My novel, Resort Debauch, is about a naïve, self-centered, tantrum-prone teenager who is also one of the richest people in the galaxy. I placed her on a world owned by the Resort Debauch, a playground for bored rich folk, where the planet’s original inhabitants are debased and made to live in squalor. I stripped away her riches, her power, even her beautiful hip-length hair and watched her grow from a spoiled child to the leader of a rebellion.
Resort Debauch turned out to be more than a coming-of-age romance. The story spanned a decade, and it took three books to tell it properly. Now, for the first time, all three books are in one, so you can settle back and immerse yourself in this decadent world. Here’s an excerpt to get you started.
Resort Debauch by Roxanne Smolen
Anneliese stepped out of the Rimer’s Cope, her husband’s ship, and into the blinding brilliance of a rifle blast. Metal screamed as the shot careened off the vessel. Cade pressed back to shield her. Anneliese peered around him, torn between fright and fascination.
Footsteps echoed through the spaceport. A native-born man ran into view. His tattered robe twisted behind him. He glanced about, chest heaving.
He must be a criminal. Who else would run from the authorities? With a shudder, Anneliese hid her face in Cade’s soft shirt. She didn’t want to be on this dangerous, decadent world. Head swimming, she turned her gaze away.
And caught sight of another face in the darkness. She squinted to make out the hidden man. His dark robes blended with the sooty nose of a shuttle. In the shadows, his eyes shone like liquid gold, and as he lifted them to meet hers, the hood of his garment fell back to expose a face sharp with angles and planes.
A cry died in her throat. She tugged Cade’s sleeve, but he shrugged her grasp away. The man stared through her as if haunted by loss. Then a shriek echoed through the spaceport, and he backed away from sight.
Anneliese looked again at the criminal. He lay screaming on the floor as a ring of uniformed guards closed around him. They struck him with the butts of their rifles.
Someone barked a guttural command. With echoing boot steps, a huge man strode down the aisle between the docked ships. His robes billowed from the force of his gait. He knocked aside the guards and snatched up the prisoner as if he were a child.
The criminal cried out in his alien tongue. His bright eyes bulged. Then the giant drew a knife from his voluminous robes and opened the man’s throat.
Blood spurted like a dark fountain. The man dropped with a wet plop. Anneliese gasped, unable to look away.
With a growl, the giant stomped off. The guards murmured. One nudged the man with his foot.
Cade shouted, “You there. Explain this outrage. I’ll not have my bride placed in jeopardy.”
A guard bowed. “My apologies, gentle sir.”
“Your feeble regrets are worthless. Who’s in charge here?”
Anneliese stepped from her husband’s side. She stared at the pooling blood. It couldn’t be real. How could this man be dying before her?
How could she have watched?
A knot of revulsion rose up her throat. She wanted to run, to dive back into the Rimer’s Cope and fly far away from this horrid place.
Cade brushed back her mane of silver, hip-length hair. “I’m sorry, Lisa. Please don’t allow this spectacle to affect our honeymoon.”
Anneliese looked up and forced herself to smile. She knotted her fingers in his shirt. Cade draped his arm across her shoulders. The gesture made her feel enclosed—her head barely reached his chest. He drew her past the motionless body, the glaring guards, down dark rows of docked ships. Anneliese focused upon a pair of doors. She stumbled as if her feet were numb. In the back of her mind, she kept hearing the man strike the pavement.
A slap of cool air sharpened her senses. Cade pulled her into a large room. Stark light fell from the ceiling. Stunted trees grew in stone pots. Communication cubicles lined the far wall, and several security guards loitered about the booths.
A tinny voice drew her attention. “Good afternoon, gentle sir and miss. Welcome to the Resort Debauch.”
Anneliese peered at a customs officer sitting behind a desk.
He had the dark amber skin of a native-born, and his golden owl like eyes gleamed. His smile showed crooked, brown teeth. “May I have your traveling permits, please?” He used a translation device—his words didn’t match his lips.
Cade handed him a pair of triangular chits, which the man snapped into a computer console. The workstation flashed with the rapidly changing screen.
The man blinked. “Anneliese Thielman? Any relation to Mortar Thielman?”
“Her father,” Cade told him.
“Is that so?” He leaned back to appraise her.
Anneliese swallowed several times before finding her voice. “The man outside. What was his crime?”
The officer spread his hands. “Sabotage. Thievery. Who can say? Locals are not allowed in port.” He removed the chits from the console, recorded their codes on a docking pass, then handed the pass to Cade.
Anneliese pressed forward. “But they killed him.”
“The punishment for any infraction is death. But do not be concerned, young miss. Our laws do not apply to patrons. May you both enjoy your visit.” He dismissed her with his discolored smile.
Cade guided her through the security door and down a long hallway. Violet sani-light shone from every direction as if meaning to bake them.
Anneliese felt ill. “His blood was like ink.”
“You certainly aren’t your father’s daughter.”
“He would never abide such a display.”
