Princely Pets – Sneak Peek

New story going up on my patreon this month.

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Archeology 101: Chapter 12 – The End

Abigail kept her hands under Khait’s shoulders, carrying him by his armpits while Bridget got his legs.  Together they lifted him onto her bed and laid him down.  “Alright.”  Bridget took a few deep breaths.  “Alright.” She swallowed.  “Alright.”

“Is it?”  Abigail stared down at Khait.

“He’s breathing, so…”  Bridget put her hand on his forehead as if to check his temperature.  “Maybe we should call an ambulance.”

“And tell them…”  Abigail sat down on the side of the bed.  “What would we tell them?  We don’t even…”  She hung her head.  “He got food poisoning from bad Italians?”

Bridget barked a laugh, then put her hands over her mouth.  “Abby.”

“Yeah?”  Abigail took Khait’s hand.

“I’m not sure, but uh…”  She exhaled.  “I think I strangled a man.”

“Either that or you beat him to death, because he didn’t move a hell of a lot while I was cutting off…”  Abigail trailed off.  “Bridget I cut off a man’s finger.”  Her eyes widened.  “Oh, god, Bridget, your hand.”

“Yeah it’s…”  Bridget looked down at the blisters on her hand.  “Okay, adrenaline is starting to wear off and I think I might need some ice and some vodka and some dilaudid and some prozac.”  She swallowed.  “Maybe not in that order.”

“I have ice and vodka.”  Abigail stood.

“Okay.  Let’s start with those.”  Bridget started toward the kitchen.

She got halfway down the hall when a horrible thought struck her.  “Bridget, do any of those guys know where you live?”

“Well they…”  Bridget gave her a horrified look.  “They knew who I was and tracked me down in…”  Her voice became small and hopeful.  “In Rome, and we aren’t in Rome right now so maybe they can’t find us here?”

“We will have some time at…”  Abigail made a growling sound, then went back to her closet.

“Abbey, what are you doing?”  Bridget followed.

“I am…”  Abigail yanked the box off the top shelf and typed in the combination.  Then she picked up the handgun and started looking it over.  She caught Bridget staring, and raised an eyebrow.  “Come on, sugar.  You aren’t the only one whose daddy was a soldier.”

“I’ve got a 45 and a shotgun.”  Bridget nodded.  Then she tilted her head.  “Maybe we should skip the vodka.”

“But not the ice.”  Abigail gave the hand a pointed look.

“No.”  Bridget turned for the kitchen again.  “Definitely not the ice.”

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Archeology 101: Chapter 9

She stood in the doorway, a cup of coffee in her hand.  Khait had shifted Bridget back to Rome before returning.  Then he’d more or less fallen face down on the bed and gone unconscious.  Asleep, he looked peaceful and innocent.  And delicious.  It was tempting to pounce, but considering what he’d said last night she was worried it wasn’t safe.

Abigail exhaled, and went into the living room.  She turned on her laptop and started working on her thesis notes.  It was a few hours before she sensed someone else in the room, and looked up to see Khait in the doorway, watching her.  He gave her an abashed sort of smile when he realized she was looking at him.  “You chew your lip when you type.  It is adorable.”

“Thanks.”  She hesitated a moment, then set the laptop down.  “We need to talk about last night.”

“Bridget summoned —”

“Okay.”  She held up her hand.  “We’ll talk about the you growing wings and killing people thing later, but just so we are clear…”  Abigail shrugged.  “Couple asshole serial killer rapist types end up fish food, I’m absolutely okay with that.  Doesn’t even register on the scale of bad to me.”

“Then…”  He walked into the room, and sat down on the floor in front of her.  “What is it you wish to speak of?”

“Uh…”  She shifted her weight a little.  “I kind of beat the hell out of you a little.”

“Oh, yes…”  He licked his lips.  “You enjoyed that.”

“Yes.  I did.  But uh…”  Abigail sighed.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have taken it that far.  It wasn’t —”

“Abigail.”

“I mean, I slapped —”

“Abigail.”

“And then I grabbed a belt and —”

“Abigail.”  He raised his voice a little.  When she stared at him, he started laughing.  “Abigail, I am an incubus.”

