by Cynthia Sax
eBook ISBN: 9781419944123
Zeta doesn’t do forever. She captures the worst scum in the galaxy and trades them for credits. Khan is fierce and sexy and the most dominant male she has ever encountered, but he is also a fugitive, and once she sates herself with his body, she’ll betray him. It is her job.
Ellora’s Cave ‖ ARe ‖ Kindle ‖ Nook
“Your condition is unacceptable, fugitive.” Zeta glared at the dried torso pinned under a twisted piece of black panel, the male’s flight suit shredded and faded, his head and limbs missing. “I need you alive.”
Currents of scorching hot air wafted up from the reddish-brown sand, Chamele 4 barely inhabitable, its extreme temperatures legendary. An anonymous tip had led Zeta to the arid planet. The highly visible scattered remains of the single-manned ship had narrowed her search.
“I must be mistaken. You can’t be him. Fate isn’t that cruel,” Zeta muttered, knowing first-hand that it was. She jabbed the tester deep into the male’s chest and the brittle skin cracked on impact, all moisture long evaporated from the corpse.
She squinted at the tiny screen. A trickle of perspiration ran down her spine, her shirt sticking to her torso, the heat absorbed from the leather straps holding her daggers and guns burning through the coarse fabric.
“Target confirmed,” the machine chirped happily.
“Son of a Palavian whore.” Anxiety twisted Zeta’s stomach into tight little knots. The client required the intergalactic jewel thief retrieved alive.
“I traveled across two galaxies for nothing, no thief, no bounty.” She tilted her head back and stared at the giant blood-red sun, finding no solution to their precarious financial situation there, the rent for their bounty-hunter school due in fifteen universal days. “I can’t go back empty handed. I can’t disappoint the girls.”
Rough fingers drifted across her forearm, sending waves of sweet sensation rippling over her body, the caress tightening her nipples and lighting flames of desire deep within her.
“Touch me again and I’ll shoot your invisible ass,” Zeta warned, her inappropriate arousal irking her. Since her arrival on the planet, the male had tracked and tormented her. At every opportunity, he’d stroked her skin and fondled her curves, building a need she couldn’t tend to, her personal time limited.
Her yet-to-be identified stalker chuckled, the sound low and pussy-moistening deep.
She turned slowly, surveying the landscape, searching for signs of him. No shadows fell upon the viewscreen lodged in the sand to her right, the clear surface cracked, feathered with fine fractures. Behind her, only a single set of footprints marred the otherwise untouched sand dunes. The fossilized remains of what might have once been a tree loomed to her left, as dead and lifeless as the planet it inhabited.
“Spirits,” Zeta grumbled as she trudged toward her ship, the wind biting at her back. She hunched her shoulders in defeat, leaving the headless corpse of her target to disintegrate to dust, baked by the relentless sun.
“Behind you, Zeta,” her mysterious male urged, his gruff words spoken in the universal language.
She extracted a dagger from her waist sheath and pivoted. A giant featherless creature swooped silently downward, the weather-worn hide on its wings stretched tight. Its talons reached out for her, its prey. Its huge beak opened, revealing multiple rows of sharp teeth, the beast designed for killing.
Zeta snapped her wrist, releasing her favorite dagger, the action as natural to her as breathing. The weapon whistled through the air and lodged with a juicy smack in the creature’s right eye socket, bursting the eyeball. The beast screeched and reared upward, flapping its great wings.
Zeta grabbed another dagger and carefully aimed. The creature rolled in the cloudless sky, spinning away from her, its velocity too fast for her to lock upon.
“Your hide is mine.” She ran after the predator, determined to down her attacker and retrieve her mother’s dagger, that last gift from her now-dead parent having once served as her only protection.
You have to look after yourself now, Zeta. Her mother’s final words echoed in her ears as she sprinted, her gaze fixed on the creature’s fading silhouette, its monstrous form etched against the bright sun.
With three more beats of its great wings, the animal surged out of range, and Zeta skidded to a stop, sand spraying her ugly black boots, her clothes soaked with perspiration.
“No thief, no bounty and now, one less dagger.” She kicked a large red boulder, its varying shades of color delineating centuries of soil settlement. “This day couldn’t get any worse.” Zeta sheathed her remaining dagger, disgusted by her failure.
“It could have been worse. You could have been eaten by the rock vulture.”
