Pulling more oxygen into her lungs, Sara Bauer stared at the enemy soldier from her hiding place behind what until yesterday had been a box truck. The signage on the mostly intact left side identified it as belonging to a local furniture store, but the store no longer existed. The air smelled of burned rubber and the stench of hot metal along with choking dust from the ruins of a two-story wall in Nekeisha’s commercial area.
As soon as her father, General Red of the Northland army, had told her about the bombing, she’d snuck into the town as part of her determination to fulfill a promise she’d made to her parents and younger brother but mostly to her precious older brother Jason. Nothing mattered more than learning what had happened to Jason, not even her own life.
Most of the town’s population was hiding in the surrounding hills. However, she had no choice but to stay where she was until the moment was right. The Society had been at war with Northland forever, which explained why Society bombs had leveled so much of the Northland town. She had no hope things would ever change between the two nations, which made her wonder if this soldier ever felt like she did.
Wanted a peaceful existence.
The potently built man with soulless eyes looked as if he existed for one reason—to destroy everyone he and the rest of the army he was a member of considered the enemy. If she didn’t have breasts and a pussy he’d probably put a bullet in her before she could present him with her lie. However, as her father had agreed, because of her physical looks she stood a chance of getting this man to tell her the truth.
The truth? Something she wished she could flee.
Pushing aside unwanted thoughts, she noted the pistol and knife the stranger carried. His boots were made for walking on rubble, which was what he was doing. His confident demeanor identified him as an Elite and thus a Society officer. She didn’t understand why the Society was made up of powerful Elites and powerless Others, but it didn’t matter.
He was one of the first of the foe to arrive in the bombing’s wake, undoubtedly intent on taking what of value he could from the isolated town before Northland soldiers arrived to defend what was left of Nekeisha. She’d watched as the small but heavily armed troop spread out to insure they weren’t in danger of being ambushed. Given the stranger’s weaponry and equally armed companions, he should be certain of his safety. However, he didn’t carry himself like he was. He was tense, cautious, suspicious.
In some respects he reminded her of herself. They both saw the world through suspicious eyes. Perhaps, like her, he seldom slept through the night and wished for a life that was different from the one he was living.
There were differences between them of course. Where he had access to all manner of weaponry, her only protection consisted of the pistol tucked in her waistband. His muscles were made for fighting and his confidence—that’s what she envied the most. But whatever compelled him to do what he did couldn’t be as unrelenting as what drove her.
I can’t leave Jason to rot abandoned. He was my rock after Mother’s death.
Her shoulders squared in reaction to what she’d told her father, she looked all around. The soldiers had already checked out their surroundings. Fortunately they’d given little attention to the twisted metal that was all that was left of several vehicles, including the one she crouched behind. Hopefully the nearby Elite warrior would believe her when she told him why she was here, which she had no doubt he’d want to know.
And if he didn’t?
No time to think about that. Dangerous to let fear and doubt distract her from her mission.
He was coming closer, his steps measured and his gaze taking in everything. Like her, he occasionally wrinkled his nose in reaction to the cloying smells. Barely breathing, she willed him to continue on this path. In a hundred feet he’d be so close he’d spot her if she moved a muscle, which she intended to do.
No! He was turning to his left, no longer looking her way.
Determined to succeed, she sprang to her feet, whirled, and started running in the opposite direction. Her sandals threatened to slip off her feet.
“Hey, what the—stop!”
Half expecting to feel a bullet in her back, she glanced over her shoulder. Extending his pistol with one hand, he charged after her. Despite his bulk, his long legs rapidly closed the distance between them. Driven by the instinct for survival along with a love of physical activity, she ran full out. Her slight build made it possible for her to quickly change direction, which she took advantage of by zigzagging around twisted metal and countless piles of bricks.
“Give it up!” he demanded. “Stop or I’ll shoot.”
Praying he wouldn’t fire, she kept going. She didn’t risk looking at him again, but she didn’t need to. She felt him, masculine heat crawling over her shoulders, down her back, and along her hips. He hadn’t touched her, but it felt like it. She should be terrified, and she was, but it wasn’t that simple.
Relying on her athleticism, she focused on sending energy to her legs. Under normal circumstances she could jog for miles, but there was nothing normal about now. Still she took pride in what she was capable of, hoped his bulky form wasn’t made for running more than a short distance.
But she had to let herself be captured. Why was it so hard to remember?
