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A Short Leash by Loki Renard – Sample

A Short Leash by Loki RenardChapter One

Ow!

Blood flowered in the neat shape of Sierra’s teeth upon the arm of a citizen who had made the grievous error of trying to control her. Crouched ready for further aggression, Sierra watched as her so-called owner cursed and danced, clutching at his hand and calling for the sanitizing spray.

“What’s going on?” A pinch-faced woman leaned out of the window to scowl at the cursing citizen. She had the great misfortune of being the citizen’s wife, a fact she often lamented loudly for all to hear.

“She bit me again!” The citizen pointed an electrified rod at Sierra, the use of which had prompted the meeting of teeth with flesh.

“I told you not to take her out of the cage,” his wife said, glaring at Sierra. “She’s too dangerous. You don’t need a pet anyway, you never hunt. Send her to the pound.”

“I paid fifty thousand credits for her! I’m not going to give her to the pound!”

“You paid fifty thousand credits for something that bites you every chance it gets,” his wife said. “Get rid of her already.”

They both spoke as though Sierra had no ability to understand them. She’d never exchanged a word with either of them, so they didn’t know she could speak quite well and understand every stupid word they said.

She smiled but it was more a snarl, and licked her teeth in a way she knew the wife would find off-putting. They were both scared of her, though the citizen would never admit it. He’d purchased her with the idea of becoming a hunter, but their single trip to the wilds more than a year earlier had come to a short end within half an hour when the good citizen panicked at the sight of a stoat and rushed for the safety of city walls.

Sierra had not been permitted anywhere outside the relatively small compound since then. Her days were boring and lonely. The only interesting thing she ever got to do was bite the hand that underfed her. Usually being cooped up without the opportunity to exercise would have resulted in weight gain, but she had been fed so little that she was in far worse condition than she had been captured in. Her hair was unkempt and knotted, her skin was sallow and out of tone, and she was not nearly as clean as she would have liked to have been.

The citizens did not seem to notice her poor condition. They seemed to think that she was supposed to be a pathetic animal, scrabbling about in their stone-walled yard. All that had kept Sierra sane was her determination to survive and the occasional joy of biting the citizen who claimed to own her. He was her primary source of animal protein.

The citizen and his wife retired indoors to clean his wound and fight about her. Sierra could hear their voices raised through the walls as the woman berated her husband for being so stupid as to keep a vicious beast in the courtyard.

All of a sudden, things became silent. Then there was a rumbling. Sierra knew that sound. It was the sound of the impenetrable small prison she had been transported in several times before being rolled out to the courtyard. The cage, they called it. It wasn’t a cage, really. There were no bars; it was a big metal box with myriad small holes drilled in the top for ventilation. The entrance was a thick steel door that the citizen opened from behind the cage itself. Sierra read anger in his expression, mixed with something like loathing. The feeling was mutual.

“Get in!” He shouted the order. He was always shouting things.

When Sierra didn’t immediately rush into the cage, he leaned over and threw a piece of bread into the back. Without any further hesitation, Sierra scampered after it. She knew she was being trapped, but better to be trapped than hungry. The door slammed shut behind her and she was left gnawing on the stale crust. She didn’t care when the crate started moving, not until she realized that it had left the courtyard and was being pushed into a larger pod for transport. The world went dark.

The journey from there to here, wherever here was, took an hour. There was a great deal of rumbling and bumping of a kind she had not felt since she was captured. Wherever she was being taken, it was far, far away. The thought that perhaps she might be turned loose back into the wilds gave her a brief spark of hope, but she had been captive too long to hold onto that thought.

When the motion stopped and light once more was allowed to filter into her crate, she could sense that they were no longer in the city. There was fresh air coming through the little holes, real air, complete with the life-sustaining radiation citizens could not stand for more than an hour or so at a time.

“I’m looking for Master Kade.” She heard the citizen’s voice outside her crate. Sierra perked up as she picked up a new scent, masculine but different from the citizen. It was a stronger scent, cleaner and somehow more powerful.

