As he’d done countless times ever since he’d been declared a man, the Jumaane fighter and protector known as Ram repeated the chant his leaders had driven deep into him. No fear. No doubt. My people’s survival above my own life. Conquer. Kill when necessary. Acknowledge no weakness.
Believing the mantra in all ways, Ram slipped through the foreign landscape that was the planet Lamis. The sights, smells, and sounds he’d encountered were as unfamiliar to him as they’d been the past three days. Because, as before, his fellow space travelers weren’t with him, he had no one to share his reactions with. Yes, he had been using his handheld communication system to send pictures back to the spacecraft where the four other men were, but those pictures only told part of the story.
Even if his companions had been around, they would have limited their conversations to such things as observations about how much moisture the ground held, what vegetation might be safe to eat, and whether they should halt their exploration of this strange place long enough to hunt game to supplement their food supply.
And most important, how they could get close enough to the distant volcano to collect the vital gases needed to power the craft and take off again. If they—or rather, if he—didn’t, they might perish on Lamis.
So far he hadn’t gotten close enough to the Qasim humanoids he’d spotted and recorded to have drawn more than rudimentary conclusions about whether they might prove to be worthy foes, but that was his goal for today.
Shaking off the uneasy suspicion that someone was or had been watching him, he again paused to study the ground. There were the small shoeprints that represented his prey. Judging by their size, he’d concluded he’d either been tracking a child or a woman. Hopefully it wasn’t a child, because an immature Qasim wouldn’t have the information his companions and he desperately needed. Besides, he hadn’t been around a female for a long, long time.
A rustling sound ahead of him stopped him in mid-stride. His nerve endings again on alert, he strained to see and hear. When the sound was repeated, he crouched low and snuck forward, keeping to the shade as he did. Despite the risk of danger, he loved times like this when he pitted himself against the enemy. Because he’d been careful to think and act like a tracker ever since he’d spotted the footprints, he’d mostly convinced himself that whoever he was following hadn’t sensed his presence. It was highly possible that his watcher, if there indeed was one, was an animal.
The sound repeated, farther away than when he’d first heard it. Determined not to let his prey get away, he quickened his pace. His heart rate increased. He felt alive and raw. Trotting now, he stopped trying to remain silent. His shoes slapped on hard ground. He was reaching for his weapon when he spotted someone ahead of him and to his left. For no more than a blink, his prey and he locked eyes.
Running away from him.
She ran like a wild animal. Her small, athletic body under perfect control, she all but flowed around the trees as if she’d been born to do this one thing. She made him think of a long-legged, gentle plant-eater relying on speed to escape a predator.
Predator. He’d become that, and more.
But although he was among Jumaane’s swiftest runners, he couldn’t catch up to her. He might have overtaken her if he’d been familiar with this land, but of course he wasn’t. The Qasim female had been born on Lamis while he was a stranger to it.
Reminding himself of what had to be accomplished if he and his companions were ever going to leave Lamis, he lengthened his stride. Running like this felt like freedom, like becoming one with the ground beneath his feet, like having no existence beyond his body.
Like being in charge of everything.
As he split his attention between his surroundings and the female, he wondered whether she felt the same way. Perhaps terror blinded her to all other sensations, but her smooth, easy stride made him think she, too, took pride in what her muscles and bones were capable of. Was she more human or animal? Unfortunately, he didn’t know because the life-scanners that had long studied Lamis were incapable of detecting more than physical forms.
There were few rocks here and, unlike the great and vital jungle lurking to the south, only a minimum of roots and vegetation covered the dirt. Also the tall, broad trees were well spaced, making it possible for predator and prey to race at nearly full speed. The sun beat down on Ram’s head and bare shoulders and back. Sweat streamed, but his endurance-trained lungs could keep up the pace for as long as it took to capture the nearly naked two-legged creature.
And he would capture her. No other outcome was possible.
She may be the one, the Qasim I need to guide me into the jungle.
