Authors: Jacquelyn Frank
“Enough!” Jaykun barked, making his younger brother jump in his own skin. “I do not need you to remind me of my duties and responsibilities. The gods give me reminder enough every day at dusk!”
“Garreth didn't meanâ” Dethan began.
“Then what did he mean?” Jaykun snapped. “That I am not to have even the smallest pleasure? A fraction of a moment where war and duty does not consume me?” Both brothers fell silent. They were being selfish and they knew it. They were not by nature selfish men, but they were missing their families and the strain of it was starting to wear on them.
“Don't worry,” Jileana spoke up with a bright smile. “I shall see to it that you have a great deal of pleasure in order to balance out your duties. And I will restrict our mating to the night so it won't interfere with your daily duties.”
Jaykun had been considering taking a drink of wine and was suddenly glad he had not done so. He might have choked on it. Or he might have thought he was in his cups and hearing her wrongly. But the truth of it was, she meant every word and had absolutely no compunctions about announcing those words in public. He heard chuckles rippling down the table and he actually had to will himself not to blush in front of his men. Did the woman have no shame?
That was his second thought, however. His first thought was immediately picturing her as he had seen her the night before: long, sleek limbs; bare, beautiful skin; and emitting sensual sounds of pleasure. The idea of seeing her thus once again was more than a little appealing.
Actually, the craving for it was overwhelming. She was such a passionate creature in everything she did, so direct and voracious for everything she could possibly experience. He had never known anyone like her. He appreciated her honesty, her candor. She did not play games. She said exactly what was on her mind, expressed her desires and wishes the moment she knew what they were. The idea of having a woman like that in his bed was arousing to the extreme. She did not waste time being coy or demurring; she devoured her pleasure just as she devoured her food, savoring every bite and gorging herself on each flavor to be had.
She shot him a look that practically set the air to sizzling. She craved him just as he craved her, he realized. Oh, thank the gods! The idea that she had all the power between them was more than a little disquieting. But the fact that she had desire for him meant that he had at least some kind of power too.
Jaykun jumped in his seat when he felt a hand brush up the length of his inner thigh beneath the table. It was a brief touch, one that felt more reassuring than it did seductive. Just the same, the heat that ripped through him was overwhelming and suddenly he craved things far beyond the meal in front of him.
“Jileana, I prefer we not discuss these things in public,” he said tightly. He could control this, he told himself firmly. He was the master of his own fate and in command of everything around him. He could easily control his passions for a simple woman.
“Why not?” she asked with her usual openness. “I thought you would want your brothers to be reassured that our sexual meetings would not interfere with your daily responsibilities.”
Dethan chuckled. “I feel reassured,” he said with a great deal of mirth in his tone.
Jaykun was overwhelmed with the urge to smack him on the back of his head. Both he and Garreth were enjoying his discomfiture far too much.
“I'm not sure I do,” Garreth said with a grin. “Just how often are we talking about here? Once a night? Twice? The man has to get his sleep.”
“I thought perhapsâ”
“Do not answer him!” Jaykun cut her off sharply even though he was damned curious as to what the answer would be. The idea of having her once was overwhelming enough, but twice? More? As often as he could gorge himself on her? The idea was beyond appealing. “Both of you stop,” he warned them harshly, “or you'll find yourself battling me back in the practice ring.”
“Oh! Please don't stop,” Jileana said eagerly to his brothers. “I should like to see that. I watch my father and brothers practice all the time. It is a fine way of seeing the warrior in a man.” She slid Jaykun a hot little look. “I would very much like to see the warrior in you. I find the idea most stimulating.”
“Oh, I think that could be arranged,” Dethan said with a snicker as he ignored his brother's deadly glare. “Maybe we can knock some sense into him in the process.”
“Which of you will it be?” she asked eagerly. “You are much larger than Jaykun is, and you are much smaller,” she said to first Dethan, then Garreth. “A smaller man is usually faster. A larger man often has more power. Perhaps I should like to see you both. Not together of course, because that would be unfair, but each individually.”
“You know, I really would appreciate it if you all stopped making plans for me without consulting me.”
