Mate Me, Book One
Copyright © 2017 by Victoria Vallo
Mace opened each metal crate before scanning it in. The heating coils inside them cost a thousand units each, and he wasn’t going to let the pilot leave unless he was sure they had exactly the number they’d paid for. He would be heading out on a delivery run soon and ought to be packing, but he didn’t trust anyone else with this order.
A knock came at the door. “Yes?” Mace called.
The door opened, and his brother Alric stuck his head in. “When you get done here, dad wants to see us all.”
“Can it wait? I need to pack. Heading out in a couple of hours.”
“He says it won’t take long.”
Mace opened the last crate. “Give me ten minutes. I need to check this last crate and authorize the balance of our payment for this so the pilot can leave.”
“Sure you want him to leave? He’s kind of hot.”
Mace sighed. “Yeah, he’s not bad,” he looked up at his brother, “but no mixing business with pleasure. Dad isn’t going to be around forever, and one of us is going to have to be the face of the company one day.”
“It’s gonna be you. Tore and I don’t want to do it.”
Mace shrugged. “That’s gonna be up to dad.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
Mace finished up and logged all his data in before exiting and walking down the hallway. His brother followed him. “Something on your mind?” Mace asked.
“That’s kind of what dad wants to talk to us about. I think he’s changing his will.”
“What would he change it to? One of you two piss him off or something?” Things had been pretty quiet in their household lately, but maybe Mace had missed something. He did work twice as hard as his two younger brothers.
“No, but he was talking to mom after he told me to find you guys and bring you to his office to discuss our futures. As I was leaving, I heard him say he’s tired of waiting.” Alric glanced around and lowered his voice. “What do you think that means?”
“We’ll find out soon enough. Might not be anything to do with his will, you know.” They entered the docking bay, and Alric smiled at the waiting pilot. Mace gave his brother a glare. “Just head up to dad’s office. I’ll be right there.”
Alric frowned but did as he was told, though not until after he’d winked at the waiting man. Mace grunted but didn’t say anything. He walked over to Garren and handed over his data pad to get the pilot’s approval to complete the transaction.
“Everything looks great. Pleasure doing business with you again,” Mace said.
Garren took the pad and looked it over before pressing his thumb to the pad and approving payment. “Always a pleasure coming here. Such nice scenery,” Garren said, eyeing Mace.
Mace ignored the flirting. “Yes, you should see the petrified forest while you’re here. It’s really beautiful, though I like living trees best.” He nodded, taking the pad back and pretending he didn’t see Garren’s disappointment. “See you next time.”
“Yeah, see ya.” Garren turned and went to his ship.
It wasn’t that Mace didn’t find Garren attractive. He wouldn’t object at all to following the man into his ship and pinning him to the wall for the next ten minutes. But that wouldn’t be good for business. It might get them something in the short term, maybe, but they had to start thinking long term. He didn’t understand why no one else saw that. Their father, Bor, had worked hard, but he’d also had their mother’s inheritance to start their shipping company with. They were the best on Yorin, but only ranked about fourth in this system. Mace wanted to change that someday. Once Bor retired, Mace and his brothers would only have the company itself and whatever profits came in to keep themselves afloat. Mace had ample savings, but he would only invest that back into the company if they were desperate and his brothers straightened their acts up. He’d rather go out with dignity and start his own company than let his brothers’ laziness suck him dry.
Mace climbed the metal stairs, listening to his footsteps echoing in the docking bay, and then he walked down the long hallway to his father’s office. He entered the room and found Alric and Tore slumped on the couch against the far right wall. Bor wasn’t there yet, so Mace took a chair by his desk.
“You think everything’s all right?” Tore asked.
“As far as I know,” Mace said.
Bor came through the door then, his gaze focused on the data pad in his hand. He looked back out the door, then shut it. “Thanks for coming so fast. Won’t take long.” Bor moved to sit behind his desk, though he still kept his attention on the pad. After tapping it twice, he finally put it down. “We have something very important to discuss. I finalized everything this morning.” He sat back and steepled his fingers. “There’s going to be a new stipulation on the three of you inheriting your portion of the company. And we need to talk about it so you can all get started.”
