Primitive: Chapter 15

“One would think at some point in the past few centuries you would have learned patience.”  Lykos growled at Jormun, who just rolled his eyes.  Jormun continued, ignoring the growling sound.  “Christophe has been moved back to the military base.  He is still sedated.”

He didn’t miss Jormun’s small frown.  “Why still sedated?  Is no need sedate Christophe.”

“Captain Guerin’s orders.  Christophe is to remain sedated until he can be transported to a secure medical facility.”  Jormun set his cell phone down.  “It is possible —”

“He called out warning to me.”  Lykos started pacing.  When Jormun raised an eyebrow, Lykos sighed.  “Twice.  Yelled warning before first shot, yelled when rocks fell.”

“Stockholm —

“He is mine.”  Lykos shook his head and gave Jormun a furious look.  “He said he would stay with me.”

“And Lima Syndrome.”  Jormun exhaled.  “You developed feelings for your hostage.”

“Is not like that.”  Lykos glared.

“Or perhaps you’ve just become sentimental in your old age.”  Jormun stood.  “Lykos, you need to put this behind you.  If you care about the boy, let him be.  Let him go home to his family and —”

“He knows.”  Lykos clenched his fists.  Then he met Jormun’s eyes.  “He knows his father killed innocent people.  Shot the deputies.  Murdered them.”  Lykos waved a hand.  “Send them after me then kill them for going after me.  Cannon fodder.”

“There are reasons for our rules, Lykos.  And one of those reasons is men like Guerin.”  Jormun sighed.  “Come.  It is time to —”

“No.”  Lykos shook his head.  Then he started for the door.

“Lykos.”  Jormun called after him.  “Lykos, where do you think you are going?”

“To get my Christophe.”  He grabbed the door handle and started to open it.  The door slammed shut again.  He turned toward Jormun.  “He is mine.”

“If you persist in this, Lykos…”  Jormun’s eyes narrowed.  “I may have to take measures.”

“Defending is allowed.”  Lykos glared.

Jormun sighed, then nodded.  “Exercise discretion.”  The door clicked open behind him.  “And good luck.”

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 15

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Primitive: Chapter 13

Christophe followed Lykos down the small hill to the stream.  There was a source of water in the caves, but it didn’t have fish.  Lykos kept the leash short, only a few feet, but there was an additional coil of chain in his hand.  His wrist and ankle cuffs, however, weren’t secured together, allowing in freedom of movement otherwise.  Lykos rarely bothered with those chains anymore, but he never removed the leash.  It was no longer even fastened to the collar by a lock.  Lykos had used his power to seal the links to create a ten-foot length of unbroken chain permanently attached to the collar, though longer lengths were often attached.

He sat on a rock, enjoying the sun as Lykos gave the stream one of his critical looks.  “Overhunting.  Fish too small.”  Lykos glared at the water, then sniffed it and wrinkled his nose.  “Fertilizer run off.  Shameful.”

“They’ve been trying to pass laws about the runoff problems, but the corn industry has a powerful lobby.”  Christophe lay back on the rock.  Lykos had secured the leash, giving him about a twenty-foot radius to move around in.  But with living half naked in a cool cave most of the time, the sun felt good and he saw no need to move from where he currently was.  Off in the distance he saw a helicopter heading west.

“Lobbyists.  Should all be drawn and quartered.”  Lykos shook his head as he waded into the river.

“Can’t really argue with that.”  He lifted himself up to rest a hand on his head.  Watching Lykos catch fish with his bare hands remained fascinating.  The man had attempted to teach him and Christophe had even managed it once, but Lykos made it look far easier than it actually was.  Within a few minutes, several fish were on the bank.

Cleaning the fish and game, however, remained his task.  He was getting better at it.  Lykos had caned his feet twice before he’d gotten the hang of properly butchering a deer.  He’d wondered at why the man had brought back so much before realizing that the leaves were falling.  Lykos was stocking up for winter.  “You like chickens?”

It took him a moment to realize Lykos had asked him a question.  “I like chicken.”

