Preview: "At Her Majesty's Pleasure"

The authors of The Aetherverse are branching out into erotica. Here’s a sample of the current draft of At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, a standalone novella that follows Rubina, a dangerously sexy operative fighting the tyranny of the aptly named Pig Sluts of Scorpio VI. Copyright (c) 2016 E. Bryan, J. D’Urso; all rights reserved. No part of this sample may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the authors.

Chapter 1: La femme en noir

It was a city of shadows, one with a hundred dark alleys for each glowing, neon avenue. An overcast sky, the patter of rain on rooftops and pavement—rivulets down taxi cab windows into the mouths of storm drains, the distant rumble of thunder out at sea, beyond the harbor and shipyards—the eerie quiet that spread after midnight, the debauched laughter of those who would sleep when they were dead; the city was sensual, gloomy but enticing, filled with the primal scent of predatory lust, the tangible excitement of illegal gambling in a basement bar, and the vulgar pride of gangsters and politicians who were one in the same. Le Domaine Rouge had been waiting for the click of an enigmatic beauty’s heels on the cold sidewalk. It seemed if anything, the city had been founded just for her, on that one rainy night.

She stood with her back to a lamppost, the soft yellow light illuminating her wide-brimmed hat and the slight shoulders of a crimson wool jacket; her face, however, hid in the shadow of her fedora, just a black missing piece to the sultry puzzle standing at the street corner. She was no prostitute, though the delicate sliding of her painted lips over the filter of a glowing cigarette suggested otherwise. She paid no mind to the patter of rain on her heels, or the trickles of water down the black leather that tightly clung to her slender legs. Her stilettos sent ripples through the puddle at the edge of the sidewalk as she stepped out into the street, devoid of the glow of approaching headlights and speeding cabs with shady drivers. The puddle snuffed out the orange embers of her exhausted cigarette after a flick of her wrist, extinguishing that one tiny light in the midnight rain. Neon lights replaced it quite effectively, however, flickering in a serpentine path that spelled out the name: Le Salon des Salopes. It was an icy blue sign that marked her destination, toward which she made just a few more feline steps, after having traveled tens of light years to reach that unremarkable bar, just one among hundreds along the streets of Le Domaine Rouge.

Gold-trimmed doors slid open to usher in the Venusian figure like an open sea scallop, and the bar patrons, for just a brief yet hypnotic moment, ceased their slurred banter about lost poker games and loose women. The coat attendant rushed out of the coat room to greet her—he was a young man of about twenty with brown puppy eyes and a trite red bellboy hat, who, like all young men (and all men, for that matter), was hastily smitten by the honey-blonde visitor. She slipped her arms out of her jacket as the boy slid it off her body and onto a wooden coat hanger, revealing a scarlet, carousel stretch corset that seemed unfit to contain the soft crests of her unrivaled bosom. The attendant nearly dropped to the floor in lustful disbelief; the cigar-smoking drunks slumped over on bar stools parted their ranks to make room for the luminous sylph who glided past cluttered tables across the lounge to seize her place. She said nothing when she settled her luscious derrière on the seat, and her gaping-mouthed neighbors kept just as quiet. Even full of beer and brandy, no man had yet proven brave enough to buy her a drink, let alone offer a simple hello.

“Mademoiselle, que voulez-vous?”

“Martini, as dirty as possible, Monsieur,” the woman replied, producing a gold cigarette box from between her breasts. She slipped out a long, slender cigarette, and reached for her lighter, kept hidden in her leather clutch, as it was rather expensive.

“No need,” interrupted a deep voice with a seductive Gallic accent; a handsome patron leaned in with his own lighter, with its tiny, flickering flame in the dim light of Le Salon des Salopes. He touched it gently to the tip of her cigarette until it too glowed in the shadow of liquor bottles and boisterous gamblers. His reward was a teasing exhale of smoke to his face, which curled over his ears and swept gently past his strong jaw like cool, wispy fingers. He could only imagine the woman’s fingers were just as soft, like the red lips that kissed the cigarette as though it were a man. He shivered. “A flame for a name, mademoiselle?”

“Rubina,” she cooed, presenting to the man her outstretched hand, implying her demand for a true gentleman’s greeting. The light kiss placed upon her fingers obliged her; his lips lingered at the glimmering emerald ring, brushing it as though it were a hard candy to be toyed with the tongue until his mouth tasted like sugar.

