When Amanda is given an engineering position aboard one of the many space stations orbiting Earth, she finds herself grateful for the chance to escape the dying surface and put her talents to good use. But when one simple mistake creates an explosion aboard the station, her escape pod is hurled into deep space, and crash lands her on a desert planet. After six long months alone, all hope is lost of a rescue—that is, until five alien humanoids show up and declare she is their Other. Amanda is torn between longing for home and her new could-be alien lovers. However, before they can explore any possibility of a relationship, they first must find a way to help a hostile species…or die.
Jade’s ears twitched and his tail refused to be still. He’d come to this planet the humans were calling Eden when his brother, Marc, had sent out a distress call to The Hive six months ago. Not only had his baby brother discovered a new dying race, they were compatible with the Nexella. And while he was proud of Marc’s new nest, he was also a little envious of their Other. Of their own accord, his eyes drifted to where his brother stood next to Bethany with his arms wrapped around her waist. The love shining in her eyes as she looked at Marc caused his heart to beat faster. He desperately wanted his nest to be filled with the sound and scent of his very own Other. A group of giggling human females slowly passed and he snorted and shook his head. Of all the humans, only his brother’s Other seemed to have a brain. Word had gotten out about his species and how five males took one female as theirs, and it seemed the human females were constantly making excuses to walk past or otherwise flash themselves, announcing they were available. It was like every planet they had ever been to, and he refused to think their Other would be such a female.
"What's weighing so heavily on your mind?"
Jade turned his head and nodded to acknowledge his captain, Ike, before glancing back at his brother. "Ike, do you think we are wasting our time?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm thinking about our Other. With so many Nexella here, the competition is fierce and most of these human women are… not what we need."
"I know what you mean." Ike scratched the back of his neck. "It's been six months and nothing. I think this is why our species took to the stars to find Others. Humans are amazing as a species but maybe one is not for our nest."
"With The Swarm here I doubt we will be successful," Jade said. "The status of our nest has gotten out."
A low rumbling growl rolled from Ike but he cut it off when many of the nearby males went on alert. "I wish we knew where those assholes were." Ike's eyes flashed. "They are the dishonored ones, yet we pay the price."
"I want to believe they have met their end somewhere," Jade said. "We need them to clear the dishonor around Ram for being reassigned, but I don't think I want them back in his life. I say we leave this place and allow the others to help the humans."
"Give us an hour." Ike clasped him on the shoulder. "Stay out of trouble. I don't want to be called to The Hive."
Jade clicked his nails at Ike’s retreating back before striding to where his brother and his nest mates stood. As he drew closer, he studied the nest mates and marveled at how unified they were. Most nests took years to settle and some never did. His brother's nest seemed to be an exception and he wondered if it was their Other. His nest was still learning how to work as a unit and it was starting to wear a little on his patience.
"Brother." Marc's voice cut through his thoughts. "May happiness find you."
"I can only hope." Jade stopped a respectful distance away. He had no way of knowing how to act around his brother’s Other. A female with young usually didn't leave the nest. "Glad to see your Other and young are doing well."
"And hi to you, too," Bethany said.
Jade gave her a quick glance before looking away. When he lived with his mother on her nest, he was not allowed to see her when she was with child. He didn’t want to be punished for looking. "My nest is leaving within the hour," he said to his brother.
"Why?" Marc crossed his arms. "Is it because of the rumors?"
Jade clicked his nails and shook his head. "We deal with those all the time."
"Then why?" Marc swept his arm out to encompass the small encampment. "This is just a small percentage of the human race. There will be thousands coming over the next coming year."
"And many will find their Other." Jade looked to the sky. "I just have this feeling that our Other is out among the stars waiting."
"The Great Mother knows when it’s time." Marc clasped his shoulder. "Travel safe and may you be blessed soon."
Jade gave him a short nod before turning toward where he saw Ike stalk off to. The sooner they were away from this planet, the sooner they could complete their nest. He was halfway across the clearing when he was interrupted.
"Excuse me, Jade?"
Jade swallowed a snarl and plastered a closed lip smile on his face. The small, weak older human male trembled as he tried to make eye contact.
"Sorry to bother you, but would you mind checking the smoke house?"
Despite wanting to ignore the human's request, Jade reluctantly agreed, as he didn't want the human settlement to go hungry. "Please lead the way." As they drew closer to the large rectangular building, Jade admired the hard work the humans had put in. He had suggested they build a smoke house after his mother's world. Her planet was full of hunter-gatherers and it seemed the humans were learning from them. "What seems to be the problem?" he asked after checking everything and finding nothing out of place.
"Well," the human male glanced around and lowered his voice, "I heard about your nest and have a proposal."
"Oh." Jade could feel the control he had of his temper slipping; this was the reason he wanted off this planet. He had hoped the other Nexella would not spread the word about his nest position and they would have the same chance to find an Other as everyone else, that hope was lost.
"You see, I have a daughter who needs a firm hand." He lowered his voice more. "She has a tendency to be head strong but she knows how to cook, clean, and care for children."
The hopeful look on the man’s face cooled Jade’s temper. This was a father looking out for his young and he would respect that. "I'm sorry, what was your name again?"
"I'm sorry, Matthews. My nest is about to leave, but I'm sure you will find a home for her within The Swarm."
Matthews’ shoulders dropped and he sighed. "I can tell her mother I tried. We lost hope on Earth of ever finding her a husband and having grandchildren."
Jade didn't understand why the mother wasn't the one contacting him on behalf of their offspring, but humans had different ways. He heard a group of Nexella close by and pointed them out to Matthews. "You have more to choose from. Just make sure they are worthy of such a treasure."
