Ronda had never been angrier or more frightened in her entire life. For the past three hours, she had been tied to a bed while various women plucked and tweezed every last pubic hair from her mons. After that, they had rubbed mint-scented oil all over her nak*d body—her br**sts, her ni**les, even her gen**als.
She realized why they were doing this, of course. They were preparing her for that marriage auction block.
The thought of being forced up onto a platform as nak*d as the day she was born didn’t sit well with her at all. She wasn’t exactly embarrassed about her plump curves, but she wasn’t exactly proud of them, either. She faced being sold, forced into marriage with some unknown man, and no doubt being raped by him soon thereafter—yet all she could worry about was being nak*d and in shackles on a platform.
She was beginning to wish she’d gone down in that chopper with the rest of the crew.
The door flew open and a man entered the chamber. His heated green gaze sought out Ronda’s nak*d body and lingered there. “ ’Tis time,” the man informed them in English as he dragged his gaze away from Ronda and toward one of the women oiling her down. “Shackle her, then corral her with the others.”
The women going up for sale today totaled five. One was an Inuit Eskimo who had been captured from her home, two were natives of New Sweden, one was an African-American, and then there was Ronda: the Ohio-born woman who’d gone from army corporal to sex slave in the blink of an eye.
The nak*d females were corralled together in a large stone pit with dim light. The two who were natives to this odd world seemed giddy with excitement, but the remaining three looked hopeless and miserable.
It wasn’t like Ronda to give up so easily. And deep down inside, she knew she hadn’t. But without a familiarity of the colony’s layout, she had no chance of escaping.
For now there was only grim resignation. Later she would make her plans, bide her time, and escape.
“What’s your name?” the African-American captive whispered. She looked as frightened as Ronda felt.
“Ronda Tipton,” she replied softly. The women had been given strict orders not to speak to each other. “What about you?”
“It’s nice to meet you.”
Ronda studied the Eskimo female for a moment, and then Jonna. She could see why both of them had been hunted down—their beauty was exquisite. “How were you caught?” Ronda murmured.
Jonna sighed. “On a cruise ship. They took me while the boat was temporarily docked. You?”
Ronda told her about the crash.
“I want to escape,” Jonna said suddenly. “Will you go with—”
The overhead door flew open, bringing their conversation to an abrupt halt.
Damn it! Just when she’d found an ally!
“Stand up and climb the steps,” the auctioneer commanded in broken English. “Your future masters have gathered and await you.”
Ronda couldn’t believe this was happening; it still felt like a surreal dream.
“Let’s go!” the auctioneer ordered. “Get off your arses and climb the steps.”
The two natives of New Sweden were put up for bid first—probably to show the unwilling captives how they were expected to behave when it was their turn.
Like docile, smiling submissives.
Dozens of men had crowded into the arena to barter for a bride. The natives displayed no negative reactions whatsoever to being bodily inspected by any man that chose to touch them. They kept their heads bowed demurely, soft smiles on their faces, as large Viking males ran their hands over their br**sts, over their shaved, oiled vag**as—one man was even so bold as to spread the second girl’s labial lips open and flick his tongue at her cl*t while another man squeezed her ni**les. The woman squirmed a little and sighed breathily.
If the auctioneer thought Ronda would behave like this, he had another think coming.
“Do I throw up now or later?” Jonna muttered under her breath.
Ronda snorted. “Wait and do it on whoever buys you. I’d say he deserves it.”
The women shared a smile, then turned their attention back to the auction taking place.
Ronda could feel several eyes wandering over to where she, Jonna, and the other captive stood, and embarrassment stole over her. She was nak*d, oiled up like a bimbo at a sleazy sex bar, and shackled at the feet. Humiliation didn’t come much worse than this. She’d been a POW for three weeks in Haiti and even those guards hadn’t treated her like this.
The auction continued in what Ronda presumed was Swedish, or its ancient equivalent, while the two natives were bartered off. “Why isn’t hardly anyone bidding on them?” she whispered to Jonna.
Jonna frowned. “I’m given to understand these ass**les prefer captive brides to natives.”
“Wild horses,” Ronda sighed.
“I’ve visited countries where wild horses are more valuable than domesticated ones. They’re unbroken. Like unmolded clay, rather than a lump already turned into a pot or a vase. And that’s exactly what we are to these crazies—wild horses.”
“I’ll give them a wild horse all right,” Jonna muttered. “Bastards.”
After the two natives were finally sold and given to their respective husbands, the auctioneer began speaking in English. The quietly crying Eskimo girl was led up to the platform. The closer she got to the throng of potential bidders, the more desperate she grew. Kicking, screaming, clawing, and hitting, it took three of the auctioneer’s henchmen to forcibly subdue her.
Nostrils flaring, Ronda looked away, unable to watch. No woman should have to be treated in this fashion! If she ever escaped, she’d make sure the human rights organizations knew about this cruel place—and she would take great pleasure in doing so.
Ronda’s stomach knotted and lurched when it was Jonna’s turn. Though they’d only exchanged a few sentences, their conversation made it ten times harder to watch than the last auction. Jonna was a true fighter to the end. There was no such thing as subduing her. Unfortunately, that only seemed to entice buyers all the more.
One thing could be said for Jonna—nobody got any free feels out of her. Dozens of men bid on her, yet not a single one of them had gotten to so much as touch her toe. She was a wild horse for sure.
Ronda just hoped and prayed to whatever higher power was listening that the tall, muscular, blond Viking who bought her appreciated that facet of Jonna’s character and didn’t try to mold her into his version of what he wanted her to be. The man had made no move to grope and fondle her, and his eyes were kind. Ronda hoped that signified an overall gentleness throughout.
