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Sold: A Dark Reverse Harem Romance by Loki Renard – Sample

Chapter One

“Female!”

That shout ends my life as I know it.

I came to the market this morning dressed as a man in order to sell three oranges, stolen from a tree behind a walled garden in the gold zone. Each of the oranges is a potential lifeline. I could eat them and quench my desire for something sweet and liquidy, but if I sell them here in Mosquito Market, these three oranges can be traded for so much more. Water purification tablets. Meat. Batteries for the radio and the flashlight, both of which are dead and leave me in dark, silent nights when the drizzle makes it impossible to build a fire. All I can do is lie underneath the sheet iron roof and hope that the old plastic bags I glued to it keep the rain from corroding through.

The risk of sneaking into the market was worth it—until it wasn’t.

I wear heavy men’s clothes, a big overcoat with shoulder pads that make me look broader. I have a broad-brimmed hat that I can pull down to cover most of my face. I put on a deep voice, and a beard.

The beard just gave me away. I should have taken my supplies and left, but I had a few shell casings in my pocket, enough to trade for some meat stew. That smell called to me and called to me until I gave in and sat shoulder to shoulder with the men who frequent the market, slurping down my stew. I didn’t notice that it was soaking the fibers of my fake beard. I didn’t notice the heat and the sweat working away at the glue either, not until the patch of hair that kept the men thinking I was male dropped off my face and into my stew, right in front of several dozen traders, soldiers, and mercenaries. Men.

“It’s a woman!”

The cry goes up and is carried across the crowds. There must be at least five thousand men here today. Five thousand men, most of whom are stuck with a virginity they don’t want because these days, no man has a woman.

Wommmaaaaaaaaaaaannn! The shouting is a visceral, hungry, brutal sound that makes my blood run cold. How do they know? A fake beard does not a woman make.

These men are starved for sex. Post-Event, women are impossibly rare. People are rare in general, and women are prized. Kept in great harems and breeding programs. A woman in the wild is almost unheard of. That’s why I’ve been so careful to make sure nobody has ever heard of me.

Until now.

All it takes is one man to say it and suddenly every man in the market is looking at me. Their gazes are not friendly. They are predatory and aggressive. Danger surrounds me. These are men who have not had straight sex in their entire lives—and now they think there is a woman with the kind of hole their bodies are made to crave.

“Woman?” I let out my most booming laugh. “I am no woman!”

My hat is ripped off my head from behind. The cascade of golden hair I’ve never been able to bring myself to cut flows down my back. There is a collective gasp, followed by a growl.

Hands, so many hands come toward me. Dozens upon dozens of them, tearing at my overcoat, pulling me off my feet and yanking the clothing from my body.

The thin veneer of civilization the guards maintain is gone. They are part of the frenzy, pushing and shoving and firing shots to get to me. The chaos is loud and terrifying. I always knew if I got caught, it would be bad. I had no idea that it would be this bad. I never knew it would be a wave of masculine aggression rising over me, so large, so powerful there is no way I can fight it.

Men are trampling one another to get to me as I dart beneath the bar I was just eating at, and take refuge behind the casks. The weapon at my side is out of its holster. The energy clip has maybe thirty shots in it. Not nearly enough to shoot my way out of here. Maybe just enough to keep them back. Maybe.

My view is now a mass of hands and eyes, as they follow me around and try to get into the little space where I have pushed myself, my small female frame now protected by two big barrels of fermented beer.

They’re reaching for me, big dirty hands clawing for me. If they catch a bit of my clothing, they will drag me out.

I fire into the very small space between the grasping males. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but I don’t want to be hurt either. The shot ricochets off a bottle, breaks it in the process, and zooms off over the crowd.

That gives them pause for a second or two. Some of the less enthusiastic men back off, but it doesn’t dissuade all of them. These men would die for the chance at sex. I’m going to have to start shooting them for real.

