Hers To Cherish (Verdantia Book 3) (7 page)

The hands that had swung a sword so ferociously for hours that day
gently slid along her scalp and stroked through her hair in a feather light yet strong massage. He allowed her to kneel like that for long minutes, soaking in his comfort, if that is what she was doing. She didn’t know herself why she continued to kneel at his feet. Finally, without speech, she rose and took the cloths to the bathroom. When she returned, Ram sprawled in the huge bed, asleep. She stood looking down at him. One hand stroked the heavy gold collar she wore. Tonight had been a revelation. With a feeling of gentleness foreign to her, she snuggled next to him and fell asleep.

~ ~ ~


A smart slap to her buttocks woke Steffania abruptly the next morning.

“I allowed you to sleep. Get up. I’m due at the training grounds in an hour.”

a rude comeback, she rolled to her back and peered at Ramsey through slitted eyelids, a snarl curling one lip.

Not a morning lark are you, my chick?” Ram glanced at her over the rim of his cup as he gulped down something steaming. “Get up. A word to the wise, Steffania. Either improve your temper or control it.”

Steffania kicked the covers away. Nude, she stalked to the exotic-wood vanity where she had laid out her cosmetics, facial jewels and the comm-disc. After carefully re-applying her make-up, taking special care with the elaborate scrolls at her temples, she replaced the jewels and comm-disc. Pulling out a drawer, she eyed the array of thongs in multiple colors with distaste.
How can anyone maintain a pleasant disposition with one of these crotch ropes up her ass?

In her peripheral vision, Ram eyed her with a particularly
depraved look. Steffania turned and looked at him askance.

What? You heard that?}

“Come. Stand there.” Ram pointed two fingers to a spot in the middle of the room. “Spread your legs, shoulder width.” He waited for her compliance. “Stay.”

He left the room and returned with a familiar item. A piece of red rope.

What are you going to do with that, DeKieran?}

The smile he returned was not encouraging.
Ram took several turns of the rope around her waist and tied a flat oval knot, the size of her palm, then ran both cords down between her legs. Measuring carefully, he tied them together with a flat knot on her pubic bone, a scant inch above her clitoris. She felt Ram’s broad thumb separate the intimate folds covering the tenderest part of her. Placing one cord on either side of her clit, he pulled them taut between the cheeks of her buttocks and up through the waistband of rope. Working from front to back he continued to form diamonds with the red cord. A spider-web of rope covered her buttocks and abdomen when he finished. With a final survey of his work, Ram stood.

His expression held a world of satisfaction.

I can’t wear this! What if I have to...well…}
Her thought sputtered off helplessly and she glared at him.

“Discipline your eyes, Steffania
.” {This binding accommodates your needs.}
“Finish dressing. I’ll wait for you in the living room.”

Anger flashed through her. How like Ramsey to replace her euphemistic “crotch rope” with the real thing. With her first step, the ropes tugged on tender flesh.
This is going to be a long day.

and Ramsey rode to the training grounds in silence. Steffania again knelt at Ram’s feet. The
téad de ghrásta
ropes binding her lower body created an ever-present awareness of her feminine sex. Salacious memories of the previous night tickled through her. With a sense of mortification, Steffania knew her engorged little clit peeked from swollen folds glistening with her moisture. Any casual eye could see her sexual arousal showcased in a picture frame of scarlet rope.

Once again, her
volatile temper had placed her in an uncomfortable situation. As much as Steffania hated to admit it, she’d heard the “improve it or control it” admonition many times, beginning with her mother and ending with her last commanding officer. Her pointed insults of Ram two weeks earlier landed her on this mission in the first place. She was certain Ramsey had forgotten her presence in the queen’s antechamber until she lashed out at him verbally.
I swear I’m going to do better.
She shook her head ruefully.
Yeah, and I’d be a wealthy woman if I had a credit for every time I have thought that.

Upon arrival at the training grounds, she followed him meekly until
he reached the steps to the visitor’s gallery. Head down, Steffania turned to ascend the staircase but Ram’s hand arrested her. He tipped her jaw toward him.

“Give me your eyes, Steffania.” Ram waited until
their gazes locked. “The
téad de ghrásta
should not chafe you. But the ropes are in a tender place. If their presence threatens to break the skin, I require that you find me. Do you understand?”

.” {How kind of you not to inflict pain on your helpless

Her sarcasm drew a wolfish smile from Ramsey.
{Oh, I’ll happily inflict pain, sweetheart – just not needlessly. Though I doubt pain is what you suffer at the moment.} His bold eyes swept down to the juncture of her thighs.

Steffania trembled with
the restraint it took not to plant her fist in his smug face. She ducked her head out of his hold and ran up the stairs. Indeed, pain was not what he inflicted on her. Clearly visible through the gossamer material, her thighs glistened wetly with the proof.
Damnation. I can’t let him get to me like that.

Frustration heaped upon frustration as Steffania’s morning stretched into an interminable lesson in futility.
The other
rebuffed even the most tentative of her approaches and she had no clue why; they had been cool but not unresponsive yesterday even after she had mentioned Alessa DeAlbero. The minute shifting of the
téad de ghrásta
ropes wreaked havoc on her concentration with their silent, subtle control over her body and mind. Steffania would forget for a while, and then she would move a certain way and the firm rub on either side of her clit, pussy and anus jerked her mind back to her overwrought sex. To her helpless fury, the arousal that had began in the cab to the training grounds built steadily all day. She decided to find Ramsey at the mid-afternoon break with the lie that the ropes chafed.

