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Authors: Denise A. Agnew

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Better Xandra didn’t know that however. It might keep her in
line if she thought he was a cad of the first order.

Never mind. He needed to think about his main goals, and not
the woman in his cabin. He returned from inward thoughts to his surroundings.

Ocean spray dewed everything.
Taracore
birds sailed
high in the sky, their calls horrible screeches as they traveled the air. The
menacing, large creatures had tried landing on deck once recently and had torn
the ear off one sailor. Only swift action had saved the man from being carried
off into the sky and certain death.

Rayder winced. His world presented dangers far too numerous
to mention, but he’d have to instruct Xandra. If she fell prey to one of those
birds or one of these scurvy men again…

No, nothing would happen to another innocent. He’d see to
that.

The sea was rough after the storm yesterday, and the god
Draconus only knew this cursed ship could have been destroyed by the rogue wave
too. Perhaps the massive size of the slaver ship had assured its safety. The
Beast
had plowed the sea for dozens of years, raping and pillaging these waters.
Since Rayder had joined this crew, he’d learned valuable lessons. Never allow
the slaves to become more important than his mission.

His one and only mission in life.

Xandra Shorenus, though, had touched something he couldn’t
afford to have touched. Her delicate features were young. She couldn’t be more
than one and twenty-five to his thirty. Blue eyes ringed by long golden lashes
had sparked with fire at him, stirring his libido as quickly as his
indignation. A small bruise on her right cheekbone hadn’t marred the smooth
rosy touch to her skin. Tangled red-blonde hair fringed over her forehead and
trailed around her shoulders, thick and tempting. She needed a bath to wash
away the ocean, and he’d make sure she received one as soon as possible. She
was tall, but his large frame still dwarfed her slim body. He’d watched her
small hands move, expressive in agitation, her grace evident even when she’d
suffered the elements and the brutal choking. The piece of filth who’d touched
her would pay dearly. Rayder gripped the railing and battled with anger. He
could have Farcam killed. Execute him with a single blow. But he couldn’t
afford to allow his reaction to Xandra to fuel too many questions.

She was property, and that was the end of it.

Any man who dared touch her would find death at the end of
his sword, and they all knew it.

“There you are.” The voice nearby came from Rayder’s left
side and footsteps approached cautiously.

Rayder took a steadying breath as the man he hated more than
anyone on Protican came toward him. He turned toward Admiral Karman Aramus.
“Admiral.”

The rogue Daryk One approached him, his height intimidating.
The admiral remained stalwart despite his advanced age of sixty-five. He’d
lived a long time and seen too much, and Rayder wanted to end the man in the
worst possible way. His head of thick gray hair hung in a flowing mane over his
broad shoulders. He wore a long-sleeved black tunic open at the chest. His
breeches were loose and gathered at the bottom by boots. Gray eyes, hard and
intense, reviewed Rayder with a critical eye.

“I understand you fought over your slave woman. Am I to
understand that she’s not only your slave but your mate?”

Rayder swallowed, ready to lie and lie again, just as he did
every day he set foot on this deck. “As a former Daryk One, I claimed her this
very day as my intended. She’s my mate.”

The admiral smiled. “Congratulations. Then you shall marry
her.”

Chapter Three

 

Rayder stared at Admiral Aramus with disbelief. “Sir?”

The admiral tucked his thumbs in his belt and strode
confidently toward Rayder. “If she is your mate, you must marry her.”

Rayder had to wiggle out of this. He couldn’t deny he
planned to protect his mate. But he’d do the same for any innocent woman,
wouldn’t he? He’d want to do anything he could to assist her. His gut clenched
with guilt. He hadn’t protected every innocent on this ship, at least not as
well as he would have liked.

It wasn’t convenient for her to be his mate now, damn the
hells.

Rayder recalled everything he’d heard about Dragonian mates.

Powerful needs, both emotional and sexual, overwhelm the
individuals.

The man’s protective instincts become uncontrollable. He
will do anything to protect his mate, including kill.

There is no other mate but one to the other. They are as
one.

These signs are undeniable and almost immediate upon
meeting and touching the mate.

