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THE BACCHI

Belinda McBride









www.loose-id.com

The Bacchi
Copyright July 2012 by Belinda McBride
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eISBN 978-1-61118-934-6
Editor: Sandra Rychel
Cover Artist: P. L. Nunn
Printed in the United States of America

Published by
Loose Id LLC
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San Francisco CA 94104-0809
www.loose-id.com

This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical
events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the
product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely
coincidental.
Warning
This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered
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Dedication
To you, the reader. Whether its werewolves on spaceships, kings in brothels, or green-
haired courtesans on alien planets, you always take the journey with me. Thank you for the
company.
Acknowledgement
As always, Id be unable to do what I love to do without the patience and support of
everyone here at Loose Id: the staff, management, and most of all, my editor, Sandra. A special
huzzah goes to P.L. Nunn for her beautiful art.
Thank you, all.
Happy Tails!
2 Belinda McBride
Prologue
It was time to leave.
Lefi Dhrahn looked up into the blue sky of Neo Domus, and an empty spot in his
heart twisted, making him flinch. He stood on a wide boulevard, gazing at the small
city rising from the soil of this deceptively barren planet. The rocky hills were covered
with low, gnarled trees, but when a seed was planted and nurtured, it grew here, lush
and fertile. Someday in the near future, this city would be a gem to rival the precious
minerals nestled in its soil.
People trickled along the streets; the aura of fear and uncertainty still clung to
them, but hope did as well. Laughter was in the air, and children played in verdant
parks that studded the city center. Lefid spent months with these people, hearing their
stories, holding their hands as they cried, sometimes weeping with them. Not a one had
escaped the near destruction of their civilization unscathed.
But they were healing, and it was time for him to leave. His new home was
waiting, and his paperwork with the Bacchi Guild was back in order. Life was moving
along, carrying him with it.
He sighed, walking down to the governmental complex, knowing King Helios
was in a meeting till noon. Hopefully Lefi could intercept him and break the news.
As he walked, he spotted a bright flare of copper red, which prompted him to
smile. It seemed the esteemed king was escaping his duties this day. Helios Dayspring
was lingering outside the window of his lovers office. Lefi paused and watched until
Helios left the window and circled around to the front of the building.
Was he spying on General Hawke, or was he simply enjoying a moment
unobserved? The king had a mischievous streak a mile wide, and Lefi wondered what
The Bacchi 3
sort of surprise he had in store for Griffin. He paused. He needed to talk to the king but
at the same time knew just how little privacy the men had.
Walking slowly, he entered the military complex and approached General
Hawkes office. Through the window in the hall, he saw the men in what was clearly a
personal moment. Griffin sat back in his chair, looking up at the king, who hovered
over him, one knee braced next to the generals hip. Their foreheads touched briefly,
and Helios spoke into Griffins ear, his eyes closed, an expression of naked love on his
face.
The love between them tore at Lefis heart, for it was a sensation hed once known
and would never again experience. He stood back to lean unseen against the wall. His
eyes stung, yet he shed no tears. So much of his existence was a shama grieving man
hidden behind the smiling, sensual mask of the Bacchi. He was a therapist doing his
best to patch up the lives of broken people, yet he was irretrievably shattered.
It was that time of the yearthe time when the sadness and pain of his life
hardened to a bright, sharp point.
His birthday.
Lefi took a deep breath and fought to regain his composure. Once again he
laboriously put the mask in place and rebuilt the walls that held him together. This year
he couldnt indulge in his annual round of debauched grief; Neo Domus was not the
place for such self-indulgence. Hed just have to face it sober.
He straightened, shook the tatters of his pain away, and thought of the beautiful
men in the room on the other side of the wall. Lefi let arousal flow through him, right
down to his very essence, filling his veins, then releasing the slightest hint of nectar into
his mouth. He smiled, creating a portrait of seduction. Then he stepped into the
doorway and watched the men before him. They were so very much in love. Before
desolation could overtake him again, he tapped on the door.
Im sorry. Am I interrupting?
4 Belinda McBride
Chapter One
Inspector Afton Teris stepped off a private lift and into the plush foyer of one of
the elite tower habitats on Landis 17. The floors were lovingly covered with rare and
luxuriant carpeting; the walls were paneled with real wood imported from Anya Prima.
The air was redolent with the exotic fragrances of beeswax and lemon, both
undoubtedly imported from Earth.
The slight flex of the muscles in his jaw were the only indication of the anger
festering in his gut. Afton glanced down and saw hed clenched his fist, crumpling the
warrant hed come to serve.
Inspector Teris was no lowly warrant officer but a decorated investigator in the
upper ranks of Landis 17s enforcement division. To compound the insult of being
assigned to accompany an offender to court, it was this particular offender: a Bacchi. A
whore. The insult drew a slight snarl, a subtle baring of teeth. Quickly he tamped down
the anger and drew on the Valoran reserve that was deeply entrenched in his nature.
Hed believed the promotion from officer to inspector would free him of the
burden of the Bacchi. But no; while he no longer managed the prostitutes licensing and
paperwork, somehow he wound up fielding all reports, warrants, and court
appearances relating to the man. He wasnt certain how, but he believed the Bacchi was
pulling strings, making Afton dance attendance at his whim.
He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the encounter. The fact was, simple
dislike for the Bacchi shouldnt affect him this way. His hands were damp with sweat,
and his heart pounded. Afton straightened and pulled back his shoulders.
His foot sank into the plush carpet of the hall, and he paused, noting the hushed
atmosphere of the private foyer. He focused his senses and imagined what was waiting
The Bacchi 5
for him behind the door. Afton found it amazingly ironic that a sex worker would live
in the most elite housing in the city, flaunting his wealth and influence in the faces of
those who actually worked for a living.
Afton carefully smoothed the hard copy of the warrant, folded it neatly, and
tucked it into the inner pocket of his pristine black uniform jacket. At the same time, he
fished out the small remote that allowed him access to virtually any locked door in the
city. Wellany locked door that was properly registered with the government.
Hed attempted to rouse the suspect from the security desk as well as through an
electronic alert, but the Bacchi hadnt bothered to answer. Of course, it didnt mean he
was entertaining a client. There might have been an emergency of some sort. Regardless
of how tightly controlled the profession might be, sex workers were always at some
degree of risk. That was the rationale Afton used to make a silent entry into the
apartment.
The Bacchi might be in danger. The thought made him roll his eyes in humor.
After keying in his private code, Afton aimed the small device at the door, then
smiled in grim satisfaction as the electronics of the door whirred and clicked, offering
him silent welcome into the gracious home of Lefi Dhrahn, Bacchi extraordinaire.
He moved through the spacious abode and finally entered what appeared to be
the living space of the habitat. The large, elegant room was dimly lit; fragrant candles
flickered, some guttering, nearly at their end. Initially he thought the room was empty,
until he spotted Lefi Dhrahns form towering over that of another, his hand raised to
strike. At that moment, Lefi glanced in his direction and frowned, then tilted his head
toward his client in a silent message to Afton. It was a rare moment of disapproval from
the Bacchi; Afton had never seen him without a smile on his face.
Frankly Afton didnt care whether he interrupted the john in the act, until he
looked closer. The figure hunched in front of Lefi was a plump female of middle years,
her round white bottom presented to the man in complete submission. As he watched,
Lefi dropped his hand, a loud crack shattered the air, and the woman moaned. Lefi
6 Belinda McBride
caught his gaze again and nodded toward a door on the right. Feeling lower than a Jhar
viper, Afton moved silently to the room, slipped in, and started to close the door behind
him.
The sound of another loud slap cut through the air, and Afton shivered, imagining
the imprint of a large hand on the womans pale skin. Hating himself, he edged to the
doorway to peer into the room and watched the shadowy figures in their unfolding
drama.
Im sorry!
Her voice cracked on a sob. Lefi drew his hand back, and once again, he slapped
her sharply. He then reached between her legs; from the motion of his arm, Afton
assumed he was finger fucking the woman. Her moans were piteous, a fusion of grief,
despair, and sexual frustration. She lunged back onto his hand frantically, clearly
approaching her climax but unable to reach that pinnacle.
Swiftly Lefi withdrew his hand and slapped her again, one cheek and then the
other.
Im sorry!
Why? His voice was harsh and stern but not angry.
I cant
What cant you do?
Again he dropped his hand, slid it into her pussy, and set a deep, hard rhythm.
She was panting, and from across the room Afton could hear the wet sound of Lefis
fingers in her body. She keened like a wild creature.
What cant you do, Judith?
I cant climax! I cant come!
She was thrashing on his hand, her need reaching panic state. David, Im so
sorry! Im so sorry!
The Bacchi 7
David? Afton raised a brow in confusion. When Lefis hand came down once
again, Aftons cock jerked inside his uniform pants. He could barely make out Lefis
body in this light, but saw enough to show him the Somians supple movement, his
complete physical control. No doubt he was erect, but his species was known to have
unlimited sexual stamina. He wasnt suffering from his arousal, at least not to the extent
his client was.
She was sobbing now, her face buried in a pillow. Lefi sat next to her and stroked
her back while soothing the red marks on her buttocks. As her sobs began to cease, he
leaned forward, his face to her skin, and gently pulled her back to her knees as he
coaxed her ass into the air. Instead of entering her body, he embraced her. His long,
silky ponytail trailed over the calves of her legs.
You can climax, Judith. He spread her knees wider and slid onto his back so she
hovered over his face. The woman was overwhelmed by his ministrations, and she
moaned again, this time in agonized bliss. It wasnt your fault, love. I just never took
the time with you, did I? He pulled her down and gave her oral stimulation. She
gasped, her body reacting to the invasion.
You were a wonderful mana wonderful lover. The womans voice trembled as
she spoke, carried away by a fusion of arousal and emotion. Lefi lay back a bit so he
could speak.
But you never told me what you wanted, did you? And I never asked.
She breathed, her plump body rolling with the movement of his mouth. I didnt
know how to say it.
After a noisy, wet kiss to her mons, Lefi broke free, slid out from between her legs,
and rolled her to her back. He lay on his side next to her, his head propped on his fist.
You know the words now, though, dont you? He brushed the tears from her cheeks.
You know how to ask for what you need?
She nodded, and even in the dim light, Afton could see the Bacchis radiant smile.
Somian were famously happy people. They credited it to their uninhibited sexuality. As
8 Belinda McBride
a Valoran, Afton held the suspicion that they were simply idiots. But then, idiots
couldnt perform the sort of miraculous brain research the Somian were known for. In
addition, the Somian civilization hadnt seen war in millennia, and violence was almost
unknown among their people. He had to respect that.
Can you tell me what you need now, Judith?
I want you inside meon top.
Good girl. Fast? Slow?
Slow. Please.
Slow it is, then. Lefi sorted through a basket, selected a slim container, and
quickly coated his cock with a spray-on film. That was a point in his favor; the Somian
were nearly impervious to most diseases, and unless the woman was at risk of
pregnancy, the condom was strictly a matter of consideration.
Afton watched as Lefi covered the woman and then guided his engorged cock into
her body. She wrapped her plump legs around his lean thighs, and they began to move,
slowly, steadily. Afton could no longer hear the Bacchis murmured words, but the
woman gave a shaky laugh followed by a groan. She circled her arms around Lefis
neck, then pulled him down and nuzzled his neck and shoulder. The Bacchi rose and
smiled down at her, then peppered her lips with kisses.
How could he do that? For that matter, how could she lie with a stranger this way,
sharing kisses that were nearly as intimate as the sex act itself? She groaned, and
without warning, her hips thrust hard into Lefis, pumping as her butt left the
cushioned surface on which she lay. To Aftons surprised humor, her toes curled as she
froze with her orgasm. She unlocked and thrust again, panting hard, stifling her cries
against his shoulder. No faking there. The Bacchi urged her on, and she groaned loudly,
finally ending on a breathy shriek.
Lefi Dhrahn went still, allowing her to come to a slow finish on his cock. Clearly
he knew what sort of touch she needed. His entire focus was on the woman and her
climax. Finally she fell back with an embarrassed laugh, sated and happy.
The Bacchi 9
That was beautiful, Judith.
She sighed, a small, exhausted expression of satisfaction on her face.
Im very proud of you. He pulled out of her body, his cock still erect, still
perfectly under his control. She lay on her back and ran a gentle hand over the rigid
organ.
Do you ever climax, Lefi?
Sometimes. If thats what my client needs.
What about your needs?
My needs? He leaned back, his eyes dropping closed, his hair hanging in an
arrow down his back. You fulfill my needs. When you climaxed now, you gave me
such happiness.
You know that isnt what I mean. She pulled her hand away and reached to the
side, where she found a silken robe.
Lefi stripped off the condom and discreetly disposed of it. Sometimes I take a
lover for a time. Thats all I need. He rose gracefully, and Aftons heart stopped for the
briefest moment. In this light Lefis skin was luminous, his hair inky dark. His eyes
were shadows in his face. His body was sculpted and perfect, broad shoulders angling
to narrow hips. His erection had faded, but his cock was still thick and heavy. Afton
caught his breath, his skin flushed, and his cock ached with excitement.
Hes a man. A male! The words echoed in his mind, effectively killing his arousal.
For the moment, anyway.
Do you still want to learn how to pleasure a man? Lefi had deftly turned the
conversation back to his client.
Bashfully she nodded.
Well, next time well work on that.
Will you climax?
10 Belinda McBride
His laugh was beautiful. Of course, for that is the purpose of the exercise, is it
not? Youre afraid. Can you tell me what youre afraid of?
Justyou knowyou in my mouth.
You worry about my coming in your mouth? She nodded, and even in the
candlelight Afton could see her blush. Then I certainly wont, if that worries you. Ill
wear a sheath. But Judith? With a finger under her chin, he tilted her face up to his.
Yes?
Every man has his own taste. My semen is sweet. If you want to, you can taste it.
Next time. He helped her to her feet, and in his skilled hands, the small, round woman
appeared graceful and elegant.
Next time Her eyes went unfocused, and the tip of her pink tongue showed
briefly at her lips. Id noticedthat your sweat isnt salty. Not much, anyway.
He chuckled, put an arm around her shoulders, and walked her out of Aftons
sight. No, it isnt. Later this week youll come back, and well talk some more His
voice faded away, leaving Afton standing alone and awkward in the tiny room.
Behind his trousers, Aftons cock was hard and urgent again; an insidious
dampness escaped his body. He clenched his fists, his fingernails nearly drawing blood.
A moment of focus allowed him to recapture his Valoran dignity. Then he heard
movement outside the door. Lefi was safely wrapped in a floor-length robe as he
moved around the living space, picking up objects and putting them away. His client
was still in the house, and Afton decided it would be best if he remained hidden for the
moment. He took a deep breath and turned to examine his surroundings.
The room was smallnot a closet but clearly designed for storage. It took only a
moment to ascertain what Lefi used it for.
One wall contained hanging floggers and manacles, leather straps, and exotic
devices Afton couldnt make sense of. There were shelves with dildos of all shapes and
sizes, as well as other toys, lubricants, and massage oils.
The Bacchi 11
And then there were the costumes.
The Bacchi had everything ranging from fetish gear that consisted of a few leather
straps, to flowing robes from a Warlan fantasy. Afton moved hanger after hanger, then
finally broke into a grin. There were several outfits clearly designed for women, along
with wigs and shoes. They would fit the Bacchi to perfection.
See something you like?
Afton whirled around, the smile fading from his face. The Somian in the doorway
didnt quite tower over him but was tall enough to intimidate. In reaction Afton
returned to his own instinctive military posture.
Lefi reached past him and brought down an outfit that consisted solely of drapes
of brightly colored, silken scarves.
I dance in this one. The client likes to strip me naked, one scarf at a time. He
flashed that brilliant smile and hung the skimpy costume back on the rack. Its called
the Dance of the Seven Sins. Borrowed from Earth, of course.
He lifted down another. One gentlemanand I use that term looselyenjoys
seeing me dressed as a female. This little green schoolgirl dress is his favorite. We can
only be grateful he acts out his fantasy with me rather thanotherwise.
Afton finally gave in, smiling and shaking his head. The old-fashioned jumper had
a silky blonde wig with it. Another Earth-based kink. While he was tall, the Somian was
willowy and beautiful enough to cross gender.
So what compels you to intrude while Im with a client, Inspector? Lefi turned
away, leaving Afton to follow him into the main living space. He opened a panel and
brought up the lights in the room. An elaborate golden Bacchi bracelet dangled from his
left wrist, shimmering and catching Aftons gaze. An electric-blue credit chit dangled
from one link, and the various acts the Somian was proficient in were advertised by the
numerous dangling charms. The precious metal indicated that among the Bacchi, hed
achieved mastery within the guild of his profession.
12 Belinda McBride
It seemed Lefi Dhrahn was no common prostitute. Afton had never really noticed
the bracelet before. He had the odd impulse to examine it, to see just what the Bacchi
did for his clients.
Feeling the warmth of a blush on his face, Afton reached into his pocket and
extended the warrant just as Lefi turned away and swept into the kitchen in a flutter of
black silk. With the lights up, the gem-green tones of his hair sparkled, matching the
iridescent flush of green over his cheeks. When he turned back to Afton, his vivid
purple eyes gleamed with humor. He offered a glass to Afton.
Its only juice, as youre on duty. He smiled again and sipped his own drink.
I have a warrant. Afton handed him the paper, leaving the glass untouched as
Lefi studied the document. One arched brow rose.
This afternoon?
In less than an hour.
The prostitute rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation. Fine. Give me ten
minutes. He finished his drink, leaned back against the marble counter, then studied
Aftons face.
So tell me, Inspector, did you learn anything today?
Only that having an audience doesnt impair your performance.
The Somian laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners. Then you werent really
paying attention, were you? I found your presence quitedistracting.
Afton felt his skin darken in embarrassment, and the response annoyed him; he
should have been well accustomed to the Bacchis relentless flirtation by now.
Why did you strike her?
Lefi gently set the glass on the counter, then turned back to Afton. Humor still
danced in his eyes.
Some people find punishment cathartic. It allowed her to break through the
emotional barriers that kept her from culmination. He pushed off the counter, and the
The Bacchi 13
silk of his robes brushed Afton as he passed by. I keep a light touch with her. Judith
only needs the suggestion of punishment to purge her guilt. He gave Afton his elegant
profile. You might try it sometime, Inspector. As a Valoran I imagine you carry far too
much guilt.
For a moment Afton froze. How could he possibly know such a thing?
He followed Lefi back into the main room of the apartment. With the lights up he
could see that the far half of the room had been arranged for relaxationand sex. The
floor was thickly carpeted; cushions of all sizes littered the space.
This is the main living area. Ive got another room with more specialized
equipment. Thats where I usuallywork. He spoke casually, his tone friendly and
open. Please, make yourself comfortable. Ill be only a moment.
He was gone, leaving behind the fragrance of exotic spices, sex, and aroused
Somian. Afton shivered as his cock hardened once again. With a frustrated sigh he
flopped down onto a luxurious honey-colored chaise and waited.

LEFI LOVED VALORANS. He adored Valorans!
Out there in his living room, the uptight, practical hermaphrodite was literally
creaming his pants after the display with Judith. Lefi stripped naked and stepped into
the shower unit, choosing sonic over water. He didnt have the time for the luxury of
water; the judge would be waiting.
He left the shower and entered his bedchamber, then quickly selected a pair of
close-tailored, velvet trousers and a white silk shirt with deeply ruffled cuffs. The shirt
was slightly sheer, offering glimpses of his dusty-green nipples. The dark green velvet
pants hugged his crotch; the filmy fabric displayed his anatomy with a complete lack of
shame. Lefi strapped on a pair of soft, tall boots and quickly wrapped a dark purple
sash around his waist. Judge Hoff loved his purple eyes, and the sash would play up
the color. He found a loose velvet jacket that framed his hips, again chosen to showcase
14 Belinda McBride
the assets the judge would be eyeing. He grinned, wondering how the inspector would
react to his outfit.
Back in the vanity room, Lefi untied his hair and brushed it; the vivid green settled
over the black velvet of the jacket. He needed no makeup or enhancements, as his eyes
were rimmed with lashes of a green so dark they were nearly black. The same
luminescent green brushing his cheekbones glazed the warm flesh color of his generous
lips and traced his eyes like kohl.
He considered himself critically in the mirror, not seeing a creature of sublime
beauty but simply another Somian, nearly the mirror image of his twin. And as always,
thoughts of his twin brought a sharp stab of pain to a heart that was usually numb.
He heard movement in the other room. The Valoran was up, undoubtedly
examining the house for traces of illegal activity. Since Lefis arrival in the city, he and
the inspector had been circling each other like a pair of surly AmWere, though in all
honesty, Lefi found a good deal of pleasure in getting a rise out of Afton.
Initially Afton Teris had been assigned to his background check and professional
clearances. Following those delightful months, Afton had been promoted to inspector,
and Lefi had been the victim of a burglary in his previous residence. Even after Afton
had been promoted, the department had seen fit to keep the Valoran inspector in charge
of Lefis file. Time after time theyd been thrown together. Not that Lefi was
complaining; the results couldnt have been more satisfactory even if hed bribed an
official. Theyd fallen into a routine, with Lefi baiting the inspector, digging hard to find
the limit of his patience. Frankly he hadnt expected Afton to hold out this long. The
seduction should have taken mere weeks. Afton Teris had resisted him for nearly a
year.
The harder he pushed the Valoran, the more the other man responded to him
sexually but did his best to reject that attraction. The loss of control had to drive the
inspector crazy; Valorans were surprisingly prudish. In his mind Afton was completely
The Bacchi 15
male, but he was reacting to Lefis teasing as a gen would. There was a streak of sexual
curiosity hiding beneath that rigid exterior.
It was a pityif Lefi had both sets of sexual organs, he would make full use of
them! But that was the conundrum of trying to seduce a Valoran: the species had such
physical potential, yet chose to lock it down with artificial social constructs. Men were
men, and women were women. And gens? Well, they were something else completely.
They werent bisexual; their differences were not an issue of sexuality at all. Gender-
neutral Valorans viewed themselves as both genders yet neither. Even their appearance
was different from other Valorans. They were magically androgynous. If a gen fell in
love with a woman, he gradually took on stronger male characteristics. If he spent time
with a male, hed tip over into the female role. That was why gens generally remained
among themselves.
He didnt want to push the Valoran into an identity crisis, but Lefi could sense the
split that was already present in his identity. Lefi had no preference between male and
female and was certain that once the Valorans inhibitions broke, Afton Teris would be
a delightful lover. And Lefi fully intended to taste him, regardless of which gender was
offered. Hopefully hed have the opportunity to experience both. Gender-neutral
Valorans were rare creatures, few and far between, so he didnt want to spook the
inspector away. If he pushed too hard, Afton Teris might flee the cityeven the planet.
Lefi wasnt certain how the inspector had grown up unaware of his gender neutrality,
but he had, and it was rather sad. What should have been a simple, natural progression
in childhood could now present a severe schism in his personality as an adult.
Refraining from his normal theatrical entrance, Lefi paused in the doorway and
quietly observed the Valoran.
His hair was jet-black and cut in the traditional Valoran wedge cut. It had a slight
wave that probably grew unruly when Afton was worked up or being particularly
active. Lefi could imagine that hair tousled into loose curls after a round of vigorous
sex.
16 Belinda McBride
Like all Valorans, he was willowy, though not as tall as most males of his species.
His musculature was lithe and flexible. Aftons deep-set eyes were almond shaped and
nearly as dark as his hair. His face was so finely etched as to look almost delicate; high
cheekbones shadowed a graceful chin. Full lips gave a hint of sensuality to an otherwise
austere visage. He was as beautiful as a black diamond, and the plain black uniform
was the perfect foil for his dramatic coloring.
The species was famous for their fierce intellect, but Lefi was fully aware of the
deadly potential of the Valoran fighter. Slightly pointed canine teeth gave credence to
their predatory past. As Afton prowled the plush room, the warm beiges and browns
presented a rich background for his dark beauty. He reminded Lefi of that beautiful
Earth predator, the panther.
The Valoran looked up and caught Lefis regard. He flushed deeply. He held a
book in one hand.
The Poems of Treasea of Parna. Good selection.
Im surprised you own a copy.
Lefi crossed the room and gently removed the book from Aftons slender hands,
deliberately crowding his space.
It was a gift from my father. I knew the poet when I was young. At that time,
political rhetoric disguised as romantic poetry did not enthrall me.
He let the leather cover fall open and saw the familiar scrawl of the authors
signature next to a note from his father. Now I understand what the poet was trying to
say.
Treasea was killed in the revolution on Parna.
Yes, he was.
He turned to the shelf and replaced the book. He resisted the urge to rub away the
pain around his heart. He and my father fell side by side. He could only smile,
The Bacchi 17
because tears no longer came at the memory. They were very close. I recall seeing
Treasea in my parents bed quite often over the years.
Im sorry. Your mother must have been devastated.
Its very hard for a Somian to survive the death of our heart or of our twin. My
father was not engaged in the battle, as we are pacifists by nature. He and Treasea were
evacuating injured rebels. Lefi turned away and started for the door. Fortunately for
my mother, her twin survived, and Mother was integrated into my aunts marriage. She
was of great comfort to my fathers twin. They were miles apart at the time of Fathers
death, yet my uncle collapsed at the moment his brother died. Such was the life of a
Somian. When fate struck, it was cruel and harsh.
He glanced back at Afton. We have little time, Inspector. Anything else you wish
to know about me is a matter of public record.
He held the door open and then followed Afton to the lift.
They didnt speak again on the trip to the court.
18 Belinda McBride
Chapter Two
Bacchi Dhrahn, you have once again allowed your license to expire.
Afton stood to the side, struggling to keep his face impassive. The proceedings
seemed more in the nature of friendly bantering than a hearing. The courtroom was
tiny; all other respondents were waiting in an anteroom, leaving the three of them
alone.
Lefi Dhrahn bowed slightly. Respectfully, Your Honor, all my licensing and
certification are current.
Sex trade professionals were required to submit to monthly physical exams to rule
out disease and mental instability. In the case of the Somian, it was irrelevant, as the
species carried and passed on no diseases, and they were notoriously stable, if a bit
frivolous. They were ideal for the sex industry and almost always worked in tandem
with their birth twin. This was the first time Afton really noticed the absence of Lefis
twin.
Was he one of the rare singletons? Or had he and his twin parted? That seemed
unlikely, yet he lacked the extreme grief that marked a Somian whod lost their twin to
death.
Your certifications are all in order, Bacchi; however, your provisional license to
practice psych therapy has expired.
The little judge looked positively triumphant.
Afton nearly dropped his jaw in surprise. Psych therapy? Some of the Bacchis
clients were actuallypatients? How could Afton have been unaware of this?
Your Honor, I traveled to the capital to take the annual exams required by Landis
Proper. Perhaps the records simply have not been updated within the local databases?
The Bacchi 19
I have those, Bacchi. Unfortunately the Territorial paperwork for L17 is absent.
In spite of his innate hostility toward the Somian, Afton felt a spike of anger. The
LP certifications were all that were necessary to practice anywhere on the planet.
Aftons licensing as a law enforcement officer was similar.
I apologize most profoundly, Your Honor. I will cancel all my patients until that
licensing is validated.
Nevertheless, Bacchi, you have practiced psychology without a proper license.
Afton watched in amazement as Lefi stood quietly, head bowed, seemingly
humbled. I am at your mercy, Your Honor.
Afton schooled his face to indifference as he glanced at the judge. Color was
creeping up the humans neck, and his cheeks were flushed. His breathing was slightly
rapid.
I wont confine you, Bacchi, but I will require punishment.
Lefi bowed humbly.
A fine. One thousand credits, payable immediately.
Afton must have betrayed his shock, because Lefi shot him an inscrutable look.
His expression remained serene. Of course, Your Honor. He fumbled with his
bracelet, then handed the tiny credit chit to the judge. The judge trailed his stubby
fingers over Lefis elegant hand. Deftly he ran the chit over a scanner and handed it
back to Lefi.
Ill be watching you, Bacchi. Stay out of trouble.
Again, the submissive bow. Of course, Your Honor.
Afton looked to the judge for instructions. The older man was fixated on the
Somian. This was blatant harassment, yet Lefi seemed accustomed to it. Without a
word, Afton moved to the side of the small courtroom and unlocked the door, making
way for the next defendant. Silently the Somian moved to his side.
20 Belinda McBride
They walked out of the muni building into the bright afternoon sun, and Lefi took
a deep breath, then let it out slowly. In the full light his coloring was breathtaking. The
sun picked up the green on his cheekbones and lips. The tips of his eyelashes were the
same color as his hair. They glistened. The Somian caught him staring and smiled.
What just happened in there?
Lefi chuckled, a husky, endearing sound. You, my dear inspector, were just used
in the judges perverse little game. He enjoys hauling me in on flimsy charges every
month or so and playing a power game with me. He was very nearly ready to pop by
the time we left. By unlocking the door for the other defendants, you denied him his
release.
What? Afton came to a dead stop. That was sex?
Youll notice his right hand never came to the top of the desk.
But he fined you!
He paid me. Rather handsomely, I might add. That was his personal scanner.
Lefi lifted his hand, displaying the credit chit. Plus, he tipped me. With a flick of his
ruffled cuff, Lefi produced a large purple amethyst. Its certainly annoying, but its a
living. And this will make a lovely pendant, dont you think? The judge does love my
eyes. He started down the street again, neatly dodging pedestrians. Im rather
hungry; do you care to join me? Ill pay. As the innocent witness to that performance,
youve certainly earned a nice meal.
So why was I called in to escort you? Why the urgent summons? The order to
enter without permission?
The summons was urgent because the judge was in a hurry. Its not often that he
finds a loophole to haul me in on. And Im sure he chose you simply for the titillation of
having a high-ranking enforcement official in the room, none the wiser to his true
intent. Hes a bit of an exhibitionist.
The Bacchi 21
Lefi paused on the walkway as a magnetic shuttle passed, and then crossed the
street. Take comfort in the fact that youll be in his favor for a time. The Somian
grinned at Aftons sour expression.
Im on duty, Bacchi. I really need to
Yes, I know youre on duty, but Im certain even law enforcement officials receive
meal breaks. Fortunately here on Landis, Im a respected citizen. Bacchi are treated like
common whores on most other human settlements. Your reputation will not suffer.
Well
I may be a whore, but Im certainly no common whore, my dear inspector. He
took Aftons arm and urged him up a stairway. Most whores dont receive insurance
compensation as medical practitioners.
The door of the restaurant was simple and understated. There in the sunlight, with
his flamboyant coloring and garb, Lefi looked like a peacock. In contrast, Afton felt like
a raven in his unrelieved black.
The door opened silently at their approach. A pair of smiling Somian men greeted
them, took Lefis coat, and each bestowed a light kiss on his lips as he entered. To
Aftons relief, he was spared the attention.
This is where youll find most of the citys Somian population at one point or
another.
The interior of the restaurant was sumptuous and comfortable. Aftons feet made
no sound on the carpeted floor, and the tapestry-covered walls contributed to a
comforting hush in the foyer.
Dr. Dhrahn.
Two Somian women approached; they were dressed in silken, flowing gowns that
complemented their pastel coloring. Again kisses were bestowed on the Bacchi, and
flirtatious glances were cast in Aftons direction. For the hundredth time that day, he
was grateful for the uniform tunic that masked his arousal. Resentment stiffened his
22 Belinda McBride
spine; he didnt enjoy the blatant displays of erotic sensuality the Somian surrounded
themselves with.
Hed seen many Somian in his professional life, but they were usually sex
workers. This pair was sensuously beautiful, their hair neatly coiffed, clothing elegant
and expensive. Their coloring differed, but like all Somian twins, their faces were
identical. And like all Somian, they seemed unable to keep their hands to themselves.
Hands ran up Lefis arms, stroked his chest, admired the soft velvet of his trousers and
quality of his silken shirt.
Lefis cock swelled within his revealing pants, yet he was completely
unembarrassed by his arousal. The women would view it as a compliment rather than
an offense. On Valora, such unabashed exhibition would be shameful.
Inspector Afton, this is Raja and Preece Shan. Their parents own the Paradise,
which is our sanctuary away from home.
And we are pleased you brought your guest to us, Lefi. We will attend him well.
Clearly no double entendre was intended, yet Aftons body reacted just the same.
He took a deep breath and smiled slightly, allowing Raja with the pink hair to take his
arm. We have a lovely table available, Inspector. Have you ever dined on Somian
fare?
He shook his head.
You are in for a pleasant experience. I promise you. His arm tingled where she
clasped it, despite the heavy fabric of his coat. It was psychological, he knew, but just
the same, being in the presence of the three Somian was beginning to invade his
subconscious. Images of the women played in his imagination. They were naked, their
bodies entwined with hiswith Lefis
He coughed, inwardly wincing as his cock slid uncomfortably inside of his
trousers.
Inspector Afton?
The Bacchi 23
He glanced up to meet Lefis gaze. His eyes were as dark as spilled ink in this
light. Everything all right?
Im fine. Im just
On duty. Of course. Raja, please make certain there are no intoxicants in the
inspectors food or drink. And remind the kitchen staff that hes a Valoran; have them
prepare his meal appropriately.
Of course.
They entered the dining room, which was nearly filled to capacity. The patrons
looked like a living, moving rainbow. Somian of all colors and descriptions occupied
low tables and booths. To his surprise, there were children who sparkled with as much
color and life as their parents.
Everyone seemed to know the Bacchi; Lefi greeted several acquaintances along the
way. Fortunately he didnt pause to chat.
A light, sweet perfume drifted through the air; it was the fragrance unique to the
Somian species. It was said they emitted a pheromone that rendered them nearly
irresistible, particularly to species other than their own. To his dismay, Afton realized
he was far from immune. His skin warmed; his body prepared itself for sex. Breathing
deeply simply exacerbated the problem.
Several curtained doorways were at the back of the dining room, and the twins
escorted them into one of these private chambers. The room was sumptuously
decorated in cream and gold. The plush seating was low to the floor. Lush plants grew
in pots, and the room was lit solely with candles.
Afton bit the inside of his cheek; the cushioned floor and scattered cushions were
clearly for private entertainments. He wondered if sex was on the menu along with
food and wine.
Lefi slipped off his boots and sprawled elegantly on the low sofa. He reached into
a bowl and plucked out several plump fruits.
24 Belinda McBride
Be seated, Inspector. Be comfortable.
Slowly Afton settled to the sofa. His stomach pulled tight with hunger.
This is a grape. Its a fruit that originated on Earth. It grows abundantly on Niye.
The officials of that planet are hopeful that legitimate commerce might eventually end
the piracy and crime there.
No doubt the pirates will simply absorb the industry.
Possibly. Agriculture is hard work, though. They might wish to avoid it. But its
good that the people of Niye have hope.
Afton leaned forward and selected one of the small fruits from the bowl. He bit
into it, and sweet juice flooded his mouth. He sighed. Very good.
They use other strains of the fruit for wine. Lefi poured a deep red fluid from a
decanter. But you are on duty. His smile was wicked as he tasted the wine.
Is this room used for sex?
I love the Valoran trait of blunt questioning. Yes, Inspector, sometimes we come
with dates or companions. But the restaurant does not provide the service, only the
room. He chose another grape. The private rooms are for non-Somian guests. We are
aware that many Somian gathered in one space can be overwhelming to other species.
He smiled at Afton and then glanced away, his lashes lowered over sparkling eyes.
Did you bring me here to seduce me?
Lefi laughed in delight. No, I brought you here to feed you! Do you consider me
so unworthy of your trust?
A set of male twins entered the room with trays that displayed exquisite foods
Afton didnt recognize. The smell was incredible, and his stomach rumbled.
Rather than order a single entre, we prefer to sample a wide variety of foods.
We consider the preparation and presentation a form of art. That tray is cold. This one is
heated. Later they will return with sweets.
Afton looked around with some confusion. There were no plates or utensils.
The Bacchi 25
Please, simply serve yourself from the tray. You may use your hands.
One of the young men poured a clear golden beverage into a stemmed glass, then
set it in front of Afton. That is sophris, a beverage made from a Somian flower. We
serve this to those who are too young or who prefer not to drink potent beverages.
Flushing in embarrassment, Afton sipped the fluid. It was light and quenching,
mildly sweet. Once he tried his drink and had a bit to eat, he relaxed. Clearly the room
was designed for relaxation and conversation. It was a change from the rigid formality
hed grown up with. He looked over at Lefi and watched as he selected a morsel from a
tray.
Why do you choose to prostitute yourself?
Lefi smiled and reached for his wine. He didnt answer.
If what they say is true, you have advanced degrees. You could make your living
in a legitimate fashion.
I do make my living in an honest fashion. The woman you watched me with was
not a client. She was a patient.
But not all your clients are patients.
No. And not all my patients have sexual issues. Within my culture there is no
dishonor in making a living in the sex trade. After all, its what our bodies are best
suited for. His gaze slid along the length of Aftons body. Oddly enough, its what
Valoran bodies are best suited to as well. I find it odd that your people have developed
such revulsion of their nature.
Afton frowned at him. There is no revulsion, and the tendency to identify with
one gender over another is normal.
Then why are you so disturbed about having a strong attraction to me?
Its normal to become aroused when people are having sex. Afton wiped a
damp palm along his leg. Catching himself, he clenched his fist.
26 Belinda McBride
You are most disturbed that you respond to me as a female. Youve been wet all
afternoon.
That is untrue. Suddenly Aftons throat felt tight. His voice was quiet in his
stress.
Your female scent is as light and sweet as the sophris you drank.
Afton swallowed hard and changed the subject. That human you were with
Judith?
Afton nodded. She was much older. And not very desirable.
Lefis smile faded. He carefully chose a small rolled dumpling, bit into it, and
chewed slowly. You are surprised that I enjoyed fucking her because she is middle-
aged and plump. He took a sip of his wine. There is beauty and desirability in all
forms, Afton. Judith Her skin is soft, and she has a gentle touch. When I kneel behind
her, her buttocks jiggle delightfully at my blows. When shes on her back, her breasts
shake every time I thrust into her body. And when I cover her, penetrate her cunt, she is
soft and pillowy and warm. Shes only just learned to climax, and sometimes it makes
her cry.
Why?
Why does she cry? He lifted an arched brow slightly. Its new to her. The
intensity of the physical sensation overwhelms her. The emotional impact is painful; she
never experienced culmination with the man she loved. She feels a bond with me
because of the trust weve developed, but that connection frightens her. Shes afraid of
the eventual parting, yet looks forward to it as well. Shes nearly ready to move on.
Afton studied the Bacchis face. You didnt climax.
That would be rude unless my partner asks me to do so. He drank again. But I
restrain myself only with paying clients or patients. I expect to fully enjoy my lovers.
His gaze again roved Aftons body, leaving no doubt as to what he was imagining.
The Bacchi 27
With you, there would be many delights. If you wanted to fuck me, Id cherish
the feel of you inside my body. Id love to taste the hard flesh of your cockthe sweet
juice of your pussy
Im male, Lefi.
The Bacchi continued, ignoring Aftons terse words. Have you ever wondered
what it would feel like, Afton, to have a hard cock up your cunt? To feel your breasts
tingle and soften? To part your legs to a male?
That is enough!
Have you wondered what it would be like to feel a mans face at your sex, licking
the wine from your flower or nipping at your sweet, tiny clit?
Afton set his jaw and looked away, looked anywhere but at that tempting
facethat body
Would you like me to kiss you?
Stop.
Lefi grinned and set his glass on the table. Despite the fact that they were several
feet apart, Afton felt as though every inch of his body had been touched and stroked
and set ablaze. The Bacchi reclined, his arm casually resting across the back of the sofa.
In the distance, Afton heard the strains of soft music.
Your words lack conviction.
I will not be seduced, Lefi.
If I choose to seduce you, Inspector, you will be unable to resist.
And Afton knew the truth for what it was. If the Bacchi wanted him, he would
have him. Afton would have no will to resist.
Are you emitting pheromones?
Of course. All creatures emit pheromones. Thats how I know of your attraction
to me, Valoran. But Im not doing so to ensnare you. However, if we were to kiss
28 Belinda McBride
They were interrupted as the twins arrived to clear the table, and they left behind
a small tray of sweets. They refreshed Aftons drink and presented Lefi with a tiny glass
on a golden tray. He picked it up and held it to the light of the candles.
This is a dessert wine of sorts. Very potent and a strong aphrodisiac. He smiled
at Aftons surprise. I have clients tonight. The wine in my system will heighten their
arousal.
He downed it in one swallow. His eyes dropped closed as his entire body
shuddered. Lefi exhaled and shivered. When he opened his eyes, they were heavy and
languorous. It is called chalus. A gift from the Goddess of the Garden. His smile was
sin itself.
But never fear; it takes several hours to work through my system. When the
judge licks my skin, the wine will penetrate the membranes of his mouth and tongue.
When his wife sucks my cock
The judge? Again? Afton rolled his eyes, lifting his glass to his lips.
Of course. One thousand credits and a gemstone buy a good deal of my time.
He smiled gently at Afton. And your company now will be a welcome memory later
tonight. I will see your face instead of his. Lefi dropped his gaze to Aftons mouth.
Are you finished?
Lefi brought a napkin to his lips. He then rose gracefully and picked up the soft
leather boots hed left by the door.
Ill never be finished provoking you, Inspector Teris.
The Bacchi 29
Chapter Three
How kind of you to insist on accompanying me home.
Afton sighed in weary frustration. You know quite well its the requirement of
serving a warrant.
Of course it is. Would you come in for tea?
No.
Pity. I wont seduce you. I have to save myself. For tonight.
Im
Off duty as of thirty minutes ago. Unless you have other plans?
Though Valorans werent deeply psychic, some had a talent for touch-reading.
Afton was one of them, and the need to accidentally brush the Somians skin was
overwhelming. Flirtation aside, hed have liked to have known what was going on in
that lovely green head. Hed managed to clear himself of the sensual haze that had
settled over him in the restaurant; surely he could take some time to satisfy his
curiosity.
Lefi opened the door and stood back, smiling gently as Afton entered. Once again
he was struck by the serene luxury of the place. He looked into the room, and every
fashion of temptation rushed back over him like a wave. He swallowed, forcing back
arousal, curiosity, and shame. Afton took a step forward and nearly retreated. Another
step and it was too late to turn back.
Oddly nothing happened. No one pointed their finger in laughter. No dark eyes
glared at him in disapproval. It was just Lefi, waiting patiently.
30 Belinda McBride
Please, be at home. Ill prepare tea. Lefi swept from the room, and in seconds
Afton heard him in the kitchen, humming softly as he worked. His deep voice was soft
and luxuriant, a delight to the ears.
Afton wandered into the living area, admiring the high-tech entertainment
console, the understated decor. The art pieces were sophisticated, yet nothing Afton
recognized as being trendy or in high demand. They appeared to be primitives and
archeological pieces. A slender bookcase held several archaic volumes like the book of
poetry hed unshelved earlier. A woven throw lay rumpled on a cushion, and a holo-
reader rested on a small table.
No personal items were hereno photographs or holo-images. But the room was
clearly well loved and lived-in.
Afton avoided looking over at the nest of cushions that dominated the far end of
the room. He could still see the echo of the Bacchi and his clientpatient. She was a
patient, and hed spied. He shook his head in chagrin.
Lefi entered, carrying a tray with a small pot and cups; an aromatic vapor filled
the room when he poured. After slipping off his gloves, Afton accepted the cup and
inhaled.
Another Earthly delight: oolong tea. Its not as invigorating as their coffee, but
the taste is more pleasant.
Afton sipped and had to agree.
Do you like my home? I find it odd, living at the top of a tower. I miss having a
garden, though there is one on the roof. But the security here is excellent. I have a great
deal of space.
Do you have problems? With clients?
No. Actually, I generally go to most of my clients. A few individuals prefer to
come here.
For privacy.
The Bacchi 31
Lefi nodded. They were silent for several moments as they enjoyed the tea. The
entire experience was conducive to serenity, but Aftons mind still worked busily.
Again, I wonder why you do this. He handed his cup to the other man. Lefi
carefully refilled it. When he returned the cup, Afton allowed his uncovered skin to
brush the Bacchis hand.
Loneliness. Isolation. Attraction. Abandonment. Despair. Want.
Guilt flooded him at the invasion of Lefis inner feelings. The Somians psychic
pain nearly undid Afton, and he lashed out reflexively.
Why dont you have a twin? He delivered the question with full Valoran
abruptness, hating himself even as the words left his mouth. Lefi went very still for a
moment, his purple gaze going dim. In that moment Afton knew hed struck hard and
deep. Too hard. He cleared his throat and tried to soften the assault.
Im sorry. I initially assumed you were born a singleton. But now I wonder
You are an excellent detective.
You had a falling-out with your family. Theyve rejected you. Afton had never
heard of a Somian family turning on one of their own. That was a Valoran trait, one he
was familiar with.
Lefi stared at him, then carefully set his teacup on the low table. Afton noticed a
slight tremor in his hands. Youve discovered my dark secret, Inspector. He smiled
sadly and stood, then gathered the tray and tea service. Ive enjoyed your company, as
I hope youve enjoyed mine. But now, I must prepare for the evening. He vanished
into the kitchen and returned within seconds. Somehow I dont expect you will be
seeking my company again, Inspector. But nevertheless, you are welcome to my home
anytime. Next time we have tea, we will take it up to the garden.
Afton found himself on his feet, then gently escorted to the door. Inside his gut
writhed with guilt; clearly hed hurt the Somian deeply. That had been an arrogant,
cruel question. Hed spied on Lefi and then used that stolen knowledge, causing pain.
And now his damn pride was too rigid to apologize.
32 Belinda McBride
He reached down blindly to open the door. Before he could set foot outside, the
door suddenly slammed closed in his face.
Wha
He turned to find himself pressed back against the wooden panel, trapped by two
strong arms and a powerful body. Lefi was smiling; his purple eyes glowed with
wicked intent. Behind the lust a spark of anger darkened his gaze.
This close, Afton could see the green shimmer on the Somians eyelids, the delicate
pattern on the skin over his cheekbones.
I asked if you wanted me to kiss you. You never answered. I take that as a yes.
Afton opened his mouth to speak, to refuse, but Lefi was already there. His lips
were sweet with oolong, and his kiss was firm and skilled. He leaned in, his weight
supported only by his hands on either side of Aftons head. The full length of his body
hovered just inches from Aftons.
Only their lips touched.
Lefis kiss whispered, featherlight, leaving a trail of fire along Aftons mouth. The
Somian drew back just a little, looked deeply into Aftons eyes, then bent once again
and pressed with more insistence. Desperate to breathe, Afton inhaled, and the
Somians tongue slipped in to gently stroke his. He felt the tingle of the sweet wine Lefi
had sipped at the restaurant; he tasted the heat of his lust. Afton struggled to rebuild his
mental defenses, but Lefi slammed through and swamped Aftons cool, logical mind
with his need, his loneliness, and his desire.
Lefi slanted his head, taking the kiss deeper. As though in a dream, Afton felt his
own lips respond. He caught Lefis tongue with his teeth and then drew it deeper. He
sucked hard, and the taste of sweet nectar flooded his mouth, overwhelming his senses.
He swallowed it down, feeling the pheromone heat his mouth and then his entire body.
This was the very essence of Lefi, the dangerous honey of an aroused Somian.
The Bacchi shook and groaned, and Afton wondered if the nectar was a result of
the wine or if it was simply part of Somian physiology. Aftons senses grew sharp and
The Bacchi 33
heightened. He could hear the beat of Lefis heart and knew the other man was fiercely
aroused. He felt a perverse sense of pride in knowing hed sent the whore this far out of
control. Every aspect of this encounter was dangerous.
With a suddenness that left him shattered, Afton felt the grip of climax run
through his body. His back went tight; his body clenched and heated. He broke away
from the other mans mouth, gasping. He dug his fingers into the flesh of the Somians
broad shoulders.
He came, but he didnt ejaculate.
The orgasm rocked his entire world. He was stunned and breathless, and could
only thank the heavens Lefi appeared to not have noticed. Aftons cock was still hard
and rigid, pressing toward the other mans groin. Instead of easing his need, the deep
orgasm only fueled his lust.
Stay, Lefi whispered, nuzzling the ebony hair that swept along Aftons cheek.
They stood still, touching only where the Somians lips trailed along his jaw. Helplessly
Afton laid his head against the door, powerless against the mesmerizing song of Lefis
words. He moaned when the other man clasped the sensitive lobe of his ear and
worried the golden hoop he wore. It was the only vanity he allowed himself, and Lefi
had found that weakness and toyed with it mercilessly. Afton tried to speak, tried to
refuse, but words would not form.
Stay with me. The Somian spoke against Aftons throat; the words shuddered
through his skin, right to his very core. Once again, he felt the newly awakened muscles
of his female parts; he felt the warmth of moisture gathering where it shouldnt. Lefi ran
his strong hands up his arms, then lifted them to the top of the door. Aftons fingers
encountered a bar; automatically he clasped it and clutched hard.
Lefi ran his long, graceful hands down Aftons face, down to his shoulders, his
chest. He slowly unbuttoned the fitted black tunic, then opened it wide. Under his
uniform Afton wore a sleeveless white shirt; the Bacchi unbuttoned that as well and
bared Aftons skin to the air.
34 Belinda McBride

The Valoran body is so beautiful, be it male or female or gen. He bent to Aftons
chest and trailed his warm tongue along the skin there. Some are the color of tea with
milk, yet you are as pale as a moon. Your skin is fine and soft, and your nipples are the
same color as your lips. Now they are ruddy with need.
The Somian cleverly swirled his tongue around Aftons nipples, making them
hard and erect. He felt the skin tighten over his undeveloped breasts as they began to
ache with arousal.
Did you come when I kissed you?
Afton shook his head.
No? Pity. But I think you lie. The amount of nectar you pulled from me should
have brought you. He stroked Aftons body, then clasped and held his rigid cock.
Afton flexed into his hand. No, not here. You didnt spill.
Lefi continued, moving his hand back to fondle his testicles, and then he finally
cupped that hidden region behind. Afton bit back a frightened, aroused moan at the
sensation.
You are so wet that youve dampened your trousers. He straightened and
grinned. Your secret is safe with me, my little gen.
His whispered words broke the spell.
Im not a gen.
It took every ounce of strength he had, but Afton pried his fingers loose and
dropped his arms. Quickly he began to button his undershirt, his hands trembling. He
didnt look up again; if he did, he would be lost.
Ive never heard of a bisexual Valoran. They identify as male, female, or gender
neutral.
I am male. I prefer women.

