Authors: Jacquelyn Frank
“Very well. But I am sad for you because of it. Your smile is quite handsome and should spend more time on your face.” She switched topics quickly and brightly. “Do you think you will let me stay, then?”
He should tell her no. He should put an end to this strange encounter right now. He had far too much to deal with and too much riding on his actions. His daily considerations were life-or-death decisions. It was clear her choices in life were of much lighter importance. But he was glad of that, glad that she was not burdened with the weight of things that would steal the bright, childlike eagerness from her features. He was not so cynical that he would begrudge her her innocent life.
But he found he could not put her off, could not make himself push her aside so he could continue on in his life without the burden of herâ¦whatever that burden may end up being. He found it was a weight he would willingly carryâ¦for the time being. Besides, if she made a nuisance of herself, she was easily disposed of. It wasn't as though she had any power over him. He was in complete command of the situation, just as he always was.
“So tell me, Jileana. Is it my bed you wish to warm tonight?”
Perhaps he'd asked the question to shock her, to sabotage the fragile trust between them. But she seemed to consider the question very carefully.
“All things considered, you would probably make a fine lover. You certainly give very exciting kisses,” she mused aloud, startling a laugh out of him. “But I think I would like to know you a little bit better first. Do you not agree?”
This was territory to be cautious of. Getting to know him better implied a level of intimacy he simply was not of a mind to give, even had the circumstances been ideal.
“Then why would I want to give you a bed?” he asked baldly.
“Because you would like to get to know me better as well,” she explained to him very clearly, as if it were a plainly obvious fact. To his consternation, she was right. He did want to know her better. At the very least, he found her intriguing. He told himself that he simply wanted to learn more about her people, to perhaps contemplate bringing Weysa to their temples. But the truth was, he'd already had goals set out for himself that allowed for no room for deviation. There was no way to add another city to his conquering schedule. Still, perhaps it could be a peaceful integration, something only a few days of negotiation could bring about.
“Very well, then, a clean, safe bed for the night. What you do afterâ¦I suppose that is your own affair. I will not have you underfoot. I have a great deal to accomplish and won't have time to spend with you.”
“What?” he asked.
“You must eat, I am assuming, yes? So I ask a meal of you. Well, how else are we to know each other better? It would be silly for me to stay only to spend no time with you. Since I do not wish to get in your way, we shall spend a meal together.”
He thought on it a moment. It really wasn't much to ask for. And she was right; he would have to eat at some point.
“Very well,” he said.
“For three days.”
“Now, wait a minuteâ”
“One meal a day for three days. It is very little to ask of you. And I promise not to interfere in your day otherwise. Not unless you wish me to.”
He thought about it for a long minute, part of him crying out that this was a bad idea all around. The sensible part of his brain knew he did not need distractions of any kind. But another part of his brain found her to be engaging in a way he simply did not experience in his life. It was impossible to turn his back on her offer.
“One meal. Three days. Otherwise, I'm not to be bothered by you.”
“I promise,” she swore, her hand over her heart. Seeing her slender fingers against the beige of his tunic made him frown.
“But you have no clothing.” His frown deepened. “Why is it you have no clothing? It is not safe for a naked woman to walk the beach.”
“Oh, I am perfectly safe,” she assured him. “And my people have little use for clothing.”
“Your entire people do not wear clothes? Where is this place you come from?”
“It is not far,” she said. Jaykun was well aware she was being vague on purpose, but he did not press at that moment. In truth, it mattered little. Although, from a conqueror's perspective, it would be very easy to fight a people who hadn't the sense to wear clothes. Then again, she'd said she had never been to the city before, so it was unlikely her people were worth his time if they didn't have a city of their own.
“Tomorrow, after our midday meal, I will take you to the shops for clothing,” he said.
“But that is not part of our agreement,” she pointed out.
“I shall make an exception this once.”
“But how do you know that
wish to make the exception?”
That took him aback. She was right. He had not even bothered to ask if she wanted new clothesâ¦or if she wanted to spend more time with him than just what a meal allowed for. For some reason the thought that she might not want to spend the time with him put him out. He couldn't explain why; it just did.
“Do not worry,” she said after a moment, patting him kindly on his arm. “I will accept this time.”
“Wellâ¦thank you,” he said awkwardly. Mainly because she continually shifted the world beneath him and he couldn't seem to get traction with her. He couldn't decide if he was perturbed or delighted. It had been quite awhile since he had been entertained by something in the world.
And just like that, he was looking forward to his meals for the next three days.
inding somewhere to install Jileana was harder than it had appeared on the surface. The brothers were newly installed in the city center, in a castle that overlooked the massive harbor. The chaos of descending on the city had died down to a dull roar, but the men of their army were not entirely organized as they settled in for the night. People had grabbed beds or floors wherever they could. The men were high from their victory and many were still up, drinking and reveling by the fires all throughout the city and in the castle.
