mastered by love

Mastered By Love: Tales Of The Demon Kin

I recently re-released On Her Knees, a Tales Of The Demon Kin novel, as Mastered By Love. The book has a new cover and has been re-edited. This is a red-hot read that explores some very politically incorrect gender roles and may disturb or offend some readers, so be warned.

Mastered By Love

Copyright 2013

 Cover by Tori Minard from images by © Vladimirs Poplavskis, © Rolffimages, © Ruta Saulyte

This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental. All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author.

CHAPTER 1

Barbarians surrounded her on all sides. Tariza sipped her fancy mixed drink as she surveyed the masses of colorfully-dressed people thronging the ballroom of the Bellerenic embassy. Her sister, Lenora, was out there somewhere, dancing and smiling the same way most of the women were.

Tariza wouldn’t dance. So many of these people were male, all unchained – uncontrolled by a female hand – that it made the fine hairs stand up all over her body.

Most of the Bellerenics, or Demon Kin, were male because nearly all their females had been destroyed due to biological warfare, so she couldn’t hold it against them. Besides, they were the hosts and one must always be polite to one’s hosts. They’d arranged this meeting of Concordia and Saturnios at the Bellerenic embassy on Argelia in an attempt to broker peace between the two warring kingdoms.

The human males, on the other hand, had no excuse. No war, no disease had deprived them of their women. They’d simply left most of them at home because they were deemed unfit to participate.

Goddess, she hated politics. She was the heir to the throne of Concordia, yet she’d never felt less at ease than here, surrounded by other people’s expectations of her nonexistent diplomatic skills and politesse. Lenora was far better suited to this game than Tariza. She’d rather be at home with her horses than here.

I’d rather be almost anywhere than here.

She needed to think about something else before her anger and uncertainty began to show on her face. All of Concordia was relying on her and her mother, the queen, to bring honor to the realm this evening. She must not disappoint Merita again.

She turned her gaze on the design of the ballroom. The Demon Kin had a flair for the beautiful, the artistic. The enormous chamber featured exquisite hand-made glass light fixtures and gorgeous carpets made in her own Concordia. Everything shimmered with color and light, including the people that crowded everywhere around her. The only thing spoiling the loveliness was the hordes of un-escorted males wandering about.

Especially those damnable Saturnians.

She glanced around for her honor guard, but in the press of human and Demon Kin bodies she couldn’t see them anywhere and her heart began to thump so hard she imagined she could hear it. Tariza took a deep breath. It wouldn’t do to show how unnerved this male-heavy gathering made her. With an effort of will, she released the grip she had on her own waist and forced her free arm to hang by her side.

She was the heir to Concordia. Princess Tariza and her mother embodied everything for which their country stood. Perhaps she was unaccustomed to such a sophisticated, Galactic crowd, but she would never admit that in public.

Relaxed. She was relaxed. She took another sip of her drink. It was far too sweet.

The song the live band was playing ended. Dancers began to move to and from the dance floor in the center of the room. She knew little of couple dancing, and nothing at all of the mass social dances performed here tonight. Concordian dances were all about war and conquest and were never performed in mixed-gender couples.

Almost all the women present had been claimed as partners by the men, even though many of those men were Saturnian. Why did they do it? What right-thinking woman would allow one of those female-enslaving swine to touch her, let alone guide her through a dance clearly designed to please a pack of males with more power than was good for them?

The band launched into another piece of music, one with a surging rhythm she found unexpectedly pleasing. She tapped her toe as couples began to whirl around the room in a complex series of steps Tariza couldn’t hope to decipher. She had to admit the music was pretty, even if the movements were uncivilized.

“May I have this dance?” a deep voice said next to her ear.

She spun to face the man, the rapid movement sloshing liquid out of her glass and onto her hand. In spite of her high heels, she had to look up – and up – to meet his gaze. Large, deep-brown eyes fringed with absurdly long black lashes stared down at her with private amusement. Stunning eyes.

She cleared her throat. “No.”

“No? You crush me, beautiful lady.”

Tariza shook her head. “I doubt that.”

He spoke to her as if they were equals. Maybe he didn’t know she was Concordian, that she came from a country where males knew their proper place. Her gown, though, was of turquoise silk with gold accents – the colors of Concordia’s royal house. He had to know.

He’s only a man. He probably doesn’t realize what he’s doing.

“It’s only one dance,” he said with a charming smile that brought out dimples in his cheeks.

“I’m otherwise occupied. Run along now. I’m sure some other woman here will be glad to oblige you.”

The overgrown lout took her by the elbow. With his other hand, he relieved her of her glass, setting it on the moss-covered soil of a nearby potted palm. “But, Princess Tariza, I want you. Surely you don’t mean to insult the house of Saturnios by denying me in front of all these good people?”

His charming smile had something predatory in it. Too late, she noticed the quiet red accents on the fellow’s black jacket. How could she have missed the Saturnian colors on him? Red and black.

They were quite understated, though; maybe even designed to escape a cursory glance. A little scarlet on the buttons and a subtle, narrow red stripe in the charcoal neck cloth he wore; that was all.

People were beginning to notice the two of them. Tariza’s cheeks heated. “I don’t know how to dance this way.”

“It’s quite all right.” His smile deepened, dark eyes sparkling. “I’ll take the lead.”

“No, I don’t –”

He already had her by the elbow and was leading her – chivying her, really – to the dance floor. Normally, she wouldn’t hesitate to put an insolent male in his place, but this was a diplomatic event. If she continued to protest, she’d make a scene and embarrass herself and her people in front of the whole Galactic assembly. Argelia, with its anti-technology policies, was already considered somewhat backward, and isolationist Concordia the most backward of all its kingdoms.

People were idiots, but that was irrelevant. She was honor-bound to make a good, sophisticated show tonight.

She allowed him to draw her to the edge of the dance floor. He put his arm around her waist, pulling her close to his body. Beneath his formal clothes, he was hard with muscle. His scent, of freshly washed male without a hint of cologne, hit her at the same time as their bodies met.

A bolt of pure lust stabbed through her belly, suffusing her with tingling heat. She stared up at him, tense with the effort to conceal that sudden desire. It had never struck her this way, all at once and from nothing more than a fully-clothed touch.

He took one of her hands and placed it on his shoulder. “This is the waltz.” He lifted her other hand in his. “An ancient Earth dance.”

The Saturnian spun her away into the mass of dancers. Tariza jerked her gaze from his face to his feet. What in the Goddess’s name was he doing with them? She couldn’t understand his sequence of movements.

Her toe caught in the hem of her gown and she stumbled, lurching against his arm. Her face burned.

“Relax,” he said, righting her effortlessly as they continued to dance. “I’m in charge. All you have to do is let go and follow my lead.”

“I told you I don’t know how to dance this way.” And after this humiliation, she never would.

“I’m surprised it wasn’t included in your education, Your Highness.” The way he spoke her title sounded more mocking than respectful.

Tariza frowned at him. “You have the advantage of me. You know who I am, but I don’t know you.”

“Ah, yes. I’m Dario Saturnios, at your service.” He gave her a mocking little bow of his head.

Now her brows rose. “Prince Dario Saturnios?”

“The very same.”

“You weren’t with the Saturnian party that greeted us.”

“No. I was unfortunately detained in the field.” His eyes sparkled again. “Were you disappointed?”

She made a dismissive sound. “Why would I be?”

But she had been disappointed. She’d looked forward to seeing the two barbarian princes, nephews of the king, in person. Close enough to touch…except of course she would disdain to put her hands on such savages.

“I know I was.” He leaned his head close as they spun through another turn. “I wanted to know if the Concordian princess was as beautiful in person as she is in portraits.”

He flirted with her the way two female lovers did in Concordia. She’d never encountered that behavior in a male. Men in her country were humble and modest, not bold-eyed pirates. They never undressed her with their eyes, the way Dario Saturnios was doing.

“You’re talking a lot of bull – er, nonsense,” she said, fixing her gaze on his jacket buttons.

“Not at all. You’re twice as lovely in reality. I tell you, if this wasn’t such a formal event, I’d…” His voice trailed off suggestively.

“You’d what? Can you really be so ignorant that you don’t know how we Concordians deal with our men? Cease your chatter before you make an even greater fool of yourself.”

He smiled at her, looking more predatory than ever. “But I am not Concordian. Do you know how we Saturnians deal with our women?”

“How could I not? Everyone in the galaxy knows what savages you are.” She tried to break off the dance.

“Ah, ah.” His arm tightened around her like a vise. “We’ll finish out the dance, Princess.”

“You did this just to humiliate me, didn’t you?” she snapped, glaring at him.

“Not at all. I truly wished to meet you. Especially since we’ll be seated next to each other at dinner.”

“What?”

The music ended abruptly and Prince Dario released her waist, settling her hand in the crook of his arm in the same graceful move. “We’re dinner partners. Didn’t you know?”

She hadn’t even thought to ask who her dinner partner would be. In Concordia, there was no formal seating at banquets and the truth was she’d never attended a formal event outside her own kingdom. Concordia kept to itself for the most part, avoiding interaction with those who would destroy their unique way of life.

Dario gestured toward the adjoining dining room. “Shall we?”

Tariza lifted her chin. He may have phrased it as a question, but she knew an order when she heard one. If the circumstances had been different, she’d have told him to piss off, but here and now the formality of the occasion constrained her.

She gave him the most regal smile she could muster. “Yes, thank you.”

He raised his brows, just enough to let her know he found her amusing. Tariza ignored it. All she had to do was get through this one dinner and then she’d probably never see him again. Certainly she’d have no contact once she went home to Concordia.

His scent, combined with the body heat she could feel even through his clothes, made her tremble inside with a strange yearning. Goddess, what was wrong with her? She never reacted to men this way.

The dining room boasted a table made of some dark and glossy wood; it seemed to stretch forever down the length of the chamber, while enticing savory aromas drifted in from the kitchens. Above it hung more chandeliers, like the ones in the ballroom but smaller, with red and amber crystal drops that glistened like jewels in the candlelight. Another Concordian carpet underlay the table. The rug was so big she wondered irrelevantly how many people it had taken to carry it into the room.

Dario led her to a position near the head of the table, directly across from her mother and King Grasos. A Demon Kin male presided at the head of the table. He was the Bellerenic ambassador, a man with the unlikely name of Gluttony Black. In spite of his name, he was bone thin. At the foot of the table sat the Argelian High King, Zandro Margelia. In between were Bellerenic diplomatic staff, members of the Argelian High King’s Court and representatives from both Concordia and Saturnios, including her mother, Queen Merita of Concordia, and sister, Princess Lenora.

A glittering assembly, even if there weren’t enough women present. She’d heard a rumor that some of the Saturnian women had come along with the men, but they were confined to their quarters. And they wore slave collars. Her hands tightened in her lap at the thought of those poor, captive women.

If we do go to war, I’m going to free the Saturnian women. No matter what it takes.

Tariza glanced at the Bellerenics – exotic Demon Kin, with their devilish-looking horns and tails. Until she’d come here, she’d only seen them in pictures. Something about them reminded her of the Saturnian men. Maybe it was the air of physical power and vitality that surrounded them, or perhaps it was the bold way their gazes lingered on her.

Were all free males so shameless, regardless of race?

Dario bent his head nearer to her. “Don’t be afraid. The Demon Kin are quite friendly. They won’t hurt you.”

“I’m not afraid, you great dolt.”

“Now, Princess, that was unkind.”

She gave an irritated sigh. He grinned – the most self-satisfied expression she’d ever seen. The big idiot was teasing her.

“I don’t understand why you persist in trying to speak to me,” she said. “Can’t you see I’m not interested?”

His grin only deepened. “Sometimes girls don’t know what they really want.”

“That’s the most conceited, ignorant thing I’ve heard in a very long time.”

She loathed him, from his curly black hair to his big puppy eyes to his athletic legs, the muscular contours of which she could see right through the fabric of his trousers…if she chose to turn her gaze to his lap, which of course she wouldn’t. Insolent, disrespectful stallion that he was, he’d probably expected her to fall trembling at his feet and offer herself to him like a mare in season. Or some ancient virgin sacrifice.

Well, she was no ordinary princess. She was a Concordian warrior and no virgin, either.

Tariza pasted a smile on her face and kept her movements serene and regal as she dipped her spoon into her first course. She could put on a show as well as anyone and better than most. She’d been doing it all her life.

 ***

 Dario glanced sidelong at Princess Tariza. He caught her scent, faintly floral spiced with female musk, even with the odors of food all around them. What was that smug little smirk on her lips for? He couldn’t decide if she feared him or hated him. Probably a little of both.

She’s right to fear me. If I could get her beneath me, I’d do it. Fuck her right here on the banquet table and make her like it.

But that wouldn’t be diplomatic. His Uncle Grasos wanted to pursue diplomacy first, before escalating to an armed conflict. It was radically out of character for him and the first decision he’d made with which Dario could wholeheartedly agree.

War hurt everyone. The last thing Dario wanted to see was more men under his command strewn broken and dying on a blood-stained field.

Still, it rankled to sit next to this self-important, over-indulged Concordian girl who thought she had the right to be accorded equality with men. Equality. She ought to be kneeling at his feet, accepting scraps from his plate.

His cock swelled insistently at that image. Tariza Concordia would look even more beautiful naked except for a black and red leather harness, her golden head bowed in proper submission, long blond hair unbound and spilling over her shoulders. He would feed her from his own hand. And then he’d guide that luscious mouth of hers to his cock.

He gave her another glance. She still had that impudent smirk on her face. Dario leaned in and whispered in her ear.

“Someday, little one, you’ll be mine.”

The smirk disappeared, replaced by a furious glare. “Only in your pathetic little fantasies, big boy.” Even more furious color flooded her face, her dark eyes widening. She bent her head to her plate.

What was that all about? Had she been fantasizing about him?

He grinned. “I’ll make both our dreams come true.”

She gave a brittle laugh. “I’d like to see that. I truly would.”

“I promise you it will happen.”

He’d only meant to needle her, but when her head came up and their eyes met, something fiery grabbed hold of his heart. It was almost as if she’d reached out with her glance and touched some part of him he’d never even noticed before. Something deep and hidden.

Her lips parted. Her little pink tongue swept out to moisten them. His cock responded with a painful throb.

She’ll be mine. Someday. Somehow.

***

 How had she let him get her outside alone? Just one more dance, she’d said, but somehow they’d ended up in the garden under an arbor covered in climbing red roses. The flowers filled the warm evening air with their perfume. Above them hung the Argelian moon, full and round and tinted the glorious aquamarine that made it famous. It was a nauseatingly romantic spot – if you believed in romance. Tariza didn’t.

Romance was just a bunch of silly sentimental nonsense thought up by men in order to control women.

Yet here she was, under the rose arbor with Prince Dario … her worst enemy. And she was full of the kind of shivery excitement she remembered from her adolescence and her very first time with a man.

Dario leaned against the side of the arbor with a negligent arrogance that made her jaw tighten even as her heart beat faster. He was so damn full of himself. And he looked so uncompromisingly masculine, even with roses all around his dark head.

She ought to walk away. She’d been more than polite and accommodating enough to satisfy diplomacy. There was no need to continue playing his game.

“This is the last night of the summit. We won’t see each other after tonight,” he said in a low drawl.

“I’m well aware.”

He smiled in that seductive way of his, the way that made her palm itch with the urge to smack him at the same time as her knees went wobbly with desire. “Kiss me, Tariza.”

“What? No!” She took a step back.

Dario caught her hand. “Just one kiss. What could it hurt?”

He tugged her gently toward him. And Tariza let him.

She’d lost her mind. That was the only explanation for why she failed to defend herself as he palmed the side of her face, his gaze lingering on her mouth, his other hand splaying against her back. His skin felt so warm against hers, the calluses and strength of his hand giving him away as a fighting man.

She’d never met a fighting man before attending these talks.

Mother is overprotecting me.

The shock of that disloyal thought evaporated as his lips touched hers. The sweet coaxing brushes of his mouth felt much like other kisses she’d received from other men who wanted her approval. This was familiar. Safe.

She put her hands on his shoulders and allowed him to pull her closer. Their bodies met, as they had on the dance floor. Dario flicked his tongue along the seam of her lips, asking for entry. She gave it to him.

His hand slid around to the back of her head as his mouth slanted across hers, tongue plunging deep inside her. His other arm crushed her against him. His mouth, so hot and slick, tasted of wine.

The heat inside her built and throbbed between her legs and in her womb. She clutched his shoulders, moaning, and he gave a low groan in response. His hips moved subtly, rhythmically against her.

The suggestive motion brought another moan from her throat. The kiss no longer felt familiar or safe at all. He was so big and powerful, so confident, so much more than any man she’d ever kissed before.

