Authors: Eve Vaughn
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All trademarks, service marks, registered service marks are the property of their respective owners and are used herein for identification purposes only.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Copyright © 2014 Eve Vaughn
Electronic book publication September 2014
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means without permission from the author, Eve Vaughn.
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To Gwen, without you this book would not have seen the light of day. You are not like family, you are family. You’re not my best friend. You’re my sister. Thank you.
Dare O’Shaughnessy had the world in the palm of his hand. A man known and feared for his ruthlessness, his word was law. The last word he ever expected to hear was no. Until he met her.
Aya Smith despised the ruling class who looked down on hardworking people like her. Sick of being treated unfairly by laws that protect the wealthy and punish the poor, she takes a stand but soon realizes, she might have crossed the wrong man.
Created as a government program to assist in the repopulation of the country when an untested drug wipes out millions of women,
eventually evolves into something much more sinister. Now played for the amusement of the super rich, women down on their luck find themselves the prizes of sadistic masters.
Aya is forced to volunteer for
, and Dare, the most sadistic of all, places her in his crosshairs. She will belong to him, body and soul. But when he catches her will she succumb to his mastery, or will he find more trouble than he bargained for?
Dare O’Shaughnessy was a man of routine. He woke up and ran ten miles on his indoor track, followed by a steaming hot shower. He drank his coffee black while reading the latest news on his holopad. He appreciated order above all else. Everything and everyone had its place and anyone who didn’t go with the status quo didn’t last very long around him. He had a way of dealing with things that left him with a reputation for being brutal. He was fully aware of what was said behind his back and he actually enjoyed those whispers about him.
Dare didn’t bother to disabuse the rumors because most of them were true—he reveled in them. It made people fear him. And fear was a powerful tool of control. He’d learned that lesson at an early age.
He glanced at his watch as his driver pulled up to front of his office building. As he waited for the chauffeur to open the door for him, he glanced out the window and noticed a commotion across the street. Two enforcers led a boy in handcuffs to their vehicle, probably a thief. A smug blonde stood behind them seeming quite proud of herself. Dare normally had no interest in the goings-on of others if it didn’t involve him but as the trio got closer to his line of vision, he noticed the captive wasn’t a boy at all. Though her hair was short, shorter than his even, from what he could make out the features were feminine, delicate even.
He almost wished he could get a closer look but his driver came around the car to open the door. By the time he entered the building, the woman was forgotten.
“I don’t understand why you felt the need to attack that woman. It could have gone a lot worse had there not been someone willing to verify your side of the story.”
Aya flared her nostrils, frustrated by the events leading to her arrest. “I didn’t attack her. She tripped me! I only grabbed her arm to tell her what she’d done, seeing as she would have just walked away as if nothing had happened.”
Her uncle raised a brow. “And then what? What exactly would you have done? Demand an apology?”
She shuffled uncomfortably, but raised her chin in defiance. “That’s the least she could have done.”
“Earlier you said she’d done it on purpose so what makes you think a person like that would have apologized? Sometimes, you have to pick your battles. The chances of you running into that woman again would have been slim to none. It would have cost you nothing to walk away.”
“So my pride is worth nothing? Don’t you understand how the Elites view us? They think we’re trash, subhuman. They have everything while people like us barely scrape by for a living. And the only thing I have left worth holding on to is my dignity.” Angry tears welled in her eyes. “I wanted to hurt her,” she admitted the words she’d dared not say out loud while in the custody of the enforcers.
The obvious sheen of disappointment glistened in her uncle’s eyes. “Aya, I’ve always admired your spirit and how you stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves, but this pride you speak of is going to get you into a situation you won’t be able to get yourself out of.”
“But, Uncle Arthur, it wasn’t my fault. How is it fair that she—”
“Enough Aya! You and I both know life isn’t fair but we try to make the most of what we’ve got. Think of what I said.” Arthur shook his head at his niece before retreating to his room.
Aya balled her fists tightly at her sides. She would rather he had yelled instead of the soft-spoken scolding. It cut her to pieces to know she’d let her uncle down. He’d taken care of her after her parents died and treated her like his own daughter.
