Garnith saw fright and distrust building in Danielle’s entrancing blue eyes. He’d seen that look before in the stares of those who witnessed him change, and he hated it, especially in the face of a beautiful maid. He’d never harm her, though she had seen him in his dragon form, and it could be a problem.
His gaze narrowed, contemplating her and the strange clothing she wore. She dressed in leather, like a warrior, but he saw no sword or other weapon. Her garments hugged every part of her body revealing far too much of the beautiful woman beneath, if she showed it, he would appreciate it. A slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Tall compared to the females in the time he came from, still she wouldn’t meet him on eye level. Her strength impressed him. Unassisted, she’d pulled his sword from the pack while it was tangled and caught with a heavy piece of his armor. His gaze travel over her and settled on her boots, admiring the craftsmanship.
When she swung her leg over the seat of the thing she rode, he realized she was attempting to escape him. In a quick movement, he lunged for her instead of his sword and succeeded in reaching her.
“Where do you go, maid? I’ll not harm you. I need yer help.”
Garnith kept his voice even to calm the girl, but when Danielle stiffened in his arms, he knew she’d panicked. His huge arms wrapped around her petite waist and pulled her from her bike. Despite the surge of liquid heat the contact with her body sent rushing through his veins, he felt her terror, too. Using the heavy boots she wore to her best advantage, she fought like a wild creature kicking whatever body part her foot came in contact with. She’d slipped on her riding gloves before he grabbed her, and they were made from a material far sturdier than leather. Danielle balled her fists and used them as punishing weapons striking his jaw with a well-placed punch. He turned her loose, amazed at her strength and ability as a fighter.
She tried to gain her feet, but quickly, he again wrapped her in his grasp. This time she lay on her back with him atop her. Garnith watched Danielle draw a great breath to scream but covered her lips with his own to silence her, praying no one would happen by. He held her down until she quieted, subdued by the tussle and his embrace, then drew away to look at her face.
“Calm thyself, Danielle, I mean thee no harm.”
Greetings and a Happy Thanksgiving to ALL! I’ve redone my web site at www.sultrysummers.com Stop by and check it out! There are new excerpts and chapters for all my books, including my back list. So, you’ll get a fresh peek at not only the last two books released, Atlantis Vortex and Blood Of The Ruby Throne but also the two before, Submissions In Time and Tail Of The Dragon and those before. Over the next few days I’ll be posting excerpts from a selection of these books so stay tuned.
“Be thee gone—unto another time and place!” Llud’s voice echoed deep and loud against the mountains belying his frail, white-haired appearance. He raised his arms. The loose, wide sleeves of his fine robes fell on his shoulders over the bulge of strong biceps, further contradicting his ancient weak façade. He cast his curse.
Capable of human sight from one blood shot amber eye, the other eye appeared blind, covered by a white veil. His hazed optical deceived the simple folk. From this eye, he projected his psychic will, magnifying his powers through the obsidian crystal of the heavy staff held extended in his hand, transmitting his evil to battle his rival.
Violent gusts of wild fiery winds ripped at his heavy, talisman embroidered robes, whipping them around his body. His eye burned, his normal vision tinting red. He knew the eyeball glowed in its socket when called upon to strengthen his malevolent will. Despite the potency of his black magic and its effectiveness in his hated of his opponent, a previous act committed against a pure and innocent sorceress left a chink in his supernatural armor. In a flash of precognition, Llud realized he’d cast the last spell of this life.
Garnith, a brave and honorable knight, stood fearless of the physically diminutive but evil and powerful wizard. A changeling in his dragon form, Garnith used his huge wings to waft the winds toward the summit of the snow-topped mountain where the two battled. The force of Garnith’s mighty wings pounded the evil sorcerer with frozen blasts of air. Gusts of snow and ice made standing, almost impossible for his adversary, despite the wizard’s strong body.
Drawing a deep breath of frigid air, Garnith filled his mighty lungs. He exhaled and returned a blast of fire toward the malicious druid. His fiery expulsion of breath hit the effervescence of the wizard’s spell full force.
For a brief moment, the might of the two strengths met between them, dueling for magical supremacy. The mountain shook from the vigor of their anger. Light and fire from the dragon’s breath triggered sparks decreasing the strength of the iniquitous spell, lighting the night sky. The atmosphere around the mountain appeared to catch fire above them and neither emerged completely the victor. His fiery dragon’s expulsion curled around the force of the wizard’s curse. Flames licked at the gray visible energy of the lexis highlighting the spoken words in a manifestation of ancient runes symbols. Each magical symbol, though pierced by the heat of Garnith’s breath, retained a great amount of their influence and enveloped the dragon in a dull haze of green miasma.
On his honor, Garnith pledged to rid his ancestral village of the vile wizard posing as a priest of the new religion. Garnith witnessed his hellish breath engulf the wizard but heard the conditions of his curse moments before the shrieks of agony consumed his enemy. He knew with some satisfaction, the wizard was dead an instant before. Though as the warlock’s hex demanded, Garnith felt the wicked spell’s strange green murk engulf him and his journey began: far into the future and unto another place. He wasn’t sure what time, or for that matter, what place the old bastard had
compelled him, and under the circumstances, he could care less.
Causing death displeased Garnith. He took no pleasure in it, but this one’s demise he found gratifying. Llud’s death freed the village from his short, tyrannical rule, avenging the cruel, brutal death of Shannon, the woman Garnith loved and was to wed. She was a special, gentle maid, one whose lineage was as old as his own. Though young, she was the village healer, a masterful and powerful sorceress from a long line of shamans.
Their hand fasting was planned for two days hence on the summer solstice, a holiday for the entire village. With Shannon, he often found peace, lost in her sparkling blue eyes, and solace just being in her company, an escape from the violence of the deeds of his long, changeling life.
Garnith was away from their village less than a month when Llud appeared on an overcast and foggy morning. As matters grew worse, Shannon sent a messenger to him with a letter explaining the situation and how bad it had become.
An evil wizard, who calls himself Llud, has planted himself in our town’s square by the well. Daily he waits until a crowd gathers to preach and declare he was sent to be our village priest. Using his extensive powers, he deals cruelly with all who oppose him. Llud claims his powers are proof of his standing in the new religion and enjoys the misery he causes. I am not deceived but frightened. Speed your return to us. I resist him daily, my abilities grow weak.
Garnith was already on the road home when he received the message and quickened his pace. Entering the settlement, he found few people about where it was normally bristling with villagers. He was unable to find Shannon. Garnith didn’t understand why the villagers avoided him, as if terrified of speaking with him. They knew him, in both his forms, and had never feared him before. He was their lord and protector. One old man dared to tell him of the wizard, Llud, who pretended to be a priest of the new religion. Garnith thanked him and continued to search for Shannon. Exhausted, he finally found her, behind the altar in the glen. She had attempted to withstand Llud’s magic and unsupported, failed.
“By the gods!” Garnith swore upon finding her. He gathered her failing body close, trying to will some of his strength into her, hoping to save her. He could only comfort her the few moments before her death.
“I love you, my dragon-knight. I have since I was a child.” Shannon bestowed a sweet but weak smile on him. “I’ll come back, if the gods and goddess allow and find you, if you’re still here.”
“Ooh Shannon my only love….”
“Promise you’ll protect our people?” Shannon touched the tears on Garnith’s cheeks.
“I swear it!”
