Authors: Jennifer Leeland
Tags: #BDSM Futuristic Fantasy
Instead Leo yanked the flogger from the man’s hand and sent him spinning into the crowd. From then on, Sera wasn’t sure what happened. The crowd surged forward like an inevitable wave, but Leo wouldn’t budge. Unrest rippled through the dancers.
Suddenly the mob seemed menacing. Sera watched in horror as one man whipped out a knife. She screamed, and Leo caught the man’s wrist midstrike. The blade slit through the air rather than Leo’s back.
The rest of the chaos never made an impression, but at some point Leo grabbed her and lifted her over his shoulder. He pushed his way through the crowd, which had degenerated into mayhem, fists flying and women screaming.
The music never stopped.
Leo slammed through the exit and dropped her roughly to her feet. “Congratulations. You started a riot.”
Sera’s breath made white puffs in front of her face. It was cold outside, and she wasn’t wearing much. What had possessed her? Crowds had always pressed her, wanted closer to her. But this dance club had always seemed safe since it was exclusive, difficult to enter.
Yet even the exclusive set had gone insane when she appeared essentially naked in a highly sexual public display. Even her private clubs weren’t safe anymore. Helplessness swamped her, and she wanted to lean on Leo’s shoulder. But he was unapproachable.
What she saw in his face was the same kind of judgment she saw in everyone else’s. She ground her teeth together and ducked into the hovertaxi with Leo behind her.
* * *
The following week tested Leo’s sanity. First of all, he hadn’t expected to be drawn to a woman like he was drawn to the princess. He’d had his chance with Shanie. Revenge had been his only thought, had driven him for three years. No woman had gotten under his skin the way this one had.
Second, his dominant nature sprang to life, demanding he assert control, drawn to the underlying submissive woman he sensed beneath the princess’s arrogance.
After that night at the Moonset on Arris, Leo made damn sure he wasn’t alone with her. She was dynamite, and he was a little too willing to light the fuse. It wasn’t just the dress that made her seem like sex on wheels, but the way her body moved, the way her eyes called to him.
And those were the same things that made a riot break out where a dance had been.
From then on he kept his gaze on the surroundings and off her. His job was to protect her, keep her from being killed, and find out who wanted her dead. Falling under the same damn spell as the rest of the universe wasn’t going to work. Keeping his dick in his pants definitely would.
Not that he didn’t have some hot and sticky showers involving her in that outfit, but he kept it cold and professional with her. It was the only way to keep her alive.
It was more of a challenge than he’d anticipated. First of all, the princess dealt with every invitation, every appearance. And her assistant was worse. Neither of them had any concept of safe and sane. When Leo had to cancel the third appearance that included a last-minute outdoor festival, he stormed toward her suite.
He took a wrong turn and ground his teeth while he reoriented himself. They were in the seventh hotel in as many days, and it was beginning to wear on him. Seven different planets, four different galaxies, and ten appearances had kept Leo running his ass off.
The worst part was the unexpected schedule changes. This festival was only the tip of the iceberg. There were the personal visits, the meetings that weren’t scheduled or cleared by him.
He finally reached her suite and jammed his finger on the buzzer.
Riordan’s face appeared. “Yes?”
“Open up.” Leo wanted to kick the door in. After dealing with the festival security department, which consisted of ten men to cover an expected crowd of over a thousand, he wasn’t in the mood to be polite.
The door whooshed open, and the assistant, vid board in hand, gazed at him reproachfully. “The princess is unavailable at the moment.”
“Get her.” Leo made his fists relax. He hadn’t even realized how tightly he’d clenched them until he uncurled his fingers.
“But she’s with—”
“She isn’t supposed to be with anyone,” Leo snapped. He shouldered past Riordan and stepped into the large parlor room.
The princess sat, clothed in a pantsuit that was her signature white, her hands folded in her lap, listening intently. Across from her, on one of the plush couches, was a couple Leo had never seen before. Didn’t she understand that, until the Brotherhood threat was gone, he had to check out every person she allowed in her presence?
Of course not. Why should she clear people through him when she wouldn’t clear anything else?