That second moan seemed to inflame him. His grip tightened, holding her skull in place as he plundered her without mercy. His devouring mouth bit, sucked and licked every crevice of hers. He clasped her ass through the satin of her gown and kneaded with strong, sure squeezes, pressing her up against the bulge of his erection.

Her whole body flooded with pulsing liquid tingles. She rubbed herself against him, undulating with the need to feel his hands on her bare skin, to climb on top of him and take him inside her.

She was drowning in him, in his taste and scent and hard, hot body. He’d crashed over her like a great ocean wave and she was drowning. No man had ever – he’d never – Tariza quivered under the rushing sensations that threatened to overtake her, that blotted out all thought, all identity, and stole all desire except one – to be inundated by him.

No. What in the Goddess’s name was she doing?

She yanked her head back against his imprisoning hand. He loosened his grip on her and she punched him in the jaw.

He let go. “Ow. Damn. What did you do that for?”

He stared at her, fingertips pressed to the red mark on his face where she’d struck him. He was breathing hard, lips parted, eyes still heavy-lidded and sultry in spite of her blow.

“Don’t kiss me.”

Dario’s lips quirked. “You seemed to be enjoying it.”

She rubbed the back of her hand across her lips. “I wasn’t.”

“So all that moaning and wriggling in my arms was what? Indigestion?”

“I wasn’t wriggling. I never wriggle.”

“I see.” He grinned and adjusted the left shoulder strap of her gown.

“You are insufferable.”

“I’m sure I am to a woman like you.”

“Now what is that supposed to mean?”

Dario merely laughed and shook his head. “Good-bye, Princess.” He turned and walked away into the shadowy depths of the garden.

Impossible man. She bit her lip against the strange melancholy that loomed over her as he disappeared into the night. Her body still burned with the lust he’d caused.

Oh, how she longed to teach Dario Saturnios a lesson he’d never forget. Her mind conjured pictures of the proud prince in a slave collar. Kneeling at her feet. Twitching and jerking beneath the lash of her whip. Chained to a bed, his cock rising thick and hard from his body while she straddled him.

She treasured the imaginary look of desire and surrender on his face as he begged her to take him. She would take him, of course, but only after he’d proved himself sufficiently humble.

Chapter 2

Several weeks later

Dario’s field headquarters was comprised of a single large canvas tent, all red except for black piping along the seams. It was comfortable enough for the summer, while he supervised the beginnings of a fort in a high pass between Concordia and Saturnios, but cold at night, which was why he, Mateo, and the king were gathered around a glowing brazier, drinking wine after a hearty supper.

“Well, boys, even the Demon Kin couldn’t get those bitches to see reason.” King Grasos belched loudly and grinned.

Dario said nothing, although his thoughts flew to a certain petite Concordian princess.

Mateo stretched his long legs in front of him. “Did you really expect Concordia to capitulate?”

“No.” Grasos took a long gulp of wine. “And I hoped they wouldn’t.”

“Why?” Mateo grinned. “More slaves for us, with no bloodshed. Sounds like a winning proposition to me.”

“I like bloodshed,” Grasos said. “Especially when the blood belongs to a bunch of harpies who think they have cocks where their pussies should be.”

“That wasn’t my experience.” Dario took a sip from his goblet.

Grasos raised bushy black eyebrows. “Oh? Did you manage to ride one of them?”

Dario regarded his uncle with cool detachment. How this pig could be in any way related to his father, he’d never been able to grasp. “I played with one, yes.”

“Played.” Grasos chortled, slapping his thigh. “I like that. So how was she? Dried up like a raisin?”

Mateo was watching Dario with a speculative glitter in his eyes.

Dario met his brother’s gaze calmly before shrugging. “Not like a raisin at all. She was highly responsive.”

“Was she indeed?” Grasos’s smirk turned evil. The glow from the brazier lit his face from beneath, making him look downright devilish. “I’d like to see that. In fact, I plan to acquire a particular Concordian bitch for my own kennel.”

He couldn’t prevent his muscles from tightening for one telling instant. “Which one do you have in mind?”

“The little princess. What’s her name? Tarlina? Tamisha?”

Dario shrugged again, trying to keep his dismay off his face.

“Tariza,” Mateo said.

“That’s it. Tariza. A pretty name for such an uptight little martinet.”

“Why her?” Dario said carelessly. “There are thousands of others easier to get to.”

“Because it would kill Queen Merita.” Grasos belched again. “Her little darling, the jewel of Concordia, bound hand and foot, sucking on my cock while I crop her pretty little ass. I plan to make a vid and send it to Her Majesty as a gift.”

Dario forced his hands to remain open and relaxed, when he wanted to pound his uncle to the floor.

“That’s – uh – very inflammatory,” Mateo remarked. He took a sip of wine. “You sure you want to take a step like that?”

“Hell, yes. That little Concordian scout we picked up last fall is completely broken now. She’d spread her legs for my dog if I told her to. It’s entertaining, but I need a new challenge. And I want to crush Merita. She’ll be begging me to fuck her up the ass if I just let her dear daughter go.” He laughed.

Dario knew the Concordian scout to whom Grasos referred. The woman – Miri – had endured so many brutal whippings that her back and thighs were covered in a crisscross of scars. She whimpered and flinched whenever any male lifted a hand near her. The thought of Tariza in similar condition made his stomach turn so hard he thought he might vomit.

“If you make a vid,” he said with deceptive calm, “you’ll be letting everyone on Argelia know we’re using that technology.” Which was illegal on this planet.

His uncle snorted. “It’d be worth it.”

“To have the High King digging around in our business?” Dario shook his head. “God knows what he’d find. We might end up just as fucked as Concordia.”

“He’s right,” Mateo said. “We don’t want the High King coming here.”

Grasos glared at each of them in turn. “You two are a pain in the ass.”

“We do our best.” Mateo grinned.

“All right. I suppose I can give up the vid. But I’m still taking Princess Tariza. I’ve already got some men working on it.”

Son of a bitch. He didn’t have much time, then.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dario saw Mateo watching him again. He must suspect Dario had feelings for Tariza. He refused to look at his brother. He’d already said too much; if he continued, Grasos might sense that Dario had more than a passing interest in the princess.

He’d have to move fast if he wanted to keep her from falling into his uncle’s hands. Grasos enjoyed breaking women, especially women from outside Saturnios. Women who weren’t accustomed to their ways and would fight him, giving him an excuse to punish and humiliate them in imaginative and brutal ways.

“You might want to get a space ready for her ahead of time,” Dario said with a forced smile. “She’ll put up a fight for sure. It would be good to be prepared.”

“True. That’s a good idea.” Grasos rubbed his scraggly beard, a hungry glow in his eyes. “I’ll see to it personally.”

And Dario would be unable to do the same. One, he didn’t have enough time. Two, he didn’t want to tip off his uncle or his uncle’s spies. The instant Grasos departed the encampment, however, he’d be on his way to a pre-emptive kidnapping. He’d keep Tariza out here with him, far away from the king and his sickening idea of fun.

“By the way, Dario, I’m pulling you out of the field,” Grasos added.

Dario stared at him. “What?”

“I want you back in Saturnios before snow falls, and the way things feel tonight, that won’t be long. You can leave Baso in charge here for the winter.”

He opened his mouth to argue, then shut it. The order made no sense, but Grasos was the king and there was no arguing with him. Besides, arguing would only rouse his uncle’s suspicions.

He nodded, a brief jerk of his head. “As you wish, Uncle.”

“You should be happy, lad. You’ll be in town for all the winter parties. Plenty of women. Concerts. It’ll be much more fun than being stuck out here in a tent.”

“We plan to have the roof on the barracks finished by snowfall,” he said. “It won’t be so bad up here.”

“Still, town will be better.”

He forced another smile. “Yes, it will.” Damn. Protecting Tariza while under the same roof as Grasos would not be easy. Better that than allowing his uncle to have unfettered access to her, though.

Mateo nudged his foot. “We’ll tear up Saturnios together.”

“You’ll be in town as well?”

His brother indicated their uncle with a tilt of his head. “My orders.”

Dario couldn’t prevent a faint frown from creasing his brow. “I see.”

Did Grasos want them in town so he could keep an eye on them? He must not trust them as much as he pretended to, not that the revelation came as a surprise. There hadn’t been any love lost between Grasos and Marcos, Dario and Mateo’s late father, and there wasn’t much between uncle and nephews either. But they didn’t speak of it. Mateo was Grasos’s heir, since he had produced no male children, and the three of them went to some length to maintain a façade of family loyalty.

Still, he and Mateo would do well to watch their backs … even more closely than they already did.

Chapter 3

Tariza roused out of a deep slumber to find a large calloused hand over her mouth. A male hand. She flung up her hands, only to discover they were already bound and attached to her similarly bound ankles. Hog-tied. She’d been hog-tied.

The hand lifted and a rag replaced it, so swiftly she had no time to draw more than a breath to scream. The scream never made it out of her mouth. The man stuffed the rag between her teeth before she could make a sound.

He tied the gag in place with another band of cloth. Her heart raced so furiously she felt dizzy as he lifted her skull to tie the gag at the back of her head. A cold sweat broke out all over her body. Who was this man? What did he intend to do with her? And how had he gotten past her guards?

He’d killed them, obviously. It was the only explanation for how he’d gotten into her tent undetected. He must have killed her guards.

An ache started in her chest for the women she’d known, served with, joked and taken meals alongside for years. They’d been more than fellow soldiers; they’d been friends.

The man hoisted her up to his shoulder. Tariza jackknifed her body, twisting first one way and then the other. The man swore viciously under his breath as he grabbed her with both arms to keep her on his shoulder.

“Don’t do that,” he rasped, his voice cold with anger. “Try it again and I’ll knock you out. Got it?”

She couldn’t answer him because of the gag. And she wasn’t going to let him know she’d heard him or give any indication of cooperation. But she quit fighting. She didn’t want to be clubbed over the head. Sometimes people didn’t survive such a blow.

Her captor settled her over his shoulders and slipped out of her tent. The campsite was utterly black. No torches or fires were lit. They’d wanted to keep their location secret from the enemy. Well, that had worked out nicely.

He began to move swiftly and silently through the ranks of tents toward the edge of the encampment. She could smell blood and death on the ground – the stench of her friends’ lives running out into the dirt.

He was going to take her away from her friends and allies; once he got her far from the encampment, he could do anything to her he liked and there would be no-one to stop him. She had a locator chip – illicit Galactic technology – implanted in the back of her neck, but it might take days or even weeks for anyone to rescue her, and in that time almost anything could happen.

She wrenched her body again, throwing herself half off his shoulders. Another fierce twist and she was on the ground, thumping her heels against the packed, summer-hard earth.

“Damn you,” the man growled.

Tariza attempted to roll herself over, to inch-worm her way from him – anything to get close enough to one of the tents that she could attract someone’s attention.

Then something hard crashed into her skull and everything went black.

When she came to, she was face down on the back of a horse. Her hands and feet were still bound, but not to each other. She could smell the warm animal scent of the horse and feel the rhythm of its movements, but couldn’t see anything at all. It was too dark.

Something hard and warm, covered in tightly-woven woolen fabric, brushed against her cheek as her head bobbed in time to the horse’s gait. It must be his leg. His thigh. Him. The barbarian dog who’d taken her.

There was something familiar about him that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Strange she would think that, since she couldn’t even see him.

Despair crashed over her in a black wave, darker than the night around her. She was lost now. Lost. This man could only be a Saturnian, and women captured by Saturnios never came back. They were swallowed up and never seen again.

Her mother’s words came back to her, a bittersweet memory. “You play at soldiers, Tariza. If you want to be queen, you must take your duties more seriously. This isn’t a game. You must learn to fight and to govern. To learn to be Queen.”

That was exactly what she’d thought she was doing as a soldier. But she could never earn Merita’s respect, never do enough to please her mother. And now she never would.

Still, she was the heir to the throne and she did her best to fulfill her duty. She’d thought she was prepared for the consequences of that duty, but she hadn’t been prepared for this.

***

Tariza staggered dizzily as her captor and another man pulled her off the horse’s back. Three hours draped belly down across a saddle had given her a monster of a stomachache and a head that felt like it was going to burst open. Her bound hands and feet, along with the rush of blood leaving her head, made proper balance impossible.

She wobbled as the world around her spun in broad circles.

Her Saturnian captor grabbed her by the elbows before she fell on her face and yanked her back against his hard warrior’s body. He smelled of clean sweat. From somewhere close by came the acrid smell of wood smoke.

“Easy, there, woman.” His voice was deep and rough, and sounded vaguely familiar.

Tariza shuddered at his filthy touch. “Unhand me, Saturnian.”

He laughed and picked her up, carrying her toward a small campfire burning at the foot of an enormous boulder. The scent of his body caused a bizarrely misplaced jolt of lust in her belly. Lust? How could she feel lust for this barbarian animal? Maybe the blow to the head had addled her mind.

She had to resist, no matter what the cost. Tariza twisted in his grip, struggling against the stiff chill of his light leather armor. All her strength, honed over a lifetime of training as a Concordian warrior, merely earned her bruises on her arms and legs. The barbarian’s grip seemed unbreakable.

The Saturnian crouched down near the fire and laid her on the ground. A stone poked her right in the center of her spine. He loomed over her.

By the Goddess, he was huge. He didn’t merely loom. He towered. She could hardly make out his eyes in the flickering firelight, but they seemed to be some dark color. The rest of his features hid behind thick facial hair.

Those eyes. She’d seen them before. A shiver of dread slithered down her spine. Where had she seen him?

Concordian men rarely got this big. And even when they did, their natural male arrogance was always tempered by the chains they wore and the discipline meted out by their female owners. This man clearly had no owner, and no sense of his proper place in life. But then, no Saturnian male did.

A full beard and moustache, black as the deepest cave, covered the lower part of his face–another affectation not allowed males in Concordia. Large dark eyes regarded her with amusement. He was exceptionally good-looking, even with the facial hair partially concealing his features, with a blade-like nose, high cheekbones and full, sensual lips she knew would make for glorious kissing. Not that she would ever kiss a swine like him.

“How dare you accost me,” she said, forcing her voice to harden.

His lips quirked up on one side, as if he were about to laugh. “You are Concordian. We are at war.”

Was it possible he didn’t know who she was? If so, she must be careful never to reveal her true identity, for if her captors knew it, her life would be worthless.

“What is your name, Saturnian?” she said with a confidence she didn’t feel.

The quirk became a lop-sided smile. “I’m wounded that you don’t recognize me, Your Highness.”

Confound it all. He did know who she was.

Tariza tried to shrug, although her bound hands made it difficult. “My apologies. Perhaps you might refresh my memory.”

“I’m Dario Saturnios.”

She clamped down on a startled gasp. “You!”

“Me.” He gave her a courtly bow.

“You looked different then.”

He’d been clean-shaven. She’d … wanted him. Her fantasies of taming him returned in a rush, making her face burn.

“As did you,” he said. “If I recall correctly, you wore a dress then, like any normal woman.”

She narrowed her eyes. He mustn’t know how weak and exhausted she felt. She must show him a strong Concordian face. “Don’t imagine that kidnapping me will gain you any ground in the war. As a warrior, I’m prepared to lose my life and my mother is willing to sacrifice me.”

“You are her heir. She’ll negotiate.”

“She’ll sacrifice me for the good of Concordia.”

He smiled a little more broadly as he leaned over her. He smelled like healthy male sweat and some spice that was his alone. A bolt of lust speared her, made her sex ache and her heart suddenly pound for reasons other than fear.

Goddess, what was wrong with her? This man was her worst enemy. Yet she still lusted after him, although he’d captured her and was about to do terrible things to her. Unspeakable things.

“What you don’t seem to understand, Tariza,” he murmured, staring into her eyes, “is this. I haven’t kidnapped you. I’m not holding you for ransom. What I am doing is making you one of my girls.”

Her lips parted in shock. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Oh, but I would.” He grinned openly, his gaze traveling over the battle-stained uniform in which she’d slept. “I’ll bet once we get you out of those man-clothes, I’ll find I’ve stolen a real prize.”

To her shame, her nipples hardened eagerly under his regard. Apparently her body didn’t know the difference between a decently chained male and a beast like Dario Saturnios. She swallowed hard and licked dust-dry lips.

“Shouldn’t I go to the king himself?” The king was a wrinkled old man, not a virile young warrior like Dario. He would be no threat to her.

A mask seemed to slip over Dario’s handsome face. “Maybe you should, but you’re not going to. Paolo!”

An adolescent boy with a shock of dark blond hair wandered over from where they’d hobbled the horse. “Yes, milord?”

“I’ll need a witness to this.”

Tariza shrank back against the stone. “A witness to what?”

