I stare at the small green bottle of traka spice for at least a minute before putting it in my shopping basket. Looking all around, I check to see if anyone is watching. In another part of town, I’d never be able to buy traka spice—the stores can’t keep it in stock. Here, on the north side, they can hardly sell any. No one wants to buy alien products in Moorestown, no matter how delicious it might be.
Mr. Charles won’t care about that, I tell myself. Grinning, I stroll down the aisle, grabbing ground beef, cilantro, cheddar, and the other items on my list. The spice will add an exotic tang to a quesadilla that he’s going to love. I can see his smile now as he bites into it.
Oh, Darcy, this is fantastic, he’ll say.
Thank you, sir, I’ll reply, blushing. He looks so happy when I make dishes he has to eat with his hands—like it’s some old game he used to play when he was young and now it’s all coming back to mind. His grin, full of boyish innocence and effortless charm, makes my stomach flutter and dance.
My mother would point out, He’s old enough to be your father.
Yes, Mom, but just barely.
I get it. Mr. Charles has to be nearly fifty, and I’m twenty-four, but I don’t really care. He’s still so handsome and charismatic.
The cashier sneers at me as he rings up the traka spice, tossing it in my canvas bag hard enough I think it might break.
“Hey, could you not do that?” I snap, sounding angrier than I intend.
“Oh, excuse me,” he growls back. “I’ll be careful. Wouldn’t want to get sent to a prison planet.”
I could argue with him that I’m not a Dominar—I’m not the one who invaded Earth, and I didn’t ask them to come here and take over. What’s the point, though? If he wants to hate the aliens, I’m not going to change his mind. It’s been five years since they invaded—I think if they were going to kill us all, they’d have done it by now.
As I leave the store, the bright, clear Florida sun and sky warm my tanned skin, and my thoughts turn back to Mr. Charles. I’m so wrapped up thinking about his quick laugh and easy compliments that I gasp in shock, stopping myself at the last second from colliding with a jogger.
“Watch out!” he calls quickly, patting my shoulder as he passes by. Taller than me by a foot and barely perspiring, he smiles apologetically before turning to keep going. His clean white tank top clings to a broad, muscular frame; clearly he lifts when he’s not nearly running people over in grocery store parking lots.
No, that’s not fair. Soft curses die in my throat as I realize I’d been too preoccupied to notice him. “Sorry!” I call out, though the jogger’s already mostly out of sight. Oh, well. I’d have liked to get a closer look. He’d been quite a specimen.
Put Mr. Charles’ personality in that man’s body and watch out…
Now safely in my ancient maroon Camry—retrofit to use rechargeable Dominar batteries rather than gas—I let my naughty thoughts run wild a bit.
That jogger is the kind of guy I ought to be attracted to—hot and handsome. He smiled at me for just a second before moving on, but I can picture it in high-res: perfect white teeth with thick, pretty lips and a casual friendliness in his bright blue eyes. What I wouldn’t do to see him sweaty and smiling like that again…
Driving to work, my mind swings like a pendulum between Mr. Charles and the jogger, but the closer I get to my employer’s beautiful home, the more my thoughts stay on him. Pulling up his long driveway, I type in the ten-digit access code at the gate and wait as thin bars wrapped in barbed wire separate and swing open. Turning to the camera mounted at the terminal, I grin and wave in case he’s watching. I hope he is: I’ve put on a tight white top and a red skirt that’s probably not the most practical for work, but I wanted to look good.
Mom says it’s weird that a man so wealthy—and handsome, she admits—lives alone. I suppose she’s right—but it’s not my job to analyze his psychology; I’m there to clean his house and cook his meals. Maybe he just wants some privacy; what would be so wrong about that? Plus, he has such a lovely home, with a private stretch of beach along a cove all to himself—where could he go that would be any nicer? His mansion is beautiful—built from dark stone and covered in flowing vines, it reminds me of a small castle. Gardens built inside the property walls blossom with gorgeous flowers, and small fountains attract birds that always sing happily. It’s hard not to think of the place as something out of a fairy tale.