“Princess, we need to discuss something.” He glanced at the couple. “Alone.”
Her blue eyes sparked, and her smile was thin. “Mr. and Mrs. Salkirk, this is the head of my security, Leo Eyler.”
The woman was a faded older person with dull brown eyes and lumpy cheeks. “How do you do?” Her gaze shifted to the princess. “A Nyral male? Is that safe?” she whispered.
“Perfectly,” the princess answered. “I promise to help your son, Mrs. Salkirk.”
“We wouldn’t ask, Your Highness, but Ward hasn’t had an easy time of it.” The woman’s lips shook. “For ourselves, we wouldn’t impose, but for Ward…” She swallowed. “Your mother—”
“I understand. Please don’t think anything about it. You were a good friend to my mother.” The princess rose to her feet. “Give Riordan the details, and he’ll authorize the payments.”
Mr. Salkirk’s lips tightened. “We’ll pay it back.”
“If you wish, but you are under no obligation.” The princess smiled at them and took Mrs. Salkirk’s hand in hers. “We take care of our own.”
Mr. Salkirk nodded sharply, but Mrs. Salkirk clung to the princess’s hand. “If only you could make the prophecy come true and bring us home. Five hundred years and we’re still wandering. Please, Princess Sera—”
A muscle clenched in Princess Sera’s cheek. “I’ll keep in touch.” It was a dismissal, and Mrs. Salkirk recoiled.
The older woman dropped the princess’s hand and clutched her husband’s arm. “Thank you, Your Highness.” But the tone didn’t sound grateful.
The princess didn’t answer but instead turned away and stared out the window.
Once the couple was out of the room, Leo waited for the princess to sit back down. For several minutes, however, she didn’t move, staring out the window silently.
“Princess,” he finally said quietly.
She jumped as if she’d forgotten he was in the room. “Yes? What did you want?” she snapped.
“I want you to let me do my job.”
Her gaze was back on the scene outside the window. “I am.”
He stepped closer. “You’re not. You make appointments without consulting me. You meet with people I haven’t cleared. I can’t do my job when you won’t stop defying me.”
Her gaze met his. “This is my life, Mr. Eyler. I’m not defying you. I’m just not changing what I do to suit you.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve given up my solitary walks, and I don’t go to the clubs without you. What else do you want?”
“I don’t want anyone to have access to you except through me, Princess.” He glared at her and thrust his face closer. “I’m trying to keep you alive, damn it.”
She shook her head. “No. You’re using me as bait. Did you think I didn’t know that?” She raised her eyebrows. “I did some checking. Your mate was murdered by the Brotherhood. Is that the real reason you’re here? Revenge?”
“What is this prophecy that woman was talking about?”
She pursed her lips together and turned her gaze back toward the window. He sighed. “You see? You want answers but give none in return. Who were those people?”
“Friends of my mother’s.” She still wouldn’t look at him.
He hardened his tone. “Tell me.”
She whipped around to face him, her hands clenched, her eyes narrowed. “It’s none of your business. It’s no one’s business but mine.”
For a moment, Leo thought about explaining that
was his business. And he’d show her exactly what “business” he fantasized about. In his mind, he saw her cuffed to her bed, unable to call anyone, unable to do a damn thing without his permission, without his help. The thought made his cock hard and his heartbeat pound. Her defiance, her constant challenge just turned him on more. After all, it satisfied him much more to bring a stubborn submissive to her knees.
He shouldn’t touch her. He shouldn’t stare at her. He did both. His hand curled around her arm, and he jerked her closer. “You shouldn’t challenge me, Princess.”
“Fuck you,” she snapped.
“Is that an offer?” He was playing with fire. Electricity sparked between them, and her breath quickened. His hand tingled where her skin met his, and every muscle strained toward her. The temptation to overwhelm her, take her, almost swamped his better judgment.
Her pupils dilated, and her voice was breathless. “Get your hands off me.”
He tightened his hold. “Get this straight. Either you clear each and every meeting with me, or I’ll tie you to your bed.”
Her nostrils flared, and he wondered if she’d continue to fight him. Then she relaxed, her blue eyes dull and lifeless. “Fine. Now, get out.”