“I am Master Kade,” a deep voice rumbled in response. “What is this?”

“This is a pet,” the citizen said. “In the, er, in the crate here. She… we… my wife doesn’t want me to keep her anymore. She’s difficult. She bites. She’s vicious, really. Dangerous.”

“Dangerous and vicious, you say,” Master Kade drawled in dry tones that indicated he doubted the citizen’s story.

“Yes,” the citizen replied. “I’ve had her for a year and not been able to do a thing with her. She bites me every time I get close. Frankly, I think there’s something wrong with her. I was told you were able to deal with difficult pets and thought you might want her. She might be good for bringing down large prey.”

“Is she particularly large?”

“She’s not particularly large,” the citizen said. “But what she lacks in size, she makes up for in aggression.”

“Does she have a name?”

“No,” the citizen said. “She hasn’t earned a name.”

In darkness Sierra lifted the corner of her lip in a snarl, wishing she could bite the citizen again.

“Let’s see her then.”

There was a little bit of clanging as the top latch was undone, then the top lifted and light streamed in, temporarily blinding Sierra with its brilliance. When her eyes adjusted, she found herself looking into the most singularly colored blue-green eyes, the color of a deep lake or still ocean on a hot day. Master Kade. His face was not that of a citizen. It bore too many scars and was far too pronounced in its masculinity. She recognized him instantly as a carrier of the same wild genes she possessed.

Caught by surprise and stung by sudden fear of this unknown man, she withdrew from him, cowering in the back of the cage. She could not take her eyes off him, however; he was like fall personified, a great hulking season of a man with thick blond hair tinged ever so slightly red. He kept it tied back at the nape of his neck, leaving the hard line of his jaw and the planes of his face free. His nose had obviously been broken on several occasions and there were light scars tracing much of his skin. A thicker, darker one almost reached his right eye, but stopped short.

Sierra saw her wildness reflected back at her and it frightened her terribly. Her fear was elevated by the expression on his face, which changed from curious to fearsome the longer he looked at her. She did not know what about her inspired his fury, but she shrank from it as his eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched.

“Tell me,” Master Kade said, looking from her to her owner. “In between bouts of unexplained aggression, did you ever think to feed her?”

“Of course we fed her,” the citizen said. “That’s just… she’s just…”

“Leave her. Leave the crate,” Master Kade growled. “Don’t say another word and don’t show your face here again or I will have you arrested.”

“But… She cost fifty thou…”

Leave.

The word was a snarled threat so potent that even the loss of fifty thousand credits couldn’t keep the citizen in Kade’s presence. Sierra peeked out through the holes and watched as her erstwhile owner backed away several steps, then turned and fled to the safety of his transport, which sat outside a large gate. A little giggle rose to her lips as she watched him run, unwieldy in the suit designed to protect him from the elements his tender complexion could not stand. The laughter died as Kade turned back to her.

“Don’t be afraid, my pet,” he said in infinitely softer tones. “You have no reason to be. No harm will come to you here.”

Sierra did not believe him, but she was intrigued by her surroundings. The citizen’s house had been small and confined in all aspects. Even the very limited outdoor space had been closely hemmed in by tall walls. Master Kade’s place was also surrounded by tall walls, but it was larger by several orders of magnitude and full of plants and bushes. Sierra had not seen a live plant in what seemed like forever. She was entranced by the way the leaves moved in a breeze which she had also been removed from for longer than she could care to admit.

“Are we outside?”

“Not in the way you might think,” Master Kade said. “This is my compound. We adjoin both the city and the wilds here. The air is unfiltered. I have a natural resistance to the radiation, and of course, you do too.”

Sierra let her distrustful gaze run over him again. He was dressed oddly. His pants were wild in design, made of leather animal skin that conformed to powerful thighs in a way that left very little to the imagination. His shirt was thick white cloth with a collar and cuffs and buttons running up the middle. In her experience, citizens wore flowing robes of bright colors, always outdoing one another with the color and splendor of their garments. Master Kade’s dress was much more simple, much more functional, and much more masculine than any she had seen a citizen wear. He was even more intriguing than the surroundings.

