On the run from Fae slavers, the best chance of survival is to submit to the Immortal Sorting.


I’ll be claimed by an Orc in exchange for protection. The price? A life of servitude.


But Commander Uther Bachbracht, fearsome warrior with a hidden tenderness only for me, wants more than a concubine; I’m the woman he chooses to be his wife.


My lies may jeopardize our future, but I have no choice but to trust his honor, no chance to rest before enemies find me.


Either I’ll live by my Orc blade, or die by it, and the Commander is willing to kill to protect what he has claimed.


ORC BOUGHT is a standalone steamy orc monster fantasy romance, for readers who like strong, protective, cinnamon roll heroes, bride auctions, pregnancy, post-apocalyptic alternate earth settings, magic and adventure, and morally gray worlds. Features a pragmatic but vulnerable heroine over thirty-five, a diverse cast, and some potentially sensitive content.

The scent of roasting meat wakes my stomach, which attempts a pathetic gurgle.

It stopped growling two days ago; there hadn’t been time to hunt during our flight up the coast. That, along with the lack of hunger pains and my lightheadedness as I carry a 6-year-old on my back, is enough warning I’m almost at the end of my tether.

Two weeks spent running a few miles ahead of our pursuers, avoiding the broken remnants of a highway raiders now use as bait for stupid travelers.

I kept the road in distant sight to guide us to the Sorting, but remained in the forest, chancing its animals and monsters until we arrived here.

“Watch it,” someone snarls.

“Sorry,” I mutter after bumping into them, struggling to remain on my feet, my back bending a little more under the weight of my burden.

Here is a grim stadium nearly re-taken by the forest, the shell of a once cement parking lot choked with plant life and now walked by hundreds of immortals who aren’t native to my planet.

Fae, Orcs, Gargoyles—their mixed species spawn, and us Humans, the originals. Every variation reproductively possible, as well as the twisted radiation and dark magic infested monsters lurking deep in the forests, unwilling to attack so many warriors in one place.

The fairgrounds teem with magic, everyone bristles with weapons, and here I am alone with a child, throwing our lot in with the sort who’d as soon eat us as save us.

But turning back isn’t an option.

Elif is light. Too light. She also stopped whining about hunger days ago, and that’s a mixed blessing.

On one hand, the complaints frazzled my broken nerves, on the other, complaints are proof of life. If not for the faint rise and fall of her thin chest against my back, I’d worry—more.

There isn’t much point in worry right now though. I’ve done everything I can, taking the only risk available to me to protect her.

We’ll both wind up dead, but at least I’ll have tried.

A pulse of dizziness blackens my vision for a second and I stumble again.

Hands wrap around my upper arms, steadying me, and when I blink away the darkness I glance up, freeze, and avert my gaze, aware of him trying to capture it.

Never stare Fae in the eyes. It’s a challenge, or a declaration of either power or intimacy, and if you don’t have the strength to back either up, then you’re begging for a slit throat. Or worse. Because death is the easy option when dealing with an angry immortal mage.

“Do you require assistance, girl?” the Fae male asks, quiet, like a soft voice will lull me. He must be used to stupid City girls.

Out of the corner of my eye I see him give me a long, slow look, a glint of interest in his gaze.

My muscles tense, pre-fight nausea rising in my throat as my body goes where my mind leads. I throttle back the response; immortals can sense rising aggression and they’ll meet it, then up the ante.

I’m not bad to look at even filthy, with my long dark braid a mat at this point. I got enough fat stores that cling to me even though Elif was weaned three years ago. Under the fat is muscle tone as good as it can be with a lack of nutrients. I’m hoping my taller, broader physique will attract an Orc, who like their women and laborers hardy. 

This Fae male is one of many in the cold-eyed crowd I’ve avoided after entering the fairgrounds for the Spring Sorting.

Any of them could be the one Hartland sold our daughter to. Which means any of them could be the one who will kill me, cause that’s the only way I’m giving her up.

“Well?” He repeats his question, still patient, eyes still on my body—then my face. I realize it’s taking me too long to respond.

“No, thanks,” I say in a low, firm tone, pulling away slowly.

Not fast enough to insult his offer. They’re touchy like that, especially the men, who’re in denial that their species’ bad reputation is their own damn fault. Bet they couldn’t get away with that shit on their damn ship.

He touches my braid. “Are you here for the Sorting?”

Another glimpse of calm green eyes is enough to increase the chill biting through my thin, worn clothing. 

“Yeah,” I say, “and I need to get in line. Excuse me.”

My gaze still averted, I drag us away, the back of my neck prickling until I disappear into the milling crowd, Elif still sleeping. I don’t relax until the crowd conceals us, and that’s probably still too soon.

Outside of one of the few remaining functional major Cities, a Sorting is the only place where you’ll see all the species mingled. Immortals are as picky as Humans when it comes to fucking, which means they ain’t. It’s why most of the contracts to claim a Human servant include sexual service, and breeding.

It doesn’t take long to find the line leading to the entrance to the old tournament field; I head toward it. It only wraps around the stadium once, and the aroma of cooking food from the vendors posted in the merchant section of the grounds is torture.

In front of the old, rusted gates is a long, battered table at which sits a dozen minor bureaucrats. I eye them with envy; the color in their rounded cheeks, the casual calorie fueled energy of their motions—even if their eyes are bored—the lack of stains or patches on machine sewn clothing.