Rayder’s jaw clenched as he struggled with unwanted
possibilities. He didn’t want her to be his mate…but…

The admiral chuckled. “Why so reluctant? We shall have Suteras
Carna do the ceremony.”

Rayder couldn’t deny that Suteras could do the ceremony as
the designated religious man of the ship, but Rayder didn’t take to religion or
ceremony the way most Dragonians did. Before Rayder could object, the admiral
gestured at a younger man who was fixing some ropes nearby.

“Jonala, fetch Suteras. I have business with him.”

As the young man ran to find Suteras, Rayder posed another
objection. “I’ve claimed her for sex, not as a true mate. You take women other
than your wife for sex.”

The admiral nodded. “Naturally. But my wife is not my mate.”
He shrugged. “My wife is a mistake. I have thought of selling her.”

Rayder’s disgust rose high, burning inside him like hot
coals. “Bound by marriage, you cannot sell her. Besides, you said she was your
mate.”

“I was mistaken.”

Rayder couldn’t restrain the words. “You
can’t
be
mistaken.”

The admiral’s stance widened, his thin legs stalwart against
the roll of the deck, his mouth a firm line and a muscle twitching next to his
right eye. “You’ve seen how she is with me. She hates me. That is not a true
mate. I made a mistake. You are a good slaver, Rayder, but you aren’t the
admiral of this ship. What I say is law.”

Rayder swallowed around his ire and contained his desire to
throttle the man. “Of course.”

Suteras Carna appeared around the corner, his rotund, short
body rolling in a strange staggered gait. “You called for me, Admiral?”

The admiral slapped the man on the shoulder. “Ah, good to
see you, Suteras. We have a wedding to plan.”

Suteras’ pudgy face made is age indeterminate. “Who?” His
gaze flicked to Rayder. “Surely not you?”

Rayder tossed a contemptuous look the man’s way. “I don’t
think it’s necessary.”

Admiral Aramus frowned deeply, his patience apparently
wearing thin. “You will wed your slave girl. Today.”

Rayder’s mind raced for a way around this marriage sham, but
he couldn’t think of a way. Suteras might also work on a slave ship, but as a
designated religious man, he could perform the weddings anywhere, and the
ceremony would hold up under Dragonian law. Rayder was forced to go along with
the sham. He could protect the woman in his quarters with law on his side, and
after he’d taken down Admiral Aramus, he would release Xandra from the fake
marriage. He wouldn’t take her sexually. After all, his threat to sleep with
her tonight had been meant to keep her in line.

Besides the fact he knew if he did have sex with her, she
would be bound more tightly to him than anything he’d experienced. He wouldn’t
be able to concentrate on his revenge. On the true reason he was on this damn
ship.

“Fine. A marriage,” Rayder said. “But give me until
tomorrow. Does your wife have an appropriate dress for Xandra?”

The admiral’s expression eased into satisfaction at his
triumph. “I will ask her.”

Rayder’s jaw clenched. “My betrothed needs a bath. I need a
tub brought to my quarters.”

A leering smile spread over the admiral’s mouth. “Done. I’ll
have it sent immediately. In the meantime, we have business to attend to.”

Glad to leave nuptials conversation, Rayder said, “Of
course, Admiral.”

The ship rocked under their feet, and Rayder saw gray clouds
turning darker on the horizon. White caps rolled, a sure sign rougher waters
would soon pummel the ship.

The admiral noticed the storm and growled. “Humph. Another
storm is coming. The seer told me this morning this storm is worse than
yesterday’s.”

Rayder didn’t believe the seer knew better than mariners,
but he didn’t argue the point. No, he had other plans. “The wind is blowing
east and it’ll steer us toward Dragonia. We could put into shore for supplies.”

Aramus turned a gaze full of speculation toward the horizon.
“We’ll see how the storm blows. If the seer is right, you will stop near Drakus
Fina’s camp and partake of his hospitality. Otherwise, we will stay as always
on the ocean where we belong.”

“Very well. What business did you wish to discuss?”

Aramus stopped wandering across the deck, the imperious tilt
of his head said he felt in control. And damn him to the hells, the man was in
control with a hard fist and ruthless cruelty. Aramus wouldn’t fail to harm his
wife or the slaves belowdecks, and he wouldn’t hesitate to harm Xandra.