“Not chicken.  Chickens.”  Lykos gestured for him to grab the fish.  “I think I steal some.  Eggs.  Meat.  Build little coop.”  He shook his head.  “Cow too big.  Goats better.”

“You…”  He picked up the fish.  “You talk like you intend to stay in the caves forever.”

“Good place.  Secure.”  Lykos nodded.  He frowned when he looked at Christophe, and a couple expressions crossed his face.  “You don’t want to live in cave forever.”

I want you to let me go.  He didn’t say the words aloud.  “I kind of miss television sometimes.  And uh…”  He rubbed the back of his neck.

“Lonely.”  Lykos gave him a look that was surprisingly sympathetic.

“A little.”  He watched Lykos unfasten his leash from the tree for the trip back.

“Perhaps…”  Lykos hesitated before he started back toward the cave.  “We can go north.  Canada.  Find small town where no one will look for us.”

“That uh…”  Christophe nodded.  “Yeah.”

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 13

Primitive: Chapter 11

He woke up with his Christophe in his arms.  The young man slept quietly, his face peaceful.  Lykos traced a finger along the collar.  It was a fairly spartan thing.  He should put a rune on it, make it clear Christophe was his and…  He frowned.  And there were few left who could even read such things.  Still, he would put the mark on anyway.  His Christophe had earned it.  He leaned over and kissed the young man’s shoulder.

Christophe stirred, blinking up at him.  “It’s morning?”

“Yes.”  Lykos sat up.  “I will make your chain longer before I go.  You can sleep more, if want.”

“I can make you breakfast.”  Christophe sat up, blinking bleary eyes.  He glanced at the cave entrance.  “It isn’t light out yet.”

Lykos caught Christophe’s chin and gently kissed his lips.  “Go back to sleep, my Christophe.  I will see you well into the night.”  He pushed Christophe back onto the bed, and the young man resisted only a moment before laying back down.  Then he put the cover over him before fixing the chain.  Christophe was asleep again before he’d finished.  Lykos smiled, and left the cave.

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 11

Primitive: Chapter 10

Guerin looked up at the man who’d entered Darin’s office.  He’d been expecting a scientist, not someone built like a linebacker.  Guerin nodded.  “Thank you for coming, Mr. Wōtan.”

“A pleasure.”  Mr. Wōtan accepted Guerin’s handshake.  “I was told there was a sighting.  Would it be possible to speak with the witnesses?”

“I’m afraid it would not.”  Darin stood, and also shook Mr. Wōtan’s hand.  “Given the delicacy of the matter, the situation had to be contained.”

Mr. Wōtan nodded.  “I see.”

“What can you tell us about this creature?”  Darin folded his arms.  “Is he an extraterrestrial?”

“Quite the opposite, really.”  Mr. Wōtan’s spoke with an accent that sounded Russian.  It put Guerin slightly on edge.  “I would require access to the samples you took to confirm, but if I am correct…”  He shrugged.  “Then you may be better off thinking of him as primordial rather than extraterrestrial.”

“You mean what?” Guerin blinked.  “He’s some kind of Neanderthal throwback?”

“That is one way to put it.”  Mr. Wōtan set his briefcase on the table.

“Mr. Wotan…”  Guerin narrowed his eyes.  “That thing has my son.”

“I am aware of the situation.”  Mr. Wōtan gave Guerin a sympathetic look.  “However, if he was going to kill the boy he would have done it already.  Mr. Darin says that the creature took the boy to bait you into a trap?”

“Christophe confirmed it when the thing let me talk to him.”  Guerin swallowed.  He could still hear Christophe’s bitten back cry of pain.  “This thing needs to be neutralized.”

“Contained.”  Mr. Wōtan’s voice was firm and calm.

“It’s —”

“Captain Guerin, I cannot stress this enough, and I have the backing of your superiors on the matter.”  Mr. Wōtan met his eyes.  “The creature is to be taken alive.”

“You have any idea how many people it’s already killed?”  Guerin glared at him.  “This thing, Li-cost or —”

“Lykos.”

