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Lords of Ch'i
By Ciar Cullen
Samhain Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2006 Ciar Cullen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJetre walked slowly towards her. Silver looked for a moment as if she would try to flee, and Jet shook his head subtly.
He watched resignation take hold. Averting her gaze, Silver studied the ground and kicked at a pebble with her black boot as a child would. The gesture charmed him. Don't underestimate her. She knows of your oath, and she knows she's beautiful.
Finally standing toe-to-toe with Silver, Jet lifted her chin with a gloved finger. A flash of heat spiraled through his chest when he looked into her eyes from such a close distance, and his blood stirred at the images he saw dancing there. Her projections were unsubtle yet stirring-her mouth caressing him into ecstasy, seducing him to submit to her insatiable appetites, binding him with ropes of promises and chains of pleasure beyond his experience. Frenzied couplings, skin burning with excitement, mouths locked in desperate kisses, whispers of forbidden acts, teaching him the passion denied him. And Mikalis with them. How could she know about his cousin?
A flare of anger mixed with compelling lust. Jet pulled a sharp short blade from his cloak. "That's not impressive, Metal. A very obvious ploy. You think a silent promise to seduce me will save your life? They've tried this before. While the last whore-assassin wasn't as lovely, you overestimate the value of your allure."
But you would like to take her, and she knows it. Are these your visions, Jet?
He waved his blade an inch from her face.
"I have no idea what you're talking about. I object to the label of whore. Assassin will do." She bit her lip nervously, her chest rising and falling quickly with her shallow breathing. He smelled a hint of dark, spicy perfume waft on the freezing air, and it brought up an ache for the loss of Master Guo.
"I won't waste more time with you."
A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away quickly. "There's nothing for it, Lord Jetre?"
He shook his head slowly and pressed the blade against her throat as he pulled her head back by her short blonde hair. The smallest trickle of blood traced a dark, sluggish path down her neck, nearly freezing on her skin. She clutched at his coat to steady herself.
"If I vow to tell you everything I know, all the plans of my clan?" Silver clenched her jaw so tightly her face trembled. "If I offer myself to you to in total servitude?"
"If you'd betray your own, you'd betray me more easily. Do you think I'm an imbecile?"
"The Lord Cirin sent me, knowing you'd defeat me easily. He didn't want my blood on his hands, the death of another of the Metal ruling family. I didn't come to follow orders. I came to find you."
Jet arched a brow and stared more deeply into Silver's eyes. "You're lying. Why would you risk certain death? One falsehood and it's over."
The sight of her pupils dilating in fear quickened his heart, and he realized her terror excited him, the smell and taste of her dread stirred his heart and groin. What ails you, Jet? He'd killed women, but never wanted one to fear him like this. One flick of his wrist, and her life would flow onto the sidewalk. It's because she's the enemy, nothing more. The lie crept into his gut. What's this pull she has on you? It's because the end of the oath draws near. You think constantly of sex.
Jet moved in a step and brushed his finger along the line of her jaw. Silver's lips quivered and she panted out her words. "I want revenge for my brother, Kile." She gasped as Jet pressed the edge of the icy blade against her cheek. "I sought you ..." She slowly pushed the blade away from her face with a trembling hand. "I sought you to help me prove Cirin's guilt and restore my family to the chair of Wu Xing Metal, if any besides me survives. I followed you in peace, despite appearances. Teach me to defeat the man, and I'll do us both a favor. I'll ensure an alliance, and you'll have one less territory to defeat."
"Who would you see in the chair? Yourself? How long did you train?" Jetre snorted. In fact, he thought a woman would fare well on the Metal throne, but Silver was far too old to begin the aggressive preparation needed to control the Ch'i of a clan.
"I'm too old, your elder by two years."
"Who? Your sniveling little brother, Desmen?"
Jet saw Silver's fury at the mention of the coward who abandoned his element in the face of battle. He knew her family-even her entire clan-never spoke his name.
That was a low blow, Jet. She brings out pettiness in you.
"Since you continue to mock me and have no interest in my plan, I'll keep it to myself. Get it over with, Lord."
"Plan? Some plan. Sneak up on a clan lord who can pick thoughts from the air, feel a threat looming from miles away? You're not impressive, Silver."
"How does a Metal warrior get the attention of the Lord of the Wood? Was I to invite you to tea? Tap on the gate of Traier?" She cocked her chin up in a haughty fashion, but Jet caught the tremble still in her voice.
"You have my attention for a moment. Tell me why I should listen to you." Give me some reason to let you live a while longer, to look at you a bit more. The urge to touch her cheek where a small beauty mark broke the serenity of her porcelain skin pulled at him and he fought to keep his arm still, fought everything she evoked in him.
"I'll tell you all I know if you show mercy and let me walk away tonight in good faith. Allow me to join you at Traier. I'm a sitting duck here. If they learn of my betrayal ..." Silver winced in dismay.
"You aren't in much of a bargaining position." Jet allowed himself to wipe the blood from her throat with his gloved thumb, sliding his hand from her hair to the nape of her neck. He stepped in close enough that her breath warmed the skin left bare at his throat. Her eyes grew wide and she parted her lips slightly.
An invitation? How could she think of anything but death? A kiss. What would it hurt? She'd be dead in minutes, couldn't tell anyone.
Silver licked her lips in nervousness, and Jet's sense and control slipped away. One kiss after ten years. He leaned in slightly, angling his face to capture hers, meeting her shocked gaze. Her sudden intake of breath made him pull back.
By all that is sacred! Do you know how to kiss, Jet?
It couldn't be difficult, no different than when he was sixteen, huddled in the hay with the buxom girl ... why, he'd watched Mikalis kiss a hundred times during the orgies in which Jet's only role was voyeur ...
A faint whimper from Silver brought him to his senses and he stood tall. Silver lost her balance and fell into his chest. Steadying her with an arm around her waist, he took deep, calming breaths, and finally let her go, pushing her away gently.
"Come to Traier on bended knee, Warrior Silver, and I'll hear your case. But prepare to captivate me with your plan and tell me all you know of that backward clan of yours, or die by my hand, which may not be as gentle as you imagine. You'll gain admittance with this symbol." Jet took off his long black glove and held out his hand. Silver stepped back, shaking her head.
"Convert, now, here with me, or die. It's your choice." Choose life, woman. Choose my clan.
She closed her eyes and shook visibly. With a deep breath, she pushed back her cloak sleeve and turned her pale wrist towards the light from the gas lamp above.
Jet clasped her wrist and pressed his palm to it. She paled at the pain, but didn't pull away. Energy soared through him for a moment, as did her anguish-a brief thrill at the contact of their life force. Heart pounding and cock throbbing at the exchange, he turned quickly lest the woman catch a glimpse of desire on his face or in his mind. He hurried down the street towards the road to Traier, to his army. Her crying tugged at him, but he assumed a fierce look, needing to regain control. He turned back suddenly and pointed to Silver.
"One week, Trueborn. The mark on your wrist will destroy you within a week if you don't seek my audience. Is that understood?"
Her mumbled curse rang out clear in the cold air. "Fucking asshole."
Jet turned away and smiled. Extraordinary woman. I hope she makes it. What will I do with her if she does?
Excerpted from Lords of Ch'i by Ciar Cullen Copyright © 2006 by Ciar Cullen. Excerpted by permission.
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