Hers To Cherish (Verdantia Book 3) (6 page)

effortlessly picked out Ram as he engaged in mock battles with a diverse variety of contestants – some more humanoid than others. The archaic weapons seemed an extension of his body, his strikes and feints assured and practiced. During the Haarb wars, Steffania had fought beside Ramsey and knew him to be a supreme killer, but she’d never had the leisure to observe him until now. She’d been engaged in a similar life-or-death battle herself.
When you fight for your life, it tends to give you tunnel vision.
Time passed unnoticed as she became lost in fascinated scrutiny of an apex predator. Like the great silver megaton sharks in the seething oceans of Aquarion, everyone was Ramsey’s victim but Ramsey was no one’s prey. The sun had shifted the shadows considerably when a woman’s voice broke her reverie.

“Your master is mentioned frequently by the
vidcasters. They say he is a favorite in the games.” The gentle voice of a lovely brunette with near-violet eyes broke the quiet in the viewing box. Steffania hadn’t wanted to seem pushy, so other than smiling at the women around her when she first entered, she had kept to herself, hoping their curiosity about a stranger would prompt them to make the initial contact. “You belong to
DeKieran? Yes? The beautiful man with the eyes of a wolf?”

snarled inwardly.
I ‘belong’ to no man.
“Yes.” She nodded, forcing a smile. “That is one way to describe him. And who is your master?”

A slender hand pointed out a large, brutish male, swinging a heavy blade at a much smaller opponent. “There,

“My name is Steffania.” She smiled warmly at the lovely young woman. “What is yours?”

“They call me Pansy. Are you here only for the games?”

“Yes, this is our first time to thi
s planet. Its customs are…intriguing.”

struggled to “chat” with Pansy, racking her brain for topics of discussion.
How in the hell do women spend their lives talking of mindless drivel? Give me an invasion to plan any day.
Finally, she introduced the only subject in which she had any real interest. “Do you know what sorts of prizes go to the winner of the games?”

“Oh, the usual things – money,
a lucrative contract for a fight-vid, popularity on the celeb-circuit for a while.” Pansy shrugged.

are told little of our
duties and privileges. I have no knowledge of what’s involved in the contracts beyond what I see broadcast in the strictly edited, info-vids that play on the only channel deemed suitable for

“I have heard the parties given for the
winner continue for days. Has your
ever gone? Are the parties as wild as they say?” Steffania looked at the other woman expectantly.

“No. I have never gone. I have never wanted to go.
Narr always gives the winner’s celebration on his estate. No
would ever willingly go there.” Pansy shuddered delicately. “Of course,
go where our
require we go.”

Veacon Narr? Oh, but that would be wonderful,” Steffania gushed. “I might be able to see my friend, Alessa. Do you know of her? Alessa DeAlbero?”

The other woman looked at her with an unfriendly expression and stood. “It was a pleasure speaking with you, Steffania. I see a close friend of mine, please excuse me.”

And so began one of the most frustrating days in Steffania’s memory. Each time she brought up the name, Veacon Narr, conversation ceased. Whomever she spoke with simply stood and moved away. When Ram came for her that evening, he found her sitting alone. He beckoned her to his side with a nod.

“Back to the villa, my dove.” Ram ushered her toward a waiting cab.

Climbing in, Steffania again sat near his feet. {I hope your day was more productive than mine.}

Ram looked down at her and idly played with her hair, running his hands through
its thick lengths. “When I came for you, you sat alone. Are the other women unfriendly?” {Were you able to find out anything?}

Steffania moved into his hand
without thought, finding pleasure in his caress. “They are friendly enough.” {Every time I mentioned Veacon Narr or Alessa DeAlbero, all conversation stopped. By the end of the day, no one would come near me.}

Ram grunted. “You will see them again tomorrow. Try not to be so prickly.” He leaned back into the soft upholstery of the cab and groaned. “It has been a
while since I practiced eight hours straight. I will require some pampering this evening.”

In the privacy of their cab, Steffania glared at him
. {Prickly? Pampering? Don’t push your luck, DeKieran.}

He just grinned and closed his eyes as his head lolled back into the headrest.

When they reached the villa, Ram strolled in and went immediately to the bedroom. “Run a bath for me, Steffania, and then bring me something to eat.”

She lowered her
head in acknowledgment. “As you wish.” {My lord and master.}

Even through the comm-disc, his response held reprimand
. {And don’t forget it for even one moment.}

Steffania carried a platter heaped with savory, meat-filled pastries and slices of fresh fruits into the bath and placed it on the wide edge of the small bathing pool. A small army of servants must service these villas
, evidenced by the always freshly prepared food in the hot and cold keeping boxes in the kitchen and the immaculately clean master bedroom and bath furnished with crisp linens and fluffy towels. When she returned a few minutes later with two flagons, one of water and one of wine, Ram languished in the bath. He lay back against the edge, his eyes closed. He looked utterly spent.

“Do you want me to wash you?” It came as a surprise to her, but she was willing to perform this service.
She’d spent all day teased by a low hum of sexual arousal. She wanted him still.
Sexual need, that is all it is.
At the end of this mission, they would go their separate ways.

His eyes opened and
Ram regarded her seriously. “Yes.”

She felt his eyes on
her as she unpinned her skirt, slipped the thong down her legs and tied her hair on the top of her head. He offered her a hand as she stepped into the bath water. For the next few minutes, his eyes never left her as she slid a soapy sponge over his hard body. When she finished, the shaft between his legs had risen, fiercely erect.

His fingers traced her lips. “You are truly exquisite.”