“What?”  Guerin blinked.

“His name…”  Mr. Wōtan smiled.  “Is Lykos.”

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 10

Learning Photoshop: Day 13 – Text Image

Alright, returning to the one I had initially planned to do yesterday before I decided to make planets explode instead.  As a writer, I’m aware words have power.  That power can be increased by adding an image.  I used this tutorial.

 

The stock I used for this particular piece is courtesy of  Shiskababe  on DeviantArt.

My results?

I think if I redo this one, I will create a layer mask and use it to fade the words as they get further from the image.

Primitive: Chapter 8

“What happens to me, after?”

“You soft.  But I think there is potential.”  Lykos shrugged.

“You intend to keep me.”  The manacles had been evidence of that, but hearing the man say it made his stomach sink.  And yet…  “But you intend to kill my father.”

“There was woman…”  Lykos’s gaze became far away.  “Back where I was when they found me.  Kind woman.  Old, wise with years but her body was weakening.  She would cook for me, bake.  Always with the stews and bread.  Good, solid food, stick to ribs.  Snow came, and I cleared it for her.”  Lykos’s hands clenched into fists.  “That is where I was, when your father came.  Clearing snow from old woman sidewalk, while she cooked for me.”  He looked up, his eyes glowing in the dim light as they met Christophe’s.  “She stepped out on her porch, and they fill her with bullets.  Slaughtered a kind old woman, because she saw them when they came for me.”

“I —”  Christophe swallowed.  “My father wouldn’t have —”

“Your father.”  Lykos’s voice was cold.  “Gave order.  No witnesses.”  He gave a small, bitter laugh.  “He hide this from you.  His soft son.  Waste of soldier uniform.”

“He wouldn’t —”

“I not lie.  Neither will you.”  Lykos took a step toward him.  “Not to me, and not to you.”  Then he shook his head, and left the camper.

Slowly, Christophe sank down to sit on the edge of the bed.  He knew his father lied.  His job required it sometimes.  The price of working with classified information.  As sick as he felt, Lykos’s story fit what he had seen.  And yet he still couldn’t believe his father would attack innocent people.  Lykos was vicious.  If they had gone after him, he must have given them a reason.

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 8

Primitive: Chapter 7

He pulled Christophe into the camper, then pushed him to the bed.  Christophe made a small whimpering sound as Lykos fixed the chains, leaving Christophe spread face down on the mattress.  Then he covered Christophe with a blanket.  Christophe went still at the gesture, and he noted a small trace of surprise on the young man’s face.  Lykos stared down at him for a moment, then laughed.  “You worried I would bed you.”

Christophe flinched.  “No.”

“Lie.”  Lykos shook his head.  “I punish you in morning for that.  You will not lie to you master.”  He petted Christophe’s hair.  “Are pretty man, but weak.  Soft.  Not worthy.”  He stood.  “Get sleep.”  He patted Christophe’s shoulder, then left the camper.

Outside, he crouched down and put his hand flat against the earth.  It hummed at his touch.  He’d searched before, last time he was this far west.  They were in the mountains now, the ones called the Rockies.  Slowly, then with growing intensity, he hunted among the vibrations of the ground.  There was no answering echo.  None of his kind had walked within a hundred miles of this location in the past decade.  The earth would have recalled their passage.  Lykos exhaled.

It had been that absence that had eventually driven him out of his caves.  The silence had grown deafening in his slumber, enough that he had sought out his cousins.  That had brought him in contact with humans.  At first the things they had made from metal had fascinated him.  They mixed and molded it with abandon, shaping it to their will.  There had been a few moments of hope that perhaps they had learned, after all.

From time to time he could smell dragons in their movements.  Governors remained, but no shepherds for a flock grown far too large.  None of the other elemental spirits had left marks of their passage above ground.  If any remained, they were hidden.  Hope had been dashed quickly.  There were far too many humans, and too many knew nothing.  He couldn’t share the truth even with those with whom he’d become friendly.  The first…  Lykos glanced back at the cabin.  The first he’d spoken to of his true nature had been his prisoner.  Christophe was young.  Perhaps when Lykos had avenged the wrong done, he would take Christophe back with him below.  A pet, at least, would be company of sorts.  The alternative was to seek out a dragon.

