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Authors: Aubrey Ross

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Pirate’s
Price

By
Aubrey Ross

 

ALL RIGHTS
RESERVED.

Smashwords
Edition

 

Copyright ©
2013 Aubrey Ross.

Cover art by
Dar Albert

 

Electronic book Publication, Ju
ly 2013

 

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Smashwords books by
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Pirate’s Price
Aubrey Ross

 

Vihlok is a dashing, though
somewhat unscrupulous,
Sabrotine privateer.
He offers a variety of less than legal services for
outlandish fees. When an anonymous client asks him to kidnap a
young woman during her wedding and sully her reputation so badly
the groom will no longer want her, he’s intrigued.

 

A past indiscretion leaves Rana Jabulayni
little choice but to accept an unwanted marriage. Yet one night
alone with her fiancé convinces Rana anything is better than being
bartered as part of a trade agreement. Seeing no other option, Rana
arranges her own kidnapping.

 

Vihlok has dreamed of
repaying the corrupt House of Jabulayni for their utter
indifference to
his
people ever since the war ended. A quirk of fate has left his
enemy at his mercy and the day of reckoning is long overdue. Hoping
to shock and scandalize the sheltered princess, Vihlok agrees to
kidnap/rescue her. But Princess Rana is not nearly as sheltered as
Vihlok presumes and erotic heat soon turns to something
deeper.

 

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Pirate’s
Price,
check out
Price of Passion,
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From Aubrey:
This book was originally
published as part of a multi-author series. I try to play well with
others, but I also feel constrained when there are too many rules.
While revising this book, I centered the story more fully on the
two main characters and I’m happier with the result. This lusty
romp is part capture fantasy, part revenge adventure, and part
sci-fi romance. The sex scenes are
hot
and there is an
instance of ménage action, though that is not the focus of this
story. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One

 

“Are the conditions acceptable?” King Vega
of Peronite raised his chin, challenge gleaming in his dark
eyes.

Everything about “His Highness” annoyed Rana
Jabulayni. From his artfully outlined eyes, to his flamboyant
attire, he flaunted his power and wealth. Gems sparkled on his
fingers and the chunky jewels adorning his elaborate necklace had
to strain his narrow shoulders. Thick silver hair flowed away from
his sharp-featured face and an immaculate goatee accented his
pointed chin. Some might find him handsome, for a man well past his
prime. But Rana saw cruelty in the firm press of his thin lips and
the frequent fisting of his long-fingered hands.

“We welcome the technological advancements
you have proposed and the bride price is more than adequate.”
Empress Bakula wisely avoided Rana’s gaze as she added, “My
daughter is honored by your generosity.”

Honored
to be sold like a brood mare
to a man twice her age?
Honored
to save her mother from
financial ruin with a lifetime of subjugation and discontent? If
Rana’s father hadn’t instilled a sense of responsibility and pride
in Rana, she would have turned her back on her manipulative mother
long ago. However, Rana knew exorbitant taxes and unfair policies
were crippling the people of Devaunt. After exhausting her other
options, Rana had agreed to participate in this negotiation in
exchange for key economic reforms. Once King Vega’s generous bride
price refilled Devaunt’s coffers, the empress could afford to be
humane again.

“Shall we move on to the second phase of the
negotiation?” King Vega asked.

Rana perched on the edge of a high-backed
chair, the only position that allowed her to breathe in the
stifling gown. The shimmering material appeared delicate and
feminine, but the fabric pressed against her torso with amazing
inflexibility. Her figure dipped dramatically at her waist and
swelled into an exaggerated décolletage. Before coming to Peronite,
she had only seen garments this impractical in history vids.

“Our sexual compatibility must be
established. I have selected my witness. Have you done the same?”
He spoke to the empress not Rana. Another annoying habit.

Let them determine if
they
were
sexually compatible. The entire ordeal was a pointless humiliation.
Vega had insisted Rana be examined by his physician before the
negotiations began. There was no physical reason she couldn’t bear
children. She had to allow Vega to fuck her; she didn’t have to
enjoy it.

Empress Bakula finally met her daughter’s
gaze. “Who did you select?”

“Kashi.”

“She’s a servant. I hardly think --”

“I was led to believe the choice was mine.”
The Peronite found eye contact combative, so she lowered her gaze
to her hands before adding, “I would be more comfortable if this
were a private exchange between my betrothed and myself.”

