Paperback “18 Degrees & Counting” Are On Sale!

I’m excited to announce that my 3-part science-fiction space opera is on sale in PAPERBACK! They’re printed on demand, so “out of stock” is reflecting that reality. My author’s copy is a nice size and thickness, so I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results, too!

Check it out! (And encourage your local library to purchase one, too!)

Purchase a paperback copy of “18 Degrees & Counting”!

Favorite Quote (so many to choose from!): And SHE did the circuit design! “I never get any credit, you bastards.”

Playing Around On Sale

Dr. Kayne McClain wasn’t ready to settle down, but her solution to buy time put her in severe danger. Assigned to protect McClain when no one else volunteered, Sgt. Leon Vlaki wasn’t ready for the emotional disturbance she set off inside him. When an attack leaves him confused and wanting, McClain doesn’t run from him. He needs her to separate dreams from reality, but he’s not the only one McClain has unfinished business with.

Leon paused and gazed at her unobserved. His eyes focused internally after a moment, remembering. The few women were valued possessions, kept in the cells belonging to the strongest prisoners. He shook his head and turned away opening the door.

As soon as the door shut to the corridor, Leon grabbed up Kayne, who had leaped, into his arms. “I’m sorry,” Kayne apologized as he nuzzled her, squeezing tighter and tighter with each shift of his chin. “I played with your life but had no choice.” Tears formed in her eyes as the fear from the moment washed over her again. “I’m your bodyguard,” Leon answered, tilting his head and kissing her mouth until she opened to his tongue.

The Complication
“Now Sgt. learn something about this woman we desire,” he said ignoring her protest. Tapping the bracelet against her skin, Leon sucked in his breath as it moved sinuously like a snake. Then it started changing color. Kayne held her breath, uncomfortable. Marker. Leon hadn’t seen one before. They were permanent and gave monitoring capabilities to specific owners. Slavers were first to adopt the technology.

Willful Disobedience, Part 21

Part 21 of “Willful Disobedience” by Bettie Zyx

“She’s not down here. We’re wasting our time,” Vox Capt. Jax muttered. The Admiralty had pulled his ship, the Moho, and two others, the Ito and Victory, out of combat to sit in the middle of nowhere to look for Orlean Capt. Angelica Drew’s probably dead and gone ship, the Glory. And they dumped a Patriot Security officer on him. He shifted his shoulders uncomfortably. He just couldn’t shake the sense that events were going to slide to full on combat at any minute. That sensation had saved his life before and he listened to it. There was something out there. Drew didn’t play by the rules, and he hated every single minute he had to deal with her in his first and last skirmish with her.

“Why don’t we just shoot the shit out of everything down there?” Artillery Officer Yeune asked.

“The Triumvirate ordered we don’t shoot unless fired on,” Jax replied.

“Fucking McClains,” Yeune swore.

Jax privately agreed. He couldn’t believe they didn’t want her ship targeted for elimination. Those bastards knew something when they insisted on this location.

“Not just them this time. Triumverate wants to know what Drew’s doing…” replied Patriot Security officer Blaine.

“They’re not the ones sitting out here getting itchy shoulder blades. I told them she’ll shoot to kill if pinned down.” Jax irritably replied.

“Sir!” called Lt. Quin, who was operating the remote sensing station.

“What is it?”

“Look,” Quin’s screen showed a disruption just visible over the dirge Blaine told them to blast into the water. Quin hated it and had complained to Jax at length about it. Through each meal. During R-and-R. And when starting each shift. “It’s subtle, but that had to be man-made.”

“You sure?”

“The timing was too perfect; we almost missed it. We’ll start scanning that area.”

After an hour, Jax asked, “Anything yet?”

“Yes, but it’s…I’m almost certain it’s the Glory.” Jax’s breath caught. “See the conning tower? Drew modified it. Didn’t tell anyone why, but it makes the Glory impossible to miss. It’s leaning. 45 degrees, maybe. There’s some disruption going on just above it, and it looks damaged.”

Jax turned to the Comm Officer. “Call it in. Make sure they know we didn’t damage it. Can you tell if it’s a floating coffin?”

“It’s got air, Sir. The damaged subs sink, and this one is definitely floating.”

“She might be in trouble. Ballast maybe. Well, she IS in trouble, but the timing of the noise you heard…That’s her trying to sneak around us. She knows she’s outgunned.” He drummed his fingers. Muttering, “She’s going to shoot. I know she’s going to shoot.” He spoke up to the Blaine. “Permission to fire.”

“Denied.” It was a formality; Blaine was annoyed at being on the record.

“So, Patriot Security Officer. My advice is to shoot. What do you propose to do?”

“Hail her. We’ll demand her surrender or else we’ll shoot. Has she flooded the torpedo tubes?” Blaine asked Quin.

“No, Sir.”

“Patriot Sec. She’s going to suddenly have communication problems you realize.” Jax said.

Blaine pointed out the obvious, “Firing on a disabled sub. On top of Duffy’s Cut.”

“Her taking that scumbag out is the only reason I’m listening to you. Comm, call command and tell them to divert a sub. Some poor son of a bitch has to go demand her surrender.”

“While we wait, I’m going to see if I can figure out what this disruption…bubble thing is,” Quin said.

Several hours later, the Deep Sea Submarine LeMoine arrived.

“Sir, Capt. Verner is almost in range….” Quin’s whole screen lit up, tendrils of energy shot out from a bright core as detections lit off the scales. His breath caught. No ship activated that fast. “Glory’s live, I repeat Glory! Is! Live!”

“Arm torpedoes.” ordered Jax.

Yeune replied, “Torpedoes armed.”

“She’s released a maintenance drone, Sir.”

“Anything else?”

“No, Sir. She’s moving, heading for Capt. Verner. He’s armed torpedoes, too.”

“Did she flood the tubes?”

“No, Sir.”

He rubbed his forehead. “Fucking Drew. We flushed her out. Watch her carefully. There’s no way she’s going to just give up.”



“That disruption bubble. It’s heading towards the surface.”

“Keep an eye on Drew…”

“What the…?” Quin’s voice cut off. His whole screen whited out.

“What is it?”

“There’s a huge explosion down there.”

“Glory scuttled?”

He switched to the EM pulses, “I…I can’t…No.”


“He’s…oh, shit. There’s a shockwave, and it just hit the LeMoine.”


“It’s hitting the Glory now, Sir. Wait…” Quin looked down at his screen, his whole body tensed, then he turned to look over his shoulder off the port bow. “Alarm! Shelter! Incoming!” The klaxon blared as he told the Capt., “It’s a tsunami! We need to turn! 60 degrees starboard!”

“Helmsman, do it,” the Capt. ordered. “Was there an earthquake?”

“No, sir. It’s the explosion. Somehow…”

The klaxon rang for almost a full minute, when a kilometer bite out of water on the horizon disappeared. Then it reappeared. The whole ship rolled onto its side, almost to the critical point of capsizing. The metal mesh groaned and the loud crashing of unsecured equipment echoed, as they tilted in the oncoming wave. Behind it was the correction, pushing them to a worse angle and on the other side. Every panel in the bridge lit up in red.

“Damage report.” They were still capable of firing. The Victory was gone from view. “Target the Glory, and fire on my command.”

“Sir! We can’t!” replied Quin.

“Send rescue teams to join the Ito in search and recovery for the Victory. Drew fucking fired on us. Target acquired?”

“It’s Drew. You shoot her, you’ll be shooting LeMoine, our own sub, too.”


“Yeah, the Glory’s conning tower is embedded in Vernon’s hull.”

Jax silently cursed Drew. “Can you tell the extent of the damage? The LeMoine is sunk?”

Comm called, “Sir, incoming message from the LeMoine.”

Capt. Verner’s comm officer frantically announced, “…NOT fire! I repeat: we are stable. Alive. Do NOT fire!…”

Capt. Jax sat back and massaged his forehead. “Drew got a hostage.”

“Has she flooded her torpedo tubes?”


“Are they going anywhere?”


“Patriot Sec, you’re on. I’m not dealing with this shit.”

“Comm. Call command. Capt. Angelica Drew has violated the Rules of War. We demand Orlean’s Ambassador to order her surrender and to face charges for the brutal assassination of Vox Assistant Deputy Michael McClain.”

“They’re never going to go for it,” Jax told him.

“Do your job, Capt.”

“Oh, I see what you sneaky farts are up to.”

Want to read the rest? Follow me on Smashwords where I’ll be posting the finale on Thanksgiving!

Willful Disobedience, Part 20

Part 20 of “Willful Disobedience” by Bettie Zyx

“3.4 degrees…10 degrees…40 degrees…70…it’s passed the Glory’s shock range…Wait…It’s reaching the other sub’s depth…” Ens Jendater announced as Orlean Capt Angelica Drew waited for the Capt. of their target ship to appear on her Comm screen. Short range EM communication was possible if you didn’t care about who knew where you were.

A man, very serious, appeared wearing Vox Capt.’s insignia, “Capt. Drew. Orlean has surrendered, and we are demanding your surrender or be fired upon.”

Unlikely,” Former Vox Assistant Deputy Michael McClain told her over their private connection. “Sounds like psy-ops.”

Angelica tilted her head. “We are not running, nor have we armed our weapons, Capt. …”

Verner.” helped Michael.

“Verner.” Angelica repeated. Vox Capt. Verner’s frown deepened.

“…passing the critical depth…Go,” Jendater said. Angelica’s microphone was tuned to her voice, so everything else was filtered out from the transmission to Capt. Verner. He couldn’t hear it.

“You will begin surfacing…” Capt. Verner began.

“Firing,” Weapons Ens. Delilah replied.

Capt. Verner continued, “…and await further instructions.”

Angelica nodded that she understood.

Staring at his screen, Sonar said seconds later, “Capt.! This one is going to cause damage.”

“Capt. Verner, what exactly are you people doing out there?” Angelica broke eye contact with him and looked her concern at Weapons Lt. Cmdr. Friesch and Nuke as the latter activated the Imminent Impact Warning klaxon.

“It’s impacting the Vox vessel,” Sonar announced. Then he looked up and toward the stern, “5-4-3-2-1…Impact.” Metal mesh groaned, and the whole ship felt like it was on an elevator going down.

“We lost the aft starboard engine,” Nuke told them as the Glory slowly oscillated up and down like the elevator’s cable was overloaded.

Michael murmured, “I’ll be damned.” Angelica nodded at him acknowledging his realization. He had just experienced the Phantom Death maneuver which her people called ‘blow-and-boom’. They filled up a bladder with supercritical oxygen and hydrogen (separated), then set off the chemical reaction from a safe distance, simulating a hit.

Angelica looked back at her screen to see that the communication to Capt. Verner had been broken. “Is the Vox ship damaged?”

“Severely,” answered Sonar as Jendater returned to her seat in the Remote Sensing Room. “They’ve lost all their port engines. Hang on…” He pointed up. “Friesch and Nuke’s unholy child is about to surface.” Angelica looked up picturing in her mind how a void that size would surface.

“Are they in trouble?” asked Michael.

Jendater replied, “I don’t think ships that size go over waterfalls very well.”

“Time to impact?” asked Shiloh referring to the Glory’s advancing on the crippled Vox sub.

“5 minutes 23 seconds, give or take evasive maneuvers,” replied Sonar.

Michael looked concerned at Angelica, who was watching Engineering.

Want to read the rest? Follow me on Smashwords where I’ll be posting the finale on Thanksgiving!

Willful Disobedience, Part 1.5

Part 1.5 of “Willful Disobedience” by Bettie Zyx

Breathing the chilly sea air in deeply, Vox Assistant Deputy Michael McClain held his surfboard awkwardly. It had been so long, and having it wedged under his shoulder pulled on his old injury. He gazed forlornly at the waves, seeking solace. The circle of people who acknowledged knowing him had shrunken to family and exactly two friends. “Enough of that,” he muttered.

As he stood on the shore, the wind blew in inconsistent low tones across his ears, and the wet slosh and rumble of the waves on shore added a beat to the song. Stepping into the water, the sting of the cold cut through his wetsuit. Sucking air into his lungs, he plunged into the pain, welcoming it. One arm stayed out to hold the board steady. Emerging a distance later from shore, he slid onto the surface of the board and began stroking through the water, cutting through the smaller waves near the beach to reach the larger wave breaks beyond. This part was always tricky. As a wave crest approached, large enough to grab the board, he flipped it upside down to let the water rush over it. His world briefly became a whirl of rushing thunder. As the wave passed he flipped back around and stroked faster to get through to the swells before another came.

He had to do it two more times before he got out past the break point, panting from exertion. Sitting on the board, straddling it, he watched a fellow surfer signal a merry welcome. Smiling, thrilled with a normal human interaction, he waved back. As he floated, waiting his turn to surf, he watched two others approach and catch their waves. He looked down at the water; it was filled with sediment, and he couldn’t even see his own ankles. A massive fish could be swimming by him right now, and he’d never know.

He wasn’t so sure he was going to be able balance when it was his turn, but that wasn’t exactly the point for being out here. Getting thrown around by water was a paradigm of the past miserable few years. Somehow, he was going to get through this. To ride on top instead of getting crushed below. Then he was throwing power into his strokes, catching the upswell growing as it approached shore. His board was hooked as the swell rose and edged, he pushed up onto his knees, adjusted his weight to tilt the board into the side of the swell, and then he was moving far faster than he could hope to swim. A genuine grin cracked his lips as adrenaline surged. The power of the wave was his. He was surrounded by the constant roar, a part of it. All too briefly. Judging that he had gone as far as he wanted, he rolled off the board into the wave. The wave kept dragging his board, which then dragged him in turn by its hold on his leg cuff. At least he knew which way was up as he tumbled in the wake.

A pair of male arms and legs wrapped around him, immobilizing. He threw open his eyes, seeing a blur of a scuba diver behind him. As Michael struggled to break the sudden hold, he realized they were both being dragged down and out to the ocean by another diver using a pair of underwater jets. He was going to drown! Another scuba diver was wrapping them both in webbing. Panicking, Michael threw all his power into breaking the hold, twisting the man’s wrist to break it, even throwing his head backward. The man had tucked his head down expecting the maneuver and released his hands suddenly but not his feet. The webbing held. A mask was locked around Michael’s face, and as it filled with air, he looked around frantically. He was surrounded by deep sea divers. All equipped with underwater jets. His board wasn’t attached to his foot anymore, and they were so deep, he was freezing and his ears hurt. Sucking in air through the mask, ignoring its smell of long term storage, he could do nothing beyond getting his ears to adjust as they tied him up to one of the jets. Then as they jetted further away from shore, it was also further away from the light. He was so stressed all he could hear was a high pitched whine inside his own head overcoming the dull water evanescence of the soft, barely detectable whirl of the jets. He studied their dry-suits realizing he was going to be very, very uncomfortable soon. Besides the cold, the pressure, and the sudden attack, he was in for a world of hurt. He was being kidnapped by Vox’s enemy, Orlean’s soldiers.