It was close to midnight and though she hadn’t eaten since the day before she wasn’t hungry. She’d been locked up for the past twenty-four hours and offered only a couple slices of bread so moldy that the insects crawling around her cell hadn’t wanted them. She didn’t know how long she would have lasted in that hell-hole had Uncle Arthur not come to bail her out.
Her stomach clenched as she thought of what he must have paid for her bail. While they were doing better than many of the people in their neighborhood, they had just enough for the two of them to get by. One bad month at the bar would be a major setback. Aya squeezed her eyes shut, cringing at the thought of what would happen to them if their situation turned dire.
After removing the stench of her prison stay in a long scalding shower, she dressed in a comfortable pair of jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. She was far too restless to go to sleep. Besides, she’d have to get up in a few hours to open up the kitchen in the bar she helped her uncle run. They didn’t start selling alcohol until noon but customers often came in for a cup of coffee or a sandwich. Although they had a small dining menu, the bulk of their profits came from selling alcohol. Their three bedroom apartment was conveniently located above the business, which eliminated a morning commute.
She threw the hood over her shorn head before escaping the apartment and going downstairs. As she headed for the kitchen, someone whispered her name. “Aya.”
Before she could draw a breath to scream, a hand covered her mouth and a strong arm pulled her back against a hard masculine body. Crime was a major concern in her town but her uncle’s place was almost sacred. No one bothered them unless they wanted to be dealt with by the local guardians who watched over the bar with a protective eye. Fear seized her for a second before anger took over.
How dare this person break in here when this was one of the few places that actually helped the community? She stomped on her assailant’s foot as hard as she could and shoved her elbow into his ribs.
“What the fuck, Aya?”
She turned to see the outline of her friend, Mac, doubled over. “Mac! What the hell were you doing sneaking up on me like that?”
“I did call your name. Besides, who else would it be at this time of night?”
“How the hell should I know, considering the only two people with keys to this place are me and my uncle? How did you get in?”
He straightened to his full height with a wince. “Shit, did you have to hit me so hard?”
She rolled her eyes. “Stop being such a baby. Are you going to tell me how you got in here?”
“I still have a spare key from when I ran some deliveries for Uncle Arthur. He never asked for it back so I held on to it. I heard you got arrested and was waiting for you to come home to see what happened.” Since her uncle did so much to help the community, everyone, young and old referred to him as Uncle Arthur. It was one of the reasons most of the criminal element left them alone.
Aya stormed over to the light switch and flicked it on before glaring at him. She held out her hand. “I’ll need that key back now.”
He shuffled toward her with seeming reluctance and dropped the key in her palm. “Okay, spill it. Did your famous temper finally erupt when it shouldn’t have?”
“Have you been talking to my uncle?”
His green eyes twinkled with mirth. “Ah, am I close?”
“I do not have a temper. I stand up for myself. There’s a big difference.”
“So obviously, you stood up to the wrong person. I want details. You had the entire block talking about it. We were taking bets on what you got locked up for.”
Aya shot him a narrowed-eye stare. “You’re a real pain in the ass, did you know that?” She released a sigh realizing there was no getting rid of him until she told him exactly what occurred. “Since you’re already here, do you want something to eat or some coffee?”
“No to both. Quit stalling. What happened, little bit?”
She hated when he called her by the child hood moniker that had stuck with her into adulthood. It was bad enough when they were children and she was almost always the shortest kid in her group of friends, but it was much worse in adulthood when she never shot past five foot two. “You’re so nosey.” She walked over to one of the tables, flopped down in the closest seat, and gestured for him to do the same.
Mac took the chair opposite her. He reached over and grazed her cheek with the back of his hand. “You look exhausted. Maybe you should get some sleep.”
“I couldn’t sleep, if I tried. Besides, after sitting in that filthy cell, I’ll probably have nightmares for months.” She shuddered as she thought of the vermin crawling so unashamedly around and over her while the guards seemed unconcerned about the health hazard the critters posed.
“I’m surprised they locked you up. They usually reserve the cells for men. I hear the women can wiggle their way out of lockup if they’re er…cooperative.”
“Don’t remind me. I can only imagine the things they would have made me do in order to get preferential treatment. The arresting officer literally unzipped his pants in front of me and said he could make things easy for me if I was nice to him.”
