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Authors: Denise A. Agnew

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BOOK: DarykRogue
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“You wanted this here, Captain Tyrus?” one brawny guy
carrying the tub asked.

Rayder threw a smile her way. “It’s for my bride-to-be.
Bring it inside.”

The men struggled with the tub, and two women who must be
slaves brought in bucket after bucket of heated water to pour into the tub.
This was a luxury her passenger ship hadn’t provided, and she hadn’t felt the
relaxing pleasure since she left Magonia.

He handed her a large key. “Lock the door when I leave.”

Surprised, she said, “But I could lock you out.”

“That is the idea. You don’t trust me. But know this. If I
ask for you let me in, you must do so instantly. If I have to break the door
down, there will be hells to pay. Don’t let anyone else inside but me.”

What could she say to that? A bath? He’d ordered a bath be
brought to her and food? If he continued this way she’d start to like him. And
that wouldn’t do.

Chapter Four

 

It took Xandra several minutes to decide it was safe to
strip and take a bath. She saw the steam coming off the water and ached to be
clean. Yet the thought of water and immersing herself in it…that was a problem.
She shivered, her stomach dropping as she closed her eyes and tried to ease the
swift panic.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she said out loud.

She made certain the door was locked then propped a chair
under the handle to make certain it was firmly secured. She stared at the tub
as the water cooled and thought about Rayder leaving her the key. Amazing. She
wouldn’t have expected that in all the lands of Croan.

Finally she stripped and stepped naked into the soothing
warm water. She sighed in delight. Pleasure enveloped her as the water eased
her tense muscles and made her forget at least for a moment her perilous
situation. Make no mistake about it, she must stay on guard. Shame enclosed her
as readily as the water. She reached for the bar of soap and scrubbed. How
could Rayder Tyrus have touched her when she smelled of the sea?

Touched her he had. Repeatedly. With the gentle caress of a
dream lover and not the brutal beast she expected. She didn’t believe what
she’d experienced in two-going-on-three days. After all, men were wastrels,
especially the ones on this ship. Her mother had explained once that men also didn’t
touch gently. They were rough, uncouth and brutal on occasion. Taris Elian had
proved that. While she’d never seen her father be brutal, she’d never seen him
touch her mother or herself with affection. She’d longed for a father’s concern
and his love and never received it. Now, because of what had happened a few
short days ago in Opali, she never would. Her throat tightened, clogged with
unshed tears and anger. By the god Magon, she had to think of how to escape
this situation with her life intact.

The ocean had taken away Taris Elian and the danger he’d
posed. But she still had other problems, not the least of which was surviving a
slave ship and Rayder Tyrus.

It had taken only three weeks for her life to submerge into
a morass of shambles and confusion. Tears filled her eyes, and for a little
while she indulged in her grief and pain. As she washed her hair, glad to feel
so clean once more, she allowed tears to flow without chasing them away. While
the water remained a tolerable temperature, she leaned her head back and closed
her eyes. She was tired again. Sleep would be so wonderful, and before he knew
it, she’d drifted off. Eventually the water turned completely cold, but she
didn’t want to leave the sanctuary. If she stayed in this drifting state, barely
thinking or feeling, she could sort out the mess her life had become.

Thunder clapped outside, causing her to jerk in fear. She
gasped and sat straight up. She wanted out of here. She needed to escape.

Escape to where? She couldn’t flee from the waves.

A loud knock on the door made her start again, her heart
banging. She hurried to get out of the tub, water splashing as she reached for
a large drying cloth hanging over the chair nearby.

The knock came again. “Xandra, open up.”

Rayder.

Relief spread through her, but it shouldn’t have. Why would
he make her feel safe? It made no sense considering his livelihood. Her keen
humor and rebellious side rose to the surface. “Go away, slave trader. I’m
still in the bath.”

He grunted loudly. “You’ve had an hour. Time is up. We have
a dress for you.”

Drying frantically with the cloth, she asked, “We?”

“The admiral’s wife and Phili Cranno.”

She hesitated. She didn’t have enough time to redress.

“Open the door.” His voice rose. “I don’t want to break it
down, but I will if I have to.”

Angry and still dripping wet, she gathered the big cloth
around herself and hurried to the door before Rayder made good on his promise.

