Princess Brandese had been in a fair amount of trouble lately. She pushed her auburn hair over one shoulder and seated herself in a chair to wait for her father. Ever since she was caught returning to the palace through a delivery entrance well after sundown, it had become known that she had found a new way to sneak out after the spiral stairs outside her room had been barred.
Falise, her sister’s petite maid, poked her head in. The maid’s wild curls were pulled back by at least a dozen small pins, but tiny tendrils had escaped. Brande could relate to those errant curls. What harm was there in wanting to be a bit free?
“Now, dear princess, I want to be certain about something. Because this is serious business,” the girl said gravely. There was a tremendous cuteness to the girl who was near her own age, so it was difficult for Brandese to take her seriously despite her tone.
“My princess has been in that royal library lately. I want to be certain that you make it known that she has not been there in your company.”
Brande’s brows rose. Her older sister Lanamoar rarely went to the king’s libraries of her own accord. She chose instead to study from the books provided by the palace instructors.
“Why has Lana been in the library?” she asked.
“That’s her private business.”
“Hmm. I’d like to know. If you are seeking my help with something, you should indulge me.”
“She wanted to read some books on protocol.”
“Lana knows all the protocol books by heart.” Brande paused. “Unless it was matrimonial protocols she was reading about.”
Falise’s color darkened. “It’s time for you both to learn more about that.”
Brande wrinkled her nose. “I know Lana is anxious to marry Commander Calex, but I’m not hurried in that regard.”
“If anyone asks, you’ll be sure to be clear that Princess Lanamoar was only in the main library on her own?”
Brandese leaned back and considered. “I think I see. Someone—my maid Horxen perhaps—found a book that she doesn’t approve of? And she’s been telling tales?”
Falise stepped closer and then practically danced back and forth on her toes. “We tried to convince Horxen to slip it back into the restricted collection, but she wouldn’t! She says you’re clearly on a path to wickedness, and she means to see you knocked off it.”
Brande’s brows rose, then she pursed her lips. “Don’t say that she reported it to my father?”
“A lady’s maid speak to the king outright? Never! But it is known by the monarch. Through his valet.”
“It’s not my place to tell a princess what she should or shouldn’t do,” Falise said. “But perhaps a bit of care? Sneaking out at night is so dangerous. You know that according to palace security there are those former convicts that are obsessed with you? They keep trying to find a way to get close to you. We don’t know if they want to kidnap you for ransom or just to keep you, but no matter what, you shouldn’t go wandering around alone!”
Brandese shrugged. She did know there were dangerous men obsessed with her, but she couldn’t live her life in fear. Besides Commander Calex always had his best men guarding the king and hence the palace. Ex-convicts wouldn’t get close enough to grab her as long as she took care to be discreet when she slipped out.
The door opened, and the king strode in.
Falise ducked around the chairs to exit as discreetly as possible.
Brandese rose, made a small elegant brow, and then kissed her father’s ruddy cheek, noting that she’d gotten at least a bit of the red in her coloring from him. The king’s hair was darker than Brandese’s but had the same russet undertones. Only the flecks of gold in her light eyes were said to have come from her mother’s side.
Lana with her glossy dark hair and lavender eyes favored their mother, or so people said. Brandese couldn’t remember what her mother had looked like since she’d only been two years old when her mother died from a fall from her horse.
The king lowered his soft bulk into a chair and motioned for her to sit.
“You are rarely where you ought to be, little girl,” the king began. “And you are often where you ought not to be. I understand that you have been pilfering books from among the restricted works reserved for the royal physician.”
Brandese thought about the well-worn tome of illustrated erotic stories that she’d hidden in her room. She doubted that the royal physician had been the only one to read it. And why should he be?
“You have mentioned lately that it will soon be my time to marry,” Brande said carefully. “My mother is not alive to advise me,” she said, thrusting out her lip pitifully to elicit his sympathy.
“You need not remind me that you are motherless. She was my queen,” he said sourly.
Brande’s brows shot up. Her father was rarely ever cross with her. She was widely regarded as among his favored company. At meals, she was always seated next to him, or within a place or two.
“I’m sorry, Father,” she said, folding her hands on her lap.
“You have become too wild. A lively spirit is charming in a child, but it’s a liability in a princess who has come of age. I know if you’re not checked you’ll bring scandal down on the monarchy. We are under too much scrutiny for me to allow that to happen.”
“It was only a book.”
“It was not only a book. You sneak out. You explore with your mind things that you will next be tempted to explore with your body. Your mother’s line is known for its deep passions, and not all within the lineage could be controlled. You yourself have been warned so many times that you don’t even slow down your pursuits in the face of censure anymore.”
