Two very different civilizations—one bathed in bright sunlight, and the other veiled in shadow.
Bad decisions, declining resources, and a king on the brink of madness force Prince Varo Kutchif, third son of the royal family and a starship captain, to attempt the impossible: barter for Black Phospolrock, an energy source the mysterious Helkan kingdom has in abundance. Varo opens a line of communication with Adlar, an intriguing Helkan who seems to reciprocate Varo’s interest. He hopes so, because if negotiations collapse, Varo has orders to attack.
The Helkans preside over a planet shrouded in perpetual darkness. Several species have tried to exploit its natural resources through trade with them, but all have failed. Adlar Mondur is the older brother to the Helkan ruler. An assassin of the highest order, he’ll do anything to protect his king and his people—including tracking down the Yesri prince who crash-lands on their planet, leaving an ugly scar across its untouched beauty.
Thus begins a journey where two men from disparate civilizations grow from enemies to lovers.
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Snarling, Varo paced in his private bridge office. Jerking his luxurious cowlarium-hide desk chair around, he flopped down. Long white-blond hair fell over his shoulder. Irritated, he shoved it out of the way. He should’ve braided it this morning, but he’d gotten up late.
He rested his chin on his knuckles and stared out the port window into the unrelieved darkness that was space, scowling. Planet Helkan was his focus—with its permanent swirling cloud cover that more times than not denied their in-depth scans.
Its classification was that of a Darkrealm planet. Thanks to the cloud cover playing peekaboo, only filtured light got through. As such, its ecosystem either didn’t require much sunlight to live, or its fauna created its own photosynthesize non-visible light. No one knew much about the planet’s race since they didn’t travel off-planet much. The ones who did were said to be reserved, unfriendly, and uncommunicative. Cold, even.
Varo picked up a report from his desk and scanned it once more. The description of the inhabitants as cold seemed appropriate. His reports said they were a tall, pale-skinned people with long black hair, pointed ears, slit pupiled eyes, and excellent night vision.
Many of their cities were believed to either be located underground or built into cliff faces. Even though their technology was superior, that didn’t mean they weren’t barbaric and ruthless. Animals, really.
There were also rumors others had attacked the planet at one point long ago. It was believed to be for the Black Phospolrock crystals. That prompted the Helkans to protect themselves in the form of a planetary grid.
The Satellite Surveillance Network, or SSN, was a system of closely linked satellites that circled the planet. They formed a grid around Helkan. Beams of energy linked the satellites together. They incorporated their own shields so asteroids wouldn’t destroy them, but neither could a starship’s weapons system.
Others had tried in the past. When ships encountered the grid, the main computers shorted out, leaving the crippled vessels to crash-land on the planet. No one had any idea what became of the survivors.
When ambassadors from other planets tried to open talks about prisoners, the Helkans made it painfully clear they didn’t release hostages. Questions arose. Were they being treated humanely? Being taken care of? Were they given basic necessities like food, water, and shelter? Were they being tortured? Enslaved? If so, what did that slavery entail?
More disturbing was the gossip Helkans had fangs and drank blood. As a race they had a terrible reputation, but they were reputed to be gorgeous monsters. Common sense said to avoid them since they were dangerous and existed solely on the fringe of society, but common sense often failed when greed was factored in.
The whispered rumors they took prisoners and used them as a food source only increased other societies’ repulsion and curiosity. Varo shivered. Who knew what was true? Many reviled—and feared—the Helkans even as they tried to bargain with them. The fact they didn’t leave their planet often didn’t help the gossip about them either.
When certain leaderships, like his father’s, became aggressive in their tactics, the Helkans closed their planet borders and refused outsiders the right to enter their space. How his father thought he could broker anything with a species as uncivilized as this one was beyond him. He’d been set up to fail, but failure was not an option. It did not pay to have His Royal Majesty discontented. The blood-soaked floors of his dungeons proved that.
But that wasn’t what was most disconcerting. His orders—straight from the king himself—were to attack if no agreement could be reached. His targets were King Omori Mondur and his brother, Adlar Mondur.
The very idea turned his stomach. While he was willing to die in the line of duty, murder was something completely different. If he attacked it would be considered an act of war. Lives would be lost—possibly his own. And over what? A stupid rock.