Him again. “Is that what happened to you?” She cocked her head, her hair sliding over her shoulders, hanging loose, her fastener also lost during the assault. “Are you a spirit, destined to walk the sands of Chamele 4, warning others of your mistake?”
“I’m no spirit, little hunter. And I don’t make mistakes.” A muscled form materialized from the nearby wall of rock, his skin turning from red to tan, his long hair darkening to black. He was dauntingly large, his biceps huge and defined, his broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist and then disappearing into nothing.
“You have no legs.” Zeta frowned, meeting his midnight gaze, his face as hard as the stone he faded into. “What are you?”
His lips quirked upward. “I have legs.” A long silver scar slashed down his cheek from his left eye to the corner of his mouth. “My invisibility, as you call it, is for your benefit. I’m in hunting mode and Chameles hunt naked.” He spread his fingers and long, deadly claws extended from his knuckles.
“Oh.” Zeta’s face heated, the urge to see him, all of him, tremendous. Is he as big all over? A pulse throbbed deep in her womb, her starved sex drive demanding her attention, too much of her life spent alone, untouched, emotionally safe.
I don’t need him. She bit the inside of her cheek, smothering her arousal with pain. I don’t need anyone.
He breathed deeply, his nostrils flaring, his chest rising and falling, the sun’s rays casting shadows over his muscles. “This isn’t the time nor place for rutting, gerel.” His dark eyes glittered. “The rock vulture is a vengeful creature. She’ll return.”
Zeta instinctively stepped closer, drawn to him. “She’ll return with my dagger.” She touched her empty sheath, feeling its loss.
His gaze remained locked on her face, his focus thrilling. “She’ll return with her flock. They’ll peck your stubborn skull open and feast on your brains.” He retracted his claws, reached out and circled her wrist with his fingers. “Come.” He dragged her forward, his grip unbreakable.
“I’m not going anywhere with you, Chamele.” Zeta leaned back, digging her heels into the sand, slowing his progress.
“My name is Khan.” He tugged on her arm and she winced, her muscles straining. “Walk or be carried. That is your choice.”
“Suck on a loaded gun, Khan.” Zeta clasped a rock outcropping with her free hand. “I need my dagger back.” She yanked on the wrist he’d restrained, struggling to liberate herself from his barbarian clutches.
Khan held her easily, standing before her as though he was one of the giant unmovable stone spires surrounding them, not a bead of sweat forming on his slightly-sloping forehead. “I’ll supply you with everything you need.”
“I doubt that,” she grumbled, tiring, her energy dissipating under the hot sun. “Unless you have a bounty on that arrogant head of yours.”
“I have several bounties on my arrogant head.” Khan raised his chin proudly, his countenance harsh and unforgiving. “The lowest bounty would pay for your ship three times over.”
“Sure.” Zeta snorted, a bounty that large reserved for the deadliest of criminals. “And I’m the empress of Chamele 4, queen of all you survey.”
“Chamele 4 is a hunter planet only, unfit for permanent settlement.” Khan informed her, his voice flat, devoid of any humor. “And Chameles have no Empresses. We are fierce warriors. We have Warlords and their ladies.” He pressed his fingertips into her wrist, his touch appealingly possessive, as though he had claimed her. “I offer you the Warlord’s lady position on Chamele 2, a lush, rich planet.”
“I’m no one’s lady.” He sounds serious and he looks as tough as the planet he inhabits. Zeta studied him through lowered eyelashes. Could he have a bounty on him? She twisted her arm, unable to loosen his grip yet too stubborn to give up. “You shouldn’t joke to a bounty hunter about being wanted.”
“I don’t joke and I lose patience with you, foolish female.” Khan stalked closer to her and a frisson of excitement zipped up Zeta’s spine. “You’ve made your choice.” He released her wrist, leaving a ring of pink on her pale skin.
“I’m free.” She held up her hand, her triumph tempered with disappointment, expecting, needing, wanting more resistance from her brutish savage.
“Not free. Never free,” Khan rumbled. “Carried, it is.” He spanned her waist with his huge hands and slung her over his shoulder. Her stomach collided with unyielding muscle and she gasped, the air whooshing from her lungs.
“Let me go.” Zeta twisted her torso, pushing against his shoulders and yanking on his long hair, the strands surprisingly soft, the musky scent of him filling her nostrils.
He strode quickly toward her ship, leaving no footprints in the sand, no trace they’d ever been there. I could disappear forever and no one would ever find me. Zeta renewed her efforts to escape.
