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   When she could draw a breath, she sighed, ―Oh…my.‖
   Soft male laughter filled her ears. Then their cocks popping like corks from wine bottles, they pulled away. Hoping to see them before they stood, before they could conceal who had lain behind her, who atop, she flung away her blindfold.
   Glancing quickly from side-to-side, she found them at each edge of her bed, grinning down at her. Summoning a scowl, she scooted to the foot
then stood. ―One day I'll blindfold you both and demand you come while I watch.‖
   Their smiles widening, Kamal said, ―Since we will imagine you—‖
   ―Bringing joy to yourself—‖
   ―And to us—‖
   ―We doubt our coming—‖
   ―Will take any time at all.‖
   ―Men!‖ With that, she flounced away.
   When she crossed the bathroom threshold, they heard the shower start. Then the door slammed shut and the lock thudded into place.
* * * *
―Guess she doesn't want company,‖ Kaliq muttered.
   ―I could pick the lock.‖ When his brother just stared at him, Kamal shrugged. ―Or we could give
her some privacy.‖
   They retreated to the living room. Spotting a small alcove, Kaliq strode toward it. ―A kitchen. Maybe we could cook dinner for her.‖
   ―Us and what master chef?‖
   Glum, they stared at the curved wall, the shiny countertops and sparkling paraphernalia they couldn't identify.
   Spying the sink, Kamal said, ―At least we can wash ourselves.‖
   ―Put on our clothes.‖
   ―Make her think we want more than just sex.‖
Just sex?
Hell, if the sex were any better—‖
   ―We'd be burned to a crisp already.‖
   Startling them, someone coughed. ―If I may make a suggestion?‖ a slightly tinny voice said. ―I can prepare a simple meal.‖
   ―Wh-who are you?‖
are you?‖
   A mechanical hand waved from the wall. ―I am Ms. Eden's personal droid.‖ It sighed. ―She often becomes so engrossed in her studies she forgets to eat. I remind her. More often than she likes.‖
   ―You…you didn't prepare any of our food?‖
   ―Did you?‖
   ―Not a single dram, drop or drizzle. Unlike others—one in particular who shall remain nameless—Ms. Eden does not cheat.‖
   The brothers glanced at each other.
Azura had her droid cook on her behalf?
completely inedible.
   ―But you could fix us—all three of us— something now?‖
   ―Most assuredly,
I imagine by now you have tired of the fancy sauces and such. Not that Ms. Eden's are not pleasing to the palate. Every chef she studied with feared she would surpass him. She did, of course. In fact—‖
   ―How ‗bout some steaks. A little potato salad and asparagus?‖
   ―A bottle of your best red wine.‖
   ―Rising Moons' finest red wine comes from Earth—specifically from an area called Caleeforneea.‖
   Kamal grinned. Kaliq laughed.
   ―All this way…‖
   ―For a taste of home.‖
   ―How do you like your steaks,
   ―Ms. Eden prefers hers medium-rare.‖ The droid stepped out of the wall
then rolled across the tiny kitchen. It pointed and a door opened in the curved wall. ―There is another bathroom through there. You'll find clean clothes within as well.‖ When the men just stood there, mouths agape, the droid made a shooing motion.
   ―Ms. Eden is in the drying tube. You had better hurry. Once she's ready to eat she does not tolerate waiting.‖

