He’s got her right where he wants her…
Dominion sentinel Kaela Garrett will go to any lengths to gather evidence against a suspected traitor, even if it means auctioning off her body to the highest bidder. Posing as a slave should have been the perfect cover to gain access to an exclusive gala. Only she hadn’t anticipated a sexy treasure salvager with a grudge outbidding everyone—including her mark—to possess her.
Lorcan Hunt can’t believe the very sentinel who had him arrested six weeks ago is on the auction block, completely at his mercy. What better way to get even—and pass the time until his next job—than force her to submit to every new and wicked revenge he can imagine? His every demand for her submission, however, comes with a price: a burning need that slides under his skin and grows stronger with every concession she makes.
When Kaela finally gives in to the fierce desire between them, Lorcan finds himself hopelessly caught in an impossible choice. Honor the commitment binding him to his next job—or hold onto the one woman he can never have.
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“Stand still,” the transmitted voice warned in her ear.
“I’m trying.” Dominion sentinel Kaela Garrett lowered her face when she spoke, as though she was adhering to the expected submissive practice of all slaves up for auction.
“This is our last shot, Kaela. You’ve already hooked the dealer’s interest. Don’t blow it now.”
Ass, she thought, keeping her gaze trained on the scuffed wood staging beneath her bare feet. Easy for her commanding officer to say. Caplan wasn’t the one on stage in the middle of a busy spaceport’s promenade, wearing a cloak over top of two scraps of crimson silk creatively draped at the waist and chest. He wasn’t the one who’d entered into a legally binding contract with the bondskeeper or agreed to have his biometric processor flagged, and he sure as hell wasn’t the one who had to be tattooed.
Thinking of the twin suns branded on her hip made her twitchy, so she drew a deep breath and watched those close to the stage from beneath lowered lashes. Pulling this mission off guaranteed she’d make Lieutenant Commander, a goal she’d been working toward for the last two years. Remembering that made it easier to tamp down the small knot of panic trapped between her lungs and her throat. Even shielded by the cloak—for the time being—from the hundreds of people jammed onto the promenade, she felt naked without a weapon. The bondskeeper insisted the small blade she’d had strapped to her thigh wasn’t acceptable. Had she realized then what he planned for her to wear on stage, she would have taken her chances with the blade.
“You’re scratching again,” the voice hissed.
Instantly her hand stilled, quieting the soft chime of the gold bells clasped around her wrist. A matching set had been secured to each ankle, with the largest chain twined around the gathered material riding low on her hips. She liked the bells even less than the silk. Their use felt a little too much like the old Earth practice of adorning livestock with them, particularly cows. She could have done without another physical reminder that she was no more than chattel to be bartered for.
Kaela closed her eyes, seeking the calm and composed edge she rarely had a problem tapping into. Everything hinged on Varek’s slave dealer purchasing her for the exclusive gala in three days. Nothing said “good, old-fashioned celebration” like the mass purchase of slaves to serve and entertain the various invited guests. She wasn’t holding her breath that she’d land the easy job of serving the crowd. Since most of her past assignments were anything but easy, Kaela knew she wouldn’t get that lucky. Of course, had the Dominion managed to snare a legitimate invitation, she wouldn’t be in her present position. Caplan was right on one front—if she blew this, they were all screwed.
“You’re up next.”
She acknowledged the warning with a subtle nod of her head. The slave dealer stood less than fifty feet away in the crowd, his pinched face angled toward the stage as he surveyed the week’s offerings with a critical eye. Varek’s preference for green-eyed blondes had put her on the short list of sentinels suitable for the assignment. Her determination, impressive track record and fast-talking had done the rest.
Judging by the handful of other women up for auction, most with brown or black hair, her chances were looking good. If all went according to plan, in three days she’d be front and center when Varek hooked up with the Dominion official he paid to look the other way.
Movement in the crowd drew her attention and she chanced a quick glance at the man threading his way toward the stage for closer inspection. Something about him struck her as familiar, but she lost track of him in the sea of faces before she could place him.
She’d observed last week’s auction, but nothing had prepared her for actually being offered up to the highest bidder. Such archaic practices should have been banned long ago, though some insisted the regulated slave trade had helped ensure the human race survived post-Exodus.
A burst of applause shot through the crowd as the bidding concluded for the man at the front of the stage. Like Kaela, he wore nothing more than folds of red silk around his waist, leaving the rest of his honed, muscular frame available for the crowd to appraise and admire.
