heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 1

TW: strong language

The King of Mars was a freak. Brody knew it, but the man paid him pretty damn well to protect his collection—his harem, more like. It was a sleazy business, but if he didn’t do the job, someone else would. Between this gig and moonlighting as a hired gun, he’d have enough saved to move his wife and daughter off the cold, shitty planet of Ptolemy and into the luxury of a Mars apartment within a year.

The kingdoms were decommissioned migration vessels, named after planets from the old System. They were mostly independent nations, but the United Nations still held them to certain standards from their cushy little district on New Earth. They still enjoyed the housing, healthcare, education, and other opportunities that the rebel planets of Ptolemy and Tycho lacked. That’s what mattered to Brody—seeing his wife safe and his daughter raised away from the gunshots, backfires, catcalls, and breaking glass that had been his lullabies growing up.

Sector 25 of Ptolemy was where he’d learned to aim a gun and shoot whiskey like it was water. It was where he’d met Jillian and married her. It was where his three-year-old daughter, Maxine, had been born.

But he’d be damned if it was where they stayed.

He leaned back against the cool metal wall beside the door to the Maiden dorm. The halls of the palace were lined with cream-colored wallpaper. The ceilings looked as if they were made of plaster; the floors were tiled to give them a wood-grain effect and heated to keep the often bare-footed girls from catching a chill. The whole palace was designed to be rich, warm, and inviting, but space was cold, and it only took one touch of the unforgiving wall to break the illusion that they were anywhere but on a massive spaceship.

He scratched his strong, clean-shaven jaw and glanced over to where his shift partner, Sullivan, held his rifle in position against his crisp uniform. Upon further inspection, Brody saw that his head was tilted back, and his eyes were closed.

Brody snorted. It was a good thing they were just glorified escorts. If the girls ever actually needed protection, he’d be on his own. He took his rifle in one hand and stretched his long arm to poke Sullivan in the temple with the tip of the cold barrel. The younger man started awake and pointed his gun hastily, and poorly, in Brody’s direction. His eyes narrowed, and his cheeks flushed.

“Fuck you, Shots,” he muttered.

Brody laughed, a rough sound that didn’t soften his demeanor. The nickname Shots had followed him from Ptolemy. He was the best in the business back home and could probably have earned enough money to move his family to Mars in half the time contract killing. But having a job on Mars put him in a better position to be chosen to live there.

The door to the dormitory hissed open, and the men stood at attention. Lady Agatha, a stunning woman in her early thirties, peered around the frame. She had smooth, dark skin and striking honey-brown eyes. Despite the beauty she still possessed, Ekon had retired her and given her this new role as den mother. It was his way. He acquired new playthings and redistributed the old ones.

The newest resident, Capri, was with her. King Ekon had escorted her to the new quarters himself, which was enough to tell anyone she was a rising star. Ekon’s current favorite, Marianne, would soon lose her seat beside him at the high table.

Capri was well-formed, with dark curls and hazel eyes, but Brody couldn’t see any of them the way Ekon did. Maybe it was because he had Jillian, and he was happy—or maybe he just couldn’t understand the appeal of counting down the days until he could fuck a young girl. Sullivan didn’t suffer from that problem. Even now, his eyes raked over her.

Brody wasn’t even sure how Sullivan had gotten the position. It took months to get moved from guarding the outside of the palace to guarding the inside, and Brody knew his superior, Haddaway, hadn’t taken to him. Sullivan had been posted here from his first day, three weeks ago. And he always watched Capri.

“Our Capri needs to use the facilities, and I’m afraid I’m in the middle of mediating an argument,” Lady Agatha said in her enduringly calm, but commanding, way.

Brody tried not to let his annoyance show. Glorified fucking escorts.

“I’ll go,” Sullivan volunteered.

“No,” Brody growled. “I’ll take her.”

Sullivan glared at him but didn’t argue in front of Agatha. The pretty boy might have been promoted faster than should have been possible, but Brody still held seniority. He made the calls. And he didn’t trust the blond.

He walked Capri down the hall to the bathroom and peeked inside to make sure it was clear. Protocol, that was all. It wasn’t because he expected anyone to be there waiting for her. There were too many precautions in place.

To the left were deep bathtubs and rain head showers, to the right toilets. She looked up at him, and he nodded for her to go ahead. Conversing was forbidden. She scurried inside. She was probably scared of him. He’d be scared of a big man with a gun, too, if he were her. He leaned against the outside wall to wait, ignoring Sullivan who was within sight just down the hall.

There were five girls in the dorm, aged ten through fifteen. Capri was the oldest, but she’d just come from the Angel dorm a few months before. They could only move up once they’d begun their monthly cycle. All of them wore white or off-white knee-length dresses, and their hair was kept long.

Sacrificial fucking virgins. That’s what they reminded him of. But they were Ekon’s virgins, meant to lie with him alone once they turned seventeen and officially became ladies.

It might be a despicable thing, the king grooming these girls to be his devoted lovers, but Brody had only ever known gray morals. He’d seen mothers beg Ekon to take their daughters because he could offer them a better life. Who was Brody to judge? The girls soon settled into a routine. They grew attached to the plentiful food, soft clothing, hot baths, and the constant reminder that they were special. They’d been chosen.

When Capri was finished, he walked her back again and knocked. Agatha let her in with a nod of thanks and closed the door.

