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Staked: Chapter Three

Downstairs, a dark man waited by the door where Pietra had let him in.

Polished shoes, immaculate suit, he stood out in the Star like a denizen of the Uppers come slumming.

This was the driver?

“I’ve instructions to bring you to Mr. Matthias immediately. This way please.”

A crowd had already gathered around the sleek silver flitter hovering in the street outside. Curious eyes peered at me, and I was thankful for the concealing cloak as the driver helped me into the plush, padded interior.

“Have you worked for Kieran long?” I asked him as we began to move.

“For almost five years, Mistress.”

My eyebrows shot up. Mistress? “Just Anisha, thanks.”

He shook his head. Sitting behind him, I couldn’t see his face, but his voice sounded amused. “Mr. Matthias was very specific. You are to be treated with the utmost respect.”

I leaned back in the deep upholstered seat, careful not to undo all of Oleg’s work on my hair.

The flitter moved immediately into the high-priority traffic zone, then rose through openings in the decks of the spindle.

I expected us to slow, to move into a residential deck, maybe near the top of the Lowers. I gasped as we passed through the meridian, the thick deck at the vertical center of the spindle.

The boundary between Upper and Lower that in twenty-three years, I’d never crossed.

We hadn’t been stopped; no challenge came over the comms. Obviously Kieran’s flitter had been fitted with a high-priority beacon.

When had Kieran—my Kieran—become someone with that sort of credit?

Or a person who could command obedience from other people?

Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t take advantage of my first chance to look around the Uppers, and all too soon the ship docked.

Another man, shorter, blond this time, stood by the door, hand outstretched.

“This way, Mistress.”

Bewildered, I followed him.

The small docking area led to a plush garden. Kieran stood in the middle.

Covered by the hood, I had to tilt my face up to see past my feet, but quickly lowered it.

His face was stony, jaw tight.

I couldn’t read any expression on him at all. My stomach clenched.

“Thank you, Hamilton. Please send the codes as arranged.”

The man nodded, then bowed to me and withdrew.

“Come here.” The tension in his voice pulled at me.

I stepped along the path, the thin soles of my slippers letting me feel every irregularity in the surface.

Oleg certainly hadn’t been expecting a garden when he picked them out of Dalla’s closet.

I stopped in front of Kieran, focusing on his feet.

Damn. Even his shoes looked expensive.

Dark grey fabric clung to every muscle in his legs. I let my eyes drift upwards, as far as I could without lifting my head.

He reached out and traced my lips with his fingers. “Take off the hood.” His voice was rough.

With quivering hands, I reached up and drew the hood back from my face, looking in his blue eyes.

He ran his hand down the side of my cheek and I shivered. Fear mixed with something else, something I couldn’t name coiled in my belly.

“Take off the cloak.”

My fingers fumbled at the clasp. Finally I freed it, and shrugged it off my shoulders, the fabric pooling at my feet.

He raised an eyebrow. “Well…” He walked around me, never touching, but I felt his eyes cover every inch of my body.

As he returned to face me, I crossed my arms in front of myself.

“Leave them at your sides.”

That was it. “Look, Kieran. I’m here. That’s what you wanted, right?”

In a flash he was on me, one arm pressing me to him in an unbreakable vice, the other wrapped in my hair, bending my neck to the side. He ran the side of his cheek against my neck, from collarbone to my ear.

“No,” he whispered. “The deal was that you were mine for one rotation.”

The whisper affected me more than if he’d been shouting.

“And mine means doing what I say. Is that clear?”

My knees threatened to go out from under me, and he held me closer to his body.

“Answer me,” he growled.

I nodded as far I could with his hand in my hair.

He turned my face towards him. “Answer me.”

Nerves dried my throat. I licked my lips before I could get the words out. “Yes, Kieran.”

Those two words plunged him over the edge. He covered my mouth with his, plundering my mouth with his tongue. His hand stroked my back, insistent, bringing me even closer to him. His raw hunger sparked something within me, and I responded, flicking his tongue with my own, tasting his want.

He pushed me away, and I gasped at the sudden loss of contact. He bent to grab the cloak from the ground, shook it out, folded it over his arm. “You won’t need this for a while.”

My head reeled, body still aching from the sudden need for him.

No.

I didn’t need him.

Didn’t want to be here. I took his offered arm, trying to ignore my hands which now shook, not from fear, but from want.

