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Three fun-loving, disciplinary tales of love and magic from Carol Storm, the queen of light-hearted romance with a twist! What’s a god without followers? After brooding in the jungle for a thousand years, the Mayan stone idol Itzapoca is in the mood for some mischief. So, when three sexy backpackers fall asleep in his hidden refuge, each gets more than she bargained for!
In “To Serve a Chief,” the always-in-charge Alexandra must submit to savage warrior Midnight Thunder while completing a mission of mercy as a highly-liberated starship captain. Set deep in the jungle, this futuristic tale features suspense, danger, power exchange and humor!
In “To Tame a Thief,” bad-girl Brandy meets her match in the arms of C.C. Ryder, a tough Marine who believes in punishing crime with a trip over his knee! Will the determined millionaire lose his heart to the sexy jewel thief, or will Brandy lose her freedom and find love instead?
In “The Golden Leaf,” gentle Clarissa is a captive princess in the days of the Roman Empire, sworn to resist the rule of stern, commanding Marcus Crassus at any price. But his kisses awaken her womanly desires, even as his firm discipline makes her long to submit to the might of Rome. Can Clarissa save her people without losing her heart?
Publisher’s Note: This book contains elements of strict discipline, power exchange, explicit scenes and adult language. If any of these themes offend you, please do not purchase.
*** Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***
I am Itzapoca. Long ago, the Mayans worshipped me as a god. Today I am forgotten, a stone head half-buried in the jungle. Yet I have endured for ages, far longer than any puny modern structure built from steel and concrete. Long before the era of hydraulic cranes, my followers lifted me to the top of this lush green slope where I sit looking down on the shining blue waters of the bay.
The three of them are coming. They have heard my call, though they do not know my power. They are American girls, adventure-seeking tourists from the nearby resort. Long ago maidens came before me offering bushels of corn and baskets of fruit. They wore polished copper nose rings and sacred robes; they approached my altar with trembling knees and solemn and frightened faces.
These girls are different. They bring lunch. They laugh and chatter while the flimsy motorized boat ferries them across the waves. Instead of ceremonial robes, they wear skimpy shorts, sandals and bathing outfits good only for soaking up the sun’s rays. They rub their long limbs with sweet-smelling lotion, hoping the scorching heat will bake their pale flesh a deep brown. Their big backpacks contain only small comforts, junk food and blankets to rest on. Two of them are wearing dark glasses to shade their eyes from the white-hot noontime glare. Already I can hear their voices, read their thoughts. I know their names. In a moment their shapely feet shall invade my sacred soil.
These modern girls have no idea what awaits them.
* * *
“Oh my God, he’s so big!” Clarissa was so excited she couldn’t help feeling a little silly. The long-legged fashion model with the light-brown hair and dreamy brown eyes giggled as she embraced the ancient idol, kissing his broad, flat nose and feeling only the cool dry roughness of hard stone. There was no way her skinny white arms could reach all the way around the Mayan god.
His head was taller than her whole body. And it had to be at least ten feet in diameter!
“Cut the cutie-pie act, Clarissa. Get your skinny butt over here and have something to eat!” Alexandra frowned, her slim, carefully plucked brows knitting over penetrating winter-gray eyes. The leader of the inseparable trio, serious and thoughtful Alexandra was the responsible type, always worrying about schedules and deadlines and rarely taking time to smell the roses. Yet for some reason the tall girl with the dark-brown hair and cool gray-blue eyes had awakened her two best friends at dawn this morning, rousing them from much-needed sleep after a wild night of partying, all to come look at a forgotten stone head that was way off the usual tourist trails.
It was almost like something was calling her.
“You’re the one who needs to quit putting on an act, Alex,” growled raven-haired Brandy. “You’re not our mother, and this stupid hike is not some big life-changing experience. We could be lying by the pool now, scoping out hot guys.” The bad girl of the group was already stuffing her face. Brandy modeled when she felt like it, but spent most of her time getting into trouble, her anger at rules and authority figures making it difficult to stick to any sort of constructive career path. Dreamy Clarissa was still quite innocent, while sensible Alexandra was always very careful with her heart. Brandy was the wild one, reckless when it came to love.
But guys who tried to mess with her got hurt fast.
“Oh, come on guys! Itza-pizza says it’s time to chill out.” Clarissa was the peacemaker of the group. Half teasing and half pleading, she gave her friends a shy, winsome smile as she reached for a low-cal peach yogurt.
“Hey, I was chillin’ like a villain,” Brandy grumbled, chomping down on a big dill pickle and relishing its sourness. “I was catching up on my beauty sleep when Alex dragged me out of bed to come look at some stupid sexist ancient god who probably ate Aztec maidens for breakfast!”
“Brandy, he was a Mayan god. And Clarissa, his name wasn’t ‘eats a pizza.’ I think it was more like ‘it’s a polka.’” Alex couldn’t help lecturing, because she loved history and myths. But she kept her voice soft and gentle. She knew how grouchy her friend could be, especially when she didn’t get her way. “I’m sorry about last night, Brandy. That sexy security guard had no business putting you in cuffs. But you were dancing topless in a crowded bar full of drunken college boys.”
“I could have taken him,” Brandy growled. “I could have busted his nose, like I did to that creep who kept hitting on Clarissa.”
“I think he must have been on steroids or something,” Clarissa said, wrinkling her nose. “His arms and legs were so thick and swollen. It was actually kind of gross.”
“His big muscles didn’t stop the B-girl,” Alex pointed out. “Brandy really floored him.”
“Nobody hurts the princess while I’m around.” Brandy’s laugh was rough as sandpaper.
“I am not a princess!” Clarissa protested, her cheeks turning bright pink. “I love you guys, but you don’t have to look out for me all the time like I’m a princess or a baby. I can take care of myself! And I wish you could have been a little more mature with that guy, Brandy. Not the creep from the other night, the security guard. Did you notice how polite he was, even when he was putting you in cuffs? He was like some long-lost Aztec prince or something.”
“You’re a hopeless romantic,” Brandy said, yawning as she lay down on a big soft blanket. “Let a guy get too close and you’ll get hurt. Let him start giving orders and you end up a slave.”
“The security guard seemed nice enough,” Alexandra said thoughtfully. She finished her sensible meal of diced carrots and celery stalks with a long drink of bottled mineral water. She passed the bottle to Brandy and Clarissa before carefully putting it back in her pack. It was important to make sure everyone stayed hydrated in the tropical heat. “The guard was gorgeous, but I don’t think he was interested in dating anyone. He said we needed to be more careful to respect local customs. He said wrecking the resort was one thing, but this side of the bay still belongs to Itzapoca.”
“But those tour guides we talked to never even heard of Itza, Itza whatever he’s called.” Clarissa yawned as she tossed away her yogurt carton, stretching sleepily as she lay down to rest beside Brandy. “I’ll pick that up later,” she murmured, closing her eyes. “The gods don’t like litter.”
“I’ll set my phone to wake us in two hours.” Alexandra was yawning too. “We don’t want to sleep too long. The boat ride takes an hour and it’s a long hike back to the beach.”
“You’re so awesome,” Brandy mumbled, making room for her friend on the big blanket.
“You guys rock.”
Alexandra and Brandy and Clarissa are their names. They are not like the maidens I once knew. They are fearless, and they smile as sleep enfolds them.
Now they are entering my realm, the realm of dreams. Now they are completely in my power.
Everyone jumped to attention as the Space Commander entered the transport bay. Alexandra Buchanan didn’t usually zap down to an unexplored planet all by herself. But this was an emergency. The plague-stricken colonists of Beta Epsilon desperately needed the natural antibodies found in the roots and flowers of Beddington Solar Giant Z, but the vast and mysterious jungle planet had been off-limits to all space explorers for almost fifty years.
“Your blast weapon has been fully charged and your stun grenades are full of sleep gas,” said the ship’s Security Chief, helping the tall captain don her shoulder holster and weapons bandolier. Tough little Brandy Carter gave her sexy skipper the usual grin, but the black-haired beauty’s flashing white teeth didn’t hide the worry in her ebony eyes. “You need a security team, boss. Let me zap down with you! I’m not afraid of a bunch of naked males worshipping some frog-faced idol.”