Mace sat up a little straighter, ready for whatever challenge he was about to be given.
“Stipulation?” Alric said. “Other than being your legal heirs?”
“Yes. I want to make sure there’s going to be someone to pass it down to.”
Mace frowned, not understanding what his father meant. “You mean, you want some assurance we’ll stick around? Not sell it? I don’t understand. We’ve never said we didn’t want to work here or run things after you’re gone or retired.”
“I’m referring to the next generation, the one you three haven’t started on yet.” He focused on Mace. “You’re thirty now. All three of you had already been born by the time I was thirty.”
“You’re telling us you want grandchildren?” Tore asked.
“Yes. I want you all settled and starting families.” Bor sighed. “I’m amazed I even have to prompt you. You all got your mother’s dark hair and good looks. I wouldn’t even mind a few bastards, if they were raised here, within the family and all proper like.”
Mace exchanged brief glances with both of his brothers. All three of them had been with females over the years, but they definitely preferred male company when it came to sex and relationships. Since they spent so much time traveling offworld, they’d never had to broach the subject with their father. Their mother seemed to know but never said anything about it. She almost never spoke up or objected to much of anything unless money was involved. She loved them, but she’d backed off being consistently involved in their lives many years ago.
“So, the new condition is get married and produce heirs?” Mace said, wanting to be sure he understood.
“Yes. However, to be fair, you only have to find someone for now. I realize babies can take time. If I were to have an accident, it wouldn’t be right to cheat you or make you wait. As long as you’re at least engaged, your part of the company will be held in trust.” Bor sat forward and leaned on his desk. “And I could live another ten, fifteen years. I simply want you all to realize that you can’t just waste your lives. It’s hard to find a wife when you’re older, even if you do have money. You want a true partner who will work at your side. Make you happy. I was happiest when your mother and I were building the company. It strengthened our relationship.”
Tore looked anxious, but Alric appeared more pensive. Mace said, “So, we just need to go out and find ourselves some cute little mates who can give us children?” He’d chosen that word carefully, but he doubted anyone else had noticed.
“Oh, don’t put it like that.” Bor smiled. “But yes. Come on! I’m giving you permission to enjoy yourselves!”
“Huh?” Tore said.
Mace cut in. “He’s saying he won’t mind if we slack off a bit if we’re working toward this goal.”
“Yes! Exactly!” Bor said. “Courtship takes times. I’m more than willing to let you change your schedules up a bit. I’ll let everyone know you all have permission to do as you please the next few months. You already set your own hours anyway. There are plenty of pilots and others to pick up a little slack. How does that sound?”
Alric spoke up. “Sounds wonderful, dad. Thanks. We have all been working too hard.”
Mace wanted to roll his eyes, but he managed to resist the urge. Standing, he said, “If that’s all, I need to pack.”
“Yes, of course. Heading to,” Bor looked at his data pad again, “ah, Devala, yes.” He smiled. “You know, you should stay on a week or so. It’s a densely populated planet. You should socialize a bit after your delivery.”
Mace hesitated, trying to phrase his question just right. “Just so we’re clear, you’re not particular, so long as children are possible? It’s a big universe, but there are only so many humans left.”
“I already discussed it with your mother, and as long as you’re biologically compatible, we could care less if all the grandchildren are blue and have tentacles.”
“Or fur?” Mace asked.
His brothers looked at him oddly, but Bor nodded. “Ah, you’re thinking of the shifter colonies. Yes, a wolf or a tiger would do. What else do they have there?”
“Bears, I think, but it was just a thought, dad. Since I’ll be there.” He smiled slightly. “Efficiency and all.”
“But it’s a good thought. And efficient in the bargain. Certainly nothing wrong with that.” The man smiled. “I can always count on you to think of such things. Omegas can be a bit submissive, but if treated as an equal, I’m sure any bride could rise to the task. The wolves especially are quite intelligent. Good engineers, a lot of the time.”
Mace smiled. “Then I may pay them a visit. Just wanted to be clear before there were any entanglements.” He turned to go, his brothers still looking at him as if he was crazy.
“Go on, you two as well. I have work to do,” Bor said as Mace walked through the door.
