Authors: Jaymi Hanako
Tags: #Science Fiction, #space opera, #Futuristic, #Fantasy
Copyright © July 2014 by Jaymi Hanako
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Editor: Heather Hollis
Cover Artist: Victoria Miller
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The spicy musk in the air of the Lorus system intensified during this moon of the year and intoxicated all but the most hardened with thoughts of sex. The annual Festival of Fertility took place during this time, seducing many off-worlders into visiting the obscure planet.
Captain Jaren Caradoc wasn’t here for pleasure. He intended this trip to be quick, and he meant it to be his last, though it would cut off a profitable portion of his shipping business. He tucked the thick bundle of printed parchment, sealed with the judge’s wax mark, into his coat. “Can’t believe I needed to come in person to acquire this. It’s ridiculous.”
“Those papers are your freedom, Captain. Isn’t that worth a little inconvenience?”
He ignored the lawyer—the man had represented his ex-wife in the proceedings—and signaled across the street to his first mate.
Dev Geithin filled the doorway of the tavern. His giant stature made him ineligible for Alliance military service; no standard uniforms fit him. Fortunately, the military’s loss was Jaren’s gain. There was no better man, from any system, to have at his back in battle.
Jaren nearly laughed aloud. There were no battles now; the wars were over. Only the occasional pirate raids to worry about. Yet he remained on edge.
He touched the papers in his coat once more.
fight was done too. Or so he wanted to believe.
“You look like you need a drink, Captain. Strange. Thought you’d be celebrating instead.” Dev shrugged his massive shoulders. “Glad you got your business done. Crew’s getting restless since you confined them to the ship. Lots of talk about wanting to participate in the festival.”
“That’s the last thing we need.”
“I know, I know. You wanted to make this as short a trip as possible. Can’t do that if your men spend the next three days getting laid.” His friend gave him a significant look. “Could always let them learn from your experiences. Tell them how dangerous the women from this system can be.”
“Right. And never command their respect again.” The last crew had to be scrapped because they saw him as a fool, thanks to his ex-wife.
Not that he blamed them. He
played the fool, and it nearly cost him his ship and his life. He’d met “Lady” Ethlinda, bedded her, and married her, all in one night. Didn’t realize she was a sorceress—or to what extent she would use her magic to attain everything she wanted—until it was too late.
“I’ll tell them to prepare for liftoff. We can be gone as soon as we reach the ship.”
“Not yet. I’m afraid my business isn’t as finished as we would like it to be. I have to see someone about some…” He hesitated, the word he needed to say leaving a foul taste in his mouth with its meaning on this system. “Some property that belonged to Ethlinda.”
“Didn’t think you wanted anything of hers. Wasn’t that part of the deal, to get the divorce done quicker?”
Jaren glanced at the sky. The auction was scheduled to begin at sundown, and the sun already touched the far western horizon. Fortunately, the auction house was in the legal district, since this was a court-ordered liquidation of his ex-wife’s property. A prisoner forfeited all ownership rights, and now he had also signed away his claim to her estate. “Do you remember Ethlinda’s personal—” He broke off, not quite able to say
Fortunately, Dev knew him well enough to figure out the rest. “You mean the little girl who saved your life?”
“Not a girl. I think she was nineteen when all this went down.” Which would make her twenty-one now. Ten years younger than Jaren. “She also testified at Ethlinda’s criminal trial.”
“Took a lot of guts. Considering the witch owned her.” Literally. “She get her freedom in return?”
“The law doesn’t work that way, Dev. It considers her part of the estate.”
“Damned unfair, if you ask me.”
Jaren had always tried to keep an open mind about traditions. No one who depended on intersystem trade for a living could afford to condemn any planet’s endemic customs, no matter how offensive they were considered by their own.
Lorus was one of a small handful of known systems still practicing slavery—which was why they were denied membership in the Alliance. A few politicians postured about cutting them from all trade with the member systems until they ended the practice; Lorian leaders had made it clear they prized their ancient traditions far above any monetary profit.
“What are you planning, Captain?”
“I need the right to free her.” Unfortunately, there was only one way to do so. “Ever been to a slave auction?”
Dev grimaced. “Not an experience I ever planned to have.”