“This is a diplomatic mission, Carter.” The captain’s winter-gray eyes softened just a touch as she patted her scowling Security Chief on the shoulder. “You keep the ship running, understood? Maintain the standard orbit till I get back.”
“Aye-aye, sir. I mean, yes ma’am.” Brandy Carter snapped off a smart salute.
“Captain Buchanan, I’ve provided you with a translator capsule, a communicator, and a database of planetary customs based on parallel societies on other worlds. There’s really very little to go on, I mean, anything could be waiting for you down there. I hope these will help!” The soft, anxious voice belonged to Clarissa Dale, the ship’s medical officer and cultural anthropologist.
“Thanks.” The poised, self-confident commander flashed her most reassuring smile, easily reading the uncertainty in the medical officer’s big brown eyes. “Doc Dale, don’t look so gloomy! This is your first cruise aboard Big Bess. Carter and I have taken on every kind of space pirate and smuggler you can imagine! This is just a diplomatic drop-in. I’ll be back in twelve solar hours with permission to harvest all the roots and flowers we need.”
“You’d better be,” Brandy Carter growled, watching her capable captain stride swiftly towards the transport chamber. The tough, black-haired security chief looked just as worried as the gentle soft-voiced medical officer. “Otherwise we’ll be coming down after you, loaded for bear.”
“Activate, please!” As the beam hit her, Alexandra closed her eyes, trying to overcome an unusual feeling of foreboding. Carter and Dale were good officers, and damned good friends as well. It was natural for them to worry. But this time the worry on those two faces stuck with her.
The planet’s surface was hot. Even at night, the air felt humid and sticky. The moment her glossy black boots sank into the oozing mud, Alexandra began to perspire heavily. She nearly gave in to the tropical heat and unbuttoned the top button of her high-collared black space tunic. But then she remembered she was a representative of the Galactic Advancement League, on a priority diplomatic mission to a backward planet with primitive customs. Appearances were important.
Some distance away, the seasoned commander saw the orange glow of an enormous bonfire. That had to be the sacred council fire that stood before the chief’s hut. Alexandra set off at once, but the night was dark and the narrow, vine-choked path curved unpredictably, making it hard to keep the council fire in sight. The star commander soon lost her bearings and stumbled into a nearby hut.
The interior of the primitive structure was lit only by a single swamp-oil burning lantern. The pungent smell of smoke mingled with the musky odor of female arousal and honest male sweat. There was a plump, well-rounded female lying on a low cushioned bench. A rugged male with rippling muscles dressed only in a loincloth was standing over her, his hand raised high in the air.
“Do not enter my quarters again!” Smack! Down came the young man’s hand, falling with a sharp echo on the firm buttocks of the female. The plump beauty gave a shrill squeal that signaled both pleasure and pain. The big male struck again, and the watching starship captain felt both horrified and fascinated. Each blow made her shiver as if it were her own buttocks being spanked. Finally the lush-bodied beauty wriggled free, rolling off the bench and knocking over the lamp as she rushed to the doorway of the hut. Her shapely form collided with Alex in the dark.
“Help me!” The voice was that of a young female, panting and out of breath. Her pale, soft, purple-tinted skin was glistening with perspiration and her plump, rounded body seemed to glow in the faint light. As her eyes adjusted Alexandra realized the shapely female was entirely naked.
“What’s the matter?” Alex wanted to help the young woman, but she was on a mission and she didn’t know what was out there in the darkness. Automatically she reached for her blast weapon.
“I am Summer Rain, the youngest wife of Chief Fading Fire. Earlier tonight I was alone in my hut, painting my body to dance before the sacred council fire, when all at once I was abducted! It was the chief’s nephew, Midnight Thunder. He wanted to steal this from me.”
“It’s beautiful.” Alex held the roughly hewn, glittering jewel in the palm of her hand, marveling at the faint blue light it gave off even in the murky darkness of the jungle.
“It’s mine.” The warrior who stepped out of the darkness was the most magnificent male specimen Captain Alexandra Buchanan had ever seen. He was all bulging muscles and lean strength, with a haughty, chiseled face full of pride. Scowling fiercely, he lunged for the plump dancing girl.
“Don’t let him get close to me!” Summer Rain squealed and ducked behind Alex’s slim figure. “He’ll take the jewel and then he’ll spank me again, like he was doing when you turned up!”
“I am here on a diplomatic mission,” Alex announced, keeping her voice level and striving to avoid a confrontation with the hulking warrior. “I will give this precious jewel to Chief Fading Fire.”
“It’s not yours to give,” the man called Midnight Thunder grunted. “That stone is my birthright, as is the leadership of the Seven Villages. Give it back to me, star woman, before I put you over my knee and spank you just like the plump little liar who married my weak-willed uncle!”
“Sorry, gorgeous. That’s not going to happen.” Captain Alexandra Buchanan pointed her blast weapon and fired. Midnight Thunder fell to the ground with a heavy thud and lay motionless.
“Ooh, that was wonderful!” Summer Rain squealed. “Come, let’s bury him in the swamp.”
“No.” Alex looked the spoiled, silly young girl in the eye. “We who travel among the stars do not take life without a reason. And I am not here to help you with your personal quarrels. Midnight Thunder will awaken and he will be free to state his case. Now take me to the chief. At once!”
The humid night air was even more stifling once the star commander had seated herself by the sacred council fire. She tried to focus on the ceremonial dance of welcome which was performed by Summer Rain and a number of other young women. They moved in a swaying rhythm to the throbbing of drums, their oiled and naked bodies shimmering in the firelight. But Alex kept thinking of the haughty, brooding warrior with the enormous muscles she had bested with her blast weapon.
“Aren’t you going to punish Midnight Thunder for spanking your wife?”
“Eh? What’s that?” Chief Fading Fire was plainly more interested in the supple gyrations of the naked dancing girls than in the nagging questions of the crisply uniformed woman beside him.
“Summer Rain told me that Midnight Thunder was spanking her!” Alexandra shouted, raising her voice above the throbbing drums and the rhythmic chanting of the ripe female dancers.
“Midnight Thunder was right to punish my wife,” Fading Fire finally said, waving away the complaints of the female star commander. His watery old eyes were fixed on his young wife’s body as she wiggled around the sacred fire, her hands on her hips. Her painted face was blank, free from expression, until she caught her elderly husband’s eye. Then Summer Rain deliberately turned her back and shook her rounded behind, glancing back over her bare shoulder with a sulky, sexy pout.
Fading Fire laughed and slapped his knee, thoroughly enjoying the show. “A great chief like me has many wives, and he cannot be expected to discipline all of them himself. Summer Rain probably tried to tempt my nephew with her ripe young body as a way of getting my attention.”
“The young man said she stole from him!” Alexandra blushed as she deliberately turned her eyes from the dancing girls. The chief’s plump painted wife was still moving to the beat, but she had dropped to the ground and was wiggling on the bare earth in a way that was very suggestive. Alexandra had to nudge the chief hard with her elbow to make him take his eyes from the spectacle. “Do you recognize this blue jewel?”
“That jewel is mine!” Chief Fading Fire tried to snatch the stone with greedy hands.
“He lies.” The deep voice quickly silenced all the drums, the moaning and chanting. Midnight Thunder strode into the firelight, his big hands smacking bare bottoms and sending dancing girls running in every direction. Clearly it took more than a single blast from a stun gun to tame the big broad-shouldered male. His eyes were filled with menace as he came before the chief, who was clearly intimidated by the younger, stronger man. “Chief Fading Fire, your woman has stolen from me. Our laws say I am entitled to either combat or compensation. Which will it be, Chief?”
“Compensation, compensation, by all means we will offer you compensation!” Fading Fire fingered his scanty gray beard as his shifty red-rimmed eyes scanned the village. The old chief swiftly came to a decision, pointing with a long, bony forefinger. “Take my wife. Please!”
“Well, it’s about time!” Sexy little Summer Rain ceased her gyrations at once. She bounced up from her prone position on the hard packed earth and ran to Midnight Thunder’s side, wiggling her rounded derriere every step of the way. “Do you desire to make love to me at once, new master? Or would you prefer to spank my bottom in full view of the village before taking me to your hut?”