“Yes.  You’re into sex, I get that.”  She shook her head.  “But —”

“Abigail, my sweet darling…”  He laughed again.  “I do not think you quite do.  It is not the pleasure of the body, but the pleasure of the mind.  Your mind, in this specific case.”

“Uh…”  Abigail leaned back.  “You mean…”  She tilted her head.  “You mean if I’m enjoying myself so are you?”

“Precisely.”  He went to his knees in front of her.  “And the more you enjoy yourself…”  His finger trailed up her thigh.  “The more satisfying I find the experience.”

“Oh…”  She stared at him.  “Oh my god.”  He kissed the side of her leg.  “Oh my god, and you instinctively know what to do to…”  She exhaled.  “You are so damn dangerous.”

“Yes.”  He grinned, then it changed slightly.  He kissed her leg again, this time gently, before withdrawing a little.  “You are my hostess, Abigail.  It is not my intention to harm you in any way.”

“I…”  She nodded, then smiled at him.  “I know.”

“And right now, you should be working on your thesis.”  He stood.  “I will make you more coffee.”

“And —”

“Ham and egg with cheddar on a toasted croissant.”  He called back over his shoulder as he entered the kitchen.  “And a bag of jelly beans, heavy on the strawberry flavor, none of the black licorice.”

“Oh yeah.”  She grinned as she grabbed her laptop again.  “He’s dangerous.”

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Archeology 101: Chapter 8

“How is Rome?”  Abigail grinned at the phone.

“A lot rainier than I wanted it to be.”  Bridget’s voice came back over.  “I won’t be able to go sight-seeing until it clears up.  I wish —”  She cut herself off.  “No, Khait.”

“He’s not even in here, he’s on the computer.”  Abigail leaned over to look.  “Binge-watching Netflix.”

“Well, at least he’s doing something normal.”  Bridget continued chatting about the new job.  Since she was mostly talking about the filing system, Abigail tuned it out and just said ‘uh-uh’ whenever Bridget paused.  “And there is this stunning blond at the cafe I’ve been going to.”

Now that was interesting.  Abigail sat up.  “Getting back in the saddle now, are we?”

“Don’t be silly.”  She could almost hear Bridget blushing.

“Ooh, tell me all about her.”  Abigail grinned before leaning back again and putting her feet up on the arm of the couch.

“I uh…”  Bridget let out an honest to god giggle.  “I have a date tonight.”

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Archeology 101: Chapter 6

Abigail gestured at the screen.  “This is the Internet.”

“It looks very much like your television.”  Khait glanced up at her.

“No, not the monitor.  The stuff on the monitor.”  Abigail tapped the screen.  “This, specifically, is Wikipedia.  It’s like a massive collection of human knowledge.  Or a summary of it, anyway.”  She typed in a few letters, then clicked the mouse.  “See, this is San Francisco, which we are very near.  We’d live there, but neither of us can afford it.”

“I can —”

“Khait.”  She exhaled.  It was so, so tempting.  But Bridget would throw a fit.  “Maybe we can find some way to…”

“She is very…”  Khait made a noise that sounded like a low growl.

“What are you banned from now?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“Donuts.”  He let out a long-suffering sigh.

“Why are you…”  She caught herself.  “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”  She pointed at the keyboard.  “Okay, you can type things into this.”  She grabbed his hand and put it on the mouse.  “This moves that little arrow thing, see it?  You click on the blue underlined bits and they’ll take you to other pages.”  She heard the door open.  “Okay, that’s Bridget back with the pizza.”

“I could have —”

“Without stealing someone else’s order?”  She sighed.

“Well…”  He stuck out his lower lip.  “No.”

“Learn about San Francisco.”  She headed out of the room.

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Archeology 101: Chapter 5

“Okay…”  Bridget took several deep breaths.  Then she took several more.  Then she got a drink of water, drank it, and took several more deep breaths.  Only then did she turn to look at Khait.  “Let’s set a few more ground rules.”

“Sharks.”  Abigail was sitting on the couch, staring at the wall as though shell-shocked.

“I am uncertain —”  Khait started shaking his head.

“One…”  Bridget held up a hand to stop him from talking.  “Street lights.  Do not alter them in any way.”

“Yes, mistress.”  He nodded.

