Taken By Storm

Taken By Storm: Tales Of The Demon Kin

 

Please Note: the following story excerpt, like the other first five Demon Kin stories, is a k!nky tale of d0m!nance and surr&nder. If you are under eighteen or easily offended, stop here.

Taken By Storm

Tori Minard

Cover by Tori Minard with photos by Vladimir Sazonov, © Curaphotography, © Margojh

Copyright 2014 Tori Minard

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.

Enchanted Lyre Books

Chapter 1

He needed sex. They wouldn’t allow him to have it. They had put him here, stuck him in a cage as if he were an animal, laughed at him, taken his clothes, strapped a metal cage over his cock so he couldn’t touch himself. Couldn’t get even that much relief from the need that pounded at him, clawed him.

Demanding. All the time. Every instant of every day and night, when he was awake, when he was asleep, until he could hardly eat and sleep eluded him. Until he couldn’t remember his own name.

He leaned against the door of the tiny, gray cell they called his room. He could smell the humans in the equally gray corridor, even though a powerful reek of disinfectant tried to cover it. There were no females in that group. He could smell others of his kind, males, somewhere nearby but not close enough for him to hear. Not close enough for him to speak to them.

Were they being treated the same way?

His fingers brushed the skin at the back of his neck and found the tiny rectangle they had inserted under his skin. Somehow, that little rectangle kept him from knowing their thoughts. It kept him from influencing his captors with his mind. It made him as weak as they were.

He didn’t understand anymore what the rectangle was. He’d forgotten the word, just like he’d forgotten his name. But he knew that if he didn’t have it, he could force them to release him. He could force them to do whatever he wanted. But they’d put it in him when he was unconscious, and now he was helpless against them.

He growled at the thing. It needed to come out. Now.

His fingernails were dull and short, but they were the only weapons he had. He would have used his teeth, except he couldn’t set them at the back of his own neck. So fingernails it was.

He dug them into the skin on either side of the rectangle and kept digging until they pierced his skin. He gritted his teeth at the extra burst of pain, his fangs on full display. Blood flowed from the wounds he’d made.

His skin turned slippery. Still, he kept digging. Farther in. Deeper. Deeper. There—the hard edge of the tiny rectangle. He pinched it between his fingertips and carefully pulled.

A weird electric bolt of painful energy surged through him, as if some invisible person yanked on all his nerves at once. His hand locked in place as he shook all over. His limbs, his whole body, it was all out of his control.

His teeth chattered loudly from the shaking. His legs trembled and quaked until they shook him right off his feet and he landed on the smooth, cold floor of the cell. The electric shocks continued to surge through him, one after another, until he was blind with agony.

Somewhere, a wild animal was screaming and roaring as if it were being tortured. No. It wasn’t a wild animal. It was him.

A burst of cooler air hit his skin. The smell of humans flooded him. They were talking—their voices buzzed incomprehensibly around his screams, but he couldn’t understand what they said. Several sharp stabs penetrated the electric torture that consumed him, their sting barely perceptible.

Blackness washed through him and he sank into it, grateful for its oblivion.

***

To love and obey, as long as ye both shall live. Mercy Wheaton had sworn those words years ago, when she’d married her husband, Cletus, and she’d meant them at the time. She’d never expected it to be quite so hard, though. Maybe she hadn’t loved Cletus, or even liked him much, but her parents had chosen him as her husband and she’d trusted their judgment.

Yet her marriage had led her to this place, the Novus Vita Planetary Prison For Women Number One.

Cletus Wheaton stared across the table at her, his thin lips drawn so tightly they all but disappeared. His small, blue eyes looked even squintier than usual in the harsh light of the prison’s visitor chamber. His gaze traveled over her rough, gray prison gown and the shackles on her wrists with undisguised contempt. She was his wife, yet he’d never had anything but contempt for her.

“The divorce is final,” he said, a subtle note of satisfaction in his voice.

Not his wife anymore, then. Mercy leaned forward, the shackles bumping the thick, wooden table between her and her former spouse with a loud rattle. “Cletus, you know I’m innocent. Why are you doing this?”

“It’s Mr. Wheaton to you, whore.”

“I’m not a whore and you know it.”

He drew himself upright, puffing out his scrawny chest. “You were duly convicted of adultery in a Novus Vitan court of law and that’s good enough for me.”

“I know this is about Ronilda. You want to get rid of me so you can marry her.” That way, he could keep Mercy’s dowry and have Ronilda’s too. The fifteen year old Ronilda would make exactly the sort of meek little wife Cletus would like, and she’d probably pop out a dozen offspring in as many years, unlike Mercy, who seemed to be barren.

Cletus turned red at her accusation. “That’s not true.” He shoved his chair back and got to his feet. “You are a whore. You were nothing but trouble from the day I married you. Always arguing, always with every man in the village sniffing around your skirts. Well, I’m done with you and good riddance.”

He spun on his heel and stomped to the visitor chamber door. The male guard on duty opened the door for him, his expression inscrutable. Mercy watched her now-ex-husband leave her without a backward glance, the ugly overhead light shining off the bald spot on the back of his head and his wispy dishwater-colored hair.

She covered her face with her hands. She wouldn’t miss Cletus. Not even for a minute. Their marriage had been a nightmare from the beginning. But she’d harbored a foolish hope that he would see she’d been wrongly convicted and take her out of this terrible place.

Why had she ever thought that? He’d been the one to find her in flagrante delicto with Marcus—never mind that Marcus had forced her. Cletus didn’t care about that.

The female guard assigned to take her to and from the visitor chamber jabbed her in the back with a powered-down shock stick. “Time to go, Wheaton-5.”

Mercy dropped her hands to her lap. The guard poked her again. She got to her feet, stifling the glare she wanted to level at the other woman. Glaring was considered a minor infraction, a show of disrespect that would probably earn her a real shock with the shock stick. The pain of electric shock was an experience she’d do almost anything to avoid. Once had been more than enough.

The plain ugliness of the visitor chamber gave way to even greater bleakness as they walked—Mercy in the lead, the guard with shock stick at the ready—into the main hallway. Beyond was corridor after corridor of nothing but unadorned concrete walls and floors, stained with decades of use and punctuated only by the occasional metal security door where the guard had to produce passwords so they could continue.

It was vital to maintain a high level of security. After all, they wouldn’t want their whores, female debtors, beggars, and petty thieves to escape. Who knew what awful havoc they would wreak if they ever got loose in society?

Several security doors later, they entered Mercy’s ward. As far as she could tell, it looked exactly the same as every other ward in the prison. Even the prisoners looked much the same, and not only because they wore identical gray gowns. They all had the same shorn heads, the same pale, resentful, frightened faces, the same hollows in their cheeks and beneath their eyes.

She’d seen herself in a mirror once, after she’d been in prison a few weeks. She’d hardly recognized herself. Her luxuriant black curls were gone, reduced to a fuzz of black velvet on her scalp. Her normally mocha-colored skin had turned a weirdly bleached-looking tan, her lips so pale they almost disappeared. She had almost disappeared. This place was toxic to her.

As the last security door crashed into place behind them, a trio of men in the company of another female guard came around a bend in the hall ahead of them. The men had horns on their heads. Long, serpentine tails with furry poufs at their tips swayed gracefully behind them.

Dear Maker. Demon Kin.

Mercy stopped short on a gasp. The guard slammed into her back.

“What in hell is wrong with you, Wheaton-5?” she snapped.

“W-who are those m-men?” They obviously belonged to the conquering race that had ripped control of her homeland away from her people. She’d heard of the Demon Kin, but only ever seen one.

About ten years earlier, at the young age of fourteen, a handsome Demon Kin male had turned up in their remote farming community. He said he was adventuring, traveling to faraway corners of the galaxy before taking up his responsibilities in his homeland. That, at least, was what he’d told her. Right before she helped the village elders capture him and hold him prisoner until soldiers could come to take him away.

He’d seemed so beautiful and exotic, and she’d been fascinated by him. But the elders, and their local Teacher, had explained to her how evil the Demon Kin were. Mercy hadn’t wanted to hurt him. But she hadn’t wanted to allow evil to flourish, either. She hadn’t wanted to be a bad girl.

He was the only one of his kind she’d ever seen until now. She’d been hidden away in a jail cell by the time the conquerors had made their way to her small community.

The guard peered around her and chuckled. “Those are your new masters. Hadn’t you heard? The Demon Kin are taking over administration of this prison. That’s the new warden and his assistants taking the grand tour. Would you like to meet them?”

Mercy flushed at the woman’s sneering tone. “No.”

“No? That’s all right. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunity later. I hear the Demon Kin are short on females. They’re going to have a rousing good time with all you inmates.”

Short on females. That was one way of putting it. Their planet, Malefica, had been afflicted with a plague that had wiped out most of their women. The Teachers said it was a judgment sent by the Maker for their evil ways.

While she and the guard had been talking, the Demon Kin had closed half the distance between them and the women. They walked with animal grace, their bodies moving with a slight rolling gait that reminded her of Cletus’s favorite barn cat. All three men had fixed their gazes on the women, as if they couldn’t look anywhere else.

They must be profoundly short on women, if Mercy and the ugly female guard could mesmerize them so easily.

Mercy’s breath grew shallow and fast. Her palms began to sweat. “What would they want with us?”

The guard laughed outright. “Are you joking? What do you think they want? And they’ll get it, too. I hear they get up to all kinds of nasty perversions.” She laughed again, maliciously.

She stopped talking as the three Demon Kin bore down on them. The one in the lead, a tall man with hair the color of ripe wheat, stopped in front of Mercy. He stared down at her with an enigmatic smile. She trembled as she looked up at him; he reminded her so much, so painfully, of the one she’d betrayed.

The blond one smiled more broadly, showing the fangs possessed by all Demon Kin. “Who’s this?”

“Wheaton-5, sir,” the guard said. “We’re on our way back to her cell.”

“What’s her crime?”

“Whoring, sir.”

Mercy went hot with shame. She couldn’t look at the man anymore, so she stared at the cracked concrete floor instead.

“She seems an unlikely whore,” the Demon Kin said. He caught her chin and tipped up her face.

Mercy gasped at the contact. Her eyes remained downcast.

“Look at me, Wheaton-5,” he said.

Reluctantly, she raised her eyes to his. They were blue.

“I’m looking for women who would like to get out of prison. In exchange, they would agree to mate with a Demon Kin male of our choice. Would you be interested in such a proposition?”

Was he talking about marriage? To a Demon Kin? That would have to be even worse than her union with Cletus, and that had been horrible. At least Cletus was human. At least Cletus wasn’t a member of the race that had beaten and subjugated her world.

“N-no, sir,” she gasped. “I-I couldn’t.”

“Is that so?” He sounded disappointed. “Well, the decision may be taken out of your hands. Just know that those who join us of their own free will can expect a much better reception than those who have to be forced.”

“This one likes to be forced,” the guard said.

Mercy flushed all over her body. The bitch lied. She didn’t like being forced, but no-one cared what she had to say about the matter. Not Marcus. Not Cletus. The fact was, a man other than her husband had lain with her. Whether she’d wanted it or not was immaterial.

“I think we’ll be seeing each other again soon, Wheaton-5,” the golden-haired man said. He nodded to her guard. “Carry on.”

They passed the woman and disappeared through the thick metal security door. Mercy’s guard jammed the shock stick in her back with gleeful force. “Get moving.”

They rounded the corner. Here the hall was lined with cells, their barred doors offering no privacy to the inmates. Women huddled at the backs of their cells, as far as they could get from the doors and the easy reach of the guards, who liked to walk by at random moments. The closer an inmate was to the doors, the more likely she’d get a shock or even have her fingers broken by a passing guard slamming a stick against her hand. Or worse. There was always much worse.

