Sons of Tallav

Trey: Son of Tallav
Rand: Son of Tallav
Maon: Marshal of Tallav

Trey: Son of Tallav

She’s the opposite he can’t resist.

Trey Johannsen’s preference is to stick to managing a private club on Beta Tau. It’s dark. It’s sexy. The cries of pleasure, the thud of a flogger, and the mingled scents of arousal and fear are evidence he’s damn good at it.

So when his boss insists Trey’s perfect for assisting a new hire to develop a cabaret, Trey is nonplussed. How the hell do you make burlesque accurately represent the lifestyle? Then he meets her, and instant attraction has him imagining peeling her clothes off, tying her to a bed, and sinking into her until she can take no more.

He’s determined to make her his own despite differences that could thrust them into bitter conflict.

A lust-inducing man isn’t on Patsy O’Shaughnessy’s shopping list. Her commitment to refuse his overtures, they’ll be coworkers after all, slides into oblivion. She’s got a lot on her plate, but dessert never hurt a girl. Especially when the dessert is built like a Celtic warrior of old, lacking only the kilt and sword.

This is the 4th and final book in the Sons of Tallav series.

Publisher: Hot Sauce Publishing

Chapter 1

It hadn’t occurred to Trey that LS Quantum and Beta Tau were two sides of the same coin. Sure, LS Quantum was a spaceship, and Beta Tau was a planet. But he’d read the LS Quantum’s brochures, and in every other respect they were the same large, climate-controlled settings designed to provide trendsetting pleasure venues to paying customers and entertainment for all ages and palates, including his own kinky tastes.


The insight came when a middle-aged woman eased alongside him, brushing her shoulder against his and asking if he was headed to the LS Quantum and if so, where his cabin was located on the ship. Her skimpy halter, skintight slacks, and the bright pink hair she was sporting did nothing to enhance her appeal. This was Beta Tau all over. The glare he aimed at her didn’t force her to step back. Good gods! I’d be at Quantum’s shuttle service gate if Patsy O’Shaughnessy hadn’t insisted on meeting me here. He scanned the customers of the bland space station lounge. No. Still on my own.

An expert at fending off tourists on Beta Tau, he’d offer to take them to the club, tie them up, and use a bullwhip on them. Most scurried away. He handed anyone who accepted his proposition over to staff at the club. Bondage was part of his personal kink, but he preferred to use a flogger. The whip was the specialty of the Whip Hand’s owner, Randolph Meryon, Trey’s boss.

The neon-haired tourist ran a finger down his upper arm. “Maybe we could get together on board? I’ve heard bald men are really good in bed.”

When he dropped his gaze to where she’d touched him, the woman tittered. Eyes narrowed, he leveled his full focus on her. “Sure. If you’re into knife play, I might be able accommodate you. I’d have to ask my girlfriend. She’s the one who does the cutting.” He followed his words with a feral grin.

The tourist turned pale. “No thanks.” She scuttled back to her friends who’d been watching the exchange. Wide-eyed, they left the lounge, several looking back over their shoulders to get another glance at him.

With a grimace, he settled in to wait. This wasn’t a vacation, and he wasn’t a tourist. Nor was he on his way to Quantum, away from his normal haunts on Beta Tau, to indulge in BDSM. No, he had undertaken this two-week-long trek in his capacity as the Whip Hand’s private club manager. Rand had hired a young woman to open and run a new venue on Beta Tau based on the Cosmic Cabaret, one of the famous attractions on LS Quantum. After getting firsthand experience of the cabaret’s shows, Trey was to provide his BDSM expertise to tailor O’Shaughnessy’s plans.

Crazy idea. At least I didn’t have to travel economy class and spend my nights in a sleep tube. Rand had paid for a cabin that, although small, had allowed Trey to escape most human interaction for the two weeks he’d been aboard the space liner, sleeping, reading, meditating, and sleeping some more. Perhaps his reintroduction into the hum and clatter of humanity after his break had him on edge.

No perhaps about it. He was ready to bellow at the entire spaceport to shut up. Life would be so much better if half the population were fitted with ball gags.

Here he was, per Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s request, and she was not to be found. He eyeballed the entrance, considering whether he should head over to the gate to wait for his shuttle, when a shock of color came flying into the lounge. The slender woman, dressed in a bright, grass-green sleeveless blouse and short skirt, skidded to a halt. Splashed across her face was a wide grin as brilliant as the lime green that tipped the ends of her copper hair. She was looking straight at him. This must be Patsy O’Shaughnessy. With a wave she headed for him.

“Hi. Sorry I’m late. Ya wouldn’t believe the crush of folks leavin’ Quantum today. I’m Patsy. Trey Johansson. Right? Mr. Meryon sent your picture, so I recognized ya. Although I don’t expect there’s many men that look quite like ya.”

When she paused for a breath, Trey inserted a few words into her verbal onslaught. “Yes. I am.”

“I’m excited to meet ya. And to work with ya. I have so many plans I can’t wait to share. Our shuttle back to Q—that’s LS Quantum for short—boards in about fifteen minutes. We have time for a quick drink if ya’d like, or we could head to the gate. I could use a drink. Dashin’ around.” She waved her hand in the air. “I’m so thirsty now. I’m gettin’ an orange fizzy. What would ya like?”

Pleasant expression on her face, Patsy waited for a response.

