“Lucky bastard,” the driver muttered.

Rough, scratchy fingers began stroking my jawline, and I almost jerked away from the unwanted touch but managed to restrain myself. Those fingers shifted, tugging at my hair. Several strands popped free, and I watched through cracked lids as the man stealthily slipped them inside his pocket. His movements brought a breeze of clashing scents: excitement, fear, and…roses? How odd. Why did he smell like roses?

“I’d like to take her for a ride.” The driver laughed crudely. “Yeeehaaaw, baby. Yeehaw.”

“Who cares about riding her? She’s solid gold.” Awe dripped from Ball’s words. “We could sell her ourselves and split the money. We’d make a shitload more than what we’re being paid now.”

“Yeah, and we’d also turn up dead in a matter of days.” Cologne. “That kind of puts a damper on spending.”

Driver: “Exactly. Don’t even joke about selling her. Wayne would kill us with his Mec voodoo.”

Balls snorted. “I’m not afraid of that other-worlder bastard.” The undertone of apprehension in his voice belied his brave claim.

Honest to God, I’d be doing the universe a favor if I slit each one of their throats. And I just might do it once I offed EenLi. How long did they expect me to sleep? How long did I have to listen to this crap without reaction? I kept my lashes cracked slightly open, trying to catch glimpses of the landscape outside. First I saw only night sky, but trees soon came into view. Their branches were bare.

Finally the car eased to a stop. Cologne gently lifted me out and carted me into a small, dark building. A residence? A business? I couldn’t tell. There were no surrounding houses, no signs. No telltale sounds. Moonlight danced upon the roof, spilling over and dripping onto the dry, brittle grass.

“Get her inside and put her with the others,” the driver said.

“I know what to do.”

With the others?That meant they hadn’t been sold yet. They could be saved. Excitement unfurled inside me.

My captor pushed the front door open with a booted kick, not bothering with an ID box. Great security. Inside, I heard the creak of old wood, then the grate of rusty iron. My arms and legs flopped up and down as Cologne descended a flight of stairs. The air became cold and dank, musky. In the distance, I heard the rattle of chains and female moans.

My excitement fizzled when I realized I, too, would be placed in chains. I, too, would be made a slave. How could I willingly, no matter the reason, allow this to happen? I asked myself again. If something went wrong…If Lucius…

No. No! I would not panic. This was the plan. I’d willingly—wholeheartedly—agreed to this, knowing what would happen. Lucius wouldn’t fail.I wouldn’t fail. I had my knives, and I knew how to defend myself. I was going to be okay.

This was the only way to find EenLi. This was the only way to find what magnetic device he used for interworld travel. This was the only way to save all the others who had been taken as slaves. I would not back out now.

“How long do you think she’ll be here?” Balls asked from behind Cologne.

“Not sure.”

“Do you think we could—”


“You didn’t even hear what I—”


Balls stalked in front of Cologne. Scowling, he inserted a key inside a lock then pushed open metal doors. The hinges screeched in protest.

“Out of my way, bitch.” Balls kicked a woman who huddled on the floor.

More chains rattled together. Feet shuffled; women whimpered. My determination to see this through intensified. I’d failed to save the two humans EenLi and his men had raped inside that warehouse, but Iwould save these women.

“Why can’t you leave them alone?” Cologne growled. “You’re going to bruise them.”

“We’re not to harm the Raka. These bitches don’t matter.”

“They’re to be sold, too. They matter. Maybe I need to talk to Wayne about your attitude.”

Balls shuddered. “You do that, and I’ll kill you.”

I was laid on a cold floor. My wrists were taken in a warm, callused clasp before being clamped in cold shackles. The heavy metal bit into my skin. So much for keeping me unharmed. My wrists would be raw within the hour.

“Let’s go,” Cologne said. “We’ve got to call Wayne and let him know she’s here.”

