Lorna smiled. The reaction used to tell her when her sisters were lying. Thanks to the fair complexion all three inherited from their mother, their skin broadcasted the true state of their emotions regardless of how calm they appeared.
Only six years separated the three, but Lorna had been the legal guardian of her younger sisters since she was nineteen. “I wasn’t asking permission, hon. I was explaining what’s about to happen.”
They faced off in the living room of their Alexandria, VA home. The house was modest compared to the stately mansion in which they’d been raised, but they were still together despite repeated tragedies. And that was all that mattered to any of them.
“I won’t allow it.” Celeste crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes, her lips slightly pursed.
The expression made her look so much like their mother that Lorna’s heart ached. It had been twelve years since they lost their parents, but Lorna still missed them every day. “You can’t stop it.”
The simple fact took the wind out of Celeste’s sails and filled her gold-green eyes with pain. With pale blonde hair and the sculpted bone structure shared by all three sisters, Celeste could break anyone’s heart with that tormented look. “Don’t do this, please. I couldn’t deal with it if I lost you too.”
Lorna pulled Celeste in for a tight, maternal hug. “You’re not going to lose Brianne or me. That’s why I’m doing this. We’ve tried everything else.” Lorna’s voice hitched and emotion burned in her throat. The pep talk was as much for her as Celeste. Lorna had never felt this desperate or helpless in her life, and she’d been in numerous life-threatening situations while working for the FBI. “We’re getting Brianne back. I don’t care what I have to do, or how many aliens I have to fuck. They are not keeping our baby sister.”
Brianne had disappeared or more precisely been taken not quite a week ago. All Lorna’s and Celeste’s determined searching, browbeating officials, and exploiting government connections had accomplished precisely zero. They knew nothing more today than they had when Celeste’s phone rang at three-thirty in the morning six days ago.
The incident was seared into Lorna’s memory and just thinking about it gave her chills.
Celeste flipped on Lorna’s bedroom light as Emily’s voice shrilled out of the cell phone in Celeste’s trembling hand.
“No one believes me,” Emily cried. She was Brianne’s roommate and not at all prone to dramatics. “Yes, I’d been drinking, but I wasn’t drunk.” A harsh sob interrupted her defense. “They had blue skin!”
“Try to calm down, Emily,” Celeste coached in a firm, yet companionate tone. “I believe you. Now explain exactly what happened. Lorna is here with me.”
“Thank God you picked up. The cops aren’t going to do anything. They think I made this up.”
Celeste sat down on the foot of Lorna’s bed as Lorna swung her legs over the side. “Where did this happen?” Lorna asked.
“Half a block from the Cellar.” The Cellar was a popular dance club not far from campus. “The lot was full, so we had to park on the street. They came out of nowhere and were gone in a flash. I’d never seen anything like it.”
Celeste glanced at Lorna, her expression tense, gaze filled with fear. “Sorry for being a bitch, but how did you get away?”
“There were only two aliens, and Brianne fought like a tiger. It was let her go to chase after me or…” Emily was sobbing again. “They chose her. I’m so sorry.”
They’d promised Emily they’d do everything humanly possible to get everyone back. But Lorna was no longer sure humans could accomplish the rescue.
Celeste worked for the Department of Alien Affairs, so the sisters knew more about the various alien species now interacting with humans than the average citizen. Most humans believed there were only two, the Ventori and the Skarilians. The merciless Skarilians had reduced two-thirds of the planet to rubble when humans refused to surrender to their brutal invasion. The Ventori arrived a few days later and drove off the Skarilians. Their ‘gallant’ rescue had come too late for billions—and at the exorbitant price of young, fertile females willing to help them rebuild the Ventori race—but the human survivors were grateful nonetheless.
And then there were the Yashonty. Lorna shivered. Her emotions were seriously conflicted when it came to the rebellious newcomers. Their leader went by the name Ram. It was short for Ramnyth Dulvet, but that’s about all the DAA would say, even in Top Secret briefings.
If the Ventori-run Protectorate knew more than human authorities, the Ventori weren’t sharing. Still, it was impossible to confuse the alien species. The Ventori were massive, with pale skin, dark hair, and eyes. The Yashonty, by contrast, had skin so black it appeared blue in certain lights. Their hair was white, and their eyes incandescent lavender. Lorna had only heard them described, but her mental image was certainly intriguing.
Easing Celeste back, Lorna looked into her eyes. “We both know the Yashonty have Brianne, and no one on Earth or in the Protectorate gives a damn.” The Ventori dubbed themselves Defenders, but they were ruthless mercenaries. Just like the Yashonty. “Our government can’t admit there is yet another group of aliens preying on human females or they’ll have mass panic on their hands—again. And there is too much truth in what the Yashonty rebels say about the Ventori for the Protectorate to admit they’re getting their asses kicked regularly. They’re supposed to be the saviors of the universe after all. A small band of rebels shouldn’t be this much trouble.”
“The rebels are an annoyance, nothing more,” Celeste insisted with a spark of renewed spirit.
“Seriously?” She moved farther away, annoyed by Celeste’s attitude. “You’re going to quote governmental propaganda to me? The Yashonty want what all of us want, to end Skarilian conquest. They’re just willing to do anything to get it. I understand their determination and share their resolve. They just kidnapped the wrong female.”
Celeste’s gaze iced over and her shoulders squared. Mortenson females were known for three things: intelligence, attractiveness, and spirit. “If Brianne had gotten away that night and the other three were taken,” Celeste challenged, “would you be doing this?”
