No Master (Bounty, #3)

No Master (Bounty, #3)

Author: Christine d'Abo

No man in the galaxy inspires more fear than Korbin, the Admiral of the Black. His life as leader of the biggest pirate band in space leaves little room for trust, so when Korbin’s second-in-command disappears without a trace, he suspects the worst.

Zain Strand has left his life as a sex slave behind and risen within the pirate ranks. But he abandons it all to rescue an old friend from recapture by the slavers—even if that means a suicidal confrontation with his old master. He doesn’t expect Korbin’s arrival, doesn’t want Korbin’s help . . . but Korbin gives Zain no choice.

Posing as master and slave to infiltrate a slave auction, Korbin and Zain embark on a journey of lust that rapidly reveals their deeper feelings. When Zain’s old master discovers their ruse, Korbin must do everything in his power to save both their lives and their newfound love.


Publisher’s note: While books #1 and #2 in the Bounty series should be read in order, this book stands alone and can be read without the first two.

This title is an edited second edition, previously published in 2011.

Price: $3.99

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

dubious consent, emotional abuse, non-consent

Chapter 1

The underground corridor was thick with the stench of decay and mold. Zain Strand, second-in-command to the most powerful pirate in the sector, had never been more alone. Pressed against the wall, he tightened his hold on his blaster and waited for the moment when he would finally get his revenge on the man who’d destroyed his life.

His informant had identified this cesspool as the place where Clayson would be conducting a slave trade. Perfect spot for that fucking lowlife. The idea of Clayson appearing in person was almost incomprehensible. The trader had lived securely behind the impenetrable walls of his compound since long before Zain had fallen into his grasp. This was the first time in years Zain had known Clayson to conduct his business where any outsiders could gain access. Perhaps the slaver had wanted a vacation.

Snorting, Zain took a calming breath before he continued down the corridor. He carefully picked his way around a broken-down land skidder, automatically cataloging its details in case it would prove useful later. Creeping quietly toward the alcove visible on his scanner, he ducked into the shadows to prepare for his attack.

It had been far too long since he’d been on planet—any planet. Spending the past five years in space had done strange things to his body. His legs felt heavy from the gravity, and his nerves misfired in the inconsistent temperature and humidity. He sensed he was being watched. Impossible, since the scanner showed no other heat signatures behind him. The readings ahead were hopefully of Clayson and his men. He’d deal with them soon enough.

You’re fine. Do the job and get on with your life. If you can get out alive.

He ignored the voice in his head screaming that he shouldn’t be doing this alone. What was the point of being a pirate, working with a crew who enjoyed killing and destroying with the least amount of provocation, if he didn’t take advantage? He should have told Korbin what he was planning, gotten backup, and finished this properly.

Korbin: the Admiral of the Black. Zain’s savior, boss, and sometimes friend.

He would have helped Zain if he’d known what was going on. Most likely with guns blazing off the bow of their ship, the Wyvern. Or a team of well-trained assassins who could make Clayson disappear without a trace. No, Zain didn’t want the help of the Admiral of the Black, no matter how much easier it might have made things.

This was his fight. Involving Korbin would have meant involving the crew. None of them except Korbin knew much about Zain’s life before his arrival on the Wyvern, and that was how he liked it. Nobody else needed to know about his past. How he’d been captured in his youth, kidnapped from his home planet. How he’d been sold into sex slavery, forced to service the whims of his master, robbed of choice and hope for ten years. He had been nobody by the time he’d escaped, a drained shell waiting to be refilled with purpose. Now that he was somebody again, he didn’t want to discuss those earlier days with anyone. There was nothing to tell; none of it had been about him, about Zain.

And his crewmates were pirates, after all. Not a crowd known for sensitivity. Bad enough they knew he’d been captured by a slaver at all; how young he’d been when that happened, how long he’d been a slave, how he’d been used; all of that was private. The last thing Zain wanted was for the salacious details of his previous life to become common knowledge.

No, this was something he had to do alone. His grudge against Clayson was too personal to share.