The Bacchi 35

Then you must be making an exception for me. I am honored. Lefi dropped a
quick kiss on Aftons mouth, then backed away, giving the Valoran space. Afton
refused to look uprefused to meet his gaze. Instead he found himself staring at the
front of Lefis revealing pants. The Bacchi was huge and hard; precum had seeped
through the thin fabric. To Aftons shock, it shimmered. The fluid had an opalescence
similar to the coloring on his cheeks and lips. He glared at the Bacchi.
Dammit, Lefi, do you ever not have an erection?
Appearing perplexed, Lefi stared at him for a long moment. And then he laughed,
freely and without inhibition. His laughter was so unexpected that Afton had to fight
the urge to join him. When he calmed, Lefi shook his head, his bright green hair
glittering in the golden light.
Its a professional hazard, Inspector. And oddly, it seems to be a result of your
presence. So with that in mindas well as my engagement tonightI should bid you
good night.
Once again Afton turned to open the door. This time he stepped into the hallway
and started for the lift. He paused and turned to look at the Somian framed by the
doorway. Lefis mood had shifted again. The smile had faded from his face, leaving it a
study of harmonious lines and angles. The light had faded from his eyes too.
Afton waited for him to speak.
My twin died when we were in our teens.
Afton clenched his jaw and nodded abruptly. Of course there had been no falling-
out; it wasnt the Somian way. The Bacchis grief was exquisite and sharp. He didnt
need to touch his skin to feel it. Afton swallowed hard and watched the Somian as he
started to close the door.
Lefi?
The Bacchi paused. Yes?
36 Belinda McBride
Be very careful. Yours is not always a safe profession.
Thank you, Inspector.
Afton. Call me Afton.
Lefi smiled and closed the door.
The Bacchi 37
Chapter Four
Inspector Afton Teriss specialty was the cold cases. He was able to take a case that
was weeks or months or many cycles cold and carefully unravel the threads. He worked
a full load of current assignments but generally carried one cold case on his schedule at
all times. Hed just opened a new file and was scanning it on the holo-display of his
desk.
Afton. He looked up and saw Commander Reynolds standing at his desk.
Sir? He hopedprayedhe wasnt being sent off on another warrant. At the
same time his heart beat a little faster at the idea of seeing Lefi once again. It had been
weeks, and in time Afton had slowly come to the conclusion there was some merit in
what the Bacchi had to say: his female side was clearly making itself known. Hed
always oriented as male, yet there was no denying he was attracted to the Somian. Yet
hed never felt a deep attraction to another man before. As a child, hed chosen his
orientation, though he had no real memory of making that decision.
Afton had pored over Valoran social and scientific history, looking for cases
similar to his. Looking for a reason to feel less afraid too. Less ashamed. Even if he
never saw the Somian againeven if he never touched another manAfton knew hed
changed.
Or perhaps he was simply becoming himself.
Afton mentally chastised himself. He was a detective, and the more time he spent
worrying about himself, the less time he spent working on something truly important.
And yet, how could he help others when he was so confused? He was bringing his
personal problems to work, and that was simply not acceptable. He took a moment to
clear his mind and set his confusion aside.
38 Belinda McBride
On work time he tangled with cases large and small, but none quite so perturbing
as a recent pattern of missing persons. Or lack of a pattern, rather; people were simply
going missing, yet beyond their absence, they had nothing in common.
A cold case had come to his desk. Nearly a dozen people had vanished within a
short time frame, and then the disappearances stopped. Years later the pattern repeated
itself, and now, hed just found a recent case that was surprisingly similar. He was
afraid the trend would begin once again.
The new victim was a tall, blonde, humanoid female. The kidnapper had left
nothing of himself at the scene but fibers that were common throughout the system. The
young woman had been safe in her home, and then she was gone.
It appeared to be an anomaly until hed linked it to the older cases. Humans were
the main victims, which made sense, as they made up the bulk of the population on
Landis. The victims varied in age, size, gender, and profession. Most lived alone, which
made them more vulnerable. The newest victim was a prostitute.
Afton had been unable to connect the kidnappings to any consistently scheduled
freighters or passenger liners. He was fairly certain more than one person was involved;
the operations were well planned and executed. He was now waiting for reports from
the other territories on L17 as well as neighboring planets and stations, hoping for a
link.
Now, half in fear that he was about to be sent on another frivolous errand, he
looked up at his commander.
If you have a moment, I have someone Id like you to meet.
Of course, sir. Afton rose to follow, but the bald-headed male hesitated. Have
you ever met an AmWere?
Curiosity sparked. No, I havent. I understand theyre very reclusive.
Normally they are, but well be hosting a small group here on L17 for a while. I
just wanted to let you know what youre walking into. They asked specifically for you.
The Bacchi 39
Of course, the commander didnt tell him what to expect. He simply directed him
to a conference room.
Just dont piss them off.
Afton straightened his tunic and entered the room. Three men and a woman all
looked his way, clearly seeing him with senses other than their eyes.
This is Inspector Afton Teris. Inspector, this is
Rain de le Croix. The female rose to her feet to greet him, and Afton found
himself eye to eye with a stunningly beautiful woman. He wasnt tall for a Valoran, but
few humans reached his height. The female was taller than him.
Her hand was extended in the Earth custom.
I touch-read.
She paused at his warning, then nodded, and he shook her hand. Her shields were
good. He felt some anxiety. A long-simmering anger. Curiosity.
When the other AmWere stood, all the males looked down on Afton by several
inches. In other circumstances they could be extremely intimidating.
Storm de le Croix. The man who spoke was clearly her brother; their navy-blue
eyes were identical. Thomas and Erik.
He shook hands with each male in turn, pleased that none felt the need to
challenge him by breaking his hand. He looked back to Rain and Storm, who were the
leaders here.
How can I be of assistance to you? He nodded to the table, and they took their
seats again. This time Storm spoke.
We are searching for missing members of our pack. Thomas, Erik, and I are
employed by ICE, but our primary duty with Enforcement is to search out illegal
poachers and hunting facilities.
40 Belinda McBride
Interstellar Coalition Enforcement was the pyramid of all law enforcement in the
coalition. Afton could trace his line of command up to the top to Roane Vaine, the main
administrator of ICE.
Youre bounty hunters?
Hunter-trackers. Bounty hunters were freelance and mostly worked on
commission, while hunter-trackers took long-term assignments. They were a step below
the marshals, who were assigned their own ships and sometimes staff. Their authority
was wider reaching than that of the hunter-trackers. Here on Landis, their authority
was limited to their quarry.
The woman took over the story. She stood, paced for a moment, and then leaned
back against the table.
Years ago, about half our pack was stolen from Earth by slavers. Weve spent
nearly two decades searching for them. When we find them, our brothers and sisters are
usually on hunting preserves or in brothels. When ICE discovered what wed been
doing, they offered their resources in exchange for our knowledge and expertise in
slave trafficking and poaching. Its been a good exchange.
And you believe there is hunting activity here?
The AmWere exchanged glances; then Rain spoke again. Possibly within the
system. These three are staying on L17 while we explore this system. Ill be leaving to
bring AmWere refugees from Earth.
Hed heard the AmWere and their cousins, the EurLu, had been treated badly on
their home planet. Her trip home might be a risky mission.
You need a law enforcement liaison?
Yesbut theres another reason we sought you out. Have you ever heard of a
Valoran named Cali Polis?
He frowned, trying to recall the name. I believe the Polises are a low-level family
in the political structure of the government. And one was a well-known scientist. A
The Bacchi 41
brilliant individual whose drug addiction had driven him to debauchery and death.
Hed become a nighttime horror story told to Valoran children. A genius reduced to an
object lesson.
Cali is a member of that family. She was also an analyst and hunter for ICE. She
was a friend of our people.
Was?
He looked around the table, then finally met Rains deep blue eyes. Anger
simmered there, as well as grief.
Her ship was attacked. Her partner was mortally wounded, their captives left to
die of starvation as the ship drifted in space. Cali was taken.
Im sorry, I still dont
Weve added her to our list of missing pack. We simply wanted local
enforcement to be aware of our mission.
Thank you. He frowned and then looked back at Rain. You believe she is in the
sex trade?
Shes a very good fighter. Storm spoke, his voice steady and calm. His sister
visibly relaxed under its influence. There is a likelihood she may be in the
underground fighting circuits.
Its more likely that shes in the sex trade. Afton kept his voice neutral. They
might wish otherwise, but unfortunately this was the truth. Valorans are not a
promiscuous people, yet those who control the illegal sex trade take delight in
debauching them with drugs, particularly opiates from Earth. We are very susceptible
to them. Those who are addicted will do anything for the drugs. Clients are quite
fascinated by Valoran bodies. That was a tremendous understatement, and they all
knew it.
Do you have contacts within the sex industry?
42 Belinda McBride
Prostitution is legal and regulated here on Landis. The Bacchi has a full guild in
the city. I do know those who work within the industry. They may be of some
assistance.
Are there brothel barges?
He shook his head. Not that I know of, but possibly within other areas of the
system. However, they arent regulated, and they do move quite a lot. Ill check for
you.
Storm provided Afton with a small disk with all the names of the missing as well
as their images. He also left their contact information. The three men filed out while
Rain stayed behind.
I wont be here very long. I just wanted to thank you for your help.
He nodded and stood by the table. She was still leaning against it, looking slightly
dangerous in battered leathers and boots. Empty holsters testified to the danger of her
lifestyle.
There are other reasons your people are here?
She nodded, her dark curls bobbing with the movement. This system is fairly
close to Earth. Still, multisystem jumps are incredibly long and difficult. Were spread
thin, so Im piloting solo. Ill need some downtime on the return. Plus, the refugees may
need medical care. They are often traumatized as well.
Theyre AmWere?
Yes, but not from our pack. Many of the AmWere Ill be picking up from South
America are feline; they tend to be fearful of anything new. Theyve been in hiding
virtually all their lives.
Who are they running from?
You name it. With our pack it was the government. Years ago it was mobs of
bigots. Right now a fanatical religious group is growing in size and influence. Chasing
The Bacchi 43
us off the planet isnt enough. They want us eradicated. She folded her arms and
looked steadily at Afton.
I hadnt realized it was so difficult for your people.
Its always difficult for a minority. As a gen, Im certain you understand that.
Afton felt a flush suffuse his face. I do understand that, though Im not a gen. Im
a male.
Now the AmWeres face went red. God, me and my mouth! Im sorry! Im largely
dependent on my sense of smell, and I thought She shook her head. Cali was
clearly female. Sometimes when she was being aggressive, Id catch a testosterone
spike. You I thought
She trailed off as her embarrassment became uncomfortable.
You smell me as both male and female?
She nodded.
Thats very interesting, and you shouldnt feel embarrassed. After all, as a
Valoran, I am literally both sexes. Psychologically I view myself as male.
Ive heard the Somian psych scientists believe all Valorans are gens.
Afton nodded. Oddly it was easy to talk about such an uncomfortable topic with
this unusual female. She was frank and direct. He didnt feel the need to speak
diplomatically about the controversy. Perhaps it was easy because he knew he couldnt
lie to her. She could literally scent the truth in what he said.
Its a very radical position. They believe our selection of one gender over the
other is an artificial construct.
She folded her arms, looking a little more relaxed. Do you agree with that?
Did he? Afton looked into those deep blue eyes and saw friendly curiosity. She
wasnt critical or judgmental. He took a deep breath and, for the first time ever, spoke
the unsettling truth.
44 Belinda McBride
Im beginning to have my own questions about that very idea. In fact,
Imgrateful for your heightened olfactory sense. It doesnt make the questions I have
about myself any easier to confront, but youve confirmed something Ive suspected.
That youre gen?
Aftons cheeks grew warm again, and he dropped his gaze to the floor.
Verbalizing his fear had made it real. He looked at her, feeling relieved by the
frightening confession.
Im very attracted to another malea Somian. Homosexuality is nonexistent
among the Valoran. Thus my gender identity must be confused.
She laughed. Well, anyone would be attracted to a Somian! Thats the way nature
created them. And you are what nature intended you to be. You should learn to
embrace it. Maybe your Somian can help. Rain pushed away from the table. She was
lithe, powerful, and stunningly beautiful, and to Aftons surprise, his body reacted. By
this point hed had too many embarrassing moments to blush anymore around the
AmWere. She was polite enough to not mention it, though he knew that with her
sensitive nose, she smelled the abrupt arousal.
He isnt my Somian. Hes a Bacchi, a prostitute.
She chuckled at his denial, and suddenly Afton understood why ICE used the
AmWere in interrogations. Lying to them was pointless. He couldnt lie to her, so he
was forced to acknowledge the truth about his feelings for Lefi and about himself as
well. What must it be like to live in a society with few secrets? The idea was intriguing.
They headed for the door of the conference room. Afton pushed it open and stood
aside for Rain to exit.
Many of the Somian are sex workers. But it doesnt mean they dont love. She
halted. Is this man your contact in the sex industry? He nodded. PerhapsI dont
mean to impose, but perhaps you could arrange a meeting for me?
Aftons heart beat a little faster at the thought of Lefi. The last thing he needed was
to see the Somian again. But then it occurred to him that he didnt need to see Lefi to
The Bacchi 45
simply arrange a meeting. He could help Rain and still avoid the Bacchi altogether. In
fact, he could speak to the commander and have Lefi removed from his duty roster
completely.
I can do that. Im certain hell be glad to help. Ill arrange for an appointment
through the Bacchi Guild offices.
Thank you. You know how to reach me. Ill be here for another few days. The run
to Earth should take two or three weeks, depending on my passengers.
He nodded and watched the AmWere leave the room. She moved with the
elegant, careless grace of a wild animal. Lefi would like her. Lefi would like her very
much.
He felt a tiny thread of jealousy run through his belly, followed by a reluctant
satisfaction that he had avoided what could be a catastrophic meeting with Lefi Dhrahn.
* * * *
He stared for a long moment at the view screen, debating whether to send a visual
message or not. Lefi wasnt at home, and he wasnt picking up his personal
communicator. Taking a deep breath, Afton keyed the command for image. He then
turned it off, ran his fingers through his hair, and turned the visual back on.
Lefi, there is a woman who would like to arrange an appointment with you.
Shes with ICE and working on a missing persons case. I thought perhaps you would be
able to give her some insight into the local sex industry. He cleared his throat, hating
how awkward he sounded.
I thought you could meet her at the Guild offices. Uhlet me know. Thank you.
He ended the transmission and barely withheld a groan of embarrassment. In
frustration, Afton headed to the sleeping space of his apartment. He stripped off the
black uniform and let it fall to the floor in a heap. He stared at the clothing for a
moment, shook his head, picked it up, and folded it neatly.
46 Belinda McBride
He slipped on a loose pair of workout pants and headed into the room where he
kept his fitness equipment. After settling on the floor, he stretched, letting his mind go
wherever it wished.
To a Valoran, exercise was a form of meditation, and generally Afton fell deeply
into the relaxed state that would carry him through the strenuous routine. Tonight his
mind wandered, but it led to places Afton did not wish to visit. It replayed
conversations, reminded him of scents and sounds and the memory of touch. When he
looked around the room, he saw the stark absence of personality; the same theme
echoed throughout the rest of his home. Colors were neutral; the furniture was
practical.
He moved from the floor to the series of bars, where he began balance and
strength exercises. No matter how much a Valoran worked out, they never bulked up
like many other species did. Valorans grew in strength, but the lethal nature of their
kind was in stealth, speed, and flexibility. His species had the muscular strength of
males and the lithe, supple physique associated with females.
The best of both worlds How often had he heard that from others?
He dropped lightly to the floor, turned to the mirrored wall, and examined his
body.
Humans described the Valoran as androgynous in appearance. Perhaps to their
eyes, they were. But a Valoran easily saw the subtle differences between the sexes.
Females were slightly smaller, with a greater hip-to-waist ratio. Their breasts never
equaled the breasts of a human or Somian female, but instead were small and neat, not
dissimilar from the pectoral development of the Valoran male.
The biggest difference was in their faces. Females had softer planes, fuller lips, and
larger eyes. They were slightly more delicate.
Afton looked objectively at his reflection. Perhaps he wasnt as soft as a woman,
but he wasnt as lean as a male. His lips formed a full bow on the top; the bottom lip
The Bacchi 47
was balanced in size. His dark eyes were large; his straight nose was slender. It would
take so little to tilt him in either direction.
When did he choose to be male? As a child? Afton couldnt really remember. A
Valoran generally drifted in one direction and made a formal declaration as sexual
development began. He had no memory of making a decision; hed just gone on in the
direction that seemed expected.
Shouldnt he remember? Hed never had the usual celebration that other young
Valorans had upon their announcement. Hed never declared his gender. From the time
he was a child, his parents had treated him as a male.
He stepped back and looked at his bodythe lean, flat abdomen, the smooth
chest. Again, his pectorals were slightly flat and undeveloped for either gender. That
was typical of the gender-neutral individual. Not fleshy like a female, not muscled like
a male. He reached up and teased a nipple, watching it flush and go erect.
He dropped his gaze to his body and slid out of his pants, then kicked them away.
In an unexcited state his penis was nearly hidden within his pubic hair and
foreskin. His testes did not fall loose in their sac like those of a human, but were set
close to the body. Tentatively he fondled the soft globes. The sac was slightly divided: at
its apex was his clitoris; his female genitalia began there. Until meeting Lefi, that flesh
had simply been a pleasant area of his body. Abruptly he let go as though hed been
burned. In all his life hed never explorednot there. Swallowing, he touched again,
cupping his testes and penis, feeling their weight in his hand.
He closed his eyes and let the memory of the kiss against the door wash through
his mind. Heat suffused his pelvis, yet his cock didnt swell. His balls hugged tightly to
his body. He slid his hand back and hissed in arousal at the sensations of his clit.
Moisture pooled around the tiny organ. He moved his hand a little farther and froze
when he touched the juices leaking from his body.
He was preparing to be penetrated by a cock.
48 Belinda McBride
Afton quickly pulled his hand away and jerked his pants back on. Too disturbed
to continue, he powered down the exercise room and headed for the shower.
It was a bad decision.
Warm, slick water pelted his body. As he wet down, every slide of skin against
skin brought him to higher awareness of the foreign sensations he was experiencing.
Soaping up made the experience even worse. Running the flat of his hand over his pecs,
Afton shivered, then looked down to see his nipples pebble and flush. He wanted to
swear, but coarse words did not come easily to his lips. He pressed his forehead to the
slippery surface of the shower wall, fighting for control of his body and his emotions.
Was he really a deviant? According to Lefi, he was simply what the Valorans were
meant to be. But then, Lefi was a Somian, one of the most sexually permissive species in
the coalition. Among Aftons people, gens were not only an uncomfortable reminder of
their less evolved past, they were a threat to the norm. They asked questions and defied
common thought. They were bright flowers, sometimes frivolous and always
uncomfortably seductive.
Impulsively he shifted the temperature to cold and turned to face the biting sting
of the water.
On trembling legs he stepped out to stand under the warming light of the dryer.
For oncejust this oncehe ran his fingers through his hair, breaking the waves loose
and allowing his hair to dry in an unruly mess that fell back from his face. Without
dressing, he entered his austere bedroom and slid into the cool, rough sheets of his bed.
What did Lefis bedchamber look like? It was undoubtedly lush and decadent,
with rich fabrics that would embrace his skin. Even the lowliest Somian cherished
tactile luxury. The bed would be piled with pillows, the room lit with candles and
scented with sensual fragrance.
He rolled onto his side, wondering what lovers the Bacchi allowed into his
personal space. Afton imagined Lefi surrounded by men and women, other Somian
The Bacchi 49
who laughed and caressed him freely. He pictured alluring human females between his
legs, tasting Lefis rigid cock.
He visualized himself on his back, looking up at the Somian
Warmth and moisture started between his legs again. Afton let out a shaky breath.
It was dark in the room. No one would see. No one would know.
He would know.
He slid a hand between his legs, past his slightly aroused cock, and back to where
the moisture seeped from his body. Lightly he circled the tender clit, closing his eyes
tightly at the sensation rushing through his groin.
Carefully he slipped a finger into the slick passage of his vagina.
The more aroused he became, the more sense this body made. Afton wasnt a
virgin; hed made love to females before. In reality, the Valoran female was little
different than the few humans hed been with. The genitals of the human female were
guarded by their labia. In the Valoran female, there was just a bit more up front.
He thought of his body as that of a lover, pulled his finger through juices, and
circled his clit again, exploring and teasing until he was pumping steadily, lost in the
feel of the smooth, tight walls of his vagina. He could feel the nerves connectingclit to
testes to penis. He allowed his other hand to wander over his smooth chest, pinching
and circling nipples that ached with need.
Another connection was made.
Afton moaned slightly, partly in rapture, partly in chagrin.
Inserting a second finger helped to spread him wider, and he curled his finger,
adding delicious pressure to sweet spots hed never before imagined he had. What else
did he not know about his body?
Finally abandoning all caution, he rolled to his back, legs spread wide. He pulled
his knees to his chest and pictured an alabaster face crowned with hair the color of
50 Belinda McBride
spring leaves. He remembered the burst of nectar on his tongue, the feel of firm hands
roaming his body.
His hips rocked to the rhythm of his hands, moving faster and faster, his panting
breath barely keeping pace with the beat of his heart.
An indescribable tension pulled through his back, his pelvis, down deep in his
belly. The muscles of his passage clenched his fingersover and over. For the first time
in his life, Afton cried out as he came, unable to contain the sounds that burst from his
throat. He shook and froze at the plateau, and then shuddered once again at the peak of
the orgasm.
Once the storm had run its course, he lay sated and loose, his wet fingers resting
slack over his groin. His other hand lay over his heart, feeling the pounding of that
muscle. His chest rose and fell with his breaths.
Afton looked into the darkness; his sharp Valoran eyes allowed him to see into the
shadows. He pictured a knowing face with a wicked smile. Even when he was alone,
Lefi was with him, teasing Afton with what the Somian had known all along.
Im a gen.
He was able to confess it to the shadows. Wasnt this why hed left his home and
family all those years ago? Wasnt this why he sought the company of strangers? He
had never fit among his own kind.
Hed seen clusters of gens at home. They always seemed so happy, more like the
Somian than the rest of the Valorans. They laughed often and dressed in colors. They
held exciting jobs that took them off planet.
They wrote songs and stories rather than equations and dissertations. They wrote
romantic poetry, sometimes about the heartache of love and war. They made music
with instruments they brought from far-off places.
In spite of the disapproval they faced, the gens knew joy, and Afton had ached
with envy. If hed been brave enough to explore his gender freely, Afton might have
chosen differently. His family life would have suffered, and hed have faced
The Bacchi 51
discrimination, but hed have grown up honestly. He should have been among them,
but now, hed never belong. Hed moved much too far out of balance, yet hed never see
himself as a male againnot completely. Whatever the hell hed become, he was alone.
Afton tasted the rapidly drying juices on his fingers and compared the flavor to
females hed known in the past. He dropped his hand again, and to his reluctant
amusement, his cock was still slightly erect, waiting for the attention it had been denied.
He wondered what it would be like to experience a full climax. To bury his cock
into a willing body while his pussy was being filled. To fuck and be fucked.
With an unwilling grin, he wrapped his hand around his cock and began to pull,
slowly bringing himself to full, proud erection.
Im a gen, he whispered.
Maybe someday soon, hed be able to say that out loud to others.
52 Belinda McBride
Chapter Five
The most recent woman to go missing had been a Bacchi. Shed been a young,
charismatic EurLu female. While the EurLu no longer possessed the ability to shape-
shift, she still possessed great strength and enhanced senses. The fact that shed been
overpowered and taken was shocking.
As Afton had prowled the womans small habitat, he had noted once again that
virtually no trace evidence had been left behind.
His frustration and anger had mounted. Enforcement on Landis 17 rarely
encountered repeat crime. There were few violent acts, but those were mostly
associated with the drinking establishments humans frequented. The Vash and Somian
were pacifistic by nature. Afton dealt mostly with theft and business-related violations.
While technology was advanced, there was little they could do about lack of
evidence.
The recent kidnapping and one other issue brought Afton to the chair he presently
occupied in a lushly decorated, sensuously appointed office, staring at a discreetly
carnal bit of artwork on the desk in front of him.
The Landis office of the Bacchi Guild met most of his expectations yet still
managed to surprise him.
The place bore the distinct touch of Somian design, with elegant yet touchable
fabrics on the furniture. The carpeting was thick enough to nap on, and wooden walls
added fragrance to the air. He had expected the luxury and sensuality that surrounded
him.
The surprise came in the shape of a tiny Zamoran female whod introduced herself
as the president of the Landis guild.
The Bacchi 53
While Afton had never frequented the sex industry for companionship, he was
fairly jaded by his exposure to street business. However, hed never before seen a
Zamoran prostitute. Their diminutive stature seemed to rule them out as companions to
most species, but he supposed there must be some call for their services.
Kentish Zaah had silver hair; not the silver of a fashion-conscious courtesan, but
the shade of a woman in her later years. Her clothing was dignified and well made, and
her soft, high-pitched voice was clearly refined. Shed introduced herself in Valoran
rather than Common. Few outside his species had even casual knowledge of the
complex tonal language of his people. Her accent and pronunciation were flawless.
Afton felt guilty for coming to the Bacchi Guild rather than going to Lefi, but the
Bacchi hadnt returned his call and he wanted answers for Rain de le Croix before she
departed for Earth. Hed stifled a trace of uneasiness about Lefi and decided to speak
with a guild member. It would be a relief to discuss the cases without the nonstop
sexual undercurrent that came from being in Lefis presence. Who could say how the
Somian would behave around the AmWere? It could lead to disaster on so many levels.
There are a few brothel barges operating outside of guild territory. I know the
Rapscallion is now orbiting Landis 2.
But that planet isnt inhabited.
Thats correct, but L2 has three moons with busy mining operations. There is
another cluster of barges that make circuits along the outer rim of the system. They
enter the orbit of a planet, operate there for several months, then jump to the next
promising spot. I dont know if the workers on these barges are legal, but Ive heard
rumors of trafficking.
That explains why they move so often.
Correct. She swiveled her elevated chair to face him fully. If its possible, Id
like to know more about the kidnapping. Are you able to share the identity of the
victim? You said she is a member of our guild?
She was identified as Marlene Binoche. She was a EurLu from Selene.
54 Belinda McBride
He watched as the tiny woman absorbed the information. Whatever she felt, she
quickly masked it.
Marlene was quite young and fairly new to the guild. This is unfortunate. If its
needed, I have her emergency information. I can also provide you with information
regarding the clients she contracted through the guild.
Complete cooperation from an organization that represented sex workers? It
almost made Afton suspicious. Obviously he hadnt hidden his surprise as well as hed
expected.
President Zaah leaned forward and folded her hands on the wooden surface of the
desk. The Bacchi Guild was established over a century ago, by the Common calendar.
It was created specifically to protect sex workers from the sudden influx of human
clients. As vital and ambitious as humans are, they are complex and sometimes
dangerous. We screen potential clients very carefully, Inspector Teris. Most of the
higher-ranked members rarely need us for referrals, but newer workers rely on us for
their safety as well as our assistance in navigating licensing and law. Its understood by
all that we operate in a discreet but transparent fashion when necessary.
How does a potential sex worker become a member of the guild? Afton knew
the basics of the Bacchi organization but not the details of membership. He was rather
embarrassed; hed long believed the guilds sole purpose was to act as a referral service.
He hadnt thought of the organization as being a complex safety net for its members.
First the individual must complete all the necessary applications, medical
screenings, and paperwork appropriate to the planet or system they are operating in.
Once thats in place, they come to us and apply for membership. They must be
mentored by a member in good standing for a one-year period of time. During that time
they are trained not only in technique, but also in manners and cultural adaptation. As
you must realize, many cultures have sexual needs and expectations that might seem
unusual.
The Bacchi 55
She leaned back in her chair and tilted her head slightly. We rarely find a Valoran
with interest in the profession. You should consider it. You are quite exceptional, you
know.
Afton felt a slight flush spread across his cheeks. Obviously she noticed his
discomfiture.
In fact, most Valoran sex workers I know of are on the illegal side of the business,
usually due to drug addiction. The few who practice within the guild are gens. They
seem to have a more open attitude about sex than the mainstream of your species.
Afton shifted uncomfortably in his chair. As an enforcement officer
It would have no effect on your profession. Indeed, in order to climb within the
ranks, a Bacchi must have a mastery of skills other than sex, whether they are scholastic,
artistic, or social. A Bacchi has the highest of reputations. In fact, here on L17, we have
several Bacchi who are noted professionals in other fields.
UhyesI know one. Lefi Dhrahn.
AhDr. Dhrahn. Yes, he takes few clients these days. He prefers to focus on his
psych practice. But our dear Lefi is one of the higher ranked among us. If he were to
mentor you
Afton couldnt help but laugh at her efforts to recruit him. She joined him in the
laughter. Im sorry, but really, a Valoran gen would be such a novelty! Youd do
extremely well. And the idea of a Somian-gen partnership
Though he was embarrassed, he didnt bother to correct her about his sexual
identity. All his life, Afton Teris had uttered that empty denial. He was tired of it.
If you do decide to enter the profession, please allow Lefi to outfit you, my dear.
While black is spectacular on you, it is so stern. And you could do so much more to play
up that lovely, sleek body of yours.
Unfortunately I must dress as suits my profession as an enforcement officer. He
felt a smile cross his face at her disappointment.
56 Belinda McBride
* * * *
Within the hour spent with Kentish Zaah, Afton had a fairly good understanding
of how the sex industry worked not only within the protective society of the Bacchi, but
also for those who were on the traveling barges. Unfortunately the tiny courtesan
agreed with his belief that both Marlene Binoche and Cali Polis were enslaved within
the darker side of the sex industry.
The information hed gathered for the AmWere was not encouraging.
On the other hand, hed walked away with a list of all the clients the guild had
referred to Marlene Binoche. He also discovered that none of the other victims had been
guild members.
Marlene had been a popular girl, with several regulars and a short waiting list.
Kentish had smugly informed him that the wait for a first-time client with Lefi Dhrahn
was well over a Common year. His list had built up long before his arrival on the
planet.
Afton also gathered a few other tidbits of information about the Bacchi. The most
relevant was that the Somian was on sabbatical, one he observed every year at this time.
Afton departed the office with new leads and a mystery that piqued his curiosity.
It was dark by the time he left work for home, and he walked slowly, his mind
working the data hed spent the afternoon compiling. Every name on the list of
Marlenes clients was a suspect, yet none lined up with the other victims. All the clients
were on L17, and using his instincts, Afton had looked first for men of her species and
race before moving on to humans and then other species. She was the first nonhuman of
the victims and had few similarities to the others. Shed been tall, blonde, and young.
The prior victim had been a young human male, and before that, a mature
businesswoman had vanished.
The biggest difference was that Marlene had fought back, leaving her home in
shambles. If evidence had been left by her assailants, it was probably on Marlene rather
than in her habitat.
The Bacchi 57
Once home, Afton settled with take-out food and the files, reading and rereading
the information hed added after the days interview. There was an abundance of data,
and yet it contained no real answers.
If the kidnapper wasnt aware she was EurLu, she might have inflicted some
damage on him during the struggle.
He immediately sent out an alert to all hospitals, clinics, and healers.
When he could bear no more of the grim data, Afton turned his mind to the other
puzzle at the back of his mind.
Why would Lefi sequester himself away? Was it a Somian observation? An annual
holiday? Curious, Afton finally did what he had vowed not to do.
A data search of the Bacchi, Lefi Dhrahn.
Lefi hadnt been kidding when hed told Afton his life was public record. His life
was detailed in an official biography of notable Somian, from his birth on his home
world to his present residence on L17. It seemed the Bacchi was a wanderer, rarely
staying on one planet for more than a few years at a time.
His medical degrees were from prestigious institutions, and as Afton had
discovered earlier, there were few practicing Bacchi with higher mastery levels than
Lefi.
But it wasnt Lefis present that he was interested in; it was his past.
And it was all there.
Afton read and then reread the parts that were relevant. He referred to a calculator
that aligned the Somian calendar with Common. This was the week of Lefis birthday
and that of his twin as well. The twin who had died.
Damnation. Briefly he rested his head in his hands and rubbed his eyes.
Valorans never cried, yet Lefis story brought him to tears.
Now that he had the answer to so many of Lefis mysteries, Afton didnt feel much
better. He sighed, shut down the machine, and headed off to bed. After lying sleepless
58 Belinda McBride
for hours, he got up, dressed, and headed out into the darkness, determined to run off
the dismal feeling that wouldnt let him be.
* * * *
Like most big cities, this one never really went to sleep at night. There was a whole
world of people who lived their lives after the sun went down. Business continued after
the midnight hour, and several night-dwelling species rose once the light from the
Landis Star faded over the horizon.
He jogged past a small group of pale Vash schoolchildren, identical in their
robelike uniforms. They were accompanied by tall, ghostly looking teachers. Afton had
never been treated by the nocturnal Vash, but their healing skills were extraordinary.
Hed have to call their Healers Guild to see if any had treated a possible suspect.
The children were perfectly ordered, moving with grace and silence. Well, except
for one imp who danced out of line, stabbing an imaginary weapon at a tumbling leaf.
A second child followed and tugged at the arm of the first in admonishment. Afton
smiled as he watched a teacher shepherd the unruly child back into the pack. Laughter
carried on the still air, a lighthearted message of hope. The child was a ray of sunlight
among the moonbeams.
The nighttime streets werent clogged with delivery vehicles, but there was still a
fair amount of traffic, so he crossed carefully. Another block took him down roads that
were darker, with lights placed at greater intervals.
Valorans enjoyed the darkness. He could see better than most, and his hearing
was acute. In his dark exercise suit, Afton nearly vanished into the night, reminding
him that, at the core of his soul, he was a hunter, a predator. That was why hed rejected
the science fields his father loved so dearly and trained to join ICE. Though the chase
was often conducted in an office in front of a comp screen, Afton still thrilled to the
hunt.
Tonight he pursued only his thoughts, so he left the sidewalks of the city for the
scented trails through the downtown greenway. Hed found the gigantic park a novelty
The Bacchi 59
here in the middle of a rural center, but the abundance of indigenous plant life
contributed to the quality of life here, cooling and enriching the air. While the city itself
was beautiful and well designed, sometimes it was pleasant to find a natural space to
roam.
Perhaps a solitary run in the darkness might have been risky, but the crime rate
was low on L17, and Afton was well equipped to defend himself. Even his sense of
smell was sharper in the darkness.
After following the perimeter of a lake that glistened in the moonlight, Afton
slowed and let his breathing and heart rate drop to a normal level. He walked, enjoying
the cool breeze and the music of night-singing birds.
There was rumored to be a hidden garden here in the middle of the city park. It
was a place the Somian had secretly created as a retreat and sanctuary. Hed heard
theyd filled it with plants from their home world and built a cunning entry that was
nearly invisible.
Afton had studied aerial layouts of the park and knew it was nearby, but he didnt
know how to get in. That annoyed him; as an enforcement officer, he might be called to
an emergency in the park. As a Valoran, it irritated him that he couldnt unravel the
puzzle, though hed tried many times.
Afton left the graveled path near the lake and found the tall hedges he suspected
were the entrance to the Somian garden. Was this the real goal of his nights run? An
attempt to unravel yet another Somian puzzle? This one was clearly less hazardous to
his well-being.
He stalked under trees and through wild thickets. Every time he found a possible
entrance, it simply turned out to be a shadow or low-hanging branch. He searched,
grumbling in frustration when long vines wrapped around his ankles, tripping him up.
As he turned back to the path, something caught his attention.
Through heavy greenery, golden light flickered, and Afton frowned, blinking at it.
It was probably just a reflection from the city. But as he walked the length of the hedge,
60 Belinda McBride
he caught sight of the glow once more. To his delight, it was coming from an overlap in
the growth. In the light of day, the thick brambles appeared impenetrable, but the
shadows of the night revealed a narrow passage that he slipped into.
The passage widened slightly once it was out of full view of the park and wound
in a semicircle back on itself. The golden glow steadied, but it didnt have the
appearance of an artificial light, nor did it seem to be the reflection of the heavy moon
overhead.
Following the beam, Afton rounded a tight corner hedge and walked into a
splendid, wildly landscaped enclosure. Hed read the Somian myth of the Goddess of
the Garden and could clearly see this place was a personification of that story.
Water spilled and tumbled down a waterfall that hid a dark grotto. The ground
was thickly covered with a flowered plant that reflected the moons glow. The air was
sweet, reminding him of the drink hed had in the Somian restaurant that night weeks
ago. An exquisite statue of the goddess looked down on him, a loving expression on her
beautiful face.
There were hidden alcoves, cleverly designed for privacy. It wouldnt have
surprised Afton to stumble upon a quartet making love here in the velvety night air.
After all, that was why theyd created it. The garden was a living tribute to their deity of
life and love. It was here that the Somian came to celebrate the most sacred moments in
their lives: birth and death, love and loss.
It was also here that Afton saw a golden glow spilling from one of the alcoves.
He followed the light, stalking quietly through the wildscape of the garden. He
nimbly jumped a stream that led from the waterfall, smiling as a fat, heavy creature the
size of his hand crawled from the water and onto a rock. Its croaking song was harsh
and comical. That was nothing the Somian had brought from their world!
The smile died from his lips as he peered into the alcove.
The Bacchi 61
On a huge, luxurious couch, Lefi lay as though asleepor perhaps dead
illuminated by a faint, golden aura. For the briefest moment, Afton thought he saw a
figure; an ethereal face turned his way, and eyes as green as Lefis hair looked at him.
She smiled at Afton, and warmth spread over his chest. She reached toward him
and gestured, as though drawing him closer.
He froze, unwilling to believe what he was seeing was real. The only sound was
the breeze rustling through the trees and the occasional song of a night bird. Afton
didnt breathe, and if he could have willed it so, hed have stilled his beating heart.
The moment passed, and the glow faded, leaving the Bacchi on the couch,
illuminated only by the cool light of the moon. Afton knew he should wonder about the
light, and for the first time ever, a feeling of superstitious fear crawled along his skin,
but he quickly set it aside. Perhaps hed been led here by Lefis Somian goddess, or
perhaps it had been a naturally occurring phenomenon.
Now was not the time to question it.
Green eyes, the color of Lefis hair.
Afton shivered, yet he felt the warmth of love still lingering in the air.
He crossed to the sofa, and as he drew nearer, Afton saw that Lefis lips were
slightly parted. He was breathing. A finely crafted bottle lay on its side in the grass,
clearly empty. The scent of wine perfumed the air.
His Bacchi was on a bender.
After having a near religious experience in the garden, that was rather
disappointing.
The alcove was comfortable and obviously designed for several people to move
around in. The Somian were nearly always born in same-sex pairs who spent their lives
together. They mated with other pairs of twins and generally set up a household of
four. While they werent incestuous, they were linked on a psychic level and found it
nearly impossible to live without their other half in proximity.
62 Belinda McBride
As a twin orphan, Lefi was one of those rare and precious exceptions. It explained
so much about his mercurial personality and his choice of professions. It also explained
the behavior his peers displayed toward him, beyond the fact that he was an esteemed
member of their community. They fawned on him, touching and caressing him with
love and inclusion. His community did not cast away their sick and wounded. They
cherished and nurtured them. If hed desired it, Lefi could easily have found a mate.
Afton moved to the couch and gently shifted Lefi so he could sit with the Bacchis
head in his lap. If the Somian woke, hed give Afton hell for this! But he couldnt just
leave him alone and untended as he slept.
Lefis hair came unbound and draped over Aftons lap and down to the ground in
a dark spill. In the day it would catch the light in a brilliant display, looking nearly
crystalline. He tried to think of a color that compared to Lefis hair. It was darker than
the grass under his feet. Darker even than the leaves of most trees. It was the sort of
green that held little yellow, and it was a vivid departure from the pastel coloring of
most Somian Afton had seen. It was almost transparent; when the sun caught it, the
light shone through its length like dark green glass. Or perhaps the finest emerald.
Afton ran his fingers through the loose strands, finding it silky to the touch. It was
exactly as hed imagined. He couldnt see the color of Lefis clothing, but it was clearly
flamboyant as usual, and every bit of fabric was a delight to touch. Here in the
darkness, Afton indulged in the velvet of Lefis breeches, the finely spun silk of his
shirt, and the rich brocade of the jacket he wore. For once, his cock wasnt thrusting out
in an erection. Even flaccid, his size was impressive, and Afton had to stifle the urge to
trace the outline of Lefis genitals through the semisheer fabric. He pushed back the
Somians hair and looked at that finely etched face, amazed that even in a drunken
stupor, the Bacchi was beautiful. Glancing out into the main body of the garden, Afton
saw the huge, pale statue of the goddess. Her smile was benevolent, but with a touch of
sadness, it seemed. Unlike her Somian children, she was alone, without a twin.
Perhaps that was why Lefi sought solace here.
The Bacchi 63
Lefi shifted and groaned, and Afton had the impulse to lie next to him on the
wide, cushioned sofa. He could hold him in his arms, hold him close to his heart. Here,
in the darkness, no one would know. Hed spent the better part of a year denying his
attraction to the Somian. All those months hed nurtured the threads of uneasiness,
until hed woven a blindfold of dislike for the man. Now that they were alone, he could
take off the mask and look at him unhindered.
He sighed and shifted them so his back was propped against the soft corner of the
couch. He was able to bring his legs up onto the cushion, and automatically Lefi curled
around his body, his cheek resting just above Aftons heart. It was a childlike position,
trusting and open. In sleep, Lefi lacked his usual cunning seductiveness but was just as
dangerous to Afton as he had ever been.
Afton let his head fall back and watched the sky, tracking the stars that were still
foreign to him. Now that the warmth of his run had worn off, he felt the chill night air,
but he didnt mind it so much with Lefi close. Afton cataloged the sensations in his
body, from the way his lips felt full and sensitive to the urge to open his thighs and
cradle Lefi there as well.
He was aroused, but not urgently. This feeling was good. It was peaceful. He felt
like both a caregiver and a protector. He didnt feel male or female. And yet he felt both.
I am a gen, Lefi.
He whispered it into the night and, for the first time, understood. Living as a male
had thrown him out of balance. He didnt know if hed ever truly fit ineven with the
gens.
Hed heard that term used often regarding gens. They rarely became lovers with
anyone other than gender neutrals, because a relationship that cast them into the male
or female role threw them out of balance. A gen with a female lover eventually took on
more masculine characteristics, as Afton had. If a gender neutral took exclusively to
male lovers, theyd eventually reflect a more feminine appearance and become fertile.
To maintain balance, the gen embraced both roles, as their body and soul dictated.
64 Belinda McBride
Afton knew a moment of anger at his parents, who must have pushed him into a
male identity, just as theyd tried to mold him into the scientist of their dreams. In their
eyes, and in the eyes of many traditional Valorans, gens were a threatening and
uncomfortable reminder of what their people had once been. They were perceived as
dangerous to the fabric of society. Gens hadnt chosen to become a political force; they
were cast into that role by people like Aftons family.
It had taken a Somian to show him what hed probably known unconsciously all
his life. He was gen, and he was normal.
It didnt feel odd to cradle a male in his arms protectively. The Somian was taller
than he, and heavier, yet Afton felt protective much as he had with female lovers. The
softer feeling, the need to nurture, that didnt feel foreign either. In a sense, the
pansexual Somian was an ideal lover for a gen. Lefi had no fear of gender. Hed be
whatever his lover needed.
He could be all that Afton needed, if Afton was brave enough to accept him.
Lefi stirred, then took a deep breath and lifted his head in confusion. It was still
dark, and Afton wasnt certain whether the Bacchi remembered where he was.
Youre safe. You fell asleep in the garden.
Lefi relaxed, clearly relieved. It would have been frightening to wake up alone in
the dark, in a strange place. He started to sit up, but then went loose and draped
himself over Aftons chest once again. He reached to embrace Afton.
Its my birthday. Are you my present? His hands wandered, plucking at the
loose fabric of Aftons shirt.
You can only wish, Bacchi.
Hmm. No presents. So I dont get a sympathy fuck either?
Afton couldnt help but laugh. His laughter stopped, though, when he felt his shirt
come up and silky hair slid over the skin of his belly. He went still, his body reacting,
The Bacchi 65
sensations shooting through him like electricity. He was caught between the desire to
experience the Bacchis touch and his automatic need to flee.
You like the feel of my hair. Ill remember that. Slow, gliding kisses followed the
hair, and Afton shivered. Are you cold? Lefi lifted his head, and in the darkness
Afton saw the glittering brilliance of his eyes. He was still under the influence of
whatever hed been drinking. Briefly Afton considered succumbing to the moment, to
just let the beautiful creature seduce him. But hed be taking advantage of the Bacchis
intoxicated grief.
I suppose youve been out here for hours, Lefi. Do you think you can get up and
walk?
The Somian looked around in confusion. Howd I get here? He frowned and
looked at Afton. More important, how did you get into the garden? The entrance is
nearly invisible.
I have good night vision. I spotted the shadows at the entry. He sat up and let
his shirt fall back down over his belly. Its been a big source of frustration, knowing
this place was here but not knowing how to get inside.
Lefi looked a little wobbly. Youre like a puzzle bird. It drives you crazy to be
unable to figure something out. He rubbed his forehead and sighed. I dont suppose
you have water with you?
No, but you left an empty bottle, and theres a stream. I dont know how pure the
water is here.
Its pure. Its source is underground. He gingerly rose to his feet, looking rather
debauched yet charming. How could a man look charming after a binge? Afton scooped
up the bottle and slowly escorted Lefi back to the garden, where he knelt and rinsed the
bottle. He filled it and handed it to the Bacchi.
Thank you. Lefi gazed down at the bottle and chuckled before drinking. At
least my taste is impeccable. This bottle of wine probably cost a weeks salary. I do
remember it was very smooth going down.
66 Belinda McBride
He looked and sounded better once hed drunk his fill of water. Impatiently he
pushed the hair back from his face, then dug into his pocket and pulled out a tie for his
hair. Even in the darkness, tiny gems on the tie sparkled like stars. He wore a fortune in
the band that held his hair. Afton fought the urge to roll his eyes. Was there anything
mundane about Lefi Dhrahn?
Youre a good drunk. Ive never seen someone recover so quickly. That
frightened Afton somewhat. Hed never been drunk.
You are a Valoran. Your body cant process intoxicants the way a Somians body
does. As though to prove his point, Lefi hopped lightly over the small stream. He
tottered and then landed hard on his bottom.
Ow!
Afton burst out in laughter at the sour look on the Somians face.
I dont see in the dark as well as you do.
Afton laughed harder.
I knew Id find laughter in you somewhere, Inspector. I just didnt expect it to be
at the expense of my dignity.
Your dignity can survive much more than this, Lefi.
True. Id forgotten youve seen my costume closet.
He helped Lefi to his feet and was completely unprepared when the Somian swept
a foot behind his, pulling him off balance. To his surprise, Afton ended up on the
ground next to Lefi.
You are singularly lovely when you laugh. Lefi reached over and pushed a
strand of hair from Aftons face. As I expected, your hair tumbles into waves around
your face when you are not forcing it into submission.
At the touch, Aftons laughter died away. Lefi was no longer drunkenly amorous;
his dark eyes held a banked fire. The expression made Afton slightly breathless. Was it
worth resisting? The Somian clearly meant to have him. Who was Afton Teris to resist
The Bacchi 67
the skills of a Bacchi? How long had it been since hed held a lover? Months? Years? To
his chagrin, Afton realized hed not taken a lover since hed first arrived in the Landis
system.
His last relationship had been with a lovely woman, yet he hadnt thought of her
in many, many months. Not since hed met Lefi.
Do you know why we filled the garden with these tiny flowers? Lefi plucked
one of the dainty blossoms from the grass and held it to his nose. Even the foliage on
the ground is fragrant. When you lie back in the flowers, their scent surrounds you.
With a hand on Aftons chest, he pushed him back to the thick, fragrant carpet. True to
his word, the sweet green fragrance wafted around Afton. He blinked, looking up at the
star-studded sky. Then the stars vanished as Lefi blocked his view. When Lefi lowered
his head for a kiss, Afton didnt resist. He didnt fight. He simply waited, watching the
play of light and shadow over the Bacchi.
I dont think Ive ever had to step so carefully in a seduction, Inspector. His lips
whispered over Aftons skin as he spoke, then feathered kisses over the tender skin of
his jaw and neck. Even now, if I go too far, make the slightest move wrong, youll flee
this garden like a gazelle.
Im not prey.
No. No you are not. You are a dangerous predator. I must never forget that about
you. He pushed up onto his knees and looked down at Afton. What makes you
amenable to my touch now? Is it misplaced sympathy for finding me so broken and
sad? Or does the night bring out your true nature, Valoran?
Perhaps youre just wearing me down.
Lefi slipped his hands under the loose shirt and parted the front to reveal Aftons
chest and belly to the cool night air. The Bacchi skimmed his hands over Aftons chest
with a gentle skill that left him breathless. As he bent over, his silken hair dragged over
Afton, drawing him to a taut level of expectation. Lefis hand was busy elsewhere,
loosening the tie that held Aftons pants.
68 Belinda McBride
I believe for my birthday, I would like to see you naked in the moonlight.
For whatever reason, Afton couldnt find any fault with that plan. He sat up,
slipped the shirt off, and then shifted his hips so the Somian could strip his pants away.
He lay on the flowers, feeling cool ground under his back, the kiss of starlight on his
front. When Lefi once again bent to his body, Aftons eyes dropped closed, and with a
tentative hand he stroked the length of Lefis thick hair.
It was a conquest. He knew it and couldnt seem to find the resolve to resist. The
Somian would take his body in a sweet rush of sex and then move on, leaving Afton
with the wreckage of his identity. But as those sweet lips found his, he didnt carenot
for a single moment.

