Read an Excerpt
It was a just over a year since they had returned from Tartak, leaving behind the painful and terrifying memory of Tengri Khan. Adama Fawkes Trasain had given birth to their second son, Miles Kaden, and with patience and love their lives had slipped back into the peaceful cadence they'd come to know before the nightmare of her abduction.
Today, the first day of Riuros, high summer, Kesim was crossing to the well for some water from the stables where he'd been working. He looked up at the sound of a rider approaching. Shading his eyes with his hand, he saw it was the mail messenger, but not the same one who usually delivered his correspondence. A young boy who couldn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen rode along the gravel road to their courtyard.
Kesim waved and the young man cantered his horse over. "Where is Percy?" Kesim asked.
"Fell from his horse and broke his arm," the boy replied. "I'm doing the route for a few months. My name is Owen."
"It is good to meet you, Owen."
"Percy told me the cook here feeds him well, and the lord is a decent man. Can you tell me where the kitchen is?" He looked famished.
Grinning, Kesim replied, "Her name is Mrs. Walker and the kitchen is that way." He pointed back toward the kitchen garden.
"Thank you. Are you the stableman?" Owen slid from the big horse's back.
"From time to time."
He tossed Kesim the reins of his horse, surprising him. "Oh! I almost forgot." He handed Kesim a large stack of mail from the bag he had slung over his chest. "These are for your master."
"I'll see that he gets them." Kesim grinned, barely containing his mirth.
Kesim walked Owen's horse to thepost beside the barn and tied him, then loosened his saddle and pulled it off. He hung it over the rail and tossed a fork of hay. Patting the horse on the rump as he passed, he picked up the bundle of letters he'd set on the chopping block.
In the kitchen, Adama smiled at the mail boy and showed him where he could sit, then returned to the window. She watched Kesim tend Owen's horse, and then proceed to the well.
It was warm today, but despite Kesim's sweaty appearance, the sight of him sent delicious thrills through her. She leaned heavily on the stone counter as she watched him douse his head, sending cold water down his face and chest, soaking his shirt, revealing his finely-made body.
Kesim was nearly forty years old, but strong and lean, so he could easily pass for thirty. As though feeling her gaze upon him, he looked up and grinned at her.
She lifted an eyebrow and the corner of her mouth tilted in a grin of her own. "Couldn't help but look," she whispered in his mind.
"I'll be in the barn if you need me." His voice was playful. "Just let me know."
She sighed and looked back over her shoulder where everyone sat at breakfast.
"I don't think I can get away."
"Perhaps you need something from the cold cellar?" he suggested, the heat building in his tone.
Without turning she spoke. "I must go to the cold cellar in the barn. I think we need some garlic."
Mrs. Walker looked up at the braid of bulbs hanging upon the sill near her mistress' head and then out the window at Lord Kesim and a knowing smile creased her face.
"Of course, my lady."
Adama turned and smiled. "I'll be back soon."
Without further word, she hurried from the kitchen and through the small herb garden toward the barn. Adama pushed the heavy door open and stepped into the cool darkness, letting her eyes adjust. She entered a few more steps but he was nowhere to be seen.
A low chuckle echoed through the cavernous building as she began walking past the empty stalls. "Garlic?" he asked.
She smiled and moved to where she thought he'd be. "I was trying to think of something quickly."
"I'm certain no one noticed there was some right above you," he teased.
She poked her head into the stall she thought he'd be in. "You didn't give me time to come up with a good excuse." Kesim wasn't there. "Where are you?"
"If I told you, it would spoil my fun." His playful tone had returned.
"I'd like to show you some fun." She giggled. "But you don't seem interested."
"From my position, trust me, you look very interesting."
"From your position..." she repeated, then looked up. "You devil!"
Kesim peered over the hayloft. "It took you long enough!" he laughed.
Adama moved to the ladder, hiked her skirt and began to climb, finally joining him in the loft above.
She brushed a fallen lock of hair from her forehead and looked around. He was several feet away from her, reclined upon a thick horse blanket, shirtless and smiling. She watched a cloud of dusty chaff float lazily in the sunlight around him.
"My goodness, it's hot up here," she exhaled. "I'm already drenched."
"That's because you're not dressed properly."
She crossed to him and stood looking down. "I wasn't aware there was a dress code," she smiled.
He tugged the hem of her skirt and raised himself to his knees before her. "Oh yes, when you're my guest here, there is definitely a dress code. Let me show you." He slowly pulled one lace of her bodice, revealing her loose peasant blouse. Adama watched him begin disrobing her and moved to undo her skirt hooks. Kesim gently brushed her hands away. "I want to do it."
