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With no choice but to choose a woman to leave the royal harem, Aaron needs time to think. He evades the guards and his father's clutches on an adventure outside of the palace. Love blossoms and danger lurks as Prince Aaron is forced to return home. Can he disrupt the Courtesan Slave Trade, or will the courtesans find themselves in a fate worse than hell? A dystopian erotic adventure featuring a kick-ass heroine and a virtuous prince.
Courtesan Slave Trade is a spin-off series featuring Prince Aaron of Gem Apocalypse. This book begins two days before The Emerald Virgin. It can be read as a stand-alone but will be enjoyed even more by those that have read The Gem Apocalypse saga.
To love is to destroy oneself or that which you love. Happiness is a mere memory in times of anguish. There were days Prince Aaron despised his father, the king of Brayleigh. He was a force of nature, like a hurricane that swept in and stole the women he desired. No prince could deny the king a courtesan of his own, even if it meant losing one of his girls.
Aaron had learned how the game had been played. Every month he'd been forced to give up a love to acquire a virgin. Perhaps if he didn't fall so hard every time, it would be easier.
The monthly festival always came quick, and with less than two days to choose who would leave the palace, Aaron felt his heart pulsate and his stomach tense. There were many decisions he could make, but forcing a woman he had loved away was a horrendous task to ask of anyone. Every month he swore not to fall for another virgin that offered herself to him, but she would always be appealing and interested, making him desire her even more.
He needed time away from the palace. With twelve gorgeous courtesans that gave him everything he could desire, who would he send away? He tried not to think about the life they'd be subjected to. It wasn't a secret that the women weren't sent home to their families. The Courtesan Slave Trade had prospered tremendously and the thought made Aaron physically ill. Most courtesans found themselves subject to the black market, traded as a slave for the most affluent buyer, unless other arrangements were made. His girls deserved a better send off.
For months he'd been forced against his wishes to choose a courtesan to leave the palace. Though difficult, he'd chosen the older and least desirable to him, preferring young virgin women. He'd snuck the girls out during the night, helping aide in their escape. They deserved to be happy. If King Gideon ever discovered what Aaron had been up to, the punishment would be atrocious. Aaron would have to make sure no one said a word. He could trust his older brother James, but August would take any chance he had to get on his father's good side. Aaron didn't know how Henry would react. His brothers all enjoyed the monthly allotment of women and the royal harem.
Aaron slipped out of the room, leaving Celeste sound asleep on his bed. He needed someplace to think and that wasn't in the palace with the girls sucking up so that they wouldn't be sent away. Didn't they know he'd spare their life? He had assured them that their future with him was always safe and secure, whether he was their prince or lover.
He trudged down the stairwell, a pair of keys in his hands. He made it to the bottom of the stairs, and with his hand on the door, he caught sight of his father at the opposite end of the hall.
"Shit," he cursed under his breath, unable to get away without being seen. It wasn't as though he didn't have permission to leave freely, however, it had been frowned upon. If he wanted to leave the palace, he needed to take a driver and a guard or two with him. Aaron wanted neither of those to accompany him on his journey. Drivers and guards couldn't keep secrets. He'd learned that in the past and wasn't going to make the same distinctive mistake again.
"Where are you off to?" King Gideon asked, strolling across the marble floor. He paused directly in front of Aaron, waiting to hear his answer.
Aaron shoved the keys into his pocket, hoping his father hadn't noticed. "Does it matter?" He'd always walked a fine line of obeying his father and doing what he felt was right.
"I asked you a question," his father said. The king's tone was short and abrupt, reminding Aaron that he was not yet in charge.
Aaron knew he'd never be king, and he'd grown accustomed to that fact and had been fine with it. He recognized that he didn't have to be king to change the world. Not that he felt it needed a lot of changing, just bits and pieces. He didn't agree with how his father handled the disposal of courtesans. They were people not trash. Did he not realize that, or more likely he just didn't care.
"Out," Aaron said. "I need to think." He also had to make the arrangements for transporting the courtesan out of the palace without drawing suspicion. It didn't happen without intricate planning.
"Don't waste too much of your time among those outside," Gideon said. "We drew walls around our home for a reason."
Aaron breathed out through his nostrils, trying to remain calm. He restrained himself from shooting an insult that would get him belted by his father.
"Of course, Father," Aaron said. He brushed by the king of Brayleigh and made a swift exit outside for the car.
From the corner of his gaze, Aaron caught sight of movement along the side of the vehicles, ducking just below the window not to be seen. Whoever it was hadn't done a great job of hiding. Had a guard been assigned to him on protective detail? Aaron could lose whoever followed him. It wouldn't be the first time he'd escaped the men from the palace. He knew they'd be too ashamed to admit defeat to his father, which made the challenge into a game for Aaron. How quickly could he lose the guards that followed the vehicle he drove?
