Savage

Zinahs, Book 2

Lila Dubois

Chapter 1

Are you a virgin?”

The startling question ruptured the silence in the stone chamber. The final word seemed to echo off the floor and ceiling, bouncing into the books that lined most of the walls. What little wall space was not consumed by books was made up by windows, and the dust mote-speckled rays of sunlight haloed the question’s intended target.

Siara, Headmistress of the Temple College turned Royal Scribe and historian, completed her sentence, finishing the final letter with a precise flourish, and set down her quill. She wiped her ink-stained fingers with a rag as she sat back in her chair. She looked up, steady golden-brown gaze focusing on the speaker.

“Could you please repeat your question?” Her voice was smooth and well-modulated, that of a seasoned teacher.

Anleeh, Lord Justice of the new monarchy, carefully examined Siara’s face in case he gave offense, but found neither disgust nor anger in her features. Her smooth face was as controlled as ever.

“Are you a virgin?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Your answer is vital to our mission.” Anleeh stressed the possessive.

“I fail to see how my state of sexual knowledge has any bearing on an ambassadorial mission.”

“Then you prove me right. I should go alone. If answering this simple question in the comfort and seclusion of the Palace bothers you, you will never survive this mission.”

Her back straightened, though Anleeh hadn’t thought it possible. She looked as if she were strapped to a board.

“I assure you, Lord Anleeh, that I am more than capable of accompanying you on this mission, and am fully committed to completing it.”

“Committed enough to answer my question?”

Siara turned her face to the side, the sunlight striking cheeks that were crimson with a blush. “If it is so important for you to know, then I will tell you. Yes, I am a virgin.”

Her shoulders slumped slightly, and suddenly she was not the stiff Head Mistress but an embarrassed young woman. Anleeh cursed himself. He was being cruel to her, deliberately so, and she did not deserve it. He leaned forward and touched her hand, drawing her attention to him. Working to suppress his anger, Anleeh smiled at her, the cocky half-grin he’d cultivated as part of his debonair attitude.

“I ask only because your answer will affect our mission and the story we will tell to explain your presence.”

“Why must there be a story?”

“The people of Den would neither understand nor accept you as a delegate of the Great City.”

“But your people will accept you back to your homeland.”

Anleeh didn’t want to be reminded of that. It was days before their planned departure and his stomach was already knotted. He rose from his chair and went to the window. They’d commandeered this antechamber in the Palace for the headquarters of their operation. Preparation for the journey had begun only a week ago, the moment after Anleeh caved to the pleadings of the King and Queen to accept this mission.

Strangely, in all that time, he and Siara had spent very little time together. He knew her, of course. Had known her since he came to the Temple. They were of an age, and had each come into positions of power, he as Zinah, she as Headmistress, around the same time.

Despite these similarities Anleeh could count their conversations on a single hand. As Zinah, Anleeh had very few dealings with any woman besides the Priestess. Siara’s domain of innocent young girls and learning was far removed from his darker world of sex and war.

But now she would be his companion in the single hardest thing he’d ever done: returning home.

Anleeh turned, putting his back to the window, and examined his new companion.

She should have been plain. Her body appeared as one massive lump beneath the heavy brown cloth of her shapeless dress, no defining curves anywhere. Her hair was also brown, braided down her back—a woman decidedly fashion-unfriendly and uniformly brown. And yet, her face. Her eyes, too large, were a pale brown with a rim of black around the iris. Her other features seemed unremarkable when compared to those eyes, but upon closer inspection, he realized she possessed well-formed lips, the bottom one pleasingly plump, a small nose with a slightly pointed tip, and an equally-pointed chin.

Siara stared back at him, seemingly fearless in the face of his regard, and it was in her eyes that Anleeh found that which separated her from other women.

They sparkled. Not with humor or lust, both emotions he’d seen light a woman’s eyes. Siara’s brown eyes shone with the light of fierce intelligence.

He stepped away from the window, moving to stand before her, shadowing her with his body. Testing her, he cupped her chin. Siara did not turn from his touch. This close, he felt that he could drown in all he could see in those eyes—passion and anger mingled with strength of spirit. Dismissing the thoughts as flights of fancy, he released her chin. But as he turned away, his fingers tingled from just that brief moment of contact.

* * * *

Siara watched as Anleeh turned away from her, roaming like a caged cat around the perimeter of the room. She waited until his back was turned to drag in great gulps of air, slumping as she did so.

“You have read much. What did you read about the women of Den?”

The moment he asked she snapped to attention, all nerve endings tingling awake once more. She’d read everything there was in the library on Den, and had been preparing for this journey by doing selected re-readings, so she readily answered his question.

“The women of Den are known to be strong and willful. There are stories of the women raising arms and fighting to defend their homes when the men are away.”

“Yes, my aunt was severely injured while fighting to defend my Uncle’s Hall.”

“Did she die?”

“Yes.” He said it with neither remorse nor grief. “What did you learn of the men and women of Den and how they relate to one another?”

Siara’s brow furrowed. “I don’t remember reading anything specifically about that.” “Very well,” he said, and then returned to his chair next to her. He sat for a moment, tapping his fingers on the table, before speaking again. “I will train you as we travel.”

“Train me?” Siara considered the rather odd choice of words. For someone as devoted to the written word as she, deciphering the nuances of speech was one of her greatest strengths.

“Yes.”

“Don’t you mean teach me?”

“I say what I mean. I must train you to act like a woman of Den.”

“How do they act?”

“In some ways you are much like them: strong and outspoken and determined.”

Siara felt her cheeks heat with pleasure at the compliment, and turned her face into the sunlight, hoping to hide her blush.

“Then why do I need training?” she asked once she was under control.

Anleeh sighed, “In Den, while it is true that the women are strong and independent, they must always, always submit to their man.”

Siara blinked once, very slowly. “I do not understand.”

“Women are like—like animals.”

“Animals?” Siara heard the shock in her own voice. He was supposed to be a learned man. For all his care of fashion and power in battle, he was intelligent and knowledgeable in many things. Anything less would have made him unworthy of both his previous title as Zinah, and now the title of Lord. His words betrayed the ideal of him in her mind. That struck Siara, and she stopped to examine the complex idea. So intent was she in her study that she almost missed his next words.

“Let me explain.” He returned to his chair, resting one hip on the armrest. He leaned forward, his eyes brilliant and intent, forcing her to return her attention to him. “They are like wolves, wolves that have been trained. When given their freedom, they are fierce and dangerous, but at their Master’s call they heel and obey their Master’s will.” He stopped, and Siara waited for more explanation. When it was clear no more was forthcoming, Siara did her best to understand what he’d said.

“The women of Den are … slaves?”

“No.” His denial was immediate, but footnoted by his next comment. “Though if there were written laws there, as we have here, women would be the property of men. A man reveres his mother and protects his sisters, but a man’s wife is his, obedient to him in all things. A beautiful woman who is both wild and obedient is prized above all others.”

Siara’s mind raced, piecing together all his words and actions. “That is why you were upset I was a woman, and why you ask if I am a virgin.” Anleeh turned to face her. “Yes.”

“We must … marry?” Siara rubbed her fingertips against her cuffs with such vigorous intensity that the fabric grew hot. The thought was terrifying and thrilling. It would be insulting to take the sacred trust of marriage in vain by committing only for the sake of their mission, but he would be hers. Even if it were meaningless, he would be hers.

Don’t be foolish, she admonished herself. But the euphoria remained.

She’d loved him from the first moment she met him.

Siara knew, with painful clarity, how pitiful her unrequited love was. She’d become a scholar of his homeland for no other reason than she wanted to be near him, had never married or looked to another man for companionship because of her unwavering regard for him. It was madness that what should have been no more than a school-girl crush carried on for five long years.

It was her greatest secret. Siara was a background character, a player unnoticed on the stage of life. She could have lived like that, could have spent the rest of her days loving him from afar, if the revolution hadn’t happened.

Many things had changed when the usurper-King was overthrown and the former High Priestess and one of her Zinahs were placed on the throne as Queen and King. A nation that had lived in darkness for a thousand years learned to hope again, remembered what it was to plan for the future.

Siara’s passion had always been for books detailing the explorations of travelers, especially those to Den. In the time of peace, 1000 years before, the Land Between the Seas had been a place of great learning. Explorers had traveled to the far reaches of the land, to the sea and beyond. Many had written of their travels, detailing worlds that Siara could only dream of.

When the calm after the storm of the revolution revealed a multitude of paths open to Siara, she’d chosen to leave behind her safe life in the Temple, and had requested the position of Royal Historian and Scribe, making her a vital part of any exploration. She longed for the adventure of travel with a fierceness that scared her, but she’d never even been beyond the borders of the city.

When the King and Queen told her that the first expedition to leave would be an ambassador mission to Den, one of the wildest and far-flung parts of the Land Between the Seas, led by Anleeh, she’d volunteered without hesitation.

She’d intended to leave behind her hopeless regard for him when she left her old life behind, but here she was, at the dawn of her greatest adventure, closer to him than she’d ever been before.

Afraid her thoughts were visible, Siara lowered her eyes, staring at his knee, hoping he would not know that the treasonously loud pounding of her heart was caused by desire.

“I would not force you to do that, but we shall say that we plan to marry.”

Siara’s heart gave one more thump, and reason returned. Of course she did not want a forced marriage of pretense.

“We shall be betrothed?” She clarified, voice steady, eyes still on his knee, outlined by the fine cut of his dark leggings.

“Yes.”

“If we will not truly marry, why does it matter if I am a virgin?”

“Den is a sexual world, decadent by the standards of our city, and the way that women are trained, and the most expressive aspect of their submission, is through sex.”

“So you will … train me … to submit, when we … have sex.”

Siara could barely force the words out. Her conclusion seemed preposterous. Two days ago she was not sure he knew her name, and now they sat calmly discussing how he would train her through sex.

“I will teach you to submit in all ways necessary, but the training will come when I touch you, yes.”

Siara shuddered in pure, vibrant arousal. To hear Anleeh speak of touching her, his explanation imbuing the word “train” with deep sexual connotations she had not known it could have, brought a flush of heat, chased by a shiver, to her skin.

* * * *

Staring down at Siara’s bowed head, Anleeh clenched his fists as he watched her shudder in horror. Hating himself for what he would do to her, Anleeh mentally cursed the King and Queen once more for saddling him with her.