Mace walked slowly to his room, knowing his brothers would come after him.
“What was all that? Are you serious?” Alric asked.
“Of course.” Mace entered his PIN, and the door to his bedroom opened.
“So you’re just going to pick a random girl and marry her to please dad?” Tore asked.
“No,” Mace said as he got his bag out of his closet and unzipped it.
“Then what do you mean?”
Mace sighed and rounded on his brothers. “You heard him say he didn’t care about species or anything as long as children were possible, right?”
“Yeah,” Alric said.
“Well, you do know omegas can be female or male, right? With the wolves, even beta males can conceive every now and then.”
Tore’s mouth fell open. “So you’re going to come back with a man and tell dad he simply has to deal with it?”
Mace grinned. “Maybe I’ll knock him up first. Dad said we can do as we please.” He returned to his packing. “I wasn’t too happy at first, but now I think on it, I could spend the rest of my life with a cute little omega. They’re usually petite and submissive and adoring, if treated right by a worthy male.”
Alric snorted. “Those are stereotypes. You think you can just waltz in and act dominant and have a half a dozen fawning over you?”
“No, I’ll go to the council. There’s a cooperative these days. Omegas can be traded, basically bought and sold, within the colony. I’m sure exceptions can be made for offworlders with enough money. I’ve heard it mentioned before.”
Tore’s mouth fell open again. “Buying an omega? Yeah, that sounds like love to me.”
Mace sighed. “You’re an idiot. I’d have to buy him. Omegas can’t leave the colony simply because they want to. The social hierarchy is very strict. Every single omega there belongs to someone else, to a family. The ones for sale are ones who aren’t wanted for some reason.”
“Yeah. If you have an omega in the family, you can’t breed with it. That person is a blood relative. So, you sell him or her and buy another to be a mate for someone in the family. Or something like that. Trades are made, at times, I think.” He wasn’t completely sure how it worked, but someone on Devala would explain it to him, of course, once he made his wishes clear.
“That sounds awful,” Tore said.
“But he’s right,” Alric said. “Shifter society hasn’t changed much for thousands of years. Omegas used to be used as free labor. That was outlawed, but the fact is they’re the only way the species can breed.”
“That’s disgusting!” Tore said.
Alric scowled at him. “I wasn’t saying I approved, but only one in every hundred shifters is female. Omegas are smaller and weaker. Their prime biological function is having babies.”
Tore glared at Mace. “You can’t do that. Go and buy a person.”
Mace kept his face neutral, though he wished to scowl at his youngest brother the way Alric was. “I’m not going to treat it like a shopping trip and just grab the first handsome male I see. I’m going to visit and look, ask questions. Ever think that there might be some desperate to get off the planet? Sometimes omegas are sold as soon as they’re of breeding age.” Now he was just rambling, making stuff up and trying to get his brother off his back. Since when has Tore ever cared what happened to anyone but himself? “Who would want that for their children? Having a child with someone outside the clan makes the child free automatically.” Mace knew that part was true, so he eyed Tore and waited.
“Sounds like an awful idea,” Tore said, shaking his head and leaving the room.
Alric sat on the bed as Mace continued to pack, but he didn’t say anything else.
Mace zipped his bag and looked to his brother. “You think it’s a bad idea?”
Alric shrugged. “Your kids would be shifters. You fine with that?”
“If I love their father, I don’t care what they are or what they look like.”
“Love? Come on.”
Mace frowned. “I won’t marry someone I don’t want to be with. What are you thinking? Marry some girl and pop out one child and then cheat on her?”
“Hey, don’t put words in my mouth!”
It was clear Alric wasn’t going to calm down any time soon. Neither of his brothers had ever been able to step back from a situation and eye it critically the way Mace could. He understood why they were both reacting this way. Sighing, Mace said, “Look, we’ve all stalled long enough making it clear to dad that we’re different. Maybe this is fate.”
“Great for you, but what about me and Tore?”
“It’s a big universe. There are lots of humanoid species with intersex members.”
Mace rolled his eyes. “Someone who’s fucked as much as you have knows what intersex means. If not, go look it up. Bad enough I have to sleep next door to you and hear you banging every willing male you meet.”
