Pillaged (Raider Warlords of the Vandar #3) - Tana Stone

Chapter One


I’d never intended to be a runaway bride.

Then again, I’d never expected that the imperial admiral my parents had arranged for me to marry would be such a decrepit old man. I shuddered as I thought about his bald head that constantly seemed to glisten with forehead sweat and his gaunt, wrinkled face.

“They can take their arranged marriage and shove it up their asses,” I muttered, hurrying along the corridors of the Zagrath ship as the sirens screamed overhead.

Gathering handfuls of ivory organza in my hands, I tried to move faster—and ignore the straight pins pricking my palms. If only I hadn’t been in the middle of a wedding dress fitting when the battle against the Vandar raiders had begun, it would make my escape attempt easier. The layers of gossamer fabric flowed from thin straps at my shoulders, draping across my chest and gathering at the snug waist, then belling out to the ground and sweeping into a train behind me. It was not an ideal outfit to be staging a covert escape in, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, and at the moment, I was definitely a beggar.

I laughed darkly at the idea, but the sound was hollow to my ears. Considering that I’d been raised the only daughter of a rich merchant on the human settlement on Horl, I’d never known anything but comfort. I’d never left the planet before, or had any reason to do so. I’d been happy riding my horses, and going to the occasional dance where I would ignore most of my suitors.

Marriage was not something to which I’d given much thought, nor was the Zagrath empire that controlled our planet, but that was before my parents had decided to make a sweet deal with the empire. They got more money than they could imagine, and were elevated to the ruling class of Horl in exchange for me. Or, more specifically, in exchange for me marrying one of the imperial admirals.

“Fuckers,” I said under my breath, flattening myself against the wall as a group of black-helmeted soldiers pounded by me with laser rifles held high.

But as angry as I wanted to be with my parents, I couldn’t help but miss them and feeling a twinge of sympathy. I shouldn’t blame them for the admiral being such a fossil. They’d only been told that he was the most powerful man in the Zagrath fleet, and that my children would be able to rise to the top of the empire. They’d thought they were doing what was best for me. At least, that was what they’d told me when I’d begged them not to let the Zagrath soldiers take me.

I hadn’t even tried to reason with my father, whom I’d already heard talking about how he would spend his payout. But I’d clutched my mother’s hands, hoping my appeal would soften her heart. Instead, she’d merely tugged her hands away, smoothed one of my glossy, black curls, and patted my cheek.

“I knew there had to be a reason you were so beautiful. This way, your beauty will not be wasted on the boys here.” Her eyes glittered as she’d backed away. “You will be an imperial admiral’s wife.”

Bile rose up in my throat at the thought of screwing the old admiral. I’d been too startled by his age and his lack of hair to do anything but gape at him when I’d arrived on his ship and met him for the first time. For his part, he’d made no attempt to hide his tongue darting across his puckered lips and gaze roaming over my body as if he owned me, which, I guess he technically did.

“Well, not anymore you don’t.” I rounded a corner and fell in step behind a group of soldiers jogging down the corridor.

Despite my shock and horror, I had a clear memory of the layout of the cavernous ship from when I’d arrived and been escorted to my guest chamber, and if my guess was right, these soldiers were heading to the hangar bay. Luckily for me, they kept their heads facing forward, and their loud boots drowned out any sound my bare feet made as I hurried along behind them.

I wasn’t completely sure what I would do once I reached the hangar bay. The Zagrath fleet was in the middle of a battle with at least one Vandar horde, and incoming weapons fire made the ship shudder every few seconds. The faint scent of smoke was another reminder that the ship