“Oh, uh. Sure, I’ll have what you’re having.”

“Be right back.” She twirled and headed toward the bar.

Wow. That accent sounded Irish. And not Tallavan faux Irish. Light complexion, freckles, copper hair, wearing green…stereotype, sure, but damn, if she wasn’t Irish, he’d eat a whole pan of fried blood pudding. Something he hadn’t tasted in a long time. Fried eggs, tomatoes, white-and-black pudding. A full Irish breakfast like his mother made better than any other cook on Tallav. He missed his folks and his mother’s cooking, but Tallav would never be his home. Even if he’d been a member of the aristocracy, he would have left the Tallavan matriarchy in the dust as he had the moment he was of age.

“Here ya go.” Patsy handed him a large disposable cup and took a long drink from her own. “Ah. That was what I needed. I had cobwebs in my throat.”

Trey tipped his cup back and swallowed three gulps of the sweet orange liquid and remembered why he never drank fizzies. The carbonation bubbled up his nose. He pinched his nostrils, squinched his eyes shut, and waited for the burn to abate.

“Got fizz up your nose, did ya? Ya should drink more slowly if ya can’t handle the sparkly. I never have a problem. My whole system’s plumbed with synthsteel.”

Was this slip of a girl offering him advice as though he were some— “My delicate feckin’ nose thanks ya for the interest in its well-bein’.”

With blue eyes aglow, she leaned toward him. “Think nothin’ of it. An féidir leat labhairt le haon Gealic chun dul leis sin blas na hÉireann?”

Sarcasm was lost on Patsy O’Shaughnessy. “It’s not an Irish accent. I’m from Tallav, which was infected with a fanatic love of all things from the Emerald Isle when the planet was founded. I never had the time to learn Gaelic, but many Tallavans do.”

“Standard it is then. We have somethin’ in common. I’m proper Irish. Erin go Bragh. ‘Tis a pity ya don’t speak Gaelic. I don't get to speak it this far from home. Oh, goodness. We need to head over to the gate. Our shuttle will be boardin’ soon.”

On the way out of the lounge, Trey dumped his fizzy in the trash receptacle. Patsy was ahead of him by a couple of strides, so he had a full view of the subtle twitch her ass made while she walked. Nice. From her employment records he had gleaned that she was thirty years old, although she looked younger. That fell within his range, five years either side of his own age, for women he would date. But Patsy O’Shaughnessy was off-limits despite her engaging effervescence. This was a business relationship. For the next two-and-a-half weeks, they’d be working together. Besides, whether she’d kissed the Blarney Stone or not, the woman could talk. By the end of a day spent with her, he’d need to escape to his own room. Plus he didn’t do vanilla. Patsy wasn’t bland, but neither did she scream kinky despite her association with Cosmic Cabaret and now Randolph and the Whip Hand.

Still, he could look. He’d never been drawn to big-busted women, but a tight bottom was a delight to behold. And touch. Squeeze. Slap. He heaved a sigh. Too bad. He’d already plastered a don’t-touch sign across her miniskirted bum.

*  *  *

Trey Johansson was every bit as good-looking and well-built as Patsy expected. But she hadn’t been prepared for the sheer size of the man. He towered over her. And muscles! Her fingers wouldn’t reach around his biceps.

She’d researched Randolph Meryon’s home planet, Tallav, to prepare for her job interview. It was a surprise to learn that Trey, or Master Trey as he was called at the Whip Hand, was also from Tallav. He was a BDSM master. A tingle flittered the length of her spine. He’d been sent to gain firsthand knowledge of the Cosmic Cabaret to help her with reinterpreting it for a BDSM venue.

The name hadn’t been chosen yet. Her preference was to include cabaret. Beyond that she hadn't come up with anything catchy if Rand asked for her advice. Trey’s other task ought to assist with that. He was to teach her about BDSM. How he would approach that was the big question. Would he want to initiate her into the BDSM lifestyle or only explain the different aspects of kink and fetish? How far should she let him go if he wanted to make his lessons more real?

A quick glance over her shoulder assured her every inch of the giant with piercing deep brown eyes was following her to the shuttle gate. Oh my gosh, he’s checking out my ass. Her cheeks heated. Why oh why did she have to have pale skin that showed even the slightest blush? Why couldn’t she have been born with dark amber skin like the delectable man behind her? Pull it together, girl. It’s a guy thing. Their eyes are naturally drawn to tits and ass.

An announcement stated boarding for their shuttle flight would commence in five minutes. Inside the gate seating area, Patsy turned to face Trey. “We have a few more minutes. Shall we sit, and ya can double-check that your bags have been loaded.”

Trey pulled a hand-comm from his pants pocket, held it to his ear, and made the call to the automated baggage handling system. After assuring the comm was off, he put it away.

“Ya use a hand-comm? Ya don’t see many people that do. I’d probably lose one, so my internal comm is a true blessin’. I don’t know how people lived in the past without an EBC. All my data is there at the tip of my thoughts. I was told everyone received nanite injections to build their internal server when they were infants.”

“I’m not a fan of tech. I like to keep things simple.”

Trey Johansson was even more intriguing than she’d imagined. “So, ya don’t have an EBC. Where do ya store information? How do ya know when someone is tryin’ to contact ya? Goodness. How do ya exist without bein’ able to connect with governmental systems? Bankin’ systems? Will there be a problem boardin’?” Why hadn’t he or Mr. Meryon told her this?