HIS LITTLE GEN was finally submitting to his wishes.
It was a fragile thing; the trust was tenuous, but for whatever reason, Afton Teris
had lowered his defenses this night. Maybe it was a gift from the goddess. Maybe shed
caught Aftons curiosity and led him to this place where Lefi had hidden, surrendering
to his annual orgy of grief and self-destruction.
The burden of his pain grew heavier not by the year, but by the day. Depression
was virtually unknown among the Somian, the notable exception being twin orphans
and widows. And in a sense Lefi was both. As a psyche scientist, hed been aware for
years that he was traveling a downhill road but was completely unable to help himself.
Hed consulted therapists, moved often to keep his life fresh and exciting, but had
slowly come to the conclusion that life had palled. Hed never found a love match,
neither within nor outside his species. An unmated Somian without a twin was truly
the loneliest creature in the universe.
When hed first walked into Aftons office, permits and paperwork in hand, hed
felt a glimmer of interest that hed never experienced in his adult life. What had started
as a sexual diversion turned into an obsession. Hed lie awake at night, thinking of the
Valoran. His fantasies moved beyond the plunder of his body to everyday life with the
The Bacchi 69
inspector. Lefi would imagine Aftons wry comments and blunt reactions to the people
he saw on the street, or the quiet intensity that he focused on a mystery. He sensed
Aftons struggle with his sexuality and wished to be there for him, to comfort and
support him, but he knew it was a battle Afton had long struggled with alone. He did
not welcome Lefis insight.
But now the Valoran was laid bare before him, pale skin shimmering in the
moonlight, his dark eyes reflecting eerily, evidence of the predatory roots of his species.
I wont take this too far, Afton. Nothing too shocking.
He kissed the Valoran, then moved back to see the slight swelling of his lips, the
softening of his face. If he pushed the gen into a female role for a sustained amount of
time, his features and his body would become more curvy and feminine. Afton had
acted out the male role his entire life. With gens the key was balance. Just as the gen
needed to accept both sides of his nature, his lover needed to embrace the duality as
well. He guessed that in all his life, Afton Teris had never been truly happy. Until now.
That suited Lefi just fine.
He trailed kisses over Aftons closed eyelids and ran his tongue over thick, long
eyelashes. He had a sudden flashback to the night the Valoran had kissed the nectar
from Lefis mouth, unaware of the carnal effect it had had on Lefi. It had been a near
orgasmic experience, and the liquid pheromone had taken Afton right over the edge.
Not knowing how the nectar would affect the Valorans fragile neurology had
frightened Lefi. Fortunately Afton hadnt shown any signs of addiction or intoxication.
Their kisses would be exciting and rapturous, but the Valoran wouldnt be destroyed by
them.
It was a good thing for a man of his profession to know. It was a good thing for his
species to know. The Valorans were brilliant and practiced amazing self-control, yet they
were so very fragile.
He played at Aftons mouth for a moment, brushing, catching the plump lower lip
between his teeth, darting his tongue along the seam of his mouth. Afton brought up
70 Belinda McBride
his hand and caressed Lefis cheek as the kiss grew deep and intimate. Lefis mouth
began to tingle; the glands behind his jaws ached with the flow of nectar.
He broke off the kiss and rose to his knees, then surveyed the sleek, beautiful
creature before him. The Valorans hair was tousled and messy, every bit as charming
as Lefi had imagined. He watched Lefi with cautious eyes, willing to trust but still
somewhat apprehensive.
I find myself in a quandary. Id like to make love to you as a man, but I know
that homosexuality is not in the nature of the Valoran. Yet if I make love to you as a
female, Im afraid you may run. He smiled slightly, watching his hand as he traced it
along the length of Aftons body. When he reached the gens groin, he trailed his fingers
lightly over the silky, dark hair. Perhaps I should let you make that decision.
The sharp intake of breath told Lefi that Afton was not indifferent to being in
chargenot at all. His cock was beginning to stiffen and rise toward his belly. Lefi
stroked between lithe thighs and felt warm, wet moisture there.
No, he certainly wasnt indifferent.
He opted for the least foreign move. Lefi lowered his head and nuzzled Aftons
cock. As his past lovers had probably been female, the sensation would be familiar. He
brought one hand to the Valorans tight testicles, careful to avoid his female genitals. He
gently caught the side of Aftons cock between his teeth and ran them lightly from the
base, just up to the head.
Aftons hips jerked, and when Lefi glanced up, he saw the Valoran watching
intently before bringing a hand down to caress Lefis face.
You liked that?
Yes. Aftons voice was soft and husky.
Good. Lefi licked his cockhead, catching a drop of precum. Very good. Hed
expected the Valoran would like a skillfully applied touch of pain.

The Bacchi 71
AFTON WAS TRANSPORTED to a place in his mind hed never before traveled.
There was no denying the Bacchi had superior oral skills; that was to be expected.
But he played Afton like a fine instrument, able to gauge the exact amount of
stimulation needed to bring him to a peak before carefully bringing him back down.
Aftons mouth tingled with a hint of the Somians nectar; his lips felt swollen and
tender. His nipples tingled too, and he was uncomfortably aware of the fluid that
trickled freely from the mouth of his pussy.
He was desperate for a touch there, desperate forsomething. When Lefi closed
his mouth over Aftons cock, Afton cried out, tightening his fingers into the length of
Lefis hair. The Somians strong hands were on his thighs, on his hips, but never where
Afton craved them most. Supporting Aftons cock with one hand, the Bacchi set a
steady pace; his mouth was hot and skilled, and the nectar woke every nerve ending in
Aftons shaft. With every return he swallowed deeper, till he could go no farther.
Afton was rising back to that place, blind to everything but the sight of the Bacchi
as he savored his body, deaf to everything but the rush of blood in his veins, the harsh
sound of his own breathing, and the rapid beat of his heart.
Lefi cradled his balls, applying exquisite pressure, and then he slid a finger back,
caught some moisture, and slicked his testicles with the fluids. Afton arched into his
hand, begging for moremore pressure, more penetrationjust more. The Somian
complied.
A gentle finger put pressure over his clit, and a strangled cry escaped from Aftons
throat. When another finger penetrated him and pumped, stars broke over his vision.
His hands scrabbled in the air, then into the sweet flowers, seeking and digging till he
found cool soil. The orgasm broke over his body, sweet and harsh and nothing hed
ever known, yet everything he knew it should be. When his hips stopped thrusting,
when his seed stopped spurting, he still felt Lefis subtle touch inside him, curling up,
finding and playing a sweet spot that kept the climax crashing through his body. It was
72 Belinda McBride
not the climax of a male or female, but of a Valoran whose body was in harmony. Why
would his people deny anyone this experience?
For mercy, Lefi! His hips jerked again, and Afton felt the slick juices of his body
trickling over the Bacchis hand before the orgasm left him drained and weak and too
exhausted to move. Lefi began to pull away, but Afton reached out and roughly clasped
the thick ponytail, then pulled him close. After a tense moment, the Somian began to
relax, realizing he was not being rejected. Lefi rested his cheek against Aftons bare
belly, one arm thrown over his hips.
What was he supposed to do now? Thank him? Offer to reciprocate? Afton gazed
up at the stars, feeling oddly incomplete. Empty.
That was I dont know what to say, Lefi. I never dreamed
The Somian chuckled, and Afton was unable to feel the other mans body, unable
to gauge his arousal. Could he truly be content taking Afton over the edge like that yet
leaving his own needs unmet?
Here Afton tugged on the Somians hair, causing him to look up, and his eyes
were slightly vulnerable. That look faded when Afton pulled him farther up his body,
till Lefis head rested in the crook of his neck. Now he could feel the hard length of the
Somians cock against his thigh. He was still dressed, though the silk shirt was
unbuttoned to his waist. Needing the feel of skin on skin, Afton pulled at it until he was
able to slide his arms inside.
I dont think I have the skill to compete with that. He took a deep breath, willing
his body to relax. In spite of the monumental orgasm that had just swept him away,
sexual tension was thick between them.
It isnt a competition, Afton. I just wanted you to understand.
Afton didnt need an explanation. He understood perfectly now. Hed had a
glimmer of the truth earlier, when his two halves began to unite, but this He knew
the Afton Teris whod walked into the garden was now another person completely. He
The Bacchi 73
understood what his people denied, that at their core, the Valoran were intensely sexual
creatures. He relaxed and accepted that knowledge.
Here, lift up
Lefi arched upward, confused until Afton hooked his fingers into the waistband of
his trousers. He worked blind, peeling the tight trousers down lean hips, leaving the
Somians buttocks bare. His cock was freed to lie thick and hot against the seam
between Aftons thigh and groin. He ran his hands over the fine skin of Lefis thighs,
then brought his hands up to cup his muscular ass.
Im not quite sure what to do. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. A simple
statement, but it meant so much more than what he actually said. In truth Afton was
adrift, unable to find a thought or a feeling that grounded him. He just wanted to lie
back and float in the sensations the Somian had drawn from his body.
What do you want to do? Lefi settled back over his torso, his weight a
comforting warmth. He flexed his hips and pressed his erection into Aftons thigh.
Afton answered with touches rather than words, shifting until Lefi was positioned
so their cocks were squeezed together, Lefis hard and rigid, Aftons soft and flaccid.
When Lefi rocked against his body, he arched up to meet him. It could become painful
if the man grew too forceful, but for now the sensation was going to his head.
I could make you hard again, Lefi whispered into his ear.
How? He turned his head to look at the Bacchi, the movement bringing their
mouths so very close. Lefi leaned in and brushed their lips together softly.
A kiss. Just a kiss He lifted his hand and tangled his fingers in Aftons unruly
waves, holding him tightly. Only if you wish. Im so close now. He smiled.
Somehow Afton wanted this to be for Lefi alone. He wanted to watch the Somian
in the throes of his orgasm. He wanted to see him come apart. Afton let his hands drift
down Lefis back and held him to his body.
I want to watch you.
74 Belinda McBride
Lefi paused for a long moment, and then he began to rise from Aftons embrace.
Clearly he thought Afton wanted to see him perform sexually. He held on, not allowing
the Bacchi to pull away.
I want to watch you in my arms, Lefi.
Oh, he whispered.
Lefi settled back between Aftons parted legs. He raised his hips the slightest bit
and dragged his cock up Aftons thigh, then back down. He glanced up and apparently
drew confidence from whatever he read on Aftons face. He thrust again, sliding
between the hard muscle of thigh and the softness of genitals. With a groan, Lefi
dropped closer to Afton and gave himself over to the rhythm of their bodies,
abandoning the tight control he always practiced.
Afton watched as various expressions flickered over his beautiful face. He let his
hands roam freely, digging into the soft skin of Lefis ass, trailing nails over his skin. He
dragged his hands around to the front and ran his fingers over the Somians hardened
nipples, then over his muscular belly.
To his surprise, his cock was again growing erect, and he drove his hips upward
to meet Lefis.
Just a kiss, Inspector Lefis eyes were heavy-lidded with his arousal, yet he
still smiled with humor.
Afton nodded.
There were no preliminaries with this kiss; Lefi came down hard and plunged his
tongue inside, dueling, then mimicked the tempo of their bodies. It was lovely, carnal,
and hot, but Afton still felt his arousal as warm and distant.
When he caught the first taste of the Somians sweetness on his tongue, primal
instinct took over. As Lefis tongue invaded the cavern of his mouth, he caught it and
sucked hard, feeling the other man shiver as nectar flooded him with the sweet essence
of sex. Afton swallowed it, then felt the rush throughout his body.
The Bacchi 75
His cock grew thick and long, sliding alongside Lefis in exquisite intimacy. He
was there, ready to come, pushed into that place by the Somians wicked skills and
unique biology.
Their hips pistoned, and Lefi cried out breathlessly; Afton silenced him with a
fierce kiss. He rolled the Somian over, covered him till they lay thigh to thigh, and
Afton had the most insane desire to master this manto take him, to pound into his
body until they were both drained and weak.
Instead he continued to thrust, and when his body was sore and he thought hed
never come, Lefi grasped their shafts together in a firm grip and pumped hard. Unable
to do anything else, Afton collapsed on top of the Somian, then pulled away just
enough to link his hand with Lefis in a desperate clasp.
As he felt himself falling over the brink, his balls pulling up tight in orgasm, Afton
felt twin ropes of semen burst between their bodies, then spill hot and wet over their
joined hands. At the last moment he remembered He had wanted to watch the Bacchi
as he came, and he forced his eyes open.
The Somian was beautiful in his ecstasy, his eyes partly closed, his head thrown
back. He said something almost incomprehensible, perhaps in his own language. Afton
watched and kept watching as their bodies slowed, then ceased movement. He watched
as their hands fell away from their softening penises, wet and slick with their semen.
He watched as tears spilled from Lefis eyes and trailed down his cheeks like
diamonds in the moonlight. He didnt want to watch. He didnt want to make sense of
the name Lefi cried out at the height of his orgasm. He didnt want to see grief mingling
freely with the bliss of the moment. But still Afton watched the tears roll down the
Bacchis face.
And then he bent down and kissed them away.
76 Belinda McBride
Chapter Six
Once again, you deliver me safely to my door.
They stepped off the elevator into the hushed luxury of Lefis foyer. The Bacchi
was slightly bedraggled, but even that looked good on him. Wisps of hair surrounded
his face like a green flame. Heavy circles under his eyes made them startling and
brilliant. The Somian were indeed a species created for seduction. And in Aftons
experience, the creatures that lured with beauty were invariably the most dangerous.
Was Lefi a danger to him?
The long night was finally beginning to wear on Afton. Dawn was breaking
outside, bringing with it the shift from night dwellers to daylighters. Afton stifled a
yawn and paused, waiting for Lefi to unlock the door to his home. He felt
unaccountably reluctant to see the Somian disappear.
He didnt know what to say.
Theyd been intimate in a fashion that was new and frightening to Afton, yet he
didnt want the night to end just yet. He didnt want to let the Bacchi walk away when
pain was still riding him.
He didnt want to set himself up for whatever heartbreak and complications
would come from becoming entangled with this high-maintenance creature.
Afton waited at the lift as Lefi entered a code and unlocked the door with his
thumbprint. The door opened silently, and he stood in the doorway, head tilted.
Morning light was breaking through the cleverly set windows in the foyer, and it
caught the Somians hair, setting it alight. When he turned to Afton, the weight of his
pain showed in his eyes.
Thank you, Inspector.
The Bacchi 77
Afton nodded, not looking away.
He craved a cup of coffee, or maybe his bed. After the long night, he didnt look
forward to an endless day at home, ostensibly taking his day off. Hed really be
working over various cases in his mind, reminding Afton how solitary his life had
become. He wanted Lefi to ask him to stay. He wanted to wait for the Somians roguish
appeal. But instead he turned away and stepped back into the lift.
Afton.
He paused, then turned again to look at Lefi.
Please stay. It wasnt a sly, seductive request but rather a plea for solace.
Automatically he shook his head. He could do nothing else. When Lefi gave a half
smile and turned toward the door, his belly wrenched. When the door closed behind
the Somian, Afton closed his eyes tightly.
No. To follow the Bacchi would be the precursor to pain, the start of a journey
Afton wasnt certain he wanted to take. Lefi was like a butterfly, drifting from place to
place, choosing lovers at the slightest whim. In time hed move on, leaving Afton
behind. Closing his eyes, he remembered seeing the Bacchi with others. When he first
came to Landis, Lefi had often been accompanied by a lovely human woman. A few
months later, the woman had been replaced by a pair of pastel Somian, both as
handsome as the Bacchi. Theyd waited outside Aftons office while he and Lefi
reviewed a stack of paperwork. While they waited, Lefi had flirted outrageously, until
Afton nearly forgot why the Bacchi had come to see him.
When Lefi was bored with him, who would replace Afton?
But to leave would mean more of the same in his life. Working and going home,
random trysts with the occasional female he met while running or shopping for food.
Uncomfortable visits home, doing his best to ignore the disapproving looks from his
family and the knowing smiles of gens he occasionally encountered.
78 Belinda McBride
He stepped off the lift and quickly strode back to the heavy door of the habitat,
then stood there for a long moment, his palm resting on the wooden panel. He raised a
fist and knocked lightly.
It took longer than he expected for Lefi to answer. He thought the Bacchi would be
waiting, but he wasnt. Afton swallowed hard, knowing hed set something in motion
with that gentle knock on the door. Something hed be unable to turn away or hide
from.
When the door swung open, he saw Lefi had exchanged his clothing for a long,
velvet robe. This one wasnt exotic or rare, but looked like something worn for comfort.
The rich blue fabric was slightly faded; the cuffs were worn and frayed. Afton knew
without being told that this was a beloved garment that had once belonged to Lefis
deceased father. It was the sort of thing you wrapped yourself in when nobody else was
around to hold you and make you feel better.
Afton looked up into those haunted eyes and knew he was doing the right thing.
He stepped up, wrapped his arms around the other man, and held him.
* * * *
They sprawled comfortably in the living area, a tray of breakfast foods and drink
between them. Afton was propped against a pile of cushions, and Lefi lay on his belly,
lazily picking through the pastries. Afton had assumed theyd end up in the bedroom,
but neither man was ready to sleep. They werent inclined to do anything other than
while away the early morning.
Hed used the shower in the guest room, and Lefi loaned him the luxurious, dark
red dressing gown he now wore. Red didnt seem to be a color Lefi would choose
himself, so he wondered if the decadent garment had belonged to a past lover. It was
softer and more luxurious than anything hed ever worn before; the silken fabric glided
along his skin like a caress. The entire morning had consisted of sensory decadence.
Of those pleasures, the Somian was the greatest of all.
The Bacchi 79
Here, try this. Lefi handed Afton a small, spiral-shaped confection. The sweet
flavors of spice blended with the yeasty warmth of bread.
Cinnamon roll?
Another human delicacy. Lefi took a bite of his and chewed slowly. Theres a
bakery owned by humans down the street. He hummed, almost like a purr of pleasure,
as he ate. Speaking of humans and Earth, tell me about the AmWere who came to you
for help. She contacted me through the Guild, using you as a reference.
Afton took a sip of tea and wiped a stray bit of sugar from his lips. They are
searching for their lost pack members, one of whom happens to be a Valoran female.
That caught Lefis interest. A Valoran who is a member of an AmWere pack?
How intriguing!
She was an ICE hunter-tracker and went missing on a job. They are afraid shes
been sold into black market prostitution.
Lefi propped his chin on his fist and stared at Afton. His purple eyes were solemn.
Do you believe that is likely, Afton?
Unfortunately I do. Shes allegedly an expert fighter, but I am well aware of the
allure a Valoran would have as a prostitute. He sighed. Its one of our greatest fears,
Lefi. While we may be conservative by nature, an unethical slave owner can easily
manipulate a Valoran by the use of drugs. Earth opiates and Somian aphrodisiacs in
particular. That brought on the memory of Lefis nectar and the effect it had on Aftons
body.
And on his libido. It scared the hell out of him. Could he become addicted to the
nectar of a Somian? To Lefi?
How can I help?
Ive already been to the guild. I dont know if theres anything you can do.
80 Belinda McBride
Lefi sighed and rolled onto his back, his hair a spill of green across the carpet.
Tell me more about the AmWere. Are they beautiful? Ive met their cousins, the EurLu,
but never an AmWere.
Theyre likea force of nature.
Lefi smiled at that.
Im serious. They look human, but more. Larger, stronger, and every one of them
was shockinglybeautiful. They gave off such an aura of power. Perhaps even
violence.
And they believe shes in the Landis system? On a pleasure barge?
Possibly. When Rain de le Croix returns, theyd like to meet with you. Three of
them remained here to investigate the fight circuits in the system; Rain has gone to
Earth to collect more AmWere refugees.
That explains why they chose to search here. The Landis system is the closest
jump to Earth. Even with interdimensional drive, its still a difficult journey,
particularly for a small crew. He idly rubbed a finger through the thick nap of the
carpet. Afton watched in fascination. Lefi truly enjoyed the pleasures he surrounded
himself with. Do you suppose, Afton, that many of the refugees are bound to be
traumatized?
You wish to help with crisis therapy?
It was a major component of my training. I spent several months on Neo Domus,
putting together a team of therapists for the community at large. I worked with the
royal family while I was there. When my parents were involved in the Parna conflict, I
was exposed to their work with the walking wounded.
Is that why your family was there when your father died? And your twin?
Afton had known this moment was coming. It had to come out, and as Lefi had
said so often, his life was public record. Still, Lefi went quiet, thick lashes shading his
eyes. He didnt answer.
The Bacchi 81
What was she like, Lefi? Your twin sister.
He wondered if Lefi had ever spoken of her to others. Of course he had; his family
would have seen that he received the best possible support following the tragedy. No
doubt Lefi had dutifully spoken to his therapist and then closed down the topic for the
rest of his life.
When he spoke, his voice was tight with pain.
Mhara was like light. She was brilliant and beautiful and good. He paused, and
Afton saw him swallow hard. I cant explain to you how it feels to know that, from the
moment you were born, you stepped into life hand in hand with your soul mate. We
believe that mated twins are two halves of the same person. When she died, I knew it
was the truth, because part of me died with her.
Afton wanted to lie on the floor next to Lefi. He wanted to take him in his arms
and hold him tight. He wanted to take the pain away. But he couldnt. The kindest thing
he could do was to listen.
Her eyes were green, the exact color of my hair. Her hair was yellow like
sunlight. Our faces were identical, other than the obvious differences between male and
female.
She must have been truly beautiful, then.
Lefi gave a slight laugh. Beautiful. Yes, but that is an understatement. Her true
beauty came from the light of her soul. He rolled over, pushed away the tray of food,
and then lay down again and rested his chin on his folded arms. It was a curiously
childlike position for a grown man.
When our father died, we were both devastated, as was our mother. But it didnt
compare to the grief his twin experienced. That was when we decided to become
therapists. Mhara was particularly interested in helping those stricken by grief or
trauma.
And you decided to follow her lead?
82 Belinda McBride
Lefi gave another of those sad little laughs. No, even then I was moresensually
oriented. I agreed to enter the training with her, but my intention was always to branch
out into sexual therapy. And in reality, the two specialties fit together quite well.
I suppose within the Somian culture that must be true. Afton didnt say it as an
insult, but as a basic truth. The physical elements of Somian culture were inextricably
entwined with the spiritual.
Tell me how she died, Lefi. He already knew, but he needed to hear it from the
Somian. More than that, Lefi needed to say itto share it. Otherwise there would be no
healing.
Lefi buried his face in his hands. Afton looked away and out the expansive
window, giving the Bacchi space. The views from this tower were breathtaking. He
could see miles in the distance, far beyond the city. He waited patiently for Lefi to
answer.
We were still so young. Years from our eventual marriage and mating. It was a
freakish accident. We were traveling by shuttle from our home to the university, and
there was rough weather. The shuttle was electric. A bolt of lightning threw it off
course, and we crashed. He paused, clearly visualizing that day once again. I was
barely injuredjust a few scratches and bruises. But when I looked over at Mhara, I
knew she was gone. Her light had simply vanished.
Im so sorry, Lefi.
He didnt look at Afton. She didnt even look badly hurt. We tried first aid. We
rushed her to a healing center, and for a few moments she revived. We didnt speak, but
her eyes were so sad when she left me. He sat up and leaned back on his hands. Her
internal organs were injured. After she died, they took her away to harvest her ovaries.
Why? That seemed to be an unnecessary invasion of her body and a trauma to
her bereaved twin.
The Bacchi 83
The children of couples like Mhara and I propel the evolutionary advancement of
our culture. It would be almost blasphemous to deny our people offspring from myself
and my heart.
His heart. Afton had heard that term given to Somian who found their soul mates.
It was beautiful.
You are expected to find a mate to bear your and Mharas children? Somehow
the thought of Lefi with an unknown mate brought a bite of jealousy to Afton.
I think its widely known that without Mhara, I have no desire to mate another.
My seed is stored. Someday I will release it to a couple who wishes to bear and raise
our children.
Lefis voice nearly vibrated with the weight of his pain. Afton clasped his hand.
He said nothing; there were no words to comfort the Somian. They sat quietly, each lost
in his own thoughts. Hed touched the Somian enough that hed learned to block the
rush of his emotions. Now Afton felt no desire to experience Lefis grief. It was clear
enough.
I chose you as a diversion, Afton. Someone to keep me interested in living for
another week or month. You were merely a conquest.
I know.
He did know; it was what hed feared most. Still, he didnt let go of Lefis hand.
Im sorry for that. I didnt expect to become so attached. But still, I am no longer a
whole person. He pulled his hand from Aftons and rose to his feet. Afton stood as
well. It would be best if you leave now, Inspector.
He was right, but damn, it hurt. Afton straightened his shoulders and looked at
Lefis tired face. He pulled the luxurious robe tightly around his body.
It might be best, but I think Ill stay.
84 Belinda McBride
Chapter Seven
Waking slowly, Lefi became aware he wasnt alone. It was odd; in spite of his
rather debauched sexual history, he never allowed a lover to stay in his private space.
And he never stayed once an evening was finished. He rolled to his side, allowing his
eyes to slip open just a fraction.
His inspector sat in the plush chair next to the bed, using Lefis small
computational unit. Lefi frowned, feeling rather violated. He then remembered
showing Afton the unit.
How drunk had he been the prior day? Generally his birthday drinking started the
week before and ended several days after. Those days of morbid celebration were
usually a void in his memory. And he never woke up with a companion. Ever.
What would Mhara think of his grief-driven excesses? What would she think of
his slow withdrawal from life?
His eyes stung, but tears were of his past; hed burned them away decades ago.
Instead of dwelling on his private pain, Lefi watched the Valoran at work. His hair fell
loose, down into his face. It was an ebony curtain of tumbling waves and curls. The
deep red of the robe he wore was vibrant against his pale skin. Lefi had bought that
robe just days after meeting Afton, expecting a swift seduction. The romance hadnt
proceeded as planned, and hed found himself foolishly pursuing the elusive police
inspector.
What a blow to the ego! But it never hurt to be brought down from ones self-
constructed pedestal. It had also granted him time to see the Valoran as more than a
lovely, repressed mixture of male and female. Hed come to know Afton. He respected
his dedication to his job, his single-minded focus on the cases he was assigned. Even in
The Bacchi 85
the beginning, when Afton was a simple warrant officer, hed handled Lefis paperwork
and licensing with all his attention. Hed learned to recognize the subtle signs of humor
and frustration that Afton fought so hard to hide.
He liked Afton Teris.
So seducing him had been a mistake, because the reality was, Lefi didnt want to
let him go. And an affair between them was a losing prospect. Lefi lacked the heart to
give, and Afton might never accept his attraction to a man. So really, he should have
rolled over, gone back to sleep, and kept the Valoran at arms distance. But he didnt.
Afton frowned at the screen in front of him, mumbling softly. Intrigued, Lefi sat
up and caught a glimpse of the computer. Afton was studying the advertisement for
one of the brothel barges. He swallowed. He shouldnt interfere. Really. Lefi lay back in
the bed, closing his eyes.
Behind his lids, he saw the gritty decks of a barge like the one on the screen, the
garish lights and animated signs lining narrow streets. Crude acts took place in
windows; indifferent whores accosted customers while tethered to the fronts of their
places of business.
The tethers werent for showthey kept the sex workers from bolting to freedom.
Dangerous people lurked in the shadows, searching for likely recruits to sell to
brokers. A Valoran would be a prize.
Lefi rolled to his side, facing away from the computer, and his bracelet jingled
slightly. Hed worked hard in his early career to shepherd sex workers away from the
barges and streets and into the protection of the Bacchi Guild. Hed had some success
and some failure. His own mentor had been a human, a stately woman of middle years.
Shed taught him that, as a Bacchi, if he wasnt part of the solution, he was part of the
problem. Hed taken it to heart back then. Had he drifted away from that precept?
The bracelet hed worn as a novice was tucked away in a drawer somewhere.
Shed clipped the silver links from his wrist when hed attained mastery level within the
86 Belinda McBride
guild. Perhaps he should never have removed it. He needed the reminder of his
beginnings.
Behind him, Afton sighed. The unit was powered off, and soft footsteps crossed
the room.
Good. Soon hed dress and leave, letting Lefi take another few days to indulge his
grief. With a whisper of fabric, the robe slipped to the floor. Instead of dressing, Afton
crawled into the bed next to him.
Maybe he didnt really want Afton to leave after all. His body was pleased at the
inspectors return. And grief took its toll on a man.
I know youre awake, Lefi.
He didnt respond. Afton waited a moment, then slid down and rested his head
on a pillow. They didnt touch, but he felt the warmth of the Valoran and took comfort
in the sensation.
Inspector?
Mmm?
Lefi remained in place, not rolling to look at the gen in his bed. If he did, hed
weaken. Hed take him in his arms and make love to him.
You should not go to the brothel barges alone. Be sure to take someone who
knows their way around. Its a dangerous place for you.
Thank you, Lefi. Afton stroked his hair soothingly. I will look forward to your
company.
My company? Now he rolled over, and he looked at the Valoran in surprise.
Afton lay with his hair tumbled around his face, a slight smile on his lips. He looked
sensual and decadentnot a look Lefi generally associated with his inspector.
How kind of you to offer, Lefi. I wasnt looking forward to going alone.
The Bacchi 87
For a moment, Lefi was speechless. And then he laughed and pulled the Valoran
close to his body. Afton was rigid in his arms, clearly unused to casual contact like this.
A few heartbeats in, he began to relax and draped an arm over Lefis chest.
Is it really that bad?
Lefi sighed. Its worse. And perhaps its past time for me to get in touch with my
roots.
You were on one of those barges? Afton looked at him in shock.
Lefi didnt answer. Grief made a man do foolish things, and that was his past.
Hed managed to keep it hidden from all but a select few. He had nothing to atone for.
But if he could help others rectify their mistakes, he certainly would try.
Go to sleep, Inspector. Turn away from those cases, and let your mind escape for
a time. Theyll still be waiting when you wake up.
I thinkIm not really tired.
Lefi glanced at the clock, and his eyes went wide at the time. Theyd slept half the
day! At least he had; it appeared Afton had gotten plenty of work done. The Valoran
was pensive again, clearly lost in his case. Lefi slipped out of the bed and stepped into
the bathroom. A quick shower helped pull his focus together, clearing the cobwebs
from his mind. Water spilled from nozzles, falling into his face like a gentle rain.
If Afton had taken a shower first, hed have invaded his space, joining him under
the water. The inspector was far too polite for that. He was also uncertain of his
welcome. Looking down at his erection, Lefi decided the Valoran would actually be
quite welcome. Lefi bit his lip and then rolled his eyes ruefully.
Inspector! he shouted. Within seconds Afton was at the entrance to the shower,
a look of alarm on his face.
Are you all right?
Lefi ran a hand through his wet hair, noting that Afton was doing his best not to
look. He suddenly smiled at the Valoran, taking him by surprise. Afton flushed, a
88 Belinda McBride
delicious rose tone spreading over his cheeks. He was so beautiful, yet so lacking in self-
awareness.
I believe I left my hair cleanser on the counter.
I see a container there in the corner of the shower.
Lefi smiled even more broadly, feeling the rise of his cockstand. Its not the scent
I favor today.
Afton was wearing the red robe again, and he gave Lefi an inscrutable look. You
just want me to get in the shower with you.
Well, yes. That too. But I do want that container.
Afton turned, slipped the robe off his lean shoulders, then carefully hung it on a
hook by the door. His ass was just lovelytaut and muscular and beautifully rounded.
Lefi imagined himself leaning the Valoran over the counter and taking him from behind
as they watched each other in the mirror. When Afton met his gaze in the reflection, a
flame in that dark gaze told him the Valoran was thinking something similar, though
most likely their positions would be reversed. And why not? Lefi stepped from the
shower, and the water trickled to a stop. He stood behind Afton and looked at the other
man in the mirror. He then wrapped one arm around his chest, straightening him up.
Afton resisted briefly, until he realized Lefi was taking his position.
Lefi braced his hands on the counter, watching as Afton gazed at his body,
scanning from the top down and then back up to look at him in the mirror again. He
brushed Lefis wet hair to the side, covered his back, and pressed a sharp nip to Lefis
shoulder. Lefi jumped, wincing at the pain, but his cock bobbed in excitement.
Encouraged, Afton rubbed a hand down his flank, catching droplets of water. He
reached around and spread his palm over Lefis muscular chest. He rubbed the dusty-
green nipple with his thumb and brought it to a peak. Afton liked being the aggressor;
even in the female role, hed undoubtedly want to top.
That was fine with Lefi. Hed spent a good portion of his life being the dominant
partner, always tending to the pleasure of others.
The Bacchi 89
Being the focus of Aftons attention was a delightful change.
He trailed his slender white hands down Lefis chest, then tickled the hair around
his rigid shaft with his fingers. Behind him, Aftons cock was rigid, prodding him as the
other man moved.
Lefi fumbled at a few of the glass bottles on the counter, finally finding the one he
sought. Here, spread this on yourself. He poured a dollop of scented oil into Aftons
hand. Then he poured some into his own palm and lubed his cock and balls.
I cant I dont want toyet
Its not for that. Lefi looked back at the Valoran. Justbetween my legs. They
were both nearly incoherent. He watched Afton again, his breath catching as the
Valoran pressed his groin tightly to Lefis ass, his slick penis gliding down the seam to
slide between his thighs. The movement was so similar to the real thing, a casual
observer wouldnt know Afton wasnt balls-deep in Lefis body.
The Valoran moved slowly, deliberately, carefully studying Lefis face in the
mirror. His shaft crowded Lefis balls and then slipped up along his cock. He pulled
back, and the delicious slide was repeated. He tapped Lefis thigh, urging him to close
his legs a bit to increase the friction.
As one they gasped; Lefis ended on a moan, and Aftons was hastily silenced.
From there Afton set a steady pace, one hand on Lefis shoulder, the other on his hip,
strong fingers gripping him tightly. The Valorans eyes began to drop closed in bliss,
and he fought to keep them open, his gaze fixated on Lefi, his face, his body. He
occasionally glanced down to watch his cock vanish between Lefis legs.
Lefi caught his breath and fought to move backward. He ached to feel Afton deep
inside. He craved the touch of the other man, on his cock, in his ass. As though reading
his mind, Afton slipped his hand from his shoulder, found Lefis nipple, and teased,
plucking and pulling at it.
Oh Lefis arms weakened, and his head dropped forward. He struggled to
come upright again. He needed to watch. Aftons face was flushed, and the same light
90 Belinda McBride
color stained his throat and chest. Lefis face shone with moisture from the shower and
his own sweat, and the scent of the oil filled the air. Still playing with Lefis nipples,
Afton reached down and grasped Lefis cock, even as his own thrust and retreated into
his palm.
Lefi was helpless, unable to move, unable to touch himself. He could only watch
as Aftons face settled into an intense expression. His lips parted as he panted for
breath. He clasped the back of Lefis neck and pushed him forward till his cheek rested
on the cool, damp granite. He then sped up the pace, their skin slapping noisily, and
Lefi moaned on every stroke. Unable to watch anymore, he closed his eyes and gave it
up to Afton, letting the Valoran command his pleasure.
A hand snaked under his body and pinched his nipple. Fire shot from chest to
cock to balls, and the tension grew in his groin like a taut wire, dragging a scream from
Lefi. He pushed up, straightening his arms as orgasm twisted through his body.
Clenching muscles forced stream after stream of seed from his cockhead, and he sobbed
in relief.
Afton wrapped his arms tightly around Lefis chest and belly, pumping fast, and
lay his forehead against Lefis shoulder. His cry was quiet and muffled as he came,
warm semen dripping over Lefis cock and balls, then dripping down his inner thighs.
Lefi knew hed been claimed. Afton might not have known it, but the Valoran had
marked him, leaving small bites and the sheen of his seed all over Lefis genitals. He
went limp and unresisting, waiting for the fallout of the inspectors realization, but
Afton merely relaxed over his back, confident in Lefis strength. He turned his head and
rested his cheek against Lefis shoulder.
After a few minutes, Afton straightened and moved away from Lefi, giving him
space to rise. Lefi turned, and they faced each other. Afton studied him, then touched a
small bruise at the base of Lefis neck. He then looked down at the sheen of Lefis semen
in his hand.
The Bacchi 91
At first he didnt seem to notice the milky fluid smeared into Lefis genitals and
thighs. When he finally looked, his eyes widened slightly, but he didnt bolt from the
room as Lefi half expected him to.
Without another word, Afton pulled him to the shower and helped him in, then
took the time to retrieve the hair cleanser Lefi had asked for.
Lefi leaned against the smooth, cool wall and sighed as Afton washed him from
head to foot.
Never in his life had Lefi Dhrahn felt so treasured. And he realized there was
nothing he wouldnt do for Afton Teris.
* * * *
Lefi, this is insanity.
Several sets of eyes gazed at Lefi. Their colors ranged from the pale blues and
warm browns of humans, to the neon shades of the Zamoran. Lefi smiled, not in the
least bit chastised.
Long ago, I was taught my duties as a Bacchi of the guild. Part of our mission is
to uplift and elevate the profession and its practitioners. I can think of no greater duty
than to assist my brothers and sisters in such dismal situations.
That is quite true, Bacchi Dhrahn, but going to the brothel barges is nothing but
an invitation to trouble. We have few defenses against the scoundrels there. The
woman who gazed at him was a beauty. Her inky-black hair was intricately knotted at
the base of her neck. Her brown eyes were smoky, her lips full and red. He allowed
himself a brief surge of arousal in appreciation of her appearance. In fact, she reminded
him a little of Afton.
Bacchi Coronado, I bring this up because it would be deliberately naive for us to
believe that prostitutes on the brothel barges are there of their own wishes. And as you
might have heard, one of our own was kidnapped and is now very likely enslaved in a
92 Belinda McBride
fraudulent contract. Enforcement on Landis 17 has requested our assistance. We are in
an ideal position to act on this threat to our people if ICE supports us.
Admirable sentiment, Lefi, but its still incredibly dangerous. The man across
the table was wickedly handsome. His dark hair grew back from a widows peak, and
his stylized beard and mustache gave him an evil air. He now stroked his goatee
thoughtfully.
Wed never go alone, and theres not a member of this guild who is incapable of
defending themselves in a fight. Right, Ammon?
The man smiled, but his fair cheeks flushed slightly. Before hed become a high-
priced prostitute, Ammon Severs had worked as a mercenary. Lefi assumed the human
enjoyed his current job more than his former career. There was less collateral damage.
The faint scar on his cheek might look dashing but spoke of the dangers Ammon had
survived.
The Zamoran president looked at Lefi for a long moment. Lefi, let me give this
some thought. You must realize that many of the barge workers are there of their own
free will.
And many are not, Kentish. And many were defrauded through dishonest
contracts with interest rates amounting to usury. He looked steadily at her. Of all the
people in the room, only President Zaah knew of his early history. Hed been young
and full of despair when hed signed a contract to a broker. The document had been a
clever bit of fraud, keeping him in debt and tied to the broker indefinitely. His guild
mentor had encountered Lefi in one of the ramshackle clubs and purchased his debt for
an astronomical price. Shed taken a chance on him and saved him from the abyss. The
more he argued in favor of guild intervention, the more he realized this might be his
mission in life.
When do you plan to go?
Immediately. Inspector Teris has spent over a week arranging the operation. In
all good conscience, I cannot allow him to go alone.
The Bacchi 93
The Zamoran gave him a knowing glance but said nothing.
Bacchi Dhrahn, the inspector is a law enforcement officer. Dont you think he can
handle his investigation independently?
He looked at Blanca Coronado. Afton Teris is a gender-neutral Valoran.
There were murmurs around the table. She nodded. Understandable, then.
Regardless of how competent he is, a Valoran is a prime piece of merchandise. I
remember She trailed off, a sad look on her face.
Blanca? he prompted.
She shook herself as though pushing off a bad memory. Nothing. I just remember
seeing a Valoran addict once, long ago. It was tragic. We are all here on our own terms.
This poor womanshe worked for drugs and only for drugs. I heard later shed been
the finance minister on a Valoran colony.
The Somian governments have forbidden the sale of certain wines and elixirs to
the Valoran home planet. Unfortunately opiates still flow unregulated from Earth. On
some outposts a Valoran can inadvertently become addicted to a seemingly harmless
substance. Lefi was proud his people had made that tough decision. The Valorans
were a potentially lucrative market, but the cost in lives would have been too high.
Lefi, how does your Valoran react to your physical traits? Ive certainly found my
Somian lovers to beaddictive. Ammons expression was one of curiosity laced with
erotic speculation. Interesting that he immediately assumed Afton was his lover. They
hadnt hidden their relationship, but in reality, they hadnt spent much time together.
My nectar is seductive, but Ive never seen it produce addictive effects, regardless
of the species. If that were so, my people would truly rule the universe!
There was laughter, but he didnt break eye contact with Ammon. After a moment
Ammon winked and dropped his gaze to focus on the next issue under discussion.
Maybe he was too suspicious, but then again, knowledge was power, and Ammon
certainly knew a lot.
94 Belinda McBride
Or maybe Lefi simply had that reputation.
Now on to matters of discipline. Bacchi Dhrahn, I understand a human novice
namedshe consulted a paperDebra Espinosa recently tested positive for drugs.
This is her second offense, and shes requested a therapeutic consult. Are you
available?
He nodded, making a note to calendar the appointment. Another week, another
month, and soon hed make it through another year. Now, that thought wasnt so
painful.
The Bacchi 95
Chapter Eight
The barge was worse than Afton expected.
Afton and Lefi strolled along one of the broad boulevards, looking up at the
artistic, respectable-looking facades. One block over, the theme was neon and
nightclubs. On another street, one would believe they were visiting the seedy streets of
Niye.
The streets were wide and open only to pedestrians, save for the occasional service
vehicle. In their wandering, hed discovered that shipments and emergency vehicles
approached from hidden tunnels and backstreets, far from where paying clients could
see them. An entire city existed under the public streets.
The spacecraft was enormous, truly the size of a planet-bound city. His legs ached,
and theyd covered only one level of the ship. How could they find one single prostitute
here? How could they access the whispers and gossip when it was all hidden away
behind securely locked doors? A visit to administration had yielded nothing. Security
was the same. The only crime the management of the barge admitted to was the sort of
thing youd expect on any other vacation resort: pickpocketing, muggings, and bar
fights.
Kidnapping was unheard of. All the working men and women were healthy,
happy, and well cared for. The only deaths were those of natural causes. The ship
experienced an occasional blackout but, beyond that, was in top condition.
Hed thanked them politely and left the offices, knowing theyd steamrolled him.
There was no choice but to venture out without official assistance. He and Lefi walked
for hours, speaking little but communicating so very much.
96 Belinda McBride
Weapons were forbidden onboard, which wasnt too much of a concern. Beyond
the occasional pimp working outside a business, no one approached them. They
shouldered through crowds of men and women intent on having a good time. Aside
from the distinct lack of children, it almost seemed like a standard recreational resort.
But then theyd entered the alleys, keeping to the shadows as the real business of
the Rapscallion took place.
Bodies were loaded into transportssome alive, some not. Burly guards pushed
men and women in through the back doors; some struggled, some shuffled along in
drug-fogged apathy. Other guards came and collected fees in the form of cash, credit
chits, and precious metals. Lefi winced when a hapless gambler was brought out back
and brutally beaten.
It was truly worse than Afton had anticipated.
If the corruption and degradation had been out in plain sight, Afton could have
absorbed it, issuing mental condemnations of the debauchery and lawlessness.
However, the polite skin of the community covered up the true horror of the place.
The barge was a warren of slavery and trafficking. And since the entire thing ran
outside L17s orbit, there was little Afton could do, even with the backing of his planets
entire government.
If the barge was threatened, itd just fly away to another system.
So hed focus on his purpose: seeking out Marlene and the AmWeres missing
Valoran. If the criminal hed been seeking was operating here on the barge, there was
no doubt the syndicate running the ship would mete out justiceof a sort. Hed given
its chief of security a copy of the information on their victims and what little they knew
about the kidnappings.
Now he had to walk through the doors of clubs and bars, pretending to be
something he wasnt. Or in Lefis case, pretending to be a customer, not a professional.
For once the Bacchi was dresseddown. He wore common, durable trousers and
a cream-colored shirt that exposed little. His flamboyant hair dropped down his back in
The Bacchi 97
a practical braid, and he wore dark glasses over his gemstone eyes. His guild bracelet
wasnt removable, so hed bound it to his wrist; the only sign of it was a slight bulge
under his sleeve. Supple leather boots were his sole extravagance, and hed explained
that comfort was paramount in a quest aboard the massive vessel.
Afton wore his usual black, though his shirt was short-sleeved and topped with a
lightweight fabric jacket. His running shoes were probably a bit more practical than
Lefis boots, but he hadnt been able to hide a blade inside them as Lefi had. They
looked like two men out trolling for a weekend of rowdy fun.
At least he hoped that was what they looked like.
As they walked, Lefi frequently hooked their arms together; they spoke softly, as
good friends normally would.
Off to the left is a pickpocket. Hes about to lift that gentlemans wallet.
When Afton moved to interfere, the Somian pulled him back into stride. We cant
afford to be noticed. They are undoubtedly licensed with the management and pay a
cut of their proceeds for their territory. Afton gritted his jaw and nodded. His
frustration was mounting as the hours passed fruitlessly. Those two are scouts. Lefi
nodded toward a pair of humans, one male and the other female. They appeared casual
but steadily scanned the crowd. Lefi pulled him back into the shade of a doorway. They
watched until the pair was out of sight.
For the brothels?
Yes, they generally spot a potential victim, disable them, and route them to
another barge. Do your best not to draw their focus.
Afton itched with the need to challenge the criminals. He flexed his fists and
silently snarled. Lefi settled his hand at the base of his neck and massaged gently as
they walked, bringing his agitation down. He looked up and smiled at Lefi in gratitude.
Thank you. Lefi smiled and nodded, his attention never leaving their surroundings.
Afton scanned the street, letting his instincts out to play. Suddenly the hair stood up on
his neck.
98 Belinda McBride
Lefi slowed and stopped. He looked around, then finally spotted what he was
looking for.
Afton, please dont ask questions. Just wait for me here.
Afton followed the Bacchis gaze to where a small, dark Fedoran lingered at the
front of a bar. Hed caught Lefis attention with a furtive, nearly invisible gesture.
Moving with deceptive ease, Lefi crossed the street to where the panderer waited. Even
out of his element, he was ridiculously lovely. Lefi had once worked on one of these
horrible places, undoubtedly against his will. There were few Somian in a brothel like
this; they didnt flourish in unhappy environments.
Sighing, Afton found a bench and sat down to wait. Above him, trees whispered
in the artificial environment of the barge. He should not have let Lefi go off alone, but
today Afton was at a disadvantage. He probably had police written all over his face.
And Lefi was just steps away. He watched the street, quickly sorting the predators from
the prey, the cons from the marks.
Lefi thought he was naive, but that was far from the truth. Once Afton knew his
surroundings, he adapted quickly. He was able to shut down emotion and other outside
distractions and operate on instinct.
Right now his senses were telling him Lefi had not entered that alley unobserved;
there were eyes on him as well. He calmly remained where he was, hoping to act as a
distraction so Lefi had time to follow his lead. He watched, listened, and scented the air,
looking for danger.
The thing was, when he allowed his intellect to step back and his primitive self
forward, Afton knew one single, solitary fact.
The Bacchi was his, and hed protect Lefi regardless of the cost.