“Oh, no. Of course not.” Cade rolled his eyes.
She stamped her foot. “My father is a gentle and sensitive man.”
“If he’s so wonderful, why did you run away?”
“To be with you,” she murmured.
“Out of the frying pan.” He laughed then hugged her shoulders. “Don’t be so serious.”
She nodded and tried to smile, but the criminal’s terrified face dominated her thoughts. Suddenly, she remembered the second man, the one hiding in the shadows. She wondered if he’d been a criminal as well.
They reached the end of the hall. Cade ran the docking pass along an optical character reader. The heavy door clicked and slid to the side.
Laughter burst out. Wide-eyed and hesitant, Anneliese stepped into the hotel. People milled about as if the lobby were a galactic meeting place. Some wore flowing caftans. Others were dressed in less than Anneliese wore to bed at night.
“Astounding,” she whispered.
Cade smiled. “Didn’t I say you’d love it here? I’m going to register. Why don’t you look around?”
“No!” She tucked her fingers under his arm. “I’d rather stay with you.”
They navigated a maze of couches and tables. Sunlight fell from large leaded windows. Potted plants drooped with fragrant blooms.
As they approached the front desk, the clerk smiled. She wore only a silver loincloth. “Welcome to the Resort Debauch, where all your fantasies are real. May I see your docking pass, please?” She stretched out her hand, and her breast jiggled.
Heat rushed to Anneliese’s face. She averted her eyes.
“We’ve been expecting you,” the clerk told them. “Your suites are ready. Do you have luggage at your ship, anything you would like to bring along?”
“My satchel,” Anneliese cried. “I forgot it.”
Cade lifted her hand and kissed her fingertips. “Darling, I’ve told you. Everything we need is here.”
“But I want my diary.”
His pale eyes hardened. “I said no.”
“You’re my wife, now, not a sixteen-year-old brat.”
“We can retrieve it for you later if you change your mind,” the clerk said. “May I arrange a complimentary tour of our facilities?”
Cade slid the key chips from the desk. “We’ll take the shortened version. My wife is fragile and needs her rest.”
“Of course. Mr. Ahzgott will lead you to your rooms.”
A native man with a weathered face rounded the desk. He bowed then walked away, talking over his shoulder. “The Resort was founded two-hundred and twelve Standard years ago by Burke Noyade of the Gamma Coalition. He chose this planet because of its distance from normal trading routes and because of its unlimited volcanic energy.”
He led them across the vast lobby, past cliques of laughing, half-clad people. Anneliese tried to concentrate upon his recital, but her eyes kept flicking to the side.
They turned a corner and entered a room with a gushing waterfall. The air glittered with rising spray.
“How wonderful.” Anneliese hurried to the edge of the pool.
As she did, a naked man stepped from the cascading water. He ran his fingers through his streaming hair, oblivious to her. She covered her face with both hands.
“Yes.” Ahzgott sniffed. “We have several pools and hot tubs available, the most popular of which is on the second level. It is fashioned after a desert geyser on the Seretine flats.” He led them past the fall. In a low voice, he added, “Water is our planet’s most precious resource, and must be carefully reclaimed.”
Anneliese walked with her head down so her hair would hide her burning cheeks. She’d never before seen a naked man.
They entered a wide corridor.
“What’s in there?” She motioned toward a pair of ornate doors.
Ahzgott halted. “This is our main banquet hall. Similar halls are at the end of each wing. Banquets begin promptly at dusk and continue throughout the night.”
Anneliese stepped inside and glanced around. Swathes of gold velvet draped the walls and archaic lanterns hung from the ceiling. A semi-circular dais filled one wall. The center of the room held a long, stone table.
“A magnificent piece.” She ran her hand over its surface, admiring its shimmering grain. “Where are the chairs?”
Ahzgott motioned. “Housekeepers have been polishing the floor.”
Anneliese looked down. Her image reflected as if she stood on a black mirror. “I’ve never seen flooring like this.”
“It is made of blood.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“When the Resort first came to this planet, the local inhabitants pledged their fealty with blood. The architects poured it over the foundation. A symbolic gesture.”
Anneliese’s face drained. She stared as if mired in gore.
Cade laughed and swept her off her feet. “Excuse my wife. She’s a bit faint of spirit.”
Anneliese gulped the air. “Did you know?”
Still holding her, he swung about in a dance.
“You knew,” she cried. “And you let me walk—”
“No. Of course not.” He looked down at her, his pale eyes alight, and gave her the crooked smile that had so captured her heart. “But you’d best reconcile this in your mind, for here is where we dine tonight.”
He carried her to the corridor and set her down. Without a word, their guide continued to walk. Anneliese glanced at the silent room then hurried away.
The corridor ended at a featureless wall. A panel opened.
Ahzgott ushered them into a cubicle. “The lifts utilize a computer relay system, but they are operator controlled. The operator can be reached at any time.” He pressed a lone button on the wall.
“Destination?” a voice asked.
Ahzgott said, “Twenty-seven south.”