Jileana turned a warm, beautiful smile on him and he felt his temper dissolve away instantly. It was a reaction that simply floored him.
“Oh, of course we aren't making plans without you. You are sitting right here. If you had any arguments, you would certainly bring them up, just as you are right now. So which is it you prefer? Your larger brother or your smaller one?”
“It doesn't matter because I can beat them both,” Jaykun muttered.
“Ha! Not likely!” Dethan scoffed.
“Hardly,” Garreth chimed in.
“I can and I will. First you, little man,” he said to Garreth. “An easy fight to warm me up. Then you, you lumbering ass. Maybe if I put you both in your places you'll stop bothering me!”
“Wonderful! When shall we do it? After this meal?” Jileana asked.
“Why wait?” Jaykun said, surging to his feet.
“Easy, brother,” Dethan said with a chuckle, reaching to grab Jaykun's forearm and pull him back down into his chair. “You have promised the lady a meal and so you shall give it to her. Practice can wait until later. We will arrange it for an hour before supper, two hours before dusk. This way we can get some other work done first and have time to digest our meals.”
“That makes every bit of sense,” Jileana agreed. “Where will it be?”
“There is a practice ring to the east of the castle. The men have already been using it. We'll meet there at the appointed time.”
“Very well,” Jaykun muttered as he pulled his chair back up to his plate. His brothers were right. The meal he had promised Jileana ought to come first.
The rest of the meal seemed to pass in something of a fog for him. He was trying to figure out exactly how she had managed to get exactly what she wanted out of him every single time so far. She didn't seem to ask for anything, and yet he found himself performing to her pleasure. Sex, shopping, eating, and now fighting. All done for her pleasure. The understanding bemused him. It occupied his mind quite frequently throughout the rest of the afternoon.
After the meal, she had dutifully drifted out of his reach, going off to do who knew what, who knew where. It had concerned him a little. She seemed to have a knack for doing and saying things that might cause trouble, so he had been concerned about leaving her to her own devices. Especially in a castle full of a hostile species. She had made it clear to all and sundry that she shared a place of intimacy with him. It wasn't so far-fetched an idea that someone might try to hurt her as a means of sending a message to him.
It was thoughts like this that kept him listening to his brothers with only half his attention.
ileana was sitting in the stands that ringed half the practice circle. They were wooden and rough, and rose up only to about six levels, but it was enough to afford each person a good view of the arena. The stands were crowded save for the seats on either side of her. It seemed no one wanted to sit too close to her. No one Krizan, that is. Which was to be expected, really. However, it was only a short length of time before a couple of Jaykun's men, two of the men who had been seated at the table for lunch earlier, filled in the places beside her.
In the practice circle, Jaykun was giving his sword several test swings. He was stripped down to his bare chest and a pair of breeches, his pants tucked into his knee-high black leather boots. The snug material of those pants clung to every thick muscle in his legs and Jileana found herself staring at them with increasing covetousness. His bare chest and arms were nothing to sneeze at either. She had never seen a man with so many well-developed muscles; her people tended to be sleeker and leaner. His skin was tanned and smooth, nearly flawless now that he'd had an entire day to heal from his trial of the night before. It seemed that his body healed to a certain point of perfection. Each night she had watched him burn away until he was nothing but a skeleton, and by the time the next night approached he looked as though it had never happened.
Magic. It was some kind of magic. He said it was the curse of the gods and she believed him. Only the touch of the gods could make this happen to a man. She found herself wondering exactly what a man had to do to cause a god to exact such a vicious sort of vengeance on him. Her father and brothers would have wanted her to put as much distance between him and herself as possible, probably for fear of attracting the attention of an angry god toward her. But they had always been overprotective. To her mind, that made no sense. Surely a god wouldn't become angry with her just for being near someone they had cursed. Would a god be so capricious?
Then again, the legends of the gods told all kinds of stories about their volatile tempers. They were more apt to take vengeance on a mortal than they were to bless or gift that mortal, if the stories attributed to them were to be believed.