With the keys in hand, he approached the door to the silver sports car and the handle automatically unlocked. Aaron climbed into the front seat and pressed the button on the dashboard to roll down the top of the vehicle. The sun shined and the air felt warm enough to enjoy the fact it was a convertible. The car had some age but it barely passed as an antique. His father would have a fit if he knew which car Aaron took. Why keep it if no one would drive it though? Perhaps with a heavy ounce of permission and a driver, Aaron would have been able to sit in the passenger seat, top up.
Aaron had been given driving lessons but that had been more out of sheer curiosity. His father had no knowledge of the instructions or practice trips to the black market with the driver. The lesson had been a secret gift, but for what reason? Aaron recognized people could be nice, but they never gave without wanting something later in return, even if it was a favor. As a prince of Brayleigh, he had to be careful what he promised.
Aaron started the engine and slowly lurched forward, waiting for the exit at the gate allowing him to leave. From the rearview mirror, he watched a dark blue sedan pull out from the parking lot. The only cars on the premises were those owned by the royal family.
Without a doubt, Aaron watched the guard follow him from the palace. He inched forward through the gate and then pressed the pedal down to the floor, speeding away from the palace onto the paved road. There were a few roads that were kept in moderate condition for the royal family. Most had been abandoned, much like cars.
Aaron hugged the curves of the road, refusing to slow as the road winded farther from the palace.
"Where are we heading?" a soft feminine voice asked, popping herself up from the almost non-existent backseat. There wasn't much room. She laid on the seat, a black blanket covering her, blending into the seat.
His eyes widened and heart leapt as he glanced back at the blonde haired, blue eyed beauty.
"What the hell are you doing, Celeste?" Aaron asked.
"I wanted to be with you," she said. "You always sneak off from the palace, and I thought you wouldn't mind the company. Where are we going?"
Aaron pushed the dark bangs from his light blue eyes. "Stay down. We're being followed by palace guards. If you can buckle in, you may want to, I'm going to try and lose them."
"Guards?" she asked, her voice hesitant. "Do they know I left?" There'd be punishment for a courtesan escaping the royal harem without permission. Would Aaron protect Celeste and insist he brought her along?
"Stay down," he said between gritted teeth. Aaron pushed the gas pedal farther down to the floor, taking another turn, getting ahead of the guard tailing them. Aaron took a sharp right, taking his foot off the gas as the car glided into the opposite lane of the turn. There were no other cars on the road.
He pressed the accelerator, forcing the car well past the once posted designated speed limits signs. Those no longer applied and certainly not for a prince. He hugged the road and made another swift left, admiring the ocean along the coast on his right.
"You can get up," Aaron said. "The guard won't follow us any farther." The road continued to narrowly wind with a gorgeous view of the beach down below.
"Are you sure it's safe?" Celeste asked. She glanced behind the car for the sedan but it wasn't there. Her eyes locked onto the ocean before climbing into the front seat. "Thanks."
"Thank me all you want, but you will be punished for disobeying the rules," Aaron said, making it clear what he intended to do. She'd get a spanking when she returned to the palace. A faint smile tugged at the corners of his lips. He didn't enjoy hurting the girls, but he did appreciate that they listened and obeyed. Besides, staring at her bare bottom and the glistening pink folds as she dripped with wetness, it stirred his desire for her even more. There was something arousing with the mere fact he was in control, well, most of the time.
Celeste squirmed uncomfortably in her seat and buckled the seatbelt across her chest. "Can we skip the spanking?" she asked.
"Maybe when you're invited with me, instead of sneaking along. I could let my father punish you instead." Aaron hadn't meant the offer, it had only been used as a threat.
Celeste's eyes widened and she shook her head. Fear dripped from her voice. "Please, no."
It had the intended consequences he hoped for. The girls in the harem all heard stories of King Gideon, Celeste included. Unless you wanted to be in his chambers, you didn't want to receive his punishment. A spanking was child's play for Aaron's father.
"Not another word about it," Aaron said with insistence.
Celeste nodded and seemed to relax in her seat. Her gaze stared out the window. The ocean pounded against the rocks. "Where are we going?"
Aaron sighed. "I'll tell you when I want you to know." Maybe she'd make it easier. He could leave Celeste to find her own way home. It sounded cruel, but it was a better fate than facing the slave trade. Besides, if he returned her to the palace, he'd just have to sneak her out on his own. This was the safer option.
She didn't say a word.
Why had she snuck out to begin with? Had she hoped to spend time alone with him and win her way further into his heart? He would ask her, when the time felt right.
"Swear you won't tell a soul what we did. Even if the other girls ask and beg you to secrecy." Aaron couldn't risk his brothers knowing what he was up to, or worse his father. It had been the reason he hadn't invited Celeste or any of the other eleven girls with him. Trust was hard to come by. Everyone always had an agenda.
"I won't tell anyone, Aaron."
"Good because if you did, I'd be forced to send you away."
Celeste stared at Aaron as he drove. Her hand reached out, resting on his arm reassuringly. "You have my word. I'd never break it."
Aaron turned off the winding road and drove along a broken road that had been buried under grass and weeds.
