Release hold 2, p.1
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       Release (Hold #2), p.1

           Claire Kent
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Release (Hold #2)


  Release

  Claire Kent

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2016 by Claire Kent. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

  Contents

  Prologue

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Epilogue

  Excerpt from Fall

  About the Author

  Prologue

  Hall had never been uncomfortable around sex.

  He’d lost his virginity when he was twelve years old to a prostitute who lived down the block from his grandmother. In the twenty-four years since, he’d had sex with women all over Coalition space—and a few men when he was younger and willing to push his limits. He’d fucked and been fucked so many times that he couldn’t even remember all their faces, and he’d never known all of their names. He’d experimented with kink of every variety, and nothing had ever embarrassed him.

  He’d tried everything except a serious relationship.

  He wasn’t used to feeling uncomfortable where sex was concerned, which was why his slight self-consciousness as he sat in the throne room of the palace of Evalon was so bizarre. The evening’s Court festivities were more elaborate than usual because it was a Feast Day, and evidently that meant those in attendance were particularly frisky.

  The Lady Governor hadn’t even entered the room yet, but the well-dressed people gathered around the banquet tables that filled the large room were already going at it pretty heavily.

  A woman sitting at the nearest table to him had leaned over in her chair and was sucking her partner’s cock. Hall watched as her cheeks hollowed out at a regular interval and the man’s hips started to buck up into her mouth.

  There were lush, exotic fruits in the middle of the tables. Fine red wine—as good as replicated wine could get—had been poured into glasses. And that woman was giving a man a blow job, right there at the table.

  Hall shook his head and looked away.

  He was sitting with the other men who had declared themselves “Potentials” of the Lady Governor of Evalon. She would choose one of them each week to be her sex partner, until she finally decided on a lifetime companion. They weren’t allowed to touch any other woman until the Lady Governor had first rejected them.

  Hall needed to get through at least four of these weekly Feast Days, so he could remain inside the palace without rousing suspicion. That meant he needed to be careful not to let himself get chosen tonight. For one thing, he didn’t want to spend the week giving erotic pleasure to some vain, spoiled Coalition figurehead.

  For another, it would take at least a month for him and Lenna to finish this job.

  The payoff in the end would be excellent, assuming they could manage it. About half the work they did was smuggling, and this should be a particularly lucrative job, since it was so difficult and involved such a time commitment.

  If that meant he’d have to suffer through weeks of this tawdry pretense of sexual freedom, then he would do it.

  He’d suffered through long weeks in a prison planet, after all, when he’d stupidly let himself get arrested last year in a kidnapping job that went wrong. Nothing here could break him as much as that prison almost had.

  The guy beside him in the Potentials section—some mindless, overblown fortune-hunter—was getting aroused. Hall could sense it in the guy’s presence, although he wasn’t about to glance over and check out the man’s dick for himself.

  Hall had to fight not to roll his eyes.

  He’d been to these “Court sessions” on the three evenings since he’d arrived, but those had been much less elaborate, since they weren’t Feast Days. Tonight was something else entirely, and evidently it would go on for hours.

  He would have earned every ounce of his profit by the time they were done with this job.

  To distract himself from his annoyance, he searched the room, looking for interesting faces. He was surprised when his eyes landed on Lenna in the far corner of the room.

  She must be attending tonight as a visitor. Most of the people present were visitors—tourists who stupidly thought this planet and this Court were a wild, pleasurable escape from reality.

  It all felt fake to Hall—like too many people here were desperately grappling for something, anything that might give their lives meaning.

  He didn’t have any answers for them, but he was too smart and experienced to look for meaning in this.

  He met Lenna’s eyes and shared a knowing look before he glanced away. He couldn’t let anyone see that he knew her. He’d worked with her on jobs on and off for years now, and for the last six months they’d been working together most of the time. He couldn’t ask for a better partner.

  She was probably secretly laughing her ass off at him, stuck here in the Potentials section with about thirty other losers. Lenna wasn’t known for her sympathy or her soft heart.

  As Hall looked away, his eyes landed on a woman he’d never seen before, entering the front of the hall through the door only the most important people used.

  She wasn’t announced in any way, and she walked quietly to the long table on the dais until she reached the chair that had always been vacant on the end.

  She was dressed in a silk gown of a deep wine color that shimmered in the light of the room. Her figure was lush and curvy, but she didn’t move like someone who flaunted her sexuality. If anything, she looked shy. As if she’d rather be somewhere else.

  That was the reason Hall kept watching her. It felt like they were the only two people in this room who really didn’t want to be here.

  Once she was seated at the table, he could see her more clearly, and he then realized who she was.

  The Lady Governor had a sister, who evidently was sickly and didn’t attend very many Court events. This must be her.

  She wasn’t strikingly beautiful like her sister, but there was something compelling about her delicately carved features, her full lips, the subtle glinting of her hair.

