Lord of the Storm

Lord of the Storm

Justine Dare Davis

June 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-512-6

Book 1 of The Coalition Rebellion Novels

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Her every wish is his command. He lives only to serve her desires.

A warrior. A sex slave from a conquered world.

What will he do to her if she sets him free?

Shaylah Graymist, ace fighter pilot for a brutal intergalactic Coalition, is given a slave as a reward for heroism in battle. The incredibly virile slave named Wolf wears a collar which controls him completely, allowing her to make him do anything she wants. Yet Shaylah has an old-fashioned belief in love and refuses to take advantage of him. A tense friendship grows between her and Wolf, along with deep desires he refuses to admit. The Coalition destroyed his people. He won’t betray their memory.

When Shaylah returns to battle, Wolf rebels and is sold to a prison colony. She frees him, and together they journey to his home planet. As she learns more about Wolf, she begins to question her loyalty to the Coalition, and the passions between them burn out of control.



Coming soon!


Chapter 1

THE FACT THAT she was exhausted colored Shaylah’s reaction as she stepped out of the Sunbird. Her frown as she hit the wall of humid heat outside the ship’s pressure lock was involuntary; she only knew the expression had flitted across her face by the pull of the neuskin graft over the almost healed wound at her temple.

"’S a killer, all right, Cap’n. Twin suns make it like walkin’ into a Zap cooker.”

Shaylah glanced at the smartly uniformed landing bay attendant. "Exactly,” she agreed. She dug into the pocket of her uniform tunic and pulled out a gleaming coin. She flipped it toward him; he caught it, then stared when he saw what it was.

"A withal!” he exclaimed, "A Romerian withal!” He gaped at her. "That where you been, Cap’n? Ship looks a bit...”

His voice trailed off, as if he feared insulting her. She smiled wryly as she glanced back at the battered, delta-winged starfighter. "Yes, it does, a bit. You get her back in shape while I’m here, and there’ll be another one in it for you.”

His eyes lit. "Yes, ma’am! I’ll have her so perfect you won’t even recognize her yourself!”

Since the ship had never been perfect to begin with, Shaylah overlooked that piece of exaggeration and trusted to the glow of greed in the man’s eyes to get the job done. She handed him the recorder with the list of needed repairs and walked off the suspension dock toward the Carelia port captain’s office.

Shaylah only vaguely recalled the captain from her last stop here, what seemed like eons ago, but the woman seemed to recognize her immediately.

"Captain Graymist! Welcome back!”

"Thank you.”

"We heard all about the battle, about how you went up against three Romerian starcruisers and won. And got another medal.”

Shaylah shrugged, embarrassed. The victory had been, she knew, largely a matter of luck, a well-trained crew, and the fortunately plodding battle tactics of the Romerian forces. The Sunbird had swooped in, disabled, and boarded them before the three commanders had even been able to identify their foe. None of those ships would attack a Coalition colony again anytime soon, she thought with satisfaction.

"You’re becoming quite the hero,” the port captain said. "First the Andarians, now this.”

"Heroics,” she said dryly, "are tiring.”

She took Shaylah seriously. "Oh, I’m sure. Is that why you’re here? For a rehab visit?” She glanced at Shaylah’s forehead. "Were you seriously hurt?”

"No, it’s fine. I’m just here to visit an old friend.” Her mouth quirked. "I’ve been ordered to relax.”

"Good,” the port captain said brightly. "You deserve a rest.” The woman lifted a brow. "You’re alone?”

Shaylah smiled wryly. "My crew has other ideas about relaxing. They’re at the Legion Club on Alpha 2.”

"Hmmph.” The port captain sniffed. "Rowdy place.”

Shaylah’s smile became a grin. "I have a rowdy crew.”

The woman smiled back. "How long will you be staying?”

Shaylah shrugged again. "Until they order me back, I suppose.” Or until the ship was repaired and she could get flying again, she thought. "I’ve ordered some work on my ship. Will you—”

"Of course,” the woman said, eagerness taking any rudeness out of her interruption. "I’ll see that everything’s handled. Can I get you an aircab?”

She’d intended to walk—Califa’s residence wasn’t far—but the hot, wet air was more than Shaylah wanted to deal with, so she nodded. "Please.”

"Certainly.” The woman pressed a button, and within moments an aircab appeared. The exterior of the small transport was battered, but it sounded smooth enough, and the guide smiled engagingly.

"Thank you,” Shaylah said.

"Of course. Have a nice stay, Captain.” Then, almost as an afterthought, came the required words. "Long live the Coalition.”

"The Coalition,” Shaylah muttered under her breath as, after throwing the port captain a halfhearted salute, she climbed into the aircab. The blessed, almighty, all-consuming Coalition.

She sighed inwardly. She had learned to keep her unpopular views to herself over the years. Early on she had arrived at a very simple realization: One only stayed in the Coalition Legion if one toed their line. And since the thing she wanted most in life was to fly, she had little choice. She could have turned to commercial work, but jockeying the heavy cargo ships through the crowded traffic lanes, or passengers on the multitude of milk runs between colonies, wasn’t her idea of flying. She wanted a fast ship, open space, and a star to shoot for, not a slow, lumbering craft that couldn’t get out of its own way. She didn’t like the fighting aspect of her career, but she tried to look at it as the price of flying a Rigel starfighter.

But it was a price that took its toll, Shaylah thought as she got out of the aircab, in pressure as well as blood. She flashed her identification seal at the driver, who nodded as he made note of the number to bill the Legion. Then he hovered, motionless, as she grabbed her small bag. And still waited as she straightened up. Some things, she thought wryly, never change no matter what world you’re on. She tossed him a token, and he smiled, threw her a salute, and roared off.

Shaylah wondered if the attention she was getting as she strolled up the marble walkway was because of her uniform, or just natural curiosity about any visitor to the big dwelling. She’d thought about changing into citizen attire, but she’d been in a hurry, yearning for a long, soothing soak in the massage pool waiting in the quarters Califa always held for her.

A young cadet in Academy uniform opened the door, smiling shyly as he ushered her inside. Califa always had a few cadets in residence; she was renowned for her knowledge of battle tactics and often served as tutor for the more promising students at the Academy. Acting as door monitors was considered a small price to pay.

"Captain Graymist, we’ve been expecting you.”

The young cadet, whose class insignia told Shaylah he was about sixteen, was looking at her with the kind of awe that reminded her of herself, years ago. Just seeing in the flesh one of the pilots, admirals, and warriors she’d spent so much time studying had fired her enthusiasm for her chosen career; the day the renowned Commander Larek had walked up to her post at the Academy was a day she’d never forgotten in the seven years since. So she smiled at the young man as she walked past him into the foyer.

Califa had remodeled since she’d last been here, she thought. The smooth white floor and the equally white table just inside the front door were both new. Not quite understanding the urge that made her do it, she reached out to run her hand over the table. The surface felt cool and solid and oddly comforting beneath her fingers, and she looked at it more closely. Stark, pure white, massive, and beautifully carved, it was, she realized with a shock, pure Triotian marble.

