Prince Devnar Haylen shifted in his gravity boots as his anticipation increased with every beat of his heart. The Kyrimian ship had failed in its attempt to outrun theirs, and now it was time to see their prize. They waited in the air lock as their lasers cut out a hole in the side of the deep-space freighter and secured an entrance.
"No response from the freighter on our instructions to surrender. It looks like they're going to fight," Volun, his best friend and second in command, said through the communicator in Devnar's helmet. Back inside the ship, Volun kept watch for any approaching vessels and constantly scanned the captured freighter held in place by their magnetic tractor beam.
Unease twisted through Devnar's gut as they prepared to board. Not much was known about the Kyrimians; they kept their planet carefully isolated from the rest of the galaxy. According to the history books, something had happened thousands of years ago that partially destroyed Kyrimia. From that point on, the Kyrimians had adopted a strict nobody-on, nobody-off policy, and information about the planet and its people trickled to a halt. They didn't even allow foreign ships to enter their atmosphere. Instead they did all their trading from a base on one of their moons, and they handled all shipping themselves.
The largest source of the rare crystal zanthin for twenty light years, Kyrimia was guarded by a defense system even the most foolhardy raiders avoided. Zanthin was the fuel that enabled ships to travel at light speed, and it was extremely rare.
Devnar knew one thing about Kyrimia: it was the richest planet in the galaxy and well-known for sparing no expense on the items it imported. Whether the ship was returning from a shipping expedition or on its way to pick some cargo up, the freighter was a rare prize.
"You sure this is the ship your informant told you about?" Devnar asked Volun on a private communication link.
"Yeah, this is the one. Same galactic registry code and everything. My informant said they might put up a small struggle, but that it was mostly mercenaries and a few Kyrimians. The mercs should give up quick enough when they realize they're being boarded by a Jensian raiding party, and I don't think the Kyrimians will be a problem. Besides, our intelligence shows that this ship is loaded with zanthin." Two beeps sounded in Devnar’s helmet as Volun switched back to the public channel. "Hold tight; the scan is almost done."
Anxiety and nerves had him repeatedly checking his weapons. With the blessings of the Goddess, there would be enough zanthin here to replenish the coffers at his home on Jensia and keep the rebel slavers on his planet at bay. It seemed like each year more men were lured by promises of women, however unwillingly detained, to join the rebels that held the southern portion of his planet. Only one in every twenty births on Jensia was a woman, a fact that led to great competition for their favors. The rebels in the south treated their women like slaves, trading and breeding them like cattle.
A low, metallic whine vibrated through the floor as the cutting was finished and their ships connected. On the other side of the small portal window, he could only see darkness as the wall fell away to reveal the inside of the freighter.
"Do we know anything about their personal weapons system?" Devnar asked as he shifted and tried to detect any movement on the other side of the door.
"Negative." Volun hesitated, and Devnar could see him in his mind. Right now Volun would be tapping his fingernails together like he always did when he was nervous or thinking. "This particular freighter was well outside of the safe shipping zones and seemed to be heading to a deserted section of this galaxy."
"What do you think they're hauling?" Ikel's voice sounded through the communication link in Devnar's helmet.
Shrugging, Devnar rolled his shoulders and rechecked his weapon. "Hopefully the information we received is correct, and it's loaded with zanthin. That's about the only thing that comes off that polluted hunk of rock they call a planet."
"Maybe some of their women will be on board," Volun said in a hopeful voice. "I heard they're absolutely perfect in every way and eager to please."
Devnar growled deep in his throat. "No prisoners. You want to be a slaver, join the rebels. Then you can steal all the women you want and keep them chained up like animals. Whip them until they scream every time a man enters a room."
Anger crept into Volun's voice. "I would never betray you, Prince."
Silence except for the hissing of his air purifier filled the holding bay as they waited for the scan to be completed. Ten years ago, Devnar's younger sister had been kidnapped by the rebels. When they finally rescued her, she had been beaten within an inch of her life and raped repeatedly. She had been unwillingly bonded by a dozen different males. He'd taken great satisfaction in hunting down every one of them and ending their lives. It was easily done; once a Jensian male had bonded to a female, they could find each other anywhere in the world. With his sister at his side, there had been no place they could hide where she couldn't find them.
Sucking in a breath through his nose, Devnar tried to rein in his temper. They had a job to do, and he wasn't going to be any good to his men if he let the past haunt him. "I know. Forgive me for my anger."
Volun's tone grew teasing, and Devnar grinned in spite of himself. "Forgiven, forgotten, and gone. A man can't help but wish for a mate. Hell, I'd even bond her with you if I had to. And I know how loudly you snore and how much your breath stinks after a night of drinking."