Chapter Ten

Feeling more than a little ashamed about her display of peak, Eden felt even worse when she returned to the men. The divans had disappeared, replaced by a round, linen-covered table and three comfortable chairs. Candlelight glowed. The scent of roses wafted on the faint breeze that carried the sea's soughing melody to her ears. To one side of the table red wine aerated in a crystal decanter alongside three tulip-bowl glasses.
   The men—
her men
at least for a little while longer—stood at two of the three chairs. They looked…magnificent. Clad in chesthugging, sleeveless shirts and loose fitting slacks they made her mouth water. She knew what lay beneath the casual garb. She yearned to strip away every piece of clothing and expose the hard flesh beneath to her hands and tongue. Forcing her gaze from their crotches to their faces, she saw that they were nervous. They kept fisting their hands and their jaw muscles seemed to twitch from clenching their teeth. Yes, they seemed almost as nervous as she felt.
   Was this dinner to be the uncomfortable morning-after breakfast when no one knew what to say? Searching her memory, Eden realized Tante's rigorous training had not included a single word about this situation.
   ―We hope you don't mind,‖ Kaliq began.
   ―We took advantage of your droid,‖ Kamal continued, ―and had a meal prepared.‖
   Their serious expression made her want to laugh with relief. Instead, matching their solemnity, she said, ―I don't mind at all. As much as I enjoy cooking, eating someone else's is a welcome change.‖
   As she crossed to them they pulled out her chair. When she sat, Kaliq filled her water goblet while Kamal shook out her napkin
, t
hen draped it over her lap. She felt their noses at her hairline. Heard them sniffing.
   ―You smell delicious.‖
   ―Good enough to eat.‖
   Her mind went blank, overcome by their rich voices and her body's immediate yearning to be even closer to them. Her stomach growled, giving her an excuse to say, ―I smell steak.‖
   Smiling as if they knew how much they affected her, they sat.
   ―I can hear it sizzling,‖ Kaliq said as if proud he'd remembered her teachings.
   ―It looks perfect, too,‖ Kamal said as Eden's droid carefully set down three plates.
   ―Hot,‖ the droid warned.
―Thank you, D'dan. We can feel the heat.‖
   ―Good. Ms. Eden will not burn her delicate fingers.‖ With that, D'dan rolled back to the kitchen.
   Eden eyed a heaping bowl of… ―What is this?‖
   ―Potato salad,‖ Kamal said.
   ―Taste it,‖ Kaliq encouraged, serving her a small portion on a side plate.
   ―And have some asparagus, too.‖
   As if their next breath depended on her approval of the fare, they watched her eat a bite of each. ―I recognize the onion, celery and pickles, but what is the other vegetable. The chunks of white?‖
   ―You've never eaten potatoes?‖
   Eden shook her head.
   ―Baked? Boiled? Mashed? French fried?‖
   ―And the asparagus?‖
   ―No, never.‖
   ―Broiled, barbequed,‖ Kamal shuddered, ―oversteamed?‖
   Still shaking her head, Eden narrowed her eyes. ―Where do these tasty delights come from? For that matter where do you?‖
   Exchanging glances, they shrugged.
   Seeming to choose his words with extreme care, Kamal said, ―Our antecedents came from Earth.‖
   ―When Earth could no longer support its growing population our ancestors moved farther and farther into space.‖
   ―And? How far into space has your family migrated?‖
   ―One or—‖
   ―Planets,‖ Eden prompted, ―beyond Venus. That would make you from Jupiter. Or maybe Saturn.‖
   ―Andromeda,‖ they said together.
   ―There isn't a planet by that name.‖ She smiled and wagged her finger. ―I have studied many, many subjects. Despite my confusion earlier, I can name all the planets, moons and reclassified o
like Pluto—‖
   ―In this galaxy.‖
   ―But what of the galaxies beyond the Milky Way?‖
   Feeling dizzy and disoriented, Eden rubbed her temples. ―I have heard that there are galaxies beyond this one. I didn't believe they existed.‖
   ―They do.‖
   ―Oh.‖ The thought of them returning home, of being so very far away made her blink back sudden tears. If they lived on Earth, they all might meet again—somehow. Someday. Interplanetary travel was common, possible even for a woman of her status—were she willing to risk it. Intergalactic travel… She concluded she could not afford it, even were it common and she could summon enough courage to risk it.
   ―You aren't a native Venusian, are you?‖
   Kamal's gentle voice brought her back to the
present. Back to her men.
   ―My ancestors came from Earth. My father was Japanese, my mother French. I'm what Earthlings once called Eurasian.‖
   ―No wonder you're so beautiful,‖ Kaliq said, taking her hand
, t
hen pressing a kiss in her palm.
   Kamal entwined his fingers with hers. ―How did you arrive here? At Rising Moons?‖
   ―As I told you—sang to you—my parents were sociologists, studying the differences between Venusian courtesans and those on Earth. When they died, I remained with Tante. Who is, by the way, a distant relative on my mother's side.‖ Withdrawing her hands, she folded them in her lap.
   ―When did you decide to…‖
   ―Become a courtesan? When my parents were killed, I decided I wanted to stay on Venus. Tante could not afford to keep me unless I earned my way. She could, however, wait for me to pay her back. Her other students pay handsomely for their training and—when they take their first lover—a portion of their price is given to them. That way they can maintain a degree of independence. The rest Tante keeps.‖ Eden smiled briefly. ―Recompense for putting up with us for years and years.‖
Ending the discussion, Eden cut into her steak.
   Kamal recaptured her hand. Despite her struggles to free it and the glare in her eyes, he said, ―I have a few more questions.‖

have,‖ Kaliq emphasized.
   Kamal's scowl silenced his brother. ―Are you afraid to fly? Would you travel on a spaceship?‖
   Kaliq piped up. ―Now that we've taken your maidenhead, will you receive a portion of your price?‖
   ―Yes. No. And no.‖ She wiped her lips, folded her napkin and then carefully placed it on the table. Standing, she said, ―Since our time together is almost over, I would like to make love with you one more time.‖
   ―Our time together—‖
   ―Is just beginning.‖
   Eden laughed. ―Whatever Tante promised you, it isn't true. She may have said my
meant I would stay with you. She meant until you tire of me. She might have told you I would travel wherever you wish to take me. She knows I will never leave Venus. She might have—‖
   ―Given you in marriage.‖
   ―To us.‖
   Eden couldn't help laughing. She ignored its hysterical timbre and refused to run away from this confrontation. The men stared at her as if she'd lost her mind. Maybe she had.
   ―Let me explain something to you. First, I have worked for years to achieve my goal. I conceived the courses in cooking, painting and dancing every girl will study from now on. I have set the bar they will strive to exceed. They may come close, but none will surpass me. My
will remain the highest ever paid for one woman with all the skills and physical attributes a man could ever want. For all the rest of Venus's long history, I shall be known as
The Consummate Courtesan."
   They continued to stare at her. She wanted to squirm, but stood motionless even when their expressions conveyed pity. She wanted to lock herself in the bathroom until they left. Left her. Left Venus. Left the galaxy. Pride in her accomplishments rooted her where she stood.
   At last Kamal spoke. ―Everything you've said is true. And would remain true except…‖
   ―Azura's price exceeded yours.‖
   ―Despite the fact that it took five men to buy her. Which significantly reduces each man's costs. But no one will remember that.‖
   ―Only that her total price will make the history books, Eden.‖
   ―If yours is noted at all…it will be a footnote.‖
   ―Knowing all that—‖
   Covering her ears, Eden ran. Their cruel words had destroyed her dreams—her sense of selfworth—leaving her nothing.
* * * *
―That went well,‖ Kaliq drawled, glaring at Kamal.
   ―Didn't it though.‖ Raking his fingers through his hair, Kamal strode to the bathroom door. He raised his fist, intending to batter it down, but
BOOK: Untitled
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