She jerked her hand away, her fingers curling as if they’d been burned. Embarrassed at her instinctive reaction, she relaxed the fist she’d invol­untarily made, thankful that the cadet hadn’t seemed to notice. Anyone watching would have thought the marble had suddenly run red with the blood it had cost to bring it here.

"Everything’s ready for you, Captain. All outer doors have been keyed to your palm print, and your private quarters to the usual retinal scan.”

The cadet’s look of reverence was barely hidden by his determination to remain professionally composed. Shaylah remembered the feeling exactly.

"It’s an honor to meet you.” He handed her the system card that would activate all the apparatus in her quarters.

"Thank you”—she glanced at his name insignia—”Cadet Brakely.”

A slight tinge of pink rose in his fair cheeks—with his dark hair, pale skin, and bright blue eyes, she guessed he was Arellian, like she herself—and she was glad of the vow she’d made all those years ago that if she ever made it to the exalted status of pilot and warrior, she would take the time to do what so few had ever done for her: acknowledge the existence and dreams of the ones who would someday take her place.

"Any connection to Captain Brayton Brakely?” she asked.

The pink became red as the boy nodded. "My father’s brother,” he admitted. The pride was there, under the blush, and Shaylah smiled.

"I served with him on the Brightstar, along with Major Claxton. He taught me a great deal. If you’ve half his brains and courage, you’ll go far.”

"Thank you, Captain! I hope so. I want to fly a Rigel, like you, and—”

"Shaylah! They told me you were here!”

Shaylah turned to see a tall, slim woman approaching, the limp from her stiff left leg barely noticeable. Califa Claxton had lost none of her flair for the dramatic, Shaylah thought; that flowing black dress made the most of her coloring and stood out like an ominous dark flame in the glistening white of the foyer. At her waist, her control belt glowed with lights: amber, blue, and the more malevolent red. Shaylah ignored the qualm that swept her at the sight of it. It had always bothered her, but there was nothing she could do about it.

"Hello, Califa,” she said as the woman enveloped her in outstretched arms. "It’s good to see you.”

"You’re late. You didn’t run into any of those dreadful skypirates, did you?”

Shaylah lifted a dark, silky brow. "No. I hadn’t heard they were in this sector.”

"Oh, the devils are everywhere. They’re getting so brazen, it’s not safe anywhere.”

Califa gave Shaylah another hug, then released her and stood back, eyeing her critically. "You’re too thin, again. We’ll have to fatten you up. I’ve got the perfect dinner planned for us, and I’ve been saving the most wonderful bottle of Carelian brandy, and we can—”

"Slow down,” Shaylah said, grinning at her outburst; Califa’s ability to talk at a few knots above light speed hadn’t changed, either. "All I want right now is a soak and some rest. Give me that, and we can talk all night.”

Califa sighed. "Oh, all right. I’ve waited nearly a year to see you. I suppose I can wait a bit longer. Come, I’ll walk you to your quarters.”

Shaylah nodded and picked up her bag. The cadet jumped. "I’ll carry that—”

"No, thanks. I can do it; it’s not much.” He looked disappointed, and she smiled at him. "Good luck, Brakely. I hope you get your starfighter someday.”

He flushed again, but looked so pleased that Shaylah didn’t even mind when, as they walked away, Califa began to nag in that old, too-familiar way.

"Really, Shaylah, I don’t know why you bother. They’re just cadets. And they’re supposed to be here to learn. They can’t toughen up if you’re soft on them.”

She shrugged. There was no point in arguing; this was old ground between them. Although she and Califa had been drawn together because they were both Arellian and had served together for several tours before injuries had forced Califa into retirement from active duty, Shaylah wasn’t blind to the differences between them. Among other things, Califa was, at heart, a bit of an elitist. And that, too, was old ground.

"It’s easy for you,” Califa had said once when Shaylah had called her that after she’d lambasted a young ensign who’d inadvertently spoiled her toss of the dice in a game of chaser. "You were born to royalty. I’ve had to work for it.”

"Don’t be silly,” Shaylah had said, startled; she’d never known Califa felt that way. "There hasn’t been such a thing as royalty for years.”

Since Coalition forces had wiped out the royal family of Trios, she added silently, then pushed away the grim memory. She took no pride in the slaughter that the conquest of that lovely planet had become. She was, perhaps cravenly, grateful that she had been still in her last year at the Academy when that campaign had been launched.

"Well, if there was, you’d be part of it,” Califa had shot back. "Your family’s been a moving force on Arellia for decades.”

That, at least, was true, so she kept silent, and Califa let it drop. It was only one of the contrasts between them that had arisen over the years, but for the sake of the friendship, they chose not to dwell on any of them.

As they passed through the first of the doors separating the foyer from the residence itself, Shaylah mentally braced herself. She was not, she ordered herself, going to let the facts of life bother her. She was tired, her head was beginning to ache beneath the gash her medical officer had repaired, and she had no energy to spare at the moment. Especially for useless battles.

Still, as the door silently slid shut behind them, she found herself looking away from the man who stood silently at attention on the other side, his eyes appropriately downcast. The bronze collar that encircled his neck marked him as a third-level slave, barely a step above laborer. A spot of amber glowed unblinkingly at the center of the metal band, the single light indicating the simplicity of third-level control; pain was both quick and effective.

"... love the dinner I’ve ordered,” Califa was saying. "And,” she added with a sideways look that held a glint of a teasing leer, "do I have a surprise for you for dessert.”

"Califa,” Shaylah began warningly, recognizing her friend’s tone.

"You’re here for R and R, remember? A good, pleasurable mating, and you’ll be a new woman. I’ve just bought a very special—”

"You know how I feel about that.” In fact, it turned her stomach, although she knew that others took advantage of Califa’s generosity with her slaves.

"Shaylah, I swear you’re from the Creonic Age. I thought you’d learned your lesson after that battlecruiser captain of yours took off galaxy hopping with that little Omegan. Don’t tell me you still believe in that bonding for life fantasy.”

Shaylah sighed. She knew that in her friend’s eyes she was an aberration, a believer in a custom not even of her own world, but of old Trios, where mating had meant something more than a mere physical act done only for bodily pleasure. In this time, and throughout the Coalition, she was sadly out of place. Bonding—that joining of two souls, hearts, and minds as well as two bodies—was a myth as ancient as that of the Arellian Sunbird she had named her ship after.

"My parents did,” she said quietly. "They would have had it, if she hadn’t been killed.”

"Maybe. You don’t know that,” Califa returned. "I suppose that’s why you’re infected with this ridiculous idea that died out—and rightfully so, I must say—eons ago. Eos, I thought my parents were bad, naming me after some foolish old Triotian legend. Can’t you just relax and have some fun?”

"Califa, please. I just want to rest.”