She felt the heat rise in her face. He wasn’t wrong. She had grown increasingly bold.
“I have never been free with my body,” she said firmly. Though that was not wholly true. She’d never been free with her body when another person was around, but she’d—it didn’t matter what she did in private.
“You’ve read about the Massar cannibals?”
She nodded grimly, wondering at the abrupt change of topic.
“They have rallied great numbers and have stationed themselves on the fourth outpost of Wumbon.”
She clenched her hands. According to reports, that lost world was wet and covered with a mud that sucked men into its depths, leading to horrific drownings from lungs filled with thick soaked dirt.
“They’ve chosen it as a place to converge because they don’t expect our forces to descend upon them there. It would be a very high cost to our army to pursue them to the outer reaches of that world.”
“I don’t understand why—?”
“I’m telling you so you understand the gravity of what we’re facing. There are a group of warriors who are skilled at warring on every terrain in the universe. I’ve hired them to infiltrate and battle with the Massars in the farthest regions.”
She sat back.
“They however were not interested in money. Their population was threatened some years back on that wild lush planet of theirs. They need to replenish their numbers, and healthy women are of particular interest. Since this mission is likely to cause them to lose warriors, I have pledged to give one of my own daughters to them. You.”
She froze. “You can’t. I’m not—! A princess can’t be traded like currency or livestock! What would people say?”
“The people have been slaughtered in large numbers. They will feel incredibly loyal to a royal family that is willing to protect Endricane at great personal cost to itself.”
“What world are these great warriors from?” she asked slowly. She had never been attracted to military men with their bulky muscles, single-minded focus, and grunting monosyllabic conversations. Several that she had met were somewhat brutish. She desired a clever husband who would tease her mind as well as her body.
“The warriors are from Kettura. It’s—”
“Kettura! Mankind barely has a foothold there! A few villages. No city. The wilderness goes unchecked.”
“It is primitive.”
“I won’t live there.”
“You will live wherever your husband puts you,” the king said.
“Have you spoken to your high counsel about this?”
“I do not require Lord Calex’s input on this. I know it’s for the best. On Kettura, your movements will be restricted by nature. And there will be no high protocols for you to rebel against. You’ll be freer in many ways. Your husband will likely care about nothing other than your stunning beauty and your ability to bear children, so you can pursue whatever hobbies interest you.”
Like escape? She could not move, could not find her voice. She sat staring at the man she’d heard could be ruthless, but in whom she’d always put her faith. Her own father could not sentence her to a life she would abhor. This must surely be an idle threat.
“This assumes that the Ketturans aren’t killed,” he continued. “If all the warriors die in battle, then we’ll be free to find a match more to your liking. That however will not be long from now. It’s time that someone took you in hand.”
The only time she’d ever been pleased to be taken in hand had been by the crown’s highest advisor. There was something exciting about Lord Evston Calex’s attention. He had a certain sensual energy that she longed to explore. She swallowed, her mind drifting to the thought of his tall, handsome body and the way he forced stern discipline onto her when she’d been naughty. Once he’d made her kneel in a corner. Another time, he’d tossed her over his lap, flipped up her skirt, and slapped her quite firmly on the bottom. Twice.
“I expected an outburst,” the king said. “I’m happy not to endure it. I suppose that it’s as the royal physician said. Young women, especially high spirited ones, eventually respond well to firm handling and vigorous control. I daresay the Ketturan warriors will have the strength to manage you. I recommend you remember that before you try to outwit them. Men don’t like being made into fools by young girls. You are likely to experience stern, even harsh punishments. ‘Barbarians’ is the word that comes to mind when one sees them.”
She stood, understanding that it was no idle threat. The king had sold her to mercenaries. “I’ll go now.”
“Come here,” he said, standing and holding out his arms.
She hesitated. Did he really expect her to embrace him when he’d plotted to ruin her life? Yes, he obviously did. She stepped forward, letting him hug her. This was not the time to take a stand.
All her life her virginity had been carefully guarded. Now it and her future had been casually bartered to a brutish warrior from a savage world? By all accounts, Kettura was overrun with bloodthirsty raptors, and the people were barely able to survive in the most meager of villages. That world had no institutions of higher learning. No old relics or museums or palaces. There was no rich history or civilized culture. She felt ill. Her father knew her taste well. Her strong preference had always been to surround herself with clever companions. That he could be planning to banish her to such a fate, likely with very little way to even contact home, showed how little he cared for her. She was chilled to the marrow as he smiled.
I won’t go, she thought mutinously.