When the door swung wide, Rayder stood on the threshold with
two women. Rayder’s gaze swept over her with curiosity and genuine lust that
made her breath catch. In lightning-quick speed, he assessed her. Her skin
heated.

The young dark-haired woman was taller than Xandra and
willowy to the point of gauntness. The girl’s blue eyes shocked Xandra—set deep
and large, their depths reminded her of the dark ocean that had swallowed her
and the
Hydrasoseles
. A quiver of fear ran through Xandra.

Ridiculous. She’s probably nothing more than a poor slave
girl.

Her black hair spilled about her shoulders in a thick wave
that made her face appear long and thin. When she looked at Xandra, her gaze
filled with unmitigated hatred. Startled, Xandra almost asked the woman out
loud why she hated her when they’d just met.

On the other side of Rayder was an older woman, slightly
plump with warm brown eyes and short golden blonde hair. Her smile seemed
genuine. The woman’s arms were full off garments.

“Come in, ladies,” Rayder said as he stalked passed Xandra.

After the women followed him inside, the blonde older woman
smiled at Xandra “My name is Yoanda Aramus. I’m Admiral Aramus’ wife. I brought
you a wedding dress and three other tunics and pants for you while you’re here.
This dress is congratulations from the admiral. It belonged to my daughter.”
The woman’s eyes turned from happy to heartbroken in an instant, if that was
possible. “She…uh…she died when she was fifteen.”

Yoanda’s eyes glittered with tears, and she held the dress
out to Xandra and placed the remaining clothes on the bed.

Overwhelmed, Xandra took the dress. “It’s beautiful. Thank
you so much. Are you sure you want to give such a treasure to me? You don’t
know me.”

“My husband wants you to have it. So it must be so.”

Xandra marveled at the intricate embroidery on the garment.
Flowers scrolled in beautiful blossoms across the bodice. If her breasts fit in
the tight bodice, the blossoms and vines would cup her with intimate detail and
leave her nipples bare.

Xandra’s mouth popped open as she stared at the bodice with
complete disbelief. “The… Are these holes supposed to be there?”

“Many Dragonia wives wear such a dress,” the younger woman
said, her voice a sultry mix of mystery and undertones of dark and hidden
depths. “It is an honor to show your flesh to your Dragonian husband. It gives
him a glimpse at what he is marrying.”

Flabbergasted, Xandra glanced at Rayder. A twinkle danced in
his eyes. He thought this entire exchange amusing?

“Do you like the dress?” he asked.

Do you?
She wanted to ask
him
that question.

Mind still reeling from the idea she’d have to wear a dress
that revealed her nipples, she took in the rest of the ankle-length,
long-sleeved dress. Overall it was plain, except for the bodice. It fell
straight from the pointed, fitted waist and pooled on the floor. It was light
green, the color of spring blooming in her imagination.

“It’s beautiful except for the…” She looked at the nipple
holes again and grimaced. “I cannot wear a dress with holes like these. I’m not
Dragonian. When a woman is married in Magonia, it is in a modest full-length
gown that covers the neck and arms and all the way to the ankles.”

The younger woman scoffed. “The admiral commands it.
Besides, this dress covers your arms and legs and everything but your nipples.
I don’t see what the problem is.”

Perturbed by the woman’s presumptuous attitude, Xandra
placed the dress on the bed and tucked her towel closer around her. “We have
not been introduced.”

Rayder nodded. “Forgive me. This is Phili Cranno. She is the
admiral’s companion.”

“Companion?” Xandra took a moment to understand. She glanced
quickly at Yoanda and caught the woman’s downtrodden expression. “But you—”

“You’ll wear the dress,” Phili said, voice sharp and
commanding.

Yoanda’s eyes stayed lowered, her sweet, round face a mask
of subservience. While women were usually subservient to their husbands on
Magonia, Xandra wondered why the admiral’s wife would allow this concubine to
command her. Still, she didn’t want anyone suffering because of her. If Yoanda
wished to provide her with a dress, she’d accept.

Xandra nodded. “Thank you, Yoanda. May I call you by your
first name or is that too familiar?”

Yoanda lifted her gaze to Xandra’s. “It would please me if
you called me Yoanda.”