But if I’m accepted through this initial screening process, Elif and I will be fed.

Elif stirs on my back. “Mommy, I smell meat.”

“Shh. Not long now.”

My mouth can’t water, but my mind waters for me. Even if death isn’t hard on our heels, and not just death from starvation, the one day of hot meals is enough of an incentive to apply for this Sorting.

A light drizzle starts as I stand in line, clouds drifting over the anemic sun, but no one complains. It’s the Pacific Northwest, it’s always drizzling and we’re thankful enough planet Gaithea still gets rain in some areas.

My skin crawls despite the shower ‘cause I feel like a sitting fowl, but I remind myself that Elif and I look much the same as any unwashed, underfed, hard-eyed Human.

Damn the immortals and their dreadnought. They should have stayed in their own hellsdamn galaxy, not crashed on a planet in ours.

“Name,” the bureaucrat demands when it’s my turn.

“Defne Yildiz,” I say, matching his tone.

I might be a Human girl from an outland settlement scratching out a living, I might be ignorant, but I’m not stupid. I’m damn near forty years old, ten whole years past adolescence which means I should get points for surviving, especially childbirth, and I won’t be talked to like—

Who the hells am I kidding. I’ll let them talk to me any way they want if they pass me into the Sorting.

He peers at my shoulder. “The child?”

I try not to bristle, shifting Elif on my screaming back. Don’t piss off the people you want to give you things.

“My daughter. Elif Yildiz. She’s not an individual applicant.”

He busies himself scrawling out letters on the paper. Maybe if I’m selected, my new master will teach me to read and write. I’ve heard that all Orcs are educated; reading, writing, math beyond counting fingers and toes. Somehow in the last hundred years in our broken settlements, Humans have lost the train of formal education.

A half-Gargoyle female passes the Human bureaucrat a device. I stare at it, my eyes widening. That device is the reason for both the Fae and Orc guards surrounding this table, and the Gargoyles patrolling high in the air above. There are six of these devices in the world, and they only come out during the Sorting.

“Hand.”

I hold out my finger and he jabs it. My blood wells, sucked into the device which lights up in tiny bursts of blue dots. I watch, fascinated.

More letters scroll across its surface and he grunts, scratching the charcoal against the paper some more.

“Healthy Human female, malnourished, mother of one child. Fertile, acceptable muscle tone, dental health above average. Estimated life expectancy, one hundred eighty years without intervention.”

He rattles off a series of facts, about my health I guess. Which makes sense because of what we’re being screened for. Though it had been our planet, the immortals rule now.

The Orc warriors want healthy, strong laborers for their homesteads.

The Fae Lords want Humans who’d absorbed magic into their DNA and can crossbreed to maintain their aristocratic bloodlines—what nobles were doing on that hellsdamn dreadnought, I don’t know.

The Gargoyle scientists and mystics want intelligence and ingenuity to help fuel their remote mountain civilization building.

Their dreadnought can’t be salvaged, and whatever anomaly that sent them here in the first place won’t happen again, so no rescue. They’re stuck here with us, and it took a century of war between the crash survivors to figure their shit out and turn their attention to reordering Humans the way they wanted.

“Accepted.” The bureaucrat applies wax at the end of the paper. “Do you want to submit to a battery of intelligence tests?”

I don’t like to waste my time—I’d fail. “No.”

“Do you want to submit to a magical exam?”

I’m scanning the area, my foot tapping with impatience as more and more ants crawl up my skin, biting. Almost through the damn gates and it feels like he’s stalling.

I jerk my attention back to him. “What?”

“The magic tests. Do you want to take the magic tests to qualify you for rank among the Fae?”

What the. . .hells fecking— “No.”

His gaze flicks up at me. “If you do not submit to the intelligence tests or the magical exams, then you are likely to only attract an Orc owner. The Fae want—”

I hate when they think I’m dumb. “I know, sir. Thank you. That’s what I want. An Orc.”

He pauses, then shrugs. No skin off his back. Just pass me through already, hells.

He runs through a series of disclaimers, informing me what rights I’m giving up if I proceed. My heart rate increases when he gets to the part that my daughter will no longer belong to me, though it’d be illegal to separate us.

But with Hartland on our tail, trying to kill me and take her to be sold into slavery, what option is there? At least the Orcs don’t sexually abuse their servants. As long as you’re healthy and strong and you work hard, they feed you, shelter you, clothe you, and they don’t beat you either.

Both the Gargoyles and the Fae are known to keep unwilling concubines, and they aren’t particular about age either, particularly if the concubine proves to have magic.

No, I’d rather work my fingers to the bone to avoid that fate.

. . .or being eaten by Humans. Which, considering the scarcity of food the further Southwest you get, I can’t blame them. But that don’t mean I want to be eaten.

“Put your thumbprint here,” he concludes when I agree, then hands me a thin leather cord with six green beads on it to put around my neck. “Proceed into the stadium. You will be fed and assigned a fire. There is zero tolerance for fighting, theft, or sexual assault. The sentence for theft or sexual assault is death.”

“Can I defend myself with lethal force?” Cool iron rests against my back, under my shirt.

