Outwardly, Princess Lanamoar tried to appear calm as she sat on the edge of the bed having her hair wound around a jewel-studded hair ring. Inwardly, calm had retreated quite a long time ago. Her hands were clenched tight in her lap to keep them from shaking.
“My princess,” Falise said softly.
Lana’s gaze shifted from her lap to the mirror to look at Falise, her petite maid and frequent confidante. Lana knew it wasn’t strictly correct, in terms of royal protocol, to entrust a servant with her secrets, but she had complete faith in the girl’s loyalty.
“We could leave,” Falise whispered. “I have a bag packed for each of us. You have friends who will take you in.”
There. That was why Lana trusted her. Falise would conspire to help Lana escape a fate she didn’t want. No matter the consequences.
“I won’t put my friends or their families in that position.”
“But this isn’t right,” Falise said, her dark curls bouncing from the fierceness of the way she shook her head. “Your sister was the one who was to be taken off world. Her marriage was arranged in part because of her unexpected and sometimes bad behavior. Just because she’s run off, it doesn’t mean you should be traded to savages in her place! It’s not fair in the least! You’re always done your duty. You’ve been the perfect example of a princess always and—”
“Quiet now,” Lana said, her eyes stinging. Fairness had nothing to do with the arrangement.
The high color in Falise’s cheeks spoke to the fury she felt at the change in Lanamoar’s circumstances. Tears brightened Falise’s large dark eyes, but she blinked them away.
“We will hope that my friend Wyxler can convince the king. Or that someone else will appeal more to the barbarian,” Lana said, trying to soothe the girl’s nerves and her own. “There will be many lovely girls at the banquet. My father has made it known to the man that he can withdraw from the contract and choose another instead of me, if I’m not to his taste.”
“Keep your eyes elsewhere than his face,” Falise urged.
“I will try to avoid him completely,” Lana said, glancing at her eyes, which were decorated with delicate makeup, exquisitely applied. Lana’s sister Brandese was very much the more beautiful, except for her eyes. Lana’s eyes were violet, a color so rare that upon first meeting her, strangers were quite struck by them. From what she’d heard of the barbarian though, she doubted he’d be looking at her face. These off-world savages cared about war and maintaining satisfactory numbers of progeny. For them, one young woman would be much the same as another. Lana hoped so at least, for she wanted him to choose anyone but her.
Varse ignored the packet of clothes that had been sent as a ‘gift’ from the foreign ruler.
“An intentional insult?” Detrey asked, folding his arms across his chest.
“Uncertain,” Varse said.
Over the generations, numerous other nations had sought to conquer or transform the Ketturan people in various ways. As a show of sovereignty, Ketturans had sworn to wear and show their own colors always. The night Varse would give up his colors was the night his skin was cut from his body.
The milky blue mark on the bronze skin of his shoulder was for the moon under which Ketturans had defeated the Hull Horde. The blade ring of red ink around his arm was for the lost women of the Pesh raid. The purple and black raptor crest on his chest was the symbol of their people as a nation.
The second skin fabric on his lower body functioned to cover him, but also bore the pattern of the warrior and hunting scars on his right thigh and left calf. Scars were not to be hidden. They were celebrated because they marked survival after wounds were taken.
“These girls will fear us,” Detrey said. “We can get a translator.”
“We don’t need one,” Varse said.
Detrey smirked. “We don’t need one to help us understand their language, but it would be an advantage for one of us to speak their words quickly and easily.”
“The victory we’ve secured for them and the soil in the cargo hold speaks all I need to say to this man who sells girls.”
Detrey laughed. “The buyer condemns the seller?”
“Maybe there’s something savvy on the part of this king? You haven’t forgotten the story of the trade where the girls were switched? And the girls who were sickly and crazed were nearly transported to Kettura before the deception was discovered?”
“I remember the story.”
“This man has already switched one daughter for another. Maybe other switches have been made.”
“Maybe they have.”