She gave up, for Califa, gracefully. They stopped at the door to Shaylah’s quarters.

"All right, hero,” Califa said teasingly. "Rest until dinner. I’ll send someone at dusk to help you dress.”

"No,” Shaylah said hastily. "I’ll just meet you in the dining room.”

Shaylah saw Califa’s brows lower and wondered if Califa guessed that she couldn’t bear to spend any more time than necessary with the silent, collared people who were slaves no matter what euphemistic names the Coalition gave them. She sighed inwardly. Califa saw nothing wrong with the system; it took a lot of work to run this big domicile the Coalition provided for her small school; the slaves they also provided did that work. And, Shaylah thought with a qualm, subtly indoctrinated the cadets in the attitude that this was the normal and right way of life.

"All right,” Califa agreed after a moment. "I know how you are about your privacy. I’ll see you at dinner, then.”

"Yes.” Shaylah smiled. "I presume you still preside over the awed cadets at the head table.”

"Of course.” She grinned. "It’s on a dais now. One must remind them of their lowly place, mustn’t one?” She winked at Shaylah. "Check the storage bay,” she said, then turned and strode unevenly down the long hall.

THE MASSAGE POOL worked its magic, and Shaylah fell so deeply into sleep on the wide, body-conforming bed that even her ever-reliable inner alarm barely woke her just before dusk. She rose quickly, feeling at least physically better. Yawning, she walked over to the counter that held her bag and tugged out the gleaming antique silver hairbrush that had been her mother’s. It always took a while to undo the tangle of her hair and smooth it to its usual shining black mass, but it felt so good to have it down and flowing free instead of mashed under her combat helmet that she didn’t mind.

She went to the storage bay and pulled it open. Califa had hinted at something, but still Shaylah was surprised at what she pulled out. The soft material of the gown gleamed gold, and she smiled. The first time she’d visited Califa, right after she’d first been given the Sunbird, Califa had left her a plain white gown, in honor of the new ship. When she’d come after her first real fight, it had been bronze. Then, after her first medal, silver. The gold, she supposed, was in honor of the last battle. She had, it seemed, arrived at last, in Califa’s eyes. And as anyone in the Coalition from cadet on up knew, that was an accomplishment not to be taken lightly.

Shaylah slipped the dress on with a sigh. Once, achieving this status had meant everything to her. Now she felt nothing except a weariness that sleep could not assuage. It showed in her eyes; even she could see it: The usually bright blue looked dull and flat.

She studied herself critically in the mirror. She had lost weight, but it only seemed to make the dress cling more closely to what curves there were. The low neck revealed more of the pale skin of her breasts than she would have liked—it was more Califa’s taste than her own—but the cool, smooth fabric felt wonderful and set off her ebony hair.

Making her way to Califa’s table was an ordeal; she had become, she realized, somewhat of a public figure. She was recognized by the cadets, who began to chatter about the "great victory” she had achieved for the Coalition. She supposed she should be flattered, but all she wanted was to forget about it.

"By Eos,” she muttered as she sat down and Califa waved the crowd of admirers into silence, "this hero business is a nuisance.”

Something flickered in Califa’s eyes, and Shaylah wondered if her friend resented her, or at least the fact that she had continued with the Legion while Califa had been forced to retire. Then it was gone, so quickly she began to doubt if she’d seen it at all. Besides, Califa was more famous now than she had ever been as a Legion pilot, not to mention having been promoted to full major for her accomplishments here.

"Gold looks wonderful on you,” Califa said, eyeing the dress. "And you’ve earned it. And I see you’re still turning every male head in the place,” she added with a grin. "Long legs, black hair, and big blue eyes do it every time.”

"Look who’s talking.” Shaylah grinned back. "You’ve got the same coloring as I do.”

Close, she amended to herself. Califa’s paler blue eyes were much more conspicuous beneath her short-cropped hair, and cool could become icy when she turned her intense regard on something.

They talked of old times for a while, Academy days and their first missions together, while they ate the meal that was everything Califa had promised.

"I haven’t had a brollet steak since I left home,” she said at last, after swallowing the last tender bite.

"Too bad they can’t seem to live anywhere but on Arellia,” Califa said.

"Well, they do well enough there to make up for it,” Shaylah said wryly. "The growers spend more time chasing them off than growing their crops.” She smiled at Califa. "But it was wonderful. Thank you.”

"You’re quite welcome. It’s the least I can do. I mean, I never would have been able to convince Legion Command to start this place if you hadn’t volunteered the land.”

Shaylah merely shrugged. It had seemed a small enough thing at the time; her family had owned but never used the plot. She’d never expected it to turn into anything as exalted as this.

Califa looked over her shoulder then and nodded. Something flickered in her eyes as she said, "Wait until you taste the brandy.”

"I can’t wait. I haven’t had Carelian brandy in ages.” She felt suddenly ungrateful. "You’ve gone to a lot of trouble, Califa. My favorite foods from home, and now this.”

"It was nothing,” Califa assured her, that odd glint still in her pale eyes.

"No, really, it was—”

Shaylah stopped dead as the heavy decanter of brandy appeared on the table before her, placed there carefully by a strongly muscled arm that was nearly as golden as the liquid itself. Her gaze jerked upward.

He was, without a doubt, the most incredible male she had ever seen, and over the years and the worlds, she had seen a few. He was golden, from the sleek skin rippling over taut muscle to the thick, shaggy mane of hair that hung past his shoulders, hair that was every color from flaxen to deep, rich amber-blond. His shoulders were wide and strong, his naked chest was broad and smoothly hairless, giving emphasis to the scattering of fine golden hairs below his navel.

That scattering of hair thickened as it trailed down below the edge of the trewscloth he wore. She felt an odd flush of heat as she looked at the full, masculine contours the brief garment barely covered. He seemed to gleam in the soft light.

Were his eyes golden as well? she wondered. She couldn’t tell; he was staring at the floor as he stood quietly by the table as if awaiting orders.

Orders. She sucked in her breath as the realization hit. Her gaze snapped to his neck, and something painful coiled and shifted inside her.

He was a slave. Only now did it hit her, the sum of all the details she’d seen but hadn’t registered in her perusal. His wrists bore the mark of chains long worn. Her eyes flicked down the long, leanly muscled legs to his feet; the marks were there, too, around the ankles, the scars that marred the beautiful golden skin.

She vaguely heard Califa giggle. "Like him? I knew you would.”

Shaylah didn’t answer. She looked up once more, feeling foolish as she realized she was hoping she was mistaken, that the golden band around his neck was merely decoration of some sort. But there was no denying the purpose of the thick, heavy collar; the glowing system lights told her more than she wanted to know.

No simple, single control for this one. This was the golden collar, the highest level, with all systems implanted. The pain light was there, yellow and unblinking. But the blue was there too, the brain wave synchronizer, the device that kept all but the most recalcitrant of slaves cooperative.

