Born of Defiance
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Born an Outcast, Talyn Batur has spent the whole of his life fighting against the prejudice of his people. An Andarion without a father is not something anyone wants to be.
But when his companion's brother draws him into a plot against the Andarion crown, he finds himself torn between the loyalty to their planetary government that his mother has beaten into him and his own beliefs of justice and right.
Now, he must decide for himself to remain a pawn of their government or to defy everything and everyone he's ever known to stand up to tyranny. It's a gamble that will either save his life or end it. And when old enemies align with new ones, it's more than just his own life at risk. And more than just his homeworld that will end should he fail.
A Macmillan Audio production.
Release date: May 12, 2015
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 528
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Born of Defiance
Felicia Orfanos hesitated as she caught sight of the massive male who waited for her in the small, dimly lit room. A full seven feet in height, he was ripped like a bodybuilder-with a massive, muscled build. She'd never been this close to anyone with a physique like his.
Holy gods ...
Strange, he'd seemed chunky in the photo he'd submitted with his application. But there was nothing overweight about him.
Nor did he appear shy or bashful. Never mind socially awkward. Things he'd been dubbed by the answers he'd provided on their required questionnaire.
"Fierce" and "terrifying" were the only two adjectives that came to her mind as she swept her gaze over his confident male stance. He had all his weight on his left leg, and his muscled arms crossed over his chest as he stared at the wall with a stern expression that was absolutely chilling.
Even though he was dressed in black street clothes, it was a warrior's pose. His black hair was a mass of tiny braids he wore back from his face, letting her know that at his age, with that hairstyle, he was still in the military. Another thing that hadn't been disclosed in the file her agency had given her.
Not that it really mattered. Obligatory military service was required of all fully Vested Andarion males and females upon graduation from primary school or university. Given that he was here to buy her services at his age, he must come from some seriously high-caste parents. And he must have gone straight into the military instead of university upon his graduation.
He turned slightly as if sensing her presence. The moment his white eyes focused on her hooded form, she felt a small electrical charge rush over her.
Gracious. He was gorgeous! Granted, all Andarions were, but he was exceptionally handsome and well built. Every inch of that light caramel skin begged for a bite.
And his entire demeanor changed instantly as he realized she was the one he'd come to meet. Now, he looked like the bashful, unsure male their personality evaluation had proclaimed him.
Something that made her smile. How could he be made nervous by her when he was the only thing threatening in this room? He even dwarfed the security guard, who eyed him with obvious fear and respect for his gargantuan size. Yet this male reminded her of a skittish schoolboy at his first boy-girl dance.
"Felicia," the broker said as he stepped forward to greet her. "Meet your prospective patron."
With a deep breath for courage, she lowered her hood and smiled at him.
Talyn felt his throat go dry instantly as her wealth of dark brown curls sprang out from the cloth to frame an adorable oval face. She was even more beautiful than she'd been in the pictures he'd seen. And a lot more petite than he'd expected. She barely reached the middle of his chest. While she was athletic in build, her limbs were so thin compared to his, they appeared frail. So much so, he was afraid to touch her lest he accidentally break something. And just like in her photos, her silvery-white eyes gleamed with kindness and warmth.
Biting his lip, he glanced to the guard and broker, wishing they'd leave them alone. But because she was an unwed virgin, there was no chance of that.
"Would you care to sit?" Talyn asked her respectfully.
"Sure. Thank you."
He pulled a chair out for her. She moved with the fluid grace of a dancer. Her every gesture was a thing of absolute beauty. Sitting across from her, he tried to think of something witty to say.
Nothing came to mind.
Just don't drool on yourself. That was all he'd need to make her run screaming for the door.
She glanced about nervously before she spoke. "So what exactly are your terms? I know you wrote that my duties would be light, but can you elaborate?"
He felt heat creep over his face as she got right down to business and he cringed at having to explain it in front of witnesses who already knew he was desperate. Otherwise, no male his age would be here, dealing with them. Or be willing to pay the exorbitant fees they demanded.
Because of his lack-Vest, bastard status, they were gouging the shit out of him, and he had no choice except to take it in whatever orifice they dictated. But there was nothing he could do.
Not if he wanted Felicia.
And that he definitely did. She was so much more than he'd ever hoped to find. Honestly, he was still stunned and humbled that she'd agreed to meet with him, given his questionable lineage.
Clearing his throat, he kept his gaze on her sweet face, and forced himself to ignore the condescension and censure of her broker. "I only have two nights a week free. And only for three to four hours each, not counting the hour it takes to get from my barracks to the condo. So you'd only have to be with me three hours at most on those two nights." Which probably delighted her to no end. Most patrons required a lot more of their companions.
