At least Zevon could see his lover. For months, since the accusations had first surfaced, Zevon and Christophe had been separated. For Zevon, it just angered him, creating a whirlwind of rage that only made him seem guilty. Christophe seemed to shrink within himself.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Zevon should have known the information Christophe had stumbled on was dangerous. Even worse, they had hidden their relationship from friends and colleagues, creating an air of secrecy that had nothing to do with corporate secrets.
In the hovervan, shackled as if they were dangerous animals, Zevon studied the man he’d loved for years. Christophe’s light brown hair was cut short, different than he'd worn it when he was free. His usually clear blue eyes were dull, almost dead. Had the guards hurt him? Zevon curled his hands into fists. Damn them. Damn them all.
Why hadn’t Christophe spoken to him? He wouldn’t even look Zevon in the eye. Did he blame Zevon for what had happened? Well, why not?
They’d met at a Vezera Christmas party three years earlier and immediately discovered parts of themselves they couldn’t share with anyone else. When had Christophe first knelt at Zevon’s feet? Somehow there hadn’t been a moment of shock, as if both of them knew this was what they sought.
Christophe was a male submissive. And in Nyral society, that dynamic was unacceptable. So they lied. If both of them had been switches, perhaps it would have gone unnoticed. But Christophe was a submissive to his bones. The Nyral population had no trouble with kink. But they were cruel to those men who were labeled as submissive by nature.
Christophe had always been able to hide his true self. Well, until he’d met Zevon. When they were together, Christophe couldn’t resist his need to surrender. Zevon had submissive tendencies he had difficulty accepting, and he certainly wasn’t the same kind of dom most of his friends were. The attraction between Christophe and Zevon had exploded into secret meetings, intense sessions, and hidden sex.
Had he created the atmosphere of secrecy around them or had Christophe? It didn’t matter. When Pavlik had needed a patsy for his dirty little practices, he found two idiots who everyone believed were liars.
Should Zevon have revealed the true nature of his relationship with Christophe? No. The fallout from that was no better than being sentenced to the Mistresses.
He blinked and tried to ignore the rock in his stomach. The Ball Breaker. He’d heard from a guard that he and Christophe had been sentenced to the most vicious, most hated Mistress on Nylar. Few had her reputation, and none had her track record.
So why was part of him tight with anticipation? He was a dominant male, but he had those moments with partners when he wished he was the bottom, taking that cleansing pain for himself. Well, he knew what would happen. He would be broken by the Mistress.
“This was my fault, Z.” Christophe finally spoke, and his voice was low and gritty, like he hadn’t been using his voice much.
“Shut up. It wasn’t.” Why couldn’t he speak comforting words? Why did he always growl his responses at this man he loved?
Those blue eyes, once so bright and filled with life, stared at him. “If it wasn’t for my...deviance--”
Zevon surged forward, forgetting the chains for a moment. They rattled and jerked. “Shut up, damn you!” He couldn’t stand the way Christophe’s gaze slid away. “It’s not deviant,” he insisted.
“My submissive nature is the secret that got us into this, Z. If I’d been braver or...” Christophe studied the floor of the hovervan.
“Pavlik is the only one to blame.” Zevon wanted to touch Christophe, to drive that sad, defeated expression from his lover's face. The dominant in Zevon was hungry for its submissive, and for the first time, he considered that he would never have Christophe again.
Mistress Ball Breaker would take that away from him.
He slumped against the side of the hovervan. He hadn’t been able to stop the inevitable accusations. Zevon had underestimated the ability of Pavlik to manipulate the vid streamers. Vezera led the way in defense inoculations against Blueshift Brotherhood bioweapons, and most Nyrals wouldn’t believe the company could have been involved in providing goods to the enemy. Christophe had believed justice would prevail since they were innocent.
But neither of them would throw the other one to the wolves by revealing the true nature of their “friendship.” Suspicion and righteous anger had carried public opinion against them. Zevon’s proof that Pavlik had been selling arms and weapons to the Blueshift Brotherhood, given to the council, was never revealed, and Zevon was called a liar by the members. The member he’d given the data stream to was absent from the council meeting where Zevon had been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.
Still, he’d have taken it as his due since he’d collected the information against a powerful man. But Christophe had been dragged into it. Granted, Christophe had been the one to come across the shipping anomalies that began Zevon’s hunt for the truth, but the man hadn’t deserved this.
Worry for Christophe rolled through him. What happened to male submissives sent to the Ball Breaker? Would she change the very nature of this man he loved?
