The woman fled through the red-rock canyons of the alien world, the lawman a mere dust cloud behind. She could feel him behind her in every step, his presence like hot breath on the nape of her neck. His hounds were clockwork beasts that drank sunlight; she could never outrun them or their master, not here on their sun-baked world.
She was no one, but still they would find her.
Long ago she’d had a name, but she’d abandoned it along with her home planet. She’d run through a hundred more identities since then, several since arriving on this dusty border moon. None of them suited her now.
I need a name meant for a criminal, the woman reflected as she narrowed her eyes, seeking some end to the fissured earth. She ran her fingertips over the butts of the kryostatic pistols slung against her hips, ruefully savoring their weight. This one might actually go on my gravestone.
What name the lawman called her, she couldn’t hazard a guess — but she needed a new 'sona now, one suited to the sprawling, rust-hued desert that bordered the canyons like lace. Such a momentous thing had to be decided on instinct, and a heartbeat later she had it. Roxxi. Roxxi Worlds.
Worldstriders like her were a rare breed. Most people in this system lived and died on a single planet, too poor or else too superstitious to brave space travel. Lansidsiders considered worldstriders little better than rats, but Roxxi had always thought of people like her as star gyptians, traversing the universe with nothing so foolish as civilization to hold them back.
Yet even Roxxi had never strayed this far from the Inner Ring before. Vessels alighted on Titan only rarely, a fact she'd learned only too late. It had been impossible to sneak aboard even the most decrepit freighter headed offworld. The notion of being trapped in this scorched hell forever was unbearable — and Roxxi pressed her cracked lips together, warily making her way down a rutilated rock shelf as her leather boots echoed off the angular stone.
Fan canyons, Roxxi cursed bitterly as she glanced around, trying to find some path through the labyrinth. It had been a breathless sprint across the flats from Ashfall with the lawman and his mechahounds at her back. The canyons had seemed welcoming at first, but theirs was a faithless embrace; her compass spun uselessly within their walls, and it was impossible to follow Declan’s directions without proper bearings. The man had been a shit bank robber and a scumfucker to boot, but she had no reason to doubt he’d hidden the crashed shuttle well. The last two days of blundering around had confirmed it.
Roxxi rolled her shoulders, trying to ease their relentless aching. The rucksack’s straps had been biting into her shoulders for what felt like aeons, but its contents were too precious to even contemplate abandoning it. If only she could scale one of the hairpin spires that thrust up every few miles she might be able to make sense of the barren landscape — but the lawman was cunning. He could catch her scent and be upon her by the time she descended again. It wasn’t worth the danger.
Roxxi instinctively dropped to a crouch as crackling erupted from the canyon wall above her. The kryostatic pistols were in her hands a second later, extensions of her arms, rock-steady even as her heart raced. Lawman. The sun was already swooning below the far horizon, making it hard to see; she almost didn’t believe her eyes as they fixed on the small clutch of stones trickling out of the cave mouth like fractured, rusty water.
Rocks. It was only fucking rocks. Her pulse hammered in her temples, and she forced herself to check her surroundings once again, just to be sure. But there was only the odd little cave, mawing at her like an eyeless socket — and Roxxi scowled, staring it down as she reholstered her heavy guns.
If the lawman had been watching her from overhead, no doubt he would’ve already struck — but then, it wasn’t as though the stones had simply fallen because they felt like it. Roxxi knew better than to approach, yet still she found herself moving forward, picking her way up the vertiginous face and climbing the bluff nearly to its summit.
From ground level the cave had seemed a shallow pockmark in the striated stone, but a dark tunnel snarled at her where she expected to find yet another time-smoothed surface. She squinted into the nothingness, sniffing the warm drafts that issued forth. Her nose wrinkled at the sharp aroma. Brimstone?
The gouges in the floor of the tunnel mouth were equally baffling, grouped in sets of five, each set three feet long. Roxxi’s pulse quickened again as she crouched and let her fingertips skim along the indentations, seeing more with touch than she could with her eyes. So deep … damn creature it must be huge, whatever it is. The rock faces were dark, and Roxxi’s fingers came away streaked with soot.
She twitched her head, mentally upbraiding as she heaved herself upright again. Two days on the brink of maddening thirst was beginning to play tricks with her mind. The people of Ashfall had filled her mind with such fanciful stories the night before everything went down, now their tall tales were all she could think about.
Roxxi’s hands flew to her guns again as a tremendous roar shook the canyons, the sound surging through her body like a wave. Pebbles tapped a staccato beat on the sides of her boots as the ancient earth trembled, and she turned back, peering along the wandering rock wall outside the tunnel. Something jutted up beyond a nearby ridge, a shape Roxxi recognized instinctively — a shape that made her duck behind the lip of the cave for cover, pistols at the ready.
The sentry turret’s jagged outline was something she’d seen a hundred times on any number of planets, but she certainly hadn’t expected to find one here, in the middle of nowhere. They were a versatile if primitive weapon, prone to cracks in the exhaust manifold. Should’ve targeted me soon as I set foot up here, if it was working right.
Roxxi smiled grimly. Where there was a turret there was bound to be shelter, and just maybe — if the ancient gods were smiling on her — a map of these godforsaken wastes. Even the archaic, hand-drawn kind would suffice.
Heartened by her good fortune, Roxxi forced herself to skid rather than sprint back down to the canyon floor. Outrunning the lawman would do her exactly fuck-all of good if that turret fried her first.