I punch in another code at the front door, careful to balance the grocery bag in my arm—a trick I’ve mastered in the year I’ve worked for Mr. Charles—and then ease my way inside. “Hello!” I call out, looking around.
“I’m in the kitchen!” comes a reply in his deep, velvety voice.
Grinning, I kick myself into gear and move, eager to see him. I find him at the counter, dropping lemon slices into a pitcher of iced tea. Dressed in khakis and a white button-down shirt, he watches the ice cubes tumble as he stirs the drink. Inhaling his subtle cologne, catching notes of sandalwood and rose, I stare a second. Flecks of gray season his hair, but it’s still plenty thick. He’s clean shaven, boasting a face free of heavy lines.
“Thirsty?” he asks, smiling.
“Sure, thank you,” I say, getting a glass from the cabinet. As he pours it, I unload groceries into the fridge.
“What’s this?” he asks, spotting the traka spice.
I tense up; I probably should have asked first. How does he feel about the Dominars? I’m not even sure; he doesn’t really talk about them.
“You’ve never had an alien product before. I thought you might want to try it,” I explain. “And… I’ve never tried it either,” I confess. I’d rather risk his displeasure than lie.
He opens the bottle and gives it a sniff. “Oh, wow. Come here.” He holds out the bottle toward me so I can smell it too. When I do, I feel a wave of excitement—the fragrance possesses a nearly indescribable profile of flavors: I expected a tang, like mesquite, but it’s so much more than that. It’s spicy and a little sweet, with all of the distinct aromas in balance with each other. It’s unlike anything I’ve tasted on Earth—which I suppose is to be expected, since it’s supposedly from a planet called Ohalessa.
“You like it?” he asks.
He grins. “Me too. Thanks for getting it. What are you making with it?”
“Beef quesadillas. Do you think the traka will go well with cilantro?”
Mr. Charles pats my hand. “If you make it, I’m sure it will be fantastic.”
My skin tingles where he touched me, and my cheeks feel like they’re aglow.
Taking a seat at the kitchen table with his iced tea, Mr. Charles leans back and takes a sip. “Quesadillas. It reminds me of the time my partner… Paul… and I got lost in Mexico. Did I tell you that one?”
“No,” I reply, spreading out the ground beef on the skillet. “Who’s Paul?”
Mr. Charles pauses a moment, and his smile dips, but it comes right back. “Just someone I consulted with.”
Yeah, ‘consulted.’ I’m not stupid, I know that means it’s none of my business, but whatever. “Oh. Well, what happened?”
“We were there on a business deal, but it… well, that’s not important. After our meeting, we’d been driving around and realized we didn’t know where we were,” he explains as I get out the butter and tortillas.
“You didn’t speak any Spanish?” I ask.
“Hola, adios. Donde esta el baño? That was about it. We figured we’d keep driving until we recognized something, but then the car broke down…”
I keep listening, letting the richness of his voice tickle my senses as I make dinner. Cooking beef and melting cheddar make my mouth water as he goes on. I could listen to him all day. Most of my past employers liked telling their stories, but always as a sly way of bragging. They never failed to mention how much they spent to charter that private jet, or how they bought that boat to celebrate making their first million. So on and so on. Mr. Charles never goes out of his way to boast—I know he’s got money, but he never says how he made it.
In fact, I can’t find any information about him on the Internet either—and I’ve looked. If he was some kind of big shot business executive, shouldn’t there be articles about him somewhere? It makes me suspicious—or, it should. I’m more fascinated than wary.
“What happened then?” I ask, stirring in a bit of the traka spice.
He sighs. “What were we supposed to do? I grabbed a guitar and he took the trumpet, and we went out there and played.”
“Were you any good?” I ask.
“Oh, no, it was a disaster. But I kept smiling and playing like nothing was wrong until it was time to leave.”
Laughing, I shake my head, then taste a bit of the beef. Flavor hits me like the ignition of a space launch. I almost drop the spoon, it tastes so good. Stepping back, I point to the beef and nod. “You’ve got to try this.”
He takes the spoon from me and samples the meat. “Oh, god, that’s amazing, Darcy.”