Its glow was faint, indicating that only the mildest regulation was being used now. A monitoring, really, the system activated only so that any abnormal activity—such as an urge for freedom, she thought sourly—would be sensed and stopped at once. At the other extreme she knew the system produced a kind of hypnosis, an adjusting of brain activity that was directed by whoever held the control unit set to that individual frequency. The possessor of that unit literally controlled the slave’s mind and could make him think, do, or say whatever the controller wished.

She knew she was dwelling on these ugly facts in order to avoid looking at the third light on the collar. It wasn’t lit at all, but she knew it was red. The malignant, glowing red that meant that at any moment his life could be snuffed out by one tiny move of a finger on a control unit. Her stomach knotted painfully.

"Dazzling, isn’t he? Not my type, of course. I prefer Omegans, myself. But I may try him myself one day soon. He’s only just arrived. His first service was at the Legion Club on Clarion, and they train them well there.”

Shaylah sucked in a breath at Califa’s words. She had forgotten the other purpose of the blue hypnotic system. Somehow that was the worst, and that tight, hurting knot in her belly cramped again. That this beautiful, powerful creature should be forced to turn that magnificent body over to whomever held the controller, for that person to use for his or her own pleasure, sickened her. She had to look away.

"I’ve heard some... rather incredible stories,” Califa was saying. "He’s quite something in the stamina department, I hear. And I can vouch myself for the fact that he is, shall we say, amply endowed?”

Not for the first time Shaylah cursed her pale Arellian skin; she could feel the blush creeping up her throat.

"Califa,” she said, her eyes flicking back to the man who stood motionless beside the table, still staring compliantly at the floor, as if his most intimate actions and parts were not being discussed in front of him.

"Really, Shaylah,” she said. "You’re much too sensitive. I had to inspect him, didn’t I? I paid dearly to get him. They’re very rare, you know.”

She looked back at Califa. "They?”

"Why, I thought you guessed. He’s a Triotian.”

Shaylah nearly gasped. Her head snapped around again, and she knew her jaw had dropped as she stared again at the golden man.

She could see it now, the legendary beauty of Trios in his build, his fitness, his coloring. Legendary, and practically extinct. It was like looking at the last surviving Arellian lion, tawny-gold and sinuously graceful, his wild spirit restrained only by the collar that bound him, a beautiful, sad example of the last of his breed.

"Triotian,” she whispered. Rare was not the word for it; if there were a handful of survivors from the Trios massacre scattered throughout the system, she would be surprised. "His eyes,” she murmured, not realizing she’d spoken aloud. Somehow it seemed imperative that she see his eyes. She had to know if they were like the lion’s, not in the matching golden color, but in the look of resigned fury at his captivity.

Califa had heard her. "You may raise your eyes,” she intoned to the slave. When he didn’t move, her hand went to the controller on her belt. Before Shaylah could protest, it was too late; she sensed the sudden tensing of his muscles as the pain jolted through him.

"Raise your eyes,” Califa said; it was unmistakably an order this time.

Slowly, the golden head came up. Shaylah’s breath caught in her throat. His eyes, set in a sculpted face that rivaled the incredible body in pure male beauty, were nothing like the lion’s. They were green, brightly, vividly green, the green of an Arellian starflower, the green of the grass she had heard once covered the rolling landscape of Trios. And there was nothing of resignation in them, nothing of a caged restraint. His body might be chained, but Shaylah knew with that first look that this spirit would never submit.

And then, so completely that she wondered if she’d imagined it, the life in those green eyes was gone. In its place was the flat, dull, lifeless look of the slave, of the deadened soul, the cold ashes of a crushed fire.

"Introduce yourself,” Califa commanded.

There was a perfectly timed pause, just long enough to create the speculation he might refuse, yet too short for Califa to resort to the controller. Then he spoke, in a low, rough voice that sent a shiver racing up Shaylah’s spine.

"I am called Wolf.”

"Called?” she asked softly. Not named, called. She saw something flicker in those green eyes, but it was gone too quickly for her to name it.

"Show her why we call you that.”

Shaylah smothered her irritation at Califa’s tone; when dealing with slaves, Califa’s superior attitude truly came to the. fore.

There was that moment of delay once more, and Califa’s brows furrowed. But in the moment when she moved her hand toward the controller at her belt, the man called Wolf lifted his left arm. His chiseled face expressionless, he turned his hand palm up in front of Shaylah. This time her gasp escaped. The inner surface of his wrist was a mass of scar tissue, thick and shiny. It explained, she guessed, why the two outer fingers on that hand were frozen in a slight curl, while the others moved normally.

"Do you remember the old Triotian legends?” Califa asked. Unable to tear her eyes away from the grisly sight, Shaylah shook her head numbly. "You should; we studied them enough at the institute. And you used to tease me about the one I was named after. Don’t you remember about the wolf, that mythical creature of Trios that would gnaw off his own paw rather than stay trapped?”

"Eos.” Shaylah whispered the oath in awe.

"He did it on Clarion. Used the edge of the wristcuffs, sharpened on the stones of the market wall. If they hadn’t discovered it, he could have slipped the loose end of the chains through the ring on the wall and been gone.”

"Minus his hand,” Shaylah hissed through teeth clenched against the nausea that rose in her at the thought.

"As it was, he nearly bled to death. And he did lose the use of two fingers.” Califa shrugged. "It was a good thing for me, though. The Club wanted to be rid of him, because he was too much trouble. And since he was maimed, I got him for a lot less than he would have cost if he’d been perfect.”

For the first time Shaylah wondered just how deep that coldness she had occasionally sensed in her friend ran. Califa herself was not "perfect,” and if anyone had suggested her wound made her less desirable, Shaylah was certain Califa would slice that person’s tongue out. But the man called Wolf was after all, Califa would say, only a slave.

Reluctantly, but somehow unable to stop herself, she lifted her gaze once more to his eyes. She knew by the flash in the green depths—a flash of puzzlement, surprise, or sardonic amusement, she couldn’t tell—that her emotions must be showing in her face.

"Perhaps, then,” she said softly to Califa, all the while never looking away from him, "it’s just as well.”

She was sure of his reaction this time; one golden brow lifted in surprise.


Califa snapped the word out, her hand hovering over the amber button on the controller. He continued to look at Shaylah for that perfectly timed instant, then lowered his eyes submissively. Shaylah knew slaves were not allowed such liberties as expressing emotions. They spoke only when spoken to, looked at you only when given permission. And answered, not asked, questions. But anyone, she thought, who thought this man broken was a fool.

"Go now,” Califa ordered.

As his head moved in an obedient nod, Shaylah saw his eyes flick to her once more. The surprise had faded, to be replaced by a look that made her feel oddly warm. Then the man called Wolf turned and left them. Shaylah watched him go, admiring the strong, graceful stride, heating up again at the taut, muscled curve of his buttocks flexing in the trewscloth that barely covered the essentials. At the same time that cold, hard pain that had taken up residence in her at the first realization that he was a slave tightened another notch at the degradation of this proud, magnificent male animal.

