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His to Claim by Kallista Dane – Extended Preview

His To Claim by Kallista Dane

They came to another room, smaller this time, with a wide stone basin carved out of one wall. One of the women leaned forward, pulling a thick plug out of a hole in the smooth rock face. To Lexi’s shock, a stream of water poured into the basin. Somehow, these people must have tapped the underground river, diverting part of it to flow through their city. The women came at her from both sides, running their hands over the cylerian and chattering back and forth. One reached for a corner of the garment, trying to pull it off her.

Lexi pushed her away. The woman wasn’t expecting resistance. She lost her footing and crashed against the edge of the stone basin, crying out as she fell. With a dark look at Lexi, she muttered something to the other woman. Then she scrambled to her feet and ran from the room. The other woman grabbed the handle of another clay jug off a table nearby, brandishing it like a weapon. Never taking her eyes off Lexi, she backed off to stand in the doorway, blocking the only exit from the room.

Lexi held out her hands, both palms facing the woman, and took a few steps back herself, sinking down on the edge of the basin. She sighed. Dealing with these savages was exhausting. Behind her, the water continued to pour into the basin. She longed to bathe, but she didn’t dare remove the cylerian. If the women got their hands on it, she might never get it back. She’d seen the harsh conditions outside the cave. These people had had centuries to adapt to the climate. But without her cylerian, she might not survive.

She was contemplating climbing into the tub with it still on when her captor burst into the room, with the attendant she’d shoved on his heels. The woman chattered nonstop, pointing and gesturing toward her all the while, probably reciting a list of grievances including Lexi’s failure to drink their nasty-tasting concoction at first.

He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at her, then said something to the women. They advanced again, one on each side. With nowhere to go, Lexi eyed them warily. Suddenly they both pounced at the same time, curling their fingers around the opening at her mouth to tear off the cylerian.

Calling on skills she’d learned in the hand-to-hand combat drills that were part of her training for this mission, Lexi fought back, throwing one to the ground while giving the other a solid punch in the stomach. The woman let out a whoof and collapsed, clasping her hands around her midsection and gasping for breath.

The man’s eyes narrowed and Lexi pressed herself back against the stone basin. She’d never seen anyone radiate such strong negative feelings. On Earth, the injections everyone received didn’t only temper the sex drive. They leveled out nearly all extreme emotions. Exuberance. Rage. Passion. The only emotion unaffected was fear.

Lexi pegged his response as anger. The intensity of it activated every synapse of her fear response.

In two long strides he was at her side. He grabbed her by the arm and sank down onto the rim of the stone basin next to her, then dragged her face-down across his lap. Lexi fought hard, kicking and punching, but she was no match for his much greater size and strength.

She cried out as his broad palm connected with her backside. First in shock, then in pain. She struggled even more fiercely. In response, the savage locked her legs tightly between his, shifted her body on his thighs, and whacked her again, spouting off all the while in a harsh tone.

Lexi hardly registered the sound. Her entire being focused on the hand now cracking down over and over on her nearly bare bottom. The cylerian might protect against heat and cold, rain and wind. But it did nothing to stop the overwhelming sensation of burning and stinging he’d ignited on her backside.

She’d heard of spanking. An ancient form of discipline practiced back on Earth, used primarily on wayward youth by primitive people who lacked the ability to control their offspring with reason and logic. But she’d never heard of it being practiced in the modern world. You’re not in the modern world, she reminded herself. You’ve been thrown into an uncivilized land filled with crude beings. And right now one of them is treating you like a naughty child.

She tried to control her thoughts, send her mind far away from the sensory overload her body was experiencing. It was no use. Nothing in her training had prepared her for this. The sound of his sharp, rhythmic swats. The warm bare hand sending licks of fire up and down her backside. The hard masculine thighs crushing her nearly naked stomach and breasts. The tension she could feel radiating from him, tightly controlled power pouring through his body, ready to explode in an instant.

She’d never felt so helpless in all her life. He whacked her again and she squirmed wildly, trying to evade his hard palm.

He stopped for a moment and shifted her again on his lap. In her heightened state of awareness, she caught a strangely compelling scent emanating from him; at the same time she became aware of a growing bulge in his crotch pressing up against her.

Lexi froze, remembering the swollen penis she’d seen on the other man, the way he stroked it and leered at her. This time the man who’d protected her was the one in an obscene state of arousal. Would this crude savage try to engage with her in some bizarre sexual act after his display of mastery?