Laughter up ahead echoed down the bleak corridor, followed by the sound of approaching footsteps. Shit! He stepped over a fallen support beam and pressed his back against the slimy wall of the alcove.

He was able to make out at least three distinct voices and some muffled sobs—most likely from a slave. He rubbed at his wrists, remembering the pinch of the binders and the chafing they caused. The five years since his escape-cum-rescue from Clayson weren’t long enough to wipe away years of torture.

Focus. You need to keep focused!

Closing his eyes, he made out the sound of another set of footsteps. There was shuffling, followed by a thud. The sobbing increased in volume for a moment before the unmistakable sound of a slap silenced it. Only his years of learned self-control prevented Zain from yanking his blaster free and rushing to the slave’s aid.

“It’s about time you got here, Prem.”

“Clayson, I thought you said you were coming alone?”

He actually came, the bastard.

While Zain didn’t recognize the voice of the second speaker, he knew Clayson’s. Turning as quietly as he could, he pressed his chest to the wall so he could risk a look. The scanner would mask his bio signal from detection if he was still, but the second he started moving, he’d be visible.

The risk of detection was worth it to catch a glimpse of his former torturer and owner.

The bastard was every inch as big as he remembered. Gone was the mass of black hair, replaced by a mane of white that stretched to Clayson’s waist. The scar along the slaver’s cheek was still visible, though it had faded from red to pink with the years.

Zain had enjoyed giving him that mark.

This time he’d do more than leave a scar.

“You don’t honestly think I would be so stupid? I don’t trust you a single second, Prem.”

Prem Qi was the sloppiest of the slave traders in this sector. It made him the easiest to track. Zain had done most of the work from on board the Wyvern, going so far as to set up a false identity as a buyer. If nothing else, he’d hoped to rescue a few poor souls before Prem had the chance to sell them to Clayson. If luck were on his side, Marissa would be one of them.

But now he had the chance to kill the problem at the root.

Prem’s chuckle held no warmth. “No, I don’t suppose you do. I brought a sample like you wanted. Bitch is from Carinae, but I’ve taken extra care to beat her into shape for you.”

Zain’s stomach threatened to rebel. Another person from his home planet caught.

“Not too much, I hope.” Clayson sounded more amused than angry. “I like to break them in personally.”

The woman’s whimper reached Zain. Gods, I can’t do this. His fingers wrapped around the butt of his pistol without a thought. Two steps and he would have a clear shot at both Prem and Clayson. The guards would kill him shortly after he blasted the traders’ heads off, but it would be worth it.

He would die with a light heart.

He started to push away when a large hand covered his mouth. A weighty arm forced him back against—not a wall, but a body almost as hard as stone. He struggled for a second, but the hand prevented him from crying out.

Stop.”

He froze even as the pressure on his body increased. No, it can’t be.

“What the hell was that noise?” Clayson shouted, sending his guards to investigate. “You better not be trying to fuck me over, Prem. You’ll be dead, and I’ll have your entire cargo before you can blink.”

Prem laughed, but it failed to mask his nervousness. “I wouldn’t. You know that.”

The hand around Zain’s mouth tightened at the same time a hand on his hip squeezed. The silent command not to move was received. It was a challenge not to squirm as massive amounts of adrenaline rushed through his body. Worse, he was reacting to the strong arms that wrapped around him, controlling him, half turning him to pull him deeper into the corner of the alcove and against the wall.

Heat from the chest at his back contrasted with the cold press of the stone against his shoulder. A muscular thigh crossed his legs, pinning his lower body, taking his leverage and making it impossible to get away. Not that he planned to try.

The guards walked past their hiding place. The light in the corridor did little to illuminate the main area, let alone the nooks and crannies. As long as no one looked too carefully, Zain would be invisible, swallowed up by the shadows.

“All clear, sir. Must have been strats in the garbage.”

A puff of hot air against Zain’s ear made him shiver. “Amateurs.”

Zain bit down gently on the hand still covering his mouth. He wasn’t a prisoner who needed to be gagged.

