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In the Flesh
By SYLVIA DAY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2009 Sylvia Day
All rights reserved.
Sapphire alighted from the royal antigrav-craft, her palms damp with anticipation. The home given to her by the King of Sari was, in fact, a small palace. Bright white with multicolored windows, it was set in the golden hills of sand like a sparkling jewel.
As five of her new mästares unloaded her belongings, she approached her front door. The hot breeze that coursed over her skin was a welcome and pleasant sensation. She'd spent the last five years inside the palace, her skin tanned by artificial means, her lungs filled with purified air. On excursions with the king, she had always entered the cooled antigrav-craft through equally cooled landing bays.
Taking her first deep breath of natural air in years, Sapphire smiled at the slightly gritty sensation left in her mouth. She enjoyed the heat of Sari and relished the fine sheen of sweat on her skin that evaporated instantly in the dry desert environment.
Placing her palm on the recognition pad, she waited a split-second as the system acknowledged her prints. The door slid open and "Welcome, Mistress" rang out in the melodious feminine voice of the house computer.
Sapphire entered her new home and was immediately assaulted with chilled, cleansed air.
"Purify the air, but cool it only in the bedchambers."
"As you wish."
Absorbing her new surroundings with wide eyes, she found the balance of her mästares lining either side of her long entrance hallway. The resemblance the men bore to the king was noted with a smile. Tall, blond, and possessing sinewy lines of muscle, they were all remarkably handsome.
Sapphire walked through the gauntlet, then paused at the end with a frown. "There are only thirteen of you."
The mästare nearest to her dropped to his knees. "Mistress, my name is Dalen."
Resting her hand on his head, she slipped her fingers through his silky hair. "I'm pleased to meet you, Dalen."
He stood, and smiled with boyish charm. "The other mästare is still in the healing chamber, Mistress."
Her frown deepened. The healing chamber took only moments to heal slight injuries. "Still?"
"He was gravely injured when he arrived. He's been in the chamber for half an hour now. While he should be healed shortly, he'll need some rest before he can assume his duties. But the rest of us stand ready. We'll more than make up for his absence."
"I've no doubt you will all please me. But I'm concerned about the injured one. How was he so badly hurt? And why was he sent to me in such a state?"
"I'll take you to him, Mistress. I have no answers to your questions. You'll have to ask him when he emerges."
Offering his arm, Dalen escorted her through her palace. Sapphire took in the size and beauty of her surroundings with astonished pleasure. There could be no greater testament of her worth to the king than this show of largesse.
They crossed the large receiving room with its massive divan and traveled down an arched hallway to the center atrium. The sight of a large bubbling bath surrounded by lush greenery filled her with joy. The rest of her life would begin in this home, and her blood quickened at the thought of the freedom she would enjoy here.
Dalen stopped before a door nestled along the rear wing of the courtyard and waved his hand over the lock pad. The door slid open, and she stepped inside. In the center of the small room stood the cylindrical glass healing chamber. She took one look at the unconscious man inside and her instinctive response to him was so powerful, she ordered Dalen to leave her. When the door slid shut behind the retreating mästare, Sapphire walked closer to the chamber.
The injured man took her breath away. Tall, dark, and devastated with whip marks that were slowly healing before her eyes, he still boasted raw potent masculinity. He was nothing like the king or her mästares. He was nothing like any man she'd ever seen.
Rich, gleaming black hair blew gently around his nape as the swirling air pressure inside kept him upright. His skin was deeply tanned and stretched over powerfully defined muscles. She'd never seen a man with so many ripples of power beneath his skin; not even her warrior father displayed such strength.
His facial features were strong and bold, like the rest of his body. High cheekbones and an aquiline nose gave him an aristocratic cast; the powerful jaw and sensual lips made him dangerous. He was simply magnificent. She wondered what color his eyes were. Brown maybe, like her own? Or perhaps blue, like the king's?
Sapphire circled the chamber slowly, wincing at the myriad wounds that striped and gouged his flesh. The man had been tortured most grievously. The length of time he'd already spent in the chamber told her he must have been near death when they brought him to her. Who would have selected such a man for her? He was as different from the other mästares as she was from the queen. Even unconscious, this man radiated mastery. He was no mästare.
Returning to the front of the chamber, she continued her heated perusal, her nipples puckering as desire quickened her blood. His broad and powerful chest was almost healed now. A thin strip of hair led her eyes down the ripples of his abdomen to his cock and testicles below. Her mouth went dry as she noted the carefully trimmed curls at the base of his shaft and his heavy sac that was completely denuded of hair. She stepped closer to the chamber until her hands and breasts were pressed against the warm glass, her eyes riveted to his groin. Even flaccid, his penis was impressive. She wondered how it would look when aroused.
