Rain pattered against the windowsill, dampening my curtains fluttering in the breeze. I stared at the merchants rushing to cover their wares while others ran for shelter from the sudden downpour. They hid under the market tent or raced to the covered areas along the fence that surrounded our village. That didn’t seem the safest spot to me. Not with the Kavari soldiers standing watch.
I narrowed my eyes as two of them swept a slender woman into a tower along the main gate. She didn’t fight them, but I saw a wary look on her face, especially when two more of the brutes filtered into the small doorway. My stomach tightened, and I backed away from the window, wishing there was something I could do to rid our village of their presence for good.
It wasn’t that they were monsters, not like the beastly creatures we called Skepna, but they were monstrous. Some rumors said the Kavari descended from humans who’d coupled with gods. Or that they were gods or demi-gods themselves. But I didn’t believe either of those tales. They were circulated to make the Kavari more frightening. Or fascinating, depending on who was talking.
They weren’t fascinating to me in the slightest. I hated them and had since I was eighteen years old when they showed up at our village. At first, it had seemed like they were there to help. They proclaimed themselves saviors after driving the hordes of Skepna off from the village. But soon after that, they revealed their true intentions. They needed our village for supplies. Grain, ore, leather… and women.
Women, because they hadn’t had a female born in their tribe in over twenty years. Their race was dying off, and they needed females to breed with for repopulation efforts. They laid down their decrees, and when the Elders of my village rose against them, there was bloodshed and subjugation.
Now, we were occupied. Imprisoned under the guise of safety. And every year, the brutes made a spectacle of selecting their virgins and Paramours for their Masters and squadrons, treating the atrocity like a celebratory event.
The only thing that gave me any solace at all was that I would never be offered to them.
They made my father an Elder after my birth, a poor consolation for the fact that my mother had died delivering me. That status, and the privileges which came with it, spared me from procurement by the Kavari. Instead, I would be married to the son of another Elder. Or the brother or cousin of one, even if they hailed from another village. Or… an Elder themselves if a match hadn’t been made in a few years.
And so far, to my chagrin, that had been the case.
It comforted me to know that I would not be forced to endure the Kavari’s debauched affections, but that comfort didn’t come without guilt. Each week, caravans from their city in the mountains brought fresh fruits, vegetables, silken underclothes, and cloth linens. The Elders’ families had first pick of the supplies, while the rest of the people in the village often scraped by. It pained me because my best friend, Esme, and her little sister Aria, were often the last to get anything. Esme had resorted to illegal trading with visiting merchants and venturing beyond the fence to forage for food. All to keep her little sister fed.
All of the responsibility for their situation rested on the Kavari. Had they never come, Esme’s parents wouldn’t have been slaughtered, and they wouldn’t be struggling.
My chest ached when I thought of what Esme would face after the vile ceremony was held in two days. One of the Kavari brutes had all but declared his intent to claim her for his house, and I knew he planned to bring her home to two more men who lived with him. My poor friend, my best friend, would be taken from her little sister to be ravished and bred like an animal.
For days, I had been telling her to run. Yes, there were risks of running to the other villages, or even to the ocean, but I wanted her to take them. I had even packed a bag for her and Aria both. Anything to get them away from this place and the Kavari, for they weren’t the only threat Esme faced. Elder Hoval, the leader of our village, had set his sights on her, and what he had in mind seemed as bad if not worse than what the Kavari would do to her. At least the Kavari, as much as I loathed to admit it, were handsome and pleasant to look at, and they weren’t upwards of three decades older than her. Hoval resembled an aging warlock with his long robes and twisted face, and beyond that, he was cruel. So was his wife, who regarded the women he brought into their house as little more than pets for her to torment.
Either way, Esme’s fate looked dire, but despite my insistences that she run away, she refused. She said she would not drag Aria through the forest and risk her being taken captive by the Skepna. She swore she wanted to face her fate with her head held high. I knew part of her wanted to get into the Kavari city, hoping she could find the names of the brutes who’d murdered her parents and avenge them. It was a fool’s hope, but it was a hope.
I admired her for that. Hope was something severely lacking in our village, even in my privileged life. I may not have to worry about the Kavari claiming me, but my own dreams of finding a strong husband so I could have a family of my own grew dimmer each passing day. I feared what might happen if my father couldn’t find a match that suited him. Would I be wed to one of the older Elders as a bribe to further his own ambitions? Would he give up and cast me aside, or worse… keep me here in this house? Alone? Trapped as a Maiden my entire life?
The slamming of a door distracted me from my dreary musings. Stomping footsteps echoed down the hall, deep, angry voices accompanying them. Curious, I walked to my bedroom door and slowly tiptoed down the hall. My father always scolded me anytime I ventured out of my room, especially when another man was present, but whoever had arrived now was so loud I couldn’t help myself.
And then, I heard my friend’s name, which caused me to freeze on the spot, my blood cooling, though my heart tried valiantly to pump it faster through my veins.
“I’ve had plans for Esme since she flowered.” It was Elder Hoval speaking. I knew that by the graveled age in his voice. “That beast Lavan has kept an eye on her since he came here. She was meant to be mine.”
My stomach churned. He wanted her to be his to abuse. It was kept secret from the village, but there were plenty of rumors of what Hoval did to the women he took as mistresses. He claimed they needed reforming. To be schooled in the ways the gods intended women to behave. It wasn’t just random women he desired who were hauled in for punishments. Women who’d been granted permission to marry were taken for “sanctification” before they were given to the bridegroom. And if someone broke the law and married in secret, or continued a relationship after being told to separate, they were both taken to confess their crimes and participate in a… repentance rite.
There was a time, when I was younger, that I had thought this necessary. Breaking the rules brought chaos to the village and created an excess of children many couldn’t afford to house or feed. But as I grew, the sight of these hungry children and struggling families began to wear on my heart, even more so when I was forbidden from doing anything to help them. As long as I could remember, I’d wanted to be a mother, and that instinct only got stronger as I entered adulthood. I pleaded with my father repeatedly to do something, persuade the Elders to relax the rules a bit.