“Not until they go,” came the whispered reply.

Clayson’s voice boomed from beyond the alcove. “I’ll take the sample, Prem. You’ll receive my communication in five standard days once I’ve had an opportunity to . . . evaluate her. Then we’ll finalize terms for the rest of the goods.”

“Three local days, no more. The retreat will be on lockdown as usual, so I can’t simply—”

“I won’t be attending. This is a private sale; I’m not interested in your auction. If you want the price we originally discussed for the goods from Carinae, you’ll hold them for me. Five standard.” The sound of blasters being powered up ended the negotiations.

“Fine, fine.” Gods, Prem was spineless. “I’ll wait for your communication.”

No, he’s going to get away!

Zain jerked and twisted in an attempt to break free. The hand on his hip snapped to the back of his head, pressing him harder against the stone. “Stay. Still.”

Helplessly pinned, he could do nothing but listen to the struggles of the slave as Clayson took her to hell. His own captor didn’t relent until the echoes in the corridor were long gone and the only sounds that remained were the distant trickle of water and the soft squeaks of the strats.

Once the heavy weight was removed from his body, Zain didn’t move immediately. There was no point now that Clayson had gotten away. Slowly, he twisted around until his back pressed against the cool wall and he could stare unimpeded at his companion.

Korbin. The Admiral of the Black in the flesh.

Why the hell was he here? Glaring at his boss and friend, Zain shoved his fists into his pockets so he wouldn’t punch the other man. Despite being Korbin’s second-in-command, he couldn’t show the Admiral of the Black that sort of insubordination, even if it was completely warranted.

Korbin’s deep voice sounded too loud in the confined space. “Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my closest advisor had jumped ship after our last dimension hop without a word to me.”

Zain ground his teeth, unwilling to give anything away. Korbin’s bright-green gaze sent a chill straight through to his gut.

“At first I thought mutiny. That you’d finally broken through that slave mentality of yours and had enough of me. It could’ve been a real problem. You’re one of the few people who know enough to actually take me down.”

The word “mutiny” stung like a lash. Nothing had surprised Zain more about his time on the Wyvern than the level of trust Korbin had shown in him. He’d never understood how he’d earned the honor and dubious privilege of having the Admiral’s ear, but he valued that connection more than anything else in his life. At first he’d put it down to an assumption by Korbin that Zain owed him a unique debt for bringing him on board, giving him a new life, ignoring his past. That would have been true, and it might have even begun that way, but there was more between them than that now.

Korbin was a force of nature, all confidence and quick decisions and action. Zain was an observer, and he saw things Korbin missed. Given free rein to find his own niche on the Wyvern, he had turned to organization and planning, taking over the administrative tasks Korbin so disliked. Zain didn’t care for the combat training Korbin mandated for him, but took to strategy and battle tactics instantly. Before long, he realized Korbin wasn’t just testing his understanding by asking him how he would go about a raid; he was consulting with him.

The crew saw it too. Long before he was named second-in-command, they’d started deferring to him because they knew that, of all the people in the universe, the Admiral of the Black trusted Zain Strand.

And now Zain had thrown that trust away. For nothing.

Korbin held up the slave chit Marissa had somehow managed to send—the cryptic message that had started his renewed search for Clayson. “I wouldn’t have known what you were up to if I hadn’t found this. I take it this was from somebody you knew before we met?”

Closing his eyes, Zain pressed his head back into the wall. He didn’t talk to anyone about his time as a sex slave—not even Korbin. He had never offered, and the Admiral had never asked; it was an unspoken agreement. So Korbin had no way to know that the few friends Zain had made in those dark days were more precious to him than his life. He and the small group of slaves who’d escaped with him had forged an unbreakable bond, one that time and distance would never break. Zain would do anything to save any one of them.

“Marissa. She was recaptured three months ago. I found out she was going to be part of a sale to Clayson and couldn’t let that happen.”

“Strand, why the fuck didn’t you say anything?”