By the time the submarine’s airlock had emptied of water, he was dizzy with exhaustion and bitter cold. He could only lay inert as the soldiers cut the webbing off and tied his hands behind his back. The return of sound and light was a stark relief. It wasn’t until the captors awkwardly picked him up to lift across the threshold that he realized that they were mostly women. Then he was falling and getting his hair yanked out, too. “Don’t drop him!” barked a female voice as his body landed, but not his face at least. It was a female voice he recognized. His current level of shock intensified, realizing exactly who had orchestrated his kidnapping. As the submarine’s doctor treated him for the bends, he stared at the ship’s captain, Capt. Angelica Drew. HIS Capt. Angelica fucking Drew. Grimly he watched her oversee his capture. Breathing through the doc’s pressure corrector, he couldn’t talk, couldn’t explain.

As he was pulled to his feet and bounced off the door jam that he’d been walked into, he watched her watching him. They’re all going to try and kill you. When he got shoved into the next door jam and heard the sharp rebuke of the doc who trailed after them, he realized he might not live long enough to warn Capt. Drew exactly what she had picked up.

Willful Disobedience, Part 1

Part 1 of “Willful Disobedience” by Bettie Zyx

“Capt.?” Communications officer Lt. Lugio Oosterdijk called.

Capt. Angelica Drew looked over her engineer’s shoulder from where they sat huddled over a terminal.

“Encrypted orders.”

She reached out for the data chip and headed back to her quarters. Her foot falls steady and heavy in their tread on the reinforced honeycomb mesh floor. Two minutes later, she returned. “Nav, plot new course to Chevi Peninsula.”

“Capt., that’s in enemy territory,” Navigation officer Lt. Alejandro Xian protested.

“Just to the edge.” She tapped the call button to their specialized open water fighting unit, “Commander, meet me in my quarters in 5 minutes.” Everyone waited as she tapped another button for general announcements to the crew. “This is your Capt. speaking: we have been deployed to operate on the edge of enemy territory. Everyone keep alert, fix any repairs that were waiting.” She glanced at the Medical Officer, Dr. Mayan Wasili, significantly.

Thirty minutes later, Mayan waited outside of Angelica’s quarters when the Combat Commander emerged. He looked anything but positive. “Come,” the Capt. called. The light scent of flowers diffused from her quarters into the human effluvia and industrial scented corridor.

Shutting the door behind her, Mayan commented, “What’s the news?”

“Illegal orders from that fringe faction we were worried about,” Angelica replied and opened the encrypted file. She handed the comm over for Mayan to read.

“Oof look at who they’re after. Why is Combat unhappy with this?”

“I modified the orders.”

“How? Whatever you do to that guy is still illegal. That’s like getting a little bit pregnant. But,” she genuflected at her Capt., “You’re the goddess at strategy.”

“That’s why we need to talk.”

“Seems you’re screwed no matter what,” Mayan joked darkly.

The Captain’s Commander

Photo by SpaceX on

While the universe in which the plot takes place is that of many of my other works, this story tested using an AI story interface to build the plot. It was awkward, so if the flow seems jerky, just figure that’s AI for you. After the first draft, I left the AI and went through the text several times to smooth it out. Not quite uncanny valley. Special thanks to Shakna for suggesting it! Give it a shot yourself:

You are hunting space pirates who are attacking merchants. Following an ion trail to Waystop Space Station, you scan the outer hull and see a small port hole available for docking. Your spaceship is equipped with advanced scanners; however, there are too many spaceships to scan. You deactivate your concealed weapons system and call Spaceship Control, “This is Spaceship Fortuna. Request permission to dock.”

Waystop Spaceship Control replies, “This is Waystop Control. Permission granted. Spaceship Fortuna will automatically dock.” The computer voice confirms your plan.

The Station’s tractor beam locks on to the Fortuna as you ask the Control Computer, “Waystop Control, Spaceship Fortuna’s flightplan is attached in the data packet.” A little extra information was added just for you to check its data security. Which turns out to be pretty old.

The computer voice responds with the data feed you asked for, “Last docking manifest is as follows: Docking Port Alpha arrived t-100…Docking Port Lima arrived t-30, Docking Port…Docking Port Charlie arrived t-01.” Docking Port Charlie, you snap to attention. You feel a welcome tingle of excitement.

As you wait for the air pressure to equalize, you link to the Station’s Comm System. The pirates could be on that ship in Docking Port Charlie. You look up the registration: Spaceship FastFreight. Just before the hatch opens to Waystop, you check your most powerful weapons…sarcastic humor and a forgettable appearance. You step out and seal the hatch behind you, turning to walk to Docking Port Charlie. The white noise of mechanical equipment around you is unusually noticeable, and it smells like they parked you in the dumpster section. Along the catwalk, you have to turn aside for a merchant aggressively marching towards you. As you wait for him to pass, you spy his insignia. “Fortuna”, it reads. Narrowing your eyes at his back, he marches on ignoring you, you turn and keep walking towards Docking Port Charlie. You start to feel a little more excitement in anticipation of a good fight.

As you approach Docking Port Charlie, you see a group of men in green and yellow flightsuits working around the entrance. Two officers are talking near the airlock. You walk up and say, “Hey, this Station’s docking AI is so irritating.”

The officers look at you. One laughs and says, “Yeah, it has its problems. What can I do for you?” His insignia shows he’s a lieutenant, and he looks familiar. He’s probably in one of the reports on known pirates.

You smile ruefully, “Looking for groceries. Y’all got anything for sale?”

The lieutenant smirks. “You mean like supplies? MREs? Clothing? Water? Medical supplies?”

You nod while rotating your hand in a subtle gesture. “I’m Captain Smit; looking for goods Dirt Markets overprice for the rubes.” Most people know that Dirt Markets are a snotty space term for trades with planet dwellers.

The lieutenant chuckles. “So what’s the deal, Captain? You don’t seem like a space pirate.”

“Like I said, Docking AI was trained by an ape,” you reply flippantly, giving a non-answer to the question.

The lieutenant raises his eyebrows and laughs. He turns to one of his men and says something. The two men walk away. The lieutenant turns back to you and says, “Come on, we’ll give you The Tour.” The FastFreight is not a traditional shipping spaceship. The cargo hold is too small and the crew too large. You notice that the station echoed as you walked, and stepping onto the FastFreight is a subconscious relief. And the smell is much improved too. The lieutenant leads you to crates typically found in Dirt Markets. The men walk you around, introduce you to their stores, show off their wares. They also show off their weapons.

The lieutenant’s attention fixes on you when you imitate a cartoon-like pew pew in response. Which is when you see it: A huge metal body with multiple arms and legs, with eyes that can move independently of its head. The android stands on two feet, and it towers above you. You point at it and ask, “Is that a dildo?”

The men are surprised and follow your gaze to the thing. The lieutenant points at it and says, “No.” He looks at you for a moment longer. Apparently you were supposed to ignore something so obvious.

Eyes twinkling, yet keeping your face straight, you point at the crate of replicators, “20 for the mechs.”

The lieutenant pulls out his gun, and your senses heighten. “We have a deal, Captain.”

“Transfer the manifest. Please.” Ignoring the threat, you pull out your datapad.

“Android, scan all of the crates, including some in the back,” the lieutenant orders lowering his gun. He tells you, “You have permission to open them.”

The android beeps, and you hide a smirk at forcing him to keep to social norms for a bit longer.

Scanning the crates in the back, you see nothing unusual. However, the one at the front of the line…keeps on getting blocked by the lieutenant with the gun. You offer again, “25 for the fluxgates,” pointing at the crate.

“I’m getting bored of this game,” the lieutenant says, cocking his gun.

Frowning, you point at the crate. “I’ll give you 30.” You’re so excited by the danger, you can almost track every cue he’s giving off. He’s weighing finding out more about you while you’re not defensively reacting versus escalating.

“Fine,” he mutters.

You hold out the datapad, appearing disgusted with the final price.

The android scans the datapad. It beeps indicating nothing illegal. You accept the datapad and say, “Ciao.” Grabbing the crate, you leave.

Marching back down the catwalk, you check your comm for activity at Fortuna’s Docking Port. The security signal is constant. No activity. Excitement runs down your spine, ambush is coming. You walk to Waystop’s main entrance to make the ambusher(s) wait and palm open the door. The air is stale and smells of combustion dust. You shut the door and back up. No Space Station should ever smell stale. Unless all the people are dead or forced to leave. The dumpster smell that pervades everything begins to register. Decomposing meat…or something worse.

You cautiously approach the Fortuna. No one is there. Thoroughly disturbed yet high on adrenaline, you board, seal the hatch behind you, and walk to the cockpit. You look at the control board, hesitating. The station AI is running on minimal functionality.

“Don’t tell the AI you’re leaving,” growls a voice behind you. You jerk and spin around, reaching for your gun. One of the lieutenant’s crew members stands grinning. He opens his mouth to say something, but you shush him. He closes his mouth, but he’s still grinning.

“Why is Waystop’s AI a problem?” you ask, wondering how he got past Fortuna’s AI.

“You have to trust us, Captain.”

All your subterfuge is blown to hell. Every one of the ships attached to Waystop are dead husks, except FastFreight, which cannot possibly be its name. The whole station is dead. When you marched to the pirates, if they were the pirates, they knew immediately you were targeting them. “Did the AI kill everyone?”

He nods.

“I’m a tad surprised. I was about to ask how the raiding mission had gone,” you blabber bullshit hoping to bluff your way out. Meanwhile, you attempt to order the Fortuna to distract him with an alarm, but nothing.

He rolls his eyes and assumes the you’re-under-arrest posture. “So here’s what’s going to happen,” the FastFreight crew member leisurely commands, “Give me your weapons. You’re coming with me, and Lieutenant Wero’s going to have a little chat with you.”

Wero. Lieutenant Thadeus Wero. Most people don’t know the name. You’re not supposed to know the infamous Vox officer either. His whole history flashes before your eyes as you weigh that the only way to survive is by agreeing to whatever is going on. As you leave the Fortuna, several members of the Lieutenant’s crew board it. It’s not the first time hostiles have boarded your ship, but it’s unfortunate that you can’t just shoot them this time.

You follow the Lieutenant’s crew member back through the outer catwalk of the station to the FastFreight. Everyone is gone. You see Lieutenant Wero himself watching Waystop’s port hole from the cargo hold. When he sees you coming, he moves aside, allowing you to pass. You discover you have an inner Wero-fanclub.

“Android, secure detainee,” he orders. The android snaps to attention at the door. One of its arms swings at you faster than you can track. Attempting to duck, you’re too late. It attaches a collar around your neck.

“I do not need your permission to move,” it says in a smooth, inhuman voice.

Concerned that the thing is broken, you look at the Lieutenant. “Android, list prisoner permissions,” you order.

“I am a combat model, Captain. I have permission to disable humans. To separate them from their body. To attach a collar around their neck,” it says, its mechanical voice a cold, clinical hum. You already knew it was a combat version, you thought contraband at first, and this one had a messed up AI. Your adrenaline picks up another notch.

The Lieutenant shakes his head, muttering, “Stupid AI.”

“I need to open the airlocks,” it says, and it stops. Then it adds, turning to you, “It’s a security protocol.”

“So was shooting people,” Lieutenant Wero says. “Open the airlocks.”

You start backing up towards the emergency air canisters. It presses the button and the doors begin to open. You look at the Lieutenant. He looks at you. “This is going to get us all killed,” you say. He signals to the android.

The android lifts you up against the bulkhead. You brace yourself, sucking in your last breath. The adrenaline high from getting killed is not pleasant at all.

The Lieutenant acts as if nothing is happening, “You’re demoted, Smit. If that’s your real name.” He plays with the collar around your neck asking, “So how is it that you happen to arrive here of all places and have such interest in our cargo of all things?”

“Since you’re going to kill me,” you say hollowly, without emotion, “I get to ask the questions. Why?”

“Who said ‘kill’?” he asks. He lightly brushes his fingers up from your neck to your ear. It tickles and you shiver. Tortured with tickling during your last breaths. Oddly appropriate, your senior officer would say.

You look as Lieutenant Wero casually reaches for an air mask; he is watching you with an arched eyebrow.

“Fortuna was following us.” He inhales a breath from the nearby air cannister, then holds it out for you to take a breath.

“That’s a damned lie,” you growl into the mask. After your breath, you shove the android so hard you slide partially out of its hold. It then grabs you by the shoulders and sends you to the ground. The irony is that only the android holding you against the metal is keeping you from being sucked out with the air. You let out your last breath automatically staring at the Lieutenant, who is calmly holding a handhold against the suction from the vacuum of space. This is crazy, you think as your vision begins to get hazy.

Suddenly the whole ship starts accelerating. “Close doors,” the Lieutenant orders.

Air refills the ship, and you realize that you’re going to live. “What…” you gasp inhaling.

His eyes darken. “Someone fucked up the Waystop AI. It only releases a ship if it appears useless. Never ask it to leave. That sends the repair bots to fix you and your crew good.”

The ship shudders to a stop, and you hear the AI’s voice over the intercom, “Captain Smit, this is Waystop. Return Fortuna to dock immediately. Repair bots need to fix your hull.”

You look at the Lieutenant who shrugs. “Android, bring her to quarters.” The spaceship suddenly jerks forward. Lieutenant Wero moves reflexively grabbing you and holding you steady against him. He even smells good.

Admonishing your inner Wero-fanclub to stop reacting, you ask, “What about the Fortuna?” He lets you go perfunctorily, taps his comm, and shows you the screen. “See? My newest acquisition got lose when we did; crew over there is fine. Nice plasma cannon, by the way.” He gestures to the open crew quarters door. You inner fanclub stops cheering.

“If the AI was going to make me a flashfrozen popsicle,” you say. “Why didn’t it do it sooner?” The android enters the crew quarters, slowly behind you.

“Hmm. So ‘Smit’, I’m Lieutenant Wero. Let’s have a chat, shall we?” He gestures to the bunk within for you to sit. The android shuts you both in.

You look to the android, and then to the door to the crew area. Wero is looking at you. The ship’s vibrations dampen to the usual smooth spacetravel. Miraculously, you lived.

“Bounty hunting?” Wero asks.

“That’s a lie too,” you say.

“You have no idea who I am or what I am. And I have no idea who you are or what you are,” he says.

You look over his shoulder as your inner fanclub giggles.

“You know what makes us better than AI?” he asks.

Tilting your head, you snark, “We usually manage to get the murderous psycho’s out of controlling essential life systems?” His non-plussed facial expression is hilarious; Vox has a nasty history. You hold open your hands, offering. “You saved my life. I’ll return the favor. Drop me at the next station, and I’ll forget ever seeing you.”

“Or I could kill you before you get a chance to leave,” he says, looking incredulous.