But what could he do? His father made it perfectly clear he considered him dispensable. If he didn’t follow orders, His Royal Highness had been clear: his crew would suffer for his disobedience.
He had a choice: murdering beings based on nothing more than their unwillingness to share their riches—and in the process, possibly forfeiting his own life along with his crew’s—or facing the insanity that masqueraded as his father’s rule.
His Royal Highness’s plan was to disrupt the planetary government of Helkan with the murders of the king and his brother… then the Yesri would invade. The few advisors brave enough to point out the various flaws in the plan had been relieved of their duties—permanently. His father brooked no disagreement. Varo was doomed. If the Helkans didn’t kill him, then his father most assuredly would. After all, his father had an heir and a spare; he didn’t need Varo.
He checked his comm. After making a pest of himself, he’d managed to attract the Helkans’ attention. He’d sent numerous hails requesting an audience with the king. Finally he received a message back informing him he would be granted an opportunity to speak.
He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. This was it. One way or the other. Releasing the breath, he composed his demeanor, sat at his desk, and had the incoming message transferred to the on-screen viewer. The blurred images jumped and hissed across the screen and then cleared.
And every thought he had flew out of his head.
The breath froze in Varo’s chest as he stared. There on the screen was the most gorgeous creature Varo had ever laid eyes on. Long, glossy black hair cascaded over his shoulders and disappeared from sight.
A narrow face that was hauntingly beautiful peered back at Varo. Full lips that tilted up in a slight smirk drew Varo’s attention. A tingle raced up Varo’s spine and nailed him in the back of the head. Varo was suddenly achingly hard and more than a little horrified by his response.
But the otherworldliness of the face on screen was nothing compared to the eyes, the striking yellow eyes that studied and cataloged Varo too. The tremble that threatened to shake Varo’s frame caught him off guard. The look in that gaze was a mixture of scorching heat and frosty coolness—a predator who had Varo in his sights. The danger he felt flamed his body.
“Captain Varo of Yesri, I am Adlar. How may I be of service?”
The soft taunting voice and the hint of fang he saw snapped him out of his momentary distraction. Gathering his tattered dignity around him, he lifted his chin. “Greetings from His Royal Highness King Drea Kutchif, supreme ruler of the planet Yesri. I have been tasked with the mission of approaching your king concerning a possible agreement about obtaining rights to Black Phospolrock. Would it be possible to me to speak with King Omori?”
Varo held his breath. Was this Adlar the king’s brother? Was that why he did not offer a last name? And if Adlar was royalty, why would he not announce himself as such? How… odd.
“Unfortunately no. A small emergency cropped up and King Omori was detained. I would ask that in his stead, you deal with me. Tell me of this proposal you come bearing.”
It was not what he hoped for, but it was better than nothing. As Varo recited the terms and stipulations, he wished desperately he could remove his uniform jacket. He knew perfectly well his office was climate controlled, but sweat was trickling down the small of his back, distracting him. His dry mouth certainly did not help his attempts to sound articulate. Stars, he hadn’t sweated like this since he was a cadet.
As he rattled off the terms, he fought the urge to squirm. Adlar’s gaze unnerved him… and excited him. The brief glimpses of fangs were horrifyingly erotic, and a complete bewilderment as to why that affected him. For once he was thankful the screen only showed him from the waist up.
Instinct told him Adlar would not only notice his arousal, but use it to his advantage. That was unacceptable. His voice roughened as he spoke. The situation infuriated him. He refused to let a certain part of his anatomy lead him around, even if his body had suddenly decided Adlar was the soon-to-be star of his fantasies.
“I will speak with King Omori and bring your proposal to him. I’m sure he will have questions. May I contact you?”
Varo couldn’t believe it. Of all the possible outcomes he envisioned, this was certainly not one. From all the things they’d heard about the Helkans, this reasonable response was confounding.
“I would very much like to speak with you again,” Varo said. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to come here and speak face-to-face, would you?”
“I’m afraid not. But thank you for the invitation.”
Varo started to offer him assurances of his safety, but paused. If this Adlar was indeed related to the king, then he couldn’t in good faith do that. Stars knew if his king found out he had the brother of the Helkan king on his ship and didn’t take him prisoner… it didn’t bear thinking about.
