Wild Ones, Book 2
by Zoey Daniels
eBook BIN: 05709-01829
As Callie traverses the sparsely populated prairies, two unusual stallions begin to shadow her every move. They may be young, but these native shapeshifters are as adventurous as Callie, and they’re set on proving they’re old enough to handle her. They’ve got enough “horse sense” to know this fiery filly is riding hell-bent-for-leather right into a wild ride that’s more than she can handle alone.
“Surely you don’t intend to sell this.” The stall keeper sorted through the small sandalwood trunk Callie had offered him. He stroked a particularly fine flogger of the softest leather tipped with cut glass beads with the appreciation of a true connoisseur. Otherwise she’d have taken her trunk back and kept on going.
Plenty of merchants in this all night marketplace, so crowded Callie found it hard to take a deep breath. Once upon a time, she’d have spent hours here searching for goods, not selling them, and she’d have reveled in the near choking closeness of too many people wearing heavy perfume.
“I mean to sell it all,” Callie said. She took a step closer, just one, enough to prove she told the truth. She’d learned enough body language over the years to anticipate what men would want, what men would respect, and exactly where the lines blurred — and where they didn’t.
This stall keeper saw the strength of her will, as Callie meant for him to, and his demeanor changed the tiniest bit, offering her a hint of respect instead of a dash of disdain.
Good. Callie nodded once to indicate they understood each other, and she wasn’t too proud to accept that and move on. But neither would she take any nonsense.
“Everything in the trunk is yours, for a fair price. Floggers, corsets, boots, silver chains. They’re highest quality and all custom made. You can still sell them for the highest price.”
She took one more step closer to the stall keeper. Her skirts, loose and full and free to swing about her bare legs, brushed the tops of the man’s feet. “And I want gold for them. Full wholesale value, what they’re really worth. Not credits. Gold.”
“Who keeps that kind of gold, Mistress?”
“Not Mistress. Not anymore.” Callie shut the lid of the chest. He’d gotten a good enough look to be sure she was offering him treasure that he could make a fortune off. “And I know you have the gold here.” She smiled at him, the cold and proud smile that had for fifteen years brought proud men to their knees, because they wanted to be there. “Why else would I have picked you?”
He didn’t look any too pleased, but he gave her a nod of grudging respect. Callie raised one eyebrow to show she didn’t care.
Though even grumpier now, the stall keeper let Callie keep one hand resting on top of the sandalwood chest; in return, she politely glanced away so she wouldn’t see where he kept his stash of gold.
He held back from offering her a velvet pouch of clinking coins. “Why sell everything you own? I know women of your sort. You save the best for last, and from the looks of you, you’re making ready for a long journey. You don’t want to take anything with you?”
“No.” Almost. “Do you know of a stall that sells tooled leather? Saddlebags and the like. For horses, not men.”
The stall keeper recoiled as if she’d tossed him a dead mouse instead of hand sewn corsets in a rich man’s box.
Callie rolled her eyes. “Suits me just as well.” She had a shuttle off this world to catch within the hour anyway. “I hear tell there’s a mercantile on Leman. I’ll do my shopping there.”
If she’d thought he looked horrified before, that was a mere shadow compared to the dismay, disgust and disdain he showed now. Effeminate and pretentious… and yet underneath that, Callie almost thought she saw a hint of a boy who yearned for the stars she’d travel across, for the freedom of a world that had filled her dreams for years now.
“Leman?” he whispered; Callie couldn’t hear him when he spoke so low but she could read lips just fine. “Mistress, you don’t want to go there. It’s a dangerous place.”
“For men. Not for women.”
He pursed his lips, but in honest confusion, so she let him speak. “Why?”
“Because of this.” Callie slapped a thick velvet curtain with the flat of her hand. “I’m tired of living in the shadows. I want a place where I can look up and see the moons full in a clear sky. Where I can take as many deep breaths as I like and run for the fun of it. Where if I take a lover it’s because I choose him and he’s worthy of me.”
She saw the little boy in him again, desperate for that sort of freedom — and jealous of her for it. “You will come home crying for proper civilization.”
“Watch and see how I don’t.” Leman was a woman’s world. A place where women like her went for second chances. Or third. Or fourth. Ever since she’d heard of the place Callie had craved to leave this life behind, and go where she could be a true Mistress — the Lady Captain of her own destiny.
“You’ll be lonely.” He looked surly now.
“Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t.” Callie tossed the velvet sack of coins in her hand, fully planning to trade it for a plain canvas drawstring bag as soon as she could. “But it’s an adventure worth some loneliness.”
Loneliness was a fair trade for freedom. Though maybe it wouldn’t be just so. They told stories about Leman, they did. Men who’d been there and come back. Stories about wild men and beasts and running free under full moons in a deep violet night sky…
Whatever she left behind to get there was worth it. One hundred percent.