Love Ruins Everything...
I saw it with my parents.
I swore it would never happen to me.
But Gallix makes me feel things I never imagined.
He awakens desires I didn’t know were possible.
I want him from the first moment I see him.
The bad boy warrior is all wrong for me, but my heart knows he’s my mate.
How am I going to resist that?
They want a perfect, untouched human.
I can’t stop myself from wanting Eve.
I want to take her. Keep her. Make her mine.
But it’s wrong.
She’s meant for someone back on Lunaria. She isn’t meant for me.
But that’s not the biggest problem.
When an enemy attacks, we end up stranded on an uninhabited planet with little hope of getting home.
I’ll lay down my life to keep her safe.
Once I allow myself to taste her, there’s no way I’m letting her go.
Her Fearless Warrior is 70,000 words of steamy alien romance featuring a sassy heroine and the bad boy alien hero who can’t resist claiming her.
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Chapter 1 - Eve
There was nothing quite like waking up to the sound of sirens. It was like early morning coffee—if, instead of sipping on a hot, watery mug of bitter canteen dark roast, you enjoyed high-pitched blaring in your ears so loud that you could feel it in the roots of your teeth.
I rubbed my eyes and forced them open. I should have been panicking. Around me, many of the other girls in the bunkhouse were. I sat up on my thin, lumpy mattress and watched them rush around for a few seconds. They scrambled to hide their contraband, make their beds, and tug on their ill-fitting work boots. But no matter what the other girls were doing, I couldn’t quite bring myself to match their frantic energy. Here in Sector Five, waking up to sirens was pretty much a weekly occurrence. After a while, you got used to it.
Since I’d been born here, I supposed I’d kind of been getting used to it for my entire life.
“Eve, hurry!” Ora, who had the bunk over mine, clambered down the ladder and fell over herself trying to pull her threadbare sweater on over her bony shoulders and thin shift as she shoved her feet into her boots. Her mousy brown hair was shaggy and greasy as she shook it away from her face, revealing a pair of pretty blue eyes. “You don’t want The Vulture to catch you off-guard, do you?”
“I’m moving,” I grumbled. “Don’t worry.”
Ora was right, of course. If I wasn’t ready for inspection by the time The Vulture swept into the bunkhouse, he’d make me pay dearly for it. But luckily, it didn’t take much for me to get ready. I kept my boots unlaced at the foot of my bed and slept in my work clothes. I didn’t have anything else to wear.
What little contraband I had was mostly already stashed out of sight. I grabbed my only real possession, an old paperback romance novel, by its broken spine and shoved it beneath my mattress along with the few pieces of hard cheese and protein blocks I’d been saving for Ora’s birthday next week.
“I don’t know how you have the energy to read after work every day.” Ora hugged herself tight and glanced nervously toward the bunkhouse’s door as I laced up my boots. “I’m always too tired to do anything but sleep.”
“It gives me good dreams.” I shrugged and tried not to blush. Today’s siren had stirred me out of my favorite kind of dream—the warm, swooning, passionate kind.
The kind where I was anywhere but here in Sector Five.
When I ran my hands down my thighs to straighten out my baggy work pants, I could almost remember the way my dream-lover’s touch had felt. I didn’t know what his face looked like—it was always too blurry to make out—but I could touch my fingers to my lips and recall the heat of his lips against mine. I brushed a strand of my auburn hair behind my ear and tried to summon up his voice in my mind. He’d been saying something to me, just before the sirens cut the dream short.
I need you, Eve, maybe. Maybe even I love you.
I knew it was stupid to cling to a dream like that, but here in Sector Five, there wasn’t anything else to hold on to. An I love you whispered in my ear during a dream was the closest thing to true love I was ever going to hear.
“What do you think it is this time?” Ora huddled close to me as the siren faded away. “Another runaway?”
“Could be.” Runners happened. Given the conditions we lived in—sick, cold, overworked and underfed—trying to escape this place was just about the most rational thing anyone could do. Unfortunately, they rarely made it very far past the work camp gates. “Let’s just hope they’re able to get where they’re going this time.”