Den was a savage land, and would have been hard for any person not of the culture to visit, let alone a woman. When they’d told him that morning who his companion was to be, Anleeh had threatened to quit, stating that any man would be better than a woman. His arguments had not swayed the Queen, who possessed the insane notion that women could do anything a man could. When this journey changed Siara, taught her to want things that were taboo and decadent in the great city, made her crave a man’s touch on her flesh, it would be on the Queen’s head.

But he would be the one to change her, to teach her passion and then control her with it. He would not hurt her, at least, not more than was absolutely necessary to make her understand, but however pure his intentions, it would change her. She was a woman of great strength and steady nature. She should remain at the College, marry and birth babies she could raise with a steady hand. Come to think of it, she’d be perfect for Moregon. She should not be dragged halfway across the world, stripped and subjected to his lust, for the sake of a kingdom she’d already served long and well.

“If there is a boy, someone you desire, I suggest you go to him before we leave.” The thought of Siara with a solider or simple farm boy, who would no doubt be a clumsy and selfish lover, displeased him. Realizing he was frowning, Anleeh ran a hand over his face, as if he could scrub away his thoughts.

“There is no one.”

The rubbing had not worked, but her simple statement, spoken as nothing more than fact, pleased him. His honor, though, forced him to be sure. They were little better than acquaintances and she was surrendering her virginity to him, with little time to find any alternative.

“Are you sure that you want your first time to be at my hand?” Siara nodded.

Anleeh prowled around the room, touching books and papers that could not hold his attention.

“Siara, I have told you that this must be done, that to survive our time in Den you must learn to submit, but if you cannot do this of your own free will, I cannot take you.” He turned to face her and she raised her head to meet his gaze. Her expression was unreadable, an assembly of features with no animation behind it, but her eyes gave her away, dancing with intelligence and bright intensity. “Siara, I will not rape you.”

She jerked at the words, lips parting with the shock of his brutal words. “Lord Anleeh, I did not think you would. I am … quite willing.” Her face returned to its passive mask, but her jaw line and cheeks flushed a dull cherry.

The blush lent veracity to her words, and he noticed the way her fingers twisted in her lap, worrying the cuff of her gown. Relief that he would not be asked to coerce a woman who parted her legs only for the good of the kingdom inundated him.

“When would you like to … have sex? Tonight? I have no plans. Or shall we wait until we begin the journey?” This time her modulated tone failed her, and Anleeh heard the emotion beneath the words. She both wanted to postpone it and was eager to partake of what he was offering her. She rose, apparently aware of what her words had revealed, and started clearing off the table.

“Siara.” She continued stacking books. “Siara, look at me.” Again she ignored him.

Anleeh grabbed Siara’s wrist, spinning her to face him. He wrapped his fingers around her hips and lifted her, seating her on the table. As she gaped at him, he grabbed her wrists and forced them behind her back, holding them with one hand. With the other hand, he tilted her chin up. It felt good to handle her this way, her still hidden body full, solid and luscious in its hidden mystery.

For the first time her carefully guarded features revealed emotion—emotions his words had unveiled. Her dark eyes widened with shock, her lips parted. She looked delectable.

“Much better,” he purred. Moving his hand from beneath her chin to curl loosely around her throat, Anleeh brought his lips to hers. Siara, her lips still parted, gasped at the first soft brush of his mouth. Her gasp drew his breath into her so that she breathed him in. His lips sealed to hers, their mouths molding together. Anleeh watched as her eyes fluttered closed and she made the smallest of noises, like the mewing of a cat. With a shudder of arousal Anleeh released her wrists, sliding his hands to her waist.

Slipping his tongue past her parted lips, he touched the edge of her teeth, gentling her to the invasion. As he ventured further, Anleeh concentrated on exploring her only with his mouth. Though his hands twitched with the need to cup her breasts, he kept them at her waist. She had begun to worry him.

Siara’s stillness was an anomaly he’d never experienced before. He did not know if the suddenness of the kiss had dumbfounded her, the pleasure of it had stunned her or, he thought with a jolt, if she were astonished and still because this was her first kiss. He was neither ignorant of his appeal nor so vain as his actions may portray, and Anleeh started to break the kiss, already preparing a suitably self-deprecating and dismissive remark.

With a final peck to the edge of her mouth, Anleeh leaned back, a half smile hiding his embarrassment and worry. “Divine lips you have, Sia-”

Siara literally threw herself at Anleeh. The force of it knocked Anleeh off his feet.

He landed hard on his ass and then rocked onto his back as she came down on top of him.

“What…”

Siara grabbed his ears and kissed him. There was no practiced precision, no gentle exploration. Her lips pressed against his so hard that their teeth knocked together. Anleeh opened his mouth to help her deepen the kiss but she’d moved away, raining small pecking kisses over his face, her grip on his ears keeping him still.

“Sia—Siara, what…”

Siara braced her elbows on his chest and looked down at him. Her eyes were nearly black, the pupils were so wide. Her breathing came in short hard pants and her eyes darted over his face, coming back to his lips each time.

With great deliberation, Anleeh licked his lower lip. Siara shuddered.

She is aroused. She is so aroused she trembles with it. Anleeh grinned, and licked his lip again. On a moan, Siara leaned down and bit his lower lip.

Beneath her, Anleeh jerked.

“I’m sorry.” Siara scrambled off Anleeh, turning her head, cheeks flaming with a vermillion blush.

“Siara, do not apologize.”

“I don’t know what came over me.”

“I think you do.”

Siara refused to turn, despite his chiding tone. “Lord Anleeh, please accept my apologies.”

“Why are you so formal with me?” He knew the answer, knew that she was hiding behind formality and ceremony, but wanted her to acknowledge it.

She ignored the question. “Is there anything else we need to discuss?”

“Yes, we need to discuss what just happened.”

“I believe it is called a kiss. There are many examples in the library if you would like me to find you an appropriate passage.” Her tone had grown almost snippy and Anleeh smiled behind her back, enjoying this far more than he should.

“It is the manner of the kiss we must discuss,” he goaded her.

“There is no need. We kissed. From what you said, we will do so again.”

“Yes, that and much more.” Finally he asked the crucial question, all humor gone.

He needed to know her answer. “Why did you…”

“Please,” she whispered, cutting him off, and then wrapping her arms around her stomach and squeezing.

Anleeh moved up behind her. Her distress, the protective way she held herself, contained answers, but he did not want to make vain assumptions. “Are you frightened by what happened?”

“No.”

“Are you upset? Ashamed?”

“No, my Lord.”

“Anleeh,” he corrected her.

“Anleeh. I beg your leave, there is much to do.”

“There is,” he conceded. Siara finished stacking the parchments rolls and books, her shoulders drawn up to her neck, and hunched forward protectively. Awkwardly gathering an armful of reading materials, Siara executed a quick bobbing curtsey in Anleeh’s general direction and started for the door.

“Siara, wait.” Siara paused, considered his words, and then kept walking. Anleeh blinked. Her deliberate manner, the obvious way she considered and then dismissed his words, shocked, and to be truthful, aroused him.

“Siara, stop.” This time it was an order, his voice hard and deep. Siara stopped.

Anleeh came up behind her once more. He lifted the heavy braid away from the back of her neck,

“I will not let you hide from me. Before this is done I will see your body and soul laid bare before me.” Anleeh kissed the exposed nape of her neck. “Until tomorrow, lover.”

* * * *

Siara avoided him until the day of their departure.

Though she had been offered lush quarters at either the Temple or the Palace after the revolution, she’d selected small chambers near the library and spent most of the past two days there, reading. Anleeh’s words, his warning, about what took place between the men and woman of Den had piqued her curiosity.

It was only late at night, when her hands, without conscious effort, roamed over her naked body, stroking, pressing, and pinching, that she would acknowledge she was hiding in her study to escape her feelings and his reaction.

Dawn of the departure day found Siara checking and re-checking her packing. They intended to leave at noon. A parade was planned to usher them out of the Great City. This expedition symbolized the return of so many things that had been lost.

When a knock at the door came, she was relieved. “Mistress Siara?”

“Coming.” She opened the door of her chamber. A Temple servant stood in the corridor, head bowed respectfully. “Good morn, Mistress Siara.”

“My packs are there.” She indicated a side wall where the two large canvas satchels rested.

“Yes, Mistress. I will have them brought down directly.”

“Where is Lord Anleeh?”

“He arrived a few moments ago.”

“He is here?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“I thought we were leaving from the Palace?”

“Yes, Mistress, Lord Anleeh came to escort you.”

Swallowing her nerves, Siara left the man to bring her bags and made her way down to the courtyard of the Temple.

As she came through the doors, the powerful noon sunlight brightened everything in the courtyard and haloed the object of her desire. Dressed in a short tunic with thick leather pants, his dark hair lit with deep fire by the gold of the sun, Anleeh was god-like. Sunlight reflected off the polished silver of his sword. He would have been faceless, backlit by the sun, had her memory, so well versed in his visage, not sketched the lines of his perfect lips, high cheekbones and dancing green eyes, into the dark shadow of his face.

“Siara.” Anleeh moved forward into the shadow of the Temple, his features appearing as if the god had chosen to reveal himself.

It took a moment for Siara to understand that the throbbing in her chest was due to more than her rapidly beating heart. Releasing the breath she’d been holding, Siara forced her face into its smooth, watchful mask.

“I am ready, Anleeh.” He smiled and looked over her shoulder, presumably for the bags. “The boy is bringing them.”

Anleeh lifted Siara onto a grey speckled mare. Hiding her nerves, Siara took the reins, doing her best to pretend she knew what to do with them. After waiting to be sure that her bags had been secured, Anleeh swung onto his own, much larger, bay stallion. Clicking to both horses, Anleeh led the way out of the Temple. Try as she might Siara could not stop herself from turning around, glancing one final time at the building that had been her home.

* * * *

“We don’t need…”

“Yes, you do,” the Queen countered.

“Goddess bless me. Prima,” he implored the King. “Help.” Tamlohn shrugged, staying out of the Queen’s way as she directed the stable hands to secure the bags she was sending with the expedition.

“We are traveling light,” Anleeh reminded the Queen.

“I sent nothing overly heavy.”

“But you added four bags!”

“They are gifts,” she said, as if that explained everything.

“My Lady.” Siara’s interruption caught Anleeh open-mouthed with his next rebuttal unuttered. “Have you a list of these items? As we did not see the bags packed they will be of little use to us unless we know what each pack contains.”

The Queen pulled out a folded sheet and read off the listed items to Siara, who stood sedately by her side.

