"McTavish." A lilting singsong voice came from the opening of the alley.
Two Schooners in one day? What were the odds of encountering two from his rare race?
He turned to face the source of the lilt. On Chombay, he didn't hide his identity like he did most anywhere else. Union Alliance never came to Chombay. There was no need.
Rare in the slums of Chombay.
What was a female Schooner doing here? Where was the man who should protect such a rare jewel?
She was a beauty. Her hair was pulled back into a severe bun, but one piece had escaped. It lay beside her ear in a wave that spoke of curliness. She had true black hair that was glossy in the way that only Schooners had. Her eyes were a brilliant jade green. He'd seen those eyes in women of his race before. They could snap fire when provoked. She had meat on her bones, this lovely piece o' ass. No miniscule little waif. This was a woman through and through.
His cock jimmied to life, hardening as his breath withdrew from his lungs. The easy erection reminded McTavish how long it had been since it had even met his hand. He'd seen the like of her before. Seen more beautiful women. Why did this one take his breath away?
An unnatural warmth slid across his chest. His hand came up to rub at it and knocked his stone out of the way.
Her mouth parted in cute surprise, also making him think of how that mouth would feel around his thick cock. He'd give her more than a mouthful. Shoot his load down her throat many times.
He took a step, still rubbing at the heat on his chest.
Her stone blazed under the top she wore that didn't half contain her bodacious tits. Yes, this was a woman. One that he could easily see himself riding. Wanting. Maybe there'd even be time for that today, if God was willing. God knew McTavish sure was.
Her stone blazed.
He glanced down to his chest, where his stone shone an eerie black light that made him pause. The glow couldn't be coming from his stone, could it?
His stone blazed.
Great fucking God in heaven, he was mated.
Ari couldn't take her eyes away from the man's stone glowing in front of her. This man was her mate? The Fates had to be joking if he was who she thought he was. He had to be who she thought. She'd come all this way to find him.
After all, he'd been talking to the boy she'd had planted on Chombay. A Schooner. From what she'd heard, he'd never be able to resist a Schooner boy. The instant she'd come up to see him talking to the boy in those last few seconds of their confrontation, she'd known he had to be the man she was looking for. Which was why she'd sent her servant to go collect the boy before he could get into more trouble. And she'd lurked to talk to McTavish. She had to convince him to help her.
She'd expected McTavish to be larger than life.
For once, the legend had lived up to the real thing. He was larger than life. Bigger than any man she'd ever seen. Not that she got out much.
His shoulders were as wide as the river that crossed their home world. His hair was longer than most, jet-black like hers. His torso tapered to surprisingly slender hips and powerful legs. His arms looked as though they'd do well pounding any man. Or holding a woman closely so she felt safe. Those rough hands would take. Plunder. Be rough against aristocratic skin. Tangle in hair. Caress lips. Touch places that only she had handled.
She couldn't breathe. The stone seemed to be stealing what little air she had left. That had to be it. She surely couldn't be attracted to this rogue. So she told herself.
Her stone glowed. She could feel it against her chest. Could see his stone answering in a weird form of black light.
This could not be happening.
He looked just as shell-shocked as she was. Maybe even more so.
They both stared at each other for several seconds without saying anything. There was nothing to be said. The Fates had spoken. Mistakes had to have been made. "This has to be a mistake." She said the words aloud.
"Fates doona make mistakes."
A lie. They had with her mother and father. "McTavish?" She repeated in a breathy voice that hardly sounded like her. "You are McTavish, aren't you?" She had to know the name of the man who would be hers for an eternity. Hers. Nothing had ever been hers and hers alone before. 'Course from what she knew, she didn't think this man would take the idea of ownership well. Not to mention there was no way this could work.
His lids blinked down to cover his eyes for a moment. Long dark lashes framed his dark irises, which stared back at her. "Who wants ta know?" His voice took on an air of suspicion. He had no right to be suspicious of her, even if he should be. Except that the time for that had passed. They were mated.
That accent. Schooner, like hers. But from the poorer sections of her planet. The regions where you couldn't get rid of the accent as she had fought to do. Interesting. "I do. I want to know."
"And ya are?" He arched an eyebrow at her.