“Would you like to come out of the box?”

“No.” Sierra was quite clear on that. She had not wanted to get in the box, but now that the top was off, it gave her some measure of security. Although he seemed to be kindly, Master Kade was much larger and much scarier than any man she had ever seen. She shrank down a little further, lurking as hard as humanly possible.

Kade smiled down at her comfortingly. “I know you’re scared,” he said. “But I’m going to look after you. You’re going to feel a lot better very soon, I promise you that. Tell me. What is your name? I know you have one.”

Sierra sat against the back wall of her crate with her knees up to her chest, looking at Kade with mistrust. Her name had been the only thing of her own since her capture. The notion of sharing it with Master Kade worried her.

“Quiet little pet, aren’t you,” he observed. “That’s alright. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I’ll come up with a name so you will know when I am speaking to you. How does Melodiferious Vundersquish sound?”

Sierra giggled. The name was ridiculous. “No,” she said. “Not that name.”

“No? Hmmm…” He put his thumb and forefinger to his chin. “Hildegarde Slumberciddle?”

“No!” Sierra laughed. It had been such a long time since she felt any true amusement, aside from the limited entertainment she had gotten out of seeing the citizen and his wife bicker. It felt good to laugh again, as though she was opening up a part of herself that had long been closed. “My name is Sierra,” she said.

“Sierra,” Kade nodded. “A pretty name for a pretty pet. Now, are you sure you will not come out of the box?”

She shook her head hurriedly, not ready to forgo the security of what had become her little steel fortress.

“I’ll wait,” he said, walking to sit on a bench a few yards away.

Sierra watched him carefully over the side of the box. He stretched out his legs in front of him and sat with a relaxed posture, allowing her to take full measure of his considerable bulk from a distance. The citizen had never taken any time to simply be near her in peace. He had poked and prodded her and shouted and used his damnable shocking stick. Master Kade was different. Very different.

“That collar of yours looks tight,” he said after some time. “Come over here and I’ll take it off.”

Her collar was uncomfortable, but she had gotten used to it. She had been wearing it for so long that it was like a part of her, the thick fabric webbing tight against her throat.

“That collar links you to your owner,” he further explained. “If you are found with that on, you may be returned to him.”

That was motivation for Sierra to leave her box. She climbed up and over the edge, setting foot on the grass. It was heaven to feel the soft green blades beneath her feet, but once she realized she was now without any kind of protection, she lost her nerve and pressed herself against the side of the crate.

“Come here,” Kade said, pointing to his feet.

Sierra stayed where she was, eying him suspiciously.

“So you haven’t been trained at all,” he observed. “I suppose I should not be surprised.” He stood up and began to move toward her. Sierra was not pleased by his movement. She leaped back into the crate and made a growling sound as he approached, warning him of her inherent fierceness.

“You can cut that out,” he said. “I don’t tolerate aggression from my pets. You save that for the hunt.”

Sierra growled louder, a feral snarl emerging from her throat as he stood over her crate, his hands on his hips.

“You came to have it removed, so I’m going to take that collar off,” he said, withdrawing a knife from his belt. It looked sharp enough to cut the sun and did not make Sierra feel any safer. “Make sure you stay still,” he said. “We don’t want you getting hurt.”

He made a motion toward her. She shoved herself into the very back of the crate and snapped at him, flashing her teeth.

“Now you know better than that, don’t you?” There was no anger or fear in his response, just a relaxed tone. He was not impressed by her. He was not afraid of her either. Sierra was used to citizens treating her as if she were dangerous. The citizen who owned her had trembled every time he came into her presence. She sensed no such tremors in Master Kade.

“Put your head down and let me take this collar off you,” he instructed.

Sierra did not put her head down. She would not take her eyes off him; doing so went against every instinct she had.