He kissed her lips as her breath left. Shannon lay limp in his arms. His betrothed was gone but a mote of her seemed trapped. He carried her body to his home and his mother who would see to her funeral rites.
Garnith swore to kill the cruel druid. His chivalry wouldn’t allow him to leave the simple peasants of the village unprotected and at the mercy of the fiendish wizard. His honor demanded revenge for Shannon’s death.
Now, nothing mattered. He’d freed the village, and there was satisfaction in it, but without Shannon, he didn’t care where he journeyed.
Struck by the wizard’s curse, while in his dragon form, Garnith was engulfed in a massive thunderstorm. Eerie lightning flashed, illuminating the arrangement of runes of the wizard’s spell. Formed into rune tunnel of a continuing, seemingly endless ring through which he was compelled to fly into eternity. His exhaustion grew great but meaningless, as was time. The rune tunnel allowed no quarter.
Danielle, riding her Ducati sport bike is ready to challenge a twisting, turning road known as Tail of the Dragon. Forced to stop because of a violent unpredicted storm she parks near the dam where the eleven mile stretch of road begins. But another challenge bursts from the weird, purple lightning storm in the form of a changeling dragon/knight.
Garnith, a changeling/dragon is locked in battle with an evil wizard while in his dragon form. Cursed by the evil warlock and sent unto another time and place as his flaming breath engulfs the wizard, Garnith emerges in the twenty-first century over Fontana dam in North Carolina. Swooping down to drink from the fresh water of the dam he accidently touches a power-line, and, injured begins to change. He manages to land on the overlook where Danielle has taken refuge. Garnith sloughs off his backpack before passing out.
Danielle is terrified but entranced with the creature changing before her eyes into a handsome, incredibly built, naked man. Drawn to the obviously injured man she opens his pack to find clothes, among other things.
Garnith wakes to see Danielle, dressed like a warrior in her colorful riding leathers, going though his pack. He catches the shirt she tosses to him while he enjoys the strange way Danielle is dressed. Where and when is this strange place the wizard has sent him?
Danielle and Garnith find chance has little to do with their meeting. Destiny has played a hand and soon both find the evil wizard has found his way into the future, in another life, to exact revenge on Garnith. The wizard discovers Garnith’s attraction to Danielle and will use her to his ends. Unless Garnith can stop him.
E- mail me at email@example.com with a comment on Blood Of The Ruby Throne and why you’d like a copy and I’ll chose one reader to received a copy.
High Lord Sarc is all Alpha Male – but when he is capture and held on a planet where women rule and are dominate – he must depend on his warrioress High Lady to rescue him…
Zera’s royal cruiser came out of light drive just outside their solar system at a distance considered respectful and non-aggressive. Within moments the long-range communications from Luitha was hailing them on their communications array.
“Greetings planet Luitha, this is Royal Star Cruiser Seti-Cronus One on a diplomatic rescue mission. High Lady Zera Thealana Dueta Cronus is onboard, and respectfully requests an audience with your queen.”
Communications went silent for long minutes. They received a return message moments before monitoring a number of smaller craft approaching. Zera found it difficult not to order her prize cruiser’s shields raised but didn’t wish to appear hostile. Instead, she held her breath, steadied her nerves, and remained in a neutral stance. She ordered all fighters manned, and though she waited on the command deck of her cruiser, Zera was ready to board her own fighter.
“Star Cruiser Seti-Cronus One, welcome to Luitha. You are invited to establish orbit around our world. Your high lady is welcome in the court of Queen Aquisha. When she is ready to transport down we will be honored to escort Her Majesty.”
“Thank you,” Zera herself answered. “I will be inbound in my cruiser momentarily, along with two escort ships.” Within five minutes she was spiraling down toward Luitha, an escort on each wing. Five escorts from the planet took up positions at comfortable and hospitable distances.
With the grace of a bird of prey, Zera set her ship down on the landing pad, accompanied by her two escorts, while the five Luitha fighters streaked overhead. Zera motioned Leila, who accompanied her in her ship, to follow her out.
“Remember Leila, you are no longer a slave and never should have been. Your mother was a noble woman from this world. Hold your head high. Be proud. You acted bravely under duress and saved my life and my world.”
Zera descended the two steps down from her ship. Her right hand, gloved, resting on the hilt of her sword, she comported herself with dignity. Leila proceeded as instructed. Zera’s escort fell in on both sides and a step behind, both male officers.
As she was ushered to the throne room by smartly, but sparsely uniformed male, well trained guards, a sudden hush fell on the Luitha court. Male guards in attendance in the court whispered to each other as some of the female courtiers of her court would. Though physically fit, and handsome, they seemed to be more decoration than protection.
Zera didn’t look to either side but straight ahead, her gaze on the Luitha Queen. At the foot of the raised throne, Zera stopped. She didn’t kneel, but bowed from the waist, to an equal, mirrored by Leila.
“Your Majesty Aquisha. I am High Lady Zera of Seti-Cronus and Alphxorn. May I present, Lady Leila.” Zera watched the queen’s face turn a visible shade whiter.
“My God, Xentra!” Queen Aquisha stood, laying her scepter aside and stepped down the three steps to where Leila stood. “Lady Leila, were you born on Seti-Cronus?”
“No my lady.”
Zera watched the girl. She could sense Leila’s timid voice threatened to reappear. She was frightened and trying to remain the proud princess Zera instructed her to be.
“Lady Leila is the daughter of the late Pirate Lord Kudious and a noble woman from this world. Finding her family for her is one of the reasons we have come. However the primary reason is to find my husband, Lord Sarc, High Lord of our world. His ship was thrown off course and he may have been injured by a blast set off by the pirate lord Kudious.”
“Lady Leila, was your mother’s name Xentra?” Aquisha asked.
“Yes, that was her name. Kudious killed her when I was six.”
“Lady Leila is heroine. She saved my life and our planets. As you may know, your Majesty, Kudious was an evil pirate. He was attempting to take over both our worlds. He mistreated his own daughter for many years. I am sorry to say, Leila witnessed him murder her mother,” Zera explained.
“You poor child!” Aquisha exclaimed and hugged the overwhelmed girl. “My dear, you must go with my physician.”
“I’m not sick!” Leila protested.
“No my dear, I am sure you aren’t. My physician will determine if you are my granddaughter, though I can look at you and know you are. You look like your beautiful mother, who was my heir before she was kidnapped.”
Zera, though paying close attention to what was happening between Leila and the distracted Queen, was also scanning the men for her husband. She didn’t see him. What she did see gave her room to worry. One of the women, obviously a high-ranking lady, stood next to the throne and stared ruthlessly at her. In her shifting gray eyes Zera judged the level of her character and saw a developing hatred directed at her, but more so at Leila.
“Lady Leila, go with Lady Aquisha’s physician, I am sure it will be for the best,” Zera assured the girl.
“Forgive me, Lady Zera, for being inattentive to your situation.” Lady Aquisha wiped the tears from her eyes. “A patrol squad did encounter such a ship three days ago. The poor man inside had amnesia and still does, but otherwise is in good physical condition.”
“I have brought a disk of our wedding ceremonies.” Zera presented it to Queen Aquisha. “This should prove his identity. Nevertheless, his ship’s I.D. codes should have identified him.”
“The ship was damaged, I assume by the same blast. The ship’s hull decal burnt away, all records inside destroyed by an electro-magnetic pulse. The disk you’ve provided will make him easier to identify. Possibly when he sees you, his memory will return.” Queen Aquisha turned to her aide and ordered the disk shown before the court.
