Authors: Kate Hill
When the palace was built, there were no pipelines or vents.”
“Interesting engineering. I have a friend, Colt, who would love to study this.”
“He should visit here someday. I would arrange for him to meet our architects.”
“We’ll be sure to tell him.” Sun stared at the pool. “Do you mind if I jump in? I love swimming.”
“So do I.” Mica stood. “I’m sure you’ll find—” His voice faded and he stared at Sun.
She slipped off her robe and tossed it aside, revealing a leather shirt that left her arms and stomach bare and a pair of trousers cut off at mid-thigh. Firm, full breasts strained against the leather, a gold amulet dangling between them. Her abdomen was flat and sleek, and her long, tanned legs curved with muscle. Mica’s cock swelled beneath his robe. He resisted the urge to adjust the annoying erection.
“Brightest Star, what sort of cover is that?” Blaze demanded.
“Do you want me to go swimming in full armor?” She glanced at the men over her shoulder before dropping into the water. Surfacing, she shoved locks of wet hair from her face. “Come on in. The water’s great.”
Mica tried swallowing, but his mouth was dry. Lust enveloped him like an inferno.
He must have been crazy to take her bathing. Was he trying to tempt himself away from the Priesthood? No. She was perfectly safe. She hated the sight of him. No matter how beautiful he found her, all he could do was dream.
Blaze dropped his robe as well, leaving his body bare except for a loincloth. His tall body was incredibly lean, so much that every hard, supple muscle and bone shone beneath his flesh. In spite of his gentle ways, this man was all warrior. He reminded Mica of a bamboo lash, thin yet made to inflict pain when necessary.
Sun laughed, pointing at her mentor. “And you say I’m practically naked. If you come in this pool, the fish might mistake you for a water snake.”
“Laugh not, brat.” Blaze half smiled. “This water snake showed you how to bite in combat.”
“That’s true enough.” Sun’s blue eyes gleamed. “Can you believe a skinny thing like him once kicked the stuffing out of ten armed men at once?”
“I’ve learned not to judge by appearances.” Mica shrugged off his robe, pleased to see the Dame’s gaze sweep him from head to foot.
Sun tried to keep her expression impassive when Mica’s robe fell to his feet, revealing the most exquisite male body she’d ever seen. This was no small praise from a woman who’d grown up surrounded by Knights of the Ruby Order, men who spent their lives perfecting their physiques through grueling training sessions.
Sculpted muscles played sensuously beneath Mica’s smooth, dark skin. Naked except for a loincloth, he walked toward the pool. His legs were incredibly long and well shaped. Curling black hair dusted the hard curves of his thighs and calves. A flat abdomen trailed up to a broad chest and powerful shoulders that Sun imagined sinking her fingers into. Like the rest of his body, his biceps and forearms were well developed, though not too bulky.
The man personified strength and grace. Sun’s gaze riveted to his cock pressed against the loose fabric, creating almost a tent of passion.
When Mica’s gaze met hers, she detected tenseness in his expression before he waded into the pool, hiding his telltale erection. In the water, his hair lashed behind him like a demon’s black tail. With a few long strokes, he was directly in front of Sun, so close she saw droplets of water clinging to his thick lashes.
“Do you like the bathhouse?”
“What’s not to like?” Sun swam away, not trusting herself to keep her hands off him. Her reaction to this man infuriated her. He was the last person on earth she wanted to find attractive, yet she couldn’t seem to help herself. Just looking at him made her tingle. If he ever touched her, she’d probably come on contact.
“There’s much for you to see in Ademene. I wish I could stay longer and show it all to you myself, but tomorrow I must join in the search for the rebels.”
“You really think there are people still loyal to your father’s ways?”
“I know some believed in his ideas of conquering. We fear they will grow strong enough to plan another attack against Ademene. Whoever rules the city has power over all of Upper Kenna. If that power falls into the wrong hands, then Lower Kenna is also
in danger. We are basically a peaceful people, but there are those who would like to see violence done.”
“Better to find them before more lives are taken,” Blaze agreed.
“Do such uprisings happen often?” Sun asked.
Mica shook his head. “We’ve had few since the emperor returned to power. Things are as they should be.”
