Authors: T. A. Grey
“We have a problem, sir.”
Telal paused in the act of buttoning his shirt and looked at Kearnyn. Kearnyn was his most trusted guard. He paid him enough money not only to sway him from the Atal Warriors where he used to work but to keep his useful services. Telal tried to think of a time in the past four hundred years they've been working together when the man had ever had a problem. Ah, yes, there was the time when an angry mob of humans tried to storm his previous headquarters in Boston. Of course, that had been in 1805.
He didn't want to ask, afraid he already knew. “What's it about?” He finished buttoning his shirt and grabbed a tie to put on next.
“It's the succubus, Ms. Bellum.”
His hands froze for a moment at her name then continued to create a perfect Windsor knot. “She won't leave?” He'd expected it; hell, he'd have to be an idiot not to. The woman was the most foolish person he'd ever met, and he'd met a lot of people in his years.
Kearnyn rocked side to side on his feet, almost like he was nervous. “I knocked but she wouldn't answer. I don't know if she's a heavy sleeper but I didn't want to barge in on her if she were...indecent.”
Lily Bellum...indecent. Those words together were a dangerous combination. Everything about her was indecent, from her insolent tongue to her roaming hands. She'd almost touched him last night. His own fingers trailed across his chest where hers had been. Something had held her back. He'd seen her be bold before, but she hadn't outright touched him yesterday. He thought about it then decided it was a good thing.
“I'll take care of it.”
Kearnyn handed him the room key and he made his way down to her room, his gut tightening with something close to anticipation. It was just because he was about to throw her out, he thought. Indeed, he could have smiled it made him so happy.
He banged on the door with his fist, hard. No answer came. Inserting the key into the lock, he flung it open, only to have the door barely move an inch.
“Bloody hell.” She had lodged a chair under the door handle. What was she up to now? Bracing himself, he squared his shoulders and rammed at the door. It burst open like an explosion, the chair shooting back into the wall before toppling sideways and falling down with a broken leg.
His eyes searched the room like a ruthless hunter. He found the bed empty, the comforter pulled down, and the sheets rumpled. He stalked to it and pressed his hand to the sheets—it held lingering warmth from her body.
He made his way into the living room and then the kitchen, finding them both empty. But then he heard it—
singing. It sounded strong, lyrical, almost throaty. His hands curled into fists as he marched towards the bathroom and threw the door open.
He stopped in his tracks. She didn't.
She looked up at him in that large bath and smiled showcasing neat white teeth and a set of dimples. Wet dark hair curled around her shoulders and neck like curly-cues. Soapy bubbles barely covered the tops of her breasts and hid any sight of her naked body from him. Something dark and hungry coiled inside him. He wanted nothing more than to lash out at it until it went away, but that was impossible anytime she was near. She seemed to always draw out this side of him. Eyes, deep brown with a hint of green around the pupils, beckoned him to come closer.
He'd taken a step before he realized it. “What are you doing?”
Her eyes laughed at him. She picked up a soapy loofah and ran it up one smooth arm. “I thought it was obvious. Do demons not bathe?”
He jerked back a step to keep from going over there and doing something stupid. Like dunking her head under the water—or worse.
“Of course we do. Get out and get dressed. I have a car waiting for you outside.”
She nodded, then dunked her head under the water, coming back up with a gasp of air. Now even more suds slid along her wet skin.
Wet skin. Those two words nearly sent his mind derailing into territory he had absolutely no business, or need, occupying. He closed his mind off with a steel barricade.
Suddenly, she stood. It all happened to fast...the sight was incredible. Steamy water rushed over her body like a waterfall; soft skin pinkened from the hot water and covered in fluffy suds slowly trailed down her breasts, her stomach.
All the moisture dried up from his tongue like he had a cotton ball shoved in there. And then something even stranger happened, his dormant cock lengthened, stiffened.
She didn't linger but put one foot out of the tub, then the other, giving him more than a glimpse of smooth, soft-looking skin. A luscious, heart-shaped derriere, rounded thighs perfect for riding, and pert breasts, nipples hard, pointed high, dusky colored.
