Zandro 

Book 1 in The Alien Animal Rescues Series

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Zandro alienated the love of his life years ago with one giant mistake. Consumed by his animal rescue work, he didn’t realize what he had given up until she was gone. Now, his work to save two alien kittens with dangerous pheromones will reunite him with his old flame – and hopefully give him a second chance.

Aliette’s work as a space captain keeps her mind off of what she lost – Zandro – or it did until she receives his desperate plea for help. She reluctantly agrees to assist him for old time’s sake. But the simple transport mission quickly escalates into a fight for survival. The local drug cartel has discovered the unusual kittens and will do anything to obtain them.

With dangerous events and concern for the vulnerable kittens drawing them close again, Aliette will have to decide if being with Zandro is worth sacrificing everything for – even her life.

Note: This story originally appeared as “The Bajo Cats of Anteros XII” by E.D. Walker in the anthology Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3.

Read an Excerpt

Zandro’s com gave an insistent chime on its charging station, pulling him out of a restless sleep. His window was still dark so it had to be late. Scrubbing at his face, trying to wake himself up, he hit the button to accept the call. Calls this late were never good news, so he trooped to his small kitchen and hit the coffee button on the food replicator. “This is Zandro Casillas.”

“Hi, I’m Ari Illeyn. I’m sheriff on Anteros XII, and we need your help…”

Zandro didn’t know this Ari on the other end of the line but, after a quick back and forth, he determined the sheriff was a friend of a friend from two star systems over who knew about Zandro’s rescue work.

Zandro prepped his coffee as he listened to the sheriff. “Which one is Anteros XII?”

“It’s a small moon. A quick jump over from your colony.” The sheriff’s voice was high and tense. “We just busted some rich druggies, and they had two bajo kittens among their stash. We’ve never had to deal with this before—”

Dread lumped in Zandro’s stomach, and he set his coffee down hard enough to spill on the countertop. “I can be there by the end of the day.”

Ari on the other end of the line sputtered. “No, no, you don’t have to do that. We can handle kittens. I just wanted some tips—”

Zandro took a deep breath in and held it, trying to likewise hold on to his temper. “Sheriff, bajo cats secrete one of the most powerful psychotropic substances ever discovered in known space, and they secrete it basically unchecked when they’re newborns. How many of the people in your office handled the kittens with their bare hands?”

“Um…almost all of us?”

Get ready for the high of your life, sheriff. Zandro swallowed a small, heartfelt curse, and kept his voice low and calm. “OK, you’re going to need to call some medical staff in to help your team. If anyone needs to handle the kitten before I arrive, please wear gloves. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

“Maybe…maybe we should put the animals down? If they’re that dangerous?”

Zandro’s gut went ice cold. “There are only a few hundred bajo cats left in the galaxy that we know of. Please, please just wait for me to get there.”

A long silence followed, and Zandro gritted his back teeth. “All right,” the sheriff said at last. “But if you can’t make it today—”

“I will. Now tell me where to go.” Zandro got details for the sheriff station and cut the call. He swallowed as he contemplated his communicator. He had to get to that moon fast. The kittens would be dehydrated, maybe in shock. Cold. And then there were all the complications that went along with just handling the poor things. The longer he left the kittens with inexperienced caretakers the greater the chance that someone was going to get badly hurt.
And never mind if the drug dealers’ friends came looking for their missing cats.

He raked his fingers through his hair and twirled his com device in his hands over and over and over. He didn’t know who to call.

Well, no, he knew exactly who to call. But he couldn’t call her.

So he didn’t know who to call.

The moon was a quick jump by spaceferry if only he could wait a few hours until mid-morning. But, if he did, the two kittens might be dead, and the whole police station might be convulsing on the floor in aftershocks from the creatures’ powerful pheromones.

Chanting expletives under his breath, Zandro keyed in a once familiar comcode. He hadn’t dialed it in long time. Her profile picture was years out of date, and he didn’t know what she looked like now. He’d certainly grown more lined and grizzled in five years. Surely she didn’t look peach fresh and pretty anymore either.

He tapped her picture then winced as he noticed the time. It was really late. Or really early. Depended on whether you were coming or going. I’m such a jerk. As the com chimed his stomach knotted, and he almost hung up. It was 3 a.m. Space freighters ran on standard time. If she was on her ship it was the middle of the night, and if she was earthbound somewhere then who the hell knew what time it was.

3 a.m. Who might she be with? What might she be doing?

Stop thinking, Zandro.

The line clicked and a raspy voice answered. The vid feed snapped into focus a minute later, and his chest went tight seeing her. Tousled hair, sleepy eyes, lips pursed and soft with sleep. Her brow furrowed, and her gaze sharpened as she shook her head. “Zandro, what the hell?”

An ache started in his gut at her familiar sleep-roughened voice, a squeeze that made him nearly breathless. “Hi, Aliette.”

She pulled her unruly red hair away from her eyes. “Zandro. What. The. Hell.”

He cleared his throat. “I, um, I need a favor.”

Aliette stared at him a long moment, blinking. Her sleepy brain probably wasn’t functioning at full speed yet. Her nostrils flared as she raked her gaze up and down his face. “Are you kidding me?” she spat.

But she didn’t hang up. Small mercies. Small hope. Zandro clasped his hands together in front of his face, his nerves jangling. There was no Plan B if she said no. “Allie, you know I wouldn’t call you if there was anyone else. You know that.”

She snorted. “Gee thanks.”

“You know what I mean. But there are two kittens—”

Her shoulders rolled down in what might’ve been resignation. “Of course there are.” For the first time, she sounded more mad than sad. “Zandro, you can’t save the whole world.”

“I can try.” He swallowed. “It sounds like newborns, and the sheriff station who have them don’t know the proper procedures. They don’t have the proper equipment. If I don’t get there fast it won’t just be two dead kittens. It might a be a dead moon.”

“You suck, Zandro.” She sighed gustily and glared at him. “Meet me at the dock in fifteen minutes. You’re lucky I was visiting my mom this week.”

“You’re here? You’ve been here?”

She threw her hands up in the air. “Yeah, Zandro. About a week. What’s it to you?”

A week. It hurt more than it should’ve that she hadn’t tried to contact him. Why should she have told him she’d be on planet? He’d given up that right years ago. He cleared his throat. “Right. Sorry.”

“Fifteen. Minutes.” With a final, grumpy grunt, she hung up her line and the vid pick-up winked out.

His own reflection stared back at him out of a dead black screen. What had he been thinking of to call Aliette? What a singularly stupid thing to do to himself. He was just asking for pain.

Fifteen minutes. He needed to get going. With a situation like this, every minute counted. He needed to get to that moon otherwise he would’ve called Aliette for nothing.

Nothing but the joy of hearing how much she hated him. He shook himself and fumbled into his pants. Worry about the cats, Zandro. The kittens he could maybe save. After all this time, he knew there was no saving his relationship with Aliette.

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