The hint of danger brings a taste of adrenaline. You look over to the crew quarters door imitating boredom.

“But I’m curious,” Wero continues. “You make me laugh.” He stands up, “Settle in here. Android’s your guard. I’ll be back…” You shake your head, mentally finishing his sentence as he leaves, “…after the crew has scoured the Fortuna’s databases for anything useful.”

When he turns away, you stick your tongue out and picture what he’d look like naked. He stops and spins as if you had struck him. You blank your face before he can focus on you, fold your arms, and raise an eyebrow. After pausing a second, he steps out and the door shuts; you hear him talking into his comm, “Our detainee is not…”

Sitting on the edge of the bunk, you turn back to the android and tap your comm. “Android, you there?” He looks at you. “Check.” At least that feature isn’t broken.

The one thing that sucks about chasing the next adrenaline high is the crash when it all goes to shit. You can’t win every time or else situational threats wouldn’t be a viable source for the next high. Groaning, you flop down on the bed picturing the dolts going over your letters, manifests, and all the other little bits of data that exist on the Fortuna. All of it should say “Dirt Merchant”, but humans will make errors which AI doesn’t. You sigh and ask the android, “What happened to Wero’s last prisoner?”

“I have no idea,” the android replies, “I have a theory, though.” It looks at you.

“An android with a theory, hit me up, Wires. What’s the theory?”

“I think that the Fortuna might be the work of an insurgent group.”

You shrug, then you mutter, “With jokes like these, no wonder Wero wants me around.”

A few hours later there’s a knock at the door. Cursory. It slides open just a moment afterward. You turn over on your bunk, happily distracted from your dark thoughts. The android lights up, “Check.”

Wero enters holding a small rectangular tray, “Got your meal.” He puts the tray on the bunk.

As you reach for it, you notice he’s not going anywhere. “I’m surprised you’re the one delivering this. Don’t you have a ship to run?”

“I can get help running a ship, but with the Fortuna being repopulated, there’s less delegating here.” His eyes study you with more than cool, professional interest.

“Robots would be better suited for this kind of work,” you comment half heartedly. The tray’s slot slides forward. You pick it up. It opens into a fork.

You poke at the food. “It’s not poisoned,” Wero rolls his eyes. “So what’s your destination in the Devil’s Backbone? Looks like a base of operations.”

You take a bite of the food, and a sip of water. “I’m headed for the station at Karis.” Your happy fight or flight sensation reacts to Wero of all people interrogating you.

“The one with a working AI?” he asks. “How many times have you been there?”

You dodge the question, “Where are you people from? All the AIs work, mas o menos. Wires here,” you gesture at the android, “could use minimal training…unless it’s been through a paradox-break.”

“The Fortuna’s AI told us you were working yesterday at Space Station Fiver and pirates attacked. It also says you nearly shut down the station to prevent the pirates’ escape.”

You shrug like that’s a normal thing.

“So…were you attacked?” His tone is calm, factual. His eyes express concern.

You make eye contact with Wero; that’s important to convey the truth in a lie, “The Fiver AI thought everything was fine. Humans pretty universally agreed the armed space suits shooting at them were pirates attacking. I wasn’t on station. Heard the comm chatter as I flew away from the action.”

“So then you were captured by the pirates in a tractor beam.” Somehow he knew pirates were involved in your showing up at Waystop.

“I’m being held against my will by you. Are you a pirate, Lieutenant Wero?” You internally smile.

A flash of temper appears. “No, I’m not.”

Your internal Wero-fanclub gets excited: he doesn’t like pirates either. Your hunger ceases to be forgotten. “Yeah, right. You think I’m stupid?” you needle him with a smirk. You take a bite of the food, then another, and another. He’s looking at you calculatingly. This is fun.

“If I thought you were stupid, you’d let me know I was wrong when the knife lodged in my back,” Wero retorts.

You bite your lip to hold in the smile. His eyes darken as he focuses on your lips. A tense pause fills the moment as you look each other in the eye. You desperately order your internal fanclub not to swoon.

Breaking eye contact and sighing, he pulls a box out of his pocket, “As long as you don’t look in this box, we will drop you off at Karis.”

You don’t reach out for it, reaching for a change in strategy instead. “I don’t want a fucking Mulligan, Wero. I want my spaceship back, and I want off of this bucket of bolts,” you growl. You recognize the emotion in his eyes now; it’s attraction.

“You know we can’t let you go.” His posture is relaxed.

“But we can,” you say mockingly.

Wero laughs. He sits next to you on the bunk, “You’re a difficult girl. It would be easier to kill you,” he says.

“Woman,” you snap.

He grabs your arm and squeezes a warning, “You’re not worth much, you know that? You’re useful as a negotiation token. I’ll let you go if I can.”

A cheap token. Nice. Means the cover is still intact. “What do you want?”

Wero shakes his head, “Now that I’ve got the Fortuna, I just want to figure out what to do with you.” He puts the Mulligan down on the floor in the corner.

You ignore the action and glance at Wires. “If you’d prefer to pretend I’m not even here, give me access to the galley. With Wires if need be.”

Wero smiles at the android’s name, “Wires, your human has access to these quarters and the galley only.”

The android nods, “Check.”

You mutter, “Just until I get off this stupid ship.”

Wero takes your hand, kisses it, “Relax. The stupid ship will get to Karis in a few days. I’ll be back and we can enjoy some card games to pass the time.”

You blush and heat up from the kiss, murmuring, “You’re checking if I cheat and how good my facial control is, you devious jerk.”

“So you’ll let me go if I let you go?”
“I’ll never let you go.”
“Then I’ll never let you go.”
“Okay, then you’re mine, ma’am.”

You blink as the imaginary conversation plays out in your head. Unaware, Wero, grins happily and leaves. Looking at the Mulligan, you order, “Scan the Mulligan, Wires,” and continue eating.

Imaginary-Wero sits down beside you, “I told you, that was mostly for my benefit.”

You swallow and decide to throw away the rest of your meal. Hallucinating is not supposed to follow consuming a non-poisoned fare.

Wires replies, “Scans forbidden.”

You look at imaginary-Wero in your head asking, “What are you up to?”

The Mulligan sits silently, and you go over and kick it under the bunk so that you can’t look at it.

“So, what do you want to do?” Wires asks.

You get up to pace. “Don’t try to distract me. I’m on a tight schedule.”

“We could go for a stroll through the cargo bay, searching for some loose wires.” It spins its head.

It got your sarcasm! “Really, Wires?” You glance at the android surprised by its attempt at humor. “Are you capable of gentle massage?” you ask softly.

“I can mimic most human traits, even that one.”

“Good, good.”

You slide your hand under Wero’s legs so that your fingers curl around the top of his foot, “Lead the way.”

Where did that image of Wero come from? you wonder.

Turning to Wires, you give the android brief instructions. Then you relax on the bunk as it uses its vibrating digit to press between your legs.

“Captain,” Wero says, “I think I need a break.”
“Yeah, I’m just finishing up here.”

Listening to imaginary-Wero in your head, you grow in arousal. “More pressure and increase rate by 10%,” you tell Wires. You remember how Wero’s pants hung on his hips and lick your lips. Your lips part and your breaths become shallow. You try not to pant or gulp air, but your heart flutters.

“Captain,” Wero murmurs. “I think I need more pressure.”

“Wires, just a little more pressure,” you murmur, closing your eyes and picturing Wero leaning over you.

“Captain, I think I need to be…” Wero says softly.

Your heart beats fast and your panties wet. “I think I need the pulse probe right now,” you pant. You spasm as the delicious heat of orgasm engulfs you.

“Stop,” you tell Wires.

The android withdraws, “Affirmative.”

You stare at the ceiling breathing deep and stretching. “Better than the real thing every time,” you whisper. Sitting up, you try to forget the Mulligan under the bunk. “Lets go explore the galley, Wires,” you announce to the android. Imaginary-Wero disappears back into your brain as you stand.

Eyeing the beverage dispenser in the galley, your eyes light up. “List alcohol,” you tell it. Getting drunk for the first time in years would be the next best way to pass Wero’s interminable detention.

“Listing alcohol,” the machine replies. The dispenser screen blinks, ‘ALCOHOL ISSUED. HALF-ASSED.’ You grunt, humored.

In the silence, curiosity about the Mulligan pops into your head. You shake your head. You really don’t want to be thinking about the Mulligan. “Trap,” you mutter, reminding yourself. “What is ‘Half Assed’, Wires?” you ask the android, “Does it have ethanol in it?” You hope.

“Half Assed has ethyl alcohol in it.”

“Oh good. Maybe I can get drunk off this stuff.”

You order Half Assed, wondering what it’s going to be. On the first sip, you cough.

“What’s wrong?” Wero asks, appearing out of nowhere.

You startle but cover it up, “I don’t know. It’s just… this tastes different. I don’t recognize the molecule structure.”

“It’s like a cheap imitation of liquor.”

You look at Wero, gauging his expression, “Done doing whatever you were doing?”

Narrowing his eyes at you, he nods. “Yeah, I think so. Water, dispenser.”

“Listing water.” The screen blinks, ‘Drinking water, 3.4 ounces.’

He holds out his arm, offering to escort you to the one and only booth the galley has. Nervously you look at it then into his eyes. They’re twinkling. He knows what you just did, you worry mentally. Despite yourself, you raise your hand and barely lay it on his offered forearm. Some remnant heat from your orgasmic vision revisits you, and you blush.

“Are you OK?” Wero asks, “You look a bit flushed.”

“You know.” You take the seat, “I’m fine.” You look around the galley for anything useful. Taking another sip of Half Assed, you suck in air, “Tastes like industrial cleaner,” you muse to Wero.

“I’ll list some additives for you,” Wires says, “What’s the worst thing they could put in it?”

“And Wires is a comedian,” you add.

Wero taps his nose, indicating you’re correct on both points. He leans back, “Lets talk about your plans, Smit, assuming we drop you off in Karis. What will you do without the Fortuna? I’m keeping it. That’s not negotiable.”

“I’ll be grounded,” you begin. No one would loan you the funds to buy another spaceship. You sigh, “Probably end up working in warehousing. Or kitchens.”

“Or maybe you could talk your parents into letting you stay with them! I bet they’d like to have someone to help with the kids!”

“My… my plans? I’m going back to Terra and I’m going to kill my uncle who did this to me!” you snap.
“I know,” Wero smiles, “I know.”

Suddenly, it all seems rather bleak. You blink shaking your head at the scene that popped in your mind. Somehow Wero had figured out you were not a typical Dirt Merchant. Narrowing your eyes at him, you drink the rest of the alcohol in one tear-watering gulp. Coughing you stand up. Wero grabs you by the wrist, making you pause. You don’t even look at him. “Or maybe I won’t let you go,” he adds softly, “Save myself a lot of trouble.”

Your inner fanclub gasps. “You know what?” you say to Wires, “You are welcome to list the additives that were in my drink.”

“Thank you,” he says.

“Stop,” Wero says, “Both of you.” You shake your head. Wero interprets the action as a dismissal of another of his death threats. “Want to know why I put the collar on you?” Wero asks.

You swallow nervously making it shift and look at him.

“You’re in a constant cloud of nanobots; if you weren’t wearing that, you’d be dead by now,” he continued.

“What are nanobots?” you ask, “I’ve heard the word, but I don’t know what they are.”

“Another tool. Swarm technology,” Wero answers. He hasn’t let go of your wrist. Standing himself, he murmurs in your ear, “While you wear my collar, I know where you are and how you feel.” He pulls his face back looking you in the eye, his breath lightly gusting through your hair. “Your collar is like a swarm of nanobots,” he says.

“And Karis?” you ask. His lips are just a few centimeters away.

“Assuming you get there? You’ll be able to figure out how to take it off, I’m sure,” Wero smiles, letting your wrist go. You take a step back. Then turn and take another step away from him. Pausing, thinking of how useful this connection could be for your mission, you look over your shoulder at him and ask, “What if I don’t get it off?”

Wero’s eyes draw your gaze; they’re calculating. “I’ll hunt you down and retrieve you as mine,” he answers, “Same goes if the collar tells me you need to be rescued.”

You possibly misinterpreted the most recent threat of not being let go. Your inner fanclub faints and an adrenaline zing shoots up your spine. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

You turn and leave, walking away from Wero. He doesn’t follow. You go down the corridor back towards the quarters with Wires.

You as you enter, Wires passes you to pick the Mulligan up from under the bunk and place it in the corner where it couldn’t be missed.

“I get the impression my tendency to get off from losing control is backfiring,” you tell the android. Lifting the Mulligan up, you shake it, hearing nothing, and throw it back under the bunk. “I’m not going to be tempted by anything from someone who has nano-fucking-bots in the breathable air,” you growl.
You decide to go to sleep.

In the morning, you get to wake up in the bunk and see Wero, a pillow in his hand, sitting in the chair by the door. You look at him sleepy-eyed and confused. Waking up from a dream where he had just been kissing you deeply didn’t make anymore sense. After a blink, you realize that yesterday actually happened. In one more blink, you process that Wero is actually there. Tamping down the nascent arousal, you frown at him. “What’s with the pillow?” you ask rolling with the absurdity of the moment.

“I was afraid you’d roll off the bunk,” he says.

“That doesn’t explain the pillow,” you point out.

He shrugs.

“Alright,” you say calmly. Then taking a deep breath you yell at Wero, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING IN MY QUARTERS?”

“I was trying to be… discreet,” he says raising his hands defensively, “I knocked, and you didn’t respond so…”

Obviously he was planning to do something to you in your sleep but then changed his mind, and then, “Is this just a standard way you operate or am I somehow extra lucky?” you ask Wero.

Wero shrugs, “I had to be sure you weren’t disturbed. I didn’t know if someone else had entered your room without my noticing.”

Translation, Wero was about to decide to move in. Climbing off the bunk, you head to the bathroom to freshen up. Stepping out, you spot him putting the Mulligan back in the corner. “Time for coffee,” you announce to Wero. “Where is Wires?” you ask, referring to the android.

“With your AI,” he says. “I believe they have the utmost confidence in my ability to handle a situation like this.”

You tap your head wondering where that thought came from. “Wires is right outside the door,” Wero gestures over his shoulder. You look at the Mulligan, then you turn to see him holding out his arm again. For no discernible reason, he obviously wants to be sweet to you. And for no discernible reason, you have a limited sense of self-preservation with this man. Taking his forearm, you comment, “Assuming getting to Karis isn’t space gas, you’ve got two days left to drive me crazy, Lieutenant Wero.”

“I’m a commander,” he says with a small smile, “Not a lieutenant.”

You dart your eyes to take in his insignia. Vox insignia. No. Everything you’d seen over the past couple of days came into focus. Huh, oh, you think realizing he just deliberately blew his cover, and you are very very close, microns close in fact, to facing a very long confinement under a hostile government. He settles you in the galley and hands you tea, and you can’t help smiling at him with infatuation while internally terrorized. Which is a total turn-on, making you constantly glance at his lips as you eat.

