Naked, she twisted and tugged against the chains holding her captive. King Fluut, the repugnant ruler of the Finn, had hung her on the wall across from his throne in the capital of the stolen planet Zandia. Yes, strapped her to the wall. Naked.
She didn’t think it was sexual for him, though. He didn’t look at her body with anything more than disgust. Feeling’s mutual, asshole. The nudity was some kind of degradation game.
She’d been a royal idiot coming to Zandia, but her home planet had been like a living, breathing entity, calling to her. After a lifetime of hunger and weakness, of going to sleep at night bone-tired, the promise of strength from Zandia’s crystals had sung to her.
That part had, at least been true. Even in her current, dire predicament, tiny bubbles of energy coursed through her body, enlivening parts she scarcely knew existed. The unfortunate side effect was an awakening at the notch between her legs. And the nudity did not help.
Her pussy warmed and moistened, clearly disconnected from her brain, which knew this situation was not the least bit sexy. Her clothes may be off, but it sure as hell wasn’t playtime. Why then, did her damn nipples stiffen every time a new male walked into the room?
The males were beastly. Literally. The Finn were a horrid, ugly species. Short, gray-skinned, with grotesque flat noses and vicious-looking teeth. The king was the worst of all, his pointy teeth half-rotten, face wrinkled and sagging.
No, her body definitely wasn’t interested in these males. But she did find herself imagining males of other species. Human. Zandian. Not that she’d ever seen a Zandian male. Hell, she hadn’t even known she was Zandian until last solar cycle.
A traveler at the bar where she’d served as a slave her entire life had mentioned it in passing, asking how she survived away from the crystals.
His words ignited her, like she’d been zapped by the fiercest electrical storm space had ever known. The hair on her head had stood up, blood heated and spun in her veins. She’d run after him, knowing she’d get a beating from her master, Thurn, when she returned, but not caring.
“What do you mean?” she’d asked. “What crystals?”
The customer, a rough-looking trader, had looked at her like she was the biggest idiot he’d ever seen. “You don’t know about the crystals?”
“What. Crystals? Please tell me what you’re talking about.”
“You’ve heard of Zandia, right?” His voice dripped with derision.
She’d flushed and shaken her head. “You said that’s where I’m from?”
“Yes. You’re a Zandian. Zandia is your home planet. The one your species came from? It’s made up of crystal—the crystal used to power laser weaponry. That’s why the Finn invaded and killed off most of your kind. Supposedly, the Zandians used the crystals for energy. They don’t require food or drink, just crystal. Something like that, anyway. That’s why the Finn killed them off.”
She’d gaped, trembling with the new knowledge, a million beliefs about her existence crashing around in her head until Thurn arrived and yanked her away with a bruising grip on her upper arm.
Take me there, she’d almost begged the stranger, but her good sense prevailed. She couldn’t show her hand to her master. Not until the right opportunity presented itself. And it had. She’d finally had the courage to steal from the till and escape, purchasing passage straight to Zandia.
Which she now saw had been as impulsive as it was stupid. Blame it on the crystals, which now had her body afire, lust pumping through her veins, feeding her like the oxygen. What would a Zandian male look like? Purplish skin like hers? How tall would he stand? What kind of cock?
Stars, was she thinking about cocks?
She shifted restlessly against the bonds that held her secure against the wall. The king usually ordered her taken down from the wall and sent to the dungeon for the night. She wasn’t given clothing and was paraded through the entire dungeon for every male in every cell to gawk at, but, thankfully, had a private cell.
She couldn’t wait to go there. Not just for the relief of being released from the dreadful position on the wall. But, for the first time in her life, she needed to touch herself. Down there. Desperately.
I’m coming for you, Talia.
Tomis slumped in his seat on the prison ship, attempting to look like nothing more than a two-bit smuggler. A ruffian, who’d made the mistake of attempting to buy Zandian crystal on the black market. His plan—a suicide mission at best—was to get into the Finnian prison below the capital of Zandia before getting himself killed.
If he made it that far, he planned to break out with the beautiful Talia, possibly the only female Zandian of breeding age in the galaxy, the daughter of Master Seke, his mentor.
The Stornigian sitting across from him stared openly. “You do know what they’ll do with you when you get to Finnian Outland, don’t you?”
