Authors: Claire Thompson
She’d been allowed to eat her fill of a delicious meal including fresh fruit, cheese, bread, three kinds of olives and more of the wonderful baklava, but she’d barely tasted the food, her mind still reeling from Khalil’s threat.
Somehow she had to stop this, but had no idea how. She drank three glasses of the strong wine that accompanied the meal, its sweet burn blunting the worst of her terror. When Leah had been led back to her small bedroom, she’d expected to toss and turn, but had instead fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep, exhausted by the ordeals she’d endured and sedated by the wine.
Now she was being prepared for a ritual that terrified her, not only because of the anticipated pain of having her flesh burned, but the finality of it. Any hope of rescue, by Devin or anyone else, was fast receding. She was powerless, trapped in a situation from which she could see no escape. The brand would mark her forever as a slave, the property of another human being.
The idea was so absurd on its face that Leah found she couldn’t get her head around it. And yet Alex, who seemed so peacefully resigned to his slave collar and his mutilation, was proof that slavery was alive and well in the twenty-first century. She glanced at the two guards who stood nearby, arms folded, faces closed. Were they slaves, too, or were they paid for their services?
Alex attached gauzy, flowing material to Leah’s hip belt, creating a see-through skirt that came to Leah’s ankles, slit at the center all the way to her bellybutton. He led her to the makeup counter and pointed for her to sit on the stool. Once he’d applied his creams and paints to her face, he turned her toward the mirror and began to pin up her hair.
She caught his eye for a second in the mirror and saw the flash of pity in his face before he looked away. “Please, Alex,” she whispered, hoping the guards standing near the door couldn’t hear her. “What’s going to happen to me? I’m so afraid.”
Alex shook his head, saying nothing as he placidly continued to pull the glittering bobby pins he held between his lips, using them to create an elaborate chignon at the nape of her neck. When he was done, he surprised her by leaning close, his words a murmur in her ear.
“Be thankful he has chosen you. Be thankful he chooses to let you live.”
These words echoed in Leah’s mind as she was hustled between the guards to the Master’s quarters. What kind of life would this be, branded like cattle, kept in chains, whipped and raped, always wondering if this day would be her last? How long would it take until she completely lost her mind?
Leah was brought into Khalil’s bedroom and led through it into a marble bathroom, similar to the one where she was bathed and groomed, but even larger. Khalil was standing at a counter, his back to her. The guards led Leah to a squat wooden chair, its wide padded seat upholstered in wine-red velvet. The guard nodded curtly toward the ground and Leah, recalling the steward’s orders, lowered herself to the floor until her forehead touched the cold marble tile, her palms pressed flat in front of her.
After a moment she felt the touch of a hand on her shoulder and then Khalil’s smooth, deep voice with its precise diction. “Ah, little one. You may rise and present yourself.”
Leah lifted her head. Khalil turned to face her as she forced herself to her feet. The handsome monster offered his beautiful, white smile, sending chills down Leah’s spine. “You are so lovely in your chains and gossamer,” he said, his liquid eyes burning with a feverish light. “Truly a golden princess, born to serve.”
Leah saw Khalil was holding some kind of implement in his hand. He held it by its wooden handle, from which protruded a metal stick that ended in a circle of stainless steel shaped into some kind of pattern. Leah felt a hot rush of horror rip through her body as she realized what she was seeing.
Khalil, watching her, nodded, still smiling. “That’s right, little one. This is for you. My personal crest, developed especially to mark my chosen girls. Once I mark you, no man will dare to touch you. You will be forever branded with the mark of Yousef Khalil.”
Turning to the guards, he said, “Prepare the slave.”
The guards took hold of her on either side. Though Leah knew it was worse than useless, panic twisted through her limbs, making her jerk against the strong fingers circling her upper arms as she tried to wrench herself free.
“No!” she cried, the word bursting from her lips. “No!”
She was no match for the burly men, who easily wrestled her down, forcing her into the chair. Though she continued to struggle, her wrists were bound to the arms of the chair, her ankles secured to the legs of the wide seat, which forced her knees to spread open. Panic gripped her and she could feel her heart squeezing in her chest.
