Would he arrive soon to purchase me? My knees almost buckled in relief with the possibility. EenLi would be here, too. Having watched him for weeks, I knew he oversaw all transactions personally. This could all be over in a matter of hours. The possibility was so wonderful that it seemed too good to be true. Surreal, even.

Amid the men’s chatter about what the women in the cell needed, I finished my study of the room. There was a spacious living area off to the side, complete with couch, a large holoscreen, and several plush velvet chairs. Empty beer bottles littered a rectangular coffee table. Though there were no windows, lace curtains draped a section of the wall, giving the illusion of glass.

Very domestic and cozy.

Strong male hands gently pushed me forward. “Walk,” Cologne said, his conversation with the others finished.

I followed Balls down the hall. Plain, dingy yellow walls closed in around me. They were devoid of any decoration, probably so that the slaves wouldn’t have access to a makeshift weapon. There were four doors at the end of the hallway. One of them led into a small, cramped bathroom, which was the room we entered. It had brown plaster walls, a splintered floor. An enzyme spray hose slithered from the far wall, and a toilet pushed against the side.

In front of me, Balls stopped, turned, and folded his arms over his chest. He was very thin, and his skin looked dry and flaky. He was also balding. No wonder he had such an attitude problem.

“Strip.” He smiled slowly, evilly. “Then shower. And make sure to clean yourself real good, or I’ll have to clean you myself.”

I heard the rustle of Cologne’s shirt as he too crossed his arms over his chest. That really pissed me off. Of all the men I’d encountered in this house, Cologne seemed the most gentle, the most concerned for the women. Yet he too was willing to humiliate me so he could get his rocks off.

Turning to the side, I gave both men my profile. Unconcerned. “I’ll strip when both of you leave.”

Balls arched his brows in smug amusement. He had wanted me to resist. Wanted to scare me. “Strip. Now. Or I make you do it.”

“Leave. Now,” I replied. “Or I make you do it.”

Cologne sighed, and the sound drifted through the small bathroom. “We’re not going to hurt you. Just watch.”

“Just violate my privacy, you mean.”

“This is your last chance. Strip on your own,” Balls said, “or strip with our help.”

One, I didn’t want them to see my weapons. And two, getting naked most likely meant rape. No, thank you. A cold sweat broke out over my skin. Not good. Unlike humans, my sweat made me more attractive. The beads of moisture made my flesh look like polished, dewy gold. Glittery. Like a fairy. I didn’t want to be attractive at this moment. I wanted to appear mean and ugly, capable of any evil deed.

Knowing the other women had endured this, yet had had no way to prevent it, turned my fear to protectiveness. “If you help me undress,” I said slowly, carefully, “there will be a fight. A to-the-death fight. Understand?”

“Raka, you’re a woman.” Wearing an expression that begged me to understand, Cologne stepped toward me. “You can’t hurt us.”

Balls moved toward me, as well. They were trying to close me in, to threaten and intimidate me with their strength.

“But I’ll get hurt, and that will make me damaged goods. See, I talked to the girls. I know why we’re here. We’re being sold as slaves. Your boss wants top dollar for me, doesn’t he?”

Silence reigned as they considered my words. I didn’t know how long or often I could get by with that particular threat, but I’d use it as long as I could.

Thankfully, it worked.

“You win,” Cologne said on a resigned sigh.

“What!” Balls shouted.

“There are no windows here. The only exit is the door. We will be here, waiting, and if you try to escape, we will punish you. Whether it decreases your value or not. Do you understand?”

“Coward!” Balls slammed his fist into his open palm. “We’re not walking away. Hold her, and I’ll cut those fucking clothes off her body.”

Anticipating an attack from him, I bent my knees slightly and centered my energy. He never moved toward me, however. Cologne grabbed him by the arm and flung him outside the bathroom. The smaller man crashed into the wall and slithered into a heap on the rotting wood floor.

“You will not always get your way,” he said to me. “It will be best for you if you realize that quickly.” With narrowed eyes, he strode from the room and shut the door behind him. “You have fifteen minutes. Get clean and put on the clothes resting on the toilet lid.”

