An Interview with Bane

Today we have Bane with us, visiting from Entwined, an Intergalactic Loyalties novella.

Tell us a little about yourself, Bane.

Well, I’m an inventor on the planet Keshpa. Or rather, that’s what my neat, organized, ordinary, boring life was like for the longest time. Recent events have changed things a bit.

Do you prefer books or movies? Do you have a favorite?

We don’t have movies on Kespha, but we do have books. Not anything you’d be familiar with, of course. However, I do have a selection of Earth titles I’ve picked up for the love of my life. I wasn’t really sure what she would prefer, so I decided to play it safe and pick up a variety of things. I’d have to say I’m rather partial to the romances and the mysteries.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’ve always been more of a lover than a fighter, more of a scientist than a warrior. When my love’s life became endangered, I wanted to rush off and save her, but I was ill equipped for the job. Didn’t stop me from going after her, just the same, but I wish I’d had some training.

What is your relationship with your family like?

I’ve always been close with my brothers. My parents are no longer with us so we’ve had to rely on each other for a while. It wasn’t until this past year that I ever coveted something one of them had, but when Arko purchased Ari I was so envious, so jealous I couldn’t see straight. The moment I laid eyes on Ariana, I knew that she was special, that she was the one woman I wanted to have in my life, permanently. It didn’t matter that slaves couldn’t be bonded to us – that’s your version of marriage – all I knew was that I had to have her. I think I hid it well though, as Arko asked me to escort her around town on many an occasion. I tried to keep things friendly with my brother and not show him my feelings about the situation, but I don’t know if I succeeded or not.

What do you like best about Ariana?

What isn’t there to like? Her hair reminds me of a sunset, the deep coppery tresses tumbling down her back in waves. Skin so soft, you’d think you were touching satin, and such a beautiful shade of ivory. And she’s sweet! I’ve never met a sweeter woman. But I guess if I had to choose just one thing, it would be her heart. Ari has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. She’s kind, forgiving, and loving. Not to mention selfless.

What would make you happier than you are right now?

Starting a family with Ariana. I can’t think of anything I’d love than to see her swollen with our child, perhaps a precious daughter with her beautiful green eyes, or a son with her coppery locks. I wouldn’t care as long as Ari was the mother.

Well, thank you for joining us today, Bane.

If you want to hear more about Bane and Ariana, be sure to check out Entwined (Intergalactic Loyalties #1) from Changeling Press!

JCS_Entwined_ARE

 

She’s his everything, and he’s nothing without her.

Bane has wanted Ariana since the first moment he met her, except she belongs to his brother Arko. When a tragedy happens, Bane steps forward to claim Ariana as his own, but Keshpan law states a slave can never be a bonded mate. That isn’t going to stop Bane from loving her every day for the rest of his life, though.

When Ariana is kidnapped by space pirates, Bane is determined to rescue her, no matter the cost. But things are getting bad back home on Keshpa. A political storm is brewing that just may rip Ariana from his arms the moment he returns with her. Bane will walk away from everything he knows to have the woman he loves by his side.

My Writing Process

I was tagged by author Ashlynn Monroe to talk about my writing process.

Currently, I’m working on two projects, and they are as different as night and day. A cowboy menage and a sci-fi erotic romance. The cowboy story doesn’t have a home yet, but the sci-fi piece is being written for Changeling Press and will be #2 in my Intergalactic Loyalties series. I’m having a blast writing both and hope to have them finished by the end of the month, first week of March at the latest.

I was asked how my work differs from others in this genre (or genres), and I’m honestly not sure. I write from the heart, but then most authors do. I try to write romance with a dash of suspense and a bit of action, regardless of the genre. I’ve been known to write anything from a damsel in distress to a kick ass heroine who didn’t need anyone to take care of her – the hero had to work very hard to win her over in Not My Shifter.

Why do I write what I write? Well, I generally write what I like to read. And I read just about all genres of romance and erotic romance. You have to feel passionate about your work, I think that’s the main key. If you don’t love what you do, others will know and your story will fall flat and lack that sparkle that draws readers in.