“Please, please! I’m begging you. Don’t do this. Please!” she wailed, bursting into tears.
The sharp crack of Khalil’s hard palm across her cheek made her gasp with shocked pain. “Stop it at once!” he shouted, glowering at her. “I will not have a girl of mine behaving with such cowardice.”
He turned toward the impassive guards. “You may go,” he said brusquely.
As they slipped silently out of the room, Khalil knelt in front of Leah, his face softening. “Accept my mark with the courage worthy of a prince’s slave. If you continue this disgraceful display, I will have no choice but to have you beaten until you are good for nothing but the lowest rung of whoredom—chained to a cot in the back room of the lowliest brothel.”
Leah swallowed hard, fully believing his threat. She tried to gulp down her sobs, though her body continued to shake. She squeezed her eyes shut, conjuring the image of Devin Lyons in her head, as if in the thinking he might somehow suddenly appear, bursting through the door like Indiana Jones to save the girl at the last second from certain and painful death.
But this wasn’t the movies, and Devin was only a memory. Leah was alone and at the mercy of a sadistic madman, with no one to rescue her, and no way out.
She winced when he raised his hand again, but this time his touch was gentle on her cheek. “You must be brave. I know you are overwhelmed by such an honor, and offered so quickly. Most girls must be trained for at least a month before I deem them worthy of my brand, no matter their beauty. But you! The way you took the pain today, I could see at once you were destined to serve me.”
He stroked her face, tucking a loose tendril of hair behind her ear. “That’s better. I don’t like when you cry. It ruins your lovely face.” He pushed himself to his feet, moving out of Leah’s line of sight. She could hear the sound of running water. A moment later he returned, dabbing a cool washcloth over her hot cheeks and burning eyelids.
“I am not a cruel man,” he said, which, despite her terror and exhaustion, nearly made Leah laugh. Not a cruel man? Was he really that deluded? Or just plain fucking nuts!
Khalil continued, “I understand you are frightened. Know this—it is quick, and I have done this many times. Afterward you will be proud of wearing my mark, and it will protect you from other men. No one dares to take one of my chosen women.”
His hand moved from her cheek, trailing over her breasts. He circled her still-tender nipples with his fingers, lightly touching the tiny scabs caused by the spiked nipple clamps. Lowering his head, he lightly licked and sucked each nipple with the gentleness of a lover. Leah closed her eyes, hating the man with every fiber of her being. He continued to glide his lips down her body, leaving a trail of tiny kisses.
“Your skin is like cream, softer than the finest silk,” he murmured, as his mouth moved over her shaven mons. Leah longed to slam her legs together. She had a sudden fantasy of ripping through the ropes with superhuman force, lifting the chair and smashing it over Khalil’s head.
She sat immobilized in her bonds as Khalil crouched between her spread knees. When the tip of his tongue touched her sex, Leah jerked, clenching her jaw to keep from screaming. He licked in a circle around her hooded clit and drew his tongue lower, pressing it lightly into her entrance.
He placed his hands on her thighs, spreading her labia with his long fingers as his tongue moved upwards, flicking again at her sweet spot. While his attentions were unwelcome, it was the first thing he’d done to her that hadn’t caused pain. His touch was surprisingly sensual, and despite her fear and loathing, his skilled attentions were beginning to have an effect.
As he licked and suckled her sex, he pressed a finger inside her and she gave an involuntary grunt before again pressing her lips together. She would not give this bastard the satisfaction of knowing he was getting to her.
Despite her resistance, Khalil was relentless, teasing her clit with his tongue while finger fucking her until her body began to betray her. She could feel the shuddering rise of a climax. Forgetting her promise to resist his touch, she let herself slide past the fear into the bit of pleasure he offered. As the orgasm washed over her, she clung to its brief, obliterating comfort.
Khalil sat back on his haunches. Leah slit her eyes open just enough to see his self-congratulatory smile.
“That was just a taste of what awaits you, little one, when you obey your master. I don’t hold with the traditional ideas of pleasure only for the man. On the nights when I choose to take you into my bed, you will experience the ecstasy of my touch, along with the kiss of my lash.” He stood, folding his strong arms across his chest, staring down at her with an imperious expression. “You may thank me.”