He drove two miles inland before stopping the car alongside a single engine airplane.
Aaron had spent a decent amount of time riding in planes as a child, when his father would scout the land for hidden families trying to evade the rule of the land. The prince had a different idea though for using the airplanes.
He parked the car and stepped out, walking across the fresh mowed grass. The land had been tended to, as had the airplane. The metal shined under the bright rays of the sun.
"Any hints?" Celeste asked.
"Come with me and you'll see for yourself," Aaron said.
"Have you ever flown one of these birds?"
Aaron laughed. "It's called an airplane, and yes I know how to fly." He climbed into the plane, offering Celeste a hand as she joined him in, sitting in the back behind him. Though small, there was enough room for her and what he had planned.
He flipped the engine on, worked the controls. The plane lurched forward. Aaron couldn't see Celeste's expression, but he suspected she was nervous and frightened.
Within seconds, the plane sped down the grassy runway and Aaron guided the metal bird into the sky.
"Oh my�that was amazing!" Celeste squealed, peering down toward the shrinking ground.
"The fun is just getting started," Aaron said. He flew them east farther from the castle. Though King Gideon had rule over all of Brayleigh, the eastern most cities were abandoned. Most of the heavily populated areas had been devastated during the Gem Apocalypse. A war that had been fought primarily over eye-color, where Sapphire's had been the dominant race. The population had migrated toward the palace, where markets had been set up along with slave trading centers. Living alone in the middle of nowhere didn't help anyone.
Aaron flew the plane two hours before circling a lonely cabin. Smoke spiraled from the chimney. He lowered the plane until the wheels touched the grass, slowing to a bumpy stop.
"What are we doing out here?" Celeste asked. She'd kept quite most of the flight.
"Collecting taxes," he said.
"Taxes?" Celeste repeated as she followed Aaron from the plane and onto the grassy knoll. "I've never traveled so far from home."
"I suspect not." It made sense that she wouldn't have traveled beyond the immediate lands near the palace. "Just stay behind me," he said, instructing her on what to do.
She followed two steps back.
He liked that he could give her orders and she listened. Well, most of the time. She hadn't exactly stayed in the royal harem, it would have been safer for a courtesan. He felt grateful she didn't ask him about his lame excuse. No prince would collect taxes. Did she not realize that or had she simply thought it best not ask? She already had one round of spanking coming at her. Perhaps she didn't want Aaron to blister her bottom.
Aaron marched up to the front stoop, stepped upon the porch, and knocked with a ferocious force. "On orders of the King of Brayleigh, I demand you open your home at once."
Locks clicked on the opposite side of the door, and an older man hesitated before unlatching the lock, a scowl crossing his brow. He was at least as old as Aaron's father, possibly a few years on him.
The moment the older man recognized the prince, his demeanor shifted to be more pleasant. "Prince Aaron, it's an honor to have you at my home."
"I'm sure it is," Aaron said, snidely. He stepped into the foyer and circled through the house, his eyes glancing over every crevice with one artifact in mind. "Where is it?"
"Where's what?" Celeste asked, keeping her voice hardly above a whisper.
"Let me make you lunch, you must be famished." The older gentleman limped into the kitchen.
"Not so fast!" Aaron knew with growing suspicion that what he'd come for had been hidden away. Could his information have been wrong? "You have acquired a painting that once belonged to the Metropolitan Art Museum. It is now property of Brayleigh. Hand it over, or we will search the premises and be forced to find it ourselves, taking anything else we desire for the palace."
"Aaron?" Her voice held a hint of concern.
"You're delinquent on your taxes. Do you have any children?" Aaron asked.
"None," the old man said. "It's just me living here, all alone. Take whatever you want. I have nothing of any value to me."
Celeste fingered the paintings hanging on the wall. "These are all replicas. I bet the real treasures are held upstairs."
Aaron didn't correct the young blonde. The antiques could have been in a cellar somewhere too, off the property. The information he had acquired from the records after the war indicated that Mr. Ravenna collected several items of interest.
"You're a treasure hunter," Celeste said, glancing back at Aaron. She led the way up the stairwell. "I get dibs on the jewelry."
Aaron shook his head. There was nothing to indicate that any valuable jewels had been housed at the Ravenna residence.
Celeste turned the handle to the bedroom at the top of the hall and opened the door.
Standing on the opposite side stood a young woman, shotgun in hand. She couldn't have been any older than Celeste.
Aaron opened his mouth, but before the words could come to defuse the situation, the red-haired young woman pulled the trigger, spraying her in a sea of red.
A shot rang through the house, slamming into Celeste's chest just a few feet away. Celeste collapsed to the ground.
Defend and then save. That had been Aaron's upbringing. He disarmed the red-head, unafraid of the weapon that had just been fired. The woman's hands shook. Had she intended to shoot or had her finger slipped on the trigger?
"Help her!" Aaron demanded, pressing the gun into the young woman's chest. "If she dies, you die."