All Allura Arond wants is to escape from her brutal owner and live a quiet life with her daughter, but as a slave, she doesn’t have many options open to her. When she steals credits from him to fund her freedom, instead of the easy escape she dreams of, she finds herself beaten and thrust aboard the vessel of a slave trader on her way to the unlawful station Cerax, toward a whore house.
Banished from his home planet for not protecting his Eternal Fire, Brylax has spent the last forty years searching for the reincarnation of the woman he swore to protect. What he doesn’t expect is for Allura to stir a deep, scorching passion inside him, a passion he cannot give in to.
A mark binds them together, a future may keep them apart, but when danger threatens Allura’s life, will her Protector be there to save her, or will he be too late again and lose the one female the universe deems his?
“Tell me again, Allura. What happened to my money?”
Oh, stars! I stared back at Trace D’Rult, my owner, with fear in my heart, my pulse racing, and my palms clammy.
His great, expensive timber desk sat between us, papers and data pads littering the surface, stacks of coins in front of him on the blotter. I gripped my plain dress in my hands.
“I was robbed,” I repeated.
“You were robbed?” His tone was soft, considering.
I wasn’t fooled. I’d seen his mood change as quick as lightning. I’d borne the brunt of those mood changes more times than I cared to count, suffered the bruises and pain of his beatings.
He stood up from his chair as I nodded. I could handle beatings, I could handle whatever he dished out to me and had been doing it for seven long years. I just had to survive this and I could make my escape. I could take my daughter and the money I’d stolen from him and I could run.
Anything had to be better than the life we led here with Trace. I wanted my daughter to grow up in a place where she didn’t have to see her mother’s bruised and battered face. I wanted a better life than the life my father had sold me to—being a slave.
All I had to do was survive. I didn’t think he’d kill me. It was possible he’d kick me out to live on the streets, but I had enough money with the payment I’d just stolen from him to catch a shuttle down to Arya 5 and start a new life. That payment was the reason I was now standing in front of his desk watching him walk around it to me, a payment I was sent to collect on a weekly basis from one of his many crooked associates.
Trace D’Rult liked people to think he was an upstanding member of society, but what most of the high society on Arya 5’s moon colony didn’t know was that he had his finger in just about every dirty pie on the moon—and many off moon as well. He had dealings with pirates and slave traders, the scum of the universe.
I looked up into his handsome face, trying to judge how bad this was going to be, but he kept his emotions under tight control. He stopped in front of me and before I could blink, he backhanded me across the face.
My head whipped around, wrenching my neck with the force of the blow. A small noise of shock and pain escaped me. Why did it always hurt so much more when you weren’t expecting it?
“Do you expect me to believe you, Allura?”
Strong fingers grasped my face, digging into my cheeks. Orange eyes blazed down at me, searching for my weakness, but I’d learned not to show any weakness in front of Trace. He was an expert at taking advantage of people’s weaknesses, of getting things out of them that they didn’t want to give.
I stared up into his eyes and said, “I was robbed. Three males set on me in the alley behind Grentel’s warehouse. There wasn’t anything I could do.” My words came out sounding strange from the fierce grip he had on my face. I just had to stick to my story and everything would be fine.
His grip eased and he slid his hand into my hair, a soft gentle caress that made my back stiffen. Nothing good ever happened when Trace was gentle.
“You must think I’m stupid, Allura.” His hand gripped my hair, pulling my head back savagely. His tone was quiet, too quiet. “But by the time I’m done with you, you’ll be all too happy to tell me what you’ve done with my money.”
He threw me to the side and I landed on the timber-framed chairs that sat in front of his desk. Pain lanced through my side as I felt the impact of the wooden chairs—chairs for his guests and business associates to use when they visited. The two chairs were as opulent as the rest of his office and house.
I lost my balance and fell to my knees on the floor, my serviceable dress tangling around my legs. The expensive rug on the floor felt soft under my hands, the pattern a beautiful swirl of colours that complimented the rest of the room’s furnishings.
The clink of a belt buckle and the soft rasp of leather sliding through keepers had me glancing back at Trace. My heart, which was already pounding, felt like it had turned to stone. Oh stars, no! I’d felt the lash of his belt before, just once, when he’d taken his anger at being duped by a business associate out on me.
I wasn’t too proud to beg. I’d done it before and I’d happily do it again.
“Master, please, there wasn’t anything I could do. You have to believe me!” I could hear the panic creeping into my voice. My heart felt like it was about to explode out of my chest.
He didn’t say anything, his face set in hard lines, his eyes angry, flashing in the light of his study, the colour having deepened with his mood. He walked towards me with purposeful strides as I started to crawl away on my hands and knees. A rough hand tangled in my hair, yanking me up.
A keening sob welled up my throat.
“Where are you going, Allura? I haven’t even started yet, and you’re trying to get away.”
I whimpered, my hands going to my hair trying to ease where it was pulling. Oh stars, what had I done?
It felt like hours passed, but it was probably only minutes before I heard the soft clink of Trace’s belt fall to the floor. Soft gentle hands slid along my forearms and pulled my hands away from my face.
“Come now, Allura. Look what you’ve made me do. Just tell me where the money is and I’ll let you rest.”
I stared up into his burning orange eyes and I knew that no matter what I told him, things would only get worse. If I admitted I’d taken it, he’d beat me, and if I kept up my lie, he’d still beat me, but I had a future to think about. I had my daughter, my precious baby, and his heir to think about. Unless I did something about it, nothing would ever change.
So, I kept my silence and waited for what was to come next, my body on fire, my skin feeling like it had been peeled from me.
The hands around my wrists, which had been so gentle, tightened until I felt my bones grinding against each other. A whimper slid up my throat.
“Perhaps if I take you to one of my businesses, it will encourage you to be honest with me. I think six months on Cerax at the brothel will teach you the value of telling the truth. What do you say, Allura?”
I shook my head. Stars no. Please no, not that. He couldn’t send me away. What about my baby—who would look after her?