The cubicle rose straight up then turned to travel sideways. Anneliese smiled with the sensation. When the door opened, she stepped out into a sunny courtyard beneath a transparent dome. Flowers lined the walkway.
“Here we have the penthouse suites,” Ahzgott told them, “eight in all. Yours will be in that direction.”
“Thank you. We can find our way from here.” Cade tossed him a coin.
Ahzgott snatched it from the air. Head inclined, he stepped backward into the lift and departed.
Cade hugged Anneliese. “Well, what do you think? Is it everything I told you it would be?”
She sighed, reveling in his embrace, feeling protected and warm. “Paradise,” she told him then realized it was true.
Late afternoon sunlight streamed through the dome and painted iridescent auras about the blossoms. A couple strolled hand-in-hand along the colorful array, and a woman sat on a bench, reading an old-fashioned book.
Cade drew Anneliese across the courtyard and stopped before a door. He pressed the key chip into the lock.
Their honeymoon suite. Anneliese felt suddenly nervous and laughed to cover it. “No voice recognition? No handprints?”
“The people who frequent the Resort Debauch don’t appreciate having their prints recorded.” He kissed her cheek. “If you have any problems, I’ll be right across the hall.”
“Separate rooms?” she blurted.
Cade cupped her chin in his palm. “We have the rest of our lives to be together. I don’t want to rush you.”
“But, I thought—”
“Enough. Go inside and rest. I’ll buy a gown for you to wear to dinner.”
Anneliese searched his face. Tears welled in her eyes. Why did you bring me here? Why here, when we had the whole galaxy for our honeymoon?
Her husband urged her into the suite. The door clicked shut in her face. She wrapped her arms around an empty sensation in her chest and stepped back. The suite was large and sunny. The vaulted ceiling slanted into a window box that ran along the outer wall. A sunken pit dominated the great room with a theatre-style vid-screen opposite it.
Woodenly, she moved to the doorway of the master bedroom. The entire ceiling was transparent. Part of the penthouse dome. A blush touched the sky as the afternoon waned. She stared at a bed that could hold seven people. Heavy, engraved posts anchored its corners. The wall above held an antique oil painting of a nude woman depicted with wings.
Anneliese fell onto the bed. With her face buried in a mound of fragrant, satiny sheets, she wept until she fell asleep.
Anneliese hesitated before the banquet hall. Laughter belched from the open door. She tugged at the bodice of her gown and wondered again what Cade could have been thinking to buy such a monstrosity. It was cut too low in front and slanted too high in the back. Tufts of filmy organza surrounded her hips like a cloud.
Cade placed his hand on her back to urge her forward, and Anneliese stepped onto the barbarous floor. What sort of people decorated with dried blood? She held her breath, certain she could detect a foul odor.
The room brimmed with color. All manner of costume, all caste of people filled the hall. They circled around like snapping dogs awaiting their supper.
Anneliese clung to her husband. She drew strength from his presence. He glanced at her, and her cheeks grew warm.
Over the din, a voice hailed them. A tall man moved their way, grinning and shoving people aside. “Cade. I heard you were back.”
“I couldn’t stay away.” Cade reached to shake with him. “I’d like you to meet Anneliese Thielman, my bride. We’re celebrating our new life.”
The man’s dark eyes ran over her. Anneliese resisted the urge to fold her arms over her dress.
“Mortar Thielman’s only daughter?” The man cocked his brow. “Quite a catch.”
Cade slapped his back. “I would love her anyway, even if she wasn’t insanely rich.”
Both men laughed. Anneliese clasped her hands, searching for something clever to say.
Then another voice called, “Cade! Will you be at the games tonight?”
“I might stand in,” her husband called back.
“Well, bring a voucher. I feel lucky.”
The man with the dark eyes shook his head. “That Prin. Always feeling lucky.”
“Fortunately for us, he isn’t.”
Anneliese smiled and glanced back and forth. She enjoyed games. She’d often played sticks-and-runners with her nanny as a child. Perhaps she knew of the game to which they referred. She was about to ask when the man lifted his mug.
“I’m empty,” he said. “Come with me, and I’ll buy you an ale.”
Cade shook his head. “Thanks, but I think we’ll find a seat before they’re all taken. I don’t want her to miss the excitement.”
“Catch you later then.”
Anneliese spoke up. “It was nice to have met you, Mister…” She realized Cade hadn’t introduced his friend.
The man smirked and disappeared in the crowd. Cade chuckled. He guided her past the semi-circular dais toward the massive table she’d seen before. With a bow, he held her chair.
Anneliese sat. She drew her fingers through her hair, allowing it to fall behind her.
“Mane of moonlight.” Her husband kissed her neck. “You drive me wild.”
She shrugged him away. “Why didn’t you want me to know the name of your friend?”
“Did it seem that way? How rude of me. Here, let me introduce you to someone.” Cade raised his voice. “Harmadeur! Join us!”
Anneliese smiled and looked around. Words of greeting died in her throat. The huge man she had seen at the spaceport strode toward them.