Finnian Outland. That pissed him off. The planet’s name was Zandia, rightful home to the Zandians, ruled by Prince Zander, son of the dead King Zander. Zandia was his homeland—a crystal encrusted planet of great natural beauty and wealth.
He lifted his upper lip in a scowl and played stupid. “What?”
“The Finn exterminated your entire species. Systematically. As in, hunted down and killed every single living Zandian they could find. You think they’ll let you live three seconds on their planet?”
Their planet. Vecking assholes.
He grunted as if he could care less, but a familiar sickness gripped his solar plexus. One part hatred, one part despair. That any species would commit such an atrocious act of genocide made him ill. And he remembered every bit of it. The screaming. The falling buildings. Bloodied bodies. His mother shoving him in a packed airship just before it lifted off. Watching her wave goodbye, fist shoved in her mouth, weeping, just before another bomb obliterated the ground she’d been standing on. Her final act had been to save his life.
He’d spent his life to date training for revenge. To make her sacrifice count, take back the planet for his ruler, Prince Zander.
But, first, Talia.
Now that the Stornigian had called attention to him, the rest of the prison airship members stared, too, curiosity glinting in their eyes. Ten were Finn. One human—probably an escaped slave. Three Stornigians.
One of the Finn spoke up. They were short, ugly creatures—round heads, sharp pointy teeth, grayish skin. “You’re Zandian? I didn’t know there were any of you left,” he jeered. “Where’ve you been hiding?”
Tomis affected a shrug. “Here and there.”
“What are you in for?” another Finn asked.
“How’d you live without the crystals?” the first Finn asked. “I thought they were necessary to your survival.” That had been the reason for the Finn exterminating his species. They believed Zandians wouldn’t simply vacate their planet and take refuge elsewhere. Not when their biology required the crystals for charging. When Master Seke had evacuated Prince Zander from the falling palace, he’d had the wisdom to load as many large crystals as they could carry, allowing the small community of refugees to survive these years away from Zandia.
He folded his arms across his chest, adopting a veck off posture to let them know he wouldn’t be answering any more questions.
The small prison airship bumped to a landing, and heavily armed guards came in to escort them off. He prayed finding Talia wouldn’t be too difficult.
By the one true Zandian star, if the Finn motherveckers hurt that female, he would kill every vecking last one of them.
But that aggression wouldn’t serve him now. He shoved it down, stowed it for later. For the moment, he needed to play it cool. If Fluut, King of the Finn, believed he was on official Zandian business, he’d be executed immediately, and so would Talia.
He’d never met the female, but he’d been willing to die for her from the moment he saw her terrified hologram in the transmission from Fluut.
I’ll exchange her for your prince. You have one week to deliver.
That had been two planet rotations ago. Eight more to go then Talia would be killed.
One of the guards jabbed him in the ribs with the butt of his giant laser gun. Tomis drew the pain in, used it as fuel for his power.
Pain is merely sensation, Master Seke used to say during training. Register it. Use the information. Do not give it more weight than it deserves.
Talia was Master Seke’s daughter, missing since the Finn invasion of Zandia. Seke had believed her dead until recently, when Rok revealed he’d escaped with two female children. Tomis had been helping Seke search for them ever since.
He made himself stumble and swerve, as if weak and off-balance, when the guards shoved him off the prison ship. His clothes were dirty and tattered, boots worn. He’d done everything he could to appear like a nobody.
A guard stood at the entryway, scanning their bodies for disease, their barcodes if they had them. He had none. He’d been a free being his entire life.
“Who’s this?” the guard demanded when he took in Tomis.
“Smuggler. Trying to buy crystal. Thought King Fluut might want him for extra leverage.”
The guard’s face stretched into a greasy smile, showing a row of pointy teeth with food bits stuck between them. “Excellent. Take him to the prison for holding.”
Step two of his hare-brained plan had worked. Now he just had to find Talia and escape.
When the scan was complete, the guards dragged him roughly forward and down two sets of metal stairs to the dungeons. Exactly where the Zandian plans had shown it to be. He carried no weapons save his fists, but his body had been trained to kill from his first planet rotation after the Zandian genocide. His two aces in the hole were the massive solar flare Seke planned to trigger to take out the Finn’s power tonight and the extensive underground tunnel system below the dungeons that the Finns didn’t seem to know existed.