“Let’s not.” Lily wiped her nose on the sleeve of her sweater as she came to stand next to Ora and me. She was pale all over, from her silvery blonde hair to her sad gray eyes. “Remember what happened when Nyssa escaped?”
Ora and I stiffened at the mere mention of Nyssa. She was a legend here within our bunkhouse, but it was hard to say whether her memory lived on more in fame or infamy. On one hand, she was the only person we’d ever known who was brave enough to run and clever enough to succeed.
On the other hand, we’d all paid for her success in blood. I still had the scars on my back to prove it. They were pale and twisted now, but after I’d taken my lashes, they’d broken back open and bled every time I moved for weeks.
“If it was a runner, the guards would have been here by now, dung-for-brains.” Marisa, who was older and taller than the rest of us, shoved Lily over as she climbed down from her bunk. With her golden blonde hair and deep brown eyes, I imagined Marisa had been beautiful once upon a time. But even though the extra rations she got from the guards had allowed her to keep her curves, she was just as dirty and tired-looking as the rest of us. Worse, the work we were forced into here in Sector Five had turned her mean to the core as well. “Don’t be stupid. Probably, someone’s just gone and—”
“Don’t say it.” Lily flinched and clenched her eyes shut.
But Marisa didn’t have to say it. The word was already on all of our minds. Suicide. It was something that touched all of our lives in one way or another here, just like the lashes from the guards’ whips and the calluses that ran across all of our palms.
My mother and father had done it together. I’d found them myself when I was only five, passed out in a work truck with a hose connected to the exhaust tucked through the window. But at least they’d died wrapped in each other’s arms. Only last year, Lily had found her twin sister in the laundry shack hanging from a noose she’d fashioned out of a bedsheet. She’d died alone.
Eventually, in one way or another, most of us would.
People died all the time here in Sector Five. It was the only way any of us would ever leave here—in a body bag, to be buried in the desolate stretches of land between one work camp and another.
I’d been imagining my own death for as long as I could remember. When I’d been small enough to work in the mines, it had been a cave-in that I feared the most. Later, mixing together gas canisters in the chemical sheds, an explosion from old, unstable catalysts had been more likely.
Ever since I’d started my period, things had changed a little. Not many women here bled monthly the way our bodies were meant to. Some, like Lily, were too underweight. Others inhaled too many chemicals and their bodies just…stopped. But Ora and I were some of the lucky few—lucky being a relative term here. We’d been working in the kitchens since we were fifteen. Now, at eighteen, we weren’t at risk of being rolled over by work trucks or blown to bits in the chemical sheds.
Now, the biggest risk to our pathetic continued existences here was the guards themselves.
“Line up! Backs straight, eyes down!” The Vulture’s voice was booming and ferocious as his guards threw open the bunkhouse door and marched inside. “First one of you who so much as flinches out of place gets the business end of my baton!”
Lily, Ora and I did as we were told. We spaced ourselves out evenly, just like all the other women in the bunkhouse were doing. Backs straight, eyes down.
We all knew what the business end of The Vulture’s baton felt like. Whatever we were being put in our places for, none of us wanted to be the first one to step out of line.
Meanwhile, the guards were positioning themselves evenly down the center of the bunkhouse. Some held whips, clenched tight in their black-gloved hands. Others, like the guard standing closest to Lily, held cattle prods, their ends sizzling sinisterly with electric blue light.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Lily clenching her face up as she tried not to stare at the guard’s prod. Her nose twitched. Her eyes were watering. Her body was spasming slightly, like she was desperately trying to hold something inside her. Something that was desperately trying to get out.
My heart plunged down into my stomach the second before it happened.
I knew exactly what Lily was about to do. I just hoped against hope that she wouldn’t.
Don’t, Lily! I wanted to hiss at her. Fight it back! Hold it in!
