I thought I’d escaped being given to an alien warrior. I was wrong.
I was one hour away from washing out of the Alien Bride Games.
None of the Khanavai warriors had chosen me, and I was scheduled on the next shuttle off the filming station.
But then a bright red alien passed me in a hallway—and the next thing I knew, we were all over each other.
Bad enough that my name had been drawn in the Bride Lottery.
Now, even though they’re supposedly over, I’m back in the Games. And not the usual ones, either—a whole new set of challenges, just for me.
Guess it’ll make for good television back home.
I just hope I can resist him long enough to get back to Earth, to the people I love.
And that I can keep him from learning my most desperate secret.
The odds aren’t looking good, though…
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EXCERPT from Claimed for the Alien Bride Lottery
My name—the one I have now—never should have been drawn in the Alien Bride Lottery.
The back-alley surgeon who replaced my ID chip promised me it was clean, loaded with the information that I had already been through the Games.
I guess that’ll teach me to trust the word of someone who made a living as a criminal, illegally replacing the chips our world government required all humans to have implanted.
But the night I was transported up to Station 21, I wasn’t at all worried.
I was, however, hot, sweaty, and irritated.
“If you needed unbuttered toast, you should have noted it in the order,” I snapped at Kitty, the waitress on the other side of the passthrough to the kitchen—the one who was currently glaring at me over the plates under the heating lamps.
“Noted it in the order?” she repeated with a sneer, one hand on her hip. “Who talks like that?”
I rolled my eyes and snatched the toast off the plate under discussion, replacing it with unbuttered toast. “There.”
Turning away without waiting for a response, I moved back to the grill. Kitty took the plate with a huff, and as soon as she was gone, I inhaled deeply and blinked away a tear.
I shouldn’t be here at all. I trained at L’école de Cuisine du Chef, the single most prestigious culinary school in Paris. I should have been in a five-star restaurant in New York or London or Las Angeles, astounding patrons with my delectable, edible creations.
Instead, I was in a crappy diner in Atlanta, slinging hash browns and frying eggs.
But it beat the hell out of the alternative.
Yeah—this is infinitely preferable to what I ran from.
As I finished plating the last meal from the grill, voices rising from the dining room caught my attention. Wiping my hands across my apron, I made my way out to the front room to see what was going on.
“It’s the new Bride Lottery,” Kitty announced excitedly, clasping her hands under her chin as she stared up at the television.
I frowned. “Those poor girls.”
Kitty raised one eyebrow. “What do you mean, those poor girls? They are so lucky. They never have to work again. All they have to do is sit and be beautiful for their alien husbands.” She struck a pose. “Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to do nothing but spend all day being waited on hand and foot?”
“You don’t know what happens once the cameras are turned off,” Wanda, one of our regulars said.
I moved over to pat her soft, wrinkled hand. “That’s right, Wanda. I don’t think we know nearly enough about the Khanavai. I bet they’re not as perfect as they pretend to be on TV.”
“I remember the first time they showed up,” she said—not the first time we had all heard the story, but I paid polite attention, anyway.
“The Prince sure was pretty,” she reminisced. “And for the first couple of years, him and his princess were all over the news. It was like a fairytale. Then they just up and disappeared. Hardly ever heard anything at all about their prince again.”
“So you think we shouldn’t trust them?” Kitty asked the old woman.
“Not even a little bit.”
“But it’s not like all that many women end up with Khanavai husbands,” Joey, our busboy reminded us. “A whole lot of women get chosen every year in the Bride lottery, and then a whole lot get sent back down to Earth.”
“Some of them don’t,” Kitty countered. “Some of them gets swept off their feet and taken away to live happily ever after.”
I managed to contain my snort of derision, but only barely.
Happily ever after doesn’t exist. It’s a trick designed to convince women to give up their entire lives for somebody else.
At least, that was my experience.
“Ooh. Vos Klavoii is about to draw another name!” Kitty called out.
