Heart of an Outlaw

scroll down for excerpt                 Book 1 in the Heart & Soul series

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Passion, betrayal, bloody legends, and a shocking secret in a galaxy of enemies and friends…

Wanted dead or alive, the notorious Reeka Warrior Women have been hunted almost to extinction. When an act of compassion results in a wounded Reeka leader being in his possession, the Daamen trading captain and his crew are plunged into a dangerous vortex of treachery, hate and passion.

Soldiers, bounty hunters, space-pirates, traders…the chase is on for the brutal, shocking truth behind the bloody legends…

 

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*re-edited: The heroine was younger in the original version, but as time has gone by ideas have changed and it became an issue with some readers, therefore the heroine is now a couple of years older.

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“Who loosened the chains?” The man roared in the distance and waved a fist at the dark tent behind him.

“Slave and criminal traders.” With a grunt of distaste, Darvk continued to push his way through the crowded market place.

Maverk grimaced and followed his friend. “This is the only thing that bothers me about trading. Crowds I don’t mind, but smelly ones…”

“You weren’t worried about the smelly crowd in the tavern last night, or that sultry wench who was practically raping you in your chair.”

Maverk smiled wistfully, remembering the previous night. “She was a feisty little piece.”

About to reply, Darvk’s attention was diverted by sudden yelling and swearing. He groaned as the crowd, smelling the scent of excitement, turned as one and surged between the haphazard stalls, carrying he and Maverk along in their midst.

Realizing there was no choice but to go along with the flow of people, Darvk jostled to the front for a better view of the cause of the commotion.

Glowing coals from an overturned iron bucket were scattered over the raised platform, and a young black-robed boy was gingerly gathering them up with iron tongs.

A masculine cry of pain was followed by more curses.

Curiosity aroused, Darvk gazed at the tent flaps. “Someone in there is giving the slavers trouble.”

“Can’t handle your trade goods anymore, Bok?” someone jeered.

The man on the platform whirled around, but upon seeing the crowd gathered attentively below the raised platform, eagerness replaced his snarling expression. “People, I have a treat for you. Come closer and see the outlaw I have for trade!”

“Let’s go.” Disgusted, Maverk made to leave.

“She is but sixteen years of age, firm and strong.” Bok gestured to the tent. “Beautiful as only her race can be and just as dangerous. Only the brave among you will bid for this young beauty!”

“Not yet,” Darvk said.

Surprised, Maverk eyed his friend. “‘Tis not like you to be interested in slaves and outlaws.”

“I just want to see her.”

Bok’s head disappeared between the tent flaps then drew back to face the crowd. “Bring her out.”

The crowd waited in curious silence as the tent flaps parted to reveal a young slave trader with heavily muscled arms. The thick chain in his fist was attached to the neck collar of the shadowed captive standing between the two slave guards.

“Bring her forward,” Bok commanded.

The slave guards jerked the chain harshly, forcing the outlaw into the sunshine. The heavy cuffs and chains that bound her wrists and ankles rattled loudly in the expectant silence.

The reaction was everything Bok had hoped for. The watchers gasped in shock when they saw the golden death mask, the features molded into that of a woman that covered her face. It was secured in place by a gold band that fitted over the top of her head.

“It’s a Reeka outlaw!” a woman shrieked.

“They’re all supposed to be dead!” yelled a short squat man, small eyes darting greedily up and down the tall, straight figure of the outlaw.

Bok smiled triumphantly. “Most have been hunted to extinction. This is possibly the last one alive.”

Darvk studied the lass standing so still. He’d heard about the Reeka Warrior Women, a race trained to fight and kill, who had lived on Comll before being outlawed. They were mercenaries hired by warring leaders to seek out and destroy the enemy.

“’Tis said the Reeka wenches murdered the men they bred with as well as the sons born,” Maverk murmured.

Aye, Darvk had heard the same. ‘Twas known that the female babes were raised to be warrior women—and ruthless, primitive killers.

The death mask was molded into replicas of the owner’s features and placed on their faces for burial at death. A rather macabre touch.

Bok leered. “Yes, a Reeka. Strong and healthy, with fine legs to walk or run for miles and strong arms for heavy labor. Who will pay for the privilege of owning one of the Reeka warriors?”

“Show us her face,” the hefty smithy demanded. “Is she as pleasing to the eyes as her mask indicates?”

“See and judge for yourself, friend.” With a quick movement the golden death mask was swept off and a stunned silence followed.

“She’s beautiful,” Maverk whispered, awed.