While the disk was being readied, the woman Zera observed stepped forward. “My lady…I protest this, ah, action.” She addressed her sovereign without formalities and showed little respect for her queen, despite being dressed in a ranking military uniform.
“Lady Aluora, I find your lack of etiquette bordering on insubordination.” Aquisha’s voice harsh, she turned an angry glare toward the officer. “Why should you object?”
Aluora snapped to respectful attention. “The man has been claimed.” Queen Aquisha returned to her throne before she continued. “Please forgive the lack of manners of my eldest daughter and present…heir. My daughter, the Lady Aluora, is commander of my space guard and responsible for the rescue of the man we discuss. I don’t know how familiar you are with our world, Lady Zera, but on Luitha males are subordinate to women. Lady Aluora has claimed this man by right of capture. She wishes to take him as her third husband in hopes he will sire a child. Conversely, until his memory returns, this will not be possible. Of course if he is your spouse and high lord of your two worlds, she will have no right to him.” Aquisha looked at her errant daughter. “Aluora, I wish to know if the man was married before he arrived here. Play the disk. I wish to resolve this matter now.”
A life-size, holographic image of the nuptials of Zera and Sarc appeared, displayed on a cleared area of the throne room floor. Undoubted by any who’d seen the man in question, he was Lord Sarc who Aluora’s squad had rescued. Pensive silence hung in the air.
“A forgery I say!” Aluora’s brazen voice broke the charged stillness.
“Aluora! Why would Lady Zera do such a thing and how could she accomplish it? The man hasn’t been brought into this room. She has him on a pre-recorded disk.”
A side door burst open and Leila came running through it, followed by the physician and two Luithian guards, all with broad smiles on their faces. Leila hugged Zera. Oblivious of the situation, not realizing the seriousness of the affair she interrupted.
“Oh Zera,” she cried, all decorum forgotten. “I am the queen’s granddaughter.” Zera hugged the girl. Though her eyes were fixed over Leila’s shoulders, Zera watched Aluora and saw the transformation in her treacherous gray gaze change to pure hatred, directed at Leila. The intensity of her loathing numbed Zera and sent a chill of warning through her.
Queen Aquisha came down from her seat and tenderly hugged the girl, barely able to control her tears. “Despite all my powers as queen, I couldn’t find, or save Xentra. I’ve grieved all these years. Now I have something of her returned. Thank you Lady Zera.” Aquisha’s words were softly spoken for Leila and Zera’s ears alone.
The queen’s physician bowed. “Your Majesty, her mother is without question Lady Xentra. Proof of her male linage will be more difficult without a DNA sample from her father. Lady Leila has informed me he is dead, his body still on Seti-Cronus—”
“Dr. Kranous we will speak of this later. Another matter is before the court now.” Queen Aquisha excused her doctor. She bowed and stepped back into the collective court. Aquisha returned to her throne.
Leila’s gaze followed Zera’s cold stare to Aluora. “You…” Leila asked, “are my aunt Aluora?”
“Yes Lady Leila, she is. For now there is another matter to be addressed.” Zera looked into the girl’s eyes meaningfully.
“I understand, my lady.” Leila stepped back, her stare fixed on Aluora. Zera had seen that look in Leila’s stare before, directed at Kudious just before she killed him.
“Am I to understand, Lady Aluora, you are accusing me of falsifying an official record? You are tainting my honor by saying I am lying!” Zera asked, her hand resting on her sheathed sword’s hilt, her voice cold and solemn.
“Hold!” Queen Aquisha commanded. “Lady Aluora, I propose you should reconsider what you have said while it can still be retracted gracefully as a misunderstanding. For if you continue, you must comprehend where it will lead. I will not go to war over this issue with a system of worlds we are at peace with, for a man you do not have legal claim too.”
Aluora started to speak.
“Hold I say! Bring this man forward so Lady Zera may see him.”
For five minutes while they waited for Sarc’s arrival, Zera and Aluora watched each other.
Zera, her stare fixed on Aluora, listened, the court alive with nervous chatter. She overheard pieces of conversations. The Luithian people knew of her worlds. Her reputation as a skilled swordswoman preceded her and some commented on the sword she wore. News of their troubles with Kudious’ pirates and the subsequent marriage of she and Sarc hadn’t reached them until today. Zera’s intuition warned her, combined with the bits of gossip she overheard, that Aluora knew, and had been in collusion with Kudious.
Aluora flinched when Zera’s perusal intensified. A small commotion signaled the arrival of the male in question, escorted by two female guards.
Zera’s heart leapt when Sarc entered the room. She had to stop herself from running to her husband and embracing him. Protocol stopped her, and his manner shocked Zera as did his garb. Suppressing her relief at seeing him alive, next she had to quell the urge to laugh at his outfit.
Sarc wore a simple leather loin belt, the bulk of his perfect body displayed. Zera wondered if the lack of clothing embarrassed him. On the other hand, Zera rather liked it. A leather cup covered his genitals, held in place by a thin leather strap tied around his waist and supported by a thong between his butt cheeks. He stood, as instructed, in the center of the throne room, his head lowered, and his gaze down. His behavior was not that of the commanding High Lord of Seti-Cronus and Alphxorn.
Zera assumed an imposing and dominate posture. With both hands on her hips, she boldly walked around him. His head remained lowered but he glanced at her. His golden gaze seared her heart. Zera knew his amnesia was an act. Their minds touched. She stopped before him, and roughly raised his chin to gaze into his eyes, but his remained looking down.
“Look at me!” she commanded. Their gazes met.
She smiled confidentially. “It’s him! This is my husband.” Zera’s voice betrayed her excitement at having found her love. Her words were defined, indisputable so there was no misunderstanding. “Sar—” she began to address him by name.
Aluora pushed through a few members of the court and brazenly strode up to Zera before she could address him by name.
“I say you lie!” Aluora slapped Zera in the face.
Out of the corner of her eye, Zera saw Sarc flinch but he kept his head down.
Zera’s face didn’t move from the slap despite Aluora’s strike being hard, leaving a reddened hand print. Zera affixed Aluora with a hard stare
Zera’s gaze shifted to Queen Aquisha. “I came to Luitha to find my husband and brought unquestionable proof. I came in peace, and brought your long lost granddaughter. Lady Leila is a welcomed and honored member of my court, on my world. She is considered part of the royal family, a brave and valiant heroine. Now I am insulted, and my honor questioned by your…” she looked at Aluora like she was vermin, “…heir?”
Zera’s stare became so intense, her manner so coolly commanding, no one noticed she’d removed the glove from her sword hand. She looked back at Lady Aluora. “Very well then,” Zera snarled low and dangerously, striking Aluora across her face with the glove hard enough to mark the woman’s coarse complexion. “The challenge was offered and I have accepted. Do we settle this now, or will you appoint a future time, your Majesty?” Zera asked, still looking Aluora in the eyes. Aluora flinched and looked away. Zera suspected Aluora didn’t know, but by doing so she had already lost the duel.
“Lady Zera is within her rights, Lady Aluora. Daughter or not, heir or not, you will meet Lady Zera at eight in the morning on the field of honor to decide this issue. Lady Zera, my herald will escort you to the field. This will not be a duel to the death. Do you understand, Lady Aluora?” Queen Aquisha demanded of her daughter, “First blood will be sufficient or until one is disarmed.”
