Wicked Beloved
with…abnormal urges?”
    She wanted to scratch Ballaj’s smug eyes
out. She hated Ballaj. She hated this world, where having scruples
was considered deviant. But she knew what she had to do.
    Her master was fighting against his natural
instincts, and revealing what this pack of hyenas would call
weakness into the bargain. Taking such a course was perilous on
this planet. She couldn’t let him continue.
    After all she’d suffered at the hands of her
hated first master, she could go through at least as much for this
one. He was trying to protect her. He deserved her protection in
return.
    She nudged her nose against the underside of
his jaw. “It’s okay. Let’s do this.”
    “ You’re certain?”
Unconsciously he licked his bottom lip.
    “ Yes, as long as it’s you.
Only you.” And only for you. I’d only ever do this for
you.
    He accepted the knife.
    Ballaj led them over to the platform. Stupid
thing was waist high on her and had no stairs. Her master helped
her up before effortlessly following. The man had the grace of a
tiger.
    He turned and called out
something to one of the slave-assistants who’d brought in the
platform and the man tossed him a piece of white fabric. He caught
it in his off hand with ambidextrous ease. A cool, biting, chemical
scent wafted to her as he wiped the knife. Always clean your toys , she thought
as she positioned herself between the two posts.
    Looking out at their audience, she waited to
be shackled. The chains and manacles reminded her of her first
master’s dungeon and she quickly forced that thought away before it
overwhelmed her. She couldn’t think about that.
    Her master needed her to be strong now. She
could do this. He wasn’t like her first one. This wasn’t that
dungeon. She was not there. This was not then.
    She sensed her master behind her before his
hand touched her shoulder. “Look at me,” he ordered quietly.
    She turned around. His expression was
impossible to read, so many different emotions hovered there,
everything from the dominant lust to…a flickering shadow of
remorse. She had the sudden urge to tell him everything would be
okay, as if he were the one who needed reassurance.
    “ Restrain her,” Ballaj
prompted.
    “ No. She doesn’t need
that.” Although he was answering Ballaj, his burning eyes never
left hers.
    Murmurs of surprise came from the group.
    “ You’re not serious. You
haven’t even trained her to heel properly. You think she won’t try
to escape from being cut open?” Ballaj sounded
incredulous.
    “ She’ll stand free, of her
own volition.” He gave her a small smile while his gaze continued
to hold hers. She smiled back. They’d show this group something,
all right.
    Again the gasps of shock, and Ballaj’s
disbelieving, “Not under knife-play?”
    “ Yes.” He reached out and
stroked his fingers across her eyebrows, repeating the action as he
said, “Close your eyes.”
    She obeyed. His touch was soothing and she
relaxed into it. His lips brushed her cheek. He kissed her, a
little chaste kiss, once…twice. At the corner of her mouth, he
kissed her again, pulling away before she could respond. His hand
stroked her forehead, smoothing her brow once more.
    “Now don’t move. I don’t want to damage you
accidentally. But you’re not bound. You’re not trapped. You want
this to stop, you say so. We’ll walk away.”
    “I understand.”
    His hand stroked across her shoulder, down
her arm, in a slow, sensuous motion. “I’ll take care of you.”
    “ I know. Do what you
will,” she whispered.
    He stroked her hair back to lay bare the
side of her neck. His lips, hot and tender, kissed the sensitive
skin behind her ear, sending a shiver up her spine. “Don’t say
things that will encourage me.” He nipped her earlobe.
    “ I mean it. Make that
bastard eat his words.”
    He chuckled against her neck.
    “ What?” she asked,
confused by his mirth.
    “Our minds work similarly. Though yours is
less bloody. I wanted

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