Gron’s Fated

I’VE FINISHED BOOK TWO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It should be up for sale within a fortnight. I still have to edit, format, and read over it, but I’ll go as quickly as I can. I want this book out too.

It ended up being 58,668 words long, which is only about 10,000 more than Ruth’s Bonded.  I got a lot of comments saying that Ruth’s Bonded was too short, so I tried to make this one longer, but I guess I only half-succeeded. 10k is not a noticeable difference, but I think the ending is less sudden, so hopefully it won’t feel as short.

In honour of the occassion, here’s the cover of Gron’s Fated:

Gron's Queen

 

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1000 Copies Sold! + The Story of Ruth and Gron

Last night, Ruth’s Bonded sold its 1000th copy. At the time of writing, it has sold 1009 copies, and it was published a little under four months ago. For me, that’s incredible, and this whole thing has been a dream. I’m actually earning money from it now, and enough to allow me to become independent, which I’ve never been able to do before. I owe every single person who ever bought a copy so much, even if you didn’t like it.

Let me tell you how I came to write Ruth’s Bonded.

I decided I wanted to be an author when I was a teenager, and have been writing fiction basically since I could put pen to paper, but University burned me out and I abandoned that dream for several years. I didn’t have it in me anymore. I had no drive, I had no good ideas, I couldn’t be bothered to wrestle with the industry. SO after Uni I did some volunteer work to gain work experience and settled into working in a gift shop. I loved that job, but the shop was being strangled to death by the owners, and after putting up with a lot for months and months, it eventually became an unworkable situation. Not only did it feel like the shop had already been closed down and we were operating some kind of zombie establishment, but there was no money or time for basic health & safety to be put into place.

So I finally left, and decided what I wanted to do was work in admin at the University I had attended. After applying endlessly with no result, I was advised I could get my foot in the door by joining the Temporary Staff Register, so I did. This led to the WORST job I have ever had, and hope to ever have again. I had a two month placement in a department with a bad reputation as it was, and every single day was a trial. The money was GREAT, but I felt like I was going mad. So once my initial placement of two months was up, I was out of there, not giving them the chance to even offer to keep me on. I wore a Hawaiian shirt on my last day.

I needed a holiday after that, just for my mental health, but that temping position had lit a fire under me. That could be my whole life if I didn’t do something. So I did something I’d always wanted to do, something for me, something that was different and daring and that, if it worked, no one could take away from me. I wrote Ruth’s Bonded.

Now by that point, I’d already been reading alien romance novels on Kindle almost exclusively. I felt like I knew them inside out, I’d seen them all. Kindle was a platform that meant I, an amateur and an unknown, could publish my work quickly, and see money from it. I knew if I was going to write, I would publish on Kindle. Alien Romance was my bag, it was my jam, so I thought “Let me have a go. I don’t have to be great, and I don’t think I’m going to be the worst.” So then I had to think of a plot.

Ruth’s Bonded started out as a collection of my favourite tropes. My favourite is Cabin Romance, which I was calling “trapped in a cave” at the time. Language Barrier is another favourite. I wanted a tail. I wanted big teeth. I wanted a human woman thrown into a cell with a monster that she falls in love.

And that’s what I did. I started it in media res with Ruth being thrown into a cell with a monster. The image I had in my head was one I had used years ago in a different story, of a woman thinking she’s alone in an enclosed space, then hearing a noise behind her. Scary. Then the shadows solidify into a beast. Ooh.

Some things I knew had to be the same as 99.9% of all romances out there, alien or not, kindle or not. Of course, Gron had to be muscly. He had to be tall. He had to have a big you-know-what. The Bonding as well is a trope in alien and shifter romances that I kept because I like it. But there were some things I wanted to do differently. He was going to be from a matriarchal society. He was going to have body hair, a proper furry chest-pelt, and he was going to want to avoid her, at first. She was going to have to go to him, for help.

I didn’t spend too much time thinking about characterisation, to be honest. Ruth was what I needed her to be at any given time. She was going to be scared, and sad, and angry, and bathe in rivers, and cuddle for warmth. Gron was meant to be something you could fall in love with. Sweet but also sexy.

Ruth’s name was Sue at first. I just remembered that. I wanted to give her a “plain Jane” name, kind of a grandma name, no offence to any Sues or Ruths out there. But it wasn’t really working so I changed it. Gron was just… a grunt. This is a guy who doesn’t speak any human language. Whatever his name was, it was going to be grunted, so let it be Gron. Why is he naked? Well, I wanted him to look primitive. I also wanted sex to be present from the start, the elephant in the room, both as a temptation and a threat for Ruth when she first meets him and has no idea what’s going on.

