, and frowned as he prepared to play it in the slowest of slow motion.
It was only a fragment. Possibly it was not the right fragment. It was the merest chance that it had not been deleted.
Now, Martia-Djulia arched her back, fully extended, her arms still above her head but relaxing away from the bed-headwall.
From what Tarrant-Arragon could observe –since Commander Jason was busy with Martia-Djulia’s abundant, corset-enhanced cleavage, and his long blond hair was in the way —Martia-Djulia’s cheeks, neck and chest looked sex-flushed, her bliss-shuttered, blue eyes sparkled, and there was a sly smile on her love-swollen lips.
Ahhh, yes. This was the beginning. Unnoticed by Jason, she must have just reached for the secret panel on the wall and had started surveillance recording.
This was a few heartbeats after Martia-Djulia had decided that she wanted this long-lasting male in her bed forever.
It was quite a damning moment.
Martia-Djulia would be mortified if anyone saw it and realized that —at that moment— she had intended to use blackmail to force Commander Jason to become her Mate.
“Tarrant-Arragon! What are you watching?” his own dear little Mate demanded in her native Earthling English from the bedroom doorway, where she should have been taking an overdue and much needed nap, given her pregnancy.
“Surveillance footage,” he said.
“Of a sex marathon?” Djinni queried. It was too late to switch programs. Djinni’s half-Djinn senses were as good if not better than any Great Djinn’s.
“Martia-Djulia and Djetth,” he admitted. “Do you want to watch it with me?”
Tarrant-Arragon deliberately ended on a hopeful note. Djinni was not too far along for leisurely, consensual lovemaking.
If she might be in the mood, he had no objection to playing the voyeur, although —in truth— the large, naked male on top was not a natural object of interest for a royal blue-blooded Great Djinn. Nor was his excessively curvy sister.
“Is that the footage you showed me shortly after you’d tricked me into saying the Imperial Mating vows, and all The Communicating Worlds thought you were busy deflowering me?” Her voice vibrated with indignation.
Tarrant-Arragon grinned impenitently.
“At that time, my love, you were too upset to enjoy being ravished repeatedly. You’d only just discovered my true and terrible identity. I hoped some mild pornography would divert you. I admit that I miscalculated. How was I to know that you’d recognize the male in bed with my sister as your jilted fiancé?”
Djinni tossed her unusual, red-brown hair.
“You told me that you’d destroyed all that footage at Martia-Djulia’s request,” she accused him. Her memory was flawless. “I distinctly remember you complaining more than once that you couldn’t retrieve any trace of J-J, or Djetth as we now call him.”
“I honestly thought I had, my love.”
She raised a skeptical eyebrow, the way all Djinn did.
“Do you remember… ahhh, you wouldn’t because you fell asleep exhausted from crying after the Saurian Dragon unfairly cursed you for daring to be seduced by me.”
Djinni had come near enough to be grabbed and scooped into his lap. He did so, and held her close, with his interlocked hands cradling her belly where his heir grew a fraction of a finger-joint every day.
“While you slept that day, I caught Martia-Djulia in my office attempting to erase footage, which she’d initiated. She had already made an incompetent start. What Martia-Djulia didn’t know is that whenever someone who doesn’t know my personal code tries to erase anything on my systems, it backs up to a new file here, on the Ark Imperial.”
“Only if the Ark Imperial is in range, I suppose?”
“Of course,” he agreed.
If only he had known then what he knew now, he wouldn’t have been so quick to enter his code to stop whatever damage his wayward sister had initiated. By doing so, he’d halted the automatic back-up.
However, the fragment had been preserved, and it had not occurred to him to bother looking for it until Djinni blurted out a very odd non-sequitur as they were preparing to operate on Djetth.
“Why are you looking at it now?” his aggressively suspicious little mate demanded.
The percentages were not in his favor if he were to lie to his mind-reading mate, especially since he had recently vowed never to lie to her again.
“My curiosity was fired by something you said to Djetth, my love.”
She blushed adorably. Pale sheet lightning flickered in the deep violet of her telltale eyes. Djinni was afraid he’d discover a secret from the footage.
Tarrant-Arragon spoke so many languages fluently that it had not until now registered as significant that Djinni had always conversed in English with Djetth.
