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Loyalty

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She was hauled in by the upper arms, hands bound tightly behind her back, feet dragging on the ground.

The guards slammed her to her knees in front of the dais, and she looked up at the Emperor, eyes pleading, tongue automatically swiping at the blood dripping from the corner of her mouth. Her jaw ached where the guards had punched her, but it barely registered. She had bigger concerns right now.

Philippa stared down at her, dark eyes like daggers.

“My Emperor, please—“ Katrina began.

“Give me one reason,” Philippa whispered, slowly and deliberately, “that I shouldn’t kill you right now.”

“It wasn’t what it looked like, I swear. Let me explain!”

Philippa’s eyes narrowed and she reached down, grabbing her by the neck, fingers digging painfully into her jaw. Katrina winced, but she didn’t look away. Showing fear wouldn’t do anything to help her now.

The Emperor’s voice was soft, but it didn’t make her words any less frightening. “You were found floating in an escape pod from that pathetic traitors’ ship. The rest of his followers are dead or filling my agony booths. If I am not satisfied by your explanation, know that I will enjoy the sight of you bleeding out at my feet for your disloyalty."

Katrina nodded emphatically and Philippa let go of her. “I heard rumors,” she explained. “Lorca was planning to make a move on the throne.”

“How?”

“I had a spy in Michael’s retinue.”

That earned her a sharp glare, but Philippa didn’t say anything. It had been strictly off limits to place people close to the Emperor’s only daughter, but any anger Philippa would have had in other circumstances was tempered by the knowledge that that daughter had committed the ultimate betrayal.

“I knew she and Lorca were… “ She hesitated, licking her lips. Lovers. Fucking. Defiling themselves and everything they stood for. The flash of rage in Philippa’s eyes told her she already knew the details of that relationship. “They were up to something,” she finished. “But I needed more. And for that I needed to get closer to him. I was trying to infiltrate his group, but he didn’t trust me. I wasn’t able to find out anything.”

“You mean you were trying to fuck him.”

“Of course I was,” she sneered. Just because the fool thought himself in love with the girl he’d been like a father to, didn’t mean he was faithful to her. “And I succeeded. But it didn’t work. I’ve worked under you for too long, he was suspicious. He wouldn’t tell me anything useful.”

Philippa’s eyes raked over her appraisingly. “A convenient story.”

“A true one,” Katrina insisted. “My loyalty has always been to you, Emperor. It was the only way to protect you.”

Philippa moved closer, a single finger gently tracing Katrina’s jaw affectionately. “And how do I know I can still trust you?”

Katrina leaned forward. “Please Philippa,” she whispered. “I’ll do anything. My loyalty is to you, it always has been.”

Philippa stared down her silently, eyes suspicious. She pulled a small dagger from her hip and pressed the point into Katrina’s throat. She scraped it across her skin, just enough to raise the smallest drop of blood. Katrina didn’t dare move.

“You disobeyed a direct order. You undertook a secret reconnaissance mission without authorization. And you let that filthy traitor touch you. If you’d been caught, the information you have would have been an invaluable asset to him.”

“I never would have divulged information to Lorca,” she insisted.  

Philippa smiled cruelly. “That’s what everyone says until you get your hands on them.” Katrina opened her mouth to respond but Philippa continued. “Even if you are being truthful and I still have your loyalty, you have made grave mistakes, Inquisitor Cornwell. Do you think you deserve to be punished for those misdeeds?”

“Yes, Emperor.”

“Do you think you deserve to die for them?”

Katrina paused, weighing her responses. “Yes.”

Philippa blinked in surprise, then smiled. “Oh really?”

“Deserve, yes. But you can’t afford to kill me now. Lorca is still out there somewhere. He disappeared, but it’s only a matter of time. You need people you can trust to help you take him out.”

Philippa pressed the dagger harder into her neck and another droplet of blood joined the first, dripping together down her neck. “Then what punishment do you deserve?”

“Whatever punishment my Emperor seems appropriate,” she said contritely.

Philippa smiled and began to walk a tight circle around Katrina. She paused behind her and Katrina felt the sharp point of the dagger in her back.

“Do you trust me?” Philippa asked.

“Yes,” Katrina whispered. She tried not to breathe.

Philippa moved suddenly and Katrina tensed, waiting for a blow that didn’t come. Philippa swung down, cutting through the bonds holding her wrists with a sharp flick of the wrist. Finally freed, blood rushed back into her hands, fingers tingling as feeling returned to her extremities. She rubbed her hands together, breathing deeply in relief.

Philippa walked the rest of the way around her, replacing the dagger smoothly into its sheath on her hip. “I’ve given you too much latitude. And that’s as much my fault as yours, I see that now.” She knelt on one knee in front of Katrina, and took her chin in her hand, raising Katrina’s gaze to hers. “You’re going to be on a very short leash until you can prove your loyalty to me again, Inquisitor. You’ll be tending to all my needs. Do you think you can handle that, Katrina?”

Katrina grinned at the implication, fear replaced quickly by arousal. “Oh yes, Emperor.”

“Excellent.” Then she licked Katrina’s neck, tongue lapping at the small trail of blood.

Katrina gasped and shivered, hair standing on end. Philippa pulled back, licking her lips, and Katrina felt desire burning in her belly. Katrina leaned in and Philippa closed the distance, kissing her hungrily. Katrina responded in kind, thrilled by the faint metallic tang on her lips. She nipped at Philippa’s soft lips, earning herself a hand tightly clenched in her hair. When she finally pulled back, dizzy with lust, she grinned. “Are you sure your pet Senator won’t get jealous?” she teased.

Philippa’s open palm connected with Katrina’s face with a sharp crack and her jaw burned anew. Katrina rubbed the tender skin and Philippa grabbed her by the neck, making her sputter. She leaned in close. “You will not speak of the Emperor’s Consort in such a fashion.”

“Of course not, Emperor,” she forced out around Philippa’s tight grip. “My apologies.”

“Good.” Her grip loosened but she didn’t let go. “I’ve always liked you, Katrina. I hope you can be trained to serve your Emperor properly.” Katrina nodded vigorously and Philippa tilted her head, tongue licking her lips thoughtfully as she brushed a finger over Katrina’s lips. “I know you, Katrina. I know you like to be in control. It’s what’s made you such a valuable interrogator. But you are not in control anymore. And I won’t be as easy to please as that little slut Lorca.”

Katrina’s hands moved to her throat, pulling down the zipper and peeling open her black bodysuit. “Tell me what you want me to do, Emperor.”

Philippa smiled.