“You may, but if it is determined you are the instigator of the fight, you will be executed, and your daughter confiscated. There are guards. Avail yourself of their protection if need be.” For the first time his brisk tone softens. “Keep your head down and the child quiet. Your data is good, you’ll find an owner.” He nods to my necklace. “The number of beads tell them your value, so don’t lose it. Green means you’re wanting an Orc.”

I glance down. “Is six good?”

“It’s not the worst.”

I exhale, nod and tred around the long table and through the iron gates.

Just a few more steps and I can sit down.

Just a few more hours, and maybe we’ll be safe.

* * *

They really do feed us.

The accommodations ain’t fancy, but I decide not to complain to management.

Elif lifts her head, woken again by the smell of food since she doesn’t give a damn about the noise, and I let her slide down. She leans against my side.

“Eat now, Mommy?”

Her soft voice is a dagger in my gut and it takes me a minute to respond in a normal tone. Last thing she needs is to hear my pain and fear.

But, hells, it’s getting harder to hide. If I’m not selected, I don’t know what the hells I’m gonna do. Maybe slit our throats. It would be gentler.

“Yeah, baby. In a few more minutes, okay? Remember to be small and quiet.”

“Okay.”

I’d been resigned to sharing my portion with Elif, but at one of the long metal tables set up inside the stadium and laden with food, they hand me a full bowl of stew for her too—and bread.

Bread, with yeast. Old yeast because it’s still mostly flat, but I know that scent. I smelled it in Seanna City before.

My stomach growls again, more of a pitiful, hopeful whine.

My eyes prickle.

Still not enough saliva in my mouth for watering, but they give us metal cups and direct us to where the water is being rationed as well.

The Orc female in charge of dosing out the water—I eye her biceps, her dark braids and beaded vest over an impressive bust—is probably in charge of knocking heads together too. She clucks her tongue when she sees Elif. I notice there aren’t many children in the stadium.

“Poor mite. Ya both dehydrated. No worries though, dearie. If ya get a master, they’ll fatten ya both up.”

Since she took the time to stop and talk to me like I’m a person, and she’s friendly enough, I hesitate. “I was hoping to attract an Orc master. Any tips?”

She purses her lips. They’re a darker green than her skin, her ivory tusks curved delicately over her upper lip. She’s beautiful, cheeks bright with health, and I’m envious. She leans her curved hip on the metal water barrel.

“This your only younglin’?”

I nod.

“You survived the birth.” Approval in her voice. “Well, Orcs prize strength, courage, and hard work. Ya want an Orc, when they come through pick one with dirt under his nails. A homesteader is ya best bet. Let ‘im know ya enjoys a hard day’s labor with no complaint, and are willing to give a lil more at the end of the night, ya know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean.”

Just because the Orcs don’t rape Humans doesn’t mean they don’t sleep with them.

She must understand the expression on my face. “That ya’ve borne one child and you’re both still healthy is a plus. You’re still young too.”

“Thank you for the information.”

“Come back in the evening, dearie. Ya get two meals a day and sixteen ounces of water each.”

The promise of eating soon gives Elif enough energy to walk on her own to our assigned fire, where a group of about twenty people huddle around the heat, some talking, some sleeping or pretending to sleep, others eating.

We eye each other, wary but hopeful. I keep my gaze on the men, but the women are as dangerous. A woman might not rape you as easily, but if she’s hungry enough, she’ll slit your throat and roast you for supper.

Elif is tender meat.

Lucky for my daughter, I ain’t. 

If her love is my end, then I’m taking her enemies down with me.

 

TLEIA
Despite clawing my way up from rags to riches, I’m broken, my bruises soul deep, and the only love language I understand is the heads of my enemies at my feet.


But the Orc warrior who loved and guarded me, I betrayed to survive. When I leave prison, I don’t know if we’ll be enemies, or finally, lovers.

I don’t know if he’ll be dark enough to forgive me, or if he’ll call in the debt I owe and extract payment in blood and flesh.


The fate of our secret baby hangs in the balance of our love and hate, but my Orc isn’t the only enemy I’ve offended, and without Gethen’s protection my son and I won’t make it out of the City alive.


GETHEN
I knew the moment I met Tleia she would end me, but I love her anyway.


Honor, clan, my clean hands, all obliterated in the quest to keep her safe. Anyone who touches her now will die—the days I play by the rules are over. Hands drenched in blood hold my young son, the secret she kept from me in prison.


The dishonor, the broken oaths—my new family is worth it, and it’s time I made my mistakes right.

I don’t regret sacrificing my soul to my dark side to claim and protect the woman and son I love, and with Seanna City’s crime lords on our trail, I’ll prove what I couldn’t before.


That the greatest honor is to fight at her side.


ORC BOUND is a grimdark post-apocalyptic monster romantic fantasy for readers who like morally grey worlds, gritty but vulnerable heroines, protective good boys willing to turn bad for love, and found family. Includes potentially triggering themes.


This standalone ends with a healing, redemptive, HEA.


Second book in the Immortal Sorting series. You do not have to read book one first, but there are mentions of previous characters.

GETHEN

I stalk the twisty cobblestone streets of Seanna City under cover of a storm scented night. Gaslamps flicker and dim in my wake, casting an eerie yellow-orange glow.

