The sound of heavy footsteps drove Becca into the shadows. Please keep walking. Please don’t bother me again.
Her heart lurched when a dark figure stopped in front of her cell. She held her breath and wished to disappear into a crack in the floor. Or better yet, shrink down until she was small enough to slip through the bars and escape the Kemmius Women’s Prison for good.
“Ah, there she is, hiding in the corner.” The dim light from the corridor brushed over the warden’s face as he leaned down to stare at her. He chuckled and displayed a sinister smile that had her insides clenching with fear.
She felt cold all over, cold and desperate and terrified that the warden continued to single her out. She was the quietest, most well-behaved inmate on Kemmius, and yet the more she retreated into herself, the more he sought her out for various harassments.
He raised the strap she hadn’t noticed dangling from his hand and pressed his thumb to the security pad. The nauseatingly familiar stench of whiskey and body odor surrounded her when he staggered inside her cell. She cringed and turned into the wall, trying to crawl deeper into the corner.
For the umpteenth time in her life, she wished she’d never met the scumbag boyfriend who’d slipped illegal drugs into her carryon at the Interstellar Port. Now she faced life in prison on a planet far from Earth, far from the semi-civilized laws that still governed her home world.
“You had kitchen duty tonight, and I don’t think you cleaned the tables well enough.” He snapped the leather strap into his palm and hovered above her. “If you bend over the bed and hold position like an obedient little bitch, I won’t call the guards in to hold you down.”
Having endured that shame once before, she reluctantly rose to her feet and shuffled into position. At least he wasn’t ordering her to strip this time, though she trembled when he groped her backside and spent far too long pulling her pants and panties down. With a hand on her exposed bottom, he pressed his erection into her hip. Sickness rose in her throat.
The warden had never actually molested her, but he constantly threatened it with his words and unwelcome touches. As it happened, premarital sex was a punishable crime on Kemmius and strictly against prison regulations. Still, she feared one day he would let himself into her cell after imbibing too much whiskey and forget about the rules, forget about the consequences that would befall him if he violated her.
“How many years have you been here, Becca? Refresh my memory.”
“Well, I have good news for you, girl. You’re getting out in one month.” He held the belt to her bottom but didn’t swing yet.
“One month? But my sentence is a lifetime sentence, sir.”
“My five-year service contract is up in one month, inmate, and as you know it’s the custom of unmarried guards to select a wife from among the prisoners once their five years are up.”
Her blood ran cold. For a long moment the dark room spun around her in circles. “You’re not a guard, sir, you’re the warden. I didn’t know wardens held to this custom too.” She shuddered. Many of the women with long sentences tried to catch the notice of the unmarried guards, hoping for the chance of leaving the prison behind one day. They became the man’s wife and his property though. Becca had never attempted it, fearing her fate as a guard’s wife would just be another form of captivity, possibly worse than the prison itself.
The warden’s cruel laughter raised the hairs on the back of her neck. “It’s a tradition for the warden too, and I happen to be unmarried.”
“No surprise there,” she muttered under her breath as angry tears welled up.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, sir.” Her eyes went wide, and she breathed a sigh of relief when he seemed to let her comment pass. His hearing wasn’t the best, and she often got away with rude comments if she spoke in a whisper. Such fleeting comments helped her release the steam of her anger toward him and every other man who’d wronged her.
“In exactly thirty days, Becca, you will become my wife.” He patted her bottom with the strap. “You have no choice. You see, my dear, I have all the power, and you will be at my complete mercy. You’ll be dependent on me for everything, from food to clothing to shelter, and I will greatly enjoy making you earn your keep.”
Tears finally spilled from her eyes and fell onto the bedcovers in a dark splotch. He was right. She had no choice. There was nothing she could do to escape this fate. If he picked her as his bride on his last day, she would belong to him forever. Kemmius brides weren’t allowed to divorce, and they had no rights on any planet in human-occupied space. If their husbands died and they had no adult children to claim responsibility for them, they were sent straight back to Kemmius to serve out the remainder of their sentence.
Her only chance at escaping the warden would be if a guard departing before him claimed her, but that seemed unlikely. She was so quiet that she was pretty sure none of the guards knew she existed, and she couldn’t attempt to flirt with a guard with the warden constantly breathing down her neck. His next words chilled her further.
“And don’t you dare try to tempt a departing guard into taking you as a wife before my thirty days are up. If you dare to do such a thing, I will simply track you down once I leave Kemmius. Imagine how much I will make you suffer then, girl.”
She bit the inside of her mouth to keep from whimpering. Her nausea deepened, and she wished he would beat her already and get it over with. She wanted him to leave so she could grieve for her future in private.
