Authors: Jessica Coulter Smith
Jessica Coulter Smith
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Copyright ©2014 Jessica Coulter Smith
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Jessica Coulter Smith
She’s his everything, and he’s nothing without her.
Bane has wanted Ariana since the first moment he met her, except she belongs to his brother Arko. When a tragedy happens, Bane steps forward to claim Ariana as his own, but Keshpan law states a slave can never be a bonded mate. That isn’t going to stop Bane from loving her every day for the rest of his life, though.
When Ariana is kidnapped by space pirates, Bane is determined to rescue her, no matter the cost. But things are getting bad back home on Keshpa. A political storm is brewing that just may rip Ariana from his arms the moment he returns with her. Bane will walk away from everything he knows to have the woman he loves by his side.
Arko frowned as he studied the woman on the bed, an IV hooked up to her arm. “Why didn’t you call me sooner?”
“Why? So you could upset her further?” Tyre demanded. “My duty is to my patient. When you said you wanted to end the pregnancy, I told you it was a bad idea. I thought I’d talked you out of it until you made the appointment to bring her in. It’s like she just slipped away the moment the baby died.”
“Couldn’t you have force fed her?”
Bane fought the urge to knock his older brother on his ass. “Why, Arko? Why did you do it? Would it really have hurt anything to let her keep the baby? It meant so much to her.”
“How would it look if my slave had a child and my wife didn’t? Everyone knows Joya is trying to conceive. It would make her look bad.”
“I really don’t give a shit how bad it makes your wife look. Did you ever stop and think that maybe she can’t have kids? Did it occur to you to have her tested for fertility before killing your child?” Bane fisted his hands at his sides. “You damn near killed Ariana! That IV is the only thing keeping her alive because she refuses to eat or drink anything. You took away her will to live.”
“She’ll eat if I tell her to.”
“No, she won’t. Don’t you get it, brother? She doesn’t want to be with you anymore. She never did.”
“Well, I can’t very well sell her while she’s like this! Who the hell would buy her?”
“I would.” Bane set his jaw. “I’ll pay whatever price you ask.”
Arko lifted a brow in surprise. “You want her? Even as she is, broken and dying? Why?”
“Because I think I can make her better. If you’d told me of your plans sooner, I would’ve bought her from you before you made her go through this. What you did to her wasn’t right.”
Tyre cleared his throat. “I’ll witness the documentation if you bring it here. I think the sooner her fate is decided, the better. Maybe this will be what she needs right now. Think about it, Arko. She’s of little use to you at the moment. All she’s doing is racking up a high hospital bill.”
“I’ll pay the bill, too,” Bane offered.
Arko ran a hand across his jaw. “There are new slaves coming in next week. I suppose it would allow me to go shopping.”
Bane tried to hide his disgust at the way his brother referred to the matter. Shopping? He could never think of Ariana as a possession. She was a person, a woman. His woman. He just had to make her realize that. He was definitely going to cause a ruckus, too. The only way to make Ariana realize how important she was to him was to take her home, to
home, not to an apartment for slaves. There were single men on Keshpa who kept slaves in their homes. It was just that his family had never done it before.
“All right. I’ll have someone at the auction house draft the transfer papers. You don’t have to pay me for her since you’re my brother, but I’ll take you up on your offer to cover the hospital bill. I’ll make sure all that’s in there.”
Bane grinned. “I’ll be ready to sign them first thing in the morning. You can bring them here.”
Arko frowned. “Why don’t I bring them by your house?”
“Because I’ll be here.”
Tyre folded his arms over his chest. “Your brother hasn’t left Ariana’s side since I brought him up to this room three days ago. It may injure your pride, but maybe knowing she doesn’t have to go home with you will snap her out of this… well, whatever it is. I don’t have a diagnosis for what’s going on with her other than depression. I think it killed part of her to lose that baby.”
“I’ll go now and get it taken care of,” Arko said. “I’ll return at first light.”
Bane nodded. “Tell Cael that I’ll be back to work once I have Ariana settled.”
“I still can’t believe you’re working with our baby brother.”
Bane shrugged. “I come up with the ideas, he helps put the logistics to it. We make a good team.”
“Until tomorrow, then.”
Tyre checked the IV fluids, walked over to a panel on the wall and punched in a bunch of numbers. When a syringe with orange goo popped out, Bane frowned.
“What’s that for?”
“To wake her. I think you need to tell her the good news. It might be just what she needs right now.”
Bane settled on the edge of the bed and held her hand as Tyre administered the injection. Almost immediately, her eyes began to flutter.
“Ariana? Can you hear me?” he asked softly. “Come back to me, sweetheart. I have something to tell you.”
“I’m not dead?” she croaked.
“No, you aren’t dead, and I hope you won’t be anytime soon. I have good news.”
“This was all a nightmare?”
He ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “I wish that were so. I can’t take away what happened, but Arko did agree to sell you to me. You never have to see him again after I sign the papers tomorrow if you don’t want to. I can arrange it so you’re never in the same room. Once you’re able to leave the hospital, you get to go home with me.”
“You’ll need time to procure quarters for me.”
“No, you don’t understand. You’re coming home, to
home. I want you to live with me, Ariana.”
Her eyes widened. “In your house?”