She panicked, writhing and struggling on his lap. But that only increased the contact, grinding her lower body against his engorged member. And now, the fire on her bottom seemed to be spreading, flooding her with a different kind of heat. A jolt of desire rocked her and she shivered. To her surprise, she could feel dampness building between her thighs like it did when she pleasured herself with her holographic device.

“…behaving like a wild… Can’t keep you safe if you…”

Bits and pieces popped into her consciousness. It was like sitting in one of Director Nilsson’s boring lectures. Her mind roaming free, brought back from time to time as an odd phrase here and there intruded on her thoughts.

She forced herself to concentrate and the words suddenly snapped into focus. She could understand everything he was saying. Far from being guttural primitive utterances, the sounds he made formed a rich and expressive language. Capable of expressing complex thought. Some of the words he used were unfamiliar. Lexi thought they might refer to things unique to Iridia—people, places, even creatures for which she had no frame of reference.

To her horror, another thing snapped into the forefront of her consciousness now that she could make out what he was saying—the fiery sting his palm was creating on her backside. He continued spanking her as he spoke, lecturing her as though she were a wayward child.

“Don’t you know Mara and Nadina are only looking out for your own good? If you do not bathe in cleansing herbs soon, the rays of our suns will do lasting harm to your body. I don’t know what this odd covering is all over you or what it does, but I do know it has to come off. Right away.”

As he spoke he emphasized his words with more firm swats to her backside. Lexi squirmed again, but that only increased her contact with the hard bulge between his legs. She forced herself to remain still, thinking fast.

He had no idea she knew what he was saying. That might work to her advantage. If they thought she couldn’t understand them, they’d speak freely in front of her. She’d be prepared for anything they planned to do.

She quit struggling and lay there across his lap, docile and limp, as though admitting defeat. He gave her a few more smacks to assert his control once and for all, then stood and pulled her up.

He pantomimed taking the cylerian off. Lexi bowed her head and began the slow process of wiggling out of the garment that fit her like a second skin. She worked it slowly, stalling for time. The opening around her mouth stretched wider and wider, enough to pull it down off her head. As she did, her hair sprang loose from its tight bun. The humidity in this small room was much greater than in the climate-controlled environment on Earth and it fanned out around her face in a mass of wild, golden-brown curls reaching below her shoulders.

His eyes widened. She looked at him and then at the two women. They both had thick dark hair, straight and shiny, plaited into long braids and tied with leather thongs. Everyone she’d seen had the same deep brown hair, except for a few men who shaved their heads bald. Some, like her captor, showed streaks of gray here and there and the old woman’s hair had been nearly white. But she could never hope to go unnoticed here, not unless she cloaked herself head to toe. And from what she’d seen, that too would make her stand out.

Everyone seemed to be in partial stages of undress. She’d seen a number of half-naked men in the cavern, their chests as bare as that of the man in front of her. And like most of the other females, these two women wore only a narrow band over their breasts, crisscrossing in front and tying at the back of the neck. It left the midriff bare all the way to the colorful sarong-type skirts riding low on their hips and stopping above the knees.

Outside, they’d all been shrouded in cloaks and skins. Although it was dark, perhaps they always dressed like that when they left the caves. It would protect them against the damaging effect of the rays of the twin suns if they were caught out there unexpectedly when daylight dawned.

He made an impatient gesture and she turned her back to him as she stretched the cylerian further, drawing it over her shoulders and down to her waist. Slowly she worked her arms free, first one, then the other. She stopped, glanced back at him with a pleading look and made a twirling motion with her fingers. He grunted and half-turned away. The women followed suit, though she caught one of them peeking over her shoulder. Lexi frowned at her and the woman turned her back completely.

Carefully, Lexi pulled the garment down past her hips. She hissed when the cool air hit her inflamed backside. One hand crept back to touch it. Her skin felt hot but the pain had faded to a sharp sting. She rubbed her hand across her bottom again and the odd tingling between her legs fanned out through her belly.

She worked the cylerian the rest of the way down and stepped out of it. The stone floor felt cool beneath her feet. Cool but not unpleasantly cold. Lexi stuck one hand into the basin of water. It was warm, similar to the temperature she programmed in for the water in the bathing tub in her apartment.

Stepping in, she laid her head back against the smooth stone edge. The water soothed her burning bottom and eased the tension in her muscles. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, allowing herself a moment of relaxation.

The two women must have heard her because they hurried forward. One scattered another bundle of herbs into the water while the other scooped out a pitcher full of water from the tub, pushed her shoulders forward and dumped it over her head.