“Stop squirming.” Khan smacked her fabric-covered ass hard, an arousing warmth radiating from the point of contact.
“Stop carrying me.” Zeta leveled a blow where his invisible ass should be, the flat of her palm connecting with firm skin, the sound shockingly loud. He grunted, jerking forward, and his speed increased, the barren landscape blurring around them.
“Put me down.” She kicked her feet into his stomach and pummeled his back with her fists, his body impressively solid.
“I said stop.” He cuffed her ass, the impact sharp, the delectable pain drawing more moisture from her already drenched pussy.
“Never,” Zeta spat, wiggling, grinding against him, striving to find release. Khan’s big hand rained down on her curves, heating her skin through her clothes, rewarding her with the punishment she craved.
This was what all of my previous casual encounters were missing. This dominance. This pain. Zeta writhed, stroking his back wildly with her fingers, passion coiling around her tighter and tighter. Close. So close. She panted, tilting her ass into his descending hand.
“No.” Khan stopped abruptly and Zeta gritted her teeth, swallowing her scream of frustration, one blow away from fulfillment. “Not yet, gerel.” He propped her against the side of her ship, trapping her between the metal panels and his body, his thighs wedged between hers, solid yet unseen. “You won’t come until I allow you to.”
“I’ll come when I want to come and I want to come right now.” She flicked her leg coverings open and defiantly slipped her fingers inside, reaching for her clit, determined to finish the job her own damn self. I don’t need him.
“No.” Khan pulled her hands out of her leg coverings, his dark eyes turbulent. He appeared as aroused as she was, his chest heaving and his invisible cock pushing against her, long and hard and thick. “You’ll listen to me first.”
“No.” She glared at him, arching into his body, silently asking for more.
“Yes.” He spread her arms to the sides, looming over her, in complete control. With his claws, his size, his brawn, he could strip her naked and fuck her senseless, taking whatever he wanted from her restrained body, and she couldn’t stop him. Zeta breathed heavily, more stimulated than she’d ever been in her long, solitary life.
“When I release you, you’ll return to your ship.” Khan leaned his forehead against hers, the tips of their noses touching, his breath wafting on her lips, his tenderness unexpected, confusing. “You’ll lock the door behind you and you’ll open it only for me.”
“Why would I open it for you?” she asked, clinging to her rebellion, showing him no weakness.
“Because I’ll give you this.” Khan cupped her mons and she inhaled sharply, his strength, his grasp, thrilling. “I’ll give you what you need.” He smiled smugly, kneading her with his fingers, building her desire, her thighs shaking uncontrollably under him.
“I’ll lay you upon that rock so all of Chamele 4 can see your passion, your beauty.” He glanced at the flat boulder near the path they’d taken and Zeta swallowed hard, her throat dry, her nipples taut, aching for him.
His gaze returned to hers. “Then I’ll climb on top of your small body and mount you with one hard thrust, filling your wet pussy with my big cock.” He thrust his hips forward, driving that big cock against her, and she moaned, trembling with need. “I’ll rut into you with such force, such vigor, that you’ll scream my name, and I won’t stop until you beg for my seed.”
Stars. Zeta curled her fingers into fists, digging her fingernails into the palms of her hands. “I never beg,” she whispered, blatantly lying, a plea for more of his rough touch dangling on the tip of her tongue.
His lips lifted in a smile, an emotion resembling respect reflecting in his eyes. “You will for me.” He pushed down with his thumb, pressing the seam of her leg coverings against her clit, and she froze, unable to move, to think, to breathe.
“Come for me, Zeta.” He rubbed, grinding the coarse cloth into her sensitive flesh, giving her the roughness she craved, pushing her over the edge.
Zeta screamed, bucking forward, smacking her face against his chest, her world exploding with color and light. Khan caught her, holding her as she thrashed, pinned between her ship and his body, captured by her big barbarian, needing to move yet not wanting to be freed.
“Such passion, such beauty,” he murmured into her hair, cradling her head against his chest, petting her with a gentleness no warrior should ever exhibit. Zeta allowed herself to be held, savoring the experience, none of the other males she’d fucked having ever offered comfort, only him, only Khan. I need him.
For sex. She stiffened, panic straightening her spine, the connection between them scaring her. I don’t need him for anything else.
“Enough.” Zeta pushed him away, needing to escape, to get away from him, from her emotions and her need.