The compound was perhaps the strangest thing Roxxi had yet seen on this backwater world, like a skeleton clock half-sunk in the ochre earth. She studied it from a shadowed fissure in the canyon wall, perplexed by the riot of cobbled-together tech. At first she’d panicked, thinking the basin occupied by some military or merc crew, but the boarded-over tunnels and autonomously cycling tower structures spoke of mining, or maybe scientific research. For fuck’s sake, there was even some spacer tech worked in there, patched in like a transplant.
Impressive. Roxxi’s gaze expertly danced over the visible machinery, unteasing it like an Gordonian knot. The systems governing extraplanetary mechanics and landsider processes rarely married well; just by studying the holdfast it was clear that the person who’d designed this configuration was a crazed genius.
She worried at her ragged fingernails with her teeth. The processes seemed completely independent, weights and counterweights pirouetting in a mindless ballet. The turret tracked her well enough, but the cannons chattered uselessly.
“Manifolds,” Roxxi muttered cheerfully as she darted past the impotent sentry.
A squat, circular building hunched at the center of the tremendous basin amid the trunks of metal pipes. The windows were tinted, but as Roxxi crept nearer she could make out the shapes of bookshelves and tables within, all cluttered with metal components. For all the activity in the clocklike basin, the house was like a tomb. It’s too quiet.
“Where are you?” she muttered, scanning the house’s interior for any sign of movement. It was the goddamn dust that gave it away; Ashfall was named for it, for goddsakes, but the windows were clear of the rusty powder.
If someone was here, she had to hope she could catch them unawares. Better that than risk facing the lawman.
Roxxi was reaching for the intricate silver handle set in the front door when the rectangular metal panel swung open before her, and a hand darted out to close on her wrist like a cobra’s fang. The figure within yanked her into the shadows so violently that her feet caught on the threshold, and she was sent sprawling on the house’s plate-metal floor.
The aperture slammed shut behind her, instantly casting the chamber into darkness. Roxxi yanked her guns from their holsters and targeted by sound, squeezing the triggers in a series of quick pops. The kryostatic pistols spat rosegold energy into the gloom, but the bolts ricocheted uselessly in the dim space.
A moment later her fingers stung nervelessly as something knocked the weapons out of her hands. Roxxi scrambled to her feet just as the shadow slammed into her, trapping her bodily against the wall.
“What are you doing here, trespasser?”
It was a man, that much she could tell. His voice was strangely accented, not the lazy drawl of the other landsiders she’d met here on Titan. As her eyes adjusted to the murky light she saw he was tall and lanky, wiry yet still inescapably strong. One of the man’s forearms dug into her collarbone as the other pinned her hips to the wall. His skin was dark and dust-streaked, his lithe body hard as iron from the harsh environment.
The man’s pale undershirt was singed in places, grease streaks gleaming on his dark trousers. Rough stubble covered his jaw, as dark as his ink-dark hair. His eyes were like hypnotic shadows, drawing her in even as he glared down at her, overwhelming her instinct to run.
The dark man’s knee was wedged against Roxxi, his body so closed aligned with hers that his fierce heartbeat shook her body. The rucksack dug into her back, but she hardly noticed it. She shifted almost imperceptibly, testing his reaction — and the man’s obsidian gaze narrowed, his body digging into hers as if to remind her that she was his prisoner.
The breath caught in her throat as she stared up at him. It was obvious what he wanted from her.
“I-I’m sorry,” she lied quickly, letting her nervousness show. She deliberately fluttered her lashes like a spooked rabbit. “I didn’t think anyone was here. The s-sentry—”
The man’s grip eased. Surely she hadn’t done anything to give herself away, and the fubar weapon was his own damn fault. No reasonable person could blame her for getting past it. Even so, his voice was sharp with suspicion: “What’s Lawman Allender want with you?”
If he’d seen her pursuer, there was no point trying to lie. She let her glare freeze to ice, a sigh easing from her parted lips as the backpack’s jagged contents reminded her of the weight of her guilt. “Took something of his. And I’m not giving it up — not to him or you, neither.”
“Fine,” the man snapped. He moved swiftly as a panther, scruffing her by her jacket and dragging her back toward the door. “Let me see you out.”
Roxxi flailed against the man’s grip, her boots skidding vainly on the scratched metal floor. “Wait — wait, please,” she begged, panicking as the doorframe loomed. If he put her back out, she was as good as dead. “Law can’t’ve seen me come in here — just hide me for the night, I can make it worth your while!”
The man slowed, squinting down at her as he considered her words. “How d’you mean?”
“My pack,” Roxxi gasped, ashamed to be giving up her prize so quickly. This fucking planet … it just won’t let me go! “Take half — you could buy yourself three new turrets if you want ’em.”
Still holding her by the back of her shirt, the man tugged her rucksack open and glanced inside it. He did a decent job of hiding his surprise, but the flaring of his dark eyes gave it away. He’ll take it, Roxxi thought bitterly, her heart sinking at the thought of everything she’d sacrificed. Hope the rest’ll be enough to get the shuttle running again.
To her shock, the man shook his head. “Not worth my time.”
“That’s pure kryos!” Roxxi sputtered as the man wrenched her closer to the door with renewed force. “Don’t be a fool, you’re giving up a damn fortune!”
“I know what kryos looks like, I’m not an idiot,” the man shot back, his voice oozing condescension. “I’m saying it’d take something other than crystal to change my mind.”
For a moment Roxxi didn’t understand what he was saying — but then his gaze dropped lower, and she realized she was on her knees before him, his fingers still clamped tight around her jacket collar. His dark eyes lingered on the swell of her breasts beneath her faded red corset. The fabric was battered and grimy from the elements, but still he seemed transfixed for a moment, his jaw tightening as though he was clenching it before looking away again.