Prompted by his anger and how close he sounded, she looked back. Her sandal struck something, knocking her off balance. She managed to recover before she fell but doing so slowed her.
Run. Just run. Live.
No! Let him catch you.
A powerful arm wrapped around her and jerked her to a hard stop. Her pursuer pulled her against his chest. Before she could fight, he tightened his hold so both of her arms were trapped at her sides. He lifted her off her feet and swung her in a half circle. Several of his companions were running toward them.
“Good job,” one of them called out. “Now to see if you can outwrestle her.”
“I’ve got this,” her too big, too strong captor shot back. “Don’t need help.”
“We have a right to watch. Be careful. Don’t let her connect with your balls.”
She’d been trying to kick back, but he kept swinging her left and right, keeping her off balance. In a perverse way it felt like he was rocking her, not that there was anything comforting about the harsh moves. She didn’t see how any man could be so strong yet it felt as if he could do this indefinitely. Much as she wanted to demand he stop acting like a predator playing with its prey, she refused to admit defeat. At least she was still alive.
And doing what she needed to.
“That was damn foolish.” His breath heated the top of her head. “What’s your problem? You have a death wish?”
“Ah, she speaks, which means she’s going to answer some questions.”
“You can’t make—”
“Yeah, I can, and we both know it.”
He stopped tossing her about. As her brain settled, she acknowledged he hadn’t loosened his hold on her. His weapons’ belt ground into her back, his pistol poked her ribs, and her arms were losing circulation. When she tried to slip out from under him, he tightened his hold.
“You’re hurting me.”
“No shit. What did you expect?”
“Let me go!”
“Not going to happen. Before we get to the questions, I’m going to look you in the eye, see if you’re capable of the truth. For that to happen I need to properly restrain you.”
What did he want, for her to thank him because he’d spelled out his intentions? She’d vowed to confront the enemy because otherwise she’d never stand a chance of finding her brother’s body. Initially her father had tried to talk her out of her mission but when he concluded he couldn’t, he’d made sure she understood how she should conduct herself so hopefully her captor would let down his guard.
“They’re animals,” he’d said. “Are you sure you’re willing to take the chance?”
“I lost my mother and brother,” she’d answered. “The country I love is in danger of being destroyed. What happens to me doesn’t matter.”
For one of the few times in their lives, General Red had embraced his middle child. “We share the same commitment,” he’d said. “I just hope your mission turns out the way we need it to.”
The conversation had taken place last week. At the time she’d been more focused on her goal than whether she’d live long enough to achieve it. She should have more closely considered that possibility.
Restrained, she’d have no choice but to comply with everything her captor demanded. Hopefully the more she acted as if she’d accepted her lot as a hostage, the more likely he’d be to discuss Society military matters in her presence. She wasn’t sure she could stomach the awful things they’d talk about.
This is for you, Jason. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it.
After slipping his pistol back in its holder, her captor marched her over to the side of a partly destroyed building and pushed her against it. Holding her in place with a broad hand between her shoulder blades, he searched for something on his weapons’ belt.
“Don’t make the mistake of trying to run,” he said. “If you do, I’ll make you pay for it.”
He stopped pressing on her back and delivered two quick, hard slaps to her buttocks.
“Got it?” He struck her a third time.
Even with her panties and canvas shorts between his palm and her flesh, pain jolted her. No, not just pain. Her pussy felt something else, a whispered sexual awareness she hadn’t expected and didn’t want.
No one would ever know. Hell, she barely admitted it to herself but sometimes the thought of being under a powerful man’s control quickened her heartbeat and slickened her pussy. Those times had been directed by her imagination. This was entirely different and undoubtedly nothing more than her confused emotions.
“Not answering, are you? What is it? You want another swat?”
Grinding her teeth, she forced herself to remain silent and still. Instead of delivering another blow, he pulled her hands behind her, crossed her wrists one over the other, and wrapped soft rope around them. Once he’d secured her, he spun her around. Feeling small to say nothing of helpless, she looked up at him. With only a handful of feet between them, he was even larger than she’d thought. More potent.
Her entire body took note.
He cupped his hand around her chin so she had to continue looking at him. “When I was issued weapons I opted for rope instead of cuffs. This way I don’t have to concern myself with making sure I don’t misplace the key. Besides, there’s an intimacy with rope that cuffs lack. Rope doesn’t just contain, it caresses.”