He filed that thought for later, and reported what had piqued his interest in the operating theater.
“You told him, ‘I saw footage of you having the rut-rage…’ Then you made a mysterious, ungrammatical leap to ‘what you might expect, given that the camera was behind the mirrored ceiling, and that you were on top. Tarrant-Arragon fast-forwarded you….’”
The Tiger Princes of Tarrant-Arragon’s generation had lost the power to read minds, but he could tell when Djinni was about to be economical with the truth. She squirmed on his lap.
“Is there any doubt in your mind, little love, that Djetth was having the rut-rage?”
He could have asked her whether she’d read Djetth’s mind, and whether there was any doubt in Djetth’s mind. He could have asked what Djetth was afraid might be exposed on the footage.
There were many skills Tarrant-Arragon lacked; finesse was not one of them.
“Noooo,” Djinni said slowly, probably truthfully. “I do think Djetth had the rut-rage, but it must have been mildly, or he wouldn’t have left Martia-Djulia’s bed after only two days. He wouldn’t have tried to rescue me from you, even if he was convinced that rescuing me was the right and honorable thing to do. His encounter with Martia-Djulia left him very confused, frustrated and angry, you know.”
The same things had occurred to Tarrant-Arragon.
“I’ve heard you make disparaging comments about your sister before,” Djinni added as if thinking aloud. “Maybe her fertility pheromones are dormant, in a sort of Sleeping Beauty mode. Maybe…” Djinni yawned and patted his cheek with her good hand. “I think I’ll go back to bed.”
Her ungrammatical jump to camera angles and Djetth’s sexually dominant position had been skirted. However, the fragment and its mystery could wait.
Tarrant-Arragon got up and followed Djinni to the bedroom. He had a grammatical ambiguity of his own to put to her.
“My love, shall I join with you?”
ARK IMPERIAL, Recovery Room
’Rhett had half expected to hear stealthy footsteps. He did not open his heavy-lidded eyes, or uncross his ankles under the morgue-like hospital bed. He gave no sign that he had not nodded off in the pull-out, segmented chair-bed at Djetth’s bedside.
He flared his nostrils slightly, and breathed in the approaching cocktail of stale Old Spice men’s grooming products, lungs recovering slowly from half a human lifetime of tobacco use, and the nervous tang of an Englishman off his world and not quite at ease among gods and aliens.
What was Grievous doing here?
If Tarrant-Arragon had sent his “Earthways Advisor” to quietly smother Djetth while he was unconscious, Grievous would be the one to die.
Keeping his arms folded, ’Rhett slipped his right hand inside the front opening of the white, Saurian Ambassador’s uniform that he wore night and day. He curled his fingers around the hidden handle of a surgical knife that he’d palmed during the organized chaos of Djetth’s operations.
“You got yours, then!” Grievous muttered vindictively from the open doorway.
’Rhett sat very still in his chair. So far, it would seem, Grievous hadn’t noticed that Djetth was not alone.
“Serves you right. You bloody, dirty-fighting bastard, I hope it hurts.”
’Rhett understood Grievous’s outrage. Djetth had not fought the duel with Tarrant-Arragon according to Anglo-American notions of good sportsmanship.
“As if Princess Djinni-vera didn’t have enough to contend with… and I dare say I don’t know the half of it!”
Grievous was right. He didn’t know more than half of the story. Few did.
Because he had been a failed assassin’s escort, ’Rhett knew how Djinni’s long-preserved, fertile fragrance had been smuggled into the Imperial Palace on a sterile decoy’s body in order to rut-enrage, disgrace and destroy Tarrant-Arragon.
The plot misfired because Tarrant-Arragon’s greatest enemy, the Saurian Dragon, hadn’t known that the Occasion of State was to be Tarrant-Arragon’s formal Mating, or that the Mate-to-be-Taken would be Djinni-vera herself.
Consequently, when Tarrant-Arragon sniffed a maddening whiff of fertile-female pheromones, he assumed that the source was Djinni.
It was Djinni who was carried off to the Imperial bed to bear the violence of His High-and-Mightiness’s sudden, rut-raged lust. Since Imperial, allegedly-virgin brides were traditionally treated to rough and semi-public sex, there was no scandal. Everyone thoroughly approved of Tarrant-Arragon’s depraved behavior.