He just hoped Talia was in the dungeons, too.
He kept his head down as they trudged past cell after cell, filled with every miserable species of being he could name. Almost all male. No other Zandians.
The guard placed his hand on the panel outside a cell and it slid open. Three huge beings looked up as Tomis was thrust forward, into the cell, and the panel slid shut.
He flexed his muscles and cracked his neck. If they needed to get the proof of dominance thing over first, he was ready. Hopefully, they’d let him fight them one at a time, but that was probably too much to ask.
“No fighting,” the largest one grunted, as if bored. “Or they take away your meals.”
Huh. That was unexpected. He sat down on a bench beside the hulking being of a species he couldn’t readily identify.
“Meals good, are they?” he asked drily. Zandians required little food so long as they had contact with their crystal, so such a thing didn’t matter to him.
The guy snorted. “Not much else to look forward to around here.”
Okay, so his cellmates were friendly. Or at least non-threatening. He’d passed his third test. It almost worried him how smoothly things had gone. He’d figured he had a 70-30 chance of dying before he reached this point.
“Have you seen any beings like me? A female?”
All three of his cellmates shifted. “Oh yeah. We’ve seen her. We’ve seen all of her.”
His hands balled into fists and teeth clamped down tight. “What the veck do you mean by that?”
“You’ll see her, too. Just wait until suppertime.”
His patience snapped, and he lunged forward, wrapping his fist around the male’s bulky throat. “What. In the veck. Are you talking about?”
“No fighting,” the guy wheezed, not moving a muscle to stop Tomis. His self-restraint put Tomis to shame, and he released the male.
“Just wait. You’ll see,” he repeated.
Veck. Tomis sank back to the bench and rubbed his face. He didn’t know what in the hell was going on and couldn’t stand the implication that all the males had seen Talia.
He forced himself into stillness, quieted his mind to wait. There was nothing else for him to do until the power went off, anyway. Time passed—a few hours, perhaps.
The sound of catcalls and shouts down the corridor made him lift his head.
His giant cellmate jerked his chin. “Here she comes.”
He flew to the panel of bars and leaned his head against the cool metal, grateful the bars weren’t electrified like most modern prisons. He knew from Zandian history this dungeon had been in use for thousands of years. With his neck cranked, he could see down the corridor at—oh vecking stars—what had they done to her?
Two guards dragged a naked Talia past the cells.
His muscles flexed and bulged with the need to fight for her freedom. He shoved down the urge to call out to her in their language, to tell her he’d come for her and promise to get her free. Tonight.
Instead, he backed up a step, sinking into the shadows when she passed their cell. Even so, her gaze jerked to him, violet eyes widened. She stumbled, and the guards shoved her forward, hard.
Tomis suppressed the growl of rage rocketing up into his throat, kept his face perfectly blank. But the scent of Talia lingered. By the one true Zandian star—did he smell her… arousal?
He closed his eyes, reviewing the image of her burned on his retinas. She was slender—too thin. Small for a Zandian. At least, he didn’t think females were normally so small. The elders he’d met were not. She was almost human-sized, yet still exquisite. Long legs, her bare sex dainty between them. Flat belly. Two pert breasts. Were her nipples stiff?
His cock hardened, remembering. He replayed the scene in his mind in slow motion. She’d looked right at him, tossed that thick, reddish-brown hair over her shoulder and, yes, the dusky purple peaks of her breasts had turned rigid when her eyes widened.
He adjusted his aching cock in his combat pants. Well, that was unexpected. Stars, he didn’t need the extra distraction. This female’s capture had already brought out more emotion than he’d felt in all the years since watching his mother’s death. Zandians weren’t normally hotheaded. They were logical, practical. Warriors were well-disciplined and dispassionate. All that had flown the moment he’d seen Talia’s hologram.
Well, he’d have to treat the emotion the same way he did pain. Use it as information and power.
Power to free his female.
She crumpled to the floor of her cell and brought her fingers between her thighs.
Stars, yes. Relief. She explored her folds with novice fingers, found the most sensitive place—the one that sent spirals of pleasure out through her body when she touched it—and rubbed.
She’d seen another Zandian. A male.