THE FEDORAN WAS all too familiar, though theyd never met: small and
stumpy, with skin the color of old wood and eyes the color of burnished gold. It was
The Bacchi 99
one of the few species Lefi had trouble summoning much erotic enthusiasm for. He
didnt trust the little man, but his gesture had been unmistakable.
Information for sale. No doubt his contacts on the inside had tipped the Fedoran
to their presence.
His credit chit was strapped under his sleeve, but Lefi fingered the gems in his
pocket. Theyd been a gift from King Helios of Neo Domus. After pulling out a small
pouch, he located the biggest, brightest stones. They would appeal to the materialistic
Fedoran. Credit was a concept, whereas objects were a reality the Fedorans cherished.
Lefi walked past the little humanoid and ignored him, then dodged into a shallow
alley. He leaned against a spot on the wall that didnt appear too foul and propped his
booted heel against the smooth surface as he waited. He wiggled his toes inside the soft
leather, grateful hed worn the expensive footwear. They were tough, supple enough to
fight in, and hed managed to smuggle in a small armory of weapons.
They looked damn good too.
After a few minutes, he heard the shuffling gait of the Fedoran. The gnarled little
man was younger than he looked, and though he appeared harmless, his species was
devious. Lefi rotated his foot, loosening the flat blade he wore.
What you looking for?
Lefi folded his arms, glancing at either end of the alley. Most of the brothels
distributed flyers advertising their attractions, but some clients had needs that were
much darker.
What do you think Im looking for? And if you have it, what is the cost?
What you got for trade?
He shook his head, smiling. You first, my friend.
The Fedoran sighed elaborately. Depends on what you looking for.
Back to the start. Lefi crushed his annoyance. Before he continued, the Fedoran
spoke again. A single Somian and a Valoran together. Odd mix. Dont know why
100 Belinda McBride
youd be looking for anything else. He glanced slyly up at Lefi. You got beauty and
beauty. I think maybe you looking for beast, eh? Something rough? Dangerous?
Beast. In a manner, I suppose. He thought for a moment. Nothing ugly,
though.
What flavor? Pink or blue?
Either, of course. He nearly snorted in humor. But then, with a Valoran you
never could be sure. Ive heard about a fairly new speciesthe AmWere?
The Fedoran nodded. None here. Too dangerous. Last one died too quick for
profit. Maybe someday, with new drugs. What about EurLu? They look the same but
dont kill. Dont change shape either.
Maybe. Are they large?
Yeah, not big as AmWere, but big enough. Male?
Mmmfemale. Someonedifferent. He gave the Fedoran a look. Pale hair
maybe? Blue eyes?
The Fedoran frowned, clearly scanning a mental inventory. Fedorans were usually
merchants and traders and were renowned for their ability to memorize vast amounts
of information.
No blondes. Only three EurLu on board. One male. The females have brown hair.
You still interested?
Maybe. Are they new?
Nah. Been here a couple years.
My friend misses his own kind. Perhaps a Valoran?
Perhaps. The little man now had an avid gleam in his eye. That would be
possible.
For a price, Lefi said. His heart beat a little faster. The Fedoran had given the
information about the EurLu freely. Now he had hot information. Lefi dug into his
pocket, then emerged with a brilliant yellow stone that matched the Fedorans eyes. The
The Bacchi 101
panderer snatched the gem and held it up to the artificial sunlight of the station. Its a
yellow sapphire. Quite rare. The stone was the size of the Fedorans fingertip.
Theres one at the Illusion on 8th and Occidental. Its private. You must know the
code to ask for the Valoran. The stone vanished into a pocket. A small card took its
place. On it was written a short sequence of numbers. Give this to the doorman. Thisll
get you into one of their performances and a private meeting with him.
Lefi accepted it and nodded, then slipped it into a pocket. Regular pants did have
their good points, in spite of being soordinary.
The Fedoran shuffled, glancing at the entrance of the alley. I have a wife, you
know. Shed love earrings.
Lefi fished out a matching stone and extended it toward the Fedoran.
A new one at Fantasm. Heard its female. Very expensive. The stone vanished,
and the weathered hand appeared again, palm open. With a sigh, Lefi dug out yet
another stone. This one was clear, brown, and brilliant. A common stone on Earth, but
quartz such as this was rare off the planet. It didnt flatter his coloring, but he enjoyed
the appearance of the chocolate-colored stone. He was loath to give it up.
This time the Fedoran leaned in close. Theres another, though I hear he be on his
last days. Heshe wasthe pet of a broker. Now a barman owns him. Nasty sort
named Sly. Hes half-human, runs a bar called the Watchman. He keeps the Valoran in
the back most of the time, used to drag him out to give BJs for his clients. He leaned
back, glanced around, and then leaned close to Lefi again. You decide to go rescue
him, watch your back. Sly might just take your pretty gen friend in exchange.
Lefi blinked at the information. Clearly this was important. At least it was to the
Fedoran.
Talk of Afton worried Lefi; hed been back here longer than hed anticipated he
would be. He extended the stone to the Fedoran, who gazed at it longingly. He then
looked up at Lefi.
Green man, if you get that Valoran off the station, thats payment enough.
102 Belinda McBride
Lefi closed his fingers around the stone. He swallowed hard. Howd you know
why we came?
What I said at the start. You two pretties got each other. Why the fuck you need
anything from the barge? You looking for AmWere and Valorans. You not the first
trying to do rescue here. He shoved his hands into his pockets as he started back to the
street. Last boys name is Rev. You get him out and let him die in peace somewhere.
You do that, and weI might pay you. His cheeks nearly split with his smile.
How the hell am I going to smuggle a dying man off the barge?
The Fedoran gave him a cockeyed grin. Should have figured that out before you
came here. He shrugged. You could buy his contract. The others wont be so easy.
They got some life still. He turned away again. Dont let Sly see your Valoran. Not a
good idea.
Fedoran. The little man stopped but didnt turn. Thank you. Ill do my best to
rescue your friend.
A single nod of the head and the Fedoran was gone. When Lefi emerged from the
alley, his inspector was sitting on a bench, a slight frown marring the smooth skin of his
face. When he spotted Lefi, Afton looked happy to see him.
Lefi liked that. A lot.
The Bacchi 103
Chapter Nine
The hotel room theyd rented was good enough. It wasnt expensive or elegant;
too much luxury would draw unwanted attention to them. It wasnt a budget flop room
either. It was clean, comfortable, and reasonably quiet.
Afton paced the room as Lefi lounged on the bed, scanning flyers and news sheets.
There was only one bed. Lefi was rather pleased by that, though he shouldnt have
been. After all, hed decided to cut off his addiction to the Valoran inspector. However,
making the smart decision and carrying it out were two vastly different prospects. As
Afton had pointed out, Lefi always carried an erection in the Valorans presence. And
these pants werent made for erections. Yet he hadnt touched Afton, not since the day
theyd spent together, wallowing in comfort food and sex. Like an addict, he itched for
another taste, another touch. Afton had no idea of his own decadent beauty, of the spell
he cast on all who looked upon him.
Well, upon Lefi Dhrahn, at least.
He was still puzzled by how easily the Valoran had located him in the garden. The
design was clever; once hed entered the hedgerows, Afton should have wandered the
mazes until emerging at the other side. Instead hed walked straight in.
Lefi was more puzzled by Aftons calm acceptance of the change in their
relationship. Hed expected him to flee, to lapse into denial of their attraction and the
sexual tension that always vibrated between them. Instead Afton appeared serene, and
that surprised Lefi. Clearly the Valoran wasnt as deeply immersed in his denial as Lefi
expected.
Over the top of a flyer advertising a kink-oriented brothel, Lefi watched the
Valoran. He glanced back down at the depiction of a bound, blindfolded woman. Her
104 Belinda McBride
full breasts jutted out aggressively, her nipples tipped with liquid gold. Another
advertisement for the same establishment featured a male in a similar pose; his erect,
ringed cock appeared to have been bronzed. He wondered if genital lamination was
part of the package or if it was an attempt at an artistic portrayal of their services.
He then wondered how Afton would appear bound and blindfolded, his nipples
dusted in gold, his cock dipped in bronze.
From there he imagined a variation on the topic, painting the Valorans naked
body in brilliant colors, his body a canvas for Lefis erotic artistry. He could go into
business, creating living works of art, all of them displayed in the most exclusive
galleries in the coalition. The wealthy and bored would pay him to create art from their
willing flesh rather than fuck them into a stupor.
Why are you smiling?
Startled, Lefi looked up as the flyer was snatched from his hands. Afton glanced at
the image and looked back at Lefi with an arched brow. You find this arousing?
Most people do, though few would actually have the courage to put themselves
in this position. Theres a considerable transfer of trust in such a power exchange. He
smiled and took the sheet of paper from Aftons hands. I was actually thinking about
the artistry of the image. A certain Valoran of my acquaintance would look lovely
bound just so.
Predictably Afton flushed and turned away, but not before Lefi spotted a swelling
at the front of his pants. He liked that idea. Afton had been believable in his denials, but
he really was a shamelessly sexual creature. Lefi smiled and lifted the next flyer in the
small stack. He glanced at it and caught his breath.
Inspector, look. He straightened up and frowned at the image. The bed dipped
as Afton sat next to him. He took the flyer and studied it.
Have we been here?
No. Butthe Fedoran said there were no AmWere on the barge.
The Bacchi 105
Afton noted the name and address in his handheld unit and looked back at Lefi.
He said there were none alive. Perhaps He stared down at the image. The woman
had white-blonde hair and blue eyes. She was tall, willowy, and in spite of the obvious
posing of the image, she looked utterly defeated. The caption read Desdimona.
Perhaps she no longer lives.
Lefi took the flyer back, his heart dropping just a little. She was beautiful. To think
of her at the mercy of countless men He set the flyer aside. We can give this to the
AmWere. If shes dead, her pack will wish to know.
Afton lay back on the bed. Pain radiated from him. Following the informants tips,
theyd located one of the Valorans, the female who worked at the Fantasm. She wasnt
Cali Polis, but Afton had been certain shed welcome rescue. Theyd met her in a
monitored room, and hed spoken to her at length in Valoran. The interview had been
expensive and fruitless. All the woman had focused on was the drug she was so very
addicted to. Afton still hadnt told Lefi what theyd discussed.
Lefi pushed a stray bit of hair back from the Valorans forehead. He was so very
brilliant and talented, yet so naive. The forced prostitution rings were vast and
numerous. Afton must have known how pervasive and evil the industry was, but hed
never seen it up close. It had been cruel to introduce Afton to the inner workings of his
world. He squeezed the other mans hand briefly and then let him go. His pheromones
were active, and touch could affect the Valoran.
What did she say to you? Lefi moved over, giving him room on the bed. Afton
stretched out, sighing deeply.
Nothing, really. She was out of her mind from the addiction. I prodded her for
her name, the name and direction of her family. She refused out of fear that her family
might take her away. Her brothel is her lifeline, and she cant see beyond that. He
brushed his fingers along Lefis hand. Ive always known but have never seen it up
close. Addicts dont live in Valoran territories, as there is no drug trade. I grew up
knowing about these things in theory. The realityits frightening, Lefi. Horrifying.
106 Belinda McBride
He looked at Lefi with such fear in his eyes. Unable to stop himself, Lefi pulled him
close. It has nothing to do with morality, Lefi. Nor with strength of will or integrity.
Our bodies He trailed off, unable to finish his thought.
Its the Achilles heel of your people. Lefi held him, feeling the warmth of his
breath on his cheek.
Whats that?
An old Earth myth about a hero who was immortal. He could survive a blow to
any part of his body except his heel. In war, an arrow pierced his heel, and Achilles
died.
A fatal weakness. Afton nodded.
We all have them. With the Somian, its our dependence on our twin. Last year I
treated a new orphan. His brother fell in battle. The survivor is bereft. There was little I
could do for him. When I spoke of survival, he did not hear my words.
Is that how it was for you?
Yes, he whispered. I could not walk or perform basic tasks. We were so
completely integrated that when she was gone, I had no sense of balance. My hearing
and eyesight were different. There was aroaring silence where shed lived in my
head. My family grieved for me as much as for my sister. They carried me and kept me
alive. In the end, when I could function, I left them.
And you ended up on a barge like this one.
Lefi sighed deeply. That came later. I completed the schooling wed begun
together. That gave my life structure. It was after I graduated that I opted to enter the
sex trade. Being adrift made me uneasy. I met a broker. She represented herself falsely. I
signed a contract without care and found myself on a brothel barge, caged into a small
room.
Afton shifted slightly, and Lefi realized how tightly he was holding the smaller
man. Immediately he relaxed his grip. I lost my virginity to her during the training. It
The Bacchi 107
was a harsh life, but I quickly learned how well I could serve my own ends. If my guild
mentor hadnt stumbled across me, Id eventually have escaped.
Now Afton was stroking his hair. Somehow theyd changed positions, his head
resting over the Valorans heart. Strong arms held him, and there was a damp spot on
the front of Aftons black shirt. Tears? Ridiculous. Lefi Dhrahn never cried. Still, the
dark spot on his shirt remained, and Lefis eyes stung with tears. He blinked, feeling
another rogue droplet roll down his cheek.
In truth hed have never escaped, not unless hed managed to charm some foolish
client into helping him. Even then, the security on these places was tight. If hed
managed to slip his bindings and escape the brothel, leaving the barge itself would have
been impossible. If hed not been found by the guild, hed now be dead.
When do you want to search for the third Valoran?
Tomorrow. Its late, and we have to rest before tonight. Afton leaned over and
picked up the flyer with the image of the AmWere. We can check this tomorrow as
well. Tonight, though, I think I have little enthusiasm for this hunt. Lets go to the
Illusion for our dinner appointment and see if we can meet the second Valoran. Im
afraid he will be no different than the first.
Lefi rolled onto his back, wondering how they should play this situation. It had
cost an astronomical amount of money to purchase information about the exclusive
nightclub. Discreet inquiries confirmed the fact that the Valoran was indeed at that
business.
He was the dinner entertainment.
Lefi shuddered to imagine what that might consist of. He studied the ceiling,
wondering if he should warn Afton what to expect. Of course, it might be interesting to
see how the inspector behaved if he was thrown into the deep end of the pool of
debaucheryat least if the entertainment didnt involve a Valoran addict, that is.
Uneasiness tingled in his gut, and he decided against that course of actionor
inaction, as the case might be.
108 Belinda McBride
Afton He looked up, pausing as the Valoran looked at him with a grim
expression on his face. What we see tonight
Im prepared. I saw the female today; I know this will be difficult.
Lefi sat up and scooted to lean against the cushioned headboard. Briefly he was
distracted by the furniture. Padded? Really? I wonder if Diverted, he leaned over
the side of the bed, checking for restraints.
Yes?
Ah He sat up again, quickly this time. Yes Afton, I think were walking
into a rather dangerous situation. I just want you to be prepared. Please dont eat or
drink anything I havent checked first. And as for the Valoran, hes not for hire. Hes the
entertainment for the evening.
Yes, thats quite I appreciate you doing that. I wouldnt recognize the taste of
something that might be hazardous. He leaned forward and propped his chin on his
fist. So the Valoran is the entertainment. You mean, as a performer? A dancer
perhaps?
Lefi didnt answer, letting Afton work it out on his own.
Oh. Ohhh You mean, heperforms. In front of people.
Yes, Afton, I expect the entertainment will consist of live sex acts. I need to give
some thought to our appearance tonight. He studied the Valoran for a few moments.
Hed have loved to dress him upor rather, down. Hed have loved to display that
lithe, lean body of his in little more than a few straps of leather and wisps of fabric. But
Afton wasnt the sort. Not in public, anyway. He sighed. Im not quite sure what to
expect, but the evening may devolve into a bacchanalia of some sort.
You mean orgy. Afton sat rigidly on the bed.
With food and wine involved. No wonder the admission had been so
astronomically expensive. It was a good thing he was independently wealthy, or theyd
never have managed it on the inspectors meager department budget. The place must
The Bacchi 109
have operated on word of mouth, because hed been unable to wheedle more
information than that from the staff. Hed gotten past the doorman only because of the
code the Fedoran had given him.
You must be prepared to participate if it becomes necessary.
Participate? Afton had gone white in the face.
I will do my best to intervene, Afton. I dont want you to be uncomfortable. He
stroked Aftons rigid spine, hoping to ease him. If you wish, I can go alone. But only if
you promise to stay here. I dont like the way youve come to the notice of the locals.
As theyd searched the barge, more than one pimp and broker had watched Afton,
following his progress with greedy eyes. Yes, Afton was a law enforcement officer, but
to them, he was meat.
Afton shook his head. No. This is my assignment. And I am compelled to do this.
He is Valoran. Afton began to ease himself back against the headboard, next to Lefi.
Hes not that different than I am.
Youre brave, Inspector. He looked gravely at the gen.
No, Im afraid. I dont want to go. But I wont let you go alone. Its not safe for
you either. Ive seen the way people look at you when you dont see. You speak to
them, but when you turn away, they look at you with suchwant in their eyes. We
must do this together. He slid his hand into Lefis, then wove their fingers together.
Ill do what I must. He tugged Lefis hand to pull him closer. But I think you can do
a great deal to help meprepare myself. His dark eyes were intent, with a light that
made Lefis cock rise. For once he decided the best thing to say was nothing.
He couldnt have spoken, anyway, because the Valoran chose that moment to lean
in and kiss him so very gently, yet with such carnal intimacy.
Hed forgotten that Afton was virginal only in the matter of men. As he pressed
Lefi back against the pillow, the Valoran licked and nibbled, demanding and then
forcing entry to his mouth. Whatever thought Lefi had of keeping his hands off the
Valoran faded away in a cloud of desire. Every shred of professional finesse fled. He
110 Belinda McBride
was pinned, ravished, and swept away on a rush of lips, hands, and teeth. His heart
pounded; his cock throbbed in syncopation. It wasnt until he tasted blood that Lefi
began to collect himself. Hed nicked his tongue on one of Aftons sharp, short fangs.
Afton, he whispered, sounding more like a desperate lover than the voice of
sanity. In answer, the Valoran drove deeply into his mouth, seeking the nectar that
began to flow through Lefis entire system. Afton was operating on more than lust.
With a gasp, Lefi pulled his face away, breaking the kiss.
Afton. Listen to me.
Afton stared down at him fiercely. God, he was magnificent now that his control
had snapped! He was angry, lustful, and frustrated. Maybe he was even afraid. Some of
that was the sex, but Lefi was concerned that his ardor was fueled by other, more
complex emotions.
Afton.
What? He fisted Lefis hair. I thought you wanted me. Youve been chasing
after me mercilessly this past year. Behind his dark eyes, a flicker of apprehension
appeared. Lefi smoothed the hair back from the Valorans brow.
I do, and I have. But I also like you, Inspector. I like you very much.
Afton rose back, taking his weight from Lefis body. The evidence of his arousal
was there, both in the jutting erection and in the warm scent that rose from his body. I
thought that afterthe garden
You fully intended to leave after that. Dont lie.
The Valoran took a deep breath. True. But your grief, it was so painful.
And you couldnt leave me alone. And I appreciate that. He remained on his
back, looking up at the beautiful hermaphrodite, uncertain what he felt or why he was
putting a stop to this. But he tried to explain.
Afton, I want you, and I also like you. But understand, I am inherently flawed. I
am broken. There will be sex from me, and affection. But no love. Not the sort you
The Bacchi 111
need. He licked his dry lips, feeling a lock slip into place, deep inside where he kept
that tiny piece of his sister alive. I will hurt you. I am a prostitute. There will come a
time when you come to me, and I will carry the scent or the mark of another. And there
will be pain.
Afton watched him carefully. He reached down and rested his hands on Lefis
chest. Was he touch-reading him? Few knew about that Valoran trick, but Lefi did and
had known the very first time the other man had invaded his emotions. Then, it had
angered Lefi into betraying himself, triggering him to act rashly and out of control.
Now he realized it was the way Afton communicated. It helped him interpret feelings
he wasnt comfortable with. If Lefi wasnt mistaken, Afton was untangling a multitude
of emotions as well as coming to grips with his own repressed identity. Hell, he was
dealing with it better than most. He was courageous. He was valiant. Lefi had never
known a person like Afton Teris.
I understand. The Valorans eyes dropped closed briefly. I do understand, Lefi.
You are a Bacchi and will continue in your profession. And I respect your friendship. I
appreciate the warning. He swallowed hard. But for me, you are the path to finding
myself. There is no one else I trust to take me there. I know there is the possibility of
pain, Lefi. But Ive lived a half-life for so very long. I crave the taste of rare foods and
colors that delight the eye. I want to experience the soft touch of velvet and silk and
listen to voices lifted in song. I want to smell the perfume of flowers and fruit and exotic
oils. I want to walk in the garden of your goddess. Youve shown me so many
pleasures, Lefi. Of those, you are the greatest pleasure that I could choose.
I am a pleasure? He cocked a brow, aware his cheeks were flushing indelight?
Embarrassment? A tiny bit of hope flared within. For a moment he visualized life with
Afton. The image was so sweet it made his heart ache. Can I convince you to wear
colors other than black?
Afton smiled. That would be an extreme disruption in my life. Perhaps you can
help me choose black clothing in fabrics other than those I wear now.
112 Belinda McBride
I suppose that would be a good start. I did manage to get you into the red robe I
bought for you.
For me? I assumed
Do you seriously think Id ever wear red? With my coloring? He laughed softly.
I saw that robe within days of meeting you. I bought it hoping someday Id see you
wear it.
The Valoran looked nonplussed. I knew it wasnt yours; the color was wrong. I
assumed it belonged to a lover. I didnt think youd bought it for me.
Tell me, Inspector, has anyone ever bought you something beautiful? A gift just
for you?
Afton had gone from confident aggressor to shy suitor just within the course of
their conversation. He jerked his head slightly. No.
Lefi nudged him aside and rose from the bed, then crossed to the closet where
hed stored his clothing. After a moment he turned back, the length of fine red fabric
draped over his arms. Wordlessly he extended it to Afton, praying the Valoran would
accept the offering. He would have loved to drape the man in gems or some other
luxury. The robe, though It was a simple gift. But it was an exceptionally personal
gift. He never forgot his fathers pale lavender hair draped down over the blue robe that
his mother had purchased for him so long ago. After his father died, Lefi had taken the
blue robe. When he wore it, he felt his fathers arms wrapped around him.
Please, he said. It is yours.