Anleeh watched them together. His eyes traveled the length of the Queen’s elegant back, each curve of her upper body hugged by the heavily embroidered and strapless gown she wore. Sooner than was flattering to the Queen’s beauty, he turned his attention to Siara. She wore another mud colored dress, shapelessly falling from her shoulders.

“What do you see?” Tamlohn asked quietly.

“She is hiding.” Anleeh answered the King’s question before he stopped to think.

“What from?”

“That I do not know. Her past? But not as I do. She hides from the world, yet is eager to explore.”

“An interesting woman.”

“Yes. I think more than anything else she hides from herself. There is great passion in her.”

“Have you…”

“A kiss only,” Anleeh said.

“You kissed her?” The King’s deep shock resonated with past pain. Among the Zinahs, a kiss was forbidden, and so had come to mean much to these men.

“I did, but, more importantly, she kissed me.”

“You mean she kissed you in return?”

“No. I broke the kiss, leaned away, and then she, well…”

“What?”

“…she flew at me, knocked me to the ground and kissed me.” Tamlohn looked at Siara, his red-brown eyebrows high on his forehead.

“Truth,” Anleeh insisted.

“If you say.”

“I do.”

They stood in silence for a moment, Anleeh’s eyes still on the silhouette of his traveling companion. The King’s hand on his shoulder startled him. When he looked over, Tamlohn wore a serious expression. Anleeh straightened, mentally preparing for news of the worst sort.

“What is it, Prima?”

Tamlohn shook his head. “Just a warning, my brother.”

“There is no need for warnings. Caution will be my constant companion.”

“This warning is in regard to Siara.”

“I have warned her of what this may cost her, may cost us both.”

“I know, and Cryessa has spoken with her also.”

“Than what is your warning?”

The King paused for a moment, and when he spoke it was with a slight hesitation, as if he had trouble finding the words. “Protect her.”

“I will. Den is a dangerous place. I will lay down my life to protect her if necessary.” Anleeh wanted to promise the King, and himself, that Siara would come to no harm, but he did not think it a promise he could make.

“I do not mean her body and mind, but her heart.”

“I doubt her heart is involved,” Anleeh protested. Though he could not deny the passion in her kiss, lust and love were far different things.

“I worry it already is.”

“What?” Anleeh, asked, voice sharp. He turned his attention from Siara to examine the King’s face. It was clear from the brackets around Tamlohn’s mouth and the set of his brows that he was not joking.

“Cryessa said something that made me think there may be more to Siara’s motivations than we know.”

“If you know something of her motivations that would jeopardize my cause, I would ask that you tell me. I believe she craves adventure, to experience the world outside the Temple and to serve this kingdom, and the Queen, as she has all her life. The kiss was a matter of passion, not of the heart.”

“It is nothing to jeopardize your mission, but you should never underestimate the secrets in a woman’s heart. Simply take my warning for what it is.”

“Then be clear. What is your warning?”

“Don’t break her heart.”

* * * *

“Indeed, my Lady, this is a very comprehensive list and I thank you.”

“I hope that it is not too much.” Cryessa looked over her shoulder at the loaded horses and winced.

“It is best to be prepared for any eventuality.”

The Queen turned back to Siara and smiled. “This is truth, but do not underestimate the power of inspiration.” Siara bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement of the wisdom. “Before you go, there is one other thing I wanted to talk with you about.”

“Yes, my Lady?”

Cryessa raised her hands and cupped Siara’s face. Heat tingled through Siara’s cheeks where the Priestess’s hands touched. “May I?”

“Y-yes.” Siara didn’t even know what the Queen was asking her.

Against her face, the Queen’s hands warmed from tepid to scorching. Siara drew in a deep breath as the heat penetrated her face, seeping into her, until she could taste magic on the back of her tongue. Light crowded the corners of her vision as the Queen’s skin began to glow. Golden light filled her vision and Siara sucked in a breath. Though she trusted the Queen, it was unnerving to be blinded by the light. Just when she feared she could not abide it for a moment longer, it began to fade.

Siara blinked rapidly as the Queen removed her hands, the previously clement air feeling frigid upon her heated cheeks.

“Siara, I will ask something of you.”

“Yes, my Queen?”

“Be careful.”

“I have every intention of doing so.” Siara found her request odd. She and the Queen had been acquainted for years. Surely she knew Siara’s actions were always deliberate and careful.

“I am confident that you will take care of yourself. It is for Anleeh that I ask.”

“I do not understand.”

“Be careful with him. His scars run deep.”

Siara looked over her shoulder at Anleeh and then turned back. “I promise, I will do everything I can to aid him.”

“In your mission, yes. You are both loyal and strong. What I worry for is what will happen between the two of you.”

Siara dropped her eyes. “This is a monumental task you have set us on, the first peaceful ambassador delegation to be sent from the Great City in 1000 years. I would not jeopardize that.” Her words were sharp and defensive.

“I do not accuse you of anything,” the Queen soothed, “but I think we both know that emotions beyond duty to your country are already involved.” Startled, Siara looked up. “There is little that I cannot read in your mind and heart, though you are skilled in shielding your emotions on your face.”

“My—my feeling for, for Lord Anleeh…” The protests fell futilely from Siara’s lips, halting completely when the Queen raised her hand.

“Your feelings are your own. I only ask you to be careful, both of your own heart, and of his.”

“I’m sure Anleeh will be fine.”

The Queen shook her head. “He is more vulnerable than you know. It is his broken heart for which I fear.” The Queen briefly cupped Siara’s cheek, then leaned in and pressed a kiss to Siara’s forehead.

“Come.” Linking arms, the Queen led her back to the men. “The time is upon us. I feel the excitement of those who line the streets to see you off.” The Queen let go of Siara and turned to examine the preparations.

Tamlohn stepped back from Anleeh and signaled the men to mount up.

“It is time,” the King said as stable hands brought their horses forward.

Neither Siara nor Anleeh moved. They stood, three paces apart, simply staring at one another, the secrets of their thoughts concealed behind impassive faces.

Tamlohn looked at Cryessa and then moved forward. “Siara, allow me to help you mount.”

Without a word, Anleeh stepped forward, blocking the King. Putting his hands on Siara’s waist, he lifted her onto her horse, helping her to swing her leg over and situate her skirts once she’d settled. He eased each foot into its stirrup, his hands holding her calves over the deerskin leggings she wore beneath her skirts.

Reaching up, he corrected her grip on the reins, threading them through her fingers.

Neither said a word.

Turning away, Anleeh vaulted onto his own horse and then looked at the King and Queen, touching his hand to his heart, forehead, throat and lips.

Cryessa stepped forward. “May the Goddess bless and protect you.”

The gates swung open, the Great City revealed in its panoramic glory, the gold and brown of the buildings framed by the green mountains that protected it and sheltered by the blue sky above. Anleeh led the way, a more recognizable figure than Siara. As his horse stepped out from the shadow of the wall, cheers rose, blanketing the City, spreading a dull roar across the land, rolling over the rows of houses and businesses, seeping into the stones of the street.

Anleeh reared his horse, displaying the horsemanship Tamlohn had taught them and the crowd roared louder. The first expedition of the new reign had begun.

Chapter 2

Siara had never been so cold in her life.

Heavy rain slowed their progress so that now, on the 20th day of their journey, they had finally reached the border of Den. Bundled in a cloak, the muscles of her thighs aching from so many hours in the saddle, Siara sunk into herself, unable to do anything more than focus on the mane of her horse.

When the caravan stopped, Siara looked up, her eyes struggling to focus. Around her the men were a flurry of action. Numb and exhausted, she waited for someone to instruct her. At the beginning of their journey she’d helped set up camp each night and organized the equipment in the morning. By the tenth day she’d been too weary and sore to do more than listlessly eat what was put in front of her. The storm and reports of trouble in the outlying areas they passed through had consumed Anleeh’s time. At night he sat with the lead guard, plotting their route, leaving her alone in her misery.

Now that she was no longer moving, the aches and pains of her body rose up to make themselves known. Siara hunched her shoulders and pitifully wondered what would happen if they all forgot about her. Would she freeze atop her horse?

“Come on, lover, time to get off.”

Siara turned blankly to the speaker. “Hmmm?”

“Damn. Siara, can you see me?”

“Yes.”

“Who am I?”

“Sounds like Anleeh, but I have not seen him in so long.”

“This has not gone exactly to plan, has it?”

A single pitiful tear slipped down Siara’s cheek. “I hate it when things don’t go according to plan.”

“I know, lover.” Strong hands lifted each boot out of the stirrup in turn, then moved to her waist and pulled her off the mare. Siara cried out as her numb limbs were forced into new positions.

“Shhh, lover, I know it stings.”

“My legs!” Strong arms swung her up, pulled her tight to his chest. The world swirled dizzily, and, had she eaten anything, it would have come up.

“Hold still, precious.” Siara was laid down on strong thighs. Her ice-encrusted skirts were raised, exposing her leggings, and large warm hands began to massage her legs.

Siara whimpered and then cried out as needles pricked up and down her skin.

“I know it hurts. I’m sorry, lover, I didn’t realize what bad shape you were in.”

“Anleeh?” she whimpered. He pulled Siara upright and wrapped one hand around her back, the other still working the muscles in her legs.

“Yes, lover. How are you feeling?”

“Cold. Hurts.” Speaking was too much effort. The world spinning around her, Siara dropped her head onto his shoulder.

“Siara?” Anleeh jiggled her. “Siara, sit up and talk to me.”

“Too cold, tired.”

“What did you have to eat today?”

“Too cold to eat.”

“Siara! You didn’t eat?” Anleeh called out to one of the men to bring warm water and bread. “You should know better.”

“Didn’t know, didn’t understand, so cold.”

“Have you lived your whole life in the warmth of the Great City?”

“Mmhmm.” Siara gave up the fight with consciousness and slipped into the inviting dark.

* * * *

Damned foolish woman.

Suppressing his worry, Anleeh soaked the chunk of bread in warm water and held it to Siara’s lips. “Open up, lover.” He jiggled her shoulder to get her attention and when her lips parted he slipped the chunk of bread between her teeth. He stroked her throat and then sighed in relief when she chewed and swallowed.

“Will she be alright, Lord?”

“She will. Did she eat nothing when we stopped earlier?” During the middle of the day, their outriders had spotted a group of bandits. Anleeh had ridden out to scout their options while the rest of the group stopped to rest and hide.

“I know not, Lord.”

“Very well. Bring me a bit of cheese if we have any.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Siara, lover, wake up, you need to eat; your body cannot fight the cold with no food.” Rather than wake, she slid her face into the crook of his neck. On a sigh, Anleeh laid his cheek against her hair, holding her close.

