“Octavia is a traitor. I forbid it.” The High Priestess, Octavia’s own sister, sat upon her crystal throne and spoke as if ice ran in her veins in place of red, warm blood. The message sent by my childhood friend had been strange and terrifying.
But that was not the message I shared with the High Priestess and those gathered in her court. To them, I was simply a fool requesting permission to chase false hopes.
Hope that Octavia had been taken against her will. Hope that she would renounce her new mate, a Delti prince, and return to her people. Hope that she had not been the traitor who set him free.
“I must try to find her and bring her home.” My knee ached from the long minutes pressed to the cold stone floor. My head was no longer bowed, but our queen had not given me permission to rise, which was proof enough of her irritation with my request.
“She betrayed us all, Mira. I have placed a price on her head.”
I dropped my head to hide my shock, staring at the rounded toe of my black boot. The boot was supple leather, with a blade hidden in the tip. I was an assassin and a bodyguard, not a pampered princess. The women standing around in their flowing robes and soft slippers owed their freedom to warriors like me. I did not begrudge them their comforts, but I did grind my teeth as I tried to comprehend why the High Priestess of Zatari was so unbending, so frigid in her beliefs that she had put a price on her own sister’s head.
“How much?” I asked.
“Fifty thousand credits.” The voice was calm and even, reciting a fact for all to hear.
I knew that voice well, had been listening to it my entire life. My mother sat at an elevated table to the left of the throne with the other elders in attendance. Her long blonde hair was streaked with white now, but she was still beautiful with arched brows, intelligent eyes, and high cheekbones. Her white robes identified her as a member of the elder council, a position of power she’d held for many years.
She’d guided me well these last eight years, as I rose through the ranks to become the new queen’s most trusted guardian. I’d been living in the outskirts, near the border on a farm for the first years of my life. I’d had a happy childhood, running the fields and playing with my country friends, learning how to track and hunt and kill…
She’d come for me when I came of age. And the first years had been rough. I didn’t remember everything, the months a strange, chaotic, and painful blur. But over time, I adjusted to court life. When I did not understand the intricacies of court, she spent hours lecturing me on the subtle art of politics and deceit. I was a master now, thanks to her. And so I lied to my queen as easily as breathing.
“Then I would like your permission to collect the bounty.”
Shocked silence built in the oval room, but I kept my head down as I waited for the queen to make her decision. Should she deny me this, I would have to steal a ship and defy her. I would be labeled traitor, deserter.
That was a fate I was willing to accept, if necessary. I had to know if Octavia’s message was true. If her words were horrible facts or disgusting lies. I could not believe she loved a Delti prince. They were our blood enemy. The Delti kings had once enslaved my people. We would never go back under their control. We did not yield to the Delti, we killed them.
And we sure as hell didn’t fuck them. Lay with them. Breed their children.
We did not love one of them.
The thought was laughable. Beyond comprehension. And yet the message that had come from my best friend had been very clear.
She was in love. She was never coming home. And everything I knew, everything I’d been told, my entire existence was a lie.
I could not accept that. I would track her down, look into her eyes, and learn the truth. With the queen’s permission—or without.
“You may go, Mira. Bring Octavia home.”
“Yes, High Priestess.”
I rose quickly, thankful for the hours of training that allowed me to move freely despite the long minutes bent on one knee. Lifting my head as I stood, I met the queen’s gaze, saw the warning there.
She was not a stupid woman and I knew I must either come home with Octavia, or not come home at all.
With a small bow of her chin, the double doors behind me were unlocked, the half dozen guards I’d trained with the last eight years stood at the ready and would kill me with one word from the queen’s lips. As I would have done the same just a few weeks ago.
But now? Now everything had changed. Now I needed to know the truth. Now I must find my friend and free her from whatever trap the prince from Delti held her within. Octavia needed to come home.
It was late and I wasted no time in retiring to my suite to pack for the coming journey. Octavia was on the moon base, Lunar One. That was where I must go to find her. But the base was a dangerous place, a place where pirates and renegades gathered under the watchful eye of the Zatari warriors who controlled the trading post with a merciless efficiency feared by all who visited. Ships from both the planet Zatari and Delti travelled to the Zatari moon to trade in everything from food and spices to the black market slavers’ bay.