Balls hesitated. I think he was considering squeezing my breasts or between my legs, but he thought better of it. The two men left, their bickering voices fading into the distance. I didn’t reveal my wakefulness, however. I remained exactly where I was, still and quiet, listening, waiting. I felt curious stares boring into me. How would the women react to me? What would they say? Minutes later, my patience was rewarded.

“I hate that man,” a woman spat.

“We all do,” several chimed in dispiritedly.

Footsteps slapped against the concrete floor; chains dragged and rattled. The scent of roses drifted to my nostrils just before a warm leg pressed against mine, offering me body heat. Roses. Like Balls. I knew what that meant.

“Poor thing,” said the woman who justifiably hated Smashed Balls.

“We’re all poor things,” another, more embittered female voice retorted.

“Have you ever seen so much gold?”

“They’ll cut it off her soon enough,” Embittered said. “If they don’t screw it off her first.”

They sympathized with me, already saw me as one of them. A slave to be raped and sold. That was good. I moaned to let them know I was “waking up.” Instantly conversation ceased, and a heavy silence grew. I slowly cracked open my eyes then, and eased to a sitting position. The chains were heavy, weighing down my wrists and ankles. The woman beside me watched my every movement, her big blue eyes widening. She was a pretty little thing with delicate bones and long shiny blond hair.

“Hello,” she said warily.

I cast my gaze through the cell—and that’s exactly what it was, a ten-by-ten prison cell—cataloging and memorizing every detail. There were five women, no men. They were young, about eighteen to twenty, and human, dressed in costumes usually seen on the streets of Whore’s Corner. Like me, they had their wrists and ankles chained. The length of our binds allowed for a stroll around the entire cell. Just not out of it.

A table piled high with meats, bread, and pitchers of water took up one wall. At least the ladies weren’t meant to starve. There was even a toilet on the opposite end of the cell, but no screen or door for privacy.

The only heat provided against the cold dank air was a multitude of thick blankets—all of which were taken. Not that I needed one. I’d endured worse things than cold air. My search continued, and I spotted the far wall etched with a multitude of lines. The number of days they’d been here? A wave of anger rocked me, that these girls were so young, so innocent. I hoped like hell the isotope I’d injected was doing its job, helping Lucius track me here.

Did he even know I’d been taken yet?

Hopefully I wouldn’t have to wait for my “sale.” I wanted to do some killing ASAP.

“Don’t be scared,” the blonde said, her tone gentle. “Has anyone told you why you’re here?”

“We’re being sold to other-worlders as slaves,” Embittered informed me. She was the only redhead.

“Other-worlders?” I forced myself to gasp—forced myself not to scoot closer in anticipation of her answer. “On other planets?”

The timid one gulped and nodded.

I clasped my throat, as if in fear. “How?”

“It’s not painful,” she rushed to assure me. “They’ll strap a collar around your neck that somehow produces a wind. One minute you’ll be on Earth, and the next you won’t, but it doesn’t hurt. I promise.”

A necklace…God, a necklace! Excitement rushed through me, more potent than before, and oh, so exhilarating. Romeo had strapped on a necklace before heading for the clearing. It all made sense now. According to Colin, for any type of interworld travel to be possible, a magnetic strip had to be held close to the body. What better way to hide a magnet close to the body than jewelry?

“Do you still have the necklace?” I asked.

“No.” She shook her head, dancing pale tendrils of hair around her shoulders. “Why?”

The metal door ground open, and a man stalked inside our cell, saving me from a response. The women immediately hunched toward the wall, cowering. Even the redhead, who had showed the most spirit, backed away in fear. I hadn’t seen this man before. He had dark hair, a plain face. He was tall, well muscled, and radiated a menacing air. I arched a regal brow.

He tossed a blanket at me. “Don’t get sick,” he commanded, “or I’ll make you sorry you were ever born.”

“Believe me, the smell of your breath is already making me sorry I was born.”

Several feminine gasps filled my ears.

His green eyes narrowed. “Better watch how you talk to me, girl. I can make your stay here seem like a trip into hell.” He smiled smugly. “Just ask the others.”