Alric rose and glared at him. “Hey, at least I don’t have to buy someone to get laid.” He strode from the room in a huff.
Mace picked up his bag and headed for his ship. His brothers could think what they wanted. They might change their minds, though, when he brought home a cute little mate eager to warm his bed and give him as many heirs as he wanted. No, it wasn’t romantic, but settling down had its appeal. An omega was only one possibility. It couldn’t hurt to try.
Mace hurried through the ship to the comm station as the call came in. He’d sent a message to the primary council for the wolf colony on Devala, hoping to set up a meeting right away. He’d be arriving early the next day and didn’t want to waste any time. He cleared his throat and answered the call. “This is Mace,” he said as he sat down and focused on the screen.
A handsome older man with dark hair graying at his temples appeared before him. “Greetings, sir. My name is Jalal, and I’m a representative of the Omega Cooperative. Have I caught you at a good time?”
“Sure. You got my message?”
“Yes, sir, and for a moderate sum, your request is quite doable if we can find you a suitable match. I can make a list of suggestions, and you can interview them, if you like. I do know a few who would be very interested in life elsewhere. You wouldn’t want to waste any time with those too timid to go offworld or unwilling to make a match with a non-shifter.”
“No, certainly not.” Mace didn’t really want to sit down and interview people, but he figured he better follow protocol, for now. What he actually wanted was to simply go and look around, see if anyone caught his eye, but that would probably have to wait until after the formalities. He had lots of questions, though, and he tried to sort through them. The way Jalal spoke of matches and interviews made the whole process sound quite different from what Mace had been expecting. “What happens if—”
His words were drowned out as a loud crashing noise came from behind Jalal. The man turned just as three men came tumbling into frame. Jalal cursed and told the two men wearing uniforms to restrain the other man, who only wore a pair of leather pants. The man looked to the screen, glaring at Mace as if he’d like to rip his throat out. Jalal blocked the screen and told the guards to tie the man up.
Full of apologies, Jalal sat down again. “I am ever so sorry. We do have a few … discontent omegas. This one has given us particular trouble lately. He’s been mated three times—even once to a beta female, a rare privilege—but it never works out.”
“I see. He was rather muscular for an omega, but still small.”
Jalal smoothed his hair. “Yes, he has worked hard to build his strength so he can overpower us. I do hope you won’t hold his unruly behavior against us. I can tailor a list of very gentle and submissive potential mates for you.”
“I’m specifically interested in males. A list would be helpful, but would I be permitted to simply explore the colony?”
“Yes, that would be fine. All available omegas live together in a certain area. Some of the betas can be very aggressive, you see. It’s to prevent abuse and coercion. As omegas mature, it is sometimes hard for their families to protect them.”
Not sure what else to say, he replied, “I see.”
“I’ll transmit the coordinates for our main facility. Is tomorrow afternoon too soon?”
“No. It’s perfect. Thank you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
After they’d signed off, Mace sat back in his chair. He thought about what he was looking for in a mate, and he realized he was no longer as sure as he had been. Submissiveness suited him in a lover, but working for that submission was at least half the fun, in his opinion.
Mace had never taken much notice of the boutiques in the hotel he always stayed in when he came to Devala, but when he came back from his delivery he decided to look around. He’d brought very basic clothes, and he wanted to look good that afternoon. The problem, however, was he didn’t know what to wear at all. What kind of image did he want to present? He was a pilot first and foremost, but he already thought of the company as practically his. He wanted his potential mate to see him as a man of business, someone intelligent and hardworking, but also as a man who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and do the grunt work alongside everyone else. He knew his brothers would tease him for overthinking, but they weren’t here, so it hardly mattered. If this scheme actually worked out, they wouldn’t be laughing for long.
Though he had never once done it before, he walked up to a salesperson, a Norelian male with green skin, big round eyes like pools of dark water, and beautiful golden hair. The male smiled and came closer as he said, “May I be of assistance, sir?”