Skirting the complex of
training rings to where she had seen Ramsey last, a small cry and a cloud of dust captured her attention. Mere yards away, the lovely violet-eyed woman who had made overtures of friendship the first day lay crumpled on the ground. Her brute of a
towered over her, striking and kicking her repeatedly. He pulled a multi-strand flogger out of his belt and prepared to whip the delicate woman cowering in front of him. Outraged at his brutality, Steffania intervened without thought.

She snatched the cruel flogger from his hand and with all of her well-honed muscle, lashed him with it repeatedly, inflicting on him what he had sought to give.
His cry of fury brought three more males to the scene. Though she struggled viciously, Steffania was quickly overwhelmed.

is the woman my
told me about.
is the one who has been asking about Narr,” one of the men holding her arms captured behind her back snarled in her ear.

“I think we need to find
Kella. Find the Enforcer and have
deal with this.”

“You have no right to handle me. Get
DeKieran. Get my
,” she screamed in their faces.

You have no rights at all.” A brutish growl was all the warning she received. A fist slammed the side of her head, leaving her clinging to consciousness.

Two men shoved her along,
as they followed Mestrios out of the training grounds, jerking her already savagely twisted arms higher toward her shoulder blades so that she stumbled rather than strode. In a small cleared space, they flattened her brutally face down on an enormous X, cuffing her wrists high, raising her to the tips of her toes, then securing her ankles to the lower arms of the device. When they stepped back, she hung from her wrists, helplessly spread-eagled. She could see to either side or the ground. Hands snatched the slight covering off her lower body and a knife sliced the
téad de ghrásta
rope from her loins. Someone used a piece of the red hemp to bind her long hair and pull it up off her neck, baring her completely.

They are going to whip me.
Steffania clenched her jaw, determined not to make a sound.
Ram will come. I hope. I just need to hold out.

The tall blond male she had seen the first day
in the passenger lounge, Strom Kella, walked up to her and jerked her head back by her hair. He smiled maliciously. “How unfortunate you ask so many questions. Of course you must be punished for striking
Mestrios, but I’ll forgo the whipping if you tell me why you ask about Narr.”

She glared at him in silence.

“Good. I will enjoy stripping you of your misplaced sense of worth. ” A chill finger stroked down her back. “Your punishment for striking
Mestrios is two lashes, but I think we won’t stop until I know why you are such a curious little cat. Hmmm? I find tongues loose nicely between five and ten lashes.”

Two lashes with that bullwhip?
Well, it certainly won’t be pleasant, but I can do this. I’ve endured far worse during combat.
Steffania firmed her resolution to remain silent.

A curious crackle of electricity and a low hum vibrated through the
air. The unctuous voice of the Enforcer once more whispered in her ear. “Have you heard of a stim-whip? Probably not. They are outlawed on most civilized planets.” He laughed softly. “But we aren’t civilized here. A stim-whip hyper-activates all the underlying nerves, flooding the brain with pain long after the actual strike. I’m afraid it is inhumanly agonizing.”

Unfortunately, s
he had heard of them.
Oh, god, Ram. Where are you?


~ ~ ~


“I think that
is trying to get your attention, DeKieran.” Ram’s training partner motioned to a small woman standing outside the ring.

“Give me a minute,” Ram grunted
. He walked over to the tiny woman, and she promptly fell to her knees at his feet, forehead in the dust.

“Please, Sir. May I

This damn planet. And they call Verdantia backward.
“Stand. Speak.” The young woman rose and Ram saw numerous purple and black bruises distorting the delicate, petal-soft skin of her face. Her upper lip was split and bleeding and one eye was swollen partially closed. “What happened to you, sweetheart? Let me call a

DeKieran, there is no time. They took her. They took Steffania to the Enforcer. He will whip her. Please, Sir. There is no time.”

“Take me to her. Show me
, now.” Ram clamped a brutal hold on the white-hot flare of rage that overwhelmed him. He couldn’t afford the emotion.


~ ~ ~


Steffania gasped and tried to brace herself for what was to come. The first fiery blaze of pain lancing across from shoulders to buttocks robbed her of air in a jolting exhale of torment. The second line crossed her other shoulder diagonally in the opposite direction, creating a flare of agony in the same shape as the torture device upon which she was bound. Her mindless scream echoed off the building walls.
She managed to cut it short, but blood filled her mouth where she had bitten into her tongue.

Yes, it really hurts, doesn’t it, little
?” the laughing voice of the Enforcer whispered in her ear. A hard bulge pushed between her ass cheeks as he pressed close. The metal fastenings of his synth-leather pants abraded her tender flesh. “One more and you won’t be able to contain your screams or your bladder. Two more and you’ll tell me anything just to make it stop. And then I think I’ll fuck your pretty ass.” He stepped away.

couldn’t contain her helpless cries. From the corner of her eye, she saw the enforcer shake the whip out and bring it forward in a curling lash.


~ ~ ~


Ram heard Steffania’s choked screams of agony before he saw her. In spite of the indomitable will that had served him well his entire life, Ram came very close to losing his iron control when he did lay eyes on her. The tall, blond bastard, Strom Kella, had raised his arm behind his straining shoulder, preparing to lash Steffania’s already sobbing, writhing body. The plaited whip snaked in the air behind him. It hummed with a snapping electrical buzz and neon blue light crackled along its entire length.
The slime-dwelling ass-licker is using a gods-be-damned stim-whip.
A slew of vile curses spewed from Ram’s mouth

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