He groaned and buried his head in his shackled hands.
Stars, Christophe wanted to touch Zevon, comfort him, protect him from the punishment he didn’t deserve. It was bad enough he could see dark bruises around his lover’s left eye and around his wrists. Christophe gritted his teeth. All his fault. Everything.
If he hadn’t been such a fucking coward, Zevon wouldn’t be facing this Mistress with the fearsome reputation. Christophe had been afraid to reveal what he was. All his dominant games were a joke, a pale comparison to the power of submission he found with Z.
Even now, in this sterile hovervan, facing punishment, he experienced the same pull to Zevon he’d felt the first time he’d shaken the man’s hand. Everything about Zevon made Christophewant to kneel, submit, yield his very soul.
Now that Zevon wasn’t studying him, he drank in the man he hadn’t seen for months. Black hair, dark eyes, polar opposite from Christophe in every way. The stubble on Zevon’s face only added to his dangerous demeanor. Only Christophe had been able to access and divert Zevon’s rage.
Bits and pieces of Zevon’s life that he’d shared had been treasures Christophe hoarded. His mother had died when he was eight, and his father had been broken by her passing. Zevon had done what he always did when faced with a crisis: he worked like a demon, his anger hot and volcanic beneath the surface.
Something primal and basic lay just out of Christophe’s reach when he and Zevon touched. Love had not been enough. Once, during a particularly intense session where Christophe wore stripes from a cat-o’-nine-tails, he had attempted to access that part of Zevon, the thing unresolved. But Zevon had deflected and disseminated.
Christophe loved him, believing foolishly that he would have all the time in the world to discover everything about him.
Now they faced the Ball Breaker. Christophe didn’t worry about himself. He was a male submissive. He loved to bend to the will of a dominant. For him this would be a freeing experience.
But what about Zevon? What would this do to him? Christophe realized it didn’t matter. If Z came out of this a broken man, Christophe would still love him.
If he could get rid of the guilt.
If he hadn’t come across the information that exposed the fact that Pavlik had been using the company as a cover for his destructive bid for power, Zevon never would have felt compelled to seek the truth.
And when Pavlik sought to destroy them, he went all the way. Somehow the man knew Christophe was a sub, a deviant male on Nylar, who had managed to camouflage his nature. Pavlik knew Zevon was a dominant, a man who would crumble beneath the lash of the Mistresses. And the asshole had made sure Christophe would be there to see it happen.
The vid streamers had covered the Ball Breaker’s “successes.” Mistress Andia Cyrus was famous for her ability to destroy the thing that made a dominant powerful. All the men he’d seen released by the Mistresses committed suicide or lived small, broken lives. Especially the men punished by this
Zevon finally glanced at Christophe. “Stop worrying about me.”
“There has to be a way--”
“There isn’t.” Zevon shifted his weight and glanced at the camera. Christophe still wasn’t used to the constant surveillance, but Zevon had worked in a sensitive part of Vezera.
It was hard to think of himself as a criminal. He still thought of himself as an employee of Vezera, as Zevon’s lover, as a productive member of society. Maybe it was because he hadn’t had a real hearing in front of the council. Maybe it was because he’d never been allowed to defend himself.
There was no hope now.
“At least--” He shut his mouth. How selfish was he? To think that he was happy, relieved that Pavlik thought Christophe should watch Zevon be punished by a Mistress. They were together.
“What?” Zevon demanded in that voice, the one that made Christophe hard as a rock.
“At least we’re together.” He lifted his gaze and met those dark eyes that knew him, had loved him, had suffered for him. “I was miserable every second we were apart.”
Zevon’s chains rattled when he made an involuntary lunge toward Christophe. “Two months, four days, and five hours.”
Christophe blinked. Stars, he hated that they couldn’t touch, couldn’t spend their last few moments before they faced their punishment in each other’s arms.
He studied this man carefully. Even though Christophe knew Zevon loved him, there had always been a caution, a part of himself he held back.
Two months hadn’t broken him. But what would this woman do? “Zevon, we have to make a plan.”
Fire burned in Zevon’s onyx eyes. “I have a plan.”
Christophe widened his eyes. “You do?”
“I’m going to get the fuck out of here, and then I’m going to kill that bastard,” he snarled.
Some plan. Christophe took deep breaths. He had to think of a way to save his lover, the man he didn’t want to live without. Clearly Zevon wasn’t going to think rationally.