“Darling,” Cade said, “this is Harmadeur-Fezzan-Gendarme, the Security Master here at the Resort. Harmadeur, this is my wife.”
Anneliese could only stare. Harmadeur leaned toward her across the table. He had the same reflective eyes as the customs officer. The rest of his face hid behind a jutting, black beard.
He took her hand and pressed her fingers against his lips. “Young wife,” he murmured, “you are a beautiful woman. Perhaps you will consent to spend an hour with me. Cade is welcome to watch, of course.”
With a gasp, Anneliese drew back.
Cade laughed. “Lisa, it’s a joke. He’s only complimenting you.”
Harmadeur showed a row of stained teeth and sat opposite them at the table. Instantly, a trembling boy filled his water glass. Anneliese hid her hands in a fold of her gown and wiped the moist kiss from her fingers.
“Where is Ratchet these days?” Cade asked.
“Murdered in the night.” The man lit a cigarette the color of tar. “He was skimming.”
Anneliese closed her ears to their banter. The room roared, sound crashing and holding her separate as if she were an island amid an immense sea.
It’s good that Cade knows him. An officer of security would be a fine friend to have. But in her mind, she saw Harmadeur shaking the captured man like a doll, slicing his throat.
Suddenly, people converged upon the table. Every seat filled. Those without chairs sat upon the floor and lounged on cushions.
Did they realize they sat upon dried blood? Anneliese shuddered and drew her feet up the rungs of the chair.
A group of boys emerged. They struggled with oversized trays as they passed among the patrons.
“You must try our tea, little naifa,” Harmadeur told her as he removed their cups from a server’s tray. “It is brewed from a moss found only in this region.”
Anneliese stared at the muddy-looking liquid. Bits of material floated on top.
“Let it settle a moment,” Cade said, “and drink it slowly. It’s rather bracing. Keep you awake all night.”
Harmadeur laughed around his black cigarette, blowing great puffs of foul-smelling smoke. “Legends tell of feeding the tea to our armies. They would fight for days and never notice they were dead.”
Anneliese sipped from her steaming cup. The tea had a nutty-sweet flavor, surprisingly pleasant. She waited a moment but didn’t feel any of the effects.
“Very nice,” she proclaimed and took another sip.
Harmadeur watched her. Anneliese leaned toward her husband and slid her fingers over his arm. Cade flashed his crooked smile. Her heart soared. She would endure anything if only to see him smile.
The young servers returned, this time bearing black vats of soup. They ladled the thin liquid into bowls.
Anneliese turned toward the boy who attended her. “What kind of soup is this?”
The boy bowed his head and would not meet her eyes.
“Lisa, don’t confuse him. He’s a dimwitted local,” Cade said.
“But, I just—”
“Take the soup.”
Flames leaped to her cheeks. She accepted the bowl then glanced around to see if anyone had noticed the reprimand. Harmadeur continued to stare. She wanted to scream at him to stop. Avoiding his eyes, she wiped away a bit of soup that had dripped onto the tabletop.
Warmth emanated from the surface as if the table absorbed the lamplight. A dark grain swirled in deepening layers, patterns shifting like a brewing storm.
“Mr. Gendarme,” she said, “this table is exquisite. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Does it please you, little naifa? It is malpais, from the center of our world. This table is the largest piece known to exist.”
Cade nodded. “Their artisans carve the stone into trinkets. It was their only source of commerce before the Resort arrived. Malpais has value, but the quality has diminished.”
Harmadeur leaned forward, his gold eyes shining. “If you were mine, I would build you a house of malpais. You would be the richest woman in the galaxy.”
Anneliese met his gaze squarely. I am the richest woman.
“Try the soup.” Cade picked up his bowl.
She realized there were no utensils.
A roar escaped the crowd. Two men ran into the room. They wore only flowing trousers. Goaded by the revelers, they pranced about the table, parading a dead animal on a litter.
“The animal is a stegort,” Cade murmured near her ear. “It tunnels in the hills. Quite ferocious, I understand.”
Anneliese saw blue muscle and strings of yellow fat. “They can’t expect us to eat that! It hasn’t been cooked!”
Harmadeur threw back his head and laughed. She glared at him.
“They cure the meat with spices then leave it in the sun,” Cade said. “The heat out there would cook anything.”
The two men lowered the litter onto the dais before the table. With curved blades, they carved thin strips of meat from snout to rump. Brown liquid oozed from the slices.
Anneliese gulped her cooling tea to wash back nausea. A glint of amusement played in the huge man’s eyes.
With a bang, she slammed down her cup. “I saw you kill a man in the spaceport today. You seemed to enjoy it.”
“It is my job to protect the patrons. I enjoy my work.”
“The other guards carry rifles. Why don’t you?”
Harmadeur dropped his cigarette into his water glass and got to his feet. “Sluice rifles are, shall I say, too impersonal. Your questions are quite direct, little naifa. I would enjoy discussing this further, but as you have reminded me, I have duties to attend. May you both enjoy your meals.”