“Thank you, Mr. Charles,” I say, draining the cooked beef into a bowl. “And that’s a really funny story. So then they drove you back?”
“Yes, they did. But they made it clear we’re not meant to be in a mariachi band.”
I chuckle, trying to picture him in one of those outfits. No, it’s not exactly his style, though he’d still look pretty good. My heart pounds in my chest as I imagine if I’d been in that café, hearing that poor man strumming at a guitar he’s never played. It would have been so sad and funny at the same time.
“You know, that’s not a story I tell very often,” he says, standing beside me, watching me work. “It’s a little embarrassing.”
“Yes, it is,” I joke. “But thank you for telling me.” I smirk at him like some kind of conspirator, enjoying the idea of sharing one of his dirty secrets—like I’ve been privileged with information he only tells those he’s…
Is that what’s going on? Am I reading the signals correctly? I haven’t had a boyfriend since college, and even that was a few years ago. Now I’m not so sure if I’m crazy or if this is really happening.
“Darcy, you know I think the world of you, right?” he asks.
I don’t know how to reply, so I just nod. The room spins, so I lean against the counter to keep my balance.
His eyebrows rise and his smile drains away. “It kills me to do this, but I have to let you go.”
“It’s nothing you did,” he adds quickly, raising his hands. “You’re wonderful, Ms. Lovell, but I’m moving.”
“When?” I croak.
His face pales. “I have a plane to catch in the morning.”
“Tomorrow?” I shout. I can’t believe this. And here I thought… we were going to… “Why?”
“It’s complicated,” he says, acting nervous for the first time. Sweat beads on his forehead, and he’s fidgeting in place.
Then the kitchen lights go out.
“What the hell?” I mumble as Mr. Charles grabs my wrist.
“Come on,” he says, pulling me to the foyer. I don’t resist, and in seconds we’re standing out in front of my car. “Move your feet, Darcy. We’ve got to go!”
I’m about to argue, but since I left the car unlocked, he gets in. “Hey!” I shout, climbing in after him. “What the hell is—”
“I’ll explain, just drive!” He rips the keys out of my hand, stuffs them in the ignition and turns it.
I must be out of my mind, because I step on the gas.
“Ram it, Darcy!” he says when he sees the front gate.
“What?” Everything is happening so fast, I can’t even keep up. He’s shouting something, but my heart’s pounding so loud it’s drowning out everything else. My hands grip the steering wheel so hard they’re going numb. Lingering notes of traka spice fade out as my mouth and throat go dry.
“Dammit, move!” Mr. Charles kicks my leg out of the way and jams his heel into the pedal. Acceleration pushes the car so suddenly my body slams back into my seat. “Hold on!” he screams as we plow through the gate, knocking the wired doors off their hinges and cracking the glass of my windshield. I scream and flinch as if I’ve been shot, breath punched from my chest. This is crazy, a nightmare that I have to believe will end any second.
“Fuck! What the hell!” I cry. Somehow my instincts take over, steering hard to regain control as we skid out onto the street. I knock over two trashcans before straightening out, but I hardly notice. I jab my heel into Mr. Charles’ ankle to get his foot off the gas pedal. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Mr. Charles sighs. When I turn to look, he’s staring at me like I’m some foolish child. “Darcy, I love you, but do you really not get it? I’m running. I’m a wanted man, and they’ve finally found me.”
My chest ices over until I feel brittle inside. There were so many red flags—his evasiveness, the lack of information online… I should have known. In a sense, I did—my suspicions took a backseat, but they were always there. Being with him—even if we were never really an item—was too much fun. Maybe I should have listened to my gut.
“Look, if you want to stop and kick me out, I’ll understand,” he says.
His voice sounds distant, like it’s coming through a bad phone line. He speaks tiredly, sounding old to my ears for the first time.
“I heard you,” I grunt.
He’ll understand? That’s just great. I haven’t even had a chance to think about what it is he’s done that made him a fugitive. He could be a serial killer, for all I know. Shouldn’t I be more scared? I’m peering out the cracked glass of my windshield like it’s a little inconvenience; at any second red lights could flash me from behind. I should be beside myself. Maybe I’m too furious right now to be properly afraid.