But sure enough, just as a hush fell over the bunkhouse, Lily reared her head back, drew in a massive breath, and—
“Achoo!” Lily’s entire body rocked forward, wracked by the sneeze. Her snot and spittle shot all the way over to the guard, splattering across his dark, shiny badge.
The guard’s lips twitched into a sneer as he marched forward. His prod crackled to life, and Lily let out a terrified whimper.
“I’m sorry!” she said, sniffing and wiping her nose on her sleeve again. “I’m so sorry—I didn’t mean to! Please…please, don’t—”
The guard jutted the prod out toward her, and my blood froze in my veins. Lily had been sick for as long as I’d known her. If it wasn’t a head cold, it was a fever. If it wasn’t a fever, it was a stomach bug. She was smaller than the rest of us. Weaker, too—even weaker than Ora was. She hadn’t been the same since her sister’s death, and every week she spent in the laundry shack, she only seemed to get worse.
If the guard hit her, I knew she’d crumple like shattered glass. If he shocked her…
I didn’t know that she was even strong enough to survive it.
I wasn’t thinking. If I had been, I might have thought twice. But before I even realized what I was doing, I’d already thrown myself in front of Lily’s tiny, cowering frame.
“No!” I threw my arms out protectively and shielded Lily’s body with my own. “Stop. She didn’t mean to. You’ll kill her if you—”
“Get back, you useless brat.” The guard placed a hand on my neck and pushed me aside. “If you want a shock too, you’ll have to wait your turn.”
I stumbled aside. I wasn’t strong enough to hold my ground. But obviously I still wasn’t thinking, because as soon as I found my feet again, I launched myself back into place.
“No,” I said again. My heart was beating so hard, I imagined even the guard could hear it. My chest was heaving, and my shoulders were stiff, but I wasn’t backing down. “If you need to punish someone, punish me. Not her.”
Brave? Maybe. Stupid? Definitely. If I’d had Nyssa’s guts, I would have run. If I’d had Marisa’s extra rations, maybe I would have been able to fight.
But I didn’t. I was just as thin as nearly everyone else in the bunkhouse, and almost as afraid.
My parents hadn’t raised me to put my own safety before that of those less fortunate than me. They hadn’t been that kind of people—and neither was I.
The guard cracked his neck and shrugged.
“Whatever you say then, sweetheart.” He smiled as he moved the prod towards me instead. That smile turned my stomach—it was like he was actually going to enjoy shocking me. “You know what they say. Spare the rod—”
“Rutger! Back down!” The Vulture rushed the guard and twisted the cattle prod away. The Vulture’s narrow, coal-black eyes regarded me for a moment before he lowered his voice to a growl near the guard’s ear. “Not that one. We can’t take her if she’s marked.”
Take her? Marked? I glanced over at Ora, whose eyes were wide and full of terror. She looked completely frozen in fear. But she also looked as confused as I was. As I shot a quick look at the women lined up across from us on the other side of the bunkhouse, they seemed to be much the same.
Whatever was going on here, it was something none of us were prepared for.
Whatever was going on here was something that had never happened before.
“Back in line, inmate.” The Vulture shoved Rutger away and moved a little closer to me. He placed his black-gloved hands on my shoulders and—with an uncanny gentleness—moved me back into place. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” I made a point of not meeting his eyes. “I’m fine.”
We called him The Vulture because he treated us like carrion. Like prey. When a girl came of age in the bunkhouse and The Vulture took a liking to her, he’d heap extra work on her. Wear her down. And then, when she was at her weakest, he’d strike.
No one knew what happened when he took his latest target back to his private quarters—but we could guess. When The Vulture’s prey came back, they came back broken.
If they came back at all.
“Good.” The Vulture’s gaze only lingered on me for a few seconds more. It felt like an eternity. But thankfully, when it was over, he let his hands fall away from my shoulders and moved on. “Then let’s march.”
We all filed out of the bunkhouse in two long, straight lines. We were herded into the medical tents near the camp’s outer fence, though I’d never known any actual medicine to take place within them. Whatever resources Dr. Walters, the high-cheekboned brunette who managed the tents, had to work with, she certainly didn’t waste them on the likes of us.