Mac scowled. “What?”
“Don’t sound so surprised. I’m sure I’m not the first woman he’s done that to. I’m just lucky he didn’t try to force himself on me anyway. I guess insulting his manhood didn’t sit well with him.”
“Fucking pigs. Those guys are just like us, live in the same neighborhoods but because they have badges, they think they’re above us. I’d like to catch one of those fuckers off duty and destroy them.”
“And then, you’ll end up rotting in a cell somewhere before they farm you off to some labor camp where you work until you drop dead from exhaustion.”
“That’s only if I get caught. Anyway, what’s your story, little bit? How’d you get arrested?”
Aya rubbed her hand over her freshly shaved head, pushing back her hood. It had taken some getting used to not having the coarse curls she once sported but they had been a distraction and distractions led to trouble where she lived. “I’d managed to save up a little money from my tips and wanted to get something nice for Uncle Arthur’s birthday next week. I went to the shopping district.”
Mac’s brows shot up. “You? You hate going to the shopping district. You hate voluntarily dealing with the Elites.”
“I know and I wouldn’t have gone there for anyone other than Uncle Arthur. He’s done so much for me so I wanted this birthday to be special for him. I figured I had enough to buy him a small holo projector for his room. He used to have one a long time ago, but it broke. I remember how much he enjoyed watching old twenty-first century shows.”
“You must have saved up a lot to get him one of those.”
“The handheld ones aren’t as pricey as the wall sized models. But that’s beside the point. I was headed to the holo tech shop and I…” she was almost embarrassed to say.
“I saw a dress in a boutique.”
Mac’s lips wobbled and then he smiled before letting out a loud guffaw. “You were looking at dresses? You? That’s a good one, little bit.”
Her face flamed. Aya reached across the table and punched her friend in the chest. Unfortunately, instead of inflicting pain, it caused him to laugh even harder.
“If you’re done laughing at me, you can leave.”
Mac wiped a tear from his eye. “I’m sorry, Aya. Really. It’s just…I’ve never seen you in anything other than a pair of dusty old jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. And since you cut your hair, it’s shorter than mine. It’s almost like you’re not a woman anymore.”
She stood up and walked away from the table. It wasn’t that she didn’t like dresses and pretty things like any other woman but women in her situation didn’t enjoy that luxury without consequences. It was, unfortunately, the way of the world. “Nice to know what you really think of me, Mac.”
Mac moved behind her and gripped her shoulders. He dropped a kiss on top of her head. ‘I’m sorry, little bit. I was just teasing. I, sometimes, don’t know when to quit. And yes, I recognize that you’re a woman.” He gently turned her to face him and tilted her chin until their eyes met. “A very beautiful woman, Aya. I just think that, sometimes, you don’t recognize it.”
“You’re being silly, Mac.”
“I’m being truthful. Have you looked in a mirror lately? There’s no amount of baggy clothing that will disguise those curves you fight so hard to hide. And this haircut doesn’t hide how gorgeous you are. Most of the men come to your uncle’s bar because of you.” She pulled away from him not wanting to hear this.
“It’s because there aren’t as many women. I’m nothing special. Look, it’s already late, I’m sure you have to get up early to make your deliveries tomorrow.”
Mac seemed to be on the verge of saying something else but decided against it. “I’m sorry for teasing you about the dress. I’m sure whatever it looked like, it would have looked great on you.” He leaned over and gave her kiss on the cheek. “Take care of yourself and stay out of trouble. I’ll stop by the bar when I get off work.”
Aya’s only response was a nod.
After Mac left, she collapsed in her chair again. His words jarred her. Is that how men viewed her? Sure she got hit on often but Aya didn’t consider it a big deal because the ratio of men to women was three to one. Half a century ago, as the gap between the wealthy and the poor grew wider than it had ever been, the Deregulation Act was signed into law. It basically made obsolete all the oversight departments in government and gave the major corporations free reign to run their businesses without concern for the safety of the people, the wildlife, or the environment. One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country began to sell a breast cancer vaccination that was later discovered to have not been properly tested. It essentially wiped out half the female population.