Zain cringed. Korbin only called him by his last name when he was in full admiral mode. “Sir, I knew it was a suicide mission. The last thing I wanted to do was cause problems.”

“You thought sneaking away from my ship would avoid problems?” Korbin leaned over him, scowling.

Making everything run smoothly for Korbin was Zain’s life. Not only because of his respect and gratitude for the Admiral of the Black, but because it meant he could spend all his time around Korbin. If he’d learned nothing else from his years of slavery, it was how to serve; now he could serve the most powerful man he’d ever met. And although the Admiral had never once behaved in any remotely sexual manner toward him, Zain had been attracted from the first. He’d tried to dismiss it early on as the reflex of a well-trained sex slave toward the person in charge. He was skilled at suppressing his emotions, so he’d learned to channel his unrequited feelings into his work. But even now, years later, the pull remained. If anything, it had grown stronger. And when Korbin became forceful—growled and threw his weight around—it was almost too much to bear.

Zain looked Korbin in the eyes and ignored the hideously inconvenient spike of arousal building in his gut. “How did you track me down, sir?”

Korbin pushed his long black hair off his face and straightened. “I can find anything I want, when I want. Once I knew you were going after Clayson, it was a simple matter of thinking like you to follow your steps.”

Zain nodded. “I see.”

“He would have killed you.” Korbin didn’t sound the least bit remorseful for having stopped Zain and ruining his one clear shot at revenge. “I would have been out an advisor, and the woman you were trying to save would still be trapped.”

“I would have killed him first.” Anger added a bite to his words. “With Clayson dead, hundreds of people would be far better off—”

Korbin slammed his hands hard into Zain’s shoulders, pinning him to the wall. “You would have died, Strand.”

No one would have missed me. No sooner had the thought flashed through his mind than Korbin squeezed his shoulders, returning Zain’s attention to him.

Zain wasn’t a small man by any stretch, but Korbin easily stood half a head taller. It was one of the Admiral’s notable qualities—how easily he intimidated others. Enough to mislead them into thinking he lacked an intellect as remarkable as his bulk. It was usually the last mistake they made.

Korbin lowered his chin and moved so close Zain felt the tickle of breath across his cheek. “I thought you’d moved past this death wish of yours years ago. Clayson has enough troops on the surface to have killed you three times over. Even if by some miracle you’d survived long enough to shoot him, you wouldn’t have made it back out of this passage alive.”

“I wasn’t planning on—”

“You don’t have my permission to throw your life away. Understand?” Korbin’s tone left no room for argument.

Zain nodded. What else could he do? “Where are the others?”

He was surprised when Korbin grinned and finally broke contact. “Not here.”

“What?” One of Zain’s first formal suggestions as second-in-command had been that Korbin never go anywhere without at least two bodyguards. The Admiral of the Black walking around without protection was simply too tempting a target for anyone to pass up. “Where are Jansen and Rhi?”

“Left them on the Wyvern. I know you picked them out personally, but after the brawl at Haven, I thought they might attract too much attention, so I came on my own.”

You idiot! “You realize by now half the quadrant knows you’re wandering around unattended. We’ll both be lucky to get out of this tunnel alive regardless of anything I had planned.”

Korbin chuckled. “I’m not a child. I was looking after myself long before you came along.”

“A lot has changed in five years, sir. You know that.”

“Enough. I assume you have somewhere we can hole up for the night. I’ll contact the Wyvern in the morning and arrange a pickup.”

You can arrange what you like, but I’m not leaving the planet until I’m done. He’d have to regroup and formulate a new plan. “Fine. Follow me.”

For the first time since he’d stumbled into Korbin years ago, he marched past him without caring whether or not he followed. Zain didn’t speak again until Korbin caught up to him.

“How did you mask yourself from the scanners? I had one set to full sensitivity, and it didn’t lock on to you at all.”

“Personal cloak. Only generates a small field, but it’s enough to fool any scanner out there. I picked it up in our last Loyalist raid.”