He knew she must be truly ill to behave this way. He imagined that a well Siara would not allow herself to be held and cared for, independent creature that she was.

“There is a bit of cheese left, Lord.” The guard handed him a piece of cloth-wrapped goat cheese.

“Thank you. Have the horses been taken care of?”

“Yes, Lord. A few are hurting from the cold.”

“Are any in danger?”

“No, Lord. We are prepared to leave tomorrow. Are you sure you would not like us to ride with you the rest of the way?”

“You would not be welcome. Concentrate on getting home safely.”

“Yes, Lord. We have Lady Siara’s bedroll. Where would you like it?”

“Bring it to me.”

When the guard returned with the extra bedroll Anleeh had him roll out both. He held Siara as her frigid stillness turned to shivers, which faded as her body warmed. Anleeh unlaced the bodice of her traveling dress, easing it down and off her shoulders exposing the deerskin shirt that matched her leggings. As she muttered in her sleep about the cold, he stripped off the shapeless brown dress and threw it behind a log. She would not wear it again.

Lifting her, he quickly slipped her beneath the fur lined covers and then stripped off his own outer garments, popping bites of cheese and bread into his mouth as he did. When he was stripped down to leggings and shirt, Anleeh slipped in beside her, wrapping his arms around her.

He’d never slept with a woman in his arms and it took him time to figure the best way of it. Anleeh rolled onto his back and pulled Siara across his chest, protecting her from the frozen ground and heaping the blankets of their doubled bedroll on her to protect her back from the wind. Her legs tangled with his and her head rested on his chest. Wrapping the blankets tightly around them Anleeh willed himself to sleep. He dreamed of her.

* * * *

Blinding white light woke Siara. Blearily she looked around, her movement lifting the blanket enough to allow a blast of the early morning air to sneak into the warm cocoon. On a yelp Siara lay back down, snuggling into the warm body beneath her.

Warm body?

Careful not to allow heat to escape, Siara turned her head to visually confirm on whom it was she slept. In the brightening dawn light, Anleeh’s hair shimmered with highlights and his dark lashes and brows were a starling contrast against his pale skin.

Breathing carefully so as not to wake him, Siara tried to remember how they had ended up like this. Her memories of yesterday were distorted by numbing cold. Shifting beneath the covers, Siara could feel a stiffness in her legs. She wiggled her toes.

“How do you feel?”

Siara jerked, startled by his voice, and Anleeh yelped, grabbing her hips beneath the covers.

“Watch it, woman, you almost did me an injury.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not to worry. How do your legs feel?”

“A little sore and achy.”

“Can you move your toes?”

“Yes.”

“Can you feel all your toes?”

“I-I think so.”

“You should be fine, but when we rise I will check.”

“How did we come to be like this?”

Anleeh rubbed his hands up and down her back. “You mean how did you come to be sleeping in my arms?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember much of yesterday?”

“I was just thinking on it and I do not remember much.”

“You had eaten nothing, so your body went into a numb state because you did not have the strength to fight the cold.”

“I-I wasn’t hungry.”

“You should know better.”

“I have never known cold like this before.” Siara protested.

“When our journey started out I asked you if you were prepared for the cold.”

“I’d read about it, but the books didn’t explain how even breathing would hurt.”

“I wish you’d told me you were suffering so.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Can you?” At his mocking tone, Siara threw off the covers and rose, breath hissing out as the cold hit her like a wall, pressing down on her.

“Siara.”

“Where is my dress?”

“Siara.”

She scanned the ground around their bedroll, the surface of her skin gone to gooseflesh beneath her clothes. They were situated in a tight stand of trees, the doubled bedroll lying atop a cushioning layer of moss. Ducking under a low hanging branch, Siara looked out into a clearing. The forest floor showed signs of human occupation: blackened fire pits, discarded fruit rinds and chunks of stale bread.

Siara made her way out into the clearing. It was obvious the soldiers had made camp there last night, but where were they? It was barely dawn.

Four horses, including her grey mare, were tethered on the far side of the clearing. Packs hung from the branches of a tree, out of the reach of any curious forest animals. The other horses were gone, the men nowhere to be seen. A hard knot of anxiety formed in Siara’s stomach.

“The men are gone.”

“Yes.” Anleeh moved into the clearing, stopping beside her.

“We are alone.”

“We are. Are you scared?”

Siara shook her head, and tried to pull down the mask she’d learned to wear, to hide behind a passive façade and observe, but it would not come. Her nerves, desire and curiosity all prevented her from hiding.

“No? You should be.” With that he moved away to check on the horses.

“Where is my dress?”

“Gone.”

“What do you mean gone? Did something happen to it?”

“I threw it away. It was ugly and you will not need it.”

“I cannot wear only this, I will freeze!”

“I will give you something to wear. By the time we reach Den, you will only wear garments I have given you.”

“Why don’t you just give them to me now?”

Anleeh looked up from checking a horse’s hoof and then slowly lowered the leg to the ground, patting the animal’s flank. When he started towards her, Siara once more tried to pull down an impassive face, but again could not. Anleeh’s expressive features were stern, but there was a spark of fire in his eyes.

“The point, lover, is that I take away your clothes and you wear only what I choose to give you. What you wear, and when you wear it, is no longer your choice, it is mine.”

“Is this to teach me submission?”

“Yes.”

“But you cannot expect me to go around improperly clothed for the cold. That is unfair and…”

Anleeh stepped forward and pressed his fingers over her lips. “Do you honestly believe that I would put you in danger that way? I, who held you in my arms last night to be sure that you warmed up, who hand fed you?”

“N-no.”

“Than your protests are nothing more than a way to seek control.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Maybe not, but that is what you are doing.” Anleeh stroked her cheek and Siara shivered, but not with cold. He made a sound, low in his chest, almost like a rumbling growl. With a rough movement, he wrapped his hands around her arms and jerked her to his chest, his mouth coming down on hers. One arm, strong as a tree branch, wrapped over her back, the other across one shoulder so he could grip her hair. Siara felt caught, mastered, protected.

Her hands twitched at her sides, wanting, nay, needing, to be free to touch him, to claim him as he claimed her. Siara wiggled and his grip tightened; she tore her mouth from his.

“I want…” she panted.

“What? Tell me.”

“To touch you.”

“Beg.”

“Beg?” Surely she had not heard that right.

“Beg to touch me, tell me that you will die if I do not allow you to touch me.”

Shocked, Siara stamped on his toes. “I will do no such thing.”

On a grunt of pain, Anleeh released her. His heavy-lidded gaze tracked her as she stomped away. Siara reached up and smoothed down her hair, her shock at his words, at his insane demand and her reaction to it, allowing her to find the cool center she was used to.

Carefully folding her hands together in front of her, Siara let her quiet mask drop down over her face.

“Anleeh, I find your request degrading and disgusting,” she stated with calm logic.

“I can see that, and you have retreated into your shell. But know this, I have seen the passion you hide, have tasted it, and you will not hide from me forever.”

“I will see the mission through. I am not averse to experiencing passion in the process.”

Anleeh laughed, but it was a quiet, brittle sound. “How stupid of me to have assumed some of that fire was for me. Perhaps you just need a good fuck.”

Outraged at his words and surprised at the hurt she’d put in his eyes, Siara said nothing. Her words were half-truth. It was only Anleeh that made her burn. But she could not tell him that, could not make herself that vulnerable. She had thought only to protect herself, and not that she had the power to wound him.

Anleeh moved towards the horses and used a long stick to lift down the bags. He pulled out two short fur cloaks and a bundle of skins. Leaving those hanging over a low branch, he set about packing the other bags on the horses. When Siara saw him load up her mare, she almost protested. She was not so confident in her riding skills that she would enjoy riding any horse but her own. Had their kiss not turned bitter she would have said something.

“Come here.” Anleeh picked up one of the cloaks and held it out. Siara reached out to take the garment but he pulled it out of her reach. “I need you to let me dress you. For the sake of the mission.” He would not meet her eye and his lips twisted cynically.

An apology sprang to her lips, but Siara simply nodded, hoping her obedience would be apology enough. Anleeh wrapped the cloak over her shoulders, fastening the bone buttons at the top.

“There is a hood.” He stepped closer and lifted the deep fur lined hood, settling it around her face. She looked up at him from beneath her lashes, her face shaded by the garment. Anleeh reached inside the hood, his fingers brushing her neck and cheek, and pulled out the thick rope of her braid. “Keep your hair loose. It will help protect your neck from the cold.” He unknotted the leather thong at the end and then worked the braid loose, laying the heavy fall of hair on her chest. Against the dark brown pelts of the cloak, her hair looked rich and wild, like the fur of the animals she wore, or the earth itself. The braid and long days of not washing had turned the normally straight locks wavy, so that they framed her face, softening it.

“The outer pelt is bear,” Anleeh stroked her shoulder, “and the lining mink.” He slid his hand inside the cloak, the back brushing against her breast, and stroked the ultra-soft inner lining.

Her anger and worry forgotten, Siara bit back a moan, hating herself for the simplicity of mind and spirit that had her aroused at the barest touch. From the recesses of the hood, she devoured him with her eyes. The curve of his lips and cheek, the strong tendons of his neck all begged for the touch of her lips and teeth. She bit the inside of her cheek to stifle the urge to lean forward and nip at the line of his jaw.

His eyes, which had been focused on the cloak, suddenly met hers. Their gazes locked, each acknowledging the return of desire in the other, before he moved away.

Beneath the cloak, Siara wrapped her arms across her stomach and hugged herself.

“These go over your leggings.” Anleeh picked up the smaller skins, each cut to a different size. Dropping to one knee he lifted one of the larger skins. “Part your legs.”

“Pardon me?”

“Your legs, lover, part them.”

His casual and repeated use of the delicious pet name finally caught up with her. Her heart lurched, her cheeks flushed, and more than anything, she wished he wouldn’t do it; she could not protect herself from both his touch and his words.

Breath coming slower with each inhale, Siara spread her feet, widening her stance. Anleeh laid one hand on her left thigh and Siara moaned. She both hated and loved how the simple touch of his hand brought heat to every part of her. It was magic of the flesh, a consuming force that seemed to be worse the farther they got from the Great City.

“I am pleased that your passion has returned,” Anleeh said, his fingers flexing gently against her leg.

Consumed with the desire to force his hand against the flesh at the juncture of her legs, Siara shook her head, having no words to give him.

