Barbarian's Mate(5)

By: Ruby Dixon


He looks up at the sight of us entering together. My cootie’s purring a mile a minute at Haeden’s closeness, and I’m sure I have a deer-in-headlights look on my face. “What’s going on?” Taushen asks, getting to his feet.

“Get out,” Haeden tells him bluntly. “Jo-see and I need to talk.”

“But—“

“Out,” Haeden snarls, moving forward and looming over the smaller male.

I clutch at the neck of my tunic. I should be appalled at how ferocious Haeden’s being, but I’m kind of…aroused by it. He’s so decisive. Oh, you jerk of a cootie. How could you do this to me? I thought we were friends!

So far? Not loving this whole resonance thing. I give Taushen a mute look of apology as he frowns at both of us and scurries out of the cave. Then it’s just me and Haeden.

My new mate, if my cootie has anything to do with it.

He turns slowly, rubbing a big hand over his face. And then he looks at me. “This…is not what I wanted.”

I’m a little stung by his words. Hearing that you’re someone’s last choice on earth - or Not-Hoth - stings, no matter who’s saying it. “Like I wanted this? I hate you.”

“That does not matter any longer,” he says bluntly, beginning to pace. It’s like he’s twitchy and can’t stay still. I know how that feels - I’m ready to crawl out of my own skin. “Our khuis have chosen. We are mates.”

I shake my head. It’s like my entire world is crashing down around me. This is a nightmare I can’t wake up from. “I don’t want to be your mate.”

He turns on me, and his face is filled with anger. “We do not choose, Jo-see. The khui chooses!”

“Yeah? Well, our cooties are assholes! I don’t want this! I don’t want you!”

He just rubs a hand down his face again.

“I don’t even get how this is possible,” I say brokenly. “I thought you had a mate.”

His eyes narrow at me. He stalks away a few feet, and then his hands go to his hips. His tail is lashing wildly, and I watch it with a kind of horrified fascination. It’s clear Haeden doesn’t have a mate, or else I wouldn’t be stuck with him. You can only resonate to one person, ever. Once a cootie makes its mind up, there’s no changing it.

I sink to my knees. I feel utterly helpless and alone. I don’t know what to do. All I know is that my symbiont has arranged a marriage with the person I hate most in this world, and I’m completely at its mercy. Hot tears spill down my cheeks and I swipe at them.

I’ll allow myself to cry over this for one night, and then I need a plan.





HAEDEN


I thought you had a mate.

Jo-see’s simple, brutal words cut to my heart, dredging up terrible memories. I’ve never had a mate, but I did resonate to another female. But she died, along with my khui and along with any hope I had. I never imagined in all the long, lonely years since that the new khui in my chest would also select a mate for me. I have never hoped to have a mate or a family, or a warm body curled against mine in the furs.

And yet, I look at Jo-see’s round human face and realize I still will never have those things. It is a cruel, cruel khui that has chosen her as my mate, and me as hers. I watch as she sinks to the floor in the cave and tears spill from her eyes down her cheeks.


She is weeping at the thought of being mated to me. She hates the idea so much that she cries. The thought fills me with helpless frustration and self-loathing. I watch her, unable to offer comforting words. I have nothing to say to her that will ease her pain and misery. Already my body reacts to her nearness, stiffening with excitement at the thought of a mate. My cock aches under my loincloth. This aching need to claim a female to the point of mindlessness? I’ve felt this before, with Zalah, and hated every moment of it.

I gaze down at her misery. I have seen that before, too. Zalah had been devastated at the thought of resonating to me. Jo-see is no happier.

And me?

I am filled with utter terror. Humans are fragile creatures, ill-suited to live here amidst the snows. They must be carefully watched, guarded at all times, and kept warm with fire. They shiver at a stiff breeze and must have their food burned over a fire. Some are a bit more hardy, like Raahosh’s Leezh, but Jo-see? She is smaller than the others, and when I look at her, I see the tiny size of her wrists, her small hands, her delicate shoulders.

I…do not know what I will do if I resonate to another female only to have her die. It will destroy me.

I turn toward the wall of the cave and clench my hand against a rocky outcrop. It is taking all of my willpower not to grab Jo-see and pull her to my furs where I can protect her from anything and everything. To drag her under me and claim her. I reach out to touch a lock of Jo-see’s brownish-yellow hair, and she flinches away.