As if it could read her mind, his cock suddenly twitched and began to swell. Rising slowly, it took on commendable size. Becoming aroused by the sight, Sapphire rubbed her breasts against the glass, then stilled as the stunning phallus grew in response to her wantonness. Startled, her gaze flew upward and was arrested by dazzling green eyes. Emerald bright, they raked her body hungrily, able to see her completely through the sheerness of her gown. Her skin tingled and grew warm as the man studied her with breathtaking boldness.
Nakedness imparted no vulnerability to the man's undeniably arrogant bearing. She was so hot for him she was on fire, this stranger with the battered body and handsome face. For the first time in her life, Sapphire felt the pull of true desire, heady and overwhelming.
"Who are you?" she whispered, even though she knew he couldn't hear her through the glass. He reached out a hand, pressing opposite hers against the barrier that separated them. Sweat misted her skin at the thought of touching him. She wanted to curl her fingers and lace his long digits with hers.
She longed to caress his bronzed skin and see if it was as smooth as it looked.
He was almost healed. Soon, he would exit the chamber. Prolonged, intense healing was exhausting. He would most likely collapse at her feet. With a sigh of regret, Sapphire stepped back and was startled when he lunged toward the glass as if to catch her. Don't go, he mouthed. The stark plea in his eyes made her chest tight.
"Guardian." Her voice was a hoarse whisper. "Who is this man in the healing chamber?"
"He is Crown PrinceWulfric of D'Ashier."
Taken aback by the introduction, Sapphire recoiled from the glass. Wulfric remained against it, watching her with a narrowed, alert gaze.
The D'Ashier crown prince.
Sari's refusal to acknowledge the full power of D'Ashier often led to war. The General of the Sarian Army had become a national hero with his victory in the D'Ashier Confrontations only a few years past.
The stunning man before her was the legendary warrior son of the present king of D'Ashier. Wulfric was the eldest, the heir to the throne. He was re-nowned for his ruthlessness and his military genius. It was rumored that it was he who truly ran D'Ashier, while his father acted mostly as a figurehead.
Her voice shook with confusion."Why is he here?"
"He is one of your mästares."
She shook her head. "That's impossible. This man rules a country. He cannot remain here. His presence in Sari could restart the war."
"His countrymen believe him to be dead."
The fiercely intelligent green eyes studying her knew the exact moment she realized who he was. His lips thinned and his gaze hardened.
Sapphire's hand went to her throat. "I cannot keep him."
But she wanted to. With a primitive hunger she'd never experienced before. There was fire in her blood, such as her mother had told her about. And the way he looked at her ...
Sweat broke out on her skin.
She knew that look. He wanted her, too. Yet Prince Wulfric was dangerous in every way imaginable. He was a master to her slave, a prince to her concubine. She'd just been released from that life and she would never go back to it.
"How am I expected to keep him here, and why? Who chose him for me?"
"He is a gift from the queen, Mistress. She bids you to tame him as you did the king."
A dry laugh rasped from her throat. This man was no gift. He was a spiteful punishment for stealing the affections of the king. The queen probably hoped the prince would kill her. Or that she would kill him first.
"The queen has provided seven of her personal guardsmen to assist you."
"I see." Sapphire licked dry lips and watched as an answering smolder lit Wulfric's eyes.
Looking at him, she felt a strangely profound regret. She would never be allowed to enjoy him the way he should be enjoyed. They were at odds without saying a word. He was a prisoner and she was his keeper, but given the slightest chance, he would easily reverse their roles. He was hot. Her resistance would melt. And while she would most likely glory in every minute of it, Sapphire couldn't allow it to happen.
She offered a mournful smile. Wulfric's mouth curved up on one side, his gaze still burning with desire but sharp with challenge. She could read his response to her withdrawal in his eyes. Relentless, ruthless—that's what the media said about him. He got what he wanted, and he wanted her.
"Guardian, what if I wish to release him?" she asked.
"But you do not. Your vital signs tell me—"
"I know what my vitals are telling you.That's precisely the reason he has to go."
"Yes, Mistress. No order was given forcing you to keep him. I conclude that leaves the choice to you."
Sapphire held the prince's gaze. Something passed between them, an awareness that intensified with each passing second. How could she feel this way about a man she'd never touched or spoken to? For all she knew, he could be a cruel and selfish man.
Yet she sensed he wasn't. His gaze was too direct. He allowed her to see everything he was feeling—attraction, desire, defiance, determination.