What choice did she have? Hating herself, but hating him far more, she forced the words from her lips. “Thank you, Master,” she managed, swallowing the bile that rose in her throat as she said the words.
“And now, it’s time,” Khalil said. “You shall bear my mark.”
Every muscle in Leah’s body stiffened, all the pleasure from the orgasm drained away in an instant. Desperately she tried to prepare herself for what she knew was coming. She didn’t know where she was going to be branded. Her skin prickled from shoulder to ankle, electrified with dreaded anticipation. She gripped the arms of the chair so hard she thought they might snap in two.
Returning to the counter, Khalil retrieved the brand and a metal cylinder with a nozzle at its end. As he flicked the nozzle to life, a long blue stream of fire appeared. He stuck the head of the brand into the flame. Leah watched with frozen horror as it changed from silver to a bright, glowing red.
A strange whistling sound began in her ears, though she could hear Khalil’s deep, resonant voice beneath it. “It will be quick, little one, no longer than a second or two. I am skilled in the process, applying the proper heat and pressure to create a brand you will be proud to carry for the rest of your life.”
Now, Devin! Now. This is the time to come bursting through the door and shoot this bastard right between the eyes.
The door remained shut, and the whistling in Leah’s ears grew louder, as black spots appeared before her eyes. She watched in a kind of fear-induced stupor as Khalil shut off the flame of the propane torch and examined the glowing brand in his hand.
“Perfect,” he pronounced. Moving behind Leah, he pressed the red-hot metal against Leah’s back, just below her right shoulder. For a moment she felt nothing, and then the fiery sear of blinding pain registered itself with a vengeance, while the stench of burning human flesh filled her nostrils.
The black dots faded to an expanding gray and then pure, empty white as Leah floated away.
Soft, cool fingers moved lightly over Leah’s forehead. The scent of a light floral perfume floated into her nostrils. She opened her eyes. The young woman Khalil had called Naeemah was smiling shyly down at her.
Leah was lying on her stomach in a bed, her cheek resting against a soft pillow. She realized she was back in the small bedroom though she had no memory of being taken there. As she came fully awake, she felt the throbbing pain emanating from her shoulder and twisted onto her side, reaching back to try to touch it.
,” Naeemah said, placing a hand on Leah’s wrist to stop her. She said something else in Arabic, her voice sweet and lilting. Though Leah didn’t understand the words, she could see the pity and compassion in the girl’s face.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.” Leah’s voice came out hoarse. She cleared her throat.
Leaning over Leah, the girl slipped a surprisingly strong arm beneath Leah’s body, helping her to a sitting position. Pushing Leah gently forward, Naeemah rearranged the pillows, careful not to touch the bandaged wound at Leah’s shoulder.
Naeemah poured something from a small blue pitcher into a matching blue glass. Leah took the offered glass, expecting water. Instead she smelled something much stronger. She took a tentative sip. It was a strong, sweet wine, mixed with honey and spices. It felt soothing and warm going down, and Leah was grateful Naeemah let her finish the glass.
Leah twisted back, trying to see the bandaged wound on her shoulder. Naeemah said something, holding out her hand in a gesture Leah interpreted as, “Wait.”
Leah leaned back carefully against the pillows, watching as Naeemah let the white silk robe she was wearing slip from her bare shoulders. The girl turned, showing her back to Leah. Naeemah had been branded in the same spot just below her right shoulder. The design, a raised pinkish-white scar against the girl’s smooth, olive-toned skin, was of a curved blade with a drop of liquid suspended from its tip. It was, Leah realized, a scimitar.
Naeemah let the robe fall all the way to the floor and turned, facing Leah. She was shaven as Leah was, her slave collar and cuffs gold instead of silver. Her breasts were small and high, the tips rouged to a dusty rose. She wore a thin gold chain low over her hips, with what looked like a diamond set in gold dangling at its center. There was a glint of gold between her legs as well, and Leah realized the girl was pierced there.
Naeemah sat on the edge of Leah’s bed and reached for the sheet covering Leah’s body. She tugged lightly at it, and at first Leah resisted, confused and embarrassed by what the naked girl was doing.