Chapter One

Celestial Glade, Golden Realm

Friday, November 1, 3515

The boy dripped in blood and grime, as he stalked toward the village borders. He dragged the remains of his kill behind him, ignoring the gasps and stares of the Gold folk. They stood in clusters, observing but not interacting with the strange boy who had entered their village. He was pale in comparison to their bronzed skin and a few wondered if there was no sun in the land he came from. Some had exclaimed when he first rode in, on a dark beast, and began to chase the cattle that roamed the village freely. None had ventured to stop him, or help when his beast was speared, throwing the boy into the mud. Folk from other lands had arrived in the Golden Realm before, and now were a minor curiosity. The visitors rarely spoke to the natives, and were ignored if they did. Violence against a native would draw attention; the perpetrator was taken into the Celestial Cave and never seen again. The visitors had usually arrived for some specific task and the belief was that success in this, would lead to glory. One visitor had spoken of ascension, achieving a new height in magical purity. Now they noticed, as the boy reached the outskirts of their village, that his skin began to glow white. A moon had entered him, a native woman whispered and made the sign of the Lion across her forehead. A few beside her made signs against evil, averting their eyes as the boy seemed to transform before them. He grew, his limbs lengthening and filling with muscle, as he walked. The beast he dragged seemed no longer a burden, and with each step, the stains on his body fell away. His hair, from a short crop sprang forth and flowed down his shoulders. His jaw hardened, his expression outlined by chiseled brows. Finally, from his shoulders cascaded a black cape, across it, the mark of the gods emblazoned in gold. Before him a silver line appeared, seeming to cut into existence and pull apart the world. The boy who was now a man knelt before the line and bowed his head. Light that seemed to be every color streamed from the void and covered him and the beast. A loud gong sounded from the void and the villagers shifted nervously, edging away from the scene. There was silence for at least three heartbeats before the carcass vanished from beside the man. The man lifted his head, a smile across his lips, as armor began to cover his body. Moments later a sword appeared at his side, the head, a golden lion rampant, and finally a gauntlet over his left arm, the knuckles forming the jaws of a roaring beast.

The man rose, turning his back to the void, and the villagers would later swear that his smile was both cruel and triumphant. He closed his eyes and the next moment he vanished.

– –


Thursday, November 11, 3515

I sat on the bed, clenching and unclenching my fingers, as I waited for him to get back. I couldn't believe this was happening; I had worked so hard to get this post and even harder to be assigned under Commander Bond. It was incredible that, one month in, I should have screwed up so spectacularly. So terribly, I should say; I had never seen the commander so angry. I squeezed my hands together as they began to shake.

His jaw taut, he had hardly spoken on the ride back from the air station. I had tried to explain why I had disobeyed a direct order, why I could not have, in good conscience, abandoned the case files on Project Redcoat after working so tirelessly to acquire them. Why I could not possibly have known that the files were considered 'contaminated,' useless. He had told me, in effect, to shut up. I had, shrinking away from the iciness of his gaze. I knew, of course, what was really pissing him off: losing face with M. As my superior commanding officer, my actions were a reflection on him. Also, as my mentor, he had taken full responsibility for my insubordination. I knew because I had sat in the car while he spoke to the illustrious M. I, myself, had never met M, but I knew he was well respected by Commander Bond.

"Handle this, Bond," I'd heard before the line was unceremoniously cut off. Handle it? Handle her, he had meant. How, I wondered.

The tumblers clicked at the door and I jumped off the bed. What was I doing? I felt my breaths come faster and sank my nails into my palms. He entered the room. I stared at him intently, but aside from sparing me a glance as he walked in, he said nothing. He looked…strained.


He didn't respond.

I kept watching him, all the while at the edge of the bed, inching away as he walked past. He shed his greatcoat and very systematically divested himself of cufflinks, wristwatch, tie and jacket. He sat in one of the tall armchairs by the desk and took off his shoes before addressing me.

"Come here, Augie."

I swallowed altogether too loudly, before forcing my feet to move toward him. Why couldn't he speak to me from across the room? I didn't want to get any closer to him than necessary, but I didn't say any of that.