"Your mate." Should she be pointing that out? Considering she wasn't sure how she felt about it. She watched the interplay of emotions slide across his face with the movement of the muscles. "Are you McTavish or not?" Just tell me. What if he was? Which was worse, him being McTavish or not? She wasn't sure.
His large shoulders shrugged widely. "Mayhap I am and mayhap I ain't. Maybe ya best tell me who ya are."
She took a deep breath. "I'm Arianna Deepheli." She waited for the reaction. For the startle at her name. For the recognition of who she was.
That never came. His face never changed expression. "Ya're a Schooner, aren't ya?" The stones were finally ceasing to glow. Hers was still warm to the touch, though, as if a reminder of what they shared. She watched as his hand clasped around his own stone tightly as if he could break the rock around his neck.
She nodded. He didn't know who she was. How incredible that seemed. Words caught in her throat. A mate. Her mate. She'd known it could happen at anytime but never expected it, especially now. Not the best time for a mating. She glanced down his body. His huge body. He was muscular in the way of showing that he did labor, but his hands were smooth. His dark hair was pulled back from his face, yet it ran down to beyond the curve of his shoulders. He wore a long black trench coat that swung around him like a ghost. He made her insides goo up. He commanded attention. Hardly what she expected from a surgeon of his skill. Only he wasn't just a surgeon; he was a rogue. A rogue with a brogue. A giggle almost spilled at that. She quickly caught it back. She was losing it. Being mated to someone you didn't even know would do that to you.
"Why are ya looking for McTavish?"
Good question. One she'd only reveal to the real McTavish. No matter that this man was her mate; she worked on a need-to-know basis. Only McTavish needed to know her true purpose. That was what had been agreed. "That's between him and me."
His mouth thinned. He didn't like being denied. Perhaps he'd better get used to it. "I'm him."
The blurted-out words almost made her gasp, even though she already suspected it was him. The incredulity struck her just the same. She was mated to the McTavish. To a man legends were written of in the ghettos of Schoon. A man who mothers told their children would take them if they'd been bad. A man for whom Union Alliance had set a high reward for capture. A man she now needed more than life itself. How ironic were the Fates?
She shook her head as she stared at him. "We're mated." She couldn't get over that. The Fates did truly have a sense of humor.
"Aye." He blew out a deep breath. "We are." His accent seemed more prominent at times than others. Like now. Maybe times of great emotion. He looked deep into her eyes, his hands at his side. "Mated."
Their stones glowed in tandem again.
Yep, times of emotion were evident in the glowing stones.
Her nether regions clenched in response. Just looking at him brought on things she'd never in her life experienced. She felt slick between her thighs. Her body wanted him in ways she didn't understand. Most of all, she wanted to touch him. To make sure he was real. To feel that hard body against hers. Feel the stones glow between them.
He slid toward her before he reached out and brought her toward his body. He was rock hard. Not just his body but more intimate parts of him. She couldn't make any leeway against him. It was like being up against a stone. Nothing had ever felt this hard.
He wouldn't let her back away. He held her close. Grasped her body in those firm hands and pulled her tighter against him.
"So damn beautiful." He wrenched out the words before descending to close his lips over hers.
There was no asking, only taking. Claiming. He tasted her lips and mastered them. Dominated them.
Left her breathless and panting against him.
He backed her to the wall and shoved his hardness against her belly. Rubbed it against her with a moan.
A man was against her. Her man. Ready for her. She shivered as if a summer wind suddenly brought a chill her way.
His mouth plundered hers again and again, not giving her time to regain any of her scattered thoughts.
He ran his hand down her cheek to her throat. His hand felt like warm silk as he caressed her. He reached her breast and cupped as much of her into his hand as he could.
Her whole body shuddered and ached. There was so much that she wanted, she didn't know how to express it. She'd never thought she could hurt for the want of anything, but for him, she did.
She wanted things she couldn't even name, much less tell him. All she could do was whimper and groan against his onslaught.
The sensations of his hands on her, and knowing exactly who he was, were overwhelming. She'd never expected to find her mate like this.
Her back pressed against the stone of just one of the buildings looming around them in the dank, dark alley. Cool. Sharp. It scratched against her skin.
Almost as much as her clothes.
She wanted them off. Wanted to rub against his body with her naked skin just to see what he felt like.