“Do you know what all of this is about?” one of Marisa’s friends asked her as they huddled up not far away from Lily, Ora and me.
“I might now that we’re here,” Marisa said, smirking slightly.
“Tell us, then.” Another woman raised her scorch-marked hand to swat Marisa’s arm. “They’re not testing on us again, are they?”
“I’ll give you my rations tonight,” Marisa’s friend offered. “If you tell us. Tomorrow morning, too.”
“I won’t need them.” Marisa brushed her golden blonde waves off her shoulder, preening. “Once I’m selected, I’ll have all the rations I could ever want.”
“What’s she talking about?” Ora hissed in my ear. She and Lily were both sticking as close to me as possible. Any closer and they’d be climbing me.
“She doesn’t know anything.” I rolled my eyes and put my arms around Lily’s and Ora’s shoulders, steering them away from Marisa and her nonsense. “She’s just running her mouth. You know how Marisa is.”
“She sleeps with the guards, though,” Lily pointed out. “Maybe they told her something. Maybe she does know.”
“Shh. Look. Dr. Walters is going to say something.” I loved Lily and Ora, but I hoped they’d keep their mouths shut for whatever was going on here. Lily and I had already narrowly avoided danger once this morning. I didn’t want us to get in trouble again.
“Good morning, ladies.” Dr. Walters tapped her stylus against her e-pad. “I’ll just be asking you all a few questions. You won’t be punished for your answers, so please be honest. You may go to your workstations and go about your day as usual when you’re dismissed.”
“What do you think she wants to hear?” Lily whispered.
“I’m more interested in what she doesn’t want to hear.” Ora squeezed a little closer to me. “Any test she’s giving, I don’t want to take it.”
“It’s not going to matter either way.” I knew how these things went. Dr. Walters was probably working on developing something for the gold-class citizens who lived in the nicer sectors and wanted to test it on some disposable humans to make sure it was safe for the ones who mattered. This wasn’t the first time she’d done this, and it likely wouldn’t be the last. “She’s going to choose who she chooses. We can’t lie. Let’s just hope that if we get selected, it’s something fun and safe like cosmetics or diet food and not something dangerous.”
“Diet food.” Ora scoffed. “Imagine having so much to eat that you have to try not to gain weight.”
Dr. Walters moved through the ranks of women, asking questions and tapping on her e-pad as she went. Most she dismissed immediately. By the time she got to us, only a few remained.
“Name and age?” Dr. Walters asked as she came in front of me.
“Eve Ballard. Eighteen,” I answered. “As of two weeks ago.”
“Do you menstruate, Eve?”
“When you do, is it regular?”
“Every new moon.” Most nights, the smog was so bad that the moon was hard to see anyway, but during the new moon the sky was as dark as could be here. As soon as the silver glow disappeared from the sky, I always started my period like clockwork.
“Do you drink? Take drugs? Smoke?”
“Drugs and alcohol are contraband.” I thought back to the tattered romance novel beneath my mattress and hoped she wouldn’t ask about reading materials next.
Dr. Walters frowned. “A yes or no will suffice. You won’t be punished as long as you’re honest.”
“No,” I answered truthfully. “I don’t do any of that.”
“Are you married?”
“I was born here.” Only couples that were already married, like my parents had been, were allowed to stay together in the family barracks. I’d been moved to the women’s bunkhouse after their deaths. Marriage wasn’t a privilege that would ever be afforded to me—not here in Sector Five.
“Then you’re a virgin, correct?”
“Yes.” Given my rather lusty dreams from last night, that question made me a little uncomfortable, but at least it wasn’t hard to answer. “I stay away from the men’s barracks, and the guards too.”
“Very good.” Dr. Walters tapped my answers into her e-pad then nodded. “You may stay.”
She asked Lily and Ora the same questions. Ora’s answers were nearly the same as mine, but when Dr. Walters got to Lily, she asked her several questions about her weight and how much she ate as well.