He tucked that tidbit into the back of his mind, mentally noting where it would need to be placed in secure archives. Shit, even when he was likely to get himself killed, he couldn’t seem to stop being Korbin’s assistant.

“Strand, enough. I can hear you thinking from here.”

“I expect there’s quite a mess waiting for me back on the ship.”

“You’ve only been gone two weeks.”

“Exactly. No one knows how to function without me. I’ve been organizing all of you since my arrival.”

Korbin snorted and strode ahead a pace to take point. “I’m sure they’ll manage until we get back. Consider handling the disaster your penance for running away without a word.”

Zain could only glare at the back of Korbin’s head.

The air grew warmer the closer they got to the surface. The dampness of the tunnel was replaced by the oppressive heat of the atmosphere. Zain’s eyes watered as he moved his jaw to pop his ears. It had been years since he’d needed to contend with anything other than the carefully filtered, recycled air on the ship.

“It’s been a while for me too.” Korbin nodded down the corridor. “The exit is just around that bend.”

Zain stopped. “What?”

Korbin strode forward, only turning when he realized Zain was no longer right behind him. “What, what?”

“You said it’s been a while for you too. I didn’t say anything. I was thinking it had been years since I’d been on planet.”

“You must have muttered it. We need to go, Strand, before your friends decide to come back looking for a few more bodies to sell to Clayson.”

If it hadn’t been for the sound of voices off in the distance, Zain would have argued. He never muttered. “Fine, sir. Let’s keep moving.”

Dark had descended on the planet’s surface, making it easier to blend into the shadows as they emerged from the tunnel into the city’s slums.

“This way, Admiral.”

Zain had been tempted to get a room in the business district, but caution had dictated he maintain a low profile. Taking the lead, he maneuvered them through numerous side alleys to a block of shops and lodgings. The buildings were clean on the outside, despite their weathered panels. Abuse from sandstorms and radiation bursts made it nearly impossible for anything on this planet to stay in one piece for long.

He stopped in front of the last store on the street, pretending to point out something in the window. “It’s the building on the left. I have a room in the back on the top floor.”

Korbin moved beside him, hands locked behind his back, and stared in the window. They both used the glass to check the street for any signs of possible threats.

“Clear. Front door or back?”

“Side, actually. In the alley.”

Korbin nodded. They went as one, striding quickly to the dark walkway. It only took a second to release the lock with the sensor card the landlord had provided and open the door leading to a narrow stairway. Another minute and they were secure behind locked doors, in the small room Zain had paid for up front and never thought to see again.

He should have left me to do what I needed to.

At the sound of Korbin’s growl, Zain spun around to face him. He expected a comment, but Korbin only stared him down, eyes flashing in anger. He’d seen Korbin’s intensity focused on many people, both for good and bad. Not once had Korbin ever looked at him that way. It was equal parts terrifying and invigorating. His body tingled with adrenaline, his cock twitching in an automatic response to Korbin’s ferocious silence. He exhaled slowly and forced himself to glance away.

“I don’t have much to offer you, Admiral. I wasn’t exactly expecting company.” Reaching up to scratch his fingers through his slime-encrusted hair, he moved past Korbin. “I did pay for access to hot water if you want to use the shower.”

“Why?”

Frowning, he turned around. “Why shower?”

“Why did you go after him now? It’s been five years. You’ve been safely off his radar. Why throw everything away now?” Korbin’s scowl turned thoughtful, speculative.

Fear mixed with his growing lust. Korbin wouldn’t hurt him, but Zain’s wires were still crossed and probably always would be. His body responded to Korbin at the strangest times, but he’d spent his formative years with a brutal master who was most dangerous when he was scheming. Zain remembered all too easily when an expression like Korbin’s meant Zain was about to be rented out to someone willing to pay extra. No one ever payed extra to do pleasant things to a sex slave.

Swallowing, Zain shrugged. “Clayson is always on the lookout for those of us who escaped. We’re a constant reminder of his imperfections. An embarrassment to his otherwise flawless evil empire. When I heard a slaver had recaptured Marissa, I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. He will buy her back, break her, and learn where the rest of us are. None of us would be safe then.” And you’d be in danger too. I couldn’t live with that.