A young woman trailed up the stairs at the front of the stage and circled the slave she’d just purchased. It was impossible to know if she operated one of the few brothels in the quadrant or was merely making a personal purchase. The slave kept his gaze trained on the crowd as the woman trailed her hand along his back and up to his shoulder. From there she slowly explored the length of his arm, across his chest and down to his defined abdomen. Crouching, she cupped his ankle, moving slowly higher along the inside of his leg until her fingers brushed the silk.
Even from her position upstage, Kaela could see the silk straining across the man’s groin as he became aroused by the woman’s assessing touch. Many slaves indentured themselves each time their previous contract expired, some having no plan or old life to return to, others content to find themselves a new prime who would provide the necessities of food and shelter in exchange for services rendered.
The woman’s hand slid beneath the silk to palm the slave’s arousal, and Kaela’s breath caught. She knew every slave was inspected before the sale was considered a done deal, had witnessed every step in preparation for today. But watching from the edge of the crowd was vastly different from standing on the same stage.
It didn’t help that she could see the man’s jaw lock, his expression carefully guarded but for the flicker of interest in his eyes. A look that said he didn’t mind the woman’s touch. The longer the woman lingered, her hand working him over, the more difficult it became to ignore them. The more difficult it became to ignore the heat simmering in her belly and the way her nipples grew tight and hard.
She could try blaming the latter on her present attire or the spaceport’s faulty ventilation system, but knew better. The intimate act unfolding directly in front of her left her far more…aroused than she’d expected. It had been far easier to remain indifferent to the blatantly sexual assessment as an innocent spectator than standing only a few feet away.
Shifting restlessly, she managed to drag her gaze away from the pair at the front of the stage. Watching the woman stroke the guy’s cock was not a mission objective and only served as a reminder it would soon be her turn.
She felt the dealer’s eyes move over her and resisted the urge to meet his gaze.
“Here we go.”
She snorted at Caplan’s use of “we”. Last time she checked, she was the only one of them up for auction.
“Mistress Kaela,” the bondskeeper announced, and she stepped forward.
Her feet dragged a little, the sanest part of her insisting this went far above and beyond the call of duty. A slave might have more freedom to wander Varek’s desert villa unnoticed, but it would require some skill and a whole lot of luck to avoid becoming a guest’s plaything for the duration of her mission.
She stopped next to the bondskeeper, holding her breath as he moved behind her and removed the heavy cloak.
“Let us begin,” the bondskeeper prompted.
A few in the crowd ventured closer, the dealer among them. But Kaela didn’t pay attention to him as the same man she’d caught sight of earlier separated from the crowd directly in front of her.
A rush of adrenaline surged through her veins, followed closely by the same clawing awareness she’d felt six weeks ago—right before she’d had Lorcan Hunt arrested.
The treasure salvager stared up at her, his dark hair a little shorter than she remembered, his blue eyes more strikingly vivid and the amused smile curving his lips far too wicked.
“We may have a problem,” she whispered, her stomach backflipping when Lorcan joined the bidding.
Never look a gift-horse in the mouth. His grandfather’s sage advice ran through Lorcan’s mind as he drank in every scantily clad inch of Mistress Kaela.
Mistress, my ass. Dominion sentinel was much more appropriate, but he doubted the bondskeeper would be advertising that fact. He had to give her credit for playing the submissive role rather well. Until a few moments ago, she’d avoided making eye contact with the crowd, her attention fixed on the ground at her feet. Occasionally shifting her weight from one foot to the other gave the impression of a nervous, vulnerable woman left with no other choice but to indenture herself.
He wasn’t fooled for a second. There wasn’t a nervous or vulnerable bone in the sentinel’s body, but one look at the crowd and he knew they were eating it up. He also knew there wasn’t a person here he’d let outbid him.
Lorcan strolled closer to the stage, aware of the way Kaela’s eyes narrowed at the corners. She clenched one hand in a fist at her side. If she’d been carrying a fusion pistol, he didn’t doubt for a second she’d be pointing it at his chest right now. He remembered she’d looked a little too comfortable with the weapon, especially with a lethal smile turning that fantasy-laden mouth of hers into his own personal nightmare.