She watched him and he watched her. For long moments they sized one another up, trying to work out what would happen next.

“You’re going to have to come on out of there,” he said. “I know you’re scared, but there’s really nothing to fear here.”

“I’m not scared. You should be scared,” Sierra spat back at him.

“Mm-hmm. Now you’re starting to misbehave. I don’t tolerate misbehavior. Come on out of there, Sierra. You’re not an animal and you don’t need to act like one.”

“Not an animal? That is all I am.”

“Animals don’t string together sentences the way you do. Come on out now, girl.”

He was seeing her as she had not been seen since before being trapped, looking at her with eyes that saw her not as a commodity, but as a person. Strange. Very strange. Sierra was very confused by this man.

“I’m going to help you out,” he said. “Don’t do anything silly.”

He reached into the crate. Before he could make contact with her she bit him, her teeth sinking into the fleshy part of his hand.

Nothing happened. He stared down at her, those iridescent eyes drawing her in as she sank her teeth into his flesh just shy of hard enough to draw blood. She was being cautious. He was completely unmoved; it was as if he didn’t even feel the grip of her jaw.

“So you think biting works, do you? Not here, my girl. Not here. Let go. Now.”

Sierra didn’t let go. She’d committed to the bite and usually she never let go until the citizen screamed and ran away. Master Kade didn’t seem inclined to scream and he hadn’t moved an inch. He hadn’t even moved his hand away. He was just letting her have it, demanding that she control herself. She could see the powerful set of his shoulders, the thick brawn of his arms. He could have beaten her into next week, but he didn’t seem inclined to violence.

“You have three seconds to let go,” he said. “Before your hide pays the price for this.”

She did not let go. This was the testing point. This was the defining moment that would shape their relationship. If she let go, she would be acknowledging that he controlled her. If he broke first, then she would be back to the antagonistic relationship she’d had with the citizen who claimed to own her.

“Three… two… one…”

He reached down with his other hand, clamped it around the back of her neck, and pulled her up from her hiding place with her teeth still on his hand. Sierra could not resist his grip; her muscles moved at his urging as he eased her up and out of the crate.

Master Kade did not speak again as he drew her across open ground to the bench where he had sat before, one hand on the back of her neck, the other still firmly lodged in her mouth. Neither one of them was prepared to give any quarter, it seemed. Kicking, squirming, and squealing through her teeth, Sierra did not know what his intention was, she just knew she wanted him to give way first.

It wasn’t until he sat down and used his grasp to angle her down and over his thighs that she realized she might be in some form of trouble. Giving way didn’t seem to be on his agenda; instead he held her prone body across his lap, wrapping his free arm around her waist whilst she continued to bite the other hand.

“This is going to get quite painful for you if you don’t let go,” he informed her calmly. “I don’t want to have to discipline you, Sierra, but you’re not leaving me much choice.”

Sierra didn’t listen to his words. Words were meaningless. All that mattered was the fact that she still had her toothy grip in place and he had not managed to dislodge her. She fancied she was winning.

Without further warning, Master Kade slapped her on the bottom. It was not a hard slap, but it was enough to sting. Sierra was wearing a long shirt and short shorts, both made of silk. They were the only fine things about her. The citizen had always insisted that she wear nice things so that anyone coming to visit might be able to admire her shock of violet hair and pale blue eyes. The clothing provided precisely no protection against the hard flat of his hand as it began bounding off the rounds of her cheeks with rapidly increasing intensity.

Sierra yelped around his hand and almost let go. Almost. Her mouth came off for a second as she let out an old swear word then clamped back down again.

“You don’t want this to go on much longer,” he informed her, his deep voice rumbling down at her. “It’s going to start burning, and it won’t go away any time soon either. The longer I smack your bottom, the longer you feel the effects.”