Ironically, the malicious assassin had planted a small dose of Djinni’s ovulation pheromones on Tarrant-Arragon’s sister, the Princess Martia-Djulia.
No one had foreseen that Djetth would be in the Tigron Imperial star space, let alone at the Virgins’ Ball, or that the assassin’s unauthorized sub-plot would set Djetth’s hormones to raging.
It was quite possible that Djetth had made love to Djinni-vera’s scent on Martia-Djulia’s generous body. Luckily Martia-Djulia had been willing!
“My boss wants you out of the way,” Grievous continued, moving to the foot of Djetth’s bed.
’Rhett opened his eyes a slit, to be absolutely sure that Grievous was doing nothing more deadly than standing at a distance from Djetth’s bed and muttering.
Grievous had something behind his back.
’Rhett balanced the small, sharp knife in his hand. In Tigron gravity aboard the Ark Imperial, a hard-working, human jugular vein was a big enough target.
Then he saw what Grievous held.
Djetth was aware of a threat.
He could hear a gruff voice like the rumbling of distant thunder. Sounds were muffled, like falling snow. There was cottony stuff over his ears.
His eyes wouldn’t open, but he knew someone was in his room.
Drifting in and out of consciousness made him all too vulnerable, damn it. Even when he was half awake, he couldn’t force his limbs to move. The pain was tolerable. It was no worse than a hangover all over. That was the drugs. Fewmet, he was as helpless as a baby.
He heard a closer sound, a sharply indrawn breath. Slack-damn, he couldn’t see, couldn’t turn his head.
Oh, shit, there were two of them.
“Prince Djarrhett! Didn’t see you, Sir. Sorry to disturb you.”
Neck bones clicked. The surprised one must have turned his head.
“You may call me ’Rhett. I’ve no plans to use my rank to save a world —or a life— without bloodshed tonight.”
So ’Rhett was there. Double-talking bastard! So, he had no plans to not shed blood? Whose blood was he planning to shed tonight? What was he up to? Fratricide, perhaps?
Someone with human body odor was too damned close to his bloody bed. And the insensitive bastard was bending closer.
“Those aren’t nail clippers on a cord around his neck, are they, Sir?”
Grievous! Only Tarrant-Arragon’s right hand man went around calling Princes and title-stealing impostors Sir. What was Grievous up to?
“They’re wire cutters, Grievous. I imagine there is a limit to how advanced medicine can be. Djetth’s broken jaw is not only braced by the half-mask, but wired shut. If he had to vomit, the wires would have to be cut immediately, or he’d die.”
“That’s bad, Sir.”
Too damned right.
“Giving Djetth the means to get himself chunk-blowing drunk could also be fatal.”
Good of you to say so, ’Rhett. That’s exactly the sort of thing I want my enemies and future in-laws to know. Perhaps you’d like to point out that an involuntary mouthful or two of wine could choke me while I’m in this helpless state? Grievous might not have thought of that. Slackness damn you, ’Rhett!
“He’ll have what you’d call a ‘glass jaw’ for quite a while,” ’Rhett continued unconcernedly. “The rigid half-mask will give him some protection for the next month or so. Nevertheless, he’ll have to swear off fistfights, and give up getting wall-banging drunk. He can’t afford to get his jaw broken again.”
“So, you’re saying he has a drinking problem, Sir? I dare say he’s not happy with his life.”
No shit, Grievous!
“I guess not,” ’Rhett agreed.
Psycho-bloody-analyze me, do! Djetth’s brain flick-flacked unpleasantly. If he’d been drunk but not incapable, at this point he’d chug down two long glasses of the nearest alien equivalent of orange juice to counter the imminent mind-somersaults.
How the Carnality had the topic turned to boozing, any…? Djetth felt his brain take a dive. Wheeee!
No way to stop himself from cartwheeling back into unconsciousness. No wayyyyyy….
“What were you planning to do with whatever you’ve got behind your back, Grievous?” ’Rhett asked in a deceptively sweet, Tarrant-Arragonian tone of voice.
He twirled his nasty little knife through his long, flexible fingers, as though it were a ballpoint pen-sized baton.
Excerpted from Insufficient Mating Material by Rowena Cherry. Copyright © 2007 by Rowena Cherry. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.