I was right. Heat burst to life at the apex of her thighs, a humiliating surge of wanting as she regarded him, too. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, and decently clever — assuming he’d made all those upgrades — and he didn’t want her kryos.
Would it really be so bad?
Her heart battered her chest so forcefully that she could barely get the words out: “How long’s it been since you h-had a woman?”
The man’s eyes locked on hers, his eyes smoldering like twin embers, but he said nothing.
“You shelter me up ’til law’s gone on his way, and you can do what you want with me,” Roxxi offered hoarsely. This was a dangerous game; as soon as she had her pistols back, she could turn the tables and be on her way — but if the man didn’t believe her, she might actually have to make good on what she was offering.
“Until morning,” the man said quietly.
Roxxi shook her head; that was unthinkable. “Once.”
The man’s chuckled was beyond patronizing. “Once doesn’t begin to make it worth the risk I’d be taking.”
“I’ve never lain with anyone before.” The words sounded as stiff as Roxxi suddenly felt, the sultry air she knew how to summon vanishing like a shallow glamour. She knew the basics; she’d seen people rutting plenty of times in the bellies of cargo ships and transport vessels, even come close a time or two herself. Her pussy clenched painfully at the thought, and she vainly strove to keep from staring at the seam at the front of the man’s trousers, just a few handspans from her face. “If you’re talking risk, I’m the one with everything to lose.”
“It’ll take work to break you in the way I need,” the dark man murmured as he easily hauled Roxxi to her feet. Even at her full height he towered over her — and as he released his hold on her collar, he dragged the rucksack from her shoulders, casting it aside. His face was only inches from hers, and she gasped as she felt the cool, unyielding metal of the door behind her back. “So I get you until sunup, woman, or you can take a walk.”
“You can take me however you want,” she breathed, delight surging through her as the man’s breath hitched. Got him. “But one fuck only. You pull your cock outta me and we’re done."
She glared at him, daring him to challenge her terms.
“One fuck it is,” the dark man breathed after a moment.
Roxxi stuck her hand out sideways, like a knife. Quicker than she could move, the dark man’s arm was about her waist, squeezing the breath from her body as he crushed his mouth to hers. His stubble scratched her cheeks and his tongue parting her burning lips to drink her in. His fingers twisted into her hair, sending an electric ripple from the soles of her feet up through her thighs as he pulled her closer, his mouth claiming hers to seal their pact.
It took all the restraint Roxxi possessed not to simply wrap herself around the man, yielding to the onslaught of his harsh touch. Muscles deep in her belly rippled with longing as his overwhelming scent filled her nose — ozone and grease and clean, honestly-earned sweat. Holy fuck!
A klaxon screamed through the metal corridors, and Roxxi gasped as the man broke away from her. His fingers closed around her wrist again, and she barely had time to hook her fingers into the rucksack’s carry hook as he strode forward, tugging her along with him.
“You can call me Jyn,” the man said, his voice a harsh counterpoint to the alarm’s cry.
“Roxxi,” she answered.
The circular house was of a relatively open design, Roxxi saw as she glanced around. The corrugated roof was held up by a circlet of support pillars fifteen feet shy of the outer walls — but at the center of the chamber, the floor dropped away into a circular shaft. The golden metal cage of an elevator array perched atop the emptiness, its gleaming bars splashed with azure light that emanated from the relative darkness below. It’s so beautiful.
Jyn’s fingers tightened on her wrist as he skidded to a stop before a vertical locker and yanked it open. “Inside,” he ordered curtly. Roxxi gaped at the cramped space in disbelief, and he sighed impatiently, tracing his forefinger over a web of darker metal that covered the inside of the cell-like space. “It’ll mask your biosignature.”
“A Faraday shield?” Even through the klaxon’s relentless shrieking, Roxxi had to stop for a moment to admire Jyn’s handiwork. From the outside this locker looked as anonymous as those surrounding it.
“Yes,” the dark man growled. Roxxi yelped as the flat of his hand met the curve of her ass in a stinging slap. “Inside.”
Inwardly seething, Roxxi slipped into the narrow locker, wincing as the door slammed shut. The handspan of narrow slits set in the door before her before her did little to allay her claustrophobia — and she gasped as Jyn’s eyes suddenly appeared opposite hers beyond the metal grating.
“I’m not going to go easy on you,” the dark man murmured. His eyes raged at her — and the urge to physically tear into him, to fight him was so intense Roxxi was glad the locker door stood between them.
“Fuck you,” she spat.
Jyn only grinned. “Patience.”
A moment later he disappeared. Roxxi negotiated the backpack down between her feet as she tracked his footsteps back the way they’d come, toward the front door. Godsdamn … what the hell have I gotten myself into?
She’d only known Jyn a few minutes, but he unsettled her in a way no one else ever had, landsider or otherwise. The way she’d offered herself up to him like that ... it was too appalling to think about, and she writhed at the memory of her own cringing helplessness. His skin had burned against hers, his longing infecting her like a fever. She was a worldstrider, not some bitch to be rutted with — yet she felt herself growing slick at the mere thought of Jyn’s touch. All the men in the ’verse, and that’s the one who’s going to take my maidenhead? Fuck this godforsaken excuse for a moon!
Her horror notwithstanding, Roxxi knew she’d made the sensible choice. Virginity had never done her any particular favors up until now; if sacrificing it on the altar of some desert mechanic’s cock was what it took to get her back to civilized space, that was a trade worth making. The nanites running through her bloodstream would scour away any trace of his touch within hours.