It was fair warning, but Sierra did not much appreciate it. The strong man could not be allowed to think that he could control her with his bulk, or with the striking of his hand. He had to know that she was unbreakable. Her jaw was starting to ache from the effort of sustaining the bite, and her bottom was much warmer than she liked it to be, but she persevered through the discomfort with the aim of impressing him with her resolve and puncturing him with the sharpness of her teeth. His skin was holding though. It was much tougher than the hide of most citizens, more conditioned to withstanding a bite from a wild thing.

Sierra began to squirm to try to work some of the discomfort out of her cheeks and avoid some of the slaps that seemed to land in the same place over and over by design. The motion brought with it a new sensation, something pleasant at the apex of her thighs where her barely clad body met the hard muscular length of his leg. A slow grind turned into a writhing as Master Kade picked up the pace.

The pulsing between her thighs grew with every slap, propelling her hips against his leg. She let out a small moan, which was lost in the sounds of spanking as Kade propped his thigh up a little higher and set to spanking her harder and faster.

Never before in her life had Sierra been so completely lost in a whirlwind of sensation. The slaps came with a burning heat that was not entirely pleasant, but her body was taking the pain and turning it to pleasure almost as fast as Kade could deliver each swat. This was what she had needed for a very long time, to unleash fully on someone and to be held through it. To find some hard limit that could not be trespassed against. She seemed to have found one in Master Kade.

Though she continued to bite, Kade showed no signs of wanting to reject her. With one leg wrapped around her own, he was pinning her to his body and delivering a sound thrashing. Even as the slaps rained down, Sierra felt no malice or anger in his touch. It was simply a reaction to her action, a consequence as natural as the sun in the sky—and damn near as hot.

She bucked her hips in an attempt to dissuade him, but all she succeeded in doing was tightening the muscles low in her belly and lifting her bottom to his palm. Bolts of excitement shot through her with each and every slap as he continued to spank her seemingly tirelessly.

“I think you might like this, pet,” Kade drawled as the sting set in deeper, tingling through her bottom to the hot, increasingly wet places between her thighs. The smooth silk of her attire made it easy for her to slide back and forth between his palm and his thigh, pleasuring herself in spite of the wicked burn.

Her legs began to part in an attempt to get more pressure on the rebellious bud that would not allow her to submit. It worked, but there was a price to pay. Kade found the sensitive skin of her inner thighs and began landing his slaps there, his fingers landing dangerously close to her heated pussy, which had become the focus of all her attentions. Demanding and greedy, she ground against him, not caring what he thought, hungry for the orgasm that was building under his palm.

“Eeee!” She let out a squeal as his fingers unexpectedly caught her between her legs, the sting of the tips landing across the entrance of her pussy cupped tight by the silk of her now quite rumpled garment.

“There’s not a place I won’t punish if you deserve it,” Kade purred down at her. “Especially if you present it to me.”

His hand left her bottom for a moment and she thought maybe the spanking was over, but instead he used the hand to grasp the fabric at the back of her shorts and pull up hard enough to let the silk strain taut over her pussy as her hips rose off his laps for a moment and she was more or less suspended by the fabric between her thighs.

Moaning, Sierra almost let go of her grip. She was no longer biting properly, she was almost suckling with need as Master Kade let her squirm and grind against her own gusset.

“You really are quite a prize,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t want to let go?”

With the spanking at a pause, Sierra could feel the aftereffects of Kade’s discipline. It was like a hot aura around her behind, coupled with a burn that had sunk deep into her flesh and was not going to go away any time soon.

Sierra shook her head a little and he lowered her back down to resume the spanking.

“You’re stubborn. I’ll give you that,” he said as he palmed her bottom once more. “But I promise you I’m more stubborn, and I’ve been bitten by sharper fanged creatures than you before.”

His palm landed hard across her cheeks again and Sierra let out a squeal through her teeth. He was spanking her harder than before. She had not known that he could spank her harder, and she began to wonder just how hard he could actually hit. She suddenly had the impression that he had been gentle with her up to that point, and given the way her bottom felt she was deeply concerned for it if he were to stop being gentle.