Saturnios gave her an expression she’d seen before … but not in a male. It was the way a Concordian woman looked at a slave she planned to dominate. Maybe to fuck.

“No. You can’t. I’m the heir to Concordia. This isn’t the way an honorable soldier treats hostages.”

“Sweetheart, you’re not a hostage. You’re my slave.” He reached for the knife at his belt.

Her heart thundered and her pussy clenched in eagerness. Curse her stupid body. She was a warrior, not some adolescent girl with her first slave. She ought to have better control over herself than this.

The knife flashed darkly in the low light. Saturnios turned it so the blade rested against his palm as he unbuttoned her jacket. His fingers lingered against the linen of her shirt, teasing her with what was to come.

Probably a hurried rutting, like an animal. These Saturnians couldn’t know how to please a woman, since they never had to. They weren’t required to please their women the way Concordian men were, and he would be an ignorant brute. But her body yearned for his touch anyhow.

He unbuttoned her shirt as well. He certainly wasn’t in a hurry. Didn’t he know her women could be following them?

No doubt he believed he could fight off a Concordian attack blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back. Fool.

Of course, he’d killed her guards. Killed anyone who could have raised the alarm. The thought of her friends dead, because of her, because of this barbarian, sluiced icy water over her lust and drowned it.

He cut away her jacket sleeves. Then the blade slipped, cold and hard, inside her shirt. He carefully repeated the action with her shirt sleeves, pulling the tubes of fabric from her arms and tossing them to the side.

He contemplated her breast-binding for a moment. “I hope you haven’t ruined your figure with that bandaging.”

Tariza merely glared at him.

With a grin, he cut the breast-binding down the middle. It sprang open, displaying her breasts. Her nipples pearled in the chill night air. Paolo let out a sigh. She couldn’t look at him as her face burned with shame.

In Concordia, women went bare-breasted all the time in the summer, but that was different. There, men didn’t dare to ogle women or touch them uninvited. Here, she was bound hand and foot, helpless, while two enemy males stared at her in undisguised lust.

Saturnios cupped her left breast, lifting it, his touch surprisingly gentle. She stifled a whimper of pleasure.

Show no weakness. No weakness.

He rolled her breast in his hot palm, while his thumb stroked over her straining nipple. Tariza bit her lip. He bent down, lowered her head. Goddess, no. He couldn’t. She’d –

Saturnios took her nipple in his hot, wet mouth and suckled her. Delight arrowed straight from her breast to her cunt. She moaned. The sound slipped out without her conscious intent or knowledge. It just happened, and she couldn’t take it back.

He gave an answering moan. His response to her excited her even more, at the same time as she flushed with even greater shame. She couldn’t stop her back from arching, from pushing her breast up like an offering. The head blow had surely driven her mad.

His blade touched her skin again. The cold made her jump. He drew away from her breast and carefully cut the fabric of her trousers in two slashes from the fly to the side seams. Another couple of cuts freed the trouser legs from her body, leaving her sex bare to his gaze.

And gaze he did.

His eyes grew so dark they looked blacker than the sky. She felt a trickle of moisture from her cunt as her body warmed and opened for him. He put a hand beneath her right knee and lifted her leg as far as it would go against the ankle bindings, opening her for his inspection. Then he brushed her lightly between her legs. Tariza jumped, gasping.

“You’ve trimmed your hair here,” he said.

Most Concordian women kept their pubic hair short for reasons of hygiene. It wasn’t done for the convenience of their slaves, that was certain. She said nothing.

He dragged a fingertip lightly along the crease between her crotch and her inner thigh, making her shudder and gasp again. She hadn’t had a male in a long time; she’d been too busy with war. That was the reason she responded so strongly to this barbarian beast. It was the only explanation that made sense – besides head trauma, anyway.

Saturnios toyed with her, stroking her inner thighs, then each fold of her sex, his touch gentle as he explored her. She quivered under his exploration, her cunt flushing with more cream.

“Get on with it,” she snapped. “Or do you want to be caught?”

“We won’t be caught.” He leaned over her and captured her mouth.

Concordian women never allowed men to loom over them. The man was always beneath the woman, often chained to the bed or floor. Dario’s body heat seared her, his weight oppressing her even though she knew he wasn’t really leaning on her. He was too close, too big, too –

Her heart zoomed so fast she felt dizzy. She kicked out, twisting her head away from him. “Don’t! Don’t crush me.”

“Shhh.” He stroked her hair. “I’m not crushing you. I won’t hurt you, Tariza. I’ll never hurt you.”

“Yes, you will. You want to hurt me. Isn’t that why you kidnapped me?”

“Not to hurt you. To make you mine.”

“To bring down Concordia.”

“That, too.” There was a smile in his voice. He took her by the jaw and urged her face toward him. “I’m only going to kiss and pet you. There’ll be no crushing.”

She panted as he leaned in again and pressed his lips to hers. He kept his weight off her, although their torsos met, the waxed leather of his armor cold and smooth against her bare nipples.

“You see?” he whispered. “I’m not crushing you.”

He took her mouth once more. Somehow he managed to be gentle and overpowering at the same time. His lips caressed, sucked at hers; his tongue dipped into her mouth in a rhythm that mimicked the way he would possess her cunt. He tasted of wine and man.

She tried not to respond. Her body betrayed her, as she unthinkingly angled her head for a better fit with his mouth, as she swept her tongue across his and sighed against his kiss. Those lips of his were even more glorious than she’d remembered.

Saturnios found her breast again, pinching her nipple as he moaned and kissed her. His weight pressed into her, just a little. Tariza’s breath came faster, fear and arousal mixed with the taste and scent of him.

He broke away from her mouth to kiss his way down her front, his beard tickling her skin. When he reached her navel, he dipped his tongue inside and her breath caught. Then he settled between her thighs.

Paolo stood to the side, watching. She knew he was there, but she didn’t look at him. If she didn’t see him then she could pretend he was somewhere else.

Dario spread her open with his thumbs. Cool night air met her pussy. He bent his head and enveloped her with his mouth.

She moaned loudly. His tongue ruthlessly possessed her, plunging inside her, so hot and wet and perfect. She bucked against him as her moans turned desperate.

“In a moment, pet.” He kissed her inner thigh.

When he rose above her, his trousers were already unfastened. His cock jutted out, straining with undisguised eagerness for her body. He was enormous.

Saturnios lifted her other knee and positioned himself at her entrance. He thrust into her in one powerful stroke that made her cry out in shock and near-pain. Then his mouth recaptured hers, mating with hers, tasting of her pussy, and she moaned helplessly.

She couldn’t fight him and win. He was too much for her.

He withdrew almost all the way from her sheath. Then, with a groan, he plunged deep. Ruthless pleasure speared her all the way to her womb. She cried out again, the sound swallowed by his kiss.

His hips moved in a lazy rhythm against hers, each thrust sending a burst of delight through her pelvis and into the rest of her body. It felt so good. So different from the female-superior position she was accustomed to. The shove of his pelvis against hers, even the slapping of his balls against her created a fuller, richer pleasure than she’d ever experienced.

Tariza bucked her hips against his. In her heart, she knew she ought to continue fighting him, but she didn’t want to anymore. He felt too good inside her, and the pleasure was building, coiling hard and tight as she climbed toward orgasm.

He released her mouth. His pace increased, his moans growing louder. She shouldn’t look at him. She didn’t want to know what he looked like in the midst of his passion. But the sounds he made beguiled her, excited her, aroused in her a shameful need to kiss him everywhere, all over that stunning male body.

Maybe just a peek wouldn’t hurt.

She opened her eyes. Looked up at him. His head was tilted back, his eyes shut, his lips parted. Goddess, he was beautiful. He should have been born in Concordia.

Ecstasy burst inside her and she sobbed through her climax. An instant later, his face contorted in what looked like pain. His great body shook. He groaned and flooded her with hot, wet seed.

Saturnios stopped moving, except to lower his head to hers until their foreheads touched. His breath came hard and fast. His lips brushed hers.

“I knew it would be good with you,” he murmured. “From the first moment I saw you, I wanted you.”

She said nothing. He didn’t need to know she’d felt the same way, that she’d hungered for him and dreamed of him many times since then. He didn’t need to know.

He sighed. “I’d like to linger, pet, but we still have a lot of work to do before the night is over.” He withdrew from her body.

She avoided looking in Paolo’s direction. Saturnios took a sleeve of her jacket and used it to clean her body, his touch gentle and sure. He’d probably done it hundreds of times before, with hundreds of different women.

Why did that thought make her feel so bad?

He extended a hand toward the boy. Paolo gave him a bundle of cloth. Dario shook it out, revealing a long, loose dress in either red or orange; it was hard to tell the color in the darkness. He draped the garment over her body from chest to toes.

“Now for the tattoo. Paolo, fetch me my medical bag. It’s with my saddlebags.”

“W-what are you doing?” she said.

Saturnios stared at her with half-lidded eyes. “Marking you as my property, so there’ll be no confusion as to your owner.”

Chapter 4

Tariza stared up at him in horror. He couldn’t mark her. Not permanently. If he did, she’d never be free of him, whether she escaped or not.

“No!” She twisted her body, flipping herself over and bunching her knees under her body.

She tried to crawl away. The hobnailed boots that completed her uniform were still on her feet. As Saturnios lunged for her, she kicked at him. The motion threw her weight onto her elbows. The hard sole of her boot met his leg. He grunted.

Dario grabbed her from behind in a bear hug, despite her attempt to kick him a second time. His heavy body crushed her against the hard, cold ground and stole her breath.

“Damn you, woman,” he growled. “What are you trying to do? You can’t escape.”

No, but she might force him to kill her. Tariza slammed her head backward, toward his. He blocked her attack, using his arm to force her head down to the ground. Damn. Without the use of her hands, she was at a severe disadvantage. She twisted under him, but he had her in a hold she couldn’t seem to break.

“Milord!” Young Paolo sounded aghast.

“Did you bring my bag?” Dario said calmly.

“Yes.”

“Help me turn her over.”

Paolo came around to her head. He reached for her hands where they were trapped beneath her chin. Tariza snapped at him.

“Damn!” He yanked his hand out of her reach.

Dario clapped a palm over her mouth. “Try again.”

The boy reached under her jaw and grabbed her wrist binding. He pulled her arms forward, forcing her face right into the rocky soil. “Got her.”

Saturnios took his hand off her mouth. He lifted his body from hers, while keeping his legs across her to pin her. Sliding down her length, he took her ankles in both hands. They flipped her onto her back.

Once again, Saturnios stretched himself over her, using his weight to trap her. Traitorous heat swelled inside her, throbbing in time to her heartbeat.

He reached one-handed into the bag Paolo had produced, withdrew a flask of brandy and dabbed some on a clean rag, which he used to wipe the dirt off her right forearm. From a small, wooden box, he took a huge needle, some thread, a pen and a jar of ink. Her mouth went so dry she could hardly swallow. He was going to mark her permanently. Even if she managed to escape, she’d always have his mark to remind her of what he’d done to her.

“You’ll regret this,” she said.

“Don’t all the villains say that in those Galactic vids?”

He’d seen Galactic vids? They were illegal in Concordia, like most other Galactic technology. “I’m no villain.”

“You are to us.” He shoved a strip of leather between her teeth. “You can bite on this for the pain.”

“Shouldn’t she have opium, milord?” Paolo said.

Tariza spit out the leather. “I don’t fear pain. I’m a Concordian warrior.”

“Did you hear that, Paolo? She’s a warrior.”

Both men chuckled. She glowered at them, which only seemed to make them laugh harder.

“I can take the pain, you animals,” she said through gritted teeth.

Saturnios shrugged. “All right.”

He wrote something on her inner forearm with the pen and ink. Because of her position, she couldn’t see what it was. He wrapped the thread thickly around the needle and soaked it in ink. It disappeared from view as he moved it out of the range of her vision. Then the needle bit into her skin. She gave an involuntary flinch. It hurt more than she’d expected.

“Easy, now,” Saturnios murmured in a soothing tone, as if she were a horse that needed reassurance. “You don’t want me to mess up the design.”

Yes, she did. Tariza forced her heels against the ground, using the leverage to jerk her upper body to the left. Her shoulder protested against the movement with a sharp pain. Saturnios swore.

“Hold still, damn you.”

She wrenched her body to the other side. The needle flew out of his hand, rolled into some dry grass. He swore again as he lowered his body flat over hers.

Hard, hot male pressed against her from her chest to her toes. Hard, dark eyes glared into hers. Her pussy gave a desperate throb and her heart raced as she looked up at him. Heat pooled between her thighs. He’d just taken her, and like the fool she was, she wanted him again.

No man but him had ever put his body over hers. In Concordia, it wasn’t allowed. Tariza closed her eyes.

“I despise you,” she whispered.

“Of course you do.” He reached over, put his hand in his bag and drew out the box that had held the needle. “Lucky for you, I carry spares.”

He opened the box one-handed and took out a second needle, repeating the thread process. Keeping his body over hers, he positioned the needle and pushed it into her skin. She gritted her teeth.

She couldn’t move beneath him. There was no point in fighting him anymore. Perhaps later she would have a chance, but for now she had to surrender and rest.

The needle punches seemed to go on endlessly. She fixed her gaze on the sky above them. The stars looked like white lace over black satin. Or perhaps an enormous swarm of bees in a summer sky. That’s what the tattoo process felt like – a bee sting. A whole lot of bee stings.

The next poke burned so badly she threw back her head and yelled. He stuck her again. Sweat broke out all over her body and tears stung in her eyes. She clenched her jaw so hard it hurt.

Saturnios stopped. “Paolo, give her the opium.”

“I don’t need it, Saturnios.” She glared at him.

“I do.”

Paolo left her. A moment later, he returned with a dark vial of liquid and a spoon. Saturnios propped up her head and Paolo shoved the spoon between her teeth. They held her jaws shut and pinched her nose until she swallowed the bitter potion.

“Curse the both of you,” she said.

Saturnios blotted her skin and inspected his work. “We’re half way through the first word.”

Goddess, that was all they’d done? Her arm was on fire.

“What word?”

He grinned. “Dario.”

Oh, no. He was tattooing his name on her?

“Milord,” Paolo said hesitantly. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but wouldn’t an important captive like her normally go to the king?”

Saturnios nodded slowly. “Yes, she would. But my uncle is abroad, and besides, here in the field I want to claim her as my own to prevent anything happening with the men. She’s not an ordinary captive and there’s so much rancor between our kingdoms that I don’t completely trust the men with her unless they know unequivocally that she’s mine.”

“Oh. That makes sense.”

It didn’t make sense to her. Didn’t he have control over his own men? That spoke ill of his leadership. Her women, for example, would never disobey an order no matter what the temptation.

Of course, these barbarians were males. No doubt they lacked the discipline and intelligence her women had.

Saturnios began sticking her skin again. The opium made her feel dizzy and heavy. She lost track of time as the piercing went on and on.

Finally he stopped. He blotted away the blood with more brandy, then wrapped a linen bandage around her arm. Paolo began to kick dirt on the fire and the flames died, leaving them in utter darkness.

“Now you’re mine,” Dario said with obvious satisfaction.

“I’ll never be yours.” She tried to inject deadly scorn into her voice, but the drug made her sound dreamy and languid instead of battle-ready.

“Is there anything else you need from me, milord?” Paolo said.

“We’ll be moving on in a few minutes. Ready the horses.”

As the youth left to tend the mounts, his master crouched next to her and removed her boots. He jerked the dress over her head, leaving it loose around her bound arms, and lifted her. The opium still had her floating, her body limp and relaxed in the aftermath of the pain. Someday she would emerge from her drugged haze and be appalled at what he’d done to her, the way he’d permanently marked her as his. Right now she couldn’t summon the energy for it.

He was going to take her into the heart of Saturnios, and she couldn’t do anything about it. She couldn’t fight him with the drug in her; even without it, his size and prowess made him too difficult for her to defeat.

Dario carried her toward the horses. The blackness of the sky showed no sign of fading. It must be near dawn, though, she thought blearily. Had her women discovered her absence yet?

Probably not. They wouldn’t realize she was missing until sunrise.

The stars seemed to turn in a slow circle as he carried her to his mount. He threw her face-down, halfway across the pommel and halfway across the horse’s neck. The stallion snorted, but offered no other protest. Saturnios swung himself up behind her.

He picked her up and maneuvered her until she sat upright in front of him. He draped his cloak around her so it covered her to the ankles. Arms corded with muscle bracketed her as he picked up the reins.

Paolo came around and attached a leather strap to her ankles. The strap passed across the horse’s chest, keeping her solidly on the mount. There was no way she could jump off and escape.

The youth handed his master a pouch and a flask before returning to his own mount. Dario un-stoppered the flask and held it to her lips.