Korbin’s gaze didn’t waver, but some of the anger ebbed away, and the attention did little to wilt Zain’s lust. He needed time alone to settle his nerves and get himself back in control. Even though Korbin kept himself aloof from anyone who could be used as leverage against him, he and Zain had become friends, and Zain would never jeopardize that. Not intentionally, at least.

He was more cognizant of the Admiral’s personal preferences than anyone, and practically knew what Korbin would do before Korbin knew it himself. He’d always taken silent pride in that familiarity. But not once had he anticipated that Korbin would risk his life for him.

He nodded toward the bathroom again. “Did you want to go first?”

Korbin’s response came slowly. “No. I’ll keep watch here.”

It went against everything Zain had been trained to do since joining the Wyvern. Korbin’s safety was paramount to anyone else’s. This entire situation screamed wrong. “Are you sure?”

“Just go, Strand, before I kick your ass.” Korbin kept his back to Zain and thumbed the butt of his laser pistol as he marched to the window. “Hurry up before I change my mind.”

“Of course, sir.”

Grabbing a clean shirt and pants from his rucksack, Zain made for the shower, wishing he could shut out the image of Korbin joining him.

Chapter 2

Korbin reached up and fingered the pendant hidden beneath the neckline of his shirt. He cursed himself for the impulsive decision to wear the stone while looking for Zain.

He had mixed feelings about the thing at the best of times; he’d been happier thinking it was only a myth.

At first he hadn’t believed Faolan Wolf’s claim about the stone granting mind-reading abilities. Why would he? The other pirate would have said anything to save his precious crew members. The idea of a piece of jewelry allowing the wearer to hear another person’s thoughts was ridiculous.

No, he hadn’t believed a word of it . . . until he’d worn it himself. Only once, he’d put it on long enough to confirm a suspicion, listening in on the venomous thoughts of his former chief of engineering. He’d prevented a mutiny, then hidden the stone in a safe in his private quarters.

It whispered to him. Sometimes the temptation to wear it was nearly overwhelming. He resisted. To know the innermost thoughts and feelings of another person, to invade their mind and use that information to manipulate them into doing whatever he wanted . . . it was an addiction he couldn’t afford. He’d learned early in his life to never become dependent on anyone or anything. More often than not, those were the things that would be snatched away when he needed them most. A pendant had a chain, a clasp, things that could break unexpectedly. A talisman that granted special powers was a potential weakness for an enemy to learn about and exploit.

So why had the stone been one of the first things he reached for after discovering Zain’s disappearance from the Wyvern? He’d barely stopped to pack a bag of gear before leaving his ship and guards behind to locate Zain, but he’d grabbed the pendant even before his blaster.

Maybe because he’d worked side by side with Zain nearly every day of the past five years. Ever since Zain’s escape from his owner. Zain had gone from abuse victim to critical crew member in a matter of months. Korbin had eventually turned over most of the ship’s everyday tasks to Zain, knowing full well everything would be handled properly. Zain had become invaluable to him.

While nobody could claim to truly know another’s mind, he would have liked to think he knew more about Zain’s than anyone’s. And that Zain knew more about his.

Zain’s sudden, secretive departure from the Wyvern had proved otherwise.

The sound of water from the bathroom reached him. He could imagine Zain stripping down, his hands shaking from anger and exhaustion as he peeled away the layers. With the necklace on, Korbin caught snips of thoughts and the warm curl of emotions licking out to his mind.

I wonder if he’d be rough, force me to my knees to suck him?

Korbin’s cock hardened as an image of Zain on his knees popped into his head. Straight from Zain’s mind to his. Fuck, how could he have spent so much time with Zain and not realized how attracted Zain was to him?

He doesn’t see me like that.