A carved bone pendant dedicated to the goddess of war warms my neck, confirmation she is pleased by tonight’s offerings. I abandoned my uncle’s god, the Eyeless Priest, three years ago and dedicated myself to Uthsha and her mate, Tueven.

Uther’s voice is in my mind. “A warrior’s honor is in his charge—forsake it and forsake all.”

“But, Uncle, what if—”

His gaze went steely, though his voice remained kind. “Asking but is the first step to dishonor. There is no but.

But honor and serenity can’t help me now; I need the favor of warriors. I’ll deal with my uncle once I’m done with this cursed City, once my mate is safe in my arms. Demand he explain how a warrior is meant to cling to honor when his female is under threat by those who have none. If I’d abandoned my upbringing earlier, this situation wouldn’t have come to pass.

My mate attacked, harmed in the vilest way a female can be harmed, then imprisoned only to face the flock of vultures gathering to peck at her bloody bones.

Two of the hunters threatening her have met their end by my ax, lifeblood coagulating into the crevices of the cobblestones. I’ve spent two years countering any threat to Tleia, after ten as her personal guard—I’ve learned to be like her.

Outwardly emotionless. Vicious. Laying in wait and then quick to strike.

Though she’ll use tears and her lush body to weasel out of the consequences of dishonor, and I don’t bother with those games.

Unflinching, I face what I’ve become. A monster. . .her monster. Uthsha would approve—she’d stormed the lands of the Dark Horde to rescue her imprisoned husband, killing a host of malformed giants and the handmaidens of the Lord to distract him with grief while she escaped with Tueven.

Chill mist clings to my face as I pursue the third bounty hunter down streets and up crumbling stairwells in the ruins of brick and steel buildings, his frantic wheezing like breadcrumbs.

A movement in an alley I pass snatches my attention. I slide into the murk, spying a shadowy figure attempting to hide. At my soft footfalls, he spins around in a panic, eyes widening with alarm.

“Mercy, mercy!” he cries.

He’s a short man with a thin rat face hiding under a battered bowler hat. Small eyes dart around like cockroaches caught in a sudden light.

It’s almost dishonorable to kill him; he’s fast, but now that he’s cornered, he can’t put up much of a fight. His death insults the quality of my ax.

I bare my teeth. “I’ll show same mercy you would show my female had I been weak enough to let you capture her,” I say in Gaithean.

The language is standard on this once Human ruled planet where my grandparent’s dreadnought crashed over two hundred years ago. Born here, I’m more of this place than I am of my ancestral home world, so I speak the mortal tongue well enough when I choose; there will be no misunderstandings why he’s about to die.

He scrabbles for a weapon with dirt-encrusted fingernails, hurling a rusted pipe at my head. I bat it aside contemptuously and lunge, talons extended to rend flesh. He rolls away, another pipe clanging on the stones.

“I can take you to the wench’s boy!” he shouts, scrabbling backwards in a crab walk. I loom over him, easily double his height and width. “We took ‘im to force ‘er to sign the papers, but I can take ya to where he is.”

My chest swells as I inhale. “Her boy?” Her boy?

“Yes yes!” He seizes on the glimmer of hope I didn’t mean to provide. “The bitch whelped in prison—” he sneers briefly “—she tried to keep ‘im under wraps, ya know? But when she sold ‘im and my boss—”

“Take me.” I’ve bribed prison guards for word of Tleia, but they hadn’t told me that. Almost, I ball my hand in a fist and slam it into the wall.

She’d had a child?

“Get up,” I growl, urgency swarming and pushing aside thoughts of my mate. “Take me.”

The footpad pushes slowly to his feet, hands held up in the universal “don’t kill me” sign. He’s moving too slow.

I snap my teeth at him. “Now!

He leads me to a wharf side warehouse on Pike Street, the location stoking fury that never goes away.

Pike. Haven’t gotten to him, not yet. He’ll meet my ax though; I’d Vow it if I had any Fae blood.

The dimly lit room is heavy with smoke despite the high ceiling, and the smell of spilled ale mingles with the usual stench of fish and questionable hygiene barely masked by rain. Rough wooden tables and benches fill the space, scarred by blades and charred in places by errant magic.

“Remember,” I say quietly, “wrong move or word, you die first. All I want is boy.”

“Roe.”

Rat Face halts. We turn towards a Human woman. Sharp green eyes glint with menace and amusement in a scarred face surrounded by dirt yellow hair.

“Fresh meat?” she drawls. A match flares and she takes a drag of whatever herbs are rolled in the brown paper between her fingers.

Rat Face clears his throat. “Buyer for the boy, Taye.”

“Got a buyer already.”

He shrugs. “This’un’s payin’ double. Ya want me to show ‘im out?”

She weighs me. “Not seen you around before.”

“Selling or not?” My voice is sharp. “Things to do. Not stay in stinking City longer than must.”

“Don’t look like ya got ‘alf, much less. . .what did ya say, Roe?”

“Double, Taye,” is his plaintive reply. The look she gives him is a warning that if it’s not double, it’ll come out of his skin.

“Where’s the coin?”

I give her a baleful look. “Coin? No coin.”

Pulling out a small leather pouch, I shake a couple of blood stained copper pennies onto the table. Technically coin, but they’re worthless as cash currency except for this one use; the metal can absorb and carry the detritus of a bastardized Fae Vow.