Her skin stippled to gooseflesh and her nipples stiffened painfully against the boning of her corset as the baying of the lawman’s hounds grew louder. Jyn must have opened his front door. Men’s voices indistinctly murmured for a minute or so and then the door clanked shut again, muting the dogs’ barks. Two sets of footsteps meandered deeper into the house, and as they drew nearer, Roxxi could hear the sheriff’s gruff tones trading off with Jyn’s.
“Wouldn’t have chased her this far out in the wastes if she wasn’t so dangerous,” the lawman was saying — and bile seeped into the back of her throat as the older man added, “Left him behind to bleed out in the street.”
Roxxi ground her teeth in frustration. Declan. Of course that fucker had to mess things up for her again. It was his habit of playing gunslinger that’d done him in; he’d shot himself in the stomach point-blank, and Roxxi had simply done the pragmatic thing leaving him. But no one would ever take the word of a kryos thief over all the testimony her companion’s dead body had to offer.
Her pulse thundered through her ears as though she was drowning, rage coursing through her like a river. The next thing Roxxi knew, the locker door was wrenched open again, Jyn glaring at her from beyond the narrow aperture.
“He’s out back,” the dark-eyed man explained quickly, preempting her question. His voice was that low growl again, and he narrowed his gaze in suspicion. “That true, what he said about your man?”
“He wasn’t my man,” Roxxi snarled, feeling more like a caged animal than ever before in her life.
“Hellcat, aren’t you?” Jyn held out his hand as if for her to sniff, laughing quietly as she flinched. Then his expression hardened, and he caught her by the hair again, holding her firmly. “Curious how it’s going to feel taking my cum?”
Roxxi glared at him, too frozen with fury to respond.
“Thought so.” Jyn ran his thumb of his free hand along the curve of her lips, pushing into her mouth. She felt each groove of his skin rasping against her tongue as he explored her, and it was instinctive to bite down gently until he twisted her hair again, forcing her to release him.
His dark gaze blazed with primal need, and for a moment she was afraid he was going to rip her out of the locker and take her right there, lawman in the back yard and everything. Then the tendons in his temples twitched as he clenched his jaw again. He untwined his fingers from her hair, and the breath slid out of her lungs as he slammed the locker door in her face.
“Soon,” Jyn murmured through the grate — yet as he turned away, Roxxi caught the gleam of her pistol butts sticking out of the back of his belt.
I can reach around him, grab ’em, and tag him before he knows what’s happening. The thought of shooting Jyn wasn’t a pleasant one, but after that last interaction with him Roxxi wasn’t so sure she’d survive a night with him. The man seemed to be wrought of seething intensity, as though he was burning up beneath his skin. She could feel it whenever he looked at her — and she shuddered at the thought of his hands on her secret curves, places she herself only touched when she was bathing.
The lawman spent a good few minutes poking around Jyn’s compound before a rap at the back door signaled his return. Again two set of footsteps traced their way across the circular metal station, and the men’s mumbling voices made their way to the front threshold. Then it shut; only a single traveler recrossed the plate metal floor, and the sound of the lawman’s hounds grew gradually fainter without.
Roxxi was ready. As Jyn swung the locker door open again, she bulled into the flat metal with her shoulder, slamming into him with all her strength. She wrapped her leg around his and slipped her arms around his body, yanking the kryostatic pistols from his waistband just before she and the dark man crashed to the floor in a heap of intertwined limbs.
Roxxi found herself lying atop Jyn, his scruffy jaw scraping her cheekbone. She slithered away from him, trying to gain the arm’s length of distance she needed to aim the pistols at his chest. As fast as she was, the muscular mechanic was faster — and his hands closed on the pistols, twisting their muzzles just as Roxxi squeezed the trigger.
She wrenched the weapons straight just in time. Bolts of rosegold energy blatted from the weapons — but the energy only ricocheted off Jyn’s body, his skin rippling like where the blinding projectiles glanced off his skin. Roxxi could’ve sworn she saw the liquid flare of onyx scales on Jyn’s chest, but when she blinked, there was only the singed fabric where the kryostatic bolts had struck.
She stared at the dark man, stupefied.
“That’s quite enough of that,” Jyn rasped. He twisted the guns out of her hands as easily as though they were toys, and the weapons clattered on the scuffed floor as he dropped them aside.
Roxxi tried to tear free of him, crying out as he rolled her beneath him and snatched up a coil of rope from a nearby shelf. “What the fuck are you?”
His laugh was chill with foreboding as he knelt on her, pinned her hips between his and taking her prisoner. “That should be the least of your concerns.” He expertly bound her wrists and then her thighs and ankles. By the time he was finished Roxxi could only undulate in helpless rage as the man tucked her pistols into his belt again, threw her over his shoulder, and strode toward the skeletal golden elevator.
“Don’t you have a bedroom, at least?” Roxxi growled, struggling vainly against his iron grip. His shoulder was digging into her lower abdomen in a way that was both painful and breathtaking. It was even more agonizing than seeing her pistols mere inches before her face, and being too trussed to reach them.
“I do. I just don’t trust a wild animal like you in it.”
A breathless laugh shivered out of her throat. “I’m sure you know plenty enough about animals!” That strange scaliness beneath his skin… Was it just the discomfort of hanging half upside-down right now, or did something of that same strange charcoal texture ripple along his arm?
One of his arms was tight about her thighs, and a yelp tore itself from her lips as he stroked the fabric covering her quim with his free hand. “I know enough.”
The elevator’s metal framework trembled with Jyn’s heavy footsteps, and Roxxi gasped in relief as he set her down on her feet inside the conveyance, withdrawing his hand from against her sex. Yet the respite was short-lived; he was only repositioning her in front of him, his chest warm and solid against her shoulder blades.