At least, she thought she had. One of the prisoners had been watching her. She’d never seen him before, and he’d pulled back, like he didn’t want her to see him. But his skin was the same color as hers. He also had horns on the top of his head. Did Zandian males have horns? She wished she knew more about her own species.
Thurn, her asshole master, had never even told her what species she was. He’d led her to believe she was human. She’d thought she just hadn’t seen a human yet with her skin color. Of course, believing she was human kept her firmly enslaved, hadn’t it? Humans weren’t free anywhere in the galaxy these days, particularly not in any Ocretion territory. She’d always thought running away would mean her certain death.
Well, turns out it had. She had a death sentence hanging over her head now for a different reason. King Fluut would have her executed if the Zandians didn’t trade their refugee prince for her by the end of the week. Pah. She wasn’t holding her breath for that to happen.
Her thoughts drifted back to the prisoner as she rubbed frantically at her swollen flesh. He’d been at least a foot taller than her and massive in size. Bulging muscles, strong jaw, sharp, intelligent eyes. He watched like he’d been expecting to see her, but she knew she hadn’t seen him before. She would’ve remembered.
What would it be like to be taken by a male like that? She had to believe his cock was in proportion to those spectacular muscles. Would it hurt? She stifled a groan. Nothing could hurt more than this ache between her legs right now. What in the hell was happening to her? It had to be the crystals.
Suddenly, the prison fell into complete darkness. For a moment, there was no sound—no whir, no hum of machinery, no buzz of lighting. Then shouts and clangs filled the air.
She scrambled to her feet just as the door to her cell scraped open. Not the automatic whoosh of the door, but the mechanical grind of a mechanism forced.
A hand closed on her forearm. “I got her! I found the female!” a gleeful male voice rang out.
“Shut up, asshole. Do you want to have to fight the rest of them for her?” Another male entered and tugged the cell door shut. “Where is she? I get her first.”
She wrenched her arm in the first male’s grasp but only succeeded in twisting her own flesh. She kicked out with the heel of her foot and heard a grunt.
The noise around them grew louder. Guards shouted commands, prisoners whooped, laser shots lit up the corridor with temporary blasts.
One of the males backhanded her, and she fell to the floor but used the position to scamper between his legs, toward the cell door. It clanged open again and she heard the scrape of a boot but couldn’t see who’d entered.
He shouted something in a language she didn’t understand.
She grabbed his ankle and sent him sprawling into the other two men. The crack of fists against bone filled the cell, but she didn’t stay to see who came out a winner. Instead, she slipped out the cell door and into the corridor.
Big mistake. Prisoners choked the artery, fighting each other and the guards. Shots lit up the passage like flashes of lightening; bodies fell below her.
A male grabbed her and dragged her into a cell, then shoved her to her knees.
She rolled away and kicked in his direction, hoping she’d connect with his groin. She couldn’t see a damn thing in the darkness. It didn’t seem to do much damage because, the moment she stood, he had her by the waist again.
The flash of more laser fire illuminated a huge horned male in the doorway. He shouted something at her in a foreign language. A shiver of recognition went through her. The Zandian. He’d been the male who’d entered her cell and fought the other two. He wanted her for himself.
He shoved her back into the darkness and the slam of flesh on flesh was followed by a heavy drop to the floor. She wasn’t sure which male’s fingers closed around her wrist until the urgent words came from his throat again with the repetition of the word Talia.
Maybe she should be glad that her first sexual experience would be with a male of her own species. She had been fantasizing about exactly this a few short moments ago. But being raped in a prison cell wasn’t her idea of a good time, no matter how good-looking the male.
She whirled into him and brought her knee up. This time, judging by his grunt, she did connect with groin. It didn’t stop him though. He snaked an arm around her waist and slapped her ass, still speaking his melodic language.
She fought for freedom, managing to get a punch in somewhere on his head.
He caught both her wrists, pinned them to the wall and slapped her ass again. Her body responded as if this were foreplay, not assault, nipples tightening, blood rushing to the juncture between her thighs. Her bare ass tingled, coming alive to his slaps. “Do you not understand me, Talia?” He switched into Ocretion.
“No. And who’s Talia?” she panted. He stepped even closer to her, caging her against the wall with his larger frame, holding her prisoner. Would he take her like this? Up against the wall from behind?