A chair scraped over floorboards and a blur
of purple warned her that Vega was in motion. “This is a political
union, my dear. The treaty will benefit both our worlds.” He moved
in front of her and pressed one of her hands between his. The gaudy
sparkle of multiple rings threatened to hypnotize her. “My first
marriage was a love match, yet she was unable to give me sons.
Perhaps we will be better suited for procreation. Our compatibility
must be witnessed, but the details are up to us. If you fancy a
servant as your witness, I have no objection.”

An odd undercurrent hinted at hidden
meanings. Did he often
fancy
servants? “I appreciate your
understanding.”

“Intta, have Kashi brought to the gold
salon.” He motioned for everyone to rise. “If all goes as I expect,
we will set a date for the wedding in the morning.”

The lump that had clogged Rana’s throat all
morning dropped into the pit of her stomach. Her enjoyment of
sexual pleasures had led her to this situation, now her ability to
respond to a man she disliked would be the final hurdle. She
couldn’t help but appreciate the irony.

Vega took her hand and tucked it into the
bend of his elbow. “I was hoping for a few moments alone with
you.”

“You had only to ask. My people have far
fewer traditions than yours.” She hadn’t realized how rude the
statements would sound until she heard her own words and felt his
arm flex beneath her fingers. “I’m sorry. I meant no insult. I also
wish we’d had the opportunity to become better acquainted.”

She knew so little about him. His wife had
died the previous winter after a long debilitating illness. His
kingdom had a thriving economy and he was desperate for an heir.
Beyond that, Vega was a mystery. And Peronite custom prevented her
from indulging her curiosity. Females were supposed to be meek and
subservient, respectful and… obedient. She glanced off into the
distance as a smile bowed her lips. He was in for a rude awakening
once the marriage was finalized.

“You’re obviously used to speaking your
mind. I have no objection to outspoken females, as long as they are
respectful in mixed company.”

They strolled along the main corridor in
strained silence. Her heels clicked against the marble floor and
echoed off the vaulted ceiling. Rana had been impressed and
distressed by the opulence of Vega’s palace. She had always thought
House Jabulayni extravagant until she saw this sprawling estate. At
least Vega wasn’t starving his people to support his decadent
tastes.

He guided her down an adjacent hallway then
pushed open double doors, exposing the gold salon. Warm sunlight
bathed the room, accenting the gilt and ivory décor. Though every
bit as ornate as the other rooms, the salon had a certain elegance
that appealed to Rana.

“Our witnesses will join us shortly.” Vega
left one of the doors ajar. “We shouldn’t squander this time.”

“I didn’t mean to be rude earlier.”

“And I’m not as offended as you’ve
presumed.” He cupped her chin and tilted her head until their gazes
met. “You’ve hardly spoken two words since you arrived. The flash
of spirit caught me off guard.”

“This treaty is extremely important to my
people. I wasn’t willing to do anything to compromise the
outcome.”

He smiled and released her chin. “I have no
doubt that’s true, but I fear it’s not the reason you’ve concealed
your feistiness.”

Not willing to risk further insult, she
waited for him to explain the comment.

“I’m not a fool, Rana. Your mother is
manipulating you into this match. If you are not as spineless as I
first thought, then she has something on you. There were whispers
of a scandal, but I was unable to learn the details.” He clasped
his hands behind his back and began a slow, interrogative orbit.
“My physician told me you’ve never borne a child, so that can’t
have been the nature of the scandal. Why did your mother object to
your lover?”

“Why do you presume the scandal had to do
with sex?”

“It’s apparent in the way you move and the
sparkle in your eyes. You are a very passionate female.”

“We told you from the onset that I wasn’t a
virgin.”

His beady gaze moved over her face, then
swept the length of her body. “Was your lover a woman?”

“No.” She sighed. It was probably better to
tell him what happened than have him stirring up all the old
rumors. “My mother caught me in bed with my bodyguard and his
lover. I was only intimate with my bodyguard, but Mother didn’t see
it that way.”

“Were you only intimate with your bodyguard
once?”

She licked her lips and admitted, “We’d been
lovers for several solar cycles.”

“Was your bodyguard’s lover also male?”

“Yes. It’s a long-standing practice to
surround royal females with homosexual men.”

“Obviously your bodyguard is bisexual.” She
merely nodded. “Did you realize he had a lover when you began the
affair?”