“Stop.” Trey narrowed his eyes and raised his hand. “Stop. Let me answer one question at a time.” In the pause that followed, Trey raised an eyebrow.

Oh, he wants me to acknowledge him. “Yes. Understood.”

A flush of pleasure went through her when he smiled. “Good girl. I have an EBC. Every child on Tallav receives one. I use it when necessary. My work-related data is kept on servers like most of yours is. You access it through your EBC. I use a vidscreen.” He patted his pocket. “My hand-comm signals me when I have a message. It tracks callers, just like your internal comm. I don’t like cluttering my mind. It destroys inner peace.”

He dropped his chin and looked at her as though he were expecting her to say something. But for a change she kept quiet. Her thoughts were bustling with everything she had learned about this man. That good girl was patronizing but so very BDSM master–like, especially coming from a hunk of handsome with a voice like smooth dark chocolate. She’d liked it. File that away for future reference on female reactions to Doms.

Into the lapse in conversation Trey said, “My luggage is loaded.”

“Oh, good. We’re all set then.”

Silence dropped between them again. Patsy was relieved when the gate announcer gave them the go-ahead to board. Behind her, Trey placed his palm on her lower back, guiding her through the other passengers who were standing and collecting their carry-on bags. The instant his hand spanned her back, its warmth and size made the hairs on her arms rise. Please let the feckin’ man offer me hands-on BDSM lessons. She’d kill to see him naked, but it had to be his idea, his suggestion. This job was the break she’d been waiting on, and she wouldn’t botch it by coming on to a fellow employee.

On board, they found their seats and were settling in when a group of ladies, one with neon-pink hair, passed them. Each one stared at Trey and then Patsy as they hugged the far side of the aisle as closely as possible and scooted by. The woman in back nudged her companion to hurry when Patsy smiled at them.

Trey grunted. Patsy turned to look at him. He had a smirk on his face.

“Do ya know them? They looked like they’d seen a ghost and were runnin’ for water.”


He continued to grin, but Patsy didn't see what was funny. His next statement didn't clear things up.

“They must not favor green.”

“Afraid of green. That’s not after bein’ a real phobia.”

“It is. Prasinophobia. Fear of the color green.”

“That’s a funny thing to know. You’re not afraid of green, are ya?”

“Would I be sitting here if I were?” He pointedly trailed his gaze over her. “One of the classes at the Opio Institute where I worked covered the use of fear by sadists. You can make someone fear any color if you condition them to it.”

The Opio Institute. That was the sex school where he’d trained dominants and submissives. “Doesn’t sound like fun to me.”

Trey chuckled. “I didn’t figure you for a sadist.”

“Er.” The man had a way of throwing her off stride.

“It wouldn’t be fun for me either. But fear of color can be used by a sexual sadist to get a satisfying response from his play partner.”

“Remind me to stay away from sexual sadists.”

Another chuckle. “It’s going to be difficult avoiding your new boss.”

Patsy blushed and furrowed her brow. “I forgot he’s one of those.”

Trey’s expression became enigmatic. “Don’t worry. You’d have to play with him to experience that side of his personality.”

Sweet mother Mary. I’ll not head that direction. “I’ll be dead and my ashes scattered before that happens.”

Heated intensity bloomed in Trey’s gaze. “Good.”

Oh Lord, I’m in for it now.


Rand: Son of Tallav

Two shamed souls, a mutual enemy and an attraction they can't control...

Randolph Meryon is a man no woman can resist despite the whip he brandishes. Compelled to return home after his sister’s death, he struggles to fit new responsibilities into the hedonistic lifestyle he prefers to live. It’s a task he finds difficult enough without adding in the tangle of unanswered questions his sister has left behind and the sugar-cookie sweet nanny caring for his niece. He hasn’t had a taste of sweet in a very long time.

Jen O'Malley, shunned by her family, struggles to find work without their backing, meeting barriers wherever she turns. A position as nanny with the scandal-riddled Meryons seems like a lifeline. She’s relieved until she arrives and becomes enmeshed in a web of intrigue, unable to discern the identity of the spider at the center.

Also available in 6"x 9" trade paperback at Amazon.

Publisher: Hot Sauce Publishing

Briarcliff, Tallav

The slender slice of moon did little to light the edge of the cliff, over which the desperate bleating of a lamb sounded. Rhiannon, Tallav’s second moon, had yet to rise and brighten the night sky. Why the gardener’s boy sought Penny out on the patio rather than running to get the overseer, she didn’t question. He was a child and probably ran for the nearest adult. Peering over, she could make out a patch of dirty white caught in a bush. At least the lamb had slid into the branches, it’s fall blocked from the vertical plunge of the cliff to the river below.


How had it gotten here? The early lambs weren’t old enough to be out of the lambing shed, which was nowhere near the cliff. She slid carefully down the slight grade of the rim and tried to calm the animal while she waited for help to arrive. She’d sent the boy on to the overseer with a request to bring rope.

Careful to stay out of range of the lamb’s thrashing, she spoke to it in gentle, crooning tones. The animal quieted, no longer flailing but still bleating plaintively. The creamy tan color of the lamb’s body was more difficult to see in the dark, but the face, white with black speckles, stood out. To her horror, she noticed one of those dark marks was in the shape of a heart. This was the orphan lamb the overseer had allowed Sophie to help feed. That lamb was bedded down every night by the overseer himself in the enclosure built next to his office in the main barn. Someone had to have brought this lamb out here. She’d damn well find out as soon as she rescued it from its precarious predicament.

