Five for Friday

Hello everyone,

Lila is extremely busy finishing a book (and destroying another keyboard with her rapid typing) so she told asked me to be today’s guest blogger. She said she would reward me later for writing the Five for Friday post and had a very meaningful tone in her voice as she said it. What can she possibly have in mind?

For those of you who don’t know me, why not? Sorry I meant that I’m the Farm Boy that was lucky enough to marry her after she imported me from Ireland. I’ve corresponded with many of you by email and have even been lucky enough to meet some of you at the last RT conferences. If there are any newbies reading this post who would like to know more about me, just ask questions in the comments below.

Last week’s excerpt came from Forbidden, the first book in Zinahs, Lila’s erotic (high) fantasy romance series. Today’s five pages come from Savage, the second book in the series. However, Savage has quite a BDSM-related theme and as such also has lots in common with some of her later books, especially Red Ribbon and the Undone series, though those are all contemporary novels.

The warriors of Den are unparalleled in their ferocity in battle and relentless pride, but their warrior-heart, nephew of the King, fiercest of all, was lost to Den when he disappeared into the ranks of the Temple army.

Anleeh spent five long years working to forget from where he’d come. No one would imagine that the calm and debonair Lord Justice was once a barbarian warrior who bathed in the blood of his enemies. Terrified of ever losing the control he fought so hard to gain, Anleeh vows never to return to his homeland of Den.

Sheltered all her life in the Temple, Siara longs for adventure. Saddled with grave responsibility due to her studious and steady nature, Siara wants to leave it all behind for a life of great adventure and purpose. When the newly crowned king and queen recruit her as an ambassador to the far off land of Den, she leaps at the opportunity. Her companion, Lord Anleeh, is not so eager.

If they are to succeed Anleeh must not only strip Siara of the trappings of civility, but demand her submission. Anything less than her complete obedience and loyalty will make them vulnerable to attack in a world where fighting and sex are considered close kin. Siara surprises him with not only her strength, but her passion and spirit. They discover exquisite pleasure and unexpected understanding in each other’s arms. Yet, Anleeh hides the truth of what he was from Siara, even as he feels his beast crawling beneath his skin.

But Siara has a secret of her own.

When Anleeh loses all control, succumbing to the unrestrained battle madness of his people, Siara must chose between saving herself and risking it all to save the man she loves.

Chapter One

“Are you a virgin?”

The startling question ruptured the silence in the stone chamber. The final word seemed to echo off the floor and ceiling, bouncing into the books that lined most of the walls. What little wall space was not consumed by books was made up by windows, and the dust mote-speckled rays of sunlight haloed the question’s intended target.

Siara, Headmistress of the Temple College turned Royal Scribe and historian, completed her sentence, finishing the final letter with a precise flourish, and set down her quill. She wiped her ink-stained fingers with a rag as she sat back in her chair. She looked up, steady golden-brown gaze focusing on the speaker.

“Could you please repeat your question?” Her voice was smooth and well-modulated, that of a seasoned teacher.

Anleeh, Lord Justice of the new monarchy, carefully examined Siara’s face in case he gave offense, but found neither disgust nor anger in her features. Her smooth face was as controlled as ever.

“Are you a virgin?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Your answer is vital to our mission.” Anleeh stressed the possessive.

“I fail to see how my state of sexual knowledge has any bearing on an ambassadorial mission.”

“Then you prove me right. I should go alone. If answering this simple question in the comfort and seclusion of the Palace bothers you, you will never survive this mission.”

Her back straightened, though Anleeh hadn’t thought it possible. She looked as if she were strapped to a board.

“I assure you, Lord Anleeh, that I am more than capable of accompanying you on this mission, and am fully committed to completing it.”

“Committed enough to answer my question?”

Siara turned her face to the side, the sunlight striking cheeks that were crimson with a blush. “If it is so important for you to know, then I will tell you. Yes, I am a virgin.”

Her shoulders slumped slightly, and suddenly she was not the stiff Head Mistress but an embarrassed young woman. Anleeh cursed himself. He was being cruel to her, deliberately so, and she did not deserve it. He leaned forward and touched her hand, drawing her attention to him. Working to suppress his anger, Anleeh smiled at her, the cocky half-grin he’d cultivated as part of his debonair attitude.

“I ask only because your answer will affect our mission and the story we will tell to explain your presence.”

“Why must there be a story?”

“The people of Den would neither understand nor accept you as a delegate of the Great City.”

“But your people will accept you back to your homeland.”

Anleeh didn’t want to be reminded of that. It was days before their planned departure and his stomach was already knotted. He rose from his chair and went to the window. They’d commandeered this antechamber in the Palace for the headquarters of their operation. Preparation for the journey had begun only a week ago, the moment after Anleeh caved to the pleadings of the King and Queen to accept this mission.

Strangely, in all that time, he and Siara had spent very little time together. He knew her, of course. Had known her since he came to the Temple. They were of an age, and had each come into positions of power, he as Zinah, she as Headmistress, around the same time.

Despite these similarities Anleeh could count their conversations on a single hand. As Zinah, Anleeh had very few dealings with any woman besides the Priestess. Siara’s domain of innocent young girls and learning was far removed from his darker world of
sex and war.