Lykos snorted.  Better to tie steel to his ankles and drop in on the merfolk than seek out a dragon.

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 7

Primitive: Chapter 6

He returned to find Christophe once again attempting to escape.  The young man had actually managed to get one of his wrists free of the chains, though his skin was bloody from the effort.  He was frantically working at the other when Lykos stepped into view.  Christophe immediately banged his head against the tree limb and uttered a few mild curses.  “I didn’t run.”

“Obey letter of law.  Hope to escape punish.”  Lykos nodded.  “Teach you that in military?”

“You didn’t tell me to leave the chains alone.”  Christophe tried to give him a defiant look, but the slight cringe in his body language ruined the effect.

“If had removed chains, would you have stayed put?”  Lykos raised an eyebrow.

Christophe glared at him.  Then he summoned up a little bit of nerve.  “No.”

Lykos patted him on the head.  “Good boy.  Honesty is best policy.  Had lied, would have put hot rocks on your feet.”  Christophe paled at the threat.  “You need bandages.  No more damaging self.  You damage self, I punish.  Understand?”  He moved in to undo the lock from Christophe’s other wrist.

“I understand.”  Christophe accepted the first aid kit Lykos handed him, and started cleaning up the abrasions on his wrists.

After watching for a moment, Lykos went back to what he’d brought with him.  He set the pieces of bar stock down, and saw Christophe jump slightly at the clanging sound they’d made.  The bags he brought over and set near his captive.  “Brought sandals.  You may wear.  Feet too soft for hard ground.”  He saw the brief hopeful look.  “Also, lotion for skin, to stop sun from burning.”  The hopeful look faded when Christophe realized clothes weren’t included.  His chest and the front of his thighs were lightly scratched from being pressed against the bark of the tree, and he’d not managed to fully escape getting some scratches on his genitals.

The young man used the first aid kit on the worst of the scratches without being told.  Lykos gave him an approving nod.  Then he took some of the leftover venison and set it on the cutting board he’d bought.  The pot he hung over the fire and added water to before going back to the bag.  He took out a couple potatoes, celery, and carrots, then set them by the roast.  Then he offered Christophe a knife, hilt first.  Cautiously, Christophe took it, then looked at the food.  “Dinner?”

“Yes.  Make.”  He waited a moment as Christophe considered the knife, then nodded when Christophe clearly realized attacking would be stupid.  Lykos went back to the lengths of metal he’d brought as Christophe began chopping ingredients and adding them to the pot.

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 6

Primitive: Chapter 5

“But he was alive?”  Guerin stared at the soldier?  “How did he look?”

“He was limping.”  The soldier swallowed.  “A bit scratched up from being in the woods, but otherwise unharmed.”  He exhaled.  “At least as far as I could see.  I couldn’t quite hear the conversation, but he convinced the thing not to kill me.”

“If he’s established some sort of rapport with the creature…”  Darrin slowly nodded.  “That is a good sign.  He may be able to get it to let its guard down.”

“Chris is a smart boy.”  Guerin took a few deep breaths. Smart, but definitely out of his league against a monster like this one.  Chris had barely passed his combat training, and he’d had to lean a bit to ensure that. If they didn’t resolve the situation soon, he was going to have to tell Sandra what had happened.  From the tone of her last voicemail, she had clearly already figured out something was going on.  “Keep an eye out.  He’ll find a way to signal us.  And track down that fucking jeep.”

“Already done.”  Darrin held up his cell phone.  “They found it at the side of the road a couple hours away, the gas tank empty.  We’ve got people on their way now to search the area.  There is a town nearby, but the area is heavily wooded.  Hopefully your boy can leave us a trail to follow.”

