Authors: Charlotte Boyett-Compo
He felt the moisture go down his neck. “You bitch!” he snarled. “I ought to turn your fat ass over my lap!”
“I’ll geld you if you dare to try!” she hissed back. “And serve your nuts to that ‘nag’ of mine!”
“Highness!” Boris pleaded, darting his gaze to Conar’s furious face.
“The gods help you when I get up, you cow!” Conar growled. “I’m going to beat your ass black and blue!” Her fingers were raking his hands, drawing blood, and he had every intention in the world of doing just as he had promised as soon as he could.
Boris looked up as another warrior joined him in helping to pin the woman’s legs. Between them, they managed to pull her back over the crate. They jerked, pulling her hands from Conar’s grip and winced as she drew back a fist and shot it straight to the point of the young Prince’s chin before she was dragged away. Luckily her blow was only a glancing one that made more sound than damage.
“You bitch!” Conar bellowed, trying to scramble toward her, but still confined under the weight of the crate, that with her squirming weight, was digging a furrow into his shins. He wasn’t surprised to find he’d lost his erection.
“You bastard!” she yelled back at him, trying to get to him again.
“Please!” Boris begged. He struggled to hold the spitting woman in his arms despite her attempt to stomp on his instep. “Highness! That’s enough!”
“Get this fucking crate off me!”
“Leave it on the bastard. Maybe it’ll crush him!”
Yuri sighed and stepped toward Conar. “Hold still, Highness. I’ll remove the crate.”
“Leave his ass under it!” the woman screeched. She bucked in Boris’ arms, bridged her neck backwards and clipped the unfortunate warrior on the point of his chin.
His hold loosened immediately and she darted around the warrior who had come to Boris’
aid and made a dive for Conar once more.
“That is enough!” Yuri shouted as he spun away from where he had been about to bend over Conar. He put out a hand to halt her. His big paw planted itself firmly in the center of her chest, large fingers splayed out between her heaving breasts, and he stepped in front of her. “Stop this now!” His face had taken on a stern, warning look. “Do you hear me?” His last words were evenly spaced, low, a thick brow arched in challenge.
The woman stopped, her gaze darting past Yuri to the man lying on the ground glaring up at her with enough hostility to start another holocaust. Her jaw clenched, her nostrils flared, her breathing went deep and long. She stared at her opponent for a fraction of a second longer then nodded crisply and turned away.
“Thank you,” Yuri breathed, lowering his hand. He watched as the woman walked a few steps away, turned to glare back at Conar as she leaned negligently on the buckboard of her wagon. “Stay there, now,” Yuri added for emphasis before turning his attention back to Conar once again.
Conar’s dark glower was fastened on the woman standing ten feet away from him. Most men would have recoiled from that vicious stare, but the woman looking back at him seemed amused by it. He growled as she tossed her head and sneered.
“Are you hurt, Your Grace?” Yuri asked, trying to draw Conar’s hot stare from the woman.
“No,” Conar hissed.
“Too bad,” she cooed. “He deserves to be for riding that stallion like a demon out of the pit.”
A tick began in Conar’s lean jaw. “You haven’t seen the demon in me yet, you fat cow.”
One delicate brown brow lifted in scorn. “Perhaps not, but I have seen the jackass in you, you pompous twit.”
Yuri groaned. He bent over and heaved the wooden crate from the man he had sworn to protect with his own life. Reaching out an angry hand to help Prince Conar to his feet, he clasped the young man’s sword hand in his own and levered up a very enraged Serenian monarch.
“Do all your peasants talk to their betters in such a manner, Andreanova?” Conar growled.
“Betters?” came a shrill laugh. “He thinks to call himself MY better?” In a very unfeminine and unmannered gesture, she turned her head, bent sideways, and spat on the ground.
Straightening up, she tilted her chin in the air and glared at him down her nose. “THAT for thinking yourself
better, you arrogant Serenian pig!”
His left leg aching horribly, his vision obscured by dancing red pinpoints of fury, Conar took a painful step forward, viciously knocking aside Yuri’s hastily flung out arm meant to restrain him.
