Meraya is a woman trained to provide sexual pleasure. A woman whose duty is to serve. She has never known freedom. Or desire. But discovers both in the arms of the barbarian colonel. But Meraya is a pawn in a deadly game of interstellar politics that could cost
her everything…including her heart.
her everything…including her heart.
When Avar discovers he wants more than what’s between Meraya’s lovely thighs, he must play for the highest stakes ever, gambling with the life of a woman he can’t resist. A woman whose betrayal would destroy him.
Copyright © ERICA ANDERSON, 2010
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
Meraya watched as the two males moved through the long Antaren receiving line. The taller one wearing the black uniform interested her most. Even this far away, he seemed intimidating. He moved with a sort of controlled power that drew the eye. Thick, dark hair pulled back in a neat queue. Broad, muscled shoulders that the perfect lines of his jacket seemed to emphasize.
His gestures and movements were smooth and deliberate, but Meraya had the sense that he monitored everything going on around him. It was clear why the empire had sent him to negotiate. He had the bearing of a career soldier and the muscle to back it up. Dominant, she thought. Dangerous.
Though she couldn’t hear what he said, she could now identify his voice amidst those of the mir. It was deep and resonant. He appeared to be speaking Antaren. Despite herself, she was impressed.
Above the short stand-up collar with its silver insignia, his face was impassive, almost severe in its lack of expression. His lips, on the other hand, lent sensuality to otherwise harsh features.
In contrast to the flowing robes of the mir, the alien colonel wore trousers that caused even Meraya’s face to flush. Trousers—a new concept. Showing off the legs in such tight clothing was considered almost indecent by the Antarens.
She swallowed and allowed her eyes to follow the line of the colonel’s thighs down to the polished black boots he wore. She imagined kneeling at his feet, offering him service. The fear that had been plaguing her coiled in her stomach. She was afraid of him, of what he might do to her. But that fear was tempered, to her surprise, by arousal.
“Is that the one?”
Meraya did not turn at Ledara’s whispered query. “It must be. He speaks Antaren.”
“Do all of the imperial males show themselves in that way?”
There was more than mere curiosity in Ledara’s question. Meraya smiled. “It is to be hoped.”
Meraya’s eyes, like those of her friend, sought to discover every detail of the barbarians’ bodies and clothing.
“The barbarian is…large,” observed Ledara after several moments of silence. She made the sound of pleasure.
“Yes,” Meraya murmured, knowing what was coming next.
“Perhaps he has a tira-ney to match.”
“Service may even be pleasurable.”
Finding pleasure with the barbarian would be a surprise and Meraya expected no such thing. Please Tanat, let it simply be over with.
The colonel turned, as though awaiting his companion. Meraya froze. She could feel his gaze, knew that despite his apparent indifference, he was studying her. Them.
She felt the exact moment that his dark eyes swept across her face. He could not see her, she told herself. He had no idea who she was. Still, his gaze was unsettling and she felt the fear return.
“What do you think of the other one?”
Meraya turned her attention to the younger man. He seemed to be subordinate. He stayed just behind the colonel. Respectful but alert. He had dark hair, but it was more brown than black. It was apparent that he was ill at ease, for Meraya could read the tension in his gestures and the way he stood. He carried himself like a soldier, but he had not yet learned to mask his emotions as the other man had.
“The barbarian colonel wears more wealth than the younger one.”
Meraya looked more carefully. She had been focused on the man’s body but she saw now that Ledara was right. The colonel wore several flat silvery boxes on his chest. More silver decorated the short collar of his jacket, his shoulders and his upper arms. The other man had only a few of the small boxes on his chest and only two strips of silver encircling each cuff. The barbarian colonel had four.
Ledara was silent for a moment as they watched the two aliens greet Mir-Tonul.
“They have met before,” murmured Ledara.
Meraya gave the barest nod of her head. “It seems so.”
“Why does Tonul gift him with service?”
Meraya had wondered that herself. “Tonul has his own reasons.”
Ledara made a quiet snuffling noise that indicated her opinion of Mir-Tonul. They remained still and silent as the visitors at last reached the end of the receiving line and were led toward their quarters.
Meraya felt Ledara brush her arm. It was a gesture of comfort and Meraya appreciated it. Her own disordered emotions were proving difficult to reconcile with what was required of her. She was glad that the veils hid the marks she wore on her face and arms, for they had flushed the bright orange color of fear.
* * * * *
The Antaren gestured with an open palm. “Your quarters, colonel.” He stepped back so Avar could enter. Avar made a quick visual sweep while the alien pointed out various amenities. “You have been honored by Mir-Tonul, colonel, with the kebara Meraya, scheduled to arrive shortly. It is the wish of the mir that you be served as a mir would be served.”
Jhōltan, standing behind the Antaren, arched his brows in silent question. Avar had no idea what a kebara was, but he sure as hell didn’t need one. But Mir-Tonul was one of the principal negotiators, so refusing was out of the question.
Avar inclined his head, making sure that the angle was the proper one for interactions with social inferiors. The Antaren bowed and backed out the door.
Jhōltan mouthed good luck before he turned to follow their guide to his own quarters. As soon as the door slid shut, Avar ran diagnostics on the bioplant embedded in his wrist to make sure it was functioning properly. The signal strength of the Amazonia was as he’d expected—less powerful than ideal, but enough to do the job. Jhōltan’s biosig was transmitting. So was his own. So far, so good.
Avar spotted his gear, which had been deposited next to the bed, and checked it immediately. Everything was there, just as he’d packed it. If the Antarens had gone through it, he couldn’t tell. The palm-size peripheral interface was packed with his uniforms but didn’t appear to have been tampered with. Avar expected the Antarens to monitor all of his communications, so the palm peripheral was used for transmissions meant for public consumption. The bioplant in his wrist transmitted on a secure, tight-beam channel, reserved for classified data and emergency transmissions to the Amazonia.
Avar had just begun scanning the room for extraneous electronics when the entry intercom announced the kebara Meraya.
Avar put away the scanner. “Come,” he said, positioning himself out of direct view of the door.
A humanoid form entered, dressed in rose-pink like the females he had glimpsed during the introductions.
What the hell?
The female was covered in some light, flimsy material. Several layers, by the looks of it. The skirt or dress or whatever it was constrained her movement so that she had to put one foot directly in front of the other. This caused her hips to sway. Avar could detect it, even beneath the drapery. She was very graceful, whoever, or whatever, she was.
Despite himself, Avar found his curiosity piqued. As far as he knew, no one from the empire had ever met an Antaren female. They appeared at ceremonial occasions, as they had today, but their faces were always covered. Imperial officials, in unspoken consensus, had ignored them, just as the Antaren males appeared to do.
Avar had questioned the woman from DiploCorps about proper etiquette when dealing with females. She had shrugged. “You won’t meet any, so don’t worry about it.”
Wonderful. He was going to cut funding to DiploCorps when he got back to Central if that was the best they could do. He was in a society that obviously segregated their females, he had no information about how to behave, and he was stuck alone in his quarters with one.
Avar mentally considered his options and the possible motives of the Antarens. Did they want to embarrass the embassy? Discredit him personally? Would an Antaren guard unit burst in on them and accuse him of assaulting her? Was this kebara some sort of spy, meant to use her presumed Antaren wiles to steal imperial secrets?
Avar swore under his breath. Women were trouble. And this alien woman was an interstellar incident waiting to happen.