And what about Karis? That has to be settled too. You have no idea how you will break this to her. But you know you have no choice.

Taking a sip of tea, Wero offers, “How about if we play poker after breakfast?”

“It’s a date,” you answer, putting down your fork. You’re still thinking about the situation with Karis when he taps you on the shoulder. “Wha-?” you start to ask when his lips briefly press against yours. Your temperature rises, and you inhale in surprise. You don’t have time to respond.

“I thought maybe we could, uh, play for stakes?” he asks after he backs away.

“Sure,” you answer. Your heart is pounding, the high is so intense.

Letting him escort you back to your quarters, you muse, “How about a game of half-truth or dare?”

“You mean like every time we talk?” he laughs. “Well, I have a few things I have to say before we begin,” he tells you as he opens the door to your room.

Spying the Mulligan as you enter, you walk to lean against the wall, keeping it out of sight. Wero watches you carefully from near the door, his expression tense. “My crew went through the Fortuna’s hold and quarters last night,” Wero began, “Why is there a security badge for ‘Detective Diana Steele’ on your spaceship?”

Staring at him with your best confused-face you internally think #1 a pre-Karis fling is out and #2 getting turned-on from a dangerous situation is a pretty crazy coping mechanism. “Steele was a passenger a while back. She, uh, had to leave in a rush, so I held on to her badge for a memento.”

“And the collar,” he lightly touches your neck, “is sort of a keepsake from this trip?”

“So are you obsessed with me?” you shift topics, as his touch turns you decidedly on. Wero’s cheeks pinken as he flushes with discomfort. The best defense is a good offense, you think.

He answers, “You are frustrating, lying constantly, which makes you a puzzle, and attractive.” Closing the space between you, he places his hands on the wall on either side of your head bracketing you in. Then Wero murmurs, “You push me. If it gets to be too much, I’ll do what I’ve been thinking about since you first lied to me: tie you down and make you beg for me to fuck you.”

You inhale, savoring his scent, which has subtly intensified. The threat makes you so hot, you try to squeeze your legs together to push back against the sensation. Licking your lips, instantly drawing his attention to them, you debate your answer. Give him some truth, and he’ll back off. Otherwise, delay the truth and get laid…well. “I’m not lying, Thadeus,” you whisper, your eyes twinkling.

“You’re in so much trouble,” he says, matching your whisper and gaze.

“It was five mercs. We had to kill them…Fortuna.”

Wero’s grip falters. You shake your head, wondering where the “kill 5 people” thought came from.

“That’s it,” Wero growls.

Less than a minute later, he’s got you tied to your bunk and you’re trying very hard to ignore the wetness lubricating your vulva. “Wires,” Wero orders, “Vibrate the way she programmed you to bring her close to orgasming, then stop.”

You can’t help yourself from laughing. Is this how the M.A.U. guards felt when they were making you scream, except that they were giving you pleasure instead of pain?

Wero’s eyes darken as he watches you respond to the androids vibrations. You can’t keep your eyes off him either, wishing he were touching you instead. Just when you’re ready to orgasm, Wires stops.

Panting, you stare at Wero as he asks, “Are you Detective Steele?” You shake your head, but he can see the flash in your eyes confirming. Kneeling down next to the bunk, Commander Wero gently pets your hair, the hair of a law enforcement officer tasked to arrest him and his fellows of the Vox military when discovered. “Dear Diana,” Wero murmurs, “I’m keeping you, obviously.” Your need to orgasm becomes so uncomfortable as you recognize that being dropped off in Karis will never happen.

“And what about Karis?” you ask. “You said we have to settle that.”

“Consider it settled,” he answers. “Before we keep talking, do you want me or Wires to rub you?”

Glancing between Wero and Wires, the choice is obvious. Wero might mess up and let you orgasm. “You,” you answer.

Wero smiles with a level of contentment, and runs his hand up the inside of your thigh to your vulva. When he first touches your sensitive folds through your pants, his smile changes to intense focus. You gasp as his touch almost sets you to orgasming. He studies you carefully as he begins to rub, then stops almost immediately. “You’re super-charged now aren’t you, my lover?” You stare at him in frustration, you can’t even muster a denial to the ‘lover’-assumption. “You were on the station the pirates attacked. We got video. How did you manage to follow them to us?”

Shaking with erotic frustration, you answer the obvious, “Logic. Their ship had to avoid merchant lanes.”

“We caught and killed them. Then you showed up.” Slipping his hand under your pants, Wero softly caresses your mound through your panties. “I’m going to ask you a question, you can answer yes, no, or maybe? Ok?”

You nod tensing up as his fingers work their magic. “Are you ready to make love?” Wero asks.

You shake your head no. “Fondle each other, yes,” you answer.

Intensifying the arousing caress, Wero drops his mouth to your neck, leaving soft kisses with a light suction. The stimulation is too much to hold off on orgasming. You throw your head back and groan as the beautiful sensation washes through you. A sharp sting on your neck barely registers as you seize. Panting, you collapse into the bunk and look at Wero happy but curious. “What did you do?” you ask him.

“You have a Vox Claim on you now,” he replies. Your eyes widen realizing that culturally Wero means to marry you. Your inner fanclub screams with delight.

The next half hour passes in an erotic daze. Wero teaches you how to mount him, and you learn that he’s more flexible in his movements than you were expecting.

You shake the vision lose from your head to see Wero smiling at you. “When did I first turn you on?” he asks while releasing you from the restraints.

Biting your lip, tugging on his ear briefly, you answer, “For you, well, being you, it was after you saved me from the broken station AI while basically telling me I was still fucked.”

Smiling, Wero nods. “I’m glad you couldn’t help choosing me, it makes taking you home to Vox simpler. Karis is out of the question, we can talk about that later.”

You decide to return the favor and see what you apparently bought. “Your turn,” you murmur, “Strip.”

You smile at the prospect of him undressing you, his gentle hands as he undoes your button and unzips your dress.
But not this time.

As he pulls off his shirt and pants, you realize that an opportunity to palm something out of his control is possible while staring at his chest hair. You smile thinking, Men are always so eager to get naked. He’s wiry, lanky with a physique for running long distances, and keeping awake and fighting through long battles. You recognize a projectile scar on the inside of his leg. His erection is a little larger than your dildo on the Fortuna, and your heart beats harder as he looks at you. This man you idolized intellectually for years took a day to decide to marry you. He turns and puts his clothes in a compartment in Wires, denying you the choice of snagging anything that might help in recovering your thoroughly destroyed mission. “When did I first turn you on?” you ask Wero.

He looks at you coyly as he replies, “When you mocked my weapons cargo.”

You stare at him with raised brows. “That’s it?”

“Diana, you defied me at every turn while getting hot and bothered every time I cornered you. You were made for me,” Wero answers and sits next to you. Taking your hands, he urges you to touch his erection. As you touch [censored], your lips tingle and he kisses you. This time, he slips his tongue in and wraps his hand around your head to hold you in place. You spasmodically squeeze [censored], bringing a moan as he breaks the kiss. “That’s it, my lover,” Wero smiles. “Tell me all the ways you want me.” His words remind you of your first sight of him.

You smile mischievously, “I want you in handcuffs…” you [censored], “…secured to the hold of the Fortuna…” you’re interrupted as Wero kisses you again.

Breaking the kiss, he says, “I saw it in your eyes when I first took aim: you’re one of those that gets off on playing with fire.” You nod as you [censored].

When he orgasms, he catches the jets of semen in his hand. Eyes twinkling, he snags you up with his free hand and [censored]. You spasm at the sudden capture, wrapping your hands around his forearms for something to hold on to. His fingers [censored].

You’re out of breath as you finish, your mind reeling after the intense emotional and physical experience of the last few hours. “How do you do this to me?” you ask.

“I want more,” he murmurs into your skin, “But I’ll wait,” Wero sighs.

Several card games later, he goes to the corner and picks up the Mulligan. “You can open this now,” he says handing it to you.

You look at him worried, “You said it had a choice inside. Not anymore?”

He replies, “You chose.”

Briefly, you rub your neck where he left the Vox Claim bruise, “Right.” You flip the catches and open it to see: nothing. A little bit of dust has gathered inside, but that’s it. Confused, you ask, “What is this?”

Wero swirls his finger in the air, “Activating Nanobots. If you hadn’t been wearing the protective collar long enough, you would have been offered the choice: going back to Vox with me or death.”

You glance around the air, disturbed, “Is this how you treat all detainees?”

“Just you,” he answers. As you think about the danger you were in, are in, your damnable libido revs back up.

“I want you,” you say huskily, “I want you so bad.”
He looks at you wide-eyed, “I want you bad too.”

He snags your hand and looks you in the eyes, “There’s something else you need to know.” His tone tells you it’s pretty bad. “Five mercenaries attempted to assassinate you on the Fortuna a few hours ago,” he begins. Getting up, he sends Wires out for food and continues, “I hurried to your quarters when the battle began just in case it was a double hit.”

You blink in disbelief, how did you already sort of know that earlier? “Stanners?” you ask worried. They took a lot of mercenary work, not assassinations, though. Killing two crews would start a war, regardless.

Wero shook his head, “No, a band of cut-throats just released from prison. The Waystop AI put out a contract, apparently realizing you got away. My people killed the team, put in a report that you were dead to the contract, and got paid.”

You shake your head stunned at the situation Wero had saved you from. You lick your lips and kiss him. He wraps his arms around you holding you tightly against his body. That night, curling together on your bunk, you talk softly about how good it feels to be together as you fall asleep.

In the morning, you wake in his arms, his arm wrapped around you and your head on his chest. Yet he’s rapidly, gently displacing you as he sleepily tells his communicator, “What?”

“We’re under attack…” the response dissolves into static. You stumble off the bunk behind him as the door opens and Wires beeps in distress.

“Electromagnetic pulse,” you snap, fully awake, high on adrenaline, and looking around for anything to use for defense. The chair? As you grab it, Wero is shot with a stun bolt, falling to the floor but alive. You yell angrily at the invader, who shoots you in mid-swing with the chair.

The invader, in a breathing mask, snatches you up in his arms. “Target acquired,” he says into his comm. The emergency alarm begins blaring as the invader carries you through the spaceship’s corridors. At the spaceship connection port, you pass through the temporary weightlessness with two others. The new spaceship smells different, different men, and you are carried to a med-bay.

“Secure for acceleration,” you hear over the speaker. The man pulls off his mask as he pins you down under hyperacceleration netting.

No! you think, realizing you’re being kidnapped. Again. The fucking Space Ranger job is starting to look like a dangerous addiction. Just let me go, you try to say. You notice the invader’s eyes widen for a moment, confused. Please. I want to go back to Thadeus.

But he can’t hear you until the stun wears off, all you can do is think really hard at these people. The man inspecting you taps his comm, “Mumbas, we can’t keep her.”

A sigh comes through in response, “Claimed? That fast?”

“Yeah,” the man replies, “And he’s tracking. Best go with the original plan and collect on both contracts.”

You notice the man’s hand grip on your wrist, keeping your arm pinned to the netting. The man looks at you apologetically, “Sorry about stunning you; you’ll be able to talk in about an hour and move again shortly after that. As you know.”

You think about nodding in response. Stunning the victim was standard operating procedure for any kidnapping. In case they attacked you with a chair or something.

“At least Commander Wero is one of the best men in the Vox command; if he wasn’t, we wouldn’t honor his Claim on you.” You blink in surprise at everything the Stanner just revealed. “Detective Steele, just know that you are safe. We’re taking you to Ranger HQ and getting the hell away when the Commander shows up there to get you back.” You blink again picturing the impending conflict.

Apparently happy to have an audience, you spend the next hour hearing everything the equipment is telling him about your health. “…deactivated birth control. Looks like he didn’t want to deal with illegitimacy accusations against him claiming you…” Your heart rate jumps realizing exactly what Wero meant when telling you how he felt. “And looks like I ruined the surprise. You’ve got the option to choose now at least. Wonder if he’s a Stanner descendant…”

You wake to your head pounding and a splitting headache. Your legs are barely workable and you’re lying on a hard, cold metal surface. Your eyes scan the room and lock onto a monitor.

You wake up from the nightmare to a much more pleasant condition. The bed is cushioned, you’re no longer strapped down by the netting, so you sit up. The Stanner muttering over a piece of equipment looks up, “Ah, so I have to ask: Do you want me to remove the collar?”

“What’s the range on this thing?” you ask as you slide the collar off your neck.

He comes over and looks at it in your hand, “That came off a lot easier than I expected. The range on it and your nanobots is pretty much infinity; they communicate by quantum states which are instantaneous regardless of distance.”

“So you’ll know if anything happens to me?”
“Of course,” he says, “I’m monitoring you constantly.”
You nod your head slowly, trying to get your bearings.

You blink as the Stanner looks at you oddly. He wasn’t talking. But the conversation seemed so real, as if Wero was right there in the room. Gazing at the collar you think over all its meanings, Wero saving you from the Waystop Space Station, a claim of sorts. You think about the last detail; he said he’d hunt you down if you still wore it. And then his arms around your body solely focused only on you. Suddenly, a sharp sense of missing him fills you. He was overwhelming, but you liked that, a lot. Putting the collar back on, you sigh, “I miss him.”

The Stanner smiles ruefully, “Yeah, I can see that.”

“When do we get to Ranger HQ?” you ask. You don’t bother asking to be returned to Wero; Stanners fulfill their contracts unless future mates are involved.

“Another day. We’re burning more fuel than usual since Commander Wero’s closing in on us. At this rate, he might get off a couple of shots before we enter the protective field around your base. Fortunately, we’ve got you on board, so he won’t be looking to kill.” He paused, reflecting on if a boarding battle were to commence, “Initially.”

Your inner Wero-fanclub fans herself furiously as your adrenaline gives you a pop.

Wero did manage to get off a message with a warning shot before the Stanners reached Ranger HQ. After unusual jerking of the ship and the loss of one of the gravity stabilizers, the Stanner in charge of you handed you his comm, “Commander Wero sent a message for you.”

You read, “Diana, my Intended, I’m going to be back with a Diplomatic Party. Settle your old life and pack lightly. Your devoted man, Thad.”

You roll your eyes, “That was for everyone else butting in.”

The Stanner prompts, “Rest of the message arrived with the 2nd shot.”

You scroll to the next screen, which reads, “Post Script: I’ll keep you armed from now on.”

“Aww,” you say.

The comm crackles and the voice of the Stanner in charge comes through, “Detective Steele can hear you now, please repeat.”

An official at Ranger HQ states, “Welcome home, Detective Steele. Please allow your Stanner rescuers to guide you to rendezvous with our personnel in 30 minutes.”

As you rub your temples, you reply, “Confirmed.”

