After he registered the pain, Cain's first thoughts were how the childhood church classes his mother sent him to had lied. No pain in the afterlife means you shouldn't feel like you got the shit beat out of you. Why would they want to lie like that? He winced and shut his eyes against the harsh light of the suns. He tried to move his hand to shield a second attempt, but he couldn't. Now his eyes flew open, the suns be damned. He pulled his arms but they wouldn't come free behind his back. His heart pounded as he moved off the wall he leaned against.
"Don't." He heard a chain rustle and DG grasped his shoulders. "Don't, Wyatt, you'll hurt yourself. They tied you up."
He leaned back. The sail above billowed in the strong wind. They sat against a short shed built onto the floor. It was a little taller than Cain's head, but it offered shade from the suns' direct light and made the light reflecting off the grey sands bearable. The ship skimmed over the sand like it was water.
Cain turned to himself, noticing he didn't feel shot. His head ached and his wrists were secured behind his back. His feet were not bound together, but a chain ran from a shackle around his left ankle to DG's ankles tucked out of sight as she knelt beside him. "Why are we chained together?"
"Because your backside is too heavy for the crazy bitch to drag overboard." The man with the grey muttonchops tossed a water skin into DG's lap. "As it is, she's barely worth the good man you cost me."
"Yeah, he was a stellar example of humanity." DG didn't bother hiding her glare. The leader scowled harder and walked to the front, ducking under the sails and ropes.
"Water?" Cain's suggestion refocused DG's attention on him. She held the water skin and he swallowed. She drank next while he posed his next question. "They knock me out and you threatened to jump into the Deadly Desert?"
"They were going to shoot you and I didn't have many options."
"You do know that will kill you, right?"
She poured a bit of water onto his blue bandanna and dabbed the cuts on his face. "I still need empirical evidence on that one, but it scared them enough not to shoot you." He saw the tiny wobble of her chin as she looked away.
He didn't ask why she hadn't offered her body in exchange for his life. That discussion would be more emotional than they could afford to be right now. "I'm surprised you made it work after I killed one of them. How long have I been out?"
"An hour or two. We're almost across. You can see the land now."
Cain craned his neck to look between the rails. The dark line on the horizon ahead grew wider. "Did they say where we're headed?"
"No, they complained about you and talked about the guy you shot." DG shifted her seat with a smirk. "They don't think they'll get much for you."
"Today's a day I'd agree with a worthless assessment." He looked at his feet, but the chain was as strong a goad to the gnawing of failure as her face. What the hell would happen to her without his protection, as bad as it was?
DG moved closer, wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and rested her head on his. "If my opinion matters, I don't think you're worthless and I'll kick anyone who says different." She squeezed. "I may have contacted Az, but I'm not sure," she whispered. "I can't access my magic in this desert."
He and DG weren't under observation, so he twisted his head and kissed her best he could. "We'll muddle through without it," he whispered back. She nodded as she let go, sitting on her knees.
There was nothing to do but watch the smudge across the horizon become recognizable trees and grass. The slavers ran the sand-boat onto the grass as they shortened the sails.
DG futilely leveraged Cain to his feet alone until the bald man took pity and lifted Cain's other side. Cain checked his stride so he didn't pull DG's right foot out from under her. The slavers escorted them down the ramp and into a tent village. There were some dilapidated buildings made out of planks of wood in a sad attempt for permanency among the canvas sea. The shacks looked like a strong gust would send them tumbling. The only stable thing was the L-shaped warehouse looming behind the tent village.
Beyond that was the sight that stopped Cain. In the spaces between the tents, buildings, and few trees, he saw the blue sky with a line of white cirrus clouds over something a darker blue.
One of the slavers shoved him in the back. Cain stumbled forward with a glare over his shoulder before continuing on the path. DG touched his arm. "I've never seen the ocean before either."
He didn't get a chance to answer before they were shoved down against the roots of one of the few trees standing. DG caught herself on her hands and knees and glared at the slavers before crawling closer to Cain. The leader finished giving his orders and disappeared into the crowd.
The people in the tent village could be divided into guards and their prisoners. Even if they could run, how could they get past all these people? He sighed and turned back to DG. "We can't run," she whispered. He shook his head. She made a face, and looked at the ocean. "What are we going to do?"