“It was consensual on all sides. I would not
have encouraged the attraction if it weren’t.”

“Fascinating.”

This wasn’t the reaction she’d expected from
this straight-laced man. Her mother had been scandalized. She’d
insisted no one would believe Rana participated willingly in
something so brazen and threatened to have both men prosecuted.
Rana knew the media frenzy would force both men into exile even if
she testified on their behalf. Her mother’s real motivation had
been control, but Rana seized the opportunity and forced some much
needed reforms.

“Would you like your lover brought to you
here on Peronite?”

Her startled gaze snapped back to his. Why
would he make such an offer? “He was compensated for his discretion
and allowed to relocate.”

“How far had the act progressed when your
mother interrupted?”

She didn’t want to sully the memory of what
she’d shared with Jaque. He’d been kind and tender and she missed
him terribly. “I don’t see how the details are relevant to our
relationship. I was candid because I hoped we could build our
future on mutual respect.”

His smile warmed and he slipped off his
jacket. “The details are more relevant than you realize. I had only
intended to offer clues and insinuations until after the wedding,
but it appears we are better suited than I’d imagined.”

A light tapping drew Rana’s attention to the
doorway. Kashi stepped into the room followed by a dark-haired man.
Rana had seen the man several times since her arrival. He’d been in
the council chambers, but he wasn’t on the council. She’d
immediately noticed his striking features and athletic build, yet
the overt hostility in his stare left her cold.

“Is Kashi your handmaiden?” the king
asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you trust her?”

“Implicitly.”

Vega closed the doors and moved to stand
beside the other man. They exchanged a glance filled with meaning
-- and hunger. “This is Umar. He was the queen’s protector and
consort.”

More like he was the
royal
consort.
Sexual tension crackled between the two men.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

He acknowledged her greeting with the barely
perceptible incline of his head.

“Some in my kingdom presume my queen never
conceived because I never shared her bed. For the first few solar
cycles that wasn’t far from the truth. I am by far more attracted
to men than women, but under certain circumstances I am able to
function with a woman.”

“Are you sure it’s wise to tell her all
this?” Umar asked in an anxious whisper.

Vega chuckled. “She will not be shocked by
our relationship. Trust me.” He rested his hand on the younger
man’s back with obvious familiarity. “I suspected the queen had
taken a lover and I didn’t begrudge her the pleasure, but when I
came face to face with the proof of her indiscretion I had a most
unusual reaction.”

“You were aroused?”

“Quite. I had never seen anything so erotic
as the pleasure Umar wrought in my queen.”

She looked into Umar’s shimmering eyes. The
hostility was gone, yet his shuttered expression was even more
disconcerting. “Did you realize he was watching you?”

“Oh, yes.” A smile curved his sensual
lips.

“What about the queen? Did she know she was
being observed?”

“Not at first,” Vega replied. “I summoned
Umar and for a time he came to me after she fell asleep. There was
a certain appeal to the secrecy, but she became suspicious.”

“How did the relationship progress to the
next level?”

“I visited her chamber, knowing full well
Umar was about to arrive. Her anxiety only added to my lust. I
assured her I was not really angry. Then I ripped the clothes from
her body and ‘forced’ her to fuck her lover while I watched. It was
a game, you understand. I loved my queen deeply and would never
have done anything to harm her.”

Rana looked at Umar and felt her abdomen
tighten. He was physically appealing, far more so than Vega, but
this was not the sort of relationship she wanted with her husband.
How could they ever mean anything to each other if the only way he
could tolerate touching her was as part of a complex sexual
game?

“May I ask a potentially insulting
question?”

Vega chuckled and inclined his head. “I’ll
do my best not to take offense.”

“Why is all this necessary? Is homosexuality
not tolerated by your people?”

“A king may fuck whomever he chooses in
whatever manner pleases him, but a king must also secure his
dynasty with heirs.”

“Technology makes it possible for you to
--”

“My people might turn a blind eye to
unconventional appetites, but they would never accept a child
created in a laboratory. My seed must take root in my queen the
old-fashioned way, the way the creator intended.”

“I see.”

“Do you not find Umar attractive?” He took a
moment to appreciate the other man’s attributes. “I thought you
would be relieved by this development.”

“I appreciate your honesty and I’ll do my
best to find fulfillment in our union.”

Vega’s gaze narrowed in disapproval. “Don’t
patronize me. If you cannot accept this situation, tell me
now.”

