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What happens when your vocation as an Executioner keeps you from finding love? Finding happiness while lopping off heads sends this unusual woman into a partnership she never saw coming. This is a 79,000 word Speculative Romance. Maigrede is proud to follow in her family’s footsteps to act as the Executioner, but it is forbidden for women to perform the task so she must keep her identity a secret. One day, she arrives at her hidden home to discover Philip, an injured nobleman. Against her instinctual need for isolation she finds herself falling in love with him. All is well until he discovers the truth about her job. Forced to make a choice between her heart and her duty she chooses her life’s work and loses the man. Left alone and with child she breaks her code to rescue a woman she is supposed to execute. The woman becomes a friend, helpmate, and then lover. Together, they raise Maigrede’s child and build a family until war enters their balanced existence. Once again, Maigrede faces choices which seem impossible. She struggles to understand her role in a fractured land. Comps include: Sistersong by Lucy Holland and The Princess and the Odium by Sam Ledel
Hello everyone! This is my first chapter. Content warnings for implied pedophilia and abuse (both non-graphic). Then 1982-1986 Cleveland, OH 1 Sean Cold metal everywhere. Under my ass. Around my neck. Above my head. The van jumped a bump, and my head whacked the slab over it. The new boy in the cage next to me didn’t need to huddle to fit, but did anyway. When the van stopped, I and the others leaned on the cages’ doors. The exact disembarkation procedure differed depending on where we were taken, but it always started with our backs to the metal. There were three of us that night, and since nothing hid our restraints, I expected a remote area where no one would question the waist chains. The back doors swung open to reveal a garage. Not like one for a mall or an apartment building, but a two-car residential garage. My throat parched. They held auctions in the houses. I could spend a week with the same pervert determined to get his money’s worth. Chris opened my cage last. The choke collar tightened from the weight of the chain leash, but I knew better than to flinch. A woman in a slinky red jumpsuit checked the others’ brands. Chris spun me around and lifted my shirt. “He’s marked differently,” he said. “Wouldn’t hold still?” she asked. “Something like that,” he laughed, and the bile inched to my throat. Disco music, cigarette smoke, and the stench of too many bodies saturated the air. All the boys were barefoot, in blue jeans and white tank tops. The girls donned pink babydoll dresses and high pigtails. It had to be an auction. There was some rule about dressing us the same for those. Greasy, hungry adults leered from folding chairs and plush, dusty blue couches. Chris pushed a pill into the others’ mouths and gave them what was never water. My dose never came. He set them loose, even the new boy. I remained chained as he herded me through the house and into a dining room with a long, dark wood table, waxed to a glass-like finish. At its head was a balding man with a scraggly beard and beer belly. The guy’s plate held a heap of mashed potatoes and a huge steak. I had finished the peanut butter a while ago. I’d do whatever he wanted for half of each. Even a quarter. A taste. “Is this him?” he asked in a voice like scrunched tin foil and looked me up and down. I fixed my eyes at nothing in particular, but still keep that steak in my peripheral vision. Chris huffed. “Who the hell do you think I’d bring you?” God, I missed hot food. Forgetting myself, I followed a forkful of mashed potatoes from the plate to his mouth where we locked eyes. Before I could drop my gaze or step back from a probable slap, he took me by the chin, inspecting my face this way and that. Safe for the moment, my eyes found the plate again. “Very nice. Yes. I think he’ll do.” He pulled a wad of bills out and handed a few to Chris. “Half hour. Clock doesn’t start till I get to the room.” “Then you pay for the whole hour. I’m not losing money because you have to stuff your face.” He counted out a few more bills. I didn’t pay attention to the denominations; I didn’t care what I was supposed to do, and only hoped it would involve that steak. The man tsked and said, “Get those chains off him. He’s not an animal.” “He’s got a history of running,” Chris muttered and unlocked the waist chain. The man smirked. “They don’t run if you treat them better.” That yanked my attention from the plate to him, but not for long. “All the chains,” he said. Chris grumbled and gave the collar a tug. The links caught my skin and I clenched my teeth to keep from wincing. “Don’t make me chase you,” he said into my ear, low and icy. I could nod “ok” or shake “I won’t” but Chris didn’t want an answer. The chain left my neck for the first time in forever. I expected relief but only felt lost. The man beckoned an older girl over. She wasn’t much older, just enough to have tiny peaks and not be in pink. Her dress was red, sheer, and paired with high heels. “Make sure David comes here when he’s done,” he told her, and I watched as she scurried off. “You like that?” The right answer was never clear, so I stopped looking at her. The food was more appealing anyway. “Speak up,” he said. “Do you like girls?” I swallowed the grit in my throat. “Her shoes look hard to walk in, is all.” Fear pulled my spine straight. Non-answers were worse than looking at the wrong thing. “I know my way around guys better.” “Don’t we all,” he said and crowned a piece of steak with potato. I was staring at his fork. He was staring at me. Crap. I was fucking up all over. But Chris already had the money. Maybe the beating wouldn’t be as bad as the last? The man scowled and inched the fork toward me. What if he was teasing? My breath quickened. I opened my mouth and hoped for the best. The meat was seared to a salty crust, with its interior juicy and tender. The potatoes were buttery, creamy