The explicit image was sharply replaced with one of Korbin’s own face in profile, stern and dismissive; the emotion underlying it was a painful anxiety about failing to meet Korbin’s needs. The lust didn’t stop—Zain wanted so badly to please Korbin in all things that the contexts overlapped. Korbin’s tough, dispassionate second-in-command was apparently a maelstrom of emotions below the surface. Many or most of them about Korbin himself. Or hopelessly linked to him in some way.

He wrapped his fingers around the pendant, and for half a second considered ripping the damned thing off his neck. Wolf had warned him about the dark side of the bloody thing. The unspoken desires of another person weren’t meant to be known. Not firsthand, not like this.

He was the Admiral of the Black! He didn’t have time for a subordinate’s unrequited lust. The pirates in this quadrant were barely contained as it was, the bounty hunters were a constant threat, and the Loyalist government could decide at any moment to expand their patrols into his chosen territory. He needed to keep all his interests in balance, and maintain his reputation of iron control and indestructibility. The effort was exhausting.

A shiver of pleasure washed over him. Zain was touching himself in the shower, picturing himself on his knees again with Korbin’s cock in his mouth. He didn’t make a sound; the splash of the water was barely disrupted. If it weren’t for the pendant, Korbin would never have realized the man who’d been his second-in-command for years was about to climax at the idea of sucking him off.

He shook his head as the picture of their bodies writhing together in the shower sharpened. Zain’s thoughts clarified and intensified with his arousal, and Korbin’s cock felt every stroke as Zain’s lust started to drown his inhibitions. Images swirled, coalescing for a moment at a time. Korbin thrusting in Zain’s mouth. Korbin holding Zain’s face while he fucked his throat. All accompanied by the hastening stroke of Zain’s hand on his own cock as his pleasure built.

Biting hard on the inside of his cheek, Korbin forced his attention out the window. It was still clear, and he was certain that no one had followed them. He’d need to set up a perimeter alarm, but it looked like they would be safe for the rest of the night.

Gods, I want him to fuck me.

Korbin shook his head again.

Whether or not the night would involve sex, he wasn’t entirely sure. While he’d always prided himself on being a heartless bastard, it had taken only one look into Zain’s eyes when they first met to see the tortures he’d been forced to endure. Korbin had always found Zain appealing, but he’d vowed to himself he would never add to that hurt; he couldn’t, if he wanted Zain to remain on the Wyvern. He’d never taken an unwilling partner, but his own proclivities still looked too much like the kind of thing Zain had escaped.

Korbin reached down and squeezed his hard shaft as Zain’s thoughts grew more frantic. Gone was any semblance of rational control as Zain neared orgasm. Despite his near monkish lifestyle, Zain clearly had a very active imagination when it came to sex. Active, and too aligned with Korbin’s for comfort.

It would feel so good. He’d be so good. Hands and cock andteethandohmygods!

Korbin stumbled forward, struck by the impact of Zain’s orgasm. The wall held his weight as he wiped away the sweat beading on his forehead. It would take nothing to push him over the edge, make him come in his pants like a green youngster with his first whore. Why the hell had he worn the fucking pendant?

The snap and rattle of ancient pipes announced the end of Zain’s shower. Zain’s thoughts seemed to have soothed now that his lust was spent. Feelings of order and returning control flowed back into his mind, highlighting the normal calm Korbin associated with him. Not that it helped Korbin’s raging erection.

Pulling himself away from the wall, Korbin pushed his cock harder, trying to will it down. He had barely straightened by the time Zain returned.

“Sir, I’m finished.”

“Took you long enough. The alley is still clear.”

“I have a perimeter already set. I just need to reset it to account for your presence.”

Nodding, Korbin kept his back to Zain.

There’s something wrong. He’s never this quiet.

Korbin ignored his stiff cock, thankful for his long black jacket that hid the evidence as he turned around. He couldn’t let Zain know about the pendant. “You left without telling me.”

Zain pressed several buttons on the scanner. A barely perceptible hum sparked to life around them. It hurt to leave. How to explain? “Sir, I already told you I didn’t want to put anyone else at risk. This was my concern to deal with.” Mine alone.