“Both activities would give me great pleasure if I didn’t already know you so well.” Midnight Thunder’s courteous words didn’t quite match the look of boredom and disdain on his handsome face. Summer Rain pouted as he brushed her plump, naked body gently to one side. Midnight Thunder didn’t even seem to see her, but Alexandra Buchanan noticed the way his dark eyes raked her slim, uniformed figure from head to toe. Then the young warrior spoke aloud.
“Fading Fire has been chief here ever since my father died. I made no complaint when the elders chose him instead of me to rule. When he chose Summer Rain for his wife, a woman who had willingly shared my hut for months, I made no attempt to combat his claim. I asked only to keep the sacred jewel, the Blue Water. So long as it remained untouched in its jungle shrine, we had peace and plenty. But now things have changed. Crops have failed. Illness has claimed our young ones. Now strangers walk among us. I say it is time to cast out the wicked and return to the old ways!”
“I am here on a diplomatic mission!” Alexandra felt like a broken speech recording. It was tiresome to have to repeat herself over and over, yet she forced herself to speak in a loud, clear voice. She didn’t like the way the village elders were looking at her. She felt out of place here, vulnerable. Her space uniform was soaked with sweat, sticky in the stifling heat. Yet it was her only protection. This was clearly a male-dominated society, even if none of the elders were particularly powerful or impressive in physique. Only Midnight Thunder had the look of a truly dominant Alpha male. The female star captain couldn’t help but wonder why he had been passed over for village leadership.
“It always begins with diplomacy,” Midnight Thunder said, speaking to the village elders. “First they want to come among us as friends, to help us. They say they can bring us medicine, roads, better schools. Then they say we need better gods, better customs, we need to find new ways to worship. Then they land an army with blasters, and say we need help governing ourselves as well!”
“That’s not what this is about!” Alexandra wasn’t afraid of the big male, even though his huge muscles gleamed in the firelight. But she could see the way the old men listened to him. Midnight Thunder was a powerful speaker and his goal was clearly to seize power for himself. “I’m here alone, on a mission of peace, seeking medicine for the sick of other worlds. That’s all I want!”
“Why should we trust you?” Midnight Thunder asked. “You might be trying to steal our herbs and roots for selfish reasons, just the way lying little Summer Rain stole the Blue Water!”
“That jewel belongs to me as chief!” Fading Fire looked around the council, seeking confirmation of his claim from the other old men. Many looked doubtful, and there was a lot of guilty mumbling and head shaking. Alexandra guessed they felt ashamed of their own actions. Instead of choosing the handsome young warrior for chief, they had gone with the crooked old man.
Just then there was a muffled roar from deep in the jungle.
“The Great Beast,” Midnight Thunder said grimly. “He has awakened. He is hungry. Now it will not be safe to return the Blue Water to its sacred resting place.”
“I will help you!” Alexandra knew she had to win the trust of the natives in a hurry. That was the reasoning behind her decision. It had nothing to do with the allure of the savage young warrior.
Midnight Thunder looked her over again, the heat of his sultry gaze seeming to strip the clothes from her body. “You are a comely female, star woman, though your figure is too skinny and you wear too many clothes. But as a woman your natural place is in my hut, not on the jungle trails. All I need to do is put you over my knee, to spank away all the stiff pride that prevents you from giving in to the natural instincts of a woman. Then you and I can soar among the stars together.”
“That’s not going to happen, and your attitude is a load of bullshit!” Alexandra jumped up and walked over to Midnight Thunder, pushing at his bare chest to get his attention. “I’m not afraid of the jungle. I can endure the heat and the mud and the insects as well as you or… or any man!”
“Ooh, she’s got it bad.” Summer Rain gave a giggle as she watched the two of them face off.
“Midnight Thunder, if you harm this woman, the whole village will suffer.” Chief Fading Fire looked around at his elderly council. “We all know what happens to planets that refuse to cooperate with the great galactic alliance. They could rain down fire and obliterate us in an instant!”
“I give you my word, that won’t happen,” Alexandra told the old man. “My mission is peaceful. I promise to obey all your customs and respect your traditions, and to help Midnight Thunder on his quest, provided that you collect the herbs and roots that my people need.”
“If we journey through the jungle together, you will be under my authority,” Midnight Thunder warned her. “To stay alive, you will have to do what I say at all times. I will have the right to strip off your clothes and spank your shapely bare bottom whenever I wish.”
“And it really hurts,” Summer Rain put in helpfully. “Actually, you’d be smarter to take off all your clothes right now. That way Midnight Thunder can show you what you’re getting into before it’s too late. There’s still time for you to go back where you came from. Maybe you’d be happier just flying around inside that big silver bird in the sky. If you can’t handle being a woman, that is.”
“Silence, woman!” Old chief Fading Fire banged on the arm of his wooden throne with the palm of his hand. “Hear me, village council. Hear me, Midnight Thunder. Hear me, woman from beyond the stars. The Blue Water shall be returned to the sacred shrine in the morning. The elders of the council will supervise collection of the sacred herbs. Summer Rain, you will go to my hut and wait for me there. You must be punished for stealing the sacred jewel without my knowledge.”
“I hear and obey.” The chief’s plump young wife bowed low before him, her slender hands folded demurely across her ample breasts. But as she left the council fire she shot a mocking glance over her shoulder at Alex Buchanan. She also wiggled her lush behind at Midnight Thunder.
* * *
Alexandra tossed and turned on the bed of soft furs. Her tiny leaf and twig hut was nestled within the mud walls of the chief’s compound, symbolizing her protected status as an honored guest. Yet instead of feeling secure she felt nervous, exposed and vulnerable. The old men had agreed to her demands, but after she gave them her list of needed herbs she saw them whispering among themselves. Though perfectly polite they couldn’t help furtively checking her out, leering and licking their chops as they looked her up and down. Alex sensed that only her blast gun and the silver command tabs on her black space uniform kept the old wolves from pouncing on her.
Tomorrow she would have to spend the whole day in the company of Midnight Thunder, who was young and strong instead of old and weak. If he decided he wanted her, she didn’t think the feeble chief would be able to keep him away. Not even a uniform and a blaster would do the job.
“Master, please… oh, master!” The grass walls of the little hut were very thin. Not ten feet away, Alex could hear Summer Rain moaning with pleasure in the chief’s bed. Earlier in the evening, the sharp smack of the chief’s hand on his plump wife’s firm buttocks had resounded all through the village. Each blow seemed to echo in the hot, humid night air. Alex had been amused at first. She tried to tell herself that the pouty little troublemaker deserved a spanking, just like a naughty child. But after the spanking Fading Fire had evidently switched tactics. Now he was disciplining his young wife in some other way. Summer Rain was still moaning, but whatever the chief was doing now seemed to bring his sexy young wife pleasure rather than pain. Plump little Summer Rain had obviously survived the spanking, and now the spoiled young woman sounded as though she were genuinely enjoying herself. Either that or she was a very good actress.
In either case, the moans went on and on.
Alex closed her eyes, determined to shut out the distracting moans and will her mind and body to unwind. Sleep was what the space commander needed, yet when sleep finally came it was a restless and dream-filled slumber. Somehow she had switched places with Summer Rain! The drums were pounding and she was dancing naked before the village chief. The firelight shimmered on her naked flesh, and she took a strangely sensual pleasure from the gyrating motions of the dance. But the chief was not an old man. He was young and strong, and he watched her dance with raw desire.
“No!” Alex moaned in her sleep, tossing and turning on the soft furs. The dream had shifted, and now she was running blindly through the jungle with the hot-blooded young chief in hot pursuit. Though she was well trained in self-defense there was something about the untamed savage that terrified and overwhelmed her. She couldn’t see his face as she ran through the dark. Yet she knew who he was. Midnight Thunder, the brute. She knew his power and was terrified of falling under his spell. She ran and ran, but there was no escape from the savage male. He seemed to be everywhere! Her desperate flight took her over the edge of a cliff and all at once she was falling… falling…
“Hey, you! Wake up!” Summer Rain was shaking her. “Your man is waiting for you outside. He needs you to hurry up and get dressed.”