It took me about five weeks to write Ruth’s Bonded, all in all. I did my best to keep to a 5,000 words-a-day word count. I was able to do it that quickly because I wasn’t working, and I had the fear of office temping burning under me. My best friend read everything I wrote and helped me along as my biggest fan and cheerleader. The hardest part of the whole process for me was actually  making the cover, as I am not design-minded in that way. Photoshop baffles me. Amazon has its own cover designing function, but I knew it was too simple, so I used a website called Canva. It took me daaaaays.

But finally it was done and I was able to publish and now here we are. I have a new job now, half-time with a great bunch of people, but it does disrupt me enough that I haven’t been able to churn out Gron’s Fated at the same pace. 1000 copies sold. That means a lot to me. I did that. I wrote something and published it and people bought it and now I’m making money and every day is more sales, more readers, more fans, more milestones. I’m happy. I’m so glad I did this. I’m on the right track. Thanks everyone.

Gron’s Fated: Chapters 1-3

Below is the first three chapters to Gron’s Fated, the sequel to my first novel, Ruth’s Bonded. I am publishing them early to make up for telling people I would have the book out by the end of October, which I have failed to do. I hope you all like them, and let me know what you think.

Chapter 1

Gron snatched Ruth up and held her to him, putting his mouth over hers the way she had taught him. They were home! He didn’t know how it had happened, but the trees were the same, the birdsong was the same, the ground and air were the same, everything was the same! They were home!

He remembered being in that forest, sleeping in that cave after escaping from the cell, growing hungrier every day. He remembered mating with Ruth, a memory that heated his blood. It was still new to him, the reactions of a primed male, but Ruth had made it easy for him.

He remembered the strange sharp trees, climbing one to examine the area, look for a place they could make their life, and being pricked in the arm by one of the branches. Had it made him sick? He knew he had felt feverish.

Perhaps he had died and this was the life after. It was good, if that was the case. But thinking that Ruth had died too upset him. Had she died because of him, because he hadn’t been there to save her? Perhaps it was a dream, then, but it felt very real. Their time in the cell and in that other forest felt more like a dream than this.

Gron decided not to question it. They had been saved by the spirits, brought home, with food and water in strange containers, and Ruth had been given more of that strange covering she liked, but they were home. They were safe. Gron could build them a home, find them plenty of food and water. Life would be easy now.

Gron heard the rustling of leaves being pushed aside. He separated from Ruth and put her down, turning his head to look in the direction of the noise, and tensed. Three males of his own kind stepped out of the treeline. Leading them was his older brother, Kranu, and he recognised the other two from his tribe, Drenz and Troii. His initial reaction was to be overjoyed to see his family again, but he hesitated in greeting them. He hadn’t realised he was close to his tribe’s territory. Now he had Bonded with Ruth, he was of her tribe. They would not welcome him, and their body language was curious, but primed for a fight.

He felt Ruth place a trembling hand against his back and he spared a glance at her. She was staring at the other males, her eyes wide and her face pale. Was she scared? Was she imagining Bonding them to her? He knew one male was not enough, but he didn’t like the idea of sharing her, particularly with his brother. He knew the males would not attack her, as she was a Queen, but they had a duty to protect their tribe. Queens poached males from other tribes. Would his own brother chase him away? Away from his home?

“Gron,” Kranu greeted first. “So it is true. You were taken by a Queen.” His eyes flicked to Ruth, taking in her differences. “Has she returned to take more males?”

Gron flicked his tail when he realised he did not know. In all likelihood, she had. She needed a tribe, a court. He had been raised to be wary of other Queens not from his tribe, being loyal only to his own. Ruth was his Queen now, but he knew how the other males must see her: a thief, and an opportunity. He shifted closer to her, obstructing their view of her, and hers of them.

“Gruth did not take me. We were taken by others, but it is true I have Bonded to her. She has chosen me as her mate,” Gron answered, straightening his back with pride. Unless much had changed in his absence, Kranu had not been chosen by Grasta, the Queen, to join her court.

Kranu’s tail flicked and his cheek gave an almost unnoticeable twitch of jealousy. He had always used his greater size and age against Gron, who now had something he did not. “Then you should not have returned,” he said.

“I would not have, but I… I do not know how we came to be here. It was not my intention,” Gron answered, feeling his high ground slip away from him.

Kranu’s pelt puffed up. “You got lost, and you led your Queen into danger?” he asked, his voice almost rumbling with pleasure as he sensed Gron’s weakness.

