Authors: Brenna Lyons
His thrusts speeded, and he whispered something in the Sakk language.
“You would come like that, wouldn’t you?” she teased.
“We’ll find out. Won’t we?”
Meredith made a concerted effort at rubbing and combing his wings. He grabbed her wrists and pinned them down.
“Not this time.”
Another order. Her body reacted fiercely every time he did that.
“And now, I claim you.”
His thrusts made it clear he wasn’t content with anything less than that. Meredith suddenly understood how Sakk women could stay with a single mate until he died. If this was how intent they were, she could easily imagine staying with Jarem that long.
That was the last coherent thought she managed. The rest was overlapping sensation. His heat sent her spiraling over the edge, and Meredith screamed.
She winced at the thought that it was sure to wake the children.
“Shhh,” Jarem soothed her. “They have to learn to sleep through our sounds as all children do.” He stroked a fingertip across her lips. “I plan on doing a lot of this. If it wouldn’t distress you.”
Meredith purred at the idea of more sex like this.
As if arguing his idea of what children needed, a piercing cry split the air.
Jarem levered himself out of her, then rose to his full height beside the bed. He glanced around and locked on the off white bundle placed on top of her bedside table. “Is that my
Meredith nodded. He’d left one in her quarters, so they could lounge in comfort after Alice’s bedtime. “I wasn’t sure if...if you would be coming back.”
He chuckled. “There will be a lot more of my belongings here. Tomorrow.” Jarem grasped the wrap and fastened it on.
Meredith pulled the nightshirt from the bedside table over her head, smoothing it over her thighs. “You might want to let me. That’s Sammy, and she’s...difficult.”
He raised an eyebrow in challenge. “What do humans call a sire?”
“We have a lot of words for it.” Why was he asking? Besides the obvious that he now was Sammy’s father, of course.
“What do babies call their sires?”
He nodded and headed toward the cribs.
Thankfully, Alice and Todd had proven they could sleep through one of Sammy’s fits earlier in the day. Short of some wiggling from Alice, neither of the two stirred.
Sammy stopped crying at the sight of Jarem coming through the open doorway. He reached down for her, and she looked at him suspiciously.
“Come to Daddy, Sammy,” he crooned. “Let the other babies sleep.”
She put her arms up and let him lift her from the crib.
Jarem turned to Meredith, and she snapped her mouth shut. She wasn’t sure what he’d done, but it was nothing short of a miracle.
Jarem was hunk in a
, holding a cranky baby.
And Janice said whoever I mated with would be excused from duty immediately and freed to do nothing but help me with the babies. If Sammy likes him this much, that’s gold in a
She decided hunk in a
“What does she need?” he asked, snapping Meredith out of her stupor.
“Check her diaper, but I’m betting she’s hungry again.”
He trailed a hand down her ribs, probably noting how thin she was. His brow furrowed in what she would assume was worry. “Right away,” he agreed.
Six weeks later
“Her punishment is
?” Ellwood had never looked so horrified.
“Meredith agreed to it,” Jannie reminded him patiently. “We’ve allowed her to choose her own mate. She won’t just be handed off to a man in an arranged marriage.”
“But she has to...?” He waved his hand in an uncertain motion.
“Give him at least two children. They will have to be conceived
, and they won’t be biologically hers, but since Meredith has made a life of looking after other people’s children, that doesn’t bother her. She’ll bear them and give birth to them. By Sakk law, they will be legally her own children. They cannot be removed from her, unless she commits a felony under Sakk law.”
“Yes, it will be a sexual relationship,” she answered what was probably his complaint. “She
her mate. One would assume, she’s chosen a male that she won’t mind a sexual relationship with, since they’ve consummated the relationship already.”