“People expect some royal blood for their payment.”
“If the girl with the royal blood is the best, then Kettura will have her.”
“And who will decide the quality of the girl we take?” Det demanded.
“We will. Together. As with a war plan,” Varse responded.
Detrey nodded and smiled, pleased that the group would decide.
Varse shouted the call to assemble. Warriors emerged from entryways and swung over the rail to drop down to the ship’s main level. None were small, but they landed light out of habit. Most of them had grown up together and then went on to hunt and go into battle together. There had never been a more successful warrior pack.
“Show blades or hide them?” Darx asked in a low growl.
“To each the choice,” Varse said, his own blade and rod already concealed.
Darx strapped his belt on, a sheathed blade laying flush with the outside of his thigh from hip to knee.
“Are you sure that’s enough? Why not one taller than a girl? Sure to impress,” Detrey mocked, eyeing his brother’s large weapon.
“We are what we are. Let them see,” Darx said, undeterred as always.
“You say that because you’re not on the hunt for a girl who’s been treated softly for the length of her life. Varse is. Girls filled with fear—”
“Their leader wants the black dirt we carry. He called upon this band to fight cannibals on an outpost where his men would’ve been slain by the dozens for lack of experience on that sucking mud terrain. Blade or no blade, this king will give us what we want because it’s owed to us. Let’s go,” Darx said.
“You say that now, but you were not with us when we brought back the pair of screaming girls from Jangor.”
“Varse was not either, but we heard. Supplies are on board to deal with it,” Darx said.
Detrey’s brows rose, but the corner of his mouth curved up. What sort of supplies? Ones to subdue them with drug? Or to physically restrain them? A beautiful girl, naked, tethered, and gagged, was the beginning of many of his fantasies.
Falise slipped into the royal physician’s rooms. She herself had never been examined there, but several of the staff had been. The new physician was relatively young and quite handsome, so suddenly many of the maids had stopped awaiting trips home to see their village doctors.
Falise knew her own health was excellent and wasn’t intruding into the medical man’s domain for her own sake or out of curiosity. She was doing so for the purpose of seeing to her princess’s comfort. It was customary for a princess to have an examination before her wedding ceremony, and Falise knew the princess was dreading it.
Falise found the cabinets locked and frowned at the sparse linens. An odd-looking table also caused her to shake her head. Why should her majesty not be examined on a proper bed among the softest linens? She clucked her tongue and resolved to return with pillows and cushions. A little warm scented oil rubbed under the table would make the room more inviting as well. Something soothing would do; the crushed purple flowers that aided sleep perhaps.
“What are you looking for? A finger ridge?”
Falise spun around to find the sandy-haired doctor standing in the doorway.
“No. I don’t even know what that is.”
“So then?” he demanded.
She flushed. “I wanted to see the room so that I might decide what could be done to make it more comfortable for my princess. These linens are far too small and thin. I think you may know your business of medicine, but you could learn more about what’s suitable for a princess’s comfort.”
He cocked a brow, his handsome face both stern and amused. “I may know my business? But I may not?”
“Well,” she said with a small frown. “I suppose that comment was rude.” Falise wasn’t normally saucy or rude to those above her station, but she was out of sorts.
“It was rude. And your breach of this place was equally inappropriate. What’s more, your influence on the princess could be detrimental.”
“My what? I don’t claim to have any influence. I’m just her maid. But no one needs to influence her in any case. As a princess, she is quite perfect.”
“I approve of your loyalty, but your actions are misguided. Shall I turn you over to the second groom for switching? Or should we settle this here?”
She gasped. The second groom was a hulking man who acted as disciplinarian when necessary. His methods were quite harsh. Falise was terrified of him. Everyone was.
“I was only trying to see to my princess’s comfort.”
“I know, but experiencing some discomfort and coming to terms with the duties of marriage is part of the process of readying her to wed a foreign warrior. Treating her as an endangered bloom is not what she can expect on a rough planet that has no royalty.”