If she’d had common sense she would have simply let go, but arousal was running thick in her veins, clouding her better judgment. She withstood the harder slaps, clenching her lower muscles as she ground herself shamelessly against his thigh, urging herself toward the climax that had been coming ever since he laid her over his lap.

Kade’s slaps seemed to be aimed low, against the very bottom and center of her cheeks. She would almost have thought he was spanking her there on purpose, firm swats landing one after the other in a rhythm that matched her wanton grind.

The climax came upon her in a rushing swell like no other, flooding her body from the center of her being all the way to every extremity. She trembled in Kade’s grasp, a loud and unmistakable moan escaping her as she convulsed against his body.

“Good girl.” His voice soothed her as did his palm, rubbing her bottom.

Sierra was so fuzzy from her climax that she did not know what he was praising her for at first, then she realized that the pleasure had distracted her from the bite. She had been so busy coming that her jaws had lost their grip and he had regained the unfettered use of his hand.

“If I’d known all I had to do to make you let go was make you spend yourself against me, I would have tried that first,” Kade chuckled. “A pet as responsive as you is a rare find.”

Embarrassed by her response to him and his discipline, Sierra took refuge in aggression.

“I am not a good girl!”

She tried to bite him again, but he would not allow it. Instead he took a very firm hold of the back of her neck and she felt cool steel run along her skin. A second later there was a release of pressure and the dirty old collar fell to the ground. He sheathed the knife before she could wrest it from him, but he need not have worried so much about that. Sierra jumped up from his lap, clutching at her throat as she felt the bare skin of her neck. It was tender and even the lightest brush of her own fingers made her wince.

“Don’t touch,” he said. “You have a small skin infection there by the look of things. You’ll need some medicine to clear that up.”

“I don’t want your medicine.”

“It’s not a choice.” He looked at her steadily, his gaze alert and searching. “You’re in my home now, Sierra. In my home, there is no biting,” he informed her. “In my home, pets know their place…”

He rose to his feet, towering above her by a matter of feet. He truly did seem to be impossibly tall and broad. He could have taken a bear down with his bare hands if he wanted to, or at least that’s how it seemed to Sierra. She shrank away, afraid of his imposing bearing and what threat it might hold.

“…and in my home, pets are well fed. Now come. You must be hungry.”

Sierra did not know what to do. She had never been allowed inside her previous owner’s house. She always stayed in her yard. The interior of a home was both interesting and frightening to her.

“Come,” he said, pointing to his heel. “Follow me.”

Crouching down, Sierra backed away. He turned and came back toward her, extending his hand to take hold of hers and pull her up to her feet. “Pets walk here, too. No need to shuffle around on hands and knees. You’re not an animal.”

Sierra stood on legs that trembled not from disuse but from concern. She was unaccustomed to being able to use her feet in the presence of another. Her owner’s wife had taken special exception to it. Sierra suspected it was a result of jealousy, but she did not understand why a citizen would be jealous of a wild one who barely wore any clothing at all and lived in a tiny exposed prison.

“Can you walk?”

She nodded. She had spent most of the past year pacing her yard whenever the citizens were not watching, which was almost always. As time had gone on she’d become a forgotten fixture, rarely fed and almost never bathed. She was aware of how filthy she was, but Master Kade did not seem concerned about that as he invited her into his home.

“Come inside,” he said. “Do you like steak?”

“Steak?” Sierra did not know what the word meant.

“Meat,” he said. “From a wild cow.”

“Meat?” She perked up at that. It had been a long time since she’d eaten meat. Her owner had insisted on a cheap vegetable-based diet. She had tried to catch small animals on the rare occasions one of the anemic city mice scuttled through her enclosure, but the act always scandalized her owner, who seemed shocked whenever she showed any hunting instinct whatsoever.

“Come and sit up here,” he said, leading her through a bewildering array of furniture. Sierra knew it was called furniture because her old owner’s wife had spent an excessive amount of time shrieking about all things furniture related, especially the putting of feet thereon. Civilian houses were full of things that one was not meant to touch, or sit on, or go anywhere near. Sierra did not understand the point of it, but the wife had been very insistent on the matter.