In fact, Jannie had told a little white lie of sorts to arrange that. She’d told Meredith she would start searching for willing males, but she hadn’t. Based on Beldon’s assessment of Jarem, she’d guessed the promise of biological children would counter Jarem’s misgivings about a relationship with Meredith. She’d guessed, and had been proven right, that Jarem would lay claim to Meredith immediately to keep fictitious ‘other hopefuls’ from making a move.
Ellwood’s voice dragged her back to the conversation.
“Chose? Consummated? In other words, she’s already married to this person?”
“Mated. Yes. Remember that Meredith has been here at the consulate for more than three months. She’s had ample time to meet someone she wouldn’t mind being mate to, and since the male in question is willing, there was no reason not to let her choose him.”
He sighed, rubbing a hand across his forehead. “And what other
was she given for punishments?”
He looked up at her expectantly.
“She could have left the consulate and faced the American justice system, or she could have stayed on lockdown within the consulate, doing whatever chores we found for her.”
“For how long? What would the sentence have been?”
Jannie shrugged. “For the rest of her life, of course. Leaving the consulate meant she would face American justice.”
“Not if you moved her to another consulate,” he pointed out the obvious.
She smiled. “Now why did I never think of that?”
Ellwood shot her a sour look. “I know you, Janice.”
“I needed a long-term solution for Meredith. If I moved her to another consulate, the US authorities would try to extradite her from wherever she was.”
He grumbled his agreement to that. “Off the record...”
“I’m glad you found a workable solution. It’s going to be a tough sell to the authorities, but how are they going to argue it?”
“Is there any word on adoptive families for the surrendered children? You have how many now?”
“Just the three so far. They’ll be leaving on the ship tomorrow with their adoptive parents.”
“So quickly? I thought it took three months to get people from Sakk to Earth.”
“These parents aren’t coming from Sakk. Remember, we have colonies and consulates on eighteen worlds, in addition to Sakk.” It was a half-truth, but she didn’t want to share the news of
would be adopting the children unless he asked directly.
The nest parents coming in on the ship that would take Jarem and his family out
been rerouted on their way to a seed world. A retiring nesting pair had agreed to stay on to take care of a new set of babies, until another couple could arrive from Sakk to take on the duties of care to adulthood for the toddlers in the group.
“And you believe you won’t have problems placing any children who are surrendered?”
Jannie smiled widely. “We will have prospective adoptive parents at the consulate at all times. When children are surrendered, they will be placed with parents immediately.”
He seemed stunned by that pronouncement. “So you won’t be using a foster system at all?”
“No. It’s kindest to the children if they are placed immediately with parents.”
Ellwood nodded. “That should shut the naysayers up.” He waved. “Have a good day, Janice. It seems I have a lot of work to do.”
“You, too. Good luck!”
He groaned and then shut the connection. Jannie laughed. Ellwood complained about his job, but she suspected he liked the challenge and protested more than was necessary.
Master Beldon accompanied them aboard the ship. He walked ahead of them, armored, one hand on his sword hilt. It would have bothered Meredith if Jarem and Janice hadn’t explained that it was ceremonial.
Meredith and Jarem came down the ramp behind him. Jarem had Todd cuddled to one shoulder and Sammy perched on the opposite hip; Meredith carried Alice. Each of the children held a favorite toy—Todd’s attached to his wrist with a soft cuff, so he couldn’t throw it, and Jarem had an overstuffed duffel bag full of supplies hooked over one shoulder.
Meredith had started to separate which toys they should take along and which they should leave behind for the next group of children, but Jarem had corrected her. The consulate had already stocked age-appropriate toys, supplies, furniture, and clothing up to 4T in both girls’ and boys’ styles. Since most of the toys had been gifts from warriors, they expected the children to take them along. At that point, Meredith had resorted to separating which toys they would have in the rooms aboard ship and which would be boxed to be transported directly to Jarem’s ancestral home.
She’d done the same thing with the clothing. She’d boxed clothing that was more than two sizes larger than the children were currently wearing for storage aboard ship and had the rest sent to their quarters, just in case of growth spurts.