Steffania dropped her eyes, made shy by his sincere compliment, and whispered, “Thank you.” She promptly hated the warm, womanly surrender Ramsey’s comment inspired and lifted her jaw, meeting his gaze squarely. 

picked up a meat pastry and consumed it in one bite, chewing slowly, thoughtfully, his eyes dwelling on her with a tactile presence. Her nipples hardened as his eyes lingered on her breasts and gooseflesh stood the hairs on her arms straight as if his hot gaze stroked her physically. His stormcloud-gray gaze rose to her lips and stayed there as she dampened them with the pink tip of her tongue. With languid fluidity, he selected a pastry and offered it to her, holding it to her mouth as she neatly bit into it. He teased her lower lip with a piece of soft, fleshy melon and watched intently as she licked off the juice before consuming the fruit, and so it went. They ate their meal in a living silence of carnal promise. She found herself inhaling in deep draws and exhaling in sharp pants. Edgy punches of foreboding roiled ever higher in her the longer Ramsey’s wordless observation continued.

“Go to the bedroom and get on the bed. Kneel. No clothes.”

Steffania glanced at Ram, uneasy. {What are you going to do?}

Don’t question me. Just obey.}

She did as he ordered, her heart pounding in her throat. When he walked through the bedroom door, he carried multiple lengths of scarlet rope.

“Kneel down, knees apart, forehead on the bedding. Extend your arms above you, elbows together.”

Ram began at her waist.
Each coil around her torso following closely on top of the one below it, he methodically bound her upper body in a rope corset of intricately inter-looped lengths that ended just below her breasts then resumed just above. It took him some time. As each curl of the brightly dyed hemp wrapped her, he placed a knot over her spine and laddered to the next binding above. He entwined her shoulders and upper arms in a web of Gordian complexity. He continued to her elbows, binding her lower arms together in a continual flow of scarlet rope, interspersed with interlocking loops similar to those along her spine, and then finished at her wrists

When complete
, Ram had immobilized her from the waist up, cocooned her in an artistry of scarlet bindings – and she was hopelessly aroused. He had yet to touch her in an overt sexual manner, but waves of wanton sensation flooded her as slowly, precisely, with careful thought, Ram removed her ability to do anything but submit. Ram restrained her upper body, from waist to wrists, leaving her lower body open for whatever sexual use he desired. The unspoken craving she had never voiced bloomed into reality. Steffania relaxed into the firm embrace of the roping and gave up all control. She surrendered to the simplicity of pleasing Ramsey.

“You should see yourself, my sweet
. You are a carnal fantasy bound in scarlet hemp. I won’t even attempt to resist.”

Ram’s deep, husky voice tickled her ear and his weight
bore down briefly against her back. She felt the press of his hard thighs against her buttocks and his hands lifted her hips. His knees spread hers wide, opening her to him completely. The velvet-covered strength of his erection probed at her slick core. He surged into her forcefully, pulling her hips to his, and then stilled when he had breached her completely.

“I knew I would find you wet.”

A small mewl of gratification left her mouth. The sensation of his heavy cock filling her defied description. The knowledge that he controlled her absolutely sent her arousal rocketing into the stratosphere. She panted in shallow breaths. The roping hugging her ribs and abdomen prevented anything more. The slick, stretching slide of his cock shuttling back and forth seemed to last an eternity. She lost herself in time. There had never been anything but the penetrating dominance of a male organ opening her, using her, inflaming her. Each heavy surge brought her to the edge of climax. The force of his hips slamming into hers rubbed her nipples against the bedding in a blaze of added sensation. Any small stimulation to her clit would finish her. After the tease of the last two days, Steffania craved that culmination with an unusual desperation. But even more than the physical pleasure, she craved the knowledge she had pleased Ramsey.
I’m one sick puppy.

Ram grunted with each slam into her, his fingers biting into the flesh of her hips. She must have made some needy sound. “Do you want to come, sweetheart?” he rasped.

“If it pleases you. Oh, god, yes,” she panted.

“It does please me.” One hand slipped forward and found the small bundle of nerves at the apex of her sex. His careful fingering tripped her over
, and she shattered into a million brilliant pieces. The elegant bedding muffled her sobs of completion.

She regained awareness as Ram pulled his softening cock from her in a slow flood of cum and her own fluids. She made an involuntary sound of protest.
His low, masculine chuckle vibrated in her ear.

“I agree, but I must get you out of these bindings. You have been in them long enough. Longer and you risk injury.” A slow hand caressed her hair. “That is not permissible.”

Steffania lay quiescent while Ram unwound his artistry. The tracks of the rope marked her skin in an interesting pattern of short, parallel, diagonal lines.

Who taught you to do that?} She was finally free enough to look up at him.

A dark eyebrow arched
but his glance held good humor. {You are the perfect subject for
téad de ghrásta
. I’m surprised you are new to it.}

He pulled the last of the rope free and began to coil it neatly, straightening it as he went.

{There is a term for what you did?}

Ram looked at her wryly
. {
Téad de ghrásta
means “grace of the rope” and is an ancient form of rope bondage. I happen to appreciate its elegance.}

I, ah...I liked it.}

His white teeth flashed in a wicked grin
. {I noticed. I will do it often.}

Ram left the room with his scarlet ropes. When he returned, Steffania waited for him with warm washcloths. She held them out to him and asked, “May I?”

At his nod, she dropped to her knees and gently removed the traces of drying fluids from his genitals, thighs and abdomen. When all was clean, she slowly wrapped her arms around his thighs and hugged him, nestling her face into his groin and breathing in the pure male smell of Ramsey DeKieran. Somehow, with him, an action so delicately submissive, so alien to her nature seemed natural, seemed – necessary.

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