I’d heard of the base, but never been there, had no desire to go. But that’s where Octavia had last been seen, so that’s where my search would begin.
Sleep was a long time coming, and when I at long last closed my eyes, I dreamed of my mother as she’d looked when she was younger. But in the odd manner of dreams, there were two copies of her standing over a young woman arguing in identical voices.
In my dream, I covered my ears, but nothing would stop the sound of their cruel words.
“Kill her. She will betray us all.”
“No. We can’t kill her. She is our blood.”
My two mothers took my arms and pulled in opposite directions, one with fury curling her lip and hatred in her gaze. The other had tears streaming down her face as she shook her head, her eyes filled with determined sadness.
“No. She must live, but she must not remember…”
Somewhere in the distance a young woman screamed, a woman I thought was Octavia, but when I lifted my head and turned to look…the woman screaming was me.
Mira, Priestess of Zatari, Moon Base Lunar One, Slavers’ Bay
Despite the biofilters, perfume and sex clung to the inside of my nostrils. Stale air and the narrow corridors of the slaver section closed in on me as if the walls shrank to trap me here. War raged between my mind and my senses. Logic forced me to stay, to allow the acrid smells to invade my lungs. My nose screamed that I inhaled the decayed air from inside a dead man’s deep space ejection coffin. My sixth sense knew the truth was worse.
These people weren’t dead. Not yet.
And that haze hovering in the air wasn’t harmless; it was smoke from the leaves of the Fier flower. The air reeked with the sharp, pungent odor.
Around me, people responded to the drug floating through the air; from slave on the auction block to master inspecting the offerings, every cock was hard, every pussy wet.
My nipples were hard points under my protective black suit, the binding I’d used to hide their fullness now a sensual torture on the sensitive tips. I did my best to ignore the slaves for sale all around me, the males from the mines who’d been worked until their chests were massive, their bodies hard as the rock they worked free from the deep lunar caves beneath the moon base.
They were a short-term purchase, for everyone knew the miners were poisoned by the very thing they mined. Two or three months, that was all they had left. Strong enough to fuck, but not strong enough to work the grueling hours required to keep the energy cells of our star cruisers filled with fuel. Hot, sensual, short-term fucking for the discerning buyer.
Their masters were nothing if not efficient. Work the slaves to the brink of death, then sell them as sex slaves once they were too weak to do heavy labor.
I had no intention of purchasing a slave, and yet… I lingered, my pussy hot and heavy, my head clouded with unnatural needs. I knew it was the Fier smoke floating in the air, but I had no way to fight it. I had to breathe.
“He’s strong, Master. And cheap. Buy two and I’ll give you a female for free.” The slaver, an orange-eyed man of the reptilian race, sidled up to me and I remembered that I wore a holographic mask, a disguise. I was not myself here, but a wealthy male traveler from Delti.
The green man pointed to the slave I’d been admiring. His cock hung, thick and ready between large, well-muscled thighs. His chest was wide and thick, his face handsome enough with full lips and a straight nose.
But his eyes were dead inside.
“How about this one?” The man grabbed my elbow and I swung hard, the back of my hand striking him in the face. It had been a test, and we both knew it.
“Do not touch me again.”
“Of course, Master. Of course.” The man bowed and scraped as he walked backward in front of me. “I am Nine. You like the big ones, I have more. I have more.” He pointed to a series of cages and I followed, curious as to what I would find.
Nine. As a name it was neither original, nor unusual. The slave masters often grew weary of remembering names. Nor did they care. A slave was a slave, and this one must be the ninth in service to his master as a haggling merchant in the market. No doubt, when Nine died, Ten would take his place.
I followed Nine to four silver cages that sat nestled to form a square. In the center of each was a pristine white stool. Seated on the stools, arms raised above their heads to make sure their bodies were on display, were Nine’s prime stock. Two men and two women, all with attractive faces and nice figures. And young, in their prime.