I decided to take a seat in the dining room. After all, no one was going to be ordering anything much until the drawing was done. I might as well take a break. I was practically dead on my feet. Working the 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. overnight shift well into the morning was good, because it meant I could get Josiah to bed at Rebecca’s and then be there when he woke up from his morning nap the next day. We might have to change that once he started school, but for now, it meant that we were home together for most of the day.
That didn’t leave me much time for sleeping, though.
But we were safe.
Someone would have to be watching us pretty closely to be able to tell where we lived. And if they found that out, they’d have to be watching even closer to figure out where Josiah spend his nights.
I stifled a yawn as Vos Klavoii, the bright green game show host who ran the Bride Lottery and Bride Games, continued his mindless chatter about this year’s crop of brides.
Crop. He might as well come out and say it—he thinks human women are grown to be brides for Khanavai males. Like we’re not worthwhile on our own.
This time, my jawbone cracked as I gave a giant yawn.
Sitting down probably hadn’t been a good idea. I was about to drift off to the sound of everyone enjoying the Bride Lottery drawings when the sound of my own name—the one I used now, anyway—jerked me awake.
“Mia Jones,” Vos repeated, flicking his fingers toward the eboard behind him as he waited for the bride’s picture to be flashed on it behind him.
No. It can’t be me. This is not a terribly uncommon name. There must be at least twenty others with the same name, I reassured myself.
“We seem to be having some technical difficulty,” Vos said, his game-show host demeanor not breaking for even a moment. I wondered if he slept with that smile pasted on his face.
All around me in the diner, everyone began jumping up and down and shouting.
“It’s you, Mia, it’s you!” Kitty grabbed my hands with both of hers and pulled me up out of the chair as if we were suddenly best friends.
I tugged my hands out of hers. “You can’t know that. It might not be me at all. Anyway, I’m not eligible for the lottery.”
My coworker stopped her silly dance. “Why wouldn’t you be?”
My breath stuttered to a halt in my chest. How can I answer that?
No one here knew I had a child, and I was not about to tell them.
For that matter, I wasn’t even Mia Jones. I was just playing a part: Mia, a little shy, a little talented in the kitchen, trying to get by as best I could.
That’s all they needed to know.
Wanda peered deep into my eyes as if reading everything there, then turned to the others. “That’s none of your business,” she announced. “Maybe her name was already drawn before.”
“Nah. She’s lying,” Kitty decided. “She just doesn’t want a hottie alien husband. Because she’s insane. Clearly.”
Vos was still on the screen, his green skin glowing almost a neon color as he chattered away about the history of the Bride Games in an attempt to fill time while they sorted out their technical difficulties.
“Oh, here we go,” he finally said. “It looks like we are getting the feed through, finally. I hear they’re sending it over right … now.”
My entire world narrowed down to that one moment, the eternity in the second between Vos announcing the picture was on the way and the picture actually showing up.
When it finally came on the screen, I wished that I could have stayed in that second forever.
It was me.
Somehow, the Bride Lottery registration had gotten my name and new ID number and had drawn me in the Lottery.
Cold washed through my limbs and my vision flickered in and out.
I have to get out of here, have to run. A drumbeat started in my head. Get back to Josiah. Get us out of here. Save him.
The transportation technology picked me up when I was halfway to the door, dashing across the room and ripping my apron off as if it held my tracker. I don’t know where I thought I would go. There was no one on Earth who could save me, no place I could hide. I was acting on pure instinct.
The very last thing I saw as I was transported to Station 21 was the outline of Vos Klavoii’s face fading until only his smile remained.
Like an evil, green, Cheshire cat.
About the Author
USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times bestselling author Margo Bond Collins is a former college English professor who, tired of explaining the difference between “hanged” and “hung,” turned to writing romance novels instead. She now writes urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and science fiction romance. Sometimes her heroines kiss aliens, sometimes they kill monsters. But they always aim for the heart.
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Read More of Margo’s Books
Khanavai Warriors Alien Bride Games Series
The Alien Warriors’ Reparation Brides Series
Alien Romance Boxed Sets
Reverse Harem Alien Romances
Her Alien Crew