“Get the fuck away from me!” I scream, pointing the muzzle at the next set of eyes that appears in front of me. They don’t look human anymore. I can tell they belong to a man, but the expression in them is the same one a coyote wears when he finds a rabbit.

Boom!

An explosion echoes across the crowd. It is much louder than anything my gun can produce, and unlike my single shooter, it gets a respectful response from the lust-crazed men. They fall to the ground, covering their heads as the sheriff makes his entrance.

This man rolls deep. There are twelve armed guards, not shitty market guards. Real ones with real armor and real mating privileges. They have access to the state harem. They won’t go feral just looking at me. The vicious rabble clears for them as they move through the market toward me.

“You find a woman, she belongs to the state! You know that!” The sheriff speaks in a booming voice translated through the microphone of his mech suit, an external skeleton that gives him the power of a hundred men, and the weaponry of a small army. I’ve seen a man in one of those things rip through a bandit camp in two minutes. In the end, there were just bits of criminals scattered everywhere. The land claimed them within hours. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a small hive of marching ants trying to drag an ear into their burrow.

This is not a rescue.

I could have shot my way out of the crowd, given enough courage and enough time. I could have maybe gotten free. But there’s no chance of that with the sheriff and his soldiers. My weapons will glance off their armor, and they’ll catch me.

My only chance is to run, now, through the chaos created by a hundred men all abandoning their goods and wares at once. While the sheriff yells at his unruly citizenry, I try to sneak from my hiding place, out around the bar.

“She’s getting away!”

Some dickhead asshole motherfucker tells on me before I even have a chance to try to escape. The sheriff’s soldiers come for me. Bigger, faster, fucking terrifying.

They swing me off my feet and carry me back to the sheriff, my slim body dangling between them. My toes don’t even touch the ground. In their grasp, I am weak and vulnerable. The remnants of my clothing don’t give me much in the way of modesty. My underwear is still on, and the wrap I put around my breasts to complete the male illusion is still there—until it isn’t.

The sheriff reaches out, grabs the wrap, and yanks it. It unwinds like a mummy’s cloth, revealing my breasts to the world. Blood rushes back into the compressed tissue, making me ache and swear.

There is a rumble of male desire all around me. The sheriff is doing the equivalent of dangling a fresh lamb over a pack of starving wolves. This is going to end badly for me. I can feel it.

The fear and adrenaline that kept me clear headed and enabled me to get the hell out of the way when I was under mass attack, now leaves me trembling and weak in the arms of these men who own women.

The sheriff looks me over. He is not a good man. He is not a kind man. In this post-Event United States, you don’t become a law man by playing by the rules. You get there by being brutal and vicious and rich enough to enforce your will and call it law.

When he looks at me, he doesn’t see me. He sees pieces and parts. He sees potential profit. “Good flesh,” he says. “Put her up for sale.”

“No! I just came into the market to sell some oranges! Let me go!”

My words mean nothing, and my struggles mean even less. The sheriff’s face quirks behind the shield of his mask. I can’t really see it, he is like a shadow behind the thick radiation-resistant protection, but I can hear his voice rattling through the microphone.

“I know what you came here to do. I saw you taking them from my private orchard, you little orange-stealing whore. I came here to catch you and hang you for the theft. But you’re female, and young. That would be a waste. You’ll be sold to the highest bidder, girl. And you’ll be grateful you’re not swinging from a rope.”

“I’d rather swing!”

“Take her to the cut men,” he says, talking to his soldiers, ignoring me. “Have them prepare her for sale. And get a collar on her.”

As I writhe, the soldiers do his bidding. They press a thin, light piece of metallic substance around my neck. I immediately try to pull it off, but I can’t. Whatever it is, it’s strong. And while I’m distracted with trying to remove it, they’re bundling me into a cage that obviously has one purpose: human transport.

I am caught. And this is all my fault.