“No,” Gron growled back. “But you declare yourself a danger to my Queen?”

Troii stepped forward. “Calm, both of you,” he said. He was not of an age to give them orders, but they had grown up together and he was their friend. “Queen, may I greet you?” he said, looking at Ruth.

Ruth did not reply, shielding herself further behind Gron’s back but continuing to watch.

“Gruth does not speak our language,” Gron told Troii, “She is different from us, you may have noticed during your staring, Kranu.”

Kranu glared at him but was unable to deny it. “Then how do you know you please her?” he threw back.

Images of Ruth’s face when they mated, the sound of her cries and the strange way she bares her teeth, and the delightful clasp of her breeding channel around his aching flesh flashed through Gron’s mind, causing heat to wash over his skin briefly. “We do not need to speak,” he told Kranu. “We have our eyes, and our hands.”

Kranu visibly fought not to snarl in jealousy.

Troii interjected again. “Kranu, stop antagonising him, he is still your brother. If what he says is true-”

“How can it be true? Taken and Bonded to a strange-”

Gron drowned out the rest of Kranu’s sentence with a roar. “You disrespect my Queen?”

Kranu drew himself up, tail lashing angrily, snarling and ready to fight.

“Stop it! Stop, both of you!” Troii shouted, placing himself between them. “Kranu, look at her! She is clearly using Gron for protection, against us! She trusts him but we are scaring her! Is that what you want? Is that the kind of male you are?”

Hearing Troii’s words, Gron looked quickly at Ruth, appalled to think they were frightening her. She was huddled tight in on herself, one hand gripping the pelt on his back and the other on his waist as if she was trying to fold herself into his body. Her eyes were wide and scared. Seeing him look at her, she said his name questioningly, and he took a moment to soothe her, trying to ease his expression and stroking her face.

“She speaks! You see, it is another of his stories! He probably found her in the forest and has brought her back to keep!” Kranu accused, Gron’s affectionate display only stoking his anger further.

“She knows my name, that is all!” Gron corrected him.

“Gron… Take her and leave here,” Troii said, sympathy in his voice.

“No,” Kranu interrupted. “I don’t think so. I think we should take her to the Queen and let her decide.”

“On what grounds?” Troii demanded, his calm slipping.

Kranu shifted uncomfortably, and Gron knew whatever he said next would be nothing but an excuse. “She does not look fully-grown to me. She looks like a child.”

“Kranu!”

“You would dare?!” Gron snarled, lunging forward a couple of steps, causing Ruth to give a little shriek of fear. Never had his brother gone so far, been so despicable. Gron had always thought his brother was at heart a good male, but his jealousy had clearly overwhelmed him. He had never been so insulted in his life.

“Kranu, you are being ridiculous!” Troii cried, again throwing himself between the brothers to stop them fighting, but he needn’t have worried because Gron wouldn’t have left Ruth.

“Am I? She isn’t half the size of Grasta! You can’t deny that, Troii,” Kranu replied. “And I do not smell her on him as I should if they have mated.”

Troii looked at Ruth again, and Gron saw concern flicker in his eyes.

“Troii, she is mature, how could I have Bonded to her if she was not? How could she have primed me for her mating needs if she was not? I’m telling you, she is an adult. Her body does not have the pelt ours do, it is difficult for her to mark me with her scent. If you take her to our tribe, Grasta will have the right to fight her for dominance! She will not survive it, Troii!”

Troii looked torn. He turned to the last male. “Drenz, what do you think?”

Drenz was a quiet male, preferring his own company, never displaying any interest in the rest of the tribe beyond what was expected. When they were young, they had often thought him strange for it, as he would not join in their games or adolescent wonderings at the world. As adults, Drenz had proven himself to be harmless, just a careful thinker and deep feeler. Now Gron hoped for him to see sense.

Drenz looked at them all, seeming to consider. Finally he said in his quiet, sedate voice, “It is not for males to decide what a Queen wants.” He met Gron’s eyes. “She cannot speak. We must trust in the power that rules us, and let the Queen decide. They are in her territory after all.”

“I am to be widowed then?” Gron asked, a vision of that future rising up in his mind’s eye. Males who had Bonded and then been abandoned or who outlived their Queen were… desolate. He might be allowed to stay with his tribe, or he might prefer to wander into the forest to live alone, hoping one day soon to die. “I will not lose her.” The truth was he would fight even Grasta to protect Ruth.

“I believe your mother will defend you,” he said solemnly. Gron’s mother was Queen before Grasta, and had stepped down peacefully, so was allowed to stay in the tribe with her aging court, since taking them with her and all her children would have left Grasta with very little. “If your Queen is young, Grasta will not hurt her.”