The first thing she must do was speak to the king’s highest advisor. In addition to being gorgeous, Lord Evston Calex was smart and cool-headed. She had sought his friendship and advice for as long as she could remember. If anyone could convince the king that another course of action was better, it was Lord Calex.
It took a little investigating for Brandese to learn that Lord Evston and his brother, the commander of her father’s armies, were to meet with the king in Alorn. Without delay, she arranged to join the royal traveling party. Alorn was an idyllic little hamlet with its own mansion where the king had grown up. The brothers would likely stay in the inn so that the commander could dine and meet with his general and soldiers, too.
Upon arriving in Alorn, Brandese quickly crossed the estate and went to the inn. But inside the establishment, she was told by the young man in the inn’s round entry that Lord Evston Calex had not arrived and he wasn’t expected. A mistake, surely?
She glanced at the inn’s com screen to see which room the commander had been assigned to and then hurried out without another word of conversation.
Princess Brandese did not plan to spy on Lord Evston Calex’s brother. She only wanted to confirm for herself what she’d been told, which was that Commander Rocurt Calex had arrived alone. She thought the inn’s manager’s information might be wrong since the room location and key code had been auto-delivered to the commander’s com. He had not stopped in the lobby, and so Lord Evston might very well have been with his brother when they took possession of the quarters.
She used the balcony pass code to enter the walled enclosure. She would simply look in on Commander Calex. If he was alone, she would return to the royal ancestral home and await the Calexes’ arrival there. She frowned, knowing if she didn’t encounter Lord Evston before his arrival at the mansion, it would make it more difficult for her to speak to him privately.
Brandese froze, her breath catching. The commander was most certainly not alone in his room. She stared through the glass.
Rocurt Calex, the tall and excessively muscled military man, sat on the edge of the bed with a nude person—likely a girl from the round shape of her upturned bottom—draped over his lap. He was vigorously spanking the pert, quite red bottom while his victim kicked and struggled.
Brande’s hand reached for the glass door, thinking she should intervene. She herself had been spanked twice in her life. Once the token time by Evston Calex. The other by a disciplinarian chosen by the king. Both times had been frustrating for Brandese, but neither had been humiliating in the way that this must be for the poor defenseless girl. Who was she? A maid who’d made some minor infraction?
Brandese’s hand fell away from the door’s slide latch as the commander’s enormous hand stopped beating the naked bottom. Instead he gripped it, which must have been painful given how inflamed it was. His expression wasn’t menacing, but it was intent—and something more. He looked the way men looked at Brande when they believed no one was watching.
Rocurt spoke to the girl. It was definitely a girl, a young one near her own age of nineteen. She had light brown hair, like freshly baked ginger cookies, and a slim frame with a quite round bottom. When she turned, Brande’s mouth went dry. She had jewelry piercing her nipples. Once, Brande had snuck a history book on the Vella slave trade to read. Those beautiful boys and girls had been pierced in just the same way. A throb of arousal gripped her. Then she gritted her teeth at herself. Enslaving anyone was a wretched, shameful practice.
The commander ordered the girl onto the bed. Brande covered her mouth. Was he planning to strike her with something else? She was positioned in such a way, with her bottom high and her face down on the mattress. Her hands were clasped together in the hollow of her lower back.
No, the commander didn’t appear to be preparing to strike her. He had a stoppered glass bottle of something, a clear liquid.
The girl reached up and actually spread her bottom cheeks open. The commander poured the liquid, but not onto her red cheeks. Instead the liquid, which moved like oil, drizzled into the cleft between her red globes.
Brande sucked in a soft breath. He put his hands right between her buttocks and rubbed it there. Why? The girl didn’t appear to be in pain.
The commander unfastened his trousers and stripped from his clothes. She knew she should interrupt now, but she could not bring herself to do it. She would see everything that he did. And if it turned out that he had taken this girl as a slave from a conquered people, she would see him fully punished for his crimes. First though she would know what those crimes were.
The girl had not tried to flee the room. Was she afraid to? Did she know it was futile to try? She had clearly been forced into this position before.
Brande knew what he intended. She had seen animals mate a few times and had snuck peeks at the restricted-access screen shows that featured couples engaged in certain acts. Only oil had never been used, and the commander was now coating his sex organ with it, too.
She bit her lip. She did not want to find this compelling, but he did have a very well built and powerful male body. And the girl bent before him was lovely. He clasped her hands in the small of her back and tugged the girl’s body back against his, his sex disappearing into her.
Brande took a small step back, a hand on her throat, a deep ache in her belly and lower. This was not what she imagined rape to be. Nor what she imagined physical love to be. It was something in between. And it was more than a little arousing.