“Never enough.” Khan stepped back and she slid to the ground, her boots sinking into the sand, her knees weakening, threatening to buckle underneath her.
She gritted her teeth and grasped onto her ship’s panels, securing her footing. Khan watched her closely yet he didn’t reach out to her, his faith in her strength steadying her legs and reviving her confidence. I can take care of myself.
Khan nodded curtly as though agreeing with her unspoken statement and he pivoted, his movements smooth and graceful, his ass and legs remaining invisible. “I’ll return for you at daybreak, gerel.” He strode away from her and faded into the landscape, becoming one with the harsh planet.
“I won’t be here,” Zeta called after him, having no reason to remain on Chamele 4, her target dead, her rations and fuel scarily low, every spare credit spent on the school. “I shouldn’t be here,” she amended.
* * * * *
“Why remain visible if you’re hunting nude?” Murad approached Khan, the younger male clad in full Warlord gear, his sword strapped to his back and a long gun slung over his shoulder. “Is this another one of your warrior tests?”
Khan ignored the jibe, his skills as a warrior having earned him the best planet and soon the best gerel. “I’m using myself as bait.” He surveyed the darkening sky, waiting for the rock vulture to return with her flock.
“Ahhh…you’re practicing.” His brother nodded, grinning foolishly, the technologically-gifted Warlord never serious. “That’ll relieve Berke as he continues to waver back and forth, back and forth, questioning his decision, yawing on about it to no end.” Murad rolled his eyes, indulging his flair for drama. “Our all-knowing, all-seeing big brother thinks you’re too honest for the role you asked for.”
“I’ve earned this honor. It is my right.” Khan gritted his teeth, having his own doubts about his ability to deceive others, duplicity not a warrior skill. “The bounty hunter will deliver me to our enemy and I will kill him.”
“Good. Maybe once we have peace, Berke will mind his own planet and stop worrying about the entire system.” Murad casually flicked a grain of sand off his shoulder. “Have you told your little bounty hunter about our plan?”
“No.” Khan glowered at his brother. “We are to tell no one of our plan. If Tolui discovers it is a trap—”
“Yes. Yes.” Murad raised his hands in mock surrender. “If Tolui discovers it is a trap, the clone-loving sneak will run far and fast. I know the plan, Khan. I was merely confirming that you did.”
Khan cast him a dark look, knowing the plan too painfully well, and his brother’s grin spread. “Patience, brother. You won’t have to wait much longer to split Tolui into two. Berke sent the message and I transferred it to the chip. All we’ll need is a couple of hours to install it and you should be ready to go.”
Finally. Khan relaxed, more comfortable with action than with waiting. “You’ll have those hours.” As I have my gerel. His body hardened with anticipation, Zeta’s passion as fierce as she was. “Refasten the door also.”
Murad wrinkled his forehead. “What happened to the door?”
“Nothing…yet.” Khan squinted, specks of brown dotting the horizon, the flapping of the rock vultures’ wings barely audible, even with his enhanced hearing. “They’re here.” He extended his claws, eager to burn off his excess energy, fighting a substitute for the rutting he craved.
“Rock vultures,” Murad scoffed, tossing his long gun and sword away from him, deeming to fight as Khan did, with the weapons nature had given them. The creatures neared, the setting sun reflecting off the metal in the largest rock vulture’s eye socket.
“That’s a dagger,” Murad observed.
Khan stayed silent, that obvious comment needing no reply.
“It looks like your bounty hunter’s dagger.” His brother guessed its owner correctly. “She’ll be grateful to see it again, I imagine, very grateful. Hmmm…I wonder.” He stroked his chin with his claws. “If I return the weapon to her, will she rut with me?”
“Touch her and you die,” Khan growled, his tolerance for jokes about Zeta low.
“To kill him, you’d have to defeat us first.” Sartaq, Murad’s first, and three of his warriors swaggered toward them. “You may be our greatest warrior but there are three of us.” He grinned. “Three and a half if Ayur fights.”
The youngest warrior flicked his fingers in an obscene gesture and the warriors laughed, all of them as foolish as their leader, Khan’s warriors more grave and dignified.
Sartaq studied the approaching creatures, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. “Are we having rock vultures for the night feast?”