My writing process is simple. Get a million ideas in my head, select one, and pull up a fresh word document. The words and images just start coming to me, and sometimes my fingers can’t keep up with my brain, but I do my best. I’m a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of writer, which means I never plot. All right, I won’t say never. There was that one time, but it didn’t end so well. After chapter one, I threw the plot out the window and just went with my instincts as the story began to unfold. My characters usually have a mind of their own, so while I may think they’re going to follow path A, they opt for path B – which is uncharted and they end up going down a road with no clear destination in sight. Some say that isn’t a good way to write, but it seems to be working for me so far. Obviously I know there’s a happily-ever-after at the end, but aside from that, I just let my Muse guide me – which means I have to feed her lots of coffee and sugar! Otherwise, she revolts and I go days without writing a word. I hate those days.

Well, I was supposed to tag three more people, but the one author I talk to fairly often that I know has a blog is the one who tagged me… so I won’t be tagging anyone. But feel free to check out Ashlynn Monroe on Facebook. I’m sure she’d love for you to visit.

Entwined – a snippet

Bane started to go left, but something stopped him. Was that… yes, he heard a laugh, one he knew well. Ariana was to the right.

Changing directions, he walked as stealthily as he could. When he reached a large room, he peered around the corner. What he saw shocked him to his core. Ariana stood with two Tarnan warriors, smiling and apparently having a good time. He wasn’t sure what was going on. He’d been a day’s journey behind her, had worried about her safety, but it appeared she was being taken care of.

He’d been told she was being held against her will, possibly even hurt. Instead, he found her well and having a nice time. Had Lafre lied to him? Had she merely seen the pirates take Ari and made up a story to suit her own purposes? There was no way to extract her without making his presence known. Stepping into the room, he waited until the warriors took notice of him. It didn’t take long.

“Keshpan,” the tallest one growled.

Ariana turned and her eyes widened when she saw him. With a squeal, she flew across the room and launched herself into his arms, relieving any doubts he’d had. He held her tight, breathed her in, then put her behind him.

“I don’t want trouble,” he told the warriors. “But I’m taking her with me.”

The tallest one folded his arms over his chest. “Have you taken care of the threat to her safety? We won’t let you have her if the woman who arranged all of this will still be free to harm her again.”

So they were feeling protective of her already. At least he was comforted with the thought that they wouldn’t have harmed her. Taken her to their home planet, yes, but hurt her, no.

“We’ll go straight to the Prime Minister when we return to Keshpa,” Bane vowed. “I want Lafre out of Ariana’s life, permanently. I agree that as long as Lafre is free, Ari is in danger. It’s obvious the woman will go to any lengths to bond with me.”

The more muscular of the two eyed him up and down. “You don’t look like much to me. Personally, I don’t see the draw. I think Ariana would be better off with one of us. We could protect her better than you can.”

Bane had little doubt that they spoke the truth, but he would die trying. The Tarnans wanted her because she was female and for no other reason. Bane wanted her because he loved her, more than anything. He needed her more than he needed to breathe. She was essential to him.

“I won’t let Ari go. She’s mine, and she’ll always be mine,” Bane told them.

The warriors nodded, obviously understanding the depth of his feelings for Ariana. He was glad he wouldn’t have to fight them. While he would give it everything he had, something told him he wouldn’t win against them. They were far more experienced and much larger.

“Take me home,” Ariana said, looking up at him with love and trust.

Bane pressed a finger to his ear. “Cael, bring us on board.”

Entwined (Intergalactic Loyalties #1)
Available Feb 6, 2014 by Changeling Press

(c) 2014, Jessica Coulter Smith

Coming February 6th!

JCS_Entwined_ARE

Entwined (Intergalactic Loyalties)

Jessica Coulter Smith

She’s his everything, and he’s nothing without her.

Bane has wanted Ariana since the first moment he met her, except she belongs to his brother Arko. When a tragedy happens, Bane steps forward to claim Ariana as his own, but Keshpan law states a slave can never be a bonded mate. That isn’t going to stop Bane from loving her every day for the rest of his life, though.

When Ariana is kidnapped by space pirates, Bane is determined to rescue her, no matter the cost. But things are getting bad back home on Keshpa. A political storm is brewing that just may rip Ariana from his arms the moment he returns with her. Bane will walk away from everything he knows to have the woman he loves by his side.

An Excerpt

A knock sounded at the front door and Bane frowned. “I’m not expecting anyone.”

Ariana hung back, not knowing what to expect. She watched in curiosity as Bane opened the door. When he stepped back to allow a tall man and a rather elegant looking young woman to enter, she debated whether or not she should make herself scarce. Bane hadn’t talked to her about what her role would be in his home, what he expected of her. She was a slave, that much she knew, but did he view her in the same light as his brother? Arko would’ve never brought her home with him or allow her to interact with his neighbors. Maybe she should stop painting them with the same brush and realize that Bane was different.