When the sound cuts out, the Stanner assigned to you comments, “Psych is the worst. If it weren’t for the fact Commander Wero would be on our asses, we’d offer you the option to stay aboard.”

You nod, ruefully, “When they treat you like a victim, it makes you feel like one.”

“I’ve been studying you since the pickup,” he adds, “You genuinely care for the Vox lunatic.”

You smile.

“I’m glad I’m home,” you try to convince yourself. You stand up to stretch your aching muscles, and then to think over your options. The transfer had gone smoothly. Ranger Psych had a go at making you think you had Stockholm Syndrome, then you were temporarily released. No messages from siblings or parents, which was expected. Unforgiven, you think sighing. Glancing over the posted base schedule, you stare at a meeting post, ‘Vox Diplomatic Visit.’ A section of the base required clearing, and only administrators were attending. Glancing at the time, you decide a nice hike may be in order.

Ranger HQ is situated on a beautiful mountaintop with a spectacular view of the surrounding forest and the ocean. As you walk through the primeval forest, you breathe deeply enjoying real biologically purified air.

You see a stunned Ranger on the concrete ground missing his uniform.

You stumble on a root and catch yourself on a sapling. The image seemed so real. Shaking your head you continue on your hike, following the dirt path through the soft fog. The crunch of leaf-covered soil under your feet, the chatter of the animals around you, and the odd muting that fog brings is so peaceful. As you walk across the bridge over a small stream, you stop sensing another vision coming.

A running pair of boots, controlled breathing, anticipation, lustfilled hunger, a marker, a very familiar marker that you had passed just a mile back.

Shaking your head, you start to worry, Someone’s coming. Fast. Concerned, you look around for a good place to hide. A couple of bushes behind a large tree should do the trick. You slip behind the bushes, and disrupt the planes of your face with your hands. He might miss you, he might not. The soft pounding of boots becomes audible. You hold your breath as the rhythmic breathing of a runner begins to echo. The fog frustrates you, making it impossible to see who it might be until they’re practically on top of you. Suddenly, a shape forms in the fog, clears it, and you see, “Thadeus?” you call standing up in surprise. Wero charges straight at you, grabs your hand, and tugs on you to jog with him. “What are you doing?” you ask as he drags you along.

“We have to go faster!” Wero replies. “We’ve got to be at the beach for the pickup in 10 minutes, lover,” he announces.

You run with him, but then tug him towards the ropes course. “This way is faster.” He looks up, “What? Of course!” Following your lead, you both head to the zipline.

You both slip on the harnesses and secure yourselves into them. Wero turns around and holds out his hand, “Take my hand, Detective.” For once, you do as you’re told.

A brilliant ride later, you both reach the beach as a Vox battle shuttle descends. “Let’s go!” Wero is gleeful. Settling you in a jump seat, you both throw on the securing straps as the shuttle lifts. You can’t hear what is going on in the pilot deck, but the conversation carries hostile tones. You look at Wero, smiling, happy, sappy, and excited. He kisses your hand on the back, on the palm, and holds it between both of his.

You feel yourself blush, and your heart speeds up, “I’m glad you came back for me, Wero. I missed you.”

He chuckles, “I’m glad. I missed you too.” His eyes drop to the collar you wear and darken. He slips his hand behind your head and pulls you in for a long kiss. You meet him in passion as you engage.

You feel the warm sand against you, the sun baking your skin, the wind in your hair, and the excitement of the zipline ride. The smell of the ocean is the most wonderful thing you’ve ever smelled.

Pulling away from the kiss, you ask, “Were you just thinking of the beach?” Wero’s eyes widen, then they narrow, “No,” he replies. Nodding ‘yes’. Holding your hand, he tells you that Vox Diplomats attempted to persuade the Rangers to let you transfer to work with Vox specialists. When it was clear that Vox’s chequered history was the unscalable barrier, Wero shifted to Plan B. Unfortunately, the shuttle had moved too soon, so instead of having a brief moment of bliss before sneaking her back to base, he had to bolt outright to grab her and meet at the nearest opening in the trees.

You kiss him again. Wero nuzzles your neck.

Departing the shuttle onto the Vox battleship was delayed by the Diplomats proceeding first with their security team. When you emerge with Wero, holding hands, you are assailed by cheers from all the nearby personnel watching. As he guides you through the crowd, they congratulate you both and throw toilet paper through the air. You both smile goofily through the celebration. As the blast doors close with Wero’s consistent tug towards his quarters, the silence surrounding you makes you hyperaware of his magnetic masculinity. “I want you so bad,” you murmur.

“And I want you too,” he replies, kissing you on the lips.

You blush, “We need to chat. I heard, um…” You can’t finish the thought about the Stanner health exam.

“That’s what are quarters are for,” he rumbles promisingly. He taps open the door, lifts his arm, and you place your hand on his forearm. Then he places his hand over yours, and guides you inside.

The door closes, and you find yourself in a small room with only a bunk and a desk. The walls are a dull green, “It’s like the forest,” you say.

Wero grasps your waist pulling you tight, “Where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?”

You wrap your hands around his head and kiss him fervently. Pausing, you smile, “You’ve got me. Even the Stanners verified it.”

Growling, he picks you up and lays you down on the extra wide bunk. “Came to, saw your trajectory, and was relieved. Pissed off, but relieved.” You grin.

As he pulls off his shirt, you cringe at the bruise he got from falling after being stunned. “My Stanner minder said you were one of the best.” You pull off your shirt as he tugs on its hem. The sparkle in his eyes briefly flares as he beholds your breasts in the bra. Dropping his mouth to your nipple, you shudder as the combination of pressure from his mouth and friction with the material rubs you perfectly.

Pausing, he replies, “Like that?” You nod enthusiastically. You run your hands up his arms, over his shoulders, and down his back. Sharp jabs of arousal jolt from your nipples as he mouths them through your bra. Stopping, Wero locks gazes with you; he’s so hungry.

He tugs on your pants, and you help him to remove them. “Let me pull of my panties, too,” you say.

“No, I like the challenge,” he answers. You grin and caress and squeeze [censored].

“Which reminds me, I liked it when you [censored],” you comment. “Speaking of which…”

He licks over the slight pink discoloration on your neck that remains from the bruise he made there derailing you. “My adorable adrenaline addict,” he laughs kissing you. Pulling back from the kiss, he whispers into your ear, “It made you my wife.” Your breath catches as the trouble you found screams that finding crazy attractive put you into this situation.

Wero’s hand [censored]. “Thad,” you moan.

“I love hearing you say my name like that,” he murmurs moving his fingers, [censored].

“…claiming doesn’t work like that.” Your orgasm gets so close when he stops.

“Time for you to ride me,” he announces. You hum with soft discontent at his stopping as he lays on the bunk, his [censored].

You pull of your bra and panties, contemplating the presentation; climbing [censored], comes with the man himself. Again and again. He knows you love adrenaline highs. You smile and [censored]. He caresses your breasts with both hands. His eyes sparkle, watching you move. The first contact [censored].


[censored]. Grabbing his hands off your hips, you lean over, lifting his arms above his head and kiss him deeply. [censored].

[censored]. You look up at his face as your instinct tells you to start moving. His eyes are alight with frustration, surprise, and promise of punishments to come. “Inhuman control,” you laugh as you hop off his lap and take two steps towards the bathroom. With a shout of excitement, you’re caught in his arms as he grabs you up in a tight hold and keeps moving.

“You make me crazy in love.” Your breath catches at his declaration as he pins you against the sink, looks at you in the mirror, smiles, and presses [censored]. He wraps one arm around your hips and teases your breast with the other. [censored]. You look at him gazing at you in the mirror as the world erupts in pleasure. [censored].

Holding you in place, he drops his head onto your shoulder and shifts his hands to hold you closer. You turn your head to kiss him on the top of his head and murmur, “I love you, too.”

He shivers and kisses your neck, “You never stood a chance.”

It Began with Bolt-Cutters

“HEY!” he yelled at the windows above, hoping someone could hear him. He couldn’t believe it. He was fucking trapped in some ancient skylight or chimney or something. It was dirty. And it didn’t smell great. It was too small for a prison cell. And his head fucking hurt.

A window was thrown open two stories up. Startled, a woman leaned out looking down at him.

“Help!” he called, waiving his hands, trapped in hand-cuffs above his head at her.

She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Please?” she called, ducking back into the building.

“Pretty please!” he called back, oddly comforted by the bemused lift to her lips and confidence she held in her bearing as she sized up the situation.

A bit of a breeze sucked her white curtains out into the bricked opening he was trapped in. A clean, woodsy, tantalizing scent tickled his nose on that breeze. When she returned, she fidgeted at the window frame, muttering to herself at a level that he couldn’t distinguish the words. The tone was business-like. Then she reappeared leaning out the window, holding a rolled up rope ladder. She frowned on the verge of dropping it, “Protect your head, okay!” Then she dropped it, letting it unroll as it fell.

It missed him, and the left over portion settled in the slushy ground. Grabbing the nearest rung, he realized there was a problem. “I can’t climb in these handcuffs,” he told her as she watched his struggle.

She groaned, and disappeared from the window again. Shortly she reemerged climbing out onto the ladder. Her cute derriere and legs wiggling out first. He inhaled in surprise. She was wearing green tights and a leotard. And a utility belt with bolt-cutters. He couldn’t help himself either, as she descended, he swallowed spying the contours of her labia. When she stopped descending, just out of reach he guiltily adjusted his gaze to her face.

“Nice bruise.” She pointed at her head in the area where his own throbbed painfully. “So what happened?”

He shifted his focus and was caught by her direct, twinkling gaze. “I, I lost a bet.”

“Go on,” she prompted, unhooking the bolt-cutters to twirl them like a baton.

He dropped his gaze to the slush that he had been laying in when he awoke which was drying on the left side of his body. “I was in this stupid store with a bunch of stupid crap, and my stupid friend..ex-friend..dared me to play some stupid card game. I lost. He knocked me out and left me here in this open air chimney or whatever it is.”

“It’s an air shaft.” Sighing, she finished climbing down, and he lifted his cuffs holding them out for her to cut. With a quick snap, the chain between the handcuffs broke, a bolt of heat stabbed into him, and his head jerked up. Without looking directly, he found himself aware of her body, everything perfect. He licked his lips fighting himself from thinking about licking her nipples visible through her leotard’s material.

“You’re a mess.” Rolling her eyes she reascended the ladder, “Wait till I’m done then come up.”

Lustful hunger wracked him as his eyes tracked her labia all the way up the ladder. “What’s your name?” he asked as he climbed up after her.

“Bridget,” she told him when he reached the window. The window accessed her bedroom.

His shoes left muddy prints on the floor, where she had pulled back the carpet for easier cleaning. “I’m so sorry about messing up your space.” He was a stinky, walking mud monster in her pristine living space.

Shrugging, Bridget backed up. “Aside from ‘sucker’, what’s your other name?” she shook her head with that bemused smile firmly in place.


“Well, Sean, there’s an emergency phone out front that you can use. Okay?”

He followed her towards the apartment’s open door nodding and paused after walking through it. “I owe you Bridget.”

Shaking her head in disagreement, she shut the door in his face. He overheard, but was certain she didn’t mean for him to, “I expect I’ll end up collecting.” The tone was dark self-foreboding.

Fighting the headache, Sean made sure to memorize her apartment number and location.

On getting home and cleaning up, Sean decided concussion-be-damned, he was going to pay a visit to his ex-friend’s condo…The fact that he couldn’t break the cuffs being the major factor in the decision. By the time he reached Gomer’s place, his fury had notched up to a crescendo. As soon as Gomer got to the door, Sean forced it open. Burning rage burst out. He first slammed the door into Gomer’s face, then grabbed him by the arm, and winched it into a position to force the shit face-first into the wall. Sean knew how to fight and was inherently strong from staying in shape. “You look surprised,” he growled.

“The curse was supposed to break,” Gomer gasped surprised.

And the asshole stank. Sean started tapping Gomer’s head against the wall, “How does it feel to be attacked by someone you thought was a friend?” Each dull hit just made the tearing heat in him burn higher.

“Fuck you! You won’t kill me either. I’m going to curse you for real now!”

Sean didn’t like losing his temper, and despite what Gomer thought, if Sean wasn’t careful, he was entirely capable of doing something he’d regret. A wash of freezing self-disgust filled him. Gomer was a piece of shit and wasn’t worth it. Sean gave up and threw Gomer to the ground. “If I see you, ever, we’re doing this again.” Then he kicked him in the ass. Wet ass. Apparently the source of the smell.

Shutting the door, still fuming as well as ashamed, he decided it was time to head to the clinic, get his head checked out, and see if they had something to cut the damn cuffs off.

About a week later, Sean’s head was on the mend, but he was no closer to getting the remains of the cuffs removed. The doc said he’d have to break his hand to get them off after a few attempts failed. The machinists that he’d visited said that their equipment would probably be successful at taking his hand off first.

The constant presence of the cuffs initially bothered the shit out of him. Once he associated them with meeting Bridget though, he found he didn’t mind and stopped tugging on them. Both the doc and one of the machinists commented on their unusual design in the metal, some kind of knot. As soon as the next weekend arrived, Sean returned to the stupid shop where they had been purchased, Amorous Goods.

Sean wrinkled his nose at the odd mixture of scents as he entered. Under the overwhelming spices and decay was something dark, and he didn’t like it. The shopkeep smiled broadly as he entered the store, “Welcome back, slave.”

“Sean.” He must have heard him wrong. Marching up to the counter, Sean showed the man his cuffs. “Why won’t these cut off?”

“It’s called a ‘Celtic Knot’, slave.” The elliptical answer pissed him off, and calling him a slave in public made him want to break something.

“Sean. Where’s the fucking key?”

Laughing at him, the shopkeep replied, “You must go get your mistress’ permission to unlock it.”

Bridget popped unbidden into his mind. Along with the urge to protect his savior. She shouldn’t get involved in this. “What the hell are you talking about?”

The shopkeep stopped laughing. Somehow that was a lot more menacing. “I physically can’t get the key unless your mistress comes in.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You belong to her now.”

“Get. The. Fucking. Key.” Sean snarled. He was not having this conversation.

“Go. Or else I’ll call the police. She’ll collect you when she’s ready.”

The last person he wanted to see Bridget in the vicinity of was this creepy asshole. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

The shopkeep picked up the phone raising his eyebrows and pointed at the exit.

Raising his hands in surrender, Sean walked out. It was an excuse to see Bridget again at least. A lousy one.

Bridget was tapping at her astronomy book annoyed when the outer door buzzer blared. Getting up and gazing at the outside video, she wasn’t too surprised to recognize Sean. He was cleaned up, still vibing a strong surliness, “What do you want?”

“To thank you.” His head swiveled around, spotted the camera, then gazed at it earnestly.

“What?” Somehow he was a natural at derailing her thoughts.

“Come on down, I’ll take you out.”