His men laughed over the communication link. Devnar smiled behind his visor. Because of the small amount of women on Jensia, polygamy was the norm. Devnar's mother had bonded with four men, so he had grown up with four fathers. His sire was the current king. He hadn't felt the primal urge to bond any of the available females, but he and Volun had shared a willing woman or two.
"You just like the way I taste," Devnar teased, and the other men roared with laughter. The erotic memory of Volun licking his spilled seed from between a woman's thighs flashed through his mind. Blood rushed to his cock in response, and he shifted as it swelled beneath his armor. Maybe after the raid, he and Volun could celebrate together.
Truth be told, Volun's seed was just as sweet. Evolution had shaped the males of their species into being able to detect another healthy male -- possible mate -- by their scent and the taste of their seed. A compatible male who would be a strong asset to his female would taste like life and passion. Each man's taste was unique, a complex blend of chemicals and hormones that his brain translated into aroma and flavor. Sampling another man's seed was a highly erotic and pleasurable experience, heightened only when it was mixed with a female’s cream. Then it became an explosive combination that drove the males into a mating rut.
Volun chuckled, and the stats from the scanner ran across Devnar's visor plate. The beep of a private communication link sounded before Volun said, "Well, my prince, I'm glad I'm not the only one whose cock is excited." His tone changed from teasing to hard as he broadcast to all the men, "Slight movement down the corridor to the left. Only looks like one or two people. Could be personal guards coming to negotiate. Initiating battle protocol."
The purified air from Devnar’s helmet tasted faintly of the chemicals used to speed up his metabolism and dull any pain. The other men around him grew still, all their instincts honed to the killing edge. Despite the fact that he only breathed air supplied by his armor, Devnar’s nostrils flared as he instinctively tried to take in the scent of the captured ship.
Senses now heightened for battle took in the world around him. Muscles bred and hardened for war tightened with excitement. To capture a ship full of zanthin would go a long way toward securing his spot as the next ruler of Jensia, and buy them the supplies they needed to fight the rebels from the southern hemisphere of their planet.
"Eyes ahead," Devnar responded on the global link. Taking the lead, he switched his view to infrared. Behind him, six men followed him into the dark hallway. Cursing softly, he noted the walls of the ship were specially coated to conceal any heat signatures. The apprehension in his gut twisted again, and he gestured for his men to flank out behind him. Why would a small freighter need shielded walls?
He glanced behind him and pointed to the two older men with him. "Wilim and Montro, I want you guarding our backs in case we need to make a quick escape." Somewhere in the Kyrimian ship, a door opened and changed the pressure in the corridor. "This doesn't feel right."
The two men nodded at him and crouched next to the air lock with their weapons pointed down the hall.
A beeping sound in his helmet alerted him to the failure of his filtration system. Trying to find the source of the problem, he heard reports from his men of their own systems failing. It was too big of a coincidence. A trace of fear wormed into his belly. Why only sabotage their breathing systems? He took a deep breath, scenting the air on the back of his sensitive palate. With the hormones and chemicals of battle lust running through his blood, he could taste the musky hormones of his men and a faint hint of female. That feminine musk immediately captured his attention on every level and began to revert his thought process down to its primitive mating state.
Moving slowly, Devnar crept forward, drawn by that hint of female desire even as he struggled to resist its lure. The fragrance tickled his nose and went right to the root of his cock in a pounding rush of blood. Lust clouded his thoughts and turned his mind from warrior to predator. He had enough time to say, "My suit's been tampered with," before all conscious thought faded and he became a creature of need and instinct.
Dimly he was aware of someone shouting into his communication link for him to respond, but that didn't alarm him as it should have. Next to him, four of his men followed him down the hallway, all but running to chase the scent. There was a woman ahead, and as an unmated male of the warrior breed, he was helpless against his urges.
Weapon totally forgotten at his side, he stopped before a sealed door. Even though he knew it was impossible, he could almost see the scent trickling from the minute gaps around the seals.
"What do you mean your suit’s been tampered with? Prince?" Volun's voice squawked through his headgear. "I'm detecting movement in your area. A lot of it. Get out of there!"
Instead of responding, Devnar snarled at one of his men as he caressed the brushed metal of the closed door. The female inside was his, and he would fight anyone to get to her.
"Prince!" Volun screamed into his ear now. "Get out! Get your men out! It's a trap!"
The words should have meant something to Devnar, but they did nothing to detract him.
A pair of hands grabbed his shoulders and tried to pull him away, but Devnar turned and hit Wilim hard enough to throw him against the wall. Montro hauled the man to his feet and avoided a punch Devnar threw. The older men backed away, and Devnar gave them a warning snarl before turning back to the door.
"What the hell's going on?" Volun yelled through the helmet.