None of those things had happened to Mercy. Not yet. She kept far away from the doors, kept her head down, spoke little. But it was only a matter of time.

The guard unlocked her cell door and shoved her into the tiny room. “Sleep tight, Wheaton-5.”

She hurried to the back of her cell and climbed onto the hard cot that served as her bed. The room was as chilly as ever. Mercy pulled her thin, scratchy blanket around her shoulders and waited for the guard to leave.

 

Chapter 2

The cage normally strapped over his cock was gone. They’d removed it. The cage kept him from touching himself, prevented him from achieving an orgasm. The only time he was allowed to climax was when they provided him with a woman, and that didn’t happen very often.

It would happen soon, now. They’d taken off the cage, and that could only mean one thing. A woman was nearby and soon he’d have her.

They stood at the door of his room and aimed a hose at him. In his weakened state, the spray of water was almost powerful enough to knock him off his feet. He clutched the bars on the door to keep from falling over.

Everything in his body ached, even his bones and horns and tail. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. Food wouldn’t stay in his stomach. But they were going to give him a woman soon. Once he’d had the woman, the pain would ebb and he’d be able to eat again. For a while.

He might not remember his own name, might not be able to form words anymore, but he could remember that. His people needed sex the way most creatures needed food and water. Without it, his mind would fail and then his body. Eventually he would die.

The water hurt. It was too forceful. But it was good. Its arrival meant that soon he’d have a woman and the torment in his body would ease for a while.

He should not go to her. He should allow himself to die. But he knew, from past experience, that any attempt to hold himself back would fail. His instincts invariably took over and drove him to the female, no matter how he tried to prevent it.

Where was she? He couldn’t smell her over the scent of the deluge of water. Soon, though. Soon, they’d release him and her into the corridor and he would chase her and take her.

The punishing flood of water stopped, the remaining liquid sluicing off his bare body and running across the floor and down the drain. He continued to clutch the bars on his door, breathing heavily. The human on the other side of the door laughed and spewed words he couldn’t understand. Then the human left.

Alone again. For a while. He leaned against the cold, hard metal and closed his eyes. They’d made him go longer between women this time and he’d been having dizzy spells lately. But he would get the woman. He had to get her. Failure was impossible.

A slight puff of the stale air in the place teased his nostrils with the scent of human female. He straightened, his nostrils flaring. She was here.

What would she look like? What would her voice sound like? How would she taste? Smell? They never gave him the same woman twice.

He could smell her fear. Painfully sad, that fear, like a sharp knife hidden inside the lust that pounded in his belly. He didn’t want her to fear him, but he had to get her. Take her. Why were they always so afraid of him? Didn’t they know he would never hurt a female?

The bars on his door shivered. Metal screeched inside the opening mechanism. He stepped back and watched as the door slowly raised, pulling up into the ceiling. His heart began to pound ferociously and he trembled.

The opening was now at waist height. He ducked beneath the door as it continued to rise and stumbled into the corridor. The woman’s scent was stronger now, nearer. He turned toward it.

His cock stood out like a pillar of rock in its eagerness. It ached unbearably. Soon he would quench it in the woman’s body and he would be sane. For a while.

He ran down the corridor, his feet sinking slightly into the squishy gray padding on the floor. His legs felt stiff, unresponsive. They made him stumble. His shoulders bumped into the padded walls, first on one side and then the other.

The corridor bent around and around, turning corners at random, every new stretch of hall looking precisely the same as every other, but his Demon Kin sense of smell told him exactly where he was. Where she was. Just around this next bend, he would find her.

He careened around the corner and stopped. There she was, huddled against the wall, trembling. Her long, blond hair covered her face and much of her naked body.

He took a deep breath, savoring the smell of her. Even with the reek of fear, she smelled intoxicating. He walked toward her.

The woman whimpered. She tried to press herself into the wall, as if she could disappear that way. He extended his arm, his hand palm up.

“Shhh,” he said.

She made that whimpering sound again.

“Shhh.” No hurt. Never hurt. But his words wouldn’t come.

He took a careful step toward her. The woman’s trembling increased, grew so powerful her teeth began chattering. He was close enough now to touch her, so he did. His hand stroked along the yellow silk of her hair.

“Shhh. Shhh.”

He was trembling, too. The ache in his bones, the weakness throughout his body drove him onward, forced him to continue touching her in spite of her terror of him. He needed her. If he could only tell her why, maybe she wouldn’t be so afraid. But he’d lost his words.

“Shhh,” he said, and lifted the length of her hair to reveal her naked breasts.

***

The images on the vid screen made Promise shudder. They made her feel strange inside her body, bringing aching and hot sensations into parts of her she’d never even noticed before she’d accepted this assignment. The senior Angels had warned her it would be a difficult job, that it would change her. That it would take everything she had, all her faith and strength, to avoid being corrupted by it. Exposure to evil can tempt even an Angel, they’d said.

She’d been so sure she could handle it. She was one of their young stars, one of only two young women who’d risen to powerful positions in the Angel hierarchy in spite of their ages and their gender. The other one, Catherine, was being groomed for politics, especially interplanetary relations. Promise’s unusual background in life sciences made her the perfect candidate for this assignment at the Novus Vita Life Studies Center.

“When’s the new shipment due?” said one of the guards.

A second guard—Chisholm was his name—cleared his throat. “We’re picking them up tonight. They should be ready to start by tomorrow at the latest.”

“Heh,” the second guy gloated. “I’m looking forward to that. This bunch is getting tired. I’m sick of looking at the same tits and ass all the time.”

“I don’t know,” Chisholm said. “This one is pretty fine. But we could use some new meat.”

The guards, all male, leered and snickered at the pictures of the Demon Kin prisoner and the human female.

“Yeah,” one of them said. “I’d love to give it to her. Too bad they’re off limits.”

“He’s taking his damn sweet time,” one of them said.

“Just stick it in her!” Chisholm remarked to the vid screen.

Promise’s face burned. They sometimes forgot she was present and spoke far too freely. She cleared her throat.

The guards exchanged embarrassed glances. “Sorry, Angel Promise,” Chisholm said stiffly.

She nodded as graciously as she could manage. Yet she imagined there was resentment as well as shame in their averted gazes. They didn’t like having a human female around—at least, not one who wasn’t a prisoner.

Being so exposed to the Demon Kin had probably corrupted them all.

The Demon Kin on the vid screen freely touched the woman’s naked body, even though she cringed away from him in fear. He was beyond caring what the woman thought, since the Life Studies Center personnel had prevented him from any sexual expression in several weeks.

The Demon Kin were a barbaric and evil race, created millennia ago on Old Earth as sexual slaves to human perverts. They had a sex drive so strong they began to go crazy if deprived for more than about a week. She and her staff kept the males even from pleasuring themselves, so they would have the maximum level of desperation when they were confronted with an available female. By that time, they were in such a frenzy they didn’t know or care what their victim thought about the encounter.

Except, if that were true, then why was this Demon Kin being so gentle? Before arriving here, Promise had assumed they would be violent, that they would hurl the women to the floor and mount them immediately. Yet that had never happened during the time she’d been here. They always took the time to caress, even to seduce.

She curled her lip. A gentle rape was still rape. Besides, she didn’t care what the victim thought about the encounter, either. The women’s responses were irrelevant. Their role in this experiment was simply to provide sexual release for the males.

 

Chapter 3

In the middle of the night, they unlocked the door to Mercy’s cell. At least, she guessed it was the middle of the night. There was no window in her cell, but she felt like she’d been asleep for a while, several hours or so.

The screech and clang of the metal door woke her, and she sat up on her cot, her heart slamming against the walls of her chest. The prison reduced the light in the corridors at night, but there was more than enough to illuminate the faces of the two night guards—both women—who entered her cell with shock sticks drawn.

“Get up, Wheaton-5,” the first one said.

“Why?” Her mouth was so dry it was hard to get out any speech.

“You’re wanted.”

“Wanted? Who wants me?” No-one wanted her.

The guard chuckled unpleasantly. “You’re being moved. Now get up and come along. We don’t have time to chat.”

“But I—I don’t understand. What’s going on? Where are you taking me?”

The guard advanced on her with a hard expression on her flat face. “Get up now or you’ll get a dose of this.” She brandished her shock stick.

Mercy got up.

“That’s better.” The guard snapped a set of shackles on her wrists. “Get going.” She pointed toward the door, where her colleague stood waiting.

Mercy’s mouth lost any drop of moisture still remaining. The rest of her broke into an icy sweat. She moved to the door, but her feet felt as if they had heavy stones tied to them.

“Is this about the Demon Kin?” she said faintly.

“Don’t know. Don’t care. We’re to deliver you to the gatehouse. Now go.”

“What about my things?” They’d confiscated all her personal belongings when they’d booked her into the prison, but they should still have them in storage. Shouldn’t they?

“What about ‘em? Get moving.” The guard lifted the shock stick, as if she wanted to blast Mercy with it.

Mercy hustled to the door. The guards escorted her down hallway after hallway, past the visitor chamber and through the last security door into the gatehouse. It wasn’t really a gatehouse, just a set of rooms used to process inmates into and out of the facility. She hadn’t seen it since the day she’d arrived.

It was just as ugly as the rest of the prison, with hard concrete walls and floor that made it cold and drafty and loud. A group of men dressed in unfamiliar gray uniforms stood in the middle of the inner processing area, along with a line of female inmates all chained to each other.

The inmates didn’t look at her or at the guards. They didn’t look at anything except the floor. Were they as afraid and confused as she was? She wanted to demand an explanation, but then the guards would have an excuse to shock her.

They brought her to the end of the line and connected her to the woman ahead of her.

“Last one,” the guard said.

“All the documents have been approved and submitted,” one of the men in gray said.

“Take them away, then.” The prison guard turned away as if bored with the whole procedure.

The man in gray had the end of the women’s chain in his fist. He moved toward the outer door of the prison and the line of women slowly followed him, the chain clanking and jangling along the whole row of them.

Outside, there was snow on the ground. She hadn’t smelled or felt snow in years, not since her arrest. A cold wind bit right through Mercy’s thin gown. They hadn’t given her shoes to wear. The snow and ice on the pavement seared the soles of her feet.

A few paces away sat a shuttle, its engines roaring and its doors standing open. Mercy’s stomach gave a nauseous lurch. Were they taking them off-world, then? Why?

The men gave no explanation. They herded the women into the shuttle, where they sat in crude bucket seats along one wall. The men buckled themselves into their own seats. The doors slammed shut and the shuttle lifted into the air.

Mercy sneaked sideways glances at the other women. They were all staring at their laps. Did they know what was going on?

One of the men was staring at her. His dark eyes had a polished look to them, as if they were made of some kind of smooth, black stone. He had a square jaw and cruel, thin lips. A name badge sewn to his uniform announced him as Chisholm. No first name.

There was something in his face, a kind of gloating satisfaction, that made her even more uneasy. All the other guards had their gazes trained elsewhere, on other women or in their laps or focused on the impersonal wall of the shuttle. Chisholm simply stared at her.

She cleared her throat. “Excuse me, sir.” She looked him in the eyes. “Can you tell me where we’re going?”

His hard gaze rested on her without expression. “Shut up.”

“But I only want to know—”

“You’re going to a new prison. That’s all I can tell you. Now shut it or I’ll gag you.”

She bent her head. A new prison. It didn’t make any sense. The uniforms the men wore didn’t look like any prison guard or police uniforms she’d ever seen and the insignia on their shoulders was completely unfamiliar. She couldn’t read them from this distance, but they all looked identical, so they probably identified the men’s employer.

