Her last shot at love just crashed and burned… literally.
Bella signed up for the interplanetary courtship cruise hoping for travel, adventure, and maybe a chance at romance. Now she’s crash landed on a strange planet with no one around but a horned alien hottie who showed up and laid claim to her gear, her ship… and her.
He’s too brash, too pushy, and much too young for her. He’s also not taking no for an answer…
This wasn’t the adventure she imagined, but it might be the romance of a lifetime, if she can stay alive long enough to enjoy it.
**Buckle up. This sci-fi romance contains an alien with fur, fangs, horns, and a very possessive attitude when it comes to the woman he’s claimed for his own.
“This was not in the brochure,” Bella muttered as she clung to the straps of her safety harness. She kept her eyes tightly closed as she spent what she assumed were the last minutes of her life trying to pin down which of her many dubious choices had led her astray.
The escape pod pitched and shook as it plummeted toward the surface at speeds she didn’t want to contemplate. If the thrusters failed, there’d be nothing left but a crater and a schmear of organic goo that had once been Bella-shaped.
She decided that signing up for the galactic matchmaking cruise had been the key mistake. What was she thinking, looking for love at her age? It didn’t matter what species they were. Males were all the same. They wanted someone young and pretty to warm their bed and boost their ego, and while Bella had been young once, she’d never been pretty.
She heard her father’s voice in her head, exactly the same as it had been the day he’d called her into the front room and laid out his plans for her future. “You’re a handsome woman, Bella, but you’ll never be beautiful. Beauty offers its own kind of power, but you’re not destined for that. You’re going to have to find other ways to get by in life. I’ve got no money or power of my own, but I know men who have both. The best I can do for you is to give you to one of them. You’ll have to make your own way after that.”
She’d taken her father’s advice and gone with the man he’d chosen for her, a crime lord named Felix Natar. Maybe that had been a mistake, too, but she’d had limited options back then.
The same could be said for her current situation. She’d traveled from planet to planet, watching as the other women made their choices and left for their new lives. Now only a handful of them remained, rattling around the lushly appointed ship like loose change in a rich man’s purse. At least, they had been… before it had all gone to the nine hells.
One minute they were zipping along in hyperspace, and the next the ship convulsed and shuddered as something that felt like a shock wave tore through it. After that, there’d been nothing but chaos.
The captain had come on, shouting orders Bella barely heard over the alarms that screeched and wailed from every speaker. Heavy, airtight doors slammed shut, sealing off various compartments.
Bella tried to remember the drills they’d all been put through at the start of the cruise. Emergency procedures. She needed to be somewhere right now… Shit! The escape pods.
She was only halfway to the nearest evac station when something loud happened and the ship rocked again, throwing her to her knees.
She was barely on her feet again before a new, even louder klaxon sounded and every monitor in view lit up bright red, all flashing the same message in various languages. “Abandon Ship.”
She’d followed the flashing arrows to the nearest escape pod and strapped herself into the one-man vessel. The moment she had her harness fastened, the door sealed, and she’d been ejected into space.
An annoyingly calm, automated voice came on within seconds of launch while Bella was still dealing with the sudden loss of gravity. The voice announced the pod would attempt to land on the nearest planet and began reciting instructions pertaining to various crash scenarios. “In case of a water landing…”
Bella ignored it. She had no idea what the surface looked like. It could be water, land, or molten rock, for all she knew. She didn’t even know where they were. All she had to go on was what little information scrolled across the pod’s single monitor. The planet had a breathable atmosphere, multiple healthy ecosystems, and not much else. No cities. No ports. No datasphere. She couldn’t even see what it looked like. The pod had no windows, and the monitor kept scrolling the same few lines of text. All she could do was hold on and hope.
Laughter bubbled up in giddy giggles that morphed into maniacal gales. She was about to crash land on a strange planet and probably die there… This was so not the way she imagined this cruise ending for her.
Bella didn’t remember the moment of impact. One second she’d been laughing like a lunatic, and the next thing she knew, she was staggering through the open door of her pod, coughing up the suspension gel that must have been triggered while she was still airborne.
The gel had saved her life, but holy hells, it reeked. She hacked and spat as much of the vile crap out of her body as she could, her attempts to clear her mouth and lungs triggering several rounds of nausea as her much-abused stomach got in on the action. Once her insides were dealt with, she switched her attention to the outside.
“Fuck.” She was drenched in the snot-slick stuff and more was oozing out of the pod. A goopy pool of it gathered around the open door, making the scorched ground sizzle and hiss anywhere the liquid touched.
Scorched ground. Right. So, the thrusters had kicked in like they were supposed to. She was still dizzy enough that falling back into the goop was a risk, so she moved a few meters away. Once she found a patch of reasonably clear ground, she planted her feet and took her first look around.