Sun stared hard at the Priest in Waiting, baffled by his complexity. A one-time general, a Holy Man and a joker, he was so serious about his beliefs that he’d supposedly risked his life to save others. Sun still refused to believe any child of the man who’d destroyed her village could be anything but evil.
“Why did you go against your father?” she asked
“Because his order to kill thousands of innocent people made no sense. Because I had enough death on my soul. After so many wars, Dame Sun, I saw myself going nowhere.” Mica’s eyes narrowed slightly, a look of frustration crossing his face. “Many were killed so he and the pig he called emperor could live in luxury while commoners starved and I fought myself bloody year after year.”
“I still can’t understand how you reasoned that for yourself after being raised by him,” Sun stated, rebelling against the idea that this man had truly reformed.
“My mother raised me until he took me away and stuck me in his damn army.
Everything was to benefit him. I scarcely saw his face until I was old enough to pick up a sword.”
“Where’s your mother now?” Sun asked.
“She died in exile after he took me from her.”
Once again she resisted the urge to offer him words of consolation. Yet again Blaze saved her.
“I’m sorry for your loss, but she watches over you,” the Knight said. “She stands behind you now, floating on water. Raven hair and eyes like Mirrored Rock’s.”
“You can’t really speak with the dead.”
“Zako. A pig.” Blaze stared past Mica.
Pale, Mica spun, searching, then turned back to Blaze. “Go on.”
“Zako’s blood on your father’s hands. He laughs.”
Mica wrinkled his nose. “Zako laughs?”
“No. Your father. He stands by the pool’s edge.”
“Why are you doing this? This can’t be true.”
“Your father learned little in his life. He walks alone in death waiting to be reborn.”
“Reborn,” Sun snarled. “The Spirit wouldn’t be so cruel to the rest of us.”
“We each have lessons to learn, daughter.” Blaze shook his head as if clearing it of images then focused on Mica. “I didn’t intend to cause pain, but I see what they show me.”
“Who the hell is Zako?” Sun demanded.
“A pet. A pig, given to me by my uncle on my mother’s side. My father slaughtered him and forced me to eat him.”
Sun felt a little sick.
“Deeper damnations had been conjured by the enforcer of terror,” Blaze murmured softly, his expression sympathetic. “That was mild for him, was it not?”
The Knight’s handling of people never ceased to amaze Sun.
“What he did to me was nothing compared to what he did to some others.” Mica glanced at Sun. “How can I complain after what he did to you?”
“I said before I don’t need your lousy sympathy.”
“Your mother worries for you still,” Blaze said. Before he could continue, Mica shook his head, his expression fierce. A sad smile touched the Knight’s lips. “Forgive me. I lose myself in the spirit world.”
“It must be difficult for you. You cope with seeing the dead far better than I would.
Can you talk back to them?”
Blaze looked almost pained. “Better not to try. They never listen, but they love to talk. So I hear and I tell. Sometimes I almost tell too much.”
Mica smiled. “Let’s finish our swim, then I’ll make tea.”
The High Advisor stepped into the chamber. “Forgive the intrusion, but Sir Blaze and I spoke earlier in the hallway about the sculptor who created several statues in the guest rooms. He’s here now, and I thought you might like to speak with him.”
“Very much.” Blaze hurried out of the water and slipped on his robe.
The Advisor glanced at Sun. “Dame, would you like to join us?”
“I don’t mean to sound rude, but I’d rather stay here and swim for a while.”
“Please enjoy yourself.” Kado nodded, escorting Blaze out of the chamber.
Turning to Mica, Sun realized she had just made a terrible mistake. Now she was alone with the Holy Man. Alone, half-naked, and floating in a pool of warm, soothing water.
“Would you care for tea, Dame Sun?”
She spun, her heart pounding. Mica stood so close that his chest grazed her breasts.
Heat even greater than the hot spring enveloped her. By their own accord, her nipples hardened beneath her wet vest, the buds elongating. Sun was no stranger to men, but the feelings inside her were completely foreign. Her clit tingled and her pussy ached. A quiver of desire ripped through her.
Concerned that Mica would notice her attraction, she turned away. “Why not?”
“Good. I’ll prepare it. You continue swimming.”
