“We’ll begin our attack in the morning, Prince. Please make yourself ready and pack your personal belongings. Have your guard bring you to meet us at the landing zone at first light. After we secure your mother, and get rid of the Nilaniums, we will be leaving for our home planet right away.”
“Yes, certainly. I’ll be there.”
Lucas nodded and the transmission winked out. Jagger sagged to the floor. In the last few minutes the pain in his stomach had become almost unbearable. He took several deep breaths and forced himself to his feet. Then he turned to go to his rooms and ready his things for the journey. He had no idea what kind of life was waiting for him on board the Lycan ship. Once Nikolai had called him his mate, and told him he loved him. Now it seemed that his love had turned to hatred. Nikolai could barely look at him without frowning and snarling at him. He must only want him back on board the ship to torture and humiliate him. The contract the Lycans wanted said that he would be under their control until Nikolai tired of him. From the look on Nikolai’s face, that wouldn’t be too long.
Nikolai waited with his family for the door of the transport to open. He held himself rigidly erect, knowing Jagger was on the other side of the door. After four days, his need for his mate was an almost physical ache that was making him ill. No matter how angry he was, he still needed to see him. And he’d been very angry indeed when he found out Jagger had lied to him about knowing what it meant to be a Lycan mate and then compounded it by calling him and his family monsters and stubbornly demanding to be taken home. He’d even said he didn’t love Nikolai, and though he didn’t really believe it, the words had hurt and angered him. Stubborn little bastard. At first Nikolai had been so hurt and outraged he’d told Lucas to turn the ship for home, but Lucas had only looked at him and shook his head.
“You’re being as foolish and stubborn as your little prince, Nikolai. The curse is strong with our family, and you won’t be able to stand it for long. If you’re honest, you’ll admit you’re already dying to get your hands on him.”
“The hell with him!” Nikolai yelled, throwing himself down into a chair on the comm deck. “I’d like to wring his little neck.”
“Well, if that‘s how you really feel, I can probably arrange for the Alliance to pick him up and put him in one of their prisons. Kidnapping you and holding you for ransom is a capital two offense. It would no doubt mean a long prison sentence for the prince and his father.”
“No! He’s mine!” Nikolai jumped up and started pacing again. “If anyone holds him prisoner, it’ll be me. I’m the one he wronged.”
“Would you like me to arrange that then?” Lucas asked quietly.
“What do you mean?”
“I can make a deal for him, a deal they can’t refuse. He can become your prisoner and you can do whatever you like with him.”
At Nikolai’s hopeful, yearning look, he smiled. “You really have it bad for this young man, don’t you?”
“Yes, damn it,” Nikolai said moodily. “No use in denying it—I love him so much I think I’ll die from it.”
Lucas smiled again and clapped his shoulder. “Well, we can’t have that. Leave it to me, Nikolai. I’ll get your prince back for you. But we can’t hold him indefinitely. We’re not criminals. You’re going to have to make him want to stay with you, so you need to lose that giant chip on your shoulder and get over all this anger. Then if he still wants to go, you’ll have to let him leave.”
“I know. It’s just the idea that he said he didn’t love me—didn’t want me as much as I wanted him.” He took a deep breath. “Maybe this time I can convince him to admit how much he loves me. Because he does love me, the stubborn little sod!”
Now as the door was about to open on the transport, his palms were sweating. He schooled his face to be blank and expressionless. He saw Jagger right away, standing by the door, looking jumpy and solemn and goddamn beautiful, the sun casting a bright sheen over his dark blue hair. He was shifting his feet nervously, his grip white on the hilt of his sword. He looked absolutely miserable. Good, damn him. Let him feel some of what I’ve been going through. But at the same time, his protective instincts hammered at him to go to the prince and find out what was causing that look of pain on his face.
Behind him on the ground was a large contingent of Jayronian soldiers in formation. Several large transport trucks were pulled up behind them. Jagger stepped forward beside his father and bowed from the waist, his gaze darting up toward Nikolai and then skittering away.
Nikolai tried to concentrate on what King Larius and Lucas were saying, but it was impossible. All he could concentrate on was that smell radiating off Jagger, sweet and sultry and musky all at the same time. God it was driving him crazy and all he wanted to do was peel those stupid leggings off him, bend him over and…
Jagger stepped forward. He was asking Nikolai something and Nikolai shook his head to clear it. “What? What did you say?”
“I said my men want to go with us, with your permission, of course. It’s their queen, Nikolai, and they want to help.”
