Devyn de bon ci Laci, prince of the Targonia Royal House, drew his knees to his bare, dirty chest for warmth. Though he told himself over and over to stop, his shivering didn't cease. He was fifteen summers, yet every time he was shoved into this cell, he felt like a child again. Lost, forgotten.

You are a prince, and have been promised to Princess Mika since birth. You disgrace our family every time you even glance at another female. His father's voice filled his head, the disappointment and disdain as fresh as before, and still enough to destroy him.

He'd learned at a very young age to lower his gaze when anything female stepped into a room he occupied. He'd learned to hold his breath so that he wouldn't smell their sweet scents, learned to inch away from them so that they could not even brush his shoulder with their delicious warmth.

But sometimes, he was ashamed to admit, even the thought of those things brought the traitor between his legs to attention, aching, filling, silently begging for contact. Any contact. Even the rasp of clothing would make him moan, desperate.

"Shameful," he muttered, echoing the reproach he'd heard too many times to count. A reproach that always preceded being sent here to "consider the depth of his betrayal."

For this newest indiscretion, he'd been as careful as always. He'd been reading in the library—a text of newly discovered worlds—wishing he were far, far away. Wishing he were anyone other than who he was, when a servant his age, but very female, had entered.

Servants were not supposed to talk to him, weren't even supposed to look at him, but she'd noticed him and had gasped in surprise. He'd glanced up. Rather than race from the room as was the custom, she'd stayed. Rather than pretend he hadn't spotted her, he'd stared, breath trapped in his lungs, skin hot and tight, mouth watering. His pants, already too tight, had strained against his growing manhood.

How pretty she'd been, her skin suns-kissed, her dark eyes heavily lashed, her br**sts straining against her robe. When her lush, pink lips had curled in greeting, his heart had nearly beaten its way from his chest. He'd wanted to rush to her, put his hands all over her body, lick her and kiss her and thrust into her the way a prince was only supposed to thrust into his wife. But she wasn't his wife, would never be his wife, so his guard, never far from his side, had pushed her from the room and called for his father.

How long ago had that been? How long had he been here, trapped in this cell? He'd lost track of the days. All he knew was that he was cold, enveloped by a sphere of thick darkness, denied any sound but the ring in his ears, and alone, forbidden to know the touch of another. In the last, he was greatly familiar. But to lose his other senses, as well ... it was a torment beyond comprehension and one he'd sworn never to endure again. No matter what he had to do to avoid it.

Devyn laughed bitterly I am a failure, even in that.

Hinges creaked, the first noise to greet his ears in so long he nearly moaned in pleasure. But to moan would have invited more punishment, so he pressed his lips together. A second later, a small beam of light shoved its way inside his cell.

Devyn blinked against it, his eyes tearing in pain yet also rejoicing. Finally!

"What do you have to say for yourself?" his father asked, devoid of emotion. Always devoid. Still the sound was welcome, quieting that frantic ring.

"I'm sorry. So sorry." He strove for a calm tone, as unfeeling as he was supposed to be. "I should not have looked at her. I knew better, and I know I'm dishonorable for the way my body reacted. I tell you now, it will never happen again. I swear it."

"That's what you said last time."

"I didn't feel this... shame before." A lie. The shame never left him.

That earned him a nod of approval. His first. It warmed him. "The little whore was tossed into the streets where she belongs," his father said harshly. "She's lucky I didn't kill her."

"Yes, Father." He knew better than to say anything else as he drew his knees tighter against his chest. His nakedness would offend, earning him another punishment, even though his clothes had been ripped from him before he'd been forced in here.

"Do you wish to be a good king? A good husband our people can respect and admire?"

"Yes, Father." Another lie. He did not want to be king. He did not want to be prince. He wanted to be free. The desire was an ache inside him. An ache he'd learned to ignore.

"Then you, more than any other, must control your baser urges, Devyn. Otherwise you are no better than an animal." There was a pause, a hardening of his father's stance. "Otherwise, you are no better than your mother."

His mother, another female he wasn't allowed to see or touch. But sometimes he heard her, laughing gaily in another room, feet shuffling as though she were dancing. Always he shouted for her in his mind, but she never heard him, never called for him, never tried to sneak a hug. "Yes, Father."

A sigh crackled between them, and then a bundle of clothing was flying through the air. Each piece slapped against his face, tickling his faithless skin, his arms too weak to lift to catch them.

"When I discovered how you had thrown yourself at that servant"—his father's tone was sneering —"I summoned the princess. Finally she has arrived. You will be wed today. And so help me, if you ever look at another female, if that beast between your legs ever shows itself in public again, I will kill you myself. I'd rather you were dead than a disgrace."


Bride McKells meandered along the crowded street in the pulsing heart of New Chicago, moonlight and multihued shop lights blending together to create a sparkling canvas of dream and shadow. Chaos and calm. Red brick buildings stretched at her sides, each fairly new, no clear, breakable glass or blink-and-it's-in-flames wood in sight. A shame. She loved peeking into shops and imagining owning whatever was being sold just as much as she loved the smell of pine.

Neither of which she would be enjoying anytime soon. Windows were now made of dark "shield armor," and wood was scarce.

After the human-alien war, everything had had to be rebuilt for strength and durability, even while resources had been limited, the world a shell of its former self. Good-bye extraneous use of pretty glass and sweetly fragranced timber. Now, almost eighty years later—eighty years in which Bride had barely aged—everything was comprised of unattractive, dirt-scented stone.

Not a bad smell, but when paired with the reeking public ... Ugh. Every day it worsened. Perfumes and body odor, flowery laundry soaps and car exhaust. And food. Oh, God, the food, the spices. Her too-sensitive nose wrinkled in distaste. McBean burgers, fried chicken, and the ever-popular synmilk... the list could go on and on. Mind on the task at hand, or you'll puke. Already bile rose in her throat, burning.