He bowed then strode away, robes billowing behind him. Anneliese took a shuddering breath, torn between relief and fear of repercussion. She glanced at Cade, but he merely drank his tea.
After a moment, she asked, “Why does he call me that?”
“Naifa? The nearest translation would be pet.” Her husband leaned close and stroked her hair. “I believe you’ve made an impression.”
Before she could respond, the room swarmed with server boys, each brandishing a different food. They offered the strips of uncooked meat wrapped around the tines of forks.
“Try some.” Cade took a bite. His lips glistened with grease.
Anneliese quailed. She chose a few vegetables she recognized. Her head buzzed, and her tongue felt numb. She requested more tea, and a server filled her cup immediately.
The lanterns dimmed. Three women appeared upon the dais. Long strands of silver hung from bands about their necks. Catcalls and a smattering of applause rounded the room. Anneliese clapped with them, glancing around.
The women raised their arms, their faces blank as if in a trance. Slowly, they began to sway.
“The dance is called moiru,” Cade whispered. “It is a test of endurance and timing.”
“But there’s no music.”
He shook his head. “Listen.”
The women cupped their hands as if beseeching an angry god. Shifting their weight, they set their costumes in motion.
Anneliese reached for her tea. Her ears rang. Her head pulsed as if with the tolling of a crystal bell. “Their dresses. They’re wearing the music.”
The dancers swayed, rolling their hips. Their costumes poured over them like liquid metal. Lifting and sweeping, the long strands parted, allowing glimpses of naked flesh.
Anneliese gasped. She looked to either side of the table. The diners watched avidly. Noise diminished as if they held their breaths.
The ringing streamers switched the air, shimmering in the faint light, and the performers teased them higher with their movements, exposing the length of their thighs, the roundness of their buttocks.
Anneliese slid her fingers along her throat. Her heart pounded erratically. She watched the undulating woman nearest her, watched as her thrusting movements set her costume ablaze. The dancer’s amber skin glistened with sweat. Rivulets streamed down the muscles of her stomach.
Anneliese’s head swam. The air vibrated with the ching-ching of music. Heat rose in waves, heavy with the odor of musk.
The women danced faster. Their costumes thrashed and flailed. Sparks flew as the strands whipped their lithe forms. One woman cried out, sending the crowd into frenzied jeers and laughter. Behind Anneliese, the watchers stood from their cushions. They crowded her and pressed against her back.
Then the woman in front began to spin. Streamers stood straight out from her body. The crowd shouted, counting the seconds.
Anneliese echoed their chant. Her body pounded with the rhythm of the dance. With sidelong glances, she watched the men at the table, their wide hands drumming, their fervor unrestrained.
The woman staggered. A shrill whistle rose from the onlookers.
Cade said, “It takes skill and concentration to dance the moiru.”
The pirouetting dancer slowed. The streamers shed their momentum until they draped her body. Once again, the women swayed with their arms outstretched. A roar of applause filled the room.
“Enjoy the dance?” Cade asked.
Anneliese clasped her hands together. “Oh, yes. I feel exhilarated.”
“I think that’s the tea.” Her husband smiled.
Anneliese leaned against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her. She could stay that way forever.
A woman’s voice interrupted their embrace. Anneliese looked up to see the dancer who had been spinning.
“Master Cade,” the woman said, still breathing hard from the dance. “I did not know you would be here.” She spoke stilted Standard. Wet hair plastered her forehead, and a scar creased her cheek.
“You know I couldn’t miss your performance,” Cade said. “Lisa, I would like you to meet Farin. Farin, this is my wife.”
The dancer’s shoulders stiffened. Her eyes narrowed.
Anneliese smiled. “I’m happy to meet you, Farin. Your dance was thrilling. And such a lovely costume.” She ran her fingers along the silver strands then drew back with a gasp. “They’re like razors.”
Cade laughed. “Skill and concentration. And a little blood.”
Sound crashed over Anneliese’s head. She stared at Farin. Self-mutilation? Passed off as a dance? “Do they pay you?”
Again, Cade laughed, slapping the table. “Spoken like the daughter of a shipping czar.”
Farin’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Gentle fantasies to you both.” She hurried away.
Cade got to his feet. “Enough excitement. I’d best get you to your room.”
“But it’s early.” Anneliese took her husband’s arm. “I wanted to see the reproduction of a geyser Mr. Ahzgott told us about.”
“I don’t think you’re ready for that.”
Cade guided her through the throng of people. Many of the diners were leaving, many more still coming into the hall. Jostled and crushed, Anneliese held fast to the front of her gown.
They stepped into the lift and ascended to their penthouse suites. As the doors opened upon the courtyard, Anneliese sucked in her breath. Midnight lilies glittered in the garden, their lacy edges aglow. Stars filled the dome above, and a copper-streaked moon hung low in the sky.
Cade sat upon a stone bench. “The moon is called Sikar, the Hunter. His sister, the smaller moon, will be along in a moment.”