“I could’ve taken her,” Sullivan said. Once Agatha was out of sight, he slumped against the wall, sulking.

“The girls are off limits.”

 “No harm in looking.”

 “She’s fifteen.”

“Looks grown to me.”

Brody rounded on him. He was a head taller, and Sullivan flinched. “Then you’ve never been with a grown fucking woman. Now stop thinking with your little brain or I’ll make sure you’re demoted.”

They spent the rest of the shift in silence. Sullivan was angry. Brody didn’t give a rat’s ass if the man’s feathers were ruffled. If Ekon was made aware he’d even thought of fucking with one of his beauties he’d never see the light of day again.

But now the girls were tucked safely into the dormitory until they were called for dinner. He figured he’d better answer nature’s call now, before they needed to be taken down.

“Gotta take a piss,” he grunted to Sullivan, who didn’t acknowledge him.

He went to the far end of the hall and rounded a corner. There were three doors: a storage closet, the stairs, and an employee bathroom. He did what he needed to do and returned to the dormitory. He’d only been gone ten minutes, but Sullivan was nowhere to be found. Panic lanced through him.

He knocked on the door, and Agatha answered. She was putting in an earring, and he could see the flurry of girls getting ready for dinner behind her.

“Yes?” she said patiently.

“Where’s Sullivan?”

“The other guard? A note came from the King. He’s taking one of the girls to the upper dining hall.”

A muscle ticked in Brody’s jaw. He already knew the answer, but he asked anyway. “Which girl?”

Agatha’s brow furrowed. “Capri. Is something wrong?”

“No.”

She gave him a look that said she didn’t believe him.

“Wait here,” he said. “Lock the door. I won’t be long.”

She nodded and shut the door. He waited for the click that told him it was secure, and then he headed for the elevator. If he was a horny little prick, where would he take an impressionable teenage girl? He thought he might as well start from the first floor and work his way up.

He rode the elevator down, and the doors opened to reveal a spacious entry hall. He’d been in a few rundown hotels over the years, either to stay or to take someone out, and the palace’s layout reminded him of the big, block buildings. A front desk with guards and clerks blocked the general public from accessing the King’s sanctuaries. A network of stairs, elevators, and winding hallways took those who were allowed to enter where they wanted to go.

Brody went through the kitchens first, at a normal pace to avoid giving anyone cause for concern. The chefs, cooks, bakers, and runners barely gave him a second glance. Once he reached the stairwell he took the steps two at a time, glancing down hallways and peering into corners.

For all he knew, the girl was already in the upper dining hall, seated by Ekon at the high table. If she wasn’t, she would soon be missed. Sullivan had to be close.

There were plenty of quiet, dark places in the stairwell, and, sure enough, Brody heard voices as he approached the fifth-floor landing. He paused. A girl giggled. He took the last steps silently, holding his rifle in one hand like a club and his revolver clutched in the other. He watched them from the shadows, impressively quiet for a man of his size. Sullivan was too close to her. She was blushing.

“I can’t believe I got us lost,” he said sheepishly, feigning embarrassment.

Brody’s anger spiked. The man knew damn well how to get to the dining hall.

“Don’t worry.” Capri’s voice was shy. “I’ll tell the King it was my fault.”

“I don’t want you getting in trouble.”

“I won’t.”

“Thanks. You can’t tell him we’ve been talking, either, okay?”

He sounded too fucking convincing. How would the sheltered girl know any better? Sullivan reached out to brush her arm with his hand, and the blush rose higher in her cheeks.

“He’s so selfish, keeping you from talking to other men.”

Capri looked down. He could tell she was conflicted. She’d been conditioned to see Ekon as a god, and Sullivan was fucking with her head, making her doubt everything she knew.

Brody had underestimated him. He wouldn’t just look at the girl; he wouldn’t even take her into a dark corner and molest her. He would make her think she loved him, using his fair hair and charm. He would make her come to him.

What a manipulative sack of shit.

He’d seen enough. “Sullivan!” he barked.

Fear, then anger, flickered across the man’s face. But he landed on an expression of innocence, for the girl’s benefit. “Hey, Shots, I just—”

“You’re just gonna shut the hell up and get back to your post.”

“He got lost,” Capri intervened. Her voice wavered, but she hugged herself tightly, determined to stand up for her newly-sprung crush.

Brody gave her a sideways glance and her mouth snapped shut, eyes returning to the floor. He wasn’t going to break the rules by talking to her.

“Now,” he ordered, gesturing with the butt of the rifle.

“You’ll report me,” Sullivan said, dropping the act and growing sullen.

“You’re goddamn right I will.”

Capri flinched at Brody’s curse. He wasn’t supposed to use bad language in front of the girls, but that was a rule he would break. He was seeing red, and he couldn’t muster the control to censor himself.

“Fine.” Sullivan knew he was done. He spat on Brody’s shoes, turned on his heel, and stomped down the stairs.

Brody watched him go. When he turned back, Capri had a look of horror on her face. She’d just watched her Prince Charming turn into the kind of monster she probably didn’t fully understand. She turned her wide hazel eyes to Brody. He frowned. He wanted to reassure her somehow, but it wasn’t exactly his forté.

He gestured for her to follow him, and she obeyed, letting him lead her up the final flight of stairs to where she belonged.

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