Cheron, former rebel leader and newly crowned king, comes to Wren Gardens on a holy mission to free his goddess from exile and bring peace to his kingdom, but he’s distracted by an unholy and very beautiful concubine, Ekos.
Ekos may be more than a simple love slave, though. The King of Wren Gardens seems afraid of the strange and often blasphemous concubine and swears the man is cursed. Cheron agrees, especially when Ekos mocks and taunts Cheron’s sense of honor. But the urge to distance himself from Ekos can’t compete with the desire to remain close. Nor is it as strong as the urges in his body—urges he hasn’t felt in years.
As Cheron tries to refocus on his mission, Ekos throws him off again—this time by offering to help him in his holy quest. Cheron knows he shouldn’t trust a man who’s in the employ of a rival king, particularly not one who seems to know all Cheron’s deepest secrets. But he can’t ignore the signs from the goddess telling him to entwine his fate with this tricky, captivating man.
He prays the signs aren’t simply wishful thinking, manifestations of his very unholy desires. Time is running out, and Cheron is falling deeper for Ekos—and deeper into danger of another betrayal. One that could cost him his life.
Half parted in invitation, the concubine’s painted red lips teased the possibilities for Cheron’s sole benefit, for his sole pleasure, for his sole use. At least that was the intended impression, but who knew the actual number of men the concubine had truly pleasured? Many, Cheron assumed. Undeniably gorgeous, the pampered little house pet had all the markings of a palace favorite. Jewels hung from his earlobes, fine silks concealed his thin but muscular frame, and his body had been rubbed down with musky oils. Minus the golden, diamond-studded collar at his throat, he appeared to be a member of court.
“Is Ekos not to your taste, Majesty? He is personal stock, in case you are worried. No low-born has touched him.”
The emphasis had Cheron grinding his teeth. While Sinnac politely used the proper title while addressing him, there was always a lilt to his pronunciation, a gentle reminder that Cheron had only recently became a king. Before, he’d been a lowly soldier—a servant. To men like Sinnac, men who’d been born into power, he would never be anything other than a lucky usurper playacting at greatness.
Sinnac continued, “Perhaps His Majesty would like to see him from a different angle?”
King Sinnac tilted the concubine’s face upward to give Cheron a better look. Ekos lowered his crystal-blue eyes demurely, as was proper, but Cheron swore he saw a flash of mocking defiance in the depths before his lashes lowered. In a second, the brazen glare vanished. Ekos bowed his head, allowing his golden-yellow hair to fall over his shoulders. The posture gave Cheron a clear view of the concubine’s long back and the enticing dip of his ass.
Suppressing his disgust, Cheron kept his response to King Sinnac formal. “He is most pleasing. I am recently sated and do not require sexual services just now, Your Excellence. Perhaps later.”
“I heard you Northern men needed no pause between sessions. That you were an insatiable lot.” Sinnac, a severe man who resembled a long tendril of smoke with his long white body, steel-gray hair, and gray eyes, raised his bushy eyebrows and took a drag from his hookah. Foul-smelling mist coiled around his head, momentarily canceling out the masculine, sweet smell of the concubine’s body oils.
Cheron gave the characterization a breathy laugh. “I’m afraid all men must submit to biology.”
“Of course. Of course.”
Truthfully, Cheron’s carnal needs hadn’t been satisfied recently or even in the past year. His aversion to touching Ekos had nothing to do with lack of desire. Perhaps the young concubine served freely now, but at some point in his life, he’d been brought here in chains and trained in the arts of pleasure. The very thought made Cheron’s skin crawl. Not too long ago, he’d been enslaved under the reign of a cruel king who raped and tortured to stay in power. He had no intentions of following the same path.
After he took control of Broken Maw, servants continued to exist, but they were compensated for their work. No one was compelled to offer sexual services. Those who sold themselves demanded money, certainly, but also equal pleasure. Ekos’s circumstances were much different.
Sinnac, as if stressing those differences, commanded the concubine to attend to Cheron’s needs. “Show our guest your skills, my pet. Seduce him.”
The concubine pouted. In a spoiled voice, he said, “My treasure, I do not believe he wants me.”
A hard glint in his eye, Sinnac returned, “Nonsense. Help him settle in to Wren Gardens. I’ll not have my guests frustrated. And if the rumors I hear are true, he is quite congested with lust.”
Gossip between courts wasn’t uncommon. Certainly, Cheron heard his fair share of stories from Sinnac’s lands, especially tales of the financial troubles of Wren Gardens. It didn’t upset Cheron to learn he was the subject of discussion among Sinnac’s people, but his temperature rose at being so directly contradicted by another monarch.
“What do you know of my frustration, Excellency?”
His laughter croaked as he took another puff from the hookah. “I hear you haven’t had any pleasure since Aethel. His betrayal must still sting, yes?”
Honesty roughened his voice to an almost inaudible, harsh whisper. “Betrayal burns more than it stings, Excellency. Afterward, the smoke blinds us.”
Sinnac raised an eyebrow. “Dramatic. Betrayal also chokes us, apparently, though I heard your lover made good kindling for fire.”
Cheron swallowed down the memory before it overwhelmed him. Sometimes, in the dead of night, he still woke to the sound of his lover’s screams as he twisted on the pyre and the king’s executioner’s grim pronouncement that justice had been done. Now that Cheron had overthrown the king in a successful rebellion, there would be no such burnings. Never again.