Darvk dimly registered the heart-shaped face, young and impossibly lovely, but it was her eyes that made his heart pound with an unknown force.

Large and heavily fringed with black lashes, they were the deep color of the violet flowers that grew abundantly on the riverbanks of his home world of Daamen. The eyes were impossible to read due to the distance that separated them, but Darvk could nonetheless glimpse the wildness lurking in their depths.

Reaching behind her, Bok brought forth a thick braid to drape over her shoulder and sleeveless leather bodice, artfully placing it between her breasts so that the tip touched her belted waist. “Imagine having this hair loose and wrapped around your hand. Gentlemen, do I hear a bid?”

Hands shot up everywhere.

“One hundred dinnos!” the short, squat man shrieked.

“One twenty!”

“One fifty!”

Darvk and Maverk watched the lass but she showed no emotion.

“Come.” Bok lifted her small, rounded chin with his hand. “She is a virgin. Why, my very own slaver novice can attest to that. This beauty hasn’t been touched since his examination. Young, beautiful, and virgin! What more could you want?”

The lass moved suddenly and Darvk was stunned to see her drop her head and snap at Bok’s arm.

Women in the crowd screamed and the watchers at the front stumbled back.

On the alert for an outburst, the slaver novice cracked taut the chain attached to the neck collar and jerked her head away at the last minute so that her small white teeth just grazed Bok’s skin. The slave guards kicked at the back of her knees making them buckle, and the captive outlaw was brought to her knees. The cruel grasp in the golden hair yanked her head up.

A strange pang of anger simmered to life inside Darvk at her treatment.

“She’s a wild dog!” a plump woman squealed. “You should have killed her, not brought her here for trade!”

A low murmur of agreement rose from the fickle crowd.

Darvk saw some of the men who’d previously bid eyeing the girl doubtfully.

“Come, come!” Bok cried out heartily. “Kept in chains, this beauty will be helpless!”

“She wasn’t so helpless that she couldn’t attempt to bite your arm off!” An old man cackled.

Jeers and hoots of laughter sounded.

The slave trader remained undaunted. “She’ll be a tasty morsel for someone man enough to buy and bed her. See those delicious mounds of breasts straining even now at her bodice.” Bok pointed crudely and every eye in the crowd followed his finger. “Just imagine, my lusty friends, the Reeka warrior chained to your bed, helpless to do anything but wait for her lord and master to come!”

The gazes of the men became lustful again and lecherous eyes raked the kneeling figure.

“It’d take more than chains for me to bed that hellcat,” Maverk commented without rancor.

The two young traders heard hesitant bids begin again, while the lass allowed her gaze to drift scornfully over the sea of faces.

“Sweet mercy, she’s remembering us!” A woman exclaimed as she stepped back onto Darvk’s foot, her hefty weight making him wince. “If she escapes, she’ll murder us all in our beds!”

The girl pinned her with a feral look and spat a guttural sound, causing the woman to squeal and scramble back into the nervously shifting crowd.

“See the spirit in her?” Bok said swiftly. “The pleasure in taming this warrior woman will last for a long time!”

The bids came faster.

Darvk’s heart jolted as the lass’s gaze skimmed across his face, dismissing him, and starting to move away before returning to stare. The violet eyes darkened to a deepness that touched his soul, and sympathy for her welled up. Young and strong, a proud spirit bound in chains, would her spirit eventually break under repeated rape and hard labor? Revulsion filled him. Or would she be killed by whoever bought her? After all, an outlaw’s life was of no value, only the novelty of ownership.

The tall, stooped brothel owner leered. “I could use her at my place. Chained down, I’m sure many of you young stallions would gladly pay to mount her.”

Whistles and cheers greeted this. Darvk saw the words register in her expression, the flicker of fear quickly replaced by coldness as the lass looked at the brothel owner.

“The wench will kill him if he buys her and she escapes someday,” Maverk observed.

“The wench is frightened.”

“What?” Maverk stared at his friend as though he’d sprouted two heads.

“The lass will face a life of bondage and rape.”

“You’re not thinking…” Maverk’s brown-eyed gaze darted between Darvk and the young outlaw. “Oh, surely not!”

“Three hundred dinnos!”

Bok licked his lips when the young, dark-haired giant at the front held up his hand.

“Three twenty.” The brothel owner sneered.

“Three fifty.”

“Four hundred!’

Bok looked from the towering, heavily muscled trader in the sleeveless vest to the thin brothel owner. Four hundred dinnos!

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copyright Angela Verdenius