She sighed. "The queen knows I will do nothing to bring attention to this. We could both be executed for treason. Brenna's bitterness must truly run deep for her to resort to this reckless and ill-conceived plan of revenge."
"As you say, Mistress."
"How could she predict my reaction to this man?" she wondered out loud. She was startled by this depth of feeling. How could a stranger know?
"My conclusion is that she expected hatred, due to your father's position."
Sapphire stiffened. Her father. If he were to discover Wulfric ...
She had to hide him.
The moment the thought was conceived, she rejected it. What was she thinking, wanting to protect the prince? Only two men had ever held important places in her life—her father and her king. The prince was their enemy. Why was she considering his welfare first?
"Guardian." Squaring her shoulders, Sapphire turned toward the door. "Send for three guardsmen. His Highness is almost healed and will be released from the chamber soon." The portal slid open as she neared it. The heat of Wulfric's gaze burned her back until the door closed behind her. She refused to return his look.
"What are your orders in regard to Prince Wulfric?"
"Have him dressed, fed, then locked in his room to sleep. You will advise me when he awakens. In the meantime, gather all the information you can about him and give me a report. I want to know what I'm dealing with."
"Of course, Mistress."
"Pull up the architectural plans for this palace. I'll need to study them, and set in place the means to confine him."
"You could ring him."
A mental picture of a confinement ring came to mind. The innocuous-looking but deadly band of metal was placed around a prisoner's ankle. As long as a ringed individual remained in the designated areas, there wasn't a problem. But should they venture too far, the ring would burst in an explosion that annihilated the wearer.
With the virile beauty of Wulfric still fresh in her mind, Sapphire shuddered at the thought of killing him. "No. I won't go that far. If he escapes, I'll hunt him down myself."
"As you wish. Do you require anything else?"
"Yes. Send a thank-you to the queen for her thoughtfulness."
Wulfric entered the receiving room with freshly laundered towels in his hands. With all the work he was doing, he was gaining a new appreciation for his own servants. It took great effort to keep a household running smoothly. He would never have fully appreciated that without performing the menial tasks himself.
He also appreciated the constant duties, which kept his mind from thoughts of his recent confinement and torture. Sleep was elusive, his dreams tormented him. Hard work was the only thing that distracted him.
Catching a flash of jeweled color out of the corner of his eye, Wulf turned his head to catch the departure of his lovely brunette keeper.
In truth, work wasn't the only distraction. He was fascinated by the woman who'd stood like a wanton angel before the healing chamber.
He always seemed to be one step behind her. It didn't help that she was avoiding him. In the last three days, he'd caught only fleeting glimpses of her scantily clad figure. Brief, tantalizing glimpses. After hovering near death, the way she brought his senses to life was a miracle he wanted to explore.
But Wulf tempered his impatience. Their time would come. He would have escaped already if he didn't know that for a certainty.
Looking around the room, he noticed all of the other men engaged in various tasks. He approached the one closest to him, the one who seemed the least wary. They all looked alike to Wulf—tall, blond, and possessed of lean lengths of muscle so different from his own bulk.
He couldn't comprehend why these men chose to be mästares. With their good looks, they could have any woman they wanted. Why they chose to dedicate their lives to one woman they had to share among them was beyond his understanding.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
Wulf snorted, finding it amusing when they called him by his title, as if he were not toiling alongside them. Their forced respect was her doing, he was certain. Some of the mästares bore him a barely restrained hatred and he could well understand. It was a sad fact that several of them must have lost a friend or loved one during the Confrontations. While he had not been the instigator of that war, he had fought without mercy, doing whatever was necessary to protect his people. Of course, the citizens of Sari would not see it that way. "I have some questions to ask you."
"Certainly. And my name is Dalen."
Wulfric nodded. "Dalen, what do you know about the mistress of this household?"
"I know everything about Mistress Sapphire."
Arching a disbelieving brow, Wulf tested her name silently. Sapphire.
"Truly," Dalen insisted. "It's in her best interests to have us understand her. The more we know about her, the better we can serve her needs."
"A man such as you could have his own needs met."
"Your reputation with women precedes you, Your Highness. You think I should have many women rather than just one."
"The thought had occurred to me," Wulf agreed dryly.
"A hundred women couldn't give me the prestige I receive from being in the service of Mistress Sapphire. Her value increases mine, which in turn increases my family's."
"What makes her so important?"
"She is the king's karisette."
Excerpted from In the Flesh by SYLVIA DAY. Copyright © 2009 Sylvia Day. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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