When Reza Stian receives word that the mate he’s refused to claim has been kidnapped by a faction of her clan, he can’t sit back and do nothing. He finds her having a great time however, and amused with his rush to rescue her. The situation is further complicated by her lover, Nicos Jain. Reza’s second mate, which is completely unexpected.

What’s a warrior to do but turn the tables and kidnap them? But this isn’t a game, and Reza’s playing for keeps.

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Excerpt

“We need to talk.”

Lord Reza Stian, younger brother and second in command to the Steward of the Clan of the Keep, looked up from a trade agreement he was reviewing at the ominous words. Kaje stood in the office doorway, blocking the room behind him.

“What calamity brings the Steward to my office instead of summoning me down the hall to his?” he joked.

Or tried to. Kaje looked damned serious, and the reception area behind him had gone quiet. Too quiet. Moments ago there had been voices, laughter, warriors teasing about one’s upcoming mating ceremony. Kaje must have sent them away or silenced them. One look at his expression would have done that much.

“Hell. What’s wrong?” Reza asked.

Kaje stepped inside and tapped the control panel to shut the door behind him. If anything he seemed to get grimmer. Reza hadn’t seen that look on his face—the one that said the world might be ending—since their youngest brother almost died, but the only brother who might be in any danger at the moment was Reza’s twin Cassius, who was on his way to Earth. Reza’s stomach turned into a churning uneasy knot but he kept his seat. He had the feeling he wouldn’t want this news standing up.

“Cassius?”

Kaje shook his head. “No. I just got a report that Carisma Green is being held captive by some faction inside the Green clan,” Kaje said.

Fuck sitting down. He jerked to his feet as that news hit him hard and started around his desk. Kaje shook his head again and blocked his path.

“Tarben says they don’t need any assistance. He said, in particular, he doesn’t want your help.”

Reza stared at his brother, who was watching him like a scientist observing a saber cat in the wild, and he didn’t need to imagine what Kaje was thinking. They’d argued about it enough after Vidar gave him away a few months ago. But Kaje had lost his damned mind if he thought Reza would stay away from her now.

“She’s my der’lan.” The mate of his heart. “You know I have to go.”

Kaje shot him a frustrated look. “The mate you haven’t claimed? The mate none of us even knew about?”

“I explained that,” he said through gritted teeth.

Did he want to claim her? Fuck yes, but she was young and innocent, not to mention the heir of one of the most powerful clans on Delroi. Courting her would not be a private affair. Claiming her would put her under a spotlight he doubted a young woman her age would be comfortable with. Mating someone like him, a high ranking warrior in another powerful clan, would only add to that attention and pressure. He was a lot older than her, experienced and dominant, and he couldn’t expect her to be able to handle him yet. In a few years maybe, though that option had just been taken out of his hands.

“You know where your mate is. You know she’s safe. You don’t honestly expect me to stay here, do you?” he asked his brother.

Kaje sighed. “I know how you’re feeling, Reza, but you’ve been specifically uninvited. We can’t enter another clan’s territory without permission. You could start a war and none of us wants that with the Green clan.”

He clenched his fists. Kaje was right about that, not that it would stop Reza. He’d just have to make it damned clear to Tarben that his presence had nothing to do with the Keep or the Saber clan.

“I’ll get him to clear me,” he promised Kaje. And if he couldn’t he’d find a way to get to her anyway.

“Not unless you plan on claiming her,” Kaje said softly.

Reza understood that wasn’t just a command from the Steward of the Keep but the family patriarch. He didn’t need the order. When he found her, he’d make damned sure she’d never be endangered again, which meant claiming her. May the gods and goddess help them both. After holding his brother’s gaze a long moment, Kaje nodded. Regret flashed over his face so quickly Reza might have imagined it, knew he hadn’t with Kaje’s next words.

“You know what that means for you. She’s Tarben’s heir.”

He nodded. Mating Carisma meant leaving his clan. Delroi was divided into three castes and three regions—the northern continent, the southern continent, and the Green Zone, a chain of islands on the equator between the two. The artist and healer castes weren’t quite as patriarchal as the warrior caste, and the northern warrior clans tended to not be as traditional as the southern but not by much. Hereditary rights varied by clan however, and in most warrior clans women did not become chiefs. In cases where a chief only had a daughter the position usually went to another male relative or her mate. There were exceptions like his clan, the Naveen clan in the north where his niece—his youngest brother’s daughter—was heir, and the Green Zone. As Tarben’s only child, Carisma would inherit his title and duties, mated or not.

They may be farmers, but the Green Zone’s warriors were the most ferocious on Delroi, and more than willing to follow a woman. Tarben’s mother had been chief before him, despite her having a mate from inside the clan. Though maybe trouble was brewing there since Carisma had been taken hostage. The problem was making that assessment was damned near impossible. No one outside the Green clan had knowledge of its inner workings. They were secretive, protective, and fierce. Outsiders were strongly encouraged to avoid their islands and the strips of territory they held at the top of the southern continent and bottom of the northern.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, brother,” Kaje said and left the room.