“Drink.”

“What is it?”

“Just watered wine. Drink.”

She drank. The liquid soothed the dry fire in her throat and washed the bitter taste of the opium out of her mouth. He took the flask away and held a chunk of cheese to her lips. She opened her mouth to accept the offering. It was better to eat and drink than refuse out of pride and make herself sick.

Saturnios urged his horse forward into the night, Paolo riding behind them.

She was too intoxicated to mind being trussed up like a bird headed for the cooking pot. Besides, the gentle rocking motion of the horse’s gate and the hard, warm wall of male behind her gave her a peculiar feeling of safety. She couldn’t stop her head from lolling stupidly against his shoulder.

It was a lie, of course; even in her opium-addled state, she knew that. There was no safety, would never be safety for her where Dario Saturnios was concerned.

No Concordian woman could be safe with a Saturnian. In Saturnios, the natural order was reversed, with males ruling and women cast down as slaves. That was the fate Dario had reserved for her. She would be the same as all those sad little Saturnian whores she and her sister Concordians had so pitied and despised.

The worst of it was, she suspected she would enjoy being Dario Saturnios’s woman. If she hadn’t been so intoxicated, she might have screamed in rage at the thought. Instead, she sighed and closed her eyes.

By the time they made it to the Saturnios encampment, the sun rode high and the opium had completely worn off for Tariza. She roused from her drug-induced stupor in time to see the encampment spread in red and black across the rocky, scrub-shrouded hillside above them. Men, tiny like insects, bustled around the tents. Armor glinted in the hard morning sun and smoke drifted down from numerous cooking fires.

The loose, safe feeling dissipated as if it had never been, leaving her with a dry mouth and a churning stomach. The Saturnians were close. Much closer to the Concordian border than her scouts had reported. Had they moved that quickly, or were the reports inaccurate?

“Welcome to Saturnios,” her captor murmured, urging his mount up the hillside.

“This is contested territory.”

“Since we’re currently in possession, and we have no intention of letting it go, I consider it part of our kingdom. No pack of little girls playing at soldiers is going to steal it from us.”

“Playing?”

“None of you are a match for a male soldier. I defeated you easily. I can’t understand why my ancestors didn’t put a stop to your ridiculous experiment generations ago.”

“You only think it’s ridiculous because you’re too stupid to know any better. Males haven’t the brains to govern effectively.”

He chuckled. “We’ve done well enough for time immemorial.”

“Well enough? You call war, poverty and famine doing well enough?”

“Concordia suffers from those ills just as we do.”

“That’s because we’re surrounded by brutish male-dominated neighbors, who nonetheless are more than willing to trade with us because of the superiority of our textiles. No-one on Argelia produces better silk yardage and carpets.”

“That is true. Your textiles are incomparable.”

He’d agreed with her? He’d agreed with her. She’d expected him to boast of Saturnian designs, even though they were crude compared to the elegance achieved by Concordia.

“Have I shocked you into silence?” he said.

“I’m amazed you would admit we Concordians are superior in anything.”

“I’m never afraid to speak the truth. Concordian textiles are better than anything else I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean I approve of the way you Amazons humiliate and degrade men.”

She gave a snort. “Men require the guiding hand of the female. If they’re allowed to have full freedom, they make a mess of things. They’re brutish and violent and ruled by passing sexual urges.”

He laughed. “You really believe that.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Oh, Tariza. You have so much to learn.”

“Screw you, Saturnios.”

He bent his head to her neck, bared by her long, tight braid. His lips brushed her skin, making her shiver. “So impatient. I planned to wait until we got to my tent to have you again.”

She jerked forward, out of range of those lips. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

He took the reins in one hand, leaving the other free to clasp her just beneath her breasts. “I’ve been thinking all night of the things I’d like to do to you.”

His thumb stroked the underside of one breast, lazily rubbing back and forth along the curve. Her whole body flooded with heat.

“Stop that.”

He nuzzled her neck. “You’re mine now. I can do anything I like. In fact, it’s my solemn duty as your master to use you well and often.”

“Use me? You barbarian! Stop touching me. Stop it this instant.”

He only laughed again. “As I said, you have a lot to learn.” His hand closed fully over her breast.

With her hands bound in front of her and her legs strapped to the horse, she couldn’t fight him. She had no choice but to endure his mauling.

He gently squeezed her flesh, molding it with his palm. The power of his touch went right through the woolen dress he’d given her, rousing a hot wet throbbing in her pussy. She pressed her lips together, clamping down on the gasp that tried to escape her throat.

“You like that.” His deep voice rumbled in her ear.

“No.”

He rubbed his thumb across her aching nipple. “Your body says otherwise.”

Her body was an idiot.

His thumb continued rubbing, mercilessly arousing her. She bit down hard on her lip, trying not to squirm or moan. But her back arched in spite of her best intentions and her hips pressed back into his groin.

“That’s it, Tariza. That’s it.” He pinched the nipple, drawing it out and releasing it repeatedly.

Her breath came in little gusts as she fought against the sharp pleasure arrowing from her breast to her pussy. “No. Please.”

“Don’t be ashamed of your response to me. It’s natural and good. It’s as it should be.”

It would be natural and good to have him on his knees before her, bound with chains, while she plied an old-fashioned riding crop over his naked ass. He wouldn’t see it that way, but it would give her tremendous satisfaction. Tariza cuddled the image of a humbled Dario in her mind as he guided his stallion into the encampment.

The horses walked slowly between the first rank of tents and a whoop went up from the men, shouts of encouragement. She pinched her eyes shut, face flaming.

“You’re shaming me.”

“No. I’m showing my great appreciation for you. If I refused to touch you, then I would shame you.”

She wanted to claim that she didn’t understand. Except she did. A similar tradition existed in Concordia, where a woman showed affection and appreciation for a male slave by fondling him in public.

“Besides,” he said, “it’s important for the men to see how much I enjoyed you last night. You don’t want them questioning my claim on you.”

He was right, the swine. If his men contested his claim, she could end up being passed around like a communal cup at a banquet.

“Don’t you have better control of your men than that?” she said acidly.

“Yes. I do. But you’re special.” He bit her earlobe. “You’re Tariza Concordia. The usual rules don’t necessarily apply.”

That was hard to believe. A competent commander should be able to keep his men in line regardless of the provocation.

She lost her train of thought as they entered more deeply into the camp. It was surprisingly well-ordered, considering it had was designed and run by males. Men in red and black uniforms lined the road into the center of the temporary village, shouting and cheering as they stared at her.

Tariza kept her head high, her jaw set. She gazed forward, letting her eyes rest now and then on the yelling, jostling males. She was Tariza Concordia, heir to Concordia, and she would not cower or try to hide herself.

They halted at the center of the camp, before a large red tent with black piping along the seams. Men crowded around their mount, almost close enough to touch her. She could see it in their eyes, the desire to touch her body.

Dario took her by the chin, urged her head around and captured her mouth. He kissed her like a conqueror, all plunging tongue, while his other hand brazenly cupped her breast. The cheers of the soldiers roared in her ears.

He broke off the kiss and lifted her bandaged arm high. “Tariza Concordia is mine, marked as my slave. Any man who touches her without my leave will lose his hand.”

Another roar went up. It seemed the men approved of his actions.

Paolo dismounted and came around to release her ankles from the strap that kept her on Dario’s horse. The gathered men watched with avid faces. What were they hoping to see?

Maybe it was enough for them to witness their enemy brought low.

Other Concordian women – soldiers all – had been captured by Saturnios. Had all of them been enslaved? They probably had. Perhaps she would come across them, if she could tell them apart from the native Saturnian women.

Seeing her a captive would do terrible things to their morale. Although surely they weren’t living in the hope they’d be rescued.

If – no, when – she escaped, she would have to arrange for some kind of prisoner exchange. And if Concordia won this war, there would be reparation. She would see to it personally.

Dario swung off the horse. He set his hands at her waist and lifted her down, pulling her tight against his body. Perversely, the solid wall of muscle at her back made her feel safer.

It’s an illusion. You’re not safe with him. Never forget that. 

***

 Dario lifted his new possession from the back of his horse. After weeks of waiting, dreaming, planning, he finally had her. She was his.

He let her body slide down his, the contact making his cock hard and his heart pound. Taking her hadn’t dimmed his desire at all. If anything, getting inside her had only made him want her more. He gazed down at her, wondering what made this woman different from all the others.

There had been countless women in his life, and while he’d been fond of many, he’d never felt driven to possess any particular one. Until now. Looking at her, touching her, feeling the warmth of her body through her thin dress all made him quiver with lust in spite of his exhaustion.

He’d been up since sunrise the day before, and weariness lay on him like a blanket of stone. Sex could wait. He needed nothing more than to stretch out on his camp bed, Tariza tucked close by his side, and sleep.

First, though, he had business to attend to.

Baso, his aide-de-camp, detached himself from the circle of men with a salute. “Welcome back, Prince Dario, and congratulations.” His eyes flicked toward the woman.

“Thank you. Have a bath prepared and a meal for two delivered to my tent.”

“Yes, milord.”

“Have the surveyors finished?”

Baso nodded. “They took their final measurements yesterday just before the sun went down.”

“Surveyors?” Tariza said.

He ignored her to clap Baso on the shoulder. “Excellent. They can start excavations this morning, then.”

“Yes, milord.”

Dario urged Tariza in the direction of his tent.

She hung back, looking over her shoulder at Baso. “What excavations? What are you doing here?”

She had a lot to learn about the proper behavior of a Saturnian female. She dragged her feet, like a child who didn’t want a nap. Dario gave her arm a sharp tug as he kicked the tent flap open. Tariza sent him a searching look, just the kind of look he might receive from a male cohort. Her boldness made him grind his teeth, especially with Baso looking on to witness her impudence.

But what did he expect? What did any of them expect from a woman raised in such an unnatural environment as Concordia? It was up to Dario now to instruct her in feminine comportment and obedience.

If she learned her lessons, she’d have a good chance at happiness. If she resisted too vigorously, her behavior would make her unsafe. There were many other men in Saturnios who were far stricter than he. Brutal men, some of them closer to him than he liked, who would delight in harming the former heir to Concordia and would use her disobedience as an excuse to do so. Her safety rested on Dario’s ability to train her.

“Saturnios, what’s going on here?” she said as he let the tent flap close. “What are you excavating?”

He brought her to his table, where he poured a generous cup of wine. He took a long swallow of the drink.

Tariza’s dark eyes widened. “You’re building a fortification, aren’t you? To guard this valley and the pass so you can hold onto this land against us.”

“Questions of this kind are inappropriate for a woman to ask.” He offered her the wine.

“Horseshit.” She tossed back a gulp, just like a man. “I have a right to know what’s happening here.”

“No. You don’t. You’re a prisoner, a slave, and a female. You have very few rights and they don’t extend to questioning your master.”

She glared at him with mutiny in her eyes. Of course, he hadn’t seen much else from her from the moment he’d snatched her from her tent. Tariza Concordia was going to challenge him at every turn. She had a face and body that called to every male instinct in him – possess, protect, cherish – and a mouth that made him cringe every time she spoke.

“Don’t expect me to abide by your grotesque and barbaric customs,” she said.

“I don’t expect it. I demand it. If you cannot or will not comply, you will suffer. Even I won’t be able to protect you if you continue in this manner.”

She laughed. “You? Protect me? That’s a good one.”

“If you need proof, I can reverse my order and turn you over to another man. There are many here in this camp who would welcome the chance to discipline a Concordian bitch.”

Her face lost its color, but her chin rose. “I am a warrior. I’m prepared to suffer and die for my country.”

Dario sighed and shook his head. “You’re going to make this as difficult as possible, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“All right. In that case, you’ll need –”

“Not a collar,” she interrupted.

“No. Not a collar.” He picked up the brown leather harness he’d left on the table in preparation for her arrival. “These are much more effective than collars.”

“No.” She shook her head and tried to pull away from him. “No. I won’t wear that. No.”

“Tariza –”

“Don’t you dare.”

He yanked her hard against him, the finely woven wool of her dress billowing around their legs. “You can cooperate with me, or I’ll call Paolo and Baso in to help me. I’m afraid you’re outnumbered, little girl.”

“I am not a little girl.”

“In Saturnios, you are. Now what’s it going to be? Me alone or me plus a handful of other men who are probably waiting eagerly outside this tent for me to call upon them?”

Her shoulders slumped. “I’ll cooperate.”

He could almost hear her unspoken words – for now. She didn’t fool him in the least – she wasn’t done fighting him.

That was acceptable. At this point, he’d take whatever he could get from her.

Dario unbuckled the belt that circled her tiny waist. “Remove the dress.”

“Why?”

“Because you can’t wear the harness over it. Are you going to obey or shall I call Baso?”

She swallowed hard and for an instant he thought her lower lip trembled. Then she tightened her jaw and stripped off the dress in one defiant motion. The full breasts he’d so admired earlier jiggled enticingly as she tossed the garment to the floor.

“Good girl.”

Tariza sneered. “Fuck off.”

“Perhaps later. Raise your arms.”

He arranged the straps around her shoulders and waist. The harness had a d-ring between the shoulder blades, one at the back of the waist and another at the front of the collar.

As he settled the soft brown leather on her body, she began to quiver. Her nipples tightened to hard little buds; her breath quickened, drawing in on a gasp when he brushed his fingers along her waist. She wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Her gaze would be hot with lust. His cock twitched eagerly at the thought. Dario fastened the last buckle and tipped her chin up to reward her with a kiss.

Her eyes glistened with unshed tears.

His heart thumped painfully in his chest. How could he have been so stupid? His own desire had blinded him.

She was a feral creature, as untamed as the horses that ran wild in the mountains of Argelia, brought to the Galactic outpost untold generations ago by Dario’s own ancestors. Like those horses, she wouldn’t take easily to the saddle and bridle. She’d fight and rage and cry until he managed to earn her trust.

“Don’t fret, sweetheart. You’re safe with me.” He brushed his lips across hers.

Hot color stained her face and throat. She tightened her lips. “I’m not fretting,” she said in a hard voice.

His thumb caressed her chin, almost unconsciously. She might be unwilling to admit to her fears, but he could see them in her eyes. He would have to find just the right touch, the right balance of gentle reassurance and firm guidance – tempered with plenty of the sexual passion that flared between them – to tame her.

Chapter 5

The tent flap opened, startling Dario and causing Tariza to jump in his embrace.

Baso entered. “Your bath, milord.”

A long line of soldiers paraded in and out of his tent, first with the tub and then pail after pail of hot water. Damn. He’d forgotten all about the bath in his eagerness to get Tariza into harness. The water would do the leather no favors – but he’d chosen an old and worn piece anyway, knowing it would be subjected to hard use on the trail.

When they got home, he’d find her a better one. Or perhaps by then she wouldn’t need one at all.

At last the tub was full and the last water-bearer left the tent. He nodded toward the bath. “Get in.”

Tariza shook her head. “No, thank you.”

“That was an order, not a request. Get in.”

“I don’t take orders from you.”

He glowered at her. “You’re not in a position to argue. Get in or I’ll put you in.”

She lifted her shoulders and let them drop. “No.”

Gritting his teeth, Dario picked her up and set her in the hot water, keeping a grip on her arm to prevent her from climbing out again. Unfortunately this left him fully clothed and unable to let go of her without risking loss of control. He muttered a curse as he fumbled, one-handed, with the lacing of his leather breastplate. Poor planning, this.

If he’d possessed any sense, he’d have ordered Paolo to help him with the armor, but common sense seemed to desert him every time his gaze fell on Tariza Concordia.

He jerked again at the laces. The knots had tightened and his large fingers couldn’t seem to get any purchase on them.

“Need some help?” she said dryly.

“Yes. Are you offering?”

She smirked. “No.”

“Luckily, I don’t need the consent of a slave. Unlace me.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What if I say no?”

“I would take great pleasure in spanking you.”

For a moment, her mouth hung open. “You really mean that, don’t you?”

“Indeed I do. Better get started before I decide to chastise that lovely ass of yours regardless.”

A crimson flush spread from her cheekbones downward across her throat and upper chest. She’d been doing a lot of blushing. Was that usual for her?

With her jaw clenched tight, she reached for his laces. Although he couldn’t feel her fingers through the leather armor, the mere fact she was touching him made his cock stand at attention as she tugged at the knots. A few moments later, she had the lacing undone.

“Good work.” He shrugged out of the breastplate and let it fall to the floor.

“I’m overcome with gratitude for your praise, Master.”

He grinned. “I’ll bet you are.”

His shirt laces were easily undone singlehandedly, as was the waistband of his trousers. He made quick work of them. The boots, though. Why hadn’t he remembered the boots?

She’s turning your brain to mush.