"Sometimes I wonder if he’s worth so much trouble,” Califa said with a sigh. "No wonder the Club got rid of him. Do you know he tried to rip the collar off, once? I don’t think he even realized it was surgically implanted.”

It was all Shaylah could do not to throw her glass of the precious brandy. "Pardon him,” she said tightly, "for not knowing the intricacies of enslavement.”

"Would you rather he be treated like the rest of the Triotian survivors?” Califa said defensively. "Worked to death in the mines or the labor camps?”

"He might think it a better bargain than prostituting himself.”

"Perhaps,” Califa said, sounding stung, "you think I should have left him on Clarion. Kryos, the slave trader, was ready to put his eyes out.”

Shaylah shut her own eyes against the images those words brought to her. She’d offended her friend, she knew, but somehow she just couldn’t take things like this as lightly as she used to. Maybe she’d seen too many people fighting and dying to save their homes and families, like the Triotians had. Maybe she’d seen too many brave men and women who had been herded away to the camps Califa spoke of.

Maybe, she thought wearily, she was just too damn tired to think straight. She shouldn’t be taking it out on an old friend who was trying to make the best out of what was left to her after her flying career had been abruptly ended.

"I’m sorry,” she said. "I’m still wound up, I guess. You didn’t make this world, and it’s not your fault that I don’t like it much.”

Califa was instantly sympathetic. "I understand. I know it’s tough to unwind after a battle. Here, try the brandy.”

It went down smooth and hot and fast, and Shaylah welcomed the spreading warmth. But she excused herself after the second glass, thanking Califa again and promising to meet her for firstmeal at dawning.

Back in her quarters, Shaylah changed into the robe she took with her everywhere. It had been her mother’s, brought home from a trip to pre-Coalition Trios, along with a multitude of amazing stories, not the least of which was the tale that the delicate blue fabric had been woven with threads made by the larvae of some Triotian insect. Shaylah was almost certain that story had been invented to amuse a child sulking at being left behind while her parents went off to the most popular vacation port in the sector.

And soon afterward—too, too soon—her mother had been dead. Shaylah sighed and wandered over to the entertainment wall. Nothing particularly interested her; public information reports were too regularly depressing, she didn’t want to watch any of the several cineplays available, and she certainly wasn’t hungry. Maybe she would just go to bed. Even with her long nap, she could certainly use some more sleep. She could—

The buzz at the door interrupted her thoughts. Califa, she thought, wanting to see if she was truly asleep or available for a late night chatter session. She crossed the room and slid open the door.

"Still a night owl, I see—”

She broke off, staring at her visitor. It wasn’t Califa. It was Wolf.



Chapter 2

"I... WHAT ARE you doing here?”

Eyes appropriately downcast, he murmured in that rough voice, "I am honored to be chosen, Captain.”

Shaylah stared at him blankly. "Chosen? For what?”

"To pleasure you.”

"What?” she yelped, startled.

"There is a message,” he said in explanation.

Startled, Shaylah glanced at the communicator beside the door. The message light was, indeed, blinking. Wondering how she had missed its beep, she reached over and pressed the button beside the flashing light. Immediately Califa’s recorded image filled the small screen. She was laughing.

"I promised you dessert, remember? Give it a try, my friend. You might be surprised at what it will do for you.”

The image flickered and was gone; Shaylah groaned. Embarrassedly aware of her flaming cheeks, she turned back to the golden figure in her doorway. He was, she noted grimly, as beautiful as she had thought the first time. It made the cuffs and chain that bound his wrists together seem obscene.

"Er... Wolf,” she began, then faltered. It was impossible, she thought, to talk to someone who wouldn’t look at you. Especially when all you could see of his eyes were long, thick, gold-tipped lashes shadowing high, almost regal cheekbones. She wondered what those lashes would feel like brushing her skin, then felt herself heat at the thought.

He moved then, extending one chained hand. She looked and saw the controller resting on his palm.

"Eos,” she whispered, "they make you carry your own cross?”

His head came up then, sharply, and green fire sparked as he looked at her, obviously startled that she knew the old savior legend. He searched her face with an intensity that astonished her; she realized that this was incredibly audacious behavior for a slave. He seemed to realize it even as she did and quickly lowered his eyes.

"No,” she said, the protest breaking from her without thought. "Don’t do that.”

His head came up again, and this time the slave looked at her from those green eyes. There was the briefest hesitation as his gaze slid over the thrust of her breasts beneath the blue silk of her robe, but he said nothing, merely once more held out the small power unit to her.

She knew, from the requisite instructions given to all Coalition warriors in handling slaves, if she took it she would quite literally own him. Each unit was programmed to the specific brain waves of the slave it was designed for and could alter those waves in any way the possessor of the unit wished. All she had to do was take it, activate it with her systems card, and this magnificent creature would be hers to command. He would clean her flight boots, brush her hair, or kiss her with machine-induced passion. If what Califa had said was true, he would mate with her until she was limp with physical satiation and still be ready at her command.

She could even use the brain-wave system to achieve the simulation of bonding if she wished. She could turn the man called Wolf into her dream lover, who would say exactly what she wished to hear, do what she wished him to do, touch her exactly as she wished to be touched, and declare himself hers forever out of love. She could have her dream. But it would be only that, a dream.

She stared at him, knowing that he knew as well as she did what surrendering the controller meant. Something shifted beneath the flat, dull gaze of the captive, as if he knew also of the vivid images that had swamped her. The pictures she’d conjured up left her breathless; the method left her feeling slightly ill.

"No,” she said again, backing away from him a step in the manner of one recoiling from a temptation for something she knew would destroy her. "I can’t do this.”

Puzzlement flashed across his face. She could see the question in his eyes, knew he didn’t dare ask it.

"Please, I... it’s not... just go,” she ended desperately.

The puzzlement deepened as he looked at her for a long moment. At last he spoke, carefully making the words not a question. "Major Claxton said... you wanted me.”

I do, Shaylah thought, still feeling breathless. Eos help me, I do. And I can’t have you. Not like this. It would go against everything I’ve ever believed, everything my parents taught me. But, oh, the temptation, to have this golden man touch her with even the simulation of love was—

Impossible, she told herself sternly. "I’m sorry,” she said briskly. "This is all a mistake. Please go now.”

He drew back a little. "But—”

He cut himself off sharply, and she saw his jaw tighten as he squared his broad shoulders. His head lowered as he assumed the subservient posture again.

"As you command.”

He gave the traditional slave’s response in a voice that clawed at something deep inside Shaylah. She felt a shiver ripple through her as she watched him walk away, every muscle in his near-naked body glistening in the lights of the passageway. He’d been prepared for her, she realized with a little shock, his hair freshly cleansed, his powerful body oiled, and wearing a new trewscloth of some soft, clinging material that emphasized rather than concealed the masculine contours. Were there slaves who prepared the slaves? she wondered dazedly.