Above her, loose rock skittered with the sound of someone descending. She tipped her head back and shouted, “Don’t come down. Just drop the end of the rope.”

“We won’t need a rope.”

The low, throaty words confused her. That wasn’t the overseer. She lost sight of the darkened form above her when she sat up to roll over on the clumps of rock and grass beneath her to get a better look. A solid thud struck her back, sending pain lancing along her spine and around her rib cage. The lamb renewed its thrashing when she slid into it, knocking it backward. Squealing in terror, it tumbled out of view.

Heart pumping, Penny windmilled in a futile attempt to keep from falling forward. She straddled the bush with her legs, the sharp ends of broken stems lacerating her exposed face and hands, snagging in the long-sleeved pajamas she wore. For an instant, her momentum stopped. In desperation she clamped her fists onto the bush’s base, ignoring the sting of abrasions.

A second strike from her assailant’s booted foot hit her high to one side of her backbone.

Something snapped inside.

Pain flooded her shoulder.

Jarred forward, she began a slow-motion tumble headfirst over the bush.

Fingers and palms tore while branches slid through her grasp until the strain on her good shoulder from the somersault forced her to let go.

Oh God. I’m falling. Sophie. Oh God. I can’t die and leave Sophie.

Her temple struck a jutting rock, and darkness claimed her.

Above, a figure scrambled to the top of the cliff, humming a cheery tune. The wordless melody stopped at the sound of someone rushing toward the precipice. By the time the overseer arrived, the spot was empty. No lamb. No Penny. Just moonlight casting the side of the cliff in shadow in the waning heat from a late summer day. With an exclamation of frustration and an oath that he’d see to that boy for pulling pranks, the overseer left.

It wasn’t until the next day, when no one could find Penny, that the overseer mentioned his fruitless trip to the cliff edge. Her body lay on the rocks, half in and half out of the river. Officially she was a casualty of misadventure.

* * * *

The Whip Hand, Beta Tau

Randolph stroked the disheveled softness of Eva’s hair before firmly gripping the back of her neck. “You did very well, Eva.” A shudder and sob were her only response. The time he’d spent with Eva over the last week had been a refreshing change from the business expansion consuming him for over a year. Although he might not have taken on Eva’s remedial training if her master hadn’t been a member of the Beta Tau board of directors.

Her body writhed when he drew a finger over the marks he’d left on her back. One or two spots were seeping blood. He swirled the tip in the fluid before scraping his nail across the abrasion. The sight of Eva, arms shackled above her head, undulating before him, sent a jolt of pleasure through him.

“Your master doesn’t hurt you often, Eva. Perhaps that’s why you believed you could manipulate him. He brought you to me to break that habit.”

“Yes, Sir.” A whimper escaped her lips.

Randolph threaded his fingers into her hair and pulled her head back, noting the tears inching down her cheek. “This is our last session before I return you to your master. The pain you’ve experienced was not a punishment. You’ve learned your lesson and learned it well.” He brushed his finger through the damp trail on her face. “This was for me. Your tears are your gift to me. I’m a sadist, Eva. I enjoy hurting you. But I haven’t taken you over the edge of what you could bear. If your master sends you again, I will break you. Do you understand?”

“Unnnhhh.” The sound flew from her.

Randolph jostled her head. “Say you understand.”

“I understand, Sir.” The words came out with a squeak.

“Good,” he said, unwinding his fingers from her hair. He allowed the chain attached to her shackles to lengthen with a flick of his wrist before again engaging the locking mechanism. Gripping both her hips, he pulled her back until she was bent before him. He smacked her bottom. “Do not come. Your orgasms belong to your master. Correct?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Say it,” he ground out.

“My orgasms belong to my master.”

Randolph stepped away, allowing her master to step forward and take over. He didn’t watch the happy reunion when he exited the scene. He made his way to his office, brushing his fingertips through his neatly trimmed smoky brown hair. His cock had gone semihard, but Eva wasn’t his type and she wasn’t his. If she were, he would have taken her much deeper before fucking her.

His type. He had to smirk at that. His type hadn’t really been doing it for him lately. Probably the stress, which in theory should be diminishing. The addition of a private play space to his new suite had been a gift to himself a long time in coming. He’d finally indulged himself. The combination of play space, office, and apartment allowed him a level of privacy he’d never had. Perfect on days like today when he was too tired to face the onslaught of those seeking a personal moment with the celebrity owner and top sadist of the Whip Hand. He rarely entered the main play floors anymore, so when he did, the clamor was more strident.

After keying open his office door, he strode to the bar and a bottle of high-priced bourbon, pouring himself two fingers. He settled into his desk chair, downed a swallow of the liquor, and set the glass on the black coaster that protected his expensive desk.

He leaned back, eyes closed, waiting for the ripples of the chair adjusting to end, and then tapped the button that started his personal massage program. Heat soothed his tired back before the chair switched to a gentle overall kneading. A wince tightened his face when it began pummeling the knots in his shoulders.