He motioned for her to join them. “Ariana, come meet our neighbors. This is Vryl and his daughter, Lafre. They live to the right of us in the big yellow house.”

Ariana moved to his side and leaned into him when he wrapped an arm around her waist. She didn’t miss the cold look in the young woman’s eyes, or the pinched lips when Lafre’s gaze dropped to Bane’s hand, which was now caressing her hip. Hmm. It seemed the young woman either had something against slaves, felt she was too far above Ariana for an introduction, or… could she, perhaps, have feelings for Bane? Ariana couldn’t really blame her if that was the case.

“Welcome, Ariana. If you ever need anything when Bane isn’t here, please don’t hesitate to come next door,” Vryl said. He gave her an engaging smile, and she returned it. His daughter might not like her, but he seemed personable enough.

“Thank you.”

“I’m glad Bane arrived home when he did. I had just looked out my front window when I saw the zirrels chasing you. They can be quite a nuisance, can’t they? They don’t like high frequencies though, so if you turn on the COMM and turn the volume all the way up, it usually sends them running.” He smiled. “Just don’t forget to turn the volume back down or you’ll be in for a shock the first time someone rings through.”

“I’ll have to remember that.”

“Well, we won’t keep you,” Vryl said. “We just wanted to introduce ourselves. I work from home so I’m there most days, and when I’m not around, Lafre is. Stop by anytime.”

“I appreciate the offer. I’ll be sure to come by sometime.”

Vryl and Lafre made their goodbyes, the young woman’s eyes never leaving Bane.

He closed the door behind them and turned to face her. Leaning against the door, he sighed. “I had hoped she’d outgrown that.”

Ariana lifted a brow. “You mean her infatuation with you?”

He nodded. “I’ve spoken to her father about it before, but he doesn’t seem to get anywhere with her. She has it in her head that she’s going to be my wife. As if I’d marry that silly child.”

“Child? She looks to be about my age.”

“Yes, well. She’s spoiled and selfish, and she’s younger than you think. She just turned nineteen the other day. I’m sure she’d make someone a fine wife one day, after she’s grown up a bit. It just won’t be me.” He tugged her against his body. “I have the only woman I want.”

“You make it sound like you’ve been pining for me or something.”

“I’ve wanted you since the first moment I saw you. The instant I laid eyes on you, I knew you were special. My damn brother just beat me to you is all. Otherwise, we’d have been together from the beginning.”

“You’ve known me for a year, owned me for about half a day now, and you have yet to try to kiss me.”

Humor lit his eyes. “Well, we can’t have that, now can we?”

Bane tunneled his fingers through Ariana’s hair and tilted her head back. With the ghost of a smile on his handsome face, he leaned down and pressed his lips to Ariana’s. His mouth moved softly against hers, and she found herself leaning into him, wanting more. Her lips parted, inviting him in, and his tongue delved inside. She felt lightheaded as his taste and scent surrounded her. Kissing Bane was like coming home. There was no other way to describe it.

He pulled back and looked down at her. “We should stop, Ari.”

“Why? You don’t want me?”

“Too much. The doctor gave you something to heal your body from your abortion, but I don’t want to pounce on you the moment you’re under my roof. I have more restraint than that.”

She curled her fingers into the fabric of his shirt. “What if I don’t want you to have more restraint than that? What if I want you just as much as you want me?”

Bane shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Yes, I do. I know my own mind and my body, and I want you, Bane. I always have,” she finished softly. “Knowing we could never be together, I had to put you in the ‘hands off’ category, but that’s changed now. I no longer have to pretend indifference when we’re together. I belong to you. Make me yours, Bane. Please.”

His hand tightened on her hair, pulling her closer. “You are mine. You’ll always be mine. There’s nothing that would ever make me get rid of you, Ari. I’ve waited for this moment for what feels like forever. I’m just worried you’re going to be disappointed.”

“You could never disappoint me, Bane.” And she knew she spoke the truth. He actually cared about her, whereas she’d only been a possession to his brother. She’d never meant anything to any of the men in her life, not until Bane. And if his kiss was anything to go by, the passion between them would consume her.

“I can’t be slow or gentle right now. I’ve waited too long to be with you, been too long without a woman. The moment I’m inside of you, I’m going to lose control.”