“How do you know so much about this world?”
He smiled. “The first time I came here, I took the complimentary tour. I had a good guide.”
Anneliese leaned into her husband’s embrace. She felt the pounding of his heart, the gentle rise and fall of his chest. “Cade,” she said, “how do women end up like that? About Farin, I mean.”
“It starts in the streets. A city surrounds the Resort. Locals call it Enceinte, the Enclosed. The people there will do anything.” He sat back and looked at her. “I want to take you there. I want you to see how they live.”
“Is Enceinte the only city?”
“There’s one other. It’s a distance away. Then there are the Llaird, warring tribes of underground dwellers. They take to storming the cities every once in a while, hence the walls about Enceinte.” He kissed her forehead then pulled her into his arms and nestled his face in her hair.
Her hair was what had attracted him. She would never be a dazzling woman—she was too petite, her figure too childlike. Only her hair, her mass of silver tresses, set her apart from the others.
Cade swept his lips across her bare shoulder. Anneliese closed her eyes and lifted her chin. She felt the rising throb of her heartbeat, felt his breath hot in her ear. Cade whispered her name. His hands explored the tufts of her gown then slid upward to cup her face. His fingers brushed her lips, caressing the cleft of her chin, the hollow of her neck. He kissed her.
Anneliese’s head swam. She opened her mouth to his seeking tongue. With more daring than she believed, she moved his hand to cup her breast.
He balked. “I think we should say goodnight.”
Her husband laughed. “Come on, I want to get an early start tomorrow.” Taking her hand, he led her from the starry garden.
Anneliese felt as if, with each step, she was shrinking. What had happened? Had she done something wrong?
“I had clothes sent to your room. Be sure to wear the hat tomorrow. It’s hot out there.” He opened the door for her and turned away.
Anneliese called after him. “Cade, are you going to the games tonight, the ones your friends mentioned?”
“No.” He smiled his crooked smile. “Of course not.”
Anneliese awoke with swollen eyes and a headache. She tossed her nightgown onto the floor and stepped into the hot tub in a corner of the lavatory. Swirling water rose to her chest. Pale yellow flowers surrounded the tub and filled the air with sweetness.
Their scent reminded her of home. Languid pools and crystal streams. Lilies clinging to the rocks. She’d been foolish to think she could be happy anywhere else. Of course, if one were to believe her father, everything she thought was foolish and trivial.
Did he miss her? She pushed the wish away. Father never noticed when she was there. Why would he care that she left?
A groan escaped as she sank lower in the coursing water. She gazed at the ceiling. The skylight showed the colors of early morning, and light danced in spectrums upon the walls.
Where did Cade call home? She knew so little about him. When this wretched honeymoon was over, would he whisk her off to his corner of the galaxy to settle down?
Cade seemed different last night. Such intensity in his moonlit eyes, in his roving hands. She ran wet fingers over her lips. He had never kissed her like that before. There was something primitive in his touch.
Was that the way the barbarians of this world treated their mates? Anneliese thought of the man she’d seen hiding in the spaceport, imagined him pulling her into his arms. Would he be gentle or would he take what he wanted?
Heat crept over her cheeks. She got to her feet. Water crested the tub and splashed the flowers. The air chilled her damp skin. She wrapped herself in a towel and sat at a vanity. A selection of hair brushes lined the edge. The Resort Debauch thought of everything.
She brushed her hair until it shone like a silver cape, then dressed in the red day suit Cade bought. The suit’s puffy sleeves and fitted bodice accented the flatness of her bosom. She looked like a child at a masquerade.
What am I doing here?
Then she heard a rap at her door, and her heart flew. She grabbed a wide-brimmed hat and hurried into the great room. The door opened before she could reach it.
Cade leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed, hair spilling over his forehead. Anneliese dropped her gaze as she remembered her wanton thoughts. What would he think of her?
“There you are,” he said. “You look rested.”
“Actually, I feel dreadful.” She laughed too loudly, still avoiding his eyes.
“You need a cup of coffee. We’ll get some in the marketplace.”
“There’s a market? But you said the local people had no commerce.”
“That was before the Resort Debauch.” Leaving the door open, Cade stepped into the room and urged her toward the window.
Anneliese looked out upon flat roofs and narrow, winding roads. A bicycle traced a forlorn path. “It’s so white.”
He laughed. “Everything is made of stone, their most abundant natural resource. Over there, you can see part of the wall I was telling you about.”
Anneliese looked unseeing where her husband pointed, hyper aware of his masculinity. She leaned into his warmth. A glow enveloped her.
“Are you ready to leave?” he asked.
She smiled and took his arm. They rode the elevator to the lobby. Although it was early, people filled the room, and she wondered if the time of day mattered at the Resort Debauch. Cade pressed his key chip against a door then escorted her into a brightly lit corridor. The violet lights caused her already aching head to throb, and she pulled her hat over her eyes.