Continue reading Primitive: Chapter 5

The Duchess: Chapter 14 (The End)

“Ruarc.”  Gian rushed up and threw his arms around Ruarc’s neck.  “You’re safe.  You’re safe.”

He held Gian to him tightly.  “I was worried about you.”

“About me?”  Gian shook his head.  “You’re the one who…”  Gian trailed off, then pulled back.  “Why is the Stone Dragon naked?”

“That’s…”  Ruarc started to open his mouth, then sighed.

“Because the more Draaks you involve in a situation…”  Markus went over to one of the horses and started checking the saddle.  “The less sense that situation is going to make.”

“Wait just a damn minute…”  Jurgen turned toward him.  “How is any of this our fault?  I seem to recall the only reason I’m involved at all is you asked for my help.”

“Yes, well…”  Markus took a deep breath, then another one.  “Thank you, Jurgen.”  There was a coughing sound from the direction of Lammert.  Markus took another deep breath.  “He looks smug right now, doesn’t he?”

“Yep.”  Jurgen nodded.

“We’re about to get another told you so, aren’t we?”

“Yep.”  Jurgen nodded again.

“I thought I was very clear in my directions.  They were simple.  There were, in fact, only two of them.”  Lammert stalked toward where an ebony skinned woman and the gold-skinned man from earlier were waiting with horses.  “Cut through the woods, and if you see a Manisarian woman steer clear.”

Jurgen blinked.  “Wait —”

“Two directions.  Two steps.  But did you listen?”  Lammert started shaking his head.

“Hey now…”  Markus turned toward Lammert.

“The two of you can somehow manage to govern, but can either of you follow simple directions?”

“Liam.”  Jurgen folded his arms.

“Did you two even listen?”

“Liam.”  Markus pointed toward Gian.

“What really was so hard about those instructions?”  Lammert glared in their direction.

“Liam.”  Jurgen also started pointing at Gian.

“Did you just see a woman and all sense fly from your heads?”

“Liam.”  Markus kept pointing at Gian.

“Were they too complicated?”

“Liam.”  Jurgen raised his voice and pointed at Gian again.

“Too long?  Too comple— ”

“Liam.”  The ebony skinned woman touched Lammert’s shoulder and he stopped.  She pointed at Gian.

Lammert glanced at her, then turned to look at Gian.  Gian glanced at Ruarc uncertainly before looking back at Lammert.  Lamemrt stared at Gian for a few more seconds, then turned back toward Jurgen and Markus.  “I see how you may have misunderstood.”

“Can I hurt him?”  Markus turned toward Jurgen.

“If anyone hurts him…”  Jurgen ran a hand down his face.  “It’s going to be me.”

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 14 (The End)

The Duchess: Chapter 7

She ran her fingers through Ruarc’s hair.  He was firmly secured in the pillory, partly bent over and with his legs spread apart.  She’d fixed weights and little bells to the clamps she’d attached to his more sensitive bits, and now and then she could hear them jingling.  “You’ll be pleased to know I have sent the first stipend to your sister.”

He slowly raised his head to look at her, though the pillory made him have to crane his neck to do so.  “She’ll be pleased.”

“I’ll allow you to write to her tomorrow.”  She ran a finger down his cheek.  “I will read it before I allow it to be sent.”  She walked behind the pillory, then trailed her fingernails down his side.  He twitched, making the bells jingle.

Vitalia smiled, then flicked her fingernail against his scrotum.  He made a small sound as he jumped a little at the sensation.  Then she walked all the way around to face him again.  “You wanted a warrior.”  His voice was quiet.

“I have one.”  She ran her fingers through his hair again.

“You won’t for long, if this continues.”  He exhaled.  “Men are weakened in captivity, especially held like this.  If you want me to be able to fight for you…”  He raised his head again.  “You’ll have to allow me to —”

“Exercise, yes.”  She nodded.  “Tomorrow I will allow you a few hours to train.”  She crouched to look him in the eye.  “Tonight though, I want to see you squirm.”