“She will be treated with the proper respect no matter where she goes!”
The doctor strode to the wall and removed a long strap that hung from a hook. “Bare your bottom and bend over the table.”
She gasped, her eyes widening.
“Sir, you have no right to discipline me.”
“I certainly do. You’ve trespassed in my domain and are trying to counter my prescribed treatments. You are unmarried, I take it?”
“You have the way of a girl who has not been much checked.”
“I am not wild, Sir!”
“No? A good virgin girl?”
“Yes, of course!”
He nodded. “We’ll see. Clothes off.”
Falise’s cheeks burned. “And if I don’t?” she said sassily, hardly believing she had the nerve to argue with a person such as him. Things were getting desperate.
“Then you’re free to leave. But the rest of the staff will then be treated to your removal from the house by the second groom. I’m told that he likes to discipline the pretty young maids while they’re tied to a post in the stable with the stable hands watching.”
“You are monstrous,” Falise snapped. She took a deep breath and made her decision. If the princess could be courageous about the medical exam, Falise could be brave as well. After all, Falise was used to more indignities than her mistress. She removed her dress and draped it carefully over a bench.
“Fancy undergarments for a maid.”
“A festival gift from the princess. They’re my best.”
“A nice gesture from her. She’s a lovely girl. If you don’t want them damaged by the strap, lower them and bend over the table.”
Falise let out a little sob, but took off the panties and set them with her dress. She’d suffer a thousand lashes on her skin before she let anything happen to such a precious gift. It had made her cry to receive something so lovely as a maid.
She bent over the table, closing her eyes.
The doctor moved behind her and slapped each defenseless cheek with his open hand several times. The sting wasn’t terribly bad, and her skin warmed to it.
“Quite a lovely bottom.” The strap whistled across her rump. A definite sting blossomed immediately. “Have you taken a man between your cheeks?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, her words breaking as the strap connected several more times.
“Ah. Very innocent then.” The strap whizzed through the air, catching several spots it had already lit with pain.
“Oh! Dead realms!” she muttered, pressing her head to the table. She bent her legs and tucked herself forward.
“That’s a very nice pink,” the doctor said.
She should’ve liked to make his face a lovely pink from a slap, but she didn’t say so. She didn’t want to seem defiant because that might make him give her more stripes.
“Now,” the man said, stepping forward. His hands cupped her buttocks and squeezed.
The breath fled her lungs.
“A bare-bottom spanking can be exciting for both the involved parties,” he said, pressing against her so she could feel his erection. “At this stage, a less innocent woman might raise her rump and spread her knees to be taken forcefully from behind.”
Falise froze as she felt a finger between her lower lips. A slippery fingertip touched her in a place that caused her whole body to spasm.
“Mmm. You’re a ripe little piece,” he said approvingly. “That moisture shows how ready you are to receive a man. And if I rub this little nub for a bit…” he said huskily, pushing his pelvis against her abused bottom as he stroked a very sensitive spot on her. He groaned, but it was almost drowned out by her own soft moans.
Something happened then. It was the exact thing she’d heard other girls whisper about. A tightening and release of pleasure that rolled through her lower body and beyond.
“Very nice,” the doctor said, giving her bottom a swat. “Now off you go, and stay out of trouble.”
He turned and used his com to summon the widowed chef’s assistant, obviously planning a liaison.
Falise dressed quickly with shaky fingers. Where would the doctor put his still stiff cock? In the lovely widow’s mouth? Or would he risk a bastard?
She almost wished she could stay to see what would happen next. But she’d been dismissed and so she left hastily, trying to force her mind back to her duties. One thing was certain. She understood now why the doctor’s rooms were such a popular place.
Lanamoar froze, as did every other guest in the ballroom, when the group of seven savages entered. A servant had to rush to pull back the heavy draperies, so they didn’t get caught and come crashing down under the feet of the advancing men.
