Authors: Leslie Dicken
This book is dedicated first to Betty Hanawa. I learned everything about writing romantic erotica from her skill and generosity. She was also instrumental in helping me take this story from my dreams to a plotted novel.
Also, to Lisa Paitz Spindler, who critiqued the story for me once it was written.
He was forbidden.
Ariana hovered behind the branches of a tree, where she stole glimpses of a lone man on the beach. He was a Marimar, that she was sure of. His wide chest and sculpted shoulders told the story of a man with strong lungs and powerful arms.
She had not seen one this close before. But then again, she had not ventured this far from the Dwelling either.
Ariana settled on a heavy limb and watched him hobble along the sand. He must have injured his ankle, for his gait was strange, more of a limp.
Even so, her mouth watered at the corded muscles on his legs. The small red cloth at the juncture of his legs did not cover much of his warm tawny-colored skin.
He was a surprising sight for her to see today, the first day of her solitary journey. She’d left early this morning, slipping out before Hanken could notice her gone. She must make this decision on her own, not have her betrothed’s soft whispers distracting her.
The man below stumbled, then fell to his knees, his roar of pain sending birds into flight.
Without thought, Ariana dropped from the tree limb and landed on the warm sand only feet away from him.
The Marimar snapped his head up, eyes like the deep ocean waters widened in alarm. But then his face softened, the corners of his full lips curled.
“Aren’t you a lovely sight.”
His voice skated down her spine, setting her wings fluttering. She cleared her throat, found courage in the crossing of her arms. “My name is Ariana. Do you need assistance?”
“Ariana.” He rolled the word with a sensual twist, sparking heat deep inside her belly. “I am Andreus.”
She swallowed and stepped forward. Never had she been so close to a Marimar. Usually they were several hundred feet below.
“You-you are hurt.”
He nodded, then with a grimace rose to his feet. Lifting one foot tenderly, he tried to hop away from the water’s edge.
“I can help you.” Ariana took another step closer to him, the scent of salt and something else—something wild and raw—tickled her nose.
Andreus raised a dark brow, but leaned on her shoulder. His weight and strength were far more than she ever imagined. Hanken, and others like her, were of slight build. It made them lighter and easier to fly.
She helped him hobble up the beach to a line of trees, where a makeshift shelter jutted out across the dry sand. Once inside, he dropped to the ground. “I thank you.”
Ariana pulled her gaze from the hard curves of his chest, where virtually no hair covered his bronzed skin. He fascinated her. Her fingers itched to touch the long length of his legs, the broadness of his back.
“How-how will you make it back?”
He smiled. “I must wait for my ankle to heal. I cannot swim like this, nor can I walk.”
“Oh.” She fiddled with her belt, jiggling the wings on her back.
“And you?” His sea-colored eyes stared into hers without reservation. “Have you been blown off-course?”
Ariana grinned, for she
been blown off-course in the past by strong gales. “No. I am on a journey of solitude, but I saw you down on the beach.”
“Solitude? I much prefer company myself.” His lips curved into a wicked grin, dancing the butterflies in her stomach again. How is that Hanken never caused these reactions in her?
She slipped off the wing pack and sat carefully on the sand. The rough texture of the grains scratched her legs, but she did not want to insult him by brushing it away. “My Journey of Solitude is a rite of passage. Every Aerotaun takes one. I will also decide if I want to marry the mate who has asked for me.”
“Ah. That is your custom, is it?”
“Do the Mar—?” She cut herself short, fearing the word Marimar might be considered an insult with his people. “What are your marriage customs?”
Andreus stretched his full length and leaned on an elbow. Ariana gulped at the bulge beneath his cloth. By the stars, was everything on him so much larger than what she knew?
His soft chuckle brought her attention back to his face. “Let’s not talk of marriage, tell me instead about you.”
“Me? I am as you see, an Aerotaun. What else do you care to know?”
His gaze traveled from her the top of her head, down her arms to the crossing of her ankles. She shifted under stare, feeling naked, yet worshipped. Her nipples tightened, her breath caught.
“I want to know everything.” His voice rumbled, like the far off calling of a storm. “I have never had the chance to be so close to an Aerotaun before.”
“I’ve told you my name and why I am out here alone.”
Andreus lifted his chin. “Your wings. Tell me about them.”
A breeze blew off the ocean, lifting his bark-colored strands and twisting them about his shoulders. His muscles flinched as he shifted. How would their strength feel as his hands glided along her skin?
She looked away, guilty at the thoughts tumbling through her mind. Only last night she’d lain in Hanken’s arms.
Focusing on the blowing leaves of the hut, she leaned across her bent knees. “Many years ago, our ancestors realized that we needed an easier way to get our food than climbing the trees from the roof of the Dwelling. So they created mechanical wings.”
She reached back and lifted her pair. “We are custom fitted for them at different stages of our life so that they are tailored perfectly. It increases aerodynamics.”
Andreus sat up. “May I?”
Ariana hesitated before handing him her wings. “Please be gentle.” His thick fingers looked as if they could puncture the gauzy fabric at the slightest pressure.
“Ah, I wouldn’t dream of damaging them.” He held them as if they were a newly born babe. “But then again,” his grin turned mischievous, “if they were ruined, you’d not be able to fly away from me.”
Her heart trembled with the idea. Stay here with him? It was absurd, of course. She had her Journey to complete and then her life to continue. And yet, Andreus was so compelling, so foreign, so completely enigmatic. She shivered just being near to him.
He handed her back the wings. “That is impressive engineering. But your culture has a history of intellect, do they not?”
She brushed some sand from her ankles and stood. “Yes, you must know the stories of The Landing.”
He raised an eyebrow, but otherwise didn’t move. “Of course we were told stories. But who is to say they are the same as yours?”