“Here,” he said, patting a three-legged piece of furniture with a soft thick padding atop it.

Sierra sat down, finding it much more comfortable than she could have imagined. Furniture was good. She liked furniture.

Master Kade went to his food stores and took out a large slab of meat. Sierra could smell it instantly, her stomach growling as her mouth began to water. Instinct kicked in. She slid down from the stool and began slowly stalking toward the meat.

“Sit back down,” Master Kade said. “I’m going to cook this first. It will taste better and be better for you.”

A little growl rose in Sierra’s throat. It had been so long since she scented fresh meat that she really didn’t know how to contain herself. The meat had become the sole focus of her intentions. It called to her, a rich source of everything her body needed.

Master Kade set a fire in the middle of his home. The sudden spark of heat made her withdraw, confused at the flames emitting from the metal ring.

“You’ve not been house-trained very well, have you?” he observed. “Let me run you through this. You’re standing in my kitchen. This is a cooker. It’s hot and it will burn you if you touch it when it’s on. If you wait a few minutes, you’ll have a steak that tastes better than anything you ever ate in your life.”

No citizen had ever taken the time to speak to her the way Master Kade did, explaining his reasoning for things instead of just yelling orders at her. Sierra’s experience of citizens was that they always spoke at high volume and with a particular note of frustration. Of course, Master Kade was not a proper citizen, but he was civilized enough that she thought of him as one nonetheless.

“This is a pan,” he said, picking up a large metal object. “This separates the food from the flame so it cooks, but doesn’t burn.”

She knew what a pan was, but it was quite endearing the way he took the time to explain, and she liked the sound of his voice. It was deep, calm, and soothing. Retreating to her seat, Sierra leaned against the wood surface and watched as he began to cook the steak. The moment the meat hit the hot metal, it emitted a scent more heavenly than any other. She had smelled a faint version of it before, through a partly open window at her old owners’ home, but she had never been exposed to the full force of it. It curled around her like a physical thing, making every part of her body tingle with excitement. She could barely contain herself and a small whine of excitement began to escape her lips as she pressed against the counter.

“Easy, my girl,” Kade said. “It’s almost ready. Sit down.”

Sierra sat down, willing to do anything he said if it meant being able to taste flesh. A minute later, Kade served the meat on what he described very carefully as a plate, along with a knife and fork, metal tools that he insisted she wield.

“It is not that hard,” he said. “Push the fork into the meat and cut it with the knife. Cut away bite-sized pieces and eat it that way.”

He was giving her meat. She would have eaten it any way he asked as long as she was allowed to eat it. She jabbed the metal into the meat and shoved the resulting chunks into her mouth. Each piece tasted better than the last, rich flavor rushing over her tongue and flooding her body with primal pleasure.

“Good?” Kade stood watch as she devoured her meal. “I suppose I need not ask. You must have been famished. There will be much more of that in the coming days and weeks. You will not feel hunger again, my pet.”

There was a note of possession in his tone that did not precisely surprise her; citizens were inclined to be possessive. But his was deeper, more genuine. She could almost believe that he cared, though it was not possible that he did. They were strangers to one another, and more than that, he was civilized. Or was he? He certainly was part of the city, but his bearing and his breeding told her that he was just as wild as her.

“How old are you, girl?”

“I was twenty-one when I was captured. That’s when we’re considered old enough to leave the village and find a mate.”

“You speak well for a wild one.”

Sierra licked her plate before replying. “There is a teacher in my village. He taught us how to read books, how to speak like citizens do. He taught us about these cities, how there used to be just one kind of human a long time ago, but hundreds of years ago there was a very big war and they exploded a lot of radioactive bombs on one another. Most people died, but some of them managed to stay away from the radiation in shelters or wearing special suits and build cities that protected them from it. But there weren’t many of those people. Most people were left to die outside those special cities, and over time the wilds reclaimed all the old human cities and lands and things and the tree roots broke up the roads they used to have and all the buildings crumbled, and that’s why most of the world is wilderness today.” A look of sad pride came into Sierra’s eyes. “But not everybody left outside the special cities died. Some of them had a resistance to the radiation and they learned how to survive in forests and jungles and everywhere nature had taken over. Those people were the ancestors of us wild ones. That’s why we’re better than citizens, even though citizens think they should be able to own us like animals. We’re not animals.”

