When General Orix Monash defected from the Dazon armada to protect Earth, he expected some fear and suspicion. What he didn’t expect was to find his mate among the Earth women at the Moon’s consulate. Mary Catherine Jones is the caretaker for the orphaned human-Dazon hybrid babies, but when he looks at Mac, he wants to take care of her forever. She feels the pull too, and they’re quickly drawn together—and drawn into a plot that involves a traitor and the first battle in Emperor Aryk’s bid to steal Earth women for mating purposes.
Each book in the Dazon Agenda series focuses on a different couple while expanding the overarching plot. It is recommended to read the books in order.
Since leaving the rearing facility at fifteen planet-cycles-old, Orix Monash had been a soldier. That was a long time. Certainly long enough to look at a room to size up the situation immediately. There was a lot of hostility, and though it shouldn’t have surprised him, it did. He could understand the negative reactions, particularly among the humans seated around the large table, but it still startled him to see a range of emotions from distress to blatant suspicion on many of the faces around him, including faces of those he had known for a long part of his lifespan.
In particular, Commander Sash Darvig was regarding him with flagrant mistrust, indicating he wasn’t certain of Orix’s motives, or why roughly thirty percent of the armada had defected with him. He cleared his throat as silence finally descended, and all gazes fell on him. They were waiting for an explanation, and that was something he couldn’t offer, not really having one himself, which was likely to add to the mistrust surrounding him.
Ambassador Embeth Williams, who sat beside her mate, Second Prince Ysaak Chon, gave him an encouraging smile. He wanted to rebuff the gesture, to remind her he was a hardened warrior, not a nervous schoolboy. It would be ill-form to do so, especially since he also felt disconcertingly like a nervous schoolboy for just a moment.
Orix cleared his throat again, waiting for someone to ask the first question. It was a negotiating tactic he had learned early on in his military career, and it also revealed a great deal about the other party’s position. They shouldn’t be in negotiations, since he and his comrades had voluntarily defected from their military and home world, but he knew they were going to take some convincing to believe it for certain.
Sash was the first ask, “What are you really doing here?”
Orix maintained a calm expression, fixing his one good eye on his old friend. “We’re here to defend Earth from Emperor Aryk’s intentions, Commander Darvig.”
“Or maybe you’re here to finish the task,” said a small Earth woman farther down the table. She hadn’t identified herself, and she bore no name tag or other way for him to discern her position.
He shook his head just once. “As soon as we found out what the First Prince…I mean Emperor…had planned, those of us who objected strongly organized and made the decision to break away from the home world and the main armada. We arrived as quickly as we could.”
“I find it very convenient that you didn’t arrive until after your military had deployed the biological weapon responsible for spreading ROMKS among Earth women,” said the same scowling human.
He scowled at her, starting to feel tendrils of anger creeping over him. He wasn’t used to being questioned or having to account for his every movement. It had been some time in his career since he been accountable to much of anyone other than the emperor or the first and second princes.
“I assure you we arrived as quickly as we could. There was heavy fighting to break away. As soon as Emperor Aryk realized we were defecting, he threw everything he had at us. My ships have sustained heavy damage, and we’ve lost at least five percent of the personnel who made the choice to turn their backs on the home world and come here. Your interrogation and insinuations are insulting, Ms.…?”
She wrinkled her nose at him, as though he was something foul. “Jordan Saunders. I’m the president’s daughter, and her liaison for the Moon Consulate.”
He nodded once to indicate he had heard her introduction. “We’re here to help in whatever capacity we can do so. If we could have arrived sooner, or managed to warn you before the weapon deployed, we would have done so. Those of us who have chosen to defend Earth are appalled at the emperor’s actions. Three generations ago, the Veluvians did something similar to us, and though the emperor and Jorvak Ha are trying to solve that problem, this is not the way to do it.”
Prince Ysaak cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to him. “General Monash, you said about thirty percent of the fleet has come with you?” At Orix’s nod, he frowned. “That leaves at least seven hundred thousand troops at my brother’s disposal. Did he give any indication of his next step or overall plan?”