She let her hands fall to her sides and closed her eyes as he finished with her blouse, then nuzzled his face into her breasts.
Kesim loved the scent of her, clean and fresh and tantalizing. Slowly he moved his hands to her hips and back around to her buttocks, squeezing gently.
Behind her, he unhooked her skirt and let it fall to the floor, then held her hand while she stepped out of it.
Adama rarely wore stockings when it was so warm, and today she hadn't even worn shoes. With her hair down and her simple skirts, she looked like a peasant girl, not the poised and graceful queen she truly was. He loved seeing her this way, so naturally beautiful.
She stood before him now wearing only her silken drawers and he pressed his face against the junction of her thighs. If she'd had any doubts of his intentions, they were completely gone now.
He lifted his hands to the small of her back and brought his head up, pressing tiny kisses along her belly to her breasts. They were fuller now from nursing but he still loved to touch and caress them.
He took her hand and tugged gently. "Lay with me."
Adama lowered herself to the floor beside him. "What if someone comes in?"
"We'll have to be very quiet." He bent his head and pressed his face into her hair, nibbling the soft spot where her shoulder met her neck, tickling her.
Adama made an amused sound. "That isn't always possible."
Kesim looked into her eyes and traced the backs of his fingers across her cheek. Her eyes slowly closed as a slow heat began to course through her. "Let's try to do our best."
He kissed her then, pulling her forward into him, embracing her and reveling in the feel of her body molding to his. "God, you're so beautiful," he whispered.
Adama smiled against his mouth, and he drew her in once more, grinding his lips to hers, kissing her long and deep, touching her tongue with his and groaning at the pleasured thrill their powerful kisses gave him.
She intoxicated him. Every glance, every word, every touch, ignited that lustful spark, and even now, four years after their first kiss, he knew he'd never tire of it.
Adama kissed him back, releasing the pent-up longing she'd been building for days. Kesim had been away on business during the first part of the week, and then when he'd returned, both of them had simply been too tired for intimacy and had settled for sleeping together, tangled but comfortable.
She knew though that like her, he longed for that delicious heat they created together. The passion that always made their lovemaking so exciting and satisfying.
Finished for now with her mouth, Kesim moved lower, licking down her breastbone and flicking each tender nipple on the way. Her skin tasted of milk and salt and he groaned at the sensations.
He heard her draw in a startled breath at his hot mouth upon her. Her nipples were sensitive and tender still he knew, but he loved touching them. He moved back to her navel and gently mouthed his way lower, drawing her silken pants down before proceeding further.
She lifted her buttocks to accommodate him, and he flung the drawers away then looked up into her face.
"I want to see you now," she whispered.
Kesim leaned back and stood, unfastening his belt and then bent to release the buckles of his high boots. He pulled them off and dropped his breeches, revealing his lean body to her.
Adama never tired of looking at him. He was muscular and strong and had a nearly feline grace to his movements. To her he was beauty and power combined and it made her weak.
He saw these thoughts in her mind and growled low before returning to his ministrations. His strong hand stroked upward along her silky thigh and she whimpered her need. Her legs parted and he placed a kiss upon the spot just under her navel.
Adama exhaled a short breath. She could feel herself becoming wetter by the second. God, how she wanted him!
Kesim's need was so strong he could hardly decide where to begin. His cock demanded he simply take her and get that longing out of the way, but his heart overruled. He smiled at her, knowing he could never simply ravish her. Certainly it would satisfy the aching lust, but the waiting ... the long slow process of loving her was the way to find that soul-deep satisfaction he craved.
He stretched out upon the blanket until his head was even with her thighs and slowly drew his fingers up, spreading her lips and revealing her soft pinkness. Kesim kissed his way forward and basked in the soft moans and gyrations she made beneath him. He paused and gazed up at her. "Touch your breasts."
Adama drew her fingers in a feather touch along her nipples. When they'd made love after Aren was born, her milk would sometimes let down. The first time it had occurred, they'd both burst into surprised laughter. Certainly Kesim knew the workings of a nursing mother, but he'd never actually experienced it. Now, with Miles, she did not have that problem, provided her breasts were not overstimulated.
Kesim watched and made a quietly appreciative sound before resuming, lowering his face into her soft copper curls once more. He spread her labia and licked a long slow arc around the inner lips, then moved closer, fastening his lips around her clit and sucking gently.
"Oh dear God, I've missed you!" she moaned.
The rumble of his amused chuckle ran through her and she stroked his dark head lovingly.