Her eyes warm with greed. Each of these pennies represents a Favor owed, and I flip them over so she can read the marks of the individuals owing the Favor.

Slapping my hand over the small pile when she reaches out, I growl, “Boy first. Good condition only.” 

“As is,” she snaps, “and yer lucky I don’t have ya split from head to gullet for wastin’ my time.”

Sneer, I respond, “Can try. Good fun. Orc still eat Human marrow.”

“Pay first.”

Scowling, I eye her like I don’t trust her—I don’t. But I shrug and withdraw my hand. “Try swindle, will be back.”

She scrapes the pennies to her, dumps them back in the bag and jerks a shoulder at Rat Face. “Get ‘im out of here. And if the brat is dead, no refunds.”

“Thought had buyer,” I say with irony to mask my rage. “Can’t sell dead boy.”

Rat Face coughs and scurries forward a few steps. I stomp in his direction and am led into a small storage room. Muffled shouts and raucous laughter filter through the walls, but in here the only sound is the soft lap of waves under the pier outside. The room is empty except for a small boy huddling in a corner, with pale green skin and curly dark hair, too thin arms wrapped around his knees. He appears three, almost four. The night of his conception is burned in my brain.

Giving him one quick glance, I turn to Rat Face, handing him three Favors I’d reserved.

“Get lost,” I growl. “Oh, wait.” I swing my fist into his jaw too fast for him to dodge. “Spoke disrespect of my female. Be glad you live, rat. Git.”

Clutching his jaw, he darts back down the hall. I don’t overestimate his courage or his intelligence, so I have to get out of here quick. Once he convinces himself he’s safe, he’ll bring backup.

Stepping into the room, I shut the door behind me.

The boy jerks his head up, hissing and swiping baby soft talons, small tusks barely the size of a female’s pinkie finger. “Want Mommy! I bite you!”

A thousand thoughts crash through my mind then coalesce into a single realization; I have a son. A son Tleia sold to the kind of refuse who would. . .I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about what I’ll do to her when she leaves prison.

I lower myself onto one knee, staying near the door, and speak in Gaithean again. “I’m your Pa. Do you want to come with me?”

He pokes his bottom lip out. “Don’t have a Pa. I want my Mommy.”

“Your mommy sold you.” I want take the words back as soon as I say them because even if they’re the truth—I have questions—he doesn’t need to know that now. He’s still a babe.

His eyes widen. “Mommy said she come get me. Mommy said—”

“How about we go get Mommy?” I need him to come with me willingly, or he won’t remain silent while I carry him out.

“Are you a bad guy?”

“If anyone tries to hurt you or your mommy, I will hurt them first. But I won’t hurt you.” I grit my teeth. “Or your mommy.” Unless what the footpad said is true.

“Look.” I point to my tusks. “I’m like you. We are kin. Uthilsen. Orc kin do not hurt each other.”

Tears well in his eyes. “I want Mommy boob. And I want oatmeal.”

Opening my arms, I wait. “You can have oatmeal if you come with me, and then we’ll get your mommy. . .boob.”

Is he still nursing? I eye his teeth. Why would a woman sell a child she’d willingly nursed until he was old enough to ask for milk in complete sentences? I’ve heard my cousins yowl and curse when bitten by a toothy child at the breast. Nursing at this age, if there are other options, is an act of maternal love. The mothers remind their sons of this constantly.

He hesitates. “A pa is like a mommy, but a boy. You’re a boy mommy?”

He was born and raised in a female only prison. Does he have a concept of males other than what Tleia might have explained to him?

“That’s right. I’m your boy mommy, your otema. My name is Gethen.”

He says the words, softening the consonants. I almost wince. Finally, he stands and walks towards me. “My name is Ethan.”

“Ethan.”

It’s an Uthilsen name. I repeat it for him again with the proper pronunciation then swoop him into my arms and stand, wanting to kiss him, wanting to shed the tears pooling in my eyes. Time for all of that later.

“Can you be very silent for me? There are predators and if you make noise they will come for us.”

He nods, patting my face, his eyes on my tusks. “Mommy plays hide and seek with me. And I know how to bite. But my tusks not big as yours.”

For him, I smile. “They will be one day. Now be very quiet for me.”

* * *

Uthsha protects us; I emerge with Ethan from the warehouse and make my way to the cheap efficiency room I share with my cousin, who came for a visit a year ago and stayed when he realized I wouldn’t come home until Tleia was out of prison.

We’re not followed, and the boy falls asleep in my arms. He’s not even a proper armful; his hair—which needs washing and braiding—weighs more than he does. If he’s been fed a diet of gruel and mother’s milk, then no wonder. The boy needs meat.

I lay Ethan down on my cot, pushed against the side of the wall, and contemplate whether I should wake him up to eat, deciding to let him sleep—he is an Orc. His instincts wouldn’t have allowed him to rest in an enemy’s lair.

He wakes once to whine about mommy boob, and I explain I have no animal milk, only water, and big Orcs don’t drink from the breast once they have strong tusks.

My son gives me an arrogant, skeptical look I recognize and says, “Mommy give me boob when we get her,” as if I’m clearly uninformed, then curls back to sleep.

He is definitely her son.

