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Authors: Anya Howard


Anya Howard
Kensington Publishing Corp.
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Books by Anya Howard
Liason E-Novella
Dearest Alain,
As it is you alone of our circle who has contacted me, I must decline the invitation to the reunion of our alma mater with especial regret. Of all the young men of our mutual society, you were my only friend. More so, admittedly, the only individual, until recently, who ever shared the intimate details of my mind and heart. It is for my affection, and the knowledge of your inner soul with its enviable honesty, that I hope you accept the expenses found in this missive and grace me with a visit at your convenience. A map I have sent along for your journey, and I wait with expectant heart to renew our friendship. But as you have always been kind in writing, and enduring the long intervals between my responses, allow me now to indulge you with the relating of my most recent esoteric adventure. It is the last, and of them all, the most humbling.
For you, who with that easy acceptance of yourself, met the censure of the university and the snubbing of our society, and worse, my personal mockery, have been vindicated. I stand corrected of those philosophies of yours that rubbed my shallow propriety as immoderate, earthy, and shamelessly human. As much for this overdue vindication as to renew the friendship that I alone allowed to stray, read on my particulars for not wishing to leave. You have always been the most courteous doubter and listener regarding my occult obsessions. And when it is finished, perhaps you will understand why I believe your forthright and unapologetic soul would be piqued to share the secrets that I have been shown.
It was during the sixth week after my arrival into the village as the new schoolmaster that I stood at the doorway of the newly designated schoolhouse, watching the last of my pupils return home for the day: two sisters, skipping off hand in hand. It had already been a fully frustrating day. Just keeping my thoughts to the subject matter had been a labor. But now the cold bath planned for my return home vanished from thought as my eyes clung to the sight of Maresa’s dark braids flying over her shoulders and Laurea’s long blond tresses bouncing over her voluptuous hips. They glanced back just before prancing off the lawn for the smooth dirt street. They were giggling, and their eyes were bold. My face flushed smartly, but the awkwardness did not show in my bearing, of course, for I had years of experience in wearing the stern countenance of the schoolmaster. I knew they saw it, too, for a chagrined bloom rose at once in their fair cheeks and their mouths pursed like scolded children.
But children they were not; and what luscious mouths they had—tinged with rose, as smooth as their legs that peeped out beneath the hems of their frocks. My pupils had a distinct fashion to which they adhered: shin-length lacy frocks dyed in various shades of pastels, with white bodices so tightly laced that their breasts heaved vulnerably close to spilling out. On their feet they wore little white leather boots that came to their ankles. The slender heels of these boots only added to the allure of their peeping legs. From the youngest to the oldest, they wore these innocent enticements. My students were all women grown, daughters and wives, imbued, each and every one, with a seductive mystique that was utterly distracting.
For the first five years after acceptance into the exclusive academics guild in Berne, I was assigned to instructing history at the secondary academy in Brussels. During the subsequent five, I served as a private tutor to the young sons of military families in the Netherlands and then England. During these years, when my brain was not immersed in the routine of educating the young men under my supervision, my time was consumed by pursuing my personal hobby. While my peers spent their evenings and holidays relaxing in taverns or romancing prospective wives, I browsed for occult manuscripts. From shops of antique dealers and curiosity collectors to private libraries and auction houses, I had dedicated every spare moment of the last ten years to building my collection of texts.
My routine had not been complicated once in ten years. I rarely thought of women other than those fleeting, nameless images a man creates and utilizes to afford a decent night’s sleep. Marriage was on my agenda, as surely as advancement in the guild house, but advancement came first. Advancement would then provide the connections a man of my station needed to find a woman of acceptable social status and quality for the matrimonial proposition. Other than this regimented plan, I had no use for, and certainly little interaction with, women.
This was, until I arrived in the charter village of Urdhels.