Kesim's lips and tongue worked skillfully to bring her teetering to the edge of climax, and the addition of one long finger deep within her sent her over into a mind-numbing orgasm that left her shattered and trembling beneath him.
He moved up her body, drinking in the sight of her so wonderfully satisfied, lying upon the blankets. He drew himself even with her and kissed her mouth slowly, waiting for her to regain her senses, and she soon responded by opening her mouth under his.
He delved deep, sucking upon her tongue and dueling with her until she wrenched her head away, gasping in a deep gulp of air. Kesim brought his knee up between her legs and slowly rubbed her, loving the way she undulated against him. He searched her eyes and saw the same hunger there that he felt, and knew he could hold out no longer.
Slowly he removed his knee and fitted himself between her thighs. The familiar grasp welcomed him and he had to close his eyes against the urge to drive himself forward. Instead he pressed gently into her, stretching her open slowly. Adama inhaled sharply as he penetrated her tight sheath, then exhaled slowly as he buried his raging cock inside her.
He lay there for a moment, savoring the look of sheer delight upon her face, then kissed her eyes and her cheeks, and finally her mouth softly. "I love you," he whispered.
Kesim began to thrust gently within her body, and she responded by meeting those thrusts, stroking the taut muscles of his back and buttocks in encouragement.
He moved over her, powerful and strong, and she shuddered at the feeling of pure hot lust within her. It never failed to amaze her how incredibly good lovemaking with Kesim made her feel.
He held his weight above her on his arms and continued moving steadily, slowly increasing his speed until his pelvis was crashing into hers. Tiny sounds of pleasure came from her parted lips and he slanted his mouth over hers, trapping them. Leaning to one side, he brought his left hand down and stroked her engorged clit, causing her to buck upward against him. Her eyes flew wide and she cried out, climaxing once more.
The soft caress of her muscles along the length of his cock made him groan and he dragged in one last breath before surrendering to his own passion. He released himself and felt lightheaded and weak, nearly collapsing upon her. He moved slowly until he was entirely spent, then rested his head in the pocket of her neck and shoulder, breathing heavily against her damp skin.
"I love you, too."
They basked in the glow of lovemaking until they were certain someone must be searching for them, and then parted reluctantly.
Adama left him after planting a soft kiss upon his lips. She found her scattered clothing and dressed, then carefully made her way down the ladder. Kesim sat up and watched, then dressed himself, and picked up the bundle of letters. He waited a few more moments, then closed the barn and made his way to the house.
After he'd bathed and dressed once more, he retired to his study and separated the mail into his father's business and his own.
An envelope with familiar handwriting caught his attention, and he turned it over, setting the other mail aside. It was from his friend, Joseph Gufre, an agent now stationed in Lyros. He picked up his letter opener and sliced through the seal on the envelope and began to read.
After a few moments he set the letter down and ran a shaky hand over his face.
Movement outside caught his attention.
Adama and two of their children, Oma and Aren, as well as his mother, Lady Sitia Trasain, were walking in the garden. Adama had bathed and dressed in a pretty blue sundress. She had a ridiculously large sun hat on her head and played with the children, hiding her face then peeking around it. His mother carried a long basket with a few cut flowers in it. He could see they were all laughing.
He smiled watching them, then sat back in his chair, picking up the letter once more and read it through again.
Your letters of inquiry arrived several months ago. Due to the continuing unrest here in Lyros, I have been unable to reply until now. A dispatch has been sent to Morinal and the Senate, notifying them of the following:
"It is with deepest regret that we must inform you of the death of Queen Lucia of Lyros. Her peaceful passing came after nearly two years of illness. She died in her sleep with those who cared for her in attendance."
Kesim, you indicated in your correspondence that you knew the whereabouts of her heir, Queen Adama. Our sources here in Lyros tell us that the Basaltic Empress has already sent a regional governor to rule, as Queen Adama has abdicated. As your friend, and at great personal risk, I take it upon myself to ask you, please notify the queen that it is extremely unsafe for her return. A rebel faction has refused to allow outside governance, and will not be ruled by any. The fighting here has been tremendous, and devastating. Eleana's forces clash daily with the rebels and the situation is grave.
I will send more intelligence when I can. Until then I remain,
Kesim sat forward once more and laid the letter carefully on the desk. It was benign by itself, but the feelings the letter evoked in him, the aura of danger that surrounded it, a contrast to his peaceful life, nauseated him.
Two quick raps on the door preceded his father's entrance to the study.
Kesim looked over as he came in.
"Good afternoon, Kesim." Lord Thomas walked to the small table by the windows and poured a drink. He was still as tall and imposing as he had ever been although he was beginning to show his years. His steel gray hair was tied back and clubbed with a black thong, which matched his impeccable black suit. Sober and imperious, Lord Thomas Trasain was not a man to trifle with. "You're looking slightly off today. Are you well?"