Uncomfortable, Talyn rubbed at his neck. "I ... um ... I have a curfew to meet so there wouldn't be any overnight visitations, unless I'm at liberty. Which is just once a year, and only for a week. I've already had this year's liberty so you don't have to worry about that for another twelve months. Even then, it's negotiable. I know you're still at university and need your days free to attend classes, and most nights to study. I'm good with all that."
Felicia frowned at what he was telling her. Was he serious? This was more than she'd ever dare to dream. "That's really it?"
She couldn't quite wrap her head around her good fortune. Something bad had to be wrong with him.
One possible flaw definitely came to mind.
"And how..." She cringed at the thought of what she needed to ask. But she knew from her mother, and other companions and instructors that she had to ask it before she consented to him. It was the primary concern all females in her profession had. One that maimed and killed a good 10 percent of them a year, and it would explain why such an eligible male was here, looking for one of her ilk and not negotiating for a noble wife.
With a deep breath, she forced the embarrassing question out. "How kinky and violent are you during sex?"
He actually turned bright red. "I would never harm a female off a battlefield, and even then, I wouldn't do so unless she was armed and after me. Nor would I ask you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, in anyway. We can leave all the details of that up to you."
Visibly cringing, he nodded.
She sat forward and tried to figure out if he was lying to her. This was really too good to be true. And it wasn't uncommon for males to lie to get what they wanted. She knew a number of females who'd gotten themselves into scary situations with males who'd seemed sincere and decent, only to find out, too late, they weren't. "I honestly have to say that I'm a little confused. If that's all you want, it would be significantly cheaper for you to visit a house of assignation than contract with me."
He bristled. "I have more than enough money to pay your contract fees, tuition, and upkeep. Believe me. Your broker has crawled my ass and accounts with a subatomic scope."
"I didn't mean to insult you," she said quickly. "I just don't understand why you'd ask for so little, given the high cost." And given how handsome and young he was. To hell with their stringent blood laws. What female wouldn't do him for free?
Contract or no contract.
This was one male worth a jail sentence.
He glanced to her broker before he spoke. "I want a companion, not a prostitute."
She was still baffled by this. If that was what he wanted, why not contract for marriage?
But that was none of her business. He was absolutely gorgeous and polite. Sweet, even. She couldn't have asked for a better patron. And he was definitely better than the last male who'd tried to contract her.
You can't do any better than this, girl. You know that. This was the kind of male most females prayed to marry. To have one as patron ...
"Very well, then." Felicia swallowed in trepidation of what was next. "Would you like to inspect me?"
She had to bite back a laugh at how bright his cheeks turned this time. She'd never seen anyone blush so profusely. His caramel skin practically glowed.
And to think, she was the virgin in the room.
Once again, he glanced over to the guard and the broker, then shook his head. "I wouldn't do that to you in front of them. I've already seen your photos, and that's not the most important thing to me, anyway."
"May I ask what is?"
"That you were as kind and gentle in person as you seemed to be by your profile answers and photos."
Her heart swelled at his bashful answer.
She reached across the table and touched his hand before she offered him a smile. "Should we try a standard six-month trial?"
He finally returned her smile. "I should like that. How long do you need to move in?"
"When would you like for me to start?"
"It's entirely up to you. I have a fully furnished condo within walking distance of your school, as your contract stipulated. All I need to do is have you added to the security and paperwork. Everything for the condo is billed directly to me. You won't have to worry about anything."
He was so unexpected. So preciously sweet.
She only hoped he stayed this way.
Please don't be a lie. She'd had enough of lying bastards in her life.
"Day after tomorrow, then?"
Her broker stepped forward with his e-tablet. "Excellent. I have the papers already drawn up. Read over it and sign them. I'll post them immediately, and the two of you can be about your business."
Still a little nervous, Felicia was stunned that her patron hadn't tried to negotiate anything. Rather, he'd agreed to every term she'd wanted. Right down to giving her all daylight hours so that she could continue with school ... and a weekly maid service.
He hadn't even balked at providing her with a place to live near her school-which was some of the priciest real estate in Eris. A small studio apartment was over four thousand credits a month. For that matter, she couldn't even afford to live in the university dorms. They were almost as much. All the other patrons she'd considered had flat-out denied that request.
She signed the contract and waited for him to finish reading through it.
Once he signed it, he handed her a small card. "That's the address to the condo, and the number for my link. If you'll give me two hours' notice, I can meet you there, and make sure that you get in without any problems. Security's really tight for the building so you'll be very safe there, alone. The downside is that even if I tell them you're coming, they might not let you in without me there to verify your identity, and sign the paperwork to have you added to my lease as a licensed cohabitator."