“Two…”  She took a deep breath.  “When I say I wish someone would go away, it is a rhetorical statement.  Do…”  She exhaled.  “Not teleport them anywhere.  Especially not anywhere they may be endangered.”

“Even if they attempt to take liberties with your person?”  Khait raised an eyebrow.

“He grabbed my ass.”  She shook her head.  “That’s the kind of thing you punch someone for.  Teleporting them to the arctic circle is not okay.”  She hesitated a moment, then sighed.  “Even if it was a little bit funny.”  She shook her head.  “It’s still not okay.”

“I…”  Khait shrugged.  “Yes, mistress.”

“Three.  Do not change my grades.”

“You wanted an A.”

“Bridget, don’t you think your priorities are a little —”

“I will get to it, Abigail.”  Bridget sighed.  “I wanted an A.  But it’s my responsibility to get one.  I don’t learn anything when you go in and change my grades.  Don’t do it.”  She glanced at Abigail.  “Don’t change Abigail’s either.”

“Bitch.”

“Yes, mistress.”

“Four…”  Bridget stood there a moment, trying to put the words together properly.  Then she just started shaking her head.  “Why the hell did you put sharks in the swimming pool?  It’s a shark.  Swimming pool.  People swim in pools so they don’t have to worry about sharks.  If they wanted to swim with sharks here is an ocean like twenty miles that way —”  She pointed.

“It is that way.”  Khait pointed in a different direction.

“Irrelevant!  You don’t put sharks in pools!”  She stared at him.  “Why did you put the sharks in the pool?”

“The little girl wanted to see them.  She gave me ice cream.”

“You…”  Bridget blinked.  “What?”

“Ice cream.  It is a frozen dairy thing with sugar and —”

“I know what ice cream is!”

“Oh.”  Khait nodded.  “She was too small to go in the cage to see sharks, and it made her very sad.  She likes sharks.”

“So you put sharks in the pool so a little girl could see them.”  Bridget ran a hand down her face.

“She gave me ice cream.”  Khait nodded.

“That is simultaneously one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen…”  Abigail was trying not to laugh.  “And the worse nightmare I’ve ever experienced.”

“No sharks in pools.”  Bridget felt her own lips trying to twitch into a smile.

“Yes, mistress.”

“You know, you could have gone with smaller sharks.”  Abigail leaned back.  “Like nurse sharks or something.  That way she could have touched them.”

“Abigail…”  Bridget all but growled her friend’s name.

“Those wouldn’t have eaten her stepfather.”  Khait shrugged.  “Bull sharks are —”

“Wait.”  Bridget held up a hand.  “What’s this about eating a stepfather?”

“Khait…”  Abigail was staring at him in horror.  “Did the sharks actually eat someone?”

“Well, no.”  Khait frowned.

“Okay, good.”

“He got out of the pool too fast.  I had to get a tiger.”

“What?”

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Archeology 101: Chapter 3

Khait rubbed his head and looked up at his ‘mistress’.  “Please stop hitting me.”

“Don’t whammy my friend.”  Bridget glared at him.

“What is ‘whammy’?”  Khait tilted his head.

“That thing you just did that uh…”  Bridget glanced at where Abigail was adjusting her clothes.  “Abby, are you okay?”

“Oh yeah.”  Abigail smiled.  “I’m great.  Wow.”  She laughed a little.

“That thing that made her like that.”  Bridget pointed.  She narrowed her eyes, then jabbed him with the umbrella.  “What are you?”

“I am not certain how to answer that question in a meaningful way.”  He spread his hands, moving away a little so she’d have a more difficult time hitting him with her chosen weapon.  This was going to require a change of tactics.  “I was cursed.  To escape the curse, I must throw myself upon your mercy.”

“Why were you cursed?”  Before he could answer, Bridget held up a hand.  “And I’m ordering you to or wishing that you would or however it works.  Tell me the truth.”

Oh.  That was going to be a problem.  Okay, so, no lying, but maybe he could leave a few parts out.  Like as close to everything as possible.  “I seduced a queen and caused a…”  He shrugged.  “Political difficulty that annoyed a dragon.”

“There is no such thing as dragons.”  Bridget rolled her eyes.

“Yesterday you would have said the same about genies.”  Abigail gestured at him.