“You like men, I have men. You like woman? I have the best. You want both, you have to pay more.” Nine cackled as he said the last, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the man in the farthest cage.
His hair was dark as midnight, but his eyes, when he lifted them to mine, were a sharp, electric blue. I hissed in a breath as my pussy clenched with want, suddenly aching and empty. The vile creature beside me noticed my reaction.
“Oh, yes! That one is perfect, is he not? He is new. Just had him for an hour.”
That got my attention. “An hour?” I turned back to the man in the cage and traced the lines of his chest with my gaze. He was big. Strong. The Fier in my blood made my body ache with lust as I stepped closer and saw the huge cock hanging between his spread thighs. “Where is he from?”
Nine shook his bald, green head. “It doesn’t matter. He is here now. He is mine to sell.”
Goddess, I knew better, I really did. “How much?” I licked my lips. I could practically taste his skin, feel his cock spreading me open as I rode him. I would buy him, offer him freedom. I was not a keeper of slaves. But, if I was lucky, I’d get to taste him before he left me. I could be very persuasive and I knew that the Fier Potion must be raging in his blood, as it was in mine. He would not resist temptation, resist me. Not for long. He’d be angry, perhaps shove me down to the ground and thrust his cock into my eager body with brute force. Pull on my hair until my eyes burned with pain as he spanked me for this purchase, for daring to own him.
I blinked slowly, clearing my mind of the forbidden fantasy.
The slaver named a price three times higher than any I’d seen that day and I raised a brow. “No.”
His next offer was lower by a third. When I turned to walk away, Nine pulled on my cloak. “Ten thousand.”
That was still too much, but I didn’t have time to continue arguing. I wasn’t here to buy a slave, I was here on a hunt, and it was time to get back to it.
“Agreed.” I reached into my cloak and pulled two thousand credits from my pocket as a deposit. “Two thousand now. Eight when I come back. I want him bathed, dressed in new clothing, and fed. I will return for him.”
The little man took my credits and bowed low over my hand. I was tall, taller than most women, and with the holographic mask I wore, I knew I looked like a thin, severe male trader from Delti. “When will you return, Master?”
I pulled my cloak free of his grasping, clawed hands, not bothering to hide my disgust. “When my business is finished here.”
“Of course, of course.”
“Betray me, Nine, and I’ll kill you.”
“Of course, Master.”
I walked away, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to look over my shoulder one last time. The slave I’d just purchased watched me, his ice blue eyes seeing too much. A shiver raced down my spine and I barely contained my smile of anticipation. He would be rough, angry, impossible to control.
But that was a delicious problem for later. Right now, I had one wayward Delti princess to find, my best friend to rescue, and a prince from Delti to murder. To make things more difficult, the head of the base, the highest ranking Zatari elder on Lunar One, the woman who reported directly to the High Priestess, refused to see me or offer any assistance in my search.
I assumed the greedy bitch wanted the bounty on Octavia for herself. Which meant I had to track down Octavia before she could. I didn’t have time to satisfy my newly discovered sexual appetites at the moment.
My schedule was full.
Despite the lack of help from the nameless female who ruled the base, I was in disguise now and strolled through the station without fear. No one could see through the mask I wore. But even without the mask, I was a warrior priestess and servant of the High Priestess of the Temple of Zatari. I was wealthy and educated. Both worshipped and feared by our people. My Zatari sisters owned half of this moon base, and controlled more than half of the planet below.
This was my territory. One order from me, and I could have everyone on this station dead within a few hours. I’d been trained in hand-to-hand combat since birth; the daggers strapped to my thighs were not ornaments, but much used and well-loved weapons. I carried a small gun in my boot as well, although I preferred to avoid using it.
But I was not a crazed killer. Nor did I wish to be discovered. I was not here seeking power or vengeance, but answers. And those answers had been frustratingly short in coming.
Moon base Lunar One reeked of psychic power, drenched my mind with writhing slaves and lust, and inflamed my body as if I’d been dosed with Fier Potion. The floor shifted beneath my feet. Nausea rose, threatened to choke me.
