PROMO: Rowena Cherry, EXCERPT from Knight's Fork

What is a queen to do when the sperm donor of her dreams says no?

Carpe Scrotum. Seize Life by the Testicles! The Queen Consort of the Volnoth needs a sperm donor and only one green-eyed god has the right stuff. Little does she know that she has pinned all her hopes on the crown jewels of the fabled Royal Saurian Djinn. Not only is he the son of her greatest enemy, but he has taken a vow of chastity.

KNIGHT'S FORK

Prologue

Tigron Imperial Palace

Mating Ceremony for Princess Martia-Djulia and Prince Djetthro-Jason

Earth date equivalent: August 30, 1994

Carpe Scrotum. Seize Life by the Testicles.…

Behind her public-figure smile the Princess ambassador, Electra-Djerroldina, Queen of Volnoth, pondered her private mantra while waiting for her sister's Mating Ceremony to begin.

One sometimes wondered whether normal people entertained secret thoughts of doing scandalously inappropriate deeds, such as fellating a dignitary during some solemn ceremony or other. Not that a Princess would. Such behavior could get both of them incinerated on the spot for High Treason.

Without looking down, Electra slid the lower of her folded hands—her left—over her thigh until the backs of her fingers brushed the soft, bristly scruff-ruff of the collared Imperial tiger crouching on that side of her.

Being an Imperial Princess, and a barbarian's Queen, and also the representative of an interstellar superpower, meant that one had to spend long expanses of one's days and nights sitting still with the eyes of the Worlds upon one, obliged to appear pleasantly amused when nothing whatsoever was happening.

One sat in wait. Waiting for one's awful-god relatives to Mate, or die, or produce an heir, or sign a treaty.

To give strength and mystery to her Royal smile, Electra conjured up mental images of testicles. It was almost impossible to be intimidated by the all-powerful males who surrounded her, when she imagined their little vulnerabilities. Strangely, she never thought of her own Mate Viz-Igerd's.

Her wrists prickled a psychic warning. Someone was trying to read her mind. The more nervous of her black, saber-toothed protectors snarled.

"Quiet, Bey-ta."

Electra turned her face with ingrained regal dignity and—still smiling—inclined her head to her great-uncle Django-Ra, who sat sprawled on the parapet of the royal family's tiger pit, stroking his jaw and probing minds for weaknesses.

Where was I? Hmmm, seizing testicles, she mused, and met Great-uncle Django's star blue stare. You might be interested if I were to think about my Volnoth subjects' bizarre fertility rituals. On the other hand, Uncle, if you know that I'm aware that you're trying to read my mind, you won't know whether or not I'm pulling your positor, will you?

He looked away. Django wasn't a coward, and he couldn't be shamed. However, he was a consummate predator and easily bored. He preferred unsuspecting prey.

I wonder…? Is my green-eyed White Knight here?

Covertly, Electra scanned the guests, seeking one enemy Knight among the choppy white sea of alien ambassadors.

Because the godless Saurian Knightly Orders were on the wrong side of the old, cold war, all the Knights wore diplomatic-immunity white, all the time. While they wore white they could not be touched, which presented a practical difficulty for a would-be seductress toying with the idea of seizing a particular dignitary.

Will I know him, if I see him?

Most Knights hid their identities under distinctive lizard or dragon headmasks, ostensibly for life support. Yet, Electra felt sure that she would recognize the one she sought by the slant of his broad shoulders, by the elegant arrogance of his deportment, by how Djinn-tall he was. And by his gold-flecked, rare-mineral green aura.

She had first seen "her" Knight's face—quite by chance—at her brother's Mating Ceremonies less than three cycles ago. Her throat had contracted. Her stomach had flipped. She'd gasped in the shock of recognition. Apart from dark eyes that were as green as Viz-Igerd's, the Knight looked like a lean, mean, younger version of Tarrant-Arragon.

I wonder if he could get me pregnant, she'd thought.

Before she could ask him, he'd disappeared. Of course, he was an enemy, and much too young to endanger her heart. But the Queen of the Volnoths wasn't looking for a lover. Haunted by his Igerd-green eyes and his near-Djinn stature, she'd made discreet enquiries. All she'd been able to find out was that his friends called him 'Rhett, and he was known for his virtue, his deadliness with a sword, and his unattainability.

The trail had turned as cold as his eyes. All hope seemed lost, until the summonses went out for all the Worlds' leaders and their spies to watch Martia-Djulia take her new Mate. Surely, she reasoned, the Saurians' leader would send 'Rhett.