“Your beast rides you, does she not?” Anleeh asked. Siara struggled to understand his question, her confusion and concentration driving away some of the overwhelming desire.

“Beast?” she asked.

“Yes, your desire, your passion. In Den, each man and woman has a beast, and that beast has many forms. It can be felt in many ways—in battle and fear, but a woman’s greatest beast is in her passion.”

“I feel…”

“Tell me.”

Struggling to understand this new concept of ‘beast’, Siara spoke the truth without editing. “I want to take your hand and force you … force you to touch me.” The moment she finished speaking Siara’s stomach knotted with embarrassment, but Anleeh did not laugh.

“Your beast does ride you, as she rode you a few moments ago, but your logic, your fear, suppresses your beast, allowing you to repress that need.” Anleeh slid his hand higher on the inside of her thigh. “I will strip that away, until you can no longer control or hide your beast. I will teach her to submit to me.”

“Touch me.” Siara whispered, his talk of stripping and submission flaming her passion once more.

“No.”

At his flat denial, Siara’s arousal fled. She tried to jerk away from his touch, but he tightened his hand.

“Let go of me.”

“No.”

“If you will not touch me as I want, then let go of me.”

“I will touch you in ways you cannot imagine, but not just yet.” His hand started to knead her thigh, but it was a comforting touch, not an arousing one. “I will touch you, arouse your beast, until you would fly at me in a rage if I denied you.”

“But you said I must learn to submit. Is anger and willingness to strike you not the opposite of submission?”

Anleeh shook his head. “It is hard to explain, but there is both passion and defiance in submission.”

Confused, slightly dizzy from the emotional upheaval of the past hour, Siara nodded, “Indeed.”

Anleeh laughed, “Yes, indeed.”

Lifting the fur, he wrapped it around her thigh, asking her to hold it in place as he secured it with a complicated wrapping of leather thongs. The process was repeated on the other thigh and then on each calf.

When she was completely attired, Anleeh stood and looked her over. She still wore the close-fitting, if not particularly flattering, leather leggings and long sleeved shirt beneath the garments he’d given her. Her upper body, to her hips, was draped by the cloak, the hood framing her face, the layered browns of the bear fur highlighting her eyes so that they appeared large and liquid within the vulnerable oval of her face. Her legs, now revealed to be curvy and lovely, were protected from the cold by the skins, wrapped fur side down over her calves and thighs.

He was surprised by how strongly seeing her dressed in garments of his people affected him. He desired her, more strongly now than the sweet stirring he’d felt in the Temple.

“You are beautiful,” he told her, and Siara looked down at herself, lifting both eyebrows. “You doubt your beauty?”

“Are you sure I do not look like a lumpy mass wrapped in dead animals?”

Anleeh threw his head back and roared with laughter. The horses danced nervously.

“What a thing to say.” Anleeh pressed a hand against his aching belly and shook his head. “You look lush and beautiful.”

“Perhaps you have missed seeing women dressed in the ways of your homeland.”

“Yesterday I would have denied that statement, but you might be right, lover. I must not let myself forget how smart you are.” Anleeh went to the tree and picked up his own furs. “But do not use that logic to try and dismiss my words, I speak the truth when I say you are beautiful. You, Siara, are beautiful, and I think that I would not find any other woman so attractive dressed in those furs.”

“I… Thank you, that is a beautiful compliment.”

“It is most sincerely given.” Anleeh swung on his cloak. “I will warn you that when we return to the Great City I am having your clothes burned and will commission a whole new wardrobe for you.” Siara remained quiet. “What is this? No quips, no protests that you like those ugly dresses or that they are practical?

“They are practical, but I have often longed for beautiful clothes.” Her voice held a tentative note he’d never heard before, almost childlike with its simple and sweet longing.

“Why did you not purchase them?”

“I did not think there was a reason to do so. There was no need for me to dress with an eye to anything but function, and I did not want to appear vain. There is little enough cause for vanity.”

Again she hinted at poor self-image, and Anleeh almost addressed the issue, but he knew that there would be a better way to show her how wrong she was about herself. He would wait until he could truly show her, using his hands and mouth, rather than mere words.

“Clothes are not a matter of vanity, they are a matter of pleasure.”

“I would appreciate your input regarding a new wardrobe.”

Her appreciation was so formally expressed that Anleeh smiled and couldn’t resist teasing her.

“It would be my pleasure. By the time we return to the Great City, I will know your body so well that you won’t even need to be measured for garments. I will be able to tell the tailor your sizes.”

Even in the shadow of her hood, he could see her eyes widen. Anleeh smiled innocently at her and bent to wrap the furs over his legs. With his head bent, face hidden from her, Anleeh let his smile blossom into a grin. She was a delight, and the more he saw of her, the more of her old life that was stripped from her, the greater his desire for her grew. He was first attracted to her desire; a woman who could experience passion was a beautiful thing. Now her body, with its lush curves, was adding its own lure. Above it all was her fierce mind and heart, traits no thinking man discounted in a woman.

Lost in his musings, Anleeh fumbled with his furs. After two failed attempts to wrap the skins to his own legs, Anleeh asked for her help.

“I am out of practice,” he admitted ruefully, “I used to be able to wrap these without assistance and in a matter of seconds.”

“I won’t tell anyone.”

Anleeh smiled. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yes.”

“Good, we have a long day, but if we make good time there will be a cabin to sleep in tonight.” Anleeh helped her get one foot in the stirrup and then boosted her up and over the horse’s back. Seated atop the horse, so close in appearance to a woman of Den, Anleeh felt a stirring of his own beast. Panic rose swiftly. Ruthlessly suppressing it, he checked the lines from the pack horses to his own and then swung into the saddle, pulling his hood up.

Chapter 3

Why did you not tell me you’re unable to ride?” Anleeh’s shout startled three crows from a nearby tree. They rose, cawing angrily.

“I can ride.”

“No, you learned to do what your horse told you, instead of the other way around. That is not riding!”

“I know how to ride,” Siara insisted stubbornly.

Anleeh threw his hands up in frustration and turned away. Siara dropped her forced calm demeanor and let her knees and hands shake.

The ride had been going fine until Anleeh decided to up the pace. Siara was only comfortable with walking and trotting. She’d read that a canter and gallop were both easier seats than a trot, and so had thought it would not matter that she’d never actually gone faster than a trot.

The canter had been frighteningly fast, but survivable, the gallop, as it turned out, was not.

“Look! You’re shaking!” Anleeh shouted.

“I’m not shaking.”

Anleeh grabbed her wrist and held her hand before her face, her trembling fingers only an inch in front of her nose. “Look at yourself.”

“Stop yelling at me!” she yelled back, her voice high and thin. Siara swallowed hard, trying to force the knot of tears at the back of her throat to subside. She hated that she was so emotional, hated feeling afraid and vulnerable.

“Ahhh, lover, I’m sorry, but you frightened me.” Anleeh wrapped his arms around her and pulled her stiff form against his chest.

“I was … concerned, also,” she mumbled into his chest.

His laugh rumbled through his chest and into her. The insane urge to cry subsided and Siara took a calming breath. Anleeh’s hand slipped under her cloak and moved up and down her back.

“Are you ready to continue?”

“Yes, as long as we do not gallop.”

“Galloping is fun and easy.”

“Canter?”

“Very well, we’ll canter. And next time you’re frightened, pull back on the reins—do not dig in with your heels.”

“I was pulling back on the reins.”

“Yes but you also used heel, more heel than rein, which signaled to the horse that you needed to get away, as fast as possible.”

“Well how was I to know that?”

“Did you never have riding lessons?”

“No.”

“In the name of the Goddess, woman, how did you know what to do at all?”

“The Temple has an extensive Library, and I watched the mounted soldiers train.”

Anleeh grabbed her upper arms and gently shook her. “Not everything can be learned from books.”

“Much can.”

Anleeh shook his head. “You are a very brave woman to have mounted a horse with no training. I could tell you did not have much experience, but had no idea you’d never had lessons. When we reach my Uncle’s hall, you will learn.”

“But for now, no galloping?”

“No galloping.”

Anleeh helped her back into the saddle and corrected her posture, forcing her heel down, correcting her grip on the reins and explaining why they had to be held that particular way.

She filed away his instructions and explanations, fitting together the whys and hows of each thing he said.

“Good, that is enough for now.” After reattaching the leading ropes he’d been forced to unfasten in order to go chasing after Siara’s runaway horse, Anleeh mounted. They’d made good time and would reach the first cabin by sundown.

* * * *

They chased the sun into the horizon. As pink and orange light bled through the cold air, the small caravan reached the first night’s destination. Weary but warm inside her fur garments, Siara was able to dismount without assistance.

After pacing back and forth to regain control of her numbed legs, Siara helped Anleeh unload the horses, setting their bags before the door of the small cabin. There was a large covered stable to one side. Siara poured piles of oats for each horse as Anleeh lowered hide panels on three sides of the structure. The hides served as a windbreak for the horses, and the horses would serve as warning for them. If anything came near, animal or human, the horses would let them know.

After the last bridle had been removed, replaced by a simple leather harness that freed the horses to eat, they left the animals, grabbed their packs and made their way inside. The door of the cabin had a large musky smelling hide stretched over it. Siara wrinkled her nose as Anleeh lifted it from its hooks and the smell increased. “What is that?”

“Bear urine.”

“Ugh.”

“It keeps all the other animals away.” He rolled the skin and placed it beside the door, which was unexpectedly beautiful, the work of a master carpenter set in a roughhewn cabin.

“The door is wondrous.”

“Aye. One of my people’s—Den’s—greatest secrets is woodworking skill.”

“Such work would fetch a very fine price in the Great City.”

“It would, but there is a reason Den likes to keep secrets.” Anleeh peered at the door for a moment, and then carefully touched a series of symbols. First a swooping set of lines that looked like a bird’s wing, then a threatening bear claw, and finally the outline of a rising sun.

As he tapped his finger on the rising sun each of the symbols he’d touched filled with pale light. The light, cold white-gold like the winter sun, bled into each line of the carvings, highlighting the exquisite detail. The pattern of feathers on the wing became visible, as did the impression of fur on the claw and the rays of the rising sun.

“A bird’s wing, a bear claw, and the rising sun.” Siara murmured.

“How do you know the sun is rising?”

Siara cocked her head and considered the question, puzzled by her own certainty. “I don’t know. It would make more sense if it were setting, as this is Den, the land where the sun sets.”

“It might, but you are correct; it is the rising sun.”

