Mara Duport has always dreamed of home, a place where she belongs. She knows that she has one, but ever since she was a kid, her dad’s been keeping the secret of her origin locked away, refusing to give her any information.
Dad’s been keeping more than one secret. He’s in debt — a lot of debt — and the ruthless pirates he borrowed the money from are coming to collect.
The pirate captain is renowned the galaxy over for his brutishness and cruelty — but when Mara sees his stoic face, her heart races, her mouth goes dry… and she offers herself as payment.
Torak of Basniel has a fierce, uncaring, ruthless reputation to live up to. So when a beautiful, innocent woman offers herself up to him on a platter, Torak doesn’t think twice. What does he care about stealing away this man’s precious daughter?
But Torak gets a more than he’s bargained for. Mara’s more than just innocent — she’s also intelligent, skilled, beautiful — and she can see right through him, past the thorny exterior, down to the heart he thought died long ago.
Being vulnerable was never part of the plan. Love was never part of the plan.
Torak knows he’s an irredeemable monster, but with Mara he feels different. He sees the opportunity to be more than what’s always been expected.
Mara knows that there’s something beautiful and redeemable inside Torak, and she won’t leave him until he finds it.
Not until she can tame the beast.
The massive ship’s shadow grew darker and darker until there was nothing else above them. A port on the underside opened, practically sucking the pod up with it. The pod settled and stilled while Mara’s stomach churned with anxiety and her chest fluttered with a mixture of dread and anticipation. She and her father stared at the door, neither daring to even breathe.
A pneumatic hiss released the door and when it opened, they found themselves surrounded by rough intimidating men, all scowling and brandishing weapons.
“Come,” the one in the middle said.
The men surrounded them completely and ushered them forward, through long winding hallways and up six levels to the flight deck.
Once there, the armed men filtered out, leaving just Mara, her father, and two alien men.
One, standing a little to the back, had skin dark as space itself, with eyes and swirling tattoos in glimmering silver. Long rope-like hair hung down his spine and he towered over everyone else in the room by at least half a foot. Though he was intimidating and made Mara nervous, he was nothing compared to the other man.
Only slightly shorter, but with a broad muscular frame that made him look bigger next to his lithe companion, the other man just oozed authority. He held himself with confidence that Mara envied. He wore simple clothes of high-quality materials — clearly a man of means though not boastful, she noted — and the way his shirt clung to his defined chest made her mouth go dry. With eyes yellow as sulfur and skin the color of cobalt, he didn’t look like anyone Mara had ever known.
Sure, there were millions of species and races throughout the Queen’s Empire, but in all her studies, Mara hadn’t stumbled across any accounts of someone that looked quite like him.
It was something in the way he regarded them both that told Mara he was the man in charge. The silence dragged on and he seemed to enjoy making them squirm with uncertainty.
“Are you prepared to pay your debt?” he finally spoke, his voice guttural and gruff, each word harsh and clipped in his strange accent. Strange, but striking, she thought, her stomach doing a somersault. His voice was a pick and Mara the string; he’d plucked at her and sent vibrations coursing through her in a wholly unnerving manner.
Dad shook his head, his shoulders trembling. “I have no means to pay you. Nothing of value,” he said, biting back another coughing fit, his voice raspy and strained because of it.
Mara watched him try to hold in the coughs, his eyes watering again. Guilt tore through her; her father was panicking and she was admiring the pirate’s physique. What was wrong with her?
“Then you’ll pay off your debt in some other way. My crew is always in need of more laborers.”
Mara sucked in a sharp breath, her hand going to Dad’s shoulder, gripping tight enough to hold him in place. “He’s too old! His health isn’t what it once was. He can’t!”
The blue man looked at her quizzically, but seemed unmoved by her pleas.
“Please,” she begged. “There has to be another way we can pay you.” She was grasping at air now, hoping to come up with something on the fly. If she’d had more time to think about it, maybe she could have come up with a plan. Why had her father kept it from her for so long? Why didn’t he think she could handle these things? It was just like the story of her mother. She was an adult, not a child. She could handle an uncomfortable truth.
But no. He wouldn’t ever confide in her and that left them in this awful position.
“What if I take his place?” she asked in a rush of breath before she could reconsider.
“NO!” Dad shouted, his outburst surprising them all. “You can’t, Mara. He’s dangerous, just look at him.”
Mara didn’t dare tell her father she was looking at him… and admiring him.
“You don’t belong out there. You have to stay home where you’re safe!” he continued.
Mara clenched her teeth, not wanting to get into a heated argument with her father in front of these strangers.
Instead of arguing with him, or explaining how she desperately wanted to leave home and explore the wonders of the galaxy, Mara simply turned back to the Captain and raised an eyebrow. “Well, do you accept my offer or not?”
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J.M. Page writes timeless fairytales with a sci-fi twist. You can expect sweeping adventures in far-off galaxies, love in unexpected places, and of course a Happily Ever After every time!