And then it was Ronda’s turn. Her heart pounded against her chest, feeling like a heavy brick. When the auctioneer prodded her up on the platform, she made no move to kick, scream, or do anything besides stand there with a wicked I’m gonna f**k you up look on her face. He looked shocked.
The catcalls began. Whistles and cheers erupted as Ronda was led to center stage.
Holding the heavy hammer high above his head, Nikolas struck the metal with every bit of force he could muster. ’Twas the only way to block out the sounds of the auction taking place a level below. His jugular bulged and his teeth gritted from the labor.
He would not intervene. He had to keep reminding himself that Ronda Tipton would not care to look upon a huge, ugly beast for all of her days. Their people had carried on without intrusion from Outsiders for over a thousand years for the simple fact that none knew of their existence. Ronda was stuck in Lokitown until she took her last breath. The least that he could do was allow her to have a shot at eventual happiness.
Throwing the hammer to the side, Nikolas wiped with a rag at the sweat trickling down the side of his face.
His jaw tightened as the sounds of the marriage auction below reached his ears. His men should be up here working instead of bidding on brides! But Old Myria had encouraged his warriors to attend the event and to bid on the captives, that all might end up in honest hands. Nikolas had permitted them to do so, because he couldn’t stand the idea of Ronda ending up in the clutches of a cruel master. Any bidder under Toki’s regime was probably as sadistic as their leader was.
But can I stand to see her married off to one of my own men?
Grumbling to himself about what an idiot he was, he threw on his tunic and stalked off toward the caged lift. It couldn’t hurt to see how the auction was proceeding.
Nikolas’s face was the first one Ronda saw in the vast crowd of men. He was leaning against a rock wall, his arms crossed over his chest. He wore a gold chain-mail tunic today with black leather brais. The tunic was sleeveless, showcasing those massive arms clasped by gold bangles at the biceps. His dark brown hair flowed just past his shoulders, a braid at either temple tied in his trademark fashion at the back of his head.
He was the reason she was being auctioned off to begin with. Why had he come here? To remind her that he had won? To throw her another one of his mocking smiles?
The longer she watched him, though, the more she realized that wasn’t the case. Nikolas wasn’t making eye contact, and she couldn’t tell if he was even looking at her at all. His blue eyes were hooded, his expression unreadable. He didn’t look inclined to participate.
For some insane reason, that irritated Ronda. Did he think she was good enough to barter off, but not good enough to keep? Given all the obstacles between her and freedom, it might be a dumb thing to get an attitude about—but there it was.
By Odin, she was breathtaking in her beauty.
Nikolas’s manhood stirred within his brais at the sight of Ronda’s nak*d body. Mayhap ’twas wrong to lust after a wench being paraded around nude and in shackles, yet he had wanted her long before this moment. Even before the eve he’d stripped her of clothing and bathed her fevered, limp body.
He’d wanted her for his own since the moment their eyes had first met.
She had a glorious body, plump in all the right places. Her skin was light honey perfection. Her hair looked like ringlets of gold that cascaded to just above her rounded backside. Contrasted against dark, come-hither eyes, the combination was irresistible. Her br**sts were mouthwateringly large with puffy pink ni**les that stayed forever stiff. And her shaved pu**y…
Nikolas took a deep breath and blew it out. He’d wanted inside her tight flesh since that first glance. He bet she’d clamp around him like an unyielding glove.
He blinked, snapping himself out of his lustful fantasies.
’Twas a certainty he would envy whatever master took her to wife.
You have the right, Myria had whispered, to know a little happiness of your own in this lifetime, Niko. Do not make every moment one where you take on the worries of the world. When you meet the gods in Valhalla, go to them having led a full life.
Myria’s words had pounded in his heart and head since yestereve. He sighed, uncertain which was the right course to take.
More than his own happiness was at stake here. Ronda’s was too.
“This, fine warriors, is Ronda!” the auctioneer cried out. Roars of approval, shouts, jests, and cheers went up like wildfire.
Ronda’s dark gaze flicked to Nikolas. He wasn’t laughing, cheering, or roaring. Just standing there.
“She’s a fiery, spirited girl, this one. Mayhap you recall the stories about her?”
Ronda frowned at the crowd’s laughter. They found it amusing that she’d put up a fight prior to capture, did they? Huh. She’d give them something to laugh about, then.
“You may approach the chattel according to rank. My lords, you have first inspection and bidding rights. Proceed!”
A hush fell over the crowd as the first high-ranking overlord made his way up to the platform. He was tall, quite gaunt and thin. Jewels were on his every finger, giving him a gaudy, somewhat feminine appearance. His hair was long and blond, his eyes green. Those eyes didn’t look kind.
A smirk twisted his lips. He didn’t bother to say anything, just reached out his hand toward Ronda’s br**sts. Down here in the rabbit hole, the rules said he had that right. Ronda had never been much for following the rules.
In a lightning-quick motion, she seized the overlord by the wrist. “Touch me,” she said calmly, “and I break it.”
His face turned crimson as guffaws echoed throughout the arena. A tick started in his jaw and worked its way up to his cheek. His eyes grew impossibly more sinister. “Unhand me, wench,” he said, “or you will regret it.”
Ronda held his fragile wrist for a suspended moment and squeezed, her gaze locked with his. When she felt her point had been sufficiently made, she released him.
Immediately, the idiot reached for her breast again.
True to her word, Ronda seized his wrist with her right hand. Her gaze never leaving his surprised one, she held up her left palm in a karate move and struck.