The brothers of course had the choice of where they would stay. Jaykun had had first pick and had installed himself in the finia's rooms. The finia, the ruler of the city, had found herself relocated to the lower rooms for the time being, under guard. The finia's rooms were vast, tended to by servants. Fresh linens had been put on the bed, a fire built in the front room, the sitting room, and the bedroom itself. In a rear room was a plumbed bath, tiled in silver-and-white tiles. A room beyond the bath was where the servants, two young women, slept.
The bed was a large affair, decorated with a sheer royal-purple curtain and laid with blankets and a coverlet of rich red, and a multitude of pillows in shades of purples and reds. The fabrics alternated between velvets and silks. It was just shy of looking like it belonged in a high-end brothel. The bed was large enough for three men of Jaykun's size and build, and he wondered how the squat finia had managed to not get lost within it.
Jaykun walked throughout the castle with Jileana, searching for a place to install her, until he gave up trying to find somewhere safe and quiet, and brought her to his rooms.
“You can sleep in this bed,” he said. “I will find my brothers and bunk with one of them. At least this way I will know you are safe.”
“No,” Jileana said with a shaking of her dark head. “I won't kick you out of your own bed.”
“It's hardly mine to begin with,” he argued, giving her a little push toward it.
“This bed is very big and I am not used toâ¦Well, there is plenty of space, is there not?”
Jaykun hesitated. His eyes fell on her body of their own accord, sliding down over her voluptuous shape from head to toe. The sleek fall of her midnight hair curved around her equally sleek body. The idea of having her in bed beside him was far too appealing, fraught with temptation and complication. The memory of what it was like to kiss her rode him hard and he knew how dangerous it would be.
“I don't think that's the wisest idea,” he said with a negating shake of his head. He moved to withdraw from her before the desire that seeped through him compelled him to draw her in once again. He was floored by how overwhelming the feeling was. It filled him with a sense of disquiet. He didn't like the idea of being unable to control his own actions. He wasn't sure he wanted to be near the source of those feelings.
“Come,” she said, her iridescent green eyes soft and beckoning as she held out an inviting hand. “Come with me. I promise I will not bite you while you sleep.”
“I'm rather more concerned with me possibly nibbling on you,” he answered baldly as he let her take his hand.
“Would that be so bad?” she asked, invitation oozing out of her body.
“I haven't quite decided,” he said as he let himself be pulled toward the bed.
“It is such a strange thing, the way you let so much noise into your head,” she observed with genuine curiosity in her voice. “You feel strongly about something, and yet you force yourself to resist those feelings. Why? What is so wrong about what you are feeling?”
“Nothing,” he said with a sigh, scrubbing his hand across his weary face. “I don't know. It's been a long day.”
“I'm sure it has been. Especially considering the way you like to end your days.”
“I like nothing about the way I end my days. You speak as though I had a choice in the matter.”
“And you don't?”
“No,” he said shortly. “I don't.”
She looked at him then with soft, curious eyesâan expression he was realizing was very natural to her. She seemed to view the world as one great curiosity. He wished he could see the world through her perspective. As it was, his view was far more jaded.
“I think you have had enough hardship for one day,” she said then, finishing their progress toward the bed. She climbed up onto it, kneeling as she pulled him after her. Giving in to her lure, he paused a moment, withdrawing from her long enough to rid himself of his boots. As he did so, she came up close against his back, her hands shaping the contours of his shoulders and arms in long, relaxing strokes. In spite of himself, he felt his body going lax beneath her massaging hands.
Fine, he thought. If she was looking for a night of physical comfort, he would not deny her or himself. It wasn't exactly a rare occurrence for a woman to want him. However, it was a rare occurrence for him to want her in return. But who could blame him for seeking out comfort wherever he could find it? His was a cursed existence, a forced slavery and penance. He should take advantage of these opportunities much more often than he did. It was, after all, the only kindness he could find outside his brothers' love for him.
When she ran her hands down the length of his bare back, he closed his eyes and reveled in the sensation. Her hands were like magic on his skin, livening up nerves he thought deadened by his nightly torture. As she ran over unhealed patches of his skin, she seemed to think nothing of it, let it faze her not at all. In fact, it seemed as though very little fazed her. After all, she had taken the sight of him burning to cinders almost in stride. A fact he should be questioning, but he found himself unable to do so as his body reacted with a surprising amount of pleasure.
“Do you do this often?” he asked, almost with the goal of turning himself off to her. “Climb into bed with strange men?”
“Not at all. You would be the first. Earlier I thought we might take a little time to know one another, but there is so little time to be had, I now realize it would be foolish to waste it. Besides, it seems you need it more than others might.”
“So this is an act of pity?” he asked harshly.
