Jaren wants just one last thing from the Ranvara system: to finalize his divorce from the woman who tried to kill him. When he discovers that the young woman who saved him—his former wife’s personal slave—is about to be auctioned off, he knows he can’t leave her behind. His only intention is to buy her freedom, but since she’s being offered up as a virgin sex slave, things aren’t quite as simple as he had hoped.
Taimi thought she had made peace with her fate, willing to pay any personal price as long as she knows Jaren is alive and safe. When he buys her contract, she thinks it’s a dream come true. But after the one night together required by the slave market, he makes it clear that she has no place in his life as a lover. She can either join the crew of his spaceship as an employee or say good-bye to him forever.
Then Jaren’s ex-wife breaks out of prison. Suspecting that Jaren and Taimi might have assisted her in her escape, Ranvaran officials impound Jaren’s ship, leaving them stranded. Vulnerable to a mad sorceress’ revenge—and their own growing feelings.
(This title was previously published and has some minor updates from the original version.)
The spicy musk in the air of the Ranvara system intensified during this moon of the year and intoxicated all but the most hardened with thoughts of sex. The annual Festival of Fertility took place during this time, seducing many off-worlders into visiting the obscure planet.
Captain Jaren Caradoc wasn’t here for pleasure. He intended this trip to be quick, and he meant it to be his last, though it would cut off a profitable portion of his shipping business. He tucked the thick bundle of printed parchment, sealed with the judge’s wax mark, into his coat. “Can’t believe I needed to come in person to acquire this. It’s ridiculous.”
“Those papers are your freedom, Captain. Isn’t that worth a little inconvenience?”
He ignored the lawyer—the man had represented his ex-wife in the proceedings—and signaled across the street to his first mate.
Dev Geithin filled the doorway of the tavern. His giant stature made him ineligible for Alliance military service; no standard uniforms fit him.
Fortunately, the military’s loss was Jaren’s gain. There was no better man, from any system, to have at his back in battle.
Jaren nearly laughed aloud. There were no battles now; the wars were over. Only the occasional pirate raids to worry about. Yet he remained on edge.
He touched the papers in his coat once more. This fight was done too. Or so he wanted to believe.
“You look like you need a drink, Captain. Strange. Thought you’d be celebrating instead.” Dev shrugged his massive shoulders. “Glad you got your business done. Crew’s getting restless since you confined them to the ship. Lots of talk about wanting to participate in the festival.”
“That’s the last thing we need.”
“I know, I know. You wanted to make this as short a trip as possible. Can’t do that if your men spend the next three days getting laid.” His friend
gave him a significant look. “Could always let them learn from your experiences. Tell them how dangerous the women from this system can be.”
“Right. And never command their respect again.” The last crew had to be scrapped because they saw him as a fool, thanks to his ex-wife.
Not that he blamed them. He had played the fool, and it nearly cost him his ship and his life. He’d met “Lady” Ethlinda, bedded her, and married her, all in one night. Didn’t realize she was a sorceress—or to what extent she would use her magic to attain everything she wanted—until it was too late.
“I’ll tell them to prepare for liftoff. We can be gone as soon as we reach the ship.”
“Not yet. I’m afraid my business isn’t as finished as we would like it to be. I have to see someone about some…” He hesitated, the word he needed to say leaving a foul taste in his mouth with its meaning on this system. “Some property that belonged to Ethlinda.”
“Didn’t think you wanted anything of hers. Wasn’t that part of the deal, to get the divorce done quicker?”
Jaren glanced at the sky. The auction was scheduled to begin at sundown, and the sun already touched the far western horizon. Fortunately, the auction house was in the legal district, since this was a court-ordered liquidation of his ex-wife’s property. A prisoner forfeited all ownership rights, and now he had also signed away his claim to her estate. “Do you remember Ethlinda’s personal—” He broke off, not quite able to say that word either.
Fortunately, Dev knew him well enough to figure out the rest. “You mean the little girl who saved your life?”
“Not a girl. I think she was nineteen when all this went down.” Which would make her twenty-one now. Ten years younger than Jaren. “She also testified at Ethlinda’s criminal trial.”
“Took a lot of guts. Considering the witch owned her.” Literally. “She get her freedom in return?”
“The law doesn’t work that way, Dev. It considers her part of the estate.”
“Damned unfair, if you ask me.”
Jaren had always tried to keep an open mind about traditions. No one who depended on intersystem trade for a living could afford to condemn any planet’s endemic customs, no matter how offensive they were considered by their own.
Ranvara was one of a small handful of known systems still practicing slavery—which was why they were denied membership in the Alliance. A few politicians postured about cutting them from all trade with the member systems until they ended the practice; Ranvaran leaders had made it clear they prized their ancient traditions far above any monetary profit.
“What are you planning, Captain?”
“I need the right to free her.” Unfortunately, there was only one way to do so. “Ever been to a slave auction?”
Dev grimaced. “Not an experience I ever planned to have.”
“Then I’ll go in without you.” He checked his finances on his handheld assistant. His final cargo load for the Ranvara markets had produced a decent profit. The budget and payroll program on his ship’s mainframe network had already disbursed the crew’s shares. Including his. Jaren had only a vague idea of what it would cost to buy someone. He decided to use the newer funds first. He didn’t want to convert his Alliance credits to Ranvara currency if he didn’t have to. Money-changing methods on this system were as old-fashioned and nearly as time-consuming as their divorce court. “I’ll call you when I have her.”