Chapter Two

The cut men sound frightening. In my head, I am imagining monstrous men with bits hacked off them. In reality, the soldiers deliver me to a small villa deep inside the sheriff’s compound where I am greeted by two men with shaved heads. They wear white robes that are a far cry from the armor everyone else is wearing. They are not as rough or masculine as the soldiers. Their eyes hold a more gentle expression—not that I care about their expressions.

I have been packed into a cage, wheeled across more city than I knew existed, and taken into a fortified place from which escape is going to be exceptionally difficult. The orchards I stole from are at the very verge of the city. If you’re smart you can sneak in and out. This is the heart of it. There is no coming and going here.

The soldiers open the cage, drag me out, and thrust me at the two robed fellows, both of whom are taller than any man I have seen before. They must be at least seven feet in height, the pair of them.

I am only 5′1. My mother was short, and growing up wild meant being stunted, so my father used to say. He was tall, but these men tower over me and would have towered over him too.

“I am Mattias,” the slightly taller one says. “And this is Elias.”

Mattias has the face of a poet. I don’t know which poet, but there’s something elegant about him. Elias is even more finely built. They are very, very handsome men, but not in the way the soldiers might be considered handsome. They are handsome in an androgynous way, almost… pretty. Mattias has deep brown eyes and long dark lashes. Elias is fairer, with blue eyes, and I suspect he would have blond hair if he had any. His face is rounder than Mattias’, which is long.

I find them much less intimidating than the soldiers, whose rough bodies, bearded faces, and guttural speech make me want to hide. I am glad that they are leaving now that Mattias and Elias are guiding me indoors.

“My name is Trissa.”

“How old are you, child?”

“My father told me I was ten, ten years ago. So twenty. Not a child.”

“That is how we refer to our charges,” Mattias says. “We look after the girls brought to us, and ensure that they are ready for their new lives.”

“As fuck toys for some rich monster? Don’t even bother. I’m going to escape as soon as I can. I’ll never stop running.”

Mattias puts his hands on his hips and gives me a look that confuses me. It’s not mean, but it is stern. It makes me feel like a petulant little brat, which is ridiculous because I’m a captive, and I have every right to be fuming with anger.

“Do we need the shackles for you?”

I cut my eyes at him. “I don’t know, do you?”

“That’s enough,” Elias intervenes. “You must be hungry and tired. Come and eat.”

They conduct me to a small dining room. Suddenly I forget the circumstances of my capture, and the fear of what is going to happen to me. I forget everything. Even my own name, because I am looking at more food than I have ever seen in my life. The table groans with the weight of oranges, bananas, some things I don’t even know what they are… and then there are the meats, the cheeses…

I don’t ask any more questions. I throw myself at the spread and I begin to devour it like a wild thing, taking great handfuls of food and shoving them into my mouth.

“Slow down, you’ll make yourself sick.”

I don’t slow down. I speed up. Are they going to take the food away? I have to eat it all before they get the chance.

Large hands gently pull me away from the table, press me into a chair.

“Stay,” Elias says. “I will feed you.”

He is so handsome. I can’t stop marveling at it. They both are, in a soft kind of way. I wonder how they came to be here. Most men in the wild have to be rough and dangerous to survive, but these men are not rough. They basically wear dresses. They remind me of monks.

I try to get up. He pushes me back down by my shoulder. I’m still not wearing anything more than my underwear, but neither Mattias nor Elias looks at my half naked body with any kind of hunger. I find that strange, almost unsettling.

Elias feeds me like a baby, taking a spoonful at a time and slipping it into my mouth. My cheeks burn with embarrassment, but he could feed me hanging upside down from my toes if it meant I got more of this delicious food into my body.

“You’ve had enough,” Elias says, putting the spoon down far too soon.

I disagree. I reach for a handful of fruit and shove it into my face. Most of it smears around my lips, but some of it gets in, and that is all that matters.

“That’s enough.” Mattias grabs me from behind and lifts me up and away from the food. I don’t want to be taken away. I want more. The last time I had meat it was lizard meat and that’s never good. This is some kind of bovine. And I want more. So much more.