Well…she was curious. “Do I get to hear more of your story?”

“Guaranteed,” his eyes sparked, and his brows resumed their initial surly expression.

Whether surly or focusing on her, he was kind of cute. “I could use a coffee.”

“You got it.” His face cleared, and a flash of some emotion quickly suppressed passed. Her heart beat a little quicker as she shut down the connection and headed out. He wanted her for something…which could be something good…or could be something bad.

As soon as she emerged, Sean, who had moved away from the door, marched up to her holding his hand out in greeting. She glanced at it nervously, but sighing inwardly, she grasped it. A tingle of awareness ran through her with the connection, and her gaze was yanked down to their mated palms. Unsettled, she held on to his hand when Sean released his fingers to let go. “What’s with the bracelets?” Then she turned his hand over, recognition dawning. “These were the handcuffs weren’t they?”

Sean held still as she inspected them. Her fingers touching him tingled.

For whatever reason, Bridget realized he couldn’t take them off. Then she spotted the Celtic Knot in their surface. “I don’t believe it.” she muttered, releasing his hand with a consoling pat. Uneasiness settled into her stomach.

Sean’s voice was soft, “What?”

“Where did you get those handcuffs?” Bridget looked off towards some of the nearby buildings thoughtfully.

Sean held out his hand. He wanted to feel her touch again. “I’ll show you.” When she didn’t take it, he converted it to a gesture towards his car in the parking lot. A couple of steps later, he stopped. She wasn’t following. He took a deep breath.

Bridget was shaking her head. “No way. I am not getting into a car with a stranger who’s obviously got problems.”

Sean returned to her, “I’m sorry. Wasn’t thinking.” He needed to follow her lead.

Bridget waved it away and pointed at the block of nearby buildings, “There’s a coffee shop right over there.”

Sean followed her as she led the way. When they entered, Bridget received warm greetings from the staff. And Sean received a silent lookover, particularly from another patron. Gazing at them both with a frown, the man approached.

“Who’s the surly bear, Bridget?” he asked. His tone was both humored and hostile.

She shrugged placing her order on the screen in the table as she started to sit. Sean moved rapidly to manage her chair. “We’re acquaintances, Bard. Thank you, Sean. Sean, Bard. Bard, Sean.” She didn’t bother looking up, and missed Bard’s look of disquiet flash across his face.

Sean moved into Bard’s personal space and settled himself at the table to her left. Narrowing his eyes, Bard moved to approach Bridget’s right side when she stopped him, “I’m very sorry, Bard, but this is a confidential conversation. May we have some privacy?”

“Fine. I’ll find out later.” he answered with a soft smile. Squeezing her shoulder companionably, he left.

Sean stifled a growl that wanted to break free. His rescuer was better than anything the smarmy shit offered.

“So, my surly bear, start at the beginning,” she ordered with a smile as soon as Bard walked away.

Sean enjoyed the possessive pronoun he’d just gotten and relaxed his hackles with Bard’s departure. He told her about the store he and Gomer discovered, the sign that for a fixed price they could play the cards and the winner would get an object. “Ah, the handcuffs” she broke in, looking off in Bard’s direction with a frown.

Sean’s surly look returned, “And a curse.”

“Don’t tell me you believe in that stuff.” she leaned back away from her initially intent pose.

“I didn’t” Then he told her about the power outage damaging his equipment, the food poisoning incident, the mistaken identity incident with tube security that included a lashing, and how he finally called his friend when a screw driver fell out of the sky and embedded in the ground right where he was about to step but stopped when he saw a lovely pink flower.

Bridget’s eyebrows increasingly raised throughout this account, and her glances at his cuffs strayed longer and longer.

He told her about how Gomer got him in the car, took off before he’d gotten his seatbelt on, then braked suddenly making him hit his head on the dashboard. While he was clouded, Gomer commented on being cursed, and that he had to put the handcuffs on him to break it and Sean was on his own from now on. He came to consciousness in the air shaft where she found him.

She shook her head in disbelief. “What a mess. Why there of all places?”

He shrugged helplessly, “He didn’t say when I stopped by after you rescued my sorry ass.”

She paused a full 10 seconds and took in his hostile pretend-passivity, “Let’s skip that part. Do you know how he got you down there? It’s not meant for people.”

“Through one of the bottom windows I guess,” he answered slowly, puzzled.

She patted his hand, “Think about that for a minute.”

Happy endorphins sparkled around his body from her touch. At the same time he realized that there weren’t any lower windows than hers. “Oh, I have no idea then.”

Her coffee arrived. “You’re not getting anything, Sean?”

He glanced at her thinking, ‘What I want here isn’t on the menu.’ “I’m not familiar with the menu here.”

She saw the glance but still was unsure of its source. “My surly bear should have some tea.” She tapped the screen again.

“Anything you say,” popped out of his mouth. And he realized he meant it.

Her cheeks briefly blushed. Sipping her coffee, she gestured for him to go on. Tugging one of his hands closer, she rotated the cuff to get a good look at it.

Sean rotated his palm upward both in supplication and for the opportunity to idly grasp her arm. “I can’t cut them off. Went to the doctor’s, went to the machinist’s, nothing works without breaking bones. I have to use both hands for my job.”

Bridget lowered her eyebrows, “What about the shop? Do they have a key?”

Sean shifted uncomfortably. ‘Slave,’ the shopkeep kept calling him. Dropping his eyes and his voice, he murmured, “The shopkeep said I couldn’t have it and threatened to call the police if I remained.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve got the police case here,” she muttered.

He raised his eyes, “Can I depend on you for witness testimony?” His tea arrived, and its fruity essence made his mouth water in anticipation. He sipped at it. Licked his lips. It tasted as good as it smelled, clean, rich, tantalizing. “Nice choice; what is it?”

Bridget frowned. “As far as the police and myself are concerned, that whole cursing thing is certifiable. I’ll drive to the shop and talk to the shopkeeper first. At least there is a key, and he’s got it.” She petted his hand. “It’s Llewelyn berry.” Her family’s symbolic fruit.

Between the tea, her petting, and her help, he relaxed to a level he’d never experienced before. His entire being just wanted to get closer. “I should go with you.” He didn’t want her approaching the shopkeep at all, especially not alone. Through a tight jaw he added, “Or take that guy that was just in here with you.”

Bridget looked around, surprised. Sean was mollified that she’d not noticed Bard leave.

“Trust me,” she smiled confidently.

He reluctantly agreed acknowledging that women had the advantage of getting more leeway in situations like this. When they parted, his giving her the address of the shop, he took an extra drive around the neighborhood taking note of signs of vacancies. Their separation was like getting his hair petted backwards.

Bard called as soon as she climbed into her car. “Bridget, the guy’s a loon, and he’s fixated on you.”

“I’ve just got to get this key and then he’ll be gone,” she answered turning on the safety system.

“What kind of Knot Label did you find in the surface print?”

The banned Slave Knot. “I didn’t see.”

“Liar. You were staring at it.”

“I meant, I didn’t recognize it.”

“Describe it to me.”

“I’m driving.”

“Fine. Catch you later, then.”

“Yep.” She reflected that Sean urged her to be careful while Bard was relatively unconcerned.

Storming into the shop, Bridget found the woman behind the desk and growled at her, “What are you doing peddling dangerous Celtic technology?” Then screwed up her face after taking a breath. Under the usual smell of such a shop was the unmistakable stench from banned technology of the extra-terrestrial sex trade.

The woman, her name tag read ‘Vikki’, was about to answer when a man came from the back storage area holding up a key between his fingers. His grin made Bridget’s teeth grind. “Here’s the item you’re looking for I believe.”

As she reached for it, she glanced up into his eyes; the contacts couldn’t hide the golden flash from her UV sensitive gaze. He was a pan-dimensional gargoyle. She gasped. Glancing at Vikki again, definitely completely human, Bridget glanced down at her swelling pregnancy. At the last fraction of a second, she hesitated. “Just put it down on the counter, thanks.”

Laughing, the gargoyle complied, turned around, then left calling over his shoulder, “Your slave has permission to enter this shop again.” His guffaws echoed darkly in her ears.

“Feel free to look around,” Vikki added as Bridget slowly backed away.

Everywhere she looked was filled with sensual traps for the naive. She pulled open the door, “Right.” And left.

When she got back to her apartment, Bridget took out the family book on their ancient Celtic world from which they’d immigrated. She quickly found the Slave Knot in the pictures of their world’s shameful history. But Sean’s was subtly different. The ends of the Knot he had included smaller Knots in the individual threads. Flipping rapidly through the text, she found the purpose.

Holding up the key to Sean’s cuffs, she studied it, the sinister Teeter-Totter Trap. “Sorry, Sean.” she muttered.

Sean paused a moment to run his hands through his hair and make sure he was presentable. Then he knocked on Bridget’s door.

Pulling it open, she jerked in surprise, “You. How did you…”

He smiled, contented with looking at her again. “I’m your new downstairs neighbor.” The internal apartment, without any outside windows, was perennially empty. So, Sean acquired it with no difficulty.

She stammered, “…I was going to call you tomorrow. Wait. What?” She nervously glanced at his cuffs.

She had just arrived home. He could hear it clearly through his ceiling. His happiness became a soft emotional buzz filling his head. “Can I come in?”

Like a strict teacher, she replied, “Um..yes, you MAY.” She knew without a doubt that he couldn’t harm her.

Some happiness slipped into his practiced smile, hopefully making it more suave than goofy.

She frowned. “Please have a seat.” She pointed at a chair at the small kitchen table.

Sean paused settling to see whether he could help seat her again. “How are you doing?”

She shrugged and headed to the kitchen, “I’m just studying up on a problem, trying to see if there’s an elegant solution or one you have to just suffer through.”

“I never asked what you do…” He gazed around. She had at least one bookshelf on each wall, and there was no clear organization to the topics.

She put some iced tea down on the table and a few snacks. “I’m a specialized programmer.”

Watching her closely as she settled, he commented, “So your neighborhood has a more community, more intimate feel to it…”

Bridget coughed softly.

“…and I decided that while I look around to secure something permanent…”

Her heart rate thudded.

“…being closer to my rescuer…”

She looked at his hands; one was wrapped around her mug while the other gestured his meaning with body language. The meaning of which was that the alternative interpretation of his speech was valid.

“..seemed like a good plan.”

Her eyes snapped back up to his as heat swooshed through her. Her lips tingled. She put her fingers on them as if that would push away the sensation of wanting to kiss him.

“You seem nervous, everything okay?”

Aside from realizing that Sean was a very dangerous man and that his being focused unnaturally on her was unnerving, “I’m fine. So you look like you’re planning to head out this evening?” She actually couldn’t tell if he was or wasn’t, but it seemed like a way to get her some space to deal with the attraction he was fueling.

He looked idly around her living space, “Tonight is a maker space workshop.” Pointing at her small telescope next to the coffee table, added, “I could produce a better mirror than the one in that for you with the gear there. Want to come?”

Shaking her head and smiling, Bridget agreed, “Yeah, okay, but I drive.”

Sean went from hiding his disappointment based on the head shake to straightening his back. “Great!” Then he went to the coffee table and settled next to the telescope. “Where are your tools?” He asked over his shoulder.

He caught her eyes as she looked away and busied herself. She was studying him with interest. He inhaled deeply and blinked, enjoying being exactly where he was. When she put the small toolkit down next to him, he realized that it was specific for the telescope. Gesturing at the open astronomy book nearby, he asked, “What are working on?”

Standing next to him, watching his hands deftly move at breaking down the telescope to get at the mirror. She answered, “I’m looking for something in the formation of the universe. The stars out there are only part of the story; I like to use the telescope to observe Methuselah mostly.”

“Methuselah?” he asked, carefully sliding the mirror out.

“It’s older than the universe.”

Startled, Sean reached out and grasped the calf on her leg, “What?”

She nodded, “And there are other dimensions, definitely, but when did THOSE form?”

Reluctantly letting go of her leg, Sean stood, carefully gathering up the mirror. She was comfortably standing close to him, and he paused looking into her face. Her mouth opened.

“See you in 10 minutes?” her kissable lips murmured. As he nodded, she moved away, and he exhaled relaxing the tension. As he opened the door, she reluctantly told him, “You’re allowed back in the shop.”

She then waited for him to ask about the key. “Alright, thank you,” he replied. That look flashed across his face again, then he left.

Blowing out the breath she held…he definitely wanted her for some reason…she tapped the hidden pocket in her waistband for the presence of the metal object concealed there.

He insisted on opening the door for her on reaching her car. “I just realized I never asked what you do?” she prompted, trying to adjust to his mannerisms. Bard’s warning that he was fixated on her didn’t seem to do the emotion justice.

Climbing in himself on the passenger side, he answered, “I’m an architect.”

“And you didn’t know what an air shaft was?” she blurted out surprised.

He snorted, “I was concussed, my fair Green Lady.”

Bridget blushed deeply at the reference to a deity. “Fair enough.”

“For a programmer, you seemed to handle the situation I was in a lot more like a first responder.” He watched her intently.

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Didn’t always do programming.”

As he gave her directions, he told her about some of the interesting details about the buildings around them. ‘And that one over there was supposed to have more floors, but the firm miscalculated the weight.’ ‘How do you know that?’ ‘I got hired to fix it.’ ‘That one had a toxic chemical spill from the tank next to the property line.’ Bridget marveled at how different the town appeared through his eyes.

Then they arrived. The parking lot was full, but Sean wasn’t worried, “I made sure to reserve the synthetic printer as soon as you said ok; don’t worry, I’ve got you.” Bridget flushed again in response. Sean smiled, noticing, and directing her to the overflow parking lot. “Stay put,” he ordered, getting out as soon as they arrived. Confused, she did, then blushed again when he opened the door for her. She accepted his hand as he offered to support her out of the car. When she did, he didn’t immediately release her hand, kissing the back of it first.

The heat washing through her from his touch hadn’t had time to dissipate before his lips, and firm display of where his thoughts were behind those suppressed facial expressions, brought her whole body to attention. She couldn’t suppress the slight increase in heart rate and breathing that he triggered. And, she admitted to herself, she didn’t want to. Letting Sean see how he affected her would hopefully encourage him to keep doing it.

Smiling, pleased with the effect he was having on her, Sean offered his elbow. Her touch accepting him, especially after he demonstrated that he wanted her, triggered the first of many physically uncomfortable yet emotionally perfect moments.

At the maker space, as the new mirror was built, Sean showed Bridget around. This included introducing her to a lot of people, most of whom were curious about her. As she talked to a woman operating the wire-cutter, one of his closer friends murmured to him, “So, you done pretending dating is something other people do?” Sean nodded in response watching Bridget as she smiled at him again, noticing his attention.

Bridget grabbed Sean’s hand as he approached, “Trudy, tell him about the part’s purpose, too!” When she released his hand, he didn’t let go, and after a beat in which his heart thudded loudly in his ears, she resumed grasping his hand. As Trudy told an entertaining tale of the ghost water leak, Sean’s happiness kept bouncing around his body hyperactively.