And even in her distant world, she thought she'd heard the story of immortal brothers cursed by the gods. The story of four men who had found and stolen the gifts of the Fount of Immortality without truly earning the blessing from the gods. In their rage the gods had cursed each brother to a torment worse than any imaginable: one brother cast into the pits of hell; another chained to that very mountain, doomed to freeze again and again; and the third chained to a star.
Bright as a star. He burned as bright as a star. Somehow he had been released from the star and yet still suffered as though he were still chained to it.
She wondered about the fourth brother. The legend had never been specific about the fourth brother's torment, only that the god Sabo had been in charge of the reckoning and that it was an unspeakable torment just like his siblings suffered.
And yet three of the four immortal brothers must have been sitting at luncheon with her today. How amazing that she was touching such an unbelievable legend.
And how sad. How sad she was for Jaykun, that he must suffer so. Did his brothers still suffer as he did? How had they come to be free? There was a story there and she craved the hearing of it.
But it would come in its own time, she realized, trying to force patience on herself. Jaykun would reveal himself to her just as slowly, no doubt, as she would reveal herself to him. They both had their stories, both had their mysteries. Both would tell their tales as they got to know each other better.
And she truly did want to know him better. She could not say exactly why she found him so compelling, why she had immediately allowed herself to be drawn in by him and his world, only that these were the most exciting moments of her life thus far. She was tired of her sheltered existence. Running away, in her opinion, was the best thing she had ever done. Oh, she knew she would have no choice but to go back in three days' time, but at least she could say she had done this, that she had come away from her protected world and done something exciting and different and new. And who knew? Maybe she would do it again someday. But the odds were that there would be no Jaykun at that time. He no doubt would have moved on by then. Never looking back.
Well, she would look back. She would make these three days into something so wonderful that she could look back on them with awe and delight. And so far she was succeeding famously. She had eaten wonderful food, had shopped for beautiful things, and had acquired a fine lover. A lover, she realized, she had only just begun to sample. And as he entered the ring and faced off with his youngest brother, her heart pounded with excitement at the very thought. Jaykun must suffer his nightly torment at dusk, but afterwardâ¦afterward he would be hers to do with as she pleased.
Garreth was faster than Jaykunâit was trueâbut it quickly became obvious that he was outmatched. Jaykun moved with sleek grace but also a thunderous power that beat Garreth back over and over again. In the end, he simply wore the smaller man out with his unrelenting barrage of sword strokes.
Garreth yielded. Jileana cheered Jaykun loudly, clapping her hands and whooping with victorious delight as if she had been the one to personally win the battle. She saw Jaykun grin and he saluted her with his sword. Jileana heard the men beside her chuckling, but she didn't care. Jaykun had won! Couldn't they see how magnificent he was?
“He is a fine warrior,” she said aloud and to no one in particular.
“He is the best there is. Closely rivaled by his eldest brother,” the man seated on her right said. “But Dethan is fresh and Jaykun has just done battle. I doubt he can withstand Dethan's attack.”
“You are wrong. He will win,” she said with all the confidence in the worldâthis in spite of the fact she knew nothing of Dethan's fighting style or strengths and little of Jaykun's. All she knew was what she wanted. She wanted him to win. She wanted him to be victorious. Not that she didn't like his brothersâit was clear they were fine men, if a bit too serious. She simply wanted victory. A victory to be celebrated.
Dethan was a powerful fighter. His overhand barrages sent echoes of metal ringing hard through the air as Jaykun parried every blow. His body flexed beneath each contact, straining to shove his brother off him each time. Ever wily, he made certain half of Dethan's strikes never found a sticking point to begin with. These moves made her cheer some more, as loudly as she could. She wanted him to know she was in his corner, that she was by his side in spirit if not in body.
Her faith was rewarded. Jaykun turned swiftly, and suddenly Dethan hit the ground face-first, his sword flying from his hand. Jaykun put the point of his sword to his brother's neck and Dethan laughed. He could hardly be heard over the woman shouting wildly from the risers across the way.
“You have me, brother,” Dethan said, holding up his hands in submission.