“And your nom de famille, Rubina?”

“There are some things I let a man know on the first night; others, though, are best saved for the second evening,” she replied with a deviant smile.

“What might I learn tonight, then?” he asked with obvious curiosity, of the most primal, masculine kind. “Surely some secrets just beg to be told, especially when they have such perfect lips to whisper them.”

“Whispers bore me. Being heard is much more satisfying.”

“I imagine your neighbors must be quite fond of you.”

Rubina polished off what little remained of her martini with a quick cocking of her head, and laughed, “Fond? No—more curious, I’d say.”

“Maybe even envious?”

“Of me?” she scoffed, sweeping in to light the man’s cigarette on his behalf.

Non, the man beside you, who hears you clearly.”

Rubina had to admit she was impressed, as she’d never met a charismatic Revenue Agent before, across the dozens of planets and systems that eventually led to that backwater world, and that seedy bar, and that utter rarity among the government’s fingertips. She knew his name; her sitting beside him with a hand upon his was all meticulously planned, and not a seductive twist of fate. She had friends in all places, scattered throughout the League of Arterra, and they knew that man in the dark blazer, and they led Rubina straight to him.

He was Jean Richard Leroux, the hardbody agent of Le Bureau d’Impôts Planétaire; like all the pictures Rubina had skimmed through days earlier, he was fair-skinned, with dark, meticulously styled hair and eyes the warm color of Tresorian chocolate, still clear through his frameless, narrow glasses. He’d opted to leave a tie at home that night, and kept his white shirt casually unbuttoned low enough to display a leather cord necklace with a small, ancient Franc coin nestled between the muscles of his chest. And clearly taxpayer money was compensating him well, because he sported shining leather shoes, handmade no doubt in Mediolanum, and upon his wrist glimmered a gold, Zionese-Teutonian watch. It was unfortunate, really, that he’d been caught in Rubina’s vigilante vendetta. She was sure he was well-intentioned with his work, but in the struggle against a thieving, insatiable government, collateral damage was inevitable. His one solace was that she had every intention of making his last few hours ones to die for.

“Chambre Étouffante is no stranger to foreigners, of course, but I must ask you,” Jean Richard began, raising a hand to the bartender to order her a second martini, “what is an Briton as charming as yourself doing in a place known mainly for a discreet lifestyle full of questionable contacts, at best?” He was right, as they were at the edge of Gallic space, where the egalitarian society of the romantically Parisian capital of La Seine and the erratic laws of the Inner Rim began to merge, in a transition from peaceful order into legal chaos. What was she doing there, if not to break the laws that all the good citizens of Chambre Étouffante knew were meant to be broken?

“Business,” she replied succinctly, accepting her next drink. “Like the rest of us.”

“You’re hiding something, and I find it particularly enticing.”

“Tell me: what makes you so certain I’m not telling you everything you asked?”

“Well,” Jean Richard said as he secured himself another cognac neat, “I happen to be an expert in martinis.”

Rubina raised an eyebrow and put down an empty glass. She didn’t even bother to question his meaning out loud.

“Perhaps I should say: I’m an expert in martini-drinkers.”

“If that’s some sort of idiom in your native Gaulois, I can assure you it doesn’t exist in Anglic,” she reminded him playfully, though half-joking, which he noticed.

Ce n’est pas une expression idiomatique, mademoiselle. A man can learn quite a bit about a woman simply from the cocktail she holds in her hand all night.”

“And what does a martini signify, psychologically speaking?”

“Normally, a woman sipping a clean, classic drink is sophisticated, possibly with wealthy upbringing; she is deeply and passionately devoted to traditional femininity, choosing timeless little black dresses over more explicit costumes. She’s the type a man makes love to, and who would never be so vulgar as to be ‘fucked,’ as you Britons say.”

She stirred her drink with its decorative toothpick, causing the pale green clouds of olive brine to swirl about the glass, and plucked the pierced olive with her fingertips to swallow it after two tiny bites. “Clearly, I’m not that type of woman.”

“Very perceptive. A woman like yourself scorns everything that’s classic and traditional, in the most provocative ways to a man with an appetite; she sullies what’s clean, choosing a life of diversion, excitement and raunch instead. She would never gently plead a man to ‘make love’ to her; if she gets her way (which she always does) then she’ll give a man no choice but to ‘fuck’ her. And I very much doubt that any man is opposed to her desires.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were calling me a slut and a whore.”

