Kyle looked over at Jagger dubiously. “He wants to fight, brother. Maybe you should let him do what he needs to do.”

Nikolai glared at him. “When you have your own mate, I’ll remind you of what you just said. I can’t risk him, Kyle. I won’t. But there’s no sense in letting him know that—he’s disagreeable enough as it is.”

Kyle laughed and Nikolai glanced down at Jagger, who sat quietly in his corner of the truck, his eyes straight ahead. The only sign of his nervousness was his continued white-knuckled grip on the hilt of his sword.

The journey was quick, and soon they were pulling up to the gates of the Nilanium compound. Captain Garth himself came out of the doors of the compound, followed by several of his men. Lucas was the first one out of the truck, quickly followed by the other Lycans. When Jagger started to jump down beside him, Nikolai put a hand on his chest. “Not so fast. Let me check it out first.”

Jagger snorted and jumped down beside him anyway. He took one step forward before Nikolai grabbed Jagger’s arm and put his lips to his ear. “You’re not in charge, anymore, Princeling, and you’d better start remembering that. Now get behind me and stay there.”

Jagger’s eyes flashed at him, and he pulled his arm roughly away, but he fell back behind Nikolai as he’d told him to, dropping his gaze to the ground. Nikolai strode over to stand in front of the Nilanium chief. “We’ve returned, Garth, as you can see.”

Garth shifted uneasily. “We have no quarrel with you, Lycan.”

“Yes, but we have a quarrel with you. You’re holding a hostage, I believe, who is quite important to us and to our allies, the Jayronians.” Jagger put deliberate emphasis on the word ‘allies’, watching Garth’s face closely. “And I think it’s safe to say your presence here on Jayron is no longer desired.”

Behind him, Nikolai was aware of the other Lycans spreading out in a solid line, flanking him. Garth’s eyes darted toward them and back to Nikolai and then traveled insolently over Prince Jagger. Nikolai shifted his body slightly to completely hide his mate behind him.

“Suppose we give you the lady?” Garth said.


“Yes,” Nikolai purred, his eyes glowing deep red. “Suppose you do…”

“Will you leave then?”

Nikolai felt his fangs drop down and allowed it. He bared his teeth at the captain, letting him get a good look at what was coming for him and his men. “You first,” he replied, his voice now rough and hoarse as the shift came over him.

Captain Garth backed up, his eyes round with horror. “Go get the queen,” he yelled at the men standing behind him. His eyes traveled down the line of Lycans standing behind Nikolai. Without turning his head, Nikolai knew they must have shifted as well. He could hear their rapid breathing just behind him.

“You’re finished here, Garth. You and your men have twenty minutes to clear out before we pull this shithole down around your ears.”

Garth’s eyes darted around desperately, his tongue spearing out to wet his lips. Behind him, a small figure emerged, her hair falling around her face and her tiny frame trembling. From behind him, Jagger cried out, “Mother!” Before Nikolai could stop him, he flew around him to her side and gathered her in his arms. The captain’s meaty arm wrapped itself around Jagger’s throat and pulled him back against his body, while with his other hand, the pirate pulled his weapon.

Nikolai stood frozen in fear as Garth pointed the gun directly at his mate’s temple. “I’ll kill him, Lycan—don’t think I won’t!”

The threat to his mate was enough to push Nikolai over the edge. He shifted completely, his loud roar of rage reverberating around the compound. Garth’s mouth fell open as he faced his imminent death, and at the same time, Jagger elbowed him sharply in his gut, while knocking the gun away from his head. Nikolai leaped, one arm pushing Jagger to the side as he took the captain down, ripping away his throat with one sharp jerk of his teeth. A red haze dropped over Nikolai’s eyes as he heard the sounds of men screaming as the Lycans tore them apart.

Out of the corner of his eye, Nikolai saw Jagger huddling protectively over his mother’s prone form, before the sounds of the other Nilaniums pouring out of the building to meet them took over his senses. The combat was hand-to-hand at such close quarters, and the Nilaniums, though no match for the huge, fierce Lycans, still had a well-deserved reputation for fighting. Greatly outnumbering the Lycans, they fought in these close quarters with their sharp, curved blades, piling on five or six men to each Lycan, and though none were able to seriously hurt any of the Lycans, they gave a good accounting of themselves. Konnor was bleeding from a wound to his forehead and Nikolai saw his cousin Larsson go down under what looked like ten Nilaniums. Fighting his way over to him, he managed to pull him back to his feet, dispatching six or seven of the Nilaniums as he went.

