Benjar (Seven Brides for Seven Alien Brothers Book 2)
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Endark growled as the three males gathered in the barn. The snow that had been falling all day was already a foot deep outside.
“Of course I am,” Benjar said. He kept his voice confident, despite his own doubts about their plan. The chance to finally find a mate, even amongst the human settlers on the other side of the mountain, was too tempting to resist.
“I think you are both fools,” Drakkar drawled, shaking out his wings. The big, copper-skinned male wore his usual sardonic expression.
“Then why are you coming with us?” Endark asked, scowling.
Benjar could see his brother’s claws flexing, his lupine features sharpening. Without a mate to temper his more savage impulses, Endark was dangerously close to losing control over his inner beast – another factor that had driven him to propose the scheme.
As for himself, he simply wanted someone to call his own. Someone who would cook for him and care for him in the same loving way that Nelly, their former commander’s new bride, cared for Artek. It was the type of relationship he’d never had and always wanted.
“Because I’m sure that it will be entertaining.” Despite the mocking note in Drakkar’s voice, there was something on his face that made Benjar give him a curious look.
“And you don’t want a human bride for yourself? I know they are a different species, but look how well it’s worked out for the commander.”
A flash of what might have been longing appeared in Drakkar’s eyes, but it was gone so quickly that Benjar couldn’t be sure. His winged brother shook his head.
“We Arkani do not even take brides amongst our own species. We prefer to be alone.”
Benjar shivered. He hated being alone, despite the fact that he had spent most of his life that way. That was what had led him to remaining with the commander’s squad after he was “volunteered” into the Alliance forces. He hated the fighting, but he’d found a band of brothers and he would not abandon them once they had accepted him into their family.
“And I am interested to see if my experiment is successful,” Drakkar added.
Benjar gave him an alarmed look. “You promised us that your formula would not harm the females.”
“It will not.” Another winged shrug. “However, I am not sure how long they will remain unconscious.”
Benjar grinned and headed outside to the waiting sleigh, his tail lashing eagerly behind him. “That will make it so much more interesting.”
Endark growled under his breath as he came to join him, and the horses shied nervously. The big, docile animals were hybrids developed from a species native to the humans’ home planet. While they were usually placid, they knew that Endark was a predator. Right now, his predatory side was close enough to the surface to make the animals nervous.
“Just get in the sleigh,” Benjar told him as he went to their heads.
They had padded the wagon box on top of the runners with straw and blankets and the deep sides would help conceal Endark’s presence from the horses. Endark mumbled a protest but obeyed.
Benjar soothed the horses and as soon as they calmed, climbed up onto the narrow bench at the front. Drakkar was already there.
“You aren’t going to fly?” he asked.
“Why waste the energy?” Drakkar raised an eyebrow. “And besides, flying in snow is most uncomfortable.”
Benjar shook his head but picked up the reins. Drakkar still liked to play the part of the arrogant noble he had once been, even though they had all fought the same battles and shared the same meager rations. He’d seen how hard the other male had worked to save anyone who had fallen before the enemy, but Drakkar still used a cynical attitude to conceal his compassion.
The horses set off, the sleigh moving easily over the new fallen snow as they left the barns behind and headed along the trail next to the river. Satisfaction filled him as he looked around at the ranch. It was located in a wide valley between the mountains and after two years of hard work, it looked peaceful and prosperous.
When the useless war had finally ended, Artek had proposed that the squad leave behind the bitter memories and find a new place and a new way of life. Endark had heard that the ranch was for sale and the seven of them had agreed to take it on. It was the best decision Benjar had ever made.
But something had still been missing and it wasn’t until Artek brought home Nelly, his human bride, that he realized what that was. He wanted a mate – a bride – of his own. The town of human settlers on the other side of the mountains represented the most likely possibility, but it wasn’t sure how to approach one. And then Nelly had told them a tale from human history and he’d realized what they needed to do.
The story involved soldiers returning from war, just like them, only to discover there were no females left for them. A wise man had instructed them to go to a nearby town where there were plenty of females and claim their mates during a dance when they would be happy and joyous. When the commander had told them that the human town was holding a harvest dance tonight, it had seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“How are you going to choose a bride?” Drakkar suddenly broke the silence.
“I have a list,” he said proudly. He’d put a lot of thought into his requirements.
“She has to be a good cook, of course.”
“Given your obsession with food, that does not surprise me,” Drakkar said dryly.
“Competent, of course. Someone who can pull her weight on the ranch. And I want someone kind,” he added. The requirement came out more longingly than he intended and he hurried on. “Also, she should be tall and strong, with hair the color of sunlight.”
“Size and hair color should be easy enough, but how are you going to know if she meets your other requirements?”
“I’ll know.” Once again, he sounded more confident than he actually felt.