“Oh yeah?” I didn’t like how fearful the women were of him. It made me think he’d done bad things to them, horrible things. It made me want to hurt him. “Well, I can chop off your balls and feed them to you. What do you think of that?”

Growling low in his throat, he moved toward me. Only three steps in, he remembered his boss’s orders not to harm me and stopped. He stood in place, fists clenching, emerald eyes sparking with the need to teach me a lesson. To subdue and overpower me. Finally he stormed out of the cell, slamming the door shut behind him.

The women stared at me in silence for a long while.

The blonde finally gasped out, “He could have killed you. Raped you. Beaten you. He…likes that,” she admitted, a shameful edge to the words. Color brightened her cheeks, so vivid she appeared feverish.

“Yes,” I said with a nod, “he could have done all of those things, but he would not have emerged unscathed.” I wanted so badly to help them and take away their pain. I couldn’t. Not yet. So I did for them what I could. I tried to teach them what to do if the bastard ever came near them again. “Never let a man see you cower. If he knows he’s stronger than you, he’ll always attack. It’s male nature. Fight them. With words, with your fists. Slam your palm into his nose. Poke his eyes. Don’t be afraid to hurt him. He isn’t afraid to hurt you.”


“You may lose,” I said, “but I swear to you he’ll always think twice before he comes after you again.”

“Unless he kills you,” the redhead added. She sounded wistful.

Whatever was required, I was getting these women out of here.

Chapter 21

Ididn’t have a long wait until my summons.

Within an hour, two men entered the cell to get me. Expensive Cologne and Smashed Balls. How lovely. A reunion.

“Time to go, sweetheart,” Cologne said. Curiously eager, he unchained me and tried to help me to my feet.

I slapped his hand away and stood on my own.

He frowned when he spied the puffy red scuff marks on my wrists and ankles.

“You should have told me you have such delicate skin,” he scolded.

“When should I have told you? Before you abducted me? While I was sleeping?”Idiot.

“There’s going to be trouble for this,” he muttered.

“Too bad for you.”

Frowning, he shook his head. “I liked you better when you were asleep.”

“Well, I never liked you.” He might be the kindest of all of the guards, but that didn’t make him any less of a slaver.

He sighed and waved me over. “Come on.”

“Why?” I remained where I was. “Where are you taking me?”

“Shut your mouth!” Smashed Balls shouted. “You don’t ask questions. You just follow orders.”

Still I remained stubbornly in place.

“We need to get you cleaned up.” Cologne motioned with his fingers again. “Come.”

“They’re taking you to the bathroom to give you a shower,” the blonde whispered.

“They like to watch,” the redhead added defiantly, her voice loud and echoing.

Balls stomped a menacing step toward her, his intent to slap her evident by the raising of his palm. Eyes narrowed, I jumped in front of him. His arm stilled.

“I’m ready.” I straightened my shoulders. “Lead the way.”

He flicked the redhead a you’ll-pay glare and spun on his heel. I followed him out of the cell, and Cologne took up the rear. They were so confident in their abilities and strengths that they didn’t blindfold me or even try to hide their identities. Idiots, I thought again.

Though I remained on alert, I cast my gaze over my surroundings. Without a doubt, we were underground. Water dripped from the ceiling and dirt lined the floors. The only light sprang from thin bulbs that hung from equally thin wires.

My mind raced with strategies. They planned to watch me shower; I planned to thwart them. But how? They could overpower me by sheer numbers. They could even stun me with a pyre-gun, then clean, molest, or rape me without my being able to protest. That raised the question of why hadn’t they stunned me already. Why hadn’t they stunned me to bring me here?

Time, I realized in the next instant. A stun lasted twenty-four hours. They must need my cooperation for…what? My hands clenched at my sides, but I never slowed my step. I lifted my chin, remaining alert as we entered the foyer of the home. Cologne and Smashed Balls stopped to chat with the three men cleaning and vacuuming, preparing the room for…a visitor? For Lucius?