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.
A knock sounded at the front door and Bane frowned. “I’m not expecting anyone.”
Ariana hung back, not knowing what to expect. She watched in curiosity as Bane opened the door. When he stepped back to allow a tall man and a rather elegant looking young woman to enter, she debated whether or not she should make herself scarce. Bane hadn’t talked to her about what her role would be in his home, what he expected of her. She was a slave, that much she knew, but did he view her in the same light as his brother? Arko would’ve never brought her home with him or allow her to interact with his neighbors. Maybe she should stop painting them with the same brush and realize that Bane was different.
He motioned for her to join them. “Ariana, come meet our neighbors. This is Vryl and his daughter, Lafre. They live to the right of us in the big yellow house.”
Ariana moved to his side and leaned into him when he wrapped an arm around her waist. She didn’t miss the cold look in the young woman’s eyes, or the pinched lips when Lafre’s gaze dropped to Bane’s hand, which was now caressing her hip. Hmm. It seemed the young woman either had something against slaves, felt she was too far above Ariana for an introduction, or… could she, perhaps, have feelings for Bane? Ariana couldn’t really blame her if that was the case.
“Welcome, Ariana. If you ever need anything when Bane isn’t here, please don’t hesitate to come next door,” Vryl said. He gave her an engaging smile, and she returned it. His daughter might not like her, but he seemed personable enough.
“I’m glad Bane arrived home when he did. I had just looked out my front window when I saw the zirrels chasing you. They can be quite a nuisance, can’t they? They don’t like high frequencies though, so if you turn on the COMM and turn the volume all the way up, it usually sends them running.” He smiled. “Just don’t forget to turn the volume back down or you’ll be in for a shock the first time someone rings through.”
“I’ll have to remember that.”
“Well, we won’t keep you,” Vryl said. “We just wanted to introduce ourselves. I work from home so I’m there most days, and when I’m not around, Lafre is. Stop by anytime.”
“I appreciate the offer. I’ll be sure to come by sometime.”
Vryl and Lafre made their goodbyes, the young woman’s eyes never leaving Bane.
He closed the door behind them and turned to face her. Leaning against the door, he sighed. “I had hoped she’d outgrown that.”
Ariana lifted a brow. “You mean her infatuation with you?”
He nodded. “I’ve spoken to her father about it before, but he doesn’t seem to get anywhere with her. She has it in her head that she’s going to be my wife. As if I’d marry that silly child.”
“Child? She looks to be about my age.”
“Yes, well. She’s spoiled and selfish, and she’s younger than you think. She just turned nineteen the other day. I’m sure she’d make someone a fine wife one day, after she’s grown up a bit. It just won’t be me.” He tugged her against his body. “I have the only woman I want.”
“You make it sound like you’ve been pining for me or something.”
“I’ve wanted you since the first moment I saw you. The instant I laid eyes on you, I knew you were special. My damn brother just beat me to you is all. Otherwise, we’d have been together from the beginning.”
“You’ve known me for a year, owned me for about half a day now, and you have yet to try to kiss me.”
Humor lit his eyes. “Well, we can’t have that, now can we?”
Bane tunneled his fingers through Ariana’s hair and tilted her head back. With the ghost of a smile on his handsome face, he leaned down and pressed his lips to Ariana’s. His mouth moved softly against hers, and she found herself leaning into him, wanting more. Her lips parted, inviting him in, and his tongue delved inside. She felt lightheaded as his taste and scent surrounded her. Kissing Bane was like coming home. There was no other way to describe it.
He pulled back and looked down at her. “We should stop, Ari.”
“Why? You don’t want me?”
“Too much. The doctor gave you something to heal your body from your abortion, but I don’t want to pounce on you the moment you’re under my roof. I have more restraint than that.”
She curled her fingers into the fabric of his shirt. “What if I don’t want you to have more restraint than that? What if I want you just as much as you want me?”
Bane shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Yes, I do. I know my own mind and my body, and I want you, Bane. I always have,” she finished softly. “Knowing we could never be together, I had to put you in the ‘hands off’ category, but that’s changed now. I no longer have to pretend indifference when we’re together. I belong to you. Make me yours, Bane. Please.”
His hand tightened on her hair, pulling her closer. “You are mine. You’ll always be mine. There’s nothing that would ever make me get rid of you, Ari. I’ve waited for this moment for what feels like forever. I’m just worried you’re going to be disappointed.”
“You could never disappoint me, Bane.” And she knew she spoke the truth. He actually cared about her, whereas she’d only been a possession to his brother. She’d never meant anything to any of the men in her life, not until Bane. And if his kiss was anything to go by, the passion between them would consume her.
“I can’t be slow or gentle right now. I’ve waited too long to be with you, been too long without a woman. The moment I’m inside of you, I’m going to lose control.”
“Then lose control with me. I want you, all of you. Hot, wild and needing me as much as I need you. Show me what I’ve been missing all of my life, Bane.”
With a groan, he captured her lips once more and lifted her into his arms. He carried her up the stairs to their bedroom. Bane kicked the door shut and set her on her feet. With quick, jerky movements, he rid her of her clothes before nearly tearing his own from his body.
Ariana gasped and traced the tattoo on his chest. Right above his heart was her name in a bold, black script. “When did you get this?”
“I had Tyre laser it into my skin shortly after our first outing together. He thought the request odd, but I showed him pictures of tattoos from your world and explained the significance behind it. He was happy to help.”
Tears gathered in her eyes. “But, I belonged to another. You couldn’t have known then that you would own me one day. No woman would want you while another’s name was tattooed on your chest. No one’s ever done anything like that for me before.”
He flattened her hand over her name. “I wanted to carry you close to my heart, to have you with me always. I knew that I would never want another woman. You’re it for me, Ari. I don’t want to scare you by telling you that, but you need to know the truth. This is going to be more than just a joining of our bodies, at least for me.”
Available February 6, 2014 (U.S.)
from Changeling Press