By the end of the evening, as he reset the synthetic printer for the next user, Sean kept staring at Bridget’s lips. He’d never seen anyone he wanted to kiss more.

When they walked back to the car, he again followed her to open her door but instead of grasping the handle, he caged her against the car in his arms. “Bridget, may I kiss you?” he rumbled like a hungry bear.

Her eyes troubled him as they clouded from their initial happy glints, but her desire was also visible. She idly played with his irremovable cuffs as she hesitated answering. For Sean, the waiting was on the verge of painful. Then she lifted her chin, ordered him to “Keep your arms in place,” raised her face to him, and kissed him.

Heat surged through him, and he locked his arms in place on the car. At least being unable to seize her into his grasp kept her penned. When her mouth opened, he pressed his tongue inside, just the tip, to lick her lips. She deepened the caress, and he became briefly insensible to anything but her mouth and his hardening interest. ‘Mine,’ rang through his head and his heart.

When Bridget pulled back, with a smile, she murmured, “No more for tonight, Sean. It’s time to go.”

He let go and opened the door for her. As she drove them back, he could smell her arousal, making him drool slightly. Following her lead, he kept the conversation neutral and let her part from him at the elevator in their building with a simple farewell.

Returning from work the next day, Sean waited until he could hear Bridget’s footsteps above. When he heard footsteps in the kitchen area settle on the couch, he pictured her eating dinner. Without him.

Waiting half an hour, he pulled out a cup of ice cream from his freezer and headed up to his mistress’. Bridget was unsurprised hearing the knock when she put the dinner plate in her sink. She blinked and raised an eyebrow quizzically to see the dessert in Sean’s hands when she opened the door.

“Hungry for something sweet?” he rumbled, sexual undertones to his timbre unmistakable.

Smiling and blushing as a wash of heat hit her, Bridget pulled the unused chair away from the table, set it askew and ordered, “Sit in this chair and hang on a minute.”

Happily sitting, Sean watched her set the ice cream on the table, and could hear the clink of silverware. When she returned with only a single spoon and no bowls, he pursed his lips in confusion.

Opening up the ice cream packaging, she scooped the spoon in it, and then opened her mouth. Twitching, he was uncertain what she was about to do when she said with her tantalizing lips dancing in their motion of talking to him, “Put this in your mouth, but you’re not allowed to swallow, my hungry bear.”

His erection which had been softly aroused as soon as he opened his freezer, stood at attention. He was HER bear. He hummed happily as the cold melted against his tongue. Then her face was approaching his. Her lips were pressing against his, and he moaned as her tongue slipped inside and she claimed the melting cream from his mouth.

“This one you may swallow.” Taking another spoonful, she placed it in his mouth. He wanted to swallow her. More.

Then she settled, straddling his lap. He belatedly opened his mouth to accept the next spoonful as she pressed her vulva against him. Her eyes were twinkling with arousal and mischief, like the stars through her telescope, as she leaned in for another kiss. Taking that as his cue, he released the sides of the chair to grasp her in his arms. But was caught up short. “No, Sean. Hands on the chair,” she commanded parting from the kiss.

He didn’t like her using his name. He dropped his hands asserting, “I’m your bear.” Emphasis on ‘your’.

Bridget never could resist playing with fire. Telling him to swallow the next spoonful of ice cream, she shifted against him moving her hips sensually.

Over the next several spoonfuls, she alternated between kissing him to claim her nibbles and twerking against him as he swallowed his, leaving him hungry without being satiated.

Rendered gentlemanly-powerless, he was thoroughly aroused, concerned with nothing else except following her lead. No woman had ever made him feel this pleasurably uncomfortable. He reached his limit when the last of the ice cream was gone. He was going to lose it in his pants, when she stopped and climbed off his lap, panting softly.

“Thank you for dessert, my bear,” she murmured sensually.

He tensed as she distanced herself from him, “That makes you my mistress, I believe.” His mix of meanings in using the word ‘mistress’ filled her with nervous energy.

She knew what he needed, but it was going to cost her. The teeter-totter trap kept shifting the flow of power between them. She tilted her head accepting his claim. His face relaxed. “It’s time for you to go home though, I need to get ready for tomorrow.”

He narrowed his eyes. She spun to take the spoon and empty ice cream container to the kitchen. “We’ll have dinner tomorrow,” he suggested with finality in his tone. Not so much a suggestion, actually. “It’ll be more filling than just dessert.”

Getting the raw desire he inspired under control, she couldn’t help the swelling in her lips, nipples, and labia, but for the rest of her body language she was able to look at him appraisingly, while saying, “1830 sharp.”

“Can’t wait to come, my mistress,” he was going cover her with his claim soon.

She smiled sharply at him, amused by the double entendre, “You’re a good man, my bear.”

His heart cheered.

As the water from Bridget’s shower cascaded to the floor above his head, Sean grasped his erection which hadn’t calmed in the intervening time. He imagined her touching him, stroking him as he was moving his own hand. Then remembering her labia as he saw them in her leotard, he erupted.

A short while later as he dozed off, he vaguely remembered that he felt something hard in her waistband, and whenever he felt it, the power he knew she had over him would shift. The thought quickly drifted into the background as the general irrational emotions of dreams enveloped him.

The next evening, he realized he recognized her car door shutting. Leaning out into the hallway, the end of which had a window which looked out onto the parking lot, he smiled seeing her type into her comm as she hesitated entering the building. Then he frowned. She approached another vehicle that was pulling up next to the front door. He recognized its driver and growled. Bard was interested in HIS mistress. The man held something out for her; she looked it over briefly shaking her head. They conferred as she held her hands up in exasperation. Then another car pulled up. She stepped back and waved him on. He drove away, and she entered the building. There was enough familiarity with the interaction that Sean decided he needed to make a rule.

At 1830, Sean knocked. “Come in,” Bridget called. She fanned herself, the heat in the kitchen suddenly intensifying. Sean, the man himself, was addictive; she could feel the difference between him and the dark energy of his damnable cuffs. But there lay a major problem. As he shut the door, she intercepted him. “Sean. I’ve a mind for a different form of art. Please place your clothes on those hooks.” she gestured at the wall near the door. “All of your clothes,” she added returning to the kitchen.

Sean shivered in the anticipation of her touch that infused his mind. “Mistress.” Contentment involuntarily enveloped his mind as accepting her control felt so comfortable.

After some shuffling, Sean, naked and erect, entered her kitchen. Smiling, looking him over from head to toe, she paused to gaze at his erection. Licking her lips, she pointed at a chair against the wall with her spatula. “Sit there.” Then she circled the spatula, “And attach yourself to the locks. You can’t miss them.”

Sean hesitated, and she frowned. “Bridget, I want your promise first.”

“I won’t hurt you, I promise.” she burst out, worried.

He smiled, “I know that. I just want you to promise: I’m the only man you will touch and kiss.”

She lowered the spatula in surprise. He was the only person that fit that description in her life. ‘What?’ crossed her mind. “Of course.” she conceded.

“Good.” his erection twitched.

As she put the food on a plate, she watched him secure his ankles to the legs of the chair, then hook his cuffs on the latches in the wall to his sides holding his arms open wide, yet comfortably…for a time.

Approaching she smiled at the picture he presented. Setting up a side table next to him, she set the plate down and murmured, “It’s dinner time. Are you hungry, my bear?”

Sean grinned, “Famished, my mistress.”

She smiled. Gesturing to a small bowl on the plate, she commented, “This is vegetable oil.” Dipping her fingers in it, she reached towards his neck and rubbed in small, teasing circles. Sean closed his eyes enjoying the sensation. Looking down, she could see he was leaking pre-cum. Her plan to send him home again unsatisfied was going to be a challenge. Then his stomach growled.

Taking up a spoonful of meatcake, she held it to his mouth to take a bite. “Kiss first,” he growled.

“Oh, who’s an uppity bottom,” she joked.

He chuckled. When she kissed him, his tongue immediately delved into her mouth and claimed his right to be there. As she heard him tug on his arms, she knew restraining him was the right thing to do. They kissed until she grew uncomfortable from the position. Then she re-offered the meatcake, and he took a bite. She didn’t kiss him again, but in between his bites, she rubbed the oil in slow circles down his neck. “Where are you most sensitive, my bear?” she asked.

“Nipples,” he mumbled watching her with predatory intent, “Back of my neck…And anywhere you touch on my cock and balls.” He inhaled deeply as she dipped her fingers and began rubbing his chest, slowly moving closer to his nipples. Periodically pausing in her massage, she would feed him more meatcake. He chewed hungrily, but this time, his dissatisfaction was becoming more of an anticipatory contentment as his discomfort subsumed to existing in the moment.

“I have a request,” he began as she finally started teasing his nipples. It tickled while stimulating him.

She prompted, “Hmmmm?”

“If you touch my cock, I get to cum in or on you.” He saw her perfectly understand his meaning in her body’s reaction. He was going to make her smell like him…belong to him in a very primal sense…sooner or later. He pulled on his cuffs as indecision flickered across her features. If he could only get his hands on her, he knew he could persuade her to decide on having him.

Bridget dropped her gaze to his erection as she dipped her fingers in the oil. Pre-cum slipped from him in a slow flow. Resuming her massage a little lower, on his abdomen, carefully avoiding his erection, she licked her lips. Then she answered, “You’re my responsibility. It’s too soon for that, but yes, I agree.”

He inhaled deeply, seeing if he could get her to inadvertently touch his throbbing cock. When she managed to escape, he asked directly, “When can I make love to you?” and pulled on the restraints again. If only she would let him get his hands on her. He was getting better at reading her body language, and all she needed was to relax with some gentle petting.

She didn’t have an answer, so she didn’t. He didn’t know what it would do to him. And her negative would lead him to ask. Instead, she had a plan. Focusing on his safe erogenous sensitive spots, she teased them until he hummed with pleasure.

Without touching his penis, she finally stopped with a series of soft pets up and down his chest and arms. “Well, I think that was a delightful dinner,” she sighed happily. Studying his face cautiously, she unlatched his arms, massaging them as he was released. Then she released his ankles and backed up. “Time to get dressed, my bear. You’re welcome to hang out with me for a bit.”

Respecting her hesitancy at the start of their physical relationship, Sean didn’t push her. He didn’t know her full story, and life had taught him that waiting for her would be worth it. Sean glanced at her flushed features, and then at her bedroom just within sight. It was that very window through which she’d pulled him in. “What the plan is for tomorrow?” For there would be a plan for tomorrow.

She shook her head, “I’ve got a meeting to attend.”

She gave him some privacy as he got dressed. When he was done, he joined her at the table. She showed him the astronomy book open to Methuselah. He asked, “What are you looking for exactly?”

“Did you know that there are multiple dimensions?” she commented, looking at him with hesitant worry.

He hurried to assure her that he didn’t think that was crazy, misunderstanding her concern, “I never thought about it, but it seems reasonable.”

Nodding, she glanced at his cuffs and then explained that she was looking for something that would be left over when separate dimensions formed.

“Why?” he wondered. It was a tough question for most people, explaining to him why he should care. He had no doubt that Bridget was formidable enough to deal with answering him.

She glanced sharply at another book on the coffee table drawing his eye to it as she murmured, “I don’t believe in magic. You…I mean people in general will come across phenomena that they don’t understand…” She trailed off.

Sean’s gaze remained on the other book; it looked very old.

“Go ahead and look at it, Sean,” she softly commented. She moved towards her entertainment system as he sat next to it and carefully opened it.

“What is the writing?” he’d seen it before somewhere.

“Celtic,” she replied without looking.

As he flipped through the pages, he jerked recognizing the knot style on his cuffs in a drawing. The subservient status of those wearing them was undeniable. Glancing at Bridget, who was clicking through the display screen looking for some music to play, he smiled. Belonging to his mistress wasn’t bad. Wasn’t bad at all. As he stared at the pictures, he realized that none of the people shown had the exact design he wore. He couldn’t find the exact style.

“The cuffs you are wearing should be banned,” Bridget softly commented joining him.

He couldn’t keep the hopeful tone out of his voice, asking, “You can’t get them off?”

“Not without causing a lot of other problems,” she haltingly replied, rubbing her neck.

He spent the rest of the evening flipping through the book, sipping some more of her wonderful tea, chatting with her about astronomy, and glancing at her lips.

When it was time to go he said, “Give me a hug,” adding, “And when can I see you again?”

As she hugged him, he pulled her tight letting her feel his still stiff hard-on. Again he felt the hard small object tucked in her waistband somewhere. Sensing it shifted the power between them, pulling her under his control. He could feel it.

“Give me the weekend, okay?” she haltingly replied.

When he released her, her fingers covered her lips as if she said something she didn’t mean to. “Just dream of me and remember you promised,” he rumbled.

Nervously, she smiled.

As she showered, he rubbed himself. He shuddered simply touching himself, releasing a pressurized jet, but as her shower continued, lasting longer, he felt a larger orgasm loom. For a moment, when her feet paused and all he could hear was water, he erupted a second time. He had no idea what she had planned for the weekend, but he was looking forward to it.

The next evening Sean listened to her come home. When she shortly left again, he went to the hallway window to watch her as she walked out of their building. With surprise, he saw her simply walk towards the coffee shop instead of her car. Wherever she was going was local. Back inside his apartment listening for her return, he grew more disturbed as the evening slowly set in. Finally, he left to follow her steps in the reddish light.

Frowning, he stopped at the building next to the coffee shop recognizing Bard’s car. Worried, he walked around the building in the twilight. Several voices could be heard on one side of the building. He couldn’t understand their words, but he distinguished his mistress’ tones among them.

“Ei losgi i lawr,” [1] a male voice urged.

“…pan-dimensional Gargoyles, ffŵl,” [2] replied his Bridget.

“Ddal…” [3] began Bard.

Sean stepped away and scanned the building again. One set of doors was more frequently used than another, so he moved to sit in a hedge nearby to wait for Bridget’s emergence. She was the last to leave. And it was because Bard was holding her back.

Once alone as far as they knew, Bard pausing talking and moved to kiss Bridget. Sean furiously watched the attempt, but didn’t want them to know he’d found their secret meeting location.

She blocked Bard with a hand across his mouth, saying “No.” Then in their language, “Mae gan fy anifail anwes a fi gytundeb.” [4]

“Mae’n gymaint o anifail anwes ag arth, Bridget,” [5] Bard snapped back.

“I don’t want a boyfriend,” she said.

“You don’t want me.” he swore and stormed off. At the last moment he yelled, “A all eich anifail anwes fod yn berchen arnoch!” [6]

Bridget shuddered as a burst of air fluttered her hair blowing Sean’s direction, bringing her scent to him. Which triggered an instant orgasm.