“Settle down,” he says, carrying me out of the room as I flail and wail. In the midst of my demands, a sharp slap to my rear distracts me from the demands of my belly.

“Ow!” I shout with complaint as he sets me down on my feet in another room. “Why did you do that?”

He takes a small piece of cloth, then my hand and begins wiping my fruit-covered fingers. I yank my hand away and stuff them into my mouth. He is stealing the last of the very good taste!

“You are a wild little thing,” he sighs.

I take it that is not good in his eyes, but that’s something I’m proud of. There aren’t many people living wild anymore. Most of them have given up freedom for the safety of the cities and their tyrants. There are seventeen cities remaining in what used to be the continental United States.

I was born in the wilds outside Dallas. The sheriff who captured me today rules over the city. Much of it lies in post-war ruin, but he has managed to preserve enough of it to house several hundred thousand men, and perhaps a few hundred women.

Once upon a time, women were equal in number to men, and they were free. My father told me how it all changed, how the Event destroyed the world as they knew it. He saw it happen when he was a small boy, and he often told me stories in the long nights where we would lie in the dark, hiding from patrols looking for wild people. Our existence itself was always illegal, but he kept me safe as long as he could.

The Event was devastating. Technically there was more than one event. There were really two. The first was a sickness that struck women down in great disproportion, and rendered many, many more sterile. A biological agent, which had once been developed to control mosquito numbers, was mutated and used against the human population.

It took two years for the secondary effects of the Event to be felt, but with so many women gone, the remaining men, struck down with grief and full of rage at those who had inflicted the virus, went to war. There was no single person to go to war against. The perpetrators of the act were not discovered, though there were plenty of suspects.

War spread across the nation, war without reason. War against people of different heritages, different ideas, war against those of the wrong eye color. Coast against coast, state against state. There were those who killed to sate their rage, those who killed for revenge, there was little in the way of order and even less in the way of mercy.

Then, when it seemed they might kill until the very end of the world, someone detonated the bomb that turned the West Coast into a sea of nuclear glass, triggering an earthquake powerful enough to drop several cities into the ocean.

Peace came on rivers of blood. Order arose out of chaos. Warlords emerged, twenty of them who, through brutality and raw viciousness, formed bands of warriors and took major cities for their own territories.

The few healthy women remaining were captured and put to work spawning fresh generations. But still, female babies were a rarity. The gene editing agent had done its work too well. Instead of one female being born to every male born, there was only one female to every thousand males. A few legendary women were able to produce pure female lineages, and those women were worshipped.

I am descended from Athena of California. She who bore twelve daughters. My line is a powerful one. My father told me that often. I was born to a daughter of Athena who managed to escape the compound she was held in. She did not survive bearing me, but I did. The sheriff did not take the time to discern my genetics when he captured me, and for that I am glad. If he knew, I am almost certain I would never see the light of day again.

I was born wild. My mother fought to make me wild. And my father guarded me as long as he could. Now, I have foolishly given up some of that freedom for as little as three oranges.

Mattias’ comment about me being a wild thing sobers me more than the slap did. It reminds me of all I have lost, and all I need to fight to regain.

To get out of here, I need to understand who I am being held by. Who is Mattias? And why have I been given to him and Elias? It seems strange. Women are never allowed to be with men. Men can’t help themselves. But these ones seem to be able to.

As the food starts to settle in my stomach, questions start to rise.

“They call you the cut men, where’s your knives? Are you going to cut me? What are you going to cut?”

“We are the ones who have been cut, child. Come.”

“You’ve been cut?” I follow Mattias, asking him question after question. The house is not terribly large, but it is beautiful. Shining tile covers the floors, and the walls likewise seem to be made of rock of some kind. It could be cold and sterile, but carvings make it elegant, and the furniture is old and very fine.

We used to scavenge bits and pieces from the broken world for the shack, but none of them were nearly as nice as these gleaming wooden chairs and tables that we pass by.

Elias joins us, and I begin to question them both.