“Just who the hell do you think you are, you Outer Kingdom cow?” he bellowed at her.
Before Yuri or Boris could open mouths to tell him, the woman drew herself up to her full five feet five inches of outraged womanhood and spat her answer at his feet.
“The Tzarevna, you son-of-a-worm’s belly! Crown Princess of St. Steffensburg! Second in line to the throne of the Outer Kingdom!” Her eyes sparkled with challenge. “And just who are
, Conar McGregor? Disinherited son of the Serenian Kingdom!”
Fury couldn’t quite describe how he felt at that moment, he later thought. Anger certainly wasn’t strong enough a word to adequately convey to an outsider what he was experiencing as he stood there glaring back at the little bitch.
Rage, well, that was close to the emotion, but still not as strong a description of his emotions as he would have liked.
Murder. That was closer still.
Total annihilation, only a hair’s breadth away from being adequate. But still, he didn’t think there had ever been a word invented in either of their languages that could have unerringly described how he felt.
Not that it mattered, he later realized. Standing between him and the target of his ire were five hulking warriors, hands on their weapons. Not that they would have harmed him, he rationalized, but they sure as hell would have kept him from attacking the bitch even though at that moment he had wanted to pulverize her to nothingness. Their worried eyes had flown between Conar and the Tzarevna, sweat had broken out on brows, under arms, in the palms of their sword hands. Aye, he knew, they would have put an immediate stop to any retaliatory action on his part, and hers, he came to understand.
“What? No ready insult to fling back at me?” she shot at him, baiting him. Lush coral lips parted in a sneer. “Or have you remembered what few manners your dame taught you when standing in the presence of
Conar let his dark gaze go down her from the crown of short, lush curls on her head to the dusty brown boots on her feet. His lip curled in distaste and he jerked his head to Yuri.
“This is the old maid your Tzar wanted to foist off on me?” He snorted. “This is the bitch he wants me to marry?”
“What?” It was a low, menacing growl of both surprise and warning from the woman’s suddenly still face. She pushed away from the wagon, staring at him.
With a contemptuous lift of his golden left brow, Conar rewarded her with one of his most seductive, and deceptive smiles. There was actual frost in his voice as he spoke.
“Didn’t they tell you, highness?” He stressed the last word as though it were distasteful.
Her face narrowed and then moved turned to Yuri. “Tell me what, Yuri Andreanova?”
Yuri sent daggers of warning at Conar before letting his gaze mellow and merge with the Tzarevna’s. “Your father was going to tell you ....”
“Tell me what?” There was murderous rage now in the low voice.
“That he was giving you to me!” Conar chuckled. He ignored Yuri’s hiss of warning, Boris’
groan, and stepped toward her. “As my helpmate.” His voice went deep as he took another step.
“My consort.” He reached her, stood glaring down into her upturned face. “My wife.” His lip lifted in an ugly sneer. “As if I’d have you!”
Her complexion turned a pale rose, her lips parted in disbelief, but when neither of the warriors standing behind Conar McGregor denied what the horrid man was saying, a livid blush of pure rage flooded her face and she drew back her right hand with every intention in the world of slamming the rigid, hateful smirk off his face. But as her hand came forward, with enough force to stagger the bastard whose fluidity of motion was so quick, and so exact, that he had her wrist in a powerful grip strong enough to make her knees bend in pain and shock before her palm could connect with his face. A slight groan, quickly stifled and immediately regretted, issued from her lips before she clamped down on her emotions and glared up into his face even as tears of pain welled in her eyes.
“Don’t you ever try that again,” he whispered to her, his hateful face moving so close to her own she could smell the hint of cinnamon on his breath. “Do you hear me, Highness?” His question was punctuated with a tightening on her wrist she would have sworn could not have been possible.
“Yes,” she whispered, a single tear of agony falling treacherously down her left cheek.
“Good,” he said. He loosened his hold only enough so that the blood pounding in her fingers would lessen. “I believe we understand one another, now, don’t we?”
“Yes,” she answered, hating him with all her being as his lips lowered to within striking distance of her own.