The yearlong renovation had included an upgrade to the Whip Hand’s business offices. His new office was larger, including a sitting area and many other luxuries that put his old one with a desk and two chairs to shame. This desk was a work of art. The surface was black and white ebony inlay over black ebony. Its thick legs and panels were carved reliefs of tormented bodies struggling to free themselves from the wood. It made an impression on anyone who entered the room.

Yet he preferred his old office. Except for this chair. His old office with this chair would be just right, but the Whip Hand had evolved light-years beyond its original concept.

The expansion and renovation moved it well past its simpler days when he’d spent as much time on the floor as in his office. Now, a week could pass without him ever setting foot in any of the club’s venues. He’d passed oversight of the club’s subs to Tom. He was good at the job, but doing so still gave Randolph the sense that he’d allowed something to slip away.

As the chair resumed the previous gentle kneading, he realized what he missed: the immediacy. His own whip demos and playtime on the floor had evaporated, replaced by more and more meetings. Damn, he was a stodgy businessman now.

The chair’s program ended. Randolph drained the glass of bourbon and was about to retire to his apartment, shower, and climb in bed. When he sat forward, the red light that signaled an emergency comm winked at him from the touch bar on his desk. He sighed and brought up the message viewer. His forehead creased when he noted the comm was from his mother. Tabbed open, the static image showed her, shoulders drooped, no makeup, face puffy, and eyes red.

Randolph’s chest tightened. The last time he’d received a message with his mother looking this distraught was when she’d announced she was divorcing his father. He touched the start button.

“Randolph. I have bad news. Dear, I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll… Your sister died. She was trying to save a lamb. She fell from the cliff above the river.” Tears streamed down her face. “It’s awful, Rand. She lay there all night.” She reached for a tissue offscreen and blew her nose. “Please come home as soon as you can. We’ve had her cremated. The memorial service will be held when you arrive.” Pain was written in every line of her face. “Please, I need you here. I need you to stay.”

Stunned, a lump forming in his throat, Randolph sat immobile, unable to assimilate what he had heard. Penny couldn’t be dead. Both his beloved sister and nemesis, she, more than any other person, had driven him away from home, family… Tallav. How could the avenging angel, the destroyer of his life, be dead?

A replay of his mother’s comm did little to answer the questions swirling in his mind. She fell from the cliff? A ripple of nausea hit him. Fuck all. Penny knew the cliffs along the river at Briarcliff too well to have fallen from them. Not until he’d replayed the message a third time did he apprehend his mother’s last statement. Come? He would absolutely come. But stay? His mother just needed to get her feet under her. No way would he stay on Tallav longer than required to help her settle his sister’s affairs.

His fingers drifted to rub the inscribed heart on the pewter bead tied to his wrist by a leather cord. Penny was dead. It wasn’t possible. Someone so full of bullheaded life couldn’t die. Not the sister he’d never stopped loving even through the slinging vitriol they’d both flung at each other over the last twenty-one years. The sister who clung to distorted facts. Refused to listen each and every time he’d tried to reconcile. She couldn’t be gone. The hope he’d clung to that his big sister would once again be his best friend couldn’t be shattered. Every bitter word he’d spoken to her in anger hammered at him. If only…

He dropped forward, head in his hands, while searing pain flooded his soul.


Maon: Marshal of Tallav

Maon Keefe has always been told he’s doomed to fail as a husband. He decides never to marry, instead focusing on living life as a player and becoming a capable marshal of Tallav. When he is shot and the most-wanted criminal he’s escorting escapes, he fears that his career, his one success in life, is doomed. Assigned to ferret out the cause of missing shipments for a VIP aristocrat, he meets Selina Shirley, CEO of the House of Shirley. He finds himself inexplicably attracted to her despite her frumpy appearance. When he meets a hooded and masked scorching-hot Domme, Lasair, at his friend’s BDSM club, he’s torn between the two women. Both fire his imagination and call to his submissive nature. Either might be the woman to change him into successful husband material.

Selina Shirley organizes her life like she organizes her business, taking control of all aspects of each. She’s concluded that she must marry to get an heir and that her future husband must be totally submissive. Mentored by the sector’s most famous sadist, she learns what it takes to be a proper Domme. Then, hidden behind a hood and mask as Lasair, she meets Maon and her instant attraction to his full submission at the BDSM club leads her to break her own rules and become involved with him. But he’s also the marshal assigned to investigate thefts at her company. When his broad streak of protective alpha male comes into play, it obvious he’s not a 24/7 submissive. To stick to her plan to marry the perfect husband, she must ignore her heart and dump Maon.

Also available in 6"x 9" trade paperback at Amazon.

Publisher: Hot Sauce Publishing

Sector Chief Davis motioned for Maon to follow him. “It’s good to have you back on duty.”

“Thank you, sir. Glad to be back.”

“This assignment shouldn’t be difficult. Shipments missing. Possible embezzlement. Ordinarily we wouldn’t assign a marshal. Let the local authorities deal with it. But it involves the Shirley family. Discretion and diplomacy are essential.”

“Understood, sir.” Maon opened the door to the conference room and waved Davis inside. Maon’s jaw clenched. The rest of his career assigned to busywork stretched before him in agonizing stultification. Doomed to pander to the rich and famous; at least his charm would be useful. He was never going to be selected for data analysis if he was given cases like this. This was worse than prisoner transfer. With a roll of his shoulders, he plastered a friendly smile on his face before he entered.