There was far more at stake than Rana’s
happiness. Her true weakness had been revealed by this debacle. If
she did anything to sabotage the treaty, her mother would take it
out on the people of Devaunt. Rana heaved a frustrated sigh. If
only she were despicable enough to order her mother’s
assassination, none of this would be necessary. But Rana still had
a soul and barring assassination, Vega was her best option.

“My last relationship was complicated,” she
told the king. “I was hoping for something simple and more
conventional this time around. Again, I meant no insult.”

“The choice is yours. The betrothal cannot
proceed until we test the arrangement. If you are willing, have
your maid undress you. If not, I understand.”

Kashi shifted her worried gaze toward the
door, the subtle gesture obvious to Rana. She smiled, trying to
soothe her handmaiden’s fear, even though her own heart was
pounding. Motioning Kashi forward, Rana turned her back on the
men.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Kashi
whispered.

“What I want is irrelevant. My people must
come first.” Kashi unfastened the back of the gown, while Rana
stepped out of her shoes. “You don’t need to stay for this. In
fact, I’d rather you didn’t.”

“But what if this isn’t a game? Some men are
aroused by violence.”

“How would you assist me if this turns ugly?
I don’t have a choice.”

“I could sure as hell run for help.”

“Stay in the hall. If I need help, I’ll make
sure you know it’s not part of the game.”

Kashi neatly draped the gown over the back
of a chair and paused for a quick bow before reluctantly leaving
the room.

“She’s going to bear witness from the
hallway, if that’s acceptable.” Rana arched one of her eyebrows in
subtle challenge.

“I suppose we can make this small
concession.” Vega proffered a goblet of dark red wine. “A toast
before we begin?”

Umar had stripped to the waist as Kashi
undressed Rana. His torso was lean and sleekly muscled. Their gazes
locked as she took the goblet from Vega. Desire smoldered in Umar’s
dark gaze, but smugness extinguished what little heat his
expression aroused. He would always be first with Vega and he
wanted to make sure she knew it.

Aching memories stirred within Rana. This
entire situation was far too reminiscent of her relationship with
Jaque. He had lavished her with affection, but he had
loved
Pavel.

She took a sip of wine as Umar kissed the
king. Umar stroked Vega boldly, his gaze still locked with
hers.

“Enough, my love.” Vega pushed Umar
backward. “I know
you
can arouse me.”

“How should we proceed, sire?”

If Vega detected the subtle mockery in
Umar’s tone he didn’t react. The king looked about the room as he
stroked his goatee. “Stand there, beside the divan. Kiss her until
she gets wet. I want her good and juicy before I interrupt
you.”

With a regal bow, Umar took her half-empty
wineglass from her hand and set it aside. He swept her into his
arms and steered her toward the low, backless couch. “You really
are lovely. I suspect we’ll get along just fine.”

Before she could judge his sincerity, his
mouth covered hers. The kiss was harsh and wet. Jaque always
nibbled at her lips and introduced his tongue gradually. Umar
thrust into her mouth as soon as their lips touched, inhaling her
startled gasp as his hand cupped her ass. He was declaring his
dominance, establishing his position in the pack. She had no
interest in being the alpha, but she’d expected a little
finesse!

“Kiss me back and curve your leg around my
hip.” He sounded impatient and annoyed.

She wanted to shove him backward and storm
from the room, but this night might well set the tone for the rest
of her life. She would not accept this sad farce without a fight.
If she felt nothing more than annoyance, she would find another way
to deal with her mother.

Pushing her fingers into Umar’s thick hair,
she took control of the kiss, slowing his pace and fitting their
mouths more snugly together. She rocked her hips and rubbed her
nipples against his chest. His cock stirred to life between them
and she explored his broad back.

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered against his
kiss moistened lips. “Each night I spend without you is agony.” She
heard Vega’s pleased chuckle, but Umar was too busy trying to
regain control of the embrace. She would soon be queen and
regardless of Vega’s feelings for him, Umar was her subordinate.
She couldn’t allow him to treat her with disrespect. “I want your
mouth on me.” Daring him to object, she urged him to his knees.
“Lick me! Fuck me with your tongue. I want my cream all over your
face when I come.” Vega made a strangled sound as she raised her
chemise with one hand and boldly caressed her smooth mound with the
other.