“Huh?” Alex blinked her eyes, dazed by the gray light of dawn. She had been out cold for hours, yet instead of being rested she felt drained and groggy. It took all her starship discipline to drag herself upright on the low, soft bed of furs. “These aren’t my clothes! Where are the garments I had on last night? I want my uniform, damn it!”
The plump, painted beauty gave a husky laugh that made her bare breasts jiggle. “You won’t need a uniform where you’re going,” Summer Rain snorted, waving a few flimsy scraps of clothing in the space commander’s face. “This thong made of jungle vines and this halter made of green leaves will keep your man’s eyes glued to your body while you walk. And a little body paint made from powdered clay and animal grease will keep off the biting, stinging insects of the jungle. Now that Midnight Thunder has claimed you, you should at least try to look desirable. Things are soft around here for a slave who can please her master. Midnight Thunder is stubborn, and he’s strict, but he’s a great warrior who’s used to getting what he wants. And for some reason he wants you. He wants you bad. And one way or another, you are going to learn to please your master.”
“I don’t want to please my master!” Alexandra grabbed the spoiled, bare-breasted beauty and shook her by the shoulders. “Summer Rain, listen to me. In my world, women are free. I don’t want to be a slave. I don’t want to belong to any man, and certainly not to Midnight Thunder!”
“That’s very unfortunate,” said a deep male voice from the outside. “What’s the hold up in there, anyway? Do I need to come inside that hut and spank a couple of lazy female behinds?”
“The stubborn star woman won’t put on her clothes,” Summer Rain tattled breathlessly. She sounded excited, as though she were hoping to get another spanking herself, or at least watch one.
“These aren’t my clothes!” A naked Alex hurled the flimsy garments towards the entrance, but they fell short, landing on bare earth. She was thankful Midnight Thunder couldn’t see her. The hut was a low structure and the entryway was a hole just big enough for a woman to crawl through. The big male was so tall he’d have to bend over just to peek inside. “I agreed to come with you to return the sacred jewel to its jungle shrine. I didn’t say I was going to walk around naked all day! Now I want my uniform, my clothes and boots. I want my communicator and blaster too.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Midnight Thunder told her bluntly. “We don’t want you blasting away in the jungle, and maybe setting fires or killing off the wildlife. My uncle and the rest of the elders will keep your equipment safe until you return.”
“If you return,” Summer Rain clarified.
“I want my clothes,” Alexandra snapped, in her best star commander voice. “Otherwise you will have to crawl inside this hut and drag me out. And then someone might get hurt for real.”
Midnight Thunder didn’t flare up. He didn’t yell or get angry. There was a long silence, and Alexandra could see him standing there, his bare muscular legs planted before the hut entrance. “I’ll get your clothes,” he said finally. “But not your weapons. You might as well learn the hard way.”
“Do you have any idea what that man is going to do to you out there in the jungle?” Summer Rain asked, when the two women were alone together once more. The chief’s plump little wife jumped off the bed of furs and began gathering the garments Alexandra had thrown on the floor.
“I know what he wants to do.” Alex shuddered, battling a sneaky feeling of dread. Did she really need her tight-fitting black space uniform in the jungle? The fact that Midnight Thunder had been willing to back down made her wonder if he wasn’t more reasonable than she realized. But he was a brute, she told herself. A primitive savage. Just like all the men on this planet. “Tell me, Summer Rain. If you’re so keen on Midnight Thunder, why did you abandon his hut for the chief’s? I mean, Fading Fire clearly isn’t really your type, is he?”
“I don’t mind being with the old man.” Summer Rain shrugged, though Alexandra noticed that the plump beauty was unable to look her in the eye. “Not that I’m really such a slave to his lovemaking as it might sound! Anyway, the truth about Midnight Thunder is that he’s too much of a stubborn outsider to be a chief. When he was just a boy his mother got mixed up with a space trader and she died. Midnight Thunder hates outsiders because of that, and he’s a fanatic about sticking to the old ways. That cost him the chance to be chief when the elders started getting interested in off world trade. Midnight Thunder doesn’t care about trade, or fine goods, or pleasures of any kind. He can do the most amazing things in bed, but that doesn’t mean he really feels anything for the poor girl.” Summer Rain gave another of her shrugs. “You’ll find that out the same as I did, star woman.”
Alex was shaken by the picture the chief’s wife painted. Even if Fading Fire and the other elders might wish for more trading agreements, Midnight Thunder would fight to keep the old ways. Even if she helped him now with the sacred jewel, later on he might try to block her rescue efforts.
“You may be right, Summer Rain,” the star commander said thoughtfully. “But then again, maybe you’re just jealous. I remember how casual you were about burying Midnight Thunder when you thought I’d killed him with my blaster. If you can’t have him, no one can, is that it?”
“I always get what I want,” Summer Rain boasted. The village temptress cradled her plump bare breasts in her hands, a mocking gesture that was full of primitive feminine power and pride. “My weapons never fail. Later on you may wish you’d held on to your blaster.”
“Well, even without my blaster Midnight Thunder will find me a formidable foe!”
Just then a bundle of clothes flew into the hut and landed on the floor.
“Good luck in the jungle,” Summer Rain said cheerfully, poking the space uniform with her toe. “While you get dressed I’ll just go outside and say goodbye to poor Midnight Thunder. You’ll probably nag him to death!”
Alexandra Buchanan was proud of her uniform, but today the sweat-stained fabric felt stiff and scratchy. And even as she dressed herself with fumbling fingers she could hear Summer Rain and Midnight Thunder laughing together outside the hut.
* * *
“So has anyone ever actually seen this so-called Great Beast?” Alex tried to sound cheerful and skeptical, keeping her chin up high and pasting a saucy grin on her face. Unfortunately the jungle trail was so narrow and choked with roots and stones that she needed to keep her eyes on the ground. Just as she asked her question she stumbled over a large root, lost her balance and nearly fell.
“Careful!” Midnight Thunder’s huge hand caught her slender arm just above the elbow.
“Sorry.” Alex couldn’t help sounding a bit sullen as she straightened up once more. Falling against the young warrior had jarred her senses in a way she didn’t like. Midnight Thunder’s tanned and nearly naked body was so strong and powerful, his physique perfectly formed. He seemed made for the jungle. Standing next to him, the young star commander felt pale and out of shape, tired and breathless after hiking only a few kilometers from the village. “So, about the beast,” she prompted, trying to ignore how tired she felt. How aware she was of his chiseled features and firm young body.
“He likes to lie in wait for his prey,” Midnight Thunder replied, “usually at water holes along the trail. I’ve seen him eat large horned four-legged animals whole. He would probably gulp down a tasty morsel like you in a single bite.”
“Very funny,” Alex gritted out. She didn’t like having to carry food and water on her back. And she didn’t like the way the loincloth-clad warrior kept trying to scare her either. “If you hate strangers from other planets so much, why do you care if I get eaten?”
“Come here.” The big warrior gestured for her to follow as he left the trail. Alex didn’t like it; her instincts told her that it would be safer not to stray from the beaten path. But after a few steps they came to a small clearing filled with beautiful golden flowers.
“These are called Sun Maidens,” Midnight Thunder explained, carefully plucking one especially radiant bloom with his finger and thumb. “They are supposed to protect the wearer from fangs and claws, stings and snares, and poisonous fruits. When I was a little boy, I remember my mother always wore one of these when she left the village. That was before she was killed.”
“Killed! But Summer Rain said her death was an accident. Why did she… how did you…” Alex’s throat went dry as the hulking young man with the bronzed body of a god gently tucked the white and gold flower behind her ear. There was something so sad about the look in his captivating black eyes, sad and at the same time gentle.
Just then there was a roar from deep in the jungle.
“The Great Beast is on the prowl,” grunted Midnight Thunder. “He senses our presence in his domain. It is not safe to take the main path to the ancient shrine. We will have to go through the thickest jungle to remain unseen.”
“But that roar sounds like its coming from miles away! And anyway, the Great Beast is just a primitive predator looking to feed. How do you know he’s looking for us in particular?”
“He guards his domain against outsiders, like the space trader who killed my mother,” the muscular young warrior said, his bronzed features a stern mask. “The Great Beast kills all who tamper in his domain. He killed the greedy trader from beyond the stars who led my mother astray. Unless you obey me, he will kill you too. Come!”