“Is the combination, the pass code, the same on every door?” The light faded from the carvings and the door of the cabin opened with a faint ‘pop.’ Anleeh ushered her in.

“No. The symbols relate to the one who begs entrance, not to the door.”

Siara looked at him, surprised. “You mean to say that each person must touch a different set?”

“Yes, and they are not always the same. What you touch must reflect what is in your heart. I have traveled far and wide, as a bird does. The second thing is emblematic of yourself; the bear was my first kill and is always a part of me. Finally, thoughts of the future: the rising sun because my life, and our world, is at the dawn of a new time.”

“Had that not reflected what was in your heart…”

“The door would not have opened.”

“This is incredible! I have never read of anything like this. We must document it; it will be the first part of the book I will write.” Anleeh turned his head away, busying himself by hanging the bags from hooks on the walls. Siara paused, the next question poised on the tip of her tongue, but left unuttered. Her companion’s pregnant silence could not be ignored. “You are uncomfortable with this.”

“The magic of Den is secret.”

“Our mission is to document these people.”

“No, that is your mission. Mine is to broker a treaty.”

“Better understanding will improve relations. Better relations will strengthen the treaty.”

“Enough. You are correct.” Anleeh hung the last pack and leaned one shoulder against the wall, head bowed. “My reluctance to relate Den’s secrets is not something I expected.”

“I did not mean to ask for more than you are willing to give.”

“I must be willing to give all if we are to succeed.”

“Your reluctance it understandable, this is your home, these are your people.”

“No. Den was my home. I no longer claim its ways. That makes my reluctance all the more troublesome.”

Siara opened her mouth to offer further reassurances, but Anleeh turned away.

Leaving him to his thoughts, Siara inspected the cabin.

It was a single large room, constructed of entire tree trunks laid atop each other. The space between the trunks was filled with a pale substance. Poking at it, she discovered the substance was hard, clearly some sort of plaster or mortar. The roof had appeared thatched from the outside, but from within she could see that the structure had been roofed over with small planks, the thatch covering the planks.

Anleeh left for a few moments to climb onto the roof and remove a cover from the chimney. Siara held a blanket up in front of the hearth to control the dust that fell when he used a long branch to clear it out.

“The cabin is in good repair. How often is it used?” she asked as she swept up what dust had escaped to scatter over the cabin floor.

“Often enough, but patrols will stop by and clean it, make repairs if needed, on their rounds.”

“We are so close to your Uncle’s house that there are patrols? I thought that we still had several days’ ride ahead of us.”

“We do. There are regular patrols that travel far and wide, protecting the borders and spying on the other Clans.”

“How many Clans are there in Den?”

“I do not know for sure. There are several large ones, and my Uncle’s is one of them. There is much fighting between the peoples, but they will unite against a common enemy.”

“Like the Great City?”

“Yes.”

Anleeh left to hunt, asking Siara to build a fire while he was gone. Siara waited until he was well away to begin experimenting. She’d never made a fire before, but she’d read about it.

When Anleeh returned an hour later, bringing a cold blast of night air with him, Siara was seated on the floor before the hearth, a tinder box and pile of small twigs at her side. The fire roared, far larger than he would have built, and when she turned to look at him, her cheeks were rosy. The smile on her face had him wondering if her flush was from excitement or the heat in the cabin. He smiled—her joy was infectious—taking the cleaned and spitted foxes and rabbits he’d caught and slipped them into grooves high in the hearth so they could cook over the flames.

“What are those?”

“Rabbit and fox.”

“There are four, why so many?”

“We will eat what is left for tomorrow as we travel. And we have need of the skins.”

“Why? We have more than enough skins. I was plenty warm, were you cold? Also, do they not take a great deal of time to tan?”

“So many questions.”

Siara refused to be embarrassed or ashamed. “That is why I was sent. To question and learn.”

“I know, forgive me. We need the additional skins because they will become a part of the clothing you will wear. Normally it does take a long time, but there is a special ointment we use; it will cure the skins quickly.” Anleeh rose and pulled a large squat jar from a chest against one wall. “This is kept stocked in each of these cabins.” As the meat cooked, Anleeh showed Siara how to apply the salve to the inner surface of the skin.

If he expected her to scream at being shown the slightly bloody skin of a freshly killed animal, he’d sorely misjudged her. Siara claimed one of the skins for herself and experimented with the salve, asking question after question, until Anleeh’s exasperated exclamations convinced her that she’d exhausted his knowledge of the origin, ingredients and preparation of the product. After stretching the skins on frames to dry and cure, they ate, munching silently and washing each bite of food down with the stream water he’d brought back.

Seated cross-legged, which felt quite scandalous without a skirt masking her limbs, Siara propped her head on her hand, elbow against her knee, and drowsed.

“Wake, lover, we must attend to something,” Anleeh said, his voice barely registering in her food and warmth induced lethargy.

“Mmm…”

“Siara.” Warm fingers brushed her face. “You must get up.”

“I’m awake,” she whispered sleepily.

“Nay, but you will be.” Anleeh dipped his fingers into the chilled stream water and then set his fingers to the side of her neck. Siara yelped and straightened, rapidly blinking her eyes and brushing at the cold water trickling under the neck of her tunic.

“Was that entirely necessary?”

“Yes, you were not going to wake otherwise.”

“It is late. Why did you not let me sleep?”

“Nights in Den are long; there is yet enough time for sleep.”

“Indeed.”

Smiling at her prissy tone, Anleeh rose and held out a hand. Slipping her fingers into his, Siara allowed him to raise her to her feet. He then motioned her to stand in the center of the cabin, which she did, her brow furrowing in puzzlement.

“What are we…”

“You may not speak.”

“Pardon me?”

“You will obey each command the first time it is spoken.” Anleeh paced away from her and when he turned, his face was hard, his eyes glittering, the light of the fire casting shadows over his face.

A thousand questions sprang to mind, but Siara swallowed them, nodding instead.

“Good. I feared your loquacious tendencies would make you disobedient.”

Siara opened her mouth to retort—how dare he accuse anyone of being loquacious?—remembered his order, and closed it.

“This is the beginning of your training. When we train, I will be hard on you, harder than I would normally be. It is rare that a woman is trained, for it is rare that an outsider is brought to Den. I have only seen one woman trained, and it was an unforgiving and ruthless thing. The man who’d kidnapped and brought her to Den was known for his heavy hand.”

Siara took a step back, her heart thumping and skin prickling in a sudden rush of fear.

“Yes, I see you begin to panic. He beat her, daily, until she gave in, until she stopped begging for her freedom and the life she had known.”

Frantically Siara shook her head. No, what he said was barbaric, no one would do that to another human, kidnap them, beat them.

“Had I never come to the Great City, had I never seen training, experienced training as I have, that might have been your fate. Every instance of disobedience would have been replayed with a beating, your body played with and worked until you could no longer see, speak or think, but for the pain and pleasure.”

Pleasure? He spoke of torture. She didn’t understand. Heart thumping, features closed to hide her fear, Siara didn’t realize she was still slowly backing up, didn’t realize that her movements told him of her fear more clearly than words would have.

“Remove your clothing.”

Siara’s back hit the cabin wall. She could retreat no further.

“Return to your place and remove your clothing.”

“No.”

“I told you not to speak.”

“I-I won’t.”

“Do you refuse to obey me?”

“I refuse to submit to torture!”

“Do you trust me?” Suddenly he was the Anleeh she knew, warm of voice and expression. His firelight flickered features no longer seeming forbidding.

Confused, her fading fear causing her to shake, Siara wrapped her arms around her belly. “How could you say those things to me? Threaten me with them?”

“I spoke nothing but the truth.”

“I don’t…”

“Want to do this? Has the pleasure in the adventure fled?”

“I should not have to submit to daily beatings to complete this mission.”

“You agreed to do what it took, and I warned you.”

“No, you didn’t explain…”

“I will return you to Den’s border in the morning. You will only be a day behind the raiding party. You can return to the Great City. Though I must admit, I expected better of you.”

Anleeh turned to the fire.

Siara stared at him. She could not believe he had dismissed her. It was not unreasonable for her to refuse to submit to what he asked; no one could expect her to do it. If Den really was what he said, she was not sure she wanted to go there. The men sounded barbaric, the women, pale beaten shadows.

She would not go; he would have to go alone.

Siara’s mental tirade slowed and stopped. He’d told her that he feared what would happen to him, what he would become. His description of the men gave her an idea of what he’d been. How remarkable that he changed to become the man he was now. Inching forward, she looked at his back. She took a few more steps; he didn’t move. Fingers trembling Siara returned to her place in the center of the room. Still Anleeh didn’t turn. Bending to unlace her boots and then pull them off, Siara let her hair fall forward to hide her face, hide the fear, shame, trepidation, and excitement he’d aroused in her.

Next she undid the ties around calf and thigh that held the skins in place, shivering as the skins fell from her legs. Though still completely covered by the riding pants she nonetheless began to feel vulnerable, exposed.

She picked at the ties that held the neck of her tunic closed. When they were loosened, when there was nothing left to do but strip, Siara grasped the hem of her tunic and pulled it off in one smooth motion. Dropping it quickly, she raised her arms to cover her breasts.

“No, drop your arms.” Through the tangles of hair hanging in front of her face, Siara could see Anleeh seated with his back against one side of the hearth. Though his pose was casual, one leg extended along the floor, the other bent with a forearm resting on it, there was intensity, the same hard intensity of a few moments ago, in his shadowed features.

Reluctantly she dropped her arms. The tips of her hair flirted with her nipples, which beaded up hard and tight in the cool air.

“Finish.”

Siara loosened the laces of her leggings, hooking her thumbs in the waist and stripping them down her legs. She remained bent, working the tight ankles of the garment over her heels.

“Gather your clothes; bring them to me.”

Using his order as an excuse to remain bent, and therefore concealed, Siara picked up each of piece of clothing and gathered it to her chest. When she was sure the bundle in her arms concealed her breasts and hung low enough to shield the juncture of her thighs, she straightened. A few steps brought her to Anleeh.

“Drop them.”

Standing so close to him, the details of her nakedness would be more apparent, highlighted by the same fire that left him in shadow.

Siara closed her eyes, and released her grip.

The silence, and the tension from the silence, grew until Siara’s hands curled into fists.

“Look at me.” When their eyes met there was nothing but power and strength in his gaze, no condemnation or disappointment. Her fear that he would find her lacking began to fade and she relaxed into his control. Her fingers uncurled.