The warriors were enormous, with burnished skin, a host of sinister markings, and weapons that appeared in no way ornamental. None of them smiled. Their gazes swept the room as if they expected of battalion to emerge and engage them.
“The king cannot be serious,” Wyx said.
Her father though strode forward with Lord Evston Calex, his chief counsel. The king spoke and then gestured for her to come forward.
Lana couldn’t move. She couldn’t even breathe. Why had she not taken Falise’s advice when she’d had the chance?
“Lanamoar,” the king said sharply.
“Wyxler,” she whispered in an imploring tone as she forced her feet to carry her forward.
“Lord Evston,” Wyxler said smoothly to the king’s highest advisor. “May I speak with you?”
Dead realms, Lana thought when she was next to her father and staring at a wall of bare chest muscles. Her heart thumped, and she tried to see around the men to the door. She could pretend a headache, collect her bag and—
“This is Varse of Kettura, Lana. He leads these men and has amassed a fortune by exporting flame-forged soil and precious metals, among other things. Varse, this is my daughter Princess Lanamoar. She has demonstrated throughout her life that she understands the meaning of duty. She always fulfills her royal obligations and the duties commanded her by the king and by nature.”
Lana stiffened. They had not yet exchanged a word or a look, and she was already being reminded that she would have to bear her future husband’s children.
In a lower voice, her father said, “A physician will examine her in your presence to confirm her innocence.”
“Surely—!” Lana objected. The thought of being stripped and examined in front of a stranger caused heat to rush to her face. “Surely, I can be taken at my word. I won’t submit to—” She glanced up and the words died in her throat. The face was handsome, but the eyes were as black as night and unmoved by her distress. “He doesn’t understand our language,” she murmured hopefully. “We’ll get a translator,” she said to her father. “And there’s no need to mention the exam again.”
“I promise you he understands,” the king said. “They trade with three systems and understand six languages other than their own, including ours.”
She stared up at the savage, waiting for him to confirm it.
He said nothing. He didn’t nod or even blink. He could’ve been made of stone.
“He’s communicated that it’s important to him that you’re healthy and able to conceive. And of course, every man wants to know that his young wife is a virgin.”
She couldn’t believe they were having this conversation in the middle of the ballroom. She glanced at the other men in his group. Had they heard all this? Were they contemplating her virginity and the exam she would be forced to undergo?
“Well,” she said softly, her voice barely audible. “It was a pleasure to meet you. Father, I have a terrible headache,” she said, beginning to back away. “I’ll retire and see you—”
Her father’s hand clamped down on her arm. She winced before she caught herself.
The savage’s gaze dropped to her father’s hand for an instant and then back at the king. The look held something in it. She wasn’t sure quite what, but her father’s grip eased and then dropped away.
“If your head aches, it’s from lack of food.” The king turned. “Dinner!” he announced.
Lana couldn’t taste her food. She’d barely touched it. She’d tried several times to make small talk with Varse, but he didn’t utter a word of response. He watched and listened, as did all of his companions. It was completely unnerving, and not just to her. Several of the other guests drank too much and were making little verbal jabs at the savages, thinking that they didn’t understand the language.
Lord Evston, who was young and handsome but also very savvy, intervened several times to turn the topics to safer ground. Unfortunately, more of the dissatisfaction at the warriors’ attire and presence bubbled up.
It was all horribly uncomfortable. Lana did not normally drink, but she drained her large glass for the second time. A while later, she regretted it as the heat in the room rose by several degrees, her cheeks flushing.
“I’m sorry this has been such a disaster. I don’t think badly of you for wanting a wife who can have children. The bloodline is a concern for us all, isn’t it? I originally had a military commander in mind as a husband because he was intelligent and strong. He was built quite like you actually. But he married someone else. Still, I think that’s the sort of person who would suit me. Someone with the same background. I’m sure that would be better for you too. A girl from your world. Someone who understands your culture. Could you—?” She took a deep breath, the tight bindings of her dress squeezing her. She looked into his dark eyes. “You have the option of releasing me from the contract… since I’m the replacement for my sister. I’d be grateful if you told him—the king—that you’ve decided against this.”