“I’ll know my mate as soon as I see her,” Endark said. He’d been listening to them talk.
“But what if she’s not there?” Drakkar asked quietly. For once he sounded curious rather than mocking.
“She has to be.”
They could both hear the desperation in their brother’s voice. Drakkar frowned, but Benjar grinned at Endark over his shoulder.
“I’m sure she will be. I’m sure we’ll all – I mean, both of us – will return with brides.”
Drakkar’s wings fluttered, but he didn’t speak.
As they traveled the length of the valley and then up and over the mountain pass, Benjar continued to consider Drakkar’s question. How will I know?
By the time they were descending towards the town of Wainwright, he’d decided they needed to change their plan.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, and both of the other males groaned. He ignored them. “I know we were intending to join the dance, but I think it might be better to conduct some reconnaissance first. That way we can observe them in their natural habitat.”
Endark immediately agreed. He was half Vultor and while the humans had not had much experience with aliens, they had encountered the Vultor often enough to mistrust his species. He’d already had doubts about appearing at the dance.
“What a pity. I was already anticipating the… excitement your arrival would cause,” Drakkar drawled. “And how do you intend to reconnoiter?”
He gave him a cheerful grin. “I’m still working on that part.”
By the time they reached the base of the mountains, the snow had stopped falling. The land stretching across to the town was bare of snow, the late season grasses brown and dry between the scattered trees. He guided the horses to the edge of a small thicket.
“We might as well leave the sleigh here. It’s easier to cover the rest of the way on foot. And easier to stay concealed.”
Night had not yet fallen but it wouldn’t be long until the early winter sunset. Even though it wasn’t snowing, the heavy clouds of the approaching storm cast a gloomy pallor over the afternoon. Lights already shone in most of the windows in town.
“I will fly ahead and observe,” Drakkar said.
Benjar shook his head. “You’re not exactly inconspicuous.”
“You know that most beings never bother to look up. I doubt that humans are any different.”
Before he could argue, Drakkar leaped into the sky and flew towards the town. Despite his glittering scales, he did disappear into the cloud cover and Benjar shrugged. The other male’s scouting abilities had served them as well as his medical skills during the war.
“I prefer him searching for brides instead of hunting the enemy,” Endark said, echoing his thoughts as he came to join him on the driver’s bench.
“I agree. And at least we won’t need his medical skills tonight. I hope,” he added with a grin.
The other male attempted to return his smile, but Benjar could tell he was still restless and unsettled.
“Are you all right?” he asked softly.
Endark started to snarl at him, then took a deep breath and shook his head.
“I am… struggling. Most males of my kind would have been mated long ago. I had hoped that my human half would overcome that necessity, but it does not seem to be helping. I sometimes think I inherited the worst of each side,” he added bitterly.
“Is that the only reason you’re doing this? For control? Do you not want a mate?”
“More than anything,” Endark burst out, his eyes starting to glow a brilliant green. “But I know better than anyone how difficult it is for a human to accept a Vultor – and I cannot pass as human. What hope do I have?”
“The soldiers in Nelly’s tale were successful in obtaining their brides,” he said reassuringly, even though he suspected the tale had been somewhat apocryphal. Still, even a fictional account of a historic event must have some basis in truth.
Endark shrugged and they sat in silence waiting for Drakkar to return. Waiting did not suit Benjar’s impatient nature and his tail lashed restlessly. He was already beginning to consider moving closer when he spotted Drakkar approaching.
“Well?” he demanded as Drakkar swooped down and landed next to the sleigh.
“As I said, no one ever looked up, although…” Drakkar shook his head. “They are very occupied in preparing for this dance. Based on their activities, it will take place in the largest building. I landed long enough to inspect it. There is a partially open window on the upper floor and it would be a simple matter to scale the wall.”
“Excellent. Let’s go.”
“Don’t forget these.” Drakkar reached under the seat and pulled out a small bag, then offered both of them a small atomizer. “One puff in a human’s face will render them unconscious, although as I said, I cannot guarantee how long it will last.”
“And it will not hurt them?” he asked again.
“I told you it would not. I do not cause harm,” Drakkar said stiffly.
“I know. I -”
Before he could continue, Endark grabbed one of the bottles.
“Biggest building. One puff,” he growled, then took off towards town, a silvery grey streak.
Drakkar sighed. “I hope he does not forget himself.”
“He’s just anxious.” As was he, although he had more control. “I only hope the gods smile on him. I do not like to think what might happen if he doesn’t find his bride.”
“I will watch over him.” Drakkar took a third bottle and flashed his sardonic smile. “Just in case.”
Then he was winging towards town once more. Benjar took a deep breath and set off after his brothers, loping eagerly towards his new bride.
|September 2, 2022
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