I finally stood just a foot in front of him, all but wringing my hands. I just stopped short of actually doing that.

"What happened?"

What happened? I stammered something incoherent before repeating the question.

"Yes, Augie, what happened? I would like to understand why, after I told you to abandon those files, you continued to pursue the case."

"I told you in the car, I couldn't –

"I don't think you quite understand me. I want you to explain why you felt that it was okay, for any reason, to disobey my direct order."

He hadn't raised his voice, but there was something infinitely more frightening about that calm, icy tone. Yes, I clearly hadn't understood him at all. There was no reason why I should have disobeyed him, my direct superior. That was simply not an option.

"I can't," I let out, rather weakly.

"I see," he said, sitting back. His phone vibrated in the pocket of his coat, and he retrieved it, before turning back to me.

"Go into the closet, and bring me one of my belts."

I felt my entire body run cold, and opened my mouth several times to say something. I couldn't. I had heard of this, his stern tendencies, and worse his partiality for corporal punishment. My best friend had warned me – so to speak – that I should be careful to stay on his good side. I had clearly failed in that regard.

"James, please," I began, but then he got up and I backed away quickly. Not fast enough, as he closed the distance between us. He grasped my chin, and forced me to look into his cool, grey and blue eyes.

"Don't make me angry, Augie. Go, now."

He let me go, and I practically scampered into the adjoining room. It had been his study while we were in Berlin, and by the window, was what had been his closet. I stopped after opening it, and couldn't move. Why, why, why? Every one of my girlfriends in the Core texted frequently about how they were enjoying immensely rewarding experiences with their commanders. Even those in the Double O section could not find any negatives to report. But I had wanted the best; I had wanted James Bond, this stickler for rules and unbending disciplinarian. I would confess my initial crush on him. It was impossible not to have one. All the girls had talked about him, in the recruitment camp, and it wasn't difficult to discover why. There was something dangerous and yet exquisitely handsome about Mr. Bond, and of course he was highly respected for his unmatched work in the field. We had gushed unashamedly about him in our cantonments, all secretly hoping to end up as his mentee. Right now, I would have gladly traded my position with any of those girls.

"Augie, get out here."

I jumped and very slowly unhooked a belt from the hangers. I needed to stop this. I needed to do something, say something. I steeled myself and went back into the room.

"Please, James, I'm really sorry, it'll never happen again," I began, as I walked in.

"I have no doubt it won't," he replied shortly, expressionless.

"Please, don't do this."

"Come here."

"Please, James, this isn't fair, I'm really sorry!" I almost stamped my foot, and even I noted the petulant tone that had crept into my voice. But why, why, was he so incredibly unmoving.

I didn't expect him to get up. And I dodged toward the bed, hastily. But he walked past me and instead went to the adjoining door, locked it, and pocketed the key. When he turned back toward me, I panicked and tried to run. Of course, I didn't get far, having stupidly backed myself into a corner. Situational Awareness 101: C-

In any case, he was behind me in seconds.

"This is a lesson, Augatha," was all he said, before relieving me of the belt, and locking my hands behind me in one of his. I was struggling frantically, but in one fluid motion, he had me swiftly over his knee while he sat on the edge of the bed. My legs were trapped between the powerful muscles of his thighs, and when the strap finally fell, I probably screamed. I was crying so loudly; I didn't notice that it only fell four more times; I couldn't possibly have noticed when he stopped. I felt him relax his hold and then he turned me around, so I sat on his lap.

"When I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it. Is that understood?"

"Yes," I let out in a sob, fighting to keep it together. In retrospect, I vastly overreacted.

"Good girl," he said. "Now hush, the worst is over." I didn't quite stop, but I did try.

I had the rather strange urge to cuddle up against him, even though I really should have been running away. And then he kissed me. Just on the base of my neck, sending a flutter down my spine. My urge to turn to him grew unbearable and I squirmed in his lap.

"Stop it."

I stilled, waiting for him to do something else. I could feel the warmth of his body behind mine, and something else. Something delicious curling just beneath my tummy. He squeezed me to his torso, and drew in a long breath, against the curls of my extremely curly hair. It tickled, but the warmth in my tummy spread lower. And then he stopped.