Lexi came up spluttering and heard the big man roar with laughter. She tossed her head, swiped wet strands of hair out of her eyes, and looked up to find him watching her, a huge grin on his face.

“Now Ayron, don’t be mean. You’re embarrassing her.”

“She doesn’t look embarrassed, Nadina. She looks pissed.”

The young woman glanced at her. Lexi glared and hunched over, covering her breasts as best she could with both arms crossed over her chest.

“Maybe a little of both? Anyway, we’ve got her in the water,” she replied. “You can leave now.”

Her captor, the man called Ayron, waved a hand dismissively, never taking his eyes off her. “Not a chance. She’s already gotten the best of you. Twice, by my count. I’m staying until she’s ready to be delivered back to Mother Eva.”

Nadina grinned. “I know how men are. You just want to watch.”

He smiled back, not even bothering to deny it.

“Fine. You can wait over there in the corner then.” She shooed him to the far side of the room. Then she put the plug back in the wall, stopping the flow of water. Mara grabbed a bowl filled with nasty-smelling leaves that had been soaking on a side table. She and Nadina each took a handful of the leaves and began mashing them into Lexi’s hair.

Lexi was about to push the women away but one look at Ayron’s face stopped her. She was fairly certain he’d simply haul her from the tub and spank her again, this time on the bare bottom, until she quit fighting them. Besides, even though they tasted awful, the herbs they gave her earlier did make her feel better. These people had learned to survive despite the conditions here. Maybe she should allow them to do whatever they thought was necessary, no matter how bad the gooey mess smelled. She’d get it out of her hair eventually.

A moment later, she was regretting her decision. The women were bent on covering her entire upper body with the horrid mess. Face, neck, shoulders—even her breasts. When her nipples hardened into tiny peaks at the unfamiliar sensation of touch, Lexi was grateful the green goop covered her face. At least Ayron wouldn’t see her blushing.

The women backed off and Lexi sighed. She’d endured the embarrassment and it would all be over soon. But to her horror, the women took her by the hands and pulled her to a standing position, then began slapping more wet green leaves on her stomach and back, moving lower and lower on her body.

Nadina pushed her head down, forcing her to bend over at the waist. All four hands continued their invasive action, prodding her legs apart. Mara slathered every inch of her bottom with the mess. Then she spread apart the twin cheeks and worked a handful in between them, grazing Lexi’s anus with a finger as she did.

The sensation sent a shiver through her. Nadina felt it. She made a soft sound and ran her own hand down Lexi’s front, stroking the fold of skin over her clitoris. Lexi wanted to smack her hand away but she didn’t dare to do anything that would earn her another punishment. She closed her eyes and tried to block out what the woman was doing.

Nadina kept on, rubbing gently until Lexi felt her tiny nub swell and begin throbbing. Then she took another thick handful of mashed-up leaves and spread them all over between her legs, spreading apart Lexi’s folds and even forcing some up into the opening of her vagina.

Lexi cried out then. The leaves set off waves of sensation inside her, hot and cold at the same time. The waves became stronger, flooding through her entire body. She started shaking uncontrollably. The women pushed her to her knees, then further, until she was completely under the water, head and all.

She held her breath, but her heart was pounding from the violent shaking that rocked her body. Panicking, she thrashed around, arms and legs flailing, afraid she’d drown if she didn’t get air.

The next moment, strong arms lifted her clear of the water. Ayron scooped her up, crushing her against his chest. She gasped for breath, struggling. Heedless of the green goo dripping from her body, he cradled her against him until the shaking subsided.

“She’s frightened,” he said, waving away the two women. “She didn’t know what to expect, doesn’t understand the herbs are meant to cause that reaction—get the blood flowing and leach out the poisons from her body.”

He stood there, rock solid, and held her tight as he made low soothing sounds. Weak and trembling, Lexi sagged against him, her head resting on his chest. She had a quick flash of memory, of being held like this long ago, as a tiny child. Giving in to a sudden urge, she wrapped her arms around his neck and allowed herself to be comforted.

Gradually her heart stopped pounding. Her breathing returned to normal. Conscious awareness seeped back in and she realized he’d jumped into the tub of water and now stood there, dripping wet and nearly as covered with green slime as she was.

Her sensory awareness kicked into overdrive again. Slick wet skin, cool against her skin. The sound of his heart pulsing in his chest. Lexi panicked at the suffocating closeness, the enforced intimacy. The arms cradling her became restraints, holding her in a vise-like grip. She couldn’t pull away.