Heat flushed through her body and damn if her muscles didn’t go weak, as if they’d already decided surrender was inevitable. Her knees trembled, breath sawed in roughly.
“You don’t remember how to speak Zandian?” He released her.
She took the opportunity to dart for the door, but the warrior—there was no doubt in her mind that’s what he was—moved too quickly. He caught her elbow and hauled her back.
She swung for his face again, but her fist only caught air.
“Stop fighting me,” he growled. Two more sharp slaps fell on her bare ass.
How did he see in the dark? When she continued to fight, he wrapped an arm tight around her waist and hauled her off her feet, her back against his front. She clawed at the massive forearm cinching her belly.
“I’m here to rescue you, female.” His hot breath puffed over her ear. He strode forward, out of the cell and shoved his way down the corridor with her kicking the whole way. “Every minute you fight me is time we could use escaping.” Lights flashed, and he ducked under a fist flying his way. “The generators will come on any moment. Now, will you do as I say and walk on your own feet?”
“Yes,” she agreed, mainly because she couldn’t breathe with him squeezing her diaphragm.
He dropped her to the ground, smacking her ass again, presumably to keep her moving. She shot a glare over her shoulder even as her pussy dripped from the attention he kept giving her nether regions.
Laser light lit up the opposite end of the corridor, illuminating the enormous warrior. The warrior’s gaze burned with fierce intensity, swallowing her and the path in front of them. His nostrils flaring, he swung his fist in her direction. She screamed as it slammed into someone just behind her. She blinked, her retinas imprinted with the vision of the warrior’s magnificent arm used as a lethal weapon. So strong and capable.
“Here.” He pressed something soft into her hand. A piece of fabric. “Put this on.”
Her fingers untangled it as they ran. His shirt. He must have taken it off for her to wear. She yanked it over her head, arms fighting for passage through the holes as his scent washed over her, masculine and clean. Like leather and wood and soap.
They reached a T in the corridor, and he shoved her to the left. She sure as hell hoped he knew where he was going.
“Every being face down on the floor!” a Finnian guard shouted just ahead of them, scattering laser fire everywhere.
The warrior shoved her down behind him and lunged at the guard. She heard the thud of a body hitting the floor and the clatter of a weapon. In the next flash of light, she saw the Zandian had the weapon. “Come on,” he urged, helping her to her feet. He closed his large hand around hers and dragged her down the hall. At the end of it, they reached a set of stairs. Instead of going up, the warrior pulled her behind them. It sounded like his hands were running over the wall, as he whispered something in his language.
It was a beautiful language. She wished she understood it.
A click sounded, and the wall rolled away with a rumble. Behind it, damp air greeted her, along with more darkness.
The warrior gripped her hand again and pulled her down stone steps. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” he demanded. The wall rolled closed behind them.
“What do you mean?”
“You can’t see in the dark.”
“You can?” That explained how he moved so fast in the pitch black. “Ow!” She stubbed her big toe on a rock.
The warrior emitted a low curse and scooped her up into his arms. His scent hit her like a blast of heat, warm and inviting. It was all she could do not to nuzzle her nose against his thick neck.
“What was the name you called me?”
“Talia. You’re Talia, daughter of Seke, master of arms to the Prince of Zander.”
Something slithery and cold twisted in her solar plexus. An unnamed discomfort. “No. No, I’m not.”
The pleasure of carrying Talia exploded beyond all expectation. Feeling her small form tucked up against him, her bare legs smooth and soft against his forearm, invoked the fierce protector within him. The same piece of him that had roared to life the moment he saw her in captivity. But that was nothing compared to the hunger that simmered below all heroics. Forgetting the feel of her ass under his palm or that she was bare beneath his shirt was an impossibility.
He wanted to lower her to the floor and explore every inch of that soft flesh with his hands. With his tongue. His teeth. And veck, yes, with his cock. But that wouldn’t be happening. Talia was Master Seke’s daughter, not to mention the only Zandian female of breeding age alive. A common-born warrior like him wouldn’t be worthy of mating her. And to claim her without intending to mate her would be dishonorable at best, and a violation of Prince Zander and Master Seke’s trust at worst.
“You’re not Talia?”
“Then who are you?”