He only said that their parents were at fault for breaking the law, and the Elders would not encourage that behavior with handouts, no matter who suffered.
“She is just one girl, Hoval,” my father said, drawing me back to what was happening in my living room. “And the sister is still here. You may be able to leverage some power if we keep Aria under our watch. The Kavari man who wants Esme has a considerable squadron. If his Maiden is distressed by the idea of her sister in peril, we could manipulate them into—”
“I have no interest in manipulating them,” Hoval snarled. “If I wanted to gain favor with any one of those bastards, it would be the king, not some pathetic underling. But even that doesn’t appeal to me, since their King is not all he makes himself out to be. There are rumors that despite how many times he’s filled a woman, none of them have become pregnant.”
“What happens to them when he gets tired of trying?” my father questioned, and I shivered at the malice in Hoval’s responding laugh.
“Micah, where do you think the women you and the others play with come from?” he mused, sounding all but delighted by this. “They don’t wander here from other villages. They are the King’s maids who weren’t up to scrap. Women he’s had his fill of fucking and cast off.”
I slapped a hand over my mouth to stifle my gasp. I’d seen the women Hoval spoke of. Quiet, broken things who lurked outside of the village, serving the Kavari and a few men who lived outside our walls. They lingered for a few days but never stayed long, always seeking a warm bed and scraps of food, since no one seemed to want them permanently.
“It isn’t just the loss of that girl that has me infuriated,” Hoval continued. “That tall bastard and the blond Kavari who arrived with the new squadron made me angry. They claim the supplies we’ve given them are insufficient, and the taller one was lecturing us on how to distribute food.” A loud bang startled me, a fist slamming against a table, and then I heard Hoval bellow out his frustration. “The nerve of those bastards to try to tell us how to run things! They are the ones dying out. How dare they tell me I’ve neglected my duties as a ruler!”
An unbidden smile curled my lips. Part of me wanted to find this tall Kavari bastard and let him know I agreed. Hoval was neglectful. The fact that I had regular access to food simply for being Elder Micah’s daughter was evidence of that. We never had a shortage of anything; the other Elders just didn’t want to share.
My throat suddenly felt tight, and an ache filled my chest as I drew my arms around myself. Yes, the Elders didn’t want to share, and I never stepped up to demand better for anyone. I was a coward and afraid of what would happen to me if I did. Afraid that my fears of being trapped in the body of a Maiden forever, never knowing the touch or love of a man, would come to fruition if I stood up to my father and the men he ruled with.
“I don’t want to give these bastards anything,” Hoval spit. “I want them gone. There are plenty of women in the other villages they can have. The ones here need to stay to satisfy our needs. They want to take an additional four because we don’t have the materials.”
Hoval cursed again and kicked something while I crept closer to the end of the hallway. Once there, I peered around the corner. My father stood in his best tunic and heavy slacks, arms folded over his chest. I caught sight of his sharp angular features, the portly set of his belly, and the scowl on his face. He ran a hand through his graying-brown hair, and I instantly looked at the dark red locks hanging over my shoulder. We looked nothing alike. He was made of sharp edges and filled with authority. I was softer all over, my features full and rounded, my body curved and healthy compared to the emaciated women in the village. His eyes were brown where mine were a bright blue. The only thing I had inherited from this man was his height, which was only an inch or so above mine.
Esme had told me once that I was warm where my father was icy cold, and it made me smile, but I knew the other villagers didn’t see me that way. They saw me as haughty and closed off, like my father had taught me to be. Which was exactly how he looked now. His expression was stern, free of emotion. But stoic as he tried to be, there was something in his eyes that unnerved me. He was an intelligent man with great amounts of ambition, and even hidden in this hallway I was able to see the wheels in his head spinning. He was plotting something, and it made my stomach twist to think of what that might be.
“While we’re speaking of those women outside the fence,” my father said slowly. “You know what becomes of them, yes?”
Hoval shrugged. “The same thing that becomes of the women we get tired of riding. When their dirty little pussies wear out, I shove them into the woods. The Skepna take them as labor slaves and fodder for weapons. They’re all made out of bone.”
My father nodded. “Yes, and those weapons they wield are capable of killing Kavari soldiers. We’ve seen that.”
His voice had taken on a tone that made my skin feel cold and my heart race. He was formulating an idea, and I knew that whenever ideas came to him, so did change. Always the better for him, but for those he had no use for…
“I’m listening, Micah,” Hoval said, his voice calm and curious. My father hummed softly, then went on.
“What if, instead of throwing the men and women who disobey our laws out of the village and letting fate take its course, we change our fate and give them directly to the Skepna,” he suggested. “We know the beasts aren’t the most intelligent, but they trade amongst themselves, so that’s a language they understand. If we keep them supplied with slaves and whatever else they might need, they might return our generosity by driving the Kavari out.”
There was silence, then I heard Hoval chuckle. “I like how you think. Those monsters could rid the village of our problem, especially if we had them strike when new, inexperienced troops arrive. Catch them off guard.”
“Exactly,” my father agreed. “I can send a few scouts out tonight to approach Skepna camps with a few men and women and see if they respond to the idea of a trade. If they do, we could start by clearing out the men who’ve fathered bastard—”
The word left my lips before I could stop myself. Silence pressed in around me, and I shook before turning and racing toward my bedroom door, as my father’s footsteps thundered around the corner. He caught me by the back of my blouse and dragged me into the sitting area, throwing me down on to the floor with an angry snarl.
“How long have you been there, Daya?” he demanded as I hid my head, seeing Hoval’s robe-clad figure move to stand beside my father. “Insolent, as usual. What have I told you about leaving your room when I have guests?”
I gritted my teeth. I was to stay in place, out of sight, unless he was bringing a potential suitor. Those were the rules, and usually I obeyed them. But today I couldn’t, not after hearing Hoval mention Esme, and not after hearing what he planned to do. I glared at both men, mustering all my courage and ignoring the rabbiting pace of my heart.