“Yeah.” He thought up a vague story quickly as he pretended to look around. “I’m meeting my fiancée for the first time this afternoon. Our fathers have arranged the match.” He grinned for effect. “She’s quite beautiful and has lived a very refined life. I want her to like the way I look, but I also want my look to be very masculine.” He indicated a few items on display. “The influx of frills on male clothing lately isn’t my thing.”
The Norelian walked around him. “Well, your physique is marvelous, so I think we can emphasize your masculine qualities easily. And fripperies wouldn’t suit you anyway. You have a very regal carriage and profile.” The salesman stopped and looked around before grabbing a small device and punching a few things in, and Mace spent all that time trying not to laugh. He knew it was all part of the man’s job. The Norelian smiled up at him. “Right this way, sir. There are a couple of items on the back wall, and I’m having a few things sent to the changing area as well. We can browse while my assistants gather them.”
Mace followed and allowed himself to be fussed over and posed like a doll for nearly an hour. Part of him kind of liked the attention. He’d never given much thought to his appearance before, but perhaps he should, if he would one day take his father’s place. Cultivating a certain image would definitely be good for business. When he was done, the extra effort proved to be worth it. He wore jet-black pants that fit perfectly without being too tight with new boots that had a slight sheen but weren’t overly shiny. The cream-colored tunic was thin enough to cling to his muscular chest, which the Norelian had certainly seemed to appreciate, and the calf-length navy coat made his shoulders look even broader.
He went to his room to wash his face and hands, and then he headed downstairs. He’d rented a speeder to get to his meeting, as the main office was actually quite close, the hotel bordering some of the land held in preserve by the shifter colonies. Jalal greeted him upon his arrival, just moments after he’d completed the security check in. The older man seemed impressed by his appearance, possibly having expected him to be a bit rougher around the edges.
“Welcome, sir. We’re very glad to see you. I’ve made a few lists, but I thought we might have a little tour first. I love showing people what our facility is really like. Many offworlders imagine omegas living in barracks and being put up on auction blocks.”
“I imagine so, but I come to Devala often and know better, to an extent.” Mace smiled and clasped his hands behind him. “But I would still love a tour, as I mentioned. Lead the way.”
Jalal led him around, pointing out the housing and recreational areas. It was all much nicer than Mace had expected, so he could see why Jalal was proud of it. The lush wooded areas called to Mace. It would be nice to simply go for a walk and stumble across the perfect man, but things like that didn’t happen in real life. The houses were all nice, and there were lots of parks where children played, seeming very happy as they ran and laughed and screamed. As they neared the main building again, Mace asked, “And what of the man who, shall we say, interrupted our call yesterday? What’s his story?” Smiling, he added, “I would assume he’s not on any of your lists.”
“Oh, certainly not. He’s very violent.” Coming closer, Jalal said, “Unfortunately, he’s used up all of the council’s grace. Last night, just a couple of hours after our call, he attempted to kill another omega.”
“Really? That’s terrible. Did he have motive?”
“Yes, it is awful. And it seems to be related to mental illness, the doctors say. He had no discernable motive.” Jalal cleared his throat. “If you’ll pardon me, were you asking because he seemed much less submissive or did something else about him interest you?”
“I was curious mostly. But I suppose I am looking for someone who isn’t stereotypically submissive.”
Jalal looked around, as if searching for someone. Waving a man in a uniform over, he asked, “Where’s the rebel?”
Mace tried to keep a straight face. The rebel? He wasn’t entirely sure he liked the sound of that.
And yet it intrigued him.
“Finn?” The other man looked around. “I think he’s helping with the market today.”
“Ah.” Jalal gestured for Mace to follow him.
“How did this Finn earn such a nickname, if I may ask?”
“Yes, of course you may. We believe in full disclosure, especially for anyone seeking to take an omega offworld.” Jalal pointed to his neck. “He has an R burned into his neck. He’s close to your age and used to espouse some pretty radical ideas back before branding was outlawed within the wolf clan.”
“He was branded for his beliefs?” Mace asked, suddenly wishing he’d read up on the colony a bit more. It was becoming more and more clear that he didn’t actually understand how shifter society worked.
“Yes. Shifters still have some very, um,” he lowered his voice, “archaic practices. The wolves were the last to abolish this, mere months after Finn was branded. The new colonial governor is working wonders, but it’s still somewhat backwards here.”