She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know.” Her voice cracked. “Maybe I am…” She squirmed in his arms. “Put me down,” she said sharply. “Put me down now.”
He knew nothing about females. Nothing about managing a being’s emotions, yet he knew without a doubt she wanted out of his arms to retreat into herself. He didn’t want to allow it, yet he couldn’t stomach refusing her request, either. He settled for easing her to the ground but keeping his arms locked around her waist.
She lunged away from him, but he held her fast. “Where are you going, starshine? You can’t see in the dark, and you don’t know the way out.”
“I don’t know,” she spat. The brokenness in her voice flayed him.
“Who do you think you are, starshine?”
She drew in a ragged breath. Her body trembled against his, her back to his front, the soft curves of her bare ass torturing his thighs.
His cock thickened against her back.
“They...called me Ray. Until ten weeks ago, I thought I was a human slave.”
His arms involuntarily tightened, the insult against her making him ready to slay every slave master she’d had. “Vecking stars, Talia, I’m sorry.”
She turned in his arms. “Don’t call me that. What makes you think I’m Talia?”
He brushed a strand of hair back from her face, nearly groaning at how perfectly her cheek fit in his palm, cradled there a moment before she pulled away. “Your father recognized you in the transmission from Fluut. He and I have been looking for you for the past forty planet rotations. We just found out you and your sister might be still alive.”
She struggled once more in his arms, and this time he allowed her to leave. She stumbled until she hit a wall and leaned her forehead against it. Her sniffle ripped his chest open.
He wanted to draw her back into his arms, soothe away her shock. “Do you remember anything from...before?” Before she was a slave. Before Zandia was overtaken by the Finn. Before the survivors were separated from their families and home.
“Not a thing,” she whispered.
He couldn’t resist going to her now. His fingers closed lightly on her shoulders. Standing there in the dark, it seemed he knew her completely, understood her, even though they were perfect strangers. “We understand your airship crashed on Stornig. A guard had taken you and your sister and a laborer named Rok from the castle. He was shot down over Stornig. Rok was rescued and fostered by a Stornigian family. He never knew what happened to the females or the guard aboard his ship.”
“How old was I?” Her voice came out rusty, crackly.
“I’m not sure. I think you were six solar cycles. Maybe more.”
“And my sister?”
“Hasn’t yet been found. But we only started the search recently, after Rok told us about his escape.” He slid his fingers down her arm and clasped her smaller hand in his palm. “Come on. Can you walk? I’ll feel better when we’re out of these tunnels and away from the capital.”
She gripped his hand and followed his lead, walking gingerly along the rocky surface. “Who are you?”
“Forgive me.” He stopped walking, faced her, and bowed, even though she couldn’t see him. “I am Tomis, a member of Prince Zander’s Royal Guard, apprentice to Master Seke, who is our master of arms and your father.”
“What if I’m not who you think I am?”
He caught her hand and started walking again. “If you’re not Master Seke’s daughter? It doesn’t matter. I’m here for you, whoever you are.”
“Because they want me for breeding?”
Something cold slithered through his chest, and a prickle of foreboding touched the back of his neck. He didn’t want to lie, so he went with a different truth. “Because the moment I saw your hologram in Fluut’s transmission, I knew I had to be the one to rescue you.”
She snorted. “Bit of a hero complex, then? What if I didn’t want to be rescued?” She stumbled, and he swung her back into his arms without thinking. Where he’d wanted her from the beginning.
She kicked her lower legs as if annoyed, but her slender arms snaked around his neck for purchase, which he didn’t mind at all.
“I’d say you don’t have a choice.” He sounded gruffer than he meant to, but it was the truth. He wasn’t budging from Talia’s side until he’d brought her somewhere safe. Actually, he’d prefer to never leave her side again, but quite a few other Zandian males might take issue with that. His teeth bared at the idea of challenging males. A wild beast clawed at his chest, ready to defend his turf, pierce his female and mark her forever as his.
She was the daughter of Seke, his mentor. The male who’d been like a father to him after his escape from Zandia. He had no right to veck with Seke over rights to his female offspring.
“We’ll see about that,” she muttered, and another twist of foreboding tickled his nape.
But he was Talia’s protector, whether she liked it or not. He’d keep her safe. Even if he had to keep her prisoner to do it.