“By your command, Majesty,” Zera answered. She snapped her boots together to bow from the waist. Though the instructions were given to Aluora, Zera gave them credibility and respect.
Aluora, however, didn’t answer promptly and the queen pressed her again. “Aluora!”
“Yes, my Queen!”
“Guards, take the man in question away. Quarter him in my private barracks. Because Lady Aluora has challenged the validity of the disk and Lady Zera’s claim this matter of honor will be settled on the field of honor. Regardless of positive proof, Aluora has the right of challenge. Until the matter is settled the man will be held in neutral territory. He is not to be taken back to Lady Aluora’s. And by the stars, give the man some clothes… Aluora we will discuss you presenting him in such a manner later,” Aquisha rebuked her. Zera watched Aquisha ignore Aluora’s sharp glare.
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Wedding Night excerpt – adult post
Sarc left the celebration soon after Zera’s departure. He found his appetite lacking. Concern for his bride gave him an unsettled feeling. Zera hid her nervousness well but not from him. He doubted it was evident to many. Her demeanor was cool and composed when she retired. Not wishing to stress her further by going through his own night ritual in their chambers, he prepared for their wedding night elsewhere.
Careful to open the doors to their chambers in silence, when Sarc entered he was assaulted by the sensation of emptiness. Zera was gone. Panic washed over him. Sarc felt the lack of her presence to the depth of his soul and he realized how much the proud warrioress meant to him.
Has she flown? Has fear of our first evening together overwhelmed her mighty courage?
He caught sight of the open garden doors. In silence Sarc walked out into the cool night air leaden with moisture, so different from the dry warmth of Alphxorn. He hoped Zera hadn’t discovered the surprise he ordered prepared for their first night together. Looking to his left, just at the edge of a garden enclave, he saw Zera sitting. Her back was to the doors and she stared at Alphxorn.
Going back inside, he poured two glasses of the wine left for their enjoyment and returned to the gardens.
* * * *
Zera felt a presence beside her, a glass of wine appeared and she looked up into her husband’s eyes. Their gazes joined for a time, each measuring the other, much as they’d done in battle. Zera sighed, accepting the glass Sarc presented. He joined her.
“It’s cold out here.”
“Yes,” Zera managed and drank the wine straight down.
“You’re trembling.” Sarc placed his arm around her shoulders and drew her close to warm her.
Zera looked at him. Again their battle flashed through her mind. She knew she would lose this one too. Overwhelmed by the emotion his presence evoked, she wasn’t able to still the desire she didn’t comprehend. Zera bolted, running a short distance down the nearest path. Sarc’s chuckle stopped her. She turned, ashamed. He stood, his hands on his hips, regarding her, a slight tilt to his head, a lustful grin on his lips.
Unable to endure his blazing stare, Zera looked down. Accustomed to challenges, taught from early childhood to meet them straight on, Zera had yet to fail, until now. Positive she looked foolish, dressed in a satin negligee, shod in satin-heeled slippers, and running from her new husband and lord.
Some fearless warrior…and a queen at that!
Moments passed until his hand was under her chin lifting her face to his. “So vicious in battle…so afraid of love?” His voice was gentle and sincere, he didn’t tease her.
Zera trembled but not from cold. Heat flowed through her body fueling an inextinguishable fire. She closed her eyes and Sarc swept her feet from beneath her, holding her snugly in his arms. Such security overwhelmed her, his lips closed over hers, drawing her breath away with her trembling, replacing it with fierce desire. Zera laid her head against his chest. She prayed he was the man he appeared to be. Her attraction to him wasn’t just to his magnificent body but went deeper, to his principles. Conflict raged in her soul. The security found in his arms must be real.
At the center of Zera’s gardens, Sarc had ordered, as a surprise, the construction of a large, multi-room tent. A custom on Alphxorn when a couple wed, their first night was spent in a special pavilion. Comfortable and private, a tradition reminiscent of their short nomadic heritage when their world was less civilized. Sarc carried her to his private lair. Zera opened her eyes when he laid her on the finest white linen-sheeted bed. Startled by the tent, she dismissed the change in setting, luxurious as it was. Sarc’s gaze was on her as he slipped out of his robe and joined her.
She watched the candlelight play over his sun-bronzed muscles, not noticing when he pulled the robe’s belt from around her waist. The fire from his burning stare was like a tangible flame sweeping over her. Both sides slipped open, sliding away from the slick material of the revealing gown clinging to her body. Zera closed her eyes, his prisoner, at passion’s mercy. Tender lips caressed her face. His strong hands gently pushed the robe from her shoulders. Again, she was assaulted by the unfamiliar feeling of being diminutive. In some way in need of his protection, only this man held such power over her. Her roaming gaze was drawn into his intent stare.
Unwilling to overlook the doubt he saw in her cobalt eyes, Sarc asked, “What thoughts haunt you this night, wife? I would have no secrets between us?”
Zera glimpsed his hands, to return his stare and become entranced. “When we dueled and you stood over me as victor…you bade me decide my fate and that of my people.” She dared delve deeper into his gaze, to look into his soul, searching. “I wondered what it would be like to be at the mercy…of your hands.”
“Tonight you will know,” Sarc assured her in a voice rich with passion and sincerity. His lips found her neck, his hands caressed over the satin covering her, touching places no other man dared. Torturously slower than he’d pulled the belt from the robe, he drew the cord from the gown. He didn’t watch the gown open. Instead he looked into her eyes. Unhurriedly his gaze fell on her partly hidden nakedness.
No man had beheld her body before, not unclothed, and Zera wondered how Sarc perceived her. The thought she might be lacking in some manner hadn’t occurred or mattered to her before this night. Now that notion added to her already growing anxiety. The urge to flee occurred to her again, yet her pride kept her from running. Her dignity forbade her from begging for clemency she wasn’t sure she wanted.
The hands she feared proved gentle and seemed to hold magical enchantment. Where he touched, Zera became a part of him. Feelings of captivated intensity, stronger than the emotions after they dueled, returned with devastating force. She gasped. Liquid fire flowed inside her innocent, virgin sex. Her breath quickened.
Sarc’s kisses drained her reluctance. His caresses smoothed her fears. Bold, yet tender hands fondled her voluptuous breasts, their large nipples hard and sensitive, his thumbs massaging around them. She moaned from the ecstasy.
Sarc whispered into her ear. “Wife, do you fear me, or do you fear the pleasure I bring you?”
Before she could draw enough breath to answer, he drew her ear lobe into his mouth sending shivers down her body, then moving to kiss her neck and nibble down to tease her nipples with his tongue. She didn’t know what she did. Her instincts drove her. Zera entwined her fingers into his heavy hair holding him to her breast, so fierce were the sensations of his mouth as he shared like attention on each.
“I…” She drew a ragged, passion-intensified breath. “I fear the loss of control to you…my lord.” She managed a latent answer and groaned from the emotions pulsing through her.
His hands caressed her slim hips and over her abdomen, passing over her nest of blonde hair, lighter than the long strands on her head. Zera, intent on his lovemaking, jumped, feeling the heat of his hand move over the area where all the sensations centered. She groaned. Embarrassed, but under the spell from his loving attention, she didn’t stay his touch. She never perceived such delights existed. Her hands caressed his tight muscles, moving over his back and strayed down over his buttocks. In a separate, dim part of her mind, she was amazed at her own tenacity. Sarc’s mouth left her breasts, the nipples cool in the night air. His kisses moved over her abdomen to tease her navel.