“Ugh.” Murad made a gagging sound, the creatures tough and tasteless. “No. We hunt for sport. Khan is trying to impress his little bounty hunter. She has his balls—”
“Silence,” Khan barked. A small rock vulture recklessly dived toward him, the wind whistling around its hairless body. He bent to the right, twisting his torso to avoid its deadly talons and grasping beak.
As the predator passed, screeching with fury, Khan smacked the creature on its cheek with the back of his hand, sending it spinning toward his brother’s males, the warriors jostling to claim first kill.
A larger rock vulture followed the first, not changing its approach, its tactics set after years of hunting mindless creatures. Khan batted the second rock vulture to his left, toward Ayur, his focus on his one-eyed prey.
Rock vulture after rock vulture attacked, the sky darkening with their massive bodies, Khan’s ears ringing with their shrieks. He cleared a path toward their matriarch, swatting them left and right, downing them for the others. Blood sprayed his torso, coating his skin with red, as the warriors merrily beheaded the vicious beasts.
The one-eyed rock vulture swooped down. Khan rolled and its talons skimmed across his shoulders, cool air rushing over him. He grabbed the creature by its neck and swung onto its back, his claws digging into its tough hide.
The rock vulture reared upward, struggling to rise into the air, hampered by the additional weight. Khan dug his heels into its sides and wrapped one of his arms around its neck, pressing down on its windpipe. The creature turned its head, frantically snapping at his legs with its long beak, unable to reach his bare flesh.
Desperate to escape him, it knocked itself against a rock, the impact jarring Khan’s body and loosening his grip, the pain dissipating his restless energy. He grunted and swiped his claws over the rock vulture, severing the tendons in the creature’s shoulders, crippling it. It flopped to the sand and they tumbled, wrestling, wings beating arms, talons connecting with claws, two savage beasts struggling for survival.
Enough play. Khan clasped the mighty beast’s head, its veins pumping under his palms. “For Zeta,” he roared, yanking hard. Bone cracked and the rock vulture sagged, its wings and legs twitching, its beak clicking open and shut.
Khan retracted his claws and pulled the dagger from the creature’s eye, hot blood gushing over his hand. He wiped the blade on his prey’s weathered skin.
“This fight was over much too soon, brother.” Murad grinned at him, his face streaked with red. His warriors stood around him, dead rock vultures at their gore-splattered feet. “Tolui should give us a more satisfying battle.”
“He’ll pay for his crimes in blood. Tolui will no longer steal our females or our children,” Khan declared heatedly, the rival Warlord’s stealth night attacks making a mockery of his protection.
The warriors cheered, raising their swords, their boisterous response reassuring him, Tolui’s death and Khan’s dubious role in Berke’s plan necessary. For my people. Khan strode to the big boulder where he’d hidden his pack. Tolui must be stopped.
His brother followed him. “Are you concerned that the battle will place your bounty hunter in danger?” Murad expressed Khan’s most serious concern.
“She’ll be far from the battle. After delivering me to Tolui and collecting the bounty, she’ll return to her home planet to disburse the credits.” Khan frowned, his female credit hungry, the reasons for her insatiability not detailed in any of the research notes Berke had provided to him. “She’ll be safe on her home planet.” He pulled the after-battle kit out of his pack and unrolled the cloth over the boulder. “Tolui won’t touch her.”
“My lord,” Sartaq, Murad’s first, called. “Fifty credits says you won’t swallow the big rock vulture’s remaining eyeball.”
Boyish foolishness. Khan shook his head, his battle-hardened males having too much respect to ever challenge him.
“Those fifty credits are mine, Sartaq.” Murad swaggered toward the downed beast, his warriors exchanging wagers.
Khan turned his back to their shenanigans. He rubbed his softest cleaning cloth over Zeta’s dagger, removing the remaining speckles of blood and gore. The chatter of the others faded, a calmness falling upon him as he slowly, thoroughly polished the silver metal, sliding the fabric back and forth, back and forth.
With his thumbnail, he etched around the hilt, excavating the grime from past kills, kills he hadn’t the pleasure of sharing with her. He slid his fingertips over the smaller grooves where her fingers had gripped the dagger, pressing his heat into the metal, imprinting upon her weapon.
Khan buffed the dagger, so slim and dainty, distinctly feminine and hers, until it gleamed, his dark eyes reflecting in the blade.
My gerel. His mouth curled upward, warmth spreading over his chest. Tomorrow, I hunt you.
Ellora’s Cave ‖ ARe ‖ Kindle ‖ Nook