He swallowed hard as she started towards him. His eyes couldn't stop; hell, his mind barely worked. He felt as though he were running on an old operating system, lagging behind like a snail. Round dusky nipples centered in a pair of ripe breasts, perfect for holding, perfect for sucking. She ran a hand across her stomach, wiping away some suds and damned if his eyes didn't follow, eating up every inch she showed him.
She had a body shaped like an hourglass, all curves and dips. His lips were suddenly too dry and he darted his tongue out to wet them. Dark black, the patch of short hairs between her legs was a startling contrast to her lighter skin. He stared, unabashed, as she reached him.
“Do you like?” It might just be his ears playing tricks on him but it sounded as if she
He blinked quickly then his eyes snapped up to meet hers. “No.” He couldn't hide the gruffness in his voice any more than he could the erection in his pants.
Her eyebrows rose. “Oh?”
She took a little step forward and the stupid organ in his chest started pounding like a ceremonial drum. Fuck, she was nothing but trouble. It took incredible willpower to keep his eyes from straying downward like they wanted to. Still, it didn't really matter, he now had the image of her naked wet body stamped in his mind forever.
“Get dressed.” He turned while he still could and slammed the hotel door behind him. He leaned against the wall, taking long deep breaths.
Get a hold of yourself
If she wasn't a succubus then it wouldn't be a problem. That had to be what it was. Succubi had a sexual air to them that made a man think about things he didn't want to—like sex.
A moment later, the door opened. She came out wearing that ridiculous leather outfit and no shoes. He shouldn't be surprised that her toenails were painted something fit for a human sorority girl, but he was. Pink with a sparkle of a glitter.
“Are you ready?”
She smiled, but it held a hint of a secret to it. Dammit, she was up to something. “Yeah, I'm good.”
He led her back to the elevator and jammed his finger on the button for the lounge. He stood with his arms crossed, jaw clinched while she leaned back lazily against the wall.
He glared at the numbers as the elevator went down. He shouldn't have bought such a big building. This would take forever.
“You know, I think this is the same elevator Chloe and Tyrian had sex in.”
He choked, turning to her with wide eyes. “What?”
Her eyes turned contemplative. “Yeah, I think it is. She said they had sex in the elevator at your place. This is probably it.”
The elevator door dinged as it finally opened and Telal rushed through it with long steps. He reached the entrance and threw open the door.
“Out,” he said.
She stopped in front of him, facing outside. “Sure, just tell the driver to take me to the nearest council headquarters. I have a complaint to file.”
His voice turned cold. “What for?” He knew the answer, but had to be sure.
She looked up at him but didn't smile this time. “I'm going to file a complaint that my Protector has stated he will not do his job. Isn't that what you want?”
Telal saw red. He wanted nothing more than to grab her by the neck and shake her like a ragdoll. He controlled himself though, only letting his hands curl into fists. “You can't do that.”
Now she did smile. “Yes I can and I will. Bye, Telal.” She started to the black car waiting at the curb.
She reached it before he could finally utter the words. “Fine, you can stay.” She would interfere with his plans, but he could keep her out of the way and never see her.
She turned around to give him a hard look. He had to admit her eyes watched him with a smart tilt. “Promise?”
He let out a harsh breath. “I am not a child who makes promises—”
“Then I'll just go to the court and see what they have to say about this.” She nodded to the driver waiting at the car to open her door. He darted a look to Telal then opened the door. She got in, staring straight ahead, her arms crossed in defiance.
He'd rather pull his own teeth out than say the words, but she had him in a bind. “I promise.”
She put her hand to her ear as if she couldn't hear him. “What was that?”
The muscles in his back and neck tightened viciously. “I'll only say it once.”
Nodding, she got back out and whisked back to him. “I'll need some things so I'll see you later. Can I get you anything while I’m out?”
He watched her, trying to judge her level of sanity. When she didn't make a joke or smile he finally shook his head. She wiggled her fingers at him and got back in the car. The car pulled away with a slow rumble of the engine.
“What's the news?” Kearnyn said from behind him.
“She'll be staying here...for now. I don't want her anywhere near my office. Hell, keep her locked down on her floor. I don't want to see her face.”