That was a nice bonus. In truth, she'd been a little afraid of living alone. Eris was a major city, with over ten million Andarions living in it. As much as authorities liked to deny it, it wasn't uncommon for lone females to fall prey to vicious predators. It was the primary reason she'd wanted a short commute to school. "Then I'll see you in two days."
"Two days," he repeated before he stood. "I shall look forward to it."
As he started for the door, she rose. "Um, may I ask one thing before you leave?"
"What's your name?"
He gave her a shy smile. "Talyn."
What a beautiful, proper name. It suited him. "Thank you, Talyn."
Inclining his head, he took his leave.
Stunned by it all, Felicia couldn't believe that she'd been lucky enough to find a patron so young and handsome. One who didn't seem to want to treat her like his property, and demand that she serve his every perverted whim.
Unlike the last revolting beast who'd almost assaulted her in front of her broker and guard. If not for them, she'd have been raped in this very room.
You know you can't trust him. Males lie. Her mother had beaten that into her head from birth.
And yet, Talyn seemed honest.
They all seem like that, daughter. Until they rip out your heart and feast upon it.
She refused to allow her mother's poison to infect her. Glancing down at the card in her hand, she frowned as she finally saw the address of her new home. With a gape, she looked to her broker. "Is this correct?"
"Then, yes. That's the address we verified. He owns the entire top floor of the building. It's a twenty-room flat, with an indoor pool and fully functional gym."
Felicia was aghast at that. "Twenty rooms?" Seriously?
"Yes. It's positively palatial."
Especially in Eris. No one had homes that big, as a rule. Except royalty.
Or a mighty War Hauk.
"And he doesn't live there full time?"
"No. He's an officer in the armada. They require him to live in the barracks. He has a strict curfew and if he misses too many, they'll strip his rank."
"And what rank does he hold?" Deputy commander?
That only confused her more. While majors made fairly good pay, they didn't make enough to afford a twenty-room condo by her school.
He must be royal-blooded. That was the only logical explanation.
"Has he a wife?"
Herun shook his head. "Nor is he pledged to any female. We screened him thoroughly."
Her head spun at the news. "What's wrong with him, then?"
"He has no paternal lineage, whatsoever. He's the bastard son of an Outcast. No one on his father's side would even adopt him."
Ouch. No wonder Talyn was willing to pay so much for a companion. There was no other legal way for him to have an Andarion female as part of his life. And to pair himself with an alien female would lower his caste even more.
Which, given how low it already was, would be quite a feat.
It wouldn't matter how high his rank or how pure his mother's bloodline. No family would contract their daughter to a male without some paternal lineage. Especially not one whose father was such an Outcast that no one else in his entire family would adopt his son to protect him.
Just what crime had his father committed for his shame to taint his son so thoroughly?
A bastard herself, she knew exactly how harshly Andarions treated children like them. But at least she knew her father's lineage and he allowed her to count it, even though her parents had never married. While being a half-Vest limited what choices and careers she had open to her, it was nowhere near as bad as being a solid lack-Vest.
Not to mention, she was female and that automatically put her in a better caste than his, since maternal lineages were the higher valued in Andarion society.
Her heart aching for him, she lifted her cowl and returned to her small cell that had been her home since she'd begun her companion training.
She glanced around the small, spartan room.
While her mother hadn't been thrilled with her choice to do this, she'd understood that it was the only way Felicia could go to her expensive university without crawling to her father for the money.
Or marrying into a family with a matriarch who'd treat her and her mother like sub-sentient creatures-because Felicia was bastard-born.
Her mother had kindly offered to take out loans for her. But Felicia had refused. Her mother's health had been ailing these last few years, and she didn't want to stress her mother any more. Nor force her mother into the indignity of being scrutinized by a loaner or marriage broker. Her mother had suffered enough indignities in her life.
Indignities Felicia hadn't fully comprehended until her own training had given her a whole new respect for what her mother had been put through because of her father.
Her mother must have been out of her mind as a young Andarion.
Felicia still cringed every time she remembered the humiliating inspection and certification process her agency had insisted on before they'd even list her profile on their site. It'd been a solid year before they'd offered her up for "adoption."
As bad as her training had been, it was nothing compared to the rude, insufferable males she'd interviewed with, who'd wanted a young companion they could parade around like some show dog on a leash.
Worse, her time to pick a patron had been running out. Had Talyn waited one more day to call for a meeting, she'd have been forced to accept Lord Arux's offer. She cringed at the mere thought. He'd refused 80 percent of her requests and had been completely unreasonable and offensively rude.
Grateful it hadn't come to that, she swept her gaze around her meager belongings. Two days? It wouldn't take her two hours to pack her things.
But in two days, everything about her life would change.
She shivered as that reality went through her. The only thing of value she owned was her virginity. Once it was gone, so was any negotiating power she currently had.