He must have felt the tension in her body. Slowly, he eased her to her feet, keeping his arms loosely around her until she was standing without support. He turned to the two attendants.

“Ladies, I think she’ll be all right. And now I’d better get out of this tub before you decide to wash me too!”

He yanked the plug from the wall and stuck his head under the stream of water pouring out. Throwing back his head, he ran both hands through his hair, sweeping it back off his forehead as he squeezed out the water. He picked up one of the jugs from a ledge around the basin and filled it up. Then he poured the water over his body with one hand, scrubbing away bits of green slime on his chest with the other.

The sight was so compelling that Lexi forgot her own nudity. She took a hesitant step back but her eyes followed his every movement. She knew it was rude to watch him doing something so intensely personal, but she couldn’t help staring. His wet body gleamed in the torchlight and for a moment she wished it was her hand rubbing all over that smooth bronze body. Mara made a low noise, half sigh and half moan, and Lexi knew she must be watching too.

He seemed oblivious to the effect he was having on the women. At least until he reached for the cloth slung low around his hips. Nadina drew in her breath sharply. The sound seemed to remind him where he was. His hands stopped just short of unfastening the garment and he settled for splashing water over it instead.

Ayron stepped out of the tub. His wet garment clung to his hips and thighs, molding itself to his body. He wore nothing beneath it and she could clearly see the outline of his penis, still semi-erect. Lexi didn’t realize she was staring until he spoke.

“I hope you’re ready to behave now.”

She caught herself just as she began nodding her head, turning it into a submissive lowering of chin to chest instead. She wasn’t supposed to know what he’d said.

Ayron strode to the door. “I’m going to get some rest. Call me if you have any more trouble with her.”

Lexi allowed the women to pour fresh water over her, rubbing away the last bits of goo. Her skin tingled, and everywhere their hands touched set off tiny shivers. She tried to divorce her mind from her body, cataloging her responses as though she was a subject in a lab study. Heartbeat: elevated. Physical sensations: abnormally heightened. Nipples: hardening and becoming erect again.

But she couldn’t separate herself from what was happening when Nadina reached down and began cleaning the last bits of matted leaves from the area between her legs. She bit her lip and tried to remain still. Fingers rubbing the folds of her vulva, touching the tip of her clitoris. Setting off strange cravings. It was all she could do to keep her hips still, keep from grinding herself against that soft, insidious hand.

Forbidden images filled her mind—thoughts of the barbarian who crushed her in his arms. How would it feel if his hand stroked between her legs, teased her clitoris into an aching little bud?

She didn’t want to admit to herself that she suffered a pang of disappointment when Nadina stopped. Mara took her hand, helping her out of the deep basin. Both women began drying her body with soft cloths, chattering to each other as they did.

“Her hair is so beautiful,” Mara said as she toweled it dry. “Such a lovely color. And the hair below is the same.” She bent and patted the soft curls between Lexi’s legs with the cloth.

“She could not have been in the outlands very long. I wonder where she came from?” Nadina wrapped a fresh cloak around her body and led her, barefoot, out of the room and down another series of long passageways tunneled into the rock.

They came to a door, the first one Lexi had seen. All the other rooms were open to the corridor so any passerby could see into them. Mara knocked.

A familiar voice bade them enter. Nadina opened the door and waved Lexi in.

“Mother Eva, we have cleansed the female creature in the water as you bade us.”

The old gray-haired woman stood in the center of a room more luxurious than anything Lexi had seen until now. Thick rugs of animal skin covered the floor dotted with stone benches and sturdy chairs made of twisted vines as big around as her wrist. Brightly colored fabric panels hung on the walls, with figures of strange plants and animals woven into them. The curiosity that led Lexi into studying science kicked in. She took a few steps forward to examine one of the tapestries.

Mutations. Mutations caused by the effects of the superweapons that had all but destroyed the planet. That was the only explanation Lexi could come up with for the bizarre plants and animals depicted. She’d been taught that Iridia, like its sister planets, had been colonized by life forms transported there from Earth. But she knew from her studies that being separated from their roots for a few millennia wouldn’t have been long enough for evolution alone to cause these amazing genetic anomalies.

Her study was cut short by Eva’s voice.

“Bring her here.”

Eva stood in the center of the room, in front of a wooden table covered with a thick fur pelt. The women led her to it. Nadina pulled off her cloak, leaving her standing there naked, and gestured for her to lie down on the table.

Lexi backed away. What horrid things would they do to her now?