“Stay for now,” Dr. Walters told Lily. “We’ll see what they say.”
“Who’s they?” Lily looked a little panicked when Dr. Walters moved on. “What was all of that about?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted, glancing around. Of the six other women who had passed Dr. Walters’ line of questioning, five of them worked with Ora and me in the kitchens. The sixth worked in the laundry with Lily. All of the women who worked in the chemical sheds had been dismissed. “But I bet we’re about to find out.”
When Dr. Walters left, only one additional woman had been asked to say: Marisa. She sat on one of the cots on the far side of the tent, away from the rest of us. As soon as Dr. Walters was gone, Marisa pulled a cigarette and a lighter out of her bra and immediately lit up.
“How did she get to stay?” Ora scowled in Marisa’s direction. “She definitely drinks—and obviously she smokes.”
“She’s no virgin either…” Lily looked more afraid than ever—especially when The Vulture slipped in through the flap of the tent that Dr. Walters had just exited from.
“Eve? I think you and I should have a talk.” He raked his fingers through his dark, thinning hair, then took me by the shoulder. “Come with me.”
“I…I don’t think—” I looked back at Lily and Ora, who were watching me helplessly.
Sorry, Ora mouthed. Lily wrung her hand anxiously. When her gaze met mine, she was quick to look away.
I couldn’t blame them for not doing anything. There wasn’t anything they could do. In our work camp, The Vulture reigned supreme. He did whatever he felt like doing. He took whatever he wanted.
Unfortunately, now of all times, I guessed he’d decided that what he wanted was…me.
The Vulture took me to a side room in the tent. It was separated from the main part of the medical tent by a thin sheet of dirty linen and contained only an examination table. Nothing more.
“Sit. Please.” He straightened to his full height and gestured to the table, then tugged at his jacket like he was trying to make himself look more presentable. Never a good sign.
“I’ll stand, if that’s okay.”
“Sit, Eve.” The Vulture pointed at the exam table once again. “What I’m about to tell you might shock you. Don’t make me ask you again.”
Slowly, I moved to the exam table and sat down. As soon as I did, he moved closer to me and placed his hand on my knee.
Another bad sign.
“You’re eighteen now, Eve. A woman grown. It’s high time you were treated like one.” He squeezed my knee, running his thumb up and down my bony kneecap. “But if I’m being honest…I’ve been watching you for a very long time.”
“It’s your job to watch over us.” I kept my voice low and my eyes on the ground. In my dreams, I was completely happy to be treated like a woman by whatever handsome, strong man my subconscious conjured up. But when it came to The Vulture, I definitely would have preferred to be treated the way I still felt—like a teenager. A girl. Not a woman at all. “You protect us here. I’m grateful for that.”
That was a lie, of course. The only person The Vulture protected was himself. But maybe, if I could remind him of his duty…maybe, just maybe, he’d remember himself and leave me alone.
“That’s what I’m trying to do now, Eve. Protect you.” He moved his hand to my face and took a lock of my hair between his fingers. “So beautiful…and so vulnerable. More vulnerable than you know.”
He tucked my hair behind my ear in a way that was almost loving—or it would have been, if every part of this wasn’t giving me a serious case of the creeps.
“You’re going to be chosen, Eve. But you must have guessed that already. Of all the women here in the camp, you’re the most beautiful, the healthiest… I’m not sure that you can even imagine how much this will change your life.”
“I don’t want to be chosen,” I whispered. Especially not by you.
“We’re in agreement, then.” To my surprise, The Vulture smiled an awful, crooked smile. “I don’t want you to be chosen either.”
“You don’t?” Oh, no. I’d said the wrong thing.
“I don’t,” he repeated. “Which is why you need my help.”
“Please—no, I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”
“Nonsense.” The Vulture glanced over his shoulder through a slit in the linen. There was movement behind it. I could make out the shapes of huge bodies, probably male—but nothing more. “Listen to me, Eve. As soon as they choose you, you’re going to be taken away from here.”