The reminder of the vital task ahead of him caused his concentration to slip. By the time he’d pulled it back to pursuit, he’d lost sight of her. Slowing a little, he scanned his surroundings. A moment later, he spotted movement to the right of a trio of trees. The trees, many times taller and broader than any on his home planet of Atrver, had fascinated him from the moment he’d emerged from the disabled craft. Now, watching the female among the trees, he wondered if she took them for granted.
Surprised that he cared what or what might not exist in her mind, he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. His nails dug into his palms as a reminder of what his body and heart existed for. Today he had one goal, to capture the fire-haired female.
Distracted again, this time by the great red mass flowing behind her, he imagined what it would feel like in his hands. How her slight but strong body beneath his would respond to his cock.
Catch her now. Quit following her like some curious predator. Throw your ropes over her and pin her to the ground and teach her to submit. Show her who is in control. Tame her.
A familiar tightening in his groin served as an unwanted reminder of how long he’d been without a female. Yes, the craft came equipped with anatomically correct androids, but the sun-fueled sex diversions were no better than masturbating, while this wild creature—
Something pressed against his cheeks and lips. It took a moment to realize he’d run into a web and another to rub away the sticky fibers. By the time he’d gotten the last of the disgusting stuff out of his mouth, the shadows again hid her. Years of setting foot on foreign planets had taught him wary patience, but today he felt like he had as a teenager, eager and anxious, afraid he’d fail.
Failure came in many forms, and this one struck at a core he’d been taught not to acknowledge. If he lost her, the loss would touch more than his pride and confidence. He might have doomed himself and those who were depending on him.
There. Muted by tree shade. Still running but frequently looking back over her shoulder at him. There was too much distance between them for him to see into her eyes, and yet the power behind her gaze dug beneath his surface.
I will change you, she seemed to be saying. Nothing about either of us will be as it was before life brought us together.
No! I will change you! he challenged. I’ll bring you to your knees and force what I must have from you. Discipline and teach you. Roaring uncivilized defiance, he sent fresh determination to his legs. His were much longer and stronger than hers so surely he could overtake her, but the weight of his muscled body slowed him while she seemed like some swift bird. Half expecting her to take flight, he measured the distance between them. Where she easily anticipated what was ahead and made last-instant adjustments, he knew only to run after her through strange land. No matter how much he hated admitting it, she was outstripping him. Anger fueled his lungs.
She again looked back at him, undoubtedly judging the distance between them, but instead of crying out in victory, she kept her steady and seemingly endless pace. Her clothing consisted of a strip of thin, pale green fabric that went around the back of her neck before crisscrossing over her breasts and ending in a tie at the small of her back. Her arms were bare, and her short skirt ended at mid-thigh. In contrast to the gauzy material designed for freedom of movement, she wore sturdy sandals. A long, slender knife hugged her right hip.
More distance between them. No sound of her breathing. Legs pumping effortlessly. Hair flying and arms bent and close to her body. Flowing around the great trees, feet floating. Maybe drawing him near her people’s warriors.
When she once more glanced back, he read challenge in the brief contact. Catch me, foreigner! I dare you!
But he couldn’t! She was going to escape.
Wishing he didn’t have to resort to this, he reached for the holster strapped to his waist and pulled out the sun-powered gun that served as his only weapon. When he’d first spotted her, he’d gauged her weight and set the gun on medium stun, but although he could have brought her down without having to chase her, something—maybe the fact that she was female—had stayed his hand. He’d wanted this chase to be physical and not technology versus primitive. However, primitive was winning.
Silently apologizing, he aimed and fired. A flash of light shot out the end of the barrel and struck her between her shoulder blades. She continued to run, flowing like a waterfall. Then she stumbled, threw out her arms, and fell face-forward onto the ground.
Knowing it would take a few seconds for the stun to take full effect, he stopped running and watched. He sucked in Lamis’ air, grateful for the slight breeze that was evaporating some of his sweat. Her arms and legs twitched as if she were being shaken. By the way her fingers dug into the ground, he knew she was trying to regain control over her body. If she could get a hold of it, she’d undoubtedly try to bury the knife at her hip in him. The thought of battling her further hardened his starving cock.
