She’s looking for happily-ever-after. He doesn’t dare touch her. But with her life at stake, he’ll sacrifice everything to protect her.
Kristy: Chosen for the Driegon bride selection, I’m confident I’ll meet the alien of my dreams. I don’t expect to find true love, but it would be nice to find someone special. Three weeks into the program, I’m falling hard for Rashe, a guy who sadly doesn’t notice I exist. Forget happily-ever-after. At this point, I’d settle for friends with benefits. But when someone tries to kill me, Rashe becomes my knight in shining…scales. Can we discover who the villain is before I wind up dead?
Rashe: Kristy is everything I could ever hope for in a mate, but touching her will trigger the Torrent–an ancient Driegon mating ritual–and will result in my death. Instead of claiming her, I’ll long for her from afar and ensure she’s matched with someone who can give her the love she deserves. But with someone out to kill her, I’ll risk even my own life to protect her.
RASHE, the third standalone novel in the Brides of Driegon series by bestselling alien romance author Ava Ross.
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About the Book
by Ava Ross
Brides of Driegon
March 26, 2021
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A Brides of Driegon Novel
© 2021 Ava Ross
Early evening, when the spitzer bug lights started dimming, I snuck out of the Driegon castle. My diving equipment smacked on my back as I took the path encircling the alien building. I hummed something silly. One of those tunes that got stuck in your head and you couldn’t get it out. If I was in lucky, I’d forget it once I was immersed in a new, exciting world.
I’d almost reached the bank of the moat where I’d scoped out the best access to the water when someone called out from one of the gardens next to the path.
“Where do you go?” the creaky voice asked.
Damn. Almost made it without being caught. I hadn’t exactly gotten permission for what I was about to do.
Turning, I found Miska, the crotchety Zisten elder hobbling along the path leading to one of the main gardens. Her scaled brow ridge lifted, and the end of her forked tail twitched, smacking against a pale pink shrub. The shrub quivered and leaned away from her.
“I’m not going anywhere in particular,” I said. “I’m taking a walk.” Sort of. I wasn’t afraid to admit I was going diving in the moat, but I didn’t want to spend precious time chatting about why or what I planned to do beneath the surface.
Three older Driegons sitting on benches watched her as she lumbered on bony legs sticking out from beneath her knee-length striped tunic. She stopped in front of me and shook a long stick in my face. It wasn’t any old walking stick. The Driegons believed the carved windra stick gave her magical abilities. “You risk more than you know.”
Chills zipped up my spine. This woman…knew things.
I wasn’t doing anything wrong, though I doubted the castle guards would approve of me diving in the moat.
I forced a smile as I stared up at her. Since arriving in the kingdom a few weeks ago, I’d yet to meet a Driegon I didn’t have to crick my neck back to make eye contact with. Even hunched forward, the elderly alien had to be a foot taller than my five-seven.
“What risk do you mean?” I asked. “The kingdom is safe.” Safer, now that most of the bad guys had been driven away. Many of the aliens welcomed Earthling brides. A few did not. It would be nice if the latter stopped trying to kill us.
I shifted the strap of my homemade scuba equipment from one shoulder to the other as her attention traveled down my front, taking in my simple tank swimsuit and water shoes before she lifted her penetrating, reptilian gaze to meet mine. The small, graying scales on her ridged brow scrunched. “You are not the one I seek.”
“I see,” I said pleasantly. This lady was hard to figure out. She gave the impression she was a bit senile, yet she watched and analyzed everything. A week or so ago, she arrived with a small entourage to negotiate a truce with King Malac. I heard the talks were not going smoothly. Something about the other Clans not having confidence in her ability to cypher with the windra stick.
“Where is she?” Miska asked, her gaze flicking to the three Driegons still sitting in the garden.
“I’m not really sure.”
As one of a handful of Earthling brides, I’d gotten used to standing out. I had no scales, horns, claws, or tail and I was two feet shorter than most of the other Driegons. It was routine to be subjected to curious stares, though this was the first time a female Driegon watched me with such animosity. The older female sitting on the bench sneered and nudged the male sitting with her, and my skin peppered with goosebumps.