He didn’t respond.
She almost cursed in frustration.
“I doubt the bastard understands a word of what you’re saying,” Wyx said, running a hand through his perfectly styled dark gold hair. “Come on, Lana. Let’s go and dance. Your father, like everyone else, can see this night is a disaster.”
“Excuse me,” Lana said, trying to scoot her chair back. It didn’t budge. She tried to push it back again, but nothing. She glanced down and discovered a large hand was holding her chair’s frame.
Her gaze snapped back to the warrior’s face.
“Why prevent me from leaving? You’re not talking to me,” she said softly.
“Nothing to say?” Wyx demanded of the warrior. “Of course not. Dead realms, what a group of imbeciles.” He stalked around the table and pushed its edge in an attempt to free her that way, but the table didn’t move. She glanced around and realized that all the warriors had their hands on it, keeping it in place.
They’d not spoken or even exchanged a look, but they’d moved as one body. The hair on her arms stood on end.
They’re so dangerous, she thought. She’d known it. Now she could feel it as well.
“Lord Wyxler,” Lord Evston said from the doorway. “A word,” he added, gesturing for Wyx to go.
“Cursed sky, Ev! Do you expect me to walk out and leave her alone with them?”
“Do you imagine that your staying affords her any protection?”
Wyx’s eyes darted around the room at the faces of the massive and deadly looking Ketturans.
“Formidable,” Wyx said, “but hardly a problem for the three hundred men of the king’s army that are stationed nearby.”
“Exactly. She’s perfectly safe. Come and talk with me,” Lord Evston said.
Lana clutched her hands in her lap, sitting perfectly still. Wyx walked out, leaving her alone with the warriors. When the room was clear of all but her and the Ketturans, their postures relaxed.
One of them spoke in their language to Varse. The man who’d broken the silence had dark curls that framed his head and a set of parallel scars across his muscled flank. It was like he’d been slashed with a three-pronged blade.
“Yes, Detrey,” the warrior Varse answered.
Her eyes darted to him. It was only a single word in her native language of Endrica, but it was obviously meant to prove he at least knew some of it.
Detrey asked a question. She didn’t understand the words, but recognized the tone.
“No,” Varse said.
She studied Detrey a moment, her eyes on his scars again.
He made a claw of his hand and ran his fingers over his skin as if slashing. “Raptor,” he said.
“Oh,” she said, glancing up at his face. “I didn’t think it was possible to survive a raptor attack.”
Detrey slid a blade from a sheath and spun it on the palm of his hand, then sheathed it again. The movement was quick, like a performer’s trick. Except his weapon wasn’t a prop.
He gestured at the other men. “Together.”
“You defeated it together?” she said, nodding.
“Hunted together,” Detrey said.
“Dead realms,” she whispered. They hunted raptors? That was madness. And yet here they all were.
The man at the end of the table who had unruly black waves and the largest knife she’d ever seen strapped to his thigh tapped the table and said something to Detrey.
Detrey smirked, and for the first time they seemed less alien.
All the men except Varse rose from the table and moved to the corner of the room. After a moment, she realized that they were leaving her alone with Varse.
“Did the man on the end suggest that Detrey stop talking and give you a chance to speak with me instead?”
“But you had the opportunity to talk to me. All night. Why haven’t you?”
He tapped his ear.
“You were listening? And what did you hear that was of consequence?”
He said a word in his language, thought a moment, and added, “Much.”
“And will you?” she asked softly. “Call off the contract?”
“Please?” she whispered.
She looked down, pressing her hands against the folds of her skirts. She was in the midst of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, she was terrified at the thought of going to some savage world with a group of strange and terrifying warriors. On the other, if he’d just relinquished her after meeting her, it would’ve stung.
“Oh, no,” she whispered, spotting the royal physician.
