To Shonna Tolbert-Hurt, Michelle Tolbert, Heather Showalter (and her donkey pal) and Kemmie Tolbert for the love, joy and laughter you bring to my life. And of course to Debbie Splawn-Bunch, who wouldn't let me title this book Handcuffed to the Headboard. A special thanks to Deidre Knight, Tracy Farrell and Jessica Alvarez. I am blessed to work with you.
The Fifth Season
"I want you again, Tristan."
Waves crashed against the cliffs outside, their lulling rhythm floating upon the sea-kissed beams of moonlight filtering through the arched windows. The sweet scent of gartina and elsment filled the chamber, a palpable omen of magic few could comprehend or even acknowledge.
Zirra leaned naked against the window frame, the exact place her lover had taken her moments ago. When he failed to respond to her words, she seductively arched her back and skimmed a hand down the flat plane of her stomach.
"I want you again, Tristan," she repeated, a husky edge to the words. Her body still hummed from his touch, but she needed more of him. She always needed more of him.
The darkness of his hair hung in wild disarray over his shoulders as he fastened his black, warrior drocs around his waist. He eyed her with amusement. "You know I must go, nixa."
"Why?" Annoyed, Zirra abandoned her pose of relaxed beckoning and stalked to the bed. She didn't bother covering herself with the silky white sheet, but left the plump mounds of her breasts bared for his view. "Why do you deny me the pleasure of your touch?"
He closed the distance between them and eased atop the bed, mere inches away from her reach. "You know I must journey to the palace for instruction from Great-Lord Challann. A rebellion brews in Gillirad."
"I cannot disobey a direct command from my sovereign. This you know, as well."
Her brow knit in annoyance. Tristan acted as if her nakedness no longer tempted him.
Mayhap it didn't.
Tendrils of fury danced along her spine. Earlier she had kissed and licked a path down his entire body, had taken him deep into her mouth as she'd never done for another man. When she finished, he had slid himself inside her, pumping and gliding erotically, giving her a rapture so complete she had begged for mercy. Yet he had yawned. Yawned!
Her fists clenched so tightly her knuckles whitened, and her long oval nails dug into her palms, cutting deeply into the skin. She had given Tristan everything she had to give, and yet she, a priestess of the Druinn, had failed to truly satisfy him. And because of her failure, she would soon be discarded like a worthless piece of garbage.
That image burned in her mind, and the urge to hurt Tristan, to destroy him in some way, coursed through her. For eight cycles he had come to her, giving her incomparable pleasure, and for each of those eight eves he had left her here afterward, alone in the vast emptiness of her bed, desperate for more of him. Dying for more of him.
He must suffer as I suffer, she thought. Yet…
Her need for his affection proved a vehement ache she could not ignore, and she found herself reaching out, gripping his muscled forearm. Even now, his features drawn tight with annoyance, he exuded the sensual eroticism of a man who existed only to pleasure his woman. She wanted, needed, to be the one who obtained his eternal devotion. Mayhap then the constant ache inside her heart would be filled.
"We belong together," she said, her words emerging on an ethereal wisp of breath. "Life-join with me and I will give you more carnal pleasure than any other woman is capable of giving."
He did not even pause. "Nay."
"Treasures. I will give you treasures beyond your deepest imagination." With a desperate flick of her wrist, she tossed her long black hair over one shoulder. "Even, if you so desire, a planet of your own to rule."
"Zirra," Tristan chided softly. Watching her, he lounged across the bed and propped his weight on his elbow. "Best you recall my words before I ever came to be your lover. I told you I could never be more than a passing fancy for you."
"Aye, I remember," she admitted through clenched teeth. But she hadn't let it stop her from having him. One look at Tristan's male perfection, at the way his pale violet eyes promised untold passion, at the way his hard, muscled body moved with sinewy grace, and she'd been lost. Lost as if her mind and heart were separate entities.
"Nothing has changed," he said. With a touch as gentle as his tone, he ran a fingertip down her cheek. "Nor will it ever. You are Druinn, and I am mortal, and permanent ties are forbidden. I am sorry."
Once again, fury blazed through her, hot and hungry. No one treated her this way. No one. "I will give you but one more chance to bind yourself to me."
He pushed to his feet, uttering a husky chuckle that usually made her shiver with delight. Now the sound merely fueled her anger.
"Or you will what, nixa? Boil my eyeballs in water? Render my manhood flaccid for all time?"