Turning a corner, I check the rearview mirror to see if we’re being chased. I have no idea where the hell I’m driving. Pulling over and taking him up on his offer sounds pretty good. I want to ask how he could do this to me, but it doesn’t feel fair. He treated me well. I’ve loved working for him. Isn’t that worth something?
“How bad is it?” I say, circling the block.
“It’s not great.”
“You… kill anyone?” It’s probably dumb to ask someone that, but I’m the one driving—what’s he going to do?
“Never,” he says. “Do I seem like a violent person to you?”
“No, not really. You’ve been good to me, Mr. Charles. So, tell me where we’re going, and I’ll try to get you there.”
I can’t believe I’m doing this. Was there something in that traka spice that turned me into a crazy person? I wish I could believe I’ve been hallucinating this entire situation.
He smiles and takes my free hand in his. “Thank you, Darcy. I guess a hotel?”
I nod, wondering where the closest one is, when my car’s engine stalls. “Shit,” I mutter, trying the ignition. “Sorry,” I say, giving it another shot. “It’s an old car.”
“It’s not the car, Darcy,” Mr. Charles sighs.
I look up, out the window, and see it: a small Dominar ship hovering low overhead. Radiant and sleek, its pilot stares right at us. Then the bottom of the craft opens up, allowing half a dozen Dominar agents to drop out, drifting through the air in their powered battle suits.
“I’m sorry, Darcy. Thank you for trying,” Mr. Charles says, getting out of the car with his hands raised.
I watch the scene unfold before me like it’s a bad dream. Aliens converge on my boss and take him away; it only takes a minute, but time slows so I can witness every painful second.
Then one of the aliens strides over toward me and opens my car door. “Darcy Lovell,” please step out,” he says, his voice soft but stern.
I stare at him, transfixed. Seeing his sky blue skin doesn’t shock me—I’ve seen Dominars before. What stuns me is the fact I recognize him. He looked human the last time: it’s the jogger, the one I nearly ran into at the store.
“You…” I mumble, looking at where he touched my shoulder.
“That’s correct,” he says, holding out his hand. A shimmer of glittery dust rises off my top and collects in the alien’s palm. “Darcy Lovell, you are under arrest.”
“Under arrest?” she says, backing away from her car as if she might run. “For what?”
Pangs of guilt jab my side. I shouldn’t have used her to catch Les Wellers, alias Nathan Charles. I nearly had him without putting a tracker on the girl, but I’d been close for months without getting any closer. Shortcuts make the job easier in some ways, and harder in others.
“Ms. Lovell, my name is Amasu, and I work for the Dominar Council Justice Task Force. You will be charged with aiding a wanted fugitive. I’m sorry.”
“But I didn’t know,” she says, her lips trembling.
We’re both aware that’s not true. I hate to do it, but I play the recording made moments ago, crystal clear and unambiguous.
“You’ve been good to me, Mr. Charles. So, tell me where we’re going, and I’ll try to get you there,” her own voice says.
The girl nods, tears wetting her cheeks. “What did he do?” she asks.
I’m under no obligation to answer her; I’ve tracked and arrested Wellers. My job is done. Yet, I do feel bad for this poor, naive girl. Also unambiguous in the recording is her fondness for this Mr. Charles, whoever Wellers pretended to be while in hiding. I have no doubt he treated her well, and she didn’t think of him as a bad person. Wouldn’t it be better to let her have that memory of him?
“It doesn’t matter—” I start to say.
“Tell me, asshole,” she growls.
Suppressing a smirk takes quite a bit of willpower. She may be cute, but she’s got some balls, as the humans say. “Les Wellers, wanted for massive financial fraud. He ran a pyramid scheme, Ms. Lovell. He stole thousands of people’s life savings through phony investments. He’s been on the run since the invasion.”
Darcy wipes away her tears, nodding slowly. He told her it was bad, and now she knows. Wellers may not have killed anybody himself, but he ruined many lives.
“Let’s go, Ms. Lovell,” I say, guiding her toward my ship as it lands nearby. I show her to the holding cell and activate an energy barrier once she’s inside.