In the meantime, I make him a rough sandwich of dried fish and the last of the seaweed and salmonberry I’d gathered from the shores of Paget Sunde, stuffed between two slices of black bread. It will take the edge off his hunger until I can get to the market at dawn. There are one or two fishwives I deal with; protection while they sell their morning catch in exchange for a fair pick of their goods.

Hathur returns home within the hour, staring down at the boy in astonishment. “Cousin, I commend you for your soft heart—” he says in a voice implying the opposite “—but we are in no position to mother orphans. Where are his kin?”

I wait for him to stop talking, partially because I’m going to enjoy seeing the look on his face. We speak in Uthilsuven when alone, which reminds me I must teach Ethan. “We are his kin. He is my son, Hathur.”

Hathur blinks. “Repeat that once more.”

“This is Tleia’s babe.”

“She. . .she had a child?”

I tell him of how I discovered Ethan, and what the rat had told me. The alarm on my cousin’s face, and the growing fury, is only an echo of my own. It’s enough of a failure that my female is confined by Humans, outside of my protection, but that she had my son and I didn’t know it, and couldn’t protect him either?

The debt I owe Tleia continues to grow. She will never be rid of me.

“What is he called?”

“His name is Ethan.”

Hathur’s expression softens. “Your grandfather’s name.”

Nodding, I am unable to reply. She’d given our son a good, clan name.

My cousin stares at the sleeping boy, then crouches next to him, tilting his head to study Ethan’s face. “A fine looking boy.” He glances up at me. “You’re certain he’s yours?”

I must keep myself from snarling at the implication. “He’s the right age. She was with no one but me.”

Hathur’s gaze is steady. “You know that’s not true.”

I’m forced to amend my statement. “She was with no other Orc.”

“And his father must be full blooded from how he looks. There’s almost nothing Human in him.” Hathur glances at the boy again then stands and turns to me slowly. “From what you’ve told me, she’s a ruthless female. She’d use you for protection if she could.”

He isn’t wrong. I shrug. “She is Human. It is a good strategy. I would seduce an Orc warrior too if I were a tiny, clawless and toothless female. But I’ve known her for ten years, cousin. There are some actions she wouldn’t stoop too.” Some.

“You’re certain, Gethen? What the damn graywings charge for blood testing—”

“I’m certain.”

“Why would she sell him?”

“Only have the word of honorless scum that that is what happened. She’s due to get out in a week. There could be a number of other explanations.”

Hathur runs a hand over his face. “Maybe she was trying to get him to safety, if she knows there’s bounty hunters waiting to jump on her the moment she leaves the prison. She’d want him secured first. She might have been betrayed. Our money hasn’t stretched to smuggling a note to her in jail.”

And if it had, we’d decided against it. My greatest use to Tleia right now is that none of our enemies know I am protecting her. I have to trust her to stay alive.

“Your conclusion is what I hope for,” I say. I don’t want to kill my best friend, my one-night lover in the flesh, the mother of my first and only son.

“If we’re wrong?”

Even now, if it is true that she sold him to ease her own way, I desperately search for a reason to forgive her.

She was raised with no mother and father.

On Coho Street.

Taught nothing of honor, only of survival, enduring things that make my cheeks pale and I am over twice her age.

But at what point can a person no longer be salvaged? At what point is death the kinder option? I close my eyes. “I don’t want to kill her. I love her.”

Hathur lays a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sure it won’t come to that. Wait before you make a judgment. We don’t have all the information.”

My cousin is kind; he wants to spare me the inevitable.

“If she must die, I will make sure she doesn’t suffer,” I say.

An Orc crime Lord. A healer caught in a territory war. A soulbond that forces her from hiding.


In hiding from a powerful Fae Lord, when an Orc warrior crashes through my front gate, my disguise is blown to hells and the loathed Fae soulbond triggers. I want him, will submit to him, whether I like it or not.


But despite being one of Seanna City’s Three crime bosses, Lord Cythro has honor. He swears to protect me—if I obey.


He’s controlling, possessive, and determined to keep me safe even if it means keeping me captive.


But my enemy circles, and secrets from my past rise up and threaten the peaceful life I’ve built.


It’s time to step out of the shadows.


Even if that means exchanging freedom for an Orc Lord’s chains.


ORC LORD is a low angst, post-apocalyptic monster fantasy romance with medium-high steam, a kinda cinnamon roll hero, and found family for readers who enjoy instalove fated mates romance with a touch of adventure.


Book 3 in the Immortal Sorting series. It can be read as a standalone, but includes characters from previous books.

SAJENA

Rain lashes my skin as I step into the courtyard of my home, a blade clutched in my hand—for all the good it will do. The ward protecting my home, family, and business from the more unsavory elements of this Seanna City neighborhood flickers in time to the gaslamps posted outside the boundaries of my family’s property.

“North,” Leislah says sharply, my younger sister’s voice coming from where she perches on the roof of our three story brownstone. “At least a dozen.”

There’s always some activity this time of night—the occasional footsteps or clop of horse hooves or the creaking of a carriage—but now I hear other things in the night.

Shouts and groans coming closer, the bright clash of metal on metal.

“Go back inside,” I tell the female who exits the house behind me.

My mother ignores me as she comes to my side, her hand on her heavily swollen belly. On the roof, Leislah hisses at someone, Sydnee probably. She wants to fight, which shocks no one, but she’s still a child.