"Thank you." Matthews’ sad expression smoothed and he strolled toward the Nexella. Jade watched for a second before ducking out of the building and heading toward Ike and Ram, who were in a heated discussion with the human security team. Jade tried to stay far away from security. Humans depended too much on their projectile weapons. They would scare half the game away and the hunt would sour. He waited for them to finish and for the humans to walk away before approaching.
"Ready to leave this place?” he asked.
Ram clicked his nails, and his tail flicked angrily. "I swear this better not come back to haunt us. Do you see all the females?"
Jade opened his mouth but a look from Ike made him reconsider. Ram had reason to be mad and mistrustful. He had been part of a nest that had rejected him and was a reassigned male.
"Look," Jade began, "I just have this feeling that our Other is out among the stars." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "We can always return. I had one father just approach me."
Ram’s eyes widened. "Who? What does this female look like? When do we meet her?"
"I told him we are leaving and to look else where." Jade held up his claw to stop Ram's protest. "She is a trouble maker. We do not need that in our nest."
"I wish you would have asked us before saying no." Ram spun on his heels and headed to the landing pad where a shuttle would take them to their nest.
Jade and Ike followed him at a slower pace. Jade tried to think of a reason he had turned down the female. He should have asked his nest mates what they thought, but they may have said yes because they wanted an Other no matter the cost. They climbed into the shuttle and Jade watched over the shoulder of the human pilot as they left Eden's atmosphere. When they reached their nest, a ramp docked and they said goodbye to their pilot and headed to the hub.
"So why now?" Ram demanded once inside the hub. "We couldn’t wait one more day? I heard another group of humans are due."
"We have been on this planet for six month." Jade entered a flight plan with The Hive and as soon as he was given the all clear smoothly moved forward through The Swarm. "Have you felt anything for these humans?"
Ram crossed his arms. "No, but I don’t want to give up."
"Not giving up. Nexella find their Others by exploring. If we all stay in one place, our swarm will die."
"Well, genius." Ram made it sound like a curse. "Where to? We have been to most charted territories."
"I was thinking sector twenty." Jade’s heart sped up as he thought of the unexplored sector. Would they find their Other? Or was he asking his nest mates to go to their deaths?
"Are you crazy?" Ike groaned. "That's the one sector no one goes to."
"What if there are Others there? Wouldn’t that mean we can bring new blood into The Swarm like my brother’s nest?" Jade asked. "What can it hurt to explore?' Isn't that our creed?"
"I agree our Other isn't on Eden, but I doubt she's in sector twenty." Ike dug the heel of his claw into his right eye. "I guess we can put it to a vote. Nest, please call Ja and Zen to the hub."
Zen was the first to enter and he glared at Jade. "What did you do now?"
"What makes you think it was me?" Jade held a claw over his heart. "I'm hurt."
"We left Eden quickly, but not with The Swarm on our tails. This means Ram didn’t do anything." Zen pointed at Ike. "He's boring and plays by the rules. Ja and myself were on the nest. That leaves you."
Ram quirked an eyebrow and flicked his ears. "He has a point."
"What happened?" Ja asked around a huge yawn. "Better be good. I was hoping to check out some of the females later."
"That would be hard since we are no longer on Eden." Ike's tail flicked in irritation. "Jade has other ideas."
"What?" The sleep disappeared from Ja's eyes. "Why wasn't I awakened? Did you find our Other?"
"No to finding our Other," Ram said. "But we do have news. Jade wants to go to sector twenty."
"Fuck no." Ja clicked his nails at Jade. "I do not agree to this. There are over a thousand documented sectors where we can find a compatible Other."
"You know that won't work." Jade crossed his arms. "We are marked in most sectors because we have a reassignment."
"Careful." Ike growled.
"I'm not saying it's Ram's fault," Jade quickly added. "But we all know that's a problem. We need to go where no one has heard of our nest."
"That's why we were at Eden," Za pointed out.
"Yes, but that father who approached me did so because he felt we had no choice. He said as much."
"I can leave." Ram's voice was low and a thread of uncertainty ran through it.
"Fuck no." Jade glared at the male. "You are part of this nest and that's not changing."
"He's right," Ike cut in. "You are part of us. We are not like your old nest."
"Can I cut in here?" Zen asked with a lifted eyebrow. "Has everyone forgotten that sector twenty is known for arachnoids?" He shuddered. "No way am I agreeing to an Other with eight legs and eyes."
"Great Mother, I'm not asking you to fuck a spider." Jade closed his eyes and tried to calm his growing impatience. "They are not the only species. We can check a few planets and be out of there before we are detected."
"Do you have a planet in mind?" Zen asked. "Or are we going to hope you pick one without spiders."
"Do you know something you're not telling us?" Ja demanded. "No secrets within the nest."
"I just have this feeling that our Other is out there." Jade turned back to his console and let the excitement fill his voice as he input the coordinates to the edge of sector twenty "Trust me."
"Why can't we just try to find Ram's old nest and take them back to The Hive to answer questions?" Ja asked. "Wouldn't that make it possible for us to actually find an Other among the humans on Eden?"
"They have gone into deep hiding and it will take too long to try and find them." Jade wanted to punch some sense into his nest mates, but it would hurt his claw more than their heads. "I say let’s concentrate on finding an Other and let everything else sort itself out."
Ja walked out the hub, hissing, "Come wake me once this ass has gotten us lost or we come in range of a relay. I would like to contact my mother's nest."
"You will all see." Jade yelled at their retreating backs.