"We should get some sleep." No! No sleep! My silent protest went unheeded and he was already helping me stand and getting up himself.

Without saying another word, he left for the bathroom. I stood alone, and suddenly felt cold. The room seemed to loom around me and I wanted to keep crying. I tried shaking my head to clear the feeling, but it persisted, so I sat back down and tried to calm the heck down. I wished he hadn't left, but I knew I shouldn't.

A generalized state of upset, my father would have called it, dismissively. And then would have attributed the tendency to my Ethiopian mother, because 'the British were made of sterner stuff.' I frowned and forced myself to get up and undress. And then I got into his bed. Not the cot across the room that I had slept in all of our month in Germany. I was almost daring him to kick me out, but I secretly hoped he wouldn't. I wanted him to come back out, but shook the feeling away, snuggling under the luxurious duvet.

I was half asleep before I felt him get into the bed.

"Turn around."

I didn't want to, but I did anyway. I was staring at his chest. I didn't want to look at him fully, I was afraid of what I would read in those grey-blue eyes.

"What are you doing?"

The room felt oddly quiet and I felt heat creep across my face.

"I wanted…" I wasn't sure how to finish, so I reached out and placed my hand on his chest. Pectoralis major, my brain recited, a silly recollection from my anatomy training. I was chewing on my bottom lip, and getting warmer by the second, because he hadn't said anything and my hand was still touching him.

I chanced a glance up at him and caught the almost cynical raise of his eyebrow. It turned me shy and I pulled away. But in those seconds, he caught my wrist, and in one fluid motion raised it above my head, while rolling on top of me. Wait, I wanted to say, but did not. I just stared up at him with dilated pupils, feeling my heart race. He was watching me through narrowed eyes, and then released my hand, only to snake his arm downward to the crux between my legs. I squeezed against the intrusion instinctively, but he forced against my efforts, his large fingers diving in and sinking between the folds of my lower lips. I was wet, we both knew it, and his fingers were making it worse.

"Is this what you wanted?"

"I…I don't know," I said, with embarrassing breathlessness.

"You should, I won't be gentle."

"Please, James," I couldn't help saying, "don't hurt me."

He smiled, his eyes softening, his fingers moving in a slow, exquisite motion inside me.

"I won't hurt you, Augie, especially not when you beg me so sweetly." I felt myself flush again, as I couldn't help remembering my humiliating begging not so long ago. Was he making fun of me?

"You did," I accused with a small frown.

He stopped his fingers, and scrutinized me quizzically.

"I did," he admitted finally, adding, "but you were bad, and that was punishment."

"I wish you hadn't." I muttered.

"I wish I hadn't needed to."

"You were mean," I rejoined petulantly. He frowned, his eyes narrowing again.

"Not enough, clearly."

I glared at him now, and attempted to wriggle away from him. I couldn't get far, trapped as I was beneath him.

"You're being a brat, Augatha, and you won't like it, if I treat you like one."

"I'm not a brat," I shot back.

"A sulking brat," he added, his fingers now resuming their practiced assault. I squirmed now, mentally trying to ignore the intensely delicious feeling.

"Stop it," I groaned finally, closing my eyes against the assault.


He continued the slow, torturous plundering and I couldn't stop writhing against him, against my will.


I wasn't sure what I was asking for, or why this seemed to go on for so long. It kept going, building toward an increasingly elusive peak.

"What do you want? Do you want me to stop?" The deep timbre of his voice only succeeded in distracting me further.

"I don't know," I struggled to say, straining to find relief against his torture.

"I see."

And then he stopped.

I spasmed weakly, and tried to follow the path of his retreating fingers. He moved off me. Leaving a vacuum that was cold and unsatisfying.

"Go to sleep, Augie," he said with a sigh. I felt the warm expanse of his body beside me, relaxing into sleep. I, on the other hand, stared up at the ceiling, feeling like I had just failed an important test. Why had I not known what to say? I had felt unprepared for his sexual foreplay, reduced to a squirming, incoherent virgin. I was twenty-five, twenty-six in a few days, but I had felt eighteen again. I couldn't say when I fell asleep, but I know I dreamt about him.