We’ve been sold.

She’d heard of that, of the prisons selling prisoners off as slaves. Workers were hard to come by, even now that the war with the Demon Kin was over, and sometimes they used prisoners to fill the gaps in the workforce. That must be what was going on here.

At least they wouldn’t be going to Demon Kin males.

But how did she know that? She didn’t. She was making assumptions, baseless ones at that. For all she knew, these men were deputized by the Demon Kin to provide females to them. The new warden had warned her she could be forced into such a relationship, but she hadn’t ever thought it would happen so quickly.

The ride seemed to last forever, but Mercy estimated it was actually around two hours long. Two miserable, cold, hungry, sleepless hours. They left Novus Vita’s atmosphere, its gravity well, and moved out into space. Since the shuttle had no artificial gravity, her stomach began to float in a nauseating manner and Mercy had to shut her eyes and breathe slowly to keep from vomiting.

The other women remained silent the whole time, apparently as afraid as she was of the guards and what they would do if the prisoners attempted conversation. If these men worked for the prisoners’ new owner, their behavior didn’t bode well for the women’s future.

Finally the shuttle landed. Since it had no windows in the passenger area, she couldn’t tell where they were. They sat in their seats, waiting with dull, beaten-down acceptance for the next phase of whatever it was that was happening to them.

The shuttle doors slammed open and the men got to their feet. They ordered the women up and herded them out into a huge, echoing docking chamber. She’d never traveled on a shuttle before and could only guess where they were. In space? On a ship? A station?

The dock had ceilings so high she almost expected to see clouds clinging to the higher reaches. Noise echoed around the hard walls and floor as men rushed back and forth around the shuttle and a few other vehicles parked there. Everything here was some shade of gray, except for the warning signs in bright yellow and red.

The guards conducted the women through the dock and into what appeared to be a storeroom or warehouse of some kind. Rows of open, gray metal shelves held packages and crates labeled with identical white stickers, all of which bore the same insignia as that on the men’s uniforms.

She craned her neck to the side to get a better view of one of the stickers. It read Novus Vita Life Studies Center. That sounded relatively innocuous. But what kind of studies did they do here, and what did the women have to do with any of it? Maybe they were here to help with the support work. Sorting all those packages, for example.

The guards brought them to a room just big enough for all of them to find a place to sit on the hard industrial carpet that covered the floor. Then they locked the door, leaving the women alone.

She glanced around at her companions. Most of the women kept their gazes down, just as they had in the prison. They sat with their knees drawn up, their arms clasping their shins, eyes trained on the floor or their own knees. No-one looked back at her. No-one seemed to have the slightest curiosity about the place or their purpose here.

She lowered her own head and closed her eyes, dozing.

Over the next hour, male guards returned to collect one woman at a time, unlocking her from the communal chain and taking her away. Still no-one spoke. No-one asked any questions. The women simply disappeared from their group, one by one, while the rest of them waited in silence for their turns.

The door to the room opened. Chisholm entered. He stared at the remaining female faces with utter detachment, as if they weren’t even people in his mind. The gloating was gone, replaced with this inhuman blankness.

“Wheaton-5,” he barked.

Mercy jerked in shock, even though she’d known this moment was coming.

His hard gaze latched onto her. “Are you Wheaton-5?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“Get up. It’s your turn.”

For what?

She glanced at the women to either side of her. Neither would return her regard. Did they think if they ignored her, if they pretended none of this were happening, that it somehow wouldn’t happen to them? Or maybe they simply didn’t care. Maybe their capacity for emotional response had been beaten out of them in the Novus Vita Planetary Prison For Women Number One.

She unfolded her limbs and stood on shaky feet. Chisholm marched into the room and produced a key which he used to detach her from the line of chain. He took her elbow in a titanium grip, a whiff of cologne escaping his clothes and making her nose wrinkle. That cologne seemed so weirdly out of place on a man like him.

“Come with me.” His voice was as hard as his eyes.

She let him lead her from the room with no protest. What would be the point in fighting him? There was no place for her to go and no-one to help her. But she sent him sneaky sideways glances, studying his cold and unsympathetic profile as he marched her down a long, narrow corridor whose walls and floor and ceiling were as gray as the dock had been.

“Where are you taking me?” she said in a low voice.

“Your room.”

“My room? Does that mean I’m not a prisoner anymore?”

“No, you’re not a prisoner,” he said, his voice completely free of any inflection that might give her a clue as to what was really going on. “You’re a guest of the Novus Vita Life Studies Center.”

“I see. And what do they study here?”

“Life.”

Life. Right. Obviously he wasn’t going to give her any real information. Of course, he probably could have talked her ear off about whatever it was they did here and she wouldn’t understand more than one word in ten. She had no advanced education. On Novus Vita, women barely learned to read, making someone like Mercy an anomaly. She did read, voraciously. But she’d never had access to much in the way of science, and she suspected this place was some kind of science center.

Did they run experiments? Oh, God. Maybe they were going to experiment on the female prisoners.

They came to a heavy, locked door made of some kind of synthetic material in a deep gray color. Chisholm produced another of his special keys and the door made a soft click as it unlocked. He opened it and escorted her through, his hand an uncompromising clamp on her elbow.

The corridor beyond was different than the one they were leaving. All the surfaces seemed to be upholstered. The floor sank slightly beneath her every step, as if cushioned in foam, and the walls and ceiling had a soft, padded look to them. Soft, dove-gray fabric with a napped look like some kind of velvet covered them. It was beautiful, if monotonous. But something about it made alarm bells clang loudly in Mercy’s mind. Padding could protect from harm. It could also muffle sound. Why would they need to muffle so much sound they’d upholster every surface of the corridor?

“We’re subjects, aren’t we?” she said, watching him closely for his reaction.

He blinked. Frowned. Then his brow smoothed and he assumed the expressionless expression he’d worn before. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Chapter 4

Her scent was everywhere. It boomed in his nose, pounded him, clamoring for him to chase her, take her. Now. Now. Now.

Sweat poured off his freshly hosed body. He trembled. He hurt, his throat so dry he struggled just to swallow. But the door to his cell remained closed.

He slammed his fist against the surface of the door. It boomed too. The sound banged around the hard surfaces of his cell, assaulted his eardrums, reverberated in his empty, aching body. He roared.

Where were they? Why wouldn’t they open the door? It had to open. Open. Now. Now. Now.

Then he heard her voice. High-pitched, frightened. Shouting.

Her words meant nothing to him, nothing but noise. Her fear and anger set his teeth on edge, made his trembling worse, made him hit the door again. His knuckles hurt and the door boomed, yet no-one came and the door remained closed.

He roared a second time. The bellow seemed to tear something in his throat. Savage pain. Agony in his hand, agony in his throat, agony in his muscles and bones and hair.

She would take it away. She would make the pain disappear. She was relief and solace and nourishment and joy and everything that was good in his world. He needed her and they—they—refused to give her to him.

A growl boiled up from deep inside him. What he would do to them if he ever got close enough, if he could just get his hands around their throats….

Kill. Tear. Bite. Blood and more blood, running into his mouth, down his parched throat, down his face and his neck and his chest, over his belly…

If he ever got close enough…

The door made the soft clicking noise that meant it was about to open. His heart leaped into a hard, pounding rhythm and he began to pant. Soon now. Soon.

The door rose noisily toward the ceiling. He fell on his belly and crawled under it, into the corridor. The woman’s scent filled the air so powerfully he wasn’t sure where it originated. But he’d find her soon enough. He’d find her. There were no places to hide.

***

The cell they’d given her was a lot more comfortable than the one she’d left behind on Novus Vita, but it was still a cell. They could call it a “room” all they liked; Mercy knew the difference. Guest rooms weren’t locked from the outside. And they didn’t have windows in their doors. Barred windows.

Everything here was gray, just like on Novus Vita. Except it was a soft, lush gray that seemed intended to be soothing rather than punitive. The blanket on the bed was soft, too, and plush. Warm. The shower was hot, the food they finally gave her was at least edible, unlike the nasty sludge they’d fed her on the planet.

What a strange prison.

The door made a soft, repetitive clicking sound. She stared at it, wondering what it was doing. Then it began to rise, slowly, the top portion receding into a slot in the ceiling. What was going on? Where were the guards?

She approached cautiously, bent down and peered under the bottom of the door and into the corridor. Empty. No guards anywhere that she could see.

“Hello?” she said in a barely audible whisper.

There was no answer.

Should she leave her cell? Maybe this was a test of some kind. Were they trying to find out how compliant she was?

If she left, she’d be demonstrating that she wasn’t completely broken yet, that she was willing to take the risk of leaving her cell. Or maybe leaving was what they wanted her to do. Maybe leaving would show the greatest compliance. After all, they’d opened the door. She hadn’t broken out.

She bit her lip, considering her options. Could the open door be a mistake? Could there be a computer error somewhere? In that case, staying put might be the smartest thing to do, because if they found her wandering around, they might punish her.

Yet if she left, it was possible she could find out something about this place. Some clue to what they were doing here. What they wanted with her and the other prisoners. Maybe that would be worth the risk of punishment.

Mercy stepped into the corridor. The squishy floor felt strange under her bare feet. She stood in the hall, heart racing, trying to decide which direction to take first.

The door slammed shut behind her with a loud clang. She whirled, staring. It had risen so slowly, she’d assumed she’d have plenty of time to change her mind if it started closing again. Obviously she’d been wrong.

They wanted her in the corridor. That seemed like the most probable explanation for the slow opening and quick closing. They’d wanted to tempt her out and then had closed the door quickly to prevent her from going back in.

Her stomach gave a queasy lurch. Something about this set-up made everything in her want to run and hide. But where would she go?

A thundering bang exploded from somewhere nearby. Mercy jumped, a squeak escaping her mouth. The sudden noise felt like an attack, as if some invisible assailant had punched her.

“Hey!” she yelled. “Hey! Let me back in! I want to go back!”

No-one answered.

“Hey! Can you hear me? I want to go back in my cell!”

A second boom answered her shouts, followed by a metallic squeal. They seemed to be coming from her left. She ran toward the right, hoping to find someone who would help her. Or even a place to hide. A storage room or cupboard. Something. Anything.

Feet thudded on the floor. Something large bumped into a wall somewhere behind her. It growled.

Mercy gasped and stumbled. She picked herself up and ran, sweat pouring from her body. The creature behind her was growling continuously now. It sounded like a wolf or maybe a large cat. Some kind of huge predator. They’d cast her out into the corridor in order for that thing to hunt her.

What would it do when it found her? Kill her, no doubt. Maybe eat her.

She muttered a prayer as she careened along the hall. Doors identical to her own—except their windows were covered with solid metal shutters—lined its length. It turned a sharp corner, revealing more faceless doors. Everything was gray. Floor, ceiling, doors, all gray.

The rhythm of the feet following her sounded…human. Human? That couldn’t be right. Why would a human chase her? Why would a human growl like a wild predator?

She turned another sharp right corner and came up on a dead end. Ugh. Terrible choice of words.

The corridor ended just twenty feet away. There were no doors in this little niche. It seemed to have no practical purpose, except maybe as a trap.

Mercy whirled in the direction she’d come. A figure filled the corridor, blocking her exit.

She screamed.

He was tall. Horned. Demon Kin. Naked.

Aroused. His fully engorged cock stood straight out, thick and long, its size horrifying. Cletus hadn’t looked like that. The one time she’d managed to catch a glimpse of her ex-husband’s sex, it had been so much smaller than this Demon Kin’s that it almost looked like a different organ entirely.

She had to get away.

She knew there was no way out of this section of corridor, but something primitive in her brain forced her around, forced her to run to the end of the hall as if she might find a hidden door there or something. All her actions did was trap her against the wall. She turned to face him.