“He’s not a genie.”  Bridget glared at her friend, then looked back at him.  “Tell the truth.  What are you?”

“I…”  He felt the magic of the talisman take hold and gave a frustrated sigh.  Isis had really gone all in on the retribution thing.  He was going to have to be careful.  “I’m an incubus.”

“Whoa.  Seriously?”  Abigail laughed a little.  “Wow, now that explains the whammy.”

“Stop talking about the whammy.”  Bridget glared at her again.

“What is a whammy?”  Khait exhaled.

“Like, who all does the whammy work on?  I mean, clearly it doesn’t work on Bridget, but is that because she’s your boss or because she doesn’t like cock?”  Abigail leaned forward.

“I…”  Khait considered the question a moment, then shrugged.  “Could be both.”

“Would it work on guys who like cock?”  Abigail chewed her bottom lip.  “Cause I’ve got some theories about Professor Montague and really could use an A in math.”

“Abigail Cross!”  Bridget gave her a scandalized look.

“What?”  Abigail responded with an innocent smile.  “Come on, getting that man laid would do the whole student body a favor.”

“Stop whoring out my genie.”

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The Duchess: Chapter 12

Durante couldn’t help but stare at the man pacing the cell.  He’d heard legends of the Stone Dragon, and had to admit that some of them may well be true.  The man was taller and even more muscular than Ruarc.  The second man was smaller, though of similar age.  He too, was a handsome man, with short blond hair and a warrior’s build.  According to the jailer, Ruarc had kept Jurgen Draak in line by threatening that they’d shoot the other man first.

“You want to play.”  Vitalia’s voice purred in his ear.

“Some games are too dangerous even for me…”  Durante turned to smile at her.  “Though I do admit to a certain temptation.”

“He’s unarmed and unarmored.”  Vitalia shrugged.  “How dangerous could he be?”

“He once torn a troll’s arm off and used said arm to beat another troll to death.”  Durante chuckled.  “Looking at him, I can believe it.”  He hesitated a moment.

“The Dragon Queen may pay well for the return of her heir.”  Madzia’s voice was quiet.

“More likely she’d send a horde down on us.”  Vitalia shook her head.  “We are too near their border.”

“They say she once spent a year torturing one of her husbands to death.”  Durante glanced at Vitalia.

“I like her already.”  Vitalia smiled, then returned her gaze to the pacing man.  “We can always tell the king we were simply interrogating him to learn if there were others near.”  She flicked her eyes to the blond man.  “And tell our draconic guest that any failure on his part to cooperate will result in his friend bearing the brunt of said interrogation.”

“An interesting notion.”  Durante’s smile widened.

“Let us sleep on it.”  She shrugged.  “Ruarc is occupied.  I’ll send for Gian to entertain us.”  She headed up the stairs.

He followed.

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The Duchess: Chapter 11

Vitalia accepted a glass of wine from a tray brought by a servant, and smiled.  Madzia had found her early in the visit and whispered to her that Lord Liam of Bohm was in attendance.  It seemed as good an opportunity as any to dispense with agents and make the purchase.  Things weren’t going exactly as she planned, but she found herself enjoying the company anyway.  She’d expected Lord Liam to be a Solsthriem lordling, all prim and proper.  The man in front of her was of Jolusth, tall and handsome in a tunic that covered only one shoulder.  His other shoulder was bare, the better to show off the tattoo that decorated it.  The servant who accompanied him was a tiny, golden skinned exotic with unusually shaped eyes.  She’d never quite seen the like before.

“How is it you’ve acquired lands in both Solsthriem and Thatela?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“It behooves one to range far.”  His accent was a soft drawl.  Despite her lands bordering theirs, she’d rarely had the chance to talk with one.  Lord Liam was delightfully tall, though slenderer than her husband.  “I have interests spanning the world.”

“Your people aren’t known to be merchants.”  She sipped at her wine.

“My people are often underestimated.”  He took a sip from his own glass.  “But pray tell, what interest do you hold…”  He frowned as his servant stumbled a little, spilling from the tray he carried.  Liam barked something in another language.  The servant bowed his head low and hurried off to replace the spilled items.  “Manisar’s training routines seem problematic.”  He glanced at her, then inclined his head.  “Forgive me, duchess.  I know the purchase of slaves is not legal in your lands.”