“I am going to whip you hard now, Becca, and I hope next time you have kitchen duty you will spend more time scrubbing the tables. You’ll get this same kind of discipline when you’re my wife too. Harsher, even. I won’t stand for the slightest disobedience from you, ever.”
She sensed him raising the strap and braced herself for the first strike, but a voice outside her cell interrupted his swing.
“Warden, the discipline of all prisoners on Block C falls under my jurisdiction now. As of last week, you have been reassigned to Block A, remember?”
Becca looked up, hope filling her at the sight of Officer Makin, a guard who’d recently been assigned to her block. The air tensed as the two men stared at one another.
“I’m the warden, Makin.”
“Yes, and you are assigned to Block A. Unless this prisoner starts a riot or gets into a fight with another inmate or something else especially serious, she won’t be sent to your personal office for discipline. Tell me, what offense has she committed?”
“She didn’t perform her kitchen duties correctly this evening. Left the tables a mess.”
“Not wiping the tables down sufficiently isn’t cause for such a visit. You are breaking several regulations right now; a dangerous thing considering your five years is up at the end of the month. You wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize your service payout, would you?”
Makin’s confidence in speaking to the warden stunned Becca. She’d never seen any guard stand up to the dreadful man before. They always gave him a wide berth and jumped to comply with his every command. Why wasn’t Makin afraid of him? And why was the warden so flustered by this guard?
The warden backed away from her and cleared his throat. “Very well, Makin.” His voice dripped with contempt. “I will leave this prisoner’s discipline in your hands; however, I will be checking the cameras to ensure she was punished accordingly.”
Becca didn’t know what to make of that, and she studied Officer Makin from the corner of her eye, not daring to break her position bent over the bed. She hadn’t had any interactions with him yet, but she had noticed him from afar, and on several occasions she had caught him staring at her. His huge stature made him stand out amongst all the other guards. She’d never seen a man so tall or with shoulders so broad, and his dark brown eyes made her feel all tingly inside, especially when his gaze was fixed on her. She looked down at the dark splotches of tears left on her bedcovers and hoped Officer Makin didn’t whip her as hard as the warden had intended.
The warden departed her cell and his footsteps faded down the corridor, until at last she heard a door open and slam. She tensed as Officer Makin entered her space and shut the cell door. She expected him to remove the disciplinary strap from his belt, but to her surprise he didn’t even reach for it. Instead, he sat in front of her and tipped her chin up, prompting a rush of flutters in her tummy as she met those gorgeous dark eyes of his.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“That’s a pretty name.”
She flushed. “Thank you, sir.”
His visage reflected sadness, as if he regretted what he must do. Except that wasn’t possible. None of the guards seemed to harbor any pity for the women who were incarcerated on this Godforsaken planet.
“Did you really not clean the tables properly?”
Becca’s eyes went wide and she looked down, even though he continued to hold her chin up. Contradicting the warden wasn’t wise, even if his reason to whip her was entirely manufactured. “That is correct, sir. I failed to wipe all the tables in the cafeteria down. I’m very sorry.”
His eyebrow shot up, and her mouth went dry at his sudden stern demeanor. Did he really want her to confess the truth? It was bad enough that the warden planned to make her his bride. The warden would check the camera feed later, and if she spoke out against him in any way he would make her pay, even if he had to wait thirty days to exact his revenge.
“I suppose I must punish you then, Becca.” The guard’s expression softened. “However, I feel a whipping as the warden planned is too harsh a punishment.”
Before she could ask what he meant, he clasped her wrist and guided her over his lap. She trembled. Her heart thudded and her face heated. The closeness of his body to hers sent her head into a spin. She soaked up the physical contact, reveling in the feel of his firm thighs shifting beneath her. Tears of relief and even joy threatened to spill from her eyes.
Yes, he was preparing to punish her, but he was holding her, and nothing had ever felt so right in all her life. Since her arrest almost three years ago, she hadn’t felt such a tender touch.
Officer Makin cupped her bottom with a warm hand, moving from cheek to cheek as he caressed the area he would soon spank. Her breath caught and a tingle raced down her spine and heat pulsed in her core. She was suddenly breathless, as if she’d just returned from recreation time after running laps around the gym.
“I think, for an offense as minor as not wiping down the tables, a hand spanking should suffice, don’t you, Becca?”
“Yes, sir, that sounds very fair. Thank you, sir.” She spoke in a hushed tone, hoping the recordings didn’t pick up her response.