Varse’s gaze slid to the other man, and his eyes narrowed. “You fear him? Why?”
“I don’t fear for my safety. I fear for my modesty,” she whispered.
“I don’t know that word.”
“Warriors probably don’t need to. It’s about a woman’s privacy and dignity. That man is a doctor, and he’s here…” She trailed off, unable to say the words.
“For your engagement custom. The examination. Your king insisted. He doesn’t want me to make a claim later that could void the contract.”
She jerked her head up. “Would you have spared me the exam if you could have?”
“Thank you for trusting me,” she whispered.
He exhaled a little laugh.
“What? You don’t trust me?”
He shrugged. “Don’t care.”
Her brows rose. “You don’t care if I’m a virgin?” she asked incredulously.
He shook his head. “You’ll feel like one.”
Her heartbeat kicked up a notch, and heat rushed to her cheeks. She wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by those words, but the air was so sexually charged her whole body was on edge.
She glanced at the doorway. Wyx was back.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she said, fighting the urge to press her cool hands against her face. She glanced back from Wyx to Varse, and his expression gave her pause. The dark expression he’d worn all night was back.
“Wyx is an old friend. We were never involved,” she said in a low voice.
He didn’t look at her or acknowledge what she’d said.
“Come and dance,” Wyx said. “Everyone is waiting for us.”
“Would you like to join the group?” she asked Varse. “You don’t have to dance. You can watch and listen, something you’re quite skilled at,” she said with a teasing smile.
There were a couple of sentences exchanged between him and his men, and then Varse stood and they all made their way to the ballroom.
“Come and dance,” Wyx said, holding out a hand to her.
“I don’t think—”
“You can,” Varse said.
“Are you sure?” she asked, staring up at him.
“Just one or two songs,” she said, feeling somehow lighter. He wasn’t some ignorant and jealous barbarian. He seemed quite intelligent actually.
Wyx grabbed her arm and pulled her out into the swirling couples.
They covered the floor expertly, having danced together many times over the years. Tonight she relied on the old familiarity because she was distracted. She felt Varse’s eyes on them, watching their every move. Once again, she was filled with a mix of emotions.
Wyx would’ve continued dancing all night, but she broke away after three songs and slipped to a corner where a servant poured a glass of cold water for her.
She turned to drink it and found that a pair of warriors was within arm’s length while the rest of them were with Varse and her father.
When Wyx approached her, the men stepped into his path. She watched as they moved as one and actually backed up until she was against the wall with them in front of her. Through the small space between their bodies, she saw Wyx glower at them.
“Are you ready to dance another?” he asked her, his voice a bit too loud for her taste. She did not want an incident. The warriors looked like they were more than prepared for anything. She wondered what they would do if she said yes to another dance.
“No,” she said. “I need a break from dancing.”
“You don’t have to say or do anything you don’t want to do,” Wyx said. “You know that?”
“I know,” she said, though of course it was no simple thing to defy a king’s order.
The men parted to create an opening, and she realized it was because Varse was there with the physician.
In the quiet examination room, Princess Lana did as she’d been instructed. She removed her clothes and covered herself with the thin, soft linen that was far skimpier than was comfortable. It covered her from collarbones to mid-thigh, but not farther.
The physician entered first, but she saw Varse’s shadowed form in the doorway. The doctor slipped small straps around her wrists and anchored them overhead.
“I don’t need to be restrained,” she protested.
“Quiet,” the physician said briskly. “It’s exactly the women who protest restraints who need them.”
Her cheeks burned indignantly. “I am a princess. I know my duty well.”
He placed a strap around each ankle and threaded the bindings along her sides and into clamps so that her knees would have to remain bent with her heels practically touching her buttocks. The linen cover had fallen between her thighs and was in danger of moving to the side and exposing her.
“Can you arrange the linen more securely, please?” Her heart beat faster as she tugged at the arm restraints. It was frustrating not to be able to adjust the sheet herself.