Lorna tensed. She knew Celeste was trying to use shame to refocus her rage. It was an old and sometimes effective strategy. Rather than taking the bait, Lorna paused for a breath then shifted gears. “I’m not interested in what ifs. Brianne was taken, and I am doing this. Now help me, or I’ll do it myself, which increases the chances that something will go wrong.”
Celeste shook her head, eyes closed in exasperation. “I can be stubborn, but you take everything to extremes. This is foolish.” She ground out the last statement between clenched teeth.
Rather than continue the debate, Lorna held up a vacu-pack containing a tiny comm-cluster. “Ventori toys will allow us to keep in touch. Are you going to help me or not?”
“Damn it. You know I am.” She snatched the comm-cluster out of Lorna’s hand and looked at it more closely. “Where did you get this? Comm-clusters are highly regulated, and this looks real.”
“Friend of a friend. Unfortunately, his ties to the Protectorate prevent him from doing any more.” Lorna had chosen to become a private investigator when the FBI, along with many departments in the US government, had been absorbed by the Global Consortium. Even so, she still had friends who were part of the new world government. Not that any of them had been very helpful with the Brianne crisis.
Celeste expelled an exaggerated sigh and motioned toward the kitchen. “The light’s better in there.”
Lorna knew this was going to happen one way or the other, so she’d set up on the kitchen table shortly before Celeste arrived. Latex gloves, gauze squares, alcohol pads, scalpel, tweezers, blunt probes, and Super Glue. The only thing missing was the comm-cluster in Celeste’s hand.
Celeste looked at the supplies with a raised brow. “How long have you been planning this?” She did a quick inventory, then frowned. “You’re going to regret the alcohol, especially with no anesthetic.” After opening the vacu-pack without touching the tiny device, she set it down on the table and pointed toward the Super Glue. “You’ve got to be kidding. There’s a suture kit in the emergency backpack I keep in the trunk of my car. Do you want me to go get it?”
Lorna shook her head. “Sutures, even the dissolving kind, would be much easier to spot. Besides, the comm-cluster sits right under the skin. If you’re careful, the incision will be ten to twelve millimeters long.” She waved away the concern. “I’ll be fine.”
Clearly frustrated by the entire situation, Celeste went to the sink and washed her hands and forearms with the Hibiclens liquid soap Lorna had set out for that purpose. From childhood on, Celeste had wanted to be a doctor. Her aspirations shifted somewhat when Lorna was accepted by the FBI. Celeste was intrigued by the physical and intellectual challenges Lorna faced as a field agent. However, Celeste’s love of medicine hadn’t faded. The Operational Medicine Program provided a perfect blending of challenging investigations and field medicine. She’d just finished her training with the prestigious program when the Skarilians attacked, and all of Earth’s governments were restructured. Left with many unexpected options, she’d joined the newly formed Department of Alien Affairs.
Lorna sat on one of the kitchen chairs and gathered her hair over to one side, exposing the skin behind her ear. Once Celeste moved up behind her, she explained, “Hide the cut in the crease where my ear meets my scalp. About two o’clock would be perfect.”
Celeste pulled on a pair of gloves, then scrubbed the area with the alcohol pads. “Right here?” She lightly touched Lorna’s scalp with the blunt tip of one of the probes.
“Yes.” Lorna closed her eyes and started breathing, allowing her mind to clear.
“This is going to sting like hell.” Celeste hesitated. “If we wait until tomorrow, I can get lidocaine or—”
“No. It has to be now. There’s a massive graduation party tonight. It’s sponsored by Brianne’s sorority, and the Yashonty will be there. I’d bet my life on it.”
Celeste moved in front of Lorna, apparently ready to give arguing one last try. “You are betting your life on this. If the Yashonty kidnap you, you’ll be powerless to rescue Brianne. No one escapes them. How does it help her to give them another prisoner?”
“We haven’t even been able to learn her exact location,” Lorna pointed out in a calm, conversational tone. She’d thought through every possible alternative, and none brought them any closer to Brianne’s freedom. “We can’t begin to plan a rescue until we have accurate information. This is recon. The comm-cluster will allow me to pass on anything I learn and keep you apprised of my exact situation. I’m not fooling myself. I know this is going to be horrible, but if everything goes sideways, you can throw yourself on the mercy of the Ventori. Or threaten to go public with just how often the rebels get the better of them. Maybe pride will finally motivate them into action.”
Celeste shook her head, looking defeated and afraid. “You know what the Yashonty do to females. You’ll be raped, likely by more than one of those monsters before the first night is through. Are you really ready for that?”
“Rape is about power, not sex. The Yashonty are driven by the need to reproduce, just like the Ventori. All of this is about the survival of their species. I’ll have to have sex with them. That’s unavoidable, but yes, I’m ready for anything they can throw at me. I won’t be intimidated by sex, and I just might find a way to use it to my advantage.” She dragged her gaze away from Celeste’s assessing stare.
“They could torture you, slit your throat, gang rape you, literally fuck you to death.” The challenge in Celeste’s tone was unmistakable. “There are no laws on Yashonty ships. They don’t abide by the Geneva Convention. You have no idea what turns these bastards on.”
“Do you honestly believe I haven’t thought about that? It terrifies me until I remember that whatever they’re going to do to me they’ve already done to Brie and her friends.” Using anger to burn off her fear, Lorna breathed through the sudden rush of emotion. “Brianne isn’t like me. She isn’t strong like us. She’s sweet and vulnerable. We have to get her back soon, or she won’t survive this, and we both know it.”