By the god, the admiral
wouldn’t
harm Xandra. Rayder
wouldn’t tolerate it. His fists tightened at his sides as he warred against the
pressure building inside that demanded action. Rayder had a stake, a horrible
stake in how this all played out. He wouldn’t turn from his mission and his
real reason for being on the
Beast
even if he married a woman he’d known
less than two days. It was all a part of the mirage. He could do this. He could
do anything to reach his final goal.

Rayder waited as impatience ate at his heels. “Admiral?”

The man turned toward Rayder and smiled. “When you enter
Drakus’ camp to get supplies, you must simper like a little girl to get what we
want.”

“How is that different than any other time we’re there?”
Rayder tried to look bored and unconcerned.

“It isn’t, but I have to remind you every time.” Aramus
walked toward him slowly, his eyes cold as a glacier. “You forget that I know
you well, Daryk One. You are stronger than me. Younger. You hope to take over
this ship one day. Perhaps if you follow in my footsteps and learn from me,
you’ll inherit my wealth and legacy. Until that time, you’re still my second-in-command.
Second.
I’ve seen how you pretend deference to Drakus. But that’s all it
is. Pretend. You want to string him from the highest tree in the Tarrian
jungle.”

You along with him, you dung eater.

Rayder wrapped his right hand around the hilt of his sword.
He gripped it tightly, wanting more than anything to separate this man’s head
from his shoulders. “As you wish, Admiral. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must tend
to my betrothed.”

Aramus inclined his head. “Indeed. I wish you much joy of
her.”

“Sir.” Rayder turned away before he put thought to action
and told the admiral where he could shove his joy.

* * * * *

Xandra stood at one of the portholes in Rayder’s chambers
and stared out at the churning ocean, remembering too much. Far too much about
her recent past.

Blood. Her hands were covered in blood. Her brother was
dead. Slaughtered. Stabbed so many times she couldn’t tell where one wound
ended and another began. Her brother Durand’s sandy hair, long and thick, lay
across his forehead awash in red. His eyes were closed, his face so peaceful.
How could he be in peace? How when her heart twisted, her mind skittering with
questions, wanting answers, needing to escape this horror. Her father and
mother lay close by, their lives cut short by the same horrible wounds.

She gasped in horror at the memory.

The cabin door opened quickly and she whirled around, a
startled scream on her lips.

“Easy, my beauty. You’re still safe.” Mocking humor touched
Rayder’s eyes as he closed the door and strode toward her. “All this screaming
and the men outside will think I’m fucking the hells out of you.”

His rough words made her flinch, but they also made her
blood rush in a very disturbing way. “You are a rogue and a—”

“A rogue. Yes, that’s true.” His teasing expression
disappeared as he walked to his desk. “You are trembling. Are you ill?”

Still shaking, Xandra smoothed her hands over her face. “No.
Bad memories.”

“Don’t blame you. A wave like that comes along only once in
awhile. You were in the wrong place when it decided to appear.”

Thunder rolled, and she started. Xandra wouldn’t reveal the
full content of her dream. No one could know what happened back home. If they
did… “A storm is coming?”

He fiddled with papers on his desk. “Looks like it.”

She closed her eyes and saw the wave coming toward the ship
again, the top so high it was almost too far up to see. She jerked back to
awareness, her mind filled with images she didn’t want to see ever again. “We
can’t be here if another wave decides to form. We’ll be taken under like my ship.”

She recalled holding onto Mia and Ketera as the water came
down upon them.

“We’re heading away from it, back toward Dragonia.” His
voice was unconcerned. “Besides, this ship is at least five times bigger than
the one you were on. It’ll take a lot more than a wave thirty feet high to take
us out.”

She shuddered. “Your admiral thinks this ship is
invincible?”

“Yes, and he is too.”

“Do you believe that?”

“No, but it’s what he thinks, and on this ship, he’s the
law. We have to do whatever he says, whenever he says it.”

“Are we going to Dragonia for a special reason?” She left
the porthole. “To sell more slaves?”

He spared her an emotionless glance. “Of course. It is what
we do”

Asking the next question took everything she had. “Are you
going to sell me?”

BOOK: DarykRogue
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ads

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