I backed toward the moat. It might be safer among the dangerous water creatures than here on land.
“Tell you what,” I said. “We can talk later. I’ve got to get going. Lots to do and too little time.”
Miska gave me a slow nod. “Do not fear. Much will happen before your future is secure, but I sense a good ending.”
“That’s good to hear.” Talk about creeping me out. “Thank you.” When she mentioned my future, was she talking about Rashe, the sweet, shy, intriguing member of the king’s guard I had a crush on or something completely different?
“Yes, him,” she said pertly.
I got the feeling she knew what I thought. It wasn’t possible. There was no such thing as magic, but if anyone would make me a believer, it would be this windra stick-wielding elder.
“Do take care,” she said. After delivering her cryptic message, she turned and hobbled back to the waiting Driegons. “All of you Earthlings need to take care. It is sad we lost so many to the disease.”
Over a year ago, a mysterious sickness swept through, killing most of Earth’s men and the women on planets scattered throughout the galaxy.
“We were welcomed here,” I called after her. “Driegons and Earthlings are finding love.”
“As they should.”
Earthlings thought all was lost until a ping reached us from outer space, telling us there was life in the stars. We freaked out. They’ll attack us, blast us to smithereens, or abduct us for…probing. Something like that. Personally, I read more than my share of alien abduction romances and secretly wished some of my late-night alien probing fantasies would come true. Not necessarily the abduction part, but the hot-alien-turning-into-mush-around-only-me part. That was a common trope. Well, and huge dicks. I have yet to discover if there was any truth in the latter part of my fantasy.
Miska turned and leaned on her stick. “You are welcome here. We are delighted to have you in Driegon.”
“Thank you.” I hated to think this powerful female would oppose us. We had enough hating on us already.
“Mating produces cleches.”
A clech was a…flock of babies. Drieglings, they called them. Frankly, one at a time sounded more my speed. At least we could consider having children now.
When a group of aliens suggested arranged marriages, Earthlings freaked out all over again. Well, some of the women freaked. I jumped for joy at the opportunity and volunteered right away. Sure, I loved my job as a marine biologist, but the opportunity to travel to a planet and meet the alien of my dreams was an offer I couldn’t pass up.
They set up a lottery and an initial group of women was sent in spaceships as mail-order brides. After the initial program’s success on the planet’s surface, we made arrangements to send four potential brides to the Driegons—aliens with dragon-like features living deep beneath the surface of an alien planet.
“Two of you have not Torrented yet,” Miska said. “Which is the reason I speak with you.”
Only Emma and I were left. The other two had entered the Torrent, an ancient Driegon mating ritual I didn’t know much about but couldn’t wait to discover it. It wouldn’t occur unless physical contact with one of the aliens ignited something within me, which so far hasn’t happened. Bella matched with the king, and Aria and Drace couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Hell, even our photographer and hair stylist, who were not part of the program, flew off into the Torrent sunset with other Driegons. Me and Emma had shaken hands with what felt like a billion guys, hoping the Torrent would spark, but we’d yet to ignite with any of them.
Frankly, there was only one guy I was eager to Torrent with—Rashe. So far, he was proving elusive. He showed up to functions and hung out on the periphery while I met and tried to Torrent with Driegons, but he’d yet to approach me with his hand extended. Emma was in the same boat, pining for Rashe’s brother and fellow king’s elite guard member, Teran. As they were clechmates—their term for siblings—avoiding us could be a family thing.
They flew away whenever we came close. Literally. These guys had wings. If nothing happened with Rashe within the next few weeks, I planned to move on and find someone who wasn’t as hot or sweet or shy or cute as Rashe. If that was possible.
“Remember my words,” Miska said ominously, leaning on her stick as she turned away.
More vague premonitions on her part or was she trying to warn me about something?
“Miska?” I called out but she did not look back. Her stick clunk-clunk-clunked on the path.
The female who glared at me stood as Miska approached, the tufts of feathery fur on her head standing up sharply between her head spikes. She leaned closer to one of the males and whispered. The third just stared, his gaze pleasant yet distant.
Was this female another Driegon opposed to the bride program? I hoped she wasn’t as eager to kill us as the others.