“She is not,” Gron insisted, keeping Ruth tucked protectively under his arm where she fit easily, her small size so unlike the Queens he had known.

“I will make it known that we brought you into the tribe for Grasta’s decision only. I will tell her that you did not want to come, that your Queen does not challenge her,” Troii assured him.

Gron thought about it. He looked at them all, Drenz’ expression blank, Troii apologetic, Kranu smug. He looked at Ruth, who was watching him in fear and confusion. She must be terrified, understanding nothing of what was troubling him, but still she wrapped herself around him as if to keep him with her, trusting him to protect her.

“And if I refuse? You may fight me, but even you would not use force against a Queen,” Gron challenged.

“I’ll tell our mother you’re out here keeping a young Queen against her will. Do you think she won’t find you and strip your hide?” Kranu threatened in reply.

Gron knew his mother would listen to him and be more understanding than Kranu had been, but he also knew what her fury would be if he allowed Kranu to tell her that her son, desperate to mate, had betrayed Grasta and stolen an infant Queen to Bond to. If his mother found him before she had a chance to look at Ruth, she might very well kill him for his perceived crimes. And then if she ever found out her mistake, if she found Ruth, or Troii explained, then her grief and that of his fathers would be endless.

He had to take Ruth to Grasta. It was getting late in the day, and they did not have time to travel away from his tribe and build a shelter, and find food and water. Ruth would be more comfortable spending the night with his tribe, as long as he insured her safety. The part of him that had thought he would never see his home, his tribe or his family again also longed to see his mother and the Prime Fathers who had raised him, his younger brother, Mruin, and the rest of his friends. He had cared about Grasta when he had been a part of the tribe, as a male should care for their Queen, and he wanted to see her, as if to make sure for the final time that she was well.

“Very well,” Gron conceded. “We’ll come.”

He gently led Ruth the way the other males had come, and she didn’t object. Perhaps she could sense that a decision had been made and there would not be violence, not now at least.

Kranu let them pass him, Gron keeping himself between Ruth and his brother, so that the older male could follow them and block their retreat. As they passed, his brother leant towards Gron in order to stick in a final jibe.

“Mother is going to be so disappointed in you,” he said.

Gron stiffened. Let her be, he thought. Let them all think he had betrayed them. They weren’t him, they didn’t know what he and Ruth had gone through together, what she meant to him. So what if they didn’t believe him? It was true, and Ruth knew it was true. Even if they couldn’t speak to each other, they still shared that secret, that reality that existed only between them. There was a lot he didn’t know about her, but he knew she had crawled into his arms in that cold cell, and pushed his hand between her legs in that sunlit stream, and stroked his face at night, and shared her food when she was hungry.

Gron tightened his arm around Ruth. He knew where his allegiance lay. She was his Queen. Ruth owned his body and spirit because she had earned them and he gave them gladly.

Chapter 2

Gron’s heart twisted as the tribal village came into view. Home – where he shouldn’t be. It was dangerous, for him and his Queen, but he’d thought he’d never see it again. It looked just as it had the day he’d been taken, nothing had changed, but he saw it all with new eyes. He tilted his head back to look up into the trees, at the vast network of platforms stretching up through the branches, the highest ones invisible from the ground. His people were up there, he thought.

The ones who weren’t in the trees were noticing their group arrive, slowly stopping in their tasks to watch. Gron wished the three males who had found them weren’t surrounding them as if they were dangerous. There was a shout as they progressed among the tribe and Gron rumbled happily to see an older male rushing towards them. Troii obligingly stood aside as he joined the group.

“Gron! You’re back!” Brur said, seizing Gron’s shoulders affectionately. Brur was one of his mother’s two Prime Fathers, and still wore the string of large wooden beads that denoted his position. He had helped to raise Gron, and was very important to him. Brur looked to Ruth and dropped his hands. “Oh! My apologies, Queen!”

“She doesn’t understand you, Brur,” offered Kranu helpfully, with the intention of being anything but.

“Oh?” Brur looked to Ruth again, then offered her a slight bow, clearly presuming it was a gesture universally understood. Ruth stretched her mouth thin and made a small noise, presumably acknowledging Brur’s deference, but she did not let go of Gron. It was clear she still did not feel safe.

“So it is true, you left to join a Queen. I must say, your mother was quite upset when you left without saying anything to her,” Brur chastised.

“I did not leave, Prime Father, I was taken, as was Gruth,” Gron explained, but that was as far as he got before Griss, his mother’s other Prime Father joined them, also wearing the honourable wooden beads.