I had just spent several months tutoring history and German to the son of a minor English nobleman and had returned to Berne for further assignment when the messenger from France arrived. It was a financially lucrative offer: to teach the women of the German settlement in history, calligraphy, and poetry. A decision had been made by the settlers’ council that their women would benefit with some acquaintance with contemporary world events, history and poetry, and furthering their comprehension of the French language, which was surprisingly deficient. It was the council that had approached the guild regarding my services and welcomed me en masse upon my entrance into the valley. To say the least, I did not voice my unease with their dialect, which, in actuality, was not the contemporary German I had expected from our correspondence, but rather an obscure dialect of old German, which made for a certain awkwardness between myself and my hosts during those first days in the village.
On the day after my arrival, the councilmen had brought me to the schoolhouse they had prepared. As they introduced me to my waiting class of provocatively frocked and apple-blushed new pupils, I was suddenly and completely aware of how very far I had ventured from the sterile academic halls and chambers. My pupils were their wives, their fiancées, their daughters; and yet, they had no compunction of leaving their fairer sex under my utter and closeted supervision.
Wisdom tempered complaint, of course. These people had paid the guild twice the average salary for my services. I had been given a small cabin in which to dwell. It was clean and furnished, and there was even a servant boy by the name of Weistreim who took care of the small household and brought to me the generous baskets of food sent in the morning and at night from the Burgomeister’s own table. The landscape of the valley was wildly enchanting, and the village picturesque with its medieval-style buildings and homes. The half-day hours were certainly less demanding than those of any other position in my career. The councilmen let it be known straightaway they would not pry into the affairs of my classroom, as long as religion and politics entered not into my rhetoric. In fact, they informed me that I was expected to be stern with my pupils. I had to smile at this, for I simply could not imagine grown women giving me the disruption often encountered with the headstrong male children I was used to. I felt welcome, and strangely so, for I detected from discussions with the councilmen that they were none too fond of strangers in general. Before I had set out from Berne, the guild director had provided me what information he personally knew of the charter tribe. They had settled in the valley hundreds of years before.
There was some rumor as to their ties with certain old Teutonic fraternities, but there were a few verified bits of information on record too. An exemption from taxation and the right to keep their own customs was still yielded from the original edicts of the provincial duke who had allotted them the land. In exchange for these grants, the Urdhel men were bound to uphold the hereditary title of their patrons and their descendants, as well as serve in some huntsmen capacity, the exact nature of which the director’s documents were unclear. There were some accounts of rifts between several of the dukes and their spiritual and political detractors regarding this tribe. The chronicles I read made repeated references to the pagan Urdhels, and there were accounts from missionaries testifying to their strident refusal to accept Christianity. Chronicler after chronicler commented disparagingly on the Urdhel settlers’ godless and unexplainable fortune to have avoided the fate of the Cathars and Knights Templar. The same chronicles alluded that through the generations, the province dukes had suffered censure and scorn—from relatives of their respective wives to their kings, and from uncertain but vocal religious orders for keeping the compact with the settlers.
Not that I was concerned with overly theological disputes. I was wisely adherent to customs of faith as it served propriety, even if personally I was skeptical of institutionalized religion. So it was, upon first entering the valley and setting eyes on the medieval-like village, it occurred to me a marvel, indeed, that these people had held on to their primitive ways for so long without interference. But on this day, it was all I could to do to draw my appreciating eyes from the young women and return inside my classroom. I gave myself some time to tidy up the desk and check the floor for misplaced papers—I had long demanded tidiness from my pupils, as well as their full attention. Of course, I could not imagine myself scolding grown women for something haphazardly fallen to the floor.
As I straightened my papers, I had to ignore their perfume that lingered in the air—the heady scent of pure femininity. I had to force my mind to matters other than all those flowing tresses and pretty flouncing skirts. I left the classroom as quickly as I could, welcoming the sobering outside air as I locked the door.