"Practice patience, sweetheart." She made another face that didn't hide the worry in her eyes. He shifted his elbows and confirmed it was metal fetters around his wrists. Maybe DG could unlock them with her magic, once it got dark.
The leader returned with another man dressed in a dark blue suit trimmed in silver cord, but shorter jacket than what was popular at court. The well-dressed man held a thin chain attached to a silver collar around the neck of the oldest female Viewer Cain had ever seen.
She clucked as she knelt next to DG. "Hurts where?"
"Show her, bitch. Let's have one more show," the redhead giggled.
The Viewer ignored him. "Can heal through clothing. No need to disrobe."
DG looked relieved. "My butt and my head. Wyatt's head too." The Viewer nodded with a small smile. She laid her hand on the seat of DG's pants and purred as DG inhaled sharply. Then the Viewer wrapped her arm around DG's head and pulled it next to her own long, grey hair. Her hand cupped the knot on the back of DG's head.
Cain watched DG's eyes widen over the Viewer's shoulder, and they stayed wide when she pulled back. "Thank you."
The Viewer nodded and copied the maneuver with him, hiding her face from the slavers as she whispered in his ear. "Protect our salvation. They sell loved ones together first." Before he could react to her words, the warm healing pain eased in the lump in his skull.
He blinked and the headache was gone. The Viewer pulled from him. "Much obliged." She nodded with a small smile on her wrinkled face. Their captors' leader paid off the man in the suit. DG looked at the ocean again, keeping her wide-eyed stare from giving anything away.
The crowd moved, guards pulling and prodding their captives toward the warehouse in front of the ocean. The leader knelt next to Cain's outstretched legs with a grunt. "They're setting up the logs." He unlocked the manacle around Cain's ankle before undoing the one around DG's. He wrapped a meaty hand around her upper arm and hauled her up. The redhead grabbed DG's other arm. "You two bring him."
The bearded man and the bald man hauled Cain to his feet and marched him behind DG. She craned her neck to make sure he was there. "Nothing funny from you," the bald man growled. "Auction day tomorrow and they'll just shoot you like a dog." He sounded sorry to miss seeing that.
Cain thought about the old Viewer's words. If they kept him and DG together as a unit to be sold, maybe they could sneak away in the night. His hope sank when he saw the line of logs set up on sawhorses. They led him to the front of one and shackled his hands to the chains nailed to the log. DG was shackled behind him on the other side of the log. She smiled when he looked over his shoulder.
The line of logs pointed down a faint road leading to the warehouse. From this vantage point, he saw that the warehouse was cross-shaped and each wing was large enough to be a warehouse by itself. He felt sick; if the slave trade was this successful this close to the Kingdom of Ev, could he and DG live to make it across the border?
It wasn't long before they were caravanning into one of the wings of the warehouse. The leader and the redhead walked with them and other captors did the same. Armed men swarmed the warehouse. A sturdy town was built between the warehouse and the docks jutting into the blue water. The masts of ships made a skeletal forest in the sky. A patrol with a pair of the meanest mastiffs Cain had ever seen passed them. The dogs strained against their leashes. By the gods, the Royals were less guarded. Cain pressed his lips together.
All too soon, they carried their log inside the long wing. This wing contained offices and the clearing house. It reminded Cain of processing captured criminals as a Tin Man but left a sour taste. The people on these logs were probably as innocent as he and DG were.
The sawhorses for the log were set in the center of the long hall and had wheels so the log could be pushed out of the way for the next one. The guards wore uniform black pants and shirts. Two balconies wrapped around the walls above them. The log settled into the sawhorse notches and Cain shrugged his shoulders. The tension didn't ease in them.
A bland man approached them. He dressed like the guards, but his pale face and brown hair blended into the sea of people until he stood next to Cain on DG's side of the log. He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses as he looked Cain over. He hummed as he skimmed his hand over Cain's arm and shoulder. Cain noticed his skin tingling but not unpleasantly.
"Slag," the bland man pronounced as he withdrew. Two of the guards in black moved in to unshackle Cain's arms.
"Come on, Sorter," the leader's muttonchops bristled. "You people pay next to nothing for a Slag. He's got a body for a Toy."
"But not the temperament." The Sorter waved the guards to take Cain before he turned to DG.