“But I’m not… I won’t…” Alexandra was confused. She felt sorry for Midnight Thunder. His mother had abandoned him when he was just a little boy. But had she truly been led astray? Or had she been taken against her will by a space trader or a beast of prey? Alexandra wanted to know more. Her space commander instincts told her it would help her to accomplish her mission. Yet there were other instincts too, powerful impulses she didn’t fully understand. The urge to comfort Midnight Thunder was deep and overwhelming. And there were other urges too.
The next two hours were the most physically exhausting ordeal of Alex’s entire career. Midnight Thunder seized her wrist in an iron grip, pulling her from the path, and soon they were crawling through the undergrowth on their hands and knees. Alexandra worked out with weights regularly on her starship, and she ran mile upon mile on the automated treadmill set up in her cabin. But none of that was as strenuous as crawling through the muck with her back nearly crushed by the heavy pack Midnight Thunder had prepared for her at dawn. Insects kept buzzing in her ears. Mud kept squelching underneath her kneecaps, making her slip. Her trembling limbs were like jelly and her tongue was nearly hanging out from thirst by the time they finally stopped for the noonday meal.
“This route is the safest way to the ancient shrine,” Midnight Thunder rasped, as he lifted the heavy pack from Alexandra’s back and removed a primitive water skin made from the bladder of some jungle animal. The big warrior was streaked with mud and sweat, so clearly the journey had been hard for him too. But as he took a long drink he showed no sign of discomfort, discouragement or even fatigue. In fact he seemed quite cheerful. “No hunter or trader ever comes in this direction. Even the Great Beast stays away from the swampy undergrowth. We are safe here. Only a few more hours of this and we shall reach the great shrine of the Blue Water.”
“Only a few more hours of this and we shall be dead of heat exhaustion and not care!” Alexandra meant to sound snarky and in command, but instead her words came out like a sob. Her hands and knees gave out and she couldn’t prevent herself from sinking facedown into the mire.
“Star woman, you are stronger than any female I have ever known.” Huge hands lifted her up from the mud. Midnight Thunder settled her head on his lap and sprinkled cool, fresh water on her brow. “You are not a tease, like Summer Rain. You behave with honor. Eat and rest, and then you will be ready to make the rest of the journey. I know you will not fail. You are far too stubborn!”
“Was your mother a tease, Midnight Thunder?” Lying back on the soft swamp grasses with her head cradled in his lap, Alexandra couldn’t help noticing how the young warrior’s chiseled features shifted from teasing warmth to lonely melancholy.
“My mother was a great beauty, the greatest in all the seven villages, but she was never a tease.” Skillfully using the soft purple grass like a sponge, Midnight Thunder was gently wiping the grit and mud from Alex’s grimy face as he spoke, a faraway look in his ebony eyes. “Her heart was trusting, like a child’s, even though she knew all the dangers of the jungle and was skilled in gathering herbs and berries. Many warriors asked her to share their hut, but she refused. Then she met the trader from beyond the stars. The two of them went seeking jewels like the Blue Water, deep in the jungle. My mother was found on the jungle trail three days later, dead and cold but without a single mark on her beautiful body. The trader was never seen again.”
“You must have been so lonely.” Guided by instinct, Alex reached up, touching the bronzed giant’s tanned cheek with her pale and trembling fingers. “But if your mother died, who raised you? Where was your father? Was he a warrior from the village?”
“My father was chief here, before the space traders came.” Midnight Thunder frowned, the old bitterness returning to his features. He offered Alexandra some fresh fruit and a hunk of dried meat. “He asked my mother to share his hut many times, but they only made love once. When the space trader came, he persuaded her that she could live a better life with him, beyond the stars, and that it would be better for her baby too.”
“That must have made your father hopping mad.” Alexandra found herself wolfing down the primitive meal the hunter had provided for her. “Why didn’t he kill the space trader?”
“My mother wouldn’t let him.” Midnight Thunder gave a sad smile. “They say she had a power over him like no other. Anyway, after she died, my father refused to condemn her for loving another man. Instead he blamed the Great Beast. He died hunting the massive predator, alone with a spear. That gave Fading Fire and his cronies the chance to seize power in the Seven Villages, and to invite in other traders who spread evil habits. The rest you know.”
“And so you never knew your mother at all.” Alexandra washed down her meal with a drink of water from the muscled warrior’s supply. For a moment the sophisticated star captain gazed at the savage hunter’s chiseled profile, wondering what it would be like to caress his strong chin. Part of it was lust, sure. The lust of a highly disciplined officer who had been in space too long. But it was also tenderness, admiration, and yearning.
“My mother is never far from me,” Midnight Thunder replied. “She is all around us, in the crystal rains and the blooming flowers of the jungle. These are the things she loved. This is the world she loved. I will never leave it. She will always be a part of it.”
“How was your mother laid to rest? Do your people bury your dead?”
The big warrior nodded. “My mother’s grave is not far away. We will visit it later. But right now it is not safe.”
“I know, I know. The Great Beast is on the prowl.” Alexandra gave a huge yawn. “Is it okay if we rest for a little while before we complete our journey?”
“That is a very sensible suggestion,” Midnight Thunder replied. “You have done well, star woman. Rest now while I scout ahead and make sure the path is safe. I will not be far away.”
* * *
Like a dream within a dream, Alexandra saw swirling images, fanciful pictures of what she most desired. In this bewitching dream within a dream, she had completed her mission. Everything was fine and she was back aboard her gleaming starship, watching from her captain’s chair as Brandy and Clarissa processed the roots and herbs needed to save the colonists of Beta Epsilon. But somehow in the dream things were all messed up. Tough, no-nonsense Brandy and gentle Clarissa were not wearing smart black uniforms with the silver buttons. Instead they were naked and their bodies were oiled and shimmering. They danced and gyrated as Alexandra sternly ordered them to stop. But it seemed she was no longer in command of the ship! Someone else was, someone menacing and very male. Alexandra raised her blast weapon, meaning to fire at the alien life form that had taken over her ship. But suddenly he was gone, and so were her friends, and so was the gleaming starship. She was alone, and somewhere off in the jungle she head sobs and weeping
Alexandra opened her eyes, relieved to have escaped from her nightmare. The images in her dream had been confusing, but she was positive that the sobbing woman had been Midnight Thunder’s mother, who died years ago. Alex could sense her presence nearby, as if she were waiting.
Deep in the jungle there was a muffled roar. The star commander shuddered, wondering if her savage guide had gone off to confront the Great Beast while she slept. She didn’t need any man’s protection, but the truth was that something in her was both stirred and comforted by his gallantry. She only hoped his primitive notions of honor didn’t get him killed! Everything about the bronzed, muscular savage seemed primitive and passionate, even the attention he gave to his dead mother’s memory. Thoughtfully, Alex glanced at the golden flowers he had gathered. Sun Maidens, they were called. What would happen if she went to gather some flowers of her own to lay on the grave?
It wasn’t wise to wander far from the campsite, but Alex was sure there were many colorful flowers nearby. She’d gather a bouquet in no time, and the rest of the mission would go much more smoothly once Midnight Thunder realized that she respected the traditions of his people.
Much to her disappointment, Alex couldn’t find any Sun Maidens. She had to wander a considerable distance from the campsite in order to find any flowers at all. But after a long search she did find a low, swampy hollow where flowering vines grew in tangled profusion. There were blooms in every shade, from deep purple to pale pink. Of course, to get close to the flowers the star commander had to wade through ankle-deep puddles of squelching ooze. The black mud sucked at her slender ankles, and there was a sulfurous smell rising from the fetid muck. Pinching her nose shut with two fingers, the slender young woman made her way forward, feeling faintly uneasy. She was almost within reach of the first fragrant flowers when she tripped on a sunken root and fell!