“What did they cut? Did they cut your hair off?”

A look passes between them, a smirking, long-suffering gaze.

“Something else.”

“Oh, my god, what?”

They ignore the question as they lead me into a bathing chamber. In the past, I have showered when it rained, or wallowed in what remained of dried-up creeks. I have never seen such a fine tub as this. It is the width of the entire room, and it is filled with pristine, clear water.

I rush forward, dip my face into the tub and start slurping at the water.

“Alright. Enough of that,” Mattias rumbles, his large palm swatting my rear gently. “Don’t drink the bathwater. Take your underwear off and get in it.”

“I’m dirty! I’ll make it filthy!”

“That’s the point. We’ll wash you off and replace it with clean.”

“But that’s such a waste!”

The amount of water in this bath could keep a small settlement hydrated for a week. I can’t believe they want me to put my body in it. I’ll foul it instantly.

“Get into the bath.”

“No!”

Mattias picks me up as if I weigh nothing and puts me into the water. Instantly, brown muck starts to curl off me and into the fresh, clean water.

“No!” I try to get out. It takes both Elias and Mattias to keep me in there, thrashing and wriggling around until we are all covered in the now dirty bathwater.

“Trissa, if you don’t settle down and take this bath nicely, I’m going to have to discipline you,” Mattias says, brushing water from his face.

“I don’t want to!”

“Get the strap, Elias.”

“No!” I shout the word. The strap sounds bad. I am taking a real dislike to this Mattias. He is forceful and stern and everything he tells me to do runs completely contrary to my natural instincts.

Elias does as he’s told. The strap is a foot-long length of leather with little grooves cut into it at one end. Mattias thanks him and lays it down near the bath where I can see it.

“This will hurt if I have to use it on your bottom. So settle down and take your bath nicely.”

I have no idea how to take a bath nicely. I know how to splash in a creek, or run around in the rain, but neither of those things needed to be done nicely.

Mattias reaches into the water and eases my underwear down. It feels strange to be touched this way by a man, especially one who doesn’t grope or grasp or grab at me like the ones in the market did.

I look at him, curious.

“Why are you so different from the other men?”

Elias shakes his head a little, and I wonder if the question is as wrong as drinking bathwater.

“You know nothing of the world, do you, girl?”

“I know a lot! I know how to catch lizards and gut their poison sacs out. I know how to start a fire that can burn all night long. I know how to get a parrot to give me my bra back. I know…”

“I mean of the civilized world, you wild little thing,” Mattias sighs.

“The civilized world, where men take women like they aren’t even people? That world?”

“You are more fortunate than most,” he says. “You are worth a great deal. You will be sold to the highest bidder, the richest man. You may join one of the great harems, bear the offspring of the new kings…”

“Ew, gross, no thanks.”

He looks at me and shakes his head. “You are in dire need of thorough education.”

“I am in dire need of escape.”

“Shackles it shall be,” he declares, pulling a plug at the end of the bath. I watch dirty water swirl down the drain, forever lost. Such a waste.

He fills the bath again, with me in it. I watch the pure, clear liquid flowing around my legs, fascinated. How do they do this? I can’t resist scooping some of it up into my mouth. It’s warm, but it’s so damn good. I haven’t tasted water this clear except for a few rare times.

“Stop. Drinking. The. Water.” Mattias interrupts my joy.

I splash it in his face. Droplets run down over his nose and his chin and his cheeks. The effect is comical, and I can’t help but snort in amusement.

“Someone is getting spanked after her bath,” he says calmly.

Those words make the lower part of my stomach clench. Spanked? With that leather strap? That’s probably going to hurt. I resolve to bite him if he tries to do that to me.

When the bath is filled, he takes soap and begins to bathe me properly. His hands roam my body, spreading soap over my curves. It’s not an unpleasant feeling, though I’m not used to anyone else touching me. Since my father died, I’ve been living on my own in the shack he built in the mountains. It’s remote enough that nobody bothers me out there, if you don’t count wolves and the occasional wild cat.

