Who wouldâve thought a rogue nobleman and a secret agent tied in shibari knots would be so instrumental in saving a world from sexual slavery.
Ramsey desperately needs a pardon. The catch: Win a grueling and bloody gladiator game. His consolation: Elite mercenary, Steffania Rickard, has been ordered to help DeKieran ~ posing as his sexual submissive.
When Ramsey DeKieran, disgraced nobleman and accused murderer, is offered a pardon Ram knows there'll be a catch. The High Lord of Verdantia offers him a clean slate in exchange for the off-world rescue of a Verdantian noblewoman ~ a suicide mission that has already cost the lives of good men. The one redeeming feature is the assistance of the stunning captain of Verdantiaâs elite mercenary team.
For Captain Steffania Rickard, assisting DeKieran in the rescue of a woman critical to the future of Verdantia will be difficult enough. The rogue trips all her triggers ~ good and bad. Infinitely worse, to fit into the culture of Vxloncia, she must pose as Ram's sex slave. The sexually dominant Ramsey is nothing if not perceptive and Steffania doubts her carefully disguised and deeply hidden desires will remain concealed.
Their mission takes on new meaning when they unmask a heinous program of enslavement, long cloaked in secrecy. Together they must find a way to overcome their initial animosity and recover a woman vital to the future of their race. Together, they will have to bring a malicious entity to justice. In the maelstrom of sex, savagery, domination and submission, Ram and Steffania will need all their wits and strength to survive.
N.T. Solar Date 4637
Captain Steffania Rickard of the elite Blue Daggers fumed silently as her eyes scanned the seedy brothelâs dark, empty, upstairs room. Damn-it-all. I was certain Iâd finally caught up to him. Sheâd wasted the better part of two months looking for this man. Her shoulders slumped in fatigue. Sheâd expended no small amount of energy slipping into this absurdly well-guarded bedroom. Any number of disreputable fighting men watched the rooftop, the hall outside and the stairs to the upper levels. No one had watched the buildingâs exterior walls, however, so she scaled the three-story brothelâs ragged bricks and entered by a poorly secured window.
A small prick at her carotid, from what was certainly a razor sharp stiletto, froze her in place. She hardly dared to breathe. Her heart leapt like a springbok eluding a hunting cat. Stupid, stupid, stupid. You know not to let down your guard.
âYou are not my type, Steffania. I like my women submissive and kneeling at my feet â not contentious and sneaking behind my back. But if you want me bad enough to break in here, Iâll accommodate you.â
Ramsey DeKieranâs deep, arrogant voice drawled low in her ear. He jerked her close, and his hard body pressed into her back. His hand roamed freely, intimately, between her thighs, across her abdomen then higher to fondle her breasts. He paused to toss her hidden blades and throwing crescents to the floor. She couldnât mistake the prodding at the middle of her back for anything other than it was â a truly impressive erection.
âYou conceited ass, Iâm not here for that,â she hissed as his fingers rolled one of her nipples, sending sensation zinging to her lower region.
His knife still at her throat, he growled, âTurn very carefully. I need to check your back for weapons.â
With a snarl of her own, she complied. Unusual eyes of glacial blue with an outer ring of darker blue locked with hers. An unfriendly grin stretched a full, generous mouth on a gaunt, chiseled face of high cheekbones and a straight-bridged aristocratic nose. An unkempt comma of black hair hung in the middle of his forehead. A dayâs worth of dark beard shadowed his cheeks. He looked feral, undomesticated.
His free hand roamed her back and buttocks, his arousal pressed into her soft abdomen. He found the knife at the small of her back and tossed it to the growing collection. To her horror, the flesh between her legs began to moisten. Damn him!
He leaned in and whispered in her ear, âAre you getting wet, sweetheart? Does dominance do it for you?â
âBastard!â She shoved herself violently away with both hands, angered further by his oh-so-accurate taunt. It had to be a guess. Sheâd kept those desires carefully hidden. She retreated several steps to face him, gasping in air. âDonât flatter yourself.â
A dark eyebrow arched slowly. âIf you donât want a good fuck, then what do you want, sweetheart?â
Steffania prided herself on being a good liar. The trick was to weave in some truth with the lie. In truth, ever since she fought beside DeKieran in the Haarb wars, the scoundrel had headlined in her sexual fantasies. âIâm not your fucking sweetheart. Youâre the last man Iâd want.â She threw her head back and glared. âHigh Lord DeTano wants you. Iâm just his messenger.â
âWhy would I do anything for Ari DeTano?â
âFor a pardon.â
DeKieran straightened his relaxed posture. Not shrinking under his piercing examination took discipline. She stood motionless until the space between them vibrated with almost visible tension. Damn you, Ramsey. Say something.