Alexandra panicked for a moment, feeling as if there might be some hidden danger lurking in the black water of the swamp. When she wriggled up onto the flowery bank, the first sight that met her wide gray eyes was a human skull half-covered with fragrant flowers. She almost screamed. That was when she remembered that she was a star commander, and that her mission was to explore the unknown. Instead of giving in to superstitious panic, she reached out and touched the skull, jarring it from its nest of bones. Along with fragments of cloth, her trembling fingers soon disturbed something hard and rough like rusted metal. Though badly corroded, it was clearly a communications device, of the old low frequency variety. The first star traders in this sector had used such devices to communicate with tramp freighters more than thirty years ago. Alex sensed that she had solved a mystery – the disappearance of the man Midnight Thunder blamed for his mother’s death.
Sadness was not a scientific response, yet the emotion was real. Perhaps the star trader had not abandoned the savage woman. Perhaps he loved her after all. But their love was hopeless. Images of herself and Midnight Thunder sharing a similar fate made the star commander want to bury her face in her arms and weep. The tears were a waste of valuable sodium chloride.
Afterwards, as Alex lay resting on the flowery turf, she gradually became aware of a smell much different from that of the foul mud. Evidently when they were disturbed these flowering vines emitted a fragrance that was enticingly sweet and soothing to the senses. The aroma was so entrancing that she almost felt like going to sleep right there on the soft grass. These were the flowers she wanted to lay on that poor woman’s grave! Rousing her weary limbs to action, Alex began tugging at the thick, flowering vines that grew around the long-forgotten skeleton of the trader.
It took a moment to realize that the vines were too thick to pull out by hand. Alex had no knife, and she was surprised at how thickly the green and supple vines grew here in the shadows. It seemed as if she were tangling herself among them, for it was rapidly growing hard to move. As she wriggled in the thickly tangled shade she felt a tug around her ankles, and then around her knees. And all the time that enticing aroma seemed to be growing stronger, the perfumed scent dulling her panic and relaxing her. She felt an overpowering urge to close her eyes and sleep.
“Star Woman! Where are you? Star woman, come back here!” The sound of Midnight Thunder’s deep male voice, the power of his stern authority edged with unfamiliar panic, seemed to rouse Alex from her dream-like stupor.
“Here, Midnight Thunder! I’m over here! Help me, please help me! The flowers… help!” It took all of the star commander’s strength to shriek the last few words, instead of just closing her eyes and giving in to the sweet perfumed oblivion of eternal sleep.
“Foolish woman! Don’t you know these swamps are dangerous? I could have lost you forever! You could have died, right here, and never returned to your beautiful shining ship in the sky!” Close to her ear, she heard the grumbling of a large, angry male, and then the sharp snick-snick sound of his long-bladed knife, cutting her free from the rope-like vines that had ensnared her. Still drugged by the perfumed sweetness of the poisonous plant, Alex was unable to sit up straight or even prop her eyes open and focus on her rescuer’s face. But even in her soporific state, she could hear the genuine concern in Midnight Thunder’s deep male voice as he cut her free. When he lifted her clear it was strangely thrilling to be held so tightly in his powerful arms, and the disciplined star commander experienced a swooning, giddy sensation, mixed with a strange euphoria. Was it merely the nerve toxins released by the poisonous plant that made her melt in Midnight Thunder’s embrace?
Alex didn’t even begin to regain her senses until the big male had carried her some distance from the swamp. He dumped her like a sack of potatoes on a mossy patch of earth, and for a moment she lay there facedown, drawing in deep breaths of cleansing fresh air. Gradually, her head began to clear, and she began to understand the terrible danger she had just escaped. But before she could manage to lift her head and mumble thanks, Midnight Thunder yanked down her uniform pants and immediately began to spank her bare behind!
“Hey! What are you doing? How dare you ow!” Alex was well trained in self-defense, but in her languorous stupor she lacked the reflexes to react quickly. By the time the first few sharp smacks had stung her enough to drive off the plant-induced torpor, the savage chief had grabbed both her wrists in one huge paw. Pressing her powerless hands down deep into the small of her back, he continued his primitive ritual of discipline, making the highly sophisticated star commander feel as though she were burning up. Her flaming butt cheeks were only a part of it. The shame and humiliation were fuel that fed a much deeper fire, one she couldn’t really analyze scientifically.
“You must obey me,” the primitive giant said. He was breathing heavily as he continued to spank her, each blow a scorching brand on her smooth bare flesh. “Unless I have your obedience, I cannot protect you. You will die alone in this swamp, star woman. Is that what you want?”
“No!” Alex felt a fresh wave of shame bringing tears to her eyes. If she failed here, defeated by the jungle, then the colonists of that far off planet would continue to die, the epidemic spreading with no antidote to stop it. “No, I don’t want to die! Please, Midnight Thunder. Please stop!” The fact that she was sniffling and helpless and begging for mercy should have enraged her. It should have strengthened her will to resist. Instead Alex felt a strange tingle of excitement running through her, warming the womanly juncture between her thighs. She was desperate to stop the punishment, desperate to complete her mission. Yet she was desperate for something else as well.
“Do you promise to obey me?” Midnight Thunder’s voice was grim and utterly without warmth. He might have been a stone idol come to life. “Do you promise to do whatever I say and obey my every command and wish?”
“Yes, yes, I promise to obey! I’ll be good; I’ll do anything you say! Anything at all!”
The two of them continued to hike for the rest of the day, with the savage warrior Midnight Thunder walking ahead while star commander Alexandra Buchanan followed submissively in his wake. The fact that she was a leader reduced to being a mere follower should have rankled her pride. As she picked her way through the thick greenery, choosing each step with care, Alex tried to work up a feeling of anger and indignation. But all she felt was a strange pull, a yearning to know more about the strong, silent male who had saved her life. For all his primitive strength, there was something vulnerable about Midnight Thunder. When he cut her loose from the clinging vines, Alex had heard more than anger in his voice. Beneath the outrage there had been pain, raw and deep.
“What do you remember about your mother?” she asked, when they had stopped for the night and were camped on a sandy bank next to a small, fast-moving stream. While Midnight Thunder was gathering firewood, Alex had bathed in the crystal waters of the stream, after being told that it was safe to do so. Exhausted by the heat and humidity, she tossed aside her starchy space uniform and wiggled into the skimpy attire Summer Rain had given her. Now she sat close to the fire carefully combing out her long brown hair with a comb made from polished bone.
“I remember finding her body,” the hulking savage said morosely, feeding more fuel into the fire. “I remember burying her deep in the jungle and knowing that she would never return.” The small blaze hissed as he turned over the fresh-caught fish now frying in the shiny metal pan. Alex recognized the utensil as part of some long-ago trader’s stock. The plump silver and purple fish she’d caught herself just by splashing about in the shallows. This deadly jungle planet was full of perils, yet full of beauty and rich natural bounty as well. No wonder Midnight Thunder wanted to keep it unspoiled. He was primitive, but in many ways he was the most principled man Alex had ever met.
“No, I didn’t mean that,” she said gently. “I meant before she died. What are your happiest memories? What do you remember best about spending time with her when you were young?”
“What I remember is feeling afraid that she would leave me someday,” Midnight Thunder growled. “All her stories and songs were about the stars. At night she pointed them out to me, one by one, saying that my destiny and hers could be found only among the silver lights in the sky. But her destiny was death,” he finished harshly.
“Her death was a tragedy,” Alexandra agreed. “But clearly her love for you was real. She believed in what you had to offer, Midnight Thunder, and what you might become.” The star commander hesitated, then plunged ahead, knowing that more than just her galactic mission was at stake. “Having come to know you, I share that belief.”
“Thank you,” the jungle warrior said simply. “I’m sorry I had to spank you today. I know that among you star people it is forbidden for a man to lay hands on a woman in that way.”
“It is forbidden only when it is against her will,” Alex clarified, in an unsteady voice, feeling a wave of heat rush to her cheeks. “Your touch did not displease me this afternoon, Midnight Thunder. You saved my life. Having you spank my bare bottom afterwards made me feel safe. It made me see how much you care for me; how much you care for all living things on this beautiful planet. I see now that this world should be kept just as it is. Even though it can be dangerous at times.”
Just then there was a roar from far off in the jungle.
“The Great Beast,” Midnight Thunder said quietly. “But from the sound, he is far off, and moving in another direction.”