Restlessly she paced her quarters, her arms wrapped around herself as if it could ease the strange feelings churning inside her. When at last she slipped off the robe and retreated to the bed, she feared she would never sleep.

When she did, her dreams were haunted by a golden image rising above her, soothing her battle-weary body, teasing her with delicate touches to a delicious frenzy. He came to her with desire in his face, need in his body, love in his vivid green eyes. And without the golden collar around his neck.

"SOMETHING BIG must be on!”

"I saw three cruisers leave port yesterday.”

"I wish they’d tell us what’s happening.”

Shaylah heard the youthful voices as she walked down the hall to the dining room. When she turned the corner and came upon the group of cadets, they snapped immediately to attention and moved respectfully out of her way, lining up against the wall as if she were about to inspect them.

"At ease, troops,” she said with a friendly laugh; a couple of them smiled back at her tentatively, and the girl at the end of the row threw her a snappy salute.

"Do you know what’s going on, Captain?” she asked.

"No,” Shaylah said, "afraid not.”

They looked disappointed.

"No one ever tells us anything,” Brakely, the cadet who had met her at the door, complained.

"They don’t tell anyone anything,” Shaylah said dryly. "It makes them feel important.”

The cadets were still laughing as she waved and continued on her way to the dining room. She shook off a familiar qualm as she passed the female slave at the door. Despite a lingering weariness after a restless, dream-filled night, she had found it an unexpectedly relaxing day. The humidity had broken, and a cool breeze had blown in from the mountains to the west. A walk in the extensive gardens had soothed the disquiet in her soul, and another long soak in the massage pool had soothed her body. In fact, it had been a most peaceful day, marred only by the habit she couldn’t seem to break of scanning her surroundings constantly for a glimpse of light gleaming on a golden mane of hair.

She wouldn’t ask where he was, she told herself as she joined Califa for dinner. She was better off not knowing. And if she didn’t see him again before she was recalled, she’d be better off for that, too, she added with emphasis.

When Califa suggested more brandy, Shaylah opened her mouth to say no. But no words came, and she found herself nodding her head instead. Califa waved a signal.

She sensed his approach and made herself study the table before her as if it held one of her navigational star charts. The decanter came into her line of vision. It was set down rather heavily, but she didn’t look up. Then the glasses appeared, clinking together. Odd, she thought. He’d done it so quietly yesterday.

Her forehead creased as she looked at the hand that had set down the glasses. It was shaking. Even as she watched, the long, strong fingers curled into a fist, as if to hide the trembling. It only sent the tremor rippling up his arm.

Shaylah couldn’t help herself. She looked up—and for the third time since she’d been here, gasped at the sight of him. He looked dreadful. He was ashen beneath the gold tint of his skin, and his jaw was clenched tightly, as if only sheer force of will were holding him upright. Little shudders, barely visible, swept him as she watched.

The question escaped her before she could stop it. "What’s wrong?”

"Go now, Wolf.” Califa’s words came sharply.

"Wait,”Shaylah said, reaching out to touch his hand. Instinctively he looked up, and she gasped again. His face was haggard, almost gaunt, his eyes darkly shadowed and bruised-looking. Pain and exhaustion stared back at her from beneath the gold-tipped lashes, the vivid green turned gray and muddy. His wrists and ankles were raw, as if he had strained against his chains for a long time.

"By Eos,” she whispered, "what happened?”

Something akin to bitterness flickered in his eyes, then died, as if he had no energy to sustain it.

"Go, Wolf,” Califa snapped.

Shaylah’s throat constricted until she could barely breathe as he walked away. The smooth, graceful stride was gone, distorted into a shambling, painful gait that made her own body ache as she watched.

"I’m sorry,” Califa said. "I’d forgotten how sensitive you are about some things. I should have had someone else bring the brandy.”

"What—” She had to stop, swallow, and try again. "What happened to him?”

"I’m afraid Marcole got a bit carried away with the punishment.” Califa shrugged. "He does enjoy his work.”

"Punishment? What punishment?”

"Usually it would be just a night spent with the pain system activated to the second level. But Marcole insists Wolf needs special attention. Anything less than fourth level doesn’t seem to have much effect.”

Shaylah stared at her friend, wondering how she could talk about nothing less than torture so casually. "Much effect?” she finally managed to say, the memory of those haunted, pain-filled eyes stark in her mind.

Califa shrugged again. "Marcole threw in a few jolts of five level, just to emphasize the price for failure.”

"Failure? What did he fail to do to deserve that?”

Califa looked surprised. "To please you, of course.”

Shaylah let out a startled cry. "What?”

"His orders were to pleasure you. He failed to carry them out.”

"But... I sent him away.”

Califa nodded. "Obviously he did something to offend you. He knows the penalty for that.”

"But he didn’t! You knew I didn’t want... that!”

"If he’d pleased you enough, you would have changed your mind. But he failed,” Califa explained patiently. "You can’t let a slave get away with that, Shaylah. Even you should see that. He had to be punished.”

A memory flashed through her mind, quick, vivid, and razor sharp. That second of hesitation, the protest he had cut off sharply just before leaving her... He had known what he would be going back to. He had let her send him away, knowing what he would face when he returned so quickly, obviously not having done what he was sent to do.

It was her fault he had suffered such hideous punishment. She hadn’t understood, hadn’t known what her rejection would mean. But he had. Yet he had said nothing, had not uttered the slightest protest that might have saved him. Because had she known, she would never have sent him away. They would not have mated as expected, but no one would have known. He would have been safe.

"Don’t feel bad,” Califa was saying in soothing tones. "It’s not your fault. After the way you looked at him last night, I assumed you had changed your mind about a mating.”

Shaylah shuddered. She had much to answer for; in her determined ignorance of the system she so hated, she had brought disaster down on a man who had already seen far too much of it. And Califa... she saw nothing amiss in the logic that allowed her to punish a slave for not doing something he hadn’t been ordered to do in the first place.

"Was he uncooperative, or something?”

"No.” It came out as a tight little whisper.

"Then why? I do need to know, Shaylah, before I send him to someone else.”

"Someone else?”

"Yes. Krel—you remember my old navigator, don’t you?—has had her eye on him, but I was saving him for you. You outrank her, after all, and besides, she tends to claw up the merchandise a bit. You know how Carelians are.” Califa looked suddenly thoughtful. "But that might be good for him, teach him a lesson. She’ll be back tonight, so—”

Loathing, violent and corrosive, bubbled up inside Shaylah. Loathing for this system, for the cowardly euphemisms that tried to hide the reality, and, in this moment, loathing for the friend who supported and encouraged it. She scrambled to her feet; Califa stared at her.

"I want him,” she said harshly. "Tonight, and from now on while I’m here. No one else is to have him, for anything.”

Califa looked stunned. "But I thought—”

"Can I have him, or not?”