He was tall, pale-skinned and black-haired. His black tail whipped back and forth behind him, the way an agitated cat would snap its tail. His hair was dripping wet and long, past his shoulders; black scruff covered his jaw. And his eyes…oh, God, his eyes. They were fixed on her with a terrifying, predatory gleam she didn’t understand.

Demon Kin didn’t eat humans, did they? Did they?

Of course they don’t eat us, ninny. He wants to mate with you.

Oh, God. No, no, no.

He stalked toward her. His movements seemed stiff and clumsy for a Demon Kin. He bumped into the wall on his left and stumbled before catching himself.

Maybe he was sick or hurt. Maybe she could dash past him. Maybe he wouldn’t react quickly enough to catch her.

She bolted toward the main corridor, trying to stay on his left where he seemed weakest. A powerful arm shot out and snagged her around the waist. With a fierce growl, he yanked her against his naked body.

Mercy screamed again. She wasn’t normally a screamer. These sounds simply tore their way out of her, as if she had no control over herself.

She flailed and writhed in his grip, her legs and arms banging frantically, uselessly against him. He seemed to be made of stone. Some kind of high-tech synthetic stone that was impossible to break.

His free hand traveled over her, touching her through her gray prison gown, stroking her back and hips in long caresses. Even when her blows connected with him, he kept touching her, as if he couldn’t feel her hitting and kicking him.

Chapter 5

Mercy kicked and flailed wildly. But it was like fighting with a wall. The Demon Kin simply ignored her, holding onto her and letting her strike him as if he couldn’t feel the blows.

She knew it was useless, yet she couldn’t stop herself. Something else, something ancient and primitive and desperate, had taken over her mind and body, driving her to battle him no matter how ridiculous that was.

He lifted her effortlessly in one arm and descended to his knees. No. No! He was going to lay her on the floor and then he’d…he’d…

The Demon Kin lowered her to the padded floor and stretched himself on top of her in one smooth operation. Mercy shrieked, her movements becoming even wilder and more desperate. But his weight pinned her and his arms and legs gathered hers in, trapping her, forcing her to stop striking him.

He would destroy her. She had to get away, had to get away, had to get…

“Shhhh,” he murmured, his voice low and even. “Shhh.”

Mercy’s shrieks continued, high and mad, one after the other like a wild beast. Her voice was like something outside of herself, something that didn’t belong to her. She couldn’t stop it.

“Shhh,” he said again.

“No! Please, please, please don’t. Please don’t.”

“Shhhh.”

His big hands stroked her side, her arm, her upper leg. He was petting her, like she might pet a frightened and unmanageable horse.

“Let me go. Let me go.” She wriggled beneath him.

He let out a loud, shuddering groan. Mercy froze in place. All her struggling was only exciting him more, rubbing against his erection in a way that he probably found provocative. Maybe he even thought she was doing it on purpose.

“Oh, Maker,” she whispered, pinching her eyes shut as a hot flush of mortification covered her skin.

She could feel the hot length of his stiff rod pressed against her belly, pushed into her flesh by the weight of him on top of her. Her scratchy prison gown provided a layer of protection between her and his sex, but it wasn’t much. It didn’t stop her from being painfully aware of how aroused he was.

His stroking continued, venturing up to her shorn head, skimming along the column of her neck. She couldn’t move, couldn’t get away from him. All she could do was lay there and tremble as he touched her.

He smelled of male sweat, a spicy scent that seemed to have a strange effect on her. It made her tingle in odd places. She’d always hated the way Cletus smelled, especially when he got sweaty from working in the fields. Marcus, too. They’d smelled like old, dirty socks and oppression.

But this Demon Kin…he smelled like enticement. Like the promise of some secret pleasure she couldn’t understand or anticipate. That made no sense. He was a rapist, an evil freak of some ancient gen-tech lab where they’d bred creatures like him for the amusement of human perverts.

But the heat and weight of him above her began to soak into her, to seep into her bones and muscles and force her to relax.

She found that she no longer wanted to scream. Her voice fell silent. She trembled beneath him, waiting, waiting to see what he’d do next.

Mercy expected the nameless Demon Kin to shove up her gown and rut on her immediately. She couldn’t escape. He was so much stronger than her that he could do anything he wanted to her, anything at all, and she could do nothing to stop him. He could use her whenever he wanted.

Yet he continued to do nothing more than stroke her, pet her. She lay, exhausted and still, while he explored her. His touch was gentle. His other arm, which he used to prop himself up so she wasn’t taking all his weight, was hard and immovable, but not brutal. It made a warm sort of cage to hold her in without hurting her.

That enormous erection she’d seen, now sandwiched between their bodies, pressed insistently against her belly. She knew he was going to push that thing inside her eventually. She began to shake.

She’d heard rumors, mostly in prison, that some women enjoyed sex. That seemed frankly unbelievable. Men got pleasure from the act, but women? What was there to enjoy? Mercy had always been thankful when it was merely tiresome and not painful.

This, with the Demon Kin, was going to be painful. She knew it. She couldn’t help being afraid.

Then she noticed something strange. He was shaking too.

Shudders ripped through his big body. The hand roaming her curves trembled. He cupped her ass, and his breath caught. He bent his head toward hers with a low groan.

Was he simply overcome with lust or was something else going on?

She didn’t want to look at him, didn’t want to see his face in any detail. Looking at him would make what was happening seem more real. But his expression might give her some clues to his inner state. So she tilted her head back and looked.

He was beautiful. So beautiful. Sharp, angular jaw with sculpturally high cheekbones, a straight nose, gorgeously chiseled lips, thick black hair sliding forward like a pair of silky curtains. And his eyes. She’d noticed them before, of course, for their intensity. They were so dark brown they were almost black, large and gracefully shaped and rimmed with the heaviest black lashes she’d ever seen.

They were full of pain.

The Demon Kin had the lines of strain and the hazy expression of someone in agony. She’d seen that look before on men injured by farm equipment and women in childbirth. He was suffering. But why? He looked whole enough.

He lifted his hand to her face and cupped her cheek. “Shhh.” His voice was soft and low, soothing. He was comforting her?

This was so confusing.

“Shhh,” he said again, his thumb stroking slowly back and forth along her cheek.

The caress felt good. His hot, hard body pressing against her felt good. That was wrong. She shouldn’t enjoy contact with this man, or any other man for that matter. They’d called her a whore, but she wasn’t. She was a good, pious Novus Vitan woman who did her best to follow the Teachings and this…this treacherous spreading warmth in her body was wrong.

Mercy trembled in his embrace. He was an attacker, wasn’t he? How could she respond to him with anything but fear and disgust? What was wrong with her that she could take pleasure from the hot column of his body against her?

Yet she couldn’t lie to herself. Something in her wanted him. The place between her legs, a place she did her best to never think of or notice in any way, ached and tingled in an unfamiliar way that she couldn’t name. What was that sensation? It felt pleasant. It made her want more of him.

He was going to hurt her, even if he didn’t mean to. There was no possibility that he could put his…his male organ into her body without injuring her. It was simply too big.

What are you thinking? Are you really considering submitting to this? Are you thinking you desire…are willing to have…conjugal relations with a stranger, a man who isn’t even human?

His long fingers slid down to cup her chin as his gaze focused on her lips. He was going to kiss her. This was really happening and she could do nothing to prevent it. Something brushed against her legs and she realized it was his tail.

His tail. Mercy whimpered.

“Shhhh,” he said. “Shh. Shhhhh.”

Why did he keep saying that? She wasn’t making much noise in the first place, now that she’d stopped screaming.

His head tilted as he lowered his lips to hers. She stiffened instinctively, her head turning until he cupped the back of her skull with his hand to position her and keep her in place. His mouth pressed lightly to hers.

The touch was so gentle, so soft it didn’t even feel like a kiss at all. There was almost no pressure. No hard, thrusting tongue. No teeth. Just whispery caresses of his mouth, his lips over hers.

This was torture. She wanted it over, done. Wanted him to put it in her so he could finish and leave her alone.

She pulled her head back long enough to force out a few words. “Just get it over with.”

“Shhh.” He kissed her again.

He lightly sucked her upper lip into his mouth. Then her lower lip. His tongue flicked out, teasing her without insisting on entry. At the same time, his tail continued to swish lazily against her skirt, first on one side and then the other.

He wasn’t hurting her. When would it start? When would he pinch and bite and force his way into her body?

The kisses continued, soft and warm and light. A sigh escaped her. His encircling arm began to feel more like support and less like a prison.

She found herself softening against him. Her left hand found its way to his upper right arm. His skin was hotter than she’d expected, and smooth as the finest velvet. She stroked him slowly, experimentally.

He sighed against her mouth as a shudder wracked his body. His trembling hadn’t eased at all; if anything, it had increased. Something distressed him.

Perverse woman to feel sympathy for a creature like him; non-human, and a rapist to boot. And yet…and yet…

Before she knew it, her lips parted and he slipped his tongue into her mouth in a long, hot, wet glide of flesh against flesh. And it…it didn’t hurt. His tongue was as gentle and coaxing as his lips, his hands.

He slicked that tongue across her teeth, up against the roof of her mouth, places she’d never been kissed before. And Mercy found her lips, her tongue moving in return. Her other hand settled on his left arm. Distantly, she noted the hardness of the muscle beneath his warm skin.

Another kind of hardness thrust against her belly, reminding her of what was going to happen soon. She ought to be terrified, but with him kissing and stroking her all she could think of was how good it felt. She’d gone so long without any kind of touch at all, and longer than that without the comfort of loving touch. Certainly, Cletus had never made her feel this way.

The Demon Kin’s hand on her ass squeezed, molding and shaping her flesh in a rhythmic pattern that had her sighing and arching into him. He moaned into her mouth. The sound made the aching and tingling inside her even more intense.

Was it fear causing those sensations? Fear had never felt like that before. Usually it made her sick to her stomach. Her heart was pounding, her breath was shallow, she trembled, but the aching warmth in her belly was pleasurable.

Maybe this was a form of madness. Maybe they’d drugged her food. That might explain why her reaction to this alien and his unwanted advances was so abnormal for her.

Yes. They’d drugged her food.

He reached down the side of her leg and drew up her skirt. Mercy went still beneath him, her stomach icing over in sudden dread. This was it, then. This was where everything got ugly. He was going to do it to her and it would be just like back home, only worse, and she couldn’t…she couldn’t seem to…oh, Maker…

“Shhh,” he murmured. Was that the only word he knew? It wasn’t even a real word, actually.

His fingers skimmed over the skin of her thigh, the touch no more demanding than any of his other caresses. She trembled, waiting for him to force her legs apart. Instead, he merely continued stroking her, his hand traveling down to her knee, massaging the thick muscle of her thigh, stroking intimately along the inner plane of her leg but staying away from there.

After a few minutes of this, some of the tension in her body released. Whimpers she hadn’t realized she was making ceased. A sigh escaped her.

He drew the skirt higher until he had it rucked up around her waist. But he still didn’t force her legs apart, he still didn’t pinch or bite her, although his broad masculine hand persisted in shaking as he petted her.

He ventured up, under the loose bodice of the prison gown, his fingers spanning the whole side of her rib cage. His fingertips brushed the bottom curve of her breast. Mercy gasped, her body jerking.

“Shhhh,” he said again.

Her whimpers returned. She bit her lip to keep from making that stupid noise, but it worked its way out of her anyway.

The Demon Kin brushed his thumb along the bottom curve of her breast before circling around the top. He repeated the action again and again, but it didn’t have the same relaxing effect on her as his other caresses. All she could think of was the moment when he would grab her nipple and twist.