He glanced down at his footwear, then looked at her with a raised brow.

Tariza crossed her arms over her bare chest, her expression as stony as ever. The woman had no sense of humor. Dario lifted one booted foot and propped it on the edge of the tub.

“Again.”

With an aggrieved sigh, she bent to the task. A thick lock of hair, gleaming gold in a stray shaft of sunlight, fell over her forehead. He stuck his hand behind his back to prevent himself from brushing that hair off her face. She was the enemy. She didn’t deserve tenderness.

Yet hadn’t he just planned to gentle her as if she were a wild horse? She really must be turning his brain to mush. He couldn’t decide which tack to take with her, whether to humiliate her as a cast-down enemy or lovingly coax her into submission as a beloved pet.

Concordia and Saturnios were busily trying to tear each other apart while the rest of Argelia watched, eager to pick at the corpse of the loser. He should be focused on the war, on defeating Tariza’s crazy society of man-women. Instead he stood in his tent, naked except for a pair of dusty boots, lost in lustful fascination for the worst man-woman of them all.

The man-woman in question yanked his boot-laces as loose as they would go. “I live to obey your every wish.”

“Your sarcasm is inappropriate.”

“Sarcasm? I didn’t think you knew the meaning of such a big word.”

He gave her arm a sharp shake. “The next disrespectful word out of your mouth gets you the spanking you deserve.”

“You really think I should respect you after what you did to me?”

The hard look in her eyes, the proud tilt of her chin irritated him beyond reason. “It’s no more than you and your girl-soldiers would have done to me if you’d had the chance,” he growled as his grip tightened on her arm. “You should thank that Goddess of yours that I got to you first, instead of –” He broke off, scowling.

“Instead of whom?”

Anyone who’d deliver her to his uncle. “Never mind. Just know there are many worse masters than I.”

Tariza stared at him, her gaze uncomfortably perceptive. No woman had ever looked at him that way, boldly, shamelessly, as if she had as much right to think and examine as any man did. He opened his mouth to order her to look modestly down, and thought of the wild horses. He shut his mouth.

“Shall I unlace your other boot?” she said, her voice dripping with silky sweetness.

Dario took his foot off the tub rim and replaced it with the other. When she bent over it, the same lock of hair fell, this time even farther over her eyes. He gave in to temptation and lifted his hand to tuck the hair behind her ear. For all her un-feminine demeanor, her skin felt as silky smooth as any woman he’d ever touched.

She stilled when his fingertips brushed her face. Her fingers paused in their work. Her lips parted, soft and pink. His cock stirred and his mouth went dry.

Dario swallowed. “Finish the boot, Tariza.”

She undid the knots, yanked at the laces. He kicked the boots off, along with his trousers, and stepped into the water. His rampant cock brushed against her naked belly and his breath caught.

Tariza gave him a startled glance. Her dark eyes darkened further and her lips parted, her breath quickening.

He took her head in his hands and captured her mouth with a groan of pleasure at the hot, sweet taste of her. For an instant, she remained rigid against him, straining away from him. He persisted in kissing her, pleasuring her mouth with soft bites and caresses of his lips and tongue.

She gave a little, sobbing moan. Her body melted against his, skin to skin – the first time he’d been in full unclothed contact with her. She opened her mouth and met his tongue with her own. Slender arms looped around his neck. Lush breasts crushed against his naked belly, making his cock jump.

God, the feel of her against him. Dario slipped one hand between them to toy with a breast. She whimpered as he plucked at the eager point of her nipple and rolled it between finger and thumb.

He lifted her with both hands, cupping her tight little ass. “Put your legs around my waist.”

She complied, her eyes dilated and heavy-lidded with desire. Dario positioned himself at the opening of her cunt, rubbed his cock head along her wet folds. She gave another little moan. He brought her down, shoving her, impaling her on his cock.

Her head fell back with a loud cry. Another groan escaped him at the hot, slick tightness of her sheath. He clasped her hips, working his cock in and out of her, groaning again at the perfect grip of her on his sex.

Tariza’s eyes rolled up, lashes fluttering. The rhythmic waves of her orgasm began almost instantly. He bucked wildly against her. His hair fell into his eyes. She wailed, her nails digging in to the skin on his shoulders.

Ecstasy broke over him in a blinding wave. He shouted and shook as he spilled himself inside her, as he lost himself in her. Tariza clung to him with arms and legs, holding him through his climax.

And after, when the last shudders had ceased and he clutched her, panting, she kept her arms around him. Strange. He’d half expected her to slap him and instead she held onto him like the most faithful slave.

She put first one foot down and then the other. Dario pressed her to him. He bent his head and kissed her on her crown.

“You please me very much,” he whispered.

She didn’t answer. But her arms remained around him, her body pressed tightly to his, still quivering in the aftermath of what he’d done to her.

Dario reached for one of the cloths piled next to the tub. He wet it, then rubbed it over the cake of soap. When he slid the soapy cloth between her legs, she startled with a squeak of surprise.

“It’s all right. I’m just washing you.”

“Why would you do that?” Her voice sounded shaky.

“It pleases me to take care of you.”

He carefully stroked the folds and crevices of her sex with the cloth, then worked the suds between her ass-cheeks. She trembled. He murmured to her, replacing the cloth with his fingers, and she leaned against him, shivering. At least she wasn’t fighting to get away. They were making progress.

Dario moved the cloth up her ribcage to her armpits. She tried to take it away from him.

“I will wash you,” he said.

She turned her face away as he continued to clean her body.

“Don’t be embarrassed.” He moved to her other arm. “You’re mine and I enjoy caring for you.”

“I’m not yours,” she whispered. But she didn’t sound very sure of herself.

He put some soap on his hands and gently cleaned her face before using a fresh cloth to wipe away the soap. She stood quietly as he worked, her eyes closed, her body shivering ever so slightly. Dario finished removing the soap and bent to kiss her lips.

“All done.”

With quick, efficient movements, he soaped his own body and wiped away the suds. Tariza stood waiting, her eyes downcast. Finally she looked like a proper female, like a slave.

Why was she refusing to look at him? The bathing seemed more upsetting to her than anything he’d done previously, except perhaps the tattoo. It made no sense.

He wanted her to lift her chin and look him in the eyes. But that would be impudent. A punishable offense, according to some Saturnian men.

Make up your mind, Dar. Either you want her submissive or you don’t.

It seemed that where Tariza Concordia was concerned, he didn’t know what he wanted … except for the sex. He wasn’t conflicted in the least when it came to fucking her.

He set aside the cloth he’d been using. “Now, we soak.”

They settled into the water. Dario tugged her against him, with her back to his front and his arms around her. She sat upright, her back straight and tilted away from him, her arms clasped around her knees.

“This is a time to relax, Tariza.”

“I can’t relax.”

“Yes, you can. Lean against me.”

“No, thank you.”

Dario sighed. So, they were back to this, were they? He took her by the elbows and pulled until she reclined stiffly against him, his legs bracketing hers. Then he wrapped his arms around her to keep her there.

“As your master, I’m ordering you to relax.” He smoothed her hair from her forehead, the gesture pushing her head gently back against his chest.

“As you wish.” But her body remained stiff and tense.

He continued stroking her – first her forehead, then her shoulders and arms. Slowly, slowly the tension left her body until her shoulders stopped resisting the soft pressure of his hands and her head rolled slightly to the side.

“You must be pleased with yourself,” she said in a flat voice.

“I must?”

“You did what you said you were going to do. Capture me.”

“I don’t remember saying I planned to capture you.” He bent his head and pressed his lips to the side of her neck.

“At the banquet, you said I’d be yours someday.”

“Ah. Yes, I did.” But that had been more of a wish than a plan.

“So you’ve gotten what you wanted.”

“Not entirely.”

She dropped her head forward. “What more do you want?”

“Your capitulation, of course.”

“I thought I’d already done that.”

He smiled. “It seems to me you’re fighting me at every turn.” Dario slipped his hand up her belly and cupped her breast. “I want you to really submit to me. In your heart, not just your body.”

“I can’t.” She whispered the words so softly he wasn’t sure he’d really heard them.

“Someday you’ll learn how.”

Tariza said nothing.

They sat in the water until it began to grow cold. They got out and he toweled her off carefully before turning to his dressing table in order to shave. His beard itched intolerably and it was time to remove the cursed thing.

He assembled his razor, soap, and other tools, sending a furtive glance into the mirror to see what Tariza was doing. She sat huddled on his bed, still wrapped in the towel and staring at her hands as if they fascinated her. Anything, he supposed, to avoid looking at him.

Dario poured a little hot water into his shaving bowl and stirred with his brush. She continued not looking at him as he spread soapy lather over his face and neck.

He began to scrape away the beard. A movement reflected by the mirror caught his eye. Now she was looking at him. He couldn’t read the expression on her face, but she looked uncomfortable.

Dario suppressed a grin. Maybe she’d never seen a man shave before.

When he finished, he splashed more hot water to wash away the remaining soap and toweled his face dry. She still watched him, her face remote and still.

“Much better,” he said.

Tariza shrugged. “Makes no difference to me.”

“Because you adore me with or without a beard?”

She snorted. “Because I loathe you with or without a beard.”

“Your sweetness overwhelms me,” he said with a grin.

Dario climbed into bed with her. His camp bed was large enough to accommodate two sleepers; it was Saturnian custom for military commanders to bring a favorite slave along on campaign. Tariza stretched out alongside him without a word of complaint or question. She didn’t even protest when he put an arm around her and tucked her against his body before pulling the blanket over them both.

Maybe she was learning. He laid his head on the pillow and fell asleep.

Chapter 6

When he awoke again, the sun had filled the tent with the thick, diffused light of midday. The sun hadn’t brought much heat with it, however. His uncle was right; snow was coming to the highlands, maybe in as little as a day or two.

Next to him, a muffled choking sound came from Tariza’s throat. She had the blanket pulled over her head, as if to hide from him. The blanket trembled as another fit of choking came from beneath it.

He laid his hand on her back. “Are you all right?”

She cringed, twitching the blanket more tightly around herself. The choking sound quieted as the shivering stilled. Dario rubbed her back in long strokes.

For an instant she was silent. Then the choking began again, even louder. He tried to pull back the blanket. She clutched it so tightly he couldn’t pry it from her fingers without hurting her.

His heart twisted in his chest as he realized that she wasn’t choking; she was crying. Sobbing.

Shit.

The words I’m sorry hovered on his tongue. He forced them down his throat. He had nothing to regret. Tariza was the enemy and as such he had the right to take her captive. Besides, he was taking her away from an unnatural way of life and restoring her to the proper place of a woman.

But if that were true, why did it hurt so much to listen to her cry?

She sobbed so violently it sounded as if she might tear herself apart. His heart and belly grew heavy, aching with the pain of it. What was wrong with him? He’d never brooded over the sniffling of a woman before, and a few of them had certainly cried at some deserved punishment he’d meted out.

He wrapped his arms around her, blanket and all. “Shhh, little one. It’s all right.”

She kicked him in the shin. The blanket stopped her foot from connecting directly with his leg, but she startled a grunt out of him. Dario threw his leg across both of hers.

“You’re safe with me. I won’t hurt you,” he said firmly.

“You already have,” she snarled between sobs.

Under the blanket, she rolled herself into a tight ball. He could hear her teeth grinding together as she fought the tears. The little man-woman was determined not to cry, to be as manly as possible, when everything in her body cried out to be treated as a woman.

“It’s normal to cry, you know,” he said.

“Fuck. Off.”

“Regular women cry all the time.”

She tried to kick him again. “Do you think I want to be like one of those pathetic little mice you call women? Do you think you can take a Concordian and put her in a harness and instantly turn her into a sweet doormat of a slave?”

“No. I expect it’ll take some time.”

“It won’t happen at all.”

He stroked her through the blanket. “You’ll come around eventually. They always do.”

“I hate you.”

Her words stung. He peeled the blanket away from her face, revealing red and swollen eyes, lashes black and spiky with tears.

“You didn’t seem to hate me in the bath.”

“Apparently I can lust after a man and despise him at the same time,” she said bitterly.

Yes, this one was going to take special and intensive training. He’d have to become her whole world, the source of all food and pleasure and security. He’d have to be patient. But eventually she would learn to submit, and do it gladly.

“We have to be ready to ride in the morning. We’re going back to Saturnios,” he said. “Get up and we’ll have something to eat.”

Tariza gave him a sour look and wiped her tears with the back of her hand. She sat up. Her hair had dried in wild waves all over her head, giving her an oddly comical appearance. He didn’t smile. It would only hurt her more than she was already hurting.

Dario picked up a jar of oil he kept on the trunk next to his bed. “We’ll oil that leather if it’s dry. Otherwise it’ll go all hard and give you blisters where it rubs.”

Another sour look. “I know how to care for harnesses.”

“I’m sure you do. But you’ve never worn one, have you?”

Her lips pressed together until they almost disappeared. She turned her head without a word. Dario slipped his fingers beneath one of the harness straps, checking for moisture. It was still damp where it lay against her skin.

“It’s not dry. We’ll have to do it later.”

She still said nothing, giving no indication she’d even heard him. Ah, the silent treatment. He smiled to himself. If she thought that kind of behavior would affect him, she was in for a disappointment.

“May I enter, milord?” Baso said from outside the tent.

“Yes. Come in,” he called.

His aide pulled back the tent flap and came inside. A slave named Lola came in after him, carrying a tray heavy with food. She glanced at Dario with a demure smile before standing, head bowed, waiting for orders while Baso grinned at him.

“Settling in with the new one, I see.”

“Thank you for bringing lunch,” Dario said.

“Set the tray on the table, Lola.”

The girl instantly obeyed. With the tray on the table, she once again assumed the attentive posture of the properly trained slave, head bowed and hands clasped before her. Her long, blond hair fell forward over her shoulders, the ends just brushing her pale pink nipples. She wore a glossy red harness and an ankle bracelet with tiny bells that chimed with every step she took.

“I thought you might want the services of a real woman after wrestling with a Concordian all night long,” Baso said.

Lola was one of the most beautiful slaves belonging to the royal family and he’d been privileged to bring her into the field with him. But now that he’d had Tariza, he couldn’t seem to summon any enthusiasm for the other blonde. He sat up with a sigh and shook his head.

“Lola is a very talented slave, but I’m too busy with Tariza at present. Why don’t you make use of her yourself, Baso?”

Lola’s hands clenched tightly. Had his words upset her? She flicked a narrow-eyed glance at Tariza before realizing he was watching her. Brilliant color flooded her face and she looked at her feet again. Odd. Normally Lola was the most biddable of females.

“Thank you, milord. I don’t mind if I do.” Baso snapped his fingers as he turned to leave the tent. “Come, Lola.”

Lola followed the man obediently as he left the tent.

Dario glanced at Tariza sitting next to him in the bed. Her face was as hot and bright as Lola’s, her eyes downcast, but her posture as far from submissive as it was possible to be. Her hands were clasped tightly together, so tightly her fingers had begun to turn white, as if she could barely restrain herself from hitting something.

He laid one of his hands over both of hers. “She’s had a lifetime of training. Don’t compare yourself to her.”

Tariza gave him the most poisonous glare he’d ever seen. “You think I’m envious of her?”

“Um –” He had thought that, yes.

“I would never envy that – that sorry excuse for a woman. She disgusts me.”

Dario frowned. “She disgusts you? That’s very harsh. She’s one of our most valued and highly esteemed slaves.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“You would do well to emulate Lola in every way. She’s an exemplary slave, and whether you understand or not, similar behavior will be required of you.”

“You will never succeed in turning me into a creature like that.”

At her vehemence, he tightened his grip on her hands. “Do you want to be beaten?”

She shot him a tight-lipped glance. “No. Of course not.”

“Then you’ll give every appearance of being a properly submissive slave. Defiant women are beaten.”

“Charming, Saturnios. Really charming.”

Dario grabbed her by her shoulders. “I won’t be able to protect you all the time. You’ll be expected to serve in the presence of other men who are much stricter than I.”

She widened her eyes. “By the Goddess, are you worried on my behalf?” Her tone was sweetly mocking.

“Yes, damn you. I am.” 

***

 Saturnios didn’t seem to know what to do with her. He obviously didn’t want her out of his sight. He attached a lead to her harness, clipping it to the D-ring at her throat. She glowered at him, but the swine looked right into her eyes and smiled that infuriating sexy smile of his. He didn’t care that she hated him, didn’t care that he was humiliating her. Goddess, he probably reveled in the fact.

Behind them, Paolo and another young man were busily packing Saturnios’s belongings in trunks and boxes. There wasn’t much to pack but she supposed they’d get started on their journey well before dawn. It wouldn’t have mattered to her except the two youths kept ogling her and there was nothing she could do to stop them.