The commander was thrusting his hips and speaking to the girl, who seemed to be struggling to endure the forcefulness of his thrusts. He slapped the girl’s bottom a couple of times. Then he continued in his pursuit of release.
The way the girl raised her bottom and moved her hips, it was almost as if she was enjoying it. Was that possible with nothing touching her in the front? Brandese had discovered there was a small nub on her own body that created incredible excitement when pressed or rubbed. She’d told Lana about it in case she hadn’t discovered it for herself, but Lana had been scandalized and told her royal girls didn’t mention anything about their private parts. Ever.
The commander continued to couple with the girl for quite a long time. Brande wondered if it took so long for her to get to her release when she touched herself. She’d never timed it, but she didn’t think so. My goodness, the girl must be very sore and tired.
A sudden shocking thought occurred to her. Lord Evston and his brother were very close. Everyone knew that; it was often commented upon. Did Lord Evston know of this situation? Did he accept it? Even condone it?
She did not want to believe that the lord would’ve been party to keeping a slave, but he had once said something that had never made much sense. She couldn’t remember his precise words, but it was something to do with relationships and how they could be kept simple if one could afford to pay. She’d thought he might be referring to membership at a gentleman’s club where loose women lived and were paid to engage in sexual acts. That was another thing she wasn’t supposed to have read about.
The commander reached his peak and pulled free of girl. His organ appeared different now, less aggressive.
She tried to decide how to proceed. Before she could make up her mind however, the poor creature on the bed looked directly at her.
The girl spoke, and the enormous commander turned his head and saw her. A jolt of fear shot through Brandese.
The commander stalked to the glass door and jerked it open. In an instant, he’d grabbed her chin, forcing her face up. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she struggled not to flinch as she stared up at his battle-hardened and scarred face.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“Nothing as interesting as what you were doing,” she said defiantly.
The girl made a shocked sound, clearly never having spoken sharply to the commander for fear of him. Brande tried to jerk her chin free, but he was too strong.
“You are hurting me,” Brande said, inserting as much iron into her tone as she could.
After a brief pause, he released her.
“Who is she?” Brandese demanded, trying to look around the commander at the bed.
The girl, clearly upset to have a witness to her humiliating situation, had curled into a ball like a frightened animal and pulled the blanket over herself, including her head.
“It’s not your concern,” he said.
“Are you all right, child?” Brandese asked.
“What do you want?” the commander barked.
“I want to know where you acquired that girl and whether she is all right.”
“She’s fine. There is no need for you to know more than that.”
“I will hear it from her own lips that she is not hurt and not a prisoner.”
“The intimate relationship between men and women is something you know nothing about and shouldn’t. If you want to protect that girl, leave here and don’t speak of what you’ve seen.”
“Is she—? I only wish to satisfy myself that you did not acquire her as a war prize of some sort.”
She wouldn’t have thought it would be possible for the commander’s expression to turn more furious, but it did.
“I am quite well, your majesty,” the girl whispered. “I have not been abducted or anything like that.”
Brandese stepped away from the hulking commander and looked at the girl who’d sat up, wrapped in the blanket.
“Then who are you?” Brande asked.
“Nothing further,” the commander interrupted.
The girl nodded, scooted off the bed, and hurried into the bathing room.
“Explain yourself,” Brandese said, looking up at the man who had slaughtered hordes of cannibals. She should be running from the scene, but she would not.
“No,” he said.
“Her breasts are adorned like a slave’s. Is she a slave?”
“She is not.”
“I’m not sure I believe you. She is not from Alorn, so you brought her with you. Does Lord Evston know that you travel with such a girl?”
He didn’t answer.
“If you’re not willing to explain things, raise him on your com and let me speak to him.”
“Absolutely not,” he snapped.
The girl crept back into the main room.
“I wish to see to Lord Calex,” Brandese said.
“He doesn’t want to see you,” the commander replied.
Brande’s stomach lurched, and she took a startled step back. “He said so?”
“I know him as I know myself,” Rocurt said. “If he wanted to see you, he would be here. He knows your wishes.”
Heat flamed in Brande’s cheeks. She had tried several times to obtain Lord Calex’s most recent com linkages, but as a member of the legislature, they were kept secret. Her father had them of course, but the king’s coms were never unattended or unsecured.
Now Lord Calex’s brother made it clear that Evston had heard that she wished to speak to him and was purposely ignoring her. It was a cut down to the bone, and it took all her strength of will not to let tears spring into her eyes.
“I see,” Brande said. She lifted the hem of her dress to prevent herself from tripping as she fled the room’s balcony doorway and the inn.