“Then lose control with me. I want you, all of you. Hot, wild and needing me as much as I need you. Show me what I’ve been missing all of my life, Bane.”

With a groan, he captured her lips once more and lifted her into his arms. He carried her up the stairs to their bedroom. Bane kicked the door shut and set her on her feet. With quick, jerky movements, he rid her of her clothes before nearly tearing his own from his body.

Ariana gasped and traced the tattoo on his chest. Right above his heart was her name in a bold, black script. “When did you get this?”

“I had Tyre laser it into my skin shortly after our first outing together. He thought the request odd, but I showed him pictures of tattoos from your world and explained the significance behind it. He was happy to help.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “But, I belonged to another. You couldn’t have known then that you would own me one day. No woman would want you while another’s name was tattooed on your chest. No one’s ever done anything like that for me before.”

He flattened her hand over her name. “I wanted to carry you close to my heart, to have you with me always. I knew that I would never want another woman. You’re it for me, Ari. I don’t want to scare you by telling you that, but you need to know the truth. This is going to be more than just a joining of our bodies, at least for me.”

Available February 6, 2014 (U.S.)

from Changeling Press

Buy Link: http://www.changelingpress.com/product.php?&upt=book&ubid=2195

Entwined – a sneak peek

A noise startled her awake. A quick look around showed that the suns were setting. Another crash downstairs had her jolting upright. Was that Bane?

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood slowly, making sure they would hold her weight. Surprisingly, she felt almost a hundred percent better. Whatever the doctor had given her to wake her at the hospital, combined with the food she’d had and the nap she’d taken, had done wonders for her.

She heard a chittering sound and frowned. Bane didn’t have pets that she knew of. Deciding to be brave and investigate, she made her way downstairs only to stop in open-mouthed shock at the sight before her when she’d reached the bottom step. She had no clue what the furry critters were that were bounding around the lower level, but they were blue with swirling pink eyes, pointed ears and bushy tails. They kind of reminded her of the squirrels on her home planet, if squirrels were the size of small dogs. At the moment, the beasts were intent on wreaking havoc on the few knick-knacks Bane had scattered around his home. She cringed as something else crashed to the ground, shattering on impact.

Ariana stepped further into the room. “Stop it!”

The chittering stopped. A dozen beady eyes focused on her. Was it her imagination or did the one by the window just lick its lips? What exactly did an alien squirrel eat? She hoped to God it wasn’t people.

They began to converge on her, creeping along, their eyes intent on their prey. Should she throw a stick? Did they play fetch? Looking around for an escape, she saw that they had maneuvered behind her and blocked the stairs. The path to the front door was clear, but she didn’t have the alarm codes. As the creatures inched closer, those eerie eyes glued to her, she realized she had little choice but to make a dash for the yard and hope they scattered when they hit the outside.

Sprinting for the door, she burst through it, alarms blaring. She’d just cleared the walkway, with a dozen blue fur balls of fury on her heels, as Bane zoomed into the driveway. He looked startled at first and then amused. She didn’t see the humor in the situation. A bunch of overgrown neon rodents were about to devour her. Where was the humor?

She ran for him and launched herself into his arms.

“I take it the zirrels got into the house again,” he said, a trace of laughter in his voice.

“Zirrels? Is that was that those things are called?”

He nodded. “We actually engineered them from the squirrels on your planet about fifty years ago. One of our warriors saw them, thought they were cute and brought some back with him. Something went horribly wrong with the cloning process though, and that’s what we ended up with. They’re mischievous, but they won’t harm you.”

“I’m not convinced. They chased me from the house! Did you see the looks in their eyes? They wanted to eat me!”

Bane laughed. “They eat plants, and occasionally get into my kitchen pantry and eat my fruits and vegetables I have stored there. They have the ability to shift from one place to another, sort of like teleporting so walls aren’t a deterrent.”

“Are you trying to tell me those fur balls from hell can just come in the house whenever they want?”

His smile broadened. “Pretty much.”

She shivered.

 

Entwined (Intergalactic Loyalties #1)

by Jessica Coulter Smith

Published by Changeling Press

Available February 6, 2014

Buy Link: http://www.changelingpress.com/product.php?&upt=book&ubid=2195

JCS_Entwined_ARE

She’s his everything, and he’s nothing without her.