Finally he palmed her whole breast, his fingers curving around her. He gave another of those broken groans, his head dropping down until his face was nestled in the nook between her head and neck. His lips touched the skin on the side of her neck.

Now his whole body was shaking so badly his teeth started to chatter. His touch became frantic, moving over her in swift, hungry passes, yet he still didn’t pinch or bite or do anything else to hurt her. When was he going to get to it? How long was he going to make this last?

His hand returned to her thigh. Mercy braced herself. He pushed at her leg, and she allowed him to spread her wide. What would be the point of resisting? He’d do whatever he wanted no matter how she fought him and she’d likely get hurt in the process. So she let him open her.

Chapter 6

He slid down her body, his hands now curved around her thighs like manacles. Suddenly she found his head between her legs, staring at her most private place. She tried to clap her own hands over herself, but he beat her to the target and buried his face in her sex.

Mercy yelled in outrage and shock as he kissed her there. How could he? She’d heard the Demon Kin were perverse, but this…

The long, wet slide of his tongue on a place for which she had no real name stopped her breath in her throat. She couldn’t yell anymore; she could only gasp and twist beneath his ruthless assault. What he was doing to her…it didn’t hurt…it was…it was…She couldn’t think about what it was.

Perverse. Monstrous. Hideously pleasurable.

Then he rearranged himself above her and fitted his cock in her entrance.

Once again, she braced herself, her entire body going rigid. He sucked in a breath as he breached her. He was huge. He wasn’t going to fit. Couldn’t he see that?

But he pushed forward and her body stretched to accommodate him. He was only inside her a few centimeters, and already he burned her with a ferocious onslaught of sensation.

Mercy gave a helpless gasp. He pulled back, then thrust forward, more deeply this time. She gasped again as the burning, stretching, piercing, pleasure-pain invaded her further. Cletus and Marcus had never felt like this. She’d never imagined anything could feel like this.

He lifted her thigh, forcing her to bend at the knee, then draped her leg around his waist. Inside her, he sank more deeply, so deeply he felt like he was bumping up against her navel. She gave a wild cry. Her hands clutched at his upper arms, her nails digging into his skin.

Mercy ventured a glance at his face. His coffee-colored eyes were almost crazed, his teeth bared in a strange grimace that looked more pained than aggressive. The contortion of his features made him no less beautiful. Even the silver-gray horns protruding from his ebony hair couldn’t make him less beautiful.

He flexed his hips. She cried out again. Something in him seemed to loosen, some control fell away, and he surged into her over and over, a series of rough groans emerging from him as he took her. He threw his head back and roared, his hips jerking as hot moisture flooded her.

He went limp on top of her, although she could tell he was keeping his full weight off her by propping himself on his elbows. Mercy sighed. It was over. In a minute he would pull out of her and leave her here alone.

But he declined to withdraw from her. Instead, he wrapped his arms around her and rolled onto his back, bringing her with him so she ended up splayed across him. His hands roamed again, up and down her back, squeezing the globes of her ass, petting her hair and tracing the curve of her ear. He still wanted her? Cletus had never done more than pat her shoulder afterward, and Marcus…he’d simply adjusted his trousers and left. This Demon Kin wanted to stay with her. How odd.

He took one of her hands and pressed it to his naked chest. She blinked, staring down at him. He’d lost some of the pain lines and tension in his face, yet his gaze still held the focus, the intensity she’d first seen in him. He took her hand again, moving it back and forth over his skin.

He wanted her to stroke him the way he was stroking her.

Mercy had never touched a man before. Not so intimately, and certainly not such a great expanse of naked skin. But he kept dragging her palm across him and instead of fighting him she went along with it.

Black hair grew in soft whorls across his chest. Not a lot of hair, just a dusting. And he had nipples. They were not like hers. They were small and hard, their color lighter. They felt like tiny pebbles beneath her palm.

This man had kissed her in a place no other person had ever seen. He’d joined with her. Ejaculated into her. They were still joined. She didn’t know so much as his name, yet he’d been more intimate with her than any other male—any other person—she’d ever known.

Buoyed by the loose warmth caused by whatever they’d used to drug her, Mercy freely stroked and petted the broad, hard planes of his chest, his shoulders, his upper arms. She slipped her hands up and ran her fingers through his hair. His eyes closed; his head angled into her touch. He sighed.

The drug must be giving her this false sense of closeness, even tenderness. With no way of turning off the effect, Mercy simply surrendered to it. The Demon Kin hadn’t hurt her. He’d never once pinched, or bitten, or grabbed her hard enough to leave a bruise. He’d given her pleasure, astonishing pleasure.

Although she hadn’t wanted it, had tried to reject it, she couldn’t help feeling almost grateful. After all, he could have done anything at all to her. No-one would have stopped him. He’d chosen to show her gentleness instead of brutality.

He urged her down and took her mouth with his. There was a strange, tangy flavor on him. Mercy realized with a shock that it was her own taste, still on his mouth.

His kiss turned hot and desperate. His sex, still buried inside her, was growing stiff again. Mercy’s eyes went round as he resumed the ancient rhythm of mating with her on top of him.

People did it this way? With the woman on top? How peculiar.

He grasped her hips, pumping her up and down on his enormous cock, sliding ruthlessly in and out of her. Her breasts bobbled with her movement. The cream of his earlier ejaculation made the motion easier, smoother. Exquisite sensations, brighter and sweeter than before, shot through her with each stroke. She rose and fell on her knees, unconsciously mimicking his motions, meeting his hips with thrusts of her own.

Every time their bodies came together, a soft explosion of delight burst through her pelvis and out, into the rest of her. And each time he withdrew, the slide of his cock on her passage walls brought a moan from her throat.

He thrust faster, his hands gripping her more tightly. Mercy’s breasts bounced under the scratchy fabric of her gown. She braced herself on his chest as she rocked on him and the pleasure built and built, driving her onwards to some goal she could only sense but couldn’t see.

Then it all coalesced inside her, drew to a tight, hard point and burst into abrupt, flooding release. Something in her seemed to break, to fall apart as shudders of ecstasy racked her body. She screamed.

He ground her onto himself, shouting, his mouth wide, head tilted back, eyes rolled up into his head. He looked as transported as she’d felt a moment ago.

Was that what had happened to her? She’d had a crisis, a climax? But that never happened to women. Did it?

She’d always thought women incapable of climaxing. Nothing in her prior experience had made her think anything different. Maybe it was the drug they’d given her. It was giving her some male characteristics, such as desire and orgasm. Maybe that was the purpose of the experiment.

They lay entwined in each other’s arms, breathing hard, shudders still coursing through them. His fingers stroked her short hair and lingered on her ear, rubbing her ear lobe in such a sensual way that she moaned.

Someone cleared his throat. Mercy gasped, her whole body jerking in the Demon Kin’s embrace. He kept his arms around her, a nasty growl rumbling in his chest.

She turned her head to see the guard Chisholm standing in the middle of the junction between their nook and the main hallway. His eyes glittered as he stared down at her.

At her bare ass.

Mercy jerked her gown over herself, every inch of her skin burning with humiliation. Chisholm smirked. The two men standing behind him laughed.

The Demon Kin’s growl grew louder, his grip on her tighter. Chisholm pointed some kind of hand weapon at them and the Demon Kin snarled.

“Let her go,” Chisholm said. “Your time is over.”

But he only held her tighter, the growl turning vicious. Mercy clung to him, burying her face in his chest, as if he were her ally and not her attacker. Then he twitched under her, his breath catching slightly. A moment later, his arms went slack and he released her.

The guards swarmed up, grabbed her by her arms, hauled her off him. His eyes were glazed, almost empty of expression. He wouldn’t even look at her. What had they done to him?

“Come on, Bambi,” Chisholm said. “You’re done here.”

Bambi was Novus Vitan slang for whore. “My name is Mercy Wheaton,” she snapped. “Not Bambi.”

“You could’ve fooled me. Looked like you were having the time of your life a few minutes ago.”

All three guards laughed as they dragged her from the nook. The Demon Kin lay passively on the floor, his dark eyes half closed, his hands resting loose by his sides. A dart stuck out of the sole of his right foot.

They’d shot him with a drugged dart, probably to make him more manageable. Demon Kin were powerful creatures and three human men would have been no match for him if he’d been awake and alert.

“You drugged me,” she said. “You’re to blame for all this, not me.”

Chisholm laughed. “We didn’t drug you.”

They hauled her along the corridor toward her cell. She stumbled. They yanked her upright again, sending shearing pain through her armpits and into her arms and shoulders.

“You’re lying.” She glanced over her shoulder, but the Demon Kin was already hidden from her.

“Why would I lie?” Chisholm said. “Face it, Bambi, you’re a natural whore. It’s what you went to prison for, remember?”

No. It couldn’t be true. If they hadn’t drugged her, then her response to the Demon Kin was natural. And that couldn’t be. She’d never felt those things with any man before. She’d never enjoyed sex, had only tolerated it because it was required of her.

She followed the Teachings.

And now these prison guards, these bullies, were telling her she hadn’t been drugged, that her wild response to the Demon Kin male had been her own. It couldn’t be true.

They arrived at her cell. She only knew it was hers because the door had begun to rise as they approached it. There was nothing inside the little room to indicate that she or anyone else occupied it. No personal belongings, no trace of individuality.

“Take a shower, Wheaton-5,” Chisholm said. He gave her a little shove into the room.

Mercy stumbled toward her bed. The door slammed shut behind her and she was alone.

The men’s voices came to her through the little window in the door, but they were muttering among themselves and she couldn’t make out what they were saying. They padded off down the silent hallway, leaving her behind in her cell.

She sat down on the narrow bed. Moisture leaked from her body. His moisture. She’d mated with a Demon Kin and she’d enjoyed it.

Maybe she really was a whore.

He’d been so gentle, almost sweet. He’d made her feel good. But she’d said no and he hadn’t listened. Had that been a rape? Had he raped her?

At the beginning of the encounter, she would have said yes, unequivocally. It was rape. But now she didn’t know. If she’d wanted it, then it couldn’t be rape. She was so confused.

Either something terrible had been done to her or she’d offended the Maker with her whorish nature. Was she a victim or a criminal? Both choices were awful.

Pain descended on her, sudden and choking. Mercy wrapped her arms around herself and shook in silent misery.

Chapter 7

They were being watched. Mercy glanced up at the smooth and shiny patch on the ceiling of her cell, then quickly looked away as if there were nothing significant in it. As if it weren’t a camera put there so her captors could spy on her.

She might put her suspicions down to paranoia, except they fit so well with the situation. Looking out through the window of her cell door, she could see more of the shiny spots in regular intervals along the corridor ceiling and wall. They were the same gray color as the rest of the corridor, so it was easy to overlook them at first. But now that she’d noticed them, she couldn’t stop thinking about them. About what they might mean.

Cameras. It must be part of whatever experiments they were running here.

How do you know they’re experimenting?

She didn’t, not for sure. But her gut told her she’d been turned into a lab rat, and the Demon Kin male as well. They were subjects in some kind of study.

A study that involved sex. The sex drive of Demon Kin? The ability of the Demon Kin to mate and produce viable offspring on human women? Or maybe their almost supernatural ability to make pious women into shameless, whore-like wantons with no self-control. Whatever it was, they were using both human women and Demon Kin males against their will.

She didn’t believe for one instant that her Demon Kin attacker had signed up for this treatment. It might soothe her ego to think he’d gone after her of his own free will, but he was a prisoner, the same as her. The way he’d reacted to the guards and the fact they’d shot him with a tranquilizer was all the proof she needed of that.