Celeste’s voice dropped to just above a whisper as she said, “You’re vulnerable too, L. I know you’ve lived through some dangerous shit, and you think you’re dark and jaded, but you’ve never been exposed to anything like this.”
“If I’m valuable enough to capture, I’m too valuable to kill,” she insisted, finality ring through every word. “I’m doing this. End of discussion.”
Years of arguing must have taught Celeste the futility of continuing after those three words. Rather than commenting, she gently tilted Lorna’s head to one side. “Here we go.”
The sharp sting only lasted a moment, then a strange rush of endorphins allowed Lorna to process each subsequent swell of pain. She breathed and let her mind empty, utilizing skills she’d learned from the FBI. Celeste was fast and efficient, so the tiny comm-cluster was placed and the wound sealed in a matter of minutes.
Celeste pulled the gloves off with an impatient snap and tossed them in the trash. “I don’t like anything about this.”
After rolling her neck, Lorna finger-combed her hair into a more natural arrangement. “We’re out of options. It’s this or give up. And there’s no way I’m ever giving up on either of you.”
Another dramatic sigh hissed out of Celeste as she ran her fingers through her hair. “Part of me knows you’re right. Someone has to do something, and we seem to be the only ones willing to act. In fact, part of me knows this is much, much bigger than anyone is willing to admit.”
Lorna didn’t need to ask what Celeste meant. Lorna’s thoughts had been much the same. “You think there are others, likely many others.”
It hadn’t really been a question, but Celeste nodded. “Human militaries are powerless to do anything about it, so they pretend nothing is going on.”
“And the Ventori aren’t treating human females any differently than the Yashon—”
“That’s not true,” Celeste stressed. “Every female that has bonded with a Ventori pod volunteered to become their mate. The Yashonty aren’t asking for permission.”
“Is anyone really willing if they have no choice but to volunteer? We’re all so fucking desperate, we’ll do anything to survive.” Before Celeste could respond, Lorna waved away the entire debate. “We can’t solve all of Earth’s problems in one fell swoop. One goal at a time. That’s the only way to accomplish anything.”
With obvious reluctance, Celeste nodded. “Let’s focus on Brianne and her friends. Maybe rescuing them will bring some much-needed attention to the larger problem.”
“We both have contacts in the media,” Lorna pointed out. “We’ll make sure everyone hears the message loud and clear. Now how long will it take for the translator functions in the comm-cluster to start working?”
“A wide range of trade languages are preloaded, so they’ll work as soon as the nano-bots network with your brain. Unfortunately, whatever the Yashonty speak isn’t one of them. The translator will need to learn their language. The process can take several hours, even days.”
That gave Lorna pause. Being able to communicate with her captors was paramount to her success, not to mention her survival. “Any chance they’ll understand one of the preloaded languages? How often do they trade with other worlds?”
“I don’t know. No one seems to know much about them. If you say ‘can you understand me’ over and over, the translator will cycle through the most common languages. It has to be those exact words. ‘Can you understand me?’ But there are hundreds of thousands of languages, so your best bet is to be patient and let the IA learn Yashonty.”
Lorna nodded, discouraged and unnerved by the development. Communicating with the Ventori had been so easy. An injection of nano-bots and most were good to go. She’d presumed this would be the same.
Apparently picking up on Lorna’s hesitation, Celeste digressed, “We need information. I can’t argue with that, but we also need an exit strategy. You can’t go in without some sort of backup. We both know better than that.”
“You are my backup,” Lorna stressed. “The comm-cluster will keep us linked, and once I’ve figured out exactly what we’re dealing with, we’ll plan the next phase of the mission.”
“Give me one more day to figure out how to make this safer,” Celeste pleaded. “This will likely be our only chance. We can’t squander it.”
Lorna recognized a stall tactic when she heard one. Celeste would insist Lorna “give me one more day” for as long as possible, hoping Lorna would change her mind. She glanced away, needing a moment to organize her thoughts. She’d expected resistance from Celeste, had originally planned to leave a message explaining what she’d done after she’d been kidnapped. But she’d needed help with the comm-cluster. Well, the device was in place, so there was no reason to put this off.
“There is no way to make this safer,” Lorna said firmly. “The sooner I get started, the sooner we’ll have Brianne back. Now stop arguing with me.”
Celeste threw her arms around Lorna and hugged her tightly, but she’d finally run out of words.
Reality swelled in and out of focus as Lorna struggled to raise her head.
Where am I?
The last thing she remembered was admitting defeat and heading toward her car. The graduation party had been extremely crowded and was quickly devolving into a drunken brawl when she decided she’d had enough. Convinced the Yashonty would strike again, she’d spent more time circling the building and meandering around in the parking lot than at the actual party. But it had all been for nothing. Or so she’d thought as she crossed the parking lot for the last time. She’d pushed her remote, heard the familiar click of the driver’s door unlocking, and then nothing. No pain, no sudden flash of light, just a disconcerting gap in her memory.
The sensory fog lifted gradually, allowing her to analyze input. She was resting face up on something firm, not hard. The surface extended the entire length of her body. She couldn’t tell its width without moving her arms, and she was still too weak for that. The room was cool and quiet. She felt no breeze or heard any ambient noise indicating that she was outside.
“She’s awake, sir.” The words sounded unfamiliar to her ears, but her brain understood their meaning. She knew how the translator worked, but experiencing it for the first time was surreal.