The Imperial fanfare's first blast from the upper balconies jolted her thoughts back to the present, and to the descending throne-stage. Electra watched the appearance of her overstated, ultrafashionable younger sister on the stark arm of their wicked brother, Tarrant-Arragon, who always wore black.

The ceremony had begun.

Wistfully, Electra scanned the masked males in white. There was one among them who might be… But no. That Saurian ambassador was a tiger's length tall, but heavier.

One after another the four sets of great double doors thudded shut. Latecomers wouldn't be allowed in.

'Rhett isn't here. He isn't coming. Electra stroked the sleek, heavily muscled tiger's shoulder on her left, as if it were Alph who'd suffered the disappointment. Fewmet, what a pity! The more she thought about 'Rhett, the more perfect he seemed for illicit, urgent babymaking.

Through half-closed eyes Electra watched her ruthless brother and her frivolous, embarrassing sister parade down the steps of the Heir Apparent's throne-stage; and she visualized the child that 'Rhett might give her, if she could catch him with his lower body out of uniform.

Its hair would be dark. 'Rhett's hair was an iridescent black. Hers was dark, too.

All Djinn were either dark haired or silver. Hair color didn't matter. It was the eyes that would be decisive in allowing Viz-Igerd to believe that 'Rhett's child was his own.

It was worth any risk for the chance that 'Rhett's son's eyes would be green like Viz-Igerd's. However, it was more likely that the desperately wanted child's eyes would be dark blue-gray like her own for the same reason that, for all his elaborate fertility rituals and for all his alpha-male virility, Viz-Igerd was having such trouble getting her pregnant.

Djinn genes were dominant. A Great Djinn male's "smart semen" could impregnate a Volnoth female, but it didn't work the other way round. It never had. It never would. Unhappily, Viz-Igerd's machismo didn't allow him to accept the scientific fact that his subspecies semen was
incapable.

The timing would be less easy to explain, but—

War drum thunder rumbled. Artificial clouds of hallucinogenic smoke churned. Electra's father, the god-Emperor, made his dramatic appearance and pronounced the traditional, menacing speech about incinerating conscientious objectors to the Mating in progress. The massed male-voice choir roared out the Mating Anthem. The great doors opened. Her heart thudded anew with irrational hope for a high-ranking late arrival, but the doors had opened to admit Martia-Djulia's Mate-to-be.

She looked again. Prince Djetthro-Jason was not alone. His tall supporter wore white, with multiple, rounded catch-fabrics dotting a line along the breadth of his shoulders and down his tapered sides. The noble aura was unmistakable.

'Rhett!

Guests shifted in their seats. Garments and lips rustled like a sudden wind gust in dry-season sword grass. Some exclaimed about the bearded Prince Djetthro-Jason's emaciated state and wondered where he had come from, and whether or not he'd been tortured until he agreed to go through with this Mating.

Others whispered of 'Rhett, "He looks like Tarrant-Arragon"; "Yet, he wears white"; "Did you hear? He claims to be the Royal Saurian Djinn of prophecy!"

If word of that rash boast came to Tarrant-Arragon's ears, 'Rhett's days as an eligible stud would be cut short. Tarrant-Arragon did not tolerate potent rivals.

Was she already too late? Heart thudding, Electra assessed 'Rhett's gait, but she could tell nothing about the state of his genitals from the effortless, self-assured grace and economy with which he moved.

If I get to him in time, where could we go? How quickly could he do the deed?

She shifted her focus to the deep side vent in 'Rhett's tabard and tantalizing glimpses of his long, lean thighs and tight, white-sheathed buttocks. Would one time be enough? Appearances, even when the object of one's interest swung naked in full view, were no guide to how much potent
exuberance…

Why is Martia-Djulia yowli—

Before Electra could discern what had caused her sister's extraordinary outburst, the scrawny Prince Djetthro-Jason crumpled and flew backward. 'Rhett sidestepped gracefully, turning as he moved, so that his swiftly drawn sword was held out of the way of flying limbs. Anyone who knew sword fighters—as she did—saw proof that 'Rhett's sword was no decoration, and that 'Rhett was an expert, elegant killer when he wanted to be.

Possibly a look of gentle concern should replace one's politely amused smile. Electra adjusted her expression, though no one was looking at her. All eyes were on the scandalous bride, who apparently did not intend to be Mated to the poor specimen sprawled at her feet.

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