“Take it off,” Umar growled. “If I’m going
to eat you, by god, you’ll be naked and squirming while I do
it.”

She tugged off the undergarment and tossed
it aside.

“Very nice,” the king whispered, momentarily
abandoning his character. “Turn around. Let me look at you.”

Feminine power surged through her, new and
intoxicating. Perhaps there was some appeal to this role-playing
after all. Keeping her gaze downcast, she rotated on the ball of
her foot. A slow flush crept across her skin as Vega visually
devoured her naked body.

The pleasant moment ended abruptly when she
faced Umar again. His features were tense with barely suppressed
anger. Swallowing past the lump in her throat, she reinforced her
determination and wrapped herself in her role.

“I ache, my love. Please.” Stroking her
breasts, she licked her lips and swayed toward him.

“Like this?” Umar grasped her hips and
pushed his tongue into her folds. He flicked her clit, the touch
firm and sudden. She gasped. “Or like this?” He traced her crease
over and over. Heat spiraled into her belly and beyond, making her
nipples tighten. Teasing her mercilessly, he licked her folds and
nudged her opening, never venturing deeper.

She shifted her feet and parted her thighs,
restless and needful.

“If you want more,” he taunted, “show
me.”

Helpless to resist the temptation, she
raised one of her legs to his shoulder and opened herself to him.
He framed her with his lips, denying her the penetration of his
tongue. “In me,” she gasped out the words. “I need you inside
me.”

Vega’s arm wrapped around her waist and
dragged her off Umar’s face. “You whore!” He slapped her ass hard
and Rana cried out. He hadn’t said anything about hitting. “I no
sooner leave your bed and you have another man waiting to fuck you?
Are you never satisfied?” He pushed her to her knees and bent her
over the divan. “Spread your legs, my lady slut; let me see how
well you like it.”

“Please, sire. I will never --”

He interrupted her plea with another firm
spank. Heat spread through her bottom and her feminine core
throbbed. Jaque had never handled her roughly, never dared suggest
a spanking. The brocaded upholstery abraded her nipples as Vega
pulled her wrists to the small of her back.

“I promote you from common soldier to palace
guard and this is how you repay me?” Vega sneered at Umar. “I
should have you executed for touching her. It is within my
right.”

“I know, sire. I am so ashamed.”

“Ashamed? You lie to me with her cream on
your lips! Spread her legs. I want to see your fingers sink into
her faithless cunt.” Umar dragged her legs apart and stroked her
inner thighs. “No! Do not caress her. Thrust into her fast and
hard. She is a whore and you will treat her as such.”

She couldn’t deny the leap in her pulse as
Vega snatched control from her completely, but why was it necessary
to make her feel… demeaned?

Umar pushed into her pussy and she pressed
her lips together to keep from crying out. She was wet, not just
wet, sopping, and his fingers felt fantastic. Without warning he
added another finger. Was that two or three? If he’d just brush his
thumb across her clit, she’d blast into orgasm.

“Harder.” Vega smacked her ass again and
Umar effortlessly matched his rhythm, obviously used to the
routine. “Tell me what you feel.”

“She is --”

“She is my queen!” He punctuated the point
with an especially hard slap against her burning ass. “Say your
queen’s pussy is hot.”

“Your queen’s pussy is hot.”

Thrust. Slap. Heat and tingles.

Rana clenched her teeth against the mounting
pleasure. She wasn’t a whore, so why was her body responding so
intensely to being treated like one? Her inner muscles fluttered
and tension built with alarming speed.

“Your queen’s pussy grips me tightly,” Vega
prompted. “Say it!” Slap. Thrust.

“Your queen’s pussy grips me tightly.” Umar
was almost yelling. “She’s about to come.”

Vega shoved Umar’s hand back and Rana
moaned. Her channel throbbed painfully as the orgasm slipped away.
Damn them! She had never needed to come so badly in her entire
life.

“Lie down and spread your legs over the
sides of the divan. I want to see everything this bastard does to
you.”

Shaky from the averted release, Rana turned
around and stretched out on her back. The rough material made her
bottom burn, which only accented the ache in her pussy. She lowered
her feet to the floor on either side of the divan, spreading her
legs wide in the process. Both men stared at her with a combination
of lust and contempt. Real or pretend, the hostility upset her. She
wanted to be cherished and appreciated, not resented and
despised.