Throwing one hand out to steady myself against the wall, I quickly slid my fingers along the smooth surface until I reached my destination. On silent feet, I slipped through a round white door and into the cold white room as the door rolled closed behind me.
A trader known simply as Reptile for his green-tinged skin and yellow eyes escorted me forward without question until we stood in a room where a lone woman waited. She was a head shorter than I, her hair and eyes as dark as I was fair. Her stance and the arrogant slant of her chin reeked of power and privilege. Royalty.
She was a princess, and the key to finding my best friend Octavia. I had no idea what this pampered princess of Delti was doing hiding out in a slaver’s quarters on Lunar One, nor did I care. I only cared about finding my best friend and bringing her home.
Reptile stepped forward, yellow eyes flashing with annoyance as he bowed to the princess. “Mistress, this one has requested to meet you.”
“Leave us.” Royal Princess Selene of Delti waved the reptilian lord away as if he were no more than a fly.
He scrambled from the room and I smiled. “Interesting choice of servant. It would appear you have him well trained.”
The dark-haired beauty smiled at me, the flowing white of her gown a stark contrast to her coloring. “Of course… and you are a very interesting visitor, Priestess.”
Priestess? So the princess had seen through my disguise?
Most saw what I wanted them to see, what I had programmed into the holograph producing mask; a tall man’s face with a crooked nose and short, oiled hair that was a completely unremarkable shade of mud brown. Hidden beneath the technology of a 5-S holographic mask I stood, a thin blonde woman, a priestess of Zatari. I caressed the daggers strapped to my thighs like a man would stroke his lover’s lips. The metal of the blades was cool beneath my fingertips… Comforting.
But I did not want to kill the princess, I wanted to use her to track down the Delti prince who had taken my friend and somehow seduced her, brainwashed her, made her his prisoner. His name was Markus Angelus, and the woman standing before me was his sister.
“Why did you come here, Priestess?” she asked.
I frowned, lifting my hand to the base of my neck to deactivate the holographic image protecting my identity. The woman’s face shimmered for a moment before the mask turned off to reveal my green eyes and long golden hair.
She would know who I was. Everyone on Zatari knew my face. I wasn’t just any priestess, I was a tracker and assassin in service directly to the High Priestess. I’d been bred to hunt, to protect the Zatari people with every breath in my body. I’d been called both beautiful and severe, my gaze too serious, the thin line of my mouth too harsh, cruel. I was hard. Political intrigue and an eye for treachery had been bred into my blood as surely as the color of my skin or the green of my eyes. From the cradle I’d been groomed and honed by the fires of court, by hundreds of tutors and those who pretended to be my friends.
Except Octavia. She was true and innocent and I would not leave her to rot with these Delti deceivers. I had defied my queen and my people to come for her. She was my friend, my one true friend. I had to find her.
“I came for Octavia.” There was no room within me for subterfuge or patience. My head ached, the pain having grown more severe for several hours. Noise bombarded me. Voices. Pain. Lust. I had no way to control the flood of thoughts that crowded into my head. I did what I’d been doing for the last two days onboard this moon base, I gritted my teeth against the ache and fought through the roar to concentrate on the small woman moving toward me.
Her white gown flowed like water to the floor, the color pristine and beautiful in such a foul environment. She stepped close, too close, and reached for my arm.
I knew better than to allow a Delti princess to touch my bare skin, but the ringing in my head lessened as she drew near, so I didn’t resist.
The moment her fingertips made contact with my wrist, silence descended. Not absence of sound, but absence of psychic noise. My headache lifted and my mind felt washed by a cool breeze. After the psychic roar of the station, of hundreds of slaves writhing with Fier-induced lust, the quiet peace was deafening.
Blinking in wonder, I stared at Princess Selene, shocked at the level of her power, her mastery over me, and suddenly I understood why our peoples had been at war for so long, why my people feared hers.
Power. There was so much power in her royal blood. With this kind of skill she could as easily have scrambled my mind as soothed me.
“Octavia is happy with her new mate.”