He led me through the path into a gently lit room. Windows stretched from floor to ceiling, overlooking wide streets. I wandered towards the windows while Kieran went to a small table at the side. Not far away from his building, a splash of green covered an entire block.

“What is that?” I asked, both fear and lust pushed aside by wonder.

Kieran appeared next to me, handing me a tall glass. He sipped from his, following my eyes with his own. “One of the city parks.”

I shook my head. Below, buildings crammed into whatever space they could manage. I knew there were gardens, but so much space for one? I thought of all that room, all that water. Simply to make a pretty place?

I took a sip from the glass. Slightly sweet and bubbly, it surprised me. I looked over at Kieran, and my question must have been clear on my face.

“A drink I discovered while trading with an isolated colony. A fruit juice mixed with sparkling wine.” He flashed a grin. “We’ll make a killing at the bar for offering drinks no one else does.”

I relaxed a bit.

Business I could talk about all day. Business was safe.

He guided me away from the window to a small table set for two. He pulled out my chair. When had Kieran become such a gentleman?

He laughed at my expression. “I’ve learned a lot in the time I’ve been gone. Including manners.” He reached for a covered tray from a side table and paused. “No new allergies?”

I shook my head and smiled. Kieran had been with me when we’d found the one thing I was allergic to—Parvian blowfish. There’d been so little food around, as kids it hadn’t seemed terrible to try to sneak a little something from the food carts down on the bazaar level.

We’d followed one as the vendor set up, waiting for a chance, then grabbed the first cellopak we could reach and ran like mad. Jerky wasn’t what we’d been after, but we weren’t picky. Back in the day, he was always hungry. Always. Looking at his broad frame now, I could see why. He had a lot of growing to do.

“Your dad had us doing chores for that vendor for a full month after that stunt.”               

I laughed. “He chewed me out thoroughly, even while I was so swollen that the medtek came and threw him out.”

Kieran looked like he was going to drop the tray. “Someone yelled at your dad? And he listened?”

I shrugged, relishing the memory. “Apparently, riled up medteks feel strongly about quiet.”

Kieran shook his head and uncovered the tray. He put a small portion of a blue jelly on the edge of my plate. “Give it a taste,” he answered my questioning look.

I gingerly dipped a finger into the jelly. Colder than expected, the texture was mostly smooth. I brought my finger to my lips and tasted. Not at all the fruit sour I was expecting, but savory and rich.

I sucked my finger clean and looked up. “What was that?”

His knuckles were white around the serving spoon, and his eyes were glazed. “Do that again.” His voice was flat, cold.

Gone was the old friend I’d glimpsed.

Apparently, I didn’t move fast enough.

He put down the tray on the table behind him and dragged my chair back from the table. With one hand, he gripped my chin and ran his index finger over my lips. He pushed one, a second finger into my mouth. “Suck.”

Eyes wide, I flicked my tongue around the intruding digits as he slid them back and forth. I stared at him as his heated gaze flickered between my mouth and my eyes.

His fingers went deeper, and I fought down the urge to gag, squirming under his hand. He pulled his fingers out and caressed the side of my face, running a damp trail down my throat to the neck of the caftan.

“Dinner will wait.” His voice was husky. He pulled me to my feet and before I could move, he caught me up in his arms and carried me around the corner.                     

The bed. Of course a bed. I struggled in his arms, but it was no use.

“One rotation, Ani. You knew exactly what I meant when you agreed.”

He placed me by the foot of the bed, carefully as you might a child. His gaze ran the length of my body, the thin gauze covering leaving nothing to the imagination.

He fell on me as if he’d devour my mouth instead of the meal now growing cold, his hands running up and down over my back. One hand stroked my hair while other snaked under the hem of the caftan, stroking the soft skin of my back.

He pulled me tighter into him, and all I could do was cling to him, holding on against the assault on my senses.

His attention shifted to the curve of my ear and I collapsed against him. “Ani, I’ve had ten years to think about all the things I want to do to you,” he whispered.

The hunger in his voice frightened me, but also sent a thrill through my spine. “And I’m going to do them all.”

In one move, he pulled the caftan off me, and I stood, blinking as the cool air hit my heated skin.

The pale lace of the bra against my skin caught his attention, and he stepped back to admire it. “I’m surprised.” He ran a finger over the edge of the cup barely containing my breast. “Doesn’t look like your usual style.”

I blushed. “One of the ladies went shopping for me.”

“Remind me to thank her.” He walked behind me, his finger tracing the edge of the fabric around my chest.


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