“No,” Kade agreed. “A wild one is just as much a person as a citizen. It’s a pity your teacher didn’t teach you to avoid citizens in the wilds.”

“I was trapped,” Sierra reminded him. “It wasn’t my choice. Will you let me go?”

“Will I let you back into the wilds?” Kade shook his head, dashing her hopes. “No. But I will take much better care of you than your previous owner did, and when you are ready, I will find you an owner worthy of you. I am a pet trainer. That is what I do.”

Sierra nodded and fell silent. If he would not let her free, then he was no different from the man who had kept her before. Her stomach was full and she was tired. Sliding off the stool, she curled up against the kitchen counter and closed her eyes. The floor was covered with a soft curling substance that felt as comfortable as a nest.

“If you’re tired, there’s somewhere more comfortable to sleep,” Master Kade said. “Come.”

She stayed where she was, comfortable enough and unwilling to move.

“Sierra,” he said, his tone deepening a little. “Come.”

She opened one eye, looked at him and shut it again.

He moved closer, standing over her so his tall frame rose high above her. “Sierra,” he said, purring her name. “I expect obedience.”

She did not much care what he expected. At the edge of total exhaustion and with her belly finally full, all Sierra cared about was sleep. She drifted off as he stood there, looking down at her with an expectation that was never going to be fulfilled.

Somewhere in the twilight state between wakefulness and dreaming, she heard him sigh. Then she felt his arms scooping under her slight frame as he picked her up and carried her off to another part of his domicile. Stretching out against his chest, Sierra looked up at him with no small measure of curiosity. Her previous owner had never carried her anywhere. If she hadn’t moved when he’d wanted her to, he’d jabbed her with the hard leather-encased point of his toe or zapped her with his electric stick.

“I get my way, pet,” Kade said, his voice rumbling through his chest. “You’ll learn that soon enough.”

She smiled and curled up against his chest, quite comfortable. “Are you going to put me outside?”

“Outside? No,” he said. “You’re part of my household. That means you live as I do, in a vaguely civilized manner.” He flashed a grin down at her.

Sierra could sense that the refined nature he projected was just a veneer. His touch belied the neat home he lived in and the neat clothing he wore. He might have looked and sounded like part of civilization, but when he laid his hands on her she felt as though she was back in the wilds. Back at home.

Strange that she should feel so comfortable so quickly with a man who was a stranger, but he had showed her more kindness in the past hour than anyone had shown her in a year. She did not trust him entirely and she was still quite determined that it would be better to escape back into the wilds than stay with him, but if she was to be captive, then being captive in the arms of a man like Master Kade was not so bad.

He carried her into a small room in which there was a bed and another door. “That door leads to a bathroom. You can reach my room on the other side of the bathroom. This room is yours; it will give you privacy when you need it, somewhere safe and secure to sleep.”

Sierra thought that she had already found somewhere safe and secure to sleep—his arms. She could not bring herself to say as much though.

“So I will live as a citizen?”

“Eat like one, sleep like one…”

“Leave the city and never return like one?” Sierra added hopefully.

“No,” Kade replied, his lips twisting. “Not leaving the city and never returning. You’re a person, my pet, and you will be treated as such, but you are the property of your owner.”

“I don’t think you can own anything with a mind of its own,” Sierra replied as he lowered her onto the softest surface she’d ever touched in all her life. She rolled about atop the softness, rubbing her face against the smooth cloth that covered the entire surface.

“This is where you sleep now,” Kade informed her. “Get some rest, pet.”

She was tired enough that she obeyed him almost instantly.

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