Cain dug his heels into the floor as he twisted to watch DG. The guards pulled, but he saw her jump when the Sorter did his hand pass. He had to know where she was going. The guard who had his right arm growled. "This one is asking for a softening."
"Not with an auction tomorrow," the one on the left grunted.
He missed what the Sorter said, but DG's face turned an alarming shade of white and her blue eyes widened. His heart slammed in his chest as he wrenched his arms.
The leader turned to the redhead. "Who messed with her! Which one of you couldn't keep it in your pants!"
The guards tightened their grip, but turned to watch the hubbub. "That guy won't be allowed to sell next month," the left one observed.
DG's lips moved and her eyes found Cain's. The Sorter followed her gaze and he waved the guards to return. Cain stopped straining against them as they walked back.
The leader reached over the log and grabbed DG's chin. "She's the perfect Toy! Hell, she had all my men ready to fuck her last night."
The Sorter's doughy face frowned. "It is not our policy to sell pregnant women as Toys. Too many health complications."
Cain's eyes widened. DG's blue eyes gleamed with building tears before she looked down.
"We also don't separate family units until they fail to sell." The Sorter turned to the guards. "Take them both to the Breeders section and put them in a barrier cage."
The guards nodded as DG was freed and sandwiched between two more. Cain didn't struggle and he let the guard on his left get away with muttering "pussywhipped." They were led through a central atrium connecting all the wings of the huge warehouse and herded to the wing on the left.
The floor changed from stone to metal grating with points he could feel through the soles of his boots. They climbed a metal staircase made of the same grating to the second floor.
This warehouse wing had four long rows of cells going up three levels with walkways creating balconies. Cain's skin crawled being inside the largest prison he had ever seen. A wooden stage was built in front of each cell, only taking up a third of the walkway, covered in eyebolts.
The guards stopped Cain instead of shoving him through the cell door. "Your boots."
"What's with everyone wanting my clothes? Don't you make enough to afford your own?" Cain toed off the boots, which probably saved him from getting punched, and was shoved across the wood into the stone-floored cell. DG's guards took her boots, but let her walk into the cell. She sagged and looked ill as they slammed the bars shut. Cain caught her. "You okay, sweetheart?"
She pulled out of his arms. "That…." She shook her head. "Something doesn't feel right." She pointed her finger at the lock on the door. It glowed golden for a moment before the light shoved off and slammed into DG. She rocked back, and Cain caught her limp body before it hit the floor.
He laid her on the bunk bolted to the wall facing the door, noticing it was wide enough for both of them. He pushed that aside while finding her pulse. DG groaned as she squeezed her head between her hands. "Thea, what happened? You okay?" he asked her.
"And I just got rid of the headache." She sat up with a groan. "There's a spell around the cell, so if I use my magic it backfires." She pulled into a ball and leaned against the wall.
"That Sorter guy used magic?" He moved to look back out the bars. There was another walkway among the ceiling joists and huge lights, and armed men patrolled on it.
"It felt like what Raw does when he reads you, but with human magic." She stifled her strained giggle as Cain turned to her again. "They thought you'd get put in the Slag category. Apparently, that's where they put anybody who's going to fight slavery." She glanced away, "Toys are worth the most, so I'm just a BDSM slut."
"What is that?"
Her face reddened. "What you people don't have. It means bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism." Cain cocked his head and watched her blush darken. After last night, she's embarrassed by this? DG stammered out more explanation. "People who get off on hurting other people or get off on being hurt or just like being tied up…."
"We have that here." Cain sat on the bunk and she didn't shy away again. "It's called sexual trust games, but you're supposed to have consent."
"Even if you bought them for it?"
"Did they say anything about this group, Breeders?"
"No," she whispered and drew into a tighter ball. "I'm sorry." He focused on her, not liking the tremor in her voice. "I didn't know. My cycle has been crazy since the Eclipse. I didn't plan it." Tears spilled out. "I don't expect anything, Cain. You don't have to make any promises. But I didn't plan it. I wouldn't do that. I'm sorry." She hid her face with her knees.
"Sweetheart, are you apologizing for getting pregnant?"
She sobbed. "I just wanted to do something nice for you. Something I couldn't mess up. And I ruined it."
Cain fought with a repeat urge to find the idiots who had introduced DG to sex and throttle them. If he showed it, DG would think he was angry with her, like she was expecting him to be. He took a deep breath before stroking her hair. "My darling girl, stop blaming yourself for what isn't your fault."