He raised his hand and brought it down, striking her right bottom cheek. She flinched but didn’t try to escape his lap. She gasped when he next smacked her left cheek. It stung, and she cried, but the tears that fell were more from the overwhelming splendor of his body so warm next to hers.
She closed her eyes and imagined she was back on Earth and he was her husband, and she’d broken some mundane rule for which he’d decided to punish her. She painted a lovely story inside her head as he continued spanking her, picturing the house they lived in as an old-fashioned white farmhouse with black shutters and a charming red door. They had chickens and horses, and they grew corn and soybeans, and every Sunday the neighbors stopped by for dinner. They had a couple of kids too. Four to be exact. They enjoyed a simple, happy life far from the reaches of any corrupt government.
The pain of his hand cracking upon her flesh intensified, drawing her from her daydreams. She squirmed a bit and gasped when he spanked the tops of her thighs, and then it was over, and he pulled her panties and uniform pants up.
He patted her backside once, a tender touch, and sat her upright on the bed next to him. His thigh brushed against hers, and she resisted the temptation to curl up against him. She would give anything to be held right now, to be comforted in his arms while listening to the steady beating of his heart. In her daydream, her husband was loving after he punished her, and he held her and stroked her hair until her tears dried up.
“Do you promise to be a good girl in the future, Becca?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. For being gentle, that is.” She sniffled and wiped at her eyes, her emotions running rampant. This brief interaction with Officer Makin had warmed her heart, but in another way it reminded her of all she would never have. In thirty days the warden would claim her as his bride. The rest of her life loomed ahead, dark and full of pain.
Hunter stared into Prisoner 343C’s deep blue eyes. Becca. That was her name, and he thought the pretty, feminine name suited her. She was petite with a long mess of dark brown hair, and during the short time he’d been on Block C he hadn’t heard as much as a peep from her. She kept to herself during recreation time, and he suspected she always performed her assigned jobs as well, even kitchen duty. The warden was known to invent various reasons to punish the inmates to feed his sadistic streak, and Hunter took a special kind of delight in circumventing his plans whenever the chance arose.
The warden had arrived at the prison a mere three weeks after Hunter had, and both men had taken an instant dislike to the other. And during the last few years, Hunter had collected enough proof of the warden’s misconduct that if he presented his evidence to the Kemmius high council, the warden could be brought up on multiple charges. Not enough to land him in jail, but enough to jeopardize his final payout at the end of his five-year service contract. All the guards and wardens counted on that payout to help them begin a new life on one of the habitable planets near Kemmius, and because of this, the warden wasn’t stupid enough to cross Hunter.
The slight girl trembled and peered at him with questions brimming in her tear-filled eyes. Hunter stood up abruptly, fearing he would succumb to the urge to wipe her fallen tears away. He was surprised she’d cried so much considering the light punishment he’d given her. The warden would’ve raised welts upon welts with that brutal strap of his.
“Are you all right, Becca?”
“How old are you?” he asked, thinking she looked barely old enough to travel through the Interstellar Port without an adult chaperon. He didn’t know the reasons for her prison sentence, but if she was on Kemmius, it was probably because she’d committed a crime under the port authority’s jurisdiction. Only a handful of women had been sent to Kemmius from Earth thus far, usually when the American or Russian prisons became too overcrowded.
“I-I am twenty-one, sir.”
“How long is your sentence?”
“A lifetime. Well, except…” Her voice trailed off and her face crumpled.
She wiped at her eyes and met his gaze with a look of resignation. “The warden’s five-year service contract is up in one month. He’s planning to make me his… his…” A heart-wrenching sob burst from her. She covered her face and wept into her hands.
She didn’t have to finish her sentence for him to know what she’d been about to say. The warden intended to take Becca as a bride during his payout. The bastard.
Hunter saw red as his mind conjured up all the horrid, nasty things the warden would do to this poor young girl. He pulled a handkerchief from his uniform shirt pocket and drew her hands from her face, giving her the faded blue cloth and nodding at her with an encouraging smile. She accepted the handkerchief and began wiping away her tears.
“He’s going to name you as his wife, isn’t he?” Hunter sat next to her again, damning the cameras that were recording their every move. He didn’t care. He had one week left in this shithole, and then he would be on the other side of the star system on a secluded island he planned to purchase on the scarcely populated planet Merro. With all the dirt he had on the warden, he could get away with erasing this evening’s recordings.
“Yes, sir.” Becca stared at the wall ahead and clutched the handkerchief.
“Has he ever raped you, Becca?” Hunter hoped the warden hadn’t violated her in this way, but at the same time if he had, it might be possible to gather enough evidence against him. Sex outside of marriage was outlawed on Kemmius and on most nearby planets, and any prison employee caught having intercourse with an inmate had their service contracts terminated and charges brought against them.