Mattias is stern and bossy, but his touch relaxes me. I find myself sinking down in the tub, letting him take my weight.

“Good girl,” he praises, his hand slowly drifting up my inner thigh.

I feel that clenching sensation again, this time lower still, between my legs. His hand slides away just before it reaches the apex. I am left wondering if he did that on purpose, before his hand slides under my hip and then down my leg and over again to trace the same path, this time all the way up to the core of me. He presses two fingers against my lower lips, a jolt of pure electricity running through me as our eyes meet.

“What are you doing?”

“Does it feel good?”

It does feel good, but I don’t want to admit that. I am a captive of the sheriff. This man has me to get me ready for sale, whatever that means. This is obviously part of it. Making me feel… things.

“No,” I say.

“Oh, so this doesn’t feel good?” He makes his fingers move very gently in smooth circles over my lips. He moves them away just a little, making currents swirl over my sex. It doesn’t feel good. It feels incredible. I have touched myself before, of course. I have rubbed myself over most of the items in my cabin, but never gotten the courage to do any more. My father never truly explained the mechanics of what a man and a woman do, but I know it is to do with the region Mattias is touching.

“Uhmmm…”

“Tell me the truth, Trissa.”

I bite my lower lip and stay quiet. His motion changes, from the gentle swirls to a long, slow rubbing motion that goes all the way from the golden down above my pubic bone to near my bottom hole. His touch and grip are firmer, more possessive. He is making me feel a way I have never felt before.

With his other arm supporting me in the water, I lean back and let my legs spread. I want more. I want to feel everything I can feel. If I am to be captive, I want pleasure.

“Good girl. Relax,” he murmurs. His voice is low and hypnotic as his fingers begin to spread my lower lips. I feel him tracing the fine folds of my pussy, I feel him trace the very tips of his fingers slipping up and around my clitoris. I feel him slide back down to the little hole I have never explored on my own—and I feel him begin to push against it.

“Ow!” I gasp and tense.

“Easy,” Mattias soothes. “Spread your legs. Relax.”

I do as he says, but when he pushes again, it hurts again. A sharp, stretching pain that makes me close my legs and growl at him.

“Alright,” he murmurs softly. “We won’t do that.”

He goes back to tending to my outer lips, his fingers dragging lightly over my pussy until the pleasure returns, the warm, spiraling sensation that makes the lower parts of me get tighter and tingle and feel better and better until I am arching in his arms, my hips rising against his hand as he cajoles me toward an orgasm unlike any I have had before.

In the end, his fingers are over my clit, moving in swift little strokes. I try to grasp at the water, but my fingers pass through it and in the end I am left clutching at his arm as if for dear life, panting open-mouthed as he strokes me to orgasm.

“Good girl, let go. There’s a good girl. Let go for Daddy…”

Daddy.

The word is so wrong. But so right. It puts me over the edge as the pleasure reaches a crescendo and bursts over my body, sinking through every part of me.

“Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god,” I cry out as I come, shaking and shuddering in the bath.

“Very good,” Mattias praises me, giving my pussy one last rub and pulling his hand away. “Ready to get dry now?”

I can hardly bring myself to look at him as he helps me out of the bath and wraps me in a big fluffy towel. I’m not entirely certain what just happened. I have gone from a free woman to an item for sale in a matter of hours, and I just had my first orgasm with a man.

Mattias dries me. I let him. Then he takes me through to a bedroom complete with a large, soft-looking bed.

“You will not be given clothing today,” he says. “We will need access to your body during your training. Bend over so I can dry you off fully.”

“I can dry myself.”

His large hands settle on my shoulders, bend me forward, and then I feel a soft towel between my legs, rubbing over my lower lips and running all the way up to my bottom hole. He ignores my complaints and holds me firm while I squirm, taking control of me with a calm, easy practice that lets me know he’s done this many, many times before to many other girls. I wonder how many young women have climaxed on his fingers. And I wonder why I feel a pang of jealousy at imagining that.