“You can’t do it,” I said. “You may have forgotten how bad it was when the Skepna raided our village, but I haven’t!” My voice grew stronger, and I rose to my feet, straightening my shoulders and meeting my father’s scolding gaze with a defiant one. “I hate the Kavari as much as you do, but to send innocent men and women to a drawn-out, painful death is—”
“Those men and women aren’t innocent,” Hoval interrupted. “They have broken our laws and created chaos in our community. They have disobeyed—”
“The only crime they are guilty of is falling in love!” I shouted back. “You allow it when the men and women are older, or not fair of face. But if the woman is beautiful, you deny—”
Hoval lunged, and before I could so much as gasp in defense, he wrapped a hand around my throat. He pushed me back while I clawed at his hand, looking at my father for assistance. He only narrowed his eyes and folded his arms over his chest, watching without a care as Hoval pinned me against the wall.
“I thought by now you would understand your role, Daya. We have gone over it several times,” my father said as I struggled to breathe. “You are a woman. You were made to keep your mouth shut and legs spread. Your only value lies in what men put in you and what you birth.”
The old gods of the sun and moon save me. I knew my father had groomed me to accept a woman’s role in life, but to hear it put so bluntly made my heart ache. He truly had no concern for me or any other woman in the village. Perhaps not even my mother before she passed. We were pawns for him to play with.
Hoval laughed and released my throat slightly, allowing me to gasp out, “If that’s the truth, why not give me away to some merchant or other man in the village? Does it matter who has me if my only use is a bed slave or a breeding vessel?”
“Because I was hoping for someone useful to take an interest in you, but that has been in vain. No one wants the daughter of a woman who couldn’t survive birth.”
His words punched a hole in my chest so deep it felt like I might split in two. Despite the angry heat in my blood, a cold trickle of despair dripped over my skin. It wasn’t my fault my mother passed after my birth, and to blame me for it… it was cruelty beyond comprehension.
“Micah, I have offered to bed the girl many a time,” Hoval said, his hand moving from my throat down between my breasts. I lashed out, shoving him back as I righted my shirt. He let out a menacing laugh. “I can put a child in her if that’s what you wish.”
Nausea rolled through me, but I felt a slight amount of relief when my father shook his head.
“No, I think not. I have another idea forming,” he mused, moving closer and looking me over from head to foot. “She may be the key to getting the Kavari who came today off our back. Give them a tantalizing little plaything so we can enact our plans to get rid of them forever.”
The rage heating my blood instantly cooled, turning everything inside me to ice. I shook my head, pleading with both my father and Hoval with wide eyes. My father only glared while Hoval tilted his head and looked me over.
“That would be an idea. They are in need of another Maiden.”
My stomach plummeted with such violence that I set my hands over my belly, swallowing the bile that burned at my throat. “No, you can’t. You can’t give me to those beasts, please! Father—”
“I can do whatever I like with you,” he snarled as he came forward, lifting my arms to examine me. “And if you fight this, I will throw you to the Skepna myself.”
I whimpered, my hands shaking as I reached out to try to grasp onto my father’s shoulders. “You wouldn’t. The Skepna… that’s a death sentence. I’m your only child!”
He shrugged. “I can make another. A son this time. One who won’t be such a disappointment.”
Pain tugged at my heart, and tears stung my eyes until I willed them back, letting the anger still simmering in my chest take hold. I met my father’s apathetic gaze with a fiery one and pushed forward, meeting him almost nose to nose. “I will tell the Kavari what your plans are. If they learn you plan to rebel again, they will destroy all of you and take complete control of the village.”
My father shook his head, picking up a strand of my hair and twirling it idly. “Say a single word, Daya, and instead of giving you to a house of Kavari Masters, I’ll have you delivered straight to the King. He’s made mention in letters of wanting an auburn-haired Maiden for years. Girls with your hair are more fertile, it seems, and he wants an heir more than he wants anything we can offer.” My father smiled wickedly and looked to Hoval. “Remind me what the girls he casts off are like, Hoval? Those women that roam outside the village.”
Hoval smiled at me, and it chilled me to the bone. “They are destroyed. Ruined inside and out. Even I pale to think of the depravity those women experience when they fail to please the King. The scars they bear, the ache inside them from taking the King and his entire squadron…” He laughed and shrugged his aging shoulders. “So, tattle, Daya. By the time your men act, we will have already informed the King. I’d like to see what happens when that beast of a man gets a hold of you.”
I met his stare, keeping my expression strong despite the tremors that shook my knees. My father released me and turned to Hoval, continuing to make their evil plans while I composed myself and began to form my own. My father wasn’t the only intelligent person in this house, oh no. I had already planned an escape for two people should they take it, it would be easy to add a third.
No, I thought to myself. No monster will be getting their hands on me. Not the Kavari King, a Kavari Master, the Skepna, or even the filthy men who ruled my own village. I would find a way out of their clutches.
And once I did, I would live freely. I would go where I wanted, when I wanted, and love whomever I chose. I would make my own family, raise my own children. And by the gods, I vowed they would never live in fear of monster, brute, or any man that could hurt them.
The following morning began with my father storming into my room with a brand new silk dress and oils to put on my skin.
“I want you clean and presentable by the time the market opens. Do not defy me.”
I glared at his retreating figure, though part of me appreciated the no-nonsense attitude he had. He wasn’t posturing or trying to console me; it would be useless anyway. My heart simultaneously ached and pounded with rage, and I would be damned if I smiled or acted happy about this arrangement. He’d all but sold me like livestock, but I had no plans to go quietly off to slaughter.
Still, I did as requested. I bathed and washed my hair in the cold water he’d provided. I brushed the long red strands until they were straight and shining, then braided them over my shoulder. All of this I did in front of the mirror, breathing deeply as I looked at myself and tried to steel my resolve.