He grinned at the subtle shake of her head and upped his bid. She would attract the kind of attention he didn’t need and would undoubtedly find a way to renege on the contract—or her superiors would—before too long. Still, he couldn’t stem the rush of attraction finding her here ignited inside him. The very same one he’d felt weeks ago, right before she’d used him to score points with the Dominion at his expense. He’d never had any significant issues with the galaxy’s governing body until Kaela Garrett had thrown him to the wolves.
One word from her and he’d been stripped of his cargo and carted off to a detention facility and held for four fucking days. The officers who’d questioned him hadn’t cared that he’d only been reclaiming the very same artifacts stolen from him weeks before.
Lorcan shoved his hands in his pockets, silencing the voice that guaranteed trouble if he didn’t walk away now. His bone-deep need to get even wouldn’t let him.
He watched her lips move as she darted a look over his head. Curious, he followed her gaze until he spotted the man who’d just upped the bid. Slave dealer, Lorcan surmised, dismissing the two women next to him dressed in the same cloak and teasing swaths of material as Kaela.
The sentinel could only have one interest in the slave dealer—she was on assignment. Too bad Lorcan had his own plans for her. He’d come to the promenade in search of a few supplies, never expecting to cross paths with the woman who’d screwed him over. If ever there was a sign his luck was about to change, finding Mistress Kaela on the auction block had to be it.
He upped the bid, never taking his eyes off her, amused when she clenched her jaw so tight a muscle ticked in her cheek. Her eyes glittered dangerously, her chest rising sharply with every annoyed breath, straining the silk tighter across her breasts. His gut churned as he recalled the memory of those breasts crammed against his chest. She’d been angry then too, angry he had her pinned to the ground for pulling her fusion pistol on him.
When their eyes had locked—and before he’d realized how much trouble the sentinel was—all he’d wanted to do was kiss her. A long, slow, deep kiss that he’d been imagining from the moment she first smiled at him, when he’d stumbled across her, stranded outside a trading settlement on the Outer Rim.
The distraction had cost him, however. One second he’d been staring at her mouth, feeling her go soft beneath him, dragging him closer, her parted lips a breath from his, and the next he’d been cold-cocked from behind.
The reminder served to cool the lust that curled down his backbone, that and Kaela’s death glare. The bells at her wrists chimed, and as though suddenly realizing her behavior sabotaged her efforts to appear agreeable, she stilled. The bidding continued and what could only be interpreted as panic flashed in her eyes when he showed no signs of backing off. A moment later her expression turned unreadable as the slave dealer withdrew from the auction, at which point she stopped looking at Lorcan altogether. Defeat settled on her shoulders and she closed her eyes.
A cruel bastard would withdraw and let the only other interested party have her, a feral-looking guy with small features and a jagged scar running from eyebrow to chin. He doubted Kaela cared either way, but would sooner win her and sell her to the slave dealer than see her wind up with scarface. The vibe the other man put off bordered on hostile. If anyone was going to take his frustrations out on a woman, it would be Lorcan, and the carnal images of how he planned to work off said frustrations made his blood run thick and hot.
Impatient to have the auction over with, he doubled his bid. Kaela’s mouth fell open, the shock on her face almost worth the hefty price he’d paid for her. He preferred to look at the sum as an investment for his next job, and being perfectly honest, a damn fine way to spend the time leading up to it.
The bondskeeper closed the auction, announcing Lorcan the successor. Pleased, Lorcan wove through the crowd to reach the stairs. Kaela followed his every move, lifting her chin defiantly when he stood opposite her for the final inspection. The top of the sentinel’s head came to his chin, her long honey-blonde hair falling in thick waves down her back. Hard green eyes stared back at him, daring him to finish what he’d started.
As if there was anything stopping him now.
Trying not to grin, he circled her, satisfied when his proximity triggered a six-inch retreat before she held her ground. Her bare shoulders dropped, a relaxed tension radiating from her. Prepared for anything—anything but him winning her on the auction block. Operating under the assumption that maintaining her cover—and not twisting around to throw him over her shoulder—was a priority, he paused behind her, brushing her hair to one side.
He threaded one hand through the ends and leaned in. The sweet smell of her filled his head, pushing his heart into a faster rhythm. He wanted to blame the exotic scent on the bondskeeper but knew better. She’d smelled this good the last time he had her within arm’s reach. “And here I worried all the good sentinels would be taken,” he murmured against her ear.
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