  She didn’t show all of herself at first glance. You had to look carefully. You had to look a long time.

  Hall entertained himself by watching her, and he was pleased to see that she didn’t enjoy all of the uninhibited activities going on around her. She looked away from the couples making out and having sex. She sipped her wine only slowly. She occasionally put her hand in front of her face, like there was a scent in the air she didn’t like.

  She never said a word, even when a few people leaned over to speak to her. She would just smile briefly or nod.

  Hall had no idea what to make of her.

  Because he was preoccupied, the time went quickly, and he was surprised when he heard a sudden fanfare, played by the horns among the musicians in the far corner.

  Like everyone else, his eyes moved to the royal entrance where the Lady Governor was making an appearance.

  She wore blue silk today to match her eyes and contrast with her fiery red hair. Hall recognized she was beautiful. He didn’t like her, though.

  She gazed out over the people in this room, and particularly the men in the Potentials section, as if they were her objects.

  They probably were, in her mind.

  He’d been told what she would do tonight, so he wasn’t surprised when she walked over to his section and started to study each man who was lined up with him. She was going to pick out her weekly partner—who wa
s then eligible to be made permanent, if he found particular favor with her.

  Hall couldn’t imagine anything worse than being the consort of someone like her.

  He glanced over toward the lovely, interesting woman he’d been watching before, and he saw that her eyes were on her sister. He couldn’t read her expression from this far away.

  When the Lady Governor stood before him, he held his breath. He absolutely couldn’t be chosen, but she spent a long time eying him up and down.

  Hall knew he was attractive to women, although he couldn’t care less about how he looked, except in how he could use it to his advantage when he was on a job or wanted to fuck someone. Right now, he had to hide a cringe when the Lady Governor reached out to touch his fingers.

  He immediately opened an internal connection with her through their touch, reading her feelings of interest and attraction, and discreetly turning them around so she felt disinterest instead.

  He had to be very careful not to expose his unique gift, so the connection was very slight. But it worked. He saw her expression change, and she dropped her hand and moved onto the next Potential.

  Hall let out a breath and glanced over to Lenna, who was clearly amused by his close call.

  He then turned his eyes back to the sister. Kyla was her name, he remembered now. Her eyes were still on the Lady Governor. She probably hadn’t even glanced at him.

  Hall didn’t want to look or think about anyone else. He wanted her in a way he couldn’t remember wanting anyone before. He didn’t even know her. He had no idea why he was responding to her this way.

  And she hadn’t noticed him at all. She didn’t even know he existed.

  He might be here on a job, but he’d have quite a bit of downtime over the next few weeks.

  He was going to make sure she knew he existed before he left this planet.

  One

  For 496 years, the planet of Evalon had been known for pleasure and indulgence.

  Ever since Mira, the first Empress of Evalon, had set up her Court, filled it with all the most decadent pleasures in the galaxy, and begun a decade-long search for a consort, the planet’s culture and reputation had been established, never to be altered. Even when the tyrannical Coalition started to take over the known universe, swallowing up soft, peaceful Evalon with one half-hearted strike, the planet’s character didn’t change. The ruler might now be called the Lady Governor rather than Empress, but tradition has always died hard, and the nature of the people and their planet never changed.

  At least, not in any obvious way.

  Evalon was still a prime vacation spot for all the surrounding galaxies, and the Court was still as rich and decadent as it had ever been. No royal acts or declarations had been issued from the throne in a hundred years, but Lady Patrice, the current Governor, still dictated the behavior and attitudes of her people.

  For everyone except her sister, Kyla.

  Kyla hated Court, almost as much as she hated the Coalition.

  Because of her status as member of the royal family, she wasn’t allowed to leave the palace grounds without an escort, but she got away from her royal duties as often as possible. This meant either taking to her bed or taking a walk.

  This afternoon, she’d decided to take a walk, mostly to test out her new boots, which she’d just finished making this morning.

  The palace grounds consisted of several hundred square miles, and much of the property was uncultivated woods. Today, she hiked through the woods on trails she’d found as a child, all the way to one side of the wall that surrounded the palace grounds.

  It was there that she encountered the stranger.

  He was big and unshaven, and he reeked of generic, replicated whiskey. She could smell it on him from several feet away. He was apparently on a ramble around the grounds, his walk enlivened by the liquor flask he carried.

  He made an unpleasant growling sound when he saw her.

  Her heartbeat immediately quickening, she gave him a distant smile and turned away, walking in the opposite directly as quickly as she could, without looking like she was running.

  Kyla didn’t have a problem with men, although she had no interest in sex or typical Evalonian entertainments. But she’d found drunk men often forgot the rules, and a few of those forgot basic human decency. Giving them a wide berth had always worked well for her.

  Unfortunately, this particular man was a nastier sort of drunk who didn’t appreciate being ignored. He followed her, even when she stepped back into the woods.

