Publisher: Loose ID
Cover Artist: PL Nunn
Held captive in a whorehouse, Markus Dayspring wakes every morning with a thirst for revenge, and collapses every night with a prayer for strength. He lives on in spite of deadly addictions and a crippling, shameful secret. When he’s rescued by a man from his past, his reawakened love threatens to crush his damaged soul.
Caius also has a secret, one that could ultimately kill him. But his vow to rescue Markus is stronger than guilt, fear and even his loyalty to King Helios. Too many have died because of Caius and rescuing the missing prince might allow him to sleep without nightmares.
Old habits are hard to break and new pain threatens their growing love. Yet one gleaming ray of hope continues to guide them to safety, even in the face of an unexpected violation of trust. With the stakes growing higher by the hour, Markus and Caius must learn to have faith before they can heal and face the future together.
Categories: Fantasy, M/M Romance, Romance, Science Fiction
The next time I see Griffin Hawke, I’m going to kick his stubborn ass from one end of the galaxy to the other.
The refrain ran through his head, day in and day out. For how long now? Markus Dayspring wasn’t certain. Over a year, surely. Longer, given the events that had transpired since Griffin Hawke had shanghaied him into the service of the skeezy bastard, U’shma. Once the shock of the assault wore off and Markus recovered a degree of lucidity, he remembered the other man he’d glimpsed, a beautiful face gazing down at him in horror. Betrayal.
It was Helios staring at him without a trace of recognition on his face.
Gone was the choppy hair and ruggedly handsome face, so similar to Markus’s own. They’d looked so similar they’d often been mistaken for brothers rather than cousins. This new Helios wore the gowns of a whore of Warlan, his copper-red hair hanging to his hips, his gray eyes lined with tattoos. In all, he hadn’t looked bad. He’d been spared most of the hardware that decorated a sex slave. Markus had caught a glimpse of Helios Dayspring before falling under Griffin’s blows. Those few seconds still had the power to chill him to the heart.
In spite of the fury, the frustration of being betrayed, Markus took comfort in the knowledge of Helios’s safety. While Grif played a deep game, Markus had as well, hiding the intelligence he’d gathered during their travels together. That information ultimately pointed to Warlan and their missing king. In spite of everything, the gruff bodyguard would never let harm come to Helios. The knowledge allowed him to focus on his own plight, and how to escape. So far no strokes of luck or genius had come to his rescue. So he languished here, day after day, bound hand and foot to a ridiculously comfortable bed.
Things could always be worse.
The door unlocked and creaked open; Markus automatically tested the deceptively light chains holding his wrists in place. His jaw went tight, already fighting the battle he faced. His heart pounded, and his breathing accelerated in fury. In anticipation. In shame.
A wizened old creature shuffled into the room, bearing a heavy tray in her bent, twisted hands. She grinned toothlessly. She’d once told Markus her teeth had been knocked out when she’d accidently clipped a customer during a blowjob. To her delight, the missing teeth made her job much easier.
He figured she must work in the dark. He couldn’t imagine anyone paying for her company.
She kicked the door closed, set the tray on a table, and turned to him. “You got a big night ahead, Your Highness. Boss wants you fed and prepped.” She double-checked his bindings, making an occasional adjustment. “We’ve moved outside coalition space. First day orbiting a new settlement. You’re in for a ride.” Her Common was fluent enough, though heavily accented. Of course, that could have been the missing teeth.
Her gnarled hands wandered his body in a rude exam, searching for weapons or anything he could use to injure a client. She slipped a hand into the cloth covering his groin, pinching a testicle. He gasped and writhed, and she cackled her amusement.
“Guess the last dose wore off.”
His heart dropped.
“Don’t. I can function without it.” He broke out in a cold sweat, and he wasn’t sure if need or dread caused his skin to prickle. The hag loosened his chains, using a single anchored length to guide his movements. Stiffly, he rose from the bed, eyeing her balefully. She was old, decrepit, and the most evil being he’d met in his life. No, she was the employee of the most evil person ever. The hag was merely his tool. That didn’t excuse the woman’s crimes against him. She was a beast.
With a jerk on the line, she guided him to the tiny toilet. A hiss of vapor released in his face, and he coughed, bracing himself for pain.
“Do your business.”