I waited until the four Driegons went inside then scurried over to the moat and made sure my tankless scuba equipment was ready. I dove off the bank and into the murky water encircling the alien castle. Two weeks into my stay in the Driegon kingdom and I was itching to explore the waterways. For my first venture, I opted to play it safe. My friend, Aria, ran into trouble while swimming in the river, so the moat felt like a better place for my first adventure. I was told there were “fewer” deadly creatures in this diverted section of the river.
I gulped when my body hit the frigid water, but I didn’t return to shore. Yeah, it was cold, but I was a marine biologist. How could I resist introducing myself to the culcharn family living in the moat? They were pretty much alien manatees, right? From the descriptions I received, wild versions of this species hunted in the Titir River. Culharns grew to the size of a male Driegon and they had long, sharp teeth and grosster fins that could slice through even the heartiest Driegon scales. The family living in the moat was rumored to be friendly.
After inserting my mouthpiece connected to my inflated device bobbing on the surface, I pulled in air to test the equipment. Breathing through a hose was much like sucking in air through a straw. It wasn’t perfect but as long as you regulated your breathing and took it easy, it worked.
I adjusted my mask and sunk beneath the water, pulling in air and exhaling bubbles. Pivoting, I kicked and with my underwater flashlight shooting a golden beam ahead of me, I started investigating the channel.
I directed my light to the castle wall, picking up vegetation, skittering creatures, and slime. The submerged foundation appeared to continue downward for two or three floors. From our initial tour, I knew the guard barracks were located partly in the underwater level, but no one told me there were additional levels beneath the barracks. Cool. Looking into that became a priority. Maybe Emma would snoop with me. As an archaeologist, a discovery like this would be right up her alley.
The moat was about twenty-five feet across, but no one was able to give me a clear answer about depth, but I could make out the rocky bottom with my flashlight, leading me to believe it was about fifty feet in this section. Ho, baby. This was awesome. For this foray, I planned fifteen minutes of diving. I was limited by my hose to a depth of thirty-six feet. My plan was to swim upstream then float back down once I reached my time limit.
Fish of various colors and sizes, some as long as my forearm, darted past me, many flashing teeth. Must be a Driegon thing as the males kept baring their fangs at us. They didn’t smile, though many were practicing, hoping to impress us. When they laughed, they huffed and smoke curled from their noses, something to be expected in guys descended from dragons, I suppose. I understood they could breathe fire, too, though I’d yet to see that in action.
Bigger fish sashayed closer to inspect me, giving me an excellent chance to study them. So many colors and differing scale patterns. Creatures with fins in places I’d never found in aquatic species back on Earth.
I swam upstream, checking out this amazing world. I saw nothing of any concern, though I kept an eye out. Just my luck I’d run into the alien version of a goliath tigerfish in the Congo or the thirty-pound payara in Venezuela that tried to eat my hand. The Driegon fish I’d seen so far had mouths big enough to take a chunk out my thigh, but they didn’t act aggressive. They bumped past me in schools, busy eating smaller fish while heading downstream.
As I glided beneath the bridge connecting the main path to the castle, my body adjusted to the shockingly cold temp and my heartrate dropped back to normal. With limited space in my suitcase, I hadn’t brought a wetsuit, opting to pack my tankless equipment instead. I barely had room in my case for clothing.
I directed my light toward the bottom, hoping to spy the culcharn family, or at least a sole member of the species, but found nothing except boulders overgrown with muck. Lots of muck, which wasn’t the true scientific term for the plant species, but it fit.
My lungs sucked in air and pushed it out as I studied the make-up of the bridge support. I floated over to the castle wall constructed of huge hunks of chiseled stone. It appeared to be granite, but I wasn’t a geologist. I moved in close to the wall, studying the mossy substance coating much of the surface.
Dinnerplate-sized, nine-legged starfish creatures clung to the vegetation, their tentacled limbs extending, grabbing on, then tugging them across the gooky surface. With bright blue flesh, they blended in well with the greenish-blue moss. I leaned close to study one and it paused. Its outstretched limb coiled back toward me, baring its rippled underside. An eyeball on the suction cup tip blinked at me, and a tiny mouth opened, revealing jagged teeth. It stretched toward my nose.