Paolo crossed in front of her, his arms full of bits and pieces of armor and male garments. As he passed her, he gave her a long look that dallied at her breasts and the apex of her thighs. Tariza burned all over. She crossed her arms and glared at him, but he seemed oblivious as he licked his lips and smiled. His gaze met hers and his smile broadened.

Even Saturnios’s squire felt free to drool all over her.

“Get used to it, Tariza,” Saturnios said. “Every man in the country will be hot for you.”

She gave him an imperious look – at least she hoped it was imperious. “I thought I belonged to you and only you.”

“You do. And it’s my prerogative to share you with whomever I choose. I have no objection to Paolo looking.”

“I do.”

He chucked her under the chin. “Your objection, little slave, is immaterial.”

A sudden, stupid urge to cry took hold of her. She looked down, breathing through her nose and pressing her lips together hard. She’d been doing a lot of that lately. But she wouldn’t cry again. She must not cry in front of these barbarian pigs. It would only encourage them.

I am unworthy of the name of Concordia. He hasn’t struck me, hasn’t beaten or starved me, hasn’t even questioned me. Yet I stand here sniveling like a little boy.

Saturnios gave her an odd look but said nothing. As he turned from her, two more men in Saturnian uniforms entered the tent and saluted him.

Saturnios returned the gesture. “I’ll just get my slave settled and then we’ll talk.”

The two newcomers openly looked her over as if she were a horse at market. One of them, a middle-aged man with close-cropped silver hair, lifted a hand as if to fondle her. He glanced at Dario and dropped his hand.

“You have a jewel here, milord,” he said in a jovial tone. “I only wish I’d seen her first.”

Saturnios tugged on her lead. “Yes, I do.”

He led her to the far side of the tent, where he clipped the end of the lead to a stake pounded into the ground. “Sit here.”

Tariza just gazed at him.

His nostrils flared. “Sit down now. Don’t make me spank you.”

“I’m cold. If I sit on the ground, I’ll get even colder.”

He glanced down at her breasts and smiled. “I guess you are cold.”

Saturnios strode to his bed and pulled the coverlet off. She looked down at herself and discovered her nipples were tightly puckered against the chill in the air. Tariza clasped them in her hands, ignoring the grins of the men.

Saturnios returned to her and wrapped the blanket around her before pressing down on her shoulders with both hands. “Now sit.”

“What about food? I’m hungry.”

“Paolo, get Tariza some food,” he called as he turned from her.

“You let a slave dictate to you in that manner?” said the silver-haired man.

“She has the right to eat,” Saturnios said without looking at him.

“She’s Tariza Concordia. She should have no rights.”

Saturnios turned his head slowly and gave the man a cold and level stare. “I disagree.”

Silver-hair dropped his gaze after an instant. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, shooting a glance at his companion. The other man said nothing, kept his face impassive.

She watched Saturnios approach the two uniformed men and speak to them in a low voice. She couldn’t make out any of the words. Was he chastising Silver-hair or were they discussing tactics? Plans for the fort they were building? She wished she could hear better.

What would you do with the information? You can’t take it back to Concordia unless you escape. And that was looking less and less likely.

Paolo set a tin plate of food on the floor before her – just a bowl of stew and a chunk of coarse bread. Tariza spooned up a bite. The stew was hot and savory, the bread fresh, and she ate eagerly, trying not to spill on the blanket. Yes, it belonged to Saturnios and therefore was worthy of ruin, but it currently kept her warm and covered and she wanted it to stay clean.

The men continued to speak in low tones while Saturnios ate his own meal. Tariza finished her stew and pushed the bowl aside. She had a meter or so of length on the lead; maybe she could get a little closer and pick up some of what they were saying.

She held the blanket closed with one hand and scooted forward. Saturnios’s head whipped around. He fixed her with a glare that met her gaze like a slap. Tariza froze, her eyes widening.

He gave his head a barely-discernible shake. Swallowing hard, she scooted back to her former position. Saturnios nodded. He turned back to the men, ignoring her once more.

One of the others said something she couldn’t hear and all three of them laughed. At her? She clutched her blanket, scowling down at the floor. Pigs. All of them.

The conference seemed to go on forever, while she grew cold and bored. She ought to be thankful they weren’t whipping her, raping her, or torturing her for information. But the boredom was not something she knew how to cope with. Finally she curled up with the blanket wrapped around her and went to sleep.

***

Someone was poking her with a booted toe. Tariza groaned, opening her eyes to peer up at her persecutor. It was Saturnios, frowning down at her with an impatient expression on his handsome face.

“Get up,” he said. “It’s time to train.”

“Train for what?” She sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“Proper slave behavior, obviously.” He leaned down and took her by the upper arm. “Get up.”

“I’m up, damn it.” She hitched the blanket more closely around her shoulders for protection against the cold.

“On your feet.” He pulled on her arm until she stood. “That’s better.”

She slanted a resentful glance at him. “I know what proper slave behavior is.”

“Then why don’t you behave properly?”

She scowled at him and he laughed.

“You need training, my dear slave. Drop the blanket and come over here.”

“I’m cold.”

“Rule number one is do as you’re told. Drop the blanket.”

With an exaggerated sigh, she obeyed. Goosebumps immediately covered her bare skin. Tariza shivered, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Come over here,” Saturnios said. He led her to the other side of the tent, where a small heater had been lit. “Stand in front of the heater and you’ll be warm enough.”

Was that thoughtfulness on his part? No, it couldn’t be. Remember, you hate him.

He tapped an object against his left calf, the action drawing her eyes. A riding crop. Her gaze sped to his, her eyes wide.

He grinned. “Yes, we will have discipline today.”

“You’re not going to hit me with that thing.”

“Only if you disobey.” He tapped his leg again. “I hear the crop can cause a lot of stinging.”

“I don’t need that. I don’t!”

Saturnios smacked her lightly on the hip. “Rule number two: no speaking without permission.”

Ow! The crop did sting. She rubbed her skin, trying to remove the pain.

“What are the rules, Tariza?” His voice turned suddenly cold and stern.

“Um –” She flushed. Rules … “Do as you’re told and don’t talk unless you have permission.”

“In first person, please.”

“Huh?” She gaped at him.

“Do as I’m told. Go ahead and say it, with the numbers.”

Her lips tightened as a frown threatened to form.

He smacked her again, making her jump. “No frowning, scowling, or other unpleasant faces. Now tell me the rules.”

“Do as I’m told –”

“Numbers!” He smacked her a third time.

She bit back a sob of self-pity. “Number one, do as I’m told. Number two, no talking without permission.”

Saturnios smiled warmly. “Very good.” He clasped her buttocks in both hands, massaging, removing the sting. “Now for Rule number three: gaze must be on the floor at all times unless instructed otherwise. Repeat.” He released her ass and stood ready with the crop.

“Number three: m-my gaze must be on the floor at all times unless instructed otherwise.”

“Excellent.” With a gentle hand, he tipped up her chin, bending his head to brush her lips with his.

Her idiot body responded instantly with a rush of warmth and pleasure.

“You see?” he murmured. “You’re learning. Rule number four is the manner in which you address me. You are to call me Master, Master Dario, Your Highness or milord. Is that clear?”

Tariza nodded.

“Show me.”

“M-master, Master Dario, Your Highness or milord.”

“Now repeat all four, with numbers.”

Maybe if she showed obedience, this particular humiliation would end more quickly. She rattled off the four rules, keeping her gaze down as instructed.

“Good. Now for your name.”

Her name? She lifted her chin and her gaze for an instant, before remembering rule number three. Tariza ducked her head, twisting her hands together. Hoping he didn’t mean to impose a new name on her.

“If someone requests your name,” he said, “this is how you answer. I am Tariza, slave of Prince Dario Saturnios. Now you say it.”

Goddess. He was really going to make her say that? She flicked a glance toward his riding crop, tap-tapping against the side of his booted calf, and winced.

“I am Tariza, s-slave of Prince Dario Saturnios,” she repeated thickly.

“What is your name, slave?”

“I am T-tariza, s-slave of Prince Dario Saturnios.”

“Are you a princess of Concordia?”

She closed her eyes and swallowed. “No.”

Saturnios smacked her left hip with the crop. “No, what?”

“N-no, Master.” Goddess, that word was hard to force from her lips.

“Very good, Tariza.” This time, he not only kissed her but cupped her breast, shaping the sensitive curves and pinching her nipple until she gave a little moan of response. “You see, when you obey, you receive pleasure. When you disobey, you receive pain. Wouldn’t you rather have pleasure?”

“Yes,” she said unsteadily.

“And I would rather give you pleasure than pain. Remember that. I enjoy rewarding you.”

Of course he did. His rewards involved mauling her flesh, something that never failed to sexually excite him. She’d used similar rewards for her own slaves – all male, of course. Did he think she knew nothing of slave training?

“It’s different when you’re on the slave side of things, isn’t it?” he said softly, as if he’d read her mind.

“Yes.” She had the strange feeling she was falling, falling into a bottomless ravine from which she would never escape.

“Now we practice.”

He made her drill, repeating the four rules endlessly, giving her name at random prompts, fetching things for him. Every time he gave an order, he required her to respond with yes, Master. They drilled for what seemed like forever, until her responses felt automatic and she no longer hesitated.

“You’re doing well,” he said finally. “The other two rules I want you to learn today are how to sit and how to stand.”

I already know those things. She kept her thoughts to herself. Saturnios wanted her to present herself the same way that blonde did. What was her name? Lola.

“You will stand with your feet hip-width apart, your head bowed and your hands clasped. Do it.”

With an inward sigh, she complied. The crop traced a line up her back, around her shoulder to her jaw.

“You’re getting ready to scowl, slave. Amend your expression.”

What did he mean, scowl? She wasn’t scowling.

He whacked her on the ass, drawing a squeak from her. “Relax your jaw and forehead. Assume a pleasant expression.”

Tariza blinked rapidly. He’d punished her for not looking sweet enough? Her eyes pinched shut and her jaw tightened even more as she fought back tears.

The crop tapped against the leather of his boot. “Rule number one: do as you’re told. Fix that expression.”

“I hate you.”

Saturnios hit her smartly on first one thigh, then the other, hard enough to draw tears from her eyes. “I will mark you if you disrespect me again.” Another series of strikes followed his words.

She swallowed hard. “I’m sorry! Please stop hitting me.”

“Use the proper form of address.”

“I’m sorry, Master.”

“Better.” He gripped her chin, turning up her face for his kiss.

The tent flap opened and his squire poked his head inside. “Dinner, milord.”

“Good. I’m starved.” Saturnios waved the young man into the tent.

Paolo sent Tariza one of his sidelong leers as he bore the dinner tray to the table. He set out a plate laden with slices of roasted game bird, mashed root vegetables and miniature candied apples, along with freshly baked bread and a carafe of wine. Tariza’s stomach rumbled.

There was only one place setting. Weren’t they going to feed her? Her stomach growled again, even more loudly.

Saturnios tossed a canvas cushion on the tent floor next to his chair. “Rule number five, Tariza: at meals, you kneel beside the master’s chair and take food from his hand.”

She stiffened. He would deny her a plate of her own?

Saturnios tapped her under the chin with his crop. “Fix that expression, slave,” he said, his voice soft yet menacing.

She blinked and consciously relaxed her jaw.

“That’s better. Don’t worry. You won’t go hungry. Take your place now.”

“Yes, Master.” Her skin crawled with the sensation that Paolo was watching her, listening. Smirking.

Tariza knelt on the cushion, taking the position Saturnios had taught her. The heater had been placed close to provide warmth to the diners and its blessed heat washed over her, keeping the autumn chill off her nakedness.

“Will that be all, milord?” Paolo said.

“Yes. You’re dismissed.”

She couldn’t tell whether the squire sighed with relief or disappointment. All she knew was that she was glad to see him go.

Saturnios took his seat. Tariza watched out of the corner of her eye as he cut a bite of the poultry and put it in his mouth. He immediately cut another and held it to her lips. She opened her mouth to accept it.

“Very good. Nearly perfect form.” He smiled down at her and stroked her head. A bewildering welter of resentment at his high-handedness and pleasure at his approval rose up in her heart.

To be subjected to male control, dependent on male approbation – what had she done to so offend the Goddess that she deserved this punishment, this abject shame?

Saturnios happily chewed his food, apparently oblivious to her turmoil. He speared another bite of poultry and offered it to her. It tasted delicious, full of garlic and herbs. She had to admit the Saturnians knew how to cook.

“Try this,” he said, offering her a bite of the mashed roots.

They were fluffy, buttery and sweet. She hadn’t eaten decent food in weeks – not since beginning her field assignment.

“What do you think?”

She looked up at him, startled.

“I didn’t give you permission to look at me, slave.”

Tariza ducked her head. “I’m sorry, Master.”

“Did you like the food?”

“Very much,” she said without looking at him.

“I like it, too. Have another bite.”

Next he gave her a sip of wine, holding the goblet to her lips. She kept her eyes downcast as she drank. The last thing she wanted right now was more strikes of the crop.

“You’re doing remarkably well. I knew you would if you gave it an honest effort.”

It’s only fear of that damned riding crop keeping me in line.

But was that really true? Didn’t she yearn for that tone of warm approval in his voice? Didn’t she long for the reward of his kiss or caress?

His generous offerings of the un-watered wine blunted her sense of shame and despair, replacing it with mellow relaxation. She could puzzle out her feelings later. Right now she was warm and well-fed and that was enough.

She knelt beside him, drifting in a haze of contentment. His big hand stroked the top of her head, toying with her hair. She gave a little sigh because it felt good. She wouldn’t think about what any of this meant. She wouldn’t think about anything at all.

“Come up here.” His voice was husky.

“Milord?” She chanced a quick glance up at him.

He patted his thighs. “Here.”

Tariza rose. He pulled her onto his lap. She’d never sat on a man’s lap before. It gave her a strange feeling of vulnerability and safety that made her tremble and look away from him.

Saturnios caught her chin, guiding her face back toward his. “You’ve done well today. So well I think you deserve a reward.”

His mouth slanted down across hers, hot and wet and possessing. Tariza surrendered without a thought. She simply opened for him, moaning as his tongue plundered her.

Deep in her body, she ached. Her pussy throbbed and moistened for him. She felt so empty, the longing to be filled making her squirm and roll her hips against his powerful legs.

He gave a low laugh, still kissing her, and picked her up and tossed her face down on his bed. His hands spread her legs apart and his mouth found her sex. She cried out loudly as he tongued the sensitive flesh. She tipped up her pelvis to give him better access, shamelessly begging for his attentions.

He flipped her over on her back. “I’m going to fuck you now, Tariza, and while I fuck you I want you to chant something for me.”

She just wanted his cock, needed it, needed it now. But Master wanted her to talk … words … she tried to gather her scattered thoughts.

“What is it, Master?”

“I want you to say I belong to Master Dario. I am Master Dario’s slave. Can you remember that?”

“Yes.” Could she?

“Repeat it for me.”

“I-I belong to Master Dario. I am Master Dario’s slave.”

“That’s right, Tariza.” He pinched her nipple, causing a rush of pleasure in her womb. “Very good.”

A sudden thrust of his hips sent his cock plunging deep inside her. She threw her head back with a cry of joy.

“Say it,” he growled, pumping her.

“Oh! I belong to – oh! – Master Dario. I – oh! – I’m Master’s slave.”

“Good.” He groaned on another thrust. “Again.”

“I belong … Master … Dario! Oh, Dario! I … I am … slave.” She hardly knew what she was saying.

“My. Slave.” He stared fiercely into her eyes as he fucked her with ruthless strokes of his cock. “Again. Say it again.”

“Belong to …” She moaned as her eyes rolled back in ecstasy. “Dario! I am … Dario’s – Master’s – slave. Oh, please! Please!”

The power of speech abandoned her. She screamed, writhing beneath him. Dario roared, shuddered, spilled himself inside her. His big body sagged over hers, still trembling, his dark head lowered near to hers.

Tariza turned her face. Her lips met his hand where it rested against the bed, supporting his weight. She kissed him, kissed his thumb, his wrist, as her arms came around him and clasped him to her.

“Sweet girl,” he murmured. He captured her mouth in a hot, penetrating kiss. “My sweet treasure.”

She felt so … frighteningly good. It had been almost liberating to say those words. How could that be?

“I am Master Dario’s slave,” she whispered, and felt the statement echo in her soul.

Chapter 7

The next morning they set off for Saturnios, Tariza riding in front of the prince as before. The weather had turned bitterly cold. He’d given her layers of warm woolen clothing taken from the other slaves and she was so thoroughly bundled she hardly looked female at all. His arms around her, his body at her back sheltered her from much of the cruel mountain wind and the rocking motion of the horse’s gait helped to lull her into a sense of safety. Really it was perverse how safe she sometimes felt around the prince, when he so delighted in cropping her.