No. It wouldn’t, couldn’t be rape because that wasn’t his people’s way and he knew how to teach her that he was in charge. By the time he was done with her, she would acknowledge his superiority in part by turning her body over to him and he’d feed from her offering until he forgot what hunger felt like.
What was he thinking? According to the information he and the others had gathered about the Qasim, they were a primitive people who lived in simple wood houses without plumbing, power, or heat beyond fire. They’d tamed some animals and kept others for food, and their gardens were extensive, but their weapons were simple. They’d built wooden walls around their villages for protection. In contrast, the Jumaane were far superior technologically and probably intellectually as well, so what did he want with an inferior female?
Still, she might be trainable. At least it was worth trying. Just thinking about the time-tested methods the Jumaane used on enemy females made his palms tingle. He loved the sound a helpless buttock made when he spanked it, loved how pale flesh reddened and whimpers turned into sobs.
“Stop fighting,” he warned in Qasim when he was standing over her. “Admit you’re helpless, that you’ve lost.”
Her limbs went limp. Her body seemed to be sinking into the earth. Although her muscular calves and thighs impressed him, they were now useless to her. Instead of relishing his victory, in some respects he wished he didn’t have to do this. A prime creature like she was should be respected, not rendered helpless.
Fortunately a stun setting impacted only exterior muscles and left her lungs and heart unaffected. Because the muscle paralysis would start to wear off in about a minute, and he didn’t want to risk her hurting herself fighting him, he opened the pouch opposite his holster and took out two lengths of rope. As he always did when he made use of rope, he mused that even though his people had perfected long-distance travel, a simple restraint still served its purpose.
Positioning her so her head was turned to the side, he quickly and expertly tied her hands behind her. Then, although he had no intention of letting her get to her feet for a while, he positioned himself so he could look into her eyes. Green. Not pale like her dress, but dark and smoky. Paralysis made it impossible for her to close her eyes, and she undoubtedly was gathering impressions of him. With her head immobile, he suspected she could see little more than his face with its prominent bones and deep-set black eyes. He’d been told that his were night eyes, an accident of nature he’d used more than once to intimidate those who lived on the planets he visited.
Good. Let her fear him. That way, before long she would bow to his will and take him where he needed to go.
Shaken anew by the awful thought of having to live the rest of his life here, he renewed his determination to force his will on her. He hadn’t captured her simply so he could prove his superiority via discipline. His and his companions’ lives might depend on what she told him. She was still showing no sign of having regained self-control, and he rolled her onto her side, holding her in place by clamping his hand over her hip.
One reason for selecting Lamis for distance viewing had been because the life forms included humanoids that appeared to be essentially identical physically to the Jumaane. Shortly after landing, he and the others had spotted several Qasim sneaking up on the spacecraft, but attempts at a peaceful meeting had proven impossible and he’d been forced to kill two males who’d attacked them. From then on, the Qasim had kept their distance. Because they hadn’t seen any females around the spacecraft, he’d concluded that Qasim males were the aggressors while females were probably both reclusive and protected like Jumaane women, but his captive contradicted that conclusion. Despite her slight form, her glaring eyes and knife said she was no frightened victim but a fighter. Aggressive.
Good. He was looking forward to pitting his skills against her.
For teaching her her place.
Feeling movement under his hand, he brought himself back to the moment, and he removed her knife. She tried to bend her knees. Failing that, she lifted her head a fraction. Much as he wanted to watch her fight, to counter her struggle for freedom with his strength and start teaching her who was in charge, experience had taught him that a newly captured enemy often panicked and consequently injured himself. Thus, immobilization was essential.
His second rope went around her ankles and he lashed them together. Determined to cut down on her ability to thrash around, he bent her knees and secured the rope end to her wrists. The hogtie had the added bonus of forcing her to arch her back, which pressed her breasts against the nearly transparent material covering them.
The muscles in her arms contracted, and she rocked about a little.
“Don’t try to fight,” he warned her. “I know what I’m doing. You’ll never free yourself.”