Orix shook his head. “No. The emperor was tightlipped about all the steps. He simply revealed Dr. Ha had created a retrovirus that would make all Earth women compatible for breeding, and it was about to be deployed. There was truly no time to warn the earthlings, especially amid the battle to break free.” He shifted slightly in his seat, overcome with a strange surge of guilt at having abandoned his duty and his post.
Only a stronger moral conviction could lead him to such an action. His doubts had begun when he had learned of Aryk murdering the former emperor to seize power, but that hadn’t been enough to make him deviate from his duty. It had taken the abrupt and appalling wake-up call of hearing that their own people were preparing to deploy a biological weapon against people who should not be their enemies that had forced him to make a sudden and decisive break with his military career and life on Dazonia Major.
It was still an unsettling situation, and he found himself struggling as they threw questions at him. It wasn’t that he struggled to answer, and if he didn’t know the right response, he bluntly stated that. The entire process was just an emotionally draining struggle. Inside, he was a mass of turmoil, far more emotional about the situation than he was prepared to reveal to a group of strangers—especially since many of them still maintained a hostile front and seemed convinced he was part of a bigger plot perpetrated by Aryk.
Did they imagine he and three hundred thousand other soldiers, minus fifteen thousand lost to casualties, had arrived as part of a ploy on the emperor’s part? It was a slightly ludicrous idea, but he supposed he understood their caution and fear. Half the population was ill, and only a few essential personnel in government had been given the nanotechnology that would keep the retrovirus in check and reverse the symptoms of ROMKS.
He was in the midst of debriefing the prince and the commander about the status of the ships and the troops available, wishing the men would wait until they had a smaller audience before asking him to reveal their strengths and weaknesses, when his heart rate increased, and his hearts thundered in his eardrums. It was a disconcerting sensation, especially since he had no logical explanation for it. Orix glanced around, his gaze locking on a small Earth woman just crossing the doorway of the meeting room, which was open to allow as many essential people to cram inside as possible.
Clearly, the honey-blonde woman hadn’t been considered essential personnel, but his body suddenly found her very essential. A wave of dizziness swept over him, and he gripped the edges of the table as his hearts continued to pound, and his libido switched into overdrive. He was hard and aching for the woman, who seemed startled when their gazes met. He imagined her reaction was to his scarred face and missing eye, currently hidden under an eyepatch as a nod to decorum for the Earthlings. The piece of fabric itched and irritated his golden-brown skin, making him suddenly, almost painfully, aware of its existence by the way it rubbed his skin raw as she looked at him.
A second later, the woman was gone, but certainly not forgotten. It took Orix a long moment to realize people were still speaking to him and asking questions, and another, even longer, moment to compose himself and reorganize his thoughts. As he answered, his mind was preoccupied with the woman who had passed by.
It was inconvenient and unexpected, but he couldn’t deny he’d experienced the mating flare. What else could such an intense reaction be? Orix certainly hadn’t expected to find a woman who stirred his mating instinct under the circumstances, at least not at this time. He hadn’t even considered in more than a passing fashion that one of the Earth women might be a possible mate for him. His primary concern had been security and doing the right thing, and while those remained focal points for his attention, he couldn’t deny he was quietly obsessing about the woman he had barely seen.
When the interminable meeting finally concluded, the first thing he was going to do was see if he could track her down and confirm his reaction. If it was the mating flare, Orix had no idea what to do next. Claiming a partner right then was inconvenient and more than a little dangerous. He couldn’t afford anything that cost him his focus, especially since he soon gleaned human technology would offer little resistance to Emperor Aryk and his remaining armada.
It was up to Orix and the rest of the defectors to protect Earth, particularly the human women, from the emperor’s machinations. The task was monumental and required his full attention. It would help if he knew what Aryk planned to do next, and if he could stop thinking about the woman with her golden-brown locks and wide blue eyes that had seemed to dominate her face during the brief millisecond they had locked gazes.
Mary Catherine, or Mac as she was commonly known, had been running late, an unintentional side effect of an unplanned nap in her quarters during her afternoon rest break. She had woken to furor in the consulate, everyone stirred up first by the biological attack yesterday, and now by the arrival of aliens with unknown intentions.