Since she was officially a Sakk mate, Meredith had been informed she was eligible for the stipend given before a mate moved to Sakk. She’d had to use hers to purchase from catalogs and online, but Meredith didn’t mind. As she’d told Janice, “Give a woman unlimited credit, she’s sure to find something she wants.”
They’d spent the last week switching the babies over to the Sakk form of waste wraps and training wraps. Though it had taken Meredith time to get used to wrapping them correctly, she had to admit they were more comfortable and just as useful as disposable diapers. With the laundry machine set right next to the changing table, she used it as she would a diaper pail and started the wash once a day.
They’d settled into family life with a minimum of fuss. While Sammy had distrusted Meredith for nearly a month, she’d latched onto Jarem almost immediately. Todd was an easy baby who, much like Alice, loved everyone on sight.
Right on cue, Alice patted Meredith’s chest with the stuffed bunny in her hand. “Mama.”
Sammy glared at her and snuggled closer to Jarem. “No. Daddy.”
Jarem laughed. “And it seems you each have the parent you wish to have, so no arguing, girls.”
The warriors rushed back and forth, peeking looks at them as they made their way through the landing bay. Something told Meredith that it was busy work. Just an excuse to get a look at the babies coming aboard. One stopped to gape at them, then hurried along at a sharp sound from Beldon.
An armored man met them at the far side of the bay and bowed deeply. “Welcome aboard. Your rooms have been prepared. If anything is amiss, please let me know directly. Only older, widowed warriors are allowed in the nest areas. If you see anyone else in the area, report it immediately. For your safety, of course.”
“We will,” Meredith assured him.
Jarem started questioning him. “The furniture was set up as I requested? And the food requirements the cooks at the consulate sent along? Are your cooks prepared to handle the children’s needs?”
The captain nodded. “Just as you specified. I will guarantee the young ones and your mate will be comfortable aboard my ship.”
“Good. We should see our quarters then.”
Beldon turned to them, placing a hand on each child’s head in turn. Then he nodded to them. “You are in good hands. Have a safe trip.”
He was gone before Meredith could thank him.
They followed the captain through the corridors, and Meredith tried to remember everything he pointed out: dining halls, the medical bay, and more. She turned her head, trying to find anything she could use as a landmark to find the garden again.
Jarem leaned close to her and whispered. “You and the babies won’t be allowed to leave our quarters without guards. The lecture is for me, not you.”
“Oh. Of course.”
The captain stopped at a set of double doors and barked out a command in Sakk. The doors slid open, and Meredith headed inside. She stopped, gaping at the size of the space.
“Good God.” It slipped out without decorum.
Jarem appeared beside her, smiling, one eyebrow raised. “Only the best for our children,” he quipped. “Only the best for my mate.”
“How...?” The rest didn’t emerge. Too many questions fought to be the first out.
“The walls are temporary structures. This is a nest intended to bring dozens of matches from a seed world. Refitting it to be home to a family of five wasn’t difficult, and these structures and furnishings can be reused for future family passages.”
She wandered through the rooms, stunned. They’d set up a living room, dining room, and three bedrooms. The cribs, high chairs, playpens, and changing tables had all been relocated from their quarters in the consulate, complete with the Dr. Seuss’s
Cat in the Hat
mobile hung over Todd’s crib. They’d created a home in the nest room. There was even a small kitchenette area.
Most likely for heating formula for Todd and storing snacks.
A squeal of delight brought Meredith’s head around. Sammy was running across the room with a cookie in each hand.
“Already at home.”
Jarem nodded his agreement.
Three months later
Meredith smoothed her dress and fussed with Alice’s curls. Sammy sighed in her sleep, curled up on the padded bench with her head on Jarem’s thigh. To Jarem’s other side, Todd slept soundly in a Sakk carry-basket. She wished she could be as calm about meeting Jarem’s family as the children were.