  “Where…you going, pretty lil’ thing?” he drawled, the unpleasant smell of him intensifying as he got closer.

  Okay. Avoiding wasn’t working. Maybe an ice-cold smackdown was what he needed. That strategy usually worked, when avoidance wasn’t an option.

  She straightened her spine and turned around to glare at him coolly. “If you’d like company, you could try the public rooms in the palace, or there is an excellent wine bar in the village. I, however, would rather be alone.”

  His eyes narrowed, and he stepped even closer, forcing her to back away from him. “You’re a stuck-up little bitch, aren’t you?” He took another gulp from his flask before adding, “That’s okay. I can show you what a real man feels like.”

  Just great. He was drunk and an asshole and an archaic cliché. Male tourists or visitors occasionally acted like this on Evalon. Evidently, the overt sexuality and fantasy-fulfillment made them believe they could take anything they wanted. It was one of the reasons security was so abundant in the palace and grounds, and it was why no one but the guards and palace officials could carry weapons.

  There was no one else around at the moment, so Kyla said very calmly, the way she would speak to a spooked animal. “I’m sure there are plenty of other women who want to see what a man you are. It’s not my thing, though. Try the public rooms. Just remember that, on Evalon, the women get to choose. We have a Lady Governor, remember?”

  Despite the female governor and the policy of women choosing their sexual partners, women weren’t actually in control on Evalon any more than men were control of other planets in Coalition space. No one was in control except the Coalition Council, and at least they were equal opportunity dominators. They took over male- and female-centric planets indiscriminately in the multitude of galaxies populated by humans who had spread out from Earth in the last thousand years. The Coalition would have taken over the planets of other species too, if they’d encountered any other sentient, reasoning lifeforms.

  “I’ve got a lady right here,” the man mumbled, taking another swig before he dropped his flask on the ground. “Now, come ‘ere, little bitch.” He leaned even closer to her.

  Kyla had never had any such bad behavior aimed at her before. She wasn’t pretty enough to attract much attention in Court sessions, and she preferred to avoid public areas as much as possible otherwise. Because she was so surprised, she froze momentarily. She stared at the man as he reached out for her.

  Once she realized he was going to touch her, she pushed him away with both hands. “I don’t want you to show me anything. Go away!” She spoke very loudly, knowing that intoxicated men were sometimes startled enough by loud confrontation that they stopped whatever they were doing.

  This one didn’t stop. He just looked angrier. He grabbed her by her shoulders and pushed her back against a tree. “I like a little fight in my bitches.”

  She was so stunned and terrified that her throat closed up. Her back hurt from where he’d slammed her against the tree, and now his face was leaning in toward her, like he would kiss her.

  She was not about to get kissed by this man. She might not be able to scream through the knot in her throat, but she could move. She shoved him away again.

  She wasn’t strong enough to push him far, but she got enough space between their bodies for her to get her leg up. She kneed him hard in the groin, and then she ran when he doubled over in pain.

  She was sweating and chilled at the same time, and she c
ould barely breathe as she broke out of the woods again. The drunk man was actually chasing her. His mind must be so clouded by alcohol and anger that he wasn’t thinking clearly. Security drones circled the perimeter of the wall at regular intervals. Once she was spotted by one of those, the palace guards would come to help her.

  She stumbled on a dip in the ground, and the man caught up to her before she righted herself, pulling her onto the ground.

  Acting purely on instinct, she rolled over and kicked out at him with both legs, as hard as she could, aiming for his knees.

  His legs buckled as he roared in pain, and he fell down to the ground beside her.

  She heard a drone whizz by and knew help would be coming soon.

  Her mind couldn’t even process what had happened, what was happening even now. But she knew she wasn’t going to let this man touch her.

  She didn’t let men she knew and liked touch her. She certainly wasn’t going to let this disgusting, violent stranger.

  ***

  Hall strode quickly through the woods on a trail he’d found the other day. He was on his way to meet Lenna, which meant he needed to get out of the palace grounds without anyone seeing him.

  It wasn’t as easy as one would think.

  Yesterday, he’d found a way, though, and he was glad to be getting away—even if just for a short time. He was starting to feel claustrophobic in the palace, trapped by perfume and mirrors and lounging bodies. He hadn’t even been able to distract himself with his interest in Kyla, the Lady Governor’s sister, since he’d only seen her a few times at Court, and he’d never encountered her alone.

  As much as he hated to give up, he was resigning himself to never getting to know her.

  He’d reached the edge of the woods and was starting toward the far corner of the wall, where he’d found a way to get over it unseen, when he heard someone cry out.

  It sounded like a woman. Like she was in trouble.

  Hall wasn’t a hero. He’d spent most of his life taking care of himself, trying to save up enough money to live comfortably, to gain financial freedom so he wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else. But he wasn’t heartless enough to walk away when someone was calling out for help. He turned around and headed toward the voice.

 
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