“Tell me,” his voice rumbled in her ear. “Did you learn to do anything in Concordia besides fight?”

“Of course I did.”

“Such as?”

“I – I’m an expert horsewoman.”

“Anything more feminine than that?”

Tariza gritted her teeth in sudden annoyance. “What’s wrong with women knowing horses?”

“Nothing, necessarily. But I was thinking of more indoor pursuits.”

“Like needlework?”

“Exactly.”

“I hate needlework.”

He laughed softly. “Why am I not surprised?”

“I have no idea.”

“Is there anything else you know how to do? I’m already aware you don’t dance.”

Tariza began to twist in the saddle so she could look at him, then remembered that was forbidden. “I dance. Just not ballroom dances.”

“Ah.” He sounded amused. “I see.”

“Why do you want to know this, anyway?”

“As your master,” he said in a reproving tone, “I don’t need to explain myself.”

Tariza hung her head. They couldn’t have anything like a normal conversation with him constantly reminding her of her position. Then again, she’d never had this sort of conversation with a male. In Concordia, they were spoken to, ordered about, not asked for their opinions.

“I want to get to know you better, Tariza. That’s all.”

“Get to know me?” she said, surprised.

“Yes. Didn’t you get to know your slaves back in Concordia?”

“No. Yes! I don’t know.” And that, she discovered with a creeping sense of shame, was the truth. It had never occurred to her there was anything about them worth knowing, except what sexual skills they possessed.

“I like to know something about my women.”

She bit her lip. Just how big a stable of women did he possess?

“Tell me, Tariza.”

Oh, fine. “I – I sing.” Sort of. “And play the guitar.”

“Really? Sing something for me.”

Ugh. She’d never liked her voice. It was pure soprano, not the treasured alto of the best Concordian singers, and no matter how much she’d practiced as a girl, she could never really get it to drop low enough. But she’d received an order from her master and she couldn’t refuse without feeling the sting of his crop. “Yes, milord,” she said, resigned to embarrassment.

She sang an old Concordian ballad about a woman whose favorite slave has died. It was sad, and suited her voice well, or at least as well as could be expected, given her limitations. It wasn’t until she’d finished the first verse that she realized how inappropriate the subject matter was. Oh, well. He’d asked for it.

When she finished and her voice died away, Saturnios sat silent for so long she quailed inside. He’d hated it. She heard her mother’s voice telling her to for Goddess’s sake stop her caterwauling.

Then his arms tightened around her. “That was lovely.” His voice sounded all husky, as if she’d moved him.

Tariza snorted. “You don’t have to be kind.”

“Fishing for compliments?” He sounded amused again.

“No. I know my voice is no good.”

“That’s not true. You have a beautiful voice. You sounded like an angel.”

Tariza shook her head. “It’s too high and squeaky.”

“There’s nothing squeaky about it. Who told you that you couldn’t sing?”

“Everyone.”

“Well, they were idiots. You’re gifted, Tariza.”

She laughed a little. “Thank you, I think.”

“I would like to hear you play the guitar. I’ll find you an instrument when we get home.”

Home. Saturnios would never be her home.

The prince seemed to expect an answer, so she manufactured one. “I would like that, Master.”

“Good. Very good.” He paused. “I enjoy music.”

“Do you play an instrument?” she said, mostly to be polite. Because she truly didn’t care whether he did or not. She didn’t even like him.

“The flute.”

Tariza began to twist again, wanting to see him. But it wasn’t allowed. She straightened out. “The flute?”

“Yes. I don’t sing, though.”

“Perhaps we could play a duet.” She flushed. “If it would please you,” she added, to avoid the crop.

“It would please me a great deal.”

We have something in common. How odd.

The more she learned about him, the more her image of him as an alien, barbarian beast dissolved, to be replaced by she knew not what. It piqued her curiosity, and made her cringe with the unwanted intimacy. Did he feel the same way about her? The sense of discovery, of a strange new country just beginning to reveal itself?

She could hardly ask him. It wasn’t allowed, after all. Besides, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.

***

Tariza was never so glad for woolens, even if they involved skirts that rucked up to expose her calves when she straddled a horse. The weather was cold in the mountains at this time of year. Snow began to fall by afternoon. A few sporadic flakes swirled lazily out of a pewter sky, only to melt the instant they touched the ground. Half an hour later, the snow had stopped but the wind had picked up, blowing the horses’ manes wildly. Dario – er, Saturnios – called the company to halt and make camp.

The spot he’d chosen was flat enough, with a rocky outcropping on the north side to shield them from the wind. He dismounted, while Paolo dashed over to unfasten Tariza’s ankles so she could also dismount.

The handful of soldiers accompanying them bustled around the site, laying out tents and hobbling horses. Dario – er, Saturnios – reached up and pulled her from the horses’ back.

“I know how to dismount a horse,” she snapped.

“You’re wearing a skirt.”

“How observant of you to notice.”

“Perhaps a spanking would teach you to keep a more civil tone when speaking to your master.”

Tariza rolled her eyes. He kept threatening to spank her, but so far he hadn’t done it. “You don’t have the nerve.”

His gaze turned to granite. “I’ve been too easy on you. That’s going to change, starting now.”

Paolo led Blaze away to join the other horses. Saturnios took Tariza by the arm and pointed toward a small huddle of female figures in the lee of the outcropping. Their thick winter cloaks and scarves, and the layers of clothing beneath, obliterated any sense of the women’s individuality. She couldn’t tell one from the other.

“Help the other women set up the kitchen,” Saturnios ordered.

“Kitchen? I don’t know anything about cooking.”

He gave her such a stern glare that she took an involuntary step backward. “I gave you an order, Tariza. Don’t make me repeat it.”

She found herself swallowing hard. “All right. I’ll do it.”

“The correct response is yes, Master or yes, milord.”

Tariza stared at him.

“Say it.” His voice was as hard as his eyes.

“Don’t –”

“Say it now.”

She swallowed again. “Yes, Master.”

“That’s better. Now go over there and see what they need you to do.”

All she could manage was a nod. She turned toward the other women and walked numbly through the falling dusk, not looking back at Saturnios or at anyone else. The way he’d spoken to her … it hurt. It felt like a slap in the face.

She’d begun to relax around him, and that was a huge mistake. He was her enemy. Not an ally and certainly not a friend. An enemy. She mustn’t forget that fact ever again.

Maybe she could find an ally among the women. Surely they would be inspired by the presence of a Concordian in their midst. The idea of a free woman would be a revelation to them.

Then she remembered Lola’s toxic glare the day before and wasn’t so sure.

One of the women glanced her way as she approached. The female reached out to tug at one of her companion’s sleeves. She whispered in the other woman’s ear. Both of them turned toward her, their expressions sour above the knit wrappings that protected their faces from the cold.

“What do you want?” said the first one. She lifted her eyes and looked straight at Tariza. Blue eyes. Lola. Wonderful.

Tariza cleared her throat. “Saturnios ordered me to help you.”

Lola snorted. “Did he? You didn’t just make that up?”

“Why would I do that?”

The blonde shrugged. “How would I know why a Concordian bitch would do anything? You’re all crazy.”

“If you don’t believe me, go and ask him. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t told me to come.”

Lola and the other woman exchanged a glance.

“Go ahead.” Tariza gestured toward Saturnios. “Ask him.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

She couldn’t see the other woman’s lips because a magenta woolen scarf covered half her face, but Lola’s voice was tight with resentment. Tariza pulled her own scarf over her nose and mouth. If the others concealed their faces, she would too. This way she could be just as inscrutable as they were. Ha.

Lola pointed at the ground. “Clear an area for a fire. I’ll gather some wood to burn.”

Tariza held her gaze for a moment before nodding. “All right.”

She located the fire close to the rock wall, using her foot to scrape away the snow that still clung to the ground. There wasn’t much plant life growing here – the ground was mostly loose rock littering hard-packed earth. Glancing up, she found that Lola was already walking away toward a line of scrub bordering the road.

Tariza looked up at the other woman, who bent over a canvas pack. “I haven’t got anything to dig with.”

“So don’t dig.”

She sighed. They seemed determined to hate her and be as unhelpful as possible. “Fine. I won’t dig.”

Instead, she cleared a round space of larger rocks, which she used to rim the circle. There wasn’t anything here that could burn, so it should be fine. The job only took a few minutes, and afterward she stood up and tried to brush the clumps of dirt and snow off her mittens.

The second woman pulled a large pot and a smaller bag from the sack. She crooked her finger at Tariza. “Come here and help me cut these carrots for the stew.”

Surely she could manage to cut up a few carrots. She came over and sat on the rocky ground next to the other woman. It was miserable out here, with the wind blowing around the rocks and into their faces, swirling their skirts and freezing their legs. Shouldn’t they be eating trail food so they didn’t have to sit in this mess and cook?

She glanced at the other woman sidelong. “Why do we have to cook? Can’t we eat dry bread and meat tonight?”

“Saturnians aren’t lazy like you Concordians. We cook real food.”

“It has nothing to do with laziness,” she said sharply. “I’d like to avoid frostbite. Wouldn’t you?”

“It’s not my place to make these decisions. The men say they want cooked food and we provide it.”

“Do they want us to lose our fingers and toes?”

The woman glared at her. “Shut up and do as you’re told.”

She handed Tariza a knife and a carrot. Tariza looked at the vegetable, then the blade. The idiot woman had just given her a weapon. Had Saturnios given any thought to what she might do with kitchen tools when he’d ordered her to help? Not that she could realistically do anything with a knife this small, outnumbered as she was.

Sighing, she turned the blade to an acute angle and scraped at the skin. Her grip felt awkward and the job seemed to take forever, with tiny bits of carrot skin accumulating on the blade and getting in her way. But she kept at it, as her hands gradually grew numb with cold.

The gravel crunched. Tariza glanced up to see Lola returning with an armful of sticks and branches for the fire. The blonde paused next to her and looked ostentatiously around the site, as if confused.

“Where’s the firepit I told you to dig?” she said loudly.

“Over there.” Tariza pointed at the spot.

“There’s nothing there.”

“It’s shallow, but it’s there. Just go a little closer and you’ll see it.”

Lola snorted. She seemed to have a habit of doing that, and it wasn’t attractive. She hauled her sticks over to Tariza’s firepit, poking at it with her toe. “This isn’t a firepit. It’s a circle of rocks.”

“It should be good enough. There’s nothing to burn right here anyway.”

“I told you to build a firepit, not make a circle of rocks. Do it over.”

“No. You can build a fire there just fine.”

“You did it wrong. Now you need to fix your mistake.”

Tariza sighed again. “I can’t dig in frozen ground. Besides, I don’t have any digging tools.”

“You have your fingers.”

She squinted up through the darkness at the blonde. “Are you serious? You want me to dig a hole in frozen ground with my bare hands?”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“Well, I won’t do it. You don’t need a firepit anyway. There’s nothing but rocks right here, and besides, you told me not to dig. Remember?”

Lola dropped the wood at her feet and put her hands on her hips. “Are you backtalking me?”

“You’re just a slave,” Tariza said. “Like me.”

“I’m not like you. I’m a decent woman. Now dig the firepit or I’m going to get Prince Dario and he’ll make you do it.”

“Go ahead.” Saturnios couldn’t possibly be as unreasonable as this crazy slave.

Instead of leaving, Lola reached down and grabbed Tariza by the collar of her coat. A couple of men drifted over to watch the fight as the blonde tried to drag her to her feet. Tariza gripped the other woman’s forearms and pried her hands off her.

“If you don’t know how to build a fire, Lola, maybe you should ask someone to show you. Honestly, you don’t need a firepit in a place like this.”

“Of course I know how to build a fire.”

Tariza stood. “Really? I thought all you did was simper and spread your legs.”

“At least I’m a real woman and not a worthless freak like you.”

The punch seemed to come out of nowhere. Tariza’s fist slammed into Lola’s jaw, sending the blonde tumbling backward onto the rocky ground. Tariza looked down at her hand. She still held the carrot, now broken, in her dirty mitten.

Someone grabbed her by the arms and yanked her roughly backward. She stumbled into a hard male body. A wool-clad arm clamped painfully around her upper arms and chest, keeping her off-balance.

“What in hell do you think you’re doing?” Saturnios snarled in her ear.

“She insulted me.”

He gave her a hard shake. “You don’t hit the other slaves. You don’t hit anyone, for any reason.”

“But –”

“Look at her.”

Lola was curled on the gravel, crying loudly as the two men crouched next to her, speaking to her in low, soothing tones. What a lot of fuss over one punch. You’d think the woman had never fought before.

Maybe she hadn’t.

“She can’t defend herself,” Saturnios said. “She doesn’t know how to fight. Apologize.”

“What? No!”

“Apologize.” His tone cut like a whip.

“You didn’t hear what she called me.”

“I don’t care what she called you.” He shoved her forward, forcing her down to her knees. “Apologize.”

Lola was snuffling, her blue eyes red-rimmed. Her jaw was starting to bruise. She looked helpless, pathetic, an unworthy adversary.

Tariza clenched her teeth. “I’m sorry.” She had to push the words out.

Lola stared at her for a moment. Then she spat. The glob of spittle struck Tariza on the chin.

The men laughed. Lola smirked. Tariza wiped Lola’s spit off with the same hand she’d used to punch her.

Saturnios hadn’t laughed. He hauled her to her feet and dragged her backward, away from the clot of others. She couldn’t see where they were going. Her feet slipped in the snow. He jerked her upright and kept going.

Chapter 8

The darkening sky and gathered Saturnians disappeared abruptly behind the red canvas of his tent. It wasn’t the big field tent but a smaller, wedge-shaped one just big enough for a bed and a couple of trunks. He spun her around and sat down on his camp bed, throwing her face down across his knees.

“What are you doing?” She struggled to get to her feet.

Saturnios pinned her to his lap with one heavy arm while he dragged her skirts up with his free hand. Cold air kissed her bare skin.

“I’m spanking you.”

“Don’t you dare!” She got her elbows beneath her and tried to lever herself off him, but he merely leaned on her and kept her in place.

“You don’t seem to understand your status, Tariza.” He smacked his palm hard against her ass. She winced at the sting. “You’re a slave. If I want to spank you, I’ll do it.”

He delivered a series of blistering strikes on her ass, alternating cheeks to create a blur of pain. Tariza bit down on her lip, squirming under the blows. She would not cry out. She wouldn’t make a sound.

Even though he was hurting her. And humiliating her. Tariza’s eyes began to water. Her skin felt like it was on fire. No-one had spanked her since she was ten years old. Only males were spanked as adults.

In Concordia.

Saturnios quit slapping her and began instead to squeeze and fondle the sore globes of her ass. “You’re no longer a princess. You’re my slave. I can spank you and fuck you wherever and whenever I like. Understand?”

She grimaced, hating him. “Yes.”

“Do you?” He pinched her.

“Ow! Yes. I understand.”

He had the nerve to laugh, a low sound that made her want to bite him. “I doubt that. But you will, because I’m not going to let you forget it.” He smacked her again. “I’m going to remind you several times a day, Tariza.”

Hate him. Hate him. Hate him.

The smacks ceased. His fingers swept lazily over her cheeks before slipping between them.

“You’re quite wet,” he said, smug male satisfaction in every word.

“I am not!” She couldn’t be after what he’d done.

“Oh, but you are.” His forefinger moved slickly between her folds. “Feel that? You’re dripping for me. You want to be dominated.”

“No.”

“Yes, you do. Admit it. All those poor slave men bore you. They’re so predictable and weak. You want a real man, one who won’t let you boss him around.”

She forced a laugh. “I suppose you think you’re a real man?”

Saturnios smacked her again – once, twice on each cheek. An involuntary squeak escaped her.

“Speak to me with respect or I’ll continue to punish you.”

“I’ll never respect you.”

Another set of smacks brought tears to her eyes. The moisture rolled down her face. She pressed her lips together until they were numb, to stop herself from making any pathetic noises.

He quit spanking her to shove her thighs apart. “This is what you’re for. You’re a slave, not a fighter. Don’t ever let me see you hit anyone again.”

Once again his fingers boldly explored her cunt. Yet he touched her so gently there, never hurting her, never tearing at the tender flesh the way she’d once feared that he would.

Instead, he probed her wet sheath, worked the cream in luxurious strokes all over her pussy, a barely audible moan issuing from his throat. Tariza quivered.

“You want me,” he said, his voice thick.

She opened her mouth to deny it, but the words refused to leave her. Because he was right. She ached for him, her lashes fluttering, eyes rolling up at the exquisite sensation of his touch on her.

Saturnios lifted her off his knees, so the bed supported her upper body. She didn’t fight him. What would be the point? There was no escape from this place; not at the moment, anyway.