But why hadn’t he spoken? That part didn’t make sense to her. He’d made plenty of vocalizations, so his voice worked. He simply hadn’t formed words.

“Wheaton-5,” Chisholm barked from outside her cell. “Exercise time.”

She turned her head slowly, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her jump at the sound of his voice. He was a bully. It was her bad luck he’d been assigned as her personal guard. Or maybe he’d put himself in that position. He seemed to have an obsession with her.

Sometimes, he simply stood outside and peered in at her through the window. Not speaking, just watching. The windows were supposed to be closed all the time, but Chisholm liked to open hers so he could stare at her. She always pretended she didn’t know he was there, but it made her nervous.

He could come into her cell anytime he wanted. And he could see anything she did just by looking through that stupid window. Even something as innocent as scratching her back drew suggestive remarks from him.

Mercy straightened and stood up, moving slowly toward the door. It began to rise. Chisholm’s foot tapped impatiently at the padded floor. She could see his shiny black shoes under the gap created by the opening door.

He took her by the elbow as soon as the door cleared his head. The new uniform they’d given her had short sleeves, so his hands touched her bare skin. She wrestled with the urge to try yanking her arm away. It wouldn’t do any good if she did. She’d already explored that option; he’d merely clamped down harder, leaving a bruise on her skin.

“Hurry up,” Chisholm said.

“What happened to the other women who came here with me?” she said as he hustled her down the corridor. She hadn’t seen them since that awful night, and it had been at least ten days since then. Maybe more. She’d lost count.

“They’re incarcerated, just like you,” he said.

“Are they…did they…have any of them met any Demon Kin?” She flushed hot.

Chisholm chuckled. “Why? You like to watch?”

“No!”

“Looking for professional tips, huh, Bambi?”

“I’m not a whore,” she said between gritted teeth.

“Sure you’re not. I can give you all the practice you need.” He leaned close, his breath hot and sour against her cheek. “I’ll teach you everything you need to know, Wheaton-5.”

She kept her head down, declining to reply. He laughed.

They reached the warehouse area where she and the other prisoners had been sorted, passed through the shelves of supplies and into a large greenhouse on the other side. Another prisoner, her arm clamped in the meaty hand of a guard, passed her in the doorway on her way in. Mercy tried to catch the other woman’s eyes, but she wouldn’t look at her.

The air in this room felt warm and moist, and there were grow lamps shining brilliant light down upon her and the plants. There were row upon row of lettuce, carrot, tomato, onion, vita greens, jeshli, and even a couple of citrus trees growing here. It must be a kitchen garden.

She suspected they were on a space station of some kind, maybe situated on a moon. She’d seen no windows to the outside. A ship wouldn’t have room for a garden of this size, and probably wouldn’t be a good place for experiments. Not the kind they were conducting, anyway, the kind that required long mazes of corridors for Demon Kin to chase their human prey. It seemed to her that a space station was the likely answer.

But why? Why would Novus Vitans be experimenting on humans this way? Or Demon Kin, for that matter. What did they hope to accomplish?

The face of the Demon Kin male floated up in her consciousness. He was never far from the surface of her mind, haunting her dreams and her waking hours with the same intensity. Sometimes she found herself longing for his touch, aching with the need to feel him against her. Inside her. Then the rage and shame would come and she’d pound the mattress on her bed until she was exhausted and breathless.

Chisholm marched her up and down the rows of plants. Something in his demeanor suggested he was thinking of dragging her behind a screen of leaves and fucking her. But soon another prisoner and her guard would be along; she could only pray that would be enough to keep him from attacking her.

They repeated this every day. He escorted her through her fifteen-minute walk, leering at her and making suggestive remarks the whole time, making it impossible for her to enjoy her brief period outside the cell. Then back to her prison, where she never knew when she’d glance up at her window to find him there, staring.

“What happened to the Demon Kin male?” she said.

Chisholm gave her a startled glance. “The Demon Kin?”

She’d never initiated conversation with him before, and he probably didn’t know what to think.

“Yes. The male you…um…put me with.” If her face got any hotter, it would catch on fire.

“Why would you care what happens to him?”

She gave her shoulders a careless lift. “I don’t. I was only curious.”

“He’s in his cage, like all the other monsters.”

There was so much contempt, so much naked hatred in his voice, that she turned her head and looked straight at him. “If they’re such monsters, then why are you doing this? Why are you putting them with human women?”

Chisholm’s jaw clenched. “It’s not your place to ask questions, Bambi.”

“It’s not right.”

“Shut your trap.” His hand tightened so hard on her arm she knew she’d have another bruise by the next day.

She pinched her lips together. She shouldn’t have provoked him in any way, and showing even a hint of sympathy for the Demon Kin had been a mistake. But she’d wanted to press him, to see what he’d do. She’d wanted to know why she was here; why the Demon Kin male was here.

What was his name? Why didn’t he speak? How long had he been here?

She had so many questions about him and no way to get answers. Did the other women feel as curious as she did about their male counterparts? Did they understand that the Demon Kin were prisoners too?

Maybe her Demon Kin was the only one here.

No, she didn’t believe that. There were too many women for only one male. Even a Demon Kin would have trouble keeping up with that many females. There had to be more of them around.

She and Chisholm reached her cell. He pressed a control he kept in his pants pocket and the door began to rise. Mercy half expected him to make a grab for her breasts, given the way he kept sneaking glances at them. But he just shoved her into the cell and closed the door, walking away without a comment.

She was alone again with nothing to do but wait. They wouldn’t give her a happy link or even paper and a pencil to pass the time. She had no window. Nothing. No-one spoke to her.

To keep from going insane from lack of stimulation, she’d turned to singing all the songs she knew and inventing new ones. She made up stories about the people in the prison. She planned imaginary houses she wished she could own and imaginary dresses she wished she could sew, parties she’d like to give, places she would visit, if not in reality then at least in her mind.

And she thought about him. She remembered the taste of his mouth, the hot smooth skin beneath her palms, the silk of his hair. The way he’d shuddered and moaned when she touched him. The way he’d tried to calm her, comfort her, even while he did something she fought against.

Then she’d stopped fighting.

Something inside her was broken, or perhaps missing. Maybe she’d been born without a normal sense of feminine decency. How else could she explain her yearning for a man who’d so wronged her, a man who’d forced her to feel things no good Novus Vitan woman should ever feel?

But then she wasn’t a good woman of any sort. She knew that now.

She despised him for his part in it. Maybe he hadn’t volunteered, but he’d still gone after her. He’d touched her, tasted her…Mercy shivered. Sometimes she could almost feel his tongue on her flesh again.

They shoved her dinner through the tiny slot in the bottom of her door. Tonight it was some kind of ground meat formed into a huge ball, then baked and sliced and served with gravy. There were boiled potatoes on the side, and some wilted lettuce. The whole thing tasted like stale grease and salt and sat heavily in her stomach, although she only picked at it.

Some time after her meal ended, but before they’d collected the dirty tray, her door rose. Mercy jumped off her bed and stared at it, her heart zooming crazily. They were sending her out into the corridor again.

Would it be him? Or would she get someone else? Her heart pounded even more heavily and her palms grew moist at the thought of seeing him again. She began to tingle and ache the same way she had when he’d pulled her against him.

What would happen if she refused to emerge? She didn’t have to leave her cell. She could just sit back on her bed and wait.

But the Demon Kin would undoubtedly come and get her if she did that. She might as well go out and save him some trouble.

Chapter 8

Mercy took a hesitant step into the corridor. “Hello? Are you here?”

For a moment, there was nothing. No sound except the breath sawing unevenly in and out of her own lungs. Maybe she was wrong and this wasn’t about the Demon Kin male. Maybe something else was going on. She didn’t even want to speculate what that something else might be.

Then she heard someone stumbling and thumping his way along the corridor in her direction. Was it him? He sounded even more uncoordinated than the first time. It was probably the Maker’s judgment on him for what he’d done to her.

Judgment would arrive one day for Mercy, too.

Since running would be pointless, she walked toward the noise. Her own steps made almost no sound on the padded floor, but he continued to thunder toward her like a drunk elephant.

Mercy rounded the first corner and stopped in astonishment. It was him, she was sure of it. Same height, same silvery horns, same long black hair. But he looked different. Ill. His hair seemed dry and lifeless and his gorgeous eyes were sunken, shadowed with such dark rings they looked bruised.

Every rib stood out in sharp, ugly relief. His cheeks were sunken, his face skull-like, the formerly beautiful muscles of his body wasted to nothingness. Beneath his short, scruffy beard, his jaw looked sharp as a blade. He looked like he was starving to death.

She stood frozen in shock as he staggered forward and dropped on his knees before her. He threw his arms around her waist, pressed his face against her belly and breathed in deep, his skeletal frame shuddering.

She ought to despise him. She did despise him. She did. But she remembered the lines of anguish on his face the first time, and how they’d eased a little after they’d had sex. Now he looked even more tortured and she had a horrible suspicion that sex had something to do with it.

Was it the Maker’s judgment? Or something else? Something related to this despicable experiment?

Her trembling hands rose and rested on his bony shoulders. “What did they do to you?”

He answered with an animal groan, rubbing his cheek against the fabric over her belly. His hands kneaded the muscles of her lower back. Low sounds emerged from his throat, incoherent noises full of yearning and pain.

Suspended somewhere between hatred and compassion, Mercy hesitated, hands still on his shoulders. Clearly something terrible had been done to him. Clearly he needed comfort. Help.

She didn’t owe him anything. He’d done the unthinkable to her, and worse, he’d made her enjoy it. Their encounter had torn her apart, taken the last shred of belief she’d had in herself and trampled on it.

And yet…

She sank to her knees. His arms stayed around her. He drew her against his bare torso and bent his head to the crook between her neck and shoulder, nuzzling her.

Tears stung her eyes. She put her arms around him, feeling the hard projecting ridges of his spine, the bony cage of his ribs.

He lifted her gown and she did nothing to stop him. His hands hungrily skimmed her legs down to her ankles and then up, up to her thighs. His thumbs brushed her sex. She gasped, her whole body jumping at the touch.

He moaned and pressed his face between her thighs.

He was absolutely without shame and gently relentless in the way he pursued her.

She allowed him to lay her down on the soft floor, to spread her thighs apart, to kiss her already throbbing secret place. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she cried out at the stroke of his tongue.

Then he was over her, pushing inside her, and she wasn’t ready but she accepted him anyway. She bent her knees, instinctively giving him more room to come into her. He felt unimaginably big, and male, and invasive. His sex dragged against hers, inside her, over her, pressing on sensitive spots that sent bolts of pleasure so intense it was almost pain through her whole body.

She grabbed onto him, scraping her fingernails across his skin. With a hoarse cry, he plunged all the way into her. His hips moved, thrusting in a desperate, inelegant rhythm, so fast and hard it nearly hurt. Yet the pleasure—the unholy pleasure overrode any pain, any desire she might have had to escape.

She could do nothing but hang onto him and endure. This was not at all like her experiences with Cletus, or Marcus either. It was brutal, but there was a savage joy in it that her earlier experiences had completely lacked.

Her hips worked against his as if they had a mind of their own, meeting him thrust for thrust, taking him deep. Soft, high-pitched gasps and whimpers escaped her throat. She couldn’t help herself. There was something in her, something ancient and powerful that overrode the Teachings as if they’d never existed, and that something wanted him.

A blinding wave of ecstasy crashed through her and she screamed as it dissolved her. There was no warning. One instant she was caught in a rising swell of delight and the next she was coming apart.

The Demon Kin groaned and shook in her arms as he reached his own climax. Once again, he flooded her with ejaculate. Would she conceive a child by him? What would the Novus Vita Life Studies Research Center do with such a child?