“Princess—” Disappointment churned his stomach. Was he some kind of sick bastard that wanted her to defy him?
. He wanted to win, but to win, he wanted a battle.
She turned her back to him. “Get the personal meeting schedule from Riordan,” she said.
He stared at her still form. This was the side the rest of the world didn’t see and he often did. Her quiet misery, the trapped expression on her face, the vulnerability that made Leo want to keep her locked up and away from anything that might harm her. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation, and the feeling was a far cry from the need to clash with her.
A shake of his head brought him out of his reverie. She was the Princess Sera Ellysa Placido. She didn’t need his pity.
He sought words to comfort her, to chase the shadows away from her face. But there were none he could say. The only thing left to do was his damn job.
He went out of the room to find Riordan.
* * *
Finally he was gone. Sera stood at the window, seeing not the scene beyond the plaz but the hope on Mrs. Salkirk’s face. Was it awful that when Dom Boy said he’d cuff her to the bed, she’d almost wished he would? What was wrong with her? Yet it was tempting to let it all go, to let him control everything. She rubbed her forehead with her fingers. The job was getting to her.
The comet’s traversal through the Placido system would finish in six months, and then she’d be free of the expectations. She couldn’t take them home.
Her stomach hurt at the thought. Five hundred years of wandering had only made her people cling harder to the hope of one day reclaiming their planet.
Most people, including Mr. Eyler, couldn’t understand why the dream still existed after all these hundreds of years. But being Placidian wasn’t just about being from a planet. They were Starchildren. Their history on Placido went back thousands of years, as far as the Teran planets. After all, the Teran planets may have been the first Old Earth colonies, but Placido was the first true colony on a planet that wasn’t terra formed. The five Teran planets were specially created for human colonization. Placido was alien, and those who tamed the planet were proud of the achievement.
Early colonists were scientists studying the strange planetary power. Those who carved out a life for themselves on Placido were those who had the strength and the ability to deal with the unique planetary demands. Like desert dwellers learn to live on less water, Placidians learned to harness great power.
But something had gone wrong. The balance they’d always maintained had disintegrated, and people had begun to die horrifically. The way her mother had. Her lips tightened. The vision was burned in her brain. Her mother, her graceful arms lifted above her head, her brown hair long and flowing, her eyes closed, had invoked the power of Placido.
It had ripped through her like a hurricane, light beaming from her eyes, nose, and mouth. For a moment, Sera had thought her mother would succeed. And then the blood, the scraps of skin, the screams…
She leaned her head against the cool plaz. Her people were strangers on alien planets. Their connection to the stars, to space, made them…different. Placido was their home, and they desperately wanted to go back. But Sera knew it was impossible.
She bit her lip. Time was running out. The comet would pass, and her people would be sentenced to another five hundred years of wandering. But the alternative wasn’t any better. If she tried and died, there would be no one to carry on. Her people would never go home.
And then there was the Brotherhood. She should be afraid. Instead she was tired. Tired of being afraid, tired of running, tired of everything. It would be so easy to fall into Leo Eyler’s arms and let everything else go to hell.
She straightened. But that wasn’t her way. She took a deep breath. Somehow she’d keep going. Every appearance put more money in the coffers. Someday her people would all go home. It might take a millennia, but it would happen.
Two weeks later
The Brotherhood wouldn’t have to kill her. Leo was going to kill the princess himself.
It hadn’t been difficult to get the council to support Leo’s appointment as her security adviser. It hadn’t been difficult to whip her bodyguards into shape. Most of them were Placidians, assigned by the council. Leo rode them hard, forced them to quit if they couldn’t take the pressure. He rewarded the best, the ones that recognized the danger Princess Sera was in. So far, two men stood out and carried the bulk of the work. The only problem Leo had with Barrett and Tony was that both men were completely enamored with the princess.
The woman was a powder keg.
Since their last confrontation, Princess Sera had still accepted several invitations without checking with him first. The last two had been bogus, and when he presented her with the evidence, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “That’s what Galaxy Civil Court is for. I show up, they pay up, or I take them to court.”