Juno Adair can’t believe her luck when she wins the Princess Package and sets off aboard the Stargazer II in the lap of luxury. But she soon learns that even pretend royalty comes at a price. Torn between the valet that loves her for who she really is, and the king who can save her people, Juno faces a choice that she never wanted, but one that will decide her fate. Can she resist her urges long enough to do what’s right for her people, or will she choose love over duty?
Zane is a royal in hiding. He spends his days staying out of the public eye, performing manual labor in the amazing forest at the center of a luxury space cruiser. Until he spots the newest passenger, Princess Juno, who stirs something in him he’s never felt before. He does everything in his power to be by her side, even posing as her personal valet. And when he learns that her people need help, he knows just what to do. But to help her, he will have to reclaim his forsaken lineage and take his rightful place on the throne, even if it means losing her forever. Will he reveal his secret to save her people, or will he confess his love to win her heart?
His muscles ached, but the pain felt good. He was doing something meaningful, creating a path that could be enjoyed by passengers for as long as it was maintained.
No one was watching him, kowtowing to him, judging him for who he was or what he was to become.
Among the trees he was only himself, a man at work, giving pleasure to others.
He sensed movement outside the glass, and an instinct he couldn’t quite explain made him lower his machete and take note.
The ship was taking on passengers today. A bustle of activity was expected. It was part of the reason Zane was working in the forest, hoping to avoid interaction with the influx.
He’d planned to lose himself in the work, but something had arrested his labor.
He stepped closer to the glass, feeling drawn like a mynar to an exhaust port, trying to make out what he had seen that affected him so.
Vaxyn, the salon artist, was exiting the first-floor spa with a small human woman.
The woman was lovely - a foregone conclusion for any creature lucky enough to have credits to burn at Vaxyn’s spa.
But there was something else, something in the movement of her dark hair, the set of her shoulders. It made him feel fierce and tender all at once…
The feeling tore through him and he felt as if he had simultaneously climbed an electric field and sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
He shook his head and blinked a few times.
Maybe Anna was right, he was pushing himself too hard in here.
But when he opened his eyes again, the sight of the woman’s small form affected him even more strongly. A sort of halo shimmered around her, like a target.
“Fuck,” he groaned as the realization hit him.
There was no other excuse.
This was a mating bond.
Since he was a boy, he had been taught that it was like a spider web - light but strong, beautiful but deadly to those who would try to escape its hold.
But the poets had gotten it all wrong. It wasn’t like water in the desert or a rope to a drifting aeronaut.
It wasn’t like anything.
It just… was.
A fully realized force all its own. As real as the one that held the very particles of his being together. And just as undeniable.
He was in trouble here.
And he hadn’t even seen her face.
Metal shivered in his blood again and he felt himself drawn almost magnetically to follow her.
He dropped the machete and jogged for the glass doors that separated him and the trees from the rest of the ship, his thoughts of anonymity among the trees all but forgotten.
But by the time he reached the exterior and sealed the doors again, she had moved out of sight.
His heart pounded in dread.
Think, he told himself. Surely there was a sane way to deal with this.
He spotted Vaxyn walking slowly back to the spa, arms drifting as if underwater.
He should turn back to the forest, lose himself in the work. Maybe the feeling would pass with time.
“Vaxyn,” Zane heard himself shout.
Vaxyn looked up as if startled. “Zane?”
“The woman you were with, who is she?” Zane demanded. He knew his voice was too loud, his posture too aggressive, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“She’s a princess,” Vaxyn replied with quiet dignity. “She’s in the wardrobe station, awaiting a valet.”
Fantastic. A fucking princess. Of course she was.
“Thanks,” Zane yelled over his shoulder as he sprinted towards wardrobe.
Vaxyn shrugged five shoulders and slid gracefully back into the spa.
Zane raised his wrist to his mouth as he ran. “Anna,” he said into his communicator. “Change of plans. I want to valet the princess in the wardrobe station.”
“Juno Adair?” Anna’s tinny voice answered back a moment later.
“Dark hair, white gown,” Zane barked.
“Uh, yes, that’s her,” Anna said. “Are you, um, sure about this?”
“Very sure,” he said.
“I’ll let them know,” she replied.
He tapped the bracelet again, satisfied, and tried to force himself to slow down.
He hadn’t shifted to prime state involuntarily since he was a nestling, but he could feel the buzz in his blood.
He called on his discipline, breathing deep of the ship’s recycled air. Spending time in the forest had almost been enough to convince his senses he was actually outdoors. But traveling only a few meters away brought him back to his reality. He was onboard this luxury cruiser, for better or worse, for as long as he could manage it. It was a simple situation. The last thing he needed was to complicate it by involving a woman.
Especially a princess.
When he reached the door marked Wardrobe, he paused and ran a hand through his hair. It had grown longer since his stint on this ship. Back home there were servants to tend to his every need and whim. Here, he was just a member of the general population and maybe more likely than most to lose track of mundane details like haircuts, since he had never had to keep track of them himself.
If she’s my mate, it doesn’t matter. I could be wearing a bucket over my head…
At least that’s what he hoped.
She was human. Had such a pairing ever happened before?
What if the bond didn’t even work between them?
Or worse, what if it only affected him?
There’s only one way to find out.
Zane took a deep breath and opened the door....