Bane has wanted Ariana since the first moment he met her, except she belongs to his brother Arko. When a tragedy happens, Bane steps forward to claim Ariana as his own, but Keshpan law states a slave can never be a bonded mate. That isn’t going to stop Bane from loving her every day for the rest of his life, though.

When Ariana is kidnapped by space pirates, Bane is determined to rescue her, no matter the cost. But things are getting bad back home on Keshpa. A political storm is brewing that just may rip Ariana from his arms the moment he returns with her. Bane will walk away from everything he knows to have the woman he loves by his side.

Seducing the Captain

Raven’s Crew 1: Seducing the Captain

Ashlynn Monroe

Cover art: Reneé George
BIN: 05724-01834
Genre(s): Futuristic, Action Adventure/   Suspense, Sci-Fi, Erotic Romance
Theme(s): Dark Desire
Series: Raven’s Crew (#1)
Length: Novella
Page Count: 48

 

Raylin Fabian has loved Captain Sterling Tristam for ten long, lonely years. Unfortunately, he still sees her as the child he rescued so long ago, when her wartorn home world’s barbarity caught up with her once elite family of telepaths.

When Raylin’s injured, her captain makes a decision she can’t accept. She finds herself left behind on a world Tristam thinks is safe. However, there’s no place unreachable enough in the galaxy to escape the captain’s nemesis.

Caught in the crossfire between Tristam and an angry battalion commander’s ire, Raylin has but one avenue of escape — seducing her captain. Can she convince the man she loves it’s all right to love her back?

 

Buy link http://www.changelingpress.com/product.php?&upt=book&ubid=1834

 

Chapter One

 

Laser blasts hit the steel doors ahead of her. The reverberation made her head feel as if it might explode. Skidding to a halt, Raylin Fabian watched the metal bubble and melt where the coin-sized blasts hit. Each of the numerous deadly projectiles missed her by just inches. Thank God that traitorous bastard is such a bad shot! She couldn’t hear her captain beside her anymore. Together they’d turned down the corridor a moment ago. Raylin paused just long enough to look for Captain Sterling Tristam, the man she’d flown with for the last decade, the only person she truly trusted. Tristam wasn’t behind her. Panic rose like bile in her throat, making it hard to breathe. Her heart pounded painfully. Raylin bit her lip, resisting the urge to scream his name.

Cap wouldn’t just leave her. He was — he was the only noble man she’d ever met in

Free Space.

She turned and climbed back down the spindly metal ladder, leaving the crew quarters. The only sound was her feet against the floor as she raced down the long unlit corridor, turning again, almost making it to her destination. The sound of running brought her up short and she paused to look for some place to hide on the enemy craft. Turning again, off course and further from escape, she rushed down another hallway. Seeing the cargo crates, Raylin rushed towards them and managed to wedge her small body in the shadows between them, obscuring her slight form in the dark place between two large containers standing nestled next to the wall. She held her breath. Three men in Galaxy Battalion uniforms ran past her.

Damn it, Cap! I told you this was a trap.

Fuck. A produce transport out of Battalion-controlled space was too good to be true. The second freedom war had been raging a full two years, and this time it was all or nothing. The rebels would die before they agreed to peace after what the Battalion army had done to them last time. They should have known. Food that good never made it to the refugee camps, even if the majority of those refugees were helpless children. Sterling, why do you have to be the one to answer every time someone needs a hero? She should be glad he was, or she’d have been screwed, but right now, the endearing trait was pissing her off.

The long narrow corridor was quiet now. Two turns and she’d be back at the airlock. She’d press a button and Esta would send the shuttle for her. She’d have to endure running ten feet across the flimsy emergency connector, nothing but two inches of plastic between her delicate flesh and the vacuum of space, but she’d do it to get the hell off this ship.

But she couldn’t leave without her Cap. She’d never leave him behind. Tenuously, she worked herself out of the claustrophobia-inducing hiding nook and scanned the path in both directions. Her way was clear. Now to pick a direction, Raylin closed her eyes a moment and focused. Cap. Where are you?

Nothing. She had no sense of where he was — no connection to him. Not a good sign. She should be able to feel him. He needed her, she was sure of that fact. The urgency she felt told her the powers she’d long suppressed were roaring to life. Survival. The Galinian telepathy she’d pushed away for a decade hadn’t left her as she’d hoped. She could feel the crew’s panic on Raven. Cap wasn’t back. He hadn’t left her behind. Equal measures of relief and terror surged through Raylin. Cap! Her mind sent the call without her conscious thought.