Telal stormed back up to his office, but he couldn't get the naked image of Lily out of his mind.
“Bring the prisoner forward,” ordered the king.
The room grew quiet as two guards dragged forth a disheveled woman. Her long blonde hair clung to her skin matted with dirt and sweat. Arianna watched the scene unfold with growing foreboding. The king was in a dark mood today.
The king lifted his goblet and took a big drink, swishing the bitter alcohol around his mouth before swallowing. He laughed at something his councilman told him. Arianna barely contained her hatred being this close to the man she despised. The king’s mother, the queen, having already imbibed too much drink, giggled high as the guards shoved the prisoner to her knees and watched the scene with hard eyes.
The king's chuckle died as his eyes leveled on the prisoner who slumped forward on her knees as if she could barely sit up straight. Her gaunt cheeks and bony arms had Arianna looking the other way.
“You wish for an appeal, I hear, again.” The king's low voice held a vibrant edge to it. He never had to raise his voice to be heard, when he spoke all talking ceased.
The woman swallowed hard, her throat muscles sticking out with the motion. She wet her chapped lips then said, “Y-yes, my king. Please let me free. I didn't steal from you I—”
The king slammed his hand on his thrown. The loud boom echoed throughout the great hall like thunder. “If you didn't steal it then that means that my mother, your queen, is lying. Are you going to sit there and tell me the queen lied?” he said in a quiet voice.
Arianna gripped her goblet in her fist and downed the last of the drink. It became harder to hide her disgust as the woman's eyes filled with tears and big fat droplets fell down her dirty cheeks in streaks. It was clear to see she was desperately trying to hold back sobs. Arianna could never understand why these prisoners came forward to beg for an appeal—it never worked. Even though she knew for a fact that the queen was the kind of narcissistic woman to get a measly peasant into trouble for laughs...or entertainment.
Arianna glanced at the queen from the corner of her eyes. Her blue eyes glowed brightly and borderline mad against her golden skin. Her midnight black hair shined like raven's feathers in the light. Sinister beauty all rolled into one twisted package.
Her friend Celine sitting beside her nudged her with an elbow. In a low whisper she said, “So do you think she actually stole it?”
Arianna always saw to it to keep a close eye on Celine whose family had all been killed in the Great War many years ago. They'd bonded when they were mere children, before the war started, and had never turned back. The only reason she wasn't in a similar position to the trembling prisoner right now was because she came from the royal line.
“Of course not. She wouldn't risk it.” No one would. The sentence for stealing from the king or queen, or any royalty, was to spend the rest of one’s days in a cell with barely enough food or drink to survive. Starving and dirty for the rest of their lives. Many times the women, and even the men, were susceptible to...cruel acts in prison. Arianna grimaced and refilled her goblet. She couldn't wait for this to be over and it would be—soon. Whichever way the pendulum would swing, it wouldn't bode well for the prisoner.
“Is that all you have to say for yourself?” said the king.
The woman nodded, her entire body trembling now. “Y-yes, your highness. I didn't...I didn't...” She gave up and bowed her head down. She rocked up and down as if she couldn’t keep still.
“I'll tell you what. I will allow you more meals and a bath once a week if you admit to the crime and tell me how you came to be here.”
Collective gasps floated around the room. The richly dressed royalty finally turned to see what was happening. Even Arianna couldn't believe it. The king never offered any kind of leniency or gifts. A part of Arianna understood why he'd want information from the prisoner, because this particular prisoner was not typical.
The prisoner looked up at the king with wide frightened eyes. She shook her head back and forth, her blackened hands opening and closing in the cuffs. “Y-your highness, I have already told you. Already told you everything.”
“Fine, take the prisoner—”
“Wait!” she cried and fought against the guards trying to drag her up.
Arianna tried to keep her expression neutral as she watched the scene unfold. The king lifted a hand to stop the guards. They shoved her roughly back down to her knees, which must have hurt, but she didn't make a sound.