Round blue eyes nestled in an oval-shaped face stared back at me, cheeks pink from the cold water and skin pale save for my dark nipples and the patch of reddish hair between my legs. My hips curved over the strong thighs that enabled me to walk for hours or run if necessary. Moving upward, I eyed my slender waist, the softly rounded part of my tummy, and the sloping curve of my ribs that grew into strong arms I could use to carry whatever I needed. I could build shelter. I could fight if necessary. I wasn’t going to give up my freedom so easily.
The scrutinizing gaze I levied at myself softened some, and I was hit with a pang of sadness. I was a little curvier than most of the girls in the village, but I liked my body, and it pained me that no man in the village seemed to appreciate it.
The dress my father had brought me wrapped around my shoulders over my breasts and hung to my ankles, but the skirt was little more than scraps of fabric and the rest of it was so sheer I could practically see my nipples through the material. I wrinkled my nose at how scant it was and grabbed a heavy shawl to wrap around myself in an attempt at modesty. It did little to help hide the generous breasts I’d been blessed with, and when I walked the material clung to my thighs. Still, I held my head high and proud as I walked with my father out into the village square, and when we arrived, he took me by the elbows and pulled me close to his body, cheek next to my cheek. To anyone watching this looked like a father embracing his daughter, but it was far from that. I was tense and fighting an urge to shove him away, and my father was stiff as well, practically hissing in my ear when he spoke.
“You remember what I said, Daya. If you cause trouble, or defy the men I’ve given you to, there will be consequences. If the King doesn’t want you, I will throw you to the Skepna without a single care,” he murmured, giving me a mockingly affectionate squeeze. I held still and accepted the embrace, but instead of giving him a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, I turned my head, letting the anger inside out for a moment.
“Even if I never saw her face or knew her, I will always think of and remember my mother,” I whispered. “But you? As soon as I can wash you from my memory, I will. You were never a father to me.”
He chuckled and pushed me back, cupping my face and gracing me with a wicked smile. “And you weren’t the child I dreamed of. I wanted a son, your mother promised me that, and instead I received a squalling ginger brat that slaughtered my wife when it was born. I will forget you as well once my new child arrives.” He glanced around at the village and sighed. “All I have to do is decide which lucky woman gets to have me.”
A surge of pity hit me for this nameless, faceless woman. Knowing Hoval, my father might be required to share her with the other Elders before they wed. It sickened me to think that my father wouldn’t mind.
And he called the Kavari men bastards.
I walked to the center of the square where the women had lined up, some trembling and some trying to adopt seductive poses. Our village was in the middle of the three the Kavari had taken control of, and as such, all the Maidens and women up for procurement were brought here for their examinations. Less travel for Masters visiting only for today.
I fell into line and soon realized my attempts to look plain or uninteresting would fail miserably, if they hadn’t already. These girls varied between thin and waif-like to slender with a few curves, but all of them had blonde, black, or brunette tresses hanging over their shoulders.
I stood out like a sore thumb. Dark auburn hair, a curvy figure with full breasts. And in this practically sheer dress, I could do nothing to hide from the eyes that settled on me. My arrival even drew stares from some of the women, and I winced when they scoffed and whispered insults in my direction. On some level, I knew I deserved them for my years of apathy to the plight of those under the Elders’ rule. But that didn’t make their scorn any easier to bear.
After only a few moments in line, I noticed two sets of eyes on me, fixated with such intensity that my skin began to burn. Two Kavari men, one tall with shoulder-length dark hair twisted into decorative braids around his ears, the other shorter but broad across his chest and arms. He kept his light blond hair in a ponytail rather than a braid but wore the same decorative leather and silver jewelry all Kavari Masters did.
The taller of the pair met my eyes, and I saw him lean down to whisper at his companion. The second man smirked and crooked a finger in my direction. I held his eyes with a determined, stoic expression, then looked away toward the forest beyond the fence. If they thought I would go to them willingly and submit to their commands like a mindless idiot, they had another thing coming.
I kept my gaze fixed off in the distance, only reacting when a large, heavy hand clamped onto my bicep. A few of the women beside me gasped, but I held my own noise of shock inside as the blond Kavari pulled me out of line and toward a tent where his companion stood waiting.
“You’re coming with us, Sunshine. We’re going to have a little chat.”
The tone of his voice was light despite the command, but I refused to be tempted, and dragged my feet against the dirt as he pulled me alongside him. Whatever strength I had was no match for his power. He hauled me across the square like an errant animal and shoved me into a small tent. Both Kavari followed inside and closed the canvas door as I backed away to avoid them.
The tent only had one exit, which was behind the two men now bearing down on me. There was an examination table that took up most of the space, and I skirted around it, steeling my features and breathing deep to stay calm. The braided Kavari grabbed me by the forearm, both he and his companion backing me up into the table with dark, almost menacing gazes. I exhaled in a huff and met their golden eyes with a ferocity that surprised even myself. I would not cower, nor let the fear shaking my knees show. These men would not conquer me without a fight.
Despite my show of defiance, they continued to look me over, which gave me time to examine them. Both men had bronze, tanned skin, and I studied the strange gold color of their eyes. Twice my size at least, with rippling muscles across their broad shoulders and down their thick arms; it felt like it took ages for me to scan them from head to toe. They wore armor over heavy tunics, and as they crowded around me, I caught hints of leather, the forest outside the fence, and something light and sweet that made my mouth water. I licked my lips, gripping the table behind me for support and quietly, reluctantly, admitting that these men were… undeniably desirable. At least outwardly. It was no wonder there were women in the village who longed to be with them. Especially with no other prospects for partners.
The dark-haired Kavari startled me when he grasped my chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing me to look up at him. “How old are you, girl?” he asked, eyes roving over my face. The deep tone of his voice made me shiver, but he was calm. Controlled and collected. I swallowed, keeping my lips together while the blond sat beside me, bracing one arm behind my back on the surface of the table and setting the other over my belly, his thumb smoothing a pattern onto my skin through the dress. My eyes drifted between them, and I saw no harm in answering this question. In fact, considering most of the Maidens they took were twenty or barely over it, my age might even make them lose interest.