“Notify Magister Lark.” The second voice was deeper, much more commanding. The autocratic tone sent a strange wave of heat cascading through her body. Unlike Ventori, which sounded clipped and impatient, this language swelled and rolled. Or maybe that was just her befuddled mind.
“Right away, sir.”
How long had she been unconscious? Was this one of the preloaded dialects, or had she been out for several hours? She kept her eyes closed, not yet ready to face reality.
“Open your eyes, female.” It was the second male, but he’d switched to Ventori.
If they didn’t realize she could understand them, they might say something she could use to—
Someone pinched her nipple hard enough to make her cry out. Her eyes flew open and clashed with her captor’s penetrating violet stare. She’d done it! The Yashonty had taken the bait. Now all she had to do was locate Brianne and the other human females so Celeste could arrange their rescue. Shock and hope ricocheted through her mind, followed by a creeping sense of trepidation.
“I don’t repeat orders, and I expect to be obeyed. Do you understand?” His fingers tightened in silent warning, but the pressure stopped just short of pain.
She instinctively shifted her gaze to his broad chest, frantically searching for the correct Ventori phrase. Comprehending other languages was automatic with translator nano-bots. Speaking, however, required conscious effort and practice. This was the first time she’d attempted to use the technology, and she still felt drugged or concussed. “I…” She blinked and breathed, trying to focus her muddled brain. “Understand.” Had that been right?
“You will address me as ‘Sir.’ Say ‘I understand, Sir.’”
Apparently, she’d stumbled onto the correct words. She tried to swallow and failed, so she whispered, “I understand, Sir.”
“Are you in pain or just disoriented?” He didn’t release her nipple, used his fingers to demonstrate his control over her.
Knowing better than attempting to avoid his touch, she held perfectly still. “I feel… sick. Sir.” She added the last as the pressure of his fingers gradually increased.
He finally released her and motioned toward something she couldn’t see. She started to look in the direction he’d indicated, but he caught her chin and guided her face back around. “Keep your gaze on me. Movement makes the nausea worse. The side effects are unpleasant but pass quickly.”
She’d been concerned that he’d take offense at her curious stare, so she was happy to comply with the directive. Slowly raising her gaze, she absorbed her first detailed look at her captor. Intricate white markings contrasted sharply with his blue-black skin and purple eyes. The color was too blue to qualify as lavender, which was the description she heard most often. Clearly, this male was Yashonty, but was he one of the rebels or a merciless slaver? Dread dropped into the pit of her stomach at the horrendous possibility.
“Side effects of what, Sir? Where am I? What did you do to me? Why was I kidnapped?” The questions came pouring out, and she cringed. Damn it. She needed to get her shit together fast if she hoped to utilize this situation. Her strategy was to appear compliant while subtly digging for information. Nothing about that outburst had been subtle.
“It is wisest for females not to speak unless they are asked a question, but your confusion is understandable. I will be lenient this one time.” His features were bold, slashing cheekbones and stark white brows, nearly square jaw. The bony ridge encircling the back of his head was more prominent than she had pictured. It made him look savage, almost prehistoric. Long white hair grew below the ridge while the upper portion of his head was smooth. He’d drawn his hair back, and the upper portion of his head was covered with intricate white markings. Still, his most striking feature by far was his luminous purple eyes. “It was necessary to render you unconscious as soundlessly as possible. The energy pulse is harmless, but causes the effects you’re currently feeling.”
“And the memory loss?”
She suspected that his indulgence wouldn’t last, so she quickly decided which questions mattered. “Where am I?” If she didn’t know where she was, how could she find Brianne?
“Your location is irrelevant.”
That hadn’t taken long. She sighed but dared one last question. “Why am I here?”
“You are now the property of the Yashonty. That’s all you need to know. Human laws and expectations no longer apply. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner your life will become tolerable. Perhaps even pleasant, if your master or masters are well pleased.” For no reason she understood, the head of the narrow table began to rise. A younger Yashonty male stepped into view and handed ‘Sir’ a pouch of light orange liquid. Sir unscrewed the nozzle, then handed her the pouch. “This is water and restorative minerals. It will not harm you.”
Yashonty Gatorade? It looked more like the juice drinks busy mothers gave their kids. Sir made an impatient motion toward her mouth. After a moment’s hesitation, she took a careful sip. The moisture felt wonderful in her dry mouth, and the flavor was light and slightly sweet, so she drank more. “Thank you, Sir.” He’d told her not to ask questions, so she waited to see if he’d explain his expectations. That was the logical next step. She couldn’t be obedient if she didn’t know what he wanted her to do.
Rather than risk his anger, she glanced around the room. There was a bank of inset cabinets, topped by a recessed counter. Two square stools had been arranged against one wall, and a door was centered on another. The table/bed was the only other furniture. Was this the Yashonty answer to a clinic or a holding cell?
Breeding pen? Fear washed over her as the possibility took root in her mind. It was a matter of survival for these alien races. She’d heard the excuse so often that she’d started using it herself. They weren’t ruthless rapists. They were fighting for their lives, doing what they must to prevent extinction. It was much harder to believe while staring her captor in the face.
She still wore the sapphire-blue cocktail dress she’d donned for the party, so maybe she was overreacting. Wouldn’t she be naked and strapped to the table if he meant to immediately breed with her? Feeling Sir’s assessing stare moving over her body, she tugged the hem down an inch or two. Her feet were bare, and she had no idea what had happened to her purse or car remote.
“You don’t seem surprised by your situation,” Sir noted, sounding contemplative rather than accusatory. “The others often wake up screaming. Especially when they realize we are not Ventori.”