Mercy’s heart contracted. If she did conceive, she couldn’t allow them to have the child. She’d rather die, rather the child died, than be raised by those men.

The Demon Kin relaxed on top of her, keeping most of his weight off her but otherwise going limp. His head bowed as he panted. Mercy found her hands rubbing his emaciated back, up and down in unconscious caresses. She was treating him like a husband. Like a lover.

No, that wasn’t right. She was treating him the way she’d dreamed of touching a husband, not the way she’d ever interacted with Cletus.

Would they come and drag her away now? She had no idea how much time she’d have with him.

He pressed his lips to her forehead, the kiss almost reverent. Then another to her cheek. The other cheek. Her lips. She put her arms around his neck and opened her mouth to him.

The kiss seared her with its intimacy. The taste of him, the slide of his tongue over hers, his deep moans as he explored the interior of her mouth, it was all so much more than anything she’d ever had with the other two men who’d claimed her body. And she didn’t even know his name. Didn’t know if he could speak normally at all.

Was he mentally incapacitated? The way he’d looked at her suggested he was not. He seemed intelligent, and yet he didn’t speak.

He thickened, lengthened inside her despite his recent climax, and began to rock his hips again. The long slides felt slick from all the moisture he’d already put into her. She moved with him, giving herself over to the passion, the joy.

Afterward, he gathered her against him the way a child might hold a soft, stuffed toy at bedtime. There was no sense in fighting him—she couldn’t win. But for him to hold her after he was done with her—what did it mean? Bemused, Mercy let her head rest against his shoulder. Her left arm fell across his chest, her fingers brushing his rib cage. His heart beat loud and fast, his breath still rough from his exertions.

She rubbed her fingers across the taut cage of his rib bones, the sunken flesh between them. They must not be feeding him. Inexplicable anger rose up and tightened her throat at the notion they were deliberately starving him.

She didn’t know why she cared about this alien creature who’d so wronged her. It was probably a sign of her moral weakness. Whatever the reason, she found it impossible to condemn him, impossible to look at his condition and not rage on his behalf. Yet the warmth of him soothed her and as her breath slowed she found her eyelids drooping.

Some time later, she blinked sleepily and raised her head. She and the Demon Kin were entwined, arms and legs tangled together. He lay on his side now, facing her, his harshly beautiful features slack in sleep. He looked vulnerable that way. Almost innocent.

They’d slept together. The only other male she’d ever slept with had been Cletus, and that had never involved holding or cuddling.

Mercy lifted her hand and touched the fullness of his bottom lip with the tip of her forefinger. So soft.

Thick, black lashes fluttered. His lids slowly lifted. His gaze, hazy at first, sharpened, focusing on her. He gave her a lazy smile that revealed the tips of his fangs.

Her breath caught. Emaciated as he was, fangs clearly showing, his smile was dazzling. She flushed, her lips curling up to answer him.

“Hello,” she murmured.

His eyes narrowed. “Heh…heh—low.” His voice sounded rough and uncertain.

“You can talk?” she said, her eyes widening.

“Tah—”

Maybe not. Or maybe whatever they’d done to him had temporarily destroyed his ability to speak.

She pointed to her own chest. “My name is Mercy. Mercy.”

“M-m-muh—” he repeated.

“That’s right. Mercy.”

“Muh—see.” His large, male hand cupped the side of her face, almost dwarfing her skull. He smiled again, almost tenderly, his thumb stroking her bottom lip. “Muh—see.”

She opened her mouth to ask him his name. But his head came up, his eyes focused on something she couldn’t see. They were certainly alone in the gray corridor, so what was he looking at?

The Demon Kin sniffed. He looked down at her and grinned.

She smiled back uncertainly as he unwound himself from her and stood. When he extended a hand to her, she took it and let him draw her to her feet.

“What is it?”

He sniffed again and pointed down the hall.

“I don’t understand.”

The Demon Kin tugged on her hand, urging her to follow him. All right. She didn’t know what he was doing, but there was nothing else for her to do, so she went along with it.

They passed her cell…she thought. It was difficult to tell one cell from another, but she sensed they’d passed the one she normally occupied. Several turns took them past the nook where they’d first…encountered each other. Mercy glanced at the little dead-end hallway and shivered in memory. But he didn’t stop there.

He led her through a couple more turns until they arrived at another cell, a bigger one this time. Its door was wide open. Inside was a much larger bed, one big enough to easily sleep the two of them, plus a table and two chairs, and a bench shoved against one wall. Two bowls sat on the table top.

She glanced at him. He sniffed and pointed into the room.

Mercy frowned. “You want to go in there?”

He tugged at her hand, still pointing.

“You know that’s what they want us to do, right?”

The Demon Kin let go of her hand and walked into the cell, seeming completely unconcerned with the possibility he could be trapped inside. He sat down in one of the chairs, picked up a spoon and dipped it into the bowl, his long feline tail curling around his lower legs. After taking a bite, he looked up at her and motioned her toward him.

Mercy glanced first to one side and then the other. Of course, no-one was there. They were alone in the hall. No, she was alone in the hall. He was alone in the cell in front of her.

If she joined him, they could well be trapped together. But if she stayed out here and the cell door closed, they would be separated. Was that what she wanted?

Joining him would mean she accepted him on some level, that she wanted to be with him. He was unholy. A rapist. He’d made her do things, things she shouldn’t want. He’d taken her from herself.

Yet just a moment ago, she’d been busy trying to get his name, as if they could be friends. Friends! A Novus Vitan could never be friends with a Demon Kin.

He made her forget who she really was, who she was supposed to be.

Her weight shifted from foot to foot as she pondered that. Was it better to be companion to a Demon Kin or better to remain alone?

Chapter 9

The station’s night hours were arbitrary, but humans needed a day/night cycle that imitated that of their planet of origin as closely as possible. Demon Kin did, too, but their needs were largely irrelevant to Promise and the other Angels. The test subjects must only be kept alive long enough for the Life Studies Research Center to obtain the data they needed, so the day/night cycle really had little to do with them.

It was all for the staff. They had to remain healthy so they could carry out their duties and keep control over their test subjects. For health reasons, the majority of the guards slept during the night part of the cycle.

That left Promise alone when she found sleep unobtainable. She liked being alone. The offices, the control center, the greenhouse were all so quiet and peaceful when everyone else was asleep.

The monitors were still on tonight. Someone must have forgotten to turn them off. She padded over to them in her slippers. It was a waste of precious energy to leave them on like this and she’d have to speak to the staff in the morning. They had a strict budget here.

Most of the monitors showed empty gray corridors and darkened cells where the test subjects were all sleeping. She flicked them off one by one instead of returning to the main control panel where she could have dealt with them all at the same time. Why not walk around the room? There was nothing else to do, and moving around might help her get back to sleep.

The last monitor showed movement. She peered at it a little more closely. In the lower right hand corner, something that looked like a pair of feet twitched and moved. The feet seemed to be resting, as if their owner were laying down on the floor.

The cameras were supposed to move automatically to pick up any action in the corridor, so that test subject behavior didn’t always have to be monitored by individual staff members. Someone needed to do a little adjustment to the program. Otherwise, they’d lose valuable data. She’d assign someone to that tomorrow; Promise didn’t have enough knowledge of the programs they used to be able to do a good job of it.

This particular angle on the test subjects would be lost for now, but other cameras would pick up the event anyway. The Center had plenty of back-up.

It was late and Promise was tired. She ought to shut down the monitor and go back to bed. There would be another long day tomorrow, just one in what felt like an endless string of long days. She needed her rest.

Yet she sat down at the chair and adjusted the angle of the camera so it picked up its subject more completely.

There. A Demon Kin male, black-haired, with one of the new human females they’d acquired from the Novus Vitan prison system. He wasn’t laying down; he knelt before the clothed female, his arms around her waist. Promise flinched at the sight of his naked body and their intimate embrace. Sexual behavior or thoughts were forbidden to the Angels, and entirely foreign to them. Angels did not have sexual feelings.

But he wasn’t…taking her…as Promise had expected. He’d buried his face against her belly. There was anguish in his features.

She pressed her lips together. The Demon Kin was no doubt feeling quite sorry for himself at the moment. He was definitely showing the effects of long-term sexual deprivation on his species—mental derangement, appetite suppression leading to emaciation, loss of coherent speech, body-wide pain. The Center could only guess at the pain, since they couldn’t get any answers directly from their Demon Kin subjects, but the males’ behaviors certainly supported the idea that the deprivation caused them discomfort.

Promise would never cause any decent person pain. The Demon Kin were anything but decent, however. And this one had been a soldier, if she remembered correctly. He deserved, richly deserved, all the agony the Center could provide. All his kind did.

The woman wasn’t fighting him. Usually they did everything they could to avoid being taken, and when it became obvious there was no escape they submitted with trembling and terror. This one looked more sad than fearful. She touched the male’s bony, starved body as if she felt pity for him.

Promise shook her head. Perhaps confinement in the prison had affected the woman’s sanity.

The male drew up the woman’s ugly test subject gown and caressed her naked brown skin. She didn’t protest. She made no attempt to flee. In fact, she touched him in return.

It was such an anomalous response compared to other subject pairings she’d seen that Promise checked the subjects’ identification numbers and test history. Hmm. These two had been together before. They were part of the new phase of the experiment, in which the subjects had repeated exposure to each other, in order to promote enchainment, an addictive pattern of behavior sometimes seen between Demon Kin and their lovers.

Maybe the repeated exposure was what allowed the female to be unafraid of the male, although Promise herself would have been even more terrified the second time around. But perhaps there was some hormonal attraction, some kind of pheromone the male released that pacified the woman. They’d have to consider this new behavior when they designed the next phase of the experiments.

Promise leaned forward, watching intently as the two subjects kissed. She’d observed kissing behavior before, of course, both on Novus Vita and here at the Center. But this was different.

On Novus Vita, kisses were usually circumspect and brief, if they happened at all. Especially kisses between grown men and women. Public displays of affection were inappropriate. They caused forbidden feelings and thoughts, both in the people participating and in anyone who might see them.

She had no idea what grown men and women did together when they were alone, since she’d entered the Teacher training program at the age of six and hadn’t had the opportunity to be courted.

Here at the Center, kissing occasionally happened between the Demon Kin males and the human females. More than occasionally. In fact, now that she thought about it, there had been kissing in every video recording she’d seen. However, she hadn’t seen very many, since her work here was primarily administrative. It wasn’t her job to actually watch the recordings. That was work for scientists, not administrators.

Still, nothing she’d seen so far had prepared her for this. The male laid the woman down on the cushioned floor, still kissing and touching her. They were holding each other as if they couldn’t let go, as if they both wanted to merge together completely. The woman’s fingers buried themselves in the man’s hair. His hands traveled restlessly over the woman’s body, squeezing her bare buttocks, her thighs, stroking her back only to pause to cup her full breasts.

The sight of those big hands on the woman’s small body made something clench deep inside of Promise. She should not be seeing this. It was wrong. It was corrupting her—just like that other time, with the Demon Kin named Cain—even though she’d only watched this particular display for a few minutes.

And Cain—she must not think of him. Ever again. She must go on as if that kiss had never happened.

Promise could not look away from the monitor. The male now had the woman’s dark nipple in his mouth. He was sucking on it, the way a baby sucks on its mother. The woman’s head fell back, her lips parted, her lashes fluttering. Her hands clasped his head to her, as if to encourage him. Her moans were easily audible on the sound pick-up.

She wanted what he was doing to her. She liked it. There was no other explanation for her behavior.

The woman was a slut. Promise’s quick perusal of her records had told her that immediately. She’d been convicted of whoring, so it should come as no surprise that she enjoyed the illicit touch of this male.