On command, his gut cramped. He pushed the loincloth to the side and collapsed onto the toilet, his intestines gripping like ropes of concrete. He groaned, hating the drugs, hating the old woman…hating everything. Everyone. Through pain-hazed vision he glared at her until the ordeal was completed.
She jangled the chain. “Get in the shower.”
Slowly he obeyed, flinching against the harsh, tearing scream of the poorly functioning sonic unit. If it’d been water, she’d force him to strip fully naked before her greedy gaze. She’d seen him naked many times before, but it didn’t matter. When there was so little dignity left in life, Markus held desperately to what he could.
He stepped out of the unit on trembling legs, cold sweat blossoming over his skin. He clenched his fist in fury. He could easily break away and kill the woman, but the price would be too steep. The time to escape would eventually come, but not now. She was ready for him. He’d learned the lesson in the harshest manner possible and wasn’t prepared to face the consequences again. There was a reason the hag had grown old in her dangerous profession. He ground his teeth, reluctantly taking his position on the bed. He carefully arranged a fold of fabric over his groin.
“Drink up.” She shoved a battered tin at him, and Markus looked at it with suspicion. He sniffed cautiously. After all this time, he still didn’t know what they were dosing him with. “It’s water. You humans need it. Scans say you’re too dry.”
With a prayer he gulped it down, choking, but loath to waste a drop. A minute passed, and another while she worked at his restraints. He felt unaffected and began to relax.
Shit. Relaxed. The goose bumps faded, and his body went warm with euphoria. In panic, he jerked the chains, too late to break away.
“Fuck!” he shouted.
“Open up.” She dangled some unidentifiable morsel in front of his mouth, and then pulled her hand away as Markus bit savagely. He chewed, glaring at her the entire time. He swallowed, and the feeding proceeded. “You’re lookin’ a little sleepy. How you feelin’?”
He didn’t answer. She was vanishing behind a blissful haze. He fought to hold on to his anger.
“You’re gettin’ sleepy. Can’t have that.” She floated through his vision, across the room, and then suddenly back in his face. Before Markus could react, his jaw was trapped in her shockingly strong grip, and a wand was cruelly inserted into a nostril. He flinched, but already the pungent, musky fumes overpowered him.
His erection was instantaneous. He howled in anger, fury. Pain. Fire licked his body, starting deep in his pelvis, reaching out to consume his cock and balls, his belly and chest. It burned from the inside right out to the skin, and his vision went red. His hips thrust uselessly, and Markus was fairly certain he begged for mercy. For relief.
The old woman laughed.
* * * *
Caius gazed at himself in the hotel mirror, noting the weariness he felt did not show on his face. It was there in the slight droop to his shoulders, in the sluggish movement of his body, but his false face wore the same placid, dour expression as always. With a sigh, he turned to the rickety worktable and opened his comm unit, journaling the activities of his day, and then sent the report to King Helios.
He’d been on the brothel barge Paradise for a week, following leads on a prostitute billed as the Royal Concubine. The term prostitute might be misleading; most of the whores on this ship were serving prison sentences for debt or theft. Others were undoubtedly slaves, their paperwork forged. The operation was shady at best, and always under coalition investigation.
Problem was, barges were vast, heavily armed, and continually in motion. A simple, effective intelligence network greased their way, paying copious bribes and hush money as a barge visited systems in seemingly random fashion. By the time Interstellar Coalition Enforcement could respond to its presence, the barge would be long gone, into another sector, or out of coalition territory completely. Right now, the Paradise was on the wrong side of the frontier. No law existed but the rules on the barge. If he screwed up, his stay on the Paradise might wind up a long-term engagement.
At the end of his personal report, Caius flashed-scanned a handbill, saving it to his journal. He shut down the unit, then sat on the bed, looking through the curtained window down onto the street.
Like all other brothel barges he’d searched, the Paradise was massive, the size of a large city. He’d sectioned it off, walking all day, gathering handbills, listening to panderers pitch their products. He feigned interest in drug-addicted Valorans and serpent-tongued Tohrc. He grinned lewdly at humans in all their varied forms. All the while he searched for one specific man. If he asked openly, suspicion would close mouths, and he’d find himself standing alone on the street, shut out completely. So he played the game, posing as a lust-addled tourist taking a hard-earned vacation.