"Well, of course. It’s what I’d planned, anyway, but I thought you didn’t—”

"I do.” Short and sharp, her words cut Califa off. Shaylah stared at the woman who’d been her friend for so long, wondering if she’d ever really known her.

"I’ll send him to you,” Califa said, eyeing Shaylah a little warily.

"Thank you.” She turned on her heel, conscious of Califa’s stare but not caring.

Back in her quarters, she paced the floor with short, quick steps. Even though she’d been expecting it, waiting for it ever since she’d left the dining room, she still jumped when the buzzer sounded.

She had hoped that she’d been mistaken, that he didn’t look as bad as she’d thought. She knew she was wrong the moment the door slid open. If anything, the softer lights of the dining room had masked the true extent of the damage. He swayed slightly as he stood there; she saw him struggle to control it. She dreaded the moment when he would look up, and she would see those eyes again.

"Why?” she whispered. "Why didn’t you tell me?”

His head came up then. He met her troubled gaze, and beneath the pain and exhaustion she saw her answer.

"Pride is a costly thing for a slave,” she said softly.

He lowered his eyes once more. Bracing his unsteady right arm with his half-functioning left hand, he once more held out the control unit. This time, although she had no intention of using it, she took it. A tiny breath, barely noticeable, escaped him.

Voices echoed in the passageway, and Shaylah glanced up to see two cadets approaching, involved in animated speculation about the recent exodus of Coalition vessels. Quickly she stepped aside, clearing the doorway. Wolf took her hint and stepped past her into the room, out of sight from the corridor. The two cadets saluted respectfully as they passed; she nodded, then shut the door and turned around.

He was standing beside the bed, his feet apart slightly as he braced himself against the tremors that still shook him. His unsteady fingers were plucking at the ties of his trewscloth, and color rose in her cheeks as she realized he was about to take it off.

"Don’t,” she said quickly.

His head came up. He said nothing, but stopped. He lowered his hands to the traditional clasped, submissive position before him, his only choice because of the chains.

"Please, sit down, before you fall down,” she said urgently; he looked even paler than he had before.

He sat on the edge of the bed. She saw the skin around his mouth tighten as the metal cuffs tugged at his wrists.

Shaylah swore, low and harsh. She looked at the controller, trying to remember her single long-ago training experience with one. She had tried it, because she’d been ordered to, but she hadn’t really believed it truly worked, that anyone would invent something so horrible. She’d been cruelly convinced in short order.

She walked quickly to the counter and picked up the system card. She inserted it into the controller with a hand that was almost as unsteady as his had been. The lights flashed on, glowing steadily. She walked back to him, but after a few fruitless moments, she swore again.

"Eos, I can’t remember!” She looked at him. "Tell me.”

His voice was flat when he answered. "The blue one.”

Flushing, her gaze shot to his face. "Not that.”

That bitterness flashed in his eyes again. "Then perhaps you want the yellow one.”

She nearly dropped the controller. "Why in Hades would I want that?”

He just looked at her.

"Why would you think I want to cause you more pain?” she demanded.

"Because you asked for me this time. When I am... like this.”

"You think I enjoy it? That seeing you like this... excites me?”

"There are those to whom it brings pleasure.”

"I sent for you,” she said fiercely, "because they were going to give you to a local Carelian tonight. For mating. I’ve seen what they do to those they mate with. And this one... she is particularly vicious.”

"Degrees of Hades,” he said, with that look again, flat, dull, resigned. Shaylah felt as if her heart had been ripped open, and she struggled with the controller once more. At last, in desperation, she turned it over. Something about the odd-shaped button on the underside triggered a memory, and she quickly pushed it.

The snap as his chains unlocked startled her, but it was clearly nothing compared to his astonishment. He stared at her as the cuffs fell away from his wrists, revealing reddened, raw bands of skin.

"You... wish me unchained?”

"Of course, or I wouldn’t have done it,” she retorted, relieved that she had found the right switch. She picked up the fallen cuffs and chain with a grimace and stuffed them out of sight beneath the bed. Only then did she realize he had actually voiced a question. He must have been truly startled, she thought grimly.

He was staring at her in bafflement. Shaylah let out a compressed breath; this was going to be more difficult than she had expected. Even seated he was looking paler by the moment, and she was afraid for him.

"What I wish,” she said, "is that you lie down.”

After a barely perceptible pause, he bowed his head. "As you command.” He reached once more for the ties at his hip.

"Don’t,” she repeated hastily.

He looked up, clearly puzzled. "You asked Major Claxton for me,” he said slowly, again careful not to actually voice a question. "You wish me unchained. You wish me to lie down. But you do not wish me naked.” Her color deepened, but faded as something that could have been apprehension flickered in his eyes. He went on in a low voice, "My appearance displeases you.”

"Eos, no,” she exclaimed. "You’re the most—” She stopped, knowing she would sound like a giddy cadet if she told him what she really thought of his wild, golden looks. She took a breath and began again.

"Wolf, listen,” she explained, "I do have... some wishes, but now is not the time. We’ll talk about them later. Now you need rest. Sleep.”

"You wish me to sleep... here?”

She’d startled another question out of him, Shaylah thought. Progress indeed. "Where else?”

"Usually, if I’m told to stay...” His glance went to the floor beside the bed. There was a metal clasp set into the wall just above the floor, at just the right height to hold a chained slave.

"Well this is not ‘usually,’” she said, her voice sharp with anger.

He stared at her. "No, it is not,” he said softly.

Something in that look warmed her, and her voice was gentler when she went on. "You won’t get the kind of rest you need on the floor. Lie down, Wolf.”

Slowly, he did, the effort it took for him to lift his legs onto the bed making her own muscles ache anew. She noticed again the raw, red skin of his wrists and ankles and went to her bag for the healer’s spray she always carried in case of injury. As she re-crossed the room she noticed a small, dark spot on the floor. Then another, closer to the door, then another. She leaned over to look closer, then wheeled around and strode quickly back to the bed.

"You’re bleeding,” she exclaimed, her eyes searching him for the fresh wound. "It’s on the floor.”

He lifted himself shakily to one elbow. "I will clean it.” He started to rise, but Shaylah stopped him.

"Don’t be silly. Where is the wound?”

"I don’t—” He broke off as she looked at him sternly. "Right ankle, I believe.”

She looked and quickly found the laceration. "They keep you in leg irons?” she asked, her voice quavering.

"Only at night.”

"Or when administering punishment?” she guessed, and knew she was right when he looked away. She bit her lip as she sprayed on the combination disinfectant and cell renewal formula. "I’m sorry, Wolf. I didn’t know this would happen.”

He went rigid, and when she looked up he was staring at her. This went beyond surprise; he was stunned. "You are apologizing? To a slave?”

"To a man,” she said softly, as she recapped the spray.

He was silent for a moment. "I don’t understand you.”