"Fine time for my biological clock to have an alarm." DG trembled under his hand. "I don't want you to be noble for a mistake. Just live your life like you want to, Cain. I don't expect anything." Her legs muffled her voice.
He quailed at how quickly she gave him up. Raw had warned him. Too bad Furball hadn't said anything about the patience required. It was awkward, but he pulled her closer and tucked into the hug so his mouth was next to her ear. "I am not like the boys you knew on the Other Side, DG. I promised you I wouldn't leave you. A baby doesn't change that." Her head moved and he pulled back so they faced each other. Tear tracks covered a guilty frown. "Stop blaming yourself for what isn't your fault," he repeated, and smirked, "Your magic is no match for the Cain curse."
"What?" She uncurled a little more.
"I better have the talk with Jeb. I'd hate to have a grandchild and not even know about it. But not like my father had with me; I thought he was just trying to scare me into keeping it in my pants."
"What are you talking about? What curse?"
He had her full attention now. "Cain men are guaranteed to get a woman pregnant if we're not married to her first. Have no clue why it takes longer after you're married."
DG pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead and made sounds attempting to be words before looking at him again. "I never thought I'd have the opportunity to quote Adam Sandler, 'but this is information that would have been more useful yesterday!'"
"I thought we were only friends yesterday!"
She threw up her hands. "So what are we now?"
"Besides parents?" Her nod was small and he hauled her into his lap. "Hell if I know. But I can't lose you." His lips grazed her jaw.
Her body relaxed, and she toyed with the collar of his shirt. "I won't end up with a litter, will I?"
"Humans don't work that way." He nibbled on her earlobe.
"Never seen the results of fertility drugs, have you?" He shook his head and rubbed his nose and lips against her throat. "Stop that, I'm trying to be serious."
"And I'm trying to use near privacy and free hands." He ran one up her thigh to the flesh of her backside and squeezed through her pants.
She rested her head against his shoulder. "Do you want a baby, this baby?"
Cain gave up freeing her libido when he heard the fear in her voice and rubbed her back instead. "I never wanted Jeb to be an only child. I'm not going to reject you or our baby. It's a miracle, not a mistake."
"I'm scared I'm going to screw up like I do with everything else. I don't want to ruin an innocent kid because I don't know what I'm doing."
"You don't mess up as much as you think you do." He inhaled her sweet smell as he tightened his embrace. "Wanting to do something differently is a strength. And everyone makes mistakes, but kids are resilient. And you wouldn't hurt anyone on purpose."
She looked him in the eye. "You really believe that about me, Cain? I let the witch out, I got us captured, I can't even…."
He pressed his lips to hers, cutting off her despairing whisper. "You never did any of that on purpose, my darling girl." His voice grew huskier. "And please call me Wyatt or it's going to be awkward to make love to you again."
DG licked her lips and Cain restrained himself from kissing her again. "I wasn't blackmailing you into a relationship."
"I know. But we already had a relationship, it's just changed. For the better, I hope."
"I can't lose you either, Wyatt." She pressed her moist lips against his. He cupped the back of her head. Her breasts pressed against his chest. His thumb stroked her neck while her lips parted, deepening the kiss. Her hands soothed the stubble on his cheeks before her fingers combed through his hair. He groaned as she scratched his scalp.
He wanted to go slow, to show her how much he treasured her, to savor everything they'd sped through last night. His body didn't give a damn about his wishes. His free hand ran down her back and squeezed her backside.
DG broke off the kiss with a hiss. "Still a little tender there."
"Sorry." He ran his knuckles down her cheek. "I don't want to push you. I mean, what you want is enough." Yeah, that made sense. He gripped the edge of the bunk instead. "I can't stop touching you, but I will if you want." His fingers ached with the pressure from his grip.
She shifted on his lap. He bit his bottom lip. "It doesn't feel like your hands are all that wants to touch me."
Cain breathed in raggedly. "What do you want, sweetheart? Tell me."
Most of the large overhead lights switched off with a series of thrown switches echoing in the space, leaving on only a third and filling their cell with shadows. "No warning before lights out." DG's laughter was nervous. "Can they still see in?"
"They won't see you." He let go and grabbed her hips. The material felt rough under his fingers. "But we'll have to be quick."