“The others, Sir?” She glanced at him then away. She had to convince him she was helpless, maybe even not too bright. “Were others taken from the graduation party or did you mean—”
The door panel suddenly lifted, sliding up into whatever was above this room or curling in on itself. A tall, lean Yashonty male entered the room, his shoulders squared, hands locked behind his back. He emanated authority and more than a hint of arrogance. Could this be the one they called Ram? No, Sir had told the young one to notify Magistrate or Magister. Something-or-other.
Like the other two, the newcomer wore a light gray uniform. The crisp material showcased his athletic form and contrasted sharply with his dark skin. His bonelike ridge was ivory, and the fringe of hair below it had been clipped short. Unlike the others, his eyes were so pale they appeared lilac rather than lavender. She’d never realized purple came in so many different shades. The newcomer glanced at Sir, then looked at her and started laughing.
Unsure if she was insulted or relieved by the bizarre reaction, she watched him silently. What did he find so amusing?
“This is not the female I showed you,” the newcomer told Sir in their language. Unsure what it was called, she decided Yashonty would do until someone told her otherwise. “This one has orange hair, not gold.”
Her hair was not orange. It was rich, natural auburn, but she carefully controlled her expression, not ready to reveal that she could understand Yashonty as well as Ventori.
“Even on a planet as primitive as Earth, hair color can be changed,” Sir argued in Yashonty. “Look again. This is the female in those images.”
The newcomer moved closer to the table, his pastel gaze fixed on her face. After a long visual assessment, he shook his head. “Her eyes are blue, not green. You’ve taken the wrong female.”
Sir released a string of words her nano-bots couldn’t translate.
“Will this one go into the lottery?” the young one asked hopefully. He’d been standing there so still and silent that she’d almost forgotten about him. “Her coloring is so… exotic. I know many who will risk their tokens for such a prize.”
“She must be interrogated first,” the newcomer said, his expression icing over. “Leave us.” He motioned toward the door without looking away from her.
Shit. This couldn’t be good.
“Of course, Magister Lark.” Without a backward glance, the young one left.
Was Lark his name or part of the title? Magister was most often associated with academia on Earth. Did it mean the same to the Yashonty? Was he some sort of teacher or mentor?
Hopefully, his sudden need for privacy had to do with Sir’s screw-up and not her interrogation. Both males continued to stare at her, so she dropped her gaze to her lap. Let them think she was a spineless coward. They’d be less careful about what they said if they believed she was terrified. Her hair was loose, flowing across her shoulders and halfway down her back. Using the wavy strands to shield her features, she listened carefully without drawing their attention.
“Where did you find her?” the magister asked.
As she’d hoped, they continued their conversation as if she wasn’t there.
“She was prowling the transport lot at the party, just like you predicted.”
Holy shit. How long had he been watching her to predict—no, he hadn’t been watching her. He’d been watching a blue-eyed blonde. Celeste! Celeste was their target.
“There has to be a connection between the two,” the magister grumbled. “This cannot be a coincidence.” He lightly touched her arm, just a warm brush of fingertips meant to draw her attention. “Who is Celeste Mortenson, and why is she trying to locate our leader?” He spoke Ventori with a lilting accent, yet his voice was cold and demanding.
She glanced at him, then away. “I don’t know that name.”
His arm shot out and he fisted the back of her hair.
She cried out, instinctively grabbing his wrist and turning her head in an attempt to ease the sting.
“Speak another lie, and you will be punished.” He turned her head until she met his angry gaze. “And never touch me without permission. This is the only warning you will receive.”
“I’m sorry, Sir.” She licked her lips as she lowered her arm, hoping she looked frightened, not aroused. In truth, she was a little of both. These males could do anything they wanted, and there was nothing she could do to stop them. She was literally at their mercy.
So why wasn’t she afraid? All she felt was a strange sense of anticipation.
“You will address me as Master, not Sir.”
The demand sent a shiver down her spine. “Whatever you like, Master.” She added the title after a slight hesitation. She wasn’t surprised by the demand. Master fit his personality better than Sir.
“Who is Celeste?” the magister persisted without releasing her hair.
“Celeste is my sister, and we are desperate to find our younger sister, Brianne.” She hadn’t intended to tell anyone until she knew more about the situation, but the only alternative was to lie and risk punishment. The Ventori liked to spank females, but she knew so little about the Yashonty. Their idea of discipline could be much, much worse.
The magister studied her for a moment longer, then let go. Sir stood there silently the entire time, allowing the magister to interrogate her. Was that simply the magister’s job, or was Sir subordinate? If the magister had ordered Sir to kidnap Celeste, it seemed likely.
“What does this have to do with General Dulvet?” the magister asked.
She knew he meant Ram, but doubted he’d appreciate it if she casually used the nickname. “Is that your leader? I don’t know his name.”
“Most call him Ram, but I advise you against such familiarity. Now answer the question.”
“We believe Brianne is on one of your ships. Celeste figured she’d go right to the top.” Both of these males seemed to have some level of authority. If they weren’t in a position to help her, perhaps she could convince them to arrange a meeting with Ram.
“Why were you at the party?” Sir wanted to know. “You are too old for such frivolities.”
She smiled, unable to stop the nervous reaction. Lowering her lashes to shadow her eyes, she said, “Many human females would find that insulting, Sir.” She hadn’t meant it to sound quite so flirtatious, but she needed to engage their interest, encourage them to talk to her.