Of the two, Brur was the slighter male, with a light heart and a lot of charm. He had always made their home a happy one. Griss was larger, fiercer, and sterner. His dark fur was dappled with grey now, but he took his responsibilities no less seriously. He had always considered protecting their family to be his one priority, and he had never slackened in his execution of his duty.

Gron did not know for sure which of the two males had fathered which of the children, only his mother knew that, but he often suspected he had been the child that earned Brur his beads, as they shared a similar pelt pattern. If Griss had fathered Kranu, that might explain his brother’s aggression and humourlessness, but as far as Gron knew, Brur had been made Prime Father before Griss.

Really, it didn’t matter. Both men had raised him and his siblings, they were both devoted to his mother, Gryla, and they were both honourable males to whom he owed a lot.

“Gron,” Griss intoned sternly as he approached. “You should not have returned. Your place is with her now,” he said, staring at Ruth, understandably baffled by both her physical differences, and the fact that she was cowering against him. “Queen, are you ill? Have you come here for assistance?” he asked her seriously.

“Apparently she doesn’t understand us, Griss,” Brur said as if he found the situation an intriguing and amusing puzzle, laying his hand on his partner’s arm. Griss scowled and took a step back away from Ruth, showing deference in his own way.

“Gron, why are you here?” Griss asked.

“Kranu insisted,” Gron answered.

“Kranu?”

“She doesn’t look like any Queen I’ve ever seen. I wanted to get Grasta’s opinion on the matter.”

Griss growled. “Kranu, you have no right-!” he snarled taking a step toward his son. Kranu and Griss had fought for years. Kranu was the only male in the tribe foolish enough to test the older male, and the only male who could get away with it, as Griss would never lay a hand in anger on his children.

“It is for the Queen’s own good! How do we know what Gron says is true, that they’ve Bonded, when she neither speaks nor understands us? He could have found her anywhere, and she is small too, she might be staying with him out of fear!”

Griss growled again, his exceptionally deep voice usually enough to cow any uppity male, especially when combined with his authority as a Prime Father, but it never worked on Kranu. “How dare you accuse your own brother of such a thing? Have you no loyalty at all?”

“Loyalty? He is the one who left us, betrayed our Queen for that one,” he spat, tossing his head at Ruth and making Gron show his teeth in challenge. “If he does speak the truth, then he is no longer my tribe, so how can he be my brother?”

Griss flexed his hands at his side, still rumbling deep in his chest. They were interrupted then by a playful yell from the forest.

“Where are my males?”

All of the males, except Troii and Drenz, straightened at the sound of that familiar voice. Griss and Brur relaxed, waiting patiently for their Queen’s arrival, but Kranu and Gron tensed, still a little afraid of their mother even as adults.

“We are here, Gryla!” replied Brur, and Gron held his breath, waiting to see his mother again.

Gryla rounded a large tree and spotted them. She was just how Gron remembered her, formidable, her fine mane shot through with grey. She froze when she saw Gron, then her eyes slid to Ruth’s small form tucked into his side and snarled viciously.

“Gron!” she roared, and charged for the group. “You bring her here?!” Troii, Drenz and Kranu scattered, his Prime Fathers parting to let Gryla pass but ready to intervene. Gron had no choice but to stand his ground. He had to protect Ruth, and years of experience had taught him that running from his mother only made him look guilty.

Gron braced himself as his mother bore down on him, forcing Ruth behind him. He did it reflexively, though before he had met Ruth, opposing his mother would have been unthinkable. A male standing between Queens was the utmost stupidity, but Ruth could not fight his mother, would not survive an attack from her.

At the last second, Gryla reined in her charge, choosing instead to tower over her son, seizing painful fistfuls of his pelt, growling ferociously.

Brur put his hand on her arm, seeking to calm her. “Gryla, Kranu brought them here,” he explained.

Gryla’s head whipped to the side, immediately locating her eldest son. “Is that right?” she demanded of him.

Kranu cleared his throat, trying to pretend he wasn’t quaking. “I thought they should be brought before Grasta,” he said, his previous bravado stripped away. “I have doubts about the Queen’s safety with Gron.”

“What is that supposed to mean? Are you her keeper, Kranu?” Gryla demanded. Gron wished she would release his pelt, but knew better than to ask.

“She doesn’t understand our language, she can’t speak to us, or so Gron claims. She is also tiny. How do we know she is mature? How do we know she has chosen him? He does not wear her scent,” Kranu explained.

Gryla rumbled and passed her nose over Gron’s chest and shoulders briefly, trying to smell Ruth on him. She then shoved him aside, peering down at Ruth.