AFTON STUDIED THE Somians face, knowing this was a gift of great
importance. The intimacy of the gesture shattered him, leaving him breathless. The
vivid red silk spilled over his arms like liquid fire. He reached out and felt the fabric
whisper over his skin as Lefi handed it to him. He stroked it, remembering how the
silken fabric felt against his naked skin.
The Bacchi 113
I think its the most beautiful object Ive ever owned. Ive never felt anything so
fine.
Lefi let out a sigh, as though hed been holding his breath. At that moment Afton
knew he loved the Somian. And though the Bacchi might truly be broken inside, he
loved Afton backor as much as he was able. Otherwise hed have followed through
on the seduction hed begun so long ago.
Keeping his eyes lowered, Afton sat on the bed and slipped the shoes from his
feet. He then removed his shirt. In moments he was nude, and he slid his arms into the
sleeves of the garment, cherishing the sensation of silk and velvet against his skin.
It feelsindescribable. He rubbed the fabric with his hand and examined the
subtle pattern woven into the dark red cloth. Hed worn it for hours, yet then, hed
assumed it was borrowed. Now that it was his, Afton allowed himself to luxuriate in
the fine garment.
Thank you.
Lefi studied him for a moment before turning away. Thank you for accepting it.
The color becomes you.
The Bacchi crossed the room to gaze out at the artificial landscape. Afton watched
him, taking in the long, muscular lines of his body, the way he moved with grace.
Regardless of his beauty and refinement, Lefi Dhrahn was wholly male, and that deeply
buried awareness responded. He thought of the night to come and what it might hold.
An orgy? Public displays? He knew damn well that as a Valoran, hed draw unwelcome
attention.
Lefi, Im frightened.
He didnt mean to say it, but there it was. The simple, unadorned truth. He still
hadnt reconciled his sexuality, and now he was expected to flaunt it.
Turning, the Somian frowned in concern. About tonight? Afton, I am more than
able to do this alone. He leaned against the windowsill, his long legs crossed. I had an
idea this might come up, so I came prepared. He gave a slight, quirky smile.
114 Belinda McBride
No, I meant what I said earlier; were doing this together. This whole scenario
feelscontrived. Afton thought about the tight-lipped management staff of the
Rapscallion, followed by the helpful informant. Every move they made was observed.
He wasnt sure how much money had gone into the pockets of those Lefi bribed, but
surely it wasnt enough to have purchased the information theyd gained.
I need you to give me an accounting of your expenditures, Lefi.
The Somian laughed and waved it off. I have the blessing of the Bacchi Guild on
this trip. If I need reimbursement, theyll make a contribution.
Why are they involved? He rose and joined Lefi at the window. It felt odd, the
fabric swirling around his bare legs. Odd but nice.
The guild is very old. Im sure Kentish Zaah gave you some of our history?
Afton nodded.
In the beginning we had several objectives, protection being the major concern.
We sought to uplift the profession socially and politically, but more important, we
offered sanctuary to those who were in danger or who sought shelter. I was taken from
a situation very similar to what you have seen on this vessel. Perhaps worse. He
nodded and looked solemnly at Afton. His purple eyes were dark with pain. Yes, my
situation was worse. I was rescued because members of the guild heard rumors about a
single Somian whore on a barge. And as you know, we rarely venture out without our
twin. That small fact aroused suspicions. That single, small mistake saved me. They did
not realize I was an orphan.
Lefi paused as though lost in the past. Afton gave him time. In the weeks and
months hed known the Bacchi, these past days stood out. Hed never known the good-
humored Somian to be so dark.
The years after my twin died were lost to me. You know I wound up in a
fraudulent contract. But in truth, Afton, I was a slave. I was badly used. My owner
starved me, beat and raped me when it suited her. As a strong-bodied male, I was given
to those withviolent tendencies. I was harshly used by my clients. When the Bacchi
The Bacchi 115
found me, I was dying. The guild protects even the lowliest whore, which was what Id
become.
He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it disheveled. The Bacchi Guild trained
and elevated me till I was among the rarest, most esteemed of their members. I received
advanced training in psych science. At the expense of the guild I attained degrees from
the most prestigious universities. Once I struck out independently, I repaid them
quickly. I became wealthy and sought after. Somewhere during that time, I forgot about
our duty to protect and succor. Many branches of the Bacchi Guild focused inward,
concerned only with politics and guild business. We are now attempting to return our
organization to its roots. Even now, others from my branch have been dispatched
around the system, searching for Marlene. We plan to make this a regular effort.
And you are the force behind this endeavor. Afton let his hand trail down Lefis
silken hair, straightening the tangled strands.
I am involved, but I am one of many. So you have your case, and I have my
mission of mercy.
And fortunately, we have the same goals. Afton wanted to touch Lefi, to hold
him and offer him comfort. But after having been warned off, it felt too presumptuous.
There would be no love from the Bacchi. Only friendship and sex. And yet
And yet.
116 Belinda McBride
Chapter Ten
Tonight you must allow me to take the lead. Lefi calmly stepped to the closet,
unfastening the front of his modest shirt. Afton glanced away, and then his gaze slipped
back as though of its own will. The Bacchi stripped naked and folded his clothing away
into the closet. From it he chose a robe, a royal purple that was so dark, it was almost
black.
Afton reclined on the bed, his back braced by the plush cushioning of the
headboard. As Lefi paced the room, he tracked the Somian, letting the wayward arousal
return. His cock swelled and rose up his belly, tenting the red silk. As the Somian
moved, the sides of the unbound robe flared open, offering tantalizing glimpses of his
lean body and the genitals that were nestled in emerald-green curls.
Was the Somians seed really sweet? As the human woman had noted, his sweat
was not salty, and the nectar that rose through his mouth was like light, airy honey.
Though he was often scented with exotic oils and spices, his natural odor was pleasant
and seductive. Lefi walked away, and Afton watched his smooth, seductive movement.
The filmy robe he wore hid little.
Rumor had it that Somian weredifferent back there. The species was said to be
made for sex, and as a twin species, having multiple partners was not unusual.
Threesomes were not unheard of among the Valoran either, specifically for the gens.
But hed heard the Somian had adapted to all forms of penetration.
No one had ever elaborated on that, and hed never bothered to look it up. It was
too far from the Valoran norm. Forbidden.
Lefi paced back in his direction, changing the focus of Aftons errant thoughts. In
fact, the appearance of the Bacchi caused a complete disruption in his brain, where
The Bacchi 117
cognition gave way to emotion, which then surrendered to sensation and base
impulses.
He wanted.
The slow, deliberate pacing was more seductive than any dance hed ever seen.
The sweep of fabric and the flow of hair were alluring and sensual. When the Bacchi sat
on the edge of the bed, he looked up at Afton, and clearly Lefi knew what hed done. It
was there in his dark eyes and the half smile. Hed known and had played the moment,
drawing Afton to a tight knot of arousal.
You want me. You want me to prepare you for tonights events. If we dont
participate, it will draw attention.
Afton nodded, watching as Lefis ever reliable erection made itself known. He
watched unabashedly, his mouth watering for a taste of something that had long been
forbidden.
You fear what tonight brings, but you dont fear me. He let the robe slip down
his shoulders. That is a good place to start. He knelt at the foot of the bed, allowing
Afton to look at every inch of his body. He then settled back onto his heels, looking
uncommonly serious.
Please know, Afton, I will never embarrass you, nor will I hurt or humiliate you.
Tonight might be shocking. I cannot predict what might happen, but I promise no one
will touch you but me.
Afton swallowed and took a deep, calming breath. He was still overwhelmed with
arousal, coupled with anxiety.
Now tell me, have you ever had sex with a Somian? Other than me, of course.
No.
Have you heard rumors? Lefi dropped to his hands and knees, then slowly
crawled up the bed like a great, threatening animal. He stopped midway and rose to his
knees again.
118 Belinda McBride
Some. Not many. Ive heard that Somian men
Somian men. Women as well. He waggled a brow in an absurdly lewd manner.
When people say the Somian were made for sex, they are very close to the truth. For
reasons of her own, the goddess graced us with many blessings. Now he grinned, and
Afton flushed. Lefi took his hand, then drew Afton toward him. They lined up chest to
chest, just inches apart, the fabric of their robes falling open. Afton could feel heat rising
between their bodies. He looked down the length of their torsos, watching how their
cocks appeared to stretch and reach for each other. He let out a deep, raspy breath and
looked back up into Lefis dark, purple gaze.
Reach down. Take my balls and fondle them.
All humor had fled from Lefis handsome face. Now he was in charge, dominant.
Aftons hand trembled as he slid it down between Lefis smooth, powerful thighs. He
traced a path upward till his fingers brushed against the velvety sac between the
Somians legs. He cupped them and felt how the orbs rolled between his fingers.
Lefi drew in a deep breath. Ahh He exhaled. Nice. Now move back farther.
Afton caressed the smooth expanse behind his balls. It was unusual, different. This
was the spot where the female genitals hid on a Valorans body. He rubbed lightly and
then slightly harder as Lefi groaned.
Now back.
He slipped his fingers back to Lefis anus, skirted the tight hole, pressed slightly,
then withdrew.
Lefi spoke breathlessly. You see, long ago, our women were impregnated by
double penetration. As she became aroused, the anus shut down, leaving a second
channel that allowed comfortable penetration. As one partner fucked her there,
hormones released into her body, creating a fertile environment for the seed of her
mate.
Afton slid his finger into the tight opening and hissed in surprise. The chamber
was tight, but elastic and moist.
The Bacchi 119
You know how men have nipples, and really, it makes no sense in most species?
Lefi rocked, letting Aftons finger in a bit more. This is one of those evolutionary
leftovers, I suppose. One I am extremely grateful for.
Its lubricated.
When you massaged my balls and glands, I began to prepare for penetration.
A vagina?
No, not a vagina. Not an anus either. Something unique to my species.
Afton looked up, torn between shock and amazement. Lefis eyes were closed, and
his head was tipped back. As though sensing Aftons scrutiny, he opened his eyes and
looked down at him.
Their faces were mere inches apart. Slowly Afton drew his hand back, dragging it
up between the Somians legs. He reached around and pulled Lefis hips toward his to
squeeze their cocks tightly together.
We arent all that different.
Lefi smiled. Not at all. Just a stray chromosome somewhere, and a species
evolved.
Finallyfinally!Lefi touched him, burying one hand in Aftons hair and
bringing him up for a simple, lingering kiss. Mouths brushed together, denying the fire
that raged below. Afton caught Lefis full lower lip between his teeth and tugged
gently. He then lightly bit the Somians chin and moved down to his throat. Afton
licked the Somians fragrant skin, enjoying the soft, musky sweetness of Lefis sweat.
Were going to pop your cherry tonight, Inspector. Lefis lips curled up in a slightly
wicked smile.
Cherry?
Your virginity. He pressed their foreheads together. Its human slang.
Im no virgin.
120 Belinda McBride
In my estimation, you are. Youve never fucked me, nor have you been fucked by
me. He grinned at Aftons discomfort.
Weve been together. In the park. And after.
That was practice, the stuff young people play at when they arent ready to
commit to the act. He pushed Aftons hair back and ran his thumbs over the high
planes of his cheekbones, then smoothed along his brows. Afton let his eyes drop
closed, mesmerized by the touch of the Bacchi. That night in the park hadnt been play
for him; it had been mind shattering. Yet Lefi was right; theyd both been skirting
around the real issue.
It was time to grow up.
He opened his eyes and studied Lefis face for a moment. He looked at the man
objectively. He was stunning, but how much of that was his exotic coloring and how
much was simply Lefi himself? These past weeks, Lefi had brought Aftons resolve
crashing down, not through seduction, but through acts of kindness and hints of
vulnerability that peeked past his glamorous facade. The way he saw it, there could be
no casual relationship with Lefi. While the Bacchi might be wounded and broken, he
had the capacity to love. Did Afton have the courage to pursue him? In all his life hed
never really been in love. It was a risk. He needed to decide now. Were they fucking, or
were they making love?
He could only decide for himself.
Afton rested his palm on Lefis chest, ignoring the rush of emotion and raw
passion that exuded from his skin. He felt the steady beat of the Bacchis heart. Lefi
believed the act they were about to engage in was simply to prepare for the night
ahead. He believed it was temporary, that the lust would soon burn itself out. Lefi said
and believed one thing, yet Afton believed something else completely. For him, this was
love, and it was not a transitory emotion. It had developed slowly and would not die
easily.
The Bacchi 121
What do you feel? Lefi tilted his head, looking at where Aftons hand rested
over his chest.
I feel the beat of your heart.
Lefi rested his lips against Aftons hair. My heart died long ago, Inspector.
Afton pushed back slightly, breaking contact with Lefi. They knelt facing each
other, and the sadness in those purple eyes was soul-deep. He traced a finger down
Lefis chest, then let it rest just over his heart. No, your heart is not dead. Theres
always a part of her inside you. It was the part that had led Afton to the Bacchis side
that night in the garden. Do you understand, Lefi? Part of her stayed and will never
leave you. I saw her, you know. When you were sleeping in the garden, she was at your
side, watching over you. He remembered Mhara bending over her brother, the fleeting
smile hed seen. Suddenly Afton felt a weight lift from his heart. Now he knew what
that smile meant.
Lefis eyes widened, then filled with tears.
Afton, that isthat is not possible. Our stories and traditions tell us such things,
but few outside our species are aware of that.
Im in on your secret. He leaned forward and kissed the Somian gently on the
lips. I know another secret, one not even you know.
And what is that? Lefi looked almost afraid.
She likes me. She likes you with me. That was why she was waiting for me at the
garden. She took me to your side.
Now the tears spilled over and ran down his cheeks. Damn it, Afton! Dont say
things that cant be true! He sat back on his heels, dropped his head forward, and then
his face was hidden by a spill of green hair. Afton saw crystalline tears drop to the skin
of his thighs. He breathed hard, and it caught on a sob. Lefi wiped a tear from his leg
and looked up. I havent cried since she died. Not even when I was held captive. His
breath hitched. His face twisted in agony. What did you see, Afton?
122 Belinda McBride
Afton settled onto the bed. He stroked his fingers through the tears on Lefis leg.
I was looking for a way into the Somian garden, and a golden light formed in the
darkness. It led me into the entry and through the maze. When I entered the alcove in
which you lay, I saw that the light had taken form. It was a young womanwith green
eyes. She leaned over you and vanished into your body as I approached. He rested his
palm flat on Lefis chest. Here. This is where she went. Lefi placed his own hand over
the top of Aftons. Do you feel her, Lefi?
The Bacchi blinked rapidly, clearing the tears from his eyes. I feel you.
Then maybe Im in your heart too, just a little. He smiled, leaned forward, and
kissed Lefis wet cheek. As he expected, the Somians tears were more sweet than salty.
He pressed a kiss on the Bacchis full, sensual lips. After a heartbeat of hesitation, Lefi
opened his mouth and let him in. He pressed the other man to his back and covered
him, then focused all his attention on slow, drugging kisses. He invaded Lefi and
caught the flavor of his nectar but didnt pursue it. He didnt need the aphrodisiac of
the other man to draw him to that point, because finally Afton was there on his own. He
was ready to take Lefi Dhrahn as his lover. His courage did not waver, though fear
swept through him. The act, the admission, and the foolhardiness of loving a man such
as Lefi all inspired panic, but Afton deliberately set it aside.
He nudged the Bacchis legs apart and lay between his knees. He lay over the
Somians body, and as they kissed, their hips merged in easy, languid thrusts. Theyd
started in a rush, and now they slowed down, savoring every touch and taste. Afton
cherished every second of their time together. He watched and listened, smiling at the
small sounds of pleasure Lefi made as Afton explored his body. He sat up, then scooted
back so that he straddled Lefis thighs, and ran his fingers through silky hair that nested
at the base of his thick, erect cock. He explored again, slipping his fingers down to cup
the other mans heavy sac, then teasing the soft skin behind them. Lefi groaned in
ecstasy; a shudder ran the length of his body.
Yesthere
The Bacchi 123
Afton pressed the star of his ass and couldnt help grinning as his finger slipped
easily into the hot, tight passage. Lefi clasped Aftons thighs, digging his fingers into the
taut muscles. That was when Afton became aware of an insidious change in his own
arousal. His shaft was engorged, his balls had drawn up tight to his body, and moisture
escaped from his channel. For a moment he went still in alarm.
He looked down and saw that Lefi was gazing at him with knowing eyes. The grip
on his leg released, and he shivered as the Somians long fingers began to play over his
cock, stroking and squeezing before sliding back, and then back even farther.
Youve opened for me. He smiled slightly, cupping Aftons balls in his palm,
rimming the slick opening with his fingers. Blood pounded in Aftons head, and his
breathing accelerated. He honestly didnt know if it was arousal or fear. Whichever the
case, he was wet and slippery, and a finger was sliding in, questing and exploring,
finding spots of shocking sensitivity. In stunned bliss Afton rose to his knees, allowing
Lefi greater access to his body. He ground down on Lefis hand, triggering a cascade of
sensations hed never before experienced.
With a cry he pulled away and fell forward, catching his weight on his hands. His
hair fell into his face, blocking his vision, and Afton shook his head, caught between
raw, foreign arousal and blind panic. He looked down at Lefi, barely comprehending
what had just happened.
Im sorry. I shouldnt have taken it so fast. Lefi watched him in concern. Afton
panted, trying to come down from the pinnacle hed risen to. He sat up again, and to his
shock, Lefi held up his hand, letting Afton see the juices that glistened on his fingers.
Slowly the Bacchi lifted his fingers to his mouth, then licked the fluid from his skin.
Oh The muscles at the base of his cock tightened, making it jerk slightly.
Damn, Lefi! He scrambled up, still straddling Lefis thighs. Their erect cocks lay side
by side on the Somians belly. His was dark with arousal, thick and not quite as long as
Lefis member. Precum welled from their cockheads; his was clear as water, Lefis
124 Belinda McBride
pearly and opalescent. He caught the shimmering fluid before it fell and carried it to his
lips, then savored the salty-sweet flavor.
He gripped Lefis shaft in one hand and held it steady as he rose onto his knees.
Before he could think it through, Afton slotted the other mans cock into the opening
behind his balls, then lowered his body to begin the penetration. It was tight but
exquisite in the pain. He was wet, which seemed so very strange. Afton had always
loved sinking into the slick embrace of a womans sex, and now he was on the other end
of the act.
The moment was simply surreal.
Somewhere in the fog of his brain, he heard the Somian cry out in surprise as he
thrust upward, fully sheathing himself in Aftons body. Afton paused then, leaning
forward, bracing himself on Lefis broad chest. Lefi stared up at him, his face drained of
color, his eyes wide in shock. Clearly he hadnt expected Afton to take him into his
body so aggressively. He grinned down at the Bacchi, enjoying the moment, even as his
mind rebelled at the idea of fucking Lefi this way.
You His voice trembled, so Afton swallowed and tried again. You get
regular scans by the guild? Lefi nodded speechlessly, and Afton continued. I also get
regular health clearances for work. I suppose we should have talked about this first.
The burn of the invasion was fading, and Afton shifted a bit, marveling at the
sensation of being filled. Lefis cock pressed his balls forward, and his erection faded.
His clit, though The sheer, concentrated stimulation powered through him until he
felt it in his nipples, his cock, and straight down to his toes. He rose experimentally to
try different angles. Pressure began to build deep inside, and he shuddered.
Lefi clasped his arms and held him still. Fertility? Could you be?
Afton shook his head. No. Ive been male too long. Wed have to dothis a few
more times before it becomes an issue.
He lay forward and leaned in to kiss Lefi. They rocked cautiously as Afton
adjusted to this new concept of sex. He didnt feel much different. In fact, he felt more
The Bacchi 125
dominant than usual. He propped his hands at the sides of Lefis head and stared down
into his eyes. He went in for another lingering kiss. They began to move together, and
Afton closed his eyes, too stimulated to take it all inthe penetration, the position, and
the intensity of Lefis expression beneath him. Orgasm swelled, dancing up his spine
and deep inside his belly.
He stopped to focus on recovering his control before moving again.
Are you going to come?
Close. Afton breathed through his nose, fighting for control.
You can orgasm more than once.
Afton shook his head. I know. You can kiss me
Without the nectar. Lefi reached up and clasped his shoulders. Just let yourself
feel it, Afton. Use my body; this time, Im here for your pleasure. Take it.
Afton opened his eyes and looked down at Lefi as he began the dance once again.
This time, he didnt have the luxury of going slow. This time, his body hummed with
urgency, with the need to feel Lefis cock filling him until he was nearly unconscious
with heat and man and the bliss that spilled through his mind and body.
His ass clenched tightly, and briefly he wondered what it would feel like there,
but the thought fled because the moment was coming fast and hard, and there was
nothing else but the rush of blood in his ears, the muscles gripping and then releasing.
Heat and unnameable sensations rushed through Afton as he came, throwing him into
a star field, then bringing him down softly.
With a grunt he collapsed onto Lefis chest, not caring that his weight might be
crushing the man. He lay, every muscle loose, his heart pounding as though hed run
miles. With a gasp he remembered to breathe. Another gasp came when Lefi rolled him
over, and suddenly Afton was on his back, his legs parted for the Somian, who was still
fucking him, gently and steadily.
126 Belinda McBride
The climax still echoed through his nerves when Lefi began to thrust faster and
harder. Instinctively Afton drew up his legs and adjusted his angle till the Somians
cock brushed over pressure points again and again. The sensation made him feel
swollen and achy, and looking down, Afton saw his cock was swelling, growing hard
and long.
Touch yourself.
Lefi watched, his excitement showing as he saw his shaft spearing into Aftons
body. He grinned in delight as Afton clasped himself and pumped in the same rhythm
they plunged into together. Throwing his head back, Lefi laughed, and the sound held
such sheer happiness, it drew a laugh from Afton as well. All the tension and worry
drained away, leaving only Afton and Lefi, playing, exploring, and maybe even loving.
He wanted to hold the Bacchi in his arms, but Lefi was kneeling, his hands braced
on Aftons thighs. Instead he gripped the bedding with one hand and stroked his shaft
with the other.
Lefi was panting now, staring down at Afton. Goddesshe gaspedyoure
amazing, Inspector.
Afton pinched his own nipple, then arched his back at the sharp sensation. Lefi
groaned and moved, then changed position. He now covered Afton, his face just inches
away; his hair formed a curtain around their faces. He brushed a kiss on Aftons lips
and then his nose. It was now difficult to catch his breath, and Afton pulled the Somian
down on top of him, enjoying the weight of Lefis body, the pressure of their bellies
against his cock. Lefi whispered in his ear, shifting between languages, each one as
beautiful as the next. He heard snippets of poetry interspersed with soft curses and
exclamations of delight and pleasure.
Afton His hips were moving fasterharderand Afton twined his legs down
the back of Lefis powerful thighs, giving him traction to thrust more deeply.
Everything hurt, yet it felt exquisitewonderful.
The Bacchi 127
Their hands met, fingers meshed, and Lefi rose just enough to look at him. In spite
of his arousal, Lefi was back in control, riding Afton, focusing on his pleasure.
Ready?
Afton nodded, unable to speak.
Lefi shifted, his cock stroking and caressing, his body working Aftons cock just
so. The Bacchi pinned Aftons head to the pillow and buried his fingers in his hair. For a
moment their gazes locked, and if hed been able to speak, Afton would have begged.
Hed have begged for the Somians love; hed have pleaded for more timemuch more
time. Maybe even forever. Before his lips could form the words, Lefi kissed him hard,
and they melded. Lefi filled his mouth and his cunt; sweet essence filled him
everywhere, driving him higher.
Afton came with a shout. It echoed through the room, or maybe he simply could
not stop. He was wet where their bodies joined; his semen was slick between their
bellies. The orgasm pulsed through him, crashing him against a far shore, then
dragging him back out to the depths where the pleasure was so great he just might have
drowned in it.
He remembered he wasnt alone, and Afton forced his eyes open and watched Lefi
as his climax shook him, leaving his face stripped of the beautiful, composed mask he
always wore. He looked raw and in pain. His dark eyes were full of bliss and pleasure.
All pretense fell away, leaving only shock and disbelief, followed by a flash of
determination.
With his hands open wide on the Bacchis sweaty skin, Afton read those feelings
and more, alternating between triumph and despair, because underneath the groomed,
cultured beauty of the courtesan, Lefi Dhrahn was an honorable man and meant to do
the right thing by Afton, even if it was the very last thing Afton Teris wanted from the
Somian.
Lefi meant to leave him.
128 Belinda McBride
He felt Lefis cock soften and slip away, but he held the Bacchi tightly in his arms,
refusing to let him go. For now, he could hold him in place.
For now, Afton could love him.
The Bacchi 129
Chapter Eleven
They stood before an innocuous door in the facade of a respectable-looking
building. But of course this was the Rapscallion, and as Lefi well knew, nothing was as it
seemed.
You think this is the best approach for us? You hardly exude authority dressed
that way. Afton eyed Lefi critically.
This is exactly what we need to do. He unbuttoned the top of his coat, baring a
wide leather collar around his neck. Afton frowned as Lefi handed him a length of
leather. He lifted his chin, and Afton clipped the leash to the ring on the collar. Lefi
ignored the way his skin prickled at the sensation.
There. You are clearly my master. At some point, someone might solicit you for
my attentions. If we get backed into a corner and have no other option, you can grant
them permission. Or you can deny it. Also, as the dominant of the pair, no one will
approach you for sex.
I still dont like it.
Lefi grinned, reaching down to caress Aftons taut ass. Of course you do. You
enjoy being on top. That drew a reluctant smile. Just remember, Inspector. The second
were out the door tonight, the leash comes off.
As I thought, you dont like it either.
He chuckled. I dont mind a little role-play. In fact, Im having a lovely time
imagining you in a similar outfit. But no, being collared doesnt sit well with my
nature.
Thats because youre a free spirit. Afton took a deep breath and let it out. He
was composing himself, preparing for what they might face behind that door. He
130 Belinda McBride
smoothed back his hair and straightened his shoulders. It would be criminal to restrict
you to the expectations of others. It would be another sort of imprisonment.
Afton marched to the door and knocked. Lefi stood back, forgetting about the
leash until they were separated by its full length. He lifted his hand and rubbed the spot
over his heart that always seemed to ache lately. Afton and he were so different. The
quiet Valoran was nothing like his sister-mate, yet, in a way, he understood Lefi as no
other but Mhara ever had. The collar and leash were a necessary part of tonights
costume, but he wasnt comfortable with it. Afton sensed that, as well as Lefis inner
struggles aboutwelleverything.
As though reminding him of where they were, Afton gave a quick tug, and Lefi
automatically came to attention and stood just behind and to the Valorans left side.
Afton wore a severe black suit. His hair was arranged just as it was when he worked.
His face was pale; his dark eyes burned with intensity. There had been a time when Lefi
had looked at the inspector as less than a threat. Now, having known him both in and
out of bed, he knew otherwise. Inspector Afton Teris was dangerous. He was smart,
and in bed he held nothing back.
There was no one Lefi trusted more with that strip of leather.
The door opened, revealing an impeccably dressed doorman, and if Lefi wasnt
mistaken, the man was a EurLu, one of the nonshifting were species from Earth. His
nostrils flared as he examined them using more than his eyesight. He curled a lip in
contempt as he spotted the collar and leash.
We have reservations tonight. Afton spoke smoothly, extending a small,
transparent chip. The doorman accepted it and ran it under a scanner. It beeped, and he
surveyed it quickly before handing it back to Afton. He stepped back, allowing them in
the door.
The lobby of the building reminded Lefi of some of the more wealthy residences
hed visited in his career. The floors were fine stone; the walls were lined with
artistically inlaid wood. Lefi inhaled deeply and caught the scents of fine perfume, food,
The Bacchi 131
and exotic tobaccos. He glanced at Afton in some concern; the Valoran were so sensitive
to drugs and chemicals. Hed be on high alert this night, monitoring everything Afton
consumed. Even the air he breathed could be dangerous.
The doorman turned his back on them, and another servant appeared. This one
was older, dignified, and excessively polite. He swiftly and efficiently checked them for
weapons, then guided them to a door down the corridor and turned them over to yet
another servant. This one was a smiling young woman.
Might I take your coats?
Lefi smiled and doffed his floor-length garment, watching as her eyes went wide
at his outfit.
Narrow straps of dark green leather wrapped his upper body, running from his
collar down to his hips. There, they attached to a floor-length kilt made of the same
embossed leather. The narrow skirt bared his thighs, offering glimpses of the elaborate
harness running between his buttocks and cradling his cock and balls in the front. His
penis was sheathed in black metallic mesh. Soft black boots rose up over his knees.
Afton had nearly rebelled when Lefi modeled the costume. Now he narrowed his
eyes at the young woman, stopping only when she flushed and vanished with Lefis
garment.
Calm down; Im far from naked. Im sure well see far more revealing outfits
within a few moments.
Afton growled slightly. Revealing, yes. The problem isnt what it shows; its what
it suggests.
As they left the anteroom, Lefi saw his own reflection in the mirrors that lined the
corridor. His green hair fell in a decadent spill down his back and shoulders. Hed
rouged his nipples dark green and run a metallic sheen over his lips. In the elaborate
webbing of leather, he looked exactly as hed intended: sexual and enslaved to the man
at his side.
132 Belinda McBride
No one would accuse him of having a spare thought in his head or an inhibition in
his character.
The woman reappeared, handed Afton a ticket, and led them to a wide set of
double doors. They opened silently, and the men walked in and were greeted by a tall,
lissome woman wearing less than Lefi, if that was possible. Her neatly coiled hair was
the color of snow, and her sheer dress revealed her entire body. He glanced at Afton,
wondering if the inspector was aware of how rare it was to encounter a Vash working
in the sex industry. She might not be a prostitute, but she was rubbing shoulders with
the ugly side of the business.
The room she led them into was dim; the voices of dozens of people were hushed
by luxuriant carpets and wall hangings. Candles flickered all over, reflecting from
mirrors and other shining surfaces. In the darkness the place appeared to be a den of
decadent pleasure. Lefi was certain that when the lights came up, theyd see frayed and
faded edges everywhere they looked. But in the candlelight it was magic. Illusion, as
the name of the club suggested.
They were seated at a large, round, communal table set low to the floor; diners
reclined on velvety cushions. Afton gracefully lowered himself and gestured for Lefi to
join him. Lefi opted to kneel next to him. It was a posture of servitude, but at the same
time it gave him a better view of the room and their surroundings.
Lefi reached for a bowl of fruit, then smelled and tasted morsels before offering
them to Afton. It made a good show, but in reality, he wasnt going to risk a single trace
of danger to the Valoran. Places like this were notorious for lacing the food and drink
with illegal drugs and aphrodisiacs. Most were largely harmless but could pose a
danger to Afton.
He gestured to a waiting servant. Do you have sophris? My master is partial to
that drink.
The young man shook his head. We have wines of all sorts, as well as more exotic
spirits.
The Bacchi 133
Lefi shook his head. Perhaps you serve the juice of the red fruit? It was a
common Valoran drink. The servant bowed slightly, then left their table. Lefi sat back
on his heels, gazing at the room quite boldly.
Your man takes many liberties. The speaker was an enormous human across the
table from them. He was attended by a tiny Zamoran female. She looked humbled and
beaten, but a quick flash of the eye told Lefi she wasnt yet defeated.
The human should take care as he slept.
My man takes care of me as he should. Afton stroked Lefis thigh. He sighed at
the pleasure the gesture gave him. It put him in the proper mental space for what the
evening held. He stifled a smile as Afton pointedly looked away from the man to
survey the other diners.
The room was too dark for Lefi to see well, but he remembered the Valoran had
once been a nocturnal species. Aftons eyesight was sharp. Lefi relaxed and considered
the situation at hand.
To his left was a cross-species woman. She was humanoid with iron-blue hair and
silvery eyes. Her companion was a human male. His head was shaved, and he wore a
single golden hoop through his right nostril. They reclined, their hands occasionally
brushing. Under the obvious lust, love shimmered between them.
The human male and his Zamoran slave were directly opposite, and once again,
Lefi caught a defiant flash in her eye. Most likely the human had acquired her illegally
and had no clue how lethal the tiny species could be. He winked at her, startling a near
smile from the young woman. The man sent him a venomous look, and Lefi ducked his
head to hide a smile.
To Aftons right lay the problem. A pair of Tohrc were entwined, their dark,
handsome faces rapt with excitement. One caught Lefis gaze, and as he watched in
fascination, the man licked his lips. The sides of his split tongue moved in opposite
directions and then whipped back together. He heard Afton hiss in surprise.
134 Belinda McBride
Dont be alarmed. Its a compliment, not a crude gesture. Lefi ran a soothing
hand along Aftons tense shoulder. He leaned closer and brushed a kiss on the
Valorans jawline. Whod have expected the rigid inspector to become so territorial? It
was somewhat startling, but he liked it. He licked the rim of Aftons ear, then ran the tip
of his tongue along the lonely golden hoop. Focus on the room, Inspector. Things are
happening. He then nipped the lobe of Aftons ear.
Waiters were filtering into the circular room, and lights were beginning to
illuminate the large, empty space in its center. Several trays of food and drink were
placed on their table, and its surface started to slowly revolve. Lefi quickly filled a plate
and settled next to Afton. He selected a morsel of food and tasted it before feeding it to
the Valoran. To observers they appeared to be indulging in a sensual game, but he saw
gratitude in Aftons expression. He also saw sly awareness in the gaze of the waiter
who served them. He tasted the fluid in the wineglass the man offered them and was
relieved to find only juice.
Music swelled through the room, and the center area began to slowly rotate in
counterpoint to the revolving tabletops. If theyd been intoxicated, the effect would
have been dizzying. The round stage rose from the floor, and beautiful men and women
hurried to place giant pads and cushions along the edges. They wore nothing but
golden chains draped over their throats and waists. Lefi smiled; hed been correct about
the live sex acts.
As they ate, the waiters moved through the crowd, choosing carefully screened
volunteers from the diners and leading them up to the stage. Most of them were already
aroused, eyes glazed with desire and the liberal intake of sexual enhancements. He
reclined against Aftons body, dividing his attention between their fellow diners and
the floor show. In between, he shared bites of food with his companion.
The show wasnt particularly original. The paying volunteers engaged in various
sex acts with staff, sometimes with one another. The revolving stage ensured the view
constantly changed. Smoke drifted through the air, rising from braziers at the inner
The Bacchi 135
circle of the stage. It obviously had a hypnotic effect on the performers. At least, they
thought so.
He touched his lips to Aftons ear and whispered, Its just sandalwood, nothing
with intoxicants.
Afton nodded in response.
This is all very interesting; the atmosphere gives the illusion of debauchery, but
theres really nothing that could potentially harm you Lefi broke off when he tasted
a suspicious flavor on a piece of fruit. He paused and savored, identifying the flavor as
a light drug. Nothing that would bother him, but the herb could have a dangerous
effect on Afton. He glanced around the table. Several of their companions could have
placed the food on one of the trays when his attention was diverted.
I hope you arent hungry anymore, he whispered to Afton, who glanced at the
plate Lefi still held. The food has been tampered with. He set the plate down as Afton
turned to face the stage again.
Will it look suspicious if I stop eating? Will they know?
I dont care if they know. We havent made a secret of my tasting for you. He
leaned closer and whispered again into Aftons ear. For all they know, Im just good at
my job. He nuzzled Aftons jaw and smiled when the inspector took a shaky breath.
What was the drug? His dark eyes held Lefis gaze. He was angry; that was
good.
A mild aphrodisiac with a slight intoxicant. Pleasant, but nothing you need to
take a risk on.
Afton crept his hand downward, then slipped it under the front panel of Lefis
kilt. He cupped Lefis erection. And you dont need that sort of assistance.
Sudden humor laced with a more powerful emotion welled up in Lefi. For a
moment it left him without speech. Afton removed his hand and picked up the juice
hed been sipping. Lefi forced a swallow past the collar around his throat.
136 Belinda McBride
Look! Afton was gazing up at the ceiling, where a giant platform slowly
hovered. It gently descended, and as it settled atop the revolving stage, a slender figure
could be seen reclining on a chaise of some sort. Once the top layer was in place, it
began to slowly revolve opposite the bottom of the stage. The figure was shrouded in
filmy fabric, and Lefi suspected this was the main show.
I believe this is our Valoran. Aftons voice had a sad edge to it. The performer
sat up, still swathed in the semisheer fabric. As the stage rotated, he moved, slowly
gyrating to the hypnotic music. The lights and sound coupled with the incense and the
orgy ratcheted up the tension in the room to a high pitch. In the audience, hands were
wandering over bodies, and skin was revealed. Lefis erection prodded at the leather
panels of his kilt, and he couldnt help noticing the bulge at the front of Aftons
trousers. That was good. Theyd convince no one of innocuous intentions if they were
distracted. Also, being aroused at such a spectacle was normal and healthy. If the
Valoran hadnt shown some arousal, Lefi would have been concerned.
He eased himself to his side and dragged Afton to sit down behind him. After
some hesitation, fingers began to stroke his scalp and pull through his hair. He turned
his head and met Aftons mouth for a deep, carnal kiss. He shivered as the Valoran
pulled nectar from his tongue but drew back before they both became intoxicated by the
pheromone.
They turned their attention to the stage and watched as a revolving array of
spotlighted tableaus slowly passed by. Men with men, women sharing a man between
them. Some fucked; some fellated. Others were rapidly chasing their climaxes. Once
they peaked, the attendants removed them from the stage and replaced them with other
volunteers.
Atop it all, the Valoran moved through a hypnotic set of gymnastic dance moves,
slowly discarding his shrouds. Eventually the body that was revealed was exquisitely
formed and obviously healthy. He couldnt help recalling the pitiful form of the
creature theyd met earlier. This man was no addict.
The Bacchi 137
As the thought occurred to him, Afton whispered in his ear. Hes a gen. I dont
think hes an addict.
Well, unless hes addicted to attention. Lefi didnt mean it as a joke. The Valoran
appeared high and sexually cranked, as though hed indulged in chalus. He had the
same fevered expression that Afton wore after a deep kiss or as he approached orgasm.
The whole scenario felt uncomfortable. He remembered Aftons uneasiness
earlierhed believed they were being set up. Goose bumps suddenly ran over his skin.
Afton, I think perhaps we should leave.
The Valoran fisted his hair, pulling his head to the side. He nuzzled Lefis neck
and licked around the leather of the collar. He wrapped the leather of the leash around
his hand and held it firmly.
Why?
Lefi stifled a groan. Their performance was bordering on reality. His hips jerked
and bumped into Aftons thigh.
Too many thingsconvenient. Feels He gasped when Afton pinched his
nipple. Feels arranged.
Agreed. Aftons head was now at his chest, and he licked the hard buds of Lefis
nipples. He had one hand journeying down his belly, dipping his fingers beneath
leather straps until he finally reached the mesh that restrained Lefis rigid cock.
It seems you took a little too much nectar from me. Lefis attempt at lightness
fell flat. Through the flexible metal, Afton had his hand firmly on Lefis shaft, causing
the rough fabric to abrade the sensitive skin. Lefis head felt heavy, no doubt the
combined effect of the sex and the drug hed accidentally taken earlier. He opened his
eyes and noted how their neighbors watched them in greedy interest.
The red-haired woman to the left was straddling her companions thighs, her back
to his chest. Her skirts spilled over his lap, but she was undoubtedly being fucked. The
138 Belinda McBride
Tohrc to their right watched avidly but touched nothing and no one. The frequent
appearance of their split tongues revealed their excitement.
And the human? The Zamoran was between his thighs; his meaty hand covered
the powder-blue hair of her head as he guided her roughly.
Lefi caught his breath, trying to regain his bearings. Above them, the Valoran had
been gracefully lifted into the air, his nude, perfect body suspended on wires. He rolled,
dipped, and flew, dancing through the air above them.
His breasts were small and rounded; his cock was meaty and thick, though not
erect. Muscles delineated his arms and legs, and his silky, long hair was red as blood.
If we leave, how will we get a chance to talk to him? Afton followed the
dancers movements with an odd longing in his gaze. For a moment, a sensation flashed
through Lefi, something he was unfamiliar with. But he knew what it was. Jealousy.
And why should he indulge in such a sensation? Hed already decided the
relationship between him and Afton must end. Somehow that didnt help. His skin
flushed and felt warm.
Are you all right?
The drug from the fruit. Im metabolizing it but feeling the effects.
Aftons dark gaze was serious, that fiery lust now tempered to concern. We
should leave, Lefi. Youre right.
He started to rise, but before he was on his feet, one of the silent attendants
appeared at his side. Slowly Lefi stood, feeling his body coil for action. The attendant
took Aftons arm, but Lefi moved quickly to insert himself between the human and the
Valoran.
Please do not touch my master. He summoned a flirtatious smile. The attendant
didnt react to his ploy; he simply stood there, waiting to be acknowledged. Afton
nodded and gently pushed Lefi aside.
The Bacchi 139
You are commanded to appear. The attendants voice was low, gruff, and
brooked no disobedience.
Afton frowned in confusion. Appear?
The attendant thrust his chin in the direction of the stage. The Valoran there was
now, coming to a smooth stop, one foot delicately balanced atop the upper tier. On the
stage. You are commanded to appear.
Lefi stifled a curse yet felt a brief surge of satisfaction.
What do you know about this, Lefi?
He cleared his throat and leaned close to his companion. When I purchased
tickets, there was a waiver. It stated that any participant in the event will submit to a so-
called command performance at the owners wish. It seems heor shenoticed us.
The pass code the Fedoran sold me was the personal code of He nodded toward the
gen on the platform.
And were to perform onstage? He didnt look aghast as Lefi expected he would;
he looked furious. Really, Lefi? You didnt see fit to inform me of this possibility?
Lefi clasped his wrist where a broad band of leather masked his Bacchi bracelet.
Master, I assumed you knew. He fought back a smile, doing his best to remain in
character. Aftons cheeks went dark with blood. We spoke of the sexual elements In
public.
In public, yes. Not on a stage. But now the Valorans eyes gleamed with
speculation. Afton had wondered how they would get a chance to speak with the gen;
now was their opportunity. He nodded curtly at the attendant, who led them to the
revolving stage. They stepped up, bobbling a moment before catching their balance.
Lefi grinned and leered shamelessly as they passed the writhing, copulating performers
on the narrow band of the stage.
They stepped close to the second tier and climbed onto a stairway that wound
around it. The steps were so narrow they appeared to be ornamentation on the sides of
140 Belinda McBride
the platform. They gingerly mounted the stage, where the gen sprawled gracefully on
the chaise, waiting for them.
Dim, smoky light fell on them from above, both illuminating and disguising them
with harsh shadows. Lefi and Afton stood looking down at the decadent creature
reclining before them. He gave a funny half smile and stretched, arching the long line of
his back. The padded platform he lay on was round and soft, scattered with pillows and
filmy fabric.
Do come down to sit by me, my dears. We arent providing much of a show
while you stand there. He sat up slightly on the giant piece of furniture, and Lefi
crawled up next to him, leaving space for Afton on his far side. He didnt want Afton
getting too close.
Im so happy to see another Valoran. Its been such a long time.
There are others here. Afton leaned back and braced himself on his hands. He
appeared to be relaxed, but Lefi knew he was tightly coiled and ready to move.
Such pitiful creatures arent like us anymore. The gen tilted his head, looking
past Lefis shoulder at Afton.
And you arent really free to see each other anyway. Lefi deftly unbuckled the
belt around his kilt and quickly let it fall to the floor of the stage. He glanced out at the
audience but could barely see past the lights into the darkness.
Dont worry, they cant hear us, and most arent really watching anymore. The
Valoran gave a dry laugh. Were in the most private spot in this entire building. He
let his head fall back, and all that hair spilled to the floor. Lefi stared; it was an unusual
color for a Valoran, but Afton didnt seem surprised.
Who are you?
My name is Taurean. No family name; I was cast out long ago. He ran his hands
up his body, then cupped his small breasts. Afton had moved slightly so their heads
were closer.
The Bacchi 141
Do you need intervention? Assistance in escaping?
Taurean rolled to his side. Might I ask who you are? I find it interesting that a
Valoran and his Somianprotector are running the risk of visiting a brothel barge. I
didnt miss that Zamoran female slipping something into the food at your table. That
was for you. He nodded at Afton. Youre lucky he caught it.
The Zamoran did that? Lefi cocked a brow in surprise. She seems about ready
to slip a knife between that humans ribs.
As you no doubt realize, not all is as it seems here in Illusion.
Afton gazed at Lefi, slowly surveying the leather-stripped expanse of his body. He
ran a hand along Lefis leg, then paused when he located one of the slender blades
hidden in the lacing. He looked sharply at Lefi but gave nothing away. He continued to
explore, then unfastened the mesh sack that held Lefis genitals. At the same time,
Taurean pulled Lefis hair till it spread out on the chaise, and he stroked it as though the
touch soothed him.
Lovelyhe was about to become the center of a Valoran sandwich. Afton
smoothed a hand over Lefis swollen penis, then bent to place a kiss on his cockhead.
Taurean bent as well and feathered kisses over Lefis forehead and eyes. The gen
glanced at Afton and gauged his permission. Afton nodded, so he kissed Lefi fully on
the lips.
For a moment Lefi was transported to another place, high on sex as well as the
aphrodisiac in his bloodstream. But this was a dangerous place. He struggled to escape
the gossamer web of lust.
My name is Afton Teris. This is my companion, Lefi Dhrahn. We are here looking
for some individuals who are missing. One is a EurLu Bacchi named Marlene Binoche.
The other is a Valoran female.
Taurean looked up at him sharply. Named?
Cali Polis.
142 Belinda McBride
His breath hissed through his teeth in a sound Lefi associated with shock when
Afton did it. The drugged arousal seeped away.
Youve seen her? Afton asked.
The other Valoran shook his head. But I know her. This istragic. He sighed
heavily. When did it happen? How?
Over a year ago. She was working as a hunter-tracker on an ICE cruiser. They
were raided; the pilot was mortally wounded. There was no sign of Cali when the ship
was apprehended. They did find traces of her blood, and the ships sensors indicated
she was alive though injured when she was taken.
Taurean rolled to his back and covered his eyes with the back of his hand. How
long have I been here? How could I not have known? He twisted his hand and
revealed a small remote. Filmy curtains then draped the stage. Lefi felt movement and
started to stand.
Stay where you are. The platform is rising. Theres not enough space to move
around safely.
He looked up and saw the wires and rigging that maneuvered the stage as well as
the light harness Taurean wore when he flew. Within moments the stage came to a stop.
Follow me. Taurean led them to a narrow platform that led to a gangway. From
there they descended a spiral stairway. Lefi paused to wrap the kilt around his hips.
Regardless of his propensity for exhibitionism, he wasnt comfortable with it all
hanging out in what was devolving into a strange situation.
Once they reached the main level, they followed Taurean through a warren of
dark passages before he finally opened a door to a dressing room. The lights came up,
and the Valoran plucked a simple black dressing gown from the back of the door. He
wrapped it around his body and fastened it closed. He dragged his hair out of the
neckline and began to deftly braid the length. He then turned to face them.
The Bacchi 143
I need complete honesty. I have the feeling Im about to make a radical decision.
Before my life goes completely insane, I need you to tell me who you two really are and
why youre searching for my cousin.
Cousin? Lefi and Afton looked at each other in shock. Before Lefi could come up
with an answer, the dressing room door burst open, slammed into the wall, and almost
bounced back into the face of an armed guard, who shouldered his way into the room.
Dammit all to hell, Taurean! What were you thinking, walking out on a
performance like that?
The tiny Zamoran woman pushed her way past the guard, the massive human
close behind her. When they came face-to-face with Lefi and Afton, she paused, her face
twisted in anger. She glared at Taurean. What? Were you going to give these two a
private audition? Cant you stick with the simplest plan?
144 Belinda McBride
Chapter Twelve
We arent here to audition, Lefi said drily.
The woman stared at him for a moment before turning away as though he was
irrelevant. Taurean, what exactly is going on? She paced the room as though she
owned it.
Hell, she probably did. Afton fell back, sizing up the woman and her entourage.
The guard was a huge creature; he appeared to have Landaun blood running in his
veins. His skin was milky gray, though it lacked the distinctive bumps and ridges his
progenitors would have boasted. He didnt handle the weapon well and was somewhat
slow and clumsy.
The massive human appeared ungainly but moved with unusual grace. He was
trained in some sort of martial art.
Of the three, the Zamoran female was undoubtedly the most dangerous. She
stood, tiny hands in fists, glowering at Taurean.
Treena, if youd let me explain Taurean paused and looked at Afton as
though in entreaty. In all honesty, Afton didnt know what to say. Should they try to
keep their cover? He continued to watch the drama play out.
Taurean paced, subtly moving away from the tiny woman. The Zamoran were
small but swift. They were famous for their knife skills. As Afton watched, the other
Valoran sighed heavily. He glanced at Afton, then back at the Zamoran. He didnt
behave as a slave would, but he was clearly nervous.
They bring news of my family, Treena. Its not good.
She crossed to a bank of lit mirrors and climbed onto a stool. I thought you had
no family, Taurean. That was why you made the decision to stay.
The Bacchi 145
Stay? He was here voluntarily? Afton relaxed slightly, feeling Lefi move to his
side, but he was still stiff and tense, on high alert. In the mirror across the room, the
Somians reflection portrayed an image of calm bemusement as he watched the action
unfold. Lefi was an excellent actor.
I was cast out of my family. My cousin Cali was like a sister. She never turned
her back on me. These two tell me shes missing. He looked at Lefi and Afton once
again; his brilliant eyes reflected his chagrin. Treena, I cannot stay here while she is
lost and missing. If there is a search for her, I must join in.
You? She gave a slight snort. Youre but one step up from a whore, Taurean.
You perform live sex acts for a paying audience. You were a wreck when I found you.
You have few skills to serve you and lack the temperament to get along in the outside
world. Her high voice was delicate yet cutting. Afton looked at the other Valoran,
surprised the mans racial pride would allow someone to treat him in such a dismissive
fashion. Obviously there were other ways of enslaving a person.
Under the stage makeup, Taureans face had gone white. I was once a pilot, he
said quietly. I know business. I saved this operation. Im not one of your contract
slaves, Treena. Im your partner in this business. Taurean straightened, his Valoran
pride finally settling over his entire being. His chin came up, and his gaze challenged
Treena.
Afton glanced over and met Lefis gaze. His surprise was reflected in the Bacchis
purple eyes.
If you wish to buy me out, I will offer flexible terms, Treena. But I must do this.
He turned away from her and crossed to a large wardrobe. Without looking back, he let
the robe fall to the floor. Every eye in the room was focused on his lithe, willowy form.
Afton, Lefi, when do you depart? And who can I contact about the official search
efforts?
Were scheduled to leave tomorrow. If you wish to accompany us, you are
welcome. Lefi strode casually across the room and passed the guards. Underneath the
146 Belinda McBride
dark green leather straps, he was fierce, tense, and ready to battle. Many gazes lingered
on his face, his body. Treenas human companion stared openly at the Somian, his pants
tenting with his erection. Afton stifled a spike of jealousy. He focused his attention on
the threat at hand: Treena. His hand twitched, aching for a weapon. Instead he clenched
and opened his fist, letting the emotion drain from his mind. He settled, flexing his
knees and lowering his center of gravity.
Treena looked around the room, evaluating the situation, appraising the danger to
her and her people. She sighed noisily and lightly slipped from the stool. She stood no
taller than a child, yet a jaded light shone dully in her eyes.
You do what you feel you must. I ask only that you dont leave tonight, Taurean.
We need to go over the contracts and sales terms. Losing you will damage the
business.
Taurean bent over and stepped into a pair of loose pants. Fair enough. Youll find
another to take my place, Treena. He tied the waistband and turned to face Afton.
How will I find you?
Contact me at the ICE headquarters in the city. Ask for Inspector Afton Teris. I
expect the AmWere who are mounting the search for your cousin will be grateful for
your assistance; Ill contact them immediately.
AmWere? In this system? Treenas lovely face took on a cunning expression.
Dont even think of it, Treena. You saw how poorly they do in captivity.
Taurean pulled a white woven shirt over his head. To Afton, seeing a Valoran in colors
other than black or grey was odd. Taureans dark red hair was vivid against the snow-
white shirt. He sat before the mirrors and picked up a cloth of some sort, then quickly
rubbed stage makeup from his face. All the while he surveyed the room.
If you give me a moment, Ill walk you out. I assume you have something to
cover that outfit with?
Lefi nodded. Taurean rose and gestured to Treenas men. My guests are leaving
now. I will see them out.
The Bacchi 147
Treena bit her lip and glared at the Valoran. Without another word, she flounced
out of the room, followed by the muscle. As soon as they left, Taurean let out an audible
breath. He then turned toward Lefi and Afton.
Youre seeking the other Valoran tonight? He walked to a panel on the wall and
activated a music system. He gestured for them to move closer to the speaker.
Obviously the room was monitored. The music wouldnt mask their voices, but without
equipment it would be difficult to hear what they said. Hes in bad shape. Worse than
the female you already saw.
How do you Afton broke off as pieces began to fall into place. Taurean had
expected them. Known about their search. The Fedoran informant had been his.
Taurean leaned against the wall, elegant and graceful. His femininity wove through
him more now than when hed been nude. It was there in the gracile wrists, the supple
length of his neck. If Afton had known from the beginning what he really was, would
he have been like this gen?
Taurean sighed heavily. Rev was forcibly addicted shortly after he arrived on the
barge. I would count it as a favor if youd help him.
Lefi moved close to Aftons side as though supporting him. Afton felt absurdly
grateful for the Somians presence. Their arms brushed, and he smelled the warm
fragrance of Lefis skin.
Do you think he can withdraw from the drugs? Can he overcome his addiction?
Taureans smile turned sad. It is very unlikely. Im sure the inspector there has
told you all about it. Our brains grasp the chemical changes opiates render. Our
addictions are profound and permanent. From what Ive been told, Rev hates the
addiction and what its done to his body and mind, but hes still a slave to it. I ask only
that you take him somewhere that he can live out his days in dignity.
There was a definite glimmer of tears in Taureans eyes as he turned away. Afton
swallowed through a tight throat. This Rev would never again know dignity in life; he
would only attain it in death.
148 Belinda McBride
As a representative of the Bacchi Guild, I promise he will be cared for and
madecomfortable.
The Bacchi would have access to any drug or aphrodisiac that would bring ease to
the dying man.
Provided we can free him and take him home. Afton hated to add that
disclaimer, but the truth was, the Valoran might not wish to leave. His owners might
not let him go. He was damaged goods but still had value.
Taurean led the men from the dressing room and out into a corridor, then took
them through a warren of hallways. Passing numerous doors, Afton caught the
occasional glimpse of life behind the stage. One door was ajar, revealing cramped
rooms that were clearly shared, though he didnt get the impression that prostitution
was the major draw here. After all, the sex took place out in public.
He had the unnerving sensation that they were being watched.
Finally they crossed into the public parts of the business, where the carpeting was
lush and the furnishings pristine. Even with the lights up, the foyer and chamber rooms
were immaculate. Lefi followed a servant to the cloakroom, and Afton watched after
him, feeling slightly uncomfortable at being separated from the Bacchi.
You are right to worry about him.
He turned to Taurean and gave him his full attention. Your Bacchi hovers over
you like a dog protecting his bone, but in reality hes in as much danger of being
snatched as you are.
But the Somian are completely comfortable with the sex industry. Afton then
realized he hadnt seen any Somian on the huge barge.
Thats the problem; they are knowledgeable about the business and generally
have healthy self-esteems. The only way to get them onto this sort of brothel is through
trickery. His amber eyes evaluated Afton slowly. Youre a gen, yet youve tipped
toward the male end of the spectrum. How did that happen? And how did you come to
be the partner of a Somian? You are far too intimate to simply be acquaintances.
The Bacchi 149
Taurean was too polite to mention Lefis missing twin.
So many questions. So little time to answer. The other Valoran flushed slightly.
He got the feeling Taurean was lonely. Afton knew the sensation; it sank straight
to the bone. Spending a few minutes with the gen felt like water after a long thirst. He
was reluctant to leave Taurean behind.
I believe my parents guided me into my gender choice.
Taureans gaze faltered. Im sorry. So many are frightened when the child shows
no preference. My parents eventually disowned me. They said I brought shame to the
family. Only Cali continued to love and support me. Taurean brought his chin up. We
do not choose to be what we are, and our existence poses a threat to the social order of
the Valoran. Your parents actions were wrong, triggered not only by pride, but self-
preservation as well. When I make love to a male, I am a female. And vice versa. Gens
shift gender freely, and that is contrary to our most basic teachings. You should not
judge your family too harshly.
Afton brushed that off. It was between him and his family, and in a sense, fleeing
the home planet was his rejection of his parents and the choice theyd taken from him.
Someday hed confront them. But not now; he had other things to worry about.
Lefi Weve known each other for a while. He understands me. I am coming to
understand him.
Ah. So its love.
Afton felt a flush spread over his face, but he didnt look away. On my part, yes.
Lefi is an orphan. His heart is broken. By his own admission, he has little to offer me
beyond sex and friendship.
Taurean grinned, shaking his head. He was so casual and free compared to most
Valorans. Afton felt envious. Inspector Teris, the Somian might have lost his heart, but
my guess is that hes finding it again. He glanced up, and Afton followed his gaze. Lefi
walked down the hall, expression alert and wary. The black coat he wore covered the
fetish gear, but with his height and grace, it looked dangerously attractive. Aftons belly
150 Belinda McBride
tightened with want, and he suddenly recalled what theyd done earlier. What hed
donemounting and riding the Bacchi in a fashion hed never before experienced. He
remembered Lefis strangled cries of completion, of utter helplessness.
Hed done that.
Afton rested his palm on the center of his chest where his heart suddenly raced.
He wanted to reach out and pull Lefi close, but he clenched his fist and kept his other
hand at his side. Regardless of what he might truly feel, the Bacchi had to make his own
decision. Afton might hunt, but ultimately Lefi had to be the one to surrender.
Ive been thinking Lefi stepped close, looking first at Afton, then at Taurean.
Taurean, do you think its wise for us to make our move on Rev tonight? Should we
wait till morning, when the bar is closed?
Taurean folded his arms and frowned. Truthfully if you leave him in the bar
overnight, it might be best. However, Im not sure how youd disable its security during
the day. I must warn you, if I heard about your search, Revs owner must have by now.
They might have a trap waiting. And if station security apprehends you in a crime, you
will be captured and sold, quite possibly to those you offended. Id hate to see you
tethered out in a seedy establishment like that.
The skin on Aftons neck prickled.
If we go in tonight, we might be able to negotiate his release. The Bacchi Guild
has authorized me to purchase his contract.
Youll need to leave immediately, then. Did you travel via shuttle, or did you
bring your own transport?
Shuttle. That was part of their cover; a pair of ordinary tourists wouldnt bring a
private ship, though the department would have arranged it. I can have HQ send a
pickup.
There wont be time. Taurean stepped between them, took their arms, and
guided them to the door. He accompanied them outside and to the street. They walked
The Bacchi 151
swiftly and soon arrived at the hotel room. Lefi opened the door and stood back as they
entered.
You two pack. Ill arrange for your luggage to be taken to my cruiser. Ill return
you to the planet myself.
Treena will be furious. Lefi pulled his valise down from the closet and set it on
the bed. Afton did the same with his much smaller case. And what about the missing
Bacchi?
Taurean shrugged. Treena will survive. Ill be back soon enough. She knows that.
And your missing EurLu womanI havent heard anything about her. She might have
been taken to another barge. Ill ask around when I return.
Afton and Lefi moved swiftly around the room, stowing their possessions. When
he was finished, the Somian set his bag next to the door.
Taurean, if you wish, the Bacchi will arrange housing for you. If you go back
I know, Treena is waiting. And no, she doesnt want me to leave. She will try to
trap me until I change my mind. But there are too many people who depend on me.
He looked weary and much older. Afton suddenly realized it was well after midnight.
Fatigue began to settle over him like a cloud. He blinked, willing it away.
Taurean leaned against a wall; what might appear a casual pose was really
exhaustion, physical and mental.
I went into partnership in the club as an escape from my past. All the while I
reinvested my earnings by purchasing the contracts of many of our performers. Since I
technically own them, I cannot abandon them. Ill have to arrange transport. Theyll all
need assistance when theyre freed, either returning to their homes or reintegrating into
society. He looked steadily at Lefi. I appreciate that the Bacchi Guild is willing to
help, but the last thing these men and women need is more exposure to the life. They
need jobs and training. Counseling. Crisis intervention.
Lefi grasped the Valorans arm. Believe me, Taurean, I understand. I nearly died
during my time on a brothel barge.
152 Belinda McBride
Taureans eyes went wide in surprise.
The Bacchi Guild purchased me and got me away from that life. They paid for
my health care and, later, my education. Im a psyche scientist. He let Taureans arm
loose. I not only counsel clients through sexual dysfunction, I work with crisis cases. I
wouldnt be what I am if the Guild hadnt rescued me.
Noted. And appreciated. Taurean headed for the door. I have to hurry to get
the cruiser prepped. Shes been at dock forquite a while now. Shes the Gazella, in
quadrant 6, red slip 22. He paused, glancing at Lefi and Afton. The radio code is
SX11211. Hire a porter to get there; Rev will be unable to walk. He turned to the door,
then looked back. Thank you. And good luck. Revs owners name is Sylvester. Sly.
Hes greedy and dangerous. You might be able to negotiate a sale. Even if you do,
watch your back; he and his friends are without honor. Taurean took a deep breath
and looked down at the floor. His name is Revenant Argos. Heshe was my best
friend. He came here to rescue me, and I turned him away. Guilt shrouded the
Valoran.
Afton nodded, and then Taurean was gone, leaving the two of them alone. Lefi let
out a gusty breath. He collapsed on the bed. Green hair spread out beneath him, and
tired as he was, Aftons body stirred. When the coat parted slightly, he saw the Bacchi
was in the same state.
He walked over, climbed onto the bed, and straddled Lefis hips. He leaned
forward and braced a hand on either side of the Bacchis head, pinning him by the hair.
If we had time, Lefi, Id take you.
Lefi stroked Aftons cheek, his eyes dark with arousal.
I wish we had time, Inspector. There was more than arousal in those dark eyes.
There was regret. And like a revelation, Afton knew this was their final moment.
It was over.
His chest ached, and his throat went tight. Afton moved away quickly, before the
burn in his eyes turned to tears. That would change nothing; it would only make it
The Bacchi 153
more difficult for them both. He turned his back and breathed deeply. By the time Lefi
was at his side, Afton was collected and in control.
Are you wearing that to the bar?
Lefi blinked in surprise, looking down at the webbing of leather encasing his
body. Hed lost the mesh codpiece somewhere, and his coat was unbuttoned, revealing
all. The Bacchi pulled a familiar, seductive smile from nowhere, and he opened the
door, holding it for Afton.
But of course. Nothing like the element of surprise!
154 Belinda McBride
Chapter Thirteen
To say the Watchman was a dive was overgenerous.
Afton and Lefi followed programmed directions to the bar, nervous and on edge
the entire journey. Theyd been unable to bring firearms onto the barge, but Afton had
pulled several disparate pieces of clear resin and chain from his luggage and assembled
them into a simple yet deadly jointed weapon. Hed then put together a pair of daggers
made from the same clear material.
Lefi didnt need to reach down to check his weapons; he felt the pressure of
stilettos against his skin, the weight of high-tensile steel in the seams of his coat. Hed
never favored firearms anyway, so he was as prepared as he ever was.
Next to him, Afton stood looking at the front of the dingy bar, staring at the faded
holos rotating through live sex acts. A crudely drawn electronic image portrayed a
Valoran with full dangling breasts that served as a counterpart for his massive genitals.
It was obscene, and given Aftons muted sigh, hurtful as well.
Lefi watched the slender Valoran as he examined the business and narrow, dark
alleys flanking it. There were too many shadows, too many places to hide. Hed been
grateful that Taurean hadnt accompanied them; hed forced himself to say the right
things to the red-haired Valoran, but inside, the unfamiliar sting of jealousy snaked
through his gut. Lefi had examined the emotion, then let it out to briefly express its
outrage. When Taurean had manipulated a moment alone with Afton, hed nearly come
unglued, seeing them so close, their heads tipped together.
Together theyd made a beautiful image, the black and red of their hair so close it
nearly mingled. Taureans pale clothing had proved a foil for Aftons severe black suit.
The Bacchi 155
Hed nearly objected to their contact, but the two Valorans seemed almost hungry
for each other. Lefi might have been alone, but there were always other Somian to give
him company. He spoke his own language regularly and ate the foods hed grown up
with. But for Afton, even when he was around other Valorans, he was an outsider. Hed
turned his scientific mind to criminal investigation and had undoubtedly struggled
with his sexual identity most of his life. He and Taurean appeared to have a great deal
in common.
He didnt completely trust the other Valoran, but in reality, Taurean was a better
match for Afton than he. But damn if he liked the fact. When they got back home, Afton
would be free to explore a relationship with the other gen
Lefi. He looked at the inspector. Afton was like an animala sleek, dangerous
predator. No doubt he could take care of himself just fine. It was justthere was a core
of navet about him that pulled at Lefis protectiveness. Somian were not meant to be
aggressive, but he was a male, and Afton
Dear Goddess, he whispered under his breath.
Afton Teris was his heart.
Lefi! Afton glided closer and peered into Lefis face. Are you all right? Youre
pale.
He mentally shook himself. They were walking into danger.
Just nerves. Im a lover, not a fighter and all that. Ill be fine. He forced a smile.
Afton didnt look convinced. How will we play this? His hands were sweaty, and
with every fiber of his being, Lefi wanted Afton away from there, safe and protected.
Afton shrugged. Keep your eyes open, and watch the shadows. If we can
negotiate, we will. He shot Lefi a curious glance, as though he thought Lefi was getting
cold feet.
And if we cant? They began to walk; the filthy door loomed closer. It was huge,
built to accommodate giant species such as Landauns and AmWeres.
156 Belinda McBride
I dont know. Afton didnt seem overly concerned by the uncertainty of the
situation. Lefi reached into a pocket and fingered the pouch of gems. He then fingered
the one solitary packet hed sewn into the coat lining. The treasure there was worth the
lives of many, many men and women. He prayed he wouldnt have to use it, because
the stone was more dangerous than useful. He could buy a small city and live out his
days in luxury with this stoneif he survived the transaction. Candar was nothing he
wanted to leave behind on this barge.
This dying Valorans life could be bought with diamonds and emeralds instead.
He pushed the door, grunting at its weight. If Aftons life came into the balance, though,
hed gladly risk his life with the blood stone.
The hinges squealed as the door opened, but the noise was lost in the raucous din
that greeted them. He paused, letting his eyes acclimate to the dimly lit interior. Afton
didnt have that problem, but he moved slowly, his sharp eyes evaluating all he saw.
And there was too much to take in at one glance.
This wasnt a place catering to casual tourists; it was dark, dirty, and malevolent.
The air was heavy with drugging fumes from tobacco and incense, and a jolt of worry
ran through Lefis gut. To his relief, Afton had pulled a woven scarf over his mouth and
nose, as Taurean had warned them to do ahead of time. Small clusters of men and
women surrounded tables where drinks overflowed and dice were tossed. There were
more species than Lefi could account for, though he and Afton were the only ones of
their kinds.
Music played tinny and loud, so patrons either huddled close or spoke above the
racket. The floor was wet with spilled ale and piss; the walls were stained with
unidentifiable substances. In one corner a couple fucked; she straddled his lap and
bounced with patently fake enthusiasm.
Afton paused, and Lefi looked over his shoulder. A Landaun had a human man
bent over a table and was brutally ass fucking him. He fought and struggled to no avail.
Thats rape. Afton moved forward, but Lefi grasped his arm.
The Bacchi 157
Not here, Afton. You have no authority here. Still his inspector watched until
the Landaun pulled the man upright, still pumping hard. The human wailed, his
ejaculate spurting onto the wooden top of the table. The Landaun laughed and jerked
free, then returned to another table.
The Landaun is a female, and he probably paid her.
Afton looked at him in disbelief. Landaun females were incredibly dominant and
nearly impossible to identify from the men. They even had a phallic member that they
obviously put to good use. The man rose to his feet and pulled up his pants. He
staggered drunkenly, slid into the chair, and slumped forward onto the soiled table.
Remind me not to sit down in this place.
Lefi gave a curt laugh and squeezed Aftons shoulder. I havent touched
anything yet feel the need to wash my hands. It wasnt really a joke. Filth lay like a
miasma in the very air they breathed.
They wound through the crowd, ignoring the looks and catcalls, and finally
reached the bar. It was as filthy as everything else. They settled onto empty stools and
waited for the bartender. Lefi looked behind the bar and spotted a ring in the wall
where a chain might be fastened. No one was there. They might very well be too late for
Rev.
What you want? The bartender was whip thin and sharp as a stiletto. Sweat
gleamed on his forehead; tattoos writhed along his forearms. His black eyes were hard
and wary. His bare scalp gleamed under the watery lights shining down on the bar.
House ale. Lefi set a credit chit on the bar, and the bartender stared at it.
Got cash?
Lefi smiled, reached into his coat pocket, and tossed out a bill. Hed been warned
about this too. The more cash that came in under the bar, the less the bar paid to the
station for taxes. The drinks came, and Lefi lifted his, then grimaced at the bitter flavor.
His mouth tingled as it went down. It wasnt unusual for some of these places to brew
their drinks with illicit drugs; it kept the clients coming back. They each had their
158 Belinda McBride
special, secret recipes. This one wasnt dangerous, but could be an impediment if he had
to fight. Or think.
Dont let it touch your lips, he whispered in Aftons ear. Since the inspector still
wore the scarf over his mouth, he probably hadnt intended to try. Still, with Afton you
never knew. He nodded, wrapping his fingers around the heavy glass. Lefi glanced in
the mirror behind the bar and caught Aftons steady gaze. His eyes flicked to the left,
signaling Lefi.
Without craning too much, he was able to see a hallway. He got up and caught a
glimpse of something that chilled him.
What is it?
Lefi sat back down, not looking at Afton. Theyve got him chained down in an
alcove. Hesservicing a group of men.
It was more like a gang rape. The Valoran was chained and immobile, surrounded
by a cluster of men. A burly, brown-haired human was overseeing the activity.
Hey! He caught the bartenders attention and gestured him over. Were
looking for Sly. Might as well get to the point; the Valoran might not survive the night.
He heard a chorus of shouts and laughter coming from the hall, and his balls went tight
with remembered horror. Goddess. Hed been there once, chained and helpless.
The bartender stared at them, looking from Lefi to Afton. He aint around.
Bullshit. Lefi stared back at the man. Human, but his accent said Niye. Next to
him, Afton lowered the scarf, giving the bartender a good look at his face. The thin man
cocked a brow. A Somian and a Valoran. You two must want something awful bad to
risk yourselves here. Maybe I can help. His eyes were hungry and feral. He probably
expected them to make a drug buy and was willing to skim a few profits.
We want Sly.
The bartender braced his hands on the bar and glared at them. What about?
The Bacchi 159
Business. A one-shot deal. Aftons voice was soft and searing. His dark gaze
was fearsome. No doubt these dogs thought Valorans were nothing but weak, drug-
addled creatures, but Afton was at the peak of health. The bartender was blind to the
threat this Valoran posed.
Gimme a minute. He vanished to the right and reemerged a few seconds later.
Another bartender took his place, and the thin man gestured to them. Leaving the ale,
they followed, not even looking back when the drinks were snatched by another patron.
Down the hallway, the noise of the bar faded slightly. They followed the bartender
through a door, and as it swung closed, the air became hushed and far cleaner. The
thud of their boots was muffled by expensive soundproofing. The bartender keyed in a
code and unlocked a door, then held it open as they entered. Lefi supposed they were to
wait for the mysterious Sly. Instead the bartender followed them in and walked to the
far side of a cluttered desk. He sat down and folded his hands.
What business?
Afton cocked an elegant brow. Youre Sly?
Sylvester Barsotti. Sly for short. He sat back in the battered chair, eyeing the
both of them. He wore a greedy expression, but at the same time he appeared savvy
and smart. Business? he prompted.
Lefi took a deep breath and decided to plunge right in. This guy was too sharp to
lie to.
You have a Valoran. Wed like to buy his contract.
The human jerked, betraying his surprise. Clearly this was not what he was
expecting. Revenant is not for sale.
Why is his contract not for sale? Lefi asked.
I took him as a favor. Besides, hes still of some worth.
Hes dying. He has only days left. Afton leaned forward.
And you know this because?
160 Belinda McBride
Afton flushed slightly. I smelled him back in the bar. His organs are shutting
down. Hell be of no use to you within daysperhaps hours.
Unless you have clientele who enjoy that sort of thing? Lefi was pleased to see
an angry flush on the humans cheeks. Well be glad to reimburse you for a months
revenues from his services.
Sly rocked in his chair, looking from one man to the other. You could work off
his contract.
Not acceptable. Im a guild member, and that violates my vow. Ive been sent
merely to succor the man in his final hours.
Sly looked to Afton. And why are you here?
Im an ICE inspector from L17. Ive been dispatched to investigate the
disappearance of several individuals from Landis.
The human snorted his contempt, but the show of authority must have had a
small effect on him. He no longer looked at them as though they were a meal. Both men
had connections.
His contract is for five years, plus interest. He owes me seven.
Lefi smiled contemptuously. Youll not see another week from the man. I was
being generous with my offer.
Hes lived this long. I can gamble on his surviving longer.
They had a momentary standoff. He met Aftons gaze and then looked at Lefi,
searching for a weakness. Finally the human found a pen and a small pad of rough
paper. That surprised Lefi, as paper was a rare commodity these days. Sly scrawled a
number on the pad, then turned it to face them. Afton looked, and a small growl
escaped his throat. But he said nothing. This situation was now squarely in the hands of
Lefi.
Lefi looked at the number and shook his head sadly. You will probably have to
face a tribunal from the administration of this ship. I realize that laws arecasual here,
The Bacchi 161
but if we request a well-being alert on the man He plucked the old-fashioned pen
from Slys hands and countered with a much lower number.
Sly grinned, showing a space where a tooth had been knocked out. The smile did
nothing to make him appear friendly. Instead Lefi fought not to wince. The criminal
leaned back in the chair and propped a dirty boot on the desk.
Get the fuck out of my office. Keep going. I dont want to ever, ever see you two
again.
Fine. Time for the big guns. Lefi took a hand from his coat pocket and extended
his clenched fist. Slowly he turned his hand over, then carefully opened it. On his palm
a brilliant white stone winked and glimmered. It was large, round, and cut in a complex
style. The cutters of Neo Domus were developing a major skill for imaginative design.
Sly was fixated on the diamond, unable to look away.
This is two carats. Flawless. Colorless. Worth well more than the value of a dying
whore.
Provenance?
In order. It was a gift from the king of Neo Domus. I will provide you with
paperwork when we complete the transaction.
Next to him, Afton shifted in his seat; it was the first sign of uneasiness hed
shown all evening.
Not enough. Sly looked away from the stone, folding his arms over his skinny
chest.
Lefi closed his fist. When he opened it again, the twin to the first stone appeared.
Identical to the first. He waited, gazing steadily at the man. He was under no
illusion that the stones equaled the Valorans contract. However, few could resist the
dazzle of a diamond.
It wont fetch much on the black market.
162 Belinda McBride
Why sell them on the black market? You can go to any gem dealer in the system
and negotiate a fair value.
Sly was succumbing. Before he could speak again, Lefi closed his fist. He opened it
again, revealing a third stone. It was exactly the same as the first two. The next time I
close my hand, it will be empty.
Slys breath caught. He blinked rapidly and then pulled a mask of insolence over
his face. Thats but three months value
Lefi began to curl his fingers closed.
Much more than youll make off the Valoran. Aftons voice was soft. Lefi
continued to close his fist, pulling his hand away.
Stop! The humans voice was harsh. He reached out and slapped a comm.
Bring the whore to my office. The response must have come to him through an
implant, because he listened and then cursed briefly.
Now! He pushed the small device away from his hand.
We need his paperwork. Afton rose to his feet and leaned forward. Whatever
possessions he has.
Sly curled a lip contemptuously. He has nothing.
Behind them, the door swung open. Lefi rose, ready for an attack. Instead a large,
mixed-species male carried a limp body over his shoulder. Lefi winced. Bones
protruded from dull, paperlike skin. He reeked of filthblood, shit, and semen. His
tangled hair was filthy and long.
But he was alive.
Aftons hand came up briefly, and then he turned back to the bar owner. His
papers. Now. His dark eyes glittered with feral fury. The inspector was on the edge of
control.
The Bacchi 163
Sly nodded at Lefi, who set the gems on the desktop. He fished inside his coat for
the papers that accompanied the gems. As Sly signed the Valorans contract over to
Lefi, he signed off on the diamonds.
The bouncer started to let the man slide to the floor.
Dont. Aftons voice was sharp and commanding. You carry him out for us,
and remain with us until transport arrives. The huge alien looked over at Sly, who
nodded slightly. This would leave them both able to fight if it became necessary. And
somehow Lefi was certain it would be necessary. No one would be foolish enough to let
them walk away unscathed. It was damn obvious they had money on hand.
Without another word to the barman, they turned, Lefi in front, Afton following
behind the unconscious Valoran. They reentered the bar, stepping right into the middle
of a fight. The Landaun female had a massive humanoid by the throat, and they
grappled on top of the bar. Beyond that, small tussles and fights had broken out all over
the room.
A chair hurtled their way; Lefi ducked and reached for a dagger.
He needed it; the chair was followed by a sleek body that wrapped around his
torso and struggled to take him to the floor. The bouncer dumped Rev and grunted as
he turned to the melee. Lefi managed to dislodge the Faragee female whod attacked
him and glanced around to see Afton moving smoothly, ducking and weaving,
delivering lethal kicks and stunning blows. Relieved to see that the inspector could
handle himself in a fight, Lefi snapped a flexible steel chain from the seam of his coat
and used it to whip and bite the bodies of those who came too near.
He took a blow to his lower back, staggered slightly, then spun around and
slammed his boot into the knee of a burly human. He fought for position, doing his best
to shelter the fallen Valoran from the fight.
Lefi! He looked up to see Afton welding the triple-jointed weapon. It had
impressive range and kept the inspector clear of attackers. Get him! Ill cover you!
They swiftly shifted positions, and Lefi hefted the Valoran over his shoulder, shocked at
164 Belinda McBride
how little he weighed. He hugged the wall while Afton kept to their side and cleared a
path to the front door.
We should have gone out the back! Lefi shifted the weight of the man, stepping
over a fallen, bleeding body. Head!
Afton spun around in time to strike at a bottle that flew through the air toward
him. The glass shattered, showering them with foul alcohol and bits of glass. Only a few
yards lay between them and the door, and Lefi kicked away a table, confident Afton
had his back. He turned toward the door, threw his weight against it, and staggered as
it gave way, and then he stumbled out into the dimly lit street.
Quickly he looked for danger. He turned in time to see Afton burst out the door,
then stumble and drop to his knees.
Afton!
Im all right. He shook his head, and the air sparkled with shards of glass.
Justhe coughedtook a hit. Im fine.
He didnt look fine. After a moment, he struggled to his feet and limped to Lefis
side. Can you make it to the main boulevard? Well be able to hire a transport there.
Afton leaned forward, bracing his hands on his knees.
Looks like youre the one who might not make it. He started to lower Rev to the
ground.
No! Sly isnt going to let us get away so easily. He probably changed his mind the
moment you exchanged the papers. As soon as they sort out that fight, hell be after us!
Afton straightened and tugged on Lefis arm. They hurried toward the distant
boulevard, glancing over their shoulders, searching for pursuit.
Afton darted ahead and within seconds had a transport waiting. Good timing. Lefi
heard a shout in the distance and knew their time was up.
* * * *
The Bacchi 165
Taurean was a surprisingly skilled pilot. No sooner had they rushed aboard than
he departed, barely waiting for them to secure their cargo and themselves as well. It
wasnt until they were well away from the massive brothel barge that they were able to
turn their attention to the Valoran theyd spirited away from the Watchmans owner.
Lefi had the man laid out on a bed and was running a medical wand over his
emaciated body. He looked nothing like the obscene image the bar had advertised. Rev
was skinny and nearly sexless. Even though he was out like a light, his body trembled
and shook. Deep lines bracketed his eyes and mouth, and his dark hair was streaked
with dull silver.
Taurean knelt at his side and gingerly ran his fingers over Revs hair. Hes only
my age, maybe younger. His fingers drifted to the pallid, waxy skin of his face. He
was a fighter. Tough. Thats the only reason hes alive now.
Lefi turned off the wand and returned it to its case. Well, hes sick in every way
you can imagine. Malnourished, dehydrated, hes infested with parasites, and his entire
system is under extreme stress. The Bacchi looked steadily at Afton. You lied to that
bastard. You said youd caught the scent of his death.
I saw his death in that mans eyes. When he served our drinks, I touched him.
Hes smart but insane. You probably found old breaks and wounds.
Lefi nodded slowly.
Id heard that about Sly, though Ive never met him. Taurean didnt look away
from Rev. Revenant came to the barge to rescue me. Like you, he assumed Id been
kidnapped. We argued when he came to the Illusion. I sent him away, and he was
captured and made an addict by brokers.
He was your lover? Lefi had opened the medical cupboard and was lifting
down basic emergency supplies. Afton watched in surprise as he deftly inserted an IV
needle and started the man on fluids.
No, Rev was my dearest friend from childhood. He stood by and watched as I
threw myself into a very bad relationship. He was there when I left my lover, and he
166 Belinda McBride
tried to be there as I grieved for the man I believed was the love of my life. I was young
and stupid. He was stupid too, thinking he could save me from the pain. Taurean
reached out and gently stroked Revs skinny arm. He was so strongpowerful. He
was prideful as well. The expression on Taureans face was heartbreaking. Afton
looked away, allowing him a moment to collect himself.
Lefi adjusted the IV and returned to his examination of the Valorans body. He
was thorough yet careful, sighing when he turned Rev to his side, revealing livid
bruises and shallow cuts. I can take care of these, but well need a Vash to help the
flesh knit without further scarring. He shouldnt carry those marks. Hes been damaged
enough.
Hes an addict, Lefi. Taurean stared down at his friend. His shoulders slumped.
Soon the scars wouldnt matter. Can either of you pilot the ship? Id like to bathe him.
When he wakes, it shouldnt be to the filth of that place.
I can. Afton rose, still limping slightly from the pain in his hip.
Lefi stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. I need to examine you.
Im fine, Lefi. Just took a hit when my back was turned.
The Bacchi wouldnt let him go. In moments he was lying on another bed, the
medical wand vibrating the air over his torso.
How did you get to be so skilled with medical equipment? He looked up at the
Bacchi. He wanted to reach up and touch his hair, run his fingers along Lefis curved
lips. After so many months of Lefis humorous pursuit, his restraint was uncomfortable.
Im a psyche scientist. My training wasnt just in counseling, but in medical as
well. Some ailments manifest in the mind but are rooted in the body. He turned off the
wand and frowned over the readouts.
Your kidneys are bruised. Theres a hairline fracture on your hip. Youre deeply
bruised, and you took a serious blow to your head. He looked at Afton; the expression
in his eyes was serious. You were hit more than once, Afton.
The Bacchi 167
Hell, hed taken a half-dozen blows, maybe more. But Lefi had been helpless as
hed carried Rev out of harms way. Besides, no one in that place would ever
underestimate a Valoran again. Hed left more than his share of broken, bleeding
bodies.
Im fine, Lefi. He sat up, unable to hide the wince.
Lie back down.
Do you know how to pilot this thing? Lefi shook his head. Then let me up.
Taurean can do it.
Afton stood. Taurean can take over when hes finished with his friend. He
started out the door and up to the small bridge. Lefi slipped into the seat next to him.
Its on autopilot. For now, I can rest here.
He laid his head back against the headrest and adjusted the seat till he was
somewhat comfortable. He looked over at the Somian, who stared out at the planet in
the distance. It was beautiful, but then most planets were from space. How bad is he?
Hes dying, but with medical treatment and Vash support, he can recover
physically. Lefis eyes dropped shut. But his brain The drugs have done terrible
things to him. Hes unconscious but already going into withdrawal. Even after hes
detoxed Im going to keep him sedated until we land. He pulled out a flat keyboard
and quickly began typing. The guild will know someone who specializes in Valoran
care. They can guide me till we get him home.
Youre doing very good, Lefi. Im impressed.
Im no healer, Afton. My skills are limited.
Afton squeezed his arm. There wasnt much more to say. Lefi continued to work,
studying medical articles, taking the occasional communication from the guild.
Hed find plenty of data on Valoran addiction and treatment, but not much
guidance or hope. The greatest scientific minds of his people had labored over this, but
to no avail. There would be no miracle for Rev. He didnt say that to Lefi. Instead Afton
168 Belinda McBride
turned his attention to the piloting array, checking monitors, and adjusting their course
slightly. He pulled out his keyboard and sent a status report to his captain and another
to the AmWere who remained in the system.
Im finished. Taurean was in the doorway, and Afton stiffly rose and returned
command to him. Will he awaken before we arrive?
Probably not. Lefi rose from his seat as well. Ill sit with him. If he stirs, Ill let
you know. But as soon as he regains consciousness, hell begin to feel the effects of
withdrawal.
Taurean twisted in his seat and looked up at Lefi. I just want him to know hes
not alone. I want him to know Im sorry. This wouldnt have happened if not for me.
True, and yet, not really. Taurean, neither of you chose for him to be kidnapped
and forced into addiction. Both of your decisions put him in that place and time, but the
fault is not yours. Nor is it his. Dont think that way. Afton leaned against the
bulkhead. He was weary and heavy with pain and fatigue. Though hed never admit it,
Taurean was a damaged soul. He didnt need this additional burden of guilt. The other
Valoran didnt look at him but nodded tersely.
Afton left the bridge and headed for the small cabin where Rev lay. For a moment
he stood there, looking down on the broken man. Taurean had washed away the filth
and combed his ragged hair. The cleansing revealed the mans illness in greater clarity.
His lips were dry and chapped, and his breath held the stench of illness.
Revs eyes fluttered, and he looked up at Afton.
Are you awake? Lefi asked gently.
His eyes were sunken and dull; the dark brown was muddy. Squinting, he looked
at Afton, then up at Lefi. He tried to speak, but his voice was a harsh croak.
Youre safe. The Bacchi leaned down to clasp his dry hand. Youre away from
Sly and the Watchman. Were taking you to a hospital. His musical voice was low and
soothing. He offered comfort, but aside from touching the other mans hand, Lefi kept
his distance. That was unusual for himhe liked to touch others.
The Bacchi 169
But Revenant would not welcome the contact. Lefi was male, and most of his
clients had undoubtedly been men.
Not clients. Rapists. Assailants.
Rev, do you understand me? Lefi sat on the edge of the bed. The Valoran
nodded once. Then you know you are deeply addicted to more than one drug.
Rev pressed his eyes tightly shut, nodded, then opened them again.
I am consulting with Valoran physicians. For the remainder of our journey, I will
sedate you. Your physicians will do their best to keep you comfortable as your body
rids itself of toxins. After that, they will do their best to support your health and
manage your addiction. But it will not be easy.
Revs dark gaze darted to Aftons face, seeking confirmation. The Valoran reached
out a trembling hand and offered it to him. Slowly he touched and then linked fingers
with Rev, and Afton shuddered at the rush of pain, despair, and self-loathing that
swamped him. Under it all was something else. Afton blinked rapidly and set the other
mans hand back down on the bed.
Taurean is well and healthy. Hes here and has been with you.
Rev sighed and nodded.
Would you like to see him?
Alarm showed in his dark eyes. But he was rapidly weakening. Alarm shifted to
yearning, which was quickly extinguished. Only shame remained. He closed his eyes
and shook his head.
Lefi gazed at him critically. Revs skin was going gray, no doubt from pain. Lefi
moved across the room and adjusted the display that controlled the fluids that ran into
Revs frail body. Within seconds he relaxed and slipped back into unconsciousness.
Afton backed away from the bed and left the room. A warm hand on his shoulder
guided him to another cabin, where he lay down on the narrow bunk.
170 Belinda McBride
There were no drugs to take away his pain. He merely had to sleep it off, as he
always had. After seeing Rev, hed never again wish for pain medicine when he was
injured. Hed never wish for the soft comfort of wine. The Valorans emotions still
rattled through his brain, scratching under his skin. He rolled his head to face the wall.
The shame was Revs, but he didnt want Lefi to see the echo of it on his face.
Afton?
Leave me for now. I still feel him inside my head.
The Bacchi lingered for a moment, moved closer, and no doubt reached out to
touch, to comfort. Afton squeezed his eyes shut, bracing against the contact. But it
didnt come.
And that was worse.
The Bacchi 171
Chapter Fourteen
Theyd rescued one man, and it seemed like a failure.
Afton studied his monitor, looking at a chart of the Landis system. It had
seventeen planets, three of which were populated. Others were barren or used for
minerals. Tiny green dots on the chart indicated stations and outposts where the Bacchi
Guild had a presence. Orange dots represented areas where trafficking and slavery
were suspected. Most of those dots were mobile, like the Rapscallion.
He looked away from the monitor and frowned at his spartan surroundings. There
was no color on his desk, no bits of sentiment or pieces of art. Hed built a world
without color or pleasure. Now that hed experienced them, the barren desk unnerved
him a bit.
Hed delivered the news to the AmWere and introduced them to Taurean. The
Valoran was working with them to ferry his refugees from the brothel barge to
temporary housing on L17. Once again, the Bacchi Guild was stepping in on their
behalf. Theyd taken responsibility for the care of Revenant as well.
In all, hed been remarkably ineffective. He hadnt found the kidnappers, nor had
he located the missing women. The Valoran addict had refused to tell him her name, so
he couldnt even notify her family of her fate. Hed been commended for uncovering
the trafficking operation, but that did little to assuage his uneasiness. Taurean had shed
little light on the illegal end of the business, largely because hed focused on protecting
those within his own sphere. His partner had bought him out, and in turn, hed paid
her a massive amount of money because hed departed with so much of the staff of the
Illusion.
172 Belinda McBride
Once the immediate emergency with Rev passed, Lefi had quietly withdrawn
from Aftons life. The Bacchi knew his schedule and timed his visits with Rev during
Aftons work hours. There were no more warrants from the judge, and the few times
hed tried to contact Lefi, their communications had been quick and confined to
business.
Damn Somian thought he was being noble. He was just being contrary. Afton lay
in bed nights, wrapped in the red silk robe, imagining the Bacchis touch on his skin.
Inspector Teris? Youre still here?
He looked up and nodded at his commander. The human looked worn and
frazzled; his severe jacket was a bit rumpled. His color was too high.
Im trying to find a pattern to the kidnappings. Im certain these men and women
are being forced into the sex trade, but I cant figure out if its one central operation or
multiple brokers working freelance.
The commander looked over his shoulder and squinted at the display. Do you
have data coming in from the other planets and settlements?
L5 has sent data. Im waiting on L2 and the satellite outposts. My guess is that the
smaller communities will be untouched. A missing person would cause more of a stir
there than in a larger city.
Is there a pattern in the victims?
Mostly human women. Young and attractive. A few Vash as well. L5 reports two
missing EurLu women and a Zamoran male. The commander grunted. Afton had to
agree; the idea of a tiny Zamoran being forced to sexually service another species was
disturbing. Rev was taken by brokers on the barge itself. We dont know who or where
they are, but they turned Rev over to Sly to settle a debt. Theres no telling how many
others visited the ships and never returned home. He paused, stretching his neck.
Then there are the AmWere who are searching for their missing pack members as well
as for Cali Polis.
The Bacchi 173
The commander straightened, pinching the bridge of his nose. So this thing could
be huge.
Massive. I seriously doubt that its a single operation. Its almost more of an
underground culture. He turned his chair to face his boss.
Like Warlan?
No, Warlan is a slave-owning society. Its all documented, and while the practice
is repulsive, it is an accepted part of their entire system. This situation on the barge is
more insidious. On the one hand, they have legal workers who are often tricked into
signing these deceptive contracts. Generally they bind themselves into service for loans
or transport to another world. They work off that loan, but the loans carry astronomical
fees and interest, and they end up bound in a never-ending cycle. Then there are
victims like Rev, who was kidnapped. His paperwork was clearly forged. If hed been
healthy, he might have been able to appeal to the administration of the ship, but he was
trapped not only by chains, but by the addiction he was forced into.
Shit. The commanders pale blue eyes were weary. The guild is cooperating
with you on this?
Yes. But this is a situation that extends far beyond our system.
As does the Bacchi Guild.
Afton powered down his unit. The guild in the Landis system is cooperating with
us. I believe that outside the system, Interstellar Coalition Enforcement might benefit
from their assistance. But each guild is independently run. Unless the guilds work
together, their involvement is not guaranteed within a given area.
The commander snorted in wry humor. Can you see Roane Vaine sitting down
for a conference with a Bacchi?
Afton sat up straighter in his stiff chair. The half-Valoran head of ICE was an
impressive woman, and he admired her. He also feared her a bit. I believe Roane Vaine
has worked with far more dangerous individuals than a member of the Bacchi Guild.
174 Belinda McBride
He smiled slightly at the idea. Before shed advanced to her present position, the ice-
cold woman had been one of their most effective prosecutors.
Look, Afton, I know youre frustrated. But youve found a crack in a network that
is massive. You might not be the one to take it down, but youve made a difference in a
lot of lives. And now you need to go home. Get some rest. Because I promise, tomorrow
will bring other cases for you to puzzle out.
More cases? He frowned in surprise; hed expected the trafficking situation
would continue to dominate his time.
ICE is sending in a team of marshals. Their authority isnt limited to our system,
and theyll be working with those AmWere. Well continue to offer support, of course.
Of course. His stomach lurched. This case was everything. It kept him focused
on something other than the pain of missing Lefi. Even now he couldnt quite accept the
feeling of solitude, the knowledge that any day the Somian might decide it was time to
relocate again.
The older man stretched and grinned. Go visit that Bacchi of yours. Let him give
you some TLC.
Afton answered with a small smile. No one knew how deeply he felt for Lefi.
Theyd kept their affair secret, so he wasnt obliged to share the news of the breakup.
Commander Reynolds was probably fishing for information.
Hes working with the Vash and other Somian to find a treatment for Revs
addiction. If they actually have a breakthrough, itll be extremely good news for my
people. Hes been very busy.
They left the room, and Afton glanced back to gaze at the officers and inspectors
who were coming on shift. There were no Vash; the nocturnal species was gentle to a
fault. They werent cowards, but violence was foreign to their natures.
Much like the Somian. He was grateful Lefi had been spared the actual fight; in
spite of his intimidating appearance in that knife-studded suit, he wasnt certain the
Bacchi would have relished the battle as Afton had.
The Bacchi 175
He sighed and left the building, then paused to watch the Vash schoolchildren as
they marched quietly down the sidewalk on their way to class. One of the imps broke
from the neat line, lunging with an imaginary sword. She smacked into Aftons legs and
rebounded, falling onto her bottom. Another child rushed to her side and lifted her to
her feet.
Initially he thought she was going to cry, but her blue eyes wrinkled with
amusement.
Blue eyes?
Her teacher hurried to the childs side, brushed her off, and herded the children
back into line. They blended with all the other white-garbed children, but he could tell
her apart by her posture, her dancing gait as they moved away.
Im so sorry, Inspector. The teacher looked at him with pale grey eyes. He
smiled and waved it off, then watched the small group as they vanished around a
corner. He didnt envy the teachers, with their responsibility for dozens of energetic
children.
He gave a short laugh and headed toward the hospitaland Revenant. The smile
faded from his face.
* * * *
To Lefis surprise and delight, the foremost specialists in Valoran neurology were
Somian.
The Partain twins were the offspring of a brother-sister mating; though they were
young, Drakh and Balor Partain had already made stunning advances in the science of
the mind. They huddled over Revs medical chart, their pastel hair mingling in a
lavender and blue cloud. Lefi had to push back a slight wave of envy at their psychic
connection.
Hes successfully detoxed, but the addiction still grips him?
176 Belinda McBride
Drakh looked up at him; his dark blue eyes were the perfect foil for his sky-blue
hair. Balor continued to frown at the sheets theyd spread over the table. They were in a
small office adjoining Revs hospital room, where he sat on the edge of the bed,
nervously plucking at the sheets. He was still painfully thin, his face haggard from
illness and suffering. In our species, we shake off the effects of addiction quite easily.
Nor do the Somian develop the ritualized habits the Valoran are prone to.
Just remember, ritualized mind-set is what makes their society so brilliant in
science and mathematics. Balor glanced at his brother and then back at the chart. One
brother specialized in therapy, just as Lefi did. The other was a hard scientist; hed
developed radical new methodology in brain surgery. Together they formed a seamless
unit.
Both men were as poor as paupers and supplemented their income as
noncontracted bounty hunters for ICE. Balor explained that they believed it was
unethical to charge for their services. When they needed funds, they pursued a bounty.
Their cutting-edge research was generally funded by private clients and governmental
sponsors. Nevertheless, the guild would make a generous donation to their accounts.
Lefi watched them work, taking an idea and expanding it, concocting and
discarding theories faster than he could process the concept they were considering. One
would start a sentence, which the other completed.
If he and Mhara had mated, their children would have grown up like this
brilliant and beautiful. Someday their children would be born, implanted into a woman
he didnt know, and raised by a father other than himself. Hed have the right to choose
the parents and participate in their upbringing; no one would begrudge him that. But
the entire concept seemed foreign and strange. He was far too alone to be a parent.
But you dont have to be.
The small voice shook him. Now that Afton had told him his twin dwelled in his
heart, the idea had taken root, and he had to wonderwas she really there? Or was he
The Bacchi 177
simply becoming eccentric and talking to himself? Whatever the case, an inner dialogue
had begun, and Lefi hadnt figured out how to turn it off.
Afton would be a wonderful parent.
He stood abruptly and left the table. The twins didnt notice his unease. They were
wrapped up in an argument about enzymes and neurotransmitters andartificial
intelligence? He smiled, shook his head, and returned to the observation window.
Rev was no longer alone. He sat in his bed, hands twisting, dark head bowed.
Afton sat at the edge of the mattress. Lefis belly lurched; sweat dampened his palms.
His cock started to harden, and the essence of nectar began to fill his mouth. He caught
his breath as Afton lifted his head and glanced over at the window. It was hidden on
their side, but still, the Valoran sensed his presence.
Is that?
Are you?
He felt the young scientists at his side and smiled. The only thing that could have
drawn them from their work was sexor the promise of it. Balor was the more
aggressive of the two; he rested his hand on Lefis lower back. They followed his gaze
back into the room, where Afton sat.
Ohh A gen. Hes lovely.
And he was. He hadnt seen Afton in the weeks following their return. He listened
to the messages the inspector left and then saved them. Hed once adjusted his routine
to intercept the Valoran; now he avoided him. In time theyd both know it was for the
best. In time, but not now.
Afton wore the same black uniform, but it was looser. Hed lost weight. His hair
was neat, but he hadnt forced the wave from it. His body had adjusted slightly, and his
androgyny was slightly more apparent. Afton was becoming comfortable in his own
skin.
You did that.
178 Belinda McBride
Lefi blinked. My, his inner voice was chatty today!
Is he yours? Drakh looked at Lefi, then back into the hospital room.
He could have been, but I ended the relationship. It would have been unfair to
Afton.
Why? Because youre a sex worker? Balor stroked his back gently as Drakh
spoke. I know Valorans can be a bit prudish, but gender neutrals are reputed to be
quite open sexually.
Lefi sighed. No one could really understand the feelings he labored under, but
these two might come close. Your parents, they are a sibling mating. Imagine
Ah. Drakh nodded in understanding. Balor rested his head on Lefis shoulder.
The embrace was gentle and nondemanding. Our parents have discussed this with us.
Its bad enough to lose your heart or your twin
But when they are one and the same Balors voice was sad.
Drakh turned his back to the window and faced Lefi. Our parents would be lost
without each other, but theyve spent decades together. Youve been without your sister
longer than you were with her.
That doesnt mitigate your pain. We understand that, Balor said. But you are
loved and prized among us. You deserve the joy a lover could bring you. He
straightened, looking in at Afton. I can imagine no greater lover for you than a Valoran
gen.
Im afraid I would bring him pain. He looked up at Drakhs luminous blue eyes.
They were so full of compassion and understanding. At that moment, he realized that
in his way, hed been completely alone, even among his own people. Hed counseled
orphans before, but never one like himself. Hed never even met a sibling couple like
the elder Partains.
If the Valoran loves you, shouldnt he have some say regarding that risk? Balor
stepped closer to the window.
The Bacchi 179
What if I cant love him enough? What if I cant ever let go of Mhara?
Drakh smiled. The fact that you can even ask that question tells me you love him
enough to put his well-being before your own. Your heart is and always will be part of
you, Lefi. Shes part of what makes you who you are. Shes part of who he loves.
Damn. Were the men psychic? Howd they come to be so wise at such a young
age? Why do you even care?
Lefi Dhrahn, you are one of the greats among us. Balor stroked his cheek. From
the time we were young, Drakh and I followed your exploits. Of course, we know there
was more than the official story.
Which raises you in our esteem.
Youve not only graced many with your beauty and sensuality, youve served
selflessly, bringing comfort to those whose lives were shattered. You minister not only
to our people, but to others.
Youve brought redemption and joy to many
Dont you think its time to allow yourself that same blessing?
Lefi looked past them, into Revenants room. Afton was on his feet, preparing to
leave. He could go talk to Afton. The Partains had a point; Afton did deserve to hear
Lefis reasoning.
With a gentle pat on the shoulder, Balor returned to the table. Drakh hung back a
moment and turned to look at where Rev lay. The Valoran was pale and looked
drained. When Afton had been with him, hed put on a good facade, but his coloring
was still poor.
Lefi stroked his chin. The last time hed talked with the Valoran, Rev had
appeared different somehow.
Drakh, have you noticed that when one of us is with him, his color is better? The
other Somian turned and looked back through the window. He stared for a moment,
deep in thought.
180 Belinda McBride
His tremors are more severe than when I examined him last. Drakh moved to
the display that showed his vitals. Balor, would you go visit the patient briefly? Balor
quickly exited the room and appeared at the other side of the window. He didnt look at
them, crossing directly to Revs bed. He sat and chatted for a moment, occasionally
reaching out to stroke the Valorans hand. The patient initially flinched at his touch but
soon relaxed under the contact.
Drakh stood before the monitor, observing both the readouts and the interaction
between the two. When Balor returned, they both studied the monitor.
Youre right. When Balor sat with him, his vitals steadied. His physical distress
reduced, and his brain patterns read more normally for a Valoran. I think youve found
something we can use. The twins smiled, and Lefis heart feltlighter.
Balor returned to the work space and quickly lost himself in the new direction.
Its not the answer, but its a lead. And thats all we needed.
As Lefi watched, their heads came together, and the twins were back in their own
world. He looked at Rev, who still looked marginally better. Could the answer really be
lurking within his own body? A smile pulled at his lips.
This was going to piss off a lot of Valorans.
The Bacchi 181
Chapter Fifteen
Afton.
He turned, his heart speeding up slightly as Lefi jogged toward him. The hospital
corridor wasnt crowded, but the nurses frowned at the green-haired beauty coming his
way.
And then they smiled.
Afton wiped all expression from his face, hiding the wild joy that Lefis presence
brought. The Bacchis hair was hanging loose; strands brushed around his face. His eyes
were shadowed, and he looked tired. Hed heard that Lefi had put his personal clients
on hold as he worked with the Bacchi Guild, the doctors, and now, special consultants
on Revs case. Lefi shoved his hair back; a slight smile flitted into his eyes, leaving him
appearing vulnerable.
Lefi. Hope flared and then faded to a spark. He knew there was a lab next door
to Revs room; Lefi had probably spotted him there. This was about the other Valoran.
I saw you were in with Rev. I wanted to get your opinion on how hes doing.
That spark of hope died.
Lefi gestured to a small room; no doubt it was one of those places they took
families to give them bad news. He entered and sat on a chair that faced a long sofa.
The Bacchi flopped onto the couch and for a moment seemed so weary that Afton was
alarmed. He studied Lefis beautiful face, looking for a clue as to what the Somian was
feeling. Lefi gradually pulled himself together, shifting from weary to languorous in a
heartbeat. This was the Bacchi Afton was accustomed tothe sensual, slightly
predatory creature. His heart beat faster with the flirtation. Brutally he beat down the
returning hope.
182 Belinda McBride
Rev is still very sick, and he has few illusions about his future. Afton searched
Lefis face, looking for somethinganythingother than that mask.
Hes refusing to see the Vash. They could help his physical recovery.
They cant help his addiction, Lefi. His brain has been permanently altered.
Lefi stretched an arm over the back of the sofa and stared at Afton. Tell me,
Inspector, when youre in my presence, do you feel different?
What?
You know, beyond the obvious. His eyes crinkled in a smile. Think back.
Weve known each other for a while now. Do you feel a physical difference when in my
presence?
How was he to determine something like that? He looked at the Somian in
confusion. Lefi, how can I answer that? My entire body reacts to you, but that is as
much emotional as physical. I cant separate my feelings for you from my basic physical
reactions.
The smile faded from Lefis face, and he glanced down. Afton
Yes?
He was silent for a long moment. Afton held his breath.
About Rev
He exhaled in disappointment.
Do you think theres a chance he might be attracted to another man?
He sat in stunned amazement. Lefi was asking about something so frivolous?
No, Lefi. Rev orients as a male. Even if he did harbor such attractions, that would
have been destroyed by the treatment he received on the barge. At this point I think
recreational sex is the farthest thing from his mind.
Ah Good. Very good. Lefi nodded, seemingly satisfied. I noticed that when
Rev is exposed to the Partain twins or to myself, his color improves. His vitals
strengthen, and his brain waves move closer to normal. We experimented with Balor
The Bacchi 183
while Drakh watched. We all observed the same thing. Now he smiled. I wish
Taurean was here. We could try with him as well.
Youre sayingthe Somian have a beneficial effect on an addicted Valoran? He
leaned forward, feeling both disbelief and hope. You do You know I can sense
your pheromones. And your nectar.
Another member of the Bacchi asked if youd become addicted to my nectar. In
truth, Afton, Id never even considered that. It frightened me that I might be hurting
you.
Your leaving my life did hurt me, but it hurt my heart. I didnt suffer in the way
Revenant is suffering.
Lefi looked as though hed been hit in the stomach. He paled slightly. Im so very
sorry, Afton. Thats what I was trying to avoid. He looked ashamed. In trying to
protect you, I hurt you.
Why, Lefi? Why do you think I need protection? He stood and tried to pace the
tiny room. There wasnt enough space, so he sat back down. I know you are both an
orphan and a widow, but your heart is strong. Otherwise you wouldnt have survived.
Lefi started to speak, but Afton put up his hand, stopping him. Youre a Bacchi.
Ive known that since the day we first met. Ive seen you with clients. Ive seen you with
patients. I know the difference between the sex you have for your profession and the
love you make with me. Its never bothered me, Lefi. Not in regards to our
relationship.
Across from him, the Bacchi studied his face, seeking the truth.
You seduced me. You charmed me, and you introduced me to the person my
parents tried to hide. But in the end, I fell in love with the brilliant, kind man you really
are. Ive never had that before, and youve cheated me of it now.
His cheeks burned, partly with anger, partly at the unvarnished truth. Lefi looked
at him, clearly speechless. Before the silence between them became awkward, Afton
stood again and crossed the room to the door.
184 Belinda McBride
Afton. Dont leave.
He looked down at his hand on the latch. He could turn it, walk out the door, and
end this thing between him and Lefi. Hed have the control if he did. Or he could stay
and let go of that control, let the Somian take his fate and carry it like a leaf in a river.
Hed get bounced along the way, jostled and wet and swirled around in the current. But
hed be alive, and hed savor the experience.
He twisted the latch and locked the door. When he turned, Lefi was standing,
uncertainty on his face. It was such an odd expression and sat so strangely on him. His
purple eyes were wide and far too bright. One swift glance told Afton another thing: he
was excited. His cock was clearly delineated under his thin trousers. Afton laughed
then, from both fear and happiness.
What? Lefi stared at him as though hed lost his mind, and Afton laughed
harder.
Do you ever not have an erection?
His Bacchi grinned. It seems to be an issue when Im around you.
Afton shoved a hand through his hair and looked at Lefi. Now they were both
smiling, both moving toward each other with tentative hope and need.
I love to watch you laugh. Lefi took a step and extended his hand, touching
Aftons fingers. I like it. You have dimples. And your eyes crinkle at the corners.
It was odd seeing you without your smile. He caught the Somians fingers in
his. He drew them to his mouth and brushed kisses over the knuckles. Lefi didnt move,
so he tugged his hand and pulled him closer. They stood, holding hands and feeling the
warmth of each other.
I dont know if I can
I know. Afton pressed a finger over Lefis lips. But when is love ever without
risk?
The Bacchi 185
Unable to refrain from flirting, Lefi opened his mouth and let Aftons fingers slip
in. He sucked, licked, and nibbled, and Aftons cock stirred. He pulled his fingers away
and moved in to kiss the Somian. He didnt have the patience for gentle flirtation. Afton
slipped his tongue inside Lefis mouth, teased and coaxed, tasting the flavor of the other
mans arousal.
He swept his foot behind Lefis ankle and forced him into a controlled fall. He
followed the Bacchi down to the sofa, then knelt at his side, feverishly worked at the
fastenings of his pants, and yanked them down to his hips. Without any grace or
finesse, he licked Lefis cock, swallowed the head, and tumbled the heavy balls between
his fingers. He wasnt gentle, and the Somian bucked at his touch. The sweet, slightly
briny essence of Lefi spilled over his tongue, and he savored it, feeling the buzz that
came from their combined chemistry.
Lefi gasped and pulled at him to bring him back up, but Afton was determined to
finally feel the spill of the Bacchis seed over his tongue. He massaged the smooth skin
behind his balls and then slipped his fingers back to feel the slick moisture as Lefis
body prepared for penetration.
His body was readying itself to be fucked. Not so different than Aftons body at
all.
He let loose of Lefis heavy cock, changed position, then yanked his pants down
farther before slipping between the fabric and the Somians exposed ass. He licked and
kissed his way down to where Lefis hole glistened, then leaned down and gave a
tentative lick. Instead of sharp and musky, the Somian was sweet. He licked again, then
probed and explored, jerking when Lefi grabbed his head and laced his fingers through
Aftons hair.
Pleaseplease come up.
Afton looked up and blinked. Lefi was undone. Instead of his usual, controlled
sensuality, his skin was flushed and sweaty. He still wore his shirt, though it was
186 Belinda McBride
pushed up to expose his belly and chest. With his free hand, he plucked at his nipple in
mindless pleasure. He arched and writhed in the ecstasy of the moment.
Afton moved up, but only a bit. He slipped a finger into Lefis ass, then gently
thrust. He leaned back down, caught the head of the Bacchis heavy shaft in his mouth,
and pumped till his gag reflex kicked in. When Lefis cock hit the back of his throat,
Afton swallowed convulsively.
Ahhh Lefi cried.
This was for him. Just for him. Afton knew that few of his partners thought about
what they could give Lefi sexually. They only sought his services, his expertise. How
many of his lovers had actually made love to Lefi Dhrahn?
They found a rhythm that worked, Lefis hips thrusting as Aftons head bobbed.
Afton sped up his tentative finger fucking to match their tempo. It was in deep, and
after pulling it out, he licked his fingers, then added a second. On the way in, he felt a
small series of bumps; when he pressed them slightly, the precum flowing into his
mouth became sweeter, and Lefis curses became more foul.
Lefi bucked, his ass clamping down on Aftons hand, and his back arched. Afton
growled in dark, predatory pleasure, looking up the Somians lean body to revel in the
bliss on his beautiful face.
The climax started on a strangled cry. Fingers dug into Aftons scalp, and he felt
sweat breaking on the skin of the Somians thighs and belly. Hot, viscous fluid gushed
into his mouth, then dribbled past his lips as an odd vibration built in Lefis groin. A cry
burst from his lipsagony, joy, and pleasure, all rolled up in itand he froze, clearly at
the peak of his orgasm. He stayed there, occasional spasms rippling through his body,
his breath coming out on a tortured moan.
With a sigh, Lefis body unlocked, went limp and loose, and he sagged back onto
the sofa. His eyes were closed, but his chest rose and fell as he struggled to breathe.
Afton wiped the sweet semen from his lips and sat back, trapped between Lefis body
The Bacchi 187
and the fabric of his pants. Lefi was murmuring in his own language; his voice was
husky and melodic. And it was Aftons name he murmured.
Afton ducked free and tugged at the boots on Lefis legs. Once those were gone
from his unresisting body, he tugged the trousers free. His hands trembled, and when
he looked down, a damp spot had started on his own pants. Afton kicked off his shoes
and undressed, pausing only to strip off his jacket and unbutton his shirt. He settled on
the couch and pulled Lefis legs up over his shoulders. Lefi looked up at him with
heavy-lidded eyes, and though flaccid, his cock was once again beginning to fill.

