Shrouded: Heartstone Book One

Free Shrouded: Heartstone Book One by Frances Pauli

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Authors: Frances Pauli
lip curled around Kovath’s name, but Murrel missed it. Vashia definitely didn’t.
    “Of course.” Murrel sat up straighter. She set her shoulders and assumed a superior expression. Tarren dove for her before she said anything else.
    The table rocked hard to the side as the prostitute vaulted across the surface toward Murrel. Girls screamed and leapt in all directions, but Tarren got hold of Murrel’s shirt. She lifted her right up out of her seat, snarling. “Dirty son of a bitch!”
    “Whoa!” Vashia moved without thinking. She slid beside the pair and put an arm on each woman’s chest and heaved. “Easy! Let her go.”
    “She’s his—his,” Tarren growled, but she released her grip on Murrel. “Spoiled, worthless, pampered purebred…”
    “If it was so great,” Vashia felt her own teeth come out. “She wouldn’t be here, would she?”
    Tarren didn’t move. She stared at Murrel with eyes that sent icy rivers through Vashia’s veins. That look, the woman’s hatred, was meant for her.
    “R—right.” Murrel sputtered. Her eyes had doubled in size, and Vashia saw her hands trembling against the table.
    “Listen.” She needed to diffuse the situation fast. The only thing she could think of was the truth. “Tarren, is it? Do you know who Jarn is?”
    The woman’s eyes shifted. They burned a hole in her, and she knew exactly what the answer was before the woman nodded and pushed herself back across the table.
    “Of course.” Tarren slid into her chair and stared at her knuckles growing white against the surface they gripped. “Who doesn’t?”
    “Well, they were going to give her to him. Got it? That’s how spoiled and pampered she is. Her father gave her to Jarn for services rendered.”
    “Holy shit.” Tarren darted a different sort of look in Murrel’s direction. Vashia deserved that one too, but she’d let Murrel keep it for now.
    “Yeah. Holy shit,” she said. She sat down again and waited for either of them to say something. Nobody did, and the rest of the group had long since scurried back to their respective quarters. Tarren scared them all, perhaps, but looking at her now, Vashia had to feel for her. Pity, and what else? Guilt. Compared to some, it seemed, she had been pampered.
    Finally, Tarren shrugged and relaxed back against her chair. Murrel nearly jumped out of her skin, but she recovered fast enough. Both of them laughed until Vashia had to join in. It was, after all, her story and not Murrel’s. Still, she let them sort it out, and when Tarren spoke, she pretended the words were meant for her.
    “Man,” the woman said as she shook her head and favored Murrel with a sad look. “Whatever we’re heading for, I think you made the right choice.”
    Vashia dropped her eyes to her lap and prayed with all she had that the alpha prostitute knew what she was talking about.

    T he brides disappointed him . Dolfan watched the women disembark and felt absolutely nothing. Mofitan would be pleased. He turned from the shuttle pad overlook and checked the arrival screen. Fifteen minutes to Mof’s arrival. Fifteen more minutes of peace.
    He took the short walk to the industrial bays. The new brides would pass the long way through the atrium to the far dome for orientation. He couldn’t see the point in following. The big transports docked below the shuttle levels, and their cargo would soon roll across the causeway for unloading. At least there he could be of some use.
    He took a lift down to the main floor and followed the first wave of hover sleds out of the hangar. They lumbered through the wide tunnel connecting the arrival point and the industrial dome. There the loads were separated, guided by Shrouded work crews toward the different sectors, one for each primary export of Shroud: fabrics, gems and raw ores. Dolfan turned right and trailed a sled carrying a treasure trove of opal, color changing chrysoberyl, and the banded agates that made his home world such a rare and coveted

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