The two women seated at the long dark table were the antithesis of each other. The dull government-issue furnishings were brightened by the older woman. Dressed in a flamboyant print jacket and slacks, she was decked in enough jewelry for two women. Her fingers were laden with rings, and multiple necklaces staggered down her bright blue blouse. Inquisitive eyes snapped to Maon.

The younger one looked familiar. Where had he seen her? Not Tallav. No. Sack Girl from Beta Tau. Today she wore a shapeless gray jumper over a lighter gray ribbed turtleneck. He wasn’t certain, but it looked like her nostrils flared when he focused on her. Mother and daughter. What a pair.

Davis said, “Ladies, I’d like to introduce you to the marshal who will handle your case. This is Marshal Maon Keefe. Marshal Keefe, Audrina Shirley and her daughter, Selina Shirley.”

Maon held out his hand. “Nice to meet you both.”

Audrina responded palm down, fingers curled. Maon realized she expected him to kiss it, so he complied. When he turned to the daughter, he intended to do the same, but she refused to turn her hand, allowing him to take her fingertips in a weak shake. He gave her a half smile. Her head jerked to the side when she snatched her hand away. Maon bit back a chuckle. Timid little thing. If he had to do VIP duty, at least it might prove entertaining.

Sector Chief Davis settled into a seat. “I’ve assigned Marshal Keefe to your case because he has the skills needed to get to the bottom of the problems you’ve been experiencing. Keefe, I’ve sent you all the pertinent files. You should have all the access codes you’ll need. Warrants have already been obtained, authorizing you to search the records of the different companies and individuals involved. You’ll find those in the folder.”

Maon accessed the information on his tablet. “Yes, sir. It’s all here.”

“Excellent.” Davis clapped his hands together. “I understand the ladies have additional facts, so I’ll leave you to get on with things.” With as much haste as he could politely get away with, he rose, shook each lady’s hand, and left.

As soon as the door had closed, Audrina shifted forward in her chair. “Marshal Keefe…Maon. May I call you Maon?” She fluttered her eyelashes at him.

“Yes, ma’am. That would be fine.” Maon fixed an amused gaze on her.

“Please, call me Audrina.” She let her gaze drift slowly down Maon’s body until the view was blocked by the table.

Maon scratched the corner of his mouth, working hard not to laugh outright. “With pleasure, Audrina.”

Audrina preened. “Maon, I’m not really sure why we are here. Selina is making a fuss over nothing. These things have been happening for years. It’s part of business. Katerina is one of our oldest employees. She’s like family. The idea she could steal from us is ludicrous.”

While Audrina had been having her say, Selina’s face tensed, her lips pressing together. “Mother. Normal companies do not have the kinds of problems you have. The shipments lost over the last five years have been worth hundreds of thousands of credits. As business manager, Katerina never attempted to solve the problem. She just wrote off the expenses.”

“Now dear, Maon will get the idea I’m not professional.”

“Oh, Mother. Don’t be upset. Creativity is your strength. Without you, the House of Shirley wouldn’t exist.” She sighed when Audrina turned her face away.

SELINA HADN’T WANTED to distress her mother, but this had to be investigated. If Dad were here, he would handle this, keeping her mother unaware until and unless measures had to be taken. Dad was gone, and Selina didn’t have his deft touch when her mother got emotional.

The marshal, Maon Keefe—why did it have to be him?—directed his next question at her. “You’ve had additional shipments go missing?”

Keep it businesslike. This is one itch you cannot scratch…shouldn’t even be thinking of scratching. “Yes. Three. A shipment of evening gowns for Hampton in the Sympallan Drift. Swimwear to a boutique on Beta Tau. And the samples for the new line we are manufacturing on Qingdao in the Bing Lon Sector. The Qingdao delivery had security tracking devices which were deactivated while the package was waiting in a transshipment warehouse on Tollonia.” Selina scowled, locking onto Maon’s navy-blue eyes. A hint of something like the rays of a star sapphire flashed from them, sending a spark straight at her. Damn. She dropped her gaze, fixating on the table. Maybe he’d think she was shy or one of those Tallavan women who disliked men. It didn’t matter as long as he didn’t discern her attraction to him and didn’t connect her to the Whip Hand.

She flicked her gaze up for a moment. Maon was tapping his steepled index fingers to his lips.

“Hmm… Ladies, I’ll need access to your source records. A forensic accountant may be needed, but first I want to check for patterns in your lost shipments. It sounds like this is a long-term problem. With enough data points, I’ll be able to make useful interpolations.”

Her gaze still focused on the table in front of her, Selina mindlessly twiddled a button on her jacket. “Our headquarters is here. In Cahernamon. You’ll receive complete access.” When she realized what her fingers were doing, she dropped her hand to her lap, lifted her chin, and stared straight at Maon. “You will report your findings to me. Katerina does not know we are looking into the finances, just the missing shipments. Please be discreet with her and anyone else you come in contact with inside or out of the House of Shirley. We have a reputation to uphold. Scandal is unacceptable. Are we clear?”

Maon’s body stiffened at her words; his fingers gripped and released the edge of the table. “Yes, Ms. Shirley. I hear, and I obey.” He locked his gaze on hers, and when she didn’t look away, he grinned. “I think we’ll work well together.”