“I heard she gave you a bit of trouble earlier,” Eva said. She walked up to Lexi and reached up to put a hand on her chin. “You will do as you’re told,” she said in a stern voice, “or I’ll have to call Ayron back in. Do you really want me to do that?”

Lexi shuddered, her bottom still aching from the spanking she’d gotten earlier.

“She can’t understand you, mother,” Mara broke in.

Eva never broke eye contact with her while replying to Mara. “She knows well enough. Even wild creatures understand who is in charge just by the tone of voice you use with them. Firm but not so harsh that they will attack out of fear.”

She gestured to the table. “Get up there.”

Lexi could see no other alternative but to comply. She climbed up onto the table, painfully aware of her nakedness, and laid down.

“Hold her so I can examine her thoroughly.” The two women stepped up to put their hands firmly on her shoulders. Lexi knew she could have broken free but the threat of having Eva call in the huge warrior to witness this new humiliation was enough to keep her in place.

Eva ran her hands over Lexi’s body briskly and clinically.

“The creature doesn’t seem to be injured,” she announced. Deliberately, Eva reached out and tweaked a nipple, watching Lexi’s face. Lexi tried not to react be she couldn’t control her body’s automatic response. The nipple hardened into a tight nub.

“She responds like a human. Let’s see if she’s built like one inside too.”

Eva snapped her fingers. Mara and Nadina moved to the foot of the table and each one grabbed one of her legs. They pushed back, bending them at the knees and spreading her wide apart. Eva moved to the foot of the table, peering between her legs.

Lexi wanted to die of shame. At least what had been done to her before was done with hands alone, through a blanket of gooey leaves. No one had ever stared openly at her naked body.

But it got worse. Eva began spreading her vulvar folds apart. She pushed back the hood of skin and examined her clitoris, palpating it until Lexi squirmed. Then she dipped a finger into Lexi’s vagina.

“She’s wet inside, prepared to receive a stiff rod.” The old woman pulled out her finger and Lexi sighed. It was over.

The next moment she couldn’t hold back a startled cry when Eva slipped two fingers deep inside her vaginal canal, twisting and probing.

“She doesn’t have a maidenhead, so she’s obviously been penetrated before. But her passage is still tight. I doubt she’s ever given birth.”

The fingers stroked and rubbed, coming back to a spot that made Lexi’s breath quicken. She closed her eyes, imagining it was Ayron touching her, Ayron’s fingers stroking her deep inside.

The old lady withdrew her hand. To her embarrassment, Lexi found herself craving more of that strange sensation. She’d brought herself to orgasm many times with her probe. But she’d never had a jolt of lust surge through her whole body the way it did when she imagined the crude savage who found her stroking her where Eva had.

Mother Eva’s eyes bored into hers again. Lexi shivered. Though her mental shields were raised, she had a feeling the old woman had somehow slipped through them and could even now read her thoughts. She definitely sensed that Lexi had been sexually aroused by her examination. But did she know it was the first time in her life Lexi felt that way? Was this the kind of response human bodies always experienced during coitus? No wonder Commander Norris eagerly embraced her new life on Neodyma.

Lexi took care of her biological needs during regularly scheduled gratification sessions, once every three weeks as required by law. Sessions were carefully timed to maximize her physical fulfillment as efficiently as possible using a penis-shaped probe that simulated the act of intercourse with regular, rhythmic electrical impulses. Men used another sort of mechanical device, one it was said far surpassed the limited stimulation capability of a woman’s vaginal canal.

But her holographic lover never made her stomach flutter the way it did when Ayron pulled her over his strong thighs or crushed her against his bare chest. This skin-on-skin contact was new and strangely compelling. The more often it happened, the more Lexi craved for it to continue.

Then Eva did something unspeakably vile. She moved her hand to Lexi’s anal opening, touching and examining the area around it. Lexi thrashed around on the table, forgetting all about the consequences of fighting back.

“Keep her still,” the old woman demanded, poking a finger into Lexi’s bottom hole.

The invasion was so shocking, so forbidden. She kicked out, sending Mara crashing into the floor, and twisted away, huddling into a fetal position on the table. Nadina tried to wrestle her back into position.

Eva made a tsking sound. “Leave her be. I found out all I need to know. She has never been taken there. She wouldn’t have reacted so violently if she were used to it.” Eva walked over to a small table in a corner of the room, poured some water over her hands, and rubbed them together briskly with a handful of dried herbs that gave out a pleasing fragrance.