It was disgusting. Did the woman have no pride? Did she have no spiritual inclinations whatsoever? It was bad enough to whore with her own species, but with Demon Kin? She must be entirely beyond redemption.

She—Promise—ought to look away. She really ought to look away. Watching these vids was not in her job description, so there was no reason for her to put her soul in danger by exposing herself to them.

She continued watching as the male worked his way down the female subject’s body until he was nestled between her thighs. The woman simply opened her legs to allow him access, with not a hint of modesty or reluctance. She seemed eager to accommodate him.

He pressed his big hands to her inner thighs, spreading her even more. And then the most astonishing, unspeakable thing happened. He lowered his head and placed his mouth right between her legs. On her…on her sex.

Promise’s own mouth fell open and stayed that way. She bent forward even more, narrowing her eyes at the screen in revulsion and fascination. No, not fascination. Disgust.

Yes, she was disgusted.

Was he biting her? The female test subject cried out, her head falling back, her mouth open. Her hands remained on his head, cradling him. Then she reached between her own thighs, her fingers pressed to her own flesh. She seemed to be spreading herself even more.

And then Promise knew. He was licking the woman’s sex. It was the most perverted, bizarre act she’d ever seen or even imagined. And she could never have imagined this, not in a hundred million years. Who would do such a thing?

The Demon Kin, of course.

Heat flushed Promise’s whole body. Her heart pounded and her body tingled with the weirdest sensations she’d ever felt. It was like the way she used to feel as a girl when something extra special was about to happen, like on the morning of a feast day. Like excitement, only different.

What was happening to her? What was wrong with her?

The Demon Kin continued licking and kissing the human in unspeakable ways for a long time. He seemed to enjoy what he was doing, if his enthusiastic-sounding groans were any indication. What would it be like to put one’s mouth on another human’s—or Demon Kin’s—private parts? It didn’t seem like the kind of thing any sane, normal being would enjoy.

The viewing should have become monotonous, yet still she couldn’t look away. She found every movement of the subjects fascinating, every noise they made. And when the woman’s moans turned to loud, frantic cries—they sounded almost like cries of pain, yet she made no attempt to escape him and even seemed to be encouraging him to continue—a penetrating, throbbing ache invaded Promise’s body. Right between her legs and in her lower belly. Almost as if she…

No. That could not be true. She didn’t want what he was doing to that other woman. She didn’t want any of it.

He crawled back up the female’s body and sealed his mouth to hers. His unclean mouth, foul with the residue of whatever he’d been doing to her sex. The thought of him kissing her after that…

No. What Promise felt was disgust. Not excitement. Not yearning. Never yearning.

The woman seemed to be helping him mount her. She had a hand between their bodies, as if guiding him into her. That made Promise frown. Why would she help?

Idiot. Why do you think? She obviously likes all this revolting carrying-on.

They both yelled as he sank into her. Promise’s hands clutched hard at the edge of the desk. Her body ached insistently, asking for something she couldn’t even name. She suspected. But she would not name it.

It was time to leave. Time to turn off the monitor, to vacate the office.

She kept watching.

The Demon Kin rhythmically flexed his hips, driving himself into the woman’s body again and again. The woman wrapped her legs around his narrow waist and her arms around his shoulders. She moved, too, pushing upward against him. They looked ridiculous. Awkward, animal, ugly. It should have made Promise sick with revulsion. And yet she continued to watch.

The male threw back his head and roared as he climaxed in the woman’s body. She seemed to take a bizarre pleasure in this, watching him, moaning, moving with him as he shuddered above her. How could she?

She’s a criminal. A whore. She’s not a decent woman.

But then he lowered his head and kissed her, and there was something in that kiss that made Promise’s heart ache. His hand cupped the side of the woman’s head. Her fingers dove into his hair. He drew away just far enough to press his lips to her forehead, her nose, her chin, as she continued to stroke his hair.

Tenderness. They displayed tenderness toward each other and it baffled her more than anything else she’d seen so far. She’d expected something else. Triumph on his part, shame on hers. Not tenderness.

It was over and the spell was broken. Promise turned off the monitor. She could leave now.

But she knew those images would never leave her. They’d be engraved on her mind forever.

Chapter 10

Mercy walked into the new cell. As soon as she’d cleared the door, it slammed down behind her. Although she’d expected it to close, the loud sound made her jump anyway.

The Demon Kin calmly continued eating his soup; although his hands still shook, he seemed unaffected by the door’s closing. He must have expected it too. Or perhaps he simply didn’t care anymore whether or not he was locked in a cell or loose in a hallway.

She glanced around, at the table with its two chairs, the huge bed, the soft-looking padded bench against the wall opposite the table.

He looked up, gave her a half-smile and gestured her closer. With a hard swallow, she went to him and took the empty chair. This was it. This was her accepting her fate, accepting that she wasn’t the person she’d thought.

Now that she was at the table, she could smell the savory aroma of the soup. That must have been what had caught his attention and drawn him to this room. She’d heard his kind had a remarkable sense of smell, but she’d never seen it in action until now.

He pointed to her soup bowl, then to her. He wanted her to eat? Mercy shook her head. She had no appetite, and he looked like he needed it a great deal more than she did. He’d already finished his own portion. She pushed her bowl toward him and pointed at him.

“You have it,” she said.

He raised his brows in an unvoiced question. She nodded, smiled a little, pushed the bowl toward him again. He pointed to it, looking at her and raising his brows again as he pulled it toward him. Mercy nodded.

His gaze softened. He reached out with his free hand and took one of hers, squeezed it gently. Although the touch was platonic, it aroused a flood of pleasure in her and she blushed.

There was so much feeling in the way he looked at her. She didn’t know what to do with it or how to respond. The only thing she could think of was to squeeze his hand in return.

He kept hold of her while he ate, his manners impeccable although it was obvious he hadn’t eaten in a long time and his spoon clinked randomly against the bowl from the shaking of his hand. The soup was thin, mostly broth with a few tiny bits of meat and vegetable floating in it. He ate it with so much relish it could have been ambrosia.

If only he could tell her his name, where he’d come from, why he was a prisoner.

When he’d finished the second bowl, he stood up, her hand still clasped in his, and led her to the attached bathroom. This one was more than twice as big as the tiny closet she’d had in her cell. He went to the shower and turned on the water, holding his hand under the stream to check the temperature. He still had her other hand in his.

The water adjusted to his satisfaction, he led her into the stall. Mercy had taken a shower that morning, but given his extremely sensitive sense of smell, maybe she offended him. On the other hand, he didn’t look or smell as if he’d bathed with soap in quite a while.

Was bathing together some kind of Demon Kin ritual? If so, what did it mean to him?

She stood under the generous stream of hot water and stared up at him, wondering what he expected her to do. He simply stared down at her, a faint smile curling his lips and warming the deep brown of his eyes. His hands weren’t shaking at the moment. The soup must have done him some good, then.

She turned to find the soap. He restrained her with a hand on her shoulder, reaching across her to take the soap for himself.

Mercy flushed. She’d never bathed with a man before, but she ought to have known it was proper for the male to go first. That was how everything worked on Novus Vita, and apparently it was true on Malefica—no, they called it Belleren, didn’t they?—as well.

Then he set the bar aside and lifted his soapy hands to her neck, massaging the muscles on either side of her spine gently as he washed her skin. Her mouth opened as she stared up at him. He was washing her. Why would he do that?

“Muh—see.” His voice was deep and low, and it seemed to vibrate inside her, making her achy and hot.

She pointed at him. “You? I am Mercy. You?”

His beautiful eyes narrowed. He shook his head. His hands continued washing over her shoulders, her arms, down to her hands. He lifted each one and carefully soaped her fingers one by one, massaged her palm and between the bones of her hand.

A slight tremor began in his hands as he reached again for the bar of soap. Mercy caught his wrist.

“You don’t have to wash me,” she said, holding her palm up for the soap.

He shook his head. He lifted his hands, his eyes fixed on hers, and cupped her breasts. Her face flushed as a bewildering mixture of shame and arousal flooded her. She arched her back without even thinking about it or noticing at first that she was doing it. She pushed her breasts more deeply into his palms, a barely audible moan escaping her.

The Demon Kin brushed suds across her curves, her sensitive nipples, drawing another gasp from her. He molded her flesh, squeezed, then brushed the tight, deep-brown buds of her nipples again.

If they hadn’t drugged her food, then he must have cast some kind of spell on her. This wasn’t the way she behaved. It wasn’t even something she could have imagined herself doing before she’d met him. Yet every time he touched her or even appeared in her field of view, she reacted this way to him, as if she were made of lust.

Maybe this was the way she behaved. Maybe she’d never really known herself.

He washed her belly, the indented curves of her waist, the planes of her back, all his movements slow and appreciative, almost worshiping. Then he dropped to his knees and picked up her right foot.

The soft brush of his fingertips there tickled. She giggled, twitching and trying to pull back when he touched her sole. He smiled up at her, but he didn’t release her. He was just as relentless with her feet as he’d been when he’d taken her.

She tried to pull away a second time. He shook his head at her.

“Shhh,” he said. “Muh—Mer—see. Let.”

Let. That was a word. A real word in Galactic Standard. He was starting to talk.

She put a hand on his shoulder to communicate how glad she was to hear his words, but he didn’t seem to notice. All his attention was focused, lavished, on her foot and from there upward to her ankles, calves, thighs.

He rubbed soap suds over the generous curves of her ass, his strong fingers digging gently into the tense muscles beneath her skin. And then between the cheeks of her ass, one finger sliding up and down, slick and soapy. The forbidden touch seemed unbearably erotic to her. She had to place her other hand on his other shoulder to keep from falling to the floor at the wave of longing that crashed over her.

Finally, there was only one place on her body he hadn’t washed yet. He slid soapy fingers into the creases at the tops of her thighs, sliding back and forth the way he had in that other crease. His big hands nudged her thighs apart, and she let him.

Something about the gentleness of his touch, combined with his insistence on washing her, made tears spring up in her eyes. No-one had touched her this way, with such sweetness all tangled up in persistent eroticism. No-one but she had ever taken care of her body at all since she was a very small child.

He rinsed her sex and stood, his brows puckered as a hot tear ran down her cheek. A low sound escaped his throat. He tipped up her chin and kissed her, a brush of his lips against her mouth.

“Mer-see,” he murmured. “Mer-see.”

The kiss moved deeper, his tongue invading her mouth and sending a terrible pang of yearning right to her core. Mercy grabbed for his shoulders as her knees buckled. He cradled her head, his touch controlling yet tender. How did he do it? How did he make her want him so much without using any of the brutal tactics she expected?

He wasn’t anything she could have expected.

He’d taken everything from her, yet paradoxically he’d also given her so much, things she’d never imagined before she’d met him.

She reached blindly for the soap. It slipped out of her hands and fell to the floor, where it slid toward the drain. He didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy devouring her, one large hand splayed across the small of her back, the other still holding her skull.

Mercy drew back, tugging against his attempt to keep her in place. He shook his head at her.

“Mer—see,” he said in his slow voice. “Let.”

She bent and snagged the soap, holding it up for him to see. He reached for it, but she yanked it away from him, rubbing it quickly between her hands. It smelled resinous, yet sweet, like some kind of mountain herb.

With her hands soapy, she placed them on the still-impressive muscle of his chest. “Let me wash you now.”

He watched her soberly as she slid her hands across his skin. Without words, she had no idea what he was thinking. But words didn’t always reveal people’s thoughts; they concealed them as often as not, with lies and misdirection. Glancing up at his face, she saw tenderness and yearning there, even more than lust. Or maybe that was her own wishful thinking.

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