Cheron kept his voice level. “His crime was nowhere near as severe as the punishment.”
“Hm,” Sinnac responded. Supposedly, the price for his displeasure ran higher. This marked Cheron’s first time visiting Wren Gardens, but his father told tales of a ruler obsessed with revenge to the point of madness. If the stories were true, Sinnac’s gardens grew on human blood.
Cheron tried to smile. “At any rate, that is in the past.”
“Well, then. My pet can make you forget the traitor existed. Perhaps he can make you forget your own treason.”
It would be unwise to answer the bait, so Cheron kept quiet on the matter. “I have no doubt of Ekos’s skills, but they are wasted on me at the present.”
“We’ll see.” Sinnac waved his graceful fingers, an order for Ekos to proceed.
The concubine’s crystal-blue eyes lowered again. Looking into their depths was akin to jumping into ice-cold water. One could drown, but he’d feel the sting of cold as he sank. Just the same, Cheron barely kept from gasping out loud as Ekos’s long fingers stroked the outer folds of the long robe he wore. Beneath the clothes, his body was taut, ready for a lover’s touch.
“Majesty,” Ekos simpered, his full, round mouth set in a pout. “I can’t please you through so many layers of clothing.”
In Wren Gardens, sex servants weren’t allowed to remove the clothing of nobility. Such a task was reserved for only the most trusted of servants, those who’d been with households for generations. Poisons that seeped through the skin were common here; the precaution made sense.
Ekos’s own dress confused Cheron. Station required servants to wear only thin scraps of fabric that advertised their wares and marked them as slaves. The concubine was swathed nearly head to toe in a loose-fitting, semitransparent silken frock that was embroidered along the hem by a skilled hand. Somehow, this enticed Cheron’s interests far better than any scant loincloth.
As if sensing his increasing desires, the concubine formed his full mouth into an aware smirk. The arrogance took Cheron aback and made him worry for the concubine’s safety. The man’s voice was strong and confident when he said, “Perhaps His Majesty would like to undress me first?”
Sinnac guffawed at Cheron’s horrified expression. “Forgive Ekos, my royal brother. He is overeager to prove his affections.”
Once again, Cheron ignored the overt slight. For now, Cheron had to be content another monarch had even stooped to meet with him. Smiling, he said, “He hasn’t been tested already?”
Sinnac’s countenance darkened. Without thinking, Cheron had insulted the other man’s virility, which he touted with great pride. In the short time Cheron had been a guest at Wren Gardens, Sinnac boasted as many as fifty lovers, all of whom couldn’t get enough of their lord and master.
“My apologies, Excellency.” Cheron spread his hands in contrition. “I understand your prowess is legendary.”
Sniffing, Sinnac got to his knees and began undoing the knot keeping his robe together. Seconds later, he was nearly naked except for his white linen undergarments. Covered in a network of impressive scars, his body flaunted a lifetime of war. “Turn around,” he commanded Ekos.
Immediately, Ekos obeyed. Cheron swore he saw a flash of disgust in the man’s crystal-blue eyes. Soon enough, the meaningless and practiced smile fell back into place. The young man dipped forward, raising his hips. “Enter if you dare,” he mocked.
Sinnac growled at the challenge.
Stomach lurching, Cheron realized the other monarch’s intent. Baring witness to rape immediately quashed his previous desires. He knew it was a typical practice in Wren Gardens, but Cheron failed to control a wave of pity. This was no way to treat another human being.
“Excellency,” Cheron said, interrupting the looming sexual encounter. “I have been an ungracious guest. I would love to indulge in Ekos’s sweet attentions privately. But how can I enjoy him if you put me to shame? Will he even consider me adequate after you?”
“I’m sure I would, Majesty,” Ekos softly assured him. “A man as magnificent as you must be bliss to touch.”
Sinnac ran his hands up and down the length of the concubine’s body, slapping and prodding as he went, but eventually sat back against the cushions without penetrating, much to Cheron’s relief.
His gaze hooded, almost fully concealed, Sinnac said, “Please retire to your quarters, Majesty. We’ll attend to matters of state after dinner. I will have Ekos sent to your rooms. Treat him gently. I paid a high price for him.”
As equals, they stood and formally bowed. The concubine, head still bent toward the ground, his expression concealed by a long flow of honey hair, remained prostrated. His fists clenched and unclenched. When he lifted his head, he smiled serenely and said, “You have yet to pay the full price for me, Excellency.”
Jacqueline Rohrbach is a 36-year-old creative writer living in windy central Washington. When she isn’t writing strange books about bloodsucking magical werewolves, she’s baking sweets, or walking her two dogs, Nibbler and Mulder. She also loves cheesy ghost shows, especially when the hosts call out the ghost out like he wants to brawl with it in a bar. You know, “Come out here, you coward! You like to haunt little kids. Haunt me!” Jackee laughs at this EVERY time.
She’s also a hopeless World of Warcraft addict. In her heyday, she was a top parsing disc priest. She became a paladin to fight Deathwing, she went back to a priest to cuddle pandas, and then she went to a shaman because I guess she thought it would be fun to spend an entire expansion underpowered and frustrated. Boomchicken for Legion!