“Stay close to me,” he said as they approached a huge door. “Enceinte is dangerous.”
Anneliese looked up. The door towered above her, forged of burnished metals and edged with hammered designs. The center bowed slightly as if rammed from outside. “If it’s so perilous, they should have guards.”
“This is the only entrance to the Resort from the city, and it’s under constant surveillance. If a local should get inside, they’d simply turn the lights up to roast.” He slid his docking pass along the optical reader. A dramatic clank sounded through the metal. He leaned to open the heavy door.
Anneliese gasped at a blast of heat. Sudden clamor made her cringe.
Cade shouted, “Get back, you dumb bastards! Nich! Nich!”
Obscured by glare, he stepped outside. She followed. A group of native-born men surrounded them. Goggles shielded their eyes. They hopped from foot to foot, calling loudly in their gibbering tongue. Sweat streamed down their naked chests.
Anneliese wriggled her nose against the stench. She folded her arms, trying not to touch, to be touched. Behind the men, she saw a row of wicker carriages—jinrikishas drawn by bicycles—and her stomach sank with the thought of riding in such a primitive fashion.
The men danced and shouted. One shook a tambourine. Cade nodded at him then led Anneliese to his cart. She stared at the worn, mud encrusted wicker, and wiped her hands as if already soiled. Cade boosted her up. When he sat next to her, the entire contraption swayed.
The man chortled. With his tambourine atop his head, he mounted the bicycle and leaned upon the pedals. Slowly, the cart pulled away. Gravel crunched beneath the wheels. Anneliese balanced upon the open seat, hands in her lap. The carriage tilted, and she seized Cade’s arm for support. He grinned.
The street narrowed and curved as it wound deeper into the city. Anneliese stared at crowded dwellings hewn of rock. The windows and doors were mere holes in the walls, drawn over with fabric.
Women looked up as they passed. They carried blankets and baskets, or long poles with buckets at each end. As the carriage slowed to turn a corner, Anneliese watched several women roll up the sides of a tent. They raked the ground around a skeleton of poles.
“What are they doing?” she asked.
“There are no toilets in the city. Everyone uses communal tents. In the morning, the women clean them out.”
Anneliese’s eyes widened. She heard the chuckle hiding in her husband’s voice, awaiting her reaction, laughing at her expense. She sniffed. “Fortunately, I went before I left.”
Cade guffawed. The cart jostled and hissed over the gravel. Looking behind, Anneliese watched the women lower the sides of the tent, their chore finished.
A growing racket filled the street. Anneliese saw more men on bicycles, other hotel patrons wearing wide-brimmed hats. Between the buildings, she caught snatches of bright color.
“That’s the marketplace.” Cade motioned. “It’s open only a few hours each morning. No one ventures into the heat of the day.”
As the cart came to rest, Cade stepped to the street. He tossed a small coin to the bicyclist. The man turned the coin over in his hands. Then he put it into his mouth and swallowed it.
“Did you see what he did?” Anneliese cried.
“Where else is he going to carry it?” Cade lifted her from the cart.
She stared as the man sped away. “But, it’s a health hazard.”
“Actually, the biggest hazard is in letting the stomach become distended. Better than an invitation. Once, I saw two local men mug a cabber. One man held him while the other slit his gut, and all these coins came spilling out.”
“Stop it!” Anneliese spun toward him and stamped her foot. “Why do you torment me with such stories?”
“I wish you could see your face. Come on. Let’s get that coffee.” He crossed the street without her.
Anneliese pressed her fingers against her temples. She didn’t want to be there. Her head ached. Too much moss tea the night before. Perhaps some coffee would do her good.
She followed her husband down a path between the buildings. The scent of food and garbage carried on the breeze. Laughter mixed with music. Anneliese peered ahead, intrigued in spite of her misgivings. The path opened onto a Square. The market blazed with brightly robed vendors and stands with garish awnings. Noise rose in a strident cacophony.
Cade took her hand. “Stay close.”
Anneliese gazed around. A boy juggled handfuls of silver rings. A man danced with knives balanced on his fingertips. Most of the people wore goggles. Others used dark cowls to shade their eyes.
Vendors called to them as they passed, leaning from their booths and waving their wares. Metalwork. Jewelry. Cloth.
“Look,” Anneliese cried. “It’s malpais.”
The merchant yelped and beckoned. He climbed onto the counter as if to reel them in.
Anneliese picked up one of the many figurines. The stone’s rich color was nearly black, and the delicate grain shimmered. “It’s a lizard. I think.”
Cade turned the figure right-side up in her hand. It had six legs and a ridge along its back. In place of eyes, two holes were bored through the head.
“It’s called a teioid. A good representation, too.” He placed the figurine on the counter. “Dur scalar.”
The merchant shook his head and motioned toward the teioid. “Piska.”
Cade slammed down his hand and bellowed, “Dur.”
The man’s face fell. He snatched the stone pendant to his chest.
Anneliese gaped. She’d never seen Cade so enraged. Was he going to strike the man?
