Barbarian's Mate

By: Ruby Dixon

1


JOSIE


I’m the last single woman in the entire ice planet. I watch Tiffany and her new mate Salukh head off to their cave as everyone celebrates, but I’m not really in a celebratory mood. I’m worrying. I’m not a big fan of stressing about things I can’t change, but this is something that concerns me. Being the singlest single woman that ever singled? It’s concerning. Am I going to have a cave by myself? Am I going to be stuck in someone else’s cave like a reject? Am I going to have to listen to everyone else make out and know that I’m never going to have a mate because Harlow can’t fix the stupid surgery machine?

I stare glumly at the fire, thinking about my stupid, stupid IUD that won’t come out, even though it’s been over a year and a half since we landed and my cootie’s supposed to fix that sort of thing. Around me, everyone’s happy and celebrating but I don’t feel like sharing in their enjoyment. It wasn’t so bad when I wasn’t the last human alone. I didn’t feel like a total reject then.

Now? The cheese stands alone and I do feel like a total reject.

It’s a feeling I’m kind of used to, after being dumped from a half-dozen foster homes growing up. I’ve never had family to call my own, and the people that wandered into my life wandered right back out again just as quickly. But I don’t dwell on the past. Shit happens to everyone.

Here on the ice planet, though, I felt like I was part of a family, at least for a while. There were twelve human women and the sa-khui only had four women to their thirty-something men. To them, we were special, a gift from the stars to be cosseted and taken care of. I was part of a group for once, a family. Then one by one, the girls started to pair off with mates. First Georgie, then Liz, then the others - Stacy, Nora, Ariana, Harlow, and all the others. One by one, they paired up with big, hunky, utterly devoted blue guys who think that their fated mates can do no wrong and dote on them at every turn. And now they’re all popping out babies and having the bestest time ever on the ice planet.

It’s kinda hard not to be jealous. And it wasn’t so bad when it was me, Claire and Tiffany left out of the humans after the initial rush of matings. That was all right, because it wasn’t just me being rejected by my cootie - the symbiont that keeps me alive and plays matchmaker.

But then Claire got a mate.

And then Tiffany got a mate, too.

I’m the only one whose cootie has gone out to lunch. The cootie’s supposed to be looking out for me. It’s supposed to keep me healthy at all costs, fixes up my body so I can withstand the harsh environment on the new planet, and it’s supposed to find me the perfect mate. Once it does, I’ll resonate - my cootie will vibrate once it gets near the perfect male so I can know that it’s chosen, and then we can have really intense, repeated sex until we make a cute, fuzzy blue baby. But I don’t resonate, and I know it’s because of the stupid IUD stuck up in my you-know-what.

You can’t get pregnant if you’re on birth control, and you can’t resonate if you can’t get pregnant.

It sucks to know the exact reason why you’re warming the bench and not being able to change it.

I stare into the central fire pit. So much for not being a gloomy Gus. It’s hard when you see everyone getting everything you’ve ever wanted - a mate, family, babies - and you keep getting passed up.

A small movement catches my eye and I look up from the flickering fire to see a familiar face scowling in my direction. Haeden. Ugh. My least favorite person in both of the sa-khui caves. He looks pissier than usual, which is kind of a feat for him. If he wasn’t such a dick, maybe he’d be handsome. Maybe. He’s big, of course, and heavily muscled like all sa-khui men. He’s got the big, arching, curling horns jutting from his forehead like a ram on crack. He’s got pale blue skin and his forehead is covered with thick, platy ridges that should make him look like a mutant but only emphasize how strong the rest of his features are. And he’s got the long, black hair of the sa-khui, but he wears his shaved on the sides and in one extra-long braid over the top of his head and down his back. He might be someone’s type, but he’s not mine. His tail flicks angrily at the sight of me, as if just looking in my direction pisses him off.


Our eyes lock and he crosses his arms over his chest, as if daring me to get up and confront him.

Whatever. I make a face at him. I don’t know why he’s got a hate-boner for me but I’m tired of it. I’m a little pleased - and weirdly disappointed - when he stalks away. I’d almost welcome a fight with him, except he doesn’t really fight. He mostly spits out a few choice words, glares a lot, and then storms away when I irritate him enough.

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