I WANT YOU now, Lefi. I want to own your body in every way possible. Lefi
looked up at the Valoran in shock and delight. Aftons face was pale, but his eyes had a
fire that arousal had kindled. His hair flopped around his face in loose waves, and his
lips were red and swollen from the blowjob hed just given Lefi.
It had been a very long time since Lefi had been taken so completely. When he
tried to move, Afton paused and glared down at him. Deliberately the Valoran drew his
hand out, then brought it down on Lefis ass with a sharp crack. Lefi jumped and had to
suppress a laugh. Valorans loved control. They craved it. When Afton decided to take a
leap of faith, it was his decision, and he committed to it completely. How had Lefi
fooled himself into believing that he could stop the relationship once Afton decided that
was what he wanted?
And how had he convinced himself that the Valoran was a prude? Nothing
separated them from all the staff, visitors, and patients of the hospital but a flimsy lock
on the door. No wonder Afton hadnt been intimidated by the idea of sex on a stage!
He felt the blunt tip of Aftons cock stroking his, his strong hand squeezing them
together.
Lefi was humbled, nearly as much so as hed been the night Afton had taken him
into his body. His inspector might be a gen, but his male half ruled. He wasnt balanced
as Taurean was, and probably never would be. And he was perfect.
188 Belinda McBride
A bit of pressure made him catch his breath. Afton had nudged his fingers into his
body, forcing Lefi to focus and relax. Anal play was easy for him, but it had been
awhile, and he wanted to savor every second of the experience. He felt every inch of the
invasion, every delightful pulse of blood through his pelvis. Staring down at him,
Aftons expression was open, raw lust in his eyes, and when their gazes met, he smiled.
He smiled! Lefi arched his back as Afton added a finger and thrust deeper, scraping
over the glands that controlled most of the Somian sexual responses.
Lefis cock jerked, and his balls drew tightly to his body. Precum glistened at the
tip of his cock. Afton swiped through the stuff and lifted it to his mouth. The
shimmering fluid shone on his lips.
You like watching me do that. Afton pulled his fingers away, leaned forward,
and covered Lefis body in a show of dominance. The movement forced their shafts
together once again.
Theres not much I dont like watching you do. He tried for a grin but managed
only a crooked smile. Aftons lips met his, and he tasted the sweet flavor of his own
semen on the Valorans mouth and tongue.
Do you like the taste of me? he whispered. How do I feel when Im wrapped
around your fingers?
You feel tight. Hot.
Lefi shifted slightly, urging Afton to move. But he remained still, keeping their
bodies tightly pressed together. You taste like honey. Your seed shimmers like
stardust.
Youre so poetic.
No, Lefi, youre more like a song that Nature herself would sing.
His gaze burned, and Lefi looked away. Afton gripped his chin and brought him
back. What color were her eyes?
He didnt need to ask what Afton meant. Hed told him once before.
The Bacchi 189
He swallowed. Green. Mhara had green eyes.
Afton studied him, looking at Lefis eyes, his face. Your eyes are purple, but
sometimes theres a flash of green deep inside.
He couldnt stop the sob that came from deep within. Another sob rose, and Afton
rested his weight on Lefis torso. He nuzzled and kissed his chest, then finally moved,
pumping until Lefi joined in his movement. Their cocks slid together, then parted.
Droplets of precum eased their way out, making them both slick. Tears ran down his
face, but Afton kissed them away. Once again their lips met and gently dueled for
position.
Dont cry, he whispered.
Lefi gave a short, shaky laugh. Im not sad, Afton. Its justbeing with you. He
cradled Aftons face in his palm. You bring me joy; Im not quite sure what to do with
that anymore.
Accept it. Afton nipped his lip, following with a lick. Enjoy it. Another kiss.
He pulled away from Lefis body, his face contorting slightly. The pleasure your body
gives He gasped and dropped his head to Lefis shoulder. Im afraid I cantbe
moderate
Just fuck me, Aftonhard. Lefi tilted his hips, encouraging the Valoran to join
him again. Afton turned his head slightly, closing his eyes in blissed-out concentration.
He braced himself on his arms, changing his leverage, while Lefi grabbed his hips and
forced Afton to greater speed.
He couldnt look away. Aftons fair skin was stained with the flush of sexual
arousal; sweat beaded over his lip, and Lefi arched up to catch it on his tongue. He
savored the salt, the slight echo of his own sweet flavor. Afton breathed heavily, and the
rush of his warm breath teased Lefis ear. His body was soaring, and just behind it, his
mind flew. Fear was leeched away and caught up in the sensual rush. Lefi believed.
Oh Goddess I love you, Afton!
190 Belinda McBride
As though the words threw him over the edge, his inspector went taut as a
bowstring, and a cry left his lips. Lefi felt the rush of seed wet his belly. He wrapped his
arms tightly around the Valoran, groaning as his own climax broke from his body,
shaking him, stretching him, and leaving him wrung out and limp. They rocked
together, milking every shudder, every spasm till they were both sated.
They lay on an old sofa in a hospital waiting room, their bodies meshed, their
breaths in a syncopated rhythm. Lefi pressed his forehead against Aftons shoulder.
Did I really just say that?
Afton turned his head and looked right into Lefis eyes. His were beautiful, so
dark and bright, heavily rimmed with jet-black lashes. Once again he surprised Lefi
with his smile.
You did just say that. And I wont let you forget. He kissed Lefis nose and
shifted slightly to get comfortable. But he stayed there, not struggling against Lefis
embrace.
I think you and your scientist friends might be on to something.
Lefi had let his eyes slip closed and simply enjoyed the sensation of melting.
Usually sex was part of his discipline. He enjoyed it enough, but he wasnt the focus of
someones passion. Now, though, he was the center of one mans universe. And that
man meant the world to him.
What do you mean?
I felt miserable all the time we were apart. Now I feel much, much better. Afton
sighed heavily.
Thats just the sex talking. Lefi smiled and stroked Aftons fine, muscular ass.
All the nectar and pheromones and the chemicals in your brain.
Then maybe I am addicted to you. But only you. Afton kissed the side of his
nose, causing Lefi to smile. Thank you for your love. You must know that it is
returned.
The Bacchi 191
Lefi looked up at the Valoran and let the moment sink deep into his very heart
and soul. I know it is. And Im humbled. Grateful.
Damn tears were pricking at his eyes again. So he closed them and pulled Afton
tightly to his body.
192 Belinda McBride
Chapter Sixteen
The evening air was warm and fragrant. Slowly they walked through the maze
into the garden. Afton smiled as Lefis hand brushed his, and he remembered days long
ago when hed been painfully young and uncertain. Hed had a crush on a girl his age,
and theyd walked like this, hands brushing, hearts pounding.
Back then hed been full of fear and uncertainty about what to do. That was no
longer an issue. He clasped Lefis hand in his and laced their fingers together.
They strolled, looking up at the sky, in awe of the starscape. Their bare feet in the
floral grass released perfume into the air, and the trickle of water in the small creek
added music to the setting. Lefi squeezed his hand before letting go. He stood before
the statue of the graceful dancing goddess that looked over the garden.
Tonight they werent alone. He heard soft laughter from deeper in the garden.
Being herebeing happythat is tribute to the goddess. Lefi looked up at her
with a rapturous smile on his face. I come here so often seeking her strength. Tonight
my happiness returns that strength to her.
Such a typically Somian way of looking at faith. Aftons people were pragmatic
nonbelievers. Only the whimsical gen toyed with the concept of religion.
He enjoyed the idea that a nature goddess looked over their happiness. If hed
known of her years ago, Afton might not have felt the need to separate himself from his
family and people.
You sighed, Afton. What has you sad in such a beautiful place? Lefi turned to
him. His hair was still slightly tangled from their earlier lovemaking. Afton caught his
scent on the Bacchi and was pleased. It marked Lefi as his.
The Bacchi 193
Not sad. I just realized that its time to connect with my family again. Its been
too long.
Lefi sat down in the grass and leaned back on his arms. Again, you lead where I
should follow. I never had a falling-out with my family; I was simply too shattered to
remain with them after
Yes. He understood completely. And he felt bad for the Dhrahn family; theyd
lost both their children that day.
After my captivity, I felt so much shame. The years passed before I realized how
fast time slips away.
Afton nodded. A pact, then. Tonight when we arrive at our homes, we contact
our loved ones.
Agreed. Lefi smiled. But I hoped you would come home with me. Or I with
you.
Afton knelt in the grass, then slid down to sit next to Lefi. Its late. Your home is
closer. Lefi tugged at him, and he lay down, his head resting on the Bacchis muscular
thigh. I never told youyou were very heroic back on the barge when you carried Rev
to safety.
Lefi was running his fingers through Aftons hair, following the waves and bends.
I? We would never have escaped if not for you. I had no idea you could fight so well!
Im an ICE officer. I had to pass all the mandatory martial arts requirements.
Well, you were impressive, Inspector. Particularly those kicks. I didnt know the
Valorans fought in that fashion.
Afton smiled, thinking of all the endless hours hed drilled in combat. Those
arent all Valoran forms. Some were from human cultures. I even know some of the
Zamoran sets, though they dont adapt quite so well to taller species.
194 Belinda McBride
Lefi gently massaged his temples, and Afton sighed. There was peace to be found
in the midst of so much pleasure. It almost swept away the disappointments from work,
from being removed from a case that had taken so much of his focus.
And now?
He looked up at Lefi in question.
Real life just crossed your mind, Afton. Youre unhappy.
He started to rise, but the Bacchi gently pushed him back down. Afton took a deep
breath and tried to relax.
Listen to the sound of the water. Smell the flowers on the breeze.
Afton followed his instructions and felt his muscles begin to loosen slightly. When
his body relaxed, his mind followed.
Ive been taken from the case. They commended me, thanked me for my service,
but my superiors are sending the case up higher. There are so many small threads, and
they are looking for a larger pattern.
I dont believe there is a single entity behind this, Afton. Sex trafficking is
prevalent throughout the coalition and beyond. Im sure there are large, organized
operations, but in Revs case it seems to be opportunistic.
Thus it needs to be approached differently. Its almost a social norm. Ordinary
people visit the barges not realizing theyre feeding such a vile tradition.
He sat up and turned to face the Somian. It needs to be treated as a social issue in
the minds of the people, aside from being a crime.
Lefi leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees. True. The Bacchi
Guild is working here in the Landis system to revitalize our old mission. I know
President Zaah is communicating with other branches of the guild. But we are members
of the class that is victimized.
And Im a member of the class that dispenses justice.
The Bacchi 195
A breeze blew through, slightly chilly, lifting Lefis hair. Afton, its the group in
the middle that needs to be enlightened. The guild can work with ICE, but well be
patching the problem. Its the men and women who unknowingly buy the services of
bonded prostitutes who can stop this. It will never stop, not all the way. But we can
help.
Afton shivered slightly. He stood, then offered Lefi his hand. When the Bacchi was
on his feet, he didnt let go. The laughter that carried on the breeze had shifted; now he
heard soft moans of pleasure. Happiness. He glanced up at the face of the goddess and
paused for a moment.
The smile on her face hadnt been there before.
Do you know why I like our goddess so much? Lefi smiled up at the statue, an
expression of wonder on his face. He then looked at Afton. Shes like me. An orphan
and a widow. Shes alone, yet she still smiles. The happiness of her children brings her
joy.
Thats very touching.
Lefi tugged his hand, and they made their way from the garden to wander the
streets on their way back to Lefis home in the sky.
* * * *
It was a dream. He knew it was a dream, but Lefi sat up and stared in wonder at the golden
glow. He was in the garden, though he knew he was really in his bed with Afton sleeping
soundly beside him. But he was in the gardenand he was not alone.
The bench was soft, and next to him she sat gazing at him with an indescribable expression
on her face.
Love.
Mhara?
Shhh She pressed a finger over his lips. Its a dream.
A dream, yesbut youre real.
196 Belinda McBride
I suppose I am. She smiled, and Lefi saw that the young Mhara had given way to a
woman. What a gift to see who shed have become. Silently he thanked the goddess.
Afton says you never left me.
In answer, she pressed her palm over his heart. I live here now.
And you wont leave me again?
Never.
He rested his hand over hers. Why didnt I ever feel you before?
Because you couldnt hear me. Not until he came and made you listen.
Im so sorry, Mhara.
She shook her head at his apology. Im sorry for your grief. Im sorry we lost our future
together. She smiled, and her green eyes glistened in the moonlight. Since it was a dream, he
clearly saw the color in the darkness. Lefi traced a single finger down her cheek. You are so
beautiful.
I am you, Lefi. She stroked his hair, and he began to grow unbearably sleepy.
Dont leave me. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but she grew dim. Panic flared in his
chest. Mhara!
Be at peace, Lefi. Im always with you. Forever.
Forever. My heart.
* * * *
Lefi woke to an empty bed, a sated body, and a handwritten note on the pillow. In
his perfect, artistic script, Afton told him hed gone to work and would call in the
afternoon. Lefi stretched, grinning happily. The yawn that followed nearly cracked his
jaw.
He rolled out of bed and trudged to his desk to check messages. One made him sit
down, slightly breathless.
Before going to sleep, he and Afton had both written to their families. There was
no answer yet; he hadnt expected one. But a live transmission was waiting. He
The Bacchi 197
accepted the request and hurried to the bathroom, where he washed and dressed as he
waited for the long-distance relay to begin.
Hello?
He hurried back to the desk and sat, then smiled at the holographic display in
front of him. General Hawke, its wonderful to see you!
Griffin Hawke gave him a slight smile. The man was dour, reserving most of his
softness for his family and his lover. He was ruggedly handsome, and as usual, Lefis
body reacted to the man. Now, though, it was just part of being a Somian.
I have someone who wants to talk to you.
He raised a brow as Griffin moved the screen back slightly. He then lifted a child,
black-haired and wearing an eye patch similar to his, onto his lap. He and Griffin had
tried to coax Maia into having restorative surgery, but shed refused, finding security in
her similarity to her father. Next to him, Lauren slid onto the bench. Her blonde hair
was braided, and her blue eyes were large and expressive.
Girls! Im so happy to see you!
Lauren grinned, and Maia ducked her head shyly. Theyd grown quite a lot but
were still the little girls he remembered. Lefi glanced up at Griffin in question.
They have something to tell you. And a question.
Daddys getting married, Maia blurted. To Papa.
Maia, I was going to tell! Lauren glared at her sister.
No, I was. You were gonna ask.
Griffin slipped a hand over Maias mouth. Its your sisters turn. She nodded,
and he dropped his hand, then kissed the top of her head.
Lauren straightened up in the chair, her anger quickly shifting to excitement. We
want you to come! Can you come?
Its an invitation. To the royal wedding, Maia said primly.
Yes, youre invited. Please.
198 Belinda McBride
Both girls were practically hopping out of range of the camera. Lefi laughed,
delighted to see them doing so well. Obviously it had been a good year.
Yes, please say you can come! Maia rarely spoke so freely.
Lefi met Griffins gaze. How can I say no to the commands of the princesses of
Neo Domus?
Both girls went perfectly still. Were princesses? Laurens blue eyes were wide.
You will be when your father and Papa marry. Am I right, General?
Griffin shook his head ruefully. You are indeed right. But now theyre going to
Lauren burst off the chair. Alexander! Alex! Maia struggled off Griffins lap and
vanished, her footsteps fading.
Umsorry? Lefi winced.
Yes. We hadnt quite gotten to that part of the explanation, Griffin said wryly.
Just dont tell them Im the queen. Thatuhno. Dont go there.
Lefi chuckled. Well, Im glad to send my felicitations to you both. Please let me
know when, and Ill certainly be there.
Well arrange transport. Itll be in the next few weeks. The council is still reeling
from the announcement.
Theyre still objecting to the marriage?
Griffins face went dark. Its understandable. They want more Daysprings.
The royal family had nearly been decimated at the hands of invading Landaun
forces. While King Helios had a son, his people craved the security of more members of
the ruling house.
For what its worth, Im glad you two are moving ahead. Love is a rare thing and
should not be squandered. He thought of Mhara and, for the first time, remembered
her without pain freezing his heart.
Thank you. As we settle the details, Ill make certain youre notified.
Lefi cleared his throat slightly. If its acceptable, may I bring a companion?
The Bacchi 199
Another Somian? I dont know Griffin looked stern, but a dimple played in
his cheek. You alone are trouble enough. You broke hearts when you left us.
No, not a Somian. Hes a Valoran, and I assure you, Afton will keep me on a
short leash. No more rampant flirtation.
Really? Griffin smiled openly now, curiosity playing over his face. A Valoran
and a Somian? Thats just He shook his head. That just boggles the mind. Helios
will be intrigued. So yes, bring your Valoran. If nothing else, you two will give the
council members something new to think about!
Im grateful, General. And your daughters They look and sound wonderful.
Are they doing well? He felt somewhat winsome; theyd clearly moved on in his
absence.
Yes, there are still nightmares and sometimes tears. But both talk freely about the
past.
And you?
Griffins cheeks flushed. He ducked his head slightly. Im dealing. Imhappy.
And Helios?
Griffin looked away, over the level of the screen. The expression on his face was
telling. He was worried but not strained. Helios has been through some rough times.
He believeswell It doesnt matter. Hes coping and coming to grips with the
memories that have resurfaced. Now were ready to move on.
So much left unsaid. As their counselor Lefi knew much of their secrets and pain.
He didnt press Griffin; clearly they had once again taken control of their lives.
Im glad to hear that. And Im thrilled to come witness your nuptials. Thank you
for thinking of me.
Thank you foreverything. Justeverything. Griffin gazed at him steadily, and
Lefi knew in his heart hed made a difference with this family. And it felt good. Hed
take that feeling and carry it into his day with Rev and the refugees Taurean was
200 Belinda McBride
bringing to L14. Later hed take it to the displaced AmWere whod rest here following
their emigration from Earth.
The screen went dark as the communication ended, and Lefi rose to cross to his
wardrobe. He chose his clothing carefully, donning a pale blue shirt and dark green
trousers. They were cut modestly so Rev wouldnt be confronted with Lefis sexuality.
He stood before the mirror, tying his hair back in a neat tail. Before leaving, he checked
his comm once again, hoping for a message from Afton or his family.
* * * *
Lefi, look at this!
He walked into the lab in time to see that the Partain twins were viewing a news
loop. Glancing up, he saw that Rev was sitting up, viewing the same programming. In a
rush, Lefi darted to his door, followed by the Partains.
Rev nearly panted in his excitement. Thats Sly! They have Sly!
And up front and center was Afton, leading the man down the gangway of an ICE
cruiser. His heart swelled in pride. Obviously his inspector hadnt been pulled from the
investigation after all.
Balor turned up the sound, but the newscast was coming to an end.
They said my rescue from the Watchman gave just cause for a warrant to be
served. When they got there, it was early morning. They raided the bar and its offices,
and found that Sly had been deeply involved in kidnappings here on L17. Rev was
pale but excited. He moved awkwardly, his arm still hampered by an IV tube. His eyes
were red-rimmed and his emotions high.
Lefi reached out and clasped his hand as Balor and Drakh patted his shoulders.
He accepted their touch briefly and then shrugged them off. But still, it was better than
when hed cringed in their presence. They sat surrounding him, ready to catch Rev if
his emotions proved too much to deal with. A few moments into the broadcast, the
The Bacchi 201
image cut to another ship on a landing pad. Lefi spotted Taurean immediately; his vivid
red hair looked like blood in the sunshine. Rev gasped, his hands clenching his thighs.
Several others followed Taurean from his ship; judging by the numbers, it must
have been a tight fit. Lefi spotted the Vash hed seen working at the club. Her pale hair
glistened, and she wore dark glasses. She shielded her face from the sun with her hand.
He wanted to call Afton but knew the inspector would be tied up many hours
more. He rose and paced, his nerves keeping him on edge. Balor and Drakh returned to
their lab, and Lefi realized Rev was watching him. Lefi should have been sitting, talking
to the patient. After all, the Valoran had just witnessed the arrest of his captor and the
arrival of an old friend. But Rev no longer watched the broadcast; he watched Lefi.
You love him.
Lefi smiled but didnt deny it.
Its funny. I never saw the two of you together after that night. Never made any
sort of connection between you two. Im not surprised hes been resisting you. Our
species dont really seem like a good match.
But they are. Lefi sat on the edge of his bed and looked down at the Valorans
pale face. And Im afraid Im the one whos been resisting. Ironic, since I pursued him
ruthlessly for nearly a year.
You chased him, and he caught you. Rev gave one of his rare smiles. It often
seems to happen that way.
Is that what happened between you and Taurean?
Revenant turned his head from Lefi. It was never that way between us.
Because he was your friend and never thought of you that way.
Rev looked at him, and the sadness in his eyes was heartrending. It doesnt
matter what might have been. That was long ago, and this is what I am now. I have no
future.
Balor and Dhrak are working hard to reclaim your future.
202 Belinda McBride
The Valoran looked away again and gazed through the window. Perhaps I dont
want a future, Lefi. Every time I close my eyes, I see things no person should see. I feel
the beatings, the violations. When Im awake, I cant stop remembering them. He
wearily rubbed his dark eyes. I craveall the timecrave something to take it away,
to make it bearable. I hurt, from my bones and blood out to my skin.
You were exposed to many drugs and chemicals.
And Im addicted to every one of them. Im not stupid. I know thisagony is
what I will face all the days of my life. And yet His hand clenched and released.
There were tiny half-moons of blood in his palm. And yet Im too cowardly to end
things. Im too frightened the pain and thirst will follow me even into death.
You will look forward when you must. Lefi gripped Revs hand and squeezed it
tightly, knowing the marks would sting and burn. You will take every breath as
though it is your first. Every hour and every day is a separate battle. Soon your victories
will outnumber your defeats.
I hurt.
Lefi knew he wasnt speaking of his body, though he was undoubtedly racked
with pain.
Rev, when Taurean arrives, should I bring Rev shook his head before the
question was even finished. You seem to draw comfort from Afton.
The inspector didnt know mebefore.
Taurean went to great lengths to see that you were rescued.
Im tired, Bacchi. Id like to rest, and your Afton will be finished soon. Hell wish
to share his day with you.
In spite of the dismissal, Lefi smiled and rose to his feet. He will be excited. He
wont show it, though. I should prepare a celebration.
If theres one thing we Valoran have, its pride. Hell appreciate that.
The Bacchi 203
At the doorway, Lefi paused, then turned to look back at Revenant. He looked like
a ghost there in his bed. He wasnt losing weight, but he wasnt gaining either. That had
his doctors and healers worried.
Pride.
Even through the wreckage of his existence, Revenant was slowly gathering the
tatters of his pride and holding it close. It would help him recover, but at the same time
his pride could create a glossy mask over a broken spirit. Lefi gently closed the door
behind him and entered the lab. Balor and Drakh were busy at separate workstations.
Theyd brought in a Vash healer, who studied the mountains of notes theyd made; she
glanced up at him and smiled. She was slightly flushed; her cheeks and lips were soft
pink.
Chances were pretty good the Somian twins would soon be showing her their
research up close and personal.
He smiled and glanced at the time. He had an appointment with the head of the
Bacchi Guild in just minutes. Lefi hurried out of the room and down the hall, wishing
time would fly so he could be at Aftons side again soon.
204 Belinda McBride
Chapter Seventeen
Afton grinned.
In fact, he chuckled. He sat at his desk and worked on the reports that always
followed a big arrest, and he shook his head. Damn He was nearly gleeful! After
believing himself off the case and out of the loop, the evidence he and Lefi had gathered
led to an arrest warrant through local ICE. Theyd brought in a small group of specially
trained personnel, and with the cooperation of the Rapscallions administration and
security, had made the raid.
Hed been inclined to believe it was all too easy, but in truth the dirty bar would
probably be confiscated and put to more lucrative use within days. Sly and several of
his staff were now languishing in cells and would stand trial shortly. The physical
evidence was strong, and the bar owners own records gave them the locations of
several missing men and women. Even now ICE hunter-trackers were being dispatched
to liberate the victims.
Other officers were recounting the raid; someone slapped him on the back and
praised him for a job well done. Theyd all seen the security footage of the night he and
Lefi had rescued Rev. Hed not only delivered a neat case, hed come out of it having
proven himself in the field.
Heading out soon?
Commander Reynolds paused by his desk. He hadnt accompanied them on the
raid but, in the end, took most of the responsibility for it. He hadnt taken the credit,
though. If things had gone wrong, it would have rebounded on him. Afton and his
team got the glory; Reynolds got the red tape. Hed be here long past hours,
The Bacchi 205
coordinating all the evidence, the paperwork, and the statements, weaving them into
one cohesive account.
I am. Lefis in a meeting. Im seeing him later tonight.
You and the Bacchi, for real. His smile was merciless. Just weeks ago Afton
couldnt have held up under his humor. HmmI just dont see it.
Well, with luck, you wont. Afton stood and pulled his uniform jacket from the
back of his chair. He might be something of an exhibitionist, but Im still a Valoran.
The commander chuckled and started back to his office. I hear Judge Hoff is
rather fond of your man. Maybe we should have your Bacchi wait for you in the judges
office while you present the arrest warrants for his final seal. The commander grinned
and left Afton at his desk.
His heart pounded. That was a duty generally reserved for the charge officer in a
case; hed assumed Reynolds would do it.
He then remembered Lefis treatment at the hands of Judge Hoff, and a flush
ofjealousy ran through him.
Jealousy. Not a good thing for the companion of a Bacchi. The idea distracted him
from the scattered chorus of good wishes and congratulations. He went out into the
twilight, smiling absently as the group of Vash schoolchildren passed him by. As usual,
the single rogue in the well-ordered group made a wayward course, meriting the full
attention of one of the teachers. She caught his gaze and smiled, shaking her head
ruefully.
For the first time, he caught up with the group as they paused for traffic.
On their way to school? It was hard to determine age in the Vash; they were as
pale as the moon, and even the older men and women were graceful and ethereal. This
woman could be in her middle years or she could be elderly.
These are war children from the orphanage. Most of their parents were
kidnapped to serve some of the more aggressive species during war. Unfortunately
206 Belinda McBride
many of them never came back. She smiled sadly, squeezing the hand of the child who
stood with her. We visit the hospitals first thing so the children can connect with those
needing company. It gives the patients something to look forward to and the children a
relationship they need, as they have no surviving families. They also begin to form
healing bonds and empathy.
He looked closer. Under the matching white uniforms and head scarves, a few
other races were mixed in among the Vash, or perhaps they were mixed species. There
were orphanages among his people as well. Somehow he doubted the Somian had such
institutions. They seemed to count every person as family.
Would Lefis family accept him? He had his doubts about his own family. Hed
received a curt message from his father, thanking him for the update. No words of love,
and certainly no suggestion that he should return home. Hed read the message and
wasnt surprised at all, except for the unexpected hurt hed felt. Hed been so desperate
to leave home and family, and now he missed them. Perhaps hed simply left too many
words unsaid.
The small group started out across the street, and Afton turned in another
direction. He wanted to visit Rev, but the Partains had told him the patient wanted
solitude for meditation.
That left home or Lefis. He could head for the Bacchis habitat and wait for him in
bed. A smile tugged at his lips as he thought about Lefis toy closet and of the decadent
robes in his bedroom.
Or he could wait for his lover in the living area, lounging naked and ready for Lefi
to come home
His cock hardened, and he tugged at his uniform tunic, grateful it covered his
groin.
Home first. Hed shower and change, as his skin and clothing carried the smell of
sweaty, dirty criminals. And he needed a little time alone to think about his odd
jealousy. Granted, he wasnt intimately familiar with disruptive emotions. He thought
The Bacchi 207
back to when he saw Lefi with the human woman, and that didnt bother him at all. In
the past year, hed seen the Bacchi with other clients. He thought of the sensual kisses
theyd shared with Taurean and again, felt arousal, not this angry, dark emotion.
He finally arrived at the gate to his apartment and slipped off his right glove to
key his code into the tiny pad. The gate swung open silently, and he entered the cool
garden plaza that made living in the city bearable. It was lovely, but not as lovely as the
view from Lefis elevated apartment. Nor was it as magical as the Somian garden.
Lefi had taken that tower apartment for his safety. Afton frowned, remembering
that night long ago when hed first met the stunning Somian. His residence had been
ransacked, and Lefi himself had been assaulted by the intruder. There was no place that
was completely safe for a sex worker. Between his beauty and wealth, not to mention
his profession, Lefi drew dangerous attention to himself. It bothered Afton that his
lover faced danger and biased behavior on a daily basis.
The judge had been playing a sexual game, but it was fueled by threats and
bigotry.
Again, that dark feeling came over him. It wasnt jealousy but rather protective
rage. He didnt want Lefi in danger. He didnt want him treated unfairly. Lefi should be
cherished and protected, not exploited.
Afton gripped the glove in his left hand and lay his right palm flat over the lock-
plate of his apartment door. His hand tingled, and he glanced down at it, then rubbed
the tips of his fingers together. It didnt hurt, but it feltstrange. And there were traces
of powder on his fingertips. From the keypad.
Behind him, Afton heard soft voices. Footsteps.
He felt warm. The sensation ran up his arm and quickly affected his entire body.
He felt remote and blissful. Suddenly unable to support his weight, he slumped
forward and staggered as the door to his apartment swung open. He took a step and
then another, knowing if he could swing the door closed behind him, hed be safe. But
208 Belinda McBride
Afton didnt make it more than a few inches over the threshold. When he went down,
the door wedged against his body.
Hed been drugged. Trapped.
He laughed, not caring that hands were lifting him from the ground. They
dragged him into his apartment. The sounds of booted feet and muffled voices reached
his ears, and bliss turned to panic. Afton struggled, shouting and scrambling to his feet,
but he was brutally slammed into the wall, and when his head snapped back, stars
sparkled through his vision. Warm blood caressed his cheeks, dripping down to vanish
into the midnight fabric of his tunic. He was injured, yet it was oddly painless.
Fear flooded his systemhe hadnt heard from Lefi beyond a quick note hours
ago. Was his lover safe? Would he wonder what happened?
He felt pressure at his neck, and then a cold burn stung his skin, and sensual
warmth flooded his body. An erection grew as everything else went limp. His entire
world focused on that single carnal need. His hips thrust involuntarily, and Afton slid
to the floor. Under the gossamer veil of giddy happiness, he grieved because he could
never go back.
In the space of a heartbeat, hed losteverything.
* * * *
So you plan to join the Bacchi Guild? Lefi stretched slightly, then relaxed back
into the plush chair. The large conference table was now empty; the electronic displays
had been powered down. He and Taurean sat across from each other. And you request
that I serve as your mentor?
It seems the best way to protect my people. A few have decided to return to their
homes, but some no longer feel accepted or needed by their own people. Others were
sex workers before they were defrauded by the brothels they contracted to. They wish
to continue in the profession. If we come under the umbrella of the guild, theres a
better chance of safety for us all.
The Bacchi 209
Lefi studied the Valoran. He was certainly stunning. His features were refined,
and his neck was long and graceful. His hair was pulled tightly back, as though the
rigid Valoran was reasserting himself. The hairstyle played up his gen features,
showing off his honey-brown eyes.
Lovely, but not as beautiful as Afton.
Thoughts of his inspector made him check the time; they were to meet very soon.
It had been a challenge to keep his mind off Afton during the meeting with the guild.
Lefi felt lighter than he had in ages. He felt passion for his job again and was ready to
start working with Taureans people as well as with the AmWere refugees.
I thought you wished to help in the hunt for your cousin.
I plan to. But my understanding is that most Bacchi have talents and interests
outside the actual profession. Im a pilot, and oddly enough, Im very good at it.
Why odd? Lefi asked.
Because I never wanted to be a pilot; I trained to be a dancer and acrobat. He
smiled. Dancing served me well at the Illusion, but it wont help in the search for my
cousin.
But it will certainly enhance your career as a Bacchi. Lefi looked him over
critically. If Taurean turned his mind to it, he could be a formidable member of the
guild.
So entering this profession is more a financial decision than choosing a vocation
that makes you happy.
Taurean sighed. I bankrupted myself leaving the Illusion and now must earn a
living. I cant hunt for Cali if I cant power my ship or feed the crew. And frankly, Lefi,
the idea of it appeals to my more decadent nature.
Joining the Bacchi requires extensive training. Thats why you are assigned a
mentor.
210 Belinda McBride
I understand that, Lefi, but if I make L17 my home base, Ill dedicate my time
here to training with you. Is that acceptable? Taurean leaned into the table. He was
anxious, and Lefi sensed no deception. But the Valoran were tricky in the realms of
politics. Hed need to remember that about Taurean. That same trait would suit him
well in the profession.
How many of your people remain behind with you?
Enough to man my ship. He grinned. Of course, it might get crowded if we
entertain clients, but we can do some interior renovation.
You mean to conduct business from the cruiser? Lefi arched a brow. It could
work, but only if you are diligent about observing the laws and customs of the systems
you visit.
Which is where the guild comes in. If Im a member in good standing He
laced his fingers anxiously.
It would certainly be an effective cover. But Lefi had to question whether the
refugees would have the skills to effectively fly a cruiser into deep space. He supposed
that was Taureans problem. Ill talk to Zaah about your request. And Afton as well.
Taking on a protg will certainly alter my professional life.
It felt odd to make decisions with another person in mind. In fact, he wasnt sure
how deeply he and Afton wereor would beinvolved. It still felt good; Afton had
filled an empty spot he hadnt really been aware of.
Granted, the loneliness of being an orphan was always present, but he hadnt
realized how much he missed the simple give-and-take of having a companion. He
hadnt fully comprehended how much hed needed it until he had it.
Youre thinking of him.
Lefi smiled. Its a rare moment that I dont think of him. They lacked the deep,
psychic connection hed had with his sister, but when they were together, Afton was so
easy to read. The inspector didnt need to speak: his face, body languageeven his
The Bacchi 211
scentgave him away. That was how hed known the rigid Valoran was not only a
gender neutral, but strongly attracted to Lefi.
Howhow is Rev? Taurean looked steadily at Lefi, seeming more Valoran by
the moment. Earlier on, hed been so elaborately sensual. He wondered which version
of the man was real. This version wasnt giving much away.
Revenant isalive. Hes recovering physically, thanks to a combination of
medicine and the ministrations of the Vash. Hes fortunate there is a large population
here. In the beginning there was a healer at his side every moment. They traded off
nearly hourly. But that wasnt what Taurean was asking. He dropped his gaze to the
tabletop where the embedded computer had gone dim.
Hes very sick. The addiction has impacted the neurological pathways in his
brain. He is depressed, in pain, and traumatized by his treatment in the bar.
You saw some of what they did to him? Taureans voice had a slight tremor. I
heardstories. Rumors.
It was bad, Taurean. Very bad. He flinches when hes touched and can barely
tolerate the presence of other people, specifically men. He paused for a moment,
collecting his thoughts. He derives some comfort from being in the presence of Afton.
He recalls the inspector protecting us as we fled. And weve noticed that he finds some
degree of relief from his addiction while in the presence of Somian.
Taurean stared blankly at the table. The Somian make him feel better?
The researchers dont know why yet, but weve made several observations.
When one of us is near, his vital signs stabilize. His cravings subside a bit.
Taurean rose and paced the room. He turned back to Lefi. You mean hell have to
hand hold one of your people the rest of his life?
I mean the Partain brothers are studying the effect. There may be a component in
the physiology of my people that is beneficial to yours. I know Afton is affected by my
pheromones but never becomes intoxicated by them. Nor does he seem dependent.
212 Belinda McBride
He didnt want to go into detail about how he delivered those pheromones to his
lover. Just the thought made him ache for Afton. He glanced at the time again. Afton
should have been coming off shift now. Aside from a brief bit of messaging back and
forth, they hadnt spoken. He was eager to see the Valoran. With a smile he rose, hands
behind his back.
And now, its time for me to find my inspector. Id like to celebrate with him.
Hell appreciate that. Taurean still paced. May I go visit Rev?
Not yet. His pride, you know. And judging by the look on Taureans face, the
Valoran did know. He was a gen and no doubt had a great deal of empathy for others.
Hed understand, but Lefi knew he felt hurt.
Hes here because of me, you know. He looked up, a world of pain and guilt in
his dark eyes. He came for me and I sent him away. All my life hes been my friend,
and he was just trying to help me.
Lefi just nodded. Taurean didnt want comfort. He simply wanted to put his guilt
into words. Later, if he followed through and became a trainee in the Bacchi Guild, hed
have to learn to grapple with these feelings.
They walked out together, through the hushed, luxurious halls and into the foyer
of the guilds headquarters. Where are you staying?
The guild has arranged for temporary housing while we get back on our feet. Its
not far from here. Im to visit ICE headquarters before going home. He smiled wryly.
Their prosecutor wants to interview me. Again.
Get used to it. Lefi laughed. Ill go with you. If Im lucky, Ill catch Afton before
he leaves for the day.
It must be a challenge, being in a relationship with an inspector. I imagine his job
has long hours as well as hazards.
The Bacchi 213
Taurean, I cant imagine its more difficult than being in love with a Bacchi. He
expected a laugh, but the Valoran simply smiled sadly. Lefi grimaced at his own words.
When I say it out loud, it does seemunlikely to last.
Dont. Taurean turned to face him. It might be difficult, but if the love is real, it
will only grow. He squeezed Lefis arm. Love is far too rare to question. Just accept
Afton for who he is, and hell do the same for you.
Valorans arent known for being as flexible as you seem to be.
No, but Afton isnt the average Valoran either. Though his upbringing put the
stamp of a male on him, he was born to be a gen. Were somewhat more free in our
thinking. He winked at Lefi and led the way out into the late afternoon sunlight. In just
minutes the Vash would be out to begin their day, and thered be a slight surge in
motorized traffic. He and Taurean walked companionably down the wide walkway.
The sun was setting, and shift changes were taking place. At the hospital, it would
seem as though time ceased to exist; Balor and Drakh would continue their single-
minded focus on their research, and Rev would track the day by the light outside his
window. As for himself and Afton? Well, he was hungry. Perhaps hed order dinner or
take Afton back to his favorite restaurant. Perhaps theyd indulge in more than food.
His fantasies tied him up, and when they arrived at the building in which Afton
worked, he was aroused and anxious. Would he be violating protocol by visiting his
lover? Would Afton be disturbed that his coworkers knew about their relationship?
Before he could manufacture any more questions, they were inside, speaking to a
Zamoran who was just settling in at his desk. In moments a man he vaguely recognized
as Aftons superior came striding down the hall. The commander started to shake hands
with Taurean and then smiled, dropping his arms to his side.
Sorry, I tend to forget. I know Inspector Teris tends to wear gloves. He glanced
at Taureans naked hands. The commander then looked at Lefi. You missed Inspector
Teris. He left about an hour ago. I assumed hed be heading for your place.
214 Belinda McBride
Oh, I havent been at home yet. He gave the commander his best smile and was
amused when the mans cheeks grew ruddy. He often had that effect on heterosexual
males. Still flushing, Commander Reynolds escorted Taurean down the hall. He waved
at the Valoran and headed back for the street, pulling his comm from his pocket. There
was no answer. He slipped the unit away, and for the first time, uneasiness began to
take hold.
Afton was almost ritualistic about his job. His uniform was always pressed and
perfect; hed probably never been late in his life. He always completed his paperwork
before leaving for the day, and he was certain Afton would never ignore a call.
Perhaps he was showering. Or napping.
Perhaps he couldnt take the call.
Lefi walked faster; by the time he reached the elevator to his building, he was
running.
The Bacchi 215
Chapter Eighteen
Can you please give me his address? I know the neighborhood, but I dont know
the building.
Lefi paced the dark street, rubbing his chest. Afton hadnt been at Lefis
apartment, though that was where theyd agreed to meet. He still wasnt answering his
comm. In frustration, Lefi cut off the dispatcher before he could answer.
Can you please relay a message to Commander Reynolds? He may still be in his
office.
The commander is in a meeting.
And one of his inspectors might be in danger.
There was an exaggerated sigh from the other end of the line. And this is?
Ba For the first time in his life, Lefi hesitated about stating his profession.
Normally hed state it without a thought to the opinion of the human he was speaking
to. This is Lefi Dhrahn. Im consulting on the trafficking case. He bit the inside of his
cheek, wondering if by any miracle his urgency would be conveyed to the dispatcher.
There was a long pause, and then he was transferred.
Reynolds. He sounded gruff and slightly pissy. Bacchi Dhrahn? Good, he
knew who was calling.
Commander, Im sorry to bother you.
No bother. I was just finishing up for the day. What can I do for you? Is that
Valoran okay?
It depended on which Valoran. He supposed Reynolds was referring to Rev.
216 Belinda McBride
Well, you see, thats why Im calling. I was to meet Inspector Teris, but he didnt
show, and hes not responding to my calls.
Thats not like Teris. The commanders voice went from tired to intent. Have
you tried his housing unit?
Thats the problem. I know his street but not the building or unit.
Its 555 on 20th. Its gated and secured, but theres a security panel.
Comm still to his ear, Lefi began jogging down the sidewalk and quickly arrived
at the apartment block. It was sprawling and spacious and surprisingly private. He
peered in the locked gate. Im there. What unit?
Ground level 3.
Lefi found the security panel and pressed the pad for Aftons housing unit. Inside
the complex, a light flashed on over a door, but there was no other response.
Hes not answering.
Im on my way. Dont touch anything else. And Bacchi, get someplace well lit,
where you can be seen. The commander cut off the call.
Lefi stepped out to the middle of the walk, surrounded by a pool of security light.
He felt exposed. His instincts told him to hide, not advertise his presence. But out here
he was in view of passersbyand multiple security cameras, no doubt. He looked
around, jumpy and on edge.
Afton. Oh, Goddess. He closed his eyes and murmured a brief prayer. It was all a
mix-up. He was inside, showering. Or hed taken a last-minute call. Or theyd simply
crossed paths somewhere. Perhaps he was at the garden; he loved it there.
He paced and bit the back of his knuckle. He pulled out his comm and stared at it
before slipping it back into his pocket. Who could he call, anyway? Afton was the
person he sought when there was a problem. Afton had become the sole person he
spoke to outside his work. He didnt know if the Valoran had other friends, though he
probably did.
The Bacchi 217
He wondered if Aftons family had been relieved to hear from him.
Bacchi Dhrahn. To his surprise, Taurean trailed the commander. The Valoran
rested a hand on his shoulder but said nothing else. He reminded Lefi of Afton at that
moment, not wasting words and getting straight to the point. Something was wrong. A
small team of enforcement officers arrived and gathered at the gate. They examined the
locks and the gate itself, and then the commander waved a remote in front of it.
The team silently melted into the courtyard of the complex. Lefi moved forward,
but a guard gripped his arm, holding him back.
Theres evidence on the gate. Please dont impede the investigation.
Lefi looked at the black-suited man, feeling his blood go cold. Investigation?
Come on, Bacchi. Let them work. Taurean tugged his arm and pulled him to a
spot where he was able to see better. Aftons boss worked with the team,
communicating with hand signals. They went directly to the lit door that must have
been the entry to Aftons home. A gentle push showed them the door was ajar.
One after another, the men and women slipped in, then finally returned to the
outside. They conferred with the commander and vanished inside once again.
The guard remained silent, his back to the gate, his gaze coolly appraising the
surroundings. He wore an earbud and occasionally murmured his status. Were there
other guards? How many enforcement officers had responded to Aftons
disappearance? Lefi looked up and down the street, seeing an occasional black-garbed
figure ghosting through the night.
Hes not there.
The guard looked straight at Lefi. The commander wants me to tell youhes not
there. Looks like there was a break-in. Theyll want you down at the station for
questions.
Lefi nodded, a sick feeling spreading through his gut. His hands trembled, so he
shoved them into the shallow pockets of the modest trousers he wore. Once again, a
218 Belinda McBride
comforting hand on his shoulder. He inhaled deeply, his mind whirling in a fruitless
spin. The guard listened and nodded, then approached Lefi directly. Okay, looks like
he entered the gate using his code. They found his glove on the floor, and it had some
powdery residue on it. The lock-plate has residue as well, but its something else.
Theyre running an analysis.
He entered the code into the keypad and left a trail in the powder. His stalkers
were able to discern the code, Taurean murmured.
The guard nodded. Thenhe cleared his throatthe lock-plate on his door is
coated with a drug of some sort. Probably an opiate mixed with some sort of delivery
system. When he put his hand on it to scan, he was disabled. There are traces of a
struggle inside, but he was probably overpowered quickly.
Opiate?
Lefi heard his horror reflected in Taureans voice. He stared blankly into the night,
wondering which way theyd gone and if he could follow. He swallowed the nausea
that threatened to overwhelm him.
More enforcers gathered at the front gate; some went in, and others exited. He
heard excited conversationafter all, Afton was one of theirs. Lefi stood, bathed in the
light of a single lamp. The breeze picked up and blew loose hair into his face.
Afton.
He spun, looked into shadows, then searched the sky. He wasnt far away He
couldnt be that far. It would take at least thirty minutes to travel to the spaceport.
Someone would have seen
What would they have seen? Sly had been captured and imprisoned. Who else?
What had Afton investigated that might come back on him? Who would want him?
His gaze shot to Taurean, who stood at the edge of the light. His skin was pale,
whiter than normal. Sick knowledge burned in his dark eyes.
The Bacchi 219
Taurean, tell me. He walked to the Valoran and gripped his shoulders. He
shook the slender man, not caring that they were surrounded by enforcers. It didnt
matter; they werent interested in a spat between two strangers. Taurean!
Treena. His voice was harsh. I paid her By rights, I own the damn club!
But she lost her biggest moneymaker. And now she needs to replace you.
Taurean slumped forward and braced his hands on his knees. Oh damn. Damn,
Lefi Im so sorry. His back heaved, and Lefi grabbed him to pull him upright before
the Valoran collapsed. He turned them so their backs were to the enforcement officers.
Are you sure it was her?
Hell yes. Ive seen her people pull this kind of shit before. The
Zamoranstheyre crafty. Have to be since theyre so small. When I bought half of
Illusion, I didnt thinkdidnt know the business was like this. Then I assumed since
we were doing so well, the workers were hired, not conscripted. He looked up at Lefi,
an imploring expression on his face. Shes the one who took Rev. Took him and
drugged him, pimped him out, and destroyed him, just to keep me in line.
She worked with Sly?
I dont know. My guess is she owns Sly. His soul, anyway. That placeits a
maze of corruption. People make deals, then stab each other in the back. Then they deal
again. I cantfollow I thought I could stay above it! And I couldnt!
Lefi wanted to kill him. Then he wanted to hug the trembling Valoran. He grasped
Taureans arm. One step at a time, they moved to the edge of the spill of light, gaining
distance from the crew that was busily examining the scene. He heard the rumbling
tones of the commanders voice.
Do you think they took him back to the barge?
Im sure of it. And my guess is that as soon as they land, the Rapscallion will
begin to move out of the system. Its probably already at the edges of L17s territory.
The barge will be out of the Landis jurisdiction soon.
220 Belinda McBride
Lefi bit his lip. Can you fly us there?
Taurean looked at him in shock. You want to go there? Just the two of us?
Maybe the guild will send someone He began to walk slowly, doing his best
to fade out of the sight of the enforcers. Did you bring anyone down who might be
good in a fight?
Taurean grabbed his forearm and pulled Lefi to a stop. It was fully dark, and like
Afton, the Valorans sight was sharp. He looked around furtively. One or two, yet I
cant force them. But how the hell? We dont have a plan!
Well figure one out. Now safely down the street, Lefi began to walk swiftly in
the direction of his home. Do you still have clearance to land in the residential docks?
Yes, but
Do you have sidearms? Weapons we can use?
Taurean cursed. Yes. Yes, I do. He wasnt objecting anymore, and next to Lefi,
he was moving swiftly. Silently. There was no more conversation till they were inside
Lefis home. Taurean waited in the foyer while Lefi changed his clothes, once again
donning the leather-strapped harness hed worn when they first met Taurean. This time
he wore it over a skintight survival suit. He drew on the loose black coat and hurried
out to the front door.
Lefi.
He stopped and looked at the Valoran. Taurean seemed like a different man. All
traces of fear had fled.
No, not fearindecisiveness. The Valoran stood a bit taller, his chin was firm,
shoulders pulled back. He was still afraid but willing to fight.
Its going to be bad. Afton, I mean. We He shook his head and looked away.
Opiates. We become addicted immediately. Do you remember the woman you tried to
liberate?
The Bacchi 221
Lefi nodded mutely, recalling her fevered eyes, the desperate sensuality of her as
she tried to lure them to her bed. She wasnt performing for her customers but for the
reward of her fix.
Goddess. For the second time in his life, Lefi felt despair. He remembered with
vivid clarity the moment hed looked at his sisters perfect, lifeless body, knowing there
was nothing he could do.
But Afton wasnt dead.
How did you avoid it, Taurean?
I almost didnt. Remember, I was there voluntarily. But I tasted it once. And it
was sweet. Almost as sweet as the lips of the Somian I was kissing. He gave Lefi a
heartbreaking smile. Shed been drinking laced wine. Neither of us realized, until her
sister saw the dilation of my pupils. She pulled us apart, but I was already blissed. He
blinked slowly, clearly caught up in that past moment of lust. When I pursued the
wine on the first Somians lips, the other caught me, kissed me deeply, nearly drowned
me with her essence.
He laughed and then stopped, pressing his hand to his eyes. I was fortunate back
then. Afton wont be so lucky.
222 Belinda McBride
Chapter Nineteen
Something was crawling on his skin.
Afton lay very still; the weightlessness of his body could have been attributed to
the drugs writhing through his system or to lack of gravity. With his eyes closed, he
sorted through various sensations: the prickle of his skin, the dehydration, and the
bone-deep chill. His cock throbbed, though it wasnt fully erect. If his eyes were open, if
he could move, his head would spin.
Gently he flexed his arm and found it was bound.
He was naked.
He swallowed the nausea that threatened, afraid hed choke if he vomited. He
cracked one eye open and saw that it was completely dark. There were no vibrations, no
sounds. There was just darkness and silence and the remnants of blissful happiness that
must have been illusion.
Since he couldnt see, the sensations on his skin somehow intensified until he
began to pant, imagining insects and nameless creatures skittering along his arms and
legs.
Its not real. My nerves are reacting to the drugs.
Or the absence of drugs. Still, hearing the sound of his own voice grounded him
just enough to steady his heart and move to a more objective state of mind. He was
impaired, yes. But he was alive. He twisted his arms against the bindings, testing them.
They were rope, rough and biting into his skin.
A tremor ran through his body, and cramping started deep in his gut. With a
sinking heart, Afton knew what was happening. It was the early stage of withdrawal,
The Bacchi 223
confirmation that addiction had set its roots into his brain like an invasive disease. And
it had destroyed better Valorans than he.
But maybe he hadnt consumed enough. That was a thin hope; there hadnt been
enough studies done to monitor Valoran addiction. So with a tiny ache of fatalism in his
heart, Afton forced his thoughts away from his body and to his precarious situation. He
was floating in a chamber, most likely on a ship. He was bound and helpless, and his
body was beginning to slide into a fierce physical protest. The blessing was that he was
alone. Hed dreaded waking in those first moments, believing hed find Lefi bound next
to him. Because he had a damn good idea what had happened.
He and the Somian had been simply too much of a temptation for someone. And
Slywell, he was in jail, but people in jail still managed to wield power. Theyd made
too many contacts while on the Rapscallion. Theyd been foolish to believe theyd be able
to pass through unscathed. A Valoran and a Somian? Both were prime targets for
traffickers.
If only hed been quick enough to make this a sting and turn the situation on his
captors.
But he hadnt, and now he was floating naked, his skin peppered with the bites of
unseen fire ants or acid kisses. He supposed it was a good thing his hands were bound,
because hed be clawing at his skin otherwise. A small sound broke from his throata
moan or a whimper.
He curled his hands and jerked at the rope bindings. The rough ties bit into his
skin, and he felt the warmth of blood run down his arms.
Inspector, that simply will not do.
Lefi? He looked around, searching frantically for the source of the musical voice.
He was still alone, save for the voice.
When you come home to me, I want you as beautiful and perfect as ever.
A hallucination, but one that he welcomed. It was certainly an improvement over
the sting of biting insects on his skin.
224 Belinda McBride
Do you remember the last time we were together? Our kisses?
Sweet nectar rushed over Aftons tongue, bringing warmth and comfort to his
body. His mouth tingled, and his erection went rigid.
Not that way, Afton. I want you wet and melting for me.
Immediately his erection faded, and his insides went liquid and warm. Afton
sighed, grateful the arousal had shifted. Not that he minded his cockstand, but he had
the unnerving sensation he was being watched. He didnt want his captors to enjoy his
shame.
Better. Now, what shall we do about this situation?
He felt a caress, soft as starlight. Behind his closed eyes, he saw gold and green. It
ran over his belly, up to his breasts. His nipple drew up tightly. Afton opened his eyes
wide but saw nothing. Even his acute vision couldnt penetrate the darkness.
First, I control myself. That meant shoving back the hallucinations. There was
nothing on his skin, and while welcome, Mharas voice in his ear had to go as well. He
heard a sigh, and then he was alone in his mind.
He searched his memory and recalled the kidnapping. Hed picked up a drug
through the skin of his hand. That had disoriented him enough to allow his assailants to
overtake him. When Slys people had taken girls, it had been crude yet effective. Great
care had been taken to sneak up and disable Afton. And the drugs? Though they
were virulent, they werent enough to have destroyed his brain. Yet.
Hed been kidnapped for a purpose, but not to cripple him the way Rev had been.
Whoever had taken him wanted him to be useful. They wanted him to suffer, but not
too much. He pulled his arm against the bindings again. The sensation of being
weightless yet bound was confusing. Deliberately he relaxed and let his body ride the
air.
Taurean had left the Illusion, taking several sex workers with him. The business
would suffer, particularly with the loss of its Valoran.
Treena needed a Valoran to take his place, one she could control.
The Bacchi 225
His heart plunged.
The drugs would be coming again, soon. Even at the thought, his insides quivered
in anticipation. He licked his dry lips, remembering that blossoming warmth, the
feeling of supreme well-being. It was a trap Rev had described to him in detail.
He couldnt control the reaction of his primary nervous system, but he could
master his thoughts.
So he thought of other things. Afton thought of Lefi in the garden, lying on the
soft couch like a dissolute, wanton angel. He thought of the Bacchi pressing him into the
grass, their skin gleaming in the moonlight, right under the approving eyes of the
goddess who had no name. He tasted cinnamon on his tongue, mixing with the
sweetness of Lefis nectar, and it washed through his body, causing his heart to pound,
his skin to sweat.
And the flavor of his seed
Afton gasped at his arousal. He no longer cared who watched, because he needed
the connection to something greater than himself.
Treena, if you continue to drug me, Ill die. Then Ill be worthless. His voice was
swallowed up in black emptiness. He relaxed, thought of Lefi with his ancient books
and his Earth-grown tea, his smiling eyes and kind, inexperienced heart. In that sense
the Bacchi was nearly virginal. As an adult hed never been in love.
Until Afton.
Chills ran over his skin. Lefi was impulsive. In his way, he was fearless. Not
without fear, exactly, but denying it, flaunting his safety before it. Hed be coming here.
Somehow the Bacchi would try to rescue him and, in doing so, would flounder into the
same trap that held Afton so tightly, like a fly in a spiderweb.
No sooner had the thought entered his mind than he felt tiny feet scurrying over
his skin.
226 Belinda McBride
More hallucinations, most likely triggered by adrenaline. This time it wasnt quite
so easy to push back the illusions. The next time it would be harder, and harder again
after that.
* * * *
They were halfway to the Rapscallion before Lefi came up with a viable plan to
rescue Afton. Theyd run through everything, from taking legal measures to wildly
stupid plans that flouted the law. Once those ideas were exhausted, they continued to
come up dry.
He looked around at Taureans ship, and his heart dropped. It was just the two of
them and a small, utilitarian cruiser. The Vash woman from the Illusion was helping to
navigate, but she stoutly refused to fight.
Several miles away, a chartered cruiser shadowed them; the Bacchi Guild had sent
a few extra guns. Or hands. Whatever they ended up using. Ammon Severs was
piloting the guilds ship, using a crew that Lefi preferred to know nothing about. An
hour behind them, ICE cruisers were readying their own rescue mission. He knew this
because Commander Reynolds had sent angry messages, ordering them to stand down.
But they might be too late, and there hadnt been time to smooth the way with
diplomacy. No doubt the commander would spend several hours negotiating with
Security on the Rapscallion. If they didnt catch up before it crossed out of the system,
theyd have to wait on hunter-trackers to arrive.
Another cruiser shadowed them as well, one that Taureans crew knew nothing
about. It was far away; hed only caught sight of it on the scans. He wasnt sure who
was aboard that cruiser, but with the barge moving, no shuttles were ferrying tourists
to it at the moment. It had to be a resident orsomething else. Maybe it was nothing.
Still, he was keeping an eye on the shadow. When it split off, he breathed a sigh of
relief. Every shipevery black spot on the scansmade him jumpy.
So whats the plan, Bacchi?
The Bacchi 227
He moved into the small bridge and took a small seat that folded out of the wall
behind the navigators chair. From there, Taurean turned to look back at him.
Well, if youre correct, time is of the essence for Aftons sake.
The minutes are ticking, Lefi. Theyve drugged him once. That one time he might
overcome. A second or third drugging? He glanced over at the silent Vash. She met
Taureans gaze and looked away without comment. Not good. So what do you think?
Based on your knowledge of Treena and the barge, where do you think she
might take him?
He leaned back in his chair and gazed into space. Linea, you were with Treena
longer than I. Do you have any ideas?
Generally she takes prisoners to the club; she has several bedrooms that are
reinforced. But I imagine this captive will be too dangerous to keep on the premises.
Especially if ICE has notified the ships administration.
Do you think they would leave him on whatever vessel they used to transport
him? Lefi asked.
Thats a possibility, Taurean answered. But its a dangerous move. The ships
are secured when the barge travels, but theres no life support to the docks. No gravity
either. The vessel would have to be powered up, and its unlikely the dockmaster
would allow that.
He would if his palm was greased. And you certainly gave Treena the money to
do so.
The Vash gave Taurean a sidelong look that managed to convey simmering anger.
It wasnt necessary to pay her so much.
It was, Lin. I couldnt walk away and leave you and the others.
She sighed her disagreement. This was probably an ongoing argument between
them.
So how does a ship dock when the barge is moving?
228 Belinda McBride
Its always moving; the process is the same. There is an autopilot function that
brings us in. Larger vessels, like the shuttles, are guided in by robotic drones. Taurean
smiled back at Lefi. The difference this time is that we wont walk out into the bay. A
portable tunnel will take us to decompression. Well exit through that and into the
station itself.
Lefi frowned. Okay, so well unload into the docking bay directly. I assume since
you two are technically still residents, security will be minimal?
Correct. Linea nodded. And Ive already manufactured a landing code for
Ammons cruiser. Theyll follow us in and will be assigned a berth near ours.
The barge was in full view now, and they all looked out at it. Approaching it in
the shuttle, Lefi hadnt fully appreciated the massive vessel. It hovered there on the
horizon like a floating leviathan. It was ponderous and slow, but the steely skin bristled
with weaponry.
Heres the most important question then: Do you know which ship they used to
carry out the kidnapping? Or how to obtain that information?
Taurean and Linea looked at each other and finally shook their heads in unison.
Great. Lovely.
Lefi sighed heavily and watched as the behemoth on the screen slowly dominated
their view until they saw nothing but gray metal.
* * * *
He woke to touch. Real touch.
Afton jerked into consciousness, feeling hands on his body. Gentle hands,
touching, stroking, tugging at the bindings.
Lefi? His voice was harsh, nearly useless. He was cold. Frigid. The hands
seemed warm but were covered in fabric gloves.
He was tugged and towed until a light grew, blasting and blazing over his eyes.
Squinting, Afton tried to see, but it burned. He was unceremoniously dumped onto a
The Bacchi 229
hard metal floor, where he twisted and gasped, struggling against the weight of his
body.
His nose told him hed fouled himself, which didnt bother him muchhe was
naked, and someone else would have to mop up his urine. What concerned him most
was the fear that they might drug him again. What frightened him was his bodys eager
reaction to that possibility.
There was a sharp, jarring pain in his side, and Afton writhed, blinking against the
light. His vision swam, telling him enough to terrify him.
Did you enjoy your vacation? I think I heard you talking about spiders. The
voice was high and piping; the figure was tiny and petite. And she scared Afton.
He rolled awkwardly to his side, barely avoiding another kick to the ribs. He
glared at her feet; she was wearing tiny boots with wicked-sharp toes.
Treena laughed.
It never fails to give me pleasure, taking you high-and-mighty Valorans down a
peg or two. Her pretty lips curled into a cruel smile. Anyhow, youre worth nothing
to me dead, so you get a break before you go back into storage.
Someone tossed a container of water to him, and with unsteady hands, he lifted
and tasted it carefully before taking a drink.
Whats wrong, Inspector? You dont trust me?
Without answering, he arched a brow and took a deep drink of the water. It
wasnt completely harmless, but he couldnt let himself weaken from dehydration.
What did you put in it?
She looked at him speculatively. What do you think I put in it?
He shrugged and set the bottle on the floor. He ached, partly from remaining tied
up so long, but mostly from the cold. His teeth chattered. When no one moved toward
him, Afton rose to his feet, using the wall at his back for balance.
230 Belinda McBride
Nothing too dangerous to a Valoran, I suppose. You clearly figured out that a
Valoran like Taurean is more profitable than one like Rev.
Oh, I made plenty off Rev. There were plenty of clients who enjoyed slumming
and gangbanging him. You just have to understand the psychology of your clientele.
He sighed wearily. Of course. You were in partnership with Sly.
Strictly off the books. She turned and walked away from him. Afton started to
follow, but the massive human from the club caught his arm in a crushing grip. They
werent going to give him a chance to walk, to do anything to wake up his muscles.
What did she put in the water? He looked at the guard, who didnt smile, didnt
snarl. He simply jerked Afton back in the direction of the bay hed been trapped in. It
was dark. Cold. He resisted, trying his strength against that of the oxlike guard. The
man hefted him from his feet and tossed him toward the hatch.
Afton slammed into the bulkhead, and dimly he was aware of something
givingbreaking.
Another face swam into viewanother face from the night at the Illusion. A
woman this time. She was massive. Not human, but close. Bigger. EurLu. She dragged
his body from the floor and tugged him over the threshold, back into weightlessness. It
felt good for a moment, taking pressure from the injuries. He struggled but felt woolly
and vague.
What was in the water? Knowledge was power. He could battle if he knew what
was coming.
Nothing to worry about, sweetheart. She bent down and kissed his lips gently.
She darted her tongue between his lips and licked his teeth. Then she came up and
kissed the tip of his nose. See? Its nothing.
Her hands roamed his body, tweaking his nipples, cupping his balls. She laughed
and backed away. Sleep well, sweet one.
No! He jerked, thrashing about as the light receded. NO!
The Bacchi 231
The drug wasnt the same as the first. That should have made him happy, but his
eyes were open wide, and he heard his heart pounding in his ears. He itched all over.
Afton panted, shouting roughly on every exhale, shaking and trembling like a man
having a seizure.
It didnt stop till he passed out from the pain.
232 Belinda McBride
Chapter Twenty
The problem with plans was that they often went amiss.
Lefi and Taurean exited into a tunnel. Ammon and his crew had been detained by
security. Lineas code had worked, but theyd traced the vessels identification to the
Bacchi Guild. And to the administration of a brothel barge, the Bacchi Guild was as
welcome as a Landaun in an art exhibit.
So they were taking it on the fly.
Shoulder to shoulder, they walked through long corridors that were mostly empty
now. Occasional staff came into sight and then vanished.
So the dockmaster was probably bribed. Who can we bribe? Because that was
what they were down to. Sex or money, and damn, Lefi was willing to pay the price, no
matter what it might be.
His assistant? Or maybe a technician?
Lefi swerved past a cart that moved on a magnetic field. He paused, looked back,
and caught the eye of a rather dim-looking young man who emerged from a room.
Or the janitorial staff?
Damn, Lefi. Taurean gazed at him in admiration. He smiled and turned to the
young man, then nearly floated down the hallway. Even with his bound hair and
wearing a flight suit, Taurean was suddenly ethereal and magic.
Hello, there. Are you in charge of all the rooms in this wing?
Lefi stepped back, glancing at the far end of the hall. They were undoubtedly
under surveillance, and he watched anxiously as Taurean flirted outrageously with the
The Bacchi 233
janitor. The job was mostly automated, but it was ultimately cheaper to have a live
human being emptying the trash and scrubbing the toilets. Probably faster too.
Within seconds Taurean returned to his side. Keep heading that direction. Were
going to leave the residential docks.
Howd you convince him?
Told him the secret VIP code to enter the Illusion. Treena will have changed it by
now, but since the codes verbal, itll take awhile to shift over. He grinned, and Lefi
stared briefly, once again shocked at how free the Valoran was with his emotions. It was
charming, but part of Aftons beauty was when the occasional smile broke through his
reserve, making Lefi feel it was a gift just for him.
He swallowed hard. Theyd had his inspector for a day and a half. So much could
have gone wrong.
Walking silently, they passed though security stations unchallenged. After
emerging from the ship itself, Lefi looked around, surprised at the crowd that still filled
the streets. Taurean noticed his interest. Some come for weeks. Some actually live here.
In an odd way, its a community full of smaller communities.
Lefi didnt know that because his entire time on the barge had been spent locked
away in a darkened room.
They took a small transport to another section of the station, and then elevators
carried them lower. Lefi was completely confused by the time they wound up in a dock
that was a bit more functional and dirty in appearance.
Our young friend by the docks told me Treenas cruiser bypassed its normal
berth and came to the cargo slips. He was confused, as Treena occasionally pays him to
clean her ship. He walked rapidly. It makes sense. Security is more relaxed here.
Since the cargo is oftenlive, they arent asking too many questions about life support
and ships remaining powered up.
That should make this easier.
234 Belinda McBride
One would hope. Taurean grinned, but it looked strained. Im not familiar with
the layout here. Well just have to look and hope for the best.
Another hour crawled by as they searched for Treenas ship. Lefi finally resorted
to another round of flirtation, though he invested somewhat more in the effort than
Taurean had. He left a pretty little flight technician dizzy and reeling from a nectar-
laced kiss. Once she shared the information they needed, Lefi and Taurean raced for an
isolated dockthen skidded to a dead stop as Treena stepped from the access tunnel.
They scrambled around a corner and held their breath as she headed in the opposite
direction.
They wouldnt leave him alone, Taurean murmured. How are we going to do
this? As one, they leaned around the corner and peered toward the tunnel.
Were going to have to just walk in. Fight. Lefi reached down and palmed one of
the dozen slender throwing knives laced into his harness.
Its nice to see that outfit does more than just look sexy.
Shit!
Lefi jumped at the sound of the deep voice and stumbled into Taurean. He hit a
fighting stance, guarding the Valoran as he sprung nimbly to his feet, a blade in his
hand. They looked upand then up some more. Nearly seven feet of packed muscle
blocked their way. Rugged black leather lovingly embraced the body of a god.
Stand down, guys. Its just us.
Rain de le Croix emerged from behind her brother. She was scarcely less
magnificent than her twin. They exchanged a glance so full of understanding that Lefis
throat went tight. Hed met Rain shortly after their first adventure on the Rapscallion;
her twin was just as beautiful, but in a more masculine package.
So whats the story? How many guards on him?
Howd you know? He looked at her in amazement.
The Bacchi 235
She gave him a wry smile. I was looking for you planetside. Ive got several
refugees who have agreed to some counseling sessions. Your little President Zaah told
us what was going down. Seemed the least we could do. While we were following you,
Roane Vaine gave us the official go-ahead to intervene on the behalf of a fellow ICE
officer.
And howd you know where to come? Did you follow us?
Rain smiled and tapped her nose. We both know the inspector enough to track
him. Just good timing that we caught up to you.
Lefi opted not to ask how theyd gotten onto the station. The AmWere were
experts at infiltrating illegal barges and game reserves. He watched as Storm walked up
to the tunnel and stared down its length. He returned, shaking his head.
Three or four scents other than the inspectors. If we can get in and surprise
them, it shouldnt be a problem. He looked at his sister again, and she nodded. A feral
gleam came into her eyes.
Just how terminal can we take this?
As far as you need to take it. Taurean glared. Treenas gone, but a message
wont go amiss. And a few deaths wont be investigated by administration.
Only if necessary, Lefi interjected. Life was too precious to throw it away
needlessly. The true evil has already left the ship. These people dont have much
choice.
Taurean let out an exasperated breath. Hes right. She owns them all. But damn,
Id like to space them.
Storm moved into position, and Lefi followed. Okay, then. Ill take point. Rain, at
the back. And Bacchi?
What?
Kill them before they kill you.
He swallowed and nodded, gripping the knife tighter.
236 Belinda McBride
Chapter Twenty-One
Lefi wasnt a violent man, but the moment someone went after him, he was more
than willing to fight back. Ahead of him, Storm grappled with the huge Landaun cross
hed seen at the Illusion weeks ago. A tall woman confronted him, hissing and slightly
crouched, ready to leap. She looked human but was taller and more muscular than
Rain.
Oh no you dont, bitch. Rain swept past him and ran the woman into a
bulkhead, where they grappled, fists pounding and knees gouging. The AmWere liked
to get up close and personal.
Hed left his coat on Taureans cruiser, so Lefi was relatively unhampered. A large
human ambled up to stand before him. It was Treenas personal guard, the one whod
sat across from them at dinner. He lunged, and Lefi dodged, then swept the mans legs
out from under him. Taurean stood, hands extended, doing his best to talk down
another human male. When Taurean feinted, the man attacked, and Taurean hit, his
hand striking the humans throat.
The giant was faster than he appeared and quickly regained his footing. With bent
knees, he prowled in a wide circle. Gonna fuck you when Im finished, whore.
And here I thought you only liked children. Lefi ducked a blow and lashed out
to wickedly slice the mans upper thigh. A few moments later he landed a brutal hit to
exactly the same spot. He then slapped the wound, making his opponent howl in fury.
He might not have been strong enough to topple the giant, but he knew how to make
overgrown bastards hurt.
The human growled and leaped forward to tackle him, and Lefi backpedaled, then
slammed into the wall, the knife flying from his hand. Stars exploded across his vision,
The Bacchi 237
and instinctively he rolled. He winced when he heard the sound of a heavy body hit just
to his right. Shaking his head, he struggled to his feet and drew a long stiletto. If
nothing else, it might give the other man pause. While the human struggled to his
knees, Lefi kicked out a booted foot, aiming for the injured thigh.
The man roared and collapsed again.
Around him he heard only the sound of fighting, grunts, and solid, meaty thuds
as flesh met flesh. Rain had downed her opponent and was now tag teaming the
Landaun with her brother. Taurean was holding up, but Lefi cursed to himself. The
fight should not have lasted this long, as strength and adrenaline could carry a fighter
only for a minute or two. But then he really needed to stop worrying about the others.
He had problems of his own.
Fuck manners. The giant was rising, so Lefi kicked him square across the face.
Blood gushed from his nose, and the human screamed. Lefi kicked again and struck the
mans injured thigh. The original cut was now a mangled mass of flesh. Before he could
regain his balance, his leg was caught in a grip of iron. He crashed to the floor and tried
to twist away, but the other man held him tightly. His ankle groaned and then
screamed in pain, forcing Lefi to follow the direction of the twisting. He writhed,
flailing with his other leg, fighting for traction.
The blunt, ugly face hovered over him, and gobbets of blood dripped down,
spattering the floor. Desperately Lefi struck and slashed across the mans massive belly
with the slender stiletto. With a shout of pain, the human clutched Lefis wrist and
crushed it till Lefi reflexively released the weapon. He knelt on Lefis injured hand and
reached up to rip at his clothing. Using Lefis knife, he hacked at the leather, digging the
point into the tough fabric of the survival suit.
Bastard wasnt kidding about that rape. He was tearing at his own clothing, and
when it came free, his massive erection looked more like a weapon than a phallus.
Lefi struggled to release his arm and then struck again, this time with a blade in
the left hand. He came up high and sank the skin-warmed steel into the base of his
238 Belinda McBride
opponents throat. The mans eyes went wide, and he threw himself backward,
clutching at the blade. Jerking it out, he choked past blood and fought to breathe. Lefi
scrambled again, trying to get clear. Pain screamed through his body, but adrenaline
overrode the injuries. At the edge of panic, Lefi stumbled to his feet to face the bloody,
shambling monster. Screaming through the gore, the human attacked again, and Lefi
deftly threw a pair of short knives. The knife from his injured right hand went astray
and skittered harmlessly across the floor. But the one in his left hand found its target
and buried itself hilt-deep into the humans eye.
If that didnt kill you His back was to the wall; Lefi had run out of space. His
legs gave out, and he collapsed, slipping in a pool of blood.
The human lunged forward, teetered, and then fell, his huge hands still grasping
for Lefi. Just inches from his broken ankle, the mans massive hand curled into a claw,
and then went limp.
Lefi scooted back on his ass, scrabbling for the fallen blade. From the floor he
surveyed the carnage and stifled a slightly hysterical laugh. So much for the sanctity of
life. Every one of Treenas men lay dead on the floor.
Goddess. He rolled to his hands and knees, gasping in pain as he did so.
Everyone okay? Storm and Rain were standing, calmly wiping blood from their
hands. It spattered the leather of their suits, but Storm quickly wiped his armor clean.
He was a bit more finicky than his sister. Taurean stood, grinning down at Lefi.
What took you so long? I was just getting ready to step in.
Lefi groaned. A little help would have been welcome.
Rain offered him a hand. You were fine. She cocked her head and examined his
suit. I thought it was just decorative. But all those little metal studs She plucked at
one and withdrew another throwing blade. Youre good with those.
Im better when I dont have a broken arm. He tried bearing weight on his leg
and felt an ominous pain. And leg. He took a deep breath and winced. Fucker lay on
The Bacchi 239
top of me. Nearly crushed my ribs. He took an experimental step and almost went
down. Taurean caught him and held him steady.
Weve got to find Afton. He hobbled, looking around the ship in confusion.
Dammit, Taurean, where?
Down here. Shed keep him in the cargo bay. The Valoran headed toward a
passageway.
No, down here. Rain and Storm were headed to the back of the cruiser. The
AmWere shouldered open a door, and there was a hiss. Its an antigrav chamber.
Small. They stood back as Lefi limped inside, then immediately lost his footing as his
weight went null. He grabbed at the doorway and found a handle to cling to. Taurean
hammered at a panel, quickly entering commands. With gravity came the pain of his
weight on tortured flesh. Lefi gasped and shook his head, fighting the light-headedness
that washed over him.
He cursed when he saw the figure sagging from the ceiling, bound by ropes. He
hopped to Aftons side and touched him, first stroking his slack face and then his
nerveless fingers.
Afton? He fumbled at the Valorans wrist, his hands trembling too badly to find
a pulse. Hold him. Storm moved up and cradled Aftons slender body as Lefi sliced
through the ropes. Avoiding the bloodied corridor, they rushed him to the largest cabin
and lay him on the bed.
Hes alive. In bad shape, but alive. Taurean vanished from the room, then
returned with a diagnostic unit. Storm took it and activated the wand.
Im not great with these things, but our brothers a medic. Hes taught me the
basics. Storm entered information and slowly took readings over Aftons body. He
showed them to Taurean. The AmWere then cleared the unit and entered new data.
His vitals arent great, but not bad. I dont think hes in danger of dying. But he
needs medical assistance.
Lefi nodded. When Storm ran the wand over his body, he flinched. Im fine.
240 Belinda McBride
You arent. He frowned Youre bleeding internally. Youve got numerous
broken ribs as well as fractures in your arm and leg.
Im not dying, though. Weve got to get out of here, back to Landis to get him to a
doctor.
Agreed, but youre going to need to move carefully, Lefi. Rain and I can run him
out of here and get him aboard our ship. Youre going to need to move slowly.
His chest went tight. I cant leave him. He hobbled to the bed and sat down next
to Afton. He lookedbad. His skin was parched; there were dried trails where spittle
had run from his mouth. His wrists and ankles were raw from the ropes. His palms
were a bloody mess.
He reeked of waste. His beautiful, dignified inspector had been so horribly
defiled.
Did they rape him?
The giant male reset the unit and started another scan on Afton. No, Storm
replied. Thats not to say he wasnt abused and mistreated, but theres no trauma of
that sort.
Lefi studied the diagnostics on the screen. So much was different about the
Valoran body, this miraculous fusion of male and female, delicacy and strength. A
simple compound that Lefis body could easily assimilate would destroy Afton.
Taurean moved next to him with another piece of equipment. He busily started
clipping hair and taking scrapings from Aftons skin. He then pressed a bulb to his
wrist.
What are you doing?
Taking samples. Theyll need this at the hospital. If we wait till he gets there, itll
degrade within his system. Thisll give us an idea of what they did to him.
He should have known that. Lefi nodded and turned back to Afton. To his relief,
Afton looked back at him from dark, sunken eyes.
The Bacchi 241
Lefi. It sounded as though the word took all his strength to utter. Aftons mouth
moved and curved into a smile.
Lefi pushed the tangled hair back from his face and smiled down at him. Well,
Inspector, you managed to land in the wrong hands this time.
I know. Any hands but yours are wrong.
Youre so romantic. And oddly, the moment was exquisite. Lefi wiped his eyes
with the back of his hand, fighting not to show how frightened he was.
Taurean knelt by their side and held out a beaker of water. Afton looked gravely
at it, then at the other Valoran. Taurean nodded in understanding and set it aside.
He needs water.
Hell get water once hes on the other ship. Theyve been drugging his water. He
stood, then moved the water out of sight. Afton, Storm and Rain are here. Were going
to send you with them. Their ship is close, and they travel swiftly. Lefi is slightly
injured, and well have to move him a bit more carefully. But hell be right behind you.
Injured? He looked at Lefi in concern.
That enormous human became enamored with my allure. His version of romance
was far too aggressive for me. My ankle is broken. He tried to smile but failed. Ill
hurry. But we need to get you back to the planet. He leaned in close and brushed his
lips over Aftons dry skin. I love you, Inspector. Nothing will keep me from your side.
Not for long.
Afton was too tired to talk anymore. His eyes spoke volumes, though. He stared
up at Lefi, who understood. He bent down and pressed a gentle kiss on Aftons mouth.
He started to pull away, but Afton clung, reaching up with a weakened hand to clutch
his hair and pull him closer.
Afton His protest was cut off as the Valoran kissed him again, hard and
passionate and searching. Afton thrust his tongue into Lefis mouth, and in spite of
everythingin spite of the pain and the fear and the bone-deep wearinessthe sweet
242 Belinda McBride
taste of nectar was pulled forth and flooded them both. Afton moaned and fed at his
mouth, kissing him as though he were a starving man.
Lefi finally broke the kiss and rested his forehead against Aftons, the curtain of
his hair giving them all the privacy they needed. And to his surprise, when he lifted his
head and opened his eyes, Afton looked better. Marginally so, but his eyes were more
clear, his skin a little brighter.
Well, that was good for me, Storm said wryly.
Aftons mouth turned up in a smile.
Me too, he whispered.
Ready to go? Storm wrapped the sheets around Aftons body, then lifted him
effortlessly. Afton looked at Lefi and then nodded. With no more than a whisper of
sound, they were gone.
The Bacchi 243
Chapter Twenty-Two
Youre lucky.
I know. Afton lay back in his bed, staring at the featureless walls. At one time
this austerity might have pleased him, calmed him. Now he longed for texture and
color. He craved exotic music and the taste of spices. He wanted the Garden of the
Goddess and the sweet scent of cool grass.
He wanted Lefi, and they wouldnt let Afton see him. As it turned out, his Bacchi
had been badly wounded. Hed aggravated his injuries in the rush to return to
Taureans cruiser, and by the time theyd landed, he was in dire condition. The Vash
navigator had literally held his life in her hands for an hour or more.
He looked at the man standing next to him, so unexpected and possibly
unwelcome.
You are fortunate to have survived, but the addiction issue will probably put an
end to your career with ICE. Did he imagine a trace of smug satisfaction in his fathers
voice? He immediately felt guilt at the thought. Though they didnt understand him, his
parents loved him. His mother sat in the chair near his bed, anxiously surveying the
monitors.
I feel quite well now. The cravings are minimal. I believe with the assistance of
the Partains
I forbid their interference in your treatment.
Sir, Im now conscious and of sound mind. I can make my own decisions. He sat
up farther in the bed. Ive spoken to the attending physician, and he agrees. Ill have a
Vash healer in as well.
He was answered with silence.
244 Belinda McBride
It is unfair and unconscionable that you keep me cloistered like this. I have
friends who must surely have tried to visit. I know, because Ive spoken with my
commander.
Former commander.
Ive not yet been reviewed or discharged. Still, uneasiness clawed at his belly. It
was true; the cravings were mild, and he felt mostly healthy, though they kept him
wired to machines. His family had found the only Valoran physician within the entire
Landis system and brought him in. Fortunately he was open-minded.
Afton, Ive seen your tox screens. The amount of drugs they gave you It breaks
my heart. His mother spoke softly, worry threaded through her voice. She was sincere,
and she also knew what she was talking about. She was an esteemed surgeon back
home.
Im sure once the Partains and their Vash associate are allowed to view my
records, theyll be able to unravel the mystery. As it stands, I feel amazingly well. I
seem to have escaped the fate of Revenant.
There was only one cravingone itchand it was taking every bit of Aftons
willpower to overcome that particular need. He remembered the sweet taste of nectar
flooding his mouth, reaching out to every fiber and cell in his body. He remembered
how life had blossomed at the kiss of the Somian. Not only had his cock risen to brief,
enthusiastic life, but his heart beat stronger. The pain that suffused his entire body had
receded. There were now echoes of that pain, calling out for the kiss of the Bacchi.
Lefi. Damn if he wasnt addicted to his lover. And it was a manageable addiction.
If only his family hadnt stepped in, taking control of his health care while he was
unconscious. Anger flared deep within, but he breathed it down. Losing control would
only give them more ammunition.
I wont allow those Somian debauchees to experiment on you.
Debauchees? Really? And you know this because?
His father turned to him angrily. Theyre Somian. Thats all I need to know.
The Bacchi 245
Really, Afton, their science is justtoo extreme. His mother settled back into the
chair by his bed. Her black hair was sleek against her lovely, refined face. She was
beautiful. So was his father.
Mother, the Partains are the sons of He trailed off, knowing she already knew.
They are brilliant. What they are doing now will advance medical science by decades.
Perhaps centuries.
She looked away, her gaze troubled. She knew, but she was frightened. He looked
back at his fathers rigid, straight back. His father loved him. Afton knew that the
moment hed awakened to see his father leaning over him, his eyes bright with
forbidden tears.
Father?
Acton Teris turned to him, a cold mask hiding his feelings. It had always been that
way. So sad. When did you know about me?
Afton?
He looked over at his mother. They both were part of this. When did he start
pressuring me to orient male? She went pale.
You always leaned that way, Afton. There was a crack in his fathers armor. He
ruthlessly exploited it.
Perhaps, but I leaned the other way too. You tipped me out of balance.
Deliberately. They had to understand what theyd done. You forced my choice when
I would never have made one. Im a gen, and you denied me that part of my life.
The room was silent. Literally silent. Even the monitors made no sound.
The gens are the color and joy of our people. They are the art and expression.
Like the Partain twins, the gens push our evolution forward. And you crushed that
potential in me.
I You most certainly are not. Youve always oriented male.
246 Belinda McBride
Thats not true. His mother sat in that chair, nearly shrinking into herself. We
saw it in you, and it was frightening. You were wrong. Taboo. And it seemed such a
small thing at the time.
Afton sat up and yanked the IVs from his skin. He was still sore and wobbly, but
was on the mend. I am a gen. You pushed me to be something Im not. You tried to
destroy what you feared in me. He retrieved a robe from the foot of his bed. It was
plain and white. In a slight display of pique, Afton tossed it to the floor. He jerked open
the cupboard and carefully pulled out the robe Taurean had smuggled in to him.
It flared around him, deep, brilliant red. He ran his fingers through his hair and let
it fall in unruly waves.
What are you doing, Afton?
He knotted the robe and turned back to his mother. Im going to see my lover,
Lefi Dhrahn. Hes a Somian and a Bacchi. And I love him very much.
It felt somewhat overdramatic, but his mother did let out a tiny gasp, and his
father went rigid in disapproval. Afton walked gingerly out his room and occasionally
brushed the wall for balance. He looked up and down, wondering where the hell he
needed to go to find Lefi. It killed the drama of the moment, but he crossed the hall to
where nurses worked quietly in a spacious area.
Inspector Teris? The young man looked up at him in surprise. He knew the
brilliant red looked good on him, but Afton didnt expect to draw a flush to the nurses
face. A few others looked up, and to his surprise, he saw similar looks on their faces. It
was the look usually reserved for Lefi. His cheeks went warm in embarrassment.
Im looking for Lefi Dhrahns room.
Afton!
He turned to see Lefi at the far end of the hall. A small group of colorful Somian
were orbiting him, but Lefi fixated on Afton and only on Afton. He felt a grin coming
and hurried in that direction, aware his parents were in the doorway, watching him
with amazement.
The Bacchi 247
Lefi was beautiful, wearing a silken robe of the palest green; his hair was a
brilliant, dark green cascade against the robe. He hobbled on a crutch, which fell to the
floor as he rushed toward Afton. When they fell into each others arms, they truly fell
but stayed upright only because theyd crashed into each other.
He wrapped his arms around Lefis waist and held him steady, even as the Bacchi
gripped Aftons shoulders. He buried his face in Lefis chest, laughing softly.
By the Goddess, Inspector, they wouldnt let me out of my room to come see you!
I had to make a break for it! Fortunately Taurean slipped me your room number.
I was just getting directions to your room. He looked up into the face of Lefi,
gratitude filling his heart.
And the itch started.
I was so damn worried, Afton. They wouldnt tell me your status. The Partains
have been shut out
Hows Rev?
Doing the same. But you He pushed Afton out to arms length and studied his
face. The drugs?
I have cravings. Minor. Manageable. He stroked Lefis face. His beautiful,
beloved face. I was frightened for you. Once my family found out Taurean was
bringing me information about you, they blocked his visits.
Lefis dark purple gaze took in Aftons parents. Were you so bad that they
needed to make proxy decisions for you?
Afton nodded. For a while. Im better now.
Still, Lefi looked spooked. Are you truly better? Because if youre just masking it,
the addiction will take a tighter grip on you.
I dont seem to be like Rev. Like I said, there are cravings. I have some ideas
about it, but Ill share them later. When were alone.
248 Belinda McBride
They linked arms and hobbled to a large waiting area. When they managed to
gingerly settle down on a sofa, they found themselves in the middle of a ring of Somian.
Aftons parents followed, then stood off to the side. Their very posture expressed
outrage. Afton just sighed and leaned back against Lefis shoulder. They loved him, and
theyd learn to accept this.
Afton, this is my family.
He sat up and started to rise until Lefi jerked the back of his robe. You will not
stand up, Inspector. Just relax.
A lovely woman approached. Her resemblance to Lefi was strong. Her hair was
the same vivid green, her eyes the same color. Her twin had pale green hair and
lavender eyes. My mother, Tasha, and her twin, Lhena. And my Uncle Marc, who was
brother to my father.
Aftons mind spun at the intertwining connections. He smiled as soft kisses were
pressed on his cheeks. Tasha clasped his hand in both of hers, looking at him with those
amazing, beautiful eyes.
Thank you, she whispered. You know why.
And he did know. Lefi was happy. After so long, hed found his heart, and it was
right where it belonged, within himself. Once he found it, hed become free to love
again. He read all that in her soft expression and through the welcoming touch of her
skin. Her feelings danced and whispered through his psyche. Shed once lost her heart,
and with the support of those who loved her, had found him again, there in her soul.
The Somian believed their twin was their other half. The way Afton saw it, that
belief went further than their religious dogma; it was literal fact. He knew simply by the
touch of Tashas hand.
How are you, Lefi? He leaned back into the Bacchis powerful embrace. Lefi
twined his fingers through Aftons hair. He leaned over and inhaled deeply.
You smell magnificent, Inspector.
The Bacchi 249
I smell like hospital soap. And I asked a question. How are you?
Intact. All my parts are where they belong.
That wasnt what Afton wanted to hear. He looked over at the trio whod pulled a
sofa up across from them. Tasha, how is he?
His broken ankle and wrist healed well with the assistance of the Vash who
traveled with Taurean. He required surgery and several trauma-trained Vash to bring
him through the internal injuries.
Lefis uncle leaned forward and tented his fingers. He had several broken ribs;
one punctured his lung. His kidneys were damaged, one critically. He had a severe
concussion that required Vash attention as well.
Afton looked at him in amazement. Yet you had the strength to cut me free? To
remain upright at my side afterward?
Marc chuckled. The AmWere said he fought like a woman. I dont think it was a
compliment.
Since it was the female who said it, I think it might have been. Lhena leaned into
her sister and linked their arms. It seems theyd underestimated the male Lefi battled.
They assumed he was human. In reality he was, but heavily enhanced for fighting. Hed
won his way out of the pit fighting circuits.
And you defeated him? Afton sat up and looked at Lefi, who flushed slightly.
I killed him. And though I hate that I took such a measure, it was necessary.
Afton closed his eyes in horror, remembering the foul, evil threats the man had
made, all against Lefi. All the while, Afton had hung, drugged and helpless, with those
images in his brain. And it had nearly been reality.
Did he I mean He made certain threats against you, Lefi.
The Bacchi placed his fingers under Aftons chin and turned his face to look
deeply into his eyes. Inspector, you should know by now that Im more than capable
of defending my honor.
250 Belinda McBride
It was a joke, but to Afton, it wasnt funny.
Suddenly the weight of the past week landed on his shoulders. The horror of the
kidnapping and of being powerless to help himself returned. The drugs. The indignities
hed experienced. And he thought of Revenant, whod suffered so much more.
He leaned forward, hands over his face. And Afton did something that Valorans
never, ever do.
He cried.
After the first powerful sob, tears flowed freely, as though a lifetime of emotion
had come undammed. Soft, gentle hands caressed him, and he felt only mild
mortification that his mother and father were witnessing this ultimate shame.
Aftonplease His mothers voice, soft and sweet, and he kept his face
covered, afraid to let her see him naked in his grief and pain. Another hand rested
tentatively on his shoulder, and he knew this touch. Afton let his hand slip away from
his eyes and looked into the face of his father. His expression was tight, his eyes
reddened with tears he simply couldnt release. Not him. But his son, the gen, could cry.
His father leaned in and pressed a kiss to his temple.
No words were needed. That kiss made amends for a lifetime of mistakes and
misjudgment, and for now, it was all Afton Teris needed.
The Bacchi 251
Chapter Twenty-Three
Afton thought twice before laying his hand against the lock-plate. Slowly he
pulled off his glove and reached down, only to have Lefi clasp his arm.
Ill do it.
No, its fine. He felt a rush of confidence and unlocked the door to Lefis home.
Inside, the familiar warmth of the space wrapped around him, and immediately he was
at ease for the first time since the entire ordeal began.
A stack of moving containers sat just inside the doorway, and Lefi negotiated
around them, still leaning on his cane. It had been only days since their reunion in the
hospital, and Afton ached to be alone with his Bacchi.
Are you sure you want me moving in? I mean, you have clients
Ive arranged to move my more intimate counseling to the Bacchi headquarters.
Rain requested that I handle the AmWere somewhere natural. I think perhaps the
gardens will serve.
The Somian gardens? But those are secret.
Lefi hobbled into the living space and carefully lowered himself to the wide sofa.
His surgical site was slightly painful but healing. His ankle was still tender. Afton
settled next to him on the couch and drew one leg up under his bottom as he sat facing
the Bacchi.
The gardens are secret, but not from the noses of any of the AmWere. He smiled
gently. And they are sacred. They are for healing and for love. The goddess will be
pleased I put them to such use.
And your paying clients?
252 Belinda McBride
Lefi went sober, looking ahead at nothing. Does it bother you that in reality Im a
sex worker?
This time Afton reached out and rested his fingers under Lefis chin. He drew his
head around, leaned in, and kissed him gently. I fell in love with you, Lefi. The orphan
and widow, the Bacchi and the healer. Ive seen you with others and feel no jealousy.
You still hate the judge.
He demeaned you.
He also rushed arrest warrants for Treena, arranging for her to be apprehended
before the Rapscallion left the system. He did that for me. What he did in the courtroom
was his kink. His fantasy.
Afton let him go and draped his arm over his knee. I think I understand. But in
the future, can you screen those sorts of clients?
It wont be necessary. If I opt to continue in the profession, this space is off limits.
This is our home. Your home.
AhLefi. He felt the dangerous edge of tears again. After his breakdown, his
parents had crept away, only to return hours later armed with prepared apologies that
hed waved off. It hadnt been the warm, fuzzy reunion Lefis family had showered on
their wayward son, but Aftons parents finally accepted Aftoncareer, lover, and
gender neutrality included.
When Tasha had innocently asked if Afton would someday carry her sons babies,
his expression of horror had undoubtedly matched his fathers.
Maybe he did lean more toward the male gender, because pregnancy was not on
his list of things he wanted to experience. What truly warmed his heart was the idea
that someday Lefi and Mharas babies would be born, and he and Lefi would raise
them. Theyd be as beautiful as their parents and even more amazing in their brilliance.
Hed be the father of children who would pave the way into the future.
Lefi, I am indescribably happy.
The Bacchi 253
Lefi chuckled, and Afton rolled to lay his head on the Bacchis lean thigh. He
fingered the gold bracelet, with its dozens of tiny symbols.
What does this one mean?
Lefi tilted his head to look. It means Ive mastered cunnilingus. Few women can
resist the lures of my tongue. He grinned wickedly at Afton, whose normally docile
pussy gave a distinct throb.
And this?
Anal fisting. It is exactly what it sounds like. Perhaps youd like to try it
someday?
Perhaps not. And this one?
Its species specific. I am qualified to service Zamoran of either gender.
The Zamoran? Seriously? Theyre so small.
Lefi gently cupped Aftons chin. He looked up at the Bacchi, and even upside
down he was lovely. The Zamoran are sexually voracious. There are certainly tricks to
making love with them. He hooked his thumb into Aftons mouth. For a moment he
was stunned, and then he tentatively licked the pad of Lefis digit, then sucked it in
deeper. He scraped the edge of his canine over his skin, causing the Bacchi to hiss.
Goddess. I was about to comment on how charming and almost childlike you can
be. And then you bite me! He pulled his thumb from Aftons lips and raised it to his
own mouth. Afton watched, suddenly overwhelmed by a craving. He shuddered, his
skin crawling.
Afton, are you all right? Lefis brows drew together in concern. Under Aftons
cheek, his erection began to soften.
Do you remember I told you I had some thoughts about my addiction?
Lefi nodded slowly, his eyes reflecting caution and concern.
Kiss me.
254 Belinda McBride
Instead of forcing Lefi to bend over, Afton rose and straddled the Somians thighs.
He rested his hands on Lefis face and stroked, then finally looked down at his lips.
Hunger rose, and Afton bent down to softly kiss Lefis mouth. He gently licked at the
seam of his lips, then slipped his tongue into that sweet warmth that was such a haven
for his soul.
The kiss deepened, growing more fierce, intense, and passionate. Afton rose to his
knees, his hips thrusting into Lefis belly, and the Somian reached around and cupped
his ass. Afton pulled hard at the kiss, and nectar released, rushing through his body
with warmth and light and life. Before, it had been erotic, the pheromones flooding him
with their seductive qualities. Now it was something else completely.
He shuddered into an orgasm that ran straight from his core, glistening and
powerful, blinding him in its intensity. It wasnt the first time hed come simply from
the Bacchis kiss, but this was more encompassing. Lefi groaned, thrusting up into a dry
climax, holding Afton tightly in his arms. They sat there, all wound up and panting,
and he rested his chin possessively atop Lefis head.
Afton? Care to explain? Lefi shifted, moving Afton away so they could look at
each other. That was different. He looked worried but intrigued.
Do you remember when I woke up on the ship? We kissed. You made me feel so
much better.
Lefi nodded warily.
Its your nectar. It derailed whatever the drug was doing to my brain. I believe
thats why Rev is better in the presence of the Somian. Hes inhaling the essence that
clings to you.
Thats unexpected. But then, Ammon once asked me if there was a risk of your
becoming addicted to my nectar. It had me worried, but Id never heard of that
happening before. So where do we go from here?
The Partain twins are focusing on that idea in their treatment of Rev. We spoke
about it yesterday.
The Bacchi 255
I seriously doubt Revenant will welcome their kisses, Lefi said drily. He moved
slightly, and Afton slid off his lap to stand before him. He held out a hand and helped
the Bacchi rise. Before him, Lefi stood, battered, weakened, but so willing. His cock
pressed forward, rising up toward his waistband. It had once shocked Afton, but now
Lefis unabashed display was flattering.
Theyre breaking down the chemicals present in Somian nectar, searching for the
possible key. Hopefully theyll be able to synthesize it. He led Lefi into the bedroom
and walked him to the bed, then gently pushed him down. Fortunately for me, I dont
have that concern.
He smiled at the Bacchi, and to his surprise, Lefi just looked back at himno easy
quip came forth, nor did he smile back. He caught his breath, reached out, and brushed
Aftons mouth with his fingers.
What is it, Lefi?
Your smile. Its breathtaking. And you laugh now so freely. But its only for me.
Thats the gift you gave me, Lefi. So I give it back to you whenever I can. He
knelt and unstrapped the thigh-high boots the Somian wore. How had he managed to
put these on in the first place? His family must have helped dress him. Next, he slipped
off Lefis shirt and pants, leaving him naked on the fine silk of the bedding. He turned
to put the clothing away and looked back. Lefi still sat where hed left him. His arm and
leg were still braced, and a long, pink scar was fading away on his abdomen.
His cock was hard, thrusting up his belly, and the arousal that had started in the
other room rushed over Afton, leaving him breathless and weak.
Damn, he muttered, dropping the clothes on the floor by the closet. He quickly
stripped out of his own garments, stumbling when his shoes caught on his pants. He
was back at the bed in a pair of powerful leaps, then on his knees between Lefis legs.
He kissed soft skin and suckled at the sweet, salty flavor of the Somian. He slowly
licked Lefis cock, wrapping his fingers around its base. Lefi was massivethick and
long. Was that right? Had he been this way before, or was it Aftons imagination?
256 Belinda McBride
Whatever the case, he ignored it for the moment and pushed Lefi to lie back on the
bed so he could slowly travel the length of his body with hands and mouth. He trailed
kisses along the surgical scar, knowing that in just days, that last, tangible evidence of
the Bacchis courage would fade into memory. The mark marred his perfection, but
Afton would miss it.
Move up.
Lefi obeyed, scooting backward till his head rested on the pillow. Afton spread his
green silken hair over it and sat back on his heels, allowing his senses to take over
completely. He looked, he smelled, and he tasted the lingering nectar so sweet on his
lips. He touched Lefi with featherlight caresses, reveling in the overpowering sensation
of love that came from the Bacchi. He opened his heart and accepted him completely.
Here, with this man, Afton could allow himself to become a creature of pleasure,
made up entirely of sensation and emotion. He didnt have to be male or female; he
could let go of the rigidity of his job and culture. He could simply be himself.
Afton ran his hands up his own torso, fondling the soft skin, closing his eyes at the
sensation of his own touch. He thumbed his nipples and felt the exquisite pull through
his chest, the lightning-like pleasure that arrowed through his body.
Lefi watched, one hand behind his head, the other lazily cupping his cock. His
eyes were heavy-lidded with arousal at Aftons performance.
For so many years Lefis life had been about the pleasure he gave others, but had
anyone given to him, wholly and unconditionally? He enjoyed watching, so Afton
continued his sensual, shy dance, swaying as he knelt on the bed, his gaze never leaving
the Bacchi. He leaned down and brushed his lips over Lefis taut nipples, then swirled
his tongue over the crinkled skin. He nipped lightly, keeping his hands resting behind
his back. He felt Lefis hand in his hair, not guiding but simply caressing, enjoying the
texture and touch.
Afton finally moved away to pick up Lefis injured wrist and gently massage the
muscles he knew ached. Then he kissed the surprisingly soft skin before laying his arm
The Bacchi 257
back down. He turned to the Somians lower body and ran long, soothing strokes down
his muscles, watching Lefis face in case there was pain. The bandage he wore was thin
but rigid enough to brace the leg. How the Bacchi must have fought! He shouldnt have
survived that battle, yet he had, and hed done it for Afton.
Tears came to his eyes in a habit that was becoming too frequent and far too
annoying, so Afton bent down and buried his face in the silken green thatch that nestled
around the Bacchis cock. He gripped the base and nudged it out of the way so he could
nuzzle the heavy balls, and he smiled when the skin wrinkled at his touch. He dragged
his tongue along that smooth space behind his balls, then finally made up his mind
which part of this feast hed take this time. He licked, teased, then finally used his
fingers to circle the tight opening of Lefis ass. He pressed his face down and kissed that
opening hed avoided.
Hed initially felt that letting the Somian fuck him was the biggest obstacle to
overcome, but it wasnt. Taking Lefis assthat was the act that labeled him as
something other than male, something other than gen. It was clearly and definitively
something hed never done to another person, male or female.
Yet the wall between them was so simple. It had nothing to do with sex. It was just
faith: Aftons faith in the person he was born to be, and Lefis belief in a future hed
been denied. Sex was merely the outward manifestation of their love.
Still tickling Lefis perineum with his finger, he returned to his cock and smiled to
see the sparkling drop of precum at the tip, like a dewdrop on a flower. He licked it off
and savored the sweet taste of nectar that was becoming so welcome and familiar. He
swallowed, relaxed, and wrapped his lips around Lefis plump cockhead, taking it
slowly to get used to the sensation.
His cock throbbed in sympathetic arousal, and Afton imagined the sensation of
Lefis lips on his skin, his shaft sinking into the Somians mouth. He was a raw amateur
compared to the Bacchi, but it didnt seem to matter. Lefis hips bucked out of his
control; he gasped and groaned and let his legs fall open. Encouraged, Afton played,
258 Belinda McBride
taking him as deeply as he could and then backing off, nibbling at the crown of his cock,
then teasing the slit with the tip of his tongue.
He cupped Lefis balls, feeling their weight, then tugged slightly. That nearly
brought the Somian up off the bed. He wanted Lefi to come apart, to fly up into the sky
under his hands, but he wanted something else as well. With a final kiss to the Somians
smooth, glistening shaft, Afton rose to his knees and ran his hands down Lefis inner
thighs.
It was the most natural thing in the world, shifting the Bacchi into place and
guiding his cock to his opening. Should I prepare you more?
Lefi groaned and fell back to the pillow. Im readyso ready! He tilted his hips,
and his already swollen cock seemed to swell more. He clasped it and held it tight to his
belly. Afton was sure nowLefis cock was larger than before. Aftons attention
snapped back to Lefis ass and the aching need that ground through his pelvis. He
closed his eyes, shuddering at the sensation on his cockhead.
Was it really this easy? Just a slight thrust of his hips, and he entered Lefis body.
His cockhead was engulfed in liquid heat, so tight, pulsing with the beat of Lefis heart.
It wasnt like a womans channel; being inside the Somian was like slipping on a glove
that was almost too tight. It was pleasure bordering on painful.