“I do indeed,” Jaykun said, holding a hand out to his brother and helping him to his feet. Both men were covered in sweat and dirt, and both were breathing hard with their exertions. Dethan bent to fetch his sword and looked over at Jileana, who was fumbling her way out of the crowd of people seated around her.
“You've made someone very happy,” Dethan said with a chuckle.
“How can you tell?” Jaykun asked with amusement.
“Whatever have you done to inspire such fast loyalty, I wonder,” Dethan baited.
“Hush,” Jaykun scolded, smacking his brother's leg with the flat of his blade.
Jileana was across the ring and launching herself into his arms in the next instant. She was a projectile of black, flying hair and loud, delighted excitement.
“You've done it!” she exclaimed. “It was wonderful!”
“I am glad you thought so. I could not tell,” he teased her.
“I know I promised to do so only at night,” she said breathlessly, “but I would very much like to have sex with you right now!”
Dethan burst into laughter and Jaykun felt his neck flushing red. On the other hand, his body was instantly reacting to the suggestion. He jerked her up close and tight to his body and caught her audacious mouth with his own. He kissed her until she was breathing as hard as he was and his blood was singeing with a heat that had nothing to do with his exertions of just minutes ago.
“Well, it's all right with me,” Dethan said, still laughing. “How about you, Garreth?”
“Shut up,” Jaykun warned before his youngest sibling could chime in. He tossed his blade to Dethan and grabbed hold of Jileana. He swung her up off her feet, into his arms, and carried her from the practice ring into the castle. At the first shadowed hall he could find, he backed her up against a wall and pressed his body along the front of hers.
“You have to stop doing that,” he growled against her ear.
“Doing what?” she asked, her soft breaths panting into his hair as he nuzzled her hotly.
“Talking about sex.”
“But it was the truth. Do you not prefer when I tell the truth?”
“I do prefer it, though I take exception to you telling it in front of my brothers. At least the parts about sex. It is unseemly to speak thusly in front of other men.”
“Unseemly? Oh. I do not wish to be unseemly. Do I?”
His hands shaped around her waist, feeling the sleek curves of her sides. The truth was, if she were seemly, she very likely would not be letting him touch her like this. Last night he had mistaken her for a camp follower or a woman who might sell her sexual favors for a betterment of her lifeâ¦but he had long since come to realize that was not the case. Jileana was merely forthright and honest about her desires. She knew her mind and knew it quickly. Somehow he had been lucky enough to gain her favor and she had not wasted time with seemly behaviors. Yes, he decided, this was much better than all the courting nonsense he didn't have the time or the inclination for.
His inclination was for the full, warm flesh of a willing woman in his hands and that was exactly what he had. His hand traveled up to her breast and he heard her breath catch.
“Actually, now that I am thinking on it, I rather like you unseemly.”
She sighed in exasperation. “You are confusing me. I want to do what you wish me to do. Tell me what it is you would like me to change.”
He looked down into her iridescent green eyes. “Nothing,” he whispered on a soft breath. “Nothing at all. You are perfect as you are. Forgive me. I am merelyâ¦I am not used to a woman who speaks her mind so clearly.”
“Women of your people do not speak their minds?”
“No. They play games. They like to tease and make promises they don't intend to fulfill.”
“Well, I like to tease,” she said slyly, “but I intend to fulfill every promise I make to you. Else I will not make it.”
“Good. I like that,” he said heatedly. “Gods above, you smell good. And feel good. And if memory serves, you taste good as well.”
“Why rely on memory? I am here now. Taste me.”
He groaned softly and caught her up in his hands, pulling her up onto her toes as his mouth descended onto hers. Her lips were plush and wet, warm and oh so willing. She opened her mouth to him, inviting him in deep with her tongue. With a deeply indrawn breath, he devoured her, took her with every ounce of intensity he could muster. He kissed her until she was moaning with pleasure, reveling in the feel and taste of him. Her hands climbed his arms and neck and reached into his hair. She gripped at him, her grasp fevered and passionate. His hands came to her breasts, feeling the plumpness of them through the depth of that sweetheart neckline. But the dress was laced in back and frustrated his efforts. He fumbled at her back for the laces and she made a sound of frustration.
“Too many clothes,” she panted.