She scowls as she takes a seat on the metal bench within, and my expressions sours to match hers. I don’t blame her, but she’s inadvertently ruined what ought to be a moment of celebration. Finding Wellers wasn’t easy—it’s taken months to track down how he hid his assets and accessed them after going into hiding. I ought to be reveling in satisfaction; feeling shitty about some poor, naive human caught in the mix wasn’t part of the plan.
With a thought, my battle suit splits apart and floats away from me, landing in a charging port. I begin sorting through new messages using my neural nanite connection when Darcy stands up in her cell and stares at me.
Taking in the dark uniform I wore beneath my armor, she says, “So what are you, exactly? Some kind of space cop?”
“Something like that,” I reply. “Cop, spy, operative—I track down fugitives from justice for the Dominar Council. I go where I’m needed—especially worlds that have just been invaded, like Earth.”
She nods, as if this is no big deal to her—maybe she’s a bit numb, or still processing the situation. Does she realize she’s in trouble?
“Have you been on Earth long?”
“Since the invasion started,” I answer. “And I’ve been very busy. Earth had a lot of career criminals to find. After five years, I’m still not finished, and the trails are only getting colder.”
She turns away to hide her rapid blinking and her fresh tears.
“I’m sorry I used you to find Wellers,” I mumble. “But he had to be caught.”
“Oh, he had to?” she snaps, glaring at me. “You didn’t stop to think, maybe he’s changed? He treated me better than any boss I ever had! He was never rude or condescending, and was generous with my salary. So, did you ever stop to think that maybe he’s not the same person he used to be?”
“No, I don’t,” I reply. “He never gave back the money. He lived in a beautiful mansion paid for by money he stole. Your loyalty is admirable, Ms. Lovell. You’re far from the first servant I’ve met after arresting their employer; few continue to care about their master after discovering the truth, so I believe he treated you well. Unfortunately, he hurt many others.”
She nods. “I guess I should have known.”
Yes, she should’ve. And, once she learned the truth, she shouldn’t have tried to help him escape. I don’t say any of that, though; there’s no need to rub it in.
Leaving her be for a moment, I activate my ship’s control and lift off. I set a course for the Spire, the Dominar base in the Upper New York Bay; however, rather than throttle up to full speed, I instruct the ship to hover in place.
My duty is clear: Ms. Darcy Lovell committed a direct violation of Dominar law—and a human law, for that matter. Aiding a wanted fugitive is a serious offense; if only she hadn’t asked Wellers about being a criminal, she could claim plausible deniability, but she knew what she was doing. There’s no way around it. Yet, my stomach turns at the thought of dragging her off to be charged, tried, and imprisoned. She acted on an impulse—not any sort of deep moral failing. I can certainly file an opinion on her case that will be considered in her sentencing—but even with lenience she’s looking at several months of prison time and a permanent record. It doesn’t feel right.
“Darcy,” I say, striding back to her holding cell. “Tell me about your relationship with Mr. Wellers.”
She looks up, her face still red and puffy. “What do you want to know?”
“Describe what you did for him.”
She shrugs, as if the question was idiotic. “What do you think? I cooked his dinners, I cleaned his home. Sometimes I did light gardening.”
I use my nanites to summon a stool; it floats out of a compartment in the floor and settles behind me so I can sit. “Is that all?”
Her lips twist with a hint of disgust; she knows what I’m getting at. “We would talk. He was lonely, and I provided him some company. He liked to tell stories from his life, and I liked listening.”
She speaks defiantly, stressing the word ‘talk’ as if to clearly say, And that’s all.
“What kind of stories?”
For a second a smile reclaims her face, and the sight stirs a sense of relief in me, even if it is fleeting.
“Adventures he had with his friends. Visiting exotic places, having good times. I’m sure he liked to embellish, but I didn’t mind.”
I nod. “You ever meet any of those friends?”
“No,” she replies. “I don’t think he was still in touch with them.” She rolls her eyes. “Because he was a fugitive—duh. I’m an idiot, I really am.”
“You’re not,” I say, offering a weak smile. “You just thought the best of someone you cared for.”