A moment later his fingers were at her navel, slipping beneath the waistband of her trousers and panties and exploring the bare, sensitive skin beneath. It was impossible to stand upright with her limbs so firmly restrained, and she was forced to lean back against Jyn as he yanked the gilded cage shut and threw a lever that made the elevator lurch sickeningly downward.
The dark man grunted as he shoved his hand lower beneath her clothes, twisting his fingers into her soaked cleft. She shrieked at the overwhelming invasion and shuddered against him, retreating from his savage touch as he hooked his fingers into her virgin crevice.
“That’s a good feeling, isn’t it?” he rumbled into her ear. Something was digging into the curve of her ass, but it took mortifyingly long to realize it was the man’s stiffening erection.
She swallowed hard, vainly willing herself to ignore the sensation of being pinioned between his hand and his rocklike prick. It was a good feeling, too good — and Roxxi focused on the rough-hewn rock walls passing away beyond the elevator’s caged sides to distract herself. Here and there salamander-shaped repair bots slipped through the gridlike framework that escorted the elevator into Jyn’s underworld, hissing flames as they patched sections of corroded pipes. Makes sense he’d drag me down to hell to defile me.
Yet the light grew cooler as they descended, making Roxxi momentarily wonder if Jyn was taking her underwater. It was a stupid, fleeting thought; they were in the heart of the desert, miles from anything that could parch her thirst, but still the air caressing her skin felt humid. She murmured in awe as the first vein of glowing aqua light passed before them, like a frozen bolt of lightning embedded in the red sandstone.
Of course — that was what he was doing out here. Why he didn’t need it. “K-Kryos.”
Jyn’s fingers slowed in their agonizing assault, and he stroked the sensitive bundle of nerves at the front of her pussy until she shivered against him and cried out, overwhelmed by the sensations starting to take root in her core.
“What are you doing?” Roxxi whimpered as his drenched fingers withdrew, leaving her empty and wanting.
“Just playing around. Getting you used to me.” Jyn’s other arm tightened around her waist as the elevator rattled to a halt. He jerked the cage door open and scooped Roxxi up, hefting her like an unwilling bride. “No reason you shouldn’t enjoy this, too.”
His stubbled, angular jaw was so close to her that she could’ve bitten him if she’d wanted — little good it probably would’ve done her. His eyes gleamed at her above sharp cheekbones, and a smirk stole over his lips as he looked down to find her glowering at him.
“Suppose it’d be the decent thing to let you bathe before I fuck you,” he remarked casually, and she followed his glance around the subterranean cavern. The massive recess they’d emerged into was like an air pocket amid the sandstone, the telltale lightning-bolt veins of aqua kryos glowing more beautifully even than stars. Stone teeth hung from the cavern’s roof and rose from the floor as if yearning for each other, and three streamlets poured forth from channels in the higher side of the slanted room, converging in a deep, clear pool at the chamber’s center.
A few rocky upthrusts rose clear of the pool’s churning surface, their tops hewn into mesas from the unceasing current — and on the far side of the pool, a single outlet drew the outflux away through another timeworn channel.
“Is it safe?” Roxxi breathed, too awed by the beauty of it to struggle.
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Jyn set Roxxi down on the slope just before the water’s edge and shrugged. “But I brave it, and I’m still among the living.”
His nonchalance made Roxxi think again of how the electrobolts had ricocheted off his skin. Kryostatic wounds were agonizing, far worse to endure than standard thermo burns, but Jyn’s skin was fine. His shirt had been wounded more than he was.
Why hadn’t the energy bolts hurt him?
The dark man untied the knots binding her, easily dodging the kick she aimed at his head. “Don’t do that again, woman.” He proffered a hand, his lips twisting as though he was hiding a grin as Roxxi glared razors at him. “Truce?”
She raised a wary eyebrow. “Changed your mind about fucking me?”
“Absolutely not. Not a fighter like you.” Jyn glanced over her again, smiling more with his dark eyes than his narrow lips. “A gunslinger.”
He drew the pistols from his waistband again and laid them carefully on the stone ground that separated them, spinning the grips toward Roxxi. She narrowed her eyes but didn’t move, searching his expression for any sign of what he was really up to.
“It’s no trick.” Jyn eased away and then watched Roxxi from a casual distance. “You can’t hurt me with them, and clearly you feel more comfortable with them at your side. So…” he trailed off, shrugging.
Roxxi tentatively reached for the guns. When Jyn showed no sign of moving other than to pointedly glance away, she wrapped her fingers around the weapons, tucking them back into their holsters. He’s right, though: these are useless. Unless I mean to whip him with the butts, anyway.
She could feel Jyn watching her out of the corner of his eye as she slowly unbuckled the holster from around her hips and set it aside on the smooth sandstone. No matter how much she adored the weapons, they were going to help her fuck-all in getting back aboveground. She tossed her head, indicating the elevator and the house nestled amid the canyons overhead. “You’re sure he’s not coming through that door?”
“Allard’s far more scared of me than I am of him,” Jyn said with an odd quirk of his lips.
“But your turret—”
“Damn the turret. I’ve other ways of stopping trespassers.”
Don’t think I want to know what that means. Jyn must have some kind of surveillance; no wonder he’d been ready for her at his front door. “And you still want to…” Roxxi swallowed hard, unable to finish the thought. She’d offered her body to him, true, but surely she’d also proven to be more trouble than she was worth. “Why not just let me pay you some other way? Because it’s just been too long since you got your dick wet?”