"I'm fine, Father," Kesim said quietly.
"Is that the mail?"
Kesim watched his wife in the garden. She was so lovely she made his heart ache. The letter was one they had been awaiting. She would be devastated when he told her of her mother's death and the unrest in her home country.
His father set a glass on the desk before him. "If I ever saw a man who could use that, it's you."
"Thank you," Kesim replied and took a long drink. He set the glass down and looked at his father, who watched the women in the garden as well. "Father?" He stopped, exhaled, and then wordlessly handed the letter to the older man.
His father took the letter and read for a long time. "How accurate is this information?" he asked quietly.
Kesim finished his drink then stood and poured another one. He returned to his desk and sat heavily. "Joseph has never sent me inaccurate intelligence."
Kesim looked up at his father then out at the women in the garden again.
Adama felt his gaze and turned. She raised her hand in greeting, and then waved her big hat madly, making him grin at her foolishness.
"What will you tell her?"
"I don't know," Kesim replied.
"She will want to go."
"I cannot allow it." He picked up his drink and swallowed the liquor, grimacing at its fire.
Adama entered their bedroom and found Kesim relaxing upon the bed, reading. She sat beside him and he lowered his book with an inquisitive expression.
"The weather should be fine to travel for the next several weeks. I'll have Sarah pack my things so I can be on my way." She moved to stand.
"Adama." Kesim put his hand on her arm. "You cannot go to Lyros."
"What? Why not?" she demanded, narrowing her eyes like an irritated cat.
"It is far too dangerous."
"I was a soldier, Kesim."
"Exactly. You were a soldier. Now you're a mother with three young children, and you can't place yourself in such a situation."
"Kesim, if they are awaiting me, I must go. I can help them. My powers could be invaluable to the rebels."
"There has been no indication that they wish for you to return. It could be a trap and you could get yourself killed. Frankly, we've had enough of that to last a lifetime."
Adama's jaw dropped in shock. She could hardly believe he'd said such a thing. "I had no choice!"
He sighed. "No. I know--Adama, I do not wish to argue about this. We simply do not have enough information to know the situation there. When we know more, we can make a decision on what to do. Until then we must wait." He knew she hated to be told what to do, but he was adamant. He struggled to find a way to make her understand that this was for her own protection, not simply because he wished to control her. "It's not safe for you to go. You're staying here."
"No, I'm not," she fired back stubbornly. She pulled her arm away from him and moved to the door. "These are my people, Kesim. I owe them at least that much. My mother ruled for fifty years, and I couldn't hold my throne for even one. If nothing else I must at least help them overthrow Eleana."
"You are staying here." He stood and faced her, clenching his fists at his side. He could feel his pulse pounding through him and he closed his eyes, exhaling through his nose, praying for patience. He wouldn't back down; this was far too dangerous. Kesim knew she wasn't foolish. She knew the danger, but her sense of duty was overriding her caution. "Your magic alone isn't strong enough to defeat an army, Adama."
"I can take care of myself! You don't expect me to sit here and do nothing while my people die?" she demanded.
"You took very good care of yourself when you were abducted," he muttered.
He immediately regretted his words. "I'm sorry." He dragged in a calming breath, annoyed with himself for the barb. "I'm sorry ... That was uncalled for and I apologize, but the fact remains, you cannot go." He looked at her face and saw her steeling herself for another round. "Adama, I forbid you to leave Minalos." He was desperate. He knew if she left she'd be killed, and he couldn't allow it.
"You ... forbid?" She was almost speechless. "How dare you forbid me anything, Kesim Trasain!" Adama swallowed hard. He'd never questioned her abilities before, never pointed out what she knew, that he was more powerful than she. The unspoken statement left her saddened and she choked back angry tears.
"I am your husband; it is my right and my duty..."
They argued over whether she would go for the larger part of the evening without any peaceful resolution. At last he left, slamming the bedroom door behind him, prepared to spend an uncomfortable night on the sofa in his study.
Adama prepared to spend a lonely night in their bed.
Still angry, both of them found no rest.
Finally after waking for the third time and realizing she wouldn't get any rest without him, she grabbed her robe and moved quietly to the study.
Kesim, a naturally light sleeper, heard the door open and then click shut, and he smiled.
She climbed onto the sofa, lying on her side, and he brought his arm across her middle, holding her tightly.
"When things are safer, I swear we will go," he whispered quietly in her mind.
"I hope there is something left to go to."