Being the focus of two lusty men had teased
her imagination as long as she could remember. Pavel had only been
interested in Jaque, so the fantasy had never been realized. Now
she was the center of attention. It just wasn’t the sort of
attention she craved.

“Raise your arms above your head. Thrust out
those tits.” Vega circled her, taking in the view from every angle.
“We’ll have to pierce your nipples and your clit. I want to watch
chains swing as Umar fucks you from behind.”

She looked into his eyes, but his gaze was
fixed on her pussy. Was he talking about eventually or before the
night was through? “Are we --”

“Silence! You will only speak when I ask you
a question.” He returned to the foot of the divan. “Your cunt is
deeply flushed and you’ve made such a mess with your cream that I
could fuck you up the ass with no other lubrication.”

He sure as hell better not put that opinion
to the test! She glanced toward the door. Was Kashi still
listening?

“Finger her ass. I want to see that tight
little hole spread around your finger.”

Fear poked through her uncertainty. Jaque
had played with her bottom from time to time, but he’d never taken
her there. She licked her lips, desperate to ask questions and
needing reassurance.

Pushing his middle finger into her pussy,
Umar rubbed her clit with his thumb. He studied her expression,
waiting for her to relax. “Tilt your hips and I’ll make you like
it,” he coaxed. Before Vega could object to his tone, she planted
her feet more firmly and canted her hips. Umar painted her anus
with her own juices, preparing and teasing her with his slick
fingertips.

His entry was surprisingly gentle. He
gathered cream again and eased inside with steady pressure. She
held perfectly still, relaxing her internal muscles as he gradually
filled her.

“Is she tight?”

“Very.”

“Has anyone ever fucked you up the ass?”

She shook her head, afraid to breathe as
that long finger began to slide.

“Then I will take your virginity on our
wedding night,” he muttered, his gaze glued to the steady
penetration of Umar’s finger. “Then Umar will fuck your pussy,
while I’m still in your ass. You will come so hard you’ll see
stars.” He reached down and pinched her clit. She yelped but bit
back a scream, unwilling to give him the satisfaction. “Do you need
to come, my lovely whore?”

“Yes.” Her whimper was real. Her entire
abdomen ached with the need to climax.

“Too bad.” He unfastened his pants and freed
his erection. “I will feel the silken heat of that traitorous mouth
first. Perhaps if you please me well enough, I’ll allow your lover
to reward you at the very end.” Umar moved to the side of the
divan, maintaining the firm slide of his finger in her ass. “Use
your tongue on her clit, but don’t let her come until I release my
seed.”

“Yes, sire.”

She caught a glimpse of Vega’s cock as he
pushed it into her mouth. It felt about the same as Jaque’s,
perhaps a bit longer. Swirling her tongue around the flared head,
she kept her lips snug as he rocked in and out. Two men were
touching her, arousing and teasing her, just as she’d always
imagined, yet she felt -- used.

Would he come in her mouth? Jaque always
timed his release so his come slid immediately down her throat.
Somehow she didn’t think Vega would consider anything but his
pleasure.

Vega groaned and hesitated in mid-stroke.
“You wicked, wicked man.”

Umar had thrust his finger into Vega’s ass.
Rana watched his hand move, but couldn’t actually see his fingers.
He was fucking them both, expertly controlling the pleasure. She
sucked Vega deeper into her mouth and Umar circled her clit with
his tongue. Their movements synchronized, driven on by Umar’s
clever skill. Tension gathered again, her senses focused as an
orgasm built within her.

“Now, for fuck’s sake, now!” Vega thrust to
the back of her mouth and jetted his seed into her throat. She
gagged then forced herself to swallow. “Yes, sweet slut. Swallow
again and again. Take all of it. Lick me clean.”

Like an obedient “whore” she swallowed every
drop then bathed his shaft with gentle licks and tender kisses. All
the while her fury grew. Nothing in the galaxy would be worth
spending the rest of her life playing the unfaithful wife for a
disinterested husband.

Panting harshly, Vega staggered back from
the divan and casually righted his clothing. “That was…remarkable.
I dare say we are more than compatible.” He laughed, obviously
proud of his performance. “If you two want to play a while longer,
I have no objection. I’ll see you in the morning and we’ll set a
date for our wedding.” He strutted from the room and discreetly
closed the doors.

Was the man daft or just oblivious? What
little interest they’d managed to ignite had been snuffed out by
their cruelty.