When I am thoroughly dry, he lets me up. I am pink and clean and satisfied in a way I have never been before.

“Elias, can you take the towels, please.”

Elias appears and sweeps them away, leaving me alone and naked with Mattias.

What will he do to me now?

He sits down on the edge of the bed and reaches for my hand. I let him take it, not realizing what his plan is for me. He draws me close to the side of his thigh, gives me a gentle tug and I pitch forward over his lap with a surprised gasp.

“Now for that spanking I promised you,” he says in that firm, stern tone.

“What?”

“Girl, when you are sold, if you disobey a man the way you disobeyed me today, you will be punished far more thoroughly than this. Best you learn now over my knee.”

His hand comes down on my ass. Hard. And then it comes down again. And again. The sting is not unbearable, but it is more pain than I want to bear and the more his hand lands, the more the pain builds.

My father threatened to spank me a few times, but he never did. He doted on me. I have never been hurt by way of discipline before, and I don’t like it. The pain is seeping into my blood, making it run hot with energy I cannot control.

My hips are rising, even though they should be sliding away. It’s as if I am arching myself into the slaps, taking them eagerly even though they hurt. I don’t recognize myself in this moment. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I don’t know why I am enjoying what should be nothing but humiliating pain.

“You will obey my orders directly and swiftly,” Mattias lectures me. “You will not talk back, ask questions, or disobey. You will work your hardest to please me at every given moment.”

“Well, that’s not happening,” I mutter.

The spanking stops. Mattias lifts his voice. “Elias, I left that strap in the bathing chamber. Could you get it for me, please?”

“No!”

I try to get up, but he easily holds me down. Elias brings the strap to Mattias, and I feel the deceptively gentle touch of the leather over my heated cheeks as he lays it across my bottom, letting me feel the implement.

“I know you are wild,” he says. “And I know you are not used to doing as you are told. But now, you must. There is too much at stake for you not to. Too much possible pain coming to you if you do not become obedient.”

With that, he lifts the leather tongues away and brings them back down in a wicked slap that feels nothing like his hand did. His palm brought ache and sting. This strap delivers pure fire blazing across my skin.

“Ow! Ow, goddammit!”

He straps me sternly, keeping my body pressed down over his knees. This is embarrassing, and somewhat painful. Not as painful as the time I slipped down a gorge and impaled myself on a stick, but pretty painful.

And that is how things go for several long, painful minutes. He straps me. I cry and writhe and try to escape, but he knows how to hold a girl down and punish her, and try as I might to get away, I can’t.

The pain stops being even remotely pleasurable and turns to hurt. The terrible trauma of the day rushes in, the fright I suppressed when I suddenly found myself at the mercy of hundreds of men, and then the slight relief at being taken into custody.

Mattias’ whip reminds me of all of it, of what could have happened to me, and of what still will. Somebody will own me. Somebody will breed me like farmers used to breed cattle. I am a beast now, an animal for use. This man who holds the leather is tanning my hide and taking my humanity with it.

By the time he is done, I am sobbing. Not because it hurts, though it does. I am crying for all I have lost and all I will lose if I don’t manage to escape. I don’t want to be part of this world, where women are owned and bred. I want the wide spaces outside the walls. I want the home I grew up in, even though it is smaller than this fine bedroom I find myself trapped in now. I want my freedom.

As I cry inconsolably, Mattias eases me off his lap and into the bed. The sheets are smooth and cool on my naked body and hot bottom. He draws just one of them over me, enough to give me a little modesty, and he rubs my back as I snivel pathetically in the bed that is so much more comfortable than mine, but isn’t mine.

I should be running right now. I should be climbing the walls and testing the windows. I should be working on escape. I don’t, because I have no choice, because this compound is the most tightly guarded location in the state, because I have been taken so thoroughly captive, spanked so hard, made so miserable that I am too tired, too exhausted, and too confused to even begin to make an escape.

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