“You! Do you understand me? It would be best if you tell me now,” she ordered.

Ruth looked panicked, her eyes flicking between Gron and the angry behemoth in front of her. Her arms were pulled protectively to her chest, and Gron willed her not to do anything to antagonise Gryla. Finally she wiggled her fingers and said something short. Gryla narrowed her eyes suspiciously, but didn’t seem affronted.

“Where did you find her?” Gryla asked Gron.

“I was taken, Mother. I was kept in a dark, hard room. The ones who took me took Gruth as well, and threw her down to me. We were kept alone together for some time, until we escaped. Perhaps they wanted the Bond to form, but we did not mate until we were free again.” Gron left out that he had no idea how they had arrived home after being in that strange forest. “Kranu, Troii and Drenz found us in the forest and brought us here against our will. You know I would never do anything to go against you or Grasta. What would be the point in bringing Gruth here? She would never win a challenge for dominance.”

“Perhaps she wants more males,” Gryla suggested absently, though the words tightened around Gron’s heart.

“I would have no way of knowing if she did. We do not speak the same language,” he answered hollowly.

Gryla grunted. “A strange tale indeed, my son. Captured against your will, forced to bond with a tiny female with whom you cannot communicate, with no pelt and no tail. If it is true, I almost feel sorry for you,” she said.

“I assure you, it is true,” Gron told her, his eyes and voice perfectly steady.

“Well, let’s test it, shall we?” she said.

A spike of apprehension shot through Gron. “How?”

Gryla stepped towards him, but she spoke to Brur. “Brur, try to lead her away,” she commanded.

“Gryla…”

“Do it.”

Trying to see past his mother, Gron saw Brur carefully approach Ruth and gently take her hand. He slowly pulled, indicating she should follow him. Ruth immediately looked to Gron, and he tried to keep his expression calm so that she would not be scared. She took a few hesitant steps after Brur, but the further away she got, the more agitated she became. She turned to Brur and pointed to Gron, but Brur ignored her, still calmly leading her away. At least it was not Griss, Gron thought. Griss would not be gentle if Ruth resisted.

Ruth stopped, digging her heels into the soft, mulchy ground. She pointed to Gron again, and this time said his name, and he was proud of her demanding tone. Brur pulled on her hand again and she snatched it from his grasp.

“Gron,” she ordered sternly, stabbing her finger at him in the air. She started walking back towards him, but Brur stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. Now fear flickered in her eyes, and she looked back at Gron for some clue of what was happening, but he couldn’t give her one. She tried to shake of Brur’s hand off but he held tighter, using his other arm around her waist to start dragging her back.

Now she fought in earnest. She snarled in her own language, scratching Brur’s arm and kicking his legs. She yelled for Gron, her eyes fixed on him, and her distress was making him very uncomfortable. He couldn’t take any more, it was his job to protect her. He tried to move past his mother, but she blocked his path easily with her larger frame, superior height and broad shoulders. He glanced at her face and found her watching him carefully.

“Mother, it is enough now, she doesn’t understand what is happening,” he said, disturbed.

“Brur will not hurt her, you know that,” Gryla replied calmly.

Gron was not soothed. “She is distressed. She is calling me.” He tried to dodge round his mother again, and was blocked again. “Mother, let me past.”

“Gryla, I wish to let her go,” Brur said, raising his voice over Ruth as he tried to catch her hands before they clawed his face.

“Take her out of sight and maybe she will calm down,” Gryla suggested coldly. Brur grunted and lifted Ruth off her feet to carry her away and her snarls escalated to screams.

Gron’s heart was pounding, his Queen’s distress calling him on a chemical level. “Let me go to her. She wants me,” he said, his agitation clear. He tried to push past his mother, his hands on her arm, but she seized him and braced her body against his. He had no hope of moving her in a contest of strength. “Why are you doing this?” he cried. If she did not let him past soon, he would have to fight her, an act that would break his heart.

Ruth had noticed his distress, and the fact that they were being deliberately separated, and she twisted in Brur’s arms to attack him directly. They had drawn a crowd, none of whom had more authority than Gryla, who they would not challenge. Only an adolescent male stepped forward, Mruin, Gron’s younger brother.

“Mother, what’s happening? What has Gron done?” he cried. The poor boy’s allegiance was clearly torn, watching his mother detain his brother while another brother watched, and one of his fathers wrestled with a strange Queen he should never be touching.

A deafening roar shook the air and they all froze. Grasta thumped to the ground in the middle of them, her weight enough to tremble the earth. She pulled herself up to her full height and announced “If there is any fighting to be done in this tribe, it shall be done by me!”

