Hers to Cherish by Patricia A. Knight
Who would’ve thought a rogue nobleman and a secret agent tied in shibari knots would be so instrumental in saving a world from sexual slavery.
Ramsey desperately needs a pardon. The catch: Win a grueling and bloody gladiator game. His consolation: Elite mercenary, Steffania Rickard, has been ordered to help DeKieran ~ posing as his sexual submissive.
When Ramsey DeKieran, disgraced nobleman and accused murderer, is offered a pardon Ram knows there’ll be a catch. The High Lord of Verdantia offers him a clean slate in exchange for the off-world rescue of a Verdantian noblewoman ~ a suicide mission that has already cost the lives of good men. The one redeeming feature is the assistance of the stunning captain of Verdantia’s elite mercenary team.
For Captain Steffania Rickard, assisting DeKieran in the rescue of a woman critical to the future of Verdantia will be difficult enough. The rogue trips all her triggers ~ good and bad. Infinitely worse, to fit into the culture of Vxloncia, she must pose as Ram’s sex slave. The sexually dominant Ramsey is nothing if not perceptive and Steffania doubts her carefully disguised and deeply hidden desires will remain concealed.
Their mission takes on new meaning when they unmask a heinous program of enslavement, long cloaked in secrecy. Together they must find a way to overcome their initial animosity and recover a woman vital to the future of their race. Together, they will have to bring a malicious entity to justice. In the maelstrom of sex, savagery, domination and submission, Ram and Steffania will need all their wits and strength to survive.
Daggers fumed silently as her eyes scanned the seedy brothel’s dark, empty,
upstairs room. Damn-it-all. I was certain I’d finally caught up to him.
She’d wasted the better part of two months looking for this man. Her shoulders
slumped in fatigue. She’d expended no small amount of energy slipping into this
absurdly well-guarded bedroom. Any number of disreputable fighting men watched
the rooftop, the hall outside and the stairs to the upper levels. No one had
watched the building’s exterior walls, however, so she scaled the three-story
brothel’s ragged bricks and entered by a poorly secured window.
A small prick at her carotid, from what was
certainly a razor sharp stiletto, froze her in place. She hardly dared to
breathe. Her heart leapt like a springbok
eluding a hunting cat. Stupid, stupid,
stupid. You know not to let down your guard.
“You are not my type, Steffania. I like my women
submissive and kneeling at my feet – not contentious and sneaking behind my
back. But if you want me bad enough to break in here, I’ll accommodate you.”
Ramsey DeKieran’s deep, arrogant voice drawled low
in her ear. He jerked her close, and his hard body pressed into her back. His
hand roamed freely, intimately, between her thighs, across her abdomen then
higher to fondle her breasts. He paused to toss her hidden blades and throwing
crescents to the floor. She couldn’t mistake the prodding at the middle of her
back for anything other than it was – a truly impressive erection.
“You conceited ass, I’m not here for that,” she
hissed as his fingers rolled one of her nipples, sending sensation zinging to
her lower region.
His knife still at her throat, he growled, “Turn
very carefully. I need to check your back for weapons.”
With a snarl of her own, she complied. Unusual
eyes of glacial blue with an outer ring of darker blue locked with hers. An
unfriendly grin stretched a full, generous mouth on a gaunt, chiseled face of
high cheekbones and a straight-bridged aristocratic nose. An unkempt comma of
black hair hung in the middle of his forehead. A day’s worth of dark beard
shadowed his cheeks. He looked feral, undomesticated.
His free hand roamed her back and buttocks, his
arousal pressed into her soft abdomen. He found the knife at the small of her
back and tossed it to the growing collection. To her horror, the flesh between
her legs began to moisten. Damn him!
He leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Are you
getting wet, sweetheart? Does dominance do it for you?”
“Bastard!” She shoved herself violently away with
both hands, angered further by his oh-so-accurate taunt. It had to be a guess.
She’d kept those desires carefully hidden. She retreated several steps to face
him, gasping in air. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
A dark eyebrow arched slowly. “If you don’t want a
good fuck, then what do you want, sweetheart?”
Steffania prided herself on being a good liar. The
trick was to weave in some truth with the lie. In truth, ever since she fought
beside DeKieran in the Haarb wars, the scoundrel had headlined in her sexual
fantasies. “I’m not your fucking sweetheart. You’re the last man I’d want.” She
threw her head back and glared. “High Lord DeTano wants you. I’m just his
“Why would I do anything for Ari DeTano?”