IM FINE. KEEP going. Lefi could barely speak past the rush of his breathing.
Afton, dominant and sure of himself, was taking him. Lefi rose to meet him, trying to
draw him deeper. Granted, there was a degree of discomfort, because Lefi rarely
allowed this act. He screened his clients carefully and avoided those who wanted to top
him. The intimacy of penetration was as searing as that of a kiss. He was too open, too
helpless to hide behind the mask.
But he was finished with masks as far as Afton was concerned. Just weeks ago the
Valoran had lain in his arms, helpless and dying. He said Lefis kiss brought him back.
The Bacchi 259
He said the addiction hadnt taken him because of Lefi. So there would be no more
pretending. With Afton, hed always show himself.
He couldnt help watching the Valoran as he invaded Lefis body, gently, firmly
forging inward. Soontoo soonhe was home, their bodies joined, and Afton went
still, his head bowed, the white of his skin punctuated with bright flags of color in his
cheeks.
This wasnt easy for the inspector; Lefi knew that. It was the last barrier, the last
abandonment of the taboos that had been hammered into him by his culture: males
didnt make love to males. Not like this. Afton might have been easing into the mind-set
of a neutral, but Lefi was clearly, irrevocably a man.
Afton straightened; his hair was overlong, brushing almost down to his jaw. His
dark eyes were feverishly bright, his lips the same dusky rose as his nipples. When he
smiled, Lefis heart broke, shattered. Afton worked his way forward and covered Lefis
body, careful to brace himself high over Lefis damaged ribs.
Why the tears, Lefi? He bent down and pressed kisses to Lefis cheeks, then
nuzzled the moisture. What could he say? He was crying from happiness? From the
overpowering sensation of love? Or from that secret voice in his heart that whispered to
him, telling him to take the joy offered, to be happy. He reached up and slipped his
hand alongside Aftons ear.
I thought I lost you. Even when I found you alive, I believed I knew
That Id be like Rev.
Yes. I thought Id found you, only to lose you again. And Im not sure if Im
strong enough to face that again. The fist in his heart tightened and twisted. I was
afraid In the hospital, they wouldnt let me see you. Goddess, Afton! His words
were stopped by the sweetest of kisses, his thoughts hijacked by the sensation of
movement within his body. There was nothing Afton didnt do right.
Nothing.
260 Belinda McBride
Hed like to have taken the Valoran against the door, hard and fast. Or on the
couch, tumbling among a pile of silken cushions. But they were both shaken, weakened
by their ordeals. Lefi wrapped his arms tightly around Afton and fell into the hypnotic
rhythm of their gentle movement.
Am I hurting you?
Lefi let out a breathless laugh. What didnt hurt? Yet he felt nothing but the
breathtaking pleasure of their bodies moving as one. He slid one hand down to Aftons
ass and urged him on. That was the only answer necessary.
A fine tremor ran through the muscles of Aftons body, and his breathing came
faster, small puffs stirring Lefis hair. He knew Afton wanted fireworks. He wanted this
to be the most thrilling, mind-bending sex Lefi had ever known, and in a sense it was.
He felt every nuance of movement, felt the emotion that whirled and surrounded them
in a golden haze. He felt the urgency in Aftons body rise, and he nudged the Valoran,
then pulled his head down for a deep, probing kiss.
Nectar exploded, flooding his body, triggering rainbow flashes that lifted him to a
higher plane. Afton gasped, groaned, and stared down into Lefis face. His dark eyes
were nearly black now, glittering with the influx of Lefis pheromones.
Lefi cried out, his climax gripping and spilling, throwing him into the stars and
then back down just in time to witness Afton as he came. His body arched into a taut
bow; his face twisted in ecstasy. His choked cry rang through the room as his seed
spilled into Lefis body. Just when he appeared ready to come down, a second orgasm
ripped through him, but this one was internal, and Lefi slipped his fingers down to
Aftons slick, wet opening, then filled him, marveling at the powerful contractions of his
climax.
The broken cry trailed off, and Afton collapsed on top of Lefi, panting and damp
with sweat. He didnt pull out, and Lefi held perfectly still to keep him in place as long
as possible. After a moment Afton moaned and rolled to his side, and Lefi followed.
The Bacchi 261
They lay face-to-face, just inches from each other, coming down from the high of
sex, nectar, and love. Afton ran his fingertips over Lefis lips.
Is it my imagination, or did your cock change in size?
Lefi let out a short laugh. Do you need me to explain the dynamics of the
erection?
Afton frowned. Thats not what I mean. When I took you in my mouth, you
didnt seem so large, but later, you were bigger. Much bigger.
You recall Ive told you before that the Somian are made for sex. Thats a learned
skill.
Really? Aftons face smoothed, and he looked thoughtful. He then lifted Lefis
good arm and examined the bracelet. Did you get a charm for that?
Of course I did.
Afton busily sorted through the tiny charms, studying them in detail. Whats this
one?
He peered at the tiny golden figure. Erotic dance. And that one is for double
penetration.
Afton looked at him with a bit of shock and awe.
Female. One male in front, one in back. We can try that if you wish.
The Valoran simply arched a brow.
This onehe sifted through and lifted a delicate gold insigniasymbolizes
triple penetration.
How? Aftons eyes were huge.
Well, it was rather a cheat. I cant really claim credit beyond being a participant.
We took her top and bottom while she fucked another woman. He stifled a smile. She
was a Valoran Bacchi. The only one Ive ever met.
Aftons head drifted to the pillow, and Lefi could see his mind raced. You could
take me while I take another person on my cock?
262 Belinda McBride
I personally believe its what your species was made to do. But thats just me.
He rolled to his back. Im taking a new protg soon, did I tell you?
No, you didnt. Afton stared at the ceiling, no doubt still working out the
mechanics of group sex in his mind.
Its going to be Taurean.
That got his attention. No doubt part of Afton was glad for the continued
companionship of the other gen, but part of him might very well be jealous. Ill be
training him, though it will rarely be hands-on. But in those cases, we might need a
third
His cheeks flushed, yet Afton took the suggestion seriously. Ill think about it.
You do that. He rolled forward and nuzzled Aftons neck. Then he gently
nipped the Valorans earlobe and smiled when Afton shivered.
I love you, Inspector.
If he expected reciprocation, it didnt come. Instead Afton rose from the bed and
moved swiftly out of the room. He returned and crawled up to Lefi, then knelt next to
him.
Do you suppose theres room on that bracelet? He had his hand curled over
something, but Lefi was distracted. Its permanent. Dont tug. Afton twisted till he
found a spot that satisfied him. He extended his hand and showed Lefi a tiny box.
Youve earned a new charm.
Lefi grinned, took the box, and opened it. He stared for a moment, tears starting in
his eyes. The charm was cunningly wrought. A golden heart was set with a tiny,
brilliant amethyst. A second heart was nestled next to it, set with a bloodred ruby.
Youve captured the heart of a Valoran. That is a rare feat. Afton smiled, the corners
of his eyes crinkling happily.
The Bacchi 263
Afton manipulated the tiny hook on the charm and quickly attached it to the
bracelet. The links caught and melded, holding the charm firmly in place. When Lefi
looked closer, the loop was shaped like a third heart.
This is you. Afton tapped the amethyst heart. And this link is Mhara, who lives
within you. Without her, we would fall apart.
Lefi swallowed hard and blinked rapidly. When did you have this done? I
mean Words failed him. He wiped tears from his eyes. Afton?
Many people love you and were willing to help. I drew it, and Zaah found a
goldsmith willing to create it. She bribed a nurse to bring it in to me once my parents
figured out who she was.
Lefi looked down at the bracelet again; the jewels winked in the midst of all the
gold. It was a subtle token of love, one hed carry with him always.
And here I sit, empty-handed. He smiled, feeling a bit sad.
Afton shook his head and tugged at the brilliant red robe at the foot of the bed. I
cant begin to say all youve given me, Lefi. My life, to begin with. My very self. Id
never have been able to be honest if you hadnt given me your unconditional
confidence. Youve given me the garden and this beautiful red robe.
Yes, the robe. He touched the edges of the sumptuous garment. I saw it and
thought of you.
And you won me with it. He pulled it over his shoulders. Youd have won me
eventually, but this sped up the process. Afton sighed and rubbed his face against the
fabric.
Lefi, you are beauty and sensuality and pleasure. All that was forbidden, and all
that makes life worth living. Your greatest gift? He pressed his palm flat against Lefis
chest. Your heart. He dug into his pocket and lifted out another box. When he opened
it, it revealed another heart charm. This one was a large purple amethyst set into gold. It
hung from a golden chain. Afton handed it to him and leaned forward, then let Lefi
clasp it behind his neck.
264 Belinda McBride
Odd as it sounds, this is my gift to you, and I will wear it always.
Always. Does that mean someday youll marry me?
Afton grinned briefly. Perhaps. Just dont ask me to carry your child.
Children. They always come in twin sets. Lefi could barely speak past the
happiness.
Exactly. Valorans rarely have twins, and I have no desire to try one, much less
carry two. Im sure the surrogate will be honored to carry the children you and Mhara
will make.
Lefi froze. Me and Mhara? Chills ran over his skin as a vivid picture of Mhara
filled his mind. Mharas childrenand his. Could he face the image of her on a daily
basis?
Warmth bloomed in the center of his chest, and he glanced over at a mirror in the
corner of the room. It cast a perfect reflection back.
You look at me every day.
He looked back at Afton, speechless.
Seriously, Lefi, do you think Id pass up the chance to parent children who will
make history?
The Bacchi 265
Epilogue
The sun was setting, and Lefi rushed, pushing through the door of ICE
headquarters. He rushed into the spacious lobby just in time to see the inspectors
slender figure as he hurried down a staircase. Theyd developed a routine, meeting as
Afton left work. His Valoran was branching out, trying new foods and experiences.
They had reservations at a human restaurant later, and Lefi was excited about trying
something new.
So this place is from an Earth culture thats located on the European continent
He trailed off, realizing he hadnt even greeted Afton properly. He bent down and gave
him a proper kiss. So its called Italian and is very popular
Lefi! Afton cut into his conversation. He stilled him with a finger over his lips.
Howd it go with Rev? As usual, Afton cut to the heart of the issue, calming him with
his mere presence.
It wasnt extremely effective. I believe the synthetic pheromones arent the
answer.
The Partains will find the cure. I have complete confidence in them. They
stepped out into the early evening and stood out of the way of rush-hour pedestrians.
In the distance a row of white-garbed children caught his eye. Look.
Afton turned and waved as the group drew closer. Those are the war children.
Theyre Vash orphans. Before school they visit hospitals. It triggers their early empathic
urges and gives them connections they lack.
The line drew closer, and they watched the children pass.
Did you get time off to accompany me to Neo Domus?
266 Belinda McBride
Afton hooked his arm through Lefis, and they began to walk. They headed to the
hospital for a visit with Rev before they had dinner.
My cases are all reassigned for a couple of weeks. While I dont like leaving
them
Theyre in excellent hands. He threw an arm over Aftons shoulder, enjoying the
bond that had grown between them. Scarcely a month had passed since he received the
invitation to the royal wedding on Neo Domus.
I cant quite believe theyre actually going through with the wedding. Those two
have had many obstacles thrown in their way.
It undoubtedly made their bond stronger. Afton reached up and rested his hand
over Lefis shoulder. I look forward to meeting the king and his consort.
They climbed the shallow steps leading to the hospital and entered, skirting
around the small crowd of Vash children. Lefi couldnt help but be impressed by how
well managed they were. Saddened too. If they had been Somian children, theyd be
dressed in colors, dancing and playing games. Instead the little Vash appeared to be
silent clones of one another, though a trace of childlike ebullience occasionally showed.
Afton nudged him and pointed to a tiny child spinning in circles, flaring out the hem of
her robes. She giggled, holding the prim white headpiece in place over her head.
Another child joined her and gently tugged her to rejoin the others. But she just grabbed
his hands and pulled the boy into her dance. She spun with him until he dissolved into
giggles.
Lefi laughed. Shes definitely not one of the crowd.
Some of the children are of mixed race. Shes also younger than the others. It will
be rather sad to see her conform. But eventually she will.
Afton himself had been forced to conform to a mold that didnt fit his personality.
Hed never be as colorful and free as a gen like Taurean, but he was a blessing Lefi
wouldnt trade for the world.
The Bacchi 267
They had started toward the lifts when Lefi was hit from behind, low on his
injured leg. He staggered, and Afton caught his arm and steadied him. When he looked
down, the child looked back up at him. Shed managed to slip away from her group.
So you turn tail and run? Her voice was high and very much the little fighter.
She stepped forward, feinting with an imaginary sword. Stand and fight!
Lefi knelt and found himself looking into a pair of extraordinary blue eyes. They
were rimmed with dark lashes, and if she ever spent time in the sun, he was certain
shed have freckles on her nose.
This Vash orphan was very, very human.
She danced away from him, oblivious of the rest of her class. Hey, come back!
She turned and scurried back to where they stood. Youre the forcemen man.
Afton nodded.
She looked up into Lefis face, an expression of near adoration in her blue eyes.
And youre the green man.
I am a bit green! He glanced up to see a teacher scurrying their way. A little boy
ran in front of her, slowing her down. Mostly its just my hair, though.
She gently stroked his hair with her tiny hand. My daddy has orange hair.
Your daddy?
Yep. But hes not real. Braden says so.
Lefi smiled at her. She clearly compensated for the rather dull life she lived among
the Vash.
Whats your name?
The child leaned into him and pressed both hands to his cheeks. She then looked
over at Afton. Im not supposed to talk to strangers.
Thats true. Afton touched the tip of her nose. But you know you can talk to
me.
Cause youre a forcemen man.
268 Belinda McBride
Thats right, Im an enforcement officer.
My names Habra. Then she leaned in and whispered into Aftons ear.
He pulled back, looking confused. Thats not your real name? What is your real
name?
Its a secret. She smiled, and an enormous dimple peeked from her cheek.
Habra! Come back! The little boy was at her side, eyeing the men distrustfully.
The same blue eyes shone from his face, though his skin was darker. His brows and
lashes were jet-black. The teachers coming! For some reason Lefis skin prickled in
warning as he looked from one child to the other.
Im so sorry, sirs! The teacher had arrived and began to hurry the children
away. She straightened the little girls clothing, and a braid slipped from under her
headgear. The teacher tucked it back into place, then stood, pulling her quiet dignity
around herself like a cloak.
Shes a handful. Lefi winked at the little girl.
Indeed she is. But in spite of herenthusiasm, she shows a great deal of
empathy. We hope she might pick up healing as well. Her brother shows a great deal of
promise in spite of his species. She glanced at him and smiled gently. The boy flushed
and stepped back, nearly hiding in her skirts.
The teacher walked away but glanced back over her shoulder. Thank you for
your patience with the children.
They grinned at each other, and Lefi wondered if Afton was thinking about
children and the happy chaos theyd bring into their lives. What did she say to you?
She just told me that she had another name. One her daddy gave her. They
stepped into a lift. The doors closed, and they started upward. The glass wall of the car
looked out over the city. The imaginary daddy with orange hair. I dont recognize that
word. Its a color?
The Bacchi 269
Yes, it is. Lefi looked around, trying to find an example. Its an old Earth word
for a colorlike that. He pointed at the glass to the fiery sunset.
It was the same color as the braid that had slipped out of Habras head covering.
The very same color as
Goddess!
And the boyBraden The same blue eyes, but his hair was black. Lefis heart
slammed in his chest, but he knew. He just knew He hit the command to return to
ground level and held his breath until the doors slipped open again.
Where are you going?
Lefi didnt answer. He sprinted down the corridor after the Vash orphans. Hed
need DNA samples to know for sure, but he knew who those children were.
After coming to a stop outside a room, they glanced in. Lefi saw the child sitting
on the side of a patients bed, legs swinging as she chattered away. The little boy stood
at the bedside, holding the old womans hand.
Lefi, what is this about?
Impulsively Lefi hugged Afton hard to his body. When he let him go, he waved to
the teacher, gesturing her to come outside.
Afton, I think we just found the best wedding gift ever!