“Just for the record, just so you’ll know, Highness,” he cooed to her, his gaze roaming over her face. His smile was slick, intimately evil. “I have no intention of allowing anyone to coerce me into marrying any female, be it you or one of your unsightly sisters. And even if I were so inclined to mate again, it would not be with someone I find ...,” he flicked a look over her that was filled with contempt, “unacceptable.” His smile grew nastier still. “Do I make myself clear to you, you fat cow?”
For a reason she could not understand, his words cut her deeply, and his brute strength overwhelmed her. To be seen in such a bad light, to be helpless against him, put another tear onto her cheek. Her entire body quivered with humiliation.
“Perfectly clear,” she told him in a voice she hardly recognized as her own.
“Good.” He spat the word at her like a deadly poison.
He released her wrist and stepped back, turning his back on her, dismissing her as he would a servant who had angered him, with no expectation there would be a reprisal. He walked calmly, strutted she would have said, to his mount and grasped the pommel and, disdaining the stirrup, swung himself expertly into the saddle and stared down at Yuri.
“I’m ready when you are, Andreanova.”
Yuri looked uneasily from his ward to his Tzarevna.
Never had he seen Marie Catherine Steffenovitch lower her eyes to any man--be it father or brother or Priest. Never had he seen her cry, not even when she had fallen from her horse and broken both an arm and leg. Not even when her favorite kitten had been crushed beneath the wheels of her mother’s coach. But as he stood there, uncertainly stamped on his blunt features, he watched silent tears falling down the ashen cheeks of his Tzarevna and was astonished.
Slowly his gaze went to the man sitting astride the impatient palomino.
“Any time today will do, Andreanova,” Conar McGregor snapped. “I’ve nowhere special to WINDBELIEVER
Boris caught Yuri’s attention and both men looked back at the woman standing docilely beside her wagon. Her head was bowed, her expression hidden beneath the fall of the short bangs covering her forehead. There was a slight slump to her shoulders as she twisted her hands together before her.
“Highness?” Yuri questioned.
“Go on to the palace, Yuri Andreanova,” she said in a low, toneless voice. “I will be along shortly.”
“Would you like one of the men to ....?”
“Leave her be,” Conar commanded. He kept his gaze on her, for he could sense what the others could not. “She can manage on her own.”
“But the wagon ...,” Yuri protested.
“Got to this point with her at the reins and can get to where it is going the same way. She doesn’t want, nor need your help, do you, Highness?” Conar called over to her.
She shook her head. “No, I do not. All of you, go,” she ordered. “Leave me.”
“But the wagon wheel is ...,” Yuri tried to protest.
“Mount up, Andreanova,” Conar ordered in a voice that brooked no argument. “The wheel will hold until she gets where she’s going. Someone there can fix it for her.”
Despite his better judgment, and the warning looks Boris sent his way, Yuri mounted his palfrey and kicked the animal over to where Prince Conar McGregor sat.
“This has been a bad start,” Yuri apologized. “Normally, Her Grace is ....”
“How far is it to the palace?” Conar cut him off.
Yuri sighed. He knew a dismissal when he was given one. “Half an hour’s ride,” he answered.
Conar glanced up at the sky. “Then we can make it before nightfall.” He kicked his mount in the flanks and moved forward, away from the wagon and the female who slowly lifted her head to stare after him as he rode away.
Marie Catherine Steffenovitch watched the tall man sitting astride the magnificent stallion until he was out of sight behind one of the sharp turnings in the roadway. For a long time she stood where she was, staring at the dust as it settled from the horse’s passing, and then she climbed onto the seat of the buckboard and sat down, surveying the damage done to the wagon.
The wheel cantered inward, but it would, as he had predicted, hold until she could get the wagon home.
She sighed, glancing at the crate beside the roadway. She knew she’d have to send someone back for it, but it would be safe until she did. It bore the stamp of the royal house on its side and no one would dare pilfer what belonged to the Tzar’s household.
Slowly, she lifted her head and stared after the riders, the last of whom was just disappearing around the turn in the road.
“I hate you,” she said softly.
He had to admit that the Palace of the Tzars was a sight better than the town of St.