His clothes rustled behind her. Then his mouth descended hot and wet on her pussy and she gasped. His big hands spread her wide for the explorations of his lips and tongue. He seemed to know exactly how to kiss her to inflict the most pleasure on her.

He moaned again, his tongue plunging deep inside her. Tariza gave an answering moan. She couldn’t control herself with him, couldn’t stop her fingers from clawing at the bedding or her legs from opening even wider, wordlessly begging for more.

He removed his mouth from her body and she nearly cried at the loss. More rustling ensued. Large hands grasped her hips, steadying her as the thick, blunt head of his cock probed her cunt. He was going to mount her like a stallion mounts a mare – like a male slave mounts another male slave.

“No!” She tried to crawl away across the bed. “Not from behind!”

“Hush.” He pressed her into the bed, keeping her still while he rubbed his cock against her dripping folds with a soft groan.

His weight oppressed her, the hot press of his body unbearably arousing. He was too strong for her to fight, his maleness unchained, dominating her, and that realization made her tremble with fear and yearning. Goddess, perhaps she did want to be dominated.

“Please,” she whispered. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can, slave.”

Tariza whimpered against the red wool blanket. He shoved his way into her, just an inch, giving another of those low-voiced moans. She gasped.

He flexed his hips, rocking against her as he worked himself deep inside her. Delight bloomed in her, sharp aching bursts of it as he pushed deeper and deeper.

“So tight,” he rasped. “So damn tight.”

A final thrust put him as deeply inside her as he could go. She cried out, clutching at the blanket, helpless. She couldn’t see him, could only feel his hands grasping her hips, his pelvis bumping rhythmically against hers.

And his cock, impossibly big, spearing her mercilessly, over and over. She couldn’t stop her cries of ecstasy. This position allowed him to penetrate her so deeply, made the pleasure so intense her cries turned to shrieks and sobs.

Saturnios reached around, one-handed, to search between her legs. He found her clit and Tariza exploded in a punishing orgasm.

His thrusts picked up speed and force, growing wilder as he groaned her name. The sound of her name on his lips excited her so much she lifted her hips to him, thrusting back against him as the pleasure coiled tighter and tighter, rising toward a second climax.

Dario shouted, his voice rough and deep as his fingers bit into her hips. Another orgasm burst gloriously over her. He groaned, his movements slowing.

He’d decimated her, slain her, laid her waste. She lay panting into the covers on his bed, not knowing whether to cry or rage. He panted, too, his breath blowing in soft, warm gusts against the back of her neck. And then he bit her there, his teeth gently scoring her skin.

She moaned. She couldn’t stop the sound from escaping her, just as she couldn’t stop her body from responding with wild lust to his every touch.

“You are mine,” he said with soft emphasis. “You are mine and you will obey me.”

“You won’t break me, Saturnios.” Her voice sounded confident, but inside she wasn’t so sure.

“That’s Master to you. Say it.”

“Saturnios.”

He bit harder, until it hurt. “Master.”

“Saturnios.”

This time his bite was hard enough to draw a cry from her throat. Damn him.

She closed her eyes, feeling that pit beneath her feet grow deeper and darker. “Master,” she whispered.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do in order to make you behave,” he said. “Whatever it takes to make you safe.”

“Does it please you to lie to yourself?”

“Your disobedience could cost you your life. And I’m not going to let you die.”

“I’m touched.”

He was still inside her; he still surrounded her, his warm weight pressing her into the bed.

“I thought we’d made better progress.” He bumped his hips into hers. “Guess I was wrong. So we’re going to try this another way. From now on, everything you need or want will come from my hand. Everything. And, Tariza, you’ll have to please me in order to receive. Every bite you take, every garment you wear will be earned.”

“How?” She sounded choked.

“I’ll put you through your paces. You’ll perform, either for me or another man.”

“I really do hate you.”

He laughed softly as he withdrew from her body. “Your first lesson is to get a cloth and clean up both of us.” He slapped her bare ass, not in a punishing way but almost affectionately. “Go on, now.”

She turned her head to glare at him.

Saturnios raised a single black eyebrow. “Ready for another spanking so soon?” The heat in his gaze suggested he’d enjoy giving it to her.

She didn’t want another spanking at all, ever. If he gave her one now, she’d probably break down and cry, doubly humiliating herself.

Tariza got off the bed, her mouth set in a straight line. “No, milord.”

“I think we’ll stay with Master for now.”

She heaved a sigh. “No, Master.

“That’s better. Now get that cloth.”

“Yes, Master.” She glanced around the crowded tent. “I don’t know where to look.”

“Try that one.” He pointed to a small and battered trunk with faded red leather straps.

She opened it. Inside were stacks of towels, an extra tunic the small wooden box that contained his soap, combs, brushes, the riding crop …

Tariza ignored the last item. She took a cloth and closed the trunk and turned around. At the last minute, she remembered not to look at him unless given permission.

“What about water?”

“Proper form of address, slave,” he said in a deceptively quiet voice that promised retribution if she failed to obey.

She swallowed. “What about water, Master?”

“Get some out of my flask.” He slid the container of water off his belt and held it out to her.

“Thank you. Master.”

Tariza opened the bottle and dribbled some of the frigid water onto the cloth. Dario stretched out on his back, trousers still unfastened. She bent to clean him with the icy cloth. Served him right if it was too cold.

He didn’t seem to mind the temperature at all, damn him. Silently she swabbed him.

“Will that be all, Master?”

“Now do yourself.” He folded his arms and stared at her as if waiting for the show to begin. A frown crossed his face. “You’re looking at me without permission.”

Tariza ducked her head. “I’m sorry, Master.”

“Better.” He sounded like he was smiling. Saturnios reached out and stroked her hand. “Wash yourself, slave.”

Better to get it over with. She set her foot on the edge of the bed and hiked up her skirt all the way to her waist. The cloth was so cold she sucked in a shocked breath when it touched her flesh. Saturnios’s body seemingly hadn’t warmed it at all.

“Take more water if you need it,” he said.

“It’s fine, Master.” That hated word was becoming easier to say. Was that a good thing or bad? “What should I do with the dirty cloth, Master? Do you have a bag for soiled clothing?”

“Paolo will take care of it. You can set it on top of the chest.”

She obeyed without speaking. Her skirt fell back to her ankles, giving her a semblance of warmth again. Tariza turned back toward the bed and Saturnios held out his arms to her.

“Come here. Lay with me.”

Her heart pinched. She didn’t want to lay with him. It was too painful, too confusing, too much pleasure mixed with humiliation; yet she couldn’t refuse without punishment.

“Yes, Master,” she muttered, and arranged her body next to him without grace or good humor.

He wrapped his arms around her, tucking her head against his shoulder and pulling his scratchy field blanket over both of them. “We’ll keep each other warm at night.”

Since he didn’t seem to need or expect a reply, she said nothing.

“They’ll bring us dinner soon,” he said.

“I thought I was supposed to help cook, Master.”

“You were. But for now you’ll stay with me.”

“I know nothing about cooking.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“You know, it is possible to be womanly without being a cook or an embroiderer, Master,” she said hotly.

“I never said otherwise.”

“You implied it.”

“Did I?” He was laughing at her … without actually laughing. She could hear it in his voice.

“Yes. You did.”

“There’s no need to be defensive, Tariza. I know you grew up in an unnatural culture. It’s not your fault you failed to learn basic feminine skills.”

She tried to pull away from him, but his grip was too firm. “Unnatural?”

“You’re leaving out the proper address again.”

“And you’re deliberately needling me. Master.”

“Maybe you’re simply easy to annoy, slave. Are you hungry?”

His rapid change of subject made her blink. “Um … no, Master.” Now that he’d drawn her attention to her stomach, however, she noticed how empty she was. “Wait, yes. I suppose I am.”

“I thought so. That partly accounts for your crankiness this afternoon.”

“We didn’t stop for lunch.”

“No, we didn’t.”

She took a peek at his face. He had a secret smile, as if something amused him but he didn’t want to tell her about it. Laughing at her again?

Saturnios peeled back the covers and sat up on the bed just as the tent flap pulled back and Paolo’s head appeared in the gap. His breath frosted in thick white clouds.

“Dinner, milord.”

“Excellent. Bring it in.”

The squire set up the meal on top of the largest trunk, in lieu of a table. There wasn’t much scent from the food, which was probably cold in spite of Lola’s efforts to cook a hot meal. Lola was a fool.

Paolo departed with a curious and lustful glance at Tariza.

“Take off your clothes,” Dario said.

“It’s cold in here.”

He regarded her with a mixture of amusement and disappointment evident on his face. “You’re right. It is cold. Very well, you can keep your clothing.”

“Thank you, Master.” She couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

“Kneel next to the trunk, at the foot of the bed.”

Tariza worked her jaw. She didn’t want to follow that order. But he was her master, in truth. In Saturnios, he could do anything to her and his actions would be upheld by every other man in the country and probably most of the women as well. She could continue to fight him or she could give in and maybe survive.

I’d rather fight.

Despite that thought, she turned and went to the foot of the bed, where she knelt.

Saturnios took a seat on the foot of the camp bed. He surveyed the food while Tariza’s stomach growled painfully.

“You’ll have to earn every bite, remember?” he said.

How could I forget something like that? She merely nodded.

Saturnios rucked up his tunic to expose his still unfastened trousers. He then speared a bite of the meat on his plate and chewed thoughtfully.

“If you would like some meat, you will lick me.”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“You heard me.” He gestured toward his unfastened trousers. “Well, go ahead and get started. Unless you’d like to go hungry tonight.”

Her stomach growled again, even more loudly and painfully than before. She was beginning to feel lightheaded. Swallowing hard, Tariza leaned over him and reached into his clothing to draw out his cock. It was thick and long again. The conversation – or maybe anticipation of her touch – had already excited him.

She bent her head and gave his cock a swipe of her tongue.

“Again,” he said.

With a deep breath for patience, she repeated the action.

“Very good.” He forked up another bite of meat and extended the utensil to her mouth. Tariza reached for the fork.

“No. Take it directly from my hand. You remember how.”

She just managed to avoid rolling her eyes at him. Opening her mouth, she accepted the meat.

“Good girl.”

For the second bite, she had to lick him again. He tasted musky, a bit salty, and very male, his flesh smooth and hot beneath her lips.

Dario rewarded her with a choice bite of meat, some hot and juicy fat still clinging to it. “Here you are.”

The lightheadedness she’d experienced began to recede.

Saturnios smiled at her. “Feeling better?”

Tariza nodded.

“Good. Let’s continue.”

He fed her in that manner for the entire meal, punctuating bites of food with attention to his cock, remaining hard and ready the whole time. She grew full, her satisfied stomach making the rest of her warm and logy. Relaxed, when she ought never to relax in the company of this man.

“Now for dessert,” he said.

“Dessert, Master?”

“Yes. You’re dessert. Suck me until I come in your mouth. I want you to drink down every drop, do you understand?”

She looked at him, knowing it was forbidden. “I-I don’t think I can. Please don’t make me do that. I’m afraid I’ll vomit.”

“You won’t vomit, Tariza.” He stroked her head. “It’ll be all right. Try it and find out.”

Goddess, he almost sounded kind.

“Go ahead, now. Suck me off.”

She closed her eyes. She could do this, had to do it. Didn’t she?

It’s better than another spanking.

With her hand, she lifted his cock to her mouth and licked the throbbing head.

He sucked in a breath. “That’s it. Take it all the way in your mouth.”

Women didn’t do this in Concordia. A woman only sucked a man to tease him, never allowing him to ejaculate down her throat. She wasn’t sure how it was done, but to please him she opened her mouth wide and took him in as far as she could.

The head of his cock hit the back of her mouth and she gagged a little.

“Mmm,” he moaned. “That’s good. Deep like that.”

It was too uncomfortable. She adjusted the angle of her head and neck, giving herself a straighter path to accommodate his cock. This time it went deep without choking her.

Tariza wrapped her lips over her teeth and pulled back, sucking. A deep groan issued from his throat. She could taste his musk, feel it all the way in the back of her mouth.

As she worked him in and out of her mouth, the friction against her lips and tongue became strangely pleasurable. She hadn’t expected that – for this act to feel good to her, too. Shouldn’t she feel used, put upon, degraded? Yet the sound of his moans and harsh pants, the way he trembled beneath her, gave her an odd sense of power.

When he arched his back with a jerk and shouted hoarsely, when jets of hot salty come filled her mouth, she almost smiled in triumph. Except she was too busy swallowing.

The texture was not to her taste. But the experience as a whole was surprisingly … good. She’d done that to him, made him come. And she could do it again.

His hand stroked her hair. “Incredible. You have a natural talent.”

She glanced up at him. Again, without permission. He didn’t seem to mind, though. He smiled at her, his eyes soft.

“Now for your dessert.” He reached down and lifted her onto the bed with him.

“Dessert?”

Lie down and spread your legs for me.”

But he’d already –

Tariza stretched out on the bed, unresisting as he spread her legs and pulled her skirt up to reveal her pussy. Saturnios bent his head to her sex and took a deep breath. Her face burned. How could he?

“You smell delectable,” he growled.

His thumbs spread her open. He gave her a delicate stroke, wet and warm and perfect. She whimpered.

Saturnios teased her gently, mercilessly with lips and tongue, opening up layers upon layers of delight she’d never really known existed. Why couldn’t the slaves in Concordia affect her this way? It wasn’t right, but at the moment she didn’t care. She was lost in him.

Something – his finger? – probed at her anus. Tariza clenched in fear.

“Shh,” he murmured against her pussy. “Just relax for me. Just relax.”

He resumed licking her, his finger burrowing into her ass, opening her where she’d never been open before. This, too, was something never done in Concordia. No woman would allow a man to invade her in this way.

Pleasure and shame mingled in her heart. Yet she didn’t want him to stop. The forbidden touch, the weird mix of discomfort and ecstasy made her squirm and moan with excitement. Then he stopped, leaving her gasping and frustrated.

“Would my slave like to come?”

What? Yes, of course she wanted to come. “I – yes. I want –”

“Yes, what, slave?”

What did he want? What … oh, that. “Yes, Master.”

He gave her a luxurious swipe of his tongue. “Beg me for it.”

There was some reason she shouldn’t beg, but she couldn’t remember it. “Please.”

“More.” He teased her clit, making her gasp again.

“Oh! Please let me come, Master. Please.”

Dario gave a low, dark laugh. “What lovely begging, slave. I’ve decided to grant your request.”

He focused the efforts of his mouth on her clit. One big hand palmed her breast, tweaked her nipple so sharply it almost hurt. Climax rushed over her. She gasped and cried at the overwhelming flood of sensation.

“Tell me, slave. To whom does this sweet, wet pussy belong?” Before she could answer, the forefinger of his other hand entered her cunt. Now he had two fingers inside her, in two different holes. She’d never felt so invaded, so dominated. Her eyes went unbearably wide and her mouth fell open in a gasp.

“Tell me who owns this pussy, or I’ll stop.”

No! He couldn’t stop. But he knew it was her pussy … why was he asking that question?

“It’s mine,” she said, bumping her pelvis against his hand.

“Wrong answer.” He withdrew his hand.

“No! Don’t stop, please.”

“Who owns you?”

Tariza bit her lip. “You do,” she said sullenly.

“That’s right. I own you and every part of you. Now, who owns this pussy?” He slid his finger inside her again.

“Y-you, Master.”

“That’s right,” he purred. “Mine. Only mine.”

He pushed against the bundle of nerves at the front of her sheath, still working his other finger in her ass. Ruthless delight pounded through her, over and over in a cascade of orgasms. Tariza howled.

Her fingers tore at the blankets on the bed. Her voice broke as she screamed against the pleasure and her body broke, melted, fell apart, flooding his hands and the bed with hot liquid as she sobbed.

“God, Tariza,” he said reverently. “You amaze me.” Tenderly he withdrew his hands. “You’re a good girl when you come for me.”

She lay there shuddering, gazing into his eyes yet unable to form a coherent thought. The wetness on the coverlet finally penetrated her awareness and she blushed.

“I wet the bed.”

“You ejaculated.”

Tariza frowned. “Women don’t ejaculate.”

Dario – Saturnios – smiled at her as he hitched his body up beside hers. “They do, just not very often.”

“I don’t – I’ve never felt anything like that.”

He kissed her softly on the lips. “I need to wash my hands, but I want to hold you.”

“You’re the master.”

Saturnios nestled against her, burying his face against her hair. “I’m so glad I found you.”

They had found each other, hadn’t they? But he’d taken her, stolen her, changed her. She didn’t know what she thought about it. If only she didn’t have to think at all. Her eyes began to sting uncontrollably.