Happy Valentine’s, everybody! A couple of treats for ya…
First off, Riptide slashed prices site-wide by 25% for one day only! Which means you can pre-order Foreshock for 74 cents (dood) and get Collared for $3.74. Awesome. While the sale’s still rolling, you should check out Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy & Toppy while it’s on sale too, by the way. Sounds like hella fun, no?
A second Valentine’s MWAH from yours truly — How about a look at the Spoils of War sequel, Plunder? Bear in mind that this is wholly unedited. Here, Micah has settled on a small country estate among the Alekites, where his tutor (Master Rigel) tries to separate him from Eli once the two greet Micah’s father and king.
Unwise. Most unwise.
* * *
I shook my head, fingers clenching and unclenching at my sides when the king’s soldiers marched to my beautiful Eli. While the buzzing in my ears built to crescendo, they yanked me from his embrace and pulled at Eli’s arms, pinioning them at the base of his spine –
I leapt toward him, heart shrieking in my chest. They couldn’t take my Eli. They couldn’t — He was mine! But I was small. Weak. They could do what they wanted, whatever the daemon who was my father commanded them. They gently, though firmly, shoved me aside. Away from them. Away from my master. My beloved. My…world.
I could not lose him. Dead was better.
Anything was better than losing my Eli.
So I stooped to a crouch and launched myself at the men surrounding my master. I swung my body high on the nearest soldier’s back. I squeezed my thighs to hold me fast, snaking my arms around his thick neck –
The guard wrapped an enormous paw over my shoulder and flung me across the reception hall.
My head spun dizzily as I sailed through the air. I reached out, blindly groping for something — anything — to hang onto…And lost my breath in a whoosh when my hip smacked into the floor. My head cracked against cold marble.
My vision darkened.
Pain screamed out.
Or was the screaming me?
“Don’t hurt him! Micah…My lord, please, tell them not to hurt — ”
Stunned, senseless, my body skidded across the wide reception room. I grunted in pain as my side slammed into a tall column, bringing me to a jolting stop.
“You see how vicious he is,” Master Rigel said.
I scrabbled to my hands and knees. The sneering satisfaction in the cursed tutor’s voice sliced like a whip through my muzzy head. I swung my gaze in the direction of that smug voice, though my vision had blurred and I could see naught but vague splashes of color that were the king’s soldiers. I struggled to focus anyway, to pinpoint the whoreson who was first my tormentor and now the accuser whose lying tongue slandered me. Fury at his deceit swamped me. My bleary eyes found the deep dark blue that was Master Rigel’s robes in the teeming mass of men and monarchs.
Rigel would rob my Eli from me.
And to my mind, his treachery made his life forfeit.
Hate flooded me, devastated and consumed me. My lust for Rigel’s end obliterated everything else. My senses expanded. No, they exploded. That the blow to my head had knocked my vision awry didn’t matter, for I did not need to see anymore. Tingly strength danced at my fingertips, vibrated my chest, stirred the hairs on my spindly arms. My blood drummed in my ears, drowning out my ragged pants. The screeching fear in my heart and the aches of my body crumpled at the sly cunning that overshadowed me.
I stared, feeling rather than seeing Master Rigel in the throng of men, the duplicitous and hurtful men who would take my Eli from me, and in an instant, no longer than a stuttered heartbeat, the hate inside me judged and condemned them all. The elegantly appointed receiving room crackled with sudden menace. Because this hurt, among all others, could not be born.
None would take my master from me and live.
Not even my master’s cry could divert the murderous, reckless loathing within me. It focused like a fireball, invading my breath and every muscle. It burned. Gods, how my hatred burned, but I could not fight the surge. Like a brilliant starburst, it consumed everything inside me, using me up, depleting all that I was. My foggy vision faded to black. My boneless arms shook, the pain more than I could stand. I turned my head to helplessly wretch, but emptying my stomach did not rid me of my venom. Instead, the seductive, ruinous rage inside me snapped, ripping free of my body –
The ground beneath me lurched.
I jerked forward. The arms and legs bracing me collapsed, smashing my chin into the marble floor. The coppery salt of blood filled my mouth as the gathered soldiers gave a unified shout of surprise followed by the jumbling cacophony of them knocking against one another and dropping to the ground as well. They fell, as I had, with each of the blows Master Rigel had delivered, with the careless shove that had flung me across the room.
The marble under my planted face split in a single, delicate thread.
Still the ground shook, the fury and pain within me so terrible it spilled over in ever-increasing jolts.
“Do you long to die?” Eli shouted above the din. “Release me!”
Urns toppled. Shattering ceramic jingled in my ears, soon joined by the rush of loose stones that had been contained in the urns, the discordant clatter of them spilling across the fractured floor. Something heavy — though I brushed my hair from my eyes, I could not see — thundered to the ground, cutting off a reedy scream. Timbers in the ceiling above cracked ominously.
The chaos surrounded me, within and without now. I knew what this was: earthquake. Herra had suffered them too. My whole world did and ever had, but never so intense and never so full of malice, violence and…
Fear supplanted my hate. As the noise and tumult of the quake rattled my bones, my terror flashed so bright.
I, who had uttered nary a word nor a sound since arriving at my new prison, screamed. “E-i!”
But then, he was there. My master. My lover and savior. Eli scrambled across the bucking floor and scooped me against him, curling his body protectively over mine. My fingers clawed into his tunic. I burrowed into the safety of his embrace, my fear so huge I wondered that I could survive it at all. Forget the crack of shattering stone, fragments and splinters of wood raining down on us. Forget the roar of the roof collapsing nearby, the cloud of dust that clogged my throat or the shower of debris that pelted my legs. As horrible as the endless quake was, the destruction paled against the fright that ate away at me like the ravenous beasts with which Xerxes has oft taunted me.
“I’m here. Right here. No one will take me from you,” Eli crooned in my ear, voice pitched to a comforting rumble over the devastation surrounding us. He held me close, so close I felt the gallop of his heartbeat through the layers of our clothes. His fingers threaded in my hair, his hand palming my scalp to urge me closer still. “Hush now. You’re safe, completely safe…”
On it went, his soothing voice. The scent of my master overwhelmed the cloying dust in my nostrils and the belly-twisting smell of freshly spilled blood. He pushed my nose into his neck — that special spot of his body I had made my home. The magic of his low murmur offered me sanctuary. Bewildered and scared, I could not resist him.
The jarring tremors gradually eased.
If only my body’s shake would abate so readily.
“That’s right. No one is hurting you,” Eli said, one wide palm brushing a clatter of pebbles from my back. “It’s over. Just hold onto me.”
I clung to him as fiercely as ever, but in spite of his whispered promises, my eyes squeezed shut, my muscles bunching to stone beneath his stroking caress.
Because I knew.
I would be punished.
I must be punished — flogged, beaten, passed among the men. I’d earned it, every lash. Herra had declared it and the Alekites must grasp that now too.
I could never be strong. Never be whole.
Clinging to my master, I sobbed into his neck, for they must surely see — ignorant slut and slave though I was — bad things happened when I wasn’t kept weak, when I wasn’t starved and abused. Evil happened.
And I was its root
* * *