“Older than the other Maidens,” the blond remarked while the braided one nodded in response.
“This one is the daughter of the Elder we spoke to yesterday.”
“How do you know that?” I challenged. Anyone could be twenty-four, or an Elder’s daughter. Had my father told them to look for me specifically? I wouldn’t doubt it.
“You’re clean and anointed with oil and wearing a silk dress. Only the Elders and their families dress well.”
I scowled. The assessment irked me over its accuracy. Hoval kept our village poor on purpose, to make everyone reliant on him and the other Elders, dependent on their kindness and fearful of their cruelty.
I had benefited from both but had never truly faced the implications of it until this moment. I had pushed it aside because of my own desires, my longing to have love and a family someday. My father and the matrons he’d hired to help raise me sowed this longing deep in my soul, telling me that someday I would be a mother. I would have a man’s love, his devotion, and I would give him children. For so long, I had let that be my only dream. Even as I grew and wizened up to reality, that dream lingered.
And it kept me silent in the face of neglect. Kept me silent because I suspected if I pushed my father, he would have no problem casting me off.
And now, he had. I had spoken up, and he’d turned me over to deviants who planned to steal what I had wanted so badly to give.
My eyes had drifted away from the Kavari man’s face, but he tugged gently at my chin to pull it back. “Gaige,” he said in a deep, soothing voice. “That’s my name. And this is Kael.” He gestured to the blond beside me, who moved the hand he’d set on my belly to my shoulder, trailing his knuckles down my arm. His touch brought goosebumps to my skin, and I closed my eyes, shuddering as both men leaned in closer.
“It’s very nice to meet you…” Kael murmured close to my ear, letting the question hang. They wanted my name, but I couldn’t muster the strength to speak it. Gaige tipped my chin back, holding me until I opened my eyes and met his.
“Your name, Sunshine,” he purred, leaning close to catch the whisper that slipped, unbidden, out of my suddenly parted lips.
“Daya,” he repeated, brushing his lips first over my cheek, then against my ear. His warm breath tickled my neck, making me tremble, fingers curling around the edge of the table to steady myself. Gaige opened his hand and slid his palm over my jaw, his other arm coming down to wrap around my waist. He pulled my body against his, ignoring my hands when they pushed weakly against his biceps. He did not push his strength on me or bow me over the table. He just… held me.
My heart began to race, confusion making my head spin. I wanted him to let me go, but yet I didn’t. His body was made of hard muscle and was so much bigger than mine. But he was warm and smelled so delicious my mouth watered again. It occurred to me that I’d never had anyone—anyone—ever hold me like this. So intimately close to him, keeping me all but trapped in his embrace.
My trembling arms gave up their attempts to push him off me, accepting his embrace despite the panicked wailing inside my head.
“I know had you been given the choice, it would not be us,” he murmured against my cheek, hitching me up slightly so he could squeeze a knee between my thighs. I gasped, pushing at him again, but he shushed me and leaned back to lock those golden eyes on mine. “I’m sure your whole life has been a series of lessons on how to behave for a human man. How to please them, how to be the perfect daughter and, eventually, the perfect wife. Am I right?”
My breath hitched, eyes widening as he stared into them. He was right, and another scarily accurate assessment of my life from this outsider was almost too much. I pushed at his chest, curling my legs up to stop him from spreading them further, but he only shushed me again and wrapped a hand around the back of my head, fingers lacing into my hair so he could hold me steady and brush his nose over mine.
“You don’t need to say anything, Sunshine. All you need to know is that you belong to us now,” he murmured. “We will ensure all your needs are met, even the ones you’ve never been allowed to acknowledge.”
Beside me, Kael hummed, and I felt his body slide behind mine while I tried to process what Gaige had said. Needs I’d never been allowed to acknowledge? What the devil could those be?
In a quick, unexpected motion, Gaige spun me around to face the table. My hands flattened against the surface of the table, landing on either side of Kael’s hips. He smiled and wrapped his arms around them, holding me in place while Gaige pressed against my back. They surrounded me, their too large bodies caging me in place. My breathing picked up, and when I felt my skirts being rucked up, I yelped in protest. I pushed my hips back, trying to throw Gaige off me. But instead of accomplishing anything, I only startled myself by rubbing against his pelvis. I froze when I felt him, stiff and unnaturally long, against my backside.
“No. Absolutely not. You cannot touch me,” I managed, pulling away from Kael and shoving at Gaige’s hands as they continued to lift my skirt. He hushed me again, his breath fanning over my neck, tongue flicking out to taste my skin. I trembled at the shivers that ran up into my scalp and down my spine, legs shaking, a weak protest leaving my lips. I was hot, yet cold all at once. What was happening to me?
I gritted my teeth and threw an elbow back into Gaige’s chest only to have Kael grab both my wrists. He was smiling when he did it, and I heard him laugh softly, a little menacingly, as he pulled my arms around them and locked them inside his. My hips were pushed between his knees, and they squeezed to help hold me in place while Gaige finished lifting my skirt.
“This is an examination,” Kael explained while I struggled and whimpered softly. “We need to see you. All of you.”
I pulled back against Kael’s hold, but he was so strong, keeping me in place as Gaige, finished with my skirts, stood to pull off my disheveled shawl. He murmured something in a rough, guttural tone and Kael responded with the same. Wonderful, they were locking me out of the conversation and holding me hostage. I tried stomping on Gaige’s feet but he was too quick, spreading his legs around mine and pressing me into Kael as he laid small kisses and flicks of his tongue over my back and shoulders. His hands slid up to my chest, and he practically ripped the crisscrossing silk off my breasts, exposing them to the cold air and to their gaze.
“Get your hands off me,” I snarled, thrashing and bucking to no avail. I only ended up grinding against Gaige’s length and stimulating him. Kael’s appreciative hum tickled my ears, and I almost sobbed when Gaige’s hands covered both my breasts. He kneaded them softly, fingers toying with the nipples, and I continued to fight but a new sensation flooded me. One more horrifying than the feeling of being trapped.