“If I wanted a prostitute, I’d buy one.” The dark man seemed unperturbed by her panic-tight words. “A deal’s a deal. You might as well honor our agreement, since you’re not going anywhere tonight.”
She snorted derisively. “That’s a big assumption.”
“Allard’ll be dug into the canyons out there like a tick,” Jyn rumbled, his voice rolling through the humid chamber like lightning. “He’s not going anywhere — not until sunup, leastways.”
Roxxi slowly kicked off her boots. Heat was emanating off the water in waves, and she hadn’t had a proper bath in so long … years by now, probably... “I thought you said he was scared of you.”
“He is,” Jyn allowed quietly. His eyes were fixed on her body again, luminous and terrifying in the half-light. “But he wants you almost as bad as I do.”
With a suddenness that startled her he tugged her tailored jacket from her shoulders. It was the possession she’d had longest, traded off a merchant in the Arconian system when she was seventeen — but she didn’t fight him as he dropped the jacket and the soft leather pooled beside her.
Jyn looped his arm around her waist and pulled her body flush against his as he walked backward, slowly dragging her toward the pool with him. His eyes were so close that she felt like he was hypnotizing her into kicking off her boots and sinking against his body.
“What about Declan?” he murmured as the inviting water crept above Roxxi’s knees, lapping at her thighs. “You didn’t kill him, did you?” He peered down at her, amused as he sloshed backward. “No, you’re a good girl. You’d be broken up if you thought yourself a murderer.”
Molten anger swelled in her at his words; it was as though he was taunting her for her innocence, seeing through her meticulously cultivated bravado. She pushed back, struggling to rid herself of his touch as he staggered backward into the warm shallows. His grip was too tight — and worse, he actually seemed to be enjoying himself as she writhed in his arms.
“I didn’t fuck him, either,” she snarled, splashing ineffectually as she tried to escape.
He shrugged coolly. “Too bad. This might’ve been easier on you if you had.”
There was a dark edge to Jyn’s voice; perhaps it was just her apprehension, but Roxxi suspected he was actually telling the truth. “Why?”
“You’ve already guessed.” Jyn’s eyes bored into her, probing the depths of her soul as his fingers tightened on her body. “In some ways I’m human. In other ways … not.”
The fanciful tales she’d heard in Ashfall surged to the fore of Roxxi’s mind, and she froze as the mellow current swirling around her knees. Everything about him was so strange, yet she hadn’t even thought…
Her heart pounded as she lost herself in Jyn’s unearthly gaze. Not fully human, that was what they said. Creatures of the wastes, shapeshifters… No wonder all that tech on the ground was put together so strangely, like an alien mind thought it up.
“What do you think of me now?” Jyn asked softly. The water flowed up around Roxxi’s waist, and suddenly she was floating, with only him to tether her. He caught her ass in both hands, wrapping her soaked lower body tight around his. “Still glad you offered yourself to me, to be used for my pleasure?”
She didn’t dare answer. The truth was too strange to admit, but it didn’t matter. He knew, as though he could scent her hunger like a perfume. A moment later Jyn’s mouth found hers once more, and he nudged her up against one of the water-smoothed sandstone pillars.
His skin blazed so fiercely that she could’ve sworn mist was rising from his body, and his impatient hands worked her pants down off her hips, tossing the waterlogged garments onto the rock shore with a growl.
The warm water felt lovely against her bare skin, but Roxxi had only a moment to enjoy the sensation before Jyn was crushing her against the pillar, grazing her neck with his teeth. Everything felt so much keener — the burning of Jyn’s fingers on her thighs as he held her open, the unyielding line of his cock through his drenched trousers.
He pinned her in place with his hips as he tugged his shirt off and tossed it to the water’s edge. Though he looked how a human man should, there was something shimmering about him, that faint impression of scales rippling beneath the surface of his skin.
“I’m going to have fun with you, woman,” Jyn panted between rough kisses as he unlaced her corset, loosening it with surprising ease. She gasped as he yanked the fabric up over her head and water poured against her bare breasts, making her nipples harden until they ached.
Jyn nuzzled against her hungrily, taking each of the pale pink points between his teeth and teasing them with the tip of his tongue until Roxxi began to struggle against him again.
Roxxi flinched as something hard brushed against the outside of her thigh, and she caught a glimpse of metal glimmering in the water. Jyn slipped the blade expertly along her skin, and she moaned as her panties suddenly slipped away with the gentle current. Then the knife was gone again, sheathed somewhere out of sight, and his hands wandered freely over her body. He kissed her again, probing her mouth with her tongue, tasting of charcoal and embers. The fact that he was still wearing his trousers made Roxxi feel even more naked — but then he broke away and nudged her cheek, panting.
“My pants.” Jyn’s voice was ragged with need, and she could feel him straining through the fabric like iron. “Take ’em off me. And enjoy your last few seconds of virtue while you’re doing it.”
Roxxi’s fingers fumbled to obey, and he hissed between clenched teeth as she brushed against his length. The ache deep in her belly was obliterating nearly every other thought; he was a stranger, but still she needed him — and his desperate touch evinced how much he desired her, too.
She dragged his trousers down over his narrow hips and Jyn’s erection sprang free. His cock was ominously inflamed, and even larger than she was expecting, but she hardly had time to appreciate his sex before he grabbed her wrists, twisting them behind her with a snarl.
He wrenched his hips between hers, forcing her thighs open and pressing his cruelly thick phallus against her, bucking his hips so that the ridge of his head nudged against her slippery hollow. The warm water flowing around their limbs only seemed to make it easier for him to undulate against her, and her pussy tingled from the searing heat of him frottaging her in rhythmic torture.