“No,” Becca said, her eyes dropping to her lap. “He’s threatened it, but he’s never actually done it.” She straightened, now much more composed, and offered his handkerchief to him.
Hunter shook his head and pushed it back into her hands. “You keep it.”
Her lower lip trembled and another tear spilled down her cheek. She used the blue cloth to wipe it away and graced him with the smallest of smiles. For that fleeting moment, her face lit up like the sun. “Thank you, sir. You are very kind.”
Kind. He cringed inwardly. There was nothing kind about Hunter, and if she knew his reasons for leaving Earth, she wouldn’t be sitting so calmly beside him. He’d had to change his name and forge the proper documents just to make it through the Interstellar Port and to Kemmius, where the first service job he found was at this women’s prison on the coldest continent on the coldest fucking habitable planet in existence. He’d had to leave most of his money and possessions behind, and the quickest way to start over seemed to be a service job, the type of job that promised a large payout at the end of five years, enough money to buy a large plot of land, or even a small island, on a faraway planet where no one would recognize him or even know his name. The governing councils on each planet wanted to grow the populations, and the institution of service jobs with large payouts, mainly mining, manual labor, and prison jobs, drew hordes of men from overpopulated Earth.
“How long has the warden been singling you out, Becca?” Hunter felt a surge of protectiveness for the young woman and held his breath, hoping this was the first time.
“Ever since I came here.”
Rage bubbled underneath his skin and he took a deep breath and stared straight at the camera mounted high on the corner wall. He hoped the warden was watching, and he experienced a pang of regret for punishing Becca. Of course she hadn’t really neglected her duties in the kitchen, but he’d spanked her anyway. Deep down, a part of him had wanted to put her over his knee, had wanted to feel her submitting to his authority.
“What was your crime, Becca?”
Her jaw clenched and she swallowed hard. “My boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Terrina, the planet with the really tall trees. We were on our way through the Interstellar Port when a large stash of drugs was discovered in my carryon. They weren’t my drugs, in fact my boyfriend mockingly whispered in my ear that they belonged to him, but it didn’t matter to the authorities. It was my word against his, and he had a fancy lawyer. Now I’m here, and next month I’ll be God-knows-where with the warden.”
He believed that the drugs weren’t hers. She looked trusting and innocent, and that’s probably why her so-called boyfriend picked her as his vacation companion while he attempted to smuggle drugs. This sort of thing happened all the time, and the authorities showed no mercy. If the bags belonged to you, the contents inside also belonged to you. No matter what.
Hunter put a hand on her thigh, not to intimidate her, but to calm her sudden shaking. “My five-year service contract is up before the warden’s. I have seven days left. Perhaps I will claim you as my bride.”
She inhaled in a quick, shaky breath and regarded him with suspicion. “But, but you don’t know me.”
He laughed. “With the number of blocks and the frequent rotation of guards on each block, none of the guards really get to know the inmates. That’s the point of the rotations. It keeps the inmates well-behaved because they want to try to catch every single guard’s attention, and it keeps the guards from showing favor to any woman in particular, thus quelling any jealousy from starting up amongst the prisoners. You’re right, I don’t know you. But I know the warden, and I know he doesn’t have a kind cell in his body.”
She cast a wary glance at the camera.
“Don’t worry about the camera. I hope he’s watching right now.”
Her hands twisted in her lap around the handkerchief, and he longed to comb the tangles out of her hair with his fingers. Hell, he longed to wrap his arms around her and carry her straight to his bunk in the officers’ quarters.
Just one more week. He’d never felt a particular attachment to any of the females here, but the first time he’d laid eyes on Becca a week ago as she walked to her cell after recreation time, he’d felt a strange pull toward her. He’d kept an eye on her since then, from a distance.
“Please pick another inmate,” she whispered. Fear glimmered in her eyes. “Please don’t pick me.”
Hunter forced her gaze to his with a gentle touch to her chin. “You needn’t be so afraid of me. I will be upfront with you about what I expect in a wife, if that helps ease your fear.”
She fell silent, but her eyes kept darting to the camera. He knew she feared the warden, but he would make sure the bastard left her alone for the next seven days.
“I intend to purchase an island on Merro with my payout. I plan to start a small farm, enough to sustain my wife and me, and any children we may have. When you become my wife, Becca, you will be subject to my rules and my discipline, but I promise to be a kind husband. I will not abuse you, and I will see that all your needs are met. You have nothing to fear from me.” He covered her hands with his. “In seven days you will belong to me.”