Evston Calex leaned against the doorway of the communal playroom, glancing absently at the wall of whips and paddles. He pushed off the door frame, wondering if Rocurt had gotten their pet, Melsint, safely into the inn without anyone spotting her.
Alorn, the ancestral home of the royals, was not a large place. The inn was generally used by diplomats, high-ranking military personnel, and the very wealthy friends of the monarchy. A shy, unassuming girl who was not known to anyone would eventually be noticed.
He trusted Melsint though to be discreet. He believed that she would stay in the room at all times once she got there safely. He’d arranged for Rocurt to have a walled patio room, so the girl could sit outside, which she liked.
He glanced at his com. He really wanted to know whether Rocurt and the pet were in the room now. They should be.
He would wait. Rocurt would make contact when he was free to. He was probably just enjoying the girl’s body and would be occupied with that until his scheduled meeting time with the monarch.
Evston walked out onto their own balcony. He glanced out at the moonlit grounds. Their castle was perfectly situated to get full sunlight and double moonlight, depending on the hour. Alorn had good sun in daytime, but rarely caught both moons.
The sister moons had been renamed for Endricane’s current pair of princesses. He wondered whether they were in Alorn now. He rested his hands on the rail, thinking of the girls. Lanamoar, the older, was a very pretty twenty-two-year-old with famed violet eyes. And then there was the little firebird. Nineteen-year-old Brandese had been a cute child with a constant gleam of mischief in her eyes. He’d enjoyed her curiosity and banter and so had talked to her when she sought him out, which she often did when he was in Alorn or elsewhere to meet the king. He’d assumed that she gravitated to him because he was two decades younger than every other advisor the king had.
Then around sixteen, Brandese had evolved into the most exquisite beauty anyone had ever seen. Of course everyone’s treatment of her changed. Evston had worked hard to maintain a casual friendliness when she was charming and a firm opposition when she perpetrated pranks and minor crimes. He sentenced her to time on her knees in the corner when she’d stolen a horse. But he’d swatted her pretty bottom twice when she’d caused a ruckus in town.
Evston smirked at the memory of her bad behavior. She’d had the audacity to claim that the horse had followed her home and that she was planning to return him the next day, but had been too busy to do so right away.
The near spanking had been delivered because she’d taken matters into her own hands when she’d seen a woman berating and slapping her six-year-old son. Brandese had flown into a temper and flung wastewater on the woman, calling her an unfit mother. The woman, a terrible shrew who deserved more than a foul dousing, had actually filed a legal grievance. It had been an embarrassment to the crown to have to admit that a princess had trespassed on private land and attacked an adult woman on her own property.
Evston had taken the wild-eyed princess in hand. First, he’d attempted to reason with her and explained the proper course of action she should take if she ever felt she was witnessing abuse in the future. The girl had been unrepentant about the trespassing, despite his warnings that previous unlawful seizures of land by the privileged had made common people suspicious and angry about having their homes invaded without just cause.
“I did what I felt I must do. I would do it again!” she’d snapped.
“You risk being arrested,” he said. “The crown can’t allow that. You’ll control yourself from now on.”
“I will do as I please!”
And so, he’d yanked her over his lap and flipped up her skirt, exposing her delicate underthings and a very shapely ass. He should have given her a long punishing spanking, but even two slaps had been too arousing. She was so beautiful and so impassioned. It called to his dominance in a way that wasn’t safe.
He’d jerked her back to her feet, noting her dilated pupils and flushed cheeks. She’d been aroused too. He’d sent to her to her room where she’d been locked for the night and next morning with nothing other than water.
Word had spread that the princess had been sternly punished by the king’s high advisor, and the matter had died down. The woman withdrew the grievance once it was known that it had been handled.
Brande was nearly twenty now, and her wild bouts of mischief seemed to be behind her. She would make someone a stunning wife. She might on occasion though need firm discipline. Evston envied the man who would have the responsibility. He had never forgotten the way she squirmed over his knees or the way her eyes flashed when she was challenged. The combination was exciting.
Evston suspected he could become her husband if he made an offer. He was certain that she’d been infatuated with him for several years. But that was because she didn’t truly know what he was like. He had dark urges. She was wholly innocent and also used to getting her every wish.
He needed a wife with a strong sexual appetite and one who was worldly and secure enough to tolerate the Calex tradition of keeping human pets. It was illegal for a female member of the royal family to even be introduced to anyone’s pet, prostitute, or mistress, let alone to have one in the household.
Marriage or any sort of relationship with the beautiful princess was impossible, which was why Evston had cancelled his trip to Alorn. He hoped she would marry soon, so she would be less of a temptation.