Leave me. Get away

She gasped. His returned thoughts were so weak. Sterling Tristam was a lot of things — privateer, rebel, freedom fighter — but never weak. Help me find you. What happened back there?

No… run!

Damn it, Cap, I’m not leaving without you. You wouldn’t leave me. I can’t live – live with myself if you die here. Cap, tell me or I’m just going to go looking.

Fuckin’ telepathy! I’m not getting off this ship alive, Raylin. Bartholomew paid Crandel to set us up. I’m so sorry, Star Shine. Get off this bird!

Oh, it was bad. He hadn’t called her Star Shine in years. Sorrow filled her. No! I’m on the cargo deck and I’m climbing to the crew quarters again now.

Go back. Press your emergency beacon. Esta will get you home.

There is no home for me without you, Cap.

She’s going to be yours, the Raven. Esta knows, she’s your ship now. You deserve her more than anybody I know, even Esta. I’m sorry, Ray.

Don’t you fucking die on me, Cap. We’re a team. I’m at the kitchenette. Should I go right or left?

Stubborn little girl, don’t you do this to me. I won’t let you die for me.

We all die someday. You’re dying for your war. I might as well die for you.

I’m in the corridor ahead of you. Take a right, then a left. Keep your head down, kid.

They’re coming back. I killed the one who shot me, but more are coming. I tried to get them off your tail, Star Shine. I wanted you to escape. I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to you about Crandel.

We should’ve left him on that rotting rock Alpha-Nine.

She followed his directions carefully, but still didn’t see him.

“I’m here,” Captain Tristam whispered loudly.

Raylin turned and saw him then, pressed up against the water recycling pipes. He was holding his stomach, blood seeping between his fingers.

“Oh, Cap,” she cried.

“Press your beacon, send the distress signal. What’s going on over there? I know you can feel it.”

We’d better be quiet. Here, sorry, it’s bad isn’t it? Crandel radioed over and told Esta we were staying for a drink. She knew right away that wasn’t right. The idiot has no idea how much you mean to that woman. She put her arm around her captain and pressed the button. Esta already knew they were in danger. Raylin had felt the woman’s fear earlier. Cap was heavy. Slowly they made their way down the corridor. They’d be easy to track — the blood drops were a dead giveaway.

Yeah, it’s bad. Esta is amazing.

You set the pace, whatever you can handle, but we need to hurry.

Bossy woman. She could feel his humor. Thanks for coming for me, but damn it, I’ll kill you if you die. I have a responsibility to you, kid.

She hated it when he called her kid. She’d just turned twenty-six. Then the sound of laser blasts distracted her. Ahead she saw Owen and Zolly. They’d come. Relief filled her. Neither of them was great with a firearm, but they’d die for Cap. He just inspired that in people.

Raylin cried out as pain radiated through her side. Her body crumpled and Cap toppled with her. Glancing down, she saw the massive wound. A rather disturbingly large chunk of her body appeared vaporized. She whimpered, unable to help herself. She’d be good to her word. It was time to die for Cap.

Looking back she saw him struggling to hold his body together. Clearly the blast he’d suffered had sliced him up badly. She didn’t realize she was crying until she felt the cold tickle as tears trailed down her face.

With his free hand, he reached out to her and she took her beloved captain’s hand. Above them laser fire blasted, but now it didn’t matter. The damage was done.

“I’m sorry, Star Shine,” Captain Tristam whispered.

“I love you, Sterling, always have, always will. I wish… I wish you’d seen me as a woman.”

“Damn it, you’re going to tell me this now? I’ve worked so hard to ignore how much of a woman you are. You — you’re special, Star Shine, far too good for the likes of me. You deserve someone who’ll be able to give you a soft life with sweet words.”

“I never wanted that. I only wanted you.” His face was becoming blurry.

Everything was growing dark. She closed her eyes.

“Star Shine!” He squeezed her hand but she couldn’t respond. “Raylin!”

Darkness won.

* * *

 

Ten Years Earlier

Galina Free Space

Just Outside Planetary Atmosphere

 

She’d never been on a real space shuttle before. Raylin felt terrified. She didn’t want to leave Galina. She just wanted to go home, even if that wouldn’t ever be an option again. She was so hungry, so weak.

The dirty man flying the shuttle glanced back and smiled at her. His rotted teeth made his smile look frightening, sending a shiver through her.