“Perhaps they are not.” It was just as well, there were many truths she’d rather not divulge.
She glanced at the sun, which had now reached the halfway point between the sky and the sea. “I should move on. Do you have food to keep you?”
“Leaving so soon?”
But she must. Her body hummed with his presence, a deep void opened within her core. This Marimar was dangerous to her future.
“I’m happy to find you food first, but you must decide quickly, for light is failing.”
Andreus straightened out his injured leg and nodded toward the water. “I prefer shrimp and crabs, but any fish will do.”
Although Ariana detected humor in his words, her lungs tightened with the request. She could not possibly go into the ocean. “Have-haven’t you had any of the sweet nectar fruit?”
His face brightened with that wicked grin again, making her knees weak. “Sounds perfect.”
Numbly, she nodded and re-hooked her wings. She would bring him back the fruit and a few other nuts and berries to last him a day or so. Then, she would be on her way to complete her Journey of Solitude. Without ever getting her feet wet.
Andreus’s gut clenched as he watched her take off into the air, her graceful legs and arms reminding him of a fairy he’d once seen in an ancient book.
He’d find a way to keep her with him. After spending just a few moments with Ariana, he had to make her his own. He always wondered why the women of his own kind did not entice him much. He did not find them alluring. They were ordinary. Too much like himself.
But Ariana lit a fire in his groin. Her smooth skin, long limbs and elegant features reminded him of other delicate creatures he’d seen fly overhead. She was a bird, a butterfly, an angel.
Hell, he’d never felt such heat in his blood, he’d never longed so much for the mere taste of one woman’s skin.
Also, she was an Aerotaun. Exactly what he needed to further his goals. The fact she was so forbidden, so taboo, made her all the more perfect.
He also knew she would withdraw quickly. The Aerotaun were said to be traditional, analytical, conservative. She would not bend to him easily. Andreus grinned. But that made the challenge even more fun.
He reached for his makeshift cane and pulled himself to stand. His ankle throbbed, matching the ache in his groin. He needed cool water to bring the swelling down in both areas.
The sand was warm beneath his bare feet, reassuring and comforting. But it wasn’t until he reached the chilled licks of the sea water that his tension eased.
Pain assaulted his ankle but he pressed forward, impervious to the temperature. He was at home in the water, free and alive. He could swim nearly anywhere, dive many feet below. Nearly all food and medicine were derived from the bounty of the sea. It was in his culture’s history. First they’d conquered the ocean by boat, now they lived with it as one.
Andreus hobbled in until the water reached his chest. Fish swam about his waist, between his legs. Many of the ocean creatures had become used to him. Dolphins and turtles often swam by for a pat.
He looked up as sea birds flew near the horizon. Water and air together. If those animals combined the two, why couldn’t the two cultures live together?
For generations the two peoples lived separate lives. Though tales of The Landing were often repeated, no one gave a clear answer as to why there was a split in the survivors.
Or why there was no longer communication between the two cultures.
Yet for years his younger brother longed to cross the ocean. His little sister envied the flight of the Aerotaun. But his people were restricted. Forced to remain locked to the tide, which always brought them right back to the Dwelling.
Andreus ducked his head under the water, then smoothed his hair back from his face. Ariana should be returning soon. He knew she wanted to be on her way before darkness settled, but he intended for her to stay.
A disconcerting emptiness filled his limbs as it always did when he left the sea. But Ariana would not join him in the ocean when she returned. He saw the fear darken her eyes. Other than a bath, he doubted she’d ever put her toes in the water.
He’d nearly reached the hut when she landed beside him. In her hands she held a basket or pouch, made from tree leaves.
“I’ve brought back sweet nectar fruit, toko tree nuts and razza berries. They should keep you well for a bit.”
Andreus smiled his appreciation and pointed to the back corner. He’d built this hut years ago, gradually adding comforts to sustain him while alone. “There is a rolled-up pallet of leaves. Would you mind spreading it out on the sand?”
She set down her basket of treasures, slipped off her wings, and quickly set about the task. He watched her slight hips and round bottom bending and adjusting as she worked. Beneath the wet cloth, his cock stirred.
Ariana turned and faced him. “Anything else I can do for you?”
Ah, yes, many things. Allow him to taste her peach colored lips or bury his nose into the sweet smell of her silvery hair. But he must move slowly with her or she would disappear within seconds.
“Fire?” Andreus motioned to the pit he dug yesterday when he’d first arrived. Charcoaled embers were all that remained of yesterday’s blaze.
But from her widened eyes, he could see that she had never been taught to make one. That would not be the only lesson he gave her tonight.
He pointed to his injury. “Please don’t go until you’ve helped me with the fire and dined with me.”
She hesitated, bit her lip, then glanced at the setting orange sun. “I-I have never been on the ground during the dark.”
He leaned on the staff. “Do you fear predators?” Like himself, perhaps?
Ariana covered her arms, as if a shiver had coursed through her. “I don’t know. It’s frightening to do something you’ve never done.”
Andreus studied her vibrant eyes. “On the contrary, I find it rather thrilling.” He pointed to the small stack of wood he’d gathered yesterday. “Stay with me, help me with the fire. I promise to keep you safe.”
She glanced again at the sun and finally nodded. Anticipation skated down his spine, roused his groin.
Together, they gathered the wood and built the fire. Nights did not get overly cool on this planet, but the light of the fire always brought a sense of contentment and protection.
Ariana gathered up her basket and placed it on the leaf pallet between them. “Which would you like to try first?”
A hint of shyness lurked beneath her lowered lashes, her tightened lips. Despite another man offering for her, Ariana was attracted to him—a Marimar. That knowledge would be very useful.