Mica waded to the edge of the pool and hoisted himself out, providing her with a full view of his broad back. Dozens of old scars streaked the flesh, creating several valleys in the hard muscles. Remembering the flogged body in the desert, she guessed
the scars were reminders of his banishment. For the first time her hatred of Mica truly waned. She had blamed him for what his father had done to her village but the elder general had treated his son with the same contempt. Mica had suffered at the maniac’s hands. In spite of his violent upbringing he tried to change his own ways. Sun didn’t think he’d succeed. He was damned by his bloodlines but she had to give him high marks for effort.
Her gaze dropped to his sculpted buttocks and thighs. Muscles rippling, he walked to the tiny hearth and lit a fire beneath the pot. From the trunk, he removed an onyx tea set and a pouch of tea leaves then arranged them on the table. When the water boiled, he ladled it into the cups now filled with leaves and set them aside to steep.
Sun pushed herself out of the water and wrung out her wet hair. She joined him on the platform.
“Try this.” Mica withdrew a jar from the trunk and removed the lid. He held it out to her.
“What is it?” She glanced at the tan, creamy substance inside and sniffed it, enjoying the aroma of flowers and almonds. “Umm.”
“It’s good for the skin after bathing.” Dipping his fingers inside, he rubbed some on his arm. “Like this.”
Sun shrugged. “Why not?”
She scooped out some of the cream and massaged it into her arms. The sensation was pleasant and the scent divine. Taking more, she sat, smoothing it onto her legs.
Mica’s gaze focused on her thighs. He turned away, but not before she noticed the enormous bulge in his loincloth had grown so the leather stretched almost to bursting.
Sun contemplated running him through with her sword. Even better, she wanted him to run
You should be ashamed, Sun. Keep a little self respect. This man’s father destroyed your life.
Mica pulled his robe over his head, once again cloaking his exquisite body as well as the evidence of his lust. Sun could at least take some comfort in knowing he found her attractive as well. Not that it would get him anywhere.
Mica knelt on one of the pillows near Sun and silently chastised himself.
Damn, why did I have to give her the stupid cream?
Trying not to stare as she rubbed the scented mixture on her gorgeous, rounded thighs, he imagined his hands running along her smooth flesh and fantasized about how soft and warm it must feel. His erection throbbed, but he resisted the urge to adjust it, or better yet wrap his fist around it and relieve some of the torturous sexual tension.
Drawing a deep breath, he forced himself into submission and tried to ignore his racing pulse.
Stop it, Mica.
But why should he stop? It had been a long time since he’d been overcome by
sexual urges. He’d begun to wonder if he’d ever feel like a man again.
The hint of a blush in her cheeks when he’d stood by her in the pool and the way her nipples turned to hard pebbles revealed her attraction to him.
You’re not supposed to think about such things. The less you desire, the better. You’re to be
a Priest. Romantic relations with a woman will have absolutely no place in your life.
“I have something similar.” Sun interrupted his thoughts.
He raised an eyebrow in question.
She reached for her leather bag which she’d left beside her robe and tugged out a jar containing a greenish lotion. She handed it to him. “I like how yours smells better.”
Mica sniffed the jar’s contents. “Mint?”
“I have others too. Some are good for muscle soreness.”
“We should discuss ingredients. I know Knights and Dames are expert healers.”
Raising an eyebrow, Sun asked, “You have an interest in the healing arts?”
“I learned some on the battlefield, but I’ve also had to train with some of the Priests who are healers, since part of my duty is to lend aid among the Bedouins. We could talk about remedies sometime.”
A look of interest crossed Sun’s face before she took back her jar of mint cream and placed it in her bag. “You’d learn more from Blaze. He’s the best healer in the Ruby Order.”
“You were his student?”
“Then you must know almost as much.”
“I know the basics.” Sun sat across the table from Mica. “My expertise is fighting.”
“Your weapon of choice?” Mica took a sip of tea, focusing on her full, pink lips. She had such a lovely mouth. It looked soft and kissable.
“Short sword, but I’m just as comfortable with daggers and staves. I’m a decent archer too.”
“What’s your preference, or have you given up fighting entirely now that you’re a Priest?” Sun asked, her fingers caressing the teacup.