Relief. My belly filled with heat, and as he tweaked at the pebbled flesh on my breasts and kissed my neck, that warmth slithered downward, a serpent coiling between my legs. There was a throbbing pressure, and a deep, nearly insatiable ache inside me, making me squeeze my thighs together awkwardly.
I scowled at Kael while Gaige’s mouth traveled up my neck, coming to rest again at my ear. His tongue traced the shell of it and I fought back a whimper, keeping my muscles tight even though they ached to soften.
“Let me go,” I hissed. “I want nothing to do with you.”
Kael laughed again, but the soft, gentle shush from Gaige alarmed me more than his friend’s amusement. “Oh, pretty girl. That isn’t true and you know it.” He continued to massage my breasts with one hand, the other sliding down my now bare stomach and tucking into the top of my skirts. “I can only imagine how you ache year after year, watching your friends and neighbors leave this village. To know they are given things you have been denied.” He exhaled a deep sigh then nipped at my ear with his teeth. “They are kissed, caressed, pleasured. They are protected. Many of them have children now.”
Misplaced jealousy raced through me, but I fought off the intrusive longing trying to thread its way around my heart. “They have children, but how often do they see these children?” I demanded over my shoulder. “Aren’t those women tied up in your beds? Bound and available for you to ravish whenever you want?”
Kael pinned my hands under his thighs, freeing him to slide his palms up my arms and take over teasing and tormenting my nipples with quick, nimble fingers. “If that’s your desire, it can be arranged,” he suggested.
I shook my head, a pathetic, reedy whimper slipping from my lips. “No, please not that. I don’t want—”
“You have no reason to fear us,” Gaige soothed. “Whatever your desires are we can give them to you. You only need to obey us. We are your Masters now.”
The hand on my belly dipped lower, sliding inside my panties. I cried out, struggling again until Kael wrapped his arms around me, locking me in place as Gaige cupped my sex. I clenched my thighs together, but that didn’t stop him, and the more he explored the more they shook. And widened.
No, I thought, trying to kick at his shins. He grunted once, then growled. A deep, lustful noise made my own throat tighten as his hand laced into my hair. His mouth pressed against my ear, shushing me while I bucked and twisted, grinding myself on his fingers. The heat between my legs intensified the more I wiggled, as though my body enjoyed the struggle.
I was just as much of a deviant as they were.
No, I wasn’t. I wouldn’t be. They couldn’t do this! I yanked one of my hands free and Kael snarled out what sounded like a curse, seizing hold of my wrist before I could slap him. He tilted his head, then gave me a wickedly handsome smile.
“You’re feisty,” he said. “I like it. Does it feel better when you fight, Sunshine? Would you like us to show you what happens if you misbehave?”
Despite the warmth caressing my body, a chill rushed through me. I knew how the Kavari handled disobedience. I’d seen it firsthand. Women caught stepping outside the boundaries of the village were taken to the square. They were stripped nearly naked and bent over a bench, their bottoms spanked until the skin was a bright apple red. The whole village often watched, making the punishment even more debasing than it already was.
And gods save me, the few times I’d seen it happen, it left me hot and aching for my own bare behind to be spanked. That would be attention, I’d thought once, the idea of a man caring enough to discipline me oddly arousing.
But I stared at the entrance to the tent, imagining being stripped before the entire village and spanked. How humiliating. I don’t want that, I thought, even as the space between my hips pulsed with longing. My eyes squeezed shut. I don’t want that. I don’t. I don’t.
Gaige withdrew his hand from inside my panties, then yanked them roughly down my legs. His appreciative moan made me gasp out loud, and I whimpered when he cupped one side of my ass with his large hand.
“Oh, Kael. I think I’d like to spank this ass even if she wasn’t being naughty.”
The resounding crack of his palm against my cheek echoed off the canvas tent walls, and neither of them bothered to stifle the yelp of pain that slipped out of my lips. Gaige slapped the other side, a deep, lustful growl filling my ears. My breasts felt heavy, swaying with each of the strikes he laid against my ass. Four more on each side, and I bit my lip to stop myself from crying out with each slap. A loud gasp echoed from me when he cupped hard between my legs and chuckled at the wetness pooled there.
“No,” I whined, more to myself than to them. Was I so deprived of touch and affection that I would accept this? Was I so twisted from neglect that this domineering, debasing treatment aroused me?
Gaige growled into my ear, and his hand withdrew again as he started to spank me once more. My body jerked from the force of each strike, and I grunted to hold back the moans tickling my throat. Above me Kael was smirking, biting his lip as my body jerked and wiggled. I felt Gaige raise his palm high in the air and his hand landed directly between my legs. This time, I cried out.
“Please! Please, no more—”
Gaige’s heavy hand clapped over my mouth, and he wedged his knee under my hips to help hold me in place. His lips pressed against my cheek as I looked beseechingly at him. Please no, I thought. Don’t do this. Don’t make this longing worse.
“But you like it so much, Sunshine. You need it,” he murmured, reading my unspoken thoughts as he caressed my backside. “Give me your hand, let me show you.”
He grabbed my hand away from Kael, roughly guiding it between my legs, allowing me to feel for myself exactly how much I liked it. My soft folds were so slick it was obscene, and I closed my eyes, a tear slipping onto my cheek as Gaige’s hand settled over mine.
My breath hitched as he urged me to stroke, fingers slipping over my entrance and brushing my clit. My mind shattered as little jolts of bliss raced through me. My father had forbidden me from touching myself, ordering the matrons to ensure I didn’t wash too long, or that I didn’t play with myself. He didn’t want me spoiled. No Elder would want me if I’d been spoiled.
But no Elder wanted me anyway. Only these brutes and their too large bodies and hands that had stripped me bare of my defenses. My ass stung from the spanking, but that pain was soothed away as Gaige’s thick fingers assisted my slender ones in stroking me toward climax. Eventually, his hand slipped away, and I paused for only a minute before taking over, rubbing furiously as Kael cupped my breasts and Gaige squared himself up behind me, his hands cupping my stinging ass.