“With Markus?” I scoffed. “He is not her mate. He isn’t her anything. She’s a priestess of Zatari.”
Selene tilted her head, her dark, delicate eyebrow arching as if she scolded a child despite the fact that I towered over her petite frame. “Octavia is very happy. She and Markus were Fated. And she carries his son.”
That last was a punch to the gut and I struggled to draw air into my lungs. Pregnant? With a son? And happy about it?
“Larissa will have her killed.” The truth slipped from me before I could censor it. Larissa was the High Priestess, Octavia’s sister, ruler of our people. And what Selene spoke of was treason punishable by death. None could mate and breed with a Delti, especially not a prince. Octavia’s son could one day rule our enemies, murder his own blood. It was forbidden.
“And will you kill her then? When you find her?” Selene asked.
I laughed, but the sound was bitter. “I will find her and take her home. That is all.”
“I see.” Selene’s dark eyes narrowed, studied me. “Then I won’t have to kill you.”
I believed her. For some reason, there were no lies between us. “What are you doing here, Princess? Lunar One is not a safe place for you. Your brothers are practically starting a war trying to find you.” For that was how her brother, Markus, had come to us. He’d been caught snooping around Zatari in the growing fields, tracking slavers, looking for his sister.
“Setting a trap.”
“It matters not, but I won’t leave until he’s dead. Tell my brother to stop interfering before he gets us both killed.”
“I don’t know Markus.”
“Not that one. Hunter. I’m talking about Hunter.” Selene’s smile widened, her teeth perfectly aligned and white. “He’s been following you for two days.”
No. Not possible. “I don’t know Hunter, either.”
“Not yet, but you’re going to.” Her laughter was so filled with glee I nearly smiled in response. “You just bought him from Nine.”
“What?” That dark-haired warrior with bulging muscles and a huge cock was her brother? From Delti? “Your brother? A prince?”
“More pirate than prince. Now he lives to irritate our father.” Selene was practically singing with glee. “My brother is a Mindjack, but I’m going to give him a gift.”
“You, of course.”
My heart stuttered in my chest. I’d never met a Mindjack, but I’d heard of them. Everyone in the solar system had heard of them. Psychics so powerful they could not only read one’s thoughts, but enter the mind without detection, search through memories, relive experiences. Some were so powerful they could enter the minds of the dead. Others could witness things through the eyes of someone else across vast distances.
The Delti courts used them to dispense justice. No one could lie or hide the truth in a court of law with a Mindjack present. None dared try.
But rogues were dangerous and highly sought after. They could influence the mind of a child or a king with equal ease. “Nine has no idea what your brother is.”
“No, he does not.”
“I was going to set him free.”
“Of course you were.” Her smug tone had jolts of fire racing through my system.
“I do not lie.”
“No.” Her smile was obnoxious and I decided then and there to stop smiling in future. The look was intolerable. “But you want him. I can practically taste the desire exploding from your mind.” She sniffed slightly. “And other places.”
Enough. “Enough of this. Will he lead me to Markus and Octavia?” I feared no one, prince or not. I’d bought him. Paid for him. He was mine, and he would lead me to Octavia whether he wanted to or not.
“No. He will not.” Selene had a delicate angel’s face, but her eyes conveyed both intelligence and deadly menace. The princess was no angel; she was a warrior.
That determination was something I could both understand and admire. I just couldn’t cooperate. “Why not?”
“Octavia and Markus are extremely happy, and pregnant with my nephew. You cannot be allowed to interfere.”
“Octavia needs to go home.” I kept my voice neutral.
“You believe she wishes to return to Zatari with you?”
“Truth. What a novel concept.” She smiled and lifted her other hand from the many folds of her clinging white gown. Her small hand lifted to my shoulder and a jolt of raw power blossomed like a solar flare in my chest. Like a bomb, the explosion of energy roared through our connection in one massive surge.
“I’m sorry, Priestess. This is the only way.”
Soft, melodious, and impossible to resist, she spoke to me and I listened. Later, I could not recall what she said to me. In fact, for a long time, I had no memory of her at all…