“Tis a shame.  Servants are well and good but so difficult to train properly.”  She raised her glass in his direction before sending another look in the direction of the servant.  She’d really never seen anything quite like him before.  “I admire your taste.”

“Is that why you wish to acquire my property?”  He smiled at her.

“I think…”  She gave Lord Liam a contemplative smile.  He was a handsome man, and clearly someone not adverse to more unconventional pursuits.  “I have acquired a member of the family that used to hold it.  I wish to acquire the property as well, to ensure there are no…”  She shrugged.  “Behavioral issues.”

Lord Liam laughed.  “Duchess, you have expensive tastes.  I am curious if this acquisition of yours is worth such a grand price?”

“To be fair, there are also the vineyards.”  She took a sip of the wine, peering at him from the rim of the glass.  “Wine and sex do seem natural bedfellows.”

“Perhaps you intend to arouse my curiosity?”  He raised an eyebrow.  “I would be interested in seeing this…”  He chuckled.  “Acquisition of yours.  Perhaps an arrangement can be made?”

She smiled, imagining the look on Ruarc’s face when she ordered him to service a barbarian lord.  “You could accompany me back to my estate, judge for yourself?”  She allowed his servant to refill her glass.  “Then we could come to our bargain.  I’m sure, after experiencing my hospitality, you’d be willing to bargain.”

“You offer an interesting enticement.”  Lord Liam nodded.  “I think there may be business at your estate that could draw my interest.”  He rolled his eyes.  “And one is often led to wonder why one leaves important work to their agents.  Especially when it seems they oft have trouble listening to the simplest of instructions.”

“It does give one an excuse to use a flogger.”  She batted her eyes at him.

“You require an excuse?”  His grin became mischievous.

“Lord Liam, I think you and I could become friends.”  Vitalia laughed.

“The future does tend to play out in the oddest of ways.”

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The Duchess: Chapter 10

She ran her hand down Ruarc’s cheek, and was pleased to feel no stubble.  The fact that he kept himself well-groomed pleased her.  Gian had taken to tying Ruarc’s hair back for him, and she found she liked the way it looked.  He knelt before her obediently, awaiting her command.  She’d ridden him for nearly an hour that morning, and his body showed some of the effects.  The saddle tended to leave abrasions, and there were light scratches along his legs and torso from stray branches.  “When I return, I am going to have the craftsman rethink some of the straps.”  She frowned as she examined the small blisters that had formed were the straps went over his shoulders.

“Thank you, my lady.”  Ruarc hesitated a moment, then gave a small twitch of his shoulder.  “It would help my balance, I think, if the saddle sat either a little higher or a little lower.  It tends to slide a bit where it is.”

“I see.”  She smiled.  “I would prefer a steady, longer ride.”  She caressed his face with the back of her knuckles.  “Something to consider when I return.”

A shadow crossed his face, gone almost before she noticed it.  “Will I be accompanying you?”

Vitalia narrowed her eyes.  He’d been complicit in Gian’s recent poor behavior.  She was reasonably confident that Gian hadn’t smuggled any letters out for him, but the fact that he had accessed information without her permission made her wary of taking him anywhere he may be able to make contact.  “I think not.”  She tilted her head at him, then caught his chin.  “You’ll not be permitted to write this month.”  His face darkened slightly.  “Nor will you be permitted to write again until I say otherwise.  You attempted to subvert my authority, husband.  That is not acceptable.”

“I apologize, Mistress.”

Mistress.  He’d never called her that before.  For that matter, Gian had stopped using the term as well, adopting Ruarc’s habitual address of calling her ‘my lady’.  When had that occurred?  “You’ve been a good boy for me, Ruarc.  I am willing to be merciful over this lapse.  But my forgiveness goes only so far.”

“I understand, Mistress.”  He lowered his eyes submissively.

“Good boy.”  She leaned forward to kiss his forehead.