Giving her a minute, I pretend to be examining a holographic file; in truth, I’m examining her via nanite. Her pulse has slowed to a resting rate, and she is no longer sweating; pupil dilation is normal, and her body language indicates a state of general calm—resignation. She seems mostly relaxed now, which is impressive considering her circumstances.
Now’s a good a time as any to come out and say what I’ve been building toward. “So you and Mr. Wellers never had a sexual relationship?”
She shakes her head. “No. Never.”
Her answer shouldn’t really matter to me, but I can’t help feeling a palpable relief. “Did you want to sleep with him?”
She blushes and turns away. Her pulse quickens, aroused—she doesn’t have to answer.
“I thought about it,” she admits. “I liked him and…”
She looks back and forth, embarrassment deepening her cheeks’ rosy hue. “Serving him made me… it gave me pleasure. When he complimented me, it was… it felt good. Though I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
My cock threatens to harden, so I pull my thoughts back to her crime. However, my motivation is no longer pure. I ought to be seeking to divert her sentence for the sake of protecting a mostly innocent woman from unjustifiable suffering. In truth, I don’t want to let this pretty young human out of my sight.
She must sense the conflict in my demeanor. “Can’t you just let me go?” she asks. “You caught Mr. Charles—err, Mr. Wellers. I helped you catch him, in fact—isn’t that worth something?”
Oh, she’s slick. I chuckle, shaking my head. “I can bend the rules, Ms. Lovell, if the situation calls for it, but I can’t break them on a whim. However, I do have an idea that will keep you out of jail and clear your record of this transgression.”
I can’t keep a smirk off my face, and the question comes out more suggestively than I intend.
“What’s that?” she asks, eyeing me warily. There’s a hint of disgust in her tone, which I understand considering what she must think I’m asking. A fantasy of her offering herself to me goes straight to my cock; I may be making a real mistake here.
“I will remand you to my custody as an operational asset. You did indeed help me catch Mr. Wellers, and I think you could help me again. The Council will accept my need for a human assistant.” She exhales in relief, but her body stays tense and guarded. “So I’m going to help you track down more fugitives? I suppose that would be okay.”
“Good. Once I’m convinced you’ve done enough to offset the damage that would have been done if Mr. Wellers escaped, the Council will accept my recommendation to dismiss the charge against you.”
She steps back, nearly falling onto the bench. Then she says, “And how do I convince you? What’s to stop you from keeping me for months, or years?”
“Nothing,” I reply, approaching her cell. “Absolutely nothing. But I’m making you this offer because I feel you deserve a second chance. If you’re not interested, you don’t have to accept. I’ll drop you off at the Spire and you’ll never see me again.”
Darcy takes a deep breath, staring at my chest. It’s at eye-level for her, since she’s so much shorter. “What would I have to do?”
If her body wasn’t exhibiting multiple signals of arousal, I would tell her cooking and cleaning—but now I want her for so much more. “You will be my servant. You will obey me without question, and do anything I ask.” I lower the barrier to her cell and step inside. Cupping her chin in my palm, I softly grip her cheeks between my fingers and hold her face until she’s looking into my eyes. Her big brown eyes stare openly, unblinking, and I can feel her heart racing. She gulps, and her face darkens even further.
“Anything?” she rasps, scowling despite her clear titillation. “What if you asked me to do something horrible and I refused?”
Though I’d never ask her to do something I wouldn’t do myself, I’m not going to tell her that—not right now, anyway. She must be willing to accept this deal without condition.
“Insubordination is unacceptable. You will be disciplined for every infraction; your complete obedience will be expected at all times.”
Her body quivers, a spasm I can feel just by touching her face. “I will be your master from now until your debt is paid. Do you accept these terms?”
I let go of her and fold my arms behind my back. She stares at me, her chest rising and falling with her short, rapid breaths. “Yes, fine,” she says at last. “You better not make me regret this.”
I keep my face impassive, not showing my amusement. If she doesn’t regret at least a little what’s coming next, I will be very surprised. “Good,” I say. “But first you have to prove you’re ready for this. Take off your clothes, now.”