ExcerptMercenaries: Private Skirmish
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Copyright ©2012 Anne Kane
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Dee glared at the guard as he nudged her back into place with the barrel of his plasma rifle. One lousy moment of inattention and here she was, waiting her turn on the auction block.
"Sold!" The auctioneer's voice rang loud as his gavel hit the podium and the dusky beauty from Uranus Prime was led to the holding cells on the far side of the room, a sultry smile curving her full lips.
"You're up, blondie. Smile pretty and you might fetch a decent owner." The young wrangler smirked as he grabbed the lead attached to the heavy collar around her neck. Dee followed quietly as he led her to the auction block, not because she wanted to be sold off like an animal but because she knew this wasn't the time to make a run for her freedom.
She glanced around. Too many guards. Too much security. The holding area was crawling with people of every description and not one would lift a hand to help her. She had been looking for her sister in one of the outer provinces when they arrested her. The penalty for leaving her home province without permission was indentured service for the remainder of her natural life.
When the Military Alliance ousted the democratic government of Earth, things had changed drastically for the inhabitants. The new rulers had lots of rules and little tolerance for those who didn't follow them. They found a creative way to get rid of citizens who didn't obey their every whim, without having to pay for expensive prisons. Sell them, and pocket the profit. Military efficiency at its finest.
Dee had every intention of escaping, but now was not the time. Maybe the wrangler had a point. A lax owner would make her eventual escape so much easier. If she played her cards right, she could be on her way by nightfall. She mustered up her sexiest smile and looked out over the room full of prospective buyers.
"What am I bid for this healthy young specimen?" The auctioneer beamed at her like a fond uncle. "Strayed into the wrong province and arrested without any damage to the merchandise. Turn around, sweetie, and let the crowd see what they're bidding on."
Dee gritted her teeth, keeping her eyes downcast to hide her initial reaction. Merchandise, indeed! She turned in a slow circle, ignoring the catcalls of a rowdy bunch of miners in the front row. They were just here for the show, they wouldn't have the credits to actually bid.
"Let's start at one thousand." The auctioneer launched into his well-practiced spiel, and Dee watched as the bidding became a contest between a jovial fellow with two dark beauties sitting quietly at his feet, and a rather nasty-looking man who smacked a riding crop against his boots every time someone bid against him. Lordy, if he won she'd have to make a break for it before he carted her off to whatever rock he'd crawled out from under.
"Come on, people. Look at her. New to the block. I'd bet my finest leather duster that she's never been used by more than one male at a time. Just think what fun you could have training her to your own tastes. Do I hear six thousand?"
"Six thousand, five hundred." The Nasty Guy's smile was as cold as an arctic outflow.
The Jovial Fellow hesitated a moment, and Dee's heart sank. She eyed up the exits, wondering which one was the quickest route to outside and freedom. There was no way she was going to let Nasty Guy take her anywhere.
Dee's head jerked up at the sound of that familiar voice, her heart rate soaring. Kaeden! Where was he? And what the hell was he doing at a slave auction? He hated the government-run auctions with a passion that bordered on obsession. The only time he'd ever attended one was to start a riot and watch the slaves bolt for freedom.
Nasty Guy stood, his crop whistling though the air in agitation, and for a moment Dee thought he was going to bid higher. Her breath caught in her throat. He glared at the back of the room before spinning on his heel and stalking out of the hall.
Dee let out a relieved breath, her eyes scanning the crowd until she found him. Kaeden. The only man who'd ever managed to break through the wall of ice she kept around her heart. He stared straight at her, the hard glint in his eye telling her he hadn't forgiven her for walking out on him.
"Ten thousand! Now that's more like it. Anyone want to go ten one hundred?" The auctioneer paused, his gavel held in midair and a happy grin on his face. His cut of the sale price would keep him in black market ale for the next few moon cycles. "No? Going once? Going twice. Sold, to the gentleman in row nine!" The gavel hit the podium with a decisive thump, and Dee gave a sigh of relief. Kaeden might be pissed at her, but at least she didn't have to worry about being a slave.
He and his band of mercenaries went out of their way to disrupt the slave trade. He'd read her the riot act first, but he'd sign her freedom papers and she could be on her way. Next time, she'd check for government forces before she waltzed into a bar on the wrong side of a provincial border. If she hadn't been so intent on finding Wren, she might have noticed the captain's bars on the man's shoulder and avoided this whole unfortunate incident.
The wrangler led her off the block and over to the holding pens. Before he managed to shove her into one of the iron holding cells, Kaeden materialized at her side, his hand held out for the lead. "No need for that. I'll take her from here."
Dee watched the wrangler open his mouth to protest. There were forms to fill out, money to change hands and receipts to be issued. It didn't surprise her that after one look at the mercenary's hard face, the wrangler closed his mouth and handed over the lead without protest.
"You can collect the paperwork over there." He pointed to the harried-looking secretary and made a quick escape. Dee didn't blame him.
She looked into the chilly eyes of her former lover. He had aged in the time she'd been gone. The harsh angles of his face were more pronounced. She still found him absolutely irresistible. "You here specifically for me, or just slumming?"