I glance at Eslana, my mouth thin and my brows pinched. “There’s nothing you can do here.”

In Fae terms, she isn’t much older than me—a paltry century; we’re practically sisters. She began breeding young, and I’m the second eldest of my mother’s wealth of daughters.

“You’re no warrior either,” she says, “and no high level mage. If the ward breaks, what can you do?”

None of us are warriors or mages, despite the knife in my hand and the magic pooling in my center. I have enough tutelage and skill to protect myself and my sisters from common rogues and footpads, but like my mother and many Aeddannari females descended from the dreadnought survivors, I’m a healer. All of my power, all of my talent and energy tied up in that one thing.

That weakness stings as we wait behind the physical barrier of our stone wall and the magical barrier of our ward, listening to the fight come closer.

I whirl, grabbing my mother’s upper arm, all but shoving her towards the front door. “They’re right outside our gates. Secure the girls.” I wish Honoria was here. We’re so close in age we might as well be twins, but she made her choice and we all abide by it.

Eslana follows my instruction this time. I have that last minute of warning before my ward breaks.

I double over, gasping at the backlash, the punch of deliberate power bursting through the magical protections and tearing them down as if they are no stronger than a set of kitchen curtains.

My personal glamour dissolves around me, the magic that powers it eaten in the backlash of my ward breaking. My sisters’ glamours will have broken as well; now we’re all vulnerable.

The gates burst open and I have a chaotic few seconds to assess the situation. Orcs and Fae fill my courtyard and I retreat to my front door, barring it with my back, my blade ready though my jaw is clenched to keep my teeth from clattering. The backlash is painful, a tremble running through my limbs.

No one’s noticed me yet.

They fight, the Aeddannari and the Uthilsen. I don’t think this is an attack on my family; the fighters aren’t interested in me at all. On either side they’re too well-armed, too well-dressed, and too well-fed to be common thugs. Besides, in this territory ruled by Lord Cythro OakHorde, there are no armed Orcs who don’t serve him.

Who are the Fae? Coho or Pike Street? Either is a disaster if they notice me now; I’m frantically attempting to raise my glamour but it’s like trying to light a soaked match in the middle of a rainstorm.

Gripping my weapon, my gaze flits between combatants when an Orc warrior steps through the narrow hole where my gate once was, an imposing figure moving with surprising grace despite his formidable size. Aeddannari Fae males are tall, lithe, and strong, but Uthilsen Orcs are battering rams, brutal in battle.

He snarls something, his voice a guttural roar, but I hear no real anger; I hear steel, command. When he swings an ax to engage a Fae who leaps towards him, I see death.

One of the girls shrieks, then the upstairs window slams shut. It draws attention; a Fae male breaks off from the fight and dashes towards me.

“Yedyah!” He uses the overly polite term for an unknown female Fae.

I brace for a fight.

“Yedyah,” he says again, his gaze sharp as he reaches towards me, “why are you here? Come, I’ll take you from this place.”

Take me from my home. Take me to his Lord, whoever his Lord is, who will find out I, my mother and sisters live under glamour as Human women, no male overseeing us.

No.

I lift my blade in response before he can touch me. There’s no de-escalating the situation; he’s a Fae warrior, I’m a Fae female and in his mind any instruction he gives me I must obey.

“Yedyah?” His voice rises on a sharp, taken aback note.

“I won’t go with you. Leave my home.”

No Aeddannari female on this planet would dream of disobeying a direct instruction from an Aeddannari male. My mother says it wasn’t like that on our home planets or on the dreadnought, but hundreds of years of war plus the need to grow our numbers and maintain the power in our blood means the males turned on us, subjugated us, and control our wombs. The one or two times we tried to fight back, we failed.

Shock that I lifted a weapon against him crosses his face, and a moment later his expression flattens.

“If you choose to be an enemy, I will treat you like one.”

If I’m not obedient, he means, then I’m an enemy. But he’s a warrior and I’m not, and he’s going to win. The only question is if he intends to simply restrain me, or if he’s going to kill me for stepping out of my place.

He attacks, disarming me. Crying out, I stumble back as bright pain blooms in my mouth. His hand is around my arm.

“No!” I shout, struggling as he drags me. But I’m weaker, lesser trained, and I only have desperation on my side.

Across the courtyard, the Orc snaps his head in my direction. It’s not more than a second, but our gazes meet. His is cold, focused, but not cruel—not until his gaze flickers to my captor. He stills, blood dripping from his ax.

“Help me,” I say, more plea than command, trying to dig my heels into the rough stone of the courtyard as I’m dragged across. “Please.”

The warrior holding my arm shakes me and I stumble, tripping. The Orc walks towards us, and I understand for a moment why my people fear his on the battlefield; a predator stares at me. My stomach sinks; if I looked Human I could count on his protection. I’m Fae though, a natural enemy.

The door opens behind me and my mother shouts just as the whiz of an ax flies towards the Fae warrior, who throws me to the ground with a snarl and defends himself.

I roll to the side as light flares against the Fae warrior’s back. It has to be a charm because Mother can’t use healing magic while pregnant, much less defensive spells.

Flipping to my feet a second later, I grab the blade I dropped and shove her into the house, slamming the door closed.