“Sarc, what are you.…”
He stopped and their gazes joined. His stare full of passion and lust but something more tender too. She knew he wouldn’t be denied.
“Who rules here?” he growled but with a smirk continued.
Her trepidation was fleeing and turned into an uncontrollable demand from a body she thought she knew from hours of training. That was the warrior Zera. This was the woman and a stranger. Under his mastery, her breathing in short gasps, the feelings propelled her to a height of pleasure she hadn’t known—and finding the peak, teetered on the edge of oblivion, she cried out her rapture.
With a triumphant smile on his lips, Sarc kissed her lips and moved over her. His body-weight alarmed her and Zera tried to move away. Sarc gently drew her back to his embrace
“Your evening is yet begun, Zera, you won’t escape so easily.” He gazed down into her enraptured face. “Tonight my love, you learn who your lord and master truly is.” His look held sincere love as he stared down into her eyes. Despite his tender gaze and gentle manners, the threat of her master, caused a tremble of rebelliousness to rage and sweep through her for a passing moment. “You even now fear me Zera?” Sarc asked somewhat incredulous. “Or do you fear any master?”
She didn’t answer him, the euphoria of his lovemaking taking her.
Zera’s hands, though shy, became bolder, to move over his tight, flat belly to the thick hairs surrounding his ready manhood, eager to complete their union. Her blue eyes, turned to deeper cobalt, widened at his mass and size, and a quaver seized her. Zera had seen men naked before. She knew Sarc was a masterful lord in that area. But never had she seen a man aroused.
“My lord!” Zera exclaimed in a soft frightened voice but his lips took hers before she could say more. His loving arms surrounded her.
“Zera,” Sarc faltered, his breathing labored. “My love, I know you are unaccustomed to a man’s control.” He held her close, not allowing her to escape him. “For now, let me show you how pleasurable what has begun between us can be. Relax… Permit me to guide you where you’ve never been.” Sarc placed tender kisses on her breasts and soon she grew accustomed to his more familiar touch and to his dominance. He relaxed a leg between hers.
A moan slipped past Zera’s lips. Sarc’s hands caressed her, willingly under his control. Moving slow though it took all of his restraint, he whispered to her, “I want this night to be blissful for you. To be remembered as heavenly…I want you! I wanted you the moment I saw you, I could see your grief. I didn’t want to duel with you. I wanted to make sweet love to you and comfort you…to hold you so nothing would ever hurt you again.” His words whispered, heated, and passionate.
“I am yours milord. You are again the victor and have conquered me!” Zera answered, her breathing ragged in complete surrender.
“Say my name, wife!”
“Sarc,” she whispered.
“Zera, I hold no command over your head this night. Tell me you want me. Shall I stop until we know each other better?”
“No, Sarc, please,” she sobbed. “Don’t leave me. I…I want you!” Zera’s arms pulled him closer. “Sarc, I’m afraid, I’ve never been afraid before, never in my life.”
Sarc’s compassionate loving gaze caressed her with a flaming amber blaze of passion’s fire. “I know, Zera, don’t be. I’ll be gentle.”
His arms tightened deliciously about her, holding her close Sarc began to merge with her body. Her passage, blocked by her virginity, seemed to cause him a slight discomfort. Zera joined his grunt with a low groan of her own discomfort. With a little more pressure, he opened her passage.
Zera’s world spun, caught in an explosion of ecstasy she never knew was possible. Such exquisite ecstasy turned into a searing pain that washed through her when he entered her body and plunged her into a pit of panic, a cry escaped her.
“Shh, my Zera, just once my love, never again, only pleasure now,” Sarc told her, kissing her face, his lips possessed hers and the pain faded, replaced by a fullness she couldn’t believed she’d lived without. A world of elation found between two people truly mated, body and soul, opened before her.
His light kisses rained over her face to pause for a moment and his lip took hers. Their tongues fenced as if they dueled. He stopped for a moment to allow her body to adjust to his. Their bodies joined, their hearts throbbed as one. Their union completed, Sarc held her tight, his hands eased her fears. She relaxed, finding his control not frightening but reassuring, a feeling of safety unknown. With measured care and a slow pace he began to propel them into a world of euphoria. Sensations of delight built inside her as he plunged into her body, erasing any remembrance of discomfort. He created a spreading rapture of consuming titillating sweetness. She became part of him, lost and helpless, under his control. He touched her in places which seemed to belong more to him than her. Her body was exposed to him, yet more, her soul. Could she ever defy or deny him? Would he forever protect her?
Her body moved with his. Zera found herself in a place of hazy, intense rapture. Already she’d experienced so much, it seemed impossible to go further but Sarc propelled her to a place so high and distant even their fastest starships couldn’t voyage. It was their place, and together they’d found paradise. She cried out her release, again, as if a dam burst, not caring who heard. Zera’s hand touched his face. His gaze and hers joined, and in his eyes she saw that his world spun too, in ecstasy. Zera drifted off to sleep, her face radiant with contentment.
* * * *
Despite the ferocious warrioress he battled so few hours past, Zera was, in truth a sensuous and tantalizing woman. Sarc gazed down at her in sleep and gathered her closer. His heart hurt for the lack of her company. He envied her dreams. Had Zera refused to marry him, he would never have found the barbarity to carry out his threats of cruelty toward her. He loved her. With care not to wake her, he kissed her lips.
“You wondered what it would be like to be at the mercy of my hands, Zera,” Sarc told his sleeping wife. “Now you know. I couldn’t have hurt you. It was all a bluff, my love.” Sarc held Zera close, surrounded in her scent until sleep wrapped them both in dreams.
I’ll be back in a bit with more excerpts from Blood Of The Ruby Throne and a few from Atlantis Vortex! Its dinner time in Sultry’s house. For now, go to my new web site, under my new web address at www.sultrysummers.com and click around for more information and read some of the sample chapters from my latest releases and from my back list too.
AND THE DUEL CONTINUES…
Teriana watched in awed silence. She had never witnessed her sister fight a duel except in a practice match. Though she was confident in her sister’s skills, butterflies still fluttered in her stomach. This duel would determine her future and that of Seti-Cronus’. Her gaze fixed on the battling pair, she moved away from the fray, not wishing to become a distraction. She found herself in the arms of a young and attractive Alphxorn captain. Even though she was terrified at first, the captain’s strong hands sent her blood racing.
Of the same mold as Zera, though untrained, Teriana attempted to relieve the captain of his sword. Her hand found the hilt of his weapon and managed to have it half-drawn before he restrained her in his muscular arms. His larger hand covered hers, stilling her endeavor. A stern look from him stilled future plans of action, but further warmed her body.
With the realization the captain meant her no harm, but instead to move her away from the conflict between his sovereign and hers, Teriana relaxed in his arms and allowed his protection. She was already conscious his touch was both pleasant and arousing. Her face burned from the comprehension of his desire that lit his fierce gaze, glowering down into hers. More experienced at romance than her older sister, she leaned against the captain in a coy manner. She might need to use her feminine prowess to her advantage, if escape became necessary.