“No,” Roxxi moaned, but his assault was relentlessly measured, and inescapable despite its apparent chastity. I’ll actually come from this!
“I want you, woman,” Jyn growled into her neck. His fingers splayed over her backside, parting her even wider as he drew two fingers first along the length of her cunt and then kneaded the tender knot of her ass.
“Then what are you waiting for?” she challenged, teasing his lips with her teeth.
The raven-eyed man moved backward and twisted her hips in one smooth motion, one of his lithe arms snaking tight about her waist — and then his length was nudging between the backs of her thighs, his free hand brushing against her ass as he negotiated himself against her soft, slick aperture. His erection felt like it was made of molten fire, and she shied away from him, tripping as the pool’s ground rose up beneath her feet.
Jyn cradled her against him as they collapsed on their sides in the shallows, his breaths jagged with lust, the waistband of his trousers harsh against the backs of her thighs. He reached around her to catch her throat in one hand, his grip firmly pinning her against his body. His other hand drove between the front of her thighs again, kneading her clit as his raw fury pressed into the swell of her ass.
The stone ground scraped her skin like sandpaper, and she cried out in surprise as he wrenched his knees between hers, opening her legs wide to bare her sex. His bare cock slipped against her dripping pussy in the next moment, his fingers fumbling against her clit as the tip of his head lapped into her folds. She could feel her body instinctively clenching against his intrusion, but he was an unyielding stone and she was the sea, and she broke open in a searing rush as he penetrated her.
“There,” Jyn groaned as he thrust himself deeper in her tight cunt. She trembled at the blissful pain as he sheathed himself in her, opening her more than she’d ever thought possible. His length filled her so completely that she whimpered in spite of herself, every inch of his desire smoldering within her.
It was breathtaking how deeply the dark man split her from that angle, their bodies interlocked like spoons. For a few moments she could hardly move as he urged her body to accept his transgression. Gods, he's fucking huge! His breath warmed the nape of her neck like a huntsman, and she was caught in the trap of his body as he claimed her innocence.
“That's right, ” Jyn murmured, teasing her earlobe with his teeth. He rocked his hips, withdrawing a few inches and then surging deep into her belly once more. “Just relax. Take me in.”
Roxxi was too overcome to speak, but she spasmodically clutched Jyn’s hand at the front of her pussy, forcing his thumb against her clit and grinding against him as he pumped into her. He chuckled as he worked his throbbing cock deeper into her channel, bending her so roughly that she could feel him flush against her cervix.
It was agonizing — and exquisite.
Roxxi yelped as Jyn suddenly lurched up onto his knees, dragging her hips with him so that he never withdrew from her body. He pounded into her with the smooth force of a piston, harder now that he was upright, his thrusts urging her along as his thumb still worked her clit.
“Are you still growing?” she groaned as his shaft pulsed deep in her belly. It felt like he was an inferno within her, ravaging her toward a scorched, mindless bliss.
Jyn’s voice hoarse with lust. “I’m knotting.” His free hand clutched at her pendulous breasts, tweaking her nipples and caressing the soft mounds so sharply that she knew his touch would leave bruises — but it was a much-needed distraction from his overwhelming girth. Ripples ran along the length of his member in lockstep with his thrusts, and Roxxi pushed at his hand feebly as she felt the ecstasy nearing.
No, not yet … I’m not ready...
Jyn ripped his hand away from her pussy and delivered stinging slaps to each side of Roxxi’s round ass. She cried out, swaying away from him as the pain rippled thunderously through her flesh.
“That’s it,” he rasped, punctuating the words with staccato thrusts. His thick shaft was pulsing faster inside her now, more insistently, and she knew he must be close. She yelped, clenching around him even harder as his thumb found her ass. “I’m so close to spilling in you…”
Oh gods … he’s going to cum in me! Suddenly everything about this was so clear to her — the strange if handsome man, his unsheathed cock driving into her core like a steam hammer, the way his body tremored as his climax neared. She could feel his precum burning in her belly already, his essence gathering to fill her.
Whoever she was, whatever name she called her own, this was what she had always been seeking on every world and never found.
Jyn’s fingers moved to her Roxxi’s thighs and he leaned her back against him, hissing in pleasure as her hips settled fully over his lap. Again his hands found their way to her breasts — and as he roughly fondled her, his dull head ground against some blinding point deep within her womb, nudging her closer to the edge of something that could never be undone.
“Oh, fuck…” she moaned, overwhelmed as Jyn impaled her on his mercilessly throbbing phallus again and again, and a scream tore out of her as she came apart around him.
Jyn groaned wordlessly, stiffening as his cock convulsed and his blistering seed spurted into her. He ground into Roxxi’s still-tight pussy as she shuddered, and she could feel the shockwaves from her own orgasm urging more floods of his cum forth from the swollen knot at the base of his cock.
Roxxi’s slit was so full that she could feel the sticky fluid leaking around Jyn’s sex to stain her thighs. She mewled at the overwhelming pangs as he carefully rolled her on top of his body and spun her around, dragging her knee over his chest and resettling her to straddle him. His cock twitched deep in her core, and she threw her head back, nearly overcome as he caught her hips and began slowly grinding into her again.
“Haven’t you gotten what you wanted from me yet?” Roxxi whimpered as Jyn moved in her aching, ruined quim. His knot seemed to have lessened somewhat, but he was as hard as ever, splitting her anew with each lazy thrust of his hips. “I can’t take much more!”