“I see. That’s too bad.” He refused to admit even to himself how badly he’d like to meet Adlar face-to face. “Please use this secured subspace frequency again for any questions you may have. And I thank you for your willingness to share my king’s words with yours.”
“It was my pleasure.” Adlar nodded and then signed off.
As soon as the screen went black, Varo stripped off his warm jacket and dropped it on the small couch in his office. After ordering up a glass of cool, fresh water, he released the tight hold on his body and slumped on the couch next to his jacket.
Well, that short conversation had been a fountain of knowledge. The Helkans were not as obtuse as first thought. At least he hoped. He also learned the mental image he’d had of them as tall and wraith-thin monsters was also false. Inconceivably false, as his hard cock could testify.
He glanced down at his dick, which was just now deflating. Why in the two moons of Helkan had his libido decided now to make itself known? And toward this race? He scrubbed his hands over his face. It was a fluke, nothing more. Lack of sleep and stress had finally gotten the better of him. That was all.
It had to be.
Several unit hours passed as he tried to distract himself. He checked over crew schedules and read through several status reports on various parts of his ship. He okayed an accident report, several requests for transfers to different ship departments needed to be read over and decided upon, and a note from the ship’s doctor that he was due for medical checkup he could attend to either here or on planet once they were back in port.
The day passed slowly, even though he tried to keep his mind occupied with the daily happenings aboard the ship. By the time end of shift came, he was climbing the walls. He wanted to hear Adlar’s voice again. Maybe he needed to have his head examined when it came time for his medical checkup.
Just as he was getting ready to leave his private office on the bridge, his comm signaled an incoming message. His heart pounded. This was past becoming ridiculous. The readout showed it was from Adlar. His heart rate increased as he transferred the message from his comm to his viewing screen.
Then it dropped as he struggled to keep the disappointment from his face when the image on the screen was not who he expected. Instead it was King Omori. That was good. Very, very good. Maybe if he said it enough, he could convince himself of that.
He quickly explained the reason for his mission and outlined the plan his king had given him.
King Omori held up his hand and halted the conversation. “There seems to be some misunderstanding. We do not grant mining rights. Ever. The one time we allowed another race to come on planet and mine, the results were disastrous.”
“But I outlined a plan to your spokesman, Adlar. We would only use as many miners as needed, use equipment that you sanctioned, and are willing to be supervised. It’s a very generous package.”
“I am not sure if Adlar understood you were talking about mining rights. From what he told me, you were talking about the rights to Black Phospolrock. I assumed you meant you wanted to speak about an exclusive import agreement with us concerning the crystal.”
“I… I….” Varo replayed the earlier conversation and was mortified to see he hadn’t specified mining rights. Was he so bedazzled by Adlar that he was careless in his negotiations? What had he done? “I apologize for not clarifying my intent. If it would be at all possible—”
“Captain Varo, while I believe the sincerity of your proposal, I’m afraid the proposal isn’t possible. As I stated, we do not allow anybody on planet. At this point I’m also not convinced selling the Black Phospolrock is worth the headache it would entail.”
“Your Majesty, please, if we could just—”
“If we supplied one race, we would be opening ourselves up to sharing with many races. Which eventually would lead to having to deal with others coming on planet.”
Varo couldn’t believe this was happening. “But—”
“Eventually that’s going to lead to problems. It always does. One race is going to feel another race is getting more than their fair share, or is getting a better deal, or will have some complaint that, no matter how invalid it is, will blow up into a disagreement.”
“Maybe not! We could supply guards to help control—”
“That’s the last thing we want,” King Omori said. “Not to mention every time we send the shipment out, we would have to lower our planetary defenses, which opens up avenues for unscrupulous people to attack. I’m sorry, Captain Varo. The answer is no.”
Oh goddess. He actually thought he was going to be able to negotiate this trade agreement, and now it was falling all the pieces. That left him with one option, an option he truly detested.
“I also would ask that you leave our airspace immediately.”
Well, decision made. “Is there not anything I could do to convince you otherwise, Your Highness?”
“I appreciate your dedication, and I’m sorry, but the answer is no. Good day.”
The view screen went blank. Varo had one unit hour. At the end of that time, life as he knew it was going to irreparably change.