She tested the restraint. Not only wasn’t there any give to the rope, she suspected it would tighten if she pulled too much. Resigned to captivity, she acknowledged she’d achieved her first goal. She was still in Northland but hopefully he’d take her to Society land where she’d listen and observe. Once she had the vital information, she’d send out the signal that announced she needed to be rescued.
Having to depend on others for her freedom was the hardest part of her mission. At least as long as she wore her bra, her father and the men he’d assigned the chore to would be able to track her. And if her captor destroyed her clothes—no, she wouldn’t think about that!
“My brother works with guard dogs.” He spoke conversationally. “He gets them to cooperate via collars, leashes, and kennels. He isn’t cruel but there’s no need to because dogs respond to kindness. They want to please. How about it? Do you want to please me?”
“No, damn it!”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Didn’t think so. Dogs also understand who’s in charge. Of course dogs come into their relationship with humans from a different mindset than I have no doubt you’re experiencing. Your mindset will need to undergo a fundamental change.”
“Go to hell.”
“Been there. Don’t want to repeat the experience.”
“None of us do,” one of the men who’d crowded around said.
His clipped words distracted her from trying to manage her fear. These men weren’t heartless killers. In some respects their emotions weren’t so different from hers. For the first time since she’d spotted the Society soldiers she acknowledged them as human beings. As for whether she could use that to her advantage or if she wanted to—no! They were the enemy, Jason’s killers. It was possible her captor had killed her brother.
“I’m getting ahead of myself,” her captor continued. “First up is making sure you’re alone. Tell me.” He forced her head higher. “Are you?”
“You expect me to believe you?”
“I don’t care.” So far she’d been able to keep her voice calm, but if she wasn’t careful her nerves would betray her.
He leaned toward her so their faces were inches apart. Determination radiated out from him and threatened to weaken her. “I’m not stupid. You aren’t here because you didn’t have the sense to run. What’s your agenda?”
She couldn’t tell him. If she did she stood no chance of succeeding.
“Not ready to tell me?” He brought his face so close to hers that his features blurred. “Usually I’m not a patient man but I’ll try to make an exception with you.”
His statement was somewhere between a promise and a threat, not that it mattered. What did was trying to locate her brother’s remains and learning everything she could about the cruelty Society’s military inflicted on its enemies. For that to happen, she needed to remain under his control for a while.
“Please let me go,” she said because he doubtless expected her to beg. “I haven’t done—please let me go home.”
“Home?” His gaze swept over what was left of their surroundings. “You don’t live here?”
“That isn’t what I mean. I’m talking about—I was shopping when the bombs landed. It was bombs, wasn’t it?” She paused. “My home’s in the hills. My family—they have to be worried sick about me.”
“Look.” He touched his mouth to hers, the contact so brief she might have imagined it. “There’s a lot I don’t buy about your so-called explanation. Chew on that while I decide what to do with you.”
“You can let me go.”
“Hell, no,” he said while his companions nodded in agreement.
To her surprise, her pussy twitched. Fantasizing about being under a man’s control and experiencing it wasn’t the same thing. Being surrounded by reality should have killed her arousal. Any moment now it would fade to nothing. All she had to do was wait for her mind and nerves to catch up with the impact of her bound arms.
“I bet she’s armed,” one of the men said.
“Yeah,” another agreed. “Not a problem. I’ll check her out, all of her.”
“Stop it,” her captor insisted. “You have a job to do. If she was able to stay out of sight this long there might be others.”
“If they’re built like she is, I don’t mind looking.”
“Then do it.”
Ignoring the man who’d been arguing with him, her captor ran his hands over her, starting with her throat then going lower. He frowned when he reached her waist.
“Just as I figured,” he said as he lifted her shirt and exposed her pistol. “So you always carry weapons when you’re shopping?”
“Northland and Society are at war. Anything can happen.”
He pulled her weapon out of her waistband and handed it to one of the men. “It’s loaded, right?”
The man checked. “Right.”
“And it might not be the only thing she’s packing,” he said.
As he continued running his hands over her, she recalled the disagreement she’d had with her father. She was his only daughter, which meant she was probably the only woman who could stand up to him. She’d wanted to carry a knife in addition to the pistol but he’d insisted that much weaponry would make the enemy even more suspicious. He was right—he always was when it came to such matters—but being able to use a knife in close quarters would have made her feel more secure. Now she was glad she hadn’t defied the general. As for what the enemy’s hands on her hips, thighs, and between her legs felt like—
“What are your plans for her?” someone asked.