“That’s a relief.” Alexandra was embarrassed by how emotional things had been getting. There was just something about lying around half-naked in front of a small, glowing campfire on a steamy night with a gorgeous man that stripped away all her star commander training. But she had to be strong, had to complete her mission. She grabbed the pan from off the fire and quickly began wolfing down her fresh caught fish.
“He has other prey to hunt tonight.” Midnight Thunder smiled faintly, watching the star woman enjoy her meal. “Among my people, when a woman accepts a man’s protection, sits by his cooking fire and eats his food, she is saying that she wishes to be his mate.”
“Mm.” Alex could have bit off an angry reply, something about how she’d caught the fish while he gathered the firewood. But she just felt so relaxed and at home, as though she and Midnight Thunder had been companions for weeks and not just for a couple of days. There was treacherous warmth snaking through her that had nothing to do with the heat of the fire or the fish in her belly. “I’m very strongly attracted to you, Midnight Thunder,” she said simply. “But I can’t marry you. I have responsibilities, and plans for my life. My place is with my ship, my crew, among the stars.”
“And my place is here, among my people. I will be chief someday.” The hulking warrior spoke with quiet conviction. He removed something sharp and gleaming from a fold in his loincloth.
“What’s that?” Alexandra asked curiously.
“This blade is for killing venomous serpents, and cutting yourself free of deadly vines. I would have given it to you when we first set out, but it is a warrior’s blade such as one man gives to his brother when they have both survived the test of combat. It is not normally given to a woman.”
“Oh, my.” As she turned the delicate, needle-sharp knife over and over in her hands, Alexandra was too moved to speak. But Midnight Thunder was moved as well. His values taught him that women were weak, soft playthings to be protected and disciplined by a dominant male. And the star woman had responded to his spanking, which showed him she was a woman.
Yet Midnight Thunder knew she was something more. The star woman’s courage made the primitive warrior yearn for things he did not understand. And he found himself questioning much of what he believed about the weakness of women and the strength of men.
“It is not as powerful as a blast weapon,” he said, finally breaking the long silence.
“Midnight Thunder, this is a gift my heart will always treasure.” The words were not enough, and Alexandra knew it. Before she could analyze her emotions or calculate the chances of success she leaned over the sputtering campfire and kissed her savage companion lightly on the lips.
“Your words please me, star woman.” Midnight Thunder gave a growl of satisfaction as he swept the long-legged female into his arms, effortlessly lifting her clear of the fire and onto his lap. He deepened the kiss with forceful strokes of his tongue, hearing her moan in response. Their bodies were locked together, his arousal so hard and throbbing that he heard her gasp as she rubbed over it. Midnight Thunder understood how easily he could claim this woman, right here and now. Her body wanted his, and with any other woman that would be enough. But star woman was unlike any other. Midnight Thunder broke the kiss with an enormous effort of will, as though lifting a heavy boulder.
“It is getting late,” he said, his breathing hoarse and ragged. “You need sleep for tomorrow.”
“We need sleep.” Alex felt like she had to say something to show she was in control. It was humiliating how easily the big savage had checked his own desires. Yet, at the same time there was something incredibly admirable about his gentleness and self-control. Midnight Thunder genuinely respected her, even though she was everything a woman on this world wasn’t supposed to be. He got who she was, and more than that, he wanted to help her stay true to her training and beliefs. The star commander was deeply grateful, but as she helped him douse the fire and prepared for sleep she couldn’t help feeling just the slightest surge of womanly disappointment.
The next morning, Alex couldn’t help feeling acutely conscious of the tension between herself and the jungle chief. Midnight Thunder was guiding her on the final leg of their journey, to the hidden temple where the precious jewel rightly belonged. The path was narrow, and it was entirely too easy for the disciplined star commander to bump into her companion. Each time she seemed to become more aware of how strong and warm and magnificently proportioned he was, and each time her cheeks flooded with hot color even as she apologized politely.
“I’m so sorry,” she gasped, stumbling against him once again. This time her small, pert breasts seemed to almost deliberately stiffen in anticipation as she collided with his bare broad back.
“That’s quite all right. The path is narrow.” Midnight Thunder’s quiet voice and understanding smile were just as enticing as his beautiful body and his savage discipline. He could have spanked her right now and Alex wouldn’t even have resisted. She would have welcomed it.
Instead he steadied her by gripping her arm tightly, just above the elbow, and helping her climb over a couple of fallen logs that blocked the trail. Alex cleared the obstacle without difficulty, yet when she hopped down she found that Midnight Thunder was now holding her hand.
They walked on like that for a mile or more, not talking, just holding hands. Alex kept telling herself it was unprofessional, and a waste of time, to feel so deeply attached to this primitive male. But her heart was pounding so hard that she seemed to hear the pulse beat hammering in her ears. Her breasts felt swollen, heavier than usual, and her inner thighs were slick with moisture and heat.
“Sorry!” Another root tripped her up, sending her slipping sideways into a dizzying tumble. This time Alex couldn’t help clutching greedily with both hands, her fingers tracing the hard muscles in Midnight Thunder’s arms while her nose nearly buried itself in the musky fragrance of his chest.
“Something is wrong with you today,” the jungle warrior said. He steadied her on her feet with incredible gentleness, frowning as he placed the back of his hand gently against her burning cheek. A spark of knowing satisfaction kindled in his eyes. He knew what was making her tremble, yet he spoke in a polite, almost distant tone. “You are hot, and yet you shiver. Is there something that you need, star woman? Something that you want?”
“Something we both want,” Alex replied. She was trembling, but her voice was firm. And when she looked up at the jungle warrior their eyes met in a moment of total intimate understanding.
“Stay on this planet,” Midnight Thunder said simply. “Be my woman.”
“Oh, Midnight Thunder, you know I can’t do that,” Alex sighed. “You know I have to leave, but I’ve never felt anything like what I feel for you. I just want… I want… Midnight Thunder, look out!”
Standing under the low branches of an overhanging tree, the two of them had been so caught up in each other that they hadn’t even noticed the deadly venomous reptile right above them. It was similar in size and shape to a King Cobra, but with bright orange stripes all down its back. Alex spotted it just as Midnight Thunder was pulling her into his arms. Instantly she pushed him away, her fingers clutching for her blast weapon out of long-honed instinct.
But all she found was the blade her jungle warrior had given her the night before. Without hesitation, the star commander hurled the primitive weapon, hearing a hiss and then a solid thump as the blade struck home and the giant serpent fell from the tree.
“He’s dead,” Midnight Thunder said, bending over to examine the long striped body, the flat head and the venomous fangs. Before Alex could even blink his own blade had cut off the snake’s head and thrown it deep into the underbrush.
“He was about to strike,” she whispered, feeling her knees starting to tremble. “You didn’t see him. He would have killed you and I… I just reacted out of instinct. He was so close!”
“Close, but I am closer.” Before Alex could go to pieces, Midnight Thunder grabbed her in his arms. “Beautiful, brave, stubborn woman,” he said, holding her close, inhaling the fragrance of her hair. “Just once, let me hold you. Let me show you how deeply I feel what is between us.”
“So much stands in our way,” Alex replied. But she wasn’t resisting. Her primitive garments were already coming off in his big hands, and she sank to her knees in the soft grass not five feet away from where she had killed the giant snake. Midnight Thunder was caressing her, undressing her in easy movements that were soothing and relaxing yet that fired her blood to the boiling point. Their lips burned and then melded together, even as their limbs melted and caressed within the heat.
“So strong, so strong,” the jungle warrior whispered, kissing her neck, rubbing his palms over her bare nipples. “You are the woman who was meant to come to me from beyond the stars!”
“This was meant to be,” Alex repeated, almost wonderingly. A sharp, almost painful sensation as he entered her most intimate place made her close her eyes. Yet she held him to her tightly as he took her, making the most instinctive movements of her life to open for him completely. Together they rode higher and higher on a wave of ecstasy, only to crash in billows of pleasure into foaming surges of total release.
The rest of the journey was uneventful. They found the sacred shrine at noon, and Midnight Thunder kept his vow, restoring the prized jewel to its rightful resting place. It was just a simple stone altar overgrown with vines, but when she stepped back Alexandra couldn’t help bowing down in gratitude for what they had accomplished together. Perhaps higher powers had truly guided them.