“Never. Others might say that about people like you and me, thinking we’re disrespecting ourselves, or succumbing to some sexual psychosis, or even that we dislike ourselves so profoundly that we’d seek self-validation from any man or woman who gives us a passing glance. But we know better, of course: there might be shameless people guilty of all those violations of self-worth, but we are not them. Is there anything wrong with looking to enjoy all the infinite pleasures nature has given us, maybe even the Creator Himself, if He exists? Why should we apologize for indulging in what we can offer each other for our mutual satisfaction?”

“Is that what a man with a taste for cognac thinks, or just you?”

“A cognac-drinking man knows how to savor a moment, and let the taste of a woman’s company linger on his tongue. He examines the color of her personality, smells her sweet scent, and respects her for who and what she is. But don’t mistake this for passivity, my dear: at the end of the night, he still consumes her, for his own pleasure.”

“I imagine your penthouse is stocked with liquors of a higher quality than here,” she speculated. “A selection fit for a proper gentlemen with a refined taste in cocktails and women.”

“I’ll show you a bar the likes of which you’ve never seen.”

Rubina pushed her cigarette into the bottom of the frosted glass ashtray before her and picked up her clutch. “How fortunate for a connoisseur that the finest wine you’ve ever tasted is willfully adding herself to your collection.” Jean Richard pulled his keys from his back pocket with a deviant smile. He jingled them lightly, like a dinner bell, for she was to be his main course. He had no idea, however, that his prey had claws.

The rain had reduced to a swirling mist by the time Rubina raced down the neon-lit Rue des Vagues in Jean Richard’s passenger seat. His auto, once far too upscale for their seedy backstreet lounge, was now at home among the elegant, Haussmannian skyscrapers of the city’s downtown; the engine hummed like a cat’s purring as Jean Richard switched on the radio, filling the open night air with ancient classics: Bizet’s enticing L’amour est un oiseau rebelle, that iconic, decadent Habanera of an exotic gypsy drawing in a hopelessly smitten man, sounding out with strings and synth. Rubina looked upon the twinkling skyline of Le Domaine Rouge, the rainbow of lights that danced upon the surface of the shoreline, and she couldn’t help but succumb to the humbling awe that comes from recognizing the greatness of Man’s works, the mile-high fruits of his labor, and just what can come from his unique ingenuity among the myriad races of Convergency. And beside her was such a man, his capable hands firmly gripping the wheel, as he guided the two of them to the place where he might enact his will, and use Rubina as his canvas in an act of genius that brought forth both creation and destruction: the opening of a window to a world of pure, carnal pleasure, and the fiery demolition of the walls a woman erected to keep a hungry man at bay.

“Nous sommes arrivés,” he announced while they passed through the open garage doors at the base of a high-rise, La Garçonnière. Jean Richard was far too sophisticated to leave his auto among the others, so they began to rise up on an auto elevator pad, ascending each level until they reached his penthouse and its private garage on the four hundredth floor. He opened the door for Rubina, who needed no help, but who allowed him to think his chivalry was still necessary. She held out a slender hand, and he lifted her from her seat like a butterfly gently leaving a flower she no longer needed, for she’d found a more bountiful wellspring of sweet, addictive nectar.

Red wine trickled into her waiting glass after her host popped a bottle of vintage 2770 Stellasangue from the sprawling vineyards of Romaea. With most men she would have likened the wine to a stream of blood from another weak-willed, bleeding heart; the predator who watched silently across the room, however, was not one of those men. He sat opposite her on a leather couch, his arm resting atop the seat back, speaking not with words but with the open-mouthed body language of a man who confidently claimed that territory as his own, inviting her to either approach and nestle beside him, or be hunted, and made to lie beneath him. His wine swept about the bottom of his glass as he idly swirled it around, his eyes flashing with the same deep, sumptuous red of the lustful poison both he and Rubina had touched to their lips. As Rubina tilted her glass to savor the last drops, it became clear that Jean Richard meant for her to taste more than just a costly vintage. Legs wide with the dominant arrogance of a man about to take a woman for his own pleasure, he grinned, offering Rubina a hypnotizing glimpse at the tightly cradled bulge between his legs, which was begging to be released.