Still, despite their fierceness they were badly outnumbered. Suddenly, Nikolai heard a loud battle cry behind him and saw Jagger, now on his feet, his sword in the air, with what looked like the full company of his soldiers behind him. Some of the Nilaniums surged toward them, ready to fight, but most retreated, running away while they still had the chance.

Nikolai ran toward his prince, who was engaged in a savage skirmish with a large, bearded Nilanium. Nikolai grabbed the Roger from behind and half tore off his head with one swipe of his powerful claws. Before Jagger could react, he’d picked him up and thrown him across his shoulder, striding with him toward the truck. When he reached it, he saw the queen cowering inside, and he threw Jagger none too gently up beside her. He pointed one huge claw at the prince and snarled at him. “Stay there! Guard your mother!”

Turning on his heel he rushed back into the battle, which was mostly over by now. Nikolai ran over to his brother and his cousins to check on them and found them almost unharmed, other than a few cuts and scratches that their rapid wolf metabolism would soon heal. Together, they went through the compound, making sure none of the Nilaniums were left alive. The Rogers were a pack of murderers, rapists and thieves, who had long been a scourge in the area, so they showed them no quarter, nor did the few remaining men they met ask for any.

When it was over, Nikolai made his way back to the truck, anxious to check on his prince and not at all certain he’d obeyed his order to stay in the truck. Sure enough, he found him outside near the front of the compound, standing behind his mother as she used her healing skills on several soldiers stretched out in the grass.

Nikolai went over to him and turned him around roughly, scanning his body for any wounds. A long, bloody scratch on his cheek brought a harsh growl to Nikolai’s lips. Jagger flinched away, still apparently frightened of him in his wolf form, but Nikolai ignored him and pulled him back to his side possessively. He bent to sweep his long tongue over the scratch, again and again, while holding Jagger around his waist. At last he pulled back and saw it was already beginning to heal, and he grunted in satisfaction. Leaving him then, he turned on his heel and headed back toward the compound to finish the clean-up. He didn’t see Jagger fall to his knees as he released him and clutch himself tightly around the waist.

* * * * “My son, are you all right?” Queen Niada rushed to his side, pulling his head up so she could look at his face. Jagger nodded, his eyes and throat clogged with tears, and not wishing to let any of them spill out in front of his mother.

Niada smoothed the hair from his forehead. Her son looked a great deal like his mother, with the same navy-colored hair and deep blue eyes. She was proud both of his beauty and his bravery in facing the Nilaniums. She’d seen the face of the Lycan when he’d thrown her son back on the transport with her earlier, and she knew he was very much in love with her son. She’d also seen Jagger’s face when the Lycan was handling him just then and knew the feelings were deeply reciprocated. She only worried that Jagger’s immense pride would come between them.

“I’m not hurt, Miama,” Jagger said, using the intimate address for his mother that reflected the closeness of their relationship. It also reflected his distress. Jagger hadn’t called her by that name since he was a small child. “Not really. I have a terrible pain in my stomach. It’s worse whenever the Lycan comes near me. He’s angry with me, and it physically hurts me. It’s been almost four days of it now.” Jagger groaned and rolled to his side, still holding tightly to his middle. His mother made a soft sound and jumped to her feet, striding quickly after Nikolai, who had almost made it inside the compound. She pulled sharply on his arm, and he whirled around in surprise.

“What are you doing to my son, Lycan?”

Nikolai gazed down at her in confusion and then his gaze fell on Jagger, still lying on his side. “What do you mean? What’s wrong with him?” he asked sharply, pulling away to go to him. Refusing to be shaken off, the queen clung to him, looking up into his face defiantly. “You should know! He told me he’s been in almost constant pain with his stomach since he left your ship. Did you poison him?”

“Poison him?” Nikolai gave her a furious glare. “Of course not! He’s my mate!” The queen took a surprised step backward. “Your mate?” She glanced back at her son. “I see. So you’re punishing him with your anger.”

“No! I mean…I’ve been angry with him, yes, but I didn’t mean to hurt him. I wasn’t thinking…I forgot what happens to mates when we’re angry with them.”

Queen Niada kept her hand on his arm and forced him with her will to look down at her. “Do you love my son?”

Nikolai returned her regard, his gaze sweeping over her, perhaps impressed that this small person could face his Lycan wolf form so fiercely, without flinching. “Yes,” he answered simply. “I love him more than anything.”

She held his gaze a few seconds longer before nodding and releasing him. “Go to him then. I know a thing or two about Lycans, and I can see that your pride is standing in the way. Control your wolf, so you don’t frighten him any more than you have to. Jagger can be difficult. I know this. He’s headstrong and proud at times. He’s also loyal and kind, and his soul is beautiful.”

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