A man she didn't even know.
She chased away the voice. After all, this was her mate. He should be this sensual to her. She should be wanting him. There was nothing wrong with it. With her.
A man she'd never met before.
She closed her eyes, trying to block out her thoughts, but all that seemed to do was bring them to the forefront.
She knew rumors of McTavish. She didn't know the reality of the man. She'd seen what blind acceptance could do. It had the ability to destroy. Misplaced trust could tear anyone apart. She should know. She'd seen it happen. She had to be careful with this man, mate or not. She'd been let down too many times already. She didn't intend to get blindsided again.
She swallowed, only partially successful at pulling back from him. Her body protested, but her mind won the battle.
He panted against her lips, trying to fight her for possession of what she had to give. "What's wrong?"
"I doona know ya." Startled, she pulled more away from him. It had been a long time since her Schooner accent had crept out. "I don't know you. I can't do this." She couldn't. No matter how much she might want to be with him. Her reasons would remain her own.
He frowned. "I'm yar mate."
"I know that. But I can't..." She pressed on his chest. Almost got lost in the muscles under her fingers but shook her head to clear it. "A minute ago, ya wanted ta know what I wanted. Didn't want ta tell me yar name unless I told ya. Now ya want ta take me against a wall?" She winced against at the accent escaping her again. She'd fought too long and too hard for this to happen.
He lowered his hands. "We are mates. We're supposed ta fuck. Supposed ta be..."
Her lips pursed at the use of the rude word for sex. Fuck. What a crass term. What else should she expect from McTavish? Maybe all the legends weren't stories. No, she wouldn't have made it to him if they were all true.
He backed away from her. His gaze appraised her. "So the likes of the Schooner high class would never want ta be with someone like me, heh?" He folded his arms across his chest. "Even if we be mated."
"How did you know...?" She lowered her head. "My lack of an accent." Her looks were pure Schooner. Much to her mother's dismay and her father's disdain. Schooners always tried to get away from what they were. Unless they were McTavish. Or maybe especially if they were McTavish.
"And yar seeming ta expect me ta know who ya were when ya announced yar name? Go back ta yar high-class life." His face looked like angry storms of gray as his features wrinkled with lines like clouds rolling across the sky. "I won't trouble ya no more."
She caught his arm. "That's not why I stopped us. I..." She'd stopped them because she didn't know the man, nor did she trust him fully yet. Too many people in her life had let her down. Her mother had left her. Her father had checked out on her when her mother left. Her stepmother seemed to care only about appearances. All she'd had was Erek, and then he'd left her too. Not to mention there was a part of her that wanted to know the man whom she'd have sex with. It overruled the part that didn't care.
He looked at her hands resting on him. "Such a wee hand."
She snorted. "There are no wee parts on me."
His eyebrow raised on one side.
She ignored his reaction and didn't reply. She knew her faults. God knows they'd been pointed out often enough to her. Willowy would never be an adjective used for her. "I stopped us because I...can't do this yet. I'm...I don't even know you. Except in the fairy tales they tell of you."
"They aren't fairy tales." His lip curled up into a smile.
She snorted again, ignoring a little shiver. Her stepmother would tell her she was being unladylike. So would her mother. McTavish didn't seem to care. "So you do have a black heart and breathe fire and brimstone?"
"Only from me ass." He cackled for a minute, then sobered. "They really say that on Schoon about me?"
She nodded. "Also that you're seven feet tall." Another rumor popped into her head. About the size of the lance he bore. The intimate lance. How long it was. She felt heat move up her cheeks.
His grin told her that he knew what she was thinking. "That one 'tis true as well." He unfolded his arms. Opening himself up. To possibilities? Maybe. If her leadership training had taught her anything. "Mayhap later ya'll be seeing up close and personal that one. Mates are supposed ta be together, no matter that they just met."
She shook her head. "I can't. Not yet." She'd never thought about meeting her mate. What she might do. But being with him didn't feel right yet, probably because she wasn't confident he wouldn't abandon her, and she had to work that out. It was her problem, not his. Not to mention she had things hanging over her head. He might not stick around once he knew those things, making her abandonment worries all the more real to her. Then where would she be? She'd known mates to leave each other.