“Princess Lanamoar, I understand that you’re unaccustomed to this, but try to control yourself,” the physician said.
Outrageous, she thought furiously. Who did this man think he was? She would have him dismissed. Unfortunately it would be too late to spare herself the coming ordeal.
“We’ll begin with a breast exam,” the doctor said, reaching for the top of the linen.
She gasped, but the sheet didn’t move because Varse had crossed the distance in an instant and grabbed the doctor’s arm to stop him from exposing her chest.
“You don’t wish it?” the physician asked Varse, his tone much more conciliatory with the warrior than it had been with her.
Varse shook his head.
She was surprised at the warrior’s restraint and grateful for it. But also wondered… didn’t he wish to look at her?
The physician released the sheet, and his own arm was released.
He shrugged, then nodded at Varse. “You’re quite strong. Perhaps you won’t need straps to keep a struggling girl in position during the first few couplings. Some do. I used bindings to illustrate the way they insure helpless compliance. Once years ago, a groom had to chase his spoiled young wife around the room. That’s when the ritual of the extended exam began.”
Varse said nothing, which almost made her smile. He was not interested in conversation with the physician.
“There have even been some who coupled with their wives during the exam. A physician can then attest to the taking of the girl’s virginity. And an internal examination can follow with a period of rest to maximize the likelihood of conception.”
She could not believe what she was hearing. The thought of her first sexual experience being witnessed by a doctor so close to her own age was unthinkable. Why not just let the whole wedding party attend?
She glanced at Varse with a pleading look.
“Let’s have a look, and you can decide.” The linen was pushed up to her belly, and cool air kissed her nakedness.
She tightened her fingers into fists to have some way of coping with the sudden humiliating position she found herself in.
“Extremely lovely,” the doctor said. “Plush lips and silky dark hair. Exactly as expected, given her bloodline and her luscious figure. Now let’s examine her a little closer,” he said in a soft, almost lusty voice. “Very good. A stout little clit that’s pouting beyond its hood. Some men don’t care much about a wife’s pleasure, but I recommend seeing what it feels like to have her orgasm with you inside her. A woman’s spasming vagina definitely heightens a man’s pleasure.”
She shivered, unable to do anything but stare at the ceiling. Were they enjoying looking at her? Was it exciting for them?
“Now shall we test her responsiveness? A bit of rubbing here, and we’ll see whether—All right, then no. Though I warn you that if you don’t allow the full ritual, which is designed to help her come to terms with her wifely sexual submission, you may have to deal with the consequences of open rebellion in the bedroom. We are hoping to avoid situations that will cause each of you future distress.”
Lana stole a glance at Varse’s impassive face. He was young, but he seemed to be quite sure of his own mind. And quite unconcerned about whether she might rebel on him later. Her eyes traveled over his bulging muscles. She didn’t suppose he worried overmuch about being able to subdue her. The thought of being held down by those hands wasn’t as unwelcome as it should have been. What was wrong with her?
“You may remove your hand. I understand that you don’t wish her touched more than is necessary. Of course that’s your prerogative. Let’s have a look at the reason we’re here. Would you like to open her or shall I?”
Lana’s heart thudded so hard she could barely hear Varse’s answer. She would be laid more bare than ever before, open and vulnerable. Would the young warrior be tempted to take out his cock and thrust it into her? To claim her in the way that would soon be his right? The thought burned through her, heating her body in ways she would never admit.
A moment later she felt her lower lips pulled out toward her thighs, exposing the very core of her womanhood. She exhaled, feeling ready to cry, but also feeling other things. Her nipples had tightened to tight beads and were tenting the fabric. She prayed the doctor wouldn’t point that out.
“Gorgeous faint purple color,” the physician said. “A few shades pinker than her remarkable eyes. And despite her nervousness, we can see some pearly drops of arousal. Nice delicate musk. She’s nervous, but also affected in other ways by having men near her bare pussy.”
Dead realms, she thought, mortified.