"Oh, no, my fine warrior. I will do much, much worse."
Not the least affected by her ominous warning, he lifted his gleaming silver blade from its inclined position against the wall and hooked it to a metal loop on his belt. He bent down and placed a quick kiss upon her cheek. "Mayhap later we will work off this energy you seem to harbor, hmm?"
Without waiting for a reply, he turned on his heel and strode to the door.
"You desire women above all things, Tristan," she said, "and now I will make you a slave to them." Scowling, she snatched up the jeweled trinket box he had given her mere hours ago and hurtled it at him. It sailed past his ear and crashed to the floor, unharmed. She vaulted up. "I will make you a slave to me."
Tristan spun and faced her. His expression no longer boasted of easy confidence but of incredulity, and just a little fear. "What are you doing, Zirra?"
A rush of excitement pooled between her legs, for she had made this mighty warrior afraid. "No one refuses me," she told him, her body remaining taut as she stood in all her naked glory, fury and indignation her only cloth. "And you, my handsome mortal, shall pay for doing so."
"Mortals have vowed never to destroy your people's Kyi-en-Tra Crystal, and in return the Druinn have sworn never to use their powers against us. You yourself agreed to this. If you break your oath you will break the Alliance between our people and war will erupt. You will honor your word. No sorcery. I forbid it."
"You, a mortal? Forbid me? I think not." She laughed, yet the sound lacked humor. "How will your Great-Lord ever discover what I have done to you if you cannot tell him?"
"Beg me to become your life-mate, and I will swear never to harm you."
Lavender fire instantly blazed in his eyes. "I will never beg you, or anyone, for anything."
"Then you have brought this on yourself, Tristan ar Malik." Her dark brows arched in mocking salute, she raised her hands in the air, palms up.
Tristan growled low in his throat and advanced, his intent to immobilize her evident with every step. A simple wave of her hand froze his feet in place.
Surprise flashed across his features a split second before he glared at her with such hostility she shivered. She refused to allow a mortal to frighten her. She closed her eyes, splayed her fingers wide and began to chant. "From now until love finds you true, a woman's slave I shall make of you."
Wind howled in swirling procession, thrashing and clawing throughout the spacious chamber, whipping the white gossamer cloth over the windows and rattling the very foundation of the floor. Energy erupted and glowed all around, striking like bolts and war spears. A rumbling boom echoed in her ears. She raised her arms higher.
"Into a trinket box you shall rest, answering each summons as it suits best. This I bind, this I speak, your will matters none. So said, let it be known. So said, let it be done."
One moment Tristan stood before her a strong, virile man, the next he was gone. Only the small jewel-encrusted box she'd thrown rested on the floor. Grinning slowly, she hopped from the bed, bent down and clasped the box in her hands. A wave of giddiness swept through her. Tristan now belonged to her—only to her. And over the next thousand years or so, she would enjoy letting him make up for his behavior today. He would learn well his mistake in refusing a priestess of the Druinn.
Sante Fe, New Mexico
Ways Of The Pleasure Slave
The Slightest Whim Of Your Master Is Your Highest Law
The blare of a horn sounded. Again. Julia Anderson gripped the wheel of her sedan and glanced down at her speedometer. Six miles per hour over the speed limit. The driver behind her found this completely unacceptable and honked yet again, a demand that she get out of the way or hit the gas.
The morning sun had yet to make an appearance, but the waning moon and towering streetlights revealed two open, easily accessible lanes. There was no reason to ride her tail like this.
Still the honking persisted for another mile.
By that time, Julia's nerves were frazzled and her foot was shaking on the gas pedal. She rolled her shoulders and drew in a deep breath, but neither action managed to relax her. She cranked up the volume on La Bohème.
That didn't help, either.
I'm a calm, rational woman, she reminded herself. I will not become unnerved by a little honking.
Honk. Honk. Hoooonk.
Her teeth gnashed together. She didn't have a temper; she really didn't. Not usually anyway. But right now she wanted to slam on her brakes and give that driver a crash-test-dummy demonstration. Instead, she allowed her car to gradually slow.
"What do you think of that, Speedy?" she asked smugly.
Apparently, he didn't like it. His little Mustang finally whipped into another lane, accelerating quickly. When their cars aligned, he rolled down his window and began shouting and waving his fist. The moment she recognized him, Julia forgot she believed in thinking before acting. She forgot that she preferred to act rationally in all situations.
She gave him the bird.