"They're using the scent of a female in heat," Wilim responded in a rush. "I tried to get the prince, but he's in a mating rut. If he were alone, we might be able to subdue him, but with the other men in rut as well, we'll be torn apart if we try to take them away from what they think is a breeding female."
"Balls," Volun said. "Get back on the ship."
"But the prince --"
"I said get back on the ship! That's an order!"
The men arguing on his headset annoyed Devnar, and he flicked off the communication link. The scent of a female in need swamped the air; his erection throbbed in response. His body demanded release, so he took off his armor, fingers fumbling with the straps and clamps as, behind him, the sound of metal hitting the floor filled the corridor. He tossed his weapon to the side and stretched with a moan. The feeling of his hair hitting his shoulders was like a caress to his aroused body.
Everything that touched his sensitive skin hurt. He had to be ready to present himself for the female’s inspection. The air cleared for a moment as movement farther down the corridor pushed it away. It gave him enough time to scream in fury. Drugs. Someone knew their weakness and was pumping the air full of synthetic hormones to trigger their mating urges.
Blinding lights filled the corridor, and he pressed his palms to his sensitive eyes. The small ship rocked as their raiding vessel detached. He sent a silent prayer to his Goddess that Volun would get away. If he could manage to escape, it wouldn't take him long to rescue them. They wouldn't be taken to Kyrimia itself, probably to one of the planet’s moon stations.
"Filthy raiders." A male voice pierced Devnar’s ears. His lips pulled back in a silent snarl. He struggled to regain himself, to battle the effects of the aphrodisiac. Trying to tell his aroused body there was no worthy female to fight over was useless.
A woman's voice, cold and cruel, sounded from nearby. She spoke in a low tone, and he was unable to make out most of her words, but one did come through loud and clear. Prince. They knew who he was. Gritting his teeth, he flexed his hands and tried to judge the distance between himself and his weapons.
His cock was still rock hard, but his mind rejected the woman as a mate, and it helped him regain his self-control. Something about her psychic and physical smell repulsed him as much as the synthetic one aroused. Blinking against the lights, he curled his hands into fists and tried to assess the situation. His four remaining men were all naked, with their armor discarded next to his farther down the hall. Judging by their dilated pupils and hard cocks, they were as affected by the hormones as he was.
Every bit as beautiful and perfect as Volun had hoped, a tall woman with dark black skin covered in a shimmering canary yellow gown smirked at him. The cruelty in her gaze offset any physical beauty. Her scent reminded him of spoiled meat. Behind her stood at least three dozen guards, all armed to the teeth. Shit, Volun was right. Someone set them up. Guilt and fury battled within him as he tried to think of a way to save his men.
"What's our ransom price?" he spat out and lifted his chin. If she knew he was royalty, there was a chance he could negotiate. The way her eyes lit with greed as she examined his cock made him want to choke her.
"No ransom for you." She ignored the low laughter of the guard next to her.
Without thinking, Devnar took a step toward her and screamed in agony as her guard shot him with a pain amplifier. For an eternity, his world was filled with white-hot anguish as his nerves told his body he was burning alive. The distant screams of his men only added to his torment.
"Collar him," the woman said in a bored tone. "And the blond, and that one with the tattoo around his cock."
"What would you like us to do with the rest, Lady Grenba?"
Lady Grenba trailed past Devnar, and her skirts hissed along the floor as she inspected his four remaining men. Thank the Goddess the rest had managed to escape. "Kill them. Our agreement was only for the prince and to kill the rest, but I'm sure our friend won't mind if we keep these men as a bonus. After all, we sent them more than their fair share of women in our last shipment."
"No!" he screamed; then his lungs refused to work further as blinding pain sizzled through every nerve in his body. An eternity later, he twitched on the floor, his limbs still jerking with the aftershocks. Slowly his sight returned, and his raw throat convulsed as he tried to swallow.
A cool hand stroked his cheek. If he could have moved his body the slightest inch, he would have bitten those fingers off. "Did you feel the lust coming off of this one?" Lady Grenba’s breath came out in a shudder. "With his royal blood, he will be the perfect gift to trap her. Exactly what she wants."
The greed in her words made him clench his teeth as rage fired through his muscles. "Fuck you," he managed to whisper as rough hands grabbed his body and jerked him upright.
Her hand was back again, tilting his chin upward. "Stupid man. Soon you'll be begging to please."
"Never." He would be damned if he’d let this bitch ride him. Goddess, he would give anything for the strength to reach out and snap her neck. Behind her, a guard dragged away the limp body of one of his men. A scorch mark on his temple confirmed his death, and Devnar was grateful it had been quick. He would mourn for them properly later; right now he had to take care of the living.