“For a pardon.”
DeKieran straightened his relaxed posture. Not
shrinking under his piercing examination took discipline. She stood motionless
until the space between them vibrated with almost visible tension. Damn you, Ramsey. Say something.
Finally, he shrugged. “I’ll hear what he has to
~ ~ ~
chambers for the Second Tetriarch. So this is how the nobility lives. Ram
ran his eyes along the heavily carved, spice-wood paneling and then to the
marble floor covered with a thick rug of tribal design in vibrant hues of red,
cobalt blue and gold. He contrasted it with the rough timber walls plugged with
rags and paper that enclosed his room at the whorehouse. The wafer-thin,
shit-brown rug on the plank floor of his room had long ago lost its original
color to noxious stains and ground-in dirt.
His mind mentally tallied the worth of the gold
picture frames holding miniature scenes
covering an antique occasional table and the unusual vase made of a
precious-stone geode. A ten thousand
credit vase holding common wild flowers. Pft. Someone has no regard
for the rarity of that item. I wonder if it would be missed? He considered
liberating the vase after he heard what Ari DeTano wanted. That one item would
pay for his food and lodging, and that of his men, for the next five years.
Ram was a stranger to this part of Verdantia’s
capital. He knew only the underbelly of Sylvan Mintoth – the places where the
filth of their planet collected – human and otherwise. He’d never imagined a
time when he’d sit in Queen Constante’s opulent antechamber – the evident
wealth an unwelcome reminder of a life that should have been his. It is what it is. Deal with it. He idly
worried a toothpick, flipping it from one side to the other in his mouth. Two
members of the ruling Tetriarch, High
Lord DeTano and his lover, that blond devil of an assassin, Doral DeLorion,
appraised Ram in silence. Ramsey returned their focused examination with cool
self-possession. If they thought to make him nervous, they could think again.
Only those with something to lose got nervous.
Ram grinned at the feminine mercenary, Captain
Steffania Rickard – a stunning, savagely competent soldier with breasts that
begged fondling and lush lips that… Yeah, he knew where he’d like that mouth.
Her unusual eyes of honey-gold glared back at him. Redheaded spitfire. He’d love to have her to himself for several
days. The thought of taming the proud beauty speared heat through his groin.
His dominance had aroused her. Ram knew it. He had an unerring instinct for
detecting women who enjoyed what he delivered.
With a long-suffering sigh to indicate he didn’t
have all day – well, he did, but those three didn’t need to know – Ram
addressed DeTano. “Rickard said you wanted to talk to me. I’m here.” He crossed
his legs with a casual indolence and rested an ankle on his knee. “What can a
dispossessed nobleman and accused murderer do for High Lord DeTano?”
DeTano nodded at his blond lover and second in the
ruling trio. Other business occupied their beloved queen, or Fleur Constante
would have been present, too. “We have an issue. Segundo DeLorion suggested your name as a solution. The Senzienza, in her obscure, mystical way,
has indicated Lady Alessa DeAlbero is critical to the future of our world.”
“So? You don’t need me to find a lost noble woman
with invaluable genes. You command the resources of the Second Tetriarch. I’m
just one man.”
DeLorion crossed his arms, and his rich voice fell
softly into the room. “We’ve tried for almost a year to recover her. We sent
others – many others. They turned up dead – or not at all.”
After a moment of silence, High Lord DeTano
continued. “The Haarb sold Lady DeAlbero to Veacon Narr. We located her but
before we could move, Narr hid her.”
Ramsey grunted. “What makes you think the most
notorious slaver in the Hyperion Galaxy is going to let me waltz in to
extricate the woman if all your efforts have failed?”
Again, DeLorion’s voice fell quietly in the room.
“We just need you to find her and get her to a rendezvous point. We’ll get her
off-planet. I have approached the League of Federated Planets for assistance.
But it is as I suspected. Our galactic peacekeepers won’t act unless I can
document serious violations of galactic law. They won’t act for the recovery of
just one person.”
Ram shook his head. “Still, why send me where
others have failed?”
The smile DeLorion bestowed on Ram would have
shriveled lesser men. “I would prefer you dead. My sister seems to think you
deserve a second chance.” Doral lifted a shoulder in a shrug and shook his head
as if to say his sister’s desires were incomprehensible. “Why you? You
demonstrate a remarkable penchant for self-preservation coupled with a
reputation for accomplishing the impossible – all while eluding capture.