Trees. That was her first impression. She’d crashed into a forest of some kind. The ground was thick with a spongy carpet she assumed was some kind of moss, though it was a far cry from the blue-green stuff she’d seen before. This was a burnt orange color, though it looked to be healthy enough. The trees overhead had foliage of similar shades. Reds and oranges with a few splashes of gold here and there. She couldn’t smell much over the cloying smell of the goop, but the air was definitely breathable.
The second that thought popped into her head, she tossed it right back out again. Obviously, it was breathable. She’d have suffocated by now otherwise. Fortunately, the cruise came with a health package that had provided the women with all sorts of boosters to help them acclimatize to different oxygen levels and immunize them against dozens of pathogens and parasites. Handy when they were being toured around the galaxy looking for love… and damned useful now she was on a strange planet.
Whatever wound up killing her would have to be bigger than a virus. She looked around warily. “That was not an invitation for anything to try and kill me right now. In fact, I’d recommend waiting until I’ve gotten this crap off me first. Trust me, it does not taste good.”
She sank down on a moss-covered stone, gathered up a handful of the thick, orange stuff, and used it to scrub the worst of the gunk off herself.
Over the next few minutes, the natural sounds of the wood returned as whatever wildlife called this place home got over the shock of her sudden and noisy arrival. The pod had torn a path through the canopy, snapping off branches as it plowed through on its way to the ground. Sunlight poured through the gap, and after a few more minutes, she opted to move to a shadier spot. The sun was baking the remaining gel into a hard, tacky mess that itched.
She wanted to find a nice pool of water somewhere and clean up, but that couldn’t be her first priority. Being clean was a luxury. Shelter, food, and drinkable water were necessities. She eyed the pod that had brought her here. It was oblong, windowless, and a little worse for wear after atmospheric re-entry and the beating it took from the local plant life. Plus, the inside was coated in slowly dissolving goo.
Whoever had designed these things clearly didn’t intend for the pod to act as any kind of shelter once it was on the ground. Of course, most times escape pods would drift around in space and wait for rescue. The space-to-planet ratio was heavily skewed toward the empty space side of the scale.
Still, it was better than nothing. And hadn’t that stupid voice mentioned something about emergency supplies at some point during the descent?
She crossed over to the still-cooling pod and took a closer look. There! Near the bottom, she spotted a panel marked in multiple languages. She couldn’t read them all—her translators only worked on spoken speech, not written words—but the ones she could make out all said the same thing. “Emergency kit inside.”
The metal was still hot, but she managed to get the panel open without burning herself. She found two containers inside. One was marked as rations and the other as an emergency shelter. She grabbed them both and lugged them over to the shady rock she’d used earlier. At least, that’s what she tried to do. The reality was something quite different.
The containers were heavy and awkward, and the thick moss made it almost impossible to pick her way through the uneven footing. After just a few steps she tripped over something and stumbled, dropping both items in the process.
Before she could recover her balance, she was deafened by an explosive whooshing noise and something hit her in the back, knocking her off her feet.
The moss was soft, but the roots and rocks she landed on weren’t. Ow.
She’d fallen too many times in her life to make the mistake of moving before she was certain nothing was broken. It only took a few seconds to determine she had a few bruises and scrapes but nothing more serious. Good enough.
Time to see what the hell had knocked her down and made that hideous noise. She got awkwardly to her feet, grateful no one could see her right now. Then she looked behind her. Something large and yellow was caught between the trunks of several trees. It shuddered and hissed like a suitcase full of unhappy snakes, and it took Bella’s scattered senses a few seconds to work out what had happened. Her shelter had attacked her.
She looked on in dismay as the large inflatable structure slowly deflated through several freshly torn holes. She’d somehow managed to activate it when she stumbled. It had inflated and then rapidly run out of room since it was far too big to fit into the densely treed space. The rocks and branches had torn holes in it, and now it was dying a sad, leaky death as she watched.
Fucking hells. Even if she found a patch kit, it couldn’t possibly be extensive enough to fix all the leaks, and she didn’t see anywhere nearby to set it up if she did. The shelter was useless.
At least she still had the rest of the supplies. Maybe she could cut up the shelter to make a tarp or something. If she could find something to cut it with. She needed something to defend herself with, too, because anywhere as lush and full as life as this spot had to have wildlife in abundance.
“Something here is going to try to eat me. I just know it.”
Movement out of the corner of her eye made her spin around. Some kind of serpent-like creature had come up behind her, its red and orange coloring helping it blend into the forest floor.
Bella had no idea if it was dangerous or not, but she wasn’t about to take that chance. She slowly lifted one foot off the ground and eased her shoe off. It was a sensible flat, durable and comfortable.
She took aim and hurled it at the creature’s head. Her throw was off, but it was enough to make the serpent veer off and then turn to slither back into the forest.
“Something might eat me eventually,” she called after the snake as she limped over to pick up her shoe, “but it won’t be you.”
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