Selina slowly leaned forward, offering her hand, her brow furrowing the tiniest bit. “Good. I’ll expect you tomorrow morning.” It was clear she’d have to be direct and to the point to discourage Marshal Keefe’s penchant for flirting.

Maon took Selina’s hand, keeping it pressed between the warmth of his fingers and palm. His clasp was firm but gentle as though he’d tempered his strength while exerting the exact amount of pressure that would please Selina. “Why not this afternoon? I’ll go over the case file and meet you at thirteen? Or we could do lunch together?”

With a jerk, Selina pulled from his grasp. Gods, what was she thinking? He was not tailoring his actions to suit her. Nor did she want him to, except where this case was concerned. What was wrong with her? Now he was looking at her with a pleased, almost smug expression that made her nostrils flare and her cheeks, already warm, heat further.

Audrina chose that moment to join the conversation again. “Lunch would be lovely.” Her fingers brushed Selina’s arm when she asked, “Don’t you think so, dear?”

“Mother, you may lunch with the marshal, but I’m much too busy.” She flashed a glare of warning. Then she redirected her gaze to Maon. “I’m sure the marshal understands.”

Maon flourished a cheerful grin. “I’d be delighted to take you to lunch, Audrina. Where would you like to eat?”

Audrina swayed in her chair. Eyes gleaming, she said, “Oh, let’s go to the River Bend. If I’m going to lunch with a handsome young man, I want to show him off.”

“Mother!” Selina knew her mother was just having fun, but with Maon Keefe?

“I feel the same when I’m going to lunch with a beautiful woman.”

If her mother had heard the low chuckle the man had made before responding, it would only encourage further flirtation. Not what Selina wanted, but better he play with her mother than Selina herself.

When Maon rose to his feet, Selina released a quiet sigh.

“Shall I pick you up, or would you prefer to meet me at the restaurant, Audrina?” Maon asked.

“Let’s meet there at twelve. I have some shopping to do this morning.”

“That sounds good. And I’ll see you, Selina, at thirteen or a little after.”

Selina gave a curt nod and allowed Maon to escort them to the lift.

* * * *

With a bounce in his step, Maon returned to his desk and brought up the case file on his vidscreen. The House of Shirley. He’d been wrong. This was definitely more interesting than prisoner transport. Maybe it wasn’t busywork. At least with this assignment, he’d be able to use his analytical skills. With the bots he had available to him, it shouldn’t take long to discover who was stealing from the company. If he timed it right, he’d have the chance to figure out Selina Shirley. What a bundle of contradictions. He’d pegged her as shy and passive, but she had a bossy, aggressive side that was enticing.

Two hours later his EBC signaled it was time to head to his lunch with Audrina Shirley. Had any other marshals read the file or researched the House of Shirley company before handing the case off to him? Couldn’t have. They wouldn’t have missed the obvious red flag. For now he needed to get going. The restaurant was a short walk, but he didn’t want to be late.

Although his view was partially blocked by the shimmering blue streams that created a lightfall behind the hostess station, Maon scanned the restaurant while telling the hostess he was meeting Audrina Shirley. He didn’t spot her among the muted blues and greens of the leafy decor. In one corner, another larger lightfall illuminated water trickling in a gentle cascade over river rocks, the sound filling in the gaps in conversations in the room. While the hostess led him to the table, winding through pale blue linen-covered tables packed with lunching members of the landed class, Audrina stretched her arm up, fingers waving in a rapid flutter of motion. Shit, he liked this woman. She enjoyed having fun as much as he did.

“Ms. Shirley, could a man ask for a lovelier luncheon companion?” He swept her hand to his lips for a quick peck of greeting, giving an amused smile in response to the twinkle in her eyes.

“Marshal Keefe, you are such a flatterer.” While Maon sat, she raised her voice. “I’m so sorry Selina couldn’t join us, but this will give us the opportunity to speak plainly.” She reached out and patted his hand, returning to a normal volume. “That should do. One must give the gossips a direction to head.”

“Why, Audrina! You have depths of deviousness I would never have suspected.”

Audrina arched an eyebrow at him. “Selina hides behind a mousy persona, but she is a catch of the first order, Marshal.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m beginning to see that.” He was young, marriageable, and a marshal. All these things pointed to potential matchmaking. However, the plan for his future didn’t include marriage. Matrimony was one certain failure he could and would avoid at all costs.

Conversation stopped while they placed their orders. Maon waited while Audrina looked out the window next to their table. Her face had grown solemn, all traces of the gregarious flirt gone. Without turning to look at him, she began. “Hold tight to life, Maon. It can take you places, wonderful places, and then plunge you into murky sludge that steals your breath.” She turned to face him, eyes piercing him.

“Yes, ma’am. I’ve learned that,” Maon responded. The chair’s padding abruptly insufficient, he shifted his legs while his mind turned back to the failures he still struggled to surmount.

Audrina held his gaze. “Have you? Yes, I believe you have. You’ll understand then that when I lost my husband, my life altered radically. I’m about to tell you a secret no one besides Selina and myself know. For the last year and a half, Selina has been the creative force behind the Audrina line of the House of Shirley. Since my husband’s death. The House of Shirley was always small. My husband and I never cared to expand beyond the Tallavan sector. When Selina joined us five years ago, she took the business farther into the Federation.”