Brur quickly released Ruth who raced to Gron’s side. He gathered her against him and drew her away from Gryla, stoking her hair and brushing his lips against her face as she locked her arms around his neck.

“Gryla, what is going on here?” Grasta demanded. The Alpha Queen was the tallest of all the tribe, standing almost a head taller than Gryla, and a full head and shoulders taller than Gron. Her pelt covered most of her body, which was thick with muscle, her chest and shoulders broad, her limbs perfect weapons.

“Grasta, my foolish sons have brought another Queen here. Kranu is disputing Gron’s claim that he has Bonded to her,” Gryla replied, deferring to Grasta’s superiority. “I should have had more daughters,” she added, throwing dark looks at her sons.

“And what does she say?”

“It appears she does not understand us and cannot speak our language.”

Grasta turned her head to stare down at Brur. “Did I see one of your males with his hands on her?” she asked Gryla.

“On my orders, Grasta. I was separating them, to see if they are truly Bonded.”

“And, what was your conclusion?”

“They reacted badly to it.”

Grasta looked at Gron and Ruth where they stood entwined. “They certainly look Bonded to me.” A frustrated look crossed her face and she waved it away. “I will hear more of this, but we will sit down and eat. If there is some disagreement, let the tribe know of it. We will have a feast tonight, everyone!” She looked pointedly at Gryla. “Peace until then,” she ordered.

The crowd began to disperse to gather food for the feast, and to avoid their Queen’s ire.

“Gron,” Grasta called. “You may take your Queen to your platform, but do not leave the village. I require your presence at the feast, where you will explain your actions to me.”

Gron nodded. He was grateful for this moment’s calm. No one more would challenge him or Ruth, it was in Grasta’s hands now. No one else could fight them or make demands without disobeying their Queen.

He picked Ruth up and manoeuvred her onto his back like he had in that strange forest where they had struggled to survive. She clung on almost gratefully, and he leapt them into the trees, hoping his old platform was as he had left it.

Chapter 3

Ruth hung on tight as Gron bounded into the trees. She was glad to see that his strength didn’t seem to have suffered from being poisoned and sedated for so long. She nuzzled her nose into the hair and fur at the back of his neck and inhaled gratefully. He was alive. They both were, which seemed to have been a close thing a few minutes ago. Ever since the others of his kind had emerged from the forest, she had been scared. She knew she would probably meet other Gandry, some of whom would probably know Gron, but she hadn’t expected the hostile reception they had got.

These Gandry knew Gron, were evidently his tribe, as everyone they had come across had used his name. She had heard her name being given out as well. But Gron had never relaxed around them and she wondered why. Wasn’t he happy to be back with his family? Apparently it wasn’t a good thing, since that first male to talk to them had quickly provoked Gron into a snarling match until one of the others had stepped between them. So she took it that fighting wasn’t encouraged, at least. She didn’t have to worry about being thrown into an arena like she had in the cell.

She hadn’t missed the way they stared at her though. It was stupid, but she hadn’t realised she would find herself very suddenly in a minority of one. All her time with Gron so far, they’d both been aliens together, with a third, common enemy. Now she was the only alien, and she didn’t know who to trust.

She couldn’t understand a single word that was being said, but they sure felt free to chat it out about her. She’d been stared at, sneered at, bowed to, ignored, had her hand held, and been forcibly restrained. She got that females seemed to be scarce, only two of the maybe two-dozen people she’d seen had been female, and that she didn’t look like them, but damn. If they could make up their mind at least whether to be nice to her or not, that would be great.

And everyone was naked. So many dicks everywhere. She was used to Gron, she liked looking at him, but it was bizarre to watch these people have apparently very serious discussions with their junk hanging out. Ruth didn’t know where to put her eyes. She’d also noticed that not everyone had the same fur. It was all basically the same shade of dark brown, except where it had greyed apparently with age, but the patterns were different. Some people had more, some had less, some had strips of it, some had patches, some had bare chests and covered stomachs, some only had it on their lower arms and legs. Everyone had a furry tail though. Ruth was glad she wasn’t naked, even if she was the only one. Her wrapped toga gave her a lot more confidence than she would otherwise have had.

Gron seemed to be getting the same mixed reception that she was. Ruth had been terrified when that female had charged him. Their whole time here had been nuts, and she had no idea what was going on. All she knew was that everyone had left, including them, when that ginormous female had turned up. That woman had to be close to eight feet tall, broad as a barn door, with barely any of her body not covered in fur. The gorilla-look was even stronger in her, except that she stood so straight. She was evidently the leader, the alpha female, like T’Lax had warned her. Ruth hoped their business with her was done.

