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"Elara will be furious!" Dalton paced around the king's chambers and glanced at his father-in-law. "You know how she is. When she finds out about this, she'll–"
"Yes, I know. Believe me, I know." King Maxwell leaned back in his cushioned chair and stroked his red beard. "But under no circumstances is she going with you. Emperor Salizar is a madman, and the way he treats his subjects…" Maxwell shook his head. "If he didn't control the sole waterway leading from Micosia to Soltang, no man in his right mind would enter into business with him."
"If he's that bad, why must Allan and I meet with him? Surely you'd have more influence–"
"I have no interest in returning to that den of depravity," Maxwell stated. "Salizar and I once had a strong disagreement over a particular matter and I have no tolerance for him. You, however, are a patient and reasonable man. You will be able to deal with him."
"Dalton's patient, alright. After marrying Elara, he can handle anything." Prince Allan chuckled as he rose from his chair and poured himself a drink. "I'm certain you can find a way to improve our trade situation with His Supreme Worship. He shouts much less than Elara does," he joked. "I noticed having a husband hasn't settled my little sister much, she's still a willful terror."
Dalton leaned against the wall and suppressed a grin. Allan was wrong. Marriage had settled Elara–somewhat. Now instead of acting out and having tantrums when she was bored or annoyed, she turned to lovemaking to alleviate her problems. From time to time she still needed a firm hand, but a quick trip to thebedchamber always eased her temperament. But when Elara found out he was going to Zarmatt without her, she'd throw a fit. And for the last few weeks she'd been acting moodier and more needy than usual.
"Allan, please. This is serious business." Maxwell sighed. "Which is why I want you to accompany him, Dalton. Allan's known for taking matters too lightly. The last time he went to Salizar's palace he made a worse agreement than the one we originally had. We ended up paying nearly double the usual port tariff, and–"
"My mind was distracted."
Maxwell frowned. "So were other parts of you."
Dalton grinned and sat on the maroon sofa. Allan and Elara were close in age and in personality. Their bawdy sense of humor combined with their foolhardy and reckless behavior made them quite a handful.
"But Allan's primary responsibility is shipping. He understands the policies and tariffs better than I do," he said. "How could I aid him in negotiations?"
"You won't negotiate," Maxwell replied. "Your role will be to ensure Allan stays out of trouble and conducts the negotiations sober–unlike last time."
Allan shrugged and swallowed his drink in three gulps. "What happened last time wasn't my fault. It's that palace, it does things to people."
Dalton scowled. At times, Allan behaved like an irresponsible, royal pain. "You mean I'm to travel with him, a grown man, merely to keep him out of trouble?"
Maxwell rose and took the glass from Allan's hand as he started to refill it. "Aye, and trust me, he'll need it. Salizar's palace caters to male guests. No women are allowed inside, unless they're for his kharim."
Dalton arched an eyebrow. He'd heard wild tales from men who had supposedly gone to the palace and been pleasured non-stop. "You mean the rumors are true?"
Allan nodded. "Quite true. The palace is filled with girls. Lots of girls–naked and willing girls. They'll do anything you ask. They'll feed you, bathe you, suck you–"
"Enough!" Maxwell shouted at Allan. "Salizar uses the girls to distract his guests and gain the upper hand in negotiations." He turned to Dalton. "I know I can trust you. You won't be taken in by the women or their wayward charms."
"Of course not. I love Elara. There isn't a woman alive who can tempt me."
Allan laughed. "We'll see about that, Dalton. After two weeks surrounded by these women, your nuts will be as hard as rocks!"
"Allan! Please!" Maxwell rolled his eyes and looked at Dalton. "When you tell Elara, avoid mentioning exactly where you're going. She will be jealous."
Copyright © 2007 Kelli A. Wilkins.