That's right. She held up one hand and extended her middle finger. In a hiss of fury, the red sports car roared away.
Shock was still coursing through her when she reached her destination. She, a woman who prided herself on her calm, rational behavior, had just flipped off her biggest competitor.
And it had felt good. So deliciously good.
Chuckling, she parked her car. Her amusement faded, however, when she saw that there was one other car in the lot—a red Mustang.
A groan worked its way past her throat as she gathered her purse and stepped into the frigid Sante Fe morning. A strong wind immediately blustered by, making her shiver. She tugged the lapels of her coat tighter and hurried toward the only building in sight.
The Mustang's owner was waiting near the metal doors. When he spotted her, he glared at her through small, dark eyes. Hostility radiated from him.
She came to an abrupt stop and watched him warily. At five foot six or seven, he wasn't much taller than she. His thin cap of hair gleamed with a thick film of mousse, and a round belly protruded over the elastic waist of his wrinkled pants.
The same wild impulse that had hit her in the car hit her now. He's going down, she decided, squaring her shoulders. And I'll be the one to give him the final push. He must have sensed her determination to outmaneuver him, because he placed one foot in front of the other and crouched down ever so slightly. The classic fighting stance.
This meant war.
She stiffened her resolve, refusing to run back to the safety of her car. She stared at him through slitted eyes, not willing to look away or even blink. To do so showed weakness, and the desire to win this battle had suddenly grown to unimaginable proportions. While he was closer to the door, she was a good twenty years younger and a hundred pounds lighter.
He didn't stand a chance.
Suddenly a click reverberated through the cover of silence.
The Kreager Flea Market had just opened to dealers.
Jumping into action, Julia pushed and elbowed her way past the man. She glided through the double doors a split second before he did. Yes! Victory. Smiling with pride, she grabbed a basket and began her treasure hunt.
Antiques. Ah, that one word had the power to send ribbons of delight down her spine. Over the years she'd been called many things. Garage-sale junky. Thrift-store devotee. Auction-house addict. She had accumulated so much stuff she'd had two options: buy an antique store to sell her wares or become buried alive in her collection.
She'd chosen to set up her own shop.
Julia's Treasures opened the day of her twenty-third birthday and had flourished in the two years since. It was her pride and joy, a place where she found success and happiness. Unlike the rest of your life, a hidden corner of her mind supplied.
"Hey," she said, then pressed her lips together. I'm happy with the rest of my life. So what that she had plain brown hair, nondescript green eyes, and a short, rounded body that failed to gain admiration. So what that she had no fashion sense and didn't know how to attract a man. "I'm happy," she repeated firmly.
As she wandered through the market, her old, ratty sneakers squeaked, drawing the attention of several sellers intent on luring her over. Knowing exactly what she wanted to buy—and what she didn't—she ignored them. She bypassed a table of porcelain dolls and didn't look twice at the stand laden with Depression Era glass.
In the back, next to a slightly worn cherry vanity, she spotted an old corncob pipe. She studied the aged wood from every angle, then lifted it to her nose and sniffed. The faint scent of tobacco drifted to bier nostrils. She grinned, the perfect customer in mind.
Elated, she carefully placed the pipe in her basket. Next she examined a colorful blown-glass carousel, but decided to forgo purchasing such an expensive item when she didn't have a buyer already lined up. The rest of the items on the table received a cursory perusal before one object in particular drew and held her gaze. She set aside a collage of plastic flowers and stared down at what looked to be an old square jewelry box.
The sides were chipped, and the outer layer, which at one time had probably been a glossy ivory, was now a dull yellow-brown. There were several holes where colored glass, or maybe even precious gems, once resided. Overall an extremely ugly piece, yet something about it called to her. Biting her lower lip, she ran her fingertips over the surface. Unexpectedly, the cool exterior sent a shaft of warm, inviting heat up her arm. Tingles raced down her back, making her shiver. Intrigued, she tried to raise the lid, but the stubborn thing refused to budge.
That didn't dissuade her. She wanted this box. Badly. "See something you like, lass?" asked a voice with a slight Scottish accent. Julia glanced up. A man who appeared to be in his early sixties with a beaked nose and eyes that drooped low on his cheekbones regarded her expectantly. Those eyes, she thought… they were as fathomless and blue as an ocean, and she would swear they saw into her soul. She shook off her unease. Not wanting him to know just how much she desired the item, she schooled her features to show mild curiosity, nothing more. "How much for the jewelry box?" she asked.