“Are you insulted?” A strange texture filled his tone, drawing her gaze back to his eyes. The reflective quality became an actual glow as the hue deepened. She hadn’t realized his eyes were so beautiful, or that the shape of his blue-black lips was so sensual.
“Can I question her while you fuck her?” the magister teased in Yashonty. “It’s obvious you can’t wait to get your cock inside her strange pink cunt.”
Sir looked at the magister, brows arched dramatically. “That rumor is true? Human pussies are pink?” He glanced at her askance, then back at his companion. “But the rest of her skin is so… pale.”
The magister chuckled, a wicked gleam taking over his eyes. “Would you like me to show you?” His stern expression returned in an instant as he shifted his attention back to her. “How many males have you accepted into your body?”
“What does that have to do with—”
Fast as a striking cobra, the magister pulled her off the table then bent her over the narrow side, face down. “Questions will be answered respectfully and without hesitation.” He pulled up the skirt of her clingy dress and slapped her ass hard, one side and then the other.
“Let go of me!” Tired of acting like a terrified victim, Lorna kicked and twisted. She lunged forward, then pushed off the table, trying to jerk out of his hold. The magister pushed her back down. She tossed her hair back and cried out in exasperation. All it would take was a well-placed heel kick or an elbow to the jaw, and the arrogant fucker would drop. But she was a helpless grad student, not ex-FBI.
The magister held her down with one hand while he spanked her with the other. “Disobedience will be punished.” His palm smacked her cheeks again and again, each stinging slap its own assault on her dignity. “I wanted to know if you were a virgin.” He accented the statement with a series of fast, hard spanks.
She panted and gritted her teeth, struggling to calm her mind enough to process the pain and her surging emotions.
“All you had to do was answer a simple question.” More punishing slaps emphasized his point. “Instead, you will stand still and remain silent while I make the determination for myself.”
“Like hell I will,” she sneered, twisting her hips away from him as she stubbornly pressed her thighs together. “I’m not a virgin. Now stop this nonsense! I answered your ridiculous question.”
He moved behind her and ripped off her panties, then kicked her feet apart.
The material bit into her hips before it tore. The pain was sharp, but fleeting. Cool air brushed over her damp folds, increasing the empty ache deep inside her. “Stop it! Get your fucking hands off me!” Her bizarre reaction to his aggression made her voice almost shrill.
He warmed her bottom with more slaps, then moved on to the back of her thighs. She twisted and screamed, more afraid of her responses than the stinging impact of his hand. His hold became inflexible, and his strength aroused her even more. She didn’t understand why she was feeling these urges, but the need was undeniable.
“You will accept correction without complaint, or I will add to your punishment.” He reached between her thighs and spanked her pussy. The slaps were measured, but shockingly painful.
“That fucking hurts!” she yelled, then hissed, a fresh burst of anger fueling the outburst. She twisted around and glared at his handsome face. Handsome? When had she started thinking of this creature as handsome?
“Punishment must be painful to motivate a change in behavior.” Undaunted by her temper, the magister resumed the steady swats on her already sore behind.
She stilled, concentrating on the escalating sensations. She knew how to process pain. Her training had been extensive and she’d endured situations that built up her tolerance. But this arousal was new, and unexpected. With a groan, she relaxed into the discomfort and let the warm tingles wash over her. She floated above her body, connected to but not trapped within her aching flesh.
For one blissful moment, Lorna forgot about the danger, the oppressive pressure and ongoing risk. Then Brianne’s lovely image intruded, snapping Lorna back from that peaceful void. Lorna wasn’t here to exorcise her demons. She was here to save Brianne and her friends.
The spanking continued despite the sudden shift in Lorna’s mindset. Each swat fed her anger and released long-buried resentments. Her needs didn’t matter, they never mattered. Her safety, her life must be sacrificed whenever one of her sisters was at risk. It was her duty, her obligation to fill the void their parents left behind.
“I hate you,” she sobbed, shocked by the sudden rush of emotions. Had she meant the magister, her parents, or Brianne? The disconcerting thought unleashed an even wilder surge of emotions. Anger, fear, and hopelessness combined into utter vulnerability.
The next swat never came. Instead, a warm hand pressed against the small of her back. “These are not affected tears. Why do you weep?”
She thought the magister touched her back, but the voice belonged to Sir. A harsh sob tore from her chest, but all she did was shake her head. She would not share her deepest pain, her most shameful secrets with alien monsters.
Sir moved to the other side of the table and brushed her hair back from her face.
She quickly shut her eyes, not wanting his pity.
“Look at me, sweet terran. Explain this reaction.”
“You kidnapped me. You’re abusing me, and you’ll probably rape me before the night is through.” Everything she said was true, but it had little to do with her odd reaction. “What’s there to explain? I want to go home.”
“Freedom is unlikely,” the magister said firmly. “Once body-slaves are claimed, they are seldom released. Your only hope of ever setting foot on Earth again is pleasing your master so well that he chooses to set you free.”
Fighting back the last of her tears, she twisted, going up on one elbow so she could see the magister. “Why would this master release me if I please him?”
His lips curved into a sardonic smile. “That is what you must figure out.”
So the mind fuck had begun. She wasn’t intimidated by the challenge. But first, she needed to verify the rules. Already it was glaringly obvious that the Yashonty culture was very different than modern America. She took a deep breath and pushed off the table, standing beside it while still facing the first male. She hissed as her dress slid across her sore behind.
The magister eased the material back up to her waist, then rested his hands on her hips. “I wasn’t finished admiring my handiwork.”