Hatred and defiance flashed in her haunting and beautiful eyes, and he caught his breath. Any movement she made would probably feed his arousal and bring out the beast in his cock, which he knew better than to let happen. Settling himself on his knees, he spread a hand over her throat in wordless proof of his absolute control. His other hand, as if imbued with an instinct and will of its own, closed around a breast. She struggled to roll away, and although her movements were still weak and uncertain, he was given a taste of what she was capable of. Oh, yes, a worthy foe.
“What’s your name?” he demanded.
Eyes still wide and wary, she licked her lips. “How can you speak Qasim?”
Interesting. Instead of begging, she’d gone after an answer to a vital question. Fine, he’d give her one, even though he’d be surprised if she were intelligent or advanced enough to understand. “I had a voice comprehension chip placed in my brain. It translates hundreds of languages, including yours. Now, what is your name?”
When she clenched her jaw, he tightened his hold on her throat. He wouldn’t choke her unless she was trying to kill him, but she didn’t know that. Fear flickered, and yet he suspected she was still a long way from panic. If the rest of Qasim’s females were like her, maybe they’d tame and take some of them with them when they left. The thought of having her and other submissive Qasim females at his disposal clenched his belly. After all, it wasn’t as if she were his intellectual equal. He might be able to train and mold her to worship his—
Stop it! Don’t let your cock rule you. She might take advantage of it.
Eager to test her sexual potential, he relaxed his hold on her throat and started stroking the creamy flesh he’d been gripping. He did the same to the breast closest to him. Although he could have slipped his hand under the strange material, he held off, not because he wanted her to anticipate the inevitable, but because he didn’t trust himself. Having sex with this cross between human and animal carried risks that went far beyond the physical. He only had to look into her eyes and sense her heart’s beating to know that.
A whispery sound like a breeze flitting through leaves distracted him until he realized it had come from her. Curious, he brought his fingers to the base of her throat and over the upper swelling of her breasts. Her second sigh was stronger, and she was no longer clenching her teeth. Placing a hand under a breast, he pushed up. Her hard nipple jutted against its covering, prompting him to grip it with thumb and forefinger. Smiling despite the pulsing knot between his legs, he pulled the firm and full tissue away from her ribcage. Her lids slid lower, giving her a sleepy appearance, but her flared nostrils told a different story, as did her slackening muscles.
“What is this, captive? You like the way I’m handling you?”
“No! No.” Her eyes flew open, and her mouth sagged.
“Don’t lie.” For the first time since he’d tied her up, he regretted having chosen the position he had because this way he had only limited access to her buttocks. Otherwise, he would have already swatted her there. “Your body is telling me the truth. You may run like a hoofed animal, but this is a woman’s response.”
Eyelids dropping again, she started shaking her head. He hated defiance from a defeated foe, but instead of punishing her, he pulled the soft green fabric off her breast. Training a female was a delicate balance between exacting punishment for any and all infractions and slowly introducing her to the erotic component. He’d be wise to remember that she was in shock.
At first he thought he was looking at a birth defect on her breast, but the dark outline over her heart was no accident. Rather, this faint tattoo was deliberate if vague, making him wonder who was responsible and why she’d had it done—if it had been her choice. Did Qasim males mark their females this way? Maybe, since the tattoo appeared to be a handprint.
Before he was done with her, his hands would have left countless marks on another part of her anatomy.
Touching her heated mound caused his groin to tighten, and he leaned down and flicked his tongue over her nub. By the stars but he was horny! When she groaned and arched toward him, he knew he wasn’t the only one.
So today was about more than prey and predator, was it? About more than bending her to his will for the sake of survival.
“Ram,” a disembodied voice called. “What’s going on?”
Darn his captive! He’d forgotten to stay in touch with the four older men who relied on him to explore Lamis. He extracted the communication box from the bag at his waist and took several pictures of the female.
“Is she the only one?” the same voice asked a few moments later. “You’re sure you’re safe?”
Of course they’d ask that, and of course he’d reply as a fighter and protector should by assuring them that the woman was alone. Then, although he knew the others would be issuing suggestions and even orders about how he should handle her, he turned off the communication. His traveling partners were scientists while he was their guardian.
For as long as he wanted, it would be just him and this female.