“Watch me, watch me look at you.” When she nodded in understanding and acceptance, Anleeh broke their shared gaze, instead carefully perusing each inch of her exposed flesh. From the slender curve of her neck to the heavy hang of her breasts and indentation of her waist, he examined her. He ordered her to step back, moving her body out of the shadow created by his, so that firelight danced in the brown curls of her sex and revealed the padded flesh of her hips and thighs.

“Turn.”

Her back received the same treatment, though it made her nervous to be blind to any action he might take.

“Turn back. Now, spread your legs.”

This time the order meant so much more, for it would expose her, expose places that had been seen and touched by none save her. Anleeh lowered his bent knee, creating a V with his legs. “Place one foot on each side of my knees.” Carefully stepping between his legs, Siara tentatively placed her left foot on the outside of his right knee. Several times she started to move, but could not bring herself to do as he asked, could not bring herself to take the step that would completely expose her. A small noise, part whimper, part growl, escaped her.

“Your order is not to talk. I did not say you could not express yourself.” Surprised, she nodded. “Now, do as you’re told and expose yourself to me.”

Siara responded to the steel in his voice, stepping her right leg over his left and situating her foot by his knee.

“Good girl.” Anleeh leaned forward, his hands wrapping around her calves. “It is not uncommon for people to openly express their opinions of another’s physical attributes. This can be upsetting to those not from Den. From now on I will speak often of your body so you become accustomed to this. Do you understand?” Siara nodded.

“Let us start down here.” Anleeh slid his hands to her ankles, able to completely wrap his hands around them. “Your feet are long and slender, pretty, and these ankles are delicate, almost strangely so. I will see them adorned; whether with bracelets or shackles is dependent on your behavior.” His hands slid up to their previous position. “These calves are nicely muscled, though I like to see them stronger. I will make you work them until they please me.” Siara hung her head, her face flushing with painful embarrassment.

“You must not hang your head to hide from me.” Siara turned her head to the side so her hair further curtained her face.

“Look at me!” Anleeh quickly slid one hand up her inner thigh, bringing it close enough to her sex to get her attention. Siara gasped and looked down at him. “Do not disobey again. What you must learn is that what I say, what anyone says, reflects upon them and their wants and needs, not upon you.

“Were I your husband, my opinion would carry more weight, and you might work to change yourself to please me, but I am not your husband, so you must remember that my wants are only words, and have no power over your heart.” He squeezed her inner thigh.

“Can you remember that?” She nodded.

“Good. Then I will continue.”

The hand on her inner thigh slid down to her calf once more. Anleeh kneaded her calves for several minutes before venturing his hands up to the back of her knees. His fingers played over the soft crease, causing her to giggle, and then pressed hard, forcing her knees to bend slightly. Her legs trembled as he forced her to hold the bent knee position.

“Straighten your legs.”

Fingers spread, he explored the front, sides, and back of her thighs, avoiding her sex and buttocks.

“Step inside my legs and kneel, keeping your legs spread.” She did as ordered. “Put your hands behind your back and grasp your opposite wrist with each hand. When I am inspecting you, this is the position you will take. Do you understand?” Siara nodded.

“Look at me. Watch me.”

Anleeh laid his hands on her waist and squeezed and Siara sucked in her breath and her belly. She watched him, watched him devour her, claim her with hands and eyes. He slid one hand to the center of her belly and buried the tip of his thumb in her belly button, his other fingers splayed up, the tips slipping under the heavy hang of her breasts. His free hand came around her back, slipping beneath her arms to play over the small of her back.

Holding her front and back, Anleeh pressed in, pushing his hands toward each other, forcing her spine straighter, and controlling her breathing until it came in small pants.

“Do you feel it, lover? Feel how I control you?” Using the thumb in her belly button like a hook he lifted while pushing at the front of her body, bowing her backwards over his hand at her back.

Unable to see him, Siara closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing. Her hands were sweaty where she cupped her wrists, her breasts, now pointed straight up at the ceiling, felt swollen and vulnerable, lifted and exposed. Between her legs her sex pulsed with her heartbeat, the folds slick with the arousal his mastery had brought.

A soft mewling noise escaped her.

“Are you aroused? Your body, the helpless noises you make, tell me you are.”

Moving the hand on her belly around to her back to help support her, Anleeh leaned forward and pressed his lips to her stomach in a close-lipped kiss. When he spoke, his lips moved against her flesh.

“I love looking at you like this, lush breasts, raised up for my pleasure. I love your full breasts, but will make sure you are tightly laced, for I like to see large tits raised up, tightly confined.” He licked her, and then blew on the wet spot, sending shivers up and down her skin. “Do you like that?

“If you enjoy it now or not, you will come to, for it pleases me, so I will do it to you often. Can you imagine what it will feel like when I lave your nipples with my tongue and then cool them with my breath?”

Siara whimpered in arousal, her body twitching in his hold. Her bowed position made breathing hard, and the blood had filled her head until she could not think.

Her head tossed side to side and she started to move her hands, needing a touch, even if it was her own, against the flesh between her legs. With his hands still supporting her lower back, Anleeh felt her fall out of position.

“No. Put your hands back in position.”

Siara growled, the sound so close to animal that she startled herself.

“Siara, put your hands back into position.”

Caught between her desire to pleasure herself and obey him, Siara did nothing. Anleeh lifted her, straightening her back so she could look at him. Removing his hands from her, Anleeh leaned back.

“Siara, you already earned punishment for your earlier defiance. Will you add to it?”

They stared at one another, Anleeh’s gaze hot and demanding, Siara’s half-wild with arousal. Forbidden to speak, Siara snarled at Anleeh, letting herself sink into an animal-like state, so different from her normal controlled exterior.

“You will submit to me. Submit, knowing that you might go unsatisfied, that if it does not pleasure me to see you pleasured, you will not find release. You will submit and allow me to continue my inspection of your body.”

Hair curled and tangled, a single lock hanging over one side of her face, lush body gold and red in the firelight, Siara looked wild, like a sexual beast. Anleeh leaned forward, invading her space but not touching her, his will demanding her submission.

“Hands behind your back.” He snarled it, voice cruel and biting.

Siara’s gaze lowered, her hands moving together behind her back. For a moment it seemed that Anleeh had frightened her, but when she raised her head her gaze was still bright with desire. She growled at him. He leaned forward and blew on her left nipple.

The growl disintegrated into a moan of pleasure.

He leaned in closer and kissed her neck. “You are beautiful, lover.” He leaned back and her eyes had quieted. “Stand and turn.”

Carefully she stood, keeping her hands behind her. She turned and then, again without prompting, spread her legs, placing her feet outside his knees. Anleeh wrapped his hands around her knees, cupping them to brace her.

“Bend forward.”

Siara bent, her upper body folding forward, her knees pressing into Anleeh’s bracing hands. Breasts hanging, the normally hidden undersides exposed, hair brushing the floor.

Knowing she would not be able to hold it for long, Anleeh lifted one hand from her knee, reached between her legs, and traced a line from her belly button to her sternum. “This is the ultimate position of submission, either standing or on your knees. To assume this posture exposes the most vulnerable parts of your body to me.” Anleeh blew against her sex and Siara yelped. “You are sensitive and needy from much play. Normally I would need to separate the lips of a woman’s sex, but you, you are so aroused that your body has parted naturally, begging me to enter you and play with you.” Anleeh licked the back of her thigh. “Can you imagine what it will be like to have my tongue on your sex, licking at you?” He licked the other thigh. “You may now speak. Tell me what you want.”

“Touch me, touch me.” Her voice was rough.

“Beg.”

“Please, please touch me. Put your hands and mouth and body on me.”

“Where do you want me to touch you?”

“Lips and breasts and between my legs.”

“This is your sex; you will refer to it as such.”

“My sex, touch my sex.”

“Is a touch all you want?”

“No… I want you to lick and pinch and bite and rub and tease…” Siara’s head began to thrash, her hair flying over the floor.

“You think I should pleasure you?”

“Yes.” She hissed the word out.

“No.” Anleeh raised his hand and brought it down hard on her left buttock. Siara let out a short scream. He spanked her right ass cheek. “Stand up.” She stood, trembling.

“You deserve 50 more swats, for your poor behavior.”

“What—why…”

“Your first thought should be of my pleasure, not your own, selfish girl. Turn and kneel.” Siara whirled and dropped to her knees, closing her legs so she could rub her thighs together and pleasure herself that way. Wise to what she was attempting, Anleeh grabbed her knees and forced them open. “Naughty, naughty, lover. You must learn to pleasure me, then, perhaps, if you beg, I will give you pleasure.”

Siara, near tears with frustration, bit hard on her lip. “Please—I need.”

“You want. It is different.” A single tear slipped down her face and Anleeh licked it away. “I like you this way, legs spread, naked breasts bathed in firelight, begging for my touch.”

Siara snarled, her tears evaporating. “Arrogant bastard.”

“That’s right. I am. But you will pleasure me.” Anleeh fisted his hand in the tangled spill of her hair and brought her face near his. “But first, a kiss.” Their lips met and in the kiss they fought, tongues dueling for mastery, teeth nipping. Anleeh broke the kiss, his heavy breathing matching hers.

“Have you ever taken a man in your mouth?” Chest heaving, Siara shook her head. “Good. I want to be the first. You may release your wrists.” Anleeh took each of her hands and helped rub the stiffness from them. “Now, open my pants.”

Siara looked down at his breeches. Like hers they were closed with laces in the front. Sitting back on her heels, careful to keep her knees spread, Siara reached for his laces, trembling fingers picking at the knot. Her knuckles brushed over the large hot bulge the laces contained and a strangled moan escaped his lips. Siara pulled her hands back, unnerved. Bewildered eyes rose to meet Anleeh’s gaze. He smiled and raised one hand to cup her cheek. “You are such a sensual woman, I forget you are innocent.” Siara lowered her eyes and let her head rest on his hand.

Anleeh rubbed his thumb over her lips and then worked the tip between them to rub on the front of her teeth. “Open.” Siara lowered her jaw and let his thumb in. When he touched it to her tongue, she tentatively licked, and he encouraged her with a smile.

Soon her lips had closed around him, her tongue stroking the pad of this thumb in a quick rhythm.

“Good. Now, keep your eyes on mine and reach down and open my pants.” She nodded and her teeth grazed the top of his thumb. “Careful, lover.” A soft wet brush of tongue over the abused flesh served as an apology while her hands dropped to his groin. Her fingers slowly worked the knot free then began loosening the laces. She jerked and made a questioning noise around his finger when his body twitched beneath her hands.