She tensed at his continued familiarity and the surprising hint of humor. Had the pun been intentional? Could the stern magister actually have a sense of humor?
Instead of asking, she looked across the table at Sir. “Are you my master?” Better him than the cruel magister.
Sir’s gaze narrowed and gleamed. “Would you like to serve me, sweet terran? I don’t usually claim body-slaves.”
“My soft-hearted cousin finds the practice upsetting,” the magister told her. “I, on the other hand, prefer my fucking without emotional entanglements.” His gaze shifted to Sir and he switched to Yashonty. “Claim her for me. You want to fuck her, it’s obvious. If I’m her master, your conscience will remain clear while you rut between her thighs.”
A heaviness came over Lorna as she heard his words. Her only hope of gaining his assistance was to make him care for her on some level. It didn’t sound like the magister cared for any female, much less a body-slave. Sir would be much easier to recruit, but did he have the authority to do any good?
“I can’t,” Sir insisted. “You know I want nothing to do with—”
“Your bulging cock says otherwise.”
“Yes, I want her, but I will not make her my slave.”
“Then make her mine.” The magister wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her back into his hard body. “I ask very little of you, cousin. Do this for me,” then very softly, he added, “please.”
She tensed. His cock pressed into the small of her back, long and thick by the feel of it. Lust could be a powerful motivator, but it tended to burn out quickly.
“Fine,” Sir snarled in Yashonty, then switched to Ventori. “If I were to claim you, I would expect absolute obedience without argument or hesitation.”
“If I serve you absolutely without arguing or hesitating, will you help me free my sister?”
He crossed his arms over his chest, and the gleam in his eyes turned calculative. “Show me what you’re offering?”
It was a test, likely the first of many. Lorna glanced behind her and said, “Would you please lower the zipper. It’s hard for me to reach.” She had to please them both for this to move forward. His attitude pissed her off, but he was the one with authority.
Holding the dress up with one hand, the magister unzipped it with the other.
Instead of wiggling out of the garment as she usually would, she pulled it off over her head. The magister had ripped off her panties, but her bra still covered her breasts. Without prompting, the magister unclasped the band with a skillful twist of his fingers. She slipped it off and let it drop to the floor.
Sir came around the table, and the magister stepped back, placing her in between the two males. Sir made a rotating motion with his index finger, so she turned in a slow circle, stopping when she faced him again.
“You’re lovely, but how long will you remain obedient?” The challenge in his tone was unmistakable.
“Let’s find out,” the magister suggested. “Tell her to do something.”
Sir moved closer again, his voice low and urgent. “I want to see this strange pink cunt Moxtel keeps bragging about.”
Moxtel? Was that the magister’s name? It had certainly sounded like a name. If she put all the pieces together, he became Magister Moxtel Lark. One down, one to go. Now she needed to identify Sir and determine his position on this ship.
Not wanting Sir to realize his slip, she asked, “How do you want me to do this?”
Sir thought for a moment, then flashed a wicked smile. “Bend over the table and spread your legs. Show me all that will be mine if I choose to claim you.”
Of course he’d want the most humiliating position for this little show and tell. She turned toward the table and bent over, going up onto the balls of her feet as she moved her legs apart. She wasn’t ashamed of her body. It would take more than this to shake her.
“I have a better idea.” Moxtel wrapped one brawny arm around her hips and lifted her onto the table. She ended up on her hands and knees facing the wall. “Head down, ass in the air.”
He slapped the back of her thigh when she didn’t move fast enough. She originally thought Sir was the hard-ass. Now there was no doubt that Moxtel was more aggressive.
“Now, open wide, pretty human,” Moxtel ordered. “You’re going to show us that soft pink pussy. Then you’re going to let my cousin finger and tongue-fuck you.”
A nervous laugh escaped her throat as she looked back at him, thighs still pressed together. “And why am I going to do all that?”
“Because he is next on the officer rotation,” the magister said as if she understood the significance of the statement. “If your cunt feels good gripping his fingers and he likes the taste of your cum, he will claim you as his body-slave.”
“I thought Sir didn’t claim body-slaves?” But if Sir didn’t claim her, she’d lose access to Moxtel. And she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was someone of importance.
“He’s doing it as a favor to me,” Moxtel told her. “So be a good girl and open those thighs.”
She looked at Sir and asked, “What happens if you decide not to claim me?”
Sir still stood to her side, looking uncomfortable with the entire situation.
Moxtel was happy to enlighten her. “If you don’t please him well enough, he’ll turn you over to the lottery. Trust me, sweet slave. You don’t want that.”
The lingering heat from her spanking cooled in an instant as she realized this was likely what had happened to Brianne and the others. “What’s the lottery?”
“Crewmembers pay for a chance to win the comfort of females. Winning allows them to use the female for a stated period, generally a week, but sometimes an entire moon cycle.” Moxtel made it sound so casual as if they weren’t talking about the complete subjugation of human females. God above, he really was a bastard.
Tension gripped her belly then spread to her chest, making it hard to breathe. This was worse than she’d feared. It had been almost a week. The Yashonty could be about to raffle off Brianne and her friends for the second time. “After the first male is finished with her, the female is auctioned off all over again?” Lorna gripped the sides of the table, fighting back the frantic need to search the ship, to kick in every door until she found her sister.
“Actions are different,” Sir stressed. “He was talking about the lottery.”
She turned her head to the other side and looked at Sir. These were the first new fragments of information she’d learned. She didn’t care about her humiliating position or what they intended to do to her. She had to find out as much as she could. “What happens at an action?”
