He found his tent and threw her through the doorway, following in after, closing the flap behind himself. His men knew better than to bother him at this point.
Falling onto her hands and knees, she stayed there as he came around her. She righted herself, kneeling like a pleasure slave, straightening her back, her hands on her thighs, still looking down.
Shep stood over her. A Sashta noblewoman in silks. It was so rare that war was fun.
“I thought you said we weren’t to be used as pleasure slaves, Maeser,” she said. Her voice was low and even, but the edge of her veil was shaking.
“Did I?” he responded. He turned and walked, reaching for a pitcher. His tent was set up as it always was, his familiar things around him. Pouring water into the basin, he washed his hands and face. His shoulder hurt. He peeled off his jacket, tossing it aside. His shirt was covered with blood, and he drew that off, too, wincing, tossing it into a laundry bag in the corner. He turned his head and looked at her. She hadn’t moved. Was she really going to try to maintain her disguise? “Maybe I changed my mind.”
She didn’t say anything, still didn’t look up, but her posture was tense.
“Take off the veil,” he said, turning around, drying his hands. “Take off the whole damned headpiece.”
That got her to look at him. Her eyes were so very, very pretty, upturned on the outer edges, fringed with long heavy black lashes, a deep blue, the rings of gold around the irises clear in this light. You could get lost in eyes like that. She had to be the vanata.
They went to his bare chest, widening. She didn’t move for a moment and then she reached up, her hands shaking, fumbling with the veil. His mouth turned up on one side. It seemed strangely unfamiliar to her.
She pulled it off, her hair tumbling out and falling all around her.
Shep sucked in his breath. Yes, she was the vanata. No way she wasn’t. She didn’t look at him, fixing her eyes on his knees. Her cheeks were high and flushed, her face delicate, a fragile jaw and long neck, her lips full and red, flushed there, too. Dark hair, silky waves spilling down to her waist. Proud features.
He walked to her and went down on his knee in front of her. Reaching out, he cupped her face with one hand, putting his thumb to her lower lip, pressing there. Soft. She met his eyes and her lips parted and she flinched, pulling away.
“Aren’t you a pleasure slave?” he said.
She looked at him again. Her face was expressive, and for a moment she looked trapped. “Yes, Maeser,” she replied in a low voice.
She was lying. Shep stood and went to his chair, sitting. He turned to his com on his shoulder, activating it. “Chance, delay two hours, privacy cloud, back.”
Patrick’s voice came through. “Received, two hours,” he replied, the com crackling with the shielding.
Shep leaned back and extended his legs in front of him, one knee crooked. “Take it off.”
“Take off your clothing, pleasure slave.”
Shep watched her reaction. Her eyes darkened, the pupils dilating, almost obscuring the blue. She was panicking, beginning to breath fast, her chest rising and falling. Self-preservation, that was on her mind. She could admit who she was, knowing he’d kill her, or she could attempt to continue her pretense.
He knew which one he wanted her to choose. “Stand up,” he said, his voice sharp.
She rose from her knees. All of her movements were graceful.
“Take your fucking clothes off,” he repeated.
When she didn’t move, he got to his feet in one motion, crowding her, leaning over her. She backed a step and her hands rose in front of her, palms out, almost touching his chest.
“Are you going to strip or not?” he said.
She looked up at him, dropping her hands, and nodded.
He walked back and sat in the chair. “Well?”
He didn’t think she would. She’d been shocked to see him bare-chested, obviously unused to it. Vanata women had been kept protected from men. He felt a stab of heat in his lower belly.
But this wasn’t about desire. She was a vanata. She was the daughter of the usur, a man responsible for widespread suffering and death. She was a spoiled bitch who had lived in luxury at the Usur Manse, enjoying the profits of oppression and misery. Shep had lost good people getting to her. The vanata deserved a little humiliation, just on principle.
He’d wanted her for a long time. Ten years of losses so bitter he couldn’t think past them sometimes. This war wasn’t just about winning, anymore. They’d lost too much. He had. The usur was going to go crazy knowing the maeser of the resistance had her, knowing what Shep was going to do to his daughter before they executed her—
Her hands went to her shoulder, loosening the knot, not looking at him. She began unwrapping the silks, pulling it off from around her, graceful, her movements fluid. She was watching her own hands, moving to aid herself, careful not to tangle it. Her face was calm. She was trying to keep it together. He didn’t think she’d be able to for long. Shep felt himself smiling again, although she wasn’t looking at him.
Unwinding the gauzy material, she crushed it in her hands. She didn’t pause with the pass that exposed her right shoulder, nor the one that exposed the left, but her hands were shaking badly by the time she revealed her breasts. She didn’t stop, though, creamy flesh slowly emerging in the dim light of the tent. Her breasts were full and high, the tips flushed the same dusky red, large areolae around swollen, jutting nipples. She was fragile, her shoulders slight, her waist small. She widened so pleasantly at her hips, the lips of her pussy only a small naked fold under a triangle of dark hair that looked silky. Hot legs.