While she was interested and just as eager to know their motives as everyone else, her primary focus was where it had been since Dr. Wy had given her the nanotechnology months ago, and she had volunteered to stay at the consulate, first as a companion to the Earth women who had been impregnated against their will, and later as caretaker to the infants whose mothers had not survived.
She had literally stumbled to a halt when meeting the fierce gaze of the one-eyed man seated at the head of the conference table as she had rushed past the doorway. For just a moment, all thoughts had fled, and her mind hadn’t been on reaching the nursery or reviewing the tasks ahead of her. For that earthshattering second, her entire world had revolved around the alien male, and everything else had ceased to exist.
It had been only a brief moment in time, but even now, hours after it had taken place, Mac’s heart was still prone to racing unexpectedly whenever she remembered that moment. She’d never been drawn so intently to a man before, and she certainly hadn’t expected to have any kind of connection with the aliens. Not that she harbored prejudice toward the ones she knew and worked with on a regular basis, including Dr. Wy, Commander Darvig, and the contingent of Dazon caretakers who had arrived from Dazonia Major to assist with caring for the newborns.
However, she had endured a traumatic experience at the hands of Jorvak Ha, one that she would’ve assumed would predispose her to being unable to find any of the Dazon males attractive. Apparently, she had been wrong in her assessment.
The baby she was holding cooed up at her, forcing her to break her mental reverie, and she smiled down at the little boy. Unlike the typical Dazon male who wasn’t a human hybrid, baby Jake grew hair all over his head, including the sides, and didn’t have the sparse scrub that many of the men had on the otherwise-bare sections. Instead, he had thick curls, which had been a gift from his African-American mother, who had died birthing Jake and his two sisters, Carmen and Lily. He squealed at her, and she couldn’t help how her heart melted as she lifted him higher and bounced him gently.
She’d been appalled to discover the caretakers doled out only a minimal amount of affection to the infants, following the protocol established in their rearing facilities. It was a protocol she had quickly halted with the commander’s full support, but just because she encouraged the caretakers to interact didn’t mean they always did. Many of them still approached the task of caring for the infants as a job and avoided emotionally engaging with the children.
Though she had a few human volunteers who stopped by often on random schedules to help out and cuddle any baby in need, her determination to ensure that each of the infants received the necessary attention and affection often meant she worked long hours in the nursery and had an erratic sleep pattern. It was a small sacrifice to ensure the sixteen children whom Commander Darvig had entrusted to her care received the best upbringing possible, considering they had no mothers or fathers. Their mothers were dead, and their fathers were either part of Ha’s original crew of scientists or had been uninterested in their human-hybrid offspring when Dr. Wy had informed them of the conception, births, and subsequent deaths of the human mothers.
To her knowledge, only Valkor Tosh had claimed his offspring, and that fortunately had a happy ending, because he’d also claimed the mother of said offspring. She had only seen Jessminda Patel and Valkor Tosh on a handful of occasions, but they always struck her as happy and content despite the rocky start to their relationship.
It was difficult not to envy them, or the ambassador and the second prince. She knew of at least one other match that had been made during the debacle, but she had not spoken with Jada Washington since the day of the rescue, nor seen Inquisitor Ryland Breese in the intervening time despite living at the consulate. Perhaps they visited the consulate, but she wouldn’t know for sure. She spent seventy percent of her time in the nursery, another twenty-five percent sleeping, and perhaps five percent mingling with others who lived at the consulate or visited for different purposes.
Jake tugged on a strand of her hair, wrapping it around his pudgy golden fingers and bringing it to his mouth. She shook her head at him and brushed it back, making him whimper in protest. “Shush, little man. Hair isn’t good for you.”
“I’m not surprised he’s drawn to it, having never seen anything so beautiful in all my life,” said a deep male voice behind her.
Without even turning to look, she knew on an instinctive level it was the scarred warrior from earlier who spoke to her. Her nerve endings felt raw, and she shivered with anticipation, not anxiety, when she turned to face him.
Being so close to him, and the focus of his attention, was even more earthshaking than their brief encounter earlier. Her mouth was dry, and she jiggled the baby to have something to do, and as a way to divert her attention from him for a moment, just to compose herself. “I…” How very eloquent of her.