Closing her eyes, she prayed that she'd made the right decision. If Talyn was lying to her, she would be no better off than her mother had been.
Yes, she had a six-month probation period with him. But once they slept together, she'd be downgraded to a used whore.
And since he had no paternal bloodline or social standing, she wouldn't even be able to use that as a way of upping her value.
She would be ruined in the eyes of their society.
God, what have I done?
"So ... did you turn him down or agree to adoption?"
Felicia turned at the sound of Glycie's voice in her doorway. Tall, well stacked, and gorgeous, Glycie always made her feel like an ugly slug in comparison. They'd gone through several classes together, and had both been listed for adoption on the same day. While Felicia had had a few interviews since being listed, Glycie had a staggering amount of males to choose from. So many that the agency had given her extra time to pick the richest one, with the best offer.
Glycie gasped, then hugged Felicia while giggling with excitement. "Oh, congratulations, sweetie! How was he?"
"Respectful and young."
Eyes wide, Glycie shouted the good news down the hallway for the others to hear. It was something they always did whenever a companion was adopted by a patron.
Fresca tsked as she came into the room with a slow, sauntering walk. While she was every bit as beautiful as Glycie, she was an utter condescending bitch.
Rumors said that it was what kept her from being in the top tier of companion prospects ... which only made her all the more bitter and biting. "Please tell me you didn't contract with the animal that just left here."
Felicia frowned at her hostility. "Why would you say that about him?"
Rolling her eyes, she stared at Felicia as if she was mentally defective. "Even you can't be so stupid as to not know whom he is."
Insulted by her snide tone, Felicia stiffened. "He's a major in the armada."
"And he's been the Open league Zoftiq champ for years now. He's killed I don't know how many males in the Ring. Brutally." Her white eyes turned even darker and angrier. "When they allowed that ruthless bastard to fight in the Vested league, which they should have never done, he left my cousin with a permanent limp, limited use of his arm, and almost killed him. My cousin said he was like a rabid dog, unleashed. All the years he's fought, he's never seen a worse animal. There's no fighter more feared in the Ring than Talyn Batur. And you signed with him? Are you insane?"
"She's right," Rynara agreed as she joined them. "I was his first choice for companion, but I wouldn't even meet with him. Turned him down flat as soon as I saw his name. Last thing I want is to be in a room with someone so violent and cold-blooded. Never mind at his complete and utter mercy. Just the thought of it gives me chills." She shivered to further illustrate her point.
Fresca nodded in agreement. "I've heard he's so huge in size that he's split some of his past lovers in half. Left several unable to bear children."
"I heard he's been banned from most whorehouses for acts of perverted violence." Rynara patted Felicia on the arm. "You poor thing. You should have done more research on him before you accepted."
With sympathetic fear in her eyes, Glycie bit her lip. "Maybe you can get out of it?"
"I already signed." Felicia's breathing turned ragged as they went on and on listing Talyn's flaws.
What have I done?
If one-quarter of what they said was true, she'd be maimed in a week.
Sick to her stomach, she tried to think of some way to end this.
Excusing herself, she went to her broker. He was in his office, at his computer, with a gleeful smirk on his face. "Herun?"
He looked up with an arched brow. "Did you lose the address already?"
"No ... um..." Felicia hesitated. "Have you posted the forms already?"
"Of course. I told you I would."
"Can we rescind them?"
His other eyebrow shot up. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I just learned some things about the major that I didn't know before."
Sighing, he shook his head. "It's done. Honestly, I don't know how you can complain. No one else would pay so much for you or be so accommodating to your outrageous demands. It's not like you're the prettiest companion here. You barely made the second tier of our offerings. For that matter, I was worried we'd ever recoup the money we spent for your training. Instead of complaining, you should be damn grateful he's delusional aboutyour questionable status, and willing to overlook it."
Heat stung her cheeks at his needless and cruel reminders.
Herun turned away from her. "Now, if you don't mind, I have other contracts to draft."
Mortified and humiliated, she wanted something smart to say back to him. But the truth he spoke cut her to the bone. She couldn't think of anything other than the fact that Herun was right.
No one else had wanted her.
"You're too short. Too muscled. And look at this frizzy mop of hair.... I don't know how we'll make you presentable to anyone." She could still see the sneer on the image consultant's face as she reviewed Felicia's "attributes." The only reason they hadn't cut her hair was the fear that it would be even messier with a shorter style.
Completely heartbroken, she headed back to her room and cursed herself with every step. What have I done?
Consigned herself to hell.
She was her mother's daughter, after all. Taken in by a handsome liar. She'd seen what she wanted in him, and hadn't done enough research.
Now, she would pay for it. And if the others were to be believed, she'd pay with her life.
Copyright © 2015 by Sherrilyn Kenyon
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