The Orc male gives me a single, assessing look but doesn’t approach. “Guard the door. Don’t drop your weapon again.” He speaks with an upper caste City accent, but I don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s young.

He turns back to the main fight and he and his warriors make mincemeat of the remaining Aeddannari. In close quarters Orcs will always have the advantage. But some of the Fae flee.

Damn it. “They’re getting away!” I shout.

No doubt my people noticed both me and the death of my would be captor. They’ll report it to their Lord, and my home will be visited soon.

I need the Uthilsen to kill my people.

My. . .rescuer. . .turns and stalks towards me. “Where is the healer?”

He blocks my sight of the courtyard as he crowds me against my front door, not touching me but still close enough that it’s a deliberate threat. He’s tall, broad shouldered and heavily muscled like all Orc warriors but instead of the leather pants and boots, a cross sheath of weapons the only adornment on a scarred chest, this male is in. . .

Trousers. Trousers and a collarless dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up. The cut and fabric are both quality, and if his dress isn’t odd enough, his hair is another clue.

It’s short, for an Orc. Unbeaded and unbraided, brushing above his shoulder blades.

“Yedyah,” he says, voice a deep, sharp rumble, “where is the healer?” He’s scanning the courtyard for a Human woman.

Fear partially seals my lips. He threw the ax to save me. . .maybe. Or maybe my shout drew attention to the foe.

He must see it on my face. He closes his eyes a second and when he open them again, the predator is gone.

“I won’t hurt you,” he says, voice gentler. “My warrior is bleeding out and won’t make it to my house.”

I lower the blade clutched in my hand, realizing he made no move to take it from me. I’m no fool, and I know who this male must be.

“Lord OakHorde. I’m the healer.”

His gaze sharpens as he scans my face. “The healer is a Human female.”

“I am the healer.” I repeat it slowly, because he must know that I can’t lie to him. “This is my home, and has been for the last thirty years. I will treat your kin. Our tithe is current,” I add, mostly to remind him that my family pays well for the privilege of operating our business in his territory.

His eyes narrow as he examines my face, gaze traveling down to pause on the blade. “You are the healer.”

My temper sparks, though I keep my voice even. We’re straying close to sounding ridiculous. “That’s what I said.”

Fae cannot lie. We’re cursed, or at least I consider it a curse. Along with my entire bloodline, the pointed ears and moon touched skin that mark me as what I am.

Enslaved. Chains I can’t break because they’re built into my DNA. It’s not the worst thing about being a Fae female.

The front door opens again and my stubborn mother is at my back, her hand on my shoulder. I strangle the words I want to say. His gaze grazes her before returning to me; I haven’t looked away. I can’t.

“Lord OakHorde,” she says, her lilting voice as sweet as honey, with just enough authority to ping the instincts of males from a matriarchal culture used to obeying females. “Please bring your injured. We will tend to life threatening injuries first. Refreshments?”

OakHorde turns away and gives orders to his warriors, hoisting one of the injured before he follows behind me when I lead them around the side of the house to the entrance of our apothecary which hosts a small infirmary. My ears prick at the sound of several pairs of footsteps, some with a cadence indicating injuries. They don’t complain, these Orcs.

We escort them into the infirmary. He walks at my back, almost on my heels and I can’t resist glancing over my shoulder at him. Our gazes meet for a second, tangling, then we’re inside and I gesture to OakHorde to lay his male on the scrubbed down work table.

“Lay him down. Wash your hands.”

“You need a bigger table,” OakHorde says, a note of humor in his calm voice.

I busy myself with cutting away the male’s pants. “We don’t get many Uthilsen. Some.”

We’re not a true infirmary but we treat emergency injuries and other ailments for those in the neighborhood who can’t afford a real doctor.

I glance at OakHorde, who watches my mother retrieve supplies, her professional eye skimming the four who trickle into the workroom. She begins a triage as I treat the male beneath me; his injuries are life threatening. OakHorde shifts next to me and I freeze briefly from instinct.

“I said I won’t hurt you,” he says, voice still a quiet rumble. “As you say, this apothecary has been in my territory for at least three decades. I’d like to know how you’ve remained undetected by your people.”

I jerk my head up, impatient as I use magic to stop the bleeding. “I’m a healer, not a killer. I won’t hurt your male. There’s no need to threaten me.”

I speak through teeth gritted with effort; my magic is barely beginning to recover from the backlash. I can use it, but it’s like punching a fresh bruise over and over while bleeding out.

“You’re Aeddannari.”

“Which you didn’t know until five minutes ago. Now be quiet.”

He nods and steps back—a little—giving me more room. As I work, I listen. My mother, after triaging and doing what she can with the use of hands and skill, arranges for tea and snacks. Her sweet, soothing voice fills the room and I let her work, knowing full well what she’s doing. Uthilsen males are subservient to their females, but they’re also protective. There’s significant species dislike between Orcs and Fae, but the two of us are healers and female, and we’ve lived peaceably in his territory, paid his tithe. We may be able to salvage the situation.

I may be able to talk OakHorde into letting us stay and into keeping our identity a secret, if by some miracle the Aeddannari who fled don’t reveal us.

CHAPTER 16: Dubious consent 

CHAPTER 22: Incestuous Sexual Assault 

You can skip these chapters without losing the thread of the main plot.