“To where?” My eyes went wide. I didn’t know why he was telling me this, but if this was my chance to escape this place, I had to know. “Outside of Sector Five?”
“Worse.” The Vulture cupped my cheek with his hand, and I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to meet his coal-black gaze. Not now. Not ever. “Aliens, Eve. They’re real. They’re here. And they’re going to want you. Take you. Breed you. I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous, but—”
Slowly, I opened my eyes and blinked at him.
Aliens. He was right in making me sit down. If I’d been standing, or even a little less scared, I would have doubled over laughing.
This wasn’t just ridiculous. This was insane.
“You’re young. You’re fertile. You’re beautiful.” He stroked my cheekbone with his thumb. “So beautiful. And virginal, too. The perfect female. The perfect candidate.”
“I don’t think—”
“Shh. I know.” The Vulture moved his finger to my lip to silence me. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, I’d been trying to tell him, but he didn’t seem to care. “That’s why we have to be quick, Eve.”
In the main room, I could hear masculine, almost animalistic growling and snarling, then female gasps.
I felt my chest contract. There was no way that what The Vulture was saying was real, but then again…
If it wasn’t, what was snarling out there in the main section of the tent?
“I’ll save you, Eve,” The Vulture professed as he leaned his lips closer to mine. He was drunk. He had to be drunk. I hoped he was drunk—because the alternative was too impossible to be real. But when I caught a whiff of his breath, I didn’t smell the harsh liquor that the guards had access to here. Just sweet, cloying mint. “I’ll deflower you, so they won’t want you anymore.”
His hands moved to the fastenings of my work pants. When I tried to shove him away, he backhanded me hard enough to make my ears ring.
“Trust me, Eve,” he growled. “This is for your own—”
In all my life, there had been three times when I’d seen something I simply hadn’t been able to comprehend. The first was opening the door to that work truck when I was five and seeing my parents’ lifeless bodies, locked in one final embrace. The second had been in the aftermath of an explosion in the mines—so many tiny bodies pulled from the rubble. So many young lives lost so horribly that the parents couldn’t even identify their children’s faces when it was all done.
The third time was three years ago, when I’d gotten my first period. I’d been so sure that working in the chemical sheds had ruined any chance that I would ever be a mother. In a way, it would have been a blessing.
If I never would have started to bleed, all of this could have been avoided.
Now, there was a fourth instance.
And this time, it made all the others pale in comparison to…to this.
A man pulled back the flap of the exam room. He was tall, broad, built almost entirely of muscle…
But as my mind strained to make sense of what my eyes were seeing, I realized I could hardly call him a man at all.
He had deep orange skin, the color of sunset mixed with smog. His hair was a paler orange color, shaved at the sides and plaited into a thick braid that hung over his shoulder. He had a flattened nose and lips that curled into a snarl as he stared The Vulture down, revealing two long, sharp fangs. His eyes were narrow and catlike—one moment, bright purple. The next, deep red.
Not a man, no.
Everything that The Vulture had been telling me was horribly, impossibly…true.
He moved faster than my eyes could track. I blinked once and the alien’s claw-tipped fingers were wrapped around The Vulture’s throat. I blinked again and The Vulture was thrown across the room, clutching at his windpipe and gasping for air.
I scrambled backward on the exam table as the alien’s blood-red eyes turned toward me. If he was strong enough to toss The Vulture aside like that, he was more than strong enough to hurt me.
They’re going to want you. Take you. Breed you, The Vulture had told me.
And no matter what I fantasized about when I scrubbed pots in the kitchens or the lusty kisses that I enjoyed in my dreams, I wasn’t ready for that in real life.
Not like this.
Not with someone like him.
But instead of raising his claws to my throat as well, the alien only stretched his hand out to me, palm up. An offering.
“Come,” he said in a deep voice. His lips shaped the word like it was uncomfortable to hold in his mouth. “Safe now. Come with me.”
But even though I placed my small hand in his much bigger one, I knew I’d never been safe a single day in my life.
And given everything The Vulture had just told me…
I didn’t know if I’d ever be safe again.
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