goodness. I pressed the lusciousness to the roof of my mouth, unwilling to waste the moment, even though my hollow stomach protested with an angry growl. The rest of me soared like they drugged me. A blond boy appeared out of nowhere. “Just wanted head,” he told the man and handed him money. “Sent you back early too.” The boy shrugged. “Didn’t take long.” He was older. I guessed around twelve. Maybe I wouldn’t die before hitting the double digits? The man motioned at me. “This is one of Chris’s boys. Bring him to the studio but get him something to eat first. I’ll meet you there.” “Ok,” the boy said, and took my hand. We weaved through the crowd and got stopped by a guy who looked like the scientist in Jaws. Eyes hungrier than me swept over us. “Are you a two for one deal tonight?” he asked and licked his lips. “Never. And we’re booked. Sorry,” the boy said, dragging me along. “I hate that guy,” he said under his breath. “I hate all of them.” “Me too.” He grinned and pushed through a swinging door. “But that guy is seriously twisted. What do you want to eat?” If I were a cartoon character, my eyes would have popped out three feet ahead of me. The kitchen’s bounty glowed. “Not peanut butter.” He handed me a paper plate and leaned on the counter, bored. “Take stuff that’s not on the platters.” I shoved anything edible into my mouth and when it was full, I piled stuff on the plate. “Slow down!” He lunged to stop me and screwed his face into disgust. “Christ.” I froze, but held onto the plate for dear life. The expression dripped into curiosity. “When was the last time you ate?” My mouth was too full to answer. “Chew that real good and don’t rush. Then tell me.” He tried to take my food again; I tightened my grip. “I’m just gonna put it down. Not take it away. It’s ok. I promise.” I swallowed some, talked around the rest, and clung to that plate. “Nothing about this is ok.” “Oh. You’re new.” He smirked and rolled his eyes. “Shoulda known. You don’t have the bee thing on your arm yet.” He tugged his jeans over one hip, revealing his brand. “Mine’s a camera.” I pulled the tank up while turning around. “I’m not new.” “Fuck,” he breathed. I felt pressure around the scabs as he touched them. “Belt?” “Whip.” I let go of the material. He sized me up with a bit of respect behind his eyes. “You ran.” “Not fast enough. And it’s been a couple of days, I think. Since I ate.” “Peanut butter?” He rolled his eyes again at my nodding. “Then you gotta eat just a little, and real slow. Or else you’re gonna throw it up.” He opened a few cabinets until he found hot cups and lids. “You like meatballs?” he asked and then mumbled, “What the fuck am I asking you for? You’d probably eat meatballs made with dog right now.” He lifted the lid off a pot. Steam swirled up, and I swooned. He scooped a few meatballs into two cups and fitted a top on each. “Don’t worry. It’s not dog. I’m not so sure it’s cow either but, it’s not dog. C’mon,” he waved with one hand and snatched something up with another. “You know the saying ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’?” He swung around and pointed the tines of a fork at me. “If you stab me, I’ll do worse than that whip. You get me?” I accepted the possible weapon. “I’m not stupid.” He knocked a different swinging door open with his ass. “We’re all stupid.” The studio was a room with all sorts of photography equipment, backdrops, and props. Relaxing was a mistake. There was a bed behind a drape in the corner. Not that we needed a bed. “Does Larry know about your back?” He stared at my blank expression “Larry. The guy?” He clicked his tongue and shook his head. “You don’t got a clue what’s gonna happen, do you?” I looked around the studio. “Some combination of pictures and fucking, yeah?” “What gave you that idea?” He exaggerated a confused face and a bitter laugh followed. “Larry usually won’t touch you. He can’t get it up so even if he tries, it won’t be nothing too bad from him.” Only one guy whose dick didn’t work had rented me before and it was one of the worst hours of my life. “So just pictures?” “Pictures to start, yeah.” He nodded slowly, curious what my reaction would be to his next statement. “And then… he likes to watch.” “Watch?” I parroted back. “Watch what? Us?” He considered me and cocked his head to the side. “You’ve only been with one of them, right? And not one of us?” Did it matter? The meatballs and cream cheese cracker things battled it out in my stomach. “I think I ate too fast.” He shoved a wastebasket at me. “It probably won’t get that far. He’s not gonna lose cash by keeping me here. But if it does, and if he doesn’t direct, then we can totally fake it.” “Fake it?” I echoed again. “Yeah. If it looks like I can get away with it, I’ll get you on your back and slide under instead of in.” “But if we get caught…” I hugged the wastebasket. “We won’t,” he dismissed. “But if he gets up for a better look, I… well I can’t fake it then.” “If that gets back to Chris…” I couldn’t finish the thought. A voice in the hall launched him into hyper-instructional mode. “Fuck. That was fast. Listen to me. Dealing with Larry and each other is a hell of a lot better than those fuckers out there. It’s easy. Unless he tells you different, you gotta look right into the camera. And mix it up by acting like there’s meatballs on the other side and someone taking them away. I’ll whisper instructions if I can and for god’s sake don’t show him your back.” “Boys,” Larry said as he walked in. He yanked the basket away and spun me so we both faced Larry. “Took you long enough. It’s mean to give me a pretty one and make me wait.” My body tensed and he whispered, “Go with it.” Larry laughed and waved us toward the gray backdrop. “You boys getting along ok?” he asked and picked things off the shelf behind the camera. “We’re just fine. Don’t you worry.” The boy stopped us in the middle of the fabric pooled on the floor and leaned into my ear. “I’m David and I’ll try not to hurt you.” The hell of my life was so crazy I didn’t know what to believe.
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