“Take her to the camp. Not much chance of someone trying to rescue her once we’re across the border. As for after we get there, I haven’t made up my mind.”
She’d been concerned that whoever caught her would have been ordered to stay in Northland. This way his plans fell in line with what she needed. Still the thought of being so far from home concerned her. She tensed and pulled back.
“Not going to happen.” He grabbed her tethered wrists and pushed up on them, forcing her to lean forward. “Get used to being under my control.”
“No! Damn it, no!”
“You’ve got a wildcat on your hands,” an unseen man said. “The sooner you break her of any rebellion the better, unless you like her the way she is.”
“Whether I do or don’t is none of your business.”
“I’m trying to keep you on track. Just the hell don’t let her get to you.”
“No chance of that.” He pushed her arms higher, giving her no choice but to stare at the ground. “The only thing I want from her is the truth about what she’s doing here.”
“Good plan. One thing about Northland, they have some damn good-looking spies. I wish I’d been the one to run her down.”
“I’m not a spy,” she insisted.
“You expect me to believe you?” her captor asked. “The way I see it, short of having a broken leg, which you don’t have, there’s no reason for you to be here. The still-standing walls could collapse at any time.”
“My friend—I was looking for…” Yesterday she’d worked out what she intended to tell Society soldiers. Now she couldn’t remember her lies.
“You’re too late letting me know about this so-called friend of yours.”
“You scared me. Do you expect me to remember—”
“I’m not going to argue with you. Ever. Time to get it through your head that my opinion’s the only one that matters. Bill—”
“I know. It’s time to get back to searching through the rubble. Hell, hungry as I am, I’d like nothing better than to come across a grocery store. Come on, men. We have to finish and get out of Nekeisha before dark. Less risk of getting ambushed that way.”
They weren’t in danger of that happening. Her father had told her that much of Northland’s military was with a large supplies caravan heading for the border with Zaltana. The relationship between Zaltana and Northland was more peaceful than what existed between Northland and Society. Zaltana land wasn’t conducive to agriculture, thus the need to keep a constant and valuable supply of foodstuff going into Zaltana. If it wasn’t for the vast amounts of iron ore in Zaltana, hardly anyone would live in the rocky, barren country.
Fortunately for Zaltana residents, selling iron ore to other countries provided them with a solid economic base. It had turned some citizens, politicians in particular, into millionaires. She’d been there twice and had no desire to return, not that she had any say over where she’d wind up at present.
Keeping her off-balance, the man who’d roped her forced her to start walking. She hated how he held her, hated his greater strength, his made for war body. Unfortunately, like some just-caught wild animal, she had no choice but to go where he commanded.
Resigned, she studied the ground. She belonged to him. He could do whatever he wanted, including slitting her throat. No one would try to stop him.
What if his intention wasn’t to kill her? He could strip off her clothes, demand she spread her legs for him, and bury his cock in her.
Her face, throat, even her breasts were flushed. She tried to think of something, anything else, but her mind remained locked on her body’s unwanted response. For reasons she didn’t examine too closely, she sometimes imagined what being a hostage or captive would be like. She understood a little about BDSM play but embracing a submissive lifestyle struck her as something no normal woman would want. She enjoyed fantasizing that she’d been taken and held against her will, not tortured of course, but sexually teased. Kept helplessly excited. Being repeatedly brought to climax by some man who’d turned her into his pet.
And disciplined her when she disobeyed him.
Alerted by the chill running down her back, she acknowledged that her imagination had nothing to do with today’s reality. Her captor was no self-indulgent dom playing with his willing submissive. This soulless soldier hated her people.
When he finally let her stand upright, she noted that he’d brought her to a Society military vehicle. It was dirty and topless with great, flat tires designed to travel over rough terrain which it needed to because this part of Northland had so few paved roads. He opened the passenger’s door and hoisted her into the front seat. Before she could fight him, he fastened a seat belt low around her waist. It was so tight she felt the pressure deep inside her.
“I should make you walk,” he said as he got behind the wheel. “But I want to get across the border before dark.”
His plan was exactly what she needed, she tried to assure herself as the vehicle rumbled to life. The closer he got her to the border, the greater her chance of learning something vital. Once she had that information, it would be up to her father’s troops to bring Jason’s and other soldiers’ remains home—and get her safely back to Northland.
If they knew where she was.
Of course they would. That’s what the tracking device in her bra’s fastening had been designed to accomplish.