“See how much you like it, Sunshine? You’re so wet,” he purred, patting my hips softly as they rocked against my own fingers. “That’s it, Daya. No more fighting. Rub that little pussy, make it wetter. Make it feel so good.”
It was an order, but it was so gentle and coaxing I wanted to obey. What was the use in fighting them right now, trapped in this tent between their warm, muscular, heady-smelling bodies? What was the harm in giving in? Just for a moment. Not forever, just… just for now.
I let my fingers slip inside my pussy, coaxing the whisper of a moan from between my lips as I ground my clit into my palm. Gaige rubbed my back and over my ass while Kael held one of my breasts in his palm, his other hands stroking my hair before he lifted my chin.
“Good girl, Daya. Does that feel good?”
My lips pressed together, and I nodded, their praise mixing with the shame of the act and making the heat inside me spike almost uncontrollably. Kael smiled, refusing to let me look away as he reached for the top of his trousers. “Do you want to see what good girls get?”
My lips pressed together, and I wanted to say no. Hadn’t they already “given” me enough? I was bared and bent over, touching myself while they watched. What more could they want to do to me here and now?
I said nothing, but I didn’t fight as Kael kept hold of my chin and loosened his trousers. My eyes darted downward, and I inhaled a sharp, shocked breath. He’d taken himself out, his large fist wrapped around his length, stroking up and down right in front of my face. I balked at the action, but despite my shock, I couldn’t look away.
He was enormous. There was no other word for it. I watched his cock grow stiffer as he stroked, thickening and lengthening so much that his own hand couldn’t wrap around it. A soft protest slipped from my lips when he took my much smaller hand and guided it around his shaft. Instantly I recoiled, but he held me fast, moving my hand steadily up and down his length. I tried to look away, but Gaige’s hand threaded into my hair and forced my eyes to his companion’s cock. Their powerful masculine scents surrounded me, heady and intoxicating. I licked my lips involuntarily, swallowing as my mouth started to water the more I breathed in.
“This is what good girls get,” Kael hummed, using his free hand to stroke the side of my face. “Good girls get cock, and lots of it.”
I watched a droplet of thick, whitish fluid leak out from the tip, dripping down onto my hand. Again, I tried to pull away, but another slap landed on my bottom and I yelped. Gaige’s fist closed in my hair and he pushed me down so my lips hovered just above the tip of Kael’s length.
“Good girls get cock for fun, but bad girls get it too,” he growled. “Good girls get to have their hands free and they can scream as loud as they want when they get fucked. But bad girls, they get fucked while they’re gagged and bound, or held down on a bed. They get it hard and rough until they learn to obey their Masters.”
Gaige slapped my ass again and I winced, at least until his palm soothed over the spot. My thighs trembled, and another shudder of fear-laced longing raced through me. Why did the second option sound enticing?
“Is that what you want, Sunshine?” Gaige asked, his hand keeping my head just above Kael’s cock while his mouth pressed to my ear. “A bit of discipline, then a good hard fuck to show you who’s in charge?”
I swallowed and shook my head. I didn’t want that, even if the image of them binding me and forcing me to take them for as long as they wanted was more arousing than anything I’d ever imagined before.
But I would never tell them that. Gods, I’d die before I’d admit I wanted to be ravished by these beasts. It would be humiliating to admit how these few moments with them had only increased my secret cravings for pain, punishment, and pleasure all at once.
“Then are you going to be a good girl, Daya?” he asked, chuckling softly when I hesitated. “The choice is yours. Obey now, and our first ride will be long but sweet. Disobey, and we will ravish you until you cannot walk.”
“You’ll love every second of it either way,” Kael promised.
He continued to use my hand to pleasure himself while my other hand lingered between my legs, fingers still rubbing softly over my clit. I wanted nothing to do with these men, but they were going to take me. In two days, they would claim me as theirs and take me to their city to be ridden like a horse until they had satiated their lust.
The only choice I had in the matter was how they did it.
I swallowed, summoning all my courage and nodding in acquiescent agreement. Yes, I would obey them now, because it would get me out of this tent. They would continue to grope and violate me, but afterward I would be set free.
And it would give me time to plan my next move. Time to plan my escape so I would never, never, have to feel their lustful hands again.
A strange pang of longing hit me at the thought, but I stomped it down. I was not so desperate for praise and touch that I’d accept these monsters. What they had done to me today was vile. It was debauched.
But yet, it felt so very, very good so far. Part of me was curious for more, but I refused to indulge in that.
In front of me, Kael gripped his cock at the base as Gaige held my hair and pushed me down. The tip of him rubbed my lips, and I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the desire his scent stoked inside me.
“Open your mouth,” Gaige growled, and the moment I obeyed, he pushed me down. Kael’s hot cock slipped past my lips, and Gaige guided me so deep on his length that I almost choked. His cock was so big my lips felt stretched, and as Gaige bobbed me up and down my jaw ached. I whimpered around him, and Kael stroked my cheeks, leaving trails of warmth from his touch along my jaw that made it relax. Gaige kept hold of my head, guiding it up and down on his companion’s length, pushing Kael’s cock deep into my throat.
“Fuck,” he moaned, hips bucking up to push himself deeper. “That’s it, girl. Suck it nice and deep. Make me come.”
Shivering and bewildered by the heat that practically exploded in my body, I did as he asked. I sucked. I licked. I let Gaige guide my head with rough movements while Kael thrust his hips. His masculine moans acted like a siren’s call, and before long I moved on my own, using my hand to stroke in tandem with my mouth. Gaige’s hands released my hair only for Kael’s to thread into it, holding me steady as I worked him closer to release. I breathed slowly through my nose, trying not to relish the taste of him on my tongue. Salty and rich. It left me craving more and caused a shameful rush of wetness between my legs.
They continued to murmur orders at me. Suck him harder. Take it all. And I obeyed, all resistance in me rendered useless in my quest to keep my truly shameful thoughts secret. This submission was better than admitting I had liked the swats to my bottom, or confessing I liked the feel of Kael in my mouth and Gaige’s hand tight in my hair.