“You’ll have to.” Jyn’s lips were almost tender against hers, his tongue exploring her mouth rather than devastating it as he lifted his hips off the sandstone ground, forcing himself deep into her belly. “The knot won’t loosen ’til we’re both completely spent.”
“I told you once.”
“This is once for my kind.”
Roxxi cried out, squirming as he flexed into her ravaged pussy again. How can he still be so hard? More of his cum flooded out of her with each new advance, and his fingers tightened on her hips, refusing to let her free.
It was such a shock to see his stunning, dark eyes staring up at her, his raven hair in disarray and narrow lips parted with his panting breaths, that Roxxi gasped. Her pussy clenched around him, her own lust rekindled as he suddenly sat up to meet her, wrapping his arms about her waist so that her breasts pressed against his magma-hot chest. His black gaze was overwhelming from so close, and she squeaked in dread at his savage grin.
“You’re being such a good little pet,” Jyn rumbled. He tilted his hips, driving deep into Roxxi so that she shivered with gathering ecstasy. There was more of that coming, she could feel it through the numbing ache of her first orgasm — and as Jyn traced her nipples with slow, wet swirls of his tongue, she felt the storm gathering in her belly again.
“Please…” she begged, hardly even knowing what she was pleading for as the dark man’s tempo quickened. His fingers tightened on her skin enough to leave bruises as his searing cock drove into her — and this time the hot flood of his cum wasn’t such a shock as it bathed her channel afresh.
“Once more, that’ll drain me,” Jyn grunted. He lay back on the chamber’s sandstone floor again, sweeping stray tendrils of Roxxi’s hair from across her face as she collapsed against his chest. His lips found the hollow of her neck, kissing her roughly as his pulsing knot ground against her clit. “Gods, you’re so fucking sexy, woman.”
She was nearly spent, but somehow the strength was there to return his kiss with equal violence, daring him to wreak his utmost.
He slipped one of his legs between her thighs, and she moaned at the overwhelming sensation of him as he strove into her again from this new angle. He seemed determined to bend her completely out of shape, and she was so wrecked that she could only cling to the otherworldly man as he fucked her, drawing one of her knees higher against his side to let him thrust punishingly deep.
That alone would’ve been barely within Roxxi’s endurance, but then Jyn rolled onto his side, cradling her against his body again as he took her. She clutched at his chest feebly, urging the dark man along — and he sheathed himself in her with growing urgency, ravaging her until she shattered around him for a third time and wrung forth another molten eruption of his jism.
It was all too much for her exhausted body to bear. As the final rapturous orgasm obliterated the world around her, Roxxi felt Jyn crushing her close to his chest, cradling her against him as she spiraled into unconsciousness.
Roxxi woke to find herself in a darkened chamber, the scent of the red ochre dust again filling her nose. The smooth sandstone and glowing veins of blue kryos were nowhere to be seen; this was a room shaped for a fully human mind, appointed with a bed and and a few other simple furnishings.
Seeing Jyn sound asleep beside her, she knew where she was at once. He wasn’t lying — he does have a bedroom.
The dark man murmured in his slumber, and Roxxi brushed a stray tendril of raven hair back from his forehead. Fractured memories of him bathing her and carrying her back to the elevator tried to coalesce in her mind, but they were faint wisps of recollection, eluding her like dreams. Whatever else Jyn was, he had been good to her in his own gruff way.
She kissed his temple softly so she wouldn’t wake him. I won’t soon forget that.
Her rucksack, pistols, and clothes — save for her missing panties — were there beside the mattress, and she dressed quickly. A pang of regret rippled through her like a plucked baliset as she glanced at Jyn again. Goodbyes weren’t the worldstrider way, but it felt wrong to simply leave without some sort of parting.
With all the kryos veins running through the rocks below, Roxxi knew her own stolen treasure was worthless to him, yet still she left a quarter-portion of her prize beside his bed. He could sell it, if nothing else — and she scribbled a quick note to leave with it: Fix your damn turret.
She filled her water skins quickly, and scanned the surrounding hills from the safety of the tinted windows. The lawman was nowhere in sight amid the surrounding hills, probably searching for her back in the fan canyons to the east, or else heading back the sand-veiled settlement. That was good — and Roxxi’s heart rose as she slipped past the front door and out into the roseate dawn. The muscles in her hips and belly screamed in protest as she hiked out of the basin, but she savored the pain as much as she’d savored the pleasure.
She dug into the outer pockets of her rucksack as she reached the basin’s edge. Though her dust goggles and rebreather were where she’d left them, she found a strange rectangular device stowed among them, too. The screen hummed to life when she twisted a knob on the thing’s side, but it still took her a moment’s squinting to recognize the familiar outlines of his compound from above.
A map! From the lines of careful soldering along the device’s edges, it could only be Jyn’s handiwork. Suddenly she wished she’d left more kryos for him, even if meant she wasn’t able to get the shuttle running again.
Hell, if the gadget could help her find her way out of here, maybe it could help her find her way back.
The sun’s knife-bright edge crept over the rim of the canyons as Roxxi set her bearings and hiked back out into the wastes. The downed shuttlecraft couldn’t be far now, and there was at least a slim chance she could get the thing off the ground — if it even existed. Declan had been a scumfucker, after all.
Something deep inside her ached with sorrow when Jyn’s compound vanished beyond a bend in the canyons behind her. Soft like a landsider, she upbraided herself — but when the thunderous cry shook the rocky earth, she wasn’t afraid. Jyn was calling to her. As his map led her back through labyrinth of time-smoothed stone and toward salvation, she knew he was still thinking of her, even as she would long be thinking of him.