Nikolai made a sound of irritation and glanced over at Lucas, who shrugged and gave him a sardonic little smile. Nikolai turned back to his prince and fixed him with a cold stare. “There can be only one commander, Prince Jagger.”
Jagger nodded, his face darkening. He inclined his head respectfully though, and then turned to walk a few steps to the edge of the platform to address his troops. “Comrades, from this time forward, I surrender my command to the Lycan, Nikolai. He is my new lord and m-master. That makes him yours as well. Do as he tells you without question, and we will be victorious this day and bring our queen home where she belongs.”
An instant quiet fell over the assembled men and they shifted their gaze to Nikolai, who hadn’t moved since he left the ship. The prince walked over to him and knelt on one knee in front of him, lowering his head. “We are yours to command, sir.”
Nikolai felt stunned at this reversal and was at a loss. He glanced up at Lucas, who was smiling over at him. “Well, Nik? You seem to have a large group of men, not to mention a prince, at your disposal. What are you going to do with them?”
Nikolai growled deep in his throat at the sight of Jagger kneeling in front of him. With hands that trembled only slightly, he took Jagger by the shoulders and pulled him to his feet. “Tell your men to get in the trucks.”
Jagger nodded and turned to issue the orders, while Kyle and the others came over to him. “Since your prince has put you in charge, what would you like us to do, commander?”
Nikolai glanced at Lucas, who simply shrugged. “Go ahead. This is all for you, anyway, cousin. Do you want to keep an eye on Jagger or should he go with me?”
Nikolai shot Jagger a look and muttered under his breath. Raising his voice a little louder, he said, “He’s with me, Lucas.”
He turned his gaze back to Jagger and saw him practically vibrating with tension. He stepped forward and took his arm maybe a little more roughly than he’d intended. “Come on,” he said tersely. “Let’s get this over with.”
The small dock was so crowded with Jayronians and the much larger Lycans, it was getting hard to move. Nikolai nudged Jagger’s shoulder and pushed him in front of him to the waiting land transports. They were big trucks, like the one he’d first ridden in blindfolded when he’d arrived on the planet and been kidnapped by his little prince. Nikolai jumped up in the back of the first one in line and held out a hand to Jagger, who took it tentatively, like he was afraid to touch him. He jerked him up effortlessly and kept holding onto him, taking him to the back of the truck before pushing him down and dropping beside him.
He could see Jagger’s chest rising and falling quickly, but he didn’t think he was afraid of the mission against the Nilaniums, but rather he was reacting to Nikolai’s proximity. Still, he turned to Jagger and spoke quietly. “This is stupid. You shouldn’t even fucking be here. It’s not too late to get out of this. I can’t watch you and kill Nilaniums at the same time.”
“I haven’t asked you to watch me,” Jagger said sharply. “I can take care of myself.”
Nikolai gave a little snort. “Bullshit.”
The other Lycans were piling into the back of the truck and good-naturedly jostling with each other, keyed up and ready to go. Lycans, especially alpha males, loved a good fight, particularly against the Rogers, who were an almost constant harassment and threat in this part of the galaxy. Kyle, who was sitting across from Nikolai, grinned at him and flexed his muscles. “Good day to kick a little Nilanium ass, right brother?”
“Good as any!” Nikolai grinned back at him, still hyper aware of Jagger sitting so close beside him. His thigh was burning a hole through Nikolai’s pants as it rubbed against his. Damn him. Konnor, who also sat across from them, smiled over at Jagger politely, his eyes moving to the prince’s tight leggings and the noticeable bulge at his groin. Nikolai felt a low growl starting in his throat. Konnor looked up in surprise at Nikolai and smiled, holding up a hand in mock surrender and shaking his head.
“Sorry, cuz. Force of habit,” Konnor said in their Lycan language. “Damn, he’s beautiful.”
“And mine,” Nikolai answered shortly, putting a possessive hand on Jagger’s knee. Jagger, who spoke no Lycan at all, jumped at the touch and looked up at him in surprise.
Kyle regarded Nikolai with concern. He also spoke to him in Lycan. “How in the hell are you going to do this? You’re going to get yourself hurt if you’re not careful. If one of the Rogers comes after him…look, let me watch him. I can be more objective than you can, and you know I’ll be careful with him.”
“Hell, no. He stays with me,” Nikolai answered, still speaking in their own language. “Don’t worry about me. I can take care of both of us. I’ll probably let you guys have all the fun and just take him in to find his mother and then get them both back out to the truck.”