“Each female is sold outright,” Sir explained, his tone filled with regret. “These events are rare and extremely expensive. Few Yashonty possess the wealth needed to participate.”
They might not bid on the victims, but they provided the females who were ‘sold outright.’ It was all so disgusting Lorna had no words. It also made one thing glaringly obvious. Celeste’s worst fears had been justified. Brianne and her friends were the tip of the iceberg. If the Yashonty were providing a continual stream of females for these auctions and lotteries, there had to be hundreds of human slaves on Yashonty ships.
Moxtel grasped the back of her neck and urged her head down. “Are you concerned about your sister?”
“Of course. Do you know what happened to her?” She glanced in his direction, but her hair blocked her view. With a frustrated sigh, she moved her neck to a more natural angle and rested her forehead on her folded arms.
“Is your sister as pretty as you?” Sir asked, his voice coming from behind her now. Despite his obvious reluctance to slaves, he was ready to see her ‘strange pink’ pussy. “Is she untouched?”
Willing to indulge his curiosity—and likely a whole lot more—if he continued to give her actionable intel, Lorna slowly spread her legs and canted her hips. Let him look. Hell, let him touch and taste if this led to Brianne’s freedom. “Brianne is—”
“Holy Spirits of Fire, she is bright pink.” He sounded dumbfounded, and all thoughts of Brianne were forgotten. At least for him.
Moxtel laughed and stroked down her back. “Go on, touch her. She might look different from Yashonty females, but even alien pussies feel more or less the same.”
More or less? How did humans differ from the Yashonty? Sensation tingled down her spine, and her clit twitched. She wasn’t curious enough to ask what he’d meant, but what was Sir waiting for? This was something she must endure for the benefit of the others. She wasn’t supposed to enjoy it.
“You gave me permission to look,” Sir said in Ventori. “You will now offer yourself to my fingers.”
He wanted her to ask for her own humiliation? What the hell was that about? Despite her annoyance, she understood the situation. If she didn’t obey, she was just postponing the inevitable. “Sir, you have permission to touch me.” Her clit tingled and her inner muscles clenched as she heard her own words. She sounded so meek, so submissive. Just the thought made her shiver. Never in her entire life had she thought of herself in that way.
“Of course he has permission,” Moxtel said. “You are a Yashonty slave. He can take whatever he wants, and no one will stop him. He does not want to take. You accused us of rape though we are both innocent of the crime. If you want him to touch you, sweet slave, you must beg for his fingers.”
Her nipples gathered against the smooth tabletop and heat rushed through her pussy. She had no choice, and they both knew it. Sir wanted her to accept her subjugation to welcome her defeat. And Moxtel wanted to watch her surrender. She tried to think of the others, but already her body ached to be taken, to be used. “Please touch me, Sir. I want your fingers deep inside me.” The biggest shock of all was realizing how much she meant the words.
Sir’s fingers were warm and surprisingly tentative as he stroked her folds. She closed her eyes, savoring the momentary gentleness. Tenderness was something that had been nonexistent in her life lately.
“She’s soaking wet.” Sir sounded surprised as he switched to Yashonty.
“Pain excites her,” Moxtel told Sir in the same language. Moxtel continued his lazy path up and down her back, while Sir played with her exposed pussy. She was an object, a toy, positioned for their amusement, readily available for their casual use. “She was about to come when she started thinking about her sister. That’s what made her cry.”
Lorna held still, struggling not to react to his words or their impersonal exploration. Had Moxtel read her body language, or was he empathic? He’d obviously had more experience with human females than Sir. Moxtel had called Sir cousin, but she still didn’t understand their positions within the crew.
Not surprisingly, Sir’s gentleness didn’t last long. As soon as he realized she was wet, his touch grew bolder. Opening her folds so he could see right up into her core, he fucked her with his long, thick fingers. “She’s tight and hot, but her scent is so… strange,” Sir whispered in Yashonty.
“Taste her,” Moxtel urged. “But be warned, Belton. I came in my pants the first time I tasted human pussy. Their hormones are very potent.”
She felt Sir’s tongue, then his lips. Belton, her passion-muddled mind reminded. Moxtel had called him Belton. Belton licked and nibbled, seeming to savor the new flavor of human arousal. Suddenly, he caught the front of her thighs and pressed his face against her sex. For a long, tense moment, he didn’t move, just inhaled deeply and gently sucked on her delicate inner folds. Then his tongue slid along her slit, circling her core twice before pushing deep inside her. She was barely able to breathe as he sucked and licked at the center of her body.
Moxtel’s touch grew bolder. He stroked her sides, teasing the outer swell of her breasts. “Does that feel good, sweet slave?” A mixture of challenge and mockery deepened his voice, giving it a husky growl. “Does it make you ache for a nice hard cock? Or two?” He chuckled. Slipping his hand under her, he squeezed her breast.
Holding her firmly in place, Belton fucked her with his tongue. His fingers tightened on her thighs as his tongue slid in and out. He grunted and growled, lifting her hips so he could push even deeper into her core. He grew wild, almost feral, demanding her surrender.
Her arousal built gradually, almost against her will. She was distracted by the humiliating position and thoughts of Brianne, but Belton’s lower lip put just enough pressure on her clit to keep her orgasm building.
Moxtel lightly stroked her punished cheeks, stoking the heat and reigniting the sting. “Do you need pain to come, pretty human? Can you surrender to pleasure alone?”