Taken there? What did Eva mean? Surely probing a female’s anal passage digitally could not be a common practice, no matter how backward these savages were. Lexi shuddered again. Somehow she had to escape from here, find a way to get back to Earth.

Eva went on, issuing a string of orders so rapidly that even with her Tellex chip working, Lexi had trouble following them.

It must have been nearly dawn by the time Eva finished examining her and instructed the two women to lead her to a small room off another of the endless dimly lit corridors. Unlike some of the naturally occurring caves she’d seen, this one looked like it had been chiseled out of the bedrock. They pointed to a heap of furs in the corner, more of a nest than a bed. But it was soft and warm and Lexi was exhausted. She sank down and fell asleep almost immediately.

Hours later, she woke to the distant echo of drums. She had no idea how long she’d slept. Inside this series of caves, it was impossible to tell whether it was night or day. Mara was curled up at the other end of the room, snoring gently, blocking the doorway even in her sleep to make sure Lexi didn’t escape.

Nadina appeared soon after she awoke, bringing a platter of food. The texture was odd, as were the colors—bright orange and purple. She took a hesitant bite. Soft, spongy, like some kind of fungi. But it tasted good. Up till now, they hadn’t given her any food. She’d had nothing in her stomach since she left Earth and by now she was hungry enough to eat almost anything.

From Nadina’s conversation with Mother Eva yesterday, she’d gathered that as well as being wrapped in the gooey green substance, part of the treatment for exposure to the dangerous rays of their twin suns was fasting while flushing the body with that bitter herbal drink. She hoped this meal signified the treatment was over.

After she’d eaten her fill, the women escorted her to yet another bathing room. This basin held clear water, sprinkled with fragrant flower petals. She was allowed to wash herself this time. But both women watched her every move. Lexi tried not to flush with embarrassment. She’d been kept nearly naked during her confinement, given no privacy, and the feeling of violation was horrid.

Once again they insisted on helping her from the tub. Leading her to a small bench, they worked a wide comb through her tangled hair, then wove strands of glowing beads into twin braids that started at her forehead and wrapped around to the back of her head like a crown, leaving the rest of her hair to billow out beneath it. She’d seen many of the people here wearing similar beads and stones in all different sizes and shapes, some around their necks, others fashioned into bracelets. Mother Eva’s were made of a phosphorescent crystal, nearly transparent, with soft lights in shades of turquoise and green and rose emanating from deep inside.

After fussing with Lexi’s hair for what seemed like hours, Nadina reached for a small jar on the table in front of her. She dipped her fingers in and they came out coated with a reddish paste. Hesitantly, Nadina stretched out a hand, stroking some of the substance onto Lexi’s cheeks. When she didn’t protest, Nadina dipped her finger in again and then ran it over Lexi’s lips.

She’d seen other women in the Tryb, their faces daubed with color here and there. Back on Earth many women had permanent cosmetics applied, but she’d never seen the need to alter her body in such a frivolous way.

The two attendants seemed bent on adorning her and Lexi had learned by now it was easier to simply allow it than to fight back in any way. She wanted to keep up the pretense of being a docile captive as long as possible. They’d be lulled into a false sense of security, making her eventual escape that much easier.

But she shrank back when Mara tried to rub the reddish paste on her nipples. Mara pleaded with her, near tears, even though as far as she knew, Lexi couldn’t understand a word.

“Please, we only want you to look your best. How can you attract a strong hunter to provide for you if you don’t display your charms?”

Lexi hadn’t tried out her ability to speak the language yet, but she longed to shout out, “I’ve been taking care of myself all my life. I don’t need some crude warrior staking his claim on me as though I’m a piece of property!”

Still, it wouldn’t do for Mara to go to Mother Eva and complain. So she gritted her teeth and allowed the woman to coat her nipples bright red.

They tied a wide strip of brightly patterned cloth around her waist that left her body entirely bare along one side except where it came together in a knot on her hip. The fabric barely reached her knees, exposing one leg completely and offering a glimpse of her private parts with every step she took. Nadina wrapped another cloak over her shoulders, fastening it together loosely around her neck.

Horrified, she realized they planned to display her at the feast wearing only the short sarong-type skirt and open cloak tossed over her shoulders. She already flushed with embarrassment every time Nadina or Mara looked at her. Now her naked breasts would be on display in front of all those leering men.

To her surprise, the women tied her wrists together in front of her with a long strip of leather. They walked out of the room, leading her down the hall by the other end, like a dog on a leash. Every twist and turn in the passageway brought them nearer to the compelling drumbeats—and to the source of her humiliation.

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