“It’s the bloodline. The great-grandmother was from an island famed for its lusty hedonism. My predecessor said the girls in the line are often feisty, but are also delicious to bed by all accounts.”
Stop talking, she wanted to scream. And yet, her back arched too. She throbbed and ached between her legs. Would she even find a voice to object if either of the men thrust fingers into her?
The linen fluttered down, and the doctor’s fingers dropped away.
“Do you intend to engage in anal sex? If so, I have some tools to stretch her there. I would have inserted one for you now as an illustration, but I suspect you’d rather I didn’t. If you wish for me to box up a kit for you to use on the wedding night, I’m at your service.”
Lana froze, holding her breath. This was going entirely too far. It was absolutely outrageous to even suggest such a thing to a royal suitor! What must the warrior think?
The physician lowered his voice to a whisper. “Perhaps you wish to appear to protect her from this invasion upon her person. Understandable. You can send word later with any questions or to request sexual tools to be used on or inside her.” The warrior’s silence prompted the physician to clear his throat. “All right. I’ll just remove the restraints and we can—or you can do that.”
She turned her head to see Varse blocking the man’s access to her. It was a bit late for that, but somehow it meant the world to her.
The physician hadn’t been malicious or nasty, but the exam was so far beyond what she could comfortably endure. And rather than feeling ganged up upon by two men, she felt rather like the dangerous warrior had taken her side.
“Good night,” the physician said with formality. Then he left.
She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath until she let it out upon the other man’s retreat. Varse didn’t bother to unclasp and untangle the straps. Rather, he unsheathed a knife and cut the bands that secured her.
She blinked away the tears in her eyes and smiled as she sat up, holding the sheet to her. “Well, no one will be using those straps again. I suppose that’ll teach him to let a warrior unfasten a girl.”
Varse studied her for a moment, his expression revealing nothing.
“Would you mind if I had a moment alone to dress?”
He turned and stood in the doorway with his back to her.
“I suppose you found that all quite distasteful.” She dressed with shaky fingers. “Or do you understand why the men of my world feel it’s necessary?”
“I understand men and the things they do,” he said. “Since I am one.”
Her gaze slid to his broad back and down to his very attractive backside before looking away. She found herself so intrigued by him. “You haven’t said whether you found it distasteful,” she pressed. Surprisingly what she most wanted to hear was that he hadn’t been disgusted. That it had actually aroused him. Although she also wanted to hear that he didn’t like to see her distressed. Obviously she had no idea what she wanted him to feel.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “I’m a traveler warrior. Foreign rituals come with the work.”
She arched a brow. “That is the answer to a different question,” she said with a rising suspicion that her noble fiancé perhaps didn’t want to confess that he had enjoyed that ritual a bit.
If she hadn’t known that to delay much longer would raise speculation, she would have interviewed him further on the subject.
When they returned to the ballroom, Lana hoped she wasn’t blushing too deeply. Any or all the guests might have seen her leave with the royal physician and her intended. Did they know just how far that exam went in some cases? She swallowed, suddenly more uncomfortable than she’d been even during the exam.
Varse, however, seeming to sense her concern of knowing looks, made some small hand gesture, and Detrey and the other warriors came to attention, holding out their glasses as a new bowl of spirits was rolled in.
Catching their meaning, her father signaled for all the glasses to be filled for a toast. He thanked everyone for attending and again welcomed the warriors, praising their battle skills, which had helped the army triumph over an off-world enemy.
Lana was surprised to find herself looking at the warriors with increased respect. As they moved closer to her and Varse, she forced herself to remain where she was. She was still nervous around these men but she was curious about them too. She leaned closer to Varse as she drank the royal punch. She thought perhaps she should add her welcome to her father’s. She had not publicly accepted the match. Should she?
Before she could speak though, she felt a pinching pain in her stomach and a wave of dizziness crashed over her.
She reached out blindly and felt strong hands grab her arms. They caught her before she fell.