“Again, not at all. I find you very appealing. Your body has many nice shapes. Your skin is warm. Much warmer than my own. See?” She held out her arm beneath his nose and he obliged her by stroking a slow hand up along her forearm. She was right. She was much cooler than he was. But that made the feel of her no less appealing. She was soft and smooth, supple to the touch, yet clearly quite strong for a woman. He liked that. He had no stomach for weak women. His brothers' wives struck him as physically genteelâalthough he gave them credit for being much stronger in their personalities and backbones. He could understand what had drawn each brother respectively to each woman, knowing his brothers as he did. Still, like him, his brothers had been greatly altered by the punishments they had endured. It was a wonder he even knew them at all anymore.
Jileana moved around his body, slowly throwing a leg across his lap until she was astride his thighs. Cool she may be on her extraneous limbs, but here, where her bottom rested against him, she was hot and beckoning. Of their own accord, his hands ran down the length of her torso, under her arms, down her sides, and on until he was gripping her hips in his hands.
“Would you give me comfort, Jileana?” he asked in a whisper as he looked into those bottomless, iridescent eyes.
“That and more,” she promised him. “Mmm, I like the way you feel,” she said with obvious pleasure as she curved her spine and pressed her chest to his. He could feel the weight of her full breasts between them, and a searing flash of aroused awareness bolted through his body. In all of an instant, his clothesâwhat little there were of themâfelt confining and cumbersome. He was overwhelmed with a craving to be skin-to-skin with her. To feel all that sweetly supple skin against his ownâ¦Yes, that was a comfort he wanted very much indeed.
With purpose, his fingers slipped beneath the hem of the tunic she wore, the bulky fabric hanging heavy on her small frameâsmall in comparison to the body it had been tailored for, in any event. He found himself wondering how he had gotten to that point. His only goal for the day had been to take a city and make it his own. To own the city that owned the armada he so desperately needed in order to progress onward, in order to fulfill his bargain with the warrior goddess. A bargain he must fulfill lest she become angry and turn her displeasure on him or his brothers. His brothers had, for the most part, been released from their duties to Weysa, but that could easily change. They were all fodder for the gods' mercurial moods and wishes. There was no guarantee of anything when it came to the whims of the gods.
But now he was here, finding solace in a warm, shapely body, and he couldn't make himself turn away from her. He did not even want to, he thought as his hands filled with bare flesh. When he saw her naked the first time, he had wondered what all that sleek flesh would feel like, and now he was discovering the answer. It was an answer that had his body hardening with need and craving.
He exhaled a long, slow breath, almost as though he had been holding on to his breath for hours. It was possible he had been. After all, he did not need to breathe to live. But it was a strange and unrealistic thought, clearly without basis in fact. Without breath he could not speak, and it seemed he had yet to stop talking with her. In fact, he had not exchanged so many words with someone other than his brothers or his generals in a very long time.
“I like the way you feel as well,” he said, the words coming out of him like a growl.
“Then we shall spend quite a bit of time feeling each other,” she promised him with confidence. It made him chuckle.
“You'll get no arguments from me,” he said.
“I like that you are furry,” she said with a smile as she raked gentle fingers through the hair at the center of his chest.
“I like that you are not,” he replied, making her laugh. It was a light, musical sound. As musical as the rest of her voice. Yes, he thought. That was the perfect term for it. Soft and melodic. And just as compelling as the mischievous smile that spread across her lush lips. Lips that hovered barely an inch above his own.
“I think I'm going to kiss you,” he said roughly as his hands closed tightly around her hips, his fingers sinking into the soft flesh of her buttocks. “And then I'm fairly certain I'm going to fuck you.”
“Is that what you call it?” she asked lightly. “Fucking? Hmm. I like it. It's a fun word. Hard and to the point.”
“I'll show you hard and to the point,” he said hoarsely as he spun them about until her back hit the bedding and he was looming over her. He felt her legs lock around his waist and he grew harder from finding himself entrapped by those long, beautiful legs.
Unable to resist a moment longer, he covered her mouth with his own, kissing her with savagery and an intensity he had not realized he was capable of. Her mouth was lush and deep, and he explored every corner of it as fiercely as he could. His tongue tangled with hers, and the depth of the link made his head spin and buzz with need and arousal. It seemed the more he kissed her, the more ferocious that need became.
Meanwhile, her hands kept busy on his skin. Her fingertips danced, her palms stroked. She was touching him everywhere she could find bare skin. Her touch coasted down his back, burrowed beneath the waist of his pants, her fingers gripping at his backside and dragging his hips forward into the lee of her thighs.
“Mmm,” she purred as his sex rubbed up hard against hers, where he was still clothed and she was decidedly not. “Is this where the fucking begins?”
“It's already begun,” he assured her as he lifted away from her just long enough to strip his tunic from her body. He took a moment, his breaths coming hard, to look down on her. Yes, he decided. This was a good place for her to be. Beneath him in his bed. His lust for her was almost blindingâ¦almost a little frightening. But he excused his fervor. He was long overdue for this. He gave little thought to the idea that he felt much more strongly about this than he should be feeling for a casual toss of a random wench.