I glanced at the toilet. A sheer pink sheath draped the lid. I lifted the material between pinched fingers. Pantaloons and a halter top. They were dressing me like a harem slut. Wonderful.

Frowning, I turned on the shower by punching the labeled buttons. Hot spray instantly misted the porcelain tub. I didn’t climb inside, however. I spent most of my fifteen minutes watching the door and finding ways to hide my blades under the new sheer outfit.

Only once did someone try to sneak inside. As the knob turned, I said, “Do it and die.” The door remained firmly shut after that, not opening until I knocked and said, “All done.”

In the end, I only managed to conceal one knife. I wrapped it around the back shoulder strap of the top’s internal bra. The other, well, I had to chuck it between slabs of wood on the floor.

I would have liked to study my reflection in the mirror. I’m sure I appeared dainty and fragile, a sex slave desperate for her master’s attentions. The low-riding bottoms started at the flare of my hips, and my shirt—if it could be called that—ended just under my breasts.

My two guards were frowning when they opened the door, but their eyes widened and their mouths dropped when they spied me. Balls even reached out to trace his finger over my collarbone, but I gripped the offending appendage and twisted. He yelped and used his other hand to slap me.

I felt a sharp sting, and my head snapped to the side. Slowly, I faced him with narrowed eyes and wiped at my now throbbing lip. Warm wetness greeted my fingers.

A gleam of horror entered his brown eyes. “You tell anyone I did that,” he said quietly, menacingly, “and I’ll kill you.”

Oh, how I wanted to slit his throat just then, but I did nothing. I nodded as if I cared about the warning. He backed off, pivoted on his heel, and strode away.

“You okay?” Cologne asked, his concern unwanted and unneeded.

“I’m fine.”

“Time to go, then.” He nudged my shoulder, a demand to move. My gaze bore into Balls’s back as I followed him into the living room the guards had been cleaning earlier. The moment I stepped inside and saw what awaited me, I froze. My abrupt stop caused Cologne to ram into my back, shoving me forward. He tried to help me regain my balance, but I slapped his hands away.

When I steadied my feet, my pulse leapt and my blood alternately heated and chilled. This was it. My sale. The cleaning crew was gone, and in their place was Jonathan Parker, Lucius, and another man, an other-worlder I didn’t recognize.

My gaze locked with Lucius’s. I was beyond happy to see him. He gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head before his eyes narrowed on the bruise on my lip.

Fighting a smile, I forced my attention elsewhere. The other-worlder seated next to him was a Targon, the most feared race of warriors ever to come to Earth. Our government would do anything to have a few of them fighting for us. They were a tall, built race, to be sure, but that wasn’t their main worth. Their telekinetic abilities surpassed even the Arcadians.

This one was handsome, as muscled as any man I’d ever seen. He had dark hair, eerie amber eyes. Light, light skin. He was wearing a gold necklace with a dull, ugly stone in the center. My gaze narrowed on it. Was it used for interworld travel?

When would EenLi arrive? A wave of impatience crashed through me, and I wasn’t sure how I would react when I saw the bastard.

“I’m so glad everyone could make it,” a heavily accented voice suddenly proclaimed.


Heart drumming erratically, I quickly scanned the room. Where was he? I didn’t see—I sucked in a breath. There, on the large holoscreen above the couch, was EenLi’s smug, smiling, ugly face. He glowed bright pink. He was very happy with himself.

Disappointment nearly felled me, nearly dropped me to my knees. I’d expected him here, to see to the details of this sale in person. Damn. Damn!

His bald head gleamed brightly in the fluorescent lighting. That same lighting made his large, pupil-less white eyes and pink skin appear translucent. Very eerie. And completely at odds with his cowboy shirt and the red bandana tied around his neck.

I desperately wanted this bastard dead. He was evil incarnate, and he deserved to die. I felt as if I’d been waiting forever, and now it seemed I had to wait even longer. Technology allowed for many things, but we still couldn’t assassinate a man through a television. Damn this, and damn me!