Umar slowly withdrew his finger. Rana
shuddered. She’d forgotten he was still inside her.

“Not quite what you were expecting?” Any
hint of warmth in his gaze iced over. She tried to close her legs
and he grasped her thighs, his fingers biting painfully into her
flesh. “Don’t ever try and control me again!”

She reared up and swung her fist at his
angry face. This farce had gone on long enough! He caught her wrist
and crawled onto the divan, kneeling between her thighs. “Let go of
me.” She mimicked her mother’s imperious tone, thanking god he was
still wearing pants.

He laughed. “Save your queenly airs for
someone who gives a shit. The only pleasure you will ever know,
from this day forth, will be given to you by me.”

Rather than argue, she glared into his eyes.
As soon as she got out of this room, she intended to pack her bags
and return to Devaunt. His threats held no power over her.

“How did you like being the king’s whore?”
He tweaked one of her nipples. “I know you didn’t come, because I
made damn sure you didn’t. But it doesn’t have to be like
that.”

“What do you want?” She ignored his touch as
he turned his attention to her other breast.

“I want you to understand the reality of
your position.” He pinched her viciously and she cried out despite
her clenched jaw. “Look at me when I’m speaking to you. In a few
weeks you will be queen, but you will also be a whore. You will
suck my cock whenever I crook my finger and raise your skirts
whenever I feel the need for your pussy or your ass.”

“And the king will have nothing to say about
it?”

“The king is a sniveling fool. I can make
him whimper like a baby with the swirl of my little finger. Imagine
what I can do with my cock.” He paused for a cruel smile. “Vega
will allow me to do whatever I want with you as long as we play his
ridiculous game.”

Pride blasted through her caution. She
despised bullies. “What’s to keep me from telling the king you’re
threatening me?”

“The well-being of your precious people.” He
arched his brow in challenge. “Unlike Vega, I take time to learn
everything there is to know about my adversaries. If you seem
hesitant at all, I’ll convince him to abolish the treaty. And we
both know how badly the people of Devaunt need the promised
reforms.” He leaned in, his lips brushing her cheek as he added,
“That’s the beauty of this arrangement. I will have both king and
queen at my beck and call.” He crawled off her and snatched his
discarded shirt off the floor. “I won’t make you suck me tonight.
Consider it your wedding gift,” Umar said as he left the room.

She scrambled off the divan and donned her
chemise as Kashi rushed into the room.

“Are you all right?” her handmaiden
cried.

“I’m fine.” She was fighting back tears and
her hands were shaking so badly she couldn’t fasten a button, but
she would not let Umar get the upper hand.

“You don’t mean to go through with this do
you?”

“Of course not.” She shuddered, drawing calm
from her renewed purpose. Her people must be protected, but never
again would she consider sacrificing herself in the process. “I
need time to figure out what to do about Mother.”

“Say the word and I’ll arrange --”

“I’m not going to murder my mother.” She
finger combed her hair away from her face. “Not even if she
deserves it.”

“She doesn’t have to die. We can just make
her disappear.”

Rana rubbed her temples and shook her head.
“If there is any doubt about her fate, the cabinet will appoint a
regent. After her dreadful rule, they are not anxious to empower
another empress.”

“They want a man on the throne?”

With a stiff nod, Rana focused on strategy.
“Her cabinet is even more corrupt than she is. I need the backing
of four of the six great houses before I make my move. I can’t do
this alone. I’m not sure I can do it at all, but
this
is not
an option.” They said nothing as Kashi helped her dress. Rana
slipped her feet back into her shoes and washed her mouth out with
the rest of her wine. “I can use this wedding as a stall tactic
while I set things in motion, but how do I avoid the actual
marriage? No one can suspect anything is amiss until it’s too
late.”

Kashi’s hazel eyes gleamed with mischief and
she offered Rana a reassuring smile. “You leave that to me. I know
a man who would be perfect to swoop in and ‘rescue’ you right
before your wedding can be consummated.”

Chapter Two

 

Leaning his chair back against the wall,
Vihlok Torral rested his boot on the cross-rung of the chair beside
him and studied the two men standing at the bar. One was his best
friend, Fibros Jivan; the other represented a prospective
client.

Laughter and music mixed in a boisterous
cacophony. Gaming tables lined one end of the crowded nightclub and
the bar dominated another. Images flashed in time to the driving
beat, scrolling from one vidscreen to the next in a mesmerizing
ripple of color and light. Despite the numerous distractions,
Vihlok’s attention focused entirely on the stranger talking to
Fibros.