“Your life is going to be very different from this point forward. No more slave apartments, no more slave dresses. When you’re back on your feet, I’m bringing a clothing designer into the house, and you can have new clothes made. I know the Keshpan dresses won’t fit you because our women are stick thin, and you have such a lush delectable figure, but there’s no reason they can’t be tailored to fit your needs. I want you to be comfortable.”
“Why are you doing this, Bane?”
“I told you why,” he said. “It’s time you were able to enjoy the beauty of my world. Let me share it with you.”
She nodded. “I’ll try to get better.”
“Does that mean you’ll eat now?” Tyre asked.
Her gaze flicked to his a moment before returning to Bane. “Yes, I’ll eat something.”
Bane smiled. “Wonderful. Tyre will get you anything you want. Their food simulator can produce meals from your home planet, if you’d like something familiar. I had one installed in my home, as well, so you can enjoy pizza or spaghetti. I’ve tried both meals and found them fascinating. I think, perhaps, my favorite was pancakes and scrambled eggs.”
She smiled. “Eggs and bacon sounds good. Maybe a biscuit on the side?”
“Whatever you want.” He kissed her hand. “I’d give you the moons from the sky if I thought it would make you better.”
She made a face.
“What is it? Are you hurting?”
“No, it’s just… you’re a little hard to get used to after being with Arko for so long. He’s always been considerate, until now, but he’s never been very enthusiastic about my wellbeing. It’s going to take me some time to adjust to the differences between the two of you.”
Bane squeezed her fingers. “You take all the time you need. I’m not going anywhere.”
No, he wouldn’t leave her side. He hadn’t told her the complete truth. The honest to gods truth was that he’d fallen in love with her the moment he’d laid eyes on her. With her fiery hair and pale complexion, those vibrant green eyes, she’d been breathtaking. Then she’d spoken, a soft sweet voice that had made him smile the instant he heard her. And she’d been his brother’s. It was the only time he’d truly hated his brother, had ever wanted anything that Arko had.
But now she was his. Even if it took him the rest of his life, he was going to show her what it meant to be loved and cherished by a Keshpan male. They had great capacity for love, even if his brother wasn’t a good example. Most Keshpan marriages were love matches, which is why he’d never married. He’d never been in love -- until Ariana.
Everyone on Keshpa knew you didn’t marry your slave. Whether it was an old written rule, or one that was just passed down by word of mouth, he wasn’t certain. That wasn’t to say he was against being the first, because if he thought for a moment that Ariana would agree, he'd ask her to marry him immediately, rules be damned. It was one thing to have her by his side and share his life with her, but to tie their souls together in the claiming ceremony, that would be truly wonderful.
When her meal was ready, Bane helped her eat. She was so weak, she could barely hold the spale, what he’d surmised was similar to a spork on her world. He’d done a little research on Earth since meeting Ariana, anything to feel closer to her. She’d once told him she had a pet cat on her world. He’d already determined that if he should ever have her in his home, he would buy her a porgle, which was a small, round fluffy animal with large eyes and long whiskers. He wanted her to be happy.
He was both pleased, and a little amazed, that she’d cleaned her plate, an expression he’d learned through his Earth studies. He’d picked up quite a few things, including some not so pleasant things, like their swear words. Calling someone a fucker, though, and watching the confused look in their eyes, as they tried to figure out if they’d been insulted or not, was rather humorous.
Bane disposed of the dirty dishes and returned to Ariana’s side. Settling onto the edge of the bed, he pulled her into his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder and relaxed into his embrace. She’d always been at ease around him and for that he was grateful. It would’ve been horrible to fall in love with a woman who hated him. At least he knew Ariana liked him, and like could turn to love, he hoped.
“Read to me?” she asked.
Her request brought him joy. She wanted to spend time with him, otherwise she would’ve sent him from the room.
He picked up the book from the bedside table, where he’d laid it down earlier. He hadn’t realized she’d been listening as he read before. It had been a way to pass the time and he’d hoped she heard his voice, but he wasn’t sure how aware she was of her surroundings.
He opened to the page where he’d left off and began reading. He’d chosen a book from her world, something he’d found in storage. When the ships were sent out in search of women for Keshpa, sometimes they brought back artifacts as well. He’d found a small handful of books and had taught himself the language easily enough. He didn’t even need the translators provided in every home and business in order to speak with her. Earth’s language was rather simplistic. It had been much harder to learn Tourmalan and Vendu.
Ariana’s weight grew heavier, and he realized she’d fallen asleep again. He placed the book back on the table and cuddled her close. Once she was well enough to go home, he could hold her every night while she slept. He supposed he should give her some time to adjust to her new life, give her a separate room, but that wasn’t going to happen. He’d waited a year to have her in his life as something other than his brother’s slave. Now that she would be his, he was going to keep her with him as much as possible. Bane didn’t want to suffocate her, but he was anxious to spend time with her.
He’d taken her to appointments before, for his brother, had actually spent a good bit of time with her over the past year. He’d seen her on occasion when speaking with his brother at her apartment. But he’d never had real one-on-one time with her, not in the way he wanted. He’d prepared himself for more because if given the chance he’d wanted to impress her. Their time alone had been limited, and as she hadn’t belonged to him that was as it should’ve been. Didn’t mean he’d liked it. Every second spent in her company, he’d imagined what it would be like to call her his own. Tomorrow was going to be a dream realized for him.