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 7

The Duchess: Chapter 6

She hadn’t been lying.  Having them removed was indeed more painful than having them placed.  Ruarc bit back the cry of pain every time, and did not indulge in any groaning.  The look of disappointment on her face almost make the suffering worthwhile.  She must have caught a glimpse of that in his face, because she knew exactly how to retaliate.

“Making me into your whore isn’t enough for you?”  He fought to keep his hands from clinching into fists.

“Are you denying having second thoughts about our arrangement?”  She arched an eyebrow as a smug expression danced on her lips.

“Durante holds my brother’s marker.”

“And you cannot call in markers on your lands to pay it off.  You owe more than the lands are worth, and those markers will belong to me.”  She sat languidly in her chair, as though it was a throne.  It might well have been.

“Do as you demand and my family does well.  Walk away and…”  He swallowed.  “My brother dies in debtor’s prison.”

“Let’s be fair, my darling.  I’ll also see to your personal destruction.  You can be a whore or an outlaw.  One of the two will see your family secure.”  She stretched her leg out onto the footstool.  “Kneel.”

Ruarc bowed his head before dropping to his knees.  A small, bitter laugh escaped him.  “How may I serve, mistress?”

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 6

The Duchess: Chapter 5

He rubbed at his wrists, then exhaled before letting Gian take one to sooth the ointment into it.  His ankles had been left shackled together and secured to the chain on the floor.  Gian gave him a concerned look.  “The ropes are nicer if you don’t fight them, my lord.”

Simply fleeing would do him no good.  He might have gotten away with killing Durante, but there was the duchess to consider.  The king’s niece.  Killing her would make him an outlaw if he wasn’t simply executed, and alive her word was worth far more than his own.  She’d laid the trap clearly, and he’d still stepped inside.  “Fighting them seems to amuse her.”

“Oh, yes, my lord.”  Gian nodded.  “She was praising you at breakfast, telling all who would listen how she had to put you in irons.  She feared you’d break the ropes.”  Gian soothed the ointment into his other wrist.  “She’s instructed special restraints be made for you my lord.  Something that can hold her magnificent beast.”  He gave Ruarc a shy smile.  “You frightened me a little when you threw Durante off the bed.  I thought you were going to break free and I’d be punished for not tying you well enough.”

“If…”  Ruarc took a deep breath.  “You’d be punished if I broke free?”

“Of course, my lord.”  Gian gave him a confused look.  “Or if the ropes injure you.  It means I did not perform my duty adequately.”  Gian stood.  “Do you have other injuries, my lord?”

“I’m fine.”  Ruarc nodded.

Gian shifted from foot to foot.  “Are you certain, my lord?”

Ruarc looked up at him.  “I’m fine.”

“I…”  Gian hesitated.  “Are you certain, my lord?”

“Gian…”  He exhaled.  “What concerns you?”

“My lord, Durante did not prepare you before he took you.”

“Prepare…”  He caught on to what Gian was saying and felt his skin start to burn.  “I’m fine, Gian.”

“If my lord would like, I can prepare you before they wish to use you again.”

“I don’t…”  Ruarc shook his head.  “I don’t even know what you mean by that.”

“Oh.”  Gian started nodding.  “I can put oil on my fingers and —”

“Gian.”  Ruarc stared at him and then started shaking his head.  “No, I don’t want you to —”

“My lord.”  Gian put a hand on Ruarc’s shoulder, then crouched slightly so they were eye level.  “If you are not prepared, you could tear, or…”  Gian took a deep breath.  “It is a very painful injury to have, my lord.”

“I…”  Ruarc frowned.  “You know this from experience.”

“Yes, my lord.”  He nodded.  “I would have to prepare well if I were to take you, my lord.  You are bigger than Durante.”

“I won’t be taking you, Gian.”  Ruarc shook his head.  “I have no interest in either defiling you or doing you harm.”

“I…”  Gian smiled at him.  “I wouldn’t mind, my lord.  I like you.”