Xandra smiled until she caught a quick look at Phili’s hard
eyes so expressionless. Too expressionless. Xandra tried to recall if she’d
seen anyone with eyes quite like them, as if the soul had left long ago or
perhaps had never resided in her body. Xandra had witnessed uncaring people
before—oh yes, she had. But never with the iciness Phili possessed.

“Try the dress on.” Rayder’s eyes challenged her. “In case
there are adjustments.”

“Adjustments? Why would you care what it looks like?”

Rayder rolled his gaze to the ceiling for a moment then
turned his attention to Yoanda. He took her hand and brought it to his lips,
and then did so with Phili. Phili smiled in a simpering, fawning way that made
Xandra want to slap the younger woman.

Rayder made a short bow from the waist. “My ladies, I thank
you for your kindness.”

Yoanda’s eyes lit up with happiness, her cheeks aglow. She
didn’t speak but left the cabin quickly.

Phili smiled, but genuine kindness never reached her eyes.
“You’ll have to excuse Yoanda. She is slow sometimes.”

Xandra’s mouth tightened. “She seems very sweet.”

Without another word, Phili glared at her and then left the
room. After she’d closed the door, Rayder locked it and returned to Xandra.

She shivered. “If you would leave me in peace, I’ll dress.”

“Perhaps I don’t want to leave.” His gaze strayed with
interest over her half-naked form.

Her fingers tightened on the covering that remained over her
breasts and all the way to her ankles. The way he looked at her said he could
see through the semitransparent cloth and wanted to see more and do more than
simply admire. She shivered with a strange wanting, a desire she couldn’t
shake.

“Well, I will not change with you here.”

“I’ll turn my back.”

“In my country, it is considered heinously bad luck for the
groom to see the bride the night before the wedding.”

Thunder rumbled outside, and she flinched. Rayder
approached, but this time his eyes held concern. “Perhaps the storm will fade
off to the south.”

She shook her head. “No. It’s not.” Fear reached for her,
irrational and uncontrollable. “It’s coming here. Now.”

Blue lightning flashed outside a porthole and thunder
clapped. Her fingers tightened on the cloth and she shivered.

“You’re not well enough to stand around dripping wet in this
cold. Get dressed,” he said.

“Not with you in the room.”

“I’ll turn around.”

She hesitated.

He glared.

“Turn around first.” The testiness in her voice came out
clearly. “If I am forced to marry, the least you could do is show respect for
my traditions.”

“A man in Magonia
never
sees his intended naked
before her marries her?” He snorted softly when she didn’t answer. “Of course
not.”

Planting his hands on his hips, he turned around. She stared
at his broad back for a smidgen in time before hurrying to strip the cloth away
from her body and shimmy into warm gray pants and tunic. Grateful for the
warmth, she pressed her hands over the fabric and sighed. The material’s thick
weave hung on her like a sack—she had to roll up the sleeves and pants legs.
And though the drab gray color and floppy size wouldn’t flatter, it would keep
her warm.

“You can turn around.” She slipped into the socks and sturdy
ankle shoes the women had also brought.

The warrior turned and gave her a thorough inspection, as if
she must pass a test. He tilted his head to the side. “Far too large, but it
suits you.”

Insulted, she hung the towel over the chair that had barred
the door earlier. “How very flattering.”

“Tomorrow you’ll put on the ceremony dress first thing.
Yoanda and Phili will escort you to the sanctum in the admiral’s quarters where
ceremonies are held. After that you’ll retire to this cabin immediately.”

Thunder cracked overhead and the ship’s movement became
stronger, rocking more from side to side. Xandra’s breath shortened, but she
maintained control. Rayder examined her closely.

“The storm frightens you,” he said softly, easing nearer.

She stared up at him, comforted by his presence and anxious
at the same time. How could one man generate two different reactions inside
her?

“I’m fine.”

He closed the gap until he stood in front of her, as close
as a husband might choose to be. “Is that why you’re trembling?”

She turned away, but he followed. He clasped her shoulders
and she froze. “If I am trembling, it’s because you’re too close.”

A soft, throaty laugh drifted on the air. “I make you
tremble? That’s interesting. A man could get a lot of ideas from that.”

BOOK: DarykRogue
11.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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