Like her mother had her father.
"Ya're a virgin."
That came out of nowhere. Heat once again rose up her skin. She liked that he didn't call her a "cherry" or any other crass terms for those who hadn't had sex yet. "Yes." Why lie? If they ever reached that point, he'd know anyway. She'd only found her stone a few seasons ago.
His mouth thinned again. "Great Mother of God, Fates, what have ya stuck me with?"
At that, she bristled. "Hey. I'm right here. And it's not being stuck." She took another breath. "Besides, I have business with you. I was looking for you when the stones glowed." She rubbed her head. When had things become so complicated?
"That you were." He waited, as if expecting her to tell him, only she didn't know how to start. Finally, he said, "What business?" Then he cocked his head to the side. "Shhh." He stood, listening intently. "Someone's coming."
Ari only had a moment to dread before several figures popped into view.
"Arianna." The cool voice could have been at a state dinner or barbecue instead of in a dark alley. A gaze even colder than the voice surveyed her.
Behind the woman, held by guards, her servant stood with the Schooner boy held fast by arms and weapons.
McTavish glanced from Ari to the woman to back behind the woman. He noted the boy and looked back to Ari. His hand drifted down beside his lean hips.
Probably getting closer to a weapon. She'd never even considered the fact he was armed. This was Chombay after all. It was a wonder he hadn't pulled a weapon on her.
The icy woman shook her head. "You've had your fun. Now it's time to come home. Your father is very worried about you."
Ari shook her head. "No."
"You don't have a choice, my dear. I've come to fetch you. Time to pay for your little bit of excitement."
"No." She couldn't go back. If she did, she'd be dead within the month. Isa, her stepmother, would see to that. The idea of her stepmother killing her was crazy. On the one hand, it seemed real, but on the other hand, she couldn't believe it was true. The two sides kept warring within her. If she believed Isa could do that to her, she'd have to believe that Isa had a hand in Erek's disappearance, and she couldn't accept that. Not yet. At the very least, Isa would ensure she'd never get away again to search for her brother.
Isa moved forward, shadowed by her guards. "You will come home. Please escort Arianna to our ship." She clapped her hands to her guards.
The men fanned out around the tall, willowy woman, except for the two holding Ari's servant and the boy.
Ari drew back.
McTavish stepped forward and in front of Ari before anyone could reach her side. "I doona think she wants ta go with ya."
Isa's frigid glare met his gaze head-on. "I don't think this any of your concern."
McTavish's head came up. "I doona think ya know my concern."
She rolled her eyes. "I don't have time for this. Take this man down and get Arianna. Now." Her voice grew louder with impatience.
Ari swallowed. She couldn't go back. She should have known the witch would track her. Now she'd dragged McTavish into this mess before she'd even wanted to. Six against one was hardly a fair fight. She opened her mouth to speak as the guards approached.
Only lightning-fast actions took the words from her mouth.
She hardly saw what happened. She was behind McTavish, didn't see what he did exactly, only flashes of arms and legs flying, but he took out all six of them without drawing a weapon. One minute they were there. The next, the men were all on the ground.
Isa looked at the men lying around her. "Who the hell are you?" She turned her attention back to McTavish.
McTavish rocked back on his heels and sounded as if he were grinning. "Wouldn't ya like ta know? I do know this woman isn't going anywhere with ya."
Isa clicked her tongue. "You have no idea what you've done. You've taken out the royal guards. Aiding and abetting this spoiled Schooner will put you in prison for a long time. A very long time."
"They can try. Now, why doona ya back out of here? And let her be." His voice rounded out with edges upon edges. He grabbed Ari's arm and pulled her over the fallen men. They took a left fork in the alleyway prior to the dead end they'd been standing in.
He pushed her along until they came to a shuttle bay. Then, he whirled her around to face him. "Who are ya?"
"I told you, Ari Deepheli. Arianna Deepheli."
"Then who the fuck was that?" He jabbed a finger back where they'd come from. "She was pure Schooner royalty bitch."
When he hadn't recognized who she was, Ari hadn't enlightened him. She hated to do so now. But now she had no choice. As usual, Isa hadn't given her one. "Isa Deepheli. Queen Isa Deepheli of Schoon. My stepmother."