“Just…”  Ruarc took a deep breath.  Then another.  He had to take a third before he could speak.  “Tell me if you think I am going to need to be…”  He winced.  “Prepared, and I will consider your offer.”

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 5

The Duchess: Chapter 4

He was quiet when they entered the castle.  She wasn’t certain how much was fascination and how much was nerves.  Out of the corner of her eye she watched him, noting that he was paying attention to the castle’s fortifications and defenses.  That was encouraging, considering one of his duties would be to defend her fortress should such a thing become necessary.  Ruarc caught her watching him, and gave her a small nod.  “What do you think, darling?”  She smiled as she took his arm.

“It is impressive.”  He looked up toward the heights.  “Considering the approach, I admit surprise you do not have ballistas.”

“Something for you to discuss with my steward.  Let me give you the tour.”  She kept hold of his arm as she took him through the castle.  He was impressed by her armory, and commented on the efficiency of the stables.  And it was clear he didn’t miss the looks some of her staff were giving him.  Many seemed amused, but a few of the glances bordered on pity.  With her arm locked around his, she could feel his tension.  It brought a smile to her face.  “You may not leave the castle without my permission, but once granted you can ride and hunt in the woods.  The map is in my office.”

“Leave without…”  He blinked and turned to look at her.  “Without your permission?”

Vitalia raised an eyebrow.  “What about the instruction confuses you?”

“It’s purpose.”  Ruarc frowned.

“I purchased you for a reason, darling.  Allowing you to wander freely runs the risk of subverting that.  You’ll not be permitted to leave my lands unescorted at all.”

“I will want to visit my family.”  He shook his head.

“Arrangements can be made, provided you are otherwise a good boy.”  She patted his arm.  “Now, I believe you are unhappy with the current status of your family’s stipend.”

A small, slightly bitter laugh escaped him.  “You could say that.”

“I believe, unless your sister is not as capable as you described, that a sum of 300 gold a month would be sufficient to allow them to live among the nobility again, yes?”

It amused her to see just how wary his expression became.  “I take it you have…”  He gave a small shake of his head.  “Something in mind?”

“Oh, yes.”  She rubbed his arm.

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 4

The Duchess: Chapter 3

By Thatelan law, a marriage wasn’t fully legal until it was consummated.  The duchess had also made her intentions clear, despite being eager to return to her own lands.  Bedding her was to be expected, per their arrangement.  It should come as no surprise that they’d share a room at the inn, being newlyweds.  His eyes went once again to the item sitting on the pillow.  “You want to tie me to the bed.”

“Yes.”  Her smile was that of a lioness who’d spotted prey.

“And if I let you, you’ll double the stipend.”  He stared at the coil of rope.

“I’ve found a new stallion is often skittish at the first ride.  Offering a reward can smooth the process.”  She waved a hand.  “But our bargain was that you will submit to my will.”

“Obeying you is one matter.”  He shook his head.  “Being rendered helpless is another.”

“Hence the offer of the reward.”  The smile never left her face.

Ruarc exhaled, then glanced at the woman standing behind her.  “Your maid is still present.”

“Enjoy the small pleasures of rank, dear husband.  She’ll save you the effort of undressing yourself.”  Something of his reaction must have shown on his face, because she laughed.  “Come now.  She did quite well last time.”

“I am fully capable of undressing myself.”

“I’m sure you are.”  She shrugged.  “But I like the way you blush when she unlaces your breeches.”  Duchess Vitalia straightened.  “Stand, and let her undress you.”

He took a deep breath before rising.  The maidservant’s smile was a catlike mirror of her mistress’s as she began unfastening his doublet.  She took her time, putting on a show for the duchess.  He clenched his fists, but stayed where he was.  After he was naked, the maid went back to her position behind the duchess.

Her eyes raked over him.  “Well?”  She raised an eyebrow.

Kiera would be smart with the coin, see to their security.  This wouldn’t be forever.  Just until…  “It will be as you wish.”  He exhaled.

“Wonderful.”  She stood then, and trailed a hand across his chest.  “Relax, darling.  You may even enjoy yourself.”

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 3