Nope, nope, nope. Not going to be alien starfish fodder today.
Leaving the cluster, I continued swimming upstream, fascinated by the plant life coating the walls and the creatures moving around me. If only I could’ve fit my underwater camera into my suitcase.
I sucked in a deep breath, pleased with how the tankless system worked. The floatation device held the hose’s exit above water, allowing me to pull in an endless supply of air. This simple system gave me the chance to explore underwater without highly technical equipment.
A square dark shadow on the lower part of the wall caught my eye and I paddled in that direction, finding what looked like a hatch mounted on the wall. Interesting. Was this an entrance to the mysterious lower level? When I explored inside, I’d look for it.
I continued upstream. Something huge loomed ahead, and my heart skipped a beat. I swam toward it, my skin peppering with excitement, diving as deep as my hose would allow. I was rewarded when my light picked out a ginormous culcharn casually floating downstream.
If my teeth weren’t clamping my mouthpiece, my jaw would drop. Like a manatee, the culcharn had an egg-shaped head, flippers, and a flat tail, plus the grosster fins sticking from its sides. The fins were at least two feet long and appeared as sharp as spears on the tips. From what I heard, these creatures weren’t aggressive, but they fought back if challenged.
The underwater beast spied me and floated closer, as curious about me as I was about it. It appeared to sniff me, coasting its snout down my swimsuit to my bare legs. Fearing sudden movement could make it aggressive, I held still, hovering near the building as the slow-moving water tugged me along.
It shifted away, toward the middle of the moat, and continued downstream. I watched it in awe and decided to follow. My time was almost up, and my body quivered from the cold. I kicked and aimed for the surface thirty feet or so above me, but my foot snagged on something. When I reached down, I found it wedged between two boulders.
Backing up, I tried to get free, but I couldn’t dislodge my foot, not even when I kicked off my water shoe. I wrangled with my leg, hoping I’d dislodge my foot, but it appeared stuck. This sucked big time. I could breathe forever down here but unless I got free, I’d become alien creature bait. Not an enticing prospect.
I pushed my foot down, hoping whatever snagged it would release me, but this made things worse as I was now wedged to mid-calf.
Fear galloped through me. I’d been in trickier situations than this in the past. Maintain control. Just keep breathing and eventually I’d either get free or someone would pass on the bridge overhead and see me struggling. Emma knew where I was and if I didn’t return within an hour, she’d notify the guards. They’d help me.
Breathe in. Breathe out. See? This was easy. I peered up and spied someone on the bridge, leaning over to look down. Awesome. I tried to get their attention by waving. They extended something thin, but I couldn’t identify it through the wavering water. Whatever it was tugged my floatation device closer to the bridge.
I sucked in a breath and choked when my air shut off. Was my hose kinked?
Easier said than done. Anxiety bloomed inside me as I adjusted my mouthpiece and ran my hands up my hose, finding only smooth plastic as far as I could reach. My heartbeat boomed in my ears, overly loud. The feeling that something was crushing my lungs overwhelmed me. Dread hitched up my spine. I quaked with goosebumps. I struggled to release my leg, but it remained stuck between the rocks.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get free.
Life-giving air waited thirty feet above me, but it might as well be a thousand miles away. I dove with only one deep breath to sustain me many times in the past, often venturing fifty feet down. But caught as I was and without air, I’d drown.
My lungs screamed, telling me they needed oxygen. I sucked harder through the mouthpiece but could not pull anything in.
The person moved overhead. Watching…?
I waved my arms. A scream bubbled up my throat. I bit it back. If I opened my mouth, I’d inhale water.
The person stretched away from the bridge again. I waited for them to dive down and help me.
My floating equipment left the surface, hauled upward.
A jerk, and my breathing apparatus was ripped from my mouth.
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About the Author
AVA ROSS fell for men with unusual features when she first watched Star Wars, where alien creatures have gone mainstream. She lives in New England with her husband (who is sadly not an alien, though he is still cute in his own way), her kids, and assorted pets, including a yorkie pup and three cats.