Lucius and I were now at a major disadvantage. If either of us acted, we wouldn’t get EenLi and we’d blow our covers and most likely be killed in the ensuing crossfire. And therewould be crossfire. Guards were posted all through the house; the moment they heard gunshots or screaming, they’d rush inside this room. If Lucius and I were killed, the women below would be sentenced to a life of rape, humiliation, and servitude. I couldn’t let that happen.

I exhaled a breath, fighting past my disappointment, not knowing what to do at this point.

I cast my gaze at the men sitting on the couch, noticing little details I’d missed before. Each man held a cigar and a glass of Scotch. How quaint. A real bonding moment for them.

“You,” I said to Lucius, trying to act shocked and horrified when the image of him gave me my only sense of peace. If EenLi knew I was an agent, I didn’t want him to suspect who I was really working with. I leveled a faux pleading gaze on Parker, even tried to rush to him before Balls grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Jonathan, you have to help me. I’ve been abducted, and—”

“I know, darling.” He sipped at his Scotch as cigar smoke curled in front of his face. “You shouldn’t have been such a naughty girl.”

I uttered an I’m-so-scared gasp while I mentally pictured his demise.Rot in hell, you son of a bitch.

“Touch my property again,” Lucius ground out, his dark, slitted gaze shooting blazes of fire at Cologne and Balls, “and I’ll cut off your hands.” He slammed his glass and cigar onto the table, causing a loudboom.

Both guards instantly jumped away from me. I really,really liked it when Lucius went all commando.

From the screen, EenLi laughed. The sound of his voice echoed from nearby speakers. “Patience, human,” he said. His skin pinkened further. “She’s not yours yet.” With a simple wave of his fingers, he commanded the guards to return to me. “Keep her still.”

Hesitantly, the men gripped my forearms and held me in place. As I stood there, those on the couch surveyed me. “I want to know who struck her,” Lucius demanded. “She was to be brought here unharmed.”

Beside me, Balls trembled. There was only silence.

“Who struck you?” Lucius repeated, an edge of danger in his tone I’d never heard before.

“We did ask that she be unharmed,” Jonathan reiterated with a frown.

“I demand reparation.” Lucius.

EenLi lost his grin. “Answer us, girl. Who struck you?”

I motioned to Balls with an accusing tilt of my chin. “He did.”

“Bitch!” Balls screeched, nearly jerking my arm from its socket. He gazed imploringly at EenLi. “She’s lying. I swear she’s lying.”

“She speaks the truth,” Cologne interjected firmly.

“No, no, I didn’t touch her. I—”

“I saw him do it.” Cologne again.

Realizing he could not continue to refute the charges, Balls changed his tactics. “I’m so sorry, Wayne.” He released me and dropped to his knees. Tears streamed down his eyes. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, I swear. She tripped and ran into my hand. That’s all that happened. Please don’t hurt me. Give me another chance.”

Unconcerned, EenLi nodded to Cologne. Amid Balls’s cries for mercy, my guard withdrew an electro-gun from the back waist of his slacks. Shock thundered inside me as I realized what I was looking at. My mouth dropped open. The body of the gun was clear, making the flashes of electricity visible inside. This type of gun was not on the market yet because Michael, who was its creator, had yet to perfect it.

Even I had yet to use one.

Was there a traitor in our midst? The idea turned my blood to ice because it raised another, more terrible question. Did EenLi know Lucius was an agent? No, I assured myself. However he’d gotten the electro-gun, I didn’t think he knew who Lucius was. He would have killed my partner immediately.

Balls began sobbing. Eyes bright with resignation, Cologne unhesitatingly placed the barrel at the other man’s temple and pulled the trigger. To us, it appeared nothing happened. No flash of light. No emission of sound. Balls’s body shook and shuddered as electricity poured through him. His nostrils soon rimmed with black, and steam rose from his ears. Then he collapsed face-first on the carpet.

Colgone holstered the gun. EenLi and Jonathan nodded in satisfaction. Lucius’s expression was blank as he crossed his arms over his chest, discreetly putting his fingers within reaching distance of his weapons.

What the hell had we gotten ourselves into?

Chapter 22

No one bothered to move the body.