270 Belinda McBride
Loose Id Titles by Belinda McBride
Belle Starr
Blacque/Bleu
The Bacchi
* * * *
The AN UNCOMMON WHORE Series
An Uncommon Whore
When I Fall
* * * *
Educating Evangeline
Part of the anthology Doms of Dark Haven
With Sierra Cartwright and Cherise Sinclair
* * * *
Hunting Holly
Part of the anthology Doms of Dark Haven 2: Western Night
With Sierra Cartwright and Cherise Sinclair
The Bacchi 271
Belinda McBride
While Belinda's upbringing seemed pretty normal to her, she was surrounded by a
fascinating array of friends and family, including a polyamorous grandmother, a
grandfather who is a Native American icon, and various cowboys, hippies, scoundrels,
and saints.
She has a degree in history and cultural anthropology, but in 2006 made the life-
changing decision to quit her job as a public health paraprofessional and stay at home
fulltime to care for her severely disabled, autistic niece. This difficult decision gave
Belinda the gift of time, which allowed her to return to writing fiction, which shed
abandoned years before.
She has two daughters, six Siberian Huskies, and an array of wild birds that visit
the feeders in the front yard. She supports no-kill animal shelters, and donates platelets
twice monthly at her local blood center.
As an author, Belinda loves crossing genres, kicking taboos to the curb, and
pulling from world mythology and folklore for inspiration. She is committed to taking
her readers on an emotional journey and never forgets that at the end of the day, shes
writing about love.

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