Vihlok’s knack for interpreting body
language had served him well in the past. Tall and lithe, with the
vivid blue markings of an Elloni, the stranger moved with practiced
grace and intentional precision. His gestures gave nothing away. He
passed Fibros a datapad, waited silently as the stocky Devauntian
browsed through the information, then made a final comment. Fibros
nodded in response to whatever the Elloni said then the stranger
inclined his head and left the bar.

Fibros ambled across the room, shoulders
tense, gaze averted. A chill raced down Vihlok’s spine. Why had the
exchange seemed…rehearsed?

“One of the children of Bliss?” Vihlok asked
as Fibros slipped into the chair across from him.

“I didn’t recognize him, but he sure looked
like the real thing to me.”

Elloni pleasure givers had become so popular
on Spaceport Makar others emulated their appearance. With some hair
dye and a skillful tattoo artist, a back alley trickster could
improve their reputation and significantly raise their prices.
Bliss, a top tier Madame, genetically tested all of her “children,”
ensuring their authenticity before they interacted with her
exclusive clientele.

Shaking away the tangent, Vihlok asked,
“What does the job entail, and more importantly, what does it
pay?”

Contracts had been scarce lately. The
Sabrotine Federation had thrown up blockades all over the star
system. Arrogant bastards thought they owned the universe and few
were powerful enough to argue the point. With pressure mounting
from all sides, Vihlok had applied for a privateer’s license which
gave him access to blockaded spaceports. He had no real love for
the Sabrotine. It was just easier to work with them than against
them.

“This one could be interesting.” Fibros
rested his forearms on the round tabletop and leaned in close. “We
wouldn’t ordinarily touch this sort of thing, but this is a lot of
money.”

Vihlok stiffened. There were only two
services he wouldn’t provide, kidnapping and assassination. “Are we
talking disappearance or coerced negotiation?”

“Negotiation.”

They were thieves and smugglers.
Intimidation and bribery didn’t even raise Vihlok’s pulse, but
kidnapping? He scooted his chair closer to the table, and lowered
his voice. “What is the client hoping to accomplish with the
negotiation?”

“We’ve both been doing this long enough to
know which questions are relevant.
Why
seldom enters the
equation.”

It was a subtle reminder. Fibros had no
trouble acting on incomplete information, while Vihlok wanted to
understand every aspect of each situation. They needed to be able
to control the sequence of events, but they were often protected by
their ignorance.

“You confirmed the fee?” Vihlok suppressed
his curiosity and focused on the facts.

Pulling the compact datapad from the front
pocket of his nondescript work shirt, Fibros passed it to Vihlok. A
deposit had been logged with the Interplanetary Bank of Sephora. If
Vihlok accepted the job, he’d transmit a passcode and the funds
would be transferred into a holding account for the duration of the
contract. The client could no longer access the funds, but neither
could Vihlok. Once the job was completed, the client would transmit
their passcode, releasing the credits. The arrangement protected
both sides and Sephoran bankers had gotten rich brokering the
deals.

Vihlok whistled long and low when he saw the
amount. “That is a lot of money.”

“This will give us some much needed
stability. We’ve been dredging the bottom for too long. Wouldn’t it
be nice to be selective again?”

He couldn’t argue with that and still
tension gripped his abdomen. “Risk assessment?”

“Minimal.” Fibros motioned toward the
datapad. “The entire job is outlined, opportunity, escape route, we
will even be issued invitations to the event.”

“This is an inside job.” It wasn’t a
question. Only someone close to the victim could arrange all this.
Vihlok scrolled through the diagrams, his discomfort growing with
each detail. Fibros was right about not asking why, yet the
question screamed through Vihlok’s mind. “Is the mark in on
it?”

“Didn’t ask. Don’t care. We disrupt a
wedding and make off with the bride. It’s a pretty straightforward
gig.”

“Are you sure you didn’t recognize the
messenger?”

Fibros shook his head. “They all look the
same after a while.”

Bliss was one of their best customers. Her
clients expected luxuries that weren’t easy to find in this
secluded sector. Bliss paid well and without argument, so they did
their best to help keep her customers satisfied.

“Who submitted the contract?” Vihlok asked.
“Are there references?”