She hadn’t figured out how everyone related to each other yet, who was friend, who was foe, who was family. She had no idea where they were headed now. She had to put everything in Gron’s hands, and she didn’t like it very much. It made her feel a little better about talking to T’Lax and not being able to tell Gron how they got back to his planet though. She’d never thought about them having secrets before, as she wasn’t wilfully keeping anything from him, she just couldn’t tell him. Now she realised their whole lives were, and would be, secret… and that didn’t seem like a very good foundation for a relationship.

Gron stopped on one of the large branch-platforms she’d noticed. Their village felt like a city; it certainly had skyscrapers. Intellectually she knew, or rather hoped, that the platform would take her weight. These people lived on these things, and every Gandry had to weigh at least twice as much as she did. She was still seriously uneasy standing on one. The Gandry could climb trees and had tails for holding on. She’d probably get killed by a branch on her way down if she fell, it was so high up she wouldn’t even get the chance to hit the ground.

This must be what Gron had tried to build their first night after the cell. It was made out of branches that had been bent and woven together, with the large hard leaves stuck together and laid over the top to form a floor. It was surprisingly flat and steady, it didn’t seem to make a difference where she placed her foot, which was good. She took a few steps and looked around as Gron watched her, then he began examining the items that had been pushed towards the trunk of the massive tree. The platform was bigger than the floor of her bedroom back home, but it was just a floor, no walls and no ceiling. Ruth looked up but couldn’t see much of the sky. It looked like the higher foliage and platforms would block most of the weather.

Ruth followed Gron to the trunk of the massive tree, where he was digging through a collection of… stuff. She couldn’t tell what any of it was, not definitively. Most of it was made of it sticks that had been tied together. She didn’t see anything that suggested the Gandry used animal skins for anything. Well, she still had her backpack, and she was suddenly very attached to it. Everything around them made sense to Gron but mystified her. Everything in the backpack made sense to her but would mystify him. She smiled as she gently put it next to what she assumed was his stuff, or at least guest-stuff. Maybe this was the Gandry equivalent of a hotel room.

Then she put her hand on his arm. Other than their joyful kisses when he had realised they were home, she felt like they hadn’t really had a proper moment to get reacquainted. Of course, as far as he knew, they’d been making love in that cave last night, but for her it had been something like two weeks since she had lain happily in his arms. It wasn’t the time that bothered her now, Lord knows she’d gone much longer than two weeks without sex before, but that she’d watched him almost slip away in her arms, and that he’d spent two weeks unconscious in a hospital bed. He seemed to be fully recovered, but she wanted to feel it.

Gron looked up at her touch, and she stroked her hand down the furry stripe on the outside of his arm. He stood up slowly and faced her. She smiled and reached up to touch his face, stroking over his brow, cheekbones, nose, lips. He hung his head to let her, those dark eyes, which were an unplaceable shade somewhere between charcoal and chocolate, watching her with open concern.

She sighed. There was so much she could say to him, but what would it matter? In the end she settled for, “I’m glad you’re alive. So glad.”

He rumbled in his chest in reply and stepped closer, his arms going around her. She went up on her tip toes to wrap her arms around his neck, pressing herself down the length of his body, and kissed him. She hadn’t meant to kiss him as hard as she did, but she found herself gripping his hair desperately, her fingers scratching at the back of his neck. She felt his warm, fluffy, and surprisingly heavy tail drape across her hips and she moaned approvingly. She loved her strange, furry, giant, alien man, tail and all. If it had just been them in this treetop world, she would have been blissfully happy.

She pulled her hands down his neck, over his chest, the fur on his shoulders, what she could reach of the fur on his spine. She felt his dick start to get interested and reluctantly pulled away. Not that she didn’t want to watch his face as she licked his tail and find out if he was strong enough to hold her up and fuck her against the tree trunk, but it still felt a bit early in the day, and a bit exposed on this platform. She hadn’t seen any neighbours, but in this leafy labyrinth, that didn’t mean they weren’t there.

Instead she stayed in the supporting circle of his arms, her hands resting on his furry chest, and stared up into his face.

“Are we going to be okay here?” she asked. He, of course, didn’t say anything, but something of what she felt must have shown in her face because he bent down and nuzzled against her cheek, murmuring something she didn’t understand. It was comforting, but not reassuring. It meant a lot to her that he still cared about her, but it didn’t mean that there wasn’t a problem. She sighed. “Take care of me, alright?” she told him.