Her hands remained tied, but they hadn’t gagged her. She’d seen them gag other girls at the market, so she’d been smart and kept still. She’d known screaming wouldn’t change her parents’ minds. War had taken their choices. The only option the Fabian clan of Galina had left was to sell their older children, hoping to keep the little ones alive.

She was just glad her family hadn’t fallen into cannibalism as so many others had recently. The planet had fought for freedom, and lost. Now things were even worse than they’d been before the war. She’d never experienced peace, and she definitely couldn’t remember having gone to bed with a full stomach. Sixteen years of hunger… The war had broken out when she was only days old.

“By the way, I’m Virge, but you can call me Lord or Master, whatever you’d prefer.”

She didn’t reply to her captor and he didn’t ask for her name. She’d never give it to him. It was the only thing that was still hers. Her parents had sold every other part of her.

Virge grabbed a lock of her hair. The contrast between his filth and her freshly washed hair made her stomach turn. He’d purchased her purity for so little. How could you do this to me, Mother? Why didn’t you find another way, Father?

Her terrified thoughts were her own. She was away from the buzz of voices in her head she was so accustomed to on her home world. The loneliness of her mind was suffocating, void now of telepathic messages from those she loved.

For Galina, the war would never truly end. She could see it in the eyes of their oppressors as they watched children dying without compassion. She knew the bastard who’d purchased her for almost nothing had no good intentions, but anything had to be better than starving to death.

Just as she thought that, he reached over and she managed to pull back enough in the passenger seat so that only her knee was in his grasp.

Worse — she realized there were worse things. The look in his eyes told her he wanted to do things to her, things she wasn’t ready to endure. Shaking, she bit her lip and managed to keep her tears at bay. Whatever happened, she wouldn’t let the asshole see her cry.

“You’re a pretty thing for a half-starved Galinian. You one of them mind readers?”

“I don’t have to be a mind reader to know I want to go home. I’ll fight you if you try to rape me.”

The filthy man laughed. She focused trying to read the echoes of his thoughts.

Been too long… hard… few meals and she’ll feel good… damn she’s sassy. Should’a gagged her.

Raylin kept quiet. She’d been thrown roughly onto a crude platform, and the auctioneer called out a price. Her pedigree as a Fabian didn’t mean a thing to the offworlders who’d come to buy slaves. Slavery wasn’t legal, but here in what was once Free Space there were no more laws.

The Battalion armies had laid ruin to the once beautiful world. Her people worked too hard just holding onto freedom to address the rapidly decaying social systems of Galina. They’d all lost someone, and the enemy wanted to punish them, civilian or not. Soldiers watched the spectacle, and she’d even seen a few of them buying Galinian girls and boys. Weak and sick, those kids didn’t have a chance to fight back, just as she didn’t. In war the biggest losers were the most vulnerable, the young and old. No one would save her.

Raylin held herself stiffly as the small shuttle navigated into the launch deck of a mid-sized cargo transport. She hadn’t seen a ship of this type since she was a little kid. The age of the craft made her exceedingly nervous. Finding herself dragged to space against her will was bad enough without living on a junker. She’d heard enough tales of ships going cold, losing air and the occupants freezing to death as they suffocated. Raylin wasn’t a fan of space travel. Solid Galina ground was where she’d assumed she’d live and die. The loud sounds of the craft landing made her cringe. She was a Fabian telepath. Once upon a time that would’ve really meant something. Now she was worth less than the price of a crate of healthy naturally grown food, at least according to the bill of sale from the auction.

The filthy man pulled her from the shuttle and she gasped as the strange stale

breath of recycled air made her slightly light-headed. The odor of the unnatural

environment didn’t help her queasy stomach settle and she stumbled. She would have

thrown up if she’d eaten anything, but her last meal had been four days ago.

Virge grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and began ripping it.

“No! Don’t!” Raylin screamed, losing the battle to remain calm.

“What the hell is going on, Virge?” The tallest man she’d ever seen stood on a metal walkway above them. Hands on his hips, he glared down at them. He had piercing grey eyes, and his blond hair was crew cut. She noticed a slight scar on his chin. Something about him was frankly mesmerizing. If a man like that had purchased her, she might not be as ready to fight for her honor.

“Fuck off, Cap,” spat her captor.

“This is my ship. I know you’re new to the crew but I approve every passenger before they board.”

“She ain’t a passenger, she’s my woman.” Virge spoke with a hint of pride in his voice.