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The Duchess: Chapter 9

Gian’s eyes were wide, and he was grinning like a small child.  Sita pranced just a little, making Gian laugh gleefully.  The sight brought a smile to Ruarc’s face as he kept a firm grip on the lead rope.  Sita trotted in a circle around him.  He’d been shocked to learn Gian had not only never ridden a horse before, but had a fear of them.  Sita’s sweet nature had taken care of the latter problem, and letting Gian ride sidesaddle ensured he was comfortable trying the former.

Sita had learned quickly that Gian was an absolute pushover for treats and pats.  Whether it was just the chance at more exercise or her own nature, she appeared to be having just as much fun as Gian.  She even kicked up her heels a little to make him squeal.  Ruarc sighed when he noted the position of the sun.  “Time to head back.”  He clicked his tongue, and Sita came to him.

“She’s wonderful.”  Gian beamed as he slid off the saddle into Ruarc’s arms. Ruarc set him on the ground, and Gian immediately turned to Sita.  “You are.  You’re the most beautiful animal in the world.”  Sita nickered in response, and Gian laughed.  “She’s talking to me.”

“I’ve always suspected she understands most of what I say.”  He led his companions back into the castle.  In the stables, he showed Gian how to rub Sita down, then smiled to himself as Gian started plaiting her mane and promising her ribbons next time.  She tossed her head proudly when he finished.  “He’s going to spoil you.”  He patted the horse.

“Yes.”  Gian rubbed her neck.  “I will bring you apples and carrots and oats and —”

“Not too many, or you can make her sick.”  Ruarc shook his head.

“Just the right amount then.”  Gian leaned in toward Sita and whispered to the horse.  “And I won’t tell Ruarc about the occasional sugar stick if you don’t.”  Sita nickered in response.

Ruarc just rolled his eyes as he headed out of the stables.

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The Duchess: Chapter 8

Vitalia ran her hand down Ruarc’s taut belly.  His wrists were still secured above his head, and his ankles were chained to the foot of the bed.  As she demanded when he slept, he was naked.  The bonds weren’t in place because she feared he’d attack her.  She just liked the way the chains looked on him.  His eyes blinked open, and she smiled before slithering atop him.  “Good morning, my darling.  Did you sleep well?”  She fiddled with the ring she’d placed in his left nipple.

The shackles on his wrists rattled a little.  “I dreamed I was trapped in a mad woman’s castle.”

She laughed.  “Darling, you’ve done nothing to make me angry with you.”  She raised herself up a little to kiss him.  Then she trailed her hand down to begin fondling him.  “You’re the most delightful pet I’ve ever purchased.”  Only the briefest shadow crossed his face at the reminder.  He’d become better at schooling his expressions.  She kissed him again, tasting his lips as she continued toying with him until he was squirming beneath her.  Then she mounted him.

His back arched as he moved for her, thrusting upward to please her.  It hadn’t taken him long to learn.  She arched her own back as she rode him, moaning softly.  The rules of their morning sessions had been explained to him carefully.  If he came before she did, Durante would be allowed to take a belt to his ass before using him.  To Durante’s disappointment, Ruarc had proved disciplined enough to avoid that fate.

When she came, she slid off him, leaving him unfulfilled.  A smirk came to her face when he responded with a glare, and she leaned forward to plant a quick kiss on his lips.  “Keep your hands off yourself, my dear.  If you wish release, you may ask Gian to service you.”  He gave a small shake of his head.  He wouldn’t, as she well knew.  Which meant he’d be having a frustrating day.

“Are you going to unchain me?”  He pulled at his wrists before raising an eyebrow.

“From the bed, yes.”  She grabbed the key, then glanced up when Gian entered in response to her ring of the bell.  Gian was limping just a little.  “Gian, bath Ruarc and then take him into the dungeon and secure him to the frame.”

“Yes, my lady.”  Gian bowed.

Ruarc rose from the bed as soon as she’d finished unfastening the shackles.  There were no clothes laid out for him, and he gave a small shake of his head when he noticed.  She smiled at him.  “And Gian?”

“My lady?”  Gian looked at her.

“Keep him hard, but do not give him release unless he asks you for it.”

Gian gave her a slightly confused look, but nodded.  Ruarc, however, clenched his fists and glared again.  “You said —”

“You need not do anything to him, Ruarc.”  She patted his shoulder.  “Unless you want to.”

(more…)

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.”

(more…)

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?”

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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.

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