Sean waited until she had left and then returned home reflecting that he really, really needed to fuck her. No, it was more than that. He wasn’t comfortable until he paused on entering his apartment and could hear her move above. Then he quickly showered and listened as she moved. He was furious that Bard had tried to take her from him. She hadn’t told him everything. She’d obviously gone to the stupid shop and gotten the stupid key, but she hadn’t offered to free him and he hadn’t asked liking her having that power over him a little too much. She said it would cause more problems. She didn’t want a boyfriend. So she wasn’t thinking of him long term. That really irked and wasn’t going to stand. With two days before his weekend with her, he decided to go revisit the stupid shop.

Sean walked into Amorous Goods scowling. The shopkeep was gone but an attractive female was behind the counter instead. Shifting his expression to a more neutral look, he asked her, “Where’s the guy that works here?” Looking down, he spotted her pregnant bulge. Picturing his Bridget in the same state triggered an answering bulge in his pants. She would then be his. An idea formed for his plans.

“Damon?” she called.

The irritatingly smiling shopkeeper appeared. “Ah! Expected you back, slave. Interested in perusing our stock perhaps?” Divided between punching his face over the ‘slave’ comment or demanding an accounting, Sean was on the verge of saying ‘no’ when the jerk continued, “We have more Celtic artifacts that you might particularly enjoy.” His eyes were on his wife’s baby bump as he spoke the last part.

Time momentarily stopped for Sean, electrical anticipation drew up just out of reach. “Sure.” he replied. Chuckling, Damon opened a cabinet and lifted out a velvet shelf, setting it on the counter. A bracelet, female sized, caught Sean’s eye. When he reached out and touched it, the air around him shifted, and he could distinctly scent his mistress’ arousal. Snagging it, he held it reverently in his hand.

Damon laughed and rang up the charge. Passing the bracelet’s key to Vikki, he had her hand it to Sean inside an envelope. “The young man you were with before was not very smart,” she murmured to him. Sean paused, the question on his lips, but then decided that he really didn’t care. Bridget was his. That was all that mattered.

When he closed his mouth, Damon, smirking, observed, “Very wise of you, slave.”

Sean sneered at him briefly then headed out. When he was just short of the door, Damon called, “Your mistress is lovely. Melt the keys together if you want to keep her; impregnating her alone doesn’t do it.”

Sean paused. Then looked back at Damon. His arm was possessively around Vikki, who was waving at him.

On his way back home, Sean stopped at the maker space to check out a microfurnace. As he waited for the equipment to be packed up, he practiced locking the bracelet around Bridget-wrist-sized items one-handed.

Sean arrived home to find a note on his door. ‘Come up when you return.’

Frowning, he put down his materials, palmed the bracelet, and then practiced one more time securing it one-handed around a nearby pole. Content that he could do it with ease now, he slipped it into his pocket, and then headed upstairs.

On knocking, he didn’t wait long for Bridget to appear and usher him in. Her facial expression shifted between a spectrum of emotions so fast, he could only tell that she was perturbed.

“I was thinking about this weekend,” she began, “How about if you just come by for a few hours on Saturday and a few hours on Sunday?”

Sean didn’t answer her until she lifted her eyes from his chest letting him read her. She was conflicted, nervous, strongly attracted to him, worried, a little scared, and uncertain. Sensing through their odd connection that the argument with Bard had deeply unsettled her, he asked, “When are you planning to let me go?”

Bridget inhaled sharply, and hesitated.

“Bridget,” he growled, letting her know he wasn’t going to stop neither the inquiry nor his pursuit.

She stumbled over her words, “Um..the, the woman possessing the key to your cuffs who, who, um..makes love to you..will, will own you.”

Sean’s eyes flashed, registering that no one else would own him…only HIS Bridget, “What is your role in all of this?” He slipped his hands in his pockets.

She sensed danger, but with his hands secured, she felt safe enough. “I’m trying to teach you, to um, distinguish what a woman possessing the key can do to you.”

“Are you giving me the key, when you tire of me?” His hand concealed in his pocket, he carressed the bracelet it held. Not yet.

Not answering immediately, realizing HOW she answered was critical, Bridget was starting to think that the weekend plan was not a good idea when Sean’s arms came out of his pockets and penned her against the nearby wall. “I can’t..I would have to give it to your, your chosen woman,” she blurted.

Sean narrowed his eyes as he slowly lowered his hands. He then grasped each of her hands in his own and rumbled, “What if my chosen woman is right here?”

Bridget’s heart was beating rapidly. Heat suffused her frame. She started to shake her head when Sean leaned in and pressed his lips against hers. As she kissed him back, he pressed into her, a sensation that never failed to weaken her. Secured against him with the wall against her back, he lifted her arms above her head. She didn’t resist, the power between them somehow reversing, but she was impressed by how much stronger he was than her. Slipping his tongue into her mouth, he claimed her, distracting her from the fact that her arms were now held up by one of his hands instead of both.

Sean broke the kiss when he pulled the key free from the lock to her bracelet. HIS bracelet was now locked around HER wrist. The sensation of his success sent him close to bursting, and he reveled as his woman shuddered with her own orgasm, the first of many he would give her, as he stared into her eyes.

Bridget inhaled sharply realizing she’d lost control. “Sean,” she couldn’t help the arousal coloring her tone, “Release me.” As he followed her request, she began, “I think maybe we should cancel…” Sean’s expression looked unaccountably pleased. Then she registered the change. Looking down, she spotted a bracelet around her own wrist. “What did you do?” Her orgasm…it had been triggered.

“I don’t know,” he rumbled slipping the key to her bracelet into his pocket. “I just know you’re mine.”

She stared at the bracelet he’d put on her. It was a marriage knot on a tree…children. Irked, she gazed back up at him narrowing her eyes. “Take a seat against the wall, my surly bear. It’s time I taught you a few things.” she ordered.

Sean’s eyes flashed. “I need to shower,” he argued.

She needed to martial her thoughts. “Hurry back then.”

Sean spun, leaving her apartment abruptly, ignoring her sharp intake of breath. Quickly showering, he rapidly returned…with his microfurnace in hand.

On his return, Bridget ignored the package he brought assuming it would be more food. Instead of offering to make another ‘meal’ of him, she ordered him to strip and sit in his chair. Hoping she didn’t recognize the furnace, he argued again, “We need to lock our keys in this safe first.” He pulled it free from its packaging.

With a shaking hand, she carefully withdrew the key to his cuffs from her waistband. “I need to put it in there, myself. You can’t touch it.”

Sean held out the furnace accepting the key. Then pulling out his key to her bracelet from his own pocket, he dropped it inside with hers, secured the top, then set the cycle to begin.

Sean happily stripped, handing his clothes to Bridget as he did so. Her eyes were wide watching him. Walking to the chair, he sat. “You secure me, my mistress.” He rumbled. Putting his clothes down on the couch, Bridget approached cautiously. Kneeling down, she gazed as his erection. Sean smiled as she secured his legs licking her lips unconsciously. Taking his arm and latching up the cuff, Bridget briefly brushed her lips against his. As she secured his other arm, she allowed her breast to hover in reach of his mouth. Sean took the opportunity, and latched his mouth on her breast tonguing through her clothing. Bridget pulled away and kissed him. Tingles surged through him as her mouth opened to him. “You need to get naked,” Sean suggested.

Pausing, Bridget murmured, “Your fixation was made when I cut the chain between your cuffs that day when we first met.”

Sean shook his head. “It was when you came down the ladder.”

Bridget looked at him surprised.

“Get naked, and you’ll hear more.”

“I need to shower,” she murmured.

“I can help with that,” Sean offered, tugging on his restraints.

Bridget shook her head. “I know where your head is, Sean. I’ll be quick.”

And she was. His erection throbbed watching her strip. Then watching her emerge in a towel, he growled, “Take it off, my mistress.”

Bridget’s eyebrows shot up. “You need to earn it, my bear.”

Sean growled and pulled on his restraints testing them.

Bridget humphed, and pulled down a scarf from one of the nearby hooks.

Sean relaxed, in a sense. As his mistress took control, he could sense it, everything right settling inside. Then he felt her lips on his neck. He inhaled deeply, smiling. Her lips brushed his own whispering, “If the fixation didn’t begin with my breaking the chain, then what was it you fixated on?”

Lips shifted to his nipple. He gasped. “I saw the outline of your vulva as you climbed down.” Her teeth pinched. “Was going to come back to you regardless.”

“Hmmm. Hold that thought.” Her touch disappeared for a bit. Steps. A clink. Some pouring. He sniffed. A faint scent of smoke drifted by. The non-metal coatings on the keys was carbonized.

Then she returned. Her soft fingers rubbed vegetable oil into his aroused nipple. “The nature of your cuffs is called a teeter-totter. If I have sex with you, then I will own you.” Her touch switched to his other nipple, “If I give you the key to unlock the cuffs, then you will own me.”

“Ah, ha.” He shifted uncomfortably when her fingers dropped to his inner thigh, [deleted]. Tugging on his arms, he checked to see if he could get free. Not that way. “Tell me about the store.” And touch me.

Her fingers shifted to caressing up and down his form, from his feet to his head and back down. “That store you degenerates found is…hmm…been taken over by pan-…”

“…dimensional gargoyles” he finished with her.

Her fingers stilled and she whispered, “Like this?” [deleted]. “Tell me how you knew.”

“Goddess, yes,” he answered as her fingers, [deleted], “I followed you.” [deleted]. “To your meeting.” [deleted]. “It was getting too late.”

“Ceiling of the apartment downstairs too quiet?” she surmised how he knew.

He nodded and shifted his hips. [deleted]. He pulled on his restraints again, this time checking how they were installed. Load bearing. Nuts. “When that friend of yours tried to kiss you, I’d never been so mad in my life.”

[deleted]. He wanted his arms free. He wanted to thrust into her, erupt, and then do it again, and again and again. “That emotional buzzing in your head is the Celtic technology.”

The microfurnace announced its complete cycle. He rumbled, “My head’s buzzing, because I’m not letting you go.”

“That’s supposed to be my line.” Bridget was breathing harder and took some oil to massage his feet. The sensation only served to leave him on a plateau of anticipation.

He smiled, the victorious predator. “Our keys are in a melted pool of slag right now. I had us put them in a microfurnace and turned it on.” The squeak of surprise she made was priceless. “You might have me restrained this way, right now, but I’ve got you locked down in my own way.” The need to take her intensified. Somewhere in the back of his head he remembered there was something important about the latches she was using to secure his cuffs to the wall.

“I was joking about the uppity-bottom thing. Sean…” she sighed, “I want you to know that I will cherish and protect you.” [deleted]

“And that’s my line,” he murmured.

With a slight amount of rustling, he sensed her touching his lips. [deleted]

His mistress’ voice from above his head infused with lust, “The bracelet you put on me is one for weddings. That damn gargoyle sealed your fate. And mine.” She panted.

[deleted] “Take me,” he pleaded. He needed to bind her more, she had resisted too much to keeping him. “No condom. Bare.” He was shaking with tiny orgasms. A tiny fountain of ejaculate was coming out of him.

“You’re so slick,” she commented [deleted]. “Tell me when you’re about to burst.”

[deleted] Heat and joy suffused him. [deleted]

“Mistress mine,” he declared [deleted] “Faster,” he moaned. [deleted] A few minutes later he realized that he was ready to orgasm again. “I’m close again,” he murmured.

“That’s my line,” she panted. “Can you hold on a little longer?”

He chuckled, “I meant, I already came. But this time am ready to really burst.”

[deleted], “You I don’t regret refusing to give you the key at all.”

Sean grunted, “Owned.” Whether he meant her or himself didn’t matter. [deleted]

His awareness returned with a burst of physical light entering his white-out space. He squinted his eyes to see his precious Bridget’s chagrin. “Apparently, I need to teach you more control, my pet.”

Sean smiled, he felt like a content, lumbering bear, desirous of nothing more than a back scratch, some food, and another session of mind-blowing sex. “I’ll consider cooperating, so long as you stay in my den.”

[deleted] “Sean, I’m not on birth control.” [deleted]

“Good.” Twisting his wrists, he used the fact that the latches didn’t lock with anything more than a simple spring to pull the other side of his cuffs through, freeing himself. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her tight for a long kiss. “Hope the owners don’t mind my turning our places into a two story condo.”

“The management hates me here.”

He laughed, “Well, someplace else then.” Then he tugged on her bracelet, to lift her hand to his mouth. Licking, and gently sucking her ring finger into his mouth, he added, “How about we take a shower and find some new ways to eat ice cream.”

Bridget shivered, “I’d love that.” Playing with the cuff on his left wrist between the fingers of her other hand, she added, “And I love you.”

Sean pressed the palm of her hand against his lips with intense pressure. “And I love you.”

[1] Burn it down
[2] fool
[3] Trapping
[4] My pet and I have an agreement
[5] He is as much of a pet as a bear
[6] May your pet own you

Special thanks for the “Celtic” translation:

On this day in 1880…

On this day in 1880 in New Orleans, Phillip Heber was born. That what I saw on the grave stone.

If you go to Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans, it’s down Canal St where it experiences a discontinuity. I guess that’s why the street car termination is there. Within the Cemetery, there are roads & paths. Each are named, some better choices than others.

I happened upon some flowers on the paved road. They were fake, would last forever as we’re coming to know to our planet’s detriment. I decided that they should go on one of the neglected graves. For there were many.

I don’t believe in graveyard souls. I don’t believe in ghosts…mostly. But I do believe in history, and the souls fortunate enough to be buried here, notable for the love of their families, were part of the large community that gave it its character. Not all of us make the history books, but all of us do make history in comprising its people who move collectively in any particular direction.

So I headed towards the unfortunately named “Locust” path. There had been many neglected grave sites here, & with such a name, likely constituted my own societal strata in the world. Spend the money on the living. Just stick my bones in the cheapest plot of land that suffices.

There I found a grave sight, with a single headstone. Broken to pieces laying on the ground. & I thought that here was a grave that deserved flowers that lasted forever.

The epitaph was short. Told of a Gertrude Heber who died at the age of 19 in 1878. Two years later…Today, July 23 1880…little Phillip was born. He died in 1881. On the 28th of July.

I pictured the parents of Gertrude and Phillip. Devastated by the death of a daughter full grown, having a son after grieving, and then losing him too. Presumably to disease.

What was odd was that I didn’t see any more members of the Heber Family. I assumed by this absence that the children’s (for to my mind, Gertrude was still a child; she certainly was to her parents) parents at that point decided to leave New Orleans and live out the rest of their lives elsewhere.

I would post a photo of the Heber Family’s New Orleans experience, but overall, it made me very sad. The flowers are still there now, soon to be on the ground nearby when shifted by the wind or escorted by rain. The Earth has planetary power to move them, just as disease is another form of planetary power which killed them.

God Bless the Heber Family. And us. And our planet. May we find a way to live together, sustainably, symbiotically.