Damn. He did too. He sat back down, pulled the holo screen up from his desk, and input a name he’d never had cause to contact before. Tarben answered after just one chime and irritation was plain on his face.

“Lord Stian. I don’t have time for you right now,” he said.

“Make it. What’s going on with Carisma? Where is she?”

Tarben looked at him with a cool expression. “What’s your interest in my daughter, Lord Stian?”

The bastard knew and was clearly focused on making him admit it. He glared back. “She’s my der’lan. I’m sure you know that.”

He’d never spoken to Tarben about it but apparently Carisma had filled him in. Now, the older man shook his head.

“She’s unclaimed and I won’t see her claimed by a warrior who will not, or cannot, accept her as chief.”

Reza stared a second before snorting. Tarben had to be fucking with him. He was glad Carisma would chief—it equaled the playing field between them a little bit.

“Did you forget where I’m from? Lady Rona was my chief until I was almost twenty.” Until her son Roarr came of age and took over as chief.

“What’s the problem then, Stian? Why leave my girl unclaimed if it isn’t her position and her duties you have an issue with?”

Shit. He sucked in a hard breath and barely managed to keep from wincing at the accusation in Tarben’s voice. Reza didn’t want to explain himself, but he understood Tarben was worried about his daughter’s emotional well being.

“You do know I’m twelve years older than her, right?”

For a moment Tarben just looked at him, then he laughed. It was not the reaction Reza expected. After a moment, Tarben leaned forward, resting his arms on his desk.

“You’re an idiot, Stian. She’s twenty-one, and she’s not as overprotected and naïve as you seem to think. She wasn’t raised like most girls. She couldn’t be. She has to lead.”

Reza wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.

Tarben continued. “But we all raise our daughters a little differently in the Green Zone. Did you know my mate is ten years younger than me? She was sixteen when we met.” And damned if that didn’t sound familiar. “She’s a priestess, as I’m sure you know, and even as a teenager she never took any shit from me. I, on the other hand, tried like hell to keep my distance. To protect her, of course. She put up with that until she was twenty. Carisma was born a year later,” he said with a satisfied smile that made Reza envious.

“If I let you into my territory,” Tarben went on, suddenly all business, “my daughter’s happiness better be your top priority, Stian. You won’t want to deal with me otherwise.”

So despite the personal history anecdote, he was a protective father. If that was the case, and Reza didn’t doubt it, why wasn’t he doing anything about her being held hostage?

“Why aren’t you going after her?” he growled.

Tarben grinned. Reza got the impression it was a little forced. “You have a lot to learn about my clan. My guess is one of her friends let this slip. You’ll have a gauntlet to run there. Good luck. I’ll send you her coordinates and make it known you have permission to be in my territory. I had to kidnap my mate, you know. She got sick of waiting around for me and…well, never mind that. It’s kind of a family tradition. No one dies,” he warned before signing off.

His capitulation came way too easily, which made Reza suspicious. What was really going on? He was pretty sure Tarben had held something important back, but the coordinates came through a second later so he didn’t waste time trying to figure out Tarben’s agenda. He just wanted to make sure she was safe.

He kept two bags in his office ready to go at all times. One had clothes and basic necessities, the other weapons, gear, and any electronics he might conceivably need. Since he had no idea what he was flying into he grabbed both and headed out.

The Keep was built on top of a cliff in the far north of the southern continent. The sea was on one side and the city spilled down the slopes outside the Keep gates. The palace itself was one of the oldest on Delroi. Half belonged to the ruling family and the other half was the warrior compound. It contained barracks, suites that belonged to senior commanders, training areas and classrooms, a large center atrium with eating areas and used for gathering, and the command wing where his office was located.

He was relieved to find his lieutenants waiting when he stepped into the anteroom. He didn’t have time to track anyone down.

“Kaje said you’d be leaving on an emergency,” Pace said. It wasn’t quite a question.

“Yes.” He didn’t elaborate. “You know everything you need to take over for now. If you have any questions or problems contact Kaje.”

“Yes, my lord. Good luck.”

Pace may not have heard exactly what was going on, but he’d probably made an educated guess since they were friends and he knew about Carisma. He also knew nothing other than her welfare would have Reza rushing off so quickly. He nodded and began to make his way through the corridors. It was crowded, every warrior in the clan on alert and involved with preparations. There was a war coming.

The galaxy had recently been invaded by an alien race called the Faelis Consortium, and several Varangian colonies had been destroyed. The Varangians were cousins and allies—Delroi was the space travelers’ home planet—and they believed the final battle would be on Delroi. As a result, every clan on the planet had been preparing for months, but for now those preparations would have to go on without Reza.

He finally reached the shuttle bays, signed out one that belonged to his family, and punched in his destination coordinates. He’d been in the air about twenty minutes when the computer told him he had a call coming in from Marina Green, Tarben’s mate and Carisma’s mother.

“Put it on hologram,” he told the system.