She smiled wryly. "Funny, most of my friends say the same thing.” She straightened up. "Sleep. Then we will talk of... my wishes, all right?” He looked at her warily, and she sensed he was looking for the trap. "No catch, Wolf. Just rest.” He didn’t believe her, and she couldn’t blame him. For now, at least, she was going to have to pull rank. "Close your eyes, Wolf,” she ordered.

"As you command,” he muttered. The gold-tipped lashes lowered, but Shaylah knew he was far from sleep. Resignedly she reached for the controller. The training was coming back to her now, and she was able to find the blue setting she wanted. In seconds she saw his body slacken as his brain-wave pattern changed to match that of the transmitter, sending him into sleep.

Shaylah watched him for a long time before she finally switched off the controller. He slept on, a deep, natural sleep now, and she nodded in satisfaction as she curled up on the padded bench built into the wall next to the bed.

When she woke hours later, she saw the light blinking on the communicator and realized the beep had been what awakened her. She lowered the volume so it wouldn’t disturb the sleeping Wolf, then played the message. It was Califa.

"I trust you’re sufficiently entertained, since you missed firstmeal,” she said, with a teasing glint in her eyes. "I can have midday sent to your quarters if you like. And dinner as well, for that matter.” The image giggled. "Just let me know. Enjoy, and later you can tell me if he’s as good as they say. Perhaps I’ll have to try him myself sooner than I had planned.”

The message wound to a stop, and Shaylah stared at the frozen image. Who was she, this woman she had flown with and fought beside? This woman whose life she had once saved, and who had once returned the favor? This woman who so casually accepted—or perhaps even ordered—the torture of a chained man until he could barely stand?

"Have you always been like this and I just didn’t see it?” she muttered softly.

She tried to tell herself it was the custom. The use of slaves, either in private homes or in the Legion Clubs scattered throughout the colonies, as solution to the physical needs of the various members of the Coalition Legion was an accepted practice. The Legion members were warriors and had earned such tribute, was the consensus. And if Shaylah hated the system, if she was uncomfortable with that portion of Coalition history which had brought those slaves from all of the far-flung worlds the Coalition had conquered, she knew it was she who was out of step.

Moving suddenly, she snapped off the receiver and turned on the transmitter. The message she recorded was short to the point of curtness, but she didn’t care.

"Please have meals delivered to my quarters until I advise differently. And see that we’re not disturbed.”

She sent it, then turned the unit off with a sharp, angry snap of her wrist. Aware of the tightness of muscles that had cramped on the small bench, she stretched to loosen them. Another hot plunge sounded appealing, she thought. She turned to go for her robe.

He was awake and watching her. He looked better, she thought. Much better. The shadows beneath his eyes had faded, and he was much steadier. He said nothing.

She didn’t know how long he’d been awake, but from the way he looked from the now inactive communicator to her, she guessed he had heard enough. Remembering Califa’s closing words, she was embarrassed. It was an uncomfortable feeling, being ashamed of a friend.

"I’m going to soak,” she said. "Food should be here soon. We’ll talk then.”

When she emerged from the pool, she dressed quickly in a comfort­able jumpsuit; the luscious odor of food was making her empty stomach growl. She came into the room to find a big table laden with covered dishes and a silent Wolf sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor.

She walked quickly to the table and lifted one of the thermal covers. The steaming aroma of spicy rockfowl met her nose, and she smiled when she heard Wolf’s stomach growl. There was a lot of food, but oddly, only one empty plate. She solved the problem by dividing the rockfowl and using its plate as a second. She began to fill the plate, lifting the other thermal covers as she went around the table.

"You must be starving; your stomach’s growling,” she said. "Why didn’t you start?”

His head came up. "You wish me to eat... with you?”

Shaylah sighed. "Yes. I wish you to eat with me. I wish you to quit looking at the floor. I wish you to quit acting like you’ve broken the fifth stellar law if you ask a question. I wish—Never mind. Later. Eat.”

As if on cue, his stomach gurgled again, and Shaylah grinned. She added a helping of steamed organics and held the plate out to him. He stared first at the food, then at her face, his eyes wide with shock. The irony of it hit her; the master, for all intents and purposes, serving the slave.

"Eat,” she said again. He moved as if to reach for the plate, then stopped, still eyeing her warily. "Look,” she said quietly, "I know you don’t trust me. You have no reason to. I can only promise that I won’t consciously do anything to get you in trouble again. Please eat.”

At last he took the proffered food. Shaylah couldn’t help noticing that, despite his obvious hunger, he had better table manners than most pilots she knew. They ate in silence, finishing virtually everything on the table.

"I must have been really hungry,” she said as she wiped her fingers. "I usually can’t finish one of Califa’s meals.”

Wolf’s plate hit the table with a thud.

"What?” she asked. He didn’t answer. "You’re staring at the damn floor again. What did I say?”

"I wasn’t expected to eat with you.”

"Of course you were. Califa knows you are here. Why would you think that?”

"One plate. And nothing left.”

Shaylah’s brow furrowed; he was right. "But... she can’t have expected me to eat all this and not share it with you.”

"She expected,” he said slowly, "that you would give me your leavings.”

Shaylah sighed again, deeply. "I think,” she said, "it’s time to talk about those wishes of mine.”

"As you command,” he answered reflexively, resuming the submissive posture.

"That,” Shaylah said, "is first on my list. I don’t want to hear that anymore. I don’t want you to... to stand like that anymore. Or to choke on your questions. Got it?”

"As you—” He caught himself. "If you wish.”

"I do. And I don’t want you staring at the floor unless you’ve lost something.” His head came up. "Very good. Now relax.” Something flickered in his eyes, and Shaylah smiled wryly. "Can’t order that, can I?”

"You did last night.” He looked surprised that he’d said it, and drew back a little as if he expected her to retaliate somehow. He glanced around the room, and it took her a moment to realize what he was looking for.

"Yes, I did order it last night,” she agreed mildly. "You needed the rest, and you didn’t trust me enough to do it. And if you’re looking for the control unit,” she added, glancing at her flight bag, "I put it away.”

He met her eyes then. "Why?”

"Just put it down to one of my wishes.”

The green eyes were filled with weary speculation. "You’ve said what you don’t want. What doyou want from me?”

"I want you to forget the chains for a while. I want you to move freely, to say what you want, to look me in the eye and not think you’ll be punished for it.” Shaylah took a deep breath. "I only have a short leave. I’d like you to stay here for that time. Away from...” Her voice trailed off, and she gestured vaguely toward the door. "Away from all that,” she finished rather lamely.

One golden brow lifted. "You wish me to stay here”—he looked around at the spacious quarters—”with you? All the time?” She nodded. "Without chains? Without the control unit?” She nodded again.

He studied her for a long moment. And then, in a voice that held nothing of the submissive slave and everything of a strong, dangerous man, he said softly, "Then tell me, Captain Graymist, what’s to keep me from killing you and escaping?”



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