Caius lay back and rested his head on the pillow, holding the yellow handbill up in front of his face. It was crudely drawn, portraying a bejeweled man in a crown. He was nude, his enormous cock erect and studded with golden loops. Simple sketched lines illustrated long hair falling in waves past his shoulders.
He looked frighteningly similar to King Helios, which was undoubtedly the intention of the advertisement. The king was a celebrity throughout the coalition, and Caius had tracked numerous pretenders capitalizing on the popularity of Helios Dayspring.
He let the paper slip from his fingers. Time was running out. If Markus Dayspring was indeed alive, he wouldn’t be for much longer. Caius had followed his tempestuous trail from Warlan out to the brothel barges. The prince fought and battled every man or woman foolish enough to purchase him. Needless to say, Helios’s owner U’shma hadn’t kept Markus more than a few days. He couldn’t cook. He wouldn’t whore for the big Morgaise. He couldn’t be beaten into submission. He also had a nasty tendency to attack his owner.
Poor U’shma was now making do with himself for company. If he was still alive. He’d angered some very important people back there on Warlan.
The king’s cousin had moved from household slavery to scat mines and then on to whorehouses, never lasting long without leaving mayhem in his path. He’d finally ended up with a broker who placed slaves on brothel barges. From there, the trail had vanished.
Caius rubbed at his temple, trying to soothe the headache that never quite went away. With a trembling hand, he fumbled at the small box mounted on his belt, pausing to command the lights down before summoning the courage to disengage the holo-disguise.
The sudden silence in his brain was so abrupt he nearly bolted from the bed. He lay staring into the darkness, counting off the seconds. Last night, he’d made seven minutes without the unit. He was aiming for ten tonight. Or maybe fifteen.
When he reached three, his mouth was open, and he panted, partly in discomfort, partly in panic. At five minutes, small animal noises rose from his throat. His hand hovered over the box while his heart raced.
General Hawke had extracted a promise from him. He’d objected to sending Caius on this mission until King Helios stepped in, avowing his faith in Caius. Carlotta had been there too, her dark eyes bright in pain…and trust. It was because of her unquestioning faith that he persisted in the gradual withdrawals. Every night he had to turn the box off. Every night he had to increase the time in his own skin. Eventually, he’d destroy the damned unit, but right now the very thought unnerved him.
Ten minutes passed, and he dredged up the words he’d spoken to the general—his solemn vow. At fourteen minutes, he’d doubled the previous night’s time, and with a sense of elation, he kept going. The headache moved from a dull throb to a brilliant point of pain that dazzled his eyes, yet he bore it. The day was too far gone for him to keep looking for Markus, though the bars and whorehouses operated around the clock. He needed downtime, so he could rest and plan.
Unable to bear any more, he gasped, jerked, and slapped at the unit, collapsing onto his back as the nearly imperceptible hiss of the holo-disguise engaged. He held his hands in front of his streaming eyes, watching as they once again morphed into the large, blunt-fingered fists of Caius, complete with a white scar over his knuckles on his left hand.
He panted and groaned, perversely amused at the noise he made. Agony sounded rather like sex.
He shoved his knuckles into his eyes. His stomach lurched with the intensity of the migraine. He could take medication to dim the knife-edged agony, but pain was his penance. It was the price he paid for the box he wore on his hip and for the illusion that cloaked his body. It was the price a man paid for pretending to be other than what he really was.
Caius touched his skin, feeling wet tears on his cheeks. He trailed the tips of his fingers over his face, touching the features he’d come to hate. To fear. The mirror in the bathroom reflected Caius, with his blunt face and sandy hair and pale blue eyes. His fingers told him a whole different truth.
He rolled to his side in a fetal position, breathing through the pain. Soon enough he’d have to take something; he couldn’t afford to give too much time to the headache. But for now, he embraced his penance, falling into the brilliant lights and hypnotic agony, and eventually into darkness.
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A graduate of CSU Chico, she managed to attend the notorious party school without once getting drunk, arrested or appearing in a “Girls Gone Wild” video. Her main focus of study was classical and archival history, cultural anthropology and theatre arts.
After several years in the workforce. Belinda purchased a laptop computer and from there, knew that her childhood dream of being an author would come to life.
Belinda’s books are available at all the typical distributors as well as on the publisher’s homepages.