He gave her the tiniest of smiles before his attention drifted back to the little one in her arms. “He’s a beautiful child. Is he yours?”
The maternal side of her softened toward him, even though the feminine side of her was still uncertain—or at least uncertain about how long she could keep her clothes on around him. Suppressing that thought, and knowing it was not going to happen, because she wouldn’t let herself be so irresponsible, she waved a hand around the facility, where ten cribs formed a row. A couple of the babies preferred to sleep alone, but most preferred to be with their sibling or siblings, depending on how many had survived the births. “I guess you could say they’re all mine.”
His brow ridge, minus eyebrows as was common to his race, inched upward slightly. “How is that possible, Earth woman?”
“Mac,” she said through lips that wanted to stick together from their sudden dryness. “My name is Mac Jones, and I’m the head caretaker for the infants who were orphaned from Ha’s irresponsible and illegal experiments.”
He grimaced, looking disgusted. “That was a tragedy, and it clearly remains one.”
She stiffened slightly. “What he did was a crime, and what happened to the mothers was a tragedy, but each of these little babies is special to me, and to your people. They represent a new future and a new hope, but only if we can find an amicable way to help each other.”
His one eye, a startling lilac color, darkened at her words. “I know you speak in generalities, Mac, but the idea of the two of us working together makes my hearts race with anticipation.”
“Oh,” she said softly, once again cursing her lack of eloquence in the face of such an admission. Her physical and sexual interactions with the opposite sex had been minimal, leaving her with little idea how to proceed. She might be thirty-seven, but she had the experience level of a teenager. Kaiser’s Syndrome had struck her down when she was seventeen, because she’d had a particularly rapid onset and severe level of debilitation.
If it hadn’t been for the Dazons coming to Earth so Ha could experiment illegally on Earth women, she might have been dead by now. She certainly would have wished to be, having spent the last two years before her kidnapping wishing she would just die, but not having the physical ability to initiate the process herself.
Now, she was grateful she hadn’t been able to end her suffering at the time and oddly thankful for the results of her kidnapping, at least on a personal level, but the resulting fallout was mind-boggling. She had barely begun to process that roles had drastically reversed now, and the women who had once been healthy were now the ones who were ill, while most of the sufferers of Kaiser’s Syndrome had received nanotechnology over the intervening months since Dr. Wy had set up his clinic at the consulate on the Moon.
The only remaining healthy women had either been at the consulate during the deployment, or were in isolated pockets of the Earth where the technology hadn’t reached. Those areas were scarce and few. Even trying to think at that scale gave her a headache and made her grateful for the comforting confines of the nursery and her clearly defined role within it.
There was nothing clearly defined with the man standing in front of her, a man whose name she still didn’t know. She licked her lips, finding it necessary in order to speak, and she didn’t miss the way his gaze flared with heat, and the mimicking motion of his own tongue across his lips, which made warmth fill her stomach. “It’s difficult to work together when I don’t know your name, sir.”
“General Orix Monash at your service, Mac.”
A general. Wow. “What’s happening here, General Monash?”
He took a surprising step forward, swallowing the space between them. She held her breath when his hand lifted, releasing it in a jerky fashion a second later as he simply smoothed his hand down Jake’s full head of curly hair. “That remains to be determined, Mac.”
“Orix.” He practically growled his name, but not in a menacing fashion. Rather, it had a smoky undertone of sexual excitement that even her naïveté couldn’t fail to discern. “I wish to hear you say my name—loud, long, and often.”
Her cheeks heated, and she gave him a look full of bewilderment. “Why, Orix?”
He visibly shuddered with pleasure when she spoke his name in velvety tones. “The moment I saw you, I felt it.”
“The mating flare. It’s an instinct that has faded or disappeared among most of the Dazon males, and I never expected to feel even the faintest stirrings of it, and especially not for an Earth woman I saw only in passing. It was an inconvenient surprise to want to mate with you.”
She’d been on the edge of breathlessness, but now she glared at him. “If it’s that inconvenient, perhaps you should just ignore it?”