The village was quiet, and I knew that, officially, this hour was regulated as a time for rest for women and children. I left the school behind and started to stroll down the well-trod clay path that stretched through the village. To the little bridge that spanned over the small brook at the eastern end of town I walked. From there, I crossed the path that skirted a fenced-off field where stood a great spiral of wattle beehives. The bees flew drowsily through the air here, glutting themselves on the nectar of coneflowers and lilac sowed thickly between the shade trees. The path led me around, toward the wilder part of the valley that cupped the eastern rim of the gorge. The grass was high here, green as emerald, and surrounded by the woods blanketing down the slope. I was in the mood for some fresh air and quietude, and to forget the tantalizing, yet discomforting, job I had unwittingly been assigned six weeks before. At least the school’s hours were accommodating compared with most of my previous assignments; the town council had determined the classroom hours would commence at nine and end at two in the afternoon. So I had time to research the books I had collected over the years—manuscripts and scrolls on alchemy and the occult—that I had had little time to truly read before, because of the exacting obligations to my former clientele.
As I approached the edge of the eastern woods, I found a small retreat in the soft grass. Alone and calmed of the emotions that had raged in me all day, I took from my vest the small, leather-bound volume. It had cost me a small fortune in Berne, but the translation was challenging, and the cabalistic subject difficult enough to demand my full concentration. The unfamiliar and humbling awkwardness imparted by my new pupils dispelled for a time as I allowed my thoughts to drown in the arcane text.
But in my determination to relax, I had forgotten the monastery; and as the sunlight stretched farther toward the western horizon, a shadow fell over the whole of the meadow. I looked up once to the eastern summit, and the sky was a shade of ill blue behind the religious structure. Of Romanesque design, it was built very close to the lip of land above the steep ravine, standing like a disapproving watcher over the picturesque valley. I studied it now dispassionately. The masonry was somber and dark; the columns and piers thatched with vines. The nave and spires contrasted brightly with the otherwise gloomy ambience of the place. Plated by metal with a sheen much like silver, the nave and spires reflected the sun off the levels below it, so as to further enhance the forbidding ambience of the rest of the edifice. I had been obligated to pass by the borders of the place on the carriage ride that had brought me to the entry path that ventured down to the charter village. The councilman who had been waiting to greet me seemed hesitant to answer my questions regarding the monastery, saying only that the fraternity who dwelt there were members of a privileged religious order.
Civility had prevented me from inquiring further, but I was left with a sense that there were some unspoken ill relations between this mysterious order and my hosts.
Now, I turned my eyes from the monastery and was surprised to glimpse four young women—two brunettes, a redhead, and one with auburn tresses that swept down to her hips—running across the valley from the path. No more than twenty yards from my retreat they stopped, divested of their school frocks, and hung these across the bottom of a small hazelnut tree. I forgot the book entirely and watched the women run out of the tree’s shade. They were laughing as they took hands and formed a circle. A soft melody they began to sing as their feet padded clockwise in the long, velvety grass. Their nubile breasts swung lightly, and their unbound hair waved down their backs. Lovely, all of them, and my loins stirred pleasantly as I stood and walked quietly to the opening of my retreat for a better view.
It was then I could see their faces. The four women were, indeed, all pupils of mine . . . and looking from one to the other I recognized them. But it was only upon seeing the face of the auburn-haired one that my heart surged in my chest. Carina!
My knees weakened even as my cock swelled under my trousers. The daughter of one of the town councilmen, Carina Walpurg was 20 years of age, and one of the most bashful creatures I had ever met. She rarely spoke in class, and her responses to my questions were always answered softly and with courtesy. And yet, of all the women, her presence had especially proved uneasy for me. I am not certain exactly the cause for the inner turmoil she caused, for she was no more lovely than her companions, and certainly not as lively or giddy as most of them. Her large turquoise eyes seemed hard-pressed to address me; but when they did, I lost all sensibility for a moment, and whatever thought was in my head in that moment was swept away by decadent, unabashed desire. Several times that very day I had found myself strolling between the rows of seats while my pupils studied their history books on the chance she might lift her pretty face and give me a smile. And though she hadn’t, I had caught my share of glimpses of her cleavage pressing against her snugly bowed bodice. A lavender ribbon looped through the eyelets, the bow of which had lain perfectly between her rose-kissed bosoms.

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