“Then I’ll go in without you.” He checked his finances on his handheld assistant. His final cargo load for the Lorus markets had produced a decent profit. The budget and payroll program on his ship’s mainframe network had already disbursed the crew’s shares. Including his. Jaren had only a vague idea of what it would cost to
someone. He decided to use the newer funds first. He didn’t want to convert his Alliance credits to Lorus currency if he didn’t have to. Money-changing methods on this system were as old-fashioned and nearly as time-consuming as their divorce court. “I’ll call you when I have her.”
Dev nodded. “I’ll get the crew prepped to leave.”
* * * *
The bed was a huge blur draped in white to symbolize her purity. Its stark expanse would be the perfect backdrop for the proof of her innocence, which the auction house would demand.
If she could see, she would be pacing.
But she couldn’t see. The belladonna drops dilated her pupils to mimic one of the more subtle symptoms of desire but also overwhelmed her eyes with light—making them water and unable to focus.
She supposed it was necessary, especially in her case. Taimi didn’t think she could feel real desire for any man, except for—
She would never see him again. But would she ever be able to stop thinking about him?
Two years. Two whole years since she’d last seen him. From the beginning, he’d been out of her reach. Forbidden. But she had never stopped dreaming.
Captain Caradoc. The husband of her former mistress, Lady Ethlinda.
Their first meeting and every other moment together since was emblazoned into her memory. He’d been tall and muscular. Strikingly handsome, with chiseled features and beautifully expressive hazel eyes.
Lady Ethlinda had required Taimi’s presence at even the most intimate moments, even after her marriage. Taimi knew how the captain looked while eating and bathing…and while making love.
He was the reason she was here, her virginity auctioned away to the highest bidder. But she had no regrets.
No regrets at all.
She would have given up so much more to ensure he was alive. Safe. Free from her former mistress.
Fresh tears flowed down her face. An oversize light cauldron hung overhead, closer to the high ceiling than was done in most normal households. The faint smoke wafting out of its faceted crystal depths only aggravated the sensitized condition of her eyes. A house servant had climbed up to refresh the oil used to fuel the flames shortly after Taimi had been brought into the room.
The auction house wanted to ensure her new owner could get the best possible look at his new possession. Taimi's comfort—or lack of it—was irrelevant.
The door to her quarters opened.
The deep, familiar voice made her breath catch in her throat. She felt her heart skip a beat as she turned around.
Stupid belladonna drops
. Everything in the room blended into an indistinct blur.
His voice turned soft and surprisingly hesitant. “It’s been nineteen months. I don’t expect you to remember me…”
Taimi almost laughed at the notion that she could
forget him. “Captain Caradoc.” The next words tumbled out without thought. “I thought I was dreaming. I didn’t know you were real.”
She touched the collar around her neck. Wrought to look like heavy gold jewelry, it contained several complex electronic codes, including an instant execution sequence if a slave tried to remove it without permission. “I never expected you. I thought you didn’t believe in all this.”
“I don’t. I came here to free you.”
“Why so shocked? I owe you my life, Taimi. When I heard what they planned for you…” He began to pace the room, and his tone took on a wry edge. “Of course, I didn’t realize this was an auction for a sex slave.”
“Is that a problem?”
“I can’t take you out of here until we consummate this relationship. The auction house wants proof of your lost innocence here so I can’t claim you were anything else later.” By squinting, she could just barely see him rake his hand through his dark hair. “I suppose previous false claims prompted them to make a law about it.”
He still kept his distance. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
She knew he wasn’t innocent. She had been forced to watch him couple with Lady Ethlinda, and her breath caught again at the particular memory: Captain Caradoc had been absolutely magnificent when naked and aroused.
Maybe he didn’t want her.
She looked nothing like her former mistress, and he’d clearly found that sort attractive. “Do you not desire me, Captain?”
“Of course I do.”
Heat flushed her face and pleasure spiked through her veins, despite the rather reluctant admission. “Then I do not see how this is a difficulty.”
“I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”
“Please don’t worry about that, Captain. I have long made peace with my fate and what is expected of me. Although”—she managed a smile but needed to swallow hard to moisten her suddenly dry throat before continuing—“my fate seems better than I deserve, now I know it is you who controls it.”