Her companion and guide was in a solemn mood, yet when he saw her bowing down beside him he reached out and brushed the hair back from her face. “You have done honor to my people.”
“Well, I hope the elders will see it that way.” Now that they’d completed their quest, Alex couldn’t help wondering whether old chief Fading Fire would keep his part of the bargain. Would the herbs and roots she desperately needed be waiting for her when they returned to the village?
“Don’t worry about the village elders,” Midnight Thunder said quietly. “If it is necessary I will renounce my claim as village chief to make sure they give you what they promised.”
“Midnight Thunder, you can’t do that! You’ve been waiting all your life…”
He silenced her with a smack on the behind. “Yes, all my life I’ve been waiting. And what came to me was not what I deserved, but far more. You are a woman beyond my wildest dreams.”
“But I… you know I can’t…” Alex was a good leader, good at motivating the men and women under her command. But when the magnificent warrior pulled her into his arms and kissed her she couldn’t find a single word to express what she felt. Only her body had the ability to respond.
“I know you cannot stay,” the savage said gently. “Now let’s get back to the village, before the people on that far off planet die of that mysterious plague you told us about.”
“Right.” Alexandra straightened her shoulders, automatically becoming a star commander once again. She’d never met a man like Midnight Thunder anywhere in the galaxy. He put her over his knee and spanked her like a child, but he never questioned her powers of command or her place among the stars. He made her feel most powerful even when she was submitting to his discipline. He’d given her a new confidence in herself as a woman, a feeling she could truly have it all. It was hard to believe she’d be leaving him soon, as soon as they returned to the village. But Alex recognized that it was best, not only for her future but for Midnight Thunder’s. His destiny was to rule the village, and he could do that better without her around. Otherwise the stuffy old men would spread rumors that he was ruled by his woman, merely a tool in the hands of the galactic alliance.
They reached the village around sunset on the following day, and Alex was immediately aware of how silent everything was. “No brass band?” she asked, smiling at Midnight Thunder. “Isn’t there going to be a parade in our honor?”
“I don’t like this,” declared Midnight Thunder, drawing his long bladed knife. “There should be children playing, and the smoke of cook fires rising into the sky. Perhaps Fading Fire is planning treachery. Perhaps he means to ambush us.”
Alex drew her knife as well. “You really do know how to look on the bright side,” she said, with a rather shaky laugh. The jungle seemed so quiet, and the village looked spooky and deserted.
Midnight Thunder gave her a warm smile. “All my life I have known nothing but betrayal and injustice until I met you. You have done everything you promised, star woman.”
“Thank you.” Feeling a surge of tenderness, Alex brushed a kiss against his bare arm. She wanted to tell Midnight Thunder that there would be many women for him when he became chief. She wanted to tell him to think positively, and look on the bright side, for the ability to do just that was often a leader’s greatest strength. You had to be confident to make others confident in you.
But there was no time for her to find the words, and in the end it did not matter. For the truth was even worse than Midnight Thunder had imagined. As soon as they reached the village square Alexandra saw what had really happened to the people who had stayed behind.
“It’s horrible!” she cried, instinctively clutching her companion’s brawny arm. “Their faces, their bodies, they all look as though they’ve been chewed to bits!”
“The Great Beast,” Midnight Thunder said sadly. “Look at the way the chief’s hut has been shredded.”
“All the huts on this side of the village are sagging and drooping. They look as though they were knocked over by a high wind,” Alex said.
“The Great Beast stands higher than the highest trees, and his jaws can crush three men at once. I told Fading Fire what would happen if he dishonored our ancient ways, and kept the sacred treasures of the temple for himself. I told him what would come of all his greed and lust.”
“He must have ordered a celebration.” Alex looked sadly at the two mangled bodies lying side by side. “Summer Rain had her arms around him when she died. I guess in her own way she was loyal to him after all. He certainly was a slave to her. Perhaps they truly loved each other.”
“In their death they were not divided,” Midnight Thunder replied. “Now the council fire is nothing but ashes, and all that remains are bundles of roots and heaps of dried grass.”
Alex sighed. “Those are the herbs and roots I asked the village council to gather. It looks as though they kept their part of the bargain. Maybe that’s why they were celebrating when the Great Beast attacked. You’d think a dinosaur would have been afraid of the big council fire, though.”
“The Great Beast is not a dinosaur, whatever that is,” Midnight Thunder said. “He is a god.”
“Then it appears that the god has made you chief.” Alex looked through the ruins of old Fading Fire’s hut, searching for her equipment to contact her ship. Luckily, she remembered to pick up her uniform from under the bushes, after she changed her attire earlier when she was undone by the clinging heat and dampness of the jungle.
When she had put her uniform back on and gotten all her supplies together she contacted the ship, ordering them to beam her up at once.
“Just one minute, skipper,” Brandy Carter said over the communicator. “We’re recharging.”
“I copy that,” Alex replied. “I need to tie up some things here.”
“The Great Beast did not make me a chief,” Midnight Thunder said. He paused, looking Alex up and down in her sleek black space uniform, which signified all her power and authority. “You are the one who has changed me, star woman. Not by submitting to my discipline, but by showing me how much strength a woman truly has within her. I admire and worship you. Take me with you.”
“What?” Alex had been adjusting her black leather blaster belt, and looked up in disbelief. “But you got what you wanted, didn’t you? You’re chief here!”
“I am chief,” Midnight Thunder said sadly. “But there is no one here who needs me now. I swore when I was a boy that I would save my mother, but I failed. I swore I would save this village, but I failed. And then when I met you, I swore I would save you. But instead, you saved me. Let me come with you, star commander Alexandra Mackenzie. Let me be your helper, your companion. I will serve you and protect you and please you in any way you desire. Let me be your slave!”
“Thirty seconds, skipper.” Brandy Carter’s cocky voice crackled over the communicator.
“Listen to me, Midnight Thunder.” Alex moved in close to the big brute, grabbing him by his huge bare shoulder. “I used to think that being a leader meant being in control all the time. You taught me different. You taught me to let my guard down, to trust my instincts. But you are a leader too. The village elders are all dead, and so are Chief Fading Fire and his sinful wife Summer Rain. But it looks like most of the women and children escaped. You have to find the rest of the village. They must have hidden in the swamps when the Great Beast attacked. You have to find them. Be a leader, be what you were always meant to be! You taught me how to survive in the jungle, and you can do the same for them. That’s an order!”
Midnight Thunder crushed her in his arms and kissed her, but the surge of strength was not his alone. The passion was a two way street that empowered them both. Alex kissed back, letting herself submit one final time, loving the heat of his body, the strength of his arms, the flow of heat and hunger that overruled all thought. But even as her tongue and his were intimately entwined, she felt the transporter beam shimmering and dancing all around her. And then she was gone, back among the stars where she belonged.
“Not a bad haul,” Brandy Carter said, swaggering up to the commander of the starship, who had changed into a fresh uniform and was back in her usual chair on the bridge. “The herbs and roots are being processed by our medical team right now. Too bad about the village, though. What I can’t understand is how you got those superstitions primitives to cooperate before they all got wiped out.”
“They weren’t primitive,” the star commander snapped. “And they didn’t all get wiped out.”
“Well, pardon me all over the place,” the black-haired security chief wisecracked. But when her joke fell flat she put her hand on the captain’s shoulder, a woman to woman gesture of support. “It was rough down there, huh? Glad we got you back in one piece, skipper. We need you.”
“Scanners indicate a small group of survivors rebuilding the village,” Clarissa Dale said softly. The ship’s cultural officer gave her commander a knowing look. “It’s clear there’s been a change in leadership,” she said softly. “I detect one man in command, not a council of elders.”
“He must be quite a guy.” Black-haired Brandy Carter gave her commander a curious look, but didn’t say any more. As rough as she was, Brandy respected her superior officer.
“Yes,” Alexandra Mackenzie said quietly. “He was quite a guy.” For a moment the star commander rested one strong, slender hand on her flat, well-toned stomach, almost as if she could sense the new life growing deep within her. Then she sat up straight in her commander’s chair.
“Take us out of orbit, helmsman. Let’s drop off those medical supplies and move on to our next assignment!”