Zera and Sarc’s fighting drew Teriana’s attention back to the duel. The sound of fine, tempered Triplat-steel rang loud in near perfect rhythm as their swords clashed. Teriana observed the powerful vibration of each strike flow into the combatant’s hand and arm, but appeared unnoticed by them. Zera’s sword hand was bare. Generally her sister fought wearing a glove. Lord Sarc’s gloved sword-hand allowed him a better grip, and reduced the vibrations, giving him an advantage. Teriana caught her bottom lip between her teeth with concern. The two fighters’ stares seemed locked together. Neither aware of anyone else in the room. Their universe consisted of each other. Each parried the other’s thrusts as if choreographed. Occasionally one would outmaneuver the other and the reverberations of their swords echoed the change. Zera’s skirt didn’t seem to hinder her movement, but added grace to her swirls and dodges. Teriana suppressed a gasp. Sarc’s blade sliced the feminine fabric of her sister’s dress in a downward pass. The slash allowed Zera greater ease of movement as she turned in a sudden spinning maneuver, exposing her slender legs well above her knees. Teriana observed they were well matched for their duel. The two met at the crossed hilts of their swords, and paused. In a test of strength, and it seemed a test of wills.
* * * *
They were face to face, isolated in their battle despite the enlarging crowd in the room. Zera’s strength held against her opponent’s at the crossed hilts of their weapons. Sarc’s nostrils flared. It seemed he stole all the air, leaving little for her. Zera faltered, for the first time affected by a masculine scent. She paled and wavered from the new sensation. Sarc gazed ruthlessly down into her face, and desire burned in the fire of his stare. She took a deep breath, her vigor returned, energized by the battle, and aroused by his nearness.
Breaking the spell between them, a young page came through the door between the anti-chamber and throne room. Sarc and Zera pushed away from each other. Zera swung her blade meeting Sarc with a hard, firm cut. He stepped back forcing the page back out. Zera’s aggressive assault continued and drove Sarc through the portal up the dais to the Crystal Throne over which they fought for possession. Swords flashed in overhead slashes ringing in a steady cadence, broken by an occasional low counter slice.
Aware Sarc’s gaze and concentration was fixed on her, Zera studied his style, judging his next move. This was a test of techniques, and skill, as much as strength.
Zera and Sarc duel progressed to the top of the dais, the throne between them. Zera’s weapon drew first blood, leaving a nasty slice on the forearm of Sarc’s sword arm. Sarc’s vest was splashed red from the slash and blood streaked his arm, but he acted unhindered. The rich cloth cushions of the Crystal Throne were removed when not in use, allowing a deposit of his blood on its smooth seat.
Much to Zera’s chagrin the slash served to strengthen and provoke Sarc. With a devilish grin, he became the aggressor and renewed his attack. In the many duels she’d fought, Zera had never experienced such ferocity and intensity in an opponent’s eyes. In his stare she saw desire, but not the wish for her death she was accustomed to seeing from a foe. His fervor made her blood run hotter, and her body craved his. Their gazes locked, she swallowed hard.
Her breathing grew labored. Not from exertion but from passion, an emotion she knew nothing about, and found overwhelming. Zera hadn’t noticed, in the zeal of battle and the flood of new, devastating emotions, her sword grew heavy.
She chanced a glance at the throne room and confirmed a small crowd of nobles stood in shocked silence. With a second fleeting look, she glimpsed Alphxorn guards in each exit. Seti-Cronus guards were suspiciously absent.
“Zera!” Sarc glowered, pressing his attack. “It doesn’t have to be this way. Marry me!”
“No!” Zera put all her strength into her parry, refusing to use both hands. She was aware her sword grew weighty after she sliced Sarc’s forearm. Her mother’s warning rang in her head louder than the clash of their blades.
If the blade should draw the blood of your true mate, it will become too heavy to lift with one hand.
Zera fought on, pushing the legend and the recent vision to the back of her mind. She refused to believe this man was her mate, but feared the haunting intuition was true.
“When I have beaten you, will your men honor your defeat and leave my world?” Zera taunted. Her sword so heavy she longed to use both hands, her arm aching.
Sarc laughed roughly. “You are mine, Zera. It’s a matter of time until you are at my feet. I cannot allow you to win. After I release your military from tranq-sleep, will your military swear their allegiance to me?” His cold smile froze Zera’s heart and the fire in his gaze melted it. Her steps became unsure.
* * * *
Zera’s stamina seemed inexhaustible. Sarc must overpower her in the duel or be forced to kill her. His spies on Seti-Cronus advised him of her abilities with the enigmatic sword handed down to her from her mother, a renowned swordswoman. He couldn’t allow her to see any mercy, compassion, or weakening in his determination. With longing in his heart to hold her and take away her pain, he maintained a fierce façade.
On they fought. Sarc knew he must overpower her in the duel. A thing he now grasped he couldn’t do. The thought of piercing Zera’s beautiful body, ending her precious life, made him ill. He loved her.
Watching Zera, he saw signs she was weakening. Since slashing his forearm, Zera had difficulty holding her sword. After she’d drawn his blood, her sword seemed to become heavy. With a skilful maneuver learned from an old sword master, he judged her declining timing and caught the hilt of Zera’s sword, flipping it from her hand. In performing the trick, her hand was sliced, numbing it. The tactic caused her sword to land, and stick point down in the polished wood floor on which the throne rested.
From the intensity of Zera’s assault and the sudden loss of her sword, she stumbled. She caught herself on the throne’s seat, and sank to the floor, her breathing heavy. Blood ran from the cut on her hand onto the seat of the throne, unnoticed, but near the pool of Sarc’s blood.
Defeat was unknown to Zera and Sarc saw disbelief in her eyes. Zera gasped air, disarmed and at his mercy. She faced possible death without panic, but glancing at the people of her court. He saw her flinch. Fear for their lives and that of her sister passed over her features like a specter. He watched her trying to regain her strength and composure enough to stand. She stilled when the cold, Triplat-steel of his blade near her throat. Her gaze followed the length of his sword to meet his. He didn’t see shock or surprise in her cold stare as he held his sword so close. As victor, he’d won the right. In her steady gaze Sarc saw Zera’s expectation she might join her brother. She chanced a fleeting glance at her sister, Teriana, the sixteen-year-old princess.
Sarc had reports of how, hours earlier, the princess had sworn to fulfill her duties should something befall Zera. Teriana stood on the side watching with large alarm-filled eyes, restrained by an Alphxorn captain. His brother, Phorx, with his arms wrapped snug around her slender waist.
Zera returned her full attention to her conqueror, him.
“You have won…my Lord Sarc.” Zera submitted.
He noticed she trembled and wondered if she considered her fate with him more frightening than death. Possibly, she felt death might be easier.
He guessed Zera was naive of the view she presented. Her slit skirt exposed her muscled and shapely long legs, his scrutiny caressed those perfect twins downward and for the first time he realized…she wore no shoes!
Sarc’s scrutiny moved upward over her pulsating body, taking possession of Zera’s gaze in a moment of amused amazement. The revelation served to bring his attention back to her wide, anxious eyes. Aware a lustful smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and softened his fierce expression he didn’t try to suppress it.
Intent on exercising his rights as victor, he leisurely took full measure of Zera, surveying his prize. He feasted his eyes on her chest, still heaving from their long duel, gleaming with sweat trickling down between swells of her rounded cleavage. Sarc ogled her freely. Zera raised her chin, her gaze showing her anger at his perusal. Sarc was impressed. Even in defeat, her spirit sustained her pride.
She had fought better and with more style than any man he’d faced with a sword. Sarc admired her courage. With her beautiful face flushed from exertion, Sarc reminded himself not to allow his passionate and protective instincts to sway him.
