Story Excerpt
Unconventional Mate

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“Okay.” Saris started wringing his hands together as he walked away from Chellak and began pacing. “I was going through the supplies that Semyon had brought in on his last mission when I came across a box that wasn’t on the manifest. At first, I didn’t think much about it. Mix-ups like that happen, you know?”

“But?” Chellak encouraged.

Saris tossed his hand up in the air again, looking exasperated. “But the damn box started making tapping noises.”

Semyon’s jaw dropped. “Taping noises?”

Saris nodded rapidly. “When I tapped back, I heard someone speaking from inside the box.”

“There was someone in the box?” Why hadn’t he heard anything when he checked the supplies? Hell, how had he missed an extra box that wasn’t on the manifest? He usually wasn’t so oblivious.

Semyon was very stringent when it came to loading his ship. For someone to get an unmarked box past him was a feat. Now he was just as curious as Chellak. He also wanted to know who in the hell had gotten past him.

“Yes. His name is Nari. He’s the man Garret was telling me about, the one the rumors are about.”

Chellak sighed as he walked back over to sit behind his desk. He rubbed the bridge of his nose for a moment and then clasped his hands together. “From the beginning, Saris. What rumors?”

 “Nari is Brüter. He entered into a contract with a man off world. It seemed to be a good match from everything I heard, and then suddenly Nari was brought back to Elquone to face charges that he killed the contract holder. When it was discovered that Nari was carrying, his execution was held off until after the child is born, which is in about two month, give or take a week.”

“Wait,” Semyon said as he stepped toward the doctor, feeling a sudden unfamiliar urge to know everything about the rumors Saris had heard. “I thought he was being brought back to face charges. I didn’t hear you say that he was found guilty in a trial.”

“That’s because there was no trial.” Saris’s words were controlled.

“Then how–“

“The family of the man Nari was charged with killing comes from money, a lot of money. They greased the right palms and the High Ruler declared Nari guilty without a trial.”

“Can he do that?” Semyon asked as he looked at Chellak.

“I don’t think so, but things are still pretty precarious on Elquone since the last High Ruler died. I’m sure a lot of things go on that aren’t exactly above board.”

“Nari says he didn’t kill the man. It was the guy’s brother,” Saris quickly added.

“Do you believe him?” Chellak asked.

Saris’s lips thinned and he looked pensive, as if he was truly giving the question some thought. “I can’t honestly say. I know Nari is terrified. The brother is demanding the babe be turned over to him as required by the contract. He is saying that the babe is the only thing he has left of his brother.”

“Isn’t the contract nullified once the contract holder dies?” Chellak asked.

“Yes, and that’s what they are using to convict Nari. They say that he killed the contract holder in order to keep his babe. Word is that Nari is insane.”

When Saris pulled out a vid-pad and held it out to Chellak, Semyon peeked down at the information before the vid-pad passed into Chellak’s hands. His breathe caught in his throat when he saw the vivid green eyes staring back at him from the picture of the man in the contract.

Those eyes mystified him. There was so much hope and determination in them. How could a man with that kind of outlook on life become a cold blooded killer?

“Is he insane?” Semyon asked.

“I think he’s terrified.” Sadness sapped the color from Saris’s face. “They want to take his babe from him. I think he has a right to be terrified.” Saris looked up. There were tears in his eyes as he glanced over at Semyon and Chellak. “I would be if someone tried to take my baberen.”

“Is there anything we can do to help him?” There had to be something. Semyon didn’t know the guy but he felt for him. And that was strange. Semyon didn’t tend to make a lot of personal friendships, not after watching Bogden—the shaikh of the Leonid pride on Katzmann—get betrayed by another warrior. It had almost cost Bogden his life–and his mate. Semyon never wanted to be put in that position.

“If we continue to hide him here on Katzmann, Chellak could get in trouble with the Federation. But, if we turn him over to the High Ruler of Elquone, then Nari will lose his babe and be executed,” Saris said as if he were truly split on what to do. 

“I’ll take him.” It was a bold statement. Semyon barely registered what came out of his mouth before both Saris and Chellak were staring at him like he might be as crazy as Nari. Maybe he was, but Semyon couldn’t allow Nari to be killed for a crime he hadn't even had a chance to have a trial for. It wasn’t right, and Semyon wasn’t going to allow the man to come to any harm.

“Semyon,” Chellak said slowly, “do you know what you’re saying?”

Not really.

“If I sign a contract with Nari and claim him according to Katzman law, it should keep them from forcing him to return to Elquone and keep Chellak from being caught in the middle of this shit storm.”

“Semyon, you can’t mate with someone that isn’t your mate,” Chellak insisted with adamancy. “Even you now that.”

Semyon grabbed the vid-pad from Chellak and stared down at the man’s green eyes again. He could feel something move inside of him, something he had not experienced before–at least, not on this level.

The urge to protect the man and his unborn babe became almost more impetrative than the duty he felt toward Chellak Rai, and that was something he had lived by for more years than he could count. He felt an overwhelming need to physically claim the man, to protect him and cherish him.

And that was insane, because it could only mean one thing.

“I think he is my mate.”