The man he’d called Cap made a scoffing noise. “Woman? I see a girl. She agreed to come to the Raven with you?”

“I bought her with my own take from the last cargo we reclaimed for Battalion.

She’s mine.”

Raylin hated them all. They were helping Battalion’s army. Privateers were no better than pirates, and it was because of “reclaimed” food shipments her people were starving.

“Damn it, Virge! I told you I don’t abide by human trafficking. We’re taking her back.”

Her captor pushed her and she fell forward on the metal grates, skinning her palms. He drew a weapon, an old and likely unstable laser. Before he’d fired one shot there was the single ping of his superior’s weapon and Virge fell back, one of his eye sockets sizzling where the fatal shot hit him.

Raylin pulled herself under the shuttle, panting with fear. This violent place wasn’t somewhere she wanted to be. Tears threatened and she choked them back. The sound of boots on the grating made her cringe. She didn’t know what they’d do to her now that her owner was dead.

“Come out,” the deep voice of the handsome man called Cap commanded her.

She stayed in the darkness of her hiding place. “I won’t hurt you, kid. I don’t abide those who hurt women.”

She could hear the sound of running.

“What happened?”

“Oh God!”

“Are you hurt?”

Multiple voices questioned the man who stood next to the shuttle. She listened.

“Virge bought a kid. When I told him I was taking her back he drew on me,” said the one called Cap.

“Idiot.”

“I never liked that slimeball.”

“A kid? Really? Perv.”

“Where’s the kid?”

“Under the shuttle. She’s probably half crazy considering the state Galina is in right now. God, I hope she doesn’t have the flesh-eater madness. I’ll put the bullet in her myself if she’s a flesh-eater.”

As weak and afraid as she was, her pride wouldn’t allow her to remain silent. “I

am not a savage! No Fabian would eat human flesh.”

“Good. Now come out here.” The man’s voice held a hint of irritation.

“I’m not going to let you rape me.”

“No one here’s going to hurt you, kid. Come out. Now. Come out.”

Raylin cried out as she felt a hand grasp her ankle, dragging her from the dark sanctuary in one swift motion. She tried to scramble away but strong arms held her tightly. “Don’t worry, kid. We’ll take you home.”

The realization of her pending return didn’t fill her with the joy it should’ve.

Raylin lost her battle and a keening sob broke free. A middle-aged woman rushed over and pulled her from the man called Cap’s arms. The woman cradled her lovingly. “The poor thing weighs nothing. We should at least feed her before we take her back there. Don’t cry, sweetie, we’ll get you home.”

Raylin cried harder. “They… they’ll… they’ll just… just sell… me… again,” she managed to choke out around her sobs.

The woman and the man called Cap exchanged a long quiet look. Raylin was too upset to get any hint of their thoughts.

“Turn this bird around, Zolly.” Zolly, a gawking, spindly, dark-haired man, rushed away.

“Wait!” the woman holding her called out. Zolly paused and turned back. “Just wait,” the woman said, handing her off to a kind-looking man.

“Don’t worry, kid, I won’t hurt you. My name is Owen,” he said as he took her from the woman.

The woman pulled the man called Cap, the obvious leader, aside. They spoke intensely for a moment. He was scowling when he stomped away from the kind woman.

“You know anything about a bird like this, kid?” The man addressed her directly.

“No.”

“Well, neither did Virge. He was a gunner. You ever shoot a gun?”

“No.”

“Think you’d be able to?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, that’s a good enough answer for me. We’re hiring. You just inherited anything Virge has in his cabin, and whatever money is left in his pockets. His job is yours. If you don’t want it we’ll rock-drop you at the next stop, or if you want we can take you home. What will it be, kid?”

“I don’t have any papers.”

“I know a guy who can change that.”

Raylin thought for a moment. “All I can promise is to try my best to learn.”

“Honest. I like honest. I’ll try my best to teach. You’ll have your papers in a couple of days. Congratulations, today is your eighteenth birthday.”

“Uh, thanks.”

“You might not want to thank me yet. This won’t be an easy life for a little girl.”

“I’m Galinian; I haven’t ever been a little girl.”

He gave her a sad but amused smile. “Yeah, well just remember I’m not a nursemaid. This is Esta, she’s my right hand, and she’ll show you to your new quarters.”

“Thanks.”

“Like I said, hold off on the thanks.” He turned and walked away without another word.