Then the vendor nodded. He threaded a leather thong through the lizard’s eyes. Cade took the necklace and lowered it over Anneliese’s head. The weight of the smooth pendant tugged at her neck.
She beamed at him. His anger had been a bargaining ploy. The danger hadn’t been real. Cade slapped two coins upon the merchant’s counter, and Anneliese walked off before she could see if the man ate them.
They came to a stand surrounded by tables. Cade held a chair, and Anneliese sat, her fingers wrapped around the stone teioid. She would always wear it, always cherish this unexpected gift. But she was unable to banish the look on her husband’s face, the threat in his voice as he’d bargained for the necklace.
After a moment, a woman bustled toward them, robe dragging on the rocks. She set a coffee pot and a loaf of bread on the table. Anneliese accepted a cup. The woman bowed, and her hood slipped to the side. Her golden eyes caught the light, shining like the coins she coveted.
Cade poured the coffee then broke the bread in half. Steam leached into the dry air.
Anneliese sipped the bitter brew then forced a smile. “This place is fascinating. It’s more a carnival than a marketplace.”
“Flavor to the atmosphere.”
“With all the trade that goes on here, it’s a wonder these people still live in poverty.”
Cade shrugged. “A good portion of their earnings goes to the Resort.”
“That would imply a benevolent government. No, the Resort is more lord than law here, and they expect their cut. This is a carefully maintained society.”
“They’re deliberately kept in squalor?” Realization washed over her. “The Resort uses the city as its tourist attraction then charges the populace for the privilege.”
“You look surprised. I’m sure your father knows the virtues of versatile profit.”
Anneliese frowned, trying to think of a retort, then jumped at an unexpected touch. An old woman crowded her elbow.
“Babesh!” The woman hopped about, brandishing a handful of pointed objects. Her fetid breath sprayed Anneliese’s face.
She snatched her sleeve from the clawing fingers. “What does she want?”
“Soothsayer. Part of their religion. She wants to read your future. Nich! Nich!” Cade raised his hand as if to strike her.
“No,” Anneliese cried. “It’s all right. It might be fun.”
With a scowl, Cade settled back and drank his coffee. The soothsayer drew a child toward the table. The boy was eight or nine years old. His head was large and misshapen, and a string of drool hung from his lips. Anneliese looked away, face burning with awkwardness.
The woman sat upon the gravel and pulled the child beside her. Cupping her hands, she raised the objects then let them fall.
They were common stones, each carved into a geometric shape. As they fell, one of them pointed toward Anneliese. The woman placed it aside and dropped the stones again.
“Babesh,” she murmured.
Beside her, the boy snuffled. His oversized goggles made him look like an insect.
Anneliese shuddered with sudden panic, and she laughed to cover her distress. She motioned toward the growing line of shapes pointing her way. “And this will tell my future?”
Abruptly, the child picked up one of the stones and put it in his mouth. The old woman jabbered excitedly. Rummaging through her robes, she produced a pack of cards and laid them one by one beside the carved stones, finally finding the card that matched the missing stone in the boy’s mouth.
The woman fell silent. For a moment, Anneliese thought she might have fallen asleep. At last, the soothsayer threw back her cowl and lifted her gaze.
Her large, reflective eyes caught the light. She watched Anneliese for several moments. Then she climbed to her feet and placed the card upon the table.
“What’s this?” asked Anneliese.
The soothsayer said, “Your future.”
Anneliese gasped, astounded that the old woman spoke Standard.
“Enough, hag. Be on your way.” Cade tossed his payment.
The woman caught the coin. Then, with her eyes trained upon Anneliese, she opened her hand and allowed the coin to fall. Even in the surrounding din, Anneliese could hear it drop.
Anneliese blinked as if released from a spell. Her senses reeled. The old woman encased the child in her robes and hobbled away.
Cade picked up the fallen coin. “That’s the first time I saw one of them do that.”
Anneliese looked at the card. In its center, a woman with two faces held a sword overhead, one foot poised over a chasm.
“Jefe-Naik,” she read. “What does it mean?”
He held the card to the sunlight. “From this point, you may go in either direction.”
“I suppose that’s true of anyone.” Anneliese wrapped her hands around her cup. She felt chilled despite the heat.
“I’m sorry she upset you.”
“It wasn’t her, it was that… vacant child.”
“Yes. A certain amount of inbreeding goes on here. Luckily, the tourist trade provides enough new blood to prevent a total genetic breakdown.”
“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to have sex with these people.”
He stood. “If I remember correctly, I promised you a tour of the city.”
“Cade, no. I’m not well. The heat.”
“Please.” He held out his hand. “There are so many things I wish to show you.”
Anneliese looked into her husband’s pale eyes and felt her reluctance melt. “Of course.” But as he drew her away, she glanced over her shoulder at the card on the table.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt of Resort Debauch. If you would like to read more, you can buy it for your Kindle at Amazon. And don’t forget, you can also get the trilogy and read to the story’s explosive end.