“Gods, that’s good. I can’t wait to have you on my cock, Sunshine,” Kael grunted, fingers tightening in my hair. “Every inch of me buried inside you, fucking that little cunt nice and hard. You’ll love that just like you love this.”
“She does love it,” Gaige murmured, his hand sliding from the side of my hip to between my legs. I gasped and tried to pull off of Kael when his thick finger slipped inside me, but his hands pulled me right back down, gripping my hair to keep me focused on my task.
“She’s tight, Kael,” Gaige murmured, humor lacing his words. “She’ll need a lot of warm up before we can get in there and fuck like we want.”
It sounded like a threat, or a filthy promise, and as Gaige continued to thrust his finger inside me, I found it difficult to focus on sucking. Kael didn’t care, though; he took over completely and began thrusting into my mouth while I held onto his thighs and tried to breathe. Behind me, Gaige worked me open, twisting and thrusting his fingers until I was shaking, whimpering, and moaning around the cock in my mouth. Heat spread into my belly, the pulse between my legs growing heavier and heavier as Gaige pumped one finger, then two. Another digit slid over my clit, and I felt his thumb slide between my cheeks. My head jerked off Kael’s cock and I cried out.
“Oh gods!” My eyes sought Kael’s, almost beseeching him for help as Gaige pumped his fingers so hard inside me my body shook. Heat burst between my thighs, flooding my core, making me brace on Kael’s thighs and grind back on Gaige’s hand. He kept thrusting his fingers into me, drawing out the pleasure until my eyes blurred and every thought I had became clouded by pleasure. The sensation peaked, and my legs shook, needy moans slipping out of my lips and fading as the sensation ebbed, then began to fade, leaving me panting with open lips—
That were ready to take Kael’s cock back in my mouth and let him pump until he climaxed, spilling his thick, salty, sweet cum down my throat.
For the briefest moments, when he was buried in my throat and bellowing out his climax, I felt a sense of power over the man. For those few seconds, he submitted to me. It was my mouth that gave him that pleasure, made him come undone. My body held power over his, even if only for a few seconds, and it softened me some. Made me want to give him more, make him want me more.
I swallowed, and swallowed, until I couldn’t take any more and pulled back as he finished on my breasts. I should have been disgusted, but my pussy clenched and another swell of pleasure rose inside me. Kael panted above me, looking satisfied, full of bliss, but also deviant as he gripped my hair and pulled me back down.
“Clean me up, Sunshine. Every last drop,” he ordered in a husky voice, holding my head as I greedily licked his cock and stomach clean of the mess. My moment of control was gone, and Kael left no question of who held power here. He gripped my hair, forcing my head where he wanted it, but the pride over what I’d done lingered in my chest, warming it and making me have to hide my grin. I had power too. I had made him lose control. This strong, brutal man had been powerless to me, if only for a moment.
That thought was heady, and I didn’t want to entertain it for long because it might make me change plans.
Behind me I heard Gaige panting, his hand still cupped between my thighs while his other fist bounced against my ass. I realized he was stroking himself, and when the first splash of cum hit my thighs I gasped softly, turning to see his face twisted in delight as he held my hips still and released himself between my legs. I shivered, desperate to reach down and touch myself just to feel his seed covering me.
I shuddered at the thought. I really was as deviant as they were.
He finally sighed, then dragged two fingers between my folds and pushed inside me with a soft laugh. “Next time, this is where it will all go, Daya. Right inside you. You’ll take all three of us so many times you’ll be swollen with our cum before the end of the month.”
He swept his fingers through his release again, pushing it inside me as I hung my head and tried not to moan. Shame rose inside my chest over how easily I caved and how much I enjoyed what just happened. Gaige fueled this as he swept his fingers over my thigh and brought them to my lips, holding my head when I jerked away.
“No,” he said firmly, gripping my hair to hold me steady and forcing me to suck his release from his fingers. Kael watched with a deviant smile as Gaige swiped more from my legs and gave it to me, continuing until his tart, salty flavor coated my tongue. When he finished, I averted my gaze, trying to hide the flush on my cheeks. Arousal made my pussy clench, and I felt Gaige start kissing my shoulders while Kael took my chin and drew my eyes up to his.
“We have to be back to the city tonight to prepare for the arrival of the new women,” Kael mused, leaning into kiss my nose like a lover would. “You be a good girl for Niko and his men. They will take you and our new Paramour up the mountain. We’ll meet you tomorrow at the gates to our estate.”
“Draven will greet you there,” Gaige murmured. “Since he missed out on our fun today, he’ll be the first to take you as the moon rises. So don’t bathe, Sunshine. I want you smelling of us. Let him see what a good girl you are.”
Gaige kissed my ear, then moved me aside so Kael could stand and fasten his trousers. I stood in my disheveled silk gown, sticky with their cum, as they righted their own clothing and left the tent.
And then, I was alone. Shivering, aroused, and completely alone.
Sanity returned like a slap to the face, and I adjusted the gown to cover me and wrapped my discarded shawl around my shoulders. Gods, what had I done? I caved and welcomed their deviancy. I… relished it.
I wiped my mouth with my hand, vowing to never—never— let anyone find this out. It was imperative now that I escape because I could not allow that to happen again. No matter how good it felt, or how pleasant their promises were, their actions were vile, and my responses were shameful. Yes, in theory, they could offer me whatever I wanted. They could promise all of my dreams. But at what cost?
My sanity and pride were on the line, and I’d rather give up my dreams until later than give myself to these men. It would teach them they couldn’t control everyone. And it would spite my father.
I steeled myself and put a lid on the desire that still lingered in my body. No, I would not allow this Niko to take me up the mountain in two days. I would escape with Esme, and we would come back at nightfall and collect Aria. Then, we would run wherever we could, and live without the deviant affections of the Kavari or the manipulative advances of the Elders.
We would have each other, and that was all we would ever need.