The hovervan came to an abrupt stop. Shit, they were here.
Christophe almost fell off his bench when the wall restraints were released suddenly. When the back of the vehicle opened, the guard said nothing but motioned with his laser rifle for them to get out.
He followed Zevon’s lead, keeping his head lowered and his hands in front of him. Apparently Zevon had learned hard lessons in the time he’d been incarcerated.
They dropped from the back of the hovervan onto a snow-crusted driveway. When Christophe glanced up, he couldn’t help staring.
For some reason, he’d thought the conclave would be a sterile building, white and gleaming, the guardian of civilization. Instead the place was an ancient castle made of gray and black stone. It rose out of the mountainside like a looming monster, dark, forbidding.
Windows, rectangular and sheltered from his vision by their deep recesses, dotted huge spires that reached to the gray clouds, seeming to point to the sky like an accusing finger.
Snow covered the flat top of the curtain wall surrounding the outside of the edifice. The sound of metal squealing caught his attention, and he glanced behind him. They’d crossed a drawbridge that connected the mountain road to the conclave.
Everything about the conclave reminded him of an impenetrable fortress. The bridge they traversed crossed a bottomless gorge. The conclave itself had no color, no softness about it. Cliffs dropped off every side except behind the building, which was dominated by a massive peak that loomed over the conclave like a silent guardian.
No plan that consisted of “getting the fuck out of here” was going to work. Panic began to rise in Christophe’s throat, and he had to fight it down. Perhaps he could access the security systems to escape, but that would require trust from his new captor, and he didn’t think that would happen. At least not without losing a piece of himself.
But he wasn’t sure he wanted to escape, and that thought made the fear shoot through his veins.
“Move,” one of the guards snapped and prodded them forward.
The snow was cold on his feet when they sank in the drifts in front of the main building. Everything was so quiet, so lonely here.
“Are there other prisoners here?” he asked.
The second guard, apparently less surly, answered him. “No, it’s Christmas. Most of the Mistresses take their time off then.” He grinned, a death’s mask. “But not your Mistress. She’s dedicated.”
Why didn’t that frighten him? It should. Christophe should be shaking in his shoes. Instead, something tripped along his nerves, something like anticipation and impatience. He probably should have been shocked by his reaction, but it all felt inevitable.
The guards marched them up stone steps and through a large wooden door. Inside were two women. One look and Christophe knew neither of them was the infamous Ball Breaker.
The older one, wrinkled skin and a sour expression on her face, pointed a long, bony finger at him. “You! This way.”
“Before you leave,” the other woman commented casually as if they were at a dinner party. “Show him, Mya.”
The older woman moved and was a blur. One minute she was there, the next, she had a knife at his dick. “In case you had thoughts of trying anything stupid.”
He examined her closely. The woman had faded blue eyes and a mole on her left cheek. “Enhanced?” he managed to ask.
She grinned. “More than that. The Mistresses’ Guard is a special breed. We are generations in the making. And for generations, our secrets have been kept.”
Zevon hadn’t spoken a word. The younger guard shoved him forward, and he stumbled to his knees. Christophe lunged forward. The older woman gripped him around his neck, and Christophe struggled for breath.
The woman’s voice was gritty and harsh in his ear. “The sooner you learn that you have no power here, the sooner you will reach your destiny.”
He met her gaze, the moment charged with something strange he couldn’t understand. Her expression, insistent and dominant, only mesmerized him. Fear was there, but that was only part of it.
She drove him to his knees. Christophe bent his head and glanced at Zevon. The sight of his lover, defiant and strong even as the younger woman crowded him, was inspiring.
Casually the younger woman slapped Zevon. “Eyes down.”
Blood oozed from Zevon’s mouth. Christophe, tense and trembling, kept still by force of will.
Deliberately Zevon took a deep breath and raised his gaze. The younger woman smiled, a slight lift of her lips that terrified Christophe.
“No!” he shouted when he saw Zevon’s guard produce a shockstick. She jammed it into Zevon’s gonads, and the man’s neck snapped back, but he refused to make a sound.
Christophe lunged forward again, breaking the old woman’s hold, and broke the connection of the shockstick to Zevon’s skin. He hit the floor and turned to find both women loomed over him.
The pain when the shockstick jammed into his stomach was incredible. He bit his tongue and grunted. Stars, fuck, it hurt. His whole body felt like it was on fire. He jerked like invisible strings yanked on his limbs.
Unconsciousness was a blessing.