Mace blinked. “You aren’t a shifter?”
“Oh, no! You could never trust a beta male of my age around all these omegas.” Jalal smiled. “All employees of the cooperative are non-shifter humanoids. It’s that way with the tigers and bears as well. Again, one of the changes of the last decade.”
If things were so much better now, why keep calling this guy “the rebel”? Mace wasn’t sure if he liked Jalal or not, but then he reminded himself it didn’t matter. He’d known what kind of place he was coming to, so now wasn’t the time to start objecting or criticizing. It wasn’t like he was going to live here.
“Is the call really so strong?” Mace asked instead.
“Yes. Even as a non-shifter, you’ll feel the need coming off the omega in close quarters. Male omegas have shorter periods of heat, though. Only about three days, often less.” Jalal smiled. “It may take some adjustment, but it encourages intimacy, so it might actually work in your favor, since you seek a life companion. And children.” He stopped short. “Ah, there he is. Let’s stop here.”
Mace stopped and looked at the produce market a few dozen yards away. He saw five men and one woman working behind tables while others milled around in front of them. Except for the far more modern main building, the place had the feel of a large village on a less developed world. Everyone seemed content enough, at least on the surface. One man turned, and that was when Mace saw the large red R on the man’s neck. Mace watched him a while. He would never have stood out in a crowd to Mace based solely on his looks, but his expression set him apart. Finn’s eyes held a watchfulness and intelligence that struck Mace.
“And what exactly were these radical ideas?” Mace asked.
“He’s an odd one, really. He advocates no violence, but he himself will become violent to protect another. He’s actually in favor of the strict hierarchy of the pack mentality, but with one key difference. He thinks all omegas should be free.”
“I don’t get it. Wouldn’t that break the hierarchy?”
“Not the way he means it. He believes in survival of the fittest, meaning not protecting and segregating omegas. Letting them all fend for themselves.”
“So, he’d see this place shut down?”
Mace turned his gaze back to the other man. “How would that work?”
“It would set the colony back hundreds of years, I think, though he disagrees with me. Weaker or unwanted omegas could lead very hard lives in the system he advocates. As I said, it can be hard for a family to protect an omega, especially one in heat, from abuse or coercion.”
“So how would that be freedom, especially if alphas and betas still hold themselves above omegas?”
“According to Finn, the worthy omegas would rise up and better themselves. And survive. It would weed out the weakest members. The flaws he thinks the current way of life fosters in omegas.”
“I’m all for the freedom, but the rest of society would have to adapt.” Mace frowned. “His way sounds very mercenary.”
“Oh, it is. But to hear him explain it, you almost want to get behind his cause.” Jalal smiled as he gazed back at Finn. “He’s quite inspiring.”
Mace eyed Jalal, noting that the man’s gaze seemed to hold genuine admiration. “Is he trouble to you here?”
“Not really. Most omegas are too timid to agree with him. Too scared.” He sighed. “In a way, seeing their reactions to his ideas does a lot to prove his point for him, to show that weakness has been bred into omegas. And yet it makes me advocate their protection more. Just setting them adrift would be chaos. Cruel, I think.” Now Jalal frowned. “Seeing a society struggle to take its next step forward is … well, inspiring one day and depressing the next.” Shaking himself, he turned to Mace. “Does he intrigue you, or shall we look at my lists?”
Mace licked his lips as he watched the man bagging up some apples for a young girl, laughing at something the man beside him said. “Ask him if he wants to meet me. I’ll wait. And I’m in no hurry to head home.”
Jalal studied him a moment and then nodded. “I’ll show you to a meeting room and then speak with him.”
“Thanks.” As he followed Jalal, he slowed enough to look back at the man once. He wondered what his father would say if he brought home a man who’d been branded for his political beliefs, and he had to stop himself from laughing. His mother would order background checks while his father began interviewing surgeons who could remove the brand.
But Alric and Tore? They’d probably be so delighted by their parents’ reactions they’d apologize for the way they’d reacted to his initial idea.
And that would just be icing on the cake, if this Finn was as intriguing as he sounded.