Audrina paused while their food was served. She plucked a minicuke from her salad and nibbled before continuing. “Selina left the business of the Audrina line to us—my husband and I. She brought on designers in locations throughout the Federation and established production to support the new lines. How she manages all this, including finding new talent to replace those who go out on their own once they’ve made a name for themselves at the House of Shirley, I’ll never know.” Audrina shook her head gently. A brief smile made her look younger. “When Geoff died, I lost a piece of myself that I’ve never gotten back. I’d come in and muck about the office, but my design concepts were dreadful. Selina worked at night, slipping me a data cube each morning. We’ve carried on that way ever since. I suppose this question of missing shipments wouldn’t have become an issue if Selina hadn’t decided to expand in this sector.”

Maon swallowed his bite of sandwich and asked, “How so?”

“Well, most people don’t realize that couture alone doesn’t make much money. Audrina Couture always lost more than it made. The profit comes from the ready-to-wear lines that are less expensive and more”—she waved a hand in the air—“how would you say it…more practical?” she said, laughing at her own expense. “Things the average consumer wears for everyday life.”

“I’ve seen some of your couture designs. I understand.”

“Yes, well Geoff handled that part of the company while Katrina managed the couture portion. We expected to lose money and never thought much about it. Selina has the brain for business. We would have continued on, but with Selina now designing for the Audrina line, she fell in love with the pyantha yarns used in our signature evening wraps. She wanted to market a new Audrina professional women’s ready-to-wear line that incorporated pyantha-based fabrics.”

Audrina’s eyebrows rose. “Really, a marvelous idea. So Selina.” Her head shook back and forth the tiniest bit, and her eyes bored in on him as though daring him to suggest otherwise.

“We’d been buying pyantha fiber from the same producer for, well, forever. It’s spun into yarn for hand knitting in our privately owned mill on Gallarda before being sent to Tallav. Selina discovered what she terms the abnormalities while deciding on the best location for the fabric mill needed for the new line. She insisted on an investigation. So here we are.” With a sigh, Audrina picked up her fork and took a bite of her salad.

Maon, who’d finished his sandwich while listening, leaned back in his chair. “I’m glad she did.” Thoughts raced through his head. The case files had already led him in a particular direction that Audrina’s narrative had reinforced. He couldn’t wait to delve into all the Audrina shipping receipts.

* * * *

Selina watched Maon peruse the House of Shirley’s Audrina offices. Creativity exploded in vivid colors, splashing across a neutral white decor, blending and complementing each other in a myriad of swatches, accessories, and garments. Vidscreens and high-tech sketch pads were accompanied by colored pencils and paper pads. His face didn’t reveal what he was thinking beyond a rather bland curiosity.

Selina brought his attention back to her by gesturing to the stocky woman standing expectantly beside her. The woman’s boxy business attire accentuated the tension in her body.

“Katerina, this is Marshal Keefe. He’ll be looking into Audrina’s shipping problem. Marshal, Katerina Donnelly. She’s operations manager for Audrina.”

Maon extended his hand to Katerina. “How do you do, Ms. Donnelly? I’ll try not to take too much of your time.”

“Ms. Shirley believes it’s important, so I’ll do whatever I can to assist you,” Katerina responded, one shoulder lifting ever so slightly.

Maon nodded. “Thank you.”

Selina’s response was brusque. Inside she bristled. Katerina couldn’t have made it clearer. She didn’t agree that the investigation was critical. But then, if she were guilty, that was exactly the tack Selina had expected her to take. “Please give Marshal Keefe any information he requests. Have you set up a working space for him as I asked?”

Katerina’s lips flattened to a thin line before she responded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve made one of the intern desks available for his exclusive use, and Records is prepared to grant him secure access to the entire system.”

“Excellent, Katerina. Please assign an intern to assist him.” Selina turned her focus to Maon. “Marshal, please join me in my office.”

“Certainly,” Maon said to Selina and then addressed Katerina. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Ms. Donnelly.” Arm extended, he smiled and shook Katerina’s hand.

Unable to watch Maon making nice with the woman she suspected of the thefts, Selina turned on her heel and headed out the door to wait for Maon to catch up at the lifts. Before he reached her side, she punched the button to call the lift to take them to the executive offices of the House of Shirley.

Selina found it easier to be in Maon Keefe’s presence if she didn’t look at him and spoke to him as little as possible. The unsettled reaction that his proximity triggered was unnerving. It went back to those winks at the Whip Hand on Beta Tau. The man was so damn confident. He couldn’t have guessed they’d eyed each other across the public play space. The latex hood she’d worn had hidden her face. That was a relief. Asking for a replacement marshal was impossible. If it wasn’t for her standing on Tallav, her concerns would have been passed on to the local Guardia. She was stuck with him, but she wouldn’t let him interfere with her personal life. No matter how attractive he was. He wasn’t her type. Not in the least. Why was it taking the lift so long to move two floors?

“That’s a lovely shade of gray you’re wearing today.”

“Thank you.” Her jaw clenched.

“Does it have a particular name? Placid pewter? Faded shadow? It’s very… gray.”

“Not that I’m aware.” Damn the man. I’d like to… The lift opened, and she strode toward her office, ignoring anyone who attempted to halt her. The look of thunder on her face caused most to deviate from her path. “Antoinette, please let Delia know our meeting is slipped back ten minutes. Thank you.” She briskly swept inside. “Please close the door behind you, Marshal.”

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