Shep’s breathing had deepened as she finished, his heart pounding as she let the remainder of the silks drop to the floor. She looked down as she stepped out of the slippers, her hands raising to aid her balance, everything about her graceful, her hands expressive. Fuck, she was a beautiful woman. She drpped her hands to her sides and fixed her eyes straight ahead, not looking at him. Her hair fell all around her, her shoulders indrawn a little, shaking. She didn’t attempt to cover herself with her hands.
Shep stood up. He walked and stopped directly in front of her, waiting, looking down at her face. She finally shifted her eyes up to meet his and immediately dropped her gaze. The flush started in her cheeks, extending down her neck, more dusky red, his eyes tracking it, down to her chest and her nipples hardened.
He went still. This was a vanata. He was reacting to her.
She fixed her gaze in front of herself again as he slowly walked around her, her chest rising and falling rapidly, her breasts trembling she was shaking so hard. He shifted his eyes, leaning a little. That was one incredible ass, firm and round.
No, he wasn’t wrong. He wanted her to admit it. Bending down, Shep scooped her up in a compact package and she growled like a little cat. He looked down at her, frowning.
She frowned up at him. “What are you doing?” she demanded, moving in his arms, seeming to realize the limitations of the ropes. The possibilities.
“I’m going to inspect my pleasure slave,” he answered, placing her on his bed. He wondered how far she’d let him get before she stopped him and admitted who she was. Nice and far, he hoped. Not as far as he might like, of course. That wasn’t possible, not for him. But a vanata. He was going to enjoy this. “Something to say, pleasure slave?”
She shook her head. “No, Maeser,” she answered, her voice shaking.
He left the ropes on her ankles. He began to untie the ropes at her wrists, the vanata releasing her breath, her shoulders relaxing, but he only retied them, stretching her arms above her head, tying the other end to one of the tent supports, the shirt riding up her thighs. She didn’t struggle against the bonds, but she was shaking again. Her eyes flew to his when he reached for his knife, opening it, and she began straining away from him.
“Relax,” he said, and cut the shirt straight down the front, tearing the last bit and opening it.
She reacted as if he’d cut her, pulling at the ropes, squirming. It was entirely sexy, and Shep watched her body, kneeling over her, his mouth curving up, feeling himself getting hard. She was hot. Her breasts were rising and falling, her pale belly stretching, dark hair between her legs, her sweet hips moving.
If only that were the answer. But screwing her wouldn’t turn her eyes gold. Only her mate could do that. And a fully golded vanata was what they really wanted—mated to someone loyal to the resistance. Or no vanata at all. That was the more likely option.
Regardless, he knew one way to determine that she wasn’t a pleasure slave.
He manipulated the bonds on her ankles, the round curve of her ass a distraction as he worked. He knelt in front of her bent knees and put his hands on them, beginning to draw them apart.
She fought that. She arched with the effort, her breasts full, beautiful nipples. “Don’t!”
He stopped, letting her knees come together. “You aren’t a pleasure slave?”
“I am, Maeser,” she argued.
He withdrew his hands from her knees, not moving from his place. “I’m beginning to doubt it. Spread your legs.”
Her struggles against the rope weren’t anything next to the struggles in her head, he imagined. She was breathing hard, her chest rising and falling fast, her tits just as distracting. She had to know he was going to kill her if she revealed who she was.
She stilled and then opened her legs slowly. Closing her eyes, she turned her face into her arm. Shep shifted his eyes and looked down at the prettiest pussy he’d ever seen in his life. He put his hands on her thighs and she jumped and then yielded, spreading herself wider. Below her hair was a perfect little naked swollen pocket, petal-shaped, her inner lips just peaking out, pink and delicate.
She shuddered as he ran his hands inward on her thighs, his touch light. She was tense, but she didn’t close her legs. Her skin was so fucking soft. He reached the small patch of dark hair on her mound, running his fingers through it. Silky. Her pussy below it was entirely bare. Not shaved. Bare and puffy and well formed. That was one story about the vanata females that was true.
It confirmed what she was. Shep looked at her face. He didn’t think she knew she was different in this way.
His thumbs approached her naked folds and he spread her outer lips, revealing her sweetness. She made a small noise, shaking her head slightly. Her clitoris was in its hood, a pink nub that barely poked out. Not that different. He licked his thumb, returning to rub around it in a gentle circle, pressing.
She jerked, a sharp intake of breath. He looked at her face again. She was still turned into her arm, her eyes closed tightly, but her cheeks were now flushed as pink as her pussy. He turned his attention back to her sweet vanata cunt, spreading the inner lips, then the skin around her channel, looking for it. He saw the little plug. He sucked his finger and returned to press into her slowly, a tight fit. She flinched again and again, her breath escaping her.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a virgin.