By the moons of both worlds, I long to carry her to the nearest bedchamber…now!
Perhaps he should claim her as a Slave of the Victor, allowed in both cultures. His gaze intensified, and he reminded himself of his commitment to the agreed-upon strategy.
They stared into each other’s eyes for long moments, the silent crowd below them watching from the throne room floor, forgotten. Emphasizing his dominance, Sarc looked down the length of his sword into the stare of the High Lady of Seti-Cronus lying defeated at his feet. He had no idea of the intense passion and fire revealed in his stare.
“Now, for the choice!” Sarc whispered for her ears alone. His voice further bared his desire. “Marry me. Retain your position on your world and gain it on mine. Your people will join mine. We will again be one. Our children will rule this system as it was meant to be.” He paused, and the sword moved a fraction closer, the cold composite of the blade just touching her delicate skin.
His tone grew into a whispered inferno. “Refuse me, and become my very personal slave.” Sarc’s lust seared through his words, to divulge the depth of his raw desire. Watching her, he saw a sudden flush of innocent abashment brighten her battle-heated face, confirming his spies’ account of her virtue. “Your people will lose their world. It will exist to serve mine. You will exist to serve me. Our children will be conceived with the screams of your dying nobles in your ears.” His intent clear, he watched her face turn pale. Sarc pressed her cruelly, leaning another fraction closer, “And Zera, we will have many children to rule this system. Either way my lady, you are now mine, as is your world.”
Sarc watched her eyes, reading Zera’s thoughts. She was in turmoil. Sarc again noted her trembling, but doubted it was from fear, maybe from exhaustion and the over-stimulation of the past days. She looked at his hands. Was she questioning their mercy, or perhaps their brutality? Zera looked back into his eyes. He met her gaze unflinchingly, without looking or turning away.
Perhaps she considers my commitment to my word.
“Time to choose, Zera!” Sarc snapped in a quick, low growl. He could see an emotion he was sure no one had ever seen before in her exquisite face. Panic!
Excerpt One – Zera and Sarc Finally Meet. She refused Sarc’s proposal of marriage by his ambassador and bid him to bring the proposition himself – but that was before the death of the High Lord of her world, her brother’s murder…now she rules
Outside the main double entrance doors to the anteroom a thunderous disturbance disrupted their tranquility. Zera jolted out of her trance and assumed an alert posture. She turned toward the commotion, amazed when the doors burst open. Her bodyguards spilled through from the entrance in a defensive manner.
Training and battle reactions had become instinct. Zera grabbed her sword from the nearby table, drew it from the sheath, tossed the sheath aside and pushed her less experienced sister behind her.
Her people were subdued by mass numbers, some down with injuries. She was amazed none were dead, and it appeared the invaders took care not to kill or cause serious injuries. Zera stood braced to meet the lord she knew would follow the men who forced the doors. Men in uniforms she recognized. They weren’t pirates. Pirates didn’t wear matching, freshly-pressed attire, their dress best. Zera’s blood surged hot with anger.
* * * *
Sarc strode through the door. His sword was sheathed and un-bloodied. He hoped it to keep it that way. Confident of his dominance of the circumstances, he surveyed the room. With deliberate purpose, he avoided looking at Zera until he read the situation. Zera’s well-trained bodyguards were subdued and posed no threat. They had been taken by surprise, overwhelmed by numbers, and Lord Sarc’s men held them impotent at sword point. Sarc, relieved more sophisticated weapons hadn’t been needed, glanced at his second in command, nodding at him to carry on. When he was satisfied all was as planned, his gaze settled on Zera.
Now secure in his control of Seti-Cronus, regardless of the outcome of his confrontation with their high lady, Sarc appraised her. Zera raised her chin in obvious defiance of his scrutiny.
He saw she was unaccustomed to being so evaluated, offense at his inspection clear in her reddened eyes. Her entrancing blue eyes showed signs of weeping mingled with exhaustion obvious in the dark circles beneath them.
Sarc, Victor by Conquest of Seti-Cronus, had Zera’s military under his control and was aware she was unconscious of the fact. Maintaining a stern countenance, he could ill afford to show any empathy for this magnificent woman, not yet. Despite the affects of her predicament on his sympathies, he kept his compassion in check. Sarc held his features impassive and cold.
She stood ready for battle, her sword grasped tight in her hand. Yet her lips seemed to beckon a kiss her, tempting him, slightly parted in surprise. Sarc’s gazed drifted from her face, and he squelched the urge to lose his fingers in her heavy blonde hair.
Compared to Zera’s true beauty, the pictures and stories of her loveliness proved unworthy. He remembered her picture on his desk. Sarc’s gaze swept over her again. He wet his lips without realizing, observing she didn’t flinch away but met his stare without fear.
Does she fear anything?
She wore a gown, and was unprepared for combat so femininely attired. In her grief, he assumed she had dressed for comfort. All the pictures of her flashed through his memory, not one of her in a dress.
Sarc was aware of Zera’s skill as a warrior. He didn’t expect her to surrender her throne without a fight, but wanted to avoid bloodshed, especially hers. He refused to resign himself to the possibility he would have to kill her and marry her much younger sister. Something he refused to do, she was a child. Sarc hoped Teriana and his younger brother Phorx would find each other compatible and double seal the throne. He wanted Zera as his wife, at the very least, his mate. If she wouldn’t concede to marriage, she would fill the role of his concubine. Her death must be avoided at all costs, but he feared he might not be able to. Zera’s skill with a sword was legendary on both worlds.
* * * *
Zera needed no introduction. Then again she was astonished at Lord Sarc’s insolent audacity, entering her palace without invitation or petition.
How did he and his men get past planetary security?
Zera stood stunned. Sarc’s presence dominated the room. Like a living force, his charisma focused on her, surrounding her. His authoritative personality threatened to draw all defiance from her already drained spirit. Instead, her fiery temper flared at his bold affront, and she was incensed he would come to her as a conqueror at this time. But no training prepared her to meet such a man.
Reports furnished by her intelligence community detailing Lord Sarc were useless under-estimates of the true measure of both his physical stature and natural persona. A man’s height had heretofore been meaningless to her, even in hand-to-hand combat. The High Lord of Alphxorn, taller than her by almost a full head, seemed to tower over her, weakening her resistance. She dismissed such an unfamiliar wave of frailty that washed through her, refusing to believe he could in any way be the source. She attributed it to the strain of the past two days and squelched the rush of unfathomable emotion he evoked deep inside her innocent body. Dismissing such foreign sensations, she credited them to grief and the trauma of recent events.
Zera leveled her gaze and appraised him as she would any enemy she prepared to battle. Sarc’s dark hair showed a hint of auburn accenting his strong and masculine face. A firm jaw and chin further indicated the measure of sound character. She gazed a second longer to glimpse past the stern countenance he portrayed. His demeanor suggested a man of courage and honor. Still, a hint of arrogance slipped through.
Large, heavy-lashed, fierce amber eyes held her gaze captive from the distance of the room with little effort. She felt his ogle explore her body, which was untouched by a man’s hand. His stare caused a tremor to flow through her, and she knew his touch from across the room as sure as he if had caressed her. Her mouth went dry.
What power does this man hold over me?