“Do not worry or wonder, lover. Soon you will know my cock well enough to understand him. The movement you feel is because I am aroused. At your touch my body leaps to know you better.” His thumb still in her mouth, she cocked her head to the side.

“You will see, lover.”

Siara pulled the tie free of its last hole. Anleeh pulled his thumb from her mouth, being sure to spread the moisture over her lips.

“Now, open the placket of my pants.” The leather clung to itself, forcing Siara to peel the first side away from the backing before she pulled back the other side. His cock, freed of its confines, rose up, standing out from his belly, swollen, the head dark pink.

Siara tilted her head to the side again and examined him. Reaching out with one finger, she poked it.

“Mercy, woman, have some respect.”

“You examined me, why may I not do the same to you?”

“I did not look at you as if you were an interesting new species I would like to dissect.”

“I’ve never seen one look like this, so big and stiff. And it’s pointed the wrong way. In the anatomy books, they were all pointing down.”

Anleeh gaped at her for several moments, then shook his head.

“Give me your hand.” Anleeh guided her hand to his cock and wrapped his fingers around hers, forcing them to curl on his cock. “Its size and stiffness are what allow a man to take a woman; a soft cock would not be able to traverse the deep dark of her body.”

Shivering at the image his words presented, Siara gave the tool in her hand a testing squeeze. Anleeh’s hips jerked slightly and his breath hissed out. With his head tilted back against the hearth, the strong line of his throat stood out, highlighted by the fire. Following her impulses Siara leaned forward and licked a long wet path up the side of his throat and blew on it as he’d done to her. His shiver rippled all his muscles in his chest, clear down to his legs. She could see them twitching beneath his close-fitting garments.

“I want to see you,” she whispered, hating the garments that hid him from her.

“In time. For now you will learn to take my cock into your body.”

“We will…”

“Nay, not yet, you have yet to earn that.” He tossed her a cocky smile and Siara snarled in return. Then she remembered what she held in her hand, but even as she started to squeeze, he grabbed her forearm, digging his fingers between the twin bones, forcing her fingers open.

“Naughty, naughty. Your punishment grows. Now, kneel here at my side.” Siara moved so that she knelt at one of Anleeh’s hips, body perpendicular to his. As his hand slid along the curve of her spine, Anleeh directed her to lean forward, planting her left hand on the ground between his legs, freeing her right hand to wrap around the base of his cock.

“Lean forward, rest your head here against my thigh while you get in position. Now I want you to arch your back down, thrusting your buttocks up. Good. Now spread your legs a bit more.” Anleeh slid his hand from her back, over the curve of her buttocks, and down her thigh.

“You are to take my cock in your mouth, but do not touch it with your teeth. Wrap your lips around my cock so you are squeezing me with your lips. What brings me pleasure is the rapid movement of your mouth up and down and your tongue working on the sensitive tip. Keep your hand wrapped around the base of my cock. As you go up and down, you must take me far enough in your mouth that your lips meet your hand. Do you understand?”

Anleeh resisted the urge to overwhelm her with more instruction. She would have more than enough to concentrate on with pleasuring him and dealing with her own pleasure.

“It is easiest if you begin by licking all over; it will allow my cock to slide in and out easier.”

Her eyes now focused on his cock, Siara didn’t even move, merely leaned forward and sent the first tentative lick across the head of his cock. Anleeh drew in a deep breath and watched her through slitted eyes. Siara turned to look at him; it was still a learning experience for her. He did not want her to intellectually examine the process; he wanted her mad with passion as she’d been before.

“You taste salty.”

“That is my seed. When I am very aroused, some seed precedes the rest.”

Siara licked him again, covering the head before she changed the angle and carefully licked the shaft down to the top of her fist. Anleeh started kneading her buttocks with one hand while the other pushed her hair out of the way so his view was unobstructed.

Though he longed to hurry her, Anleeh waited, saying nothing as she continued to lick him up and down. When, at long last, her lips wrapped around the head, he moaned in pleasure and his hand moved from her buttocks to stroke the lips of her sex.

Siara gasped around Anleeh’s cock when his fingers teased her sex. Anleeh parted her outer lips and stroked her drenched inner folds.

She was wet and warm, willing and eager. His desire for her grew, with every tentative movement of her mouth. Siara was a woman apart, unique in her strength. Combined with her ferocity of spirit and intellect, she was something above the ordinary, special. His guilt at what he was doing to her, taking her because they needed to have a sexual relationship to survive the culture of Den, attempted to swallow him once more. Siara’s lips around him, the feel of her hot flesh on his fingers beat back the guilt. She was willing, he believed that. And if it were only sex she was interested in, be it with him or another man, he would accept that.

He would, of course, gut any other man who tried to touch her, but he could accept that it was her passion and curiosity about sex that had her so willingly taking him into her mouth.

The important thing was that he was in control. He felt passion for her, but it did not consume him. Control would keep them both safe.

Her tongue hit the sensitive spot beneath the crown of his cock, and Anleeh jerked, fingers digging into her sex so that she moaned around him. Surrendering himself to the pleasure of her mouth, Anleeh stopped thinking, stopped worrying, and let himself feel.

* * * *

Careful of her teeth, Siara leaned down, pushing the length of Anleeh’s cock through the vice of her lips. With her eyes closed, she didn’t know how close she was to reaching her hands, but began to worry when the wide tip nudged at the back corners of her mouth.

When she was sure she would gag, her lips hit her hand. His words stropped her retreat. “Hold there, suck, and use your tongue.”

Unsure exactly how it was supposed to work, Siara did as he asked and sucked on the thing filling her mouth, feeling her cheeks hollow as she did so. Above her, Anleeh moaned in pleasure and two fingers rubbed over her clit. His fingers felt huge and rough against flesh swollen with arousal. Siara’s closed eyes fluttered and she sucked harder on his cock, earning another rub to her clit.

“Up—up and down now.”

Some instinctive knowledge, combined with Anleeh’s instructions, had Siara slowly drawing her head up, sliding his cock out of the vacuum of her mouth. Once at the top she swirled her tongue over the tip before quickly sliding down once more, sucking as she did so.

“Yes … Siara, lover.”

Anleeh’s fingers pinched her slick clit, then rolled it. Siara shivered as darts of pleasure shot down her legs and curled her toes.

“Don’t stop.”

Siara continued her up and down movement. Each lick to the head of his cock resulted in a two-finger rub over her clit, while a complete head bob earned a delicious pinching twist. His other fingers settled around the lips of her sex, cupping and surrounding them, cradling her sex as he worked her flesh.

A knot began to build low in her belly. Focused on the feeling, Siara didn’t realize she’d stopped moving until his fingers left her and he gave her two hard swats on the ass.

“Do not stop. I am close. When I reach completion, my cock will expel seed into your mouth. Swallow it.”

Siara began her cock sucking once more, and whimpered when his fingers didn’t immediately return to her clit. The whimpering earned her another swat to the ass, but then his fingers returned. With his hand cupping her mound, Anleeh’s thumb settled on her clit, rubbing in straight lines then circles, alternating with hard presses.

The quiet of the cabin was filled with the wet sounds of her mouth around his cock and his hand in her sex. When his breathing sped up, Siara knew he was close to completion. Wanting, needing, to please him, Siara worked the hand at the base of his cock and increased the pace of her head.

Suddenly warm, salty cream filled her mouth. Siara sank her head down to meet her fist and swallowed, as more of his seed hit her tongue.

“Yes … perfect, lover.” He was breathless and somehow sleepy sounding. “Your turn.” With her mouth and hand still on his cock, Anleeh brought his index and ring fingers into play, scissoring them around her clit, caressing all sides at once.

Once, twice, and on the third time she came, her belly muscles drawing tight, toes curling. Siara yanked her head off Anleeh’s cock and a low moan of pleasure echoed through the warm cabin. Siara collapsed down across Anleeh’s lap, gasping for breath as his fingers continued to press her, keeping her on that teetering edge. When her gasps turned to pleas for mercy, Anleeh removed his hand and Siara curled against him, closing her eyes.

* * * *

Anleeh let her sleep. Tempted though he was to bring her again, to see how much she could take, Anleeh settled for giving her clit a parting stroke.

She curled up on his lap, legs sprawled on the floor. He could tell from her even breathing that she was not wholly conscious, though he doubted she’d had time to slip into deep sleep. He played with a lock of her hair as he rested his head against the hearth behind him. There was a strange and pleasant peace in lying here with her. It satisfied him to no end that she’d so enjoyed herself as to need the sleep. She was such a quick study. Teaching her to pleasure him, training her, would be sheer enjoyment, but watching her awaken, watching her learn, would be a unique and thrilling thing.

He let the peaceful interlude stretch for a while longer, the pop of burning logs the only sound. They needed to rise and get into bed; the cold would soon leech in, the fire burn low. Anleeh opened his eyes, grabbing another chunk of rich brown hair to toy with. In the light of the fire she looked like Autumn made flesh, golden skin accented by every shade of brown. Grabbing her around the waist, Anleeh maneuvered her onto his lap, her thigh cushioning his spent cock. He kissed her sweaty brow, nuzzling her hairline. “Did you enjoy that, lover?”

“Yes, oh yes,” she murmured.

“You were very beautiful in your pleasure.” Her head ducked; she was embarrassed. “I will not let you hide from it. You were beautiful tonight, from the beast that rose in you when I inspected you, to the innocent touch of your mouth on my cock, to the fierce pleasure of your orgasm.”

“Thank you.”

Her stiff comment was somewhat ludicrous under the circumstances, but Anleeh merely kissed her forehead once more.

“That is enough for tonight, but there is so much more we must explore. For one thing, these luscious breasts were woefully ignored.” He cupped one in his hand, and rather than hunch her shoulders Siara arched her back, giving him better access. The weight of her breast in his hand was almost enough to turn Anleeh from thoughts of sleep, but he knew they needed rest. He would not let passion rule him. He released her breast and slipping out from under her, Anleeh helped her to her feet and then rose himself, closing the placket of his pants but not bothering to re-lace them. “Stay here by the fire for a moment, love.” Lifting down their bedrolls, he set-up the double roll and then motioned her over.

Anleeh helped Siara slip in and then removed his boots before sliding in behind her. When he settled, he found Siara already deeply asleep, her lips parted and eyelashes lying vulnerably against sex-flushed cheeks. Carefully situating himself behind her, he reached over and cupped a breast before closing his own eyes and willing himself to sleep.