She landed a kiss on his neck's pulse point. "I'm used to hard and fast."
And over before you come. Cain growled, "Not the way I do it." He helped her stand and slid his hands around her backside and hips. Her breathing hitched as his hands reached her stomach. He kissed the hollow of her throat, unfastened her pants, and pushed them with her underwear to her ankles. His hands ran up her smooth legs, feeling the curve of her muscles.
DG trembled as he crouched in front of her. He kissed her stomach below her navel, where their child would grow. She gripped his shoulders, but slid her hands down his chest as he scooped her up in his arms. He laid her on the bunk and turned her to the wall. She looked over her shoulder. "Wyatt?"
He squeezed her hip before pulling his hand back. "Trust me." His fingers fumbled undoing his own pants. He saw her blue eyes gleaming as she watched him free his erection and crawl to her. He shoved his pants further down and spooned against her. Cain slid his right arm under DG, hugging her to his chest. She tucked her head baring her neck to his lips. She ground her hips and pressed her pert backside against his groin. He licked her throat to her ear. "Are you ready?" His left hand pulled her leg up and propped it on top of his legs. "Are you wet for me yet?" His fingers trailed down her trembling thigh to comb through her dark curls.
DG's hands clenched his forearm as he worked it under her shirt. "Keep talking like that and I will be."
He found a breast. "You like that?" He rolled her hardened nipple between his finger and thumb. She mewled and pressed harder against him. "You are so beautiful when you let yourself go, my darling girl."
"Wait." She panted as he stopped. She shuddered and a golden glow surrounded the bunk. "You wanted to make me scream, right?"
Cain growled as he scraped his teeth against her neck. He spread her swollen intimate lips and plunged his fingers into her. She rocked against him. He crooked his fingers inside and rubbed her clit with his thumb. Her moan wasn't a scream yet, but it spoke to all his possessive urges. "No one else ever made you feel like this?" He stilled his left hand to knead her breast with his right.
Her head thrashed. "You make me feel good. Never felt good before."
Cain pressed his thumb and forefinger together through her body. DG bucked against him with a cry. He pulled his hand free. She whimpered, moved to follow it, and he held her hips in place. She whimpered and twisted her head to look at him.
He rubbed her thigh, leaving a trail of her juice on her sweaty skin. "And no one else ever will." His hand left her leg to guide his erection into her. DG arched with a wordless cry and tried to shove her backside through his hips.
He held her in place again, enjoying her bare bottom against his stomach. "You are so tight." He slid out slowly before thrusting in again as he pushed her body up and down with his. "Did you know how hard it was not to take you by the fire? When you feel like this?" He squeezed her breast again.
"Take me, Wyatt," DG moaned as she thrust her hips. "Now!"
"Yes, my princess." He thrust into her harder. Her buttocks and breasts jiggled while pressed up against his body and arm. "Yes, my darling girl." He thrust again. "Yes!" He lost words as he concentrated on drilling into DG, to give her pleasure.
Her walls tightened around him as the rest of her body shuddered and she screamed his name. He shoved into her one more time before his tightening loosened into her. He cried out, claiming this woman as his without words.
He returned to his senses with DG's lips on his hand. "Wyatt," she whispered against his skin, "my Tin Man."
"Always yours." He kissed her shoulder through her shirt. The golden glow was gone. "We have to get dressed."
They parted to pull up their pants without leaving the bunk. DG's maneuver on her back with her hips in the air got her pants on quicker than he did his. She didn't hesitate curling against him when he lay down on his side. "You totally have permission to keep doing that to me. I'm telling you so there are no more awkward fishing sessions." She pressed her lips against his.
"Awkward fishing session?" he asked when she pulled back. "Is that what you call my trying not to take advantage of you?"
"Asking 'are you in the mood for sex' is a lot shorter than your version."
"You were upset, and I didn't want to make it worse." He harrumphed, but stroked her back.
"I wasn't upset with you… well, not completely. Any more surprises in your genes you'd like to share? Birth defects, weird diseases?" He shook his head. "Know about any on my side?"
"Haven't heard of any." Cain closed his eyes as he hugged her closer. "There's ways to find out how the baby's developing. Don't borrow trouble."
She shifted her head and pressed her cheek against him. "I'll try."