Zera sized-up Sarc’s dress. He hadn’t come to her attired as a warrior, but as High Lord. Beneath a golden-hued cape fastened at his left shoulder by the Royal Triplat emblem of Alphxorn he wore a double-breasted, leather vest giving his arms freedom, should he need it. She appreciated the garment accented his toned and tanned, muscular shoulders and biceps, the reflection of dedication to hours of physical training. Zera recalled reports of his bravery in battle, defending the autonomy of his leadership. A flush warmed her face. She was embarrassed, unaccustomed to admiring a man’s physique. He crossed his arms over his broad chest in regard of her. His stern countenance wavered. A slight upturn of his generous lips seemed to mock her reaction. Her temper flared hotter. Zera scowled and concentrated her attention. With a deep breath, she prepared for the duel she was about to fight, fearing this might be the first one she would lose. He stood with confidence, his powerful legs clothed in snug suede breaches. Sarc’s presence and self-assured poise aroused Zera beyond her understanding. Her face grew hotter—abashed at her own tenacity, appraising him. She never so measured a man before. Resisting her reaction to the High Lord of Alphxorn, gripping her sword a little tighter, and pressing the hilt into her ungloved hand she positioned her stance to attack.
“How dare you!” Zera demanded in a low growl. Infuriated he would interrupt their period of bereavement.
“You bade me bring my proposal in person, did you not, Zera?” Sarc retorted in a low, rich voice that challenged her decision of his proposal. Their gazes clashed before their swords.
“Lord Sarc, your presence at this time is unwarranted. As I am sure you know. Your timing is terrible. Or is it?” Zera sneered. “What of the apology from your Ambassador? It would seem you should be mourning your own dead from this tragedy. We paid them high honors, as it appeared they gave their lives attempting to assist our warriors. Were we mistaken in such an assumption? Or were they complicit in our people’s deaths?” Zera’s stare didn’t waver, nor did Sarc’s at the accusations she threw at him. Despite the clarity of the recorded transmissions, she made her reservations known.
* * * *
What a woman! She has no equal!
Sarc read grief in her eyes and knew she couldn’t mask it, but her spirit amazed him. Her sword was gripped so tight in her bare hand her knuckles were white, the blade lowered, but ready. Even in the comely, simple dress, Sarc appreciated her supple, toned muscles tensed beneath the fabric. He would rather kiss her, hold her close, and comfort her than do battle. A sigh slipped past his stern countenance. Combat had to come first. To win this woman he would have to best her in a duel, prove his honor and win her trust, to gain her heart. The realization came to Sarc he wanted Zera as much as the crown of Seti-Cronus, and her security as much as that of Alphxorn’s.
“Circumstances change lady. Your brother’s death and the manner he died, brings the threat closer.” Sarc tempered his demeanor, his position clear.
“You do propose war!”
“No!” Sarc was firm, “War with you, Zera, has already been avoided.” He saw a questioning look pass over her face. “My ambassador overstepped his authority and no longer represents Alphxorn. Zera, the threat isn’t from me. I suspect you know this. The threat is from the pirates. You know they are massing. Lord Enos discovered their larger fleet, and because he found their lair, they attacked and killed him. As the transmission shows, my squads did attempt to assist your brother.” Sadness over his own losses drew his brows tight. “Kudious didn’t want their presence, position, and numbers revealed.”
“How would you know? Unless you are in collusion with them,” Zera accused. Blue flames lit her frigid stare.
“Spies! Well placed ones. That was why two squads of Alphxorn fighters were hidden on one of the smaller outer planets. Lady Zera, Kudious’ plans include you. He wants you as much as he wants Seti-Cronus,” Sarc informed her. His lusty ogle swept over her, his own desires unmistakable.
“I wouldn’t wed Kudious! The man’s lower than a snake,” Zera hissed. “Now, leave us with our grief.” She suppressed a sob, yet it was a command.
Sarc allowed some sympathy to show in a pained smile. “You don’t understand, Zera. Kudious doesn’t care if you are willing to wed him or not. He plans to conquer your world with you as his prize. If he did so, and his military were strengthened by possession of Seti-Cronus forces, Alphxorn would be his next target. That is a risk I cannot allow” Sarc’s stare became hard as stone. “You, beautiful Zera, will be my bride. Seti-Cronus and Alphxorn will again be one!”
* * * *
“No!” Zera scoffed. Her sword raised a fraction in anger. “Not while I can still fight. I will not marry.” She hid her heated, racing blood behind a frozen glare. “My people will not follow you, Sarc,” Zera warned. But her mother’s words, two nights prior, haunted her.
Is this the man who will rule beside me? Still, I have no way of knowing, and only a duel, fairly fought will reveal the truth. I will not marry a man who may have had a hand in Enos’ death! Oh mother, how will I ever know for sure?
Zera’s blood surged hot through her veins, and heat flamed in her face. Sarc’s stare scorched her with amber fire, melting the icy fear he’d sent through her with his words. She remembered witnessing a firestorm once and found she was in its midst. Zera shrugged off the feeling, drew her strength into her body as she did before a battle, preparing to win. Never having lost, she didn’t intend to now.
Sarc drew his sword. The grim line of a cold smile made his face hard. She almost missed the shadow of pain that passed through his eyes and wondered at the emotion.
“Then my lady, let us settle this now! Your military will follow me. They have no other choice. They have been neutralized,” Sarc imparted, a sly grin glinting in his eyes.
“Neutralized? What do you mean?” Immense alarm entered her voice. What he had said about war with her already being avoided, repeated in her mind.
“Contact any post you wish, all are now under the control of my forces. Join me Zera, for both our worlds’ safety. Together we can defeat the pirates.” His voice held an earnest appeal, his gaze locked with hers.
Zera was in shock, she needed time to think. She backed away from Sarc, who held his sword low and unthreatening. He waited, patiently, allowing her to contact three of her posts at different points around her planet. Zera found all manned by Sarc’s people. All addressed her respectfully, she noted, as “My Lady” or “Your Majesty.”
“How?” She demanded in a tone she would use on a subordinate. Though frightened, her training and her bravado helped Zera hold her composure.
Anger flashed in Sarc’s amber eyes, angered by Zera’s tone. “By use of a series of neural tranquilizer bursts two hours ago, following the services for Lord Enos. We waited out of respect for him…and you.”
* * * *
“Treachery!” Zera snarled. He heard death in her tone.
Sarc strode two paces closer at her accusation. “No! Treachery would have been to kill your people, your nobles, imprison your family as hostages and take you as my slave.” His stare, with slow intent, stripped her clothing from her body. “I offer a choice!”
“Choice? Lord Sarc I will not give my people to you!” Zera growled in vicious defiance tightening the grip on her sword. She swayed slightly.
“I propose a union,” Sarc offered in a reasonable tone. He retained some hope for a peaceful settlement. He wondered at the sudden change in the pallor of her face, her eyes unfocused for a second, and there was a slight sway in her stance. Should the stress of the past few days, and the present circumstance prove overwhelming, he would be gallant and catch her should she swoon. Despite the venom of her words, he envisioned holding her body close in a protective embrace. He prayed she would faint.
“With my people subject to you? Never! If you want my kingdom, Lord Sarc,” she threw the challenge at him and bravely lifted her chin. “You will have to go through me.” She raised her sword and fiercely attacked, giving Sarc a mere second to guard against her first, lightning strike.
Sarc noticed Zera’s bodyguards, the uninjured ones who remained standing, moved back and assisted the others. Lady Zera’s skills were well known, by her close guard more than most. She had trained them well enough to know, they couldn’t become involved in a one-to-one duel of honor.
EXCERPT TWO and the rest of the duel – next