“Shopping, I shopped at store. No, didn’t make it there. I don’t know. A man, a demon, came, t-took me. He’d kill me. I went. He d-dragged me away from my home.” She spoke so rapidly, her words ran together in a long stream without pauses except for large breaths. “We came near a rift. Atal warriors s-started to charge, to fight. The demon opened a portal. The Warrior pulled out a crossbow and killed him; he fell down, his body fell against me. I got knocked into the portal. N-now I'm here. I do not belong here.”
The king tapped a finger against the throne as he stared at her. His eyes, black as a sunless sky, watched her with an intensity that became of madness.
“Who was the demon?”
Tears slid down her cheeks. “I don't know. He...he took me away from my family.” Her soft voice broke and she hung her head low.
For several minutes, the only sound in the room was the
thump thump thump
of the king's finger on the throne. Then it stopped and silence suffocated the room like heavy rain.
“I'll allow you one bath.”
The news didn't make her smile, didn't light her eyes with joy. Her dried lips only pulled further into a frown. “B-but your highness, I do not belong here.”
He didn't blink as he watched her. “I know you're not one of us. But you didn’t admit to stealing from the queen and that must be punished.” He waved at the guards and they dragged the prisoner to her feet and out of the room.
Only after she left did conversation resume.
“Well that was odd,” Celine whispered.
“As if almost thirty years in a cell isn't punishment enough. Let alone for a crime she didn't commit,” Arianna said.
“Arianna, come here.”
Arianna froze, even her heart didn't beat for a moment at the sound of the king's order. Celine turned to her with wide, frightened eyes. She could practically hear her thoughts.
Did he hear us talking?
Arianna stood on legs that felt like they were filled with water. Her gown swished around her slippered feet as she walked to the king's throne, her head bowed low. From the corner of her eyes, she could see the royalty and aristocrats watching the scene with curious gazes. She stopped before the king and dropped to both knees, her breathing unsteady with fear.
“Your highness.” Her eyes stayed trained on the gold and copper tiled floor below his booted feet.
“Look at me,” he said in a low voice.
She had to tighten the muscles in her body to keep from visibly shaking as she looked up at him. His eyes never used to be so dark. Once they were a deep brown but now black as tar. His skin, once golden like sunshine, now was darker—almost the color of coal. She had no doubt that years from now everything about him would be black, like his heart. His hair used to be a lovely auburn, red with a hint of brown that shined like polished copper in the light, but even that had turned over the years to the color of his mother's hair—black.
“Yes, your highness?”
He looked at her for what felt like a year. “You still have not taken a man?”
Of all the questions he could have asked her, in front of the entire audience, she never thought he'd ask that. “No, I have not.”
“Are you waiting on someone...particular?”
Where was he going with this?
“Yes,” she answered.
His eyes swept over her body. The look didn't linger, yet she felt the need to cover herself up with a heavy blanket. “Perhaps it's time for you to stop waiting and move on.” He paused to let that sink in. “He isn't coming back to claim you.”
She couldn't stifle her gasp. He was wrong. He would come back. But she kept her lips sealed, the last thing she wanted was to incur his wrath.
“I want you to dine with me tomorrow.”
She looked back down at the stone floor so he wouldn't see the panic in her eyes. “Anything you wish, your highness.”
She could hear the smirk in his voice. “Anything I wish....” He stood, every tall, terrifying inch of him. “Tomorrow then.” He stalked away, knee-high leather boots crunching on the stone floors.
Arianna stood, keeping her eyes averted from the Queen as she went back to Celine who looked as though she could barely contain her eyes from popping out of her skull.
“What was that all about?” she hissed in a low voice.
Arianna glanced around to make sure no one watched them, then snatched Celine's hand and pulled her behind the royal red curtain and down an empty hallway away from the throne room.
“He wants me to have dinner with him.” Her voice stayed controlled but her heart raced frantically in her chest. Sweat formed at her temples and a single drop slid down her face. She wiped at it with the back of her hand. Strange she was sweating because she felt decisively cold, almost freezing.
“What could he want?”
“I...I don't know.”
Celine pulled her into a tight embrace. Suddenly, Arianna found herself fighting back tears.
Don't be silly
, she told herself. It's just dinner. Yeah, even she couldn't fool herself.