Besides, I am tired of consoling the families of good men. You are more…expendable.
No one will mourn your death.”
Ramsey chuckled and returned his smile, in kind.
“I did allow your sister to escape.”
“You kidnapped her in the first place.”
Ram shrugged. “I was paid to do a job. I did it.”
Doral held Ram in an icy stare. “And yet you still
DeTano interrupted their innuendo-laden exchange
and tossed a rolled parchment into Ram’s lap. “Read it. It absolves you of all
crimes recorded against you, past or present. Find Lady Alessa DeAlbero, and we
will sign it.”
Ram picked it up and scanned it casually. DeTano
was correct. The unsigned pardon was broad-sweeping. Ram’s eyebrows rose at the
minutely detailed list of criminal involvements he’d thought no one else knew about. “Someone has
been very interested in me for a very long time.” He smiled without humor and
tapped the scroll on his knee with an assumed air of boredom. “How will you
convince our good queen to sign this?”
DeTano looked at him thoughtfully. “Supreme
Commander Eric DeStroia uncovered evidence that may cast doubt on your
conviction.” Ari shrugged. “The case can be reopened.”
resurgence of pain at Desiree’s death and anger at his unjust conviction
flooded Ram. Hell’s breath. Thought I had
left those emotions behind. His sardonic gaze rose and caught first DeTano
then DeLorion. “If I’m successful, you have Lady DeAlbero, if unsuccessful, my
dead body, and all it costs you is a piece of paper.”
A feral smile pulled at DeLorion’s face. “Yes.
What I call a ‘win-win’ situation – for me.”
Ramsey threw his head back and laughed. When he
sobered, he observed, “Vxloncia is a hi-tech planet. I have never been off the
surface of our primitive Verdantia. My lack of familiarity with anything
technical will handicap me.”
“Yes. We are aware of that. A Blue Dagger will
accompany you,” DeTano said.
Ram considered the elite off-world mercenaries who
had remained on Verdantia at the end of the Haarb war. His illicit,
paramilitary group assiduously avoided Captain Steffania Rickard and her Blue
Daggers. If Doral DeLorion was Ari DeTano’s right hand, then Steffania Rickard
was his left. The Daggers had earned their reputation as galactic ‘bad-asses’
in spectacular fashion during the Haarb wars. Ram had fought side-by-side with
Steffania and her Daggers during one campaign. As much as he would trust his
life to anyone, he’d trust it to the Daggers – particularly their red-haired
Ram grunted his acceptance. “It is also a world
where male domination and female submission is enforced. I think their terms
are dominus and slaaf.
They hold their women close. Where do you suggest I start?”
“With Narr, himself,” said DeTano. “One of our
contacts said Narr was infatuated with Lady Alessa. He knows we look for her.
He keeps her well hidden.”
“And just how do I get close to Narr?”
DeLorion uncrossed his arms and tossed another
paper into Ramsey’s lap. “The planet holds ‘gladiator games’ as entertainment.
Narr, the primary sponsor, is obsessed with the bloodshed and spectacle. He
always invites the winner of the games to his compound for an orgy of
celebration. That will be your best chance to find Lady DeAlbero.”
Ram sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. “Gladiator
“We took the liberty of entering your name,”
DeTano said. “It’s ‘no holds barred’, but the only weapons allowed are archaic.
You will be familiar with all of them.”
“Should be right up your alley, DeKieran. You get
to fight dirty.” Captain Rickard’s feminine lilt spat the insult at him. “But
this presupposes you’ll win.”
He’d forgotten her presence. At her challenge to both
his honor and his fighting prowess – all right, perhaps he had no honor, but
the slur to his skills stung – Ram rose to his feet and turned to look at her.
A wickedly satisfying thought formed. He threw a quick glance at DeTano. “A
Blue Dagger goes with me, yes?” DeTano nodded. “I’ll take your job, on one
condition.” Ram pointed at Steffania. “That Blue Dagger goes – as my sexual
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Patricia A. Knight is the pen name for an eternal romantic who lives in Dallas, Texas with her horses, dogs and the best man on the face of the earth – oh yeah, and the most enormous bullfrogs you will ever see. Word to the wise: don’t swim in the pool after dark.
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