Finally, he shrugged. âIâll hear what he has to say.â
~ ~ ~
The royal chambers for the Second Tetriarch. So this is how the nobility lives. Ram ran his eyes along the heavily carved, spice-wood paneling and then to the marble floor covered with a thick rug of tribal design in vibrant hues of red, cobalt blue and gold. He contrasted it with the rough timber walls plugged with rags and paper that enclosed his room at the whorehouse. The wafer-thin, shit-brown rug on the plank floor of his room had long ago lost its original color to noxious stains and ground-in dirt.
His mind mentally tallied the worth of the gold picture frames holding miniature scenes covering an antique occasional table and the unusual vase made of a precious-stone geode. A ten thousand credit vase holding common wild flowers. Pft. Someone has no regard for the rarity of that item. I wonder if it would be missed? He considered liberating the vase after he heard what Ari DeTano wanted. That one item would pay for his food and lodging, and that of his men, for the next five years.
Ram was a stranger to this part of Verdantiaâs capital. He knew only the underbelly of Sylvan Mintoth â the places where the filth of their planet collected â human and otherwise. Heâd never imagined a time when heâd sit in Queen Constanteâs opulent antechamber â the evident wealth an unwelcome reminder of a life that should have been his. It is what it is. Deal with it. He idly worried a toothpick, flipping it from one side to the other in his mouth. Two members of the ruling Tetriarch, High Lord DeTano and his lover, that blond devil of an assassin, Doral DeLorion, appraised Ram in silence. Ramsey returned their focused examination with cool self-possession. If they thought to make him nervous, they could think again. Only those with something to lose got nervous.
Ram grinned at the feminine mercenary, Captain Steffania Rickard â a stunning, savagely competent soldier with breasts that begged fondling and lush lips thatâ¦ Yeah, he knew where heâd like that mouth. Her unusual eyes of honey-gold glared back at him. Redheaded spitfire. Heâd love to have her to himself for several days. The thought of taming the proud beauty speared heat through his groin. His dominance had aroused her. Ram knew it. He had an unerring instinct for detecting women who enjoyed what he delivered.
With a long-suffering sigh to indicate he didnât have all day â well, he did, but those three didnât need to know â Ram addressed DeTano. âRickard said you wanted to talk to me. Iâm here.â He crossed his legs with a casual indolence and rested an ankle on his knee. âWhat can a dispossessed nobleman and accused murderer do for High Lord DeTano?â
DeTano nodded at his blond lover and second in the ruling trio. Other business occupied their beloved queen, or Fleur Constante would have been present, too. âWe have an issue. Segundo DeLorion suggested your name as a solution. The Senzienza, in her obscure, mystical way, has indicated Lady Alessa DeAlbero is critical to the future of our world.â
âSo? You donât need me to find a lost noble woman with invaluable genes. You command the resources of the Second Tetriarch. Iâm just one man.â
DeLorion crossed his arms, and his rich voice fell softly into the room. âWeâve tried for almost a year to recover her. We sent others â many others. They turned up dead â or not at all.â
After a moment of silence, High Lord DeTano continued. âThe Haarb sold Lady DeAlbero to Veacon Narr. We located her but before we could move, Narr hid her.â
Ramsey grunted. âWhat makes you think the most notorious slaver in the Hyperion Galaxy is going to let me waltz in to extricate the woman if all your efforts have failed?â
Again, DeLorionâs voice fell quietly in the room. âWe just need you to find her and get her to a rendezvous point. Weâll get her off-planet. I have approached the League of Federated Planets for assistance. But it is as I suspected. Our galactic peacekeepers wonât act unless I can document serious violations of galactic law. They wonât act for the recovery of just one person.â
Ram shook his head. âStill, why send me where others have failed?â
The smile DeLorion bestowed on Ram would have shriveled lesser men. âI would prefer you dead. My sister seems to think you deserve a second chance.â Doral lifted a shoulder in a shrug and shook his head as if to say his sisterâs desires were incomprehensible. âWhy you? You demonstrate a remarkable penchant for self-preservation coupled with a reputation for accomplishing the impossible â all while eluding capture. Besides, I am tired of consoling the families of good men. You are more...expendable. No one will mourn your death.â