She hadn’t stopped him yet. He probed a little more, enjoying the catches in her breathing as he ran his thumb up and down her slit and around her clitoris, his finger still in her. He rubbed in circles and was surprised to see her pussy becoming more flushed, the color deepening to dusky red, her clit swelling under his thumb. Desire curled sharply in his lower belly and he clenched his teeth. The little bitch was becoming aroused.
He moved his hand, finger-fucking her in small motions, feeling the beginning of slickness. Fuck. He swept through it with his thumb, returning to her clit, circling it with the moisture.
Her thighs began shaking. Her eyes were still closed, her face still turned away. He rubbed, dipping to her wetness again and back. Her hips began to squirm, her nipples hardening, her clit emerging from its hood, hard, swelling more, sweet and sensitive. He was breathing heavily, watching his fingers. He gently withdrew, bringing his finger to his mouth and tasting her, his cock jumping.
Shep leaned down. It was like nothing he’d ever smelled before, musky and sweet at the same time. He suddenly put his mouth on her, swiping his tongue over her swollen bud as she cried out softly, her pussy pulsing under his mouth. She tried to close her legs as he thrust his tongue into her channel. He licked again, passing gently over her tender little nub, rolling it in his tongue, circling it.
She pulsed against his mouth again. “Stop! Stop, please stop!” she cried.
He raised his head and sat back on his heels as she closed her legs tightly, rolling her hips to the side. His tongue came out and touched his lower lip. The fucking taste of her. “Aren’t you a pleasure slave?”
She shook her head, her eyes still tightly closed, and he saw tears, her hair mussed around her.
Shep untied her legs quickly, untying her hands from above her head. Pulling her up to a kneeling position, he trapped her hands behind her, facing him. The tips of her breasts touched his bare chest. He was still breathing deeply. “Then who the fuck are you?”
Her cheeks were flushed with color. Gorgeous.
He drew her closer, crushing her breasts against him, speaking into her ear. “If you don’t answer me, I’ll tie you up again and make you come,” he said, leaning back, looking for her reaction. She stared at him. She didn’t know what he meant. Hell. No clue what he was talking about.
Letting go of her hands, he shoved. She fell back on the bed, covering her breasts and the triangle between her thighs with her hands. He put his knee on the bed and reached out, pinning her to the bed with one hand on her belly, large, spanning the whole area. “How did you get those marks on your back?”
The vanata went still under his hand. “I told you,” she said.
“No, you lied to me. You’re no pleasure slave. You’re a virgin, do you think I can’t tell? Who are you?”
He saw the moment she gave up. Her shoulders slumped and her head fell back onto the mattress, her hair all around her. Her eyes shifted away. “The Vanata Maeva,” she answered in a dull voice.
He got off her and straightened, turning to his dresser and dragging out another black shirt. His erection was sensitive, uncomfortable. He tossed the shirt to her. “Cover yourself.”
She pulled off the remains of the last one and dragged it on, pulling it down and crawling into it like the little cat she was.
Shep looked at his watch. He turned to his com, triggering it. “I need a medic to my quarters. Somebody bring some pants, smallest we have, Doni, and boots.”
The vanata sat up, shrinking back against the tent wall as two men entered. They knew better than to look at her.
The medic set down his kit as Shep gestured to his shoulder. “Shrapnel,” he muttered.
The other man set down a small pile of clothing and left. Shep leaned, scooping it up and tossing it onto the bed. He hissed as the medic began cleaning the wound. The vanata got under the blanket, getting dressed.
“Sorry, Maeser,” the medic said. “I’m almost done.”
“Don’t worry about it, Cochrin,” Shep replied, gritting his teeth. The man finally finished torturing him and taped gauze to the shoulder, giving him a shot for infection. Shep leaned into his com. “Get some food in here, Doni,” he said into it.
“Received, Maeser,” a calm voice said.
* * *
Maeva shuddered lightly, closing her eyes, remembering the sensations. It didn’t make any sense. She had golded? Where was her mate?
When the maeser had touched her, she’d experienced something she never had before, not even once, a wanting, his smell and strength, the heat of his body, her center twinging and aching as he’d put his mouth there and licked her. She wasn’t supposed to feel what she’d felt. A vanata only responded to her mate.
Maeva opened her eyes and they widened. She went still, staring into nothing.
The maeser? The maeser was her mate? Her heart was pounding so hard she could feel it in her hands. She glanced at him, her breathing shallow and fast, looking away and closing her eyes again.
Shep-alij was her mate, yes, and he was the maeser of the resistance, and he hated her. The maeser was going to kill her.
But there were worse things than dying. He could never know he was her mate. She rested her forehead on her knees. What he would do to her.