“Not acceptable.” The frustration squeezing Korbin’s chest wasn’t fully directed at Zain. “You owed me better than to disappear without a word. If I’m going to be short a crew member due to suicide, I’d like advance warning.”

He didn’t need the pendant to know that the look of confusion on Zain’s face was the same one he wore when he couldn’t understand why someone was being kind to him. Or more likely, why someone wasn’t beating the piss out of him.

“I left instructions in the computer system. I sent a daily signal to the Wyvern. If something happened to me and I was . . . unable to transmit the code, the system would have notified you. Anyone could take over my tasks, Admiral.” I’m nothing special.

Had Zain voiced that last thought aloud, Korbin would have ripped a strip off him. From the moment he’d boarded the Wyvern, Zain had fought to reconcile his perceived lack of self-worth with the growing responsibilities he’d been given. Many of those early days had been filled with yelling. Mostly by Korbin.

“Not so easily replaced as you think.” Turning back to the street below, Korbin huffed out a breath. “Regardless, I’m here now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I expect you to inform me of any and all of your plans before you enact them.”

“Of course, sir.” I won’t put him in danger.

“No matter how crazy they are. And stop calling me ‘sir.’”

“I’ll keep the insanity to low levels, Admiral.”

Korbin couldn’t stop his growl from slipping out. “You like to push me, don’t you, Zain?”

“No, of course not.” Sir.

He chuckled at the mental honorific. “Do you have anything to eat? I haven’t had anything since leaving the shuttle to come planetside.”

Zain’s sudden burst of silent curses as he jumped to gather various ration packets around the room drew another smile from Korbin. “Of course, sir. It’s not much, but it tastes good.”

The next few minutes were filled with soft, shuffling, domestic sounds. Korbin watched Zain’s reflection in the window as Zain methodically organized a small meal for the two of them. It was easy to forget the quiet, unassuming man had a core of strength few others could rival.

Korbin’s cock twitched. Gods, it had been months since he’d taken time to sate his lust. Knowing Zain was more than willing to step in and satisfy his needs was a temptation he didn’t need. If he didn’t either drag Zain straight back to the Wyvern or help him kill Clayson quickly, things would get uncomfortable between them.

Besides, things would get ugly in general if the local mess weren’t handled in short order. It wouldn’t take long for the pirate network to learn that he was abroad and undefended. Once that happened, the sector would get crazy. The last thing he wanted to deal with was the mass retribution of every bloodthirsty pirate who’d ever crossed the unwritten lines of pirate “law.”

At least when he was on the Wyvern, he could pretend he was safe from that constant threat.

Shoving a piece of almost stale bread into his mouth, he fixed his gaze on Zain. “We’ll rest here tonight and then head back to my shuttle. We can be on board the Wyvern before the crew realizes I’ve left.”

“Sir, they would have known you were gone within ten minutes of your departure.” Zain tried to cover up his smirk with his mug.

“What the hell does that mean?”

The innocent shrug didn’t quite work. “Well, your presence is very clearly felt when you’re on board.”

Korbin cocked an eyebrow and waited.

Zain shifted in his seat. Those eyes. I hate-love it when he looks at me like that. “You leave an impression.”

“Make sense, Strand.”

Gods, and that voice. “Well, sir, people act differently when you’re there. They either try to hide so you don’t notice them, or else they get louder so you will. It depends on what they’re trying to accomplish. Even the air feels different.” He shrugged again. “It’s hard to describe.”

Korbin caught quick flashes from Zain of how he perceived others when Korbin was present. While intellectually he knew people did change their behavior, it was odd seeing and feeling the evidence from an outside perspective. He set his mug down and leaned in closer.

“Do you change?”

Fuck. “What do you mean, sir?”

It was hard not to feel smug. “If people either hide or get louder, which are you?”

“Neither.” I hide from everyone.

General Details

Word Count: 62,800

Page Count: 242

Cover By: Lou Harper

Ebook Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-403-9

Release Date: 06/25/2016

Price: $3.99

Print Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-404-6

Release Date: 06/27/2016

Price: $14.39