Ramsey chuckled and returned his smile, in kind. âI did allow your sister to escape.â
âYou kidnapped her in the first place.â
Ram shrugged. âI was paid to do a job. I did it.â
Doral held Ram in an icy stare. âAnd yet you still live.â
DeTano interrupted their innuendo-laden exchange and tossed a rolled parchment into Ramâs lap. âRead it. It absolves you of all crimes recorded against you, past or present. Find Lady Alessa DeAlbero, and we will sign it.â
Ram picked it up and scanned it casually. DeTano was correct. The unsigned pardon was broad-sweeping. Ramâs eyebrows rose at the minutely detailed list of criminal involvements heâd thought no one else knew about. âSomeone has been very interested in me for a very long time.â He smiled without humor and tapped the scroll on his knee with an assumed air of boredom. âHow will you convince our good queen to sign this?â
DeTano looked at him thoughtfully. âSupreme Commander Eric DeStroia uncovered evidence that may cast doubt on your conviction.â Ari shrugged. âThe case can be reopened.â
A resurgence of pain at Desireeâs death and anger at his unjust conviction flooded Ram. Hellâs breath. Thought I had left those emotions behind. His sardonic gaze rose and caught first DeTano then DeLorion. âIf Iâm successful, you have Lady DeAlbero, if unsuccessful, my dead body, and all it costs you is a piece of paper.â
A feral smile pulled at DeLorionâs face. âYes. What I call a âwin-winâ situation â for me.â
Ramsey threw his head back and laughed. When he sobered, he observed, âVxloncia is a hi-tech planet. I have never been off the surface of our primitive Verdantia. My lack of familiarity with anything technical will handicap me.â
âYes. We are aware of that. A Blue Dagger will accompany you,â DeTano said.
Ram considered the elite off-world mercenaries who had remained on Verdantia at the end of the Haarb war. His illicit, paramilitary group assiduously avoided Captain Steffania Rickard and her Blue Daggers. If Doral DeLorion was Ari DeTanoâs right hand, then Steffania Rickard was his left. The Daggers had earned their reputation as galactic âbad-assesâ in spectacular fashion during the Haarb wars. Ram had fought side-by-side with Steffania and her Daggers during one campaign. As much as he would trust his life to anyone, heâd trust it to the Daggers â particularly their red-haired commander.
Ram grunted his acceptance. âIt is also a world where male domination and female submission is enforced. I think their terms are dominus and slaaf. They hold their women close. Where do you suggest I start?â
âWith Narr, himself,â said DeTano. âOne of our contacts said Narr was infatuated with Lady Alessa. He knows we look for her. He keeps her well hidden.â
âAnd just how do I get close to Narr?â
DeLorion uncrossed his arms and tossed another paper into Ramseyâs lap. âThe planet holds âgladiator gamesâ as entertainment. Narr, the primary sponsor, is obsessed with the bloodshed and spectacle. He always invites the winner of the games to his compound for an orgy of celebration. That will be your best chance to find Lady DeAlbero.â
Ram sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. âGladiator games.â Shit.
âWe took the liberty of entering your name,â DeTano said. âItâs âno holds barredâ, but the only weapons allowed are archaic. You will be familiar with all of them.â
âShould be right up your alley, DeKieran. You get to fight dirty.â Captain Rickardâs feminine lilt spat the insult at him. âBut this presupposes youâll win.â
Heâd forgotten her presence. At her challenge to both his honor and his fighting prowess â all right, perhaps he had no honor, but the slur to his skills stung â Ram rose to his feet and turned to look at her. A wickedly satisfying thought formed. He threw a quick glance at DeTano. âA Blue Dagger goes with me, yes?â DeTano nodded. âIâll take your job, on one condition.â Ram pointed at Steffania. âThat Blue Dagger goes â as my sexual submissive.â
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Patricia A. Knight is the pen name for an eternal romantic who lives in Dallas, Texas with her horses, dogs and the best man on the face of the earth â oh yeah, and the most enormous bullfrogs you will ever see. Word to the wise: donât swim in the pool after dark.
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