But now she would be his companion in the single hardest thing he’d ever done: returning home.

Anleeh turned, putting his back to the window, and examined his new companion. She should have been plain. Her body appeared as one massive lump beneath the heavy brown cloth of her shapeless dress, no defining curves anywhere. Her hair was also brown, braided down her back—a woman decidedly fashion-unfriendly and uniformly brown. And yet, her face. Her eyes, too large, were a pale brown with a rim of black around the iris. Her other features seemed unremarkable when compared to those eyes, but upon closer inspection, he realized she possessed well formed lips, the bottom one pleasingly plump, a small nose with a slightly pointed tip, and an equally-pointed chin.

Siara stared back at him, seemingly fearless in the face of his regard, and it was in her eyes that Anleeh found that which separated her from other women.

They sparkled. Not with humor or lust, both emotions he’d seen light a woman’s eyes. Siara’s brown eyes shone with the light of fierce intelligence.

He stepped away from the window, moving to stand before her, shadowing her with his body. Testing her, he cupped her chin. Siara did not turn from his touch. This close, he felt that he could drown in all he could see in those eyes—passion and anger mingled with strength of spirit. Dismissing the thoughts as flights of fancy, he released her chin.

But as he turned away, his fingers tingled from just that brief moment of contact.

Siara watched as Anleeh turned away from her, roaming like a caged cat around the perimeter of the room. She waited until his back was turned to drag in great gulps of air, slumping as she did so.

“You have read much. What did you read about the women of Den?”

The moment he asked she snapped to attention, all nerve endings tingling awake once more. She’d read everything there was in the library on Den, and had been preparing for this journey by doing selected re-readings, so she readily answered his question.

“The women of Den are known to be strong and willful. There are stories of the women raising arms and fighting to defend their homes when the men are away.”

“Yes, my aunt was severely injured while fighting to defend my Uncle’s Hall.”

“Did she die?”

“Yes.” He said it with neither remorse nor grief. “What did you learn of the men and women of Den and how they relate to one another?”

Siara’s brow furrowed. “I don’t remember reading anything specifically about that.”

“Very well,” he said, and then returned to his chair next to her. He sat for a moment, tapping his fingers on the table, before speaking again. “I will train you as we travel.”

“Train me?” Siara considered the rather odd choice of words. For someone as devoted to the written word as she, deciphering the nuances of speech was one of her greatest strengths.

“Yes.”

“Don’t you mean teach me?”

“I say what I mean. I must train you to act like a woman of Den.”

“How do they act?”

“In some ways you are much like them: strong and outspoken and determined.”

Siara felt her cheeks heat with pleasure at the compliment, and turned her face into the sunlight, hoping to hide her blush.

“Than why do I need training?” she asked once she was under control.

Anleeh sighed, “In Den, while it is true that the women are strong and independent, they must always, always submit to their man.”

Siara blinked once, very slowly. “I do not understand.”

“Women are like—like animals.”

“Animals?” Siara heard the shock in her own voice. He was supposed to be a learned man. For all his care of fashion and power in battle, he was intelligent and knowledgeable in many things. Anything less would have made him unworthy of both his previous title
as Zinah, and now the title of Lord. His words betrayed the ideal of him in her mind. That struck Siara, and she stopped to examine the complex idea. So intent was she in her study that she almost missed his next words.

“Let me explain.” He returned to his chair, resting one hip on the armrest. He leaned forward, his eyes brilliant and intent, forcing her to return her attention to him. “They are like wolves, wolves that have been trained. When given their freedom, they are fierce and dangerous, but at their Master’s call they heel and obey their Master’s will.” He stopped, and Siara waited for more explanation. When it was clear no more was forthcoming, Siara did her best to understand what he’d said.

“The women of Den are … slaves?”

“No.” His denial was immediate, but footnoted by his next comment. “Though if there were written laws there, as we have here, women would be the property of men. A man reveres his mother and protects his sisters, but a man’s wife is his, obedient to him in all things. A beautiful woman who is both wild and obedient is prized above all others.”

Siara’s mind raced, piecing together all his words and actions. “That is why you were upset I was a woman, and why you ask if I am a virgin.”
Anleeh turned to face her. “Yes.”

“We must … marry?” Siara rubbed her fingertips against her cuffs with such vigorous intensity that the fabric grew hot. The thought was terrifying and thrilling. It would be insulting to take the sacred trust of marriage in vain by committing only for the sake of their mission, but he would be hers. Even if it were meaningless, he would be hers.

Don’t be foolish, she admonished herself. But the euphoria remained.

She’d loved him from the first moment she met him.

Siara knew, with painful clarity, how pitiful her unrequited love was. She’d become a scholar of his homeland for no other reason than she wanted to be near him, had never married or looked to another man for companionship because of her unwavering regard for him. It was madness that what should have been no more than a school-girl crush carried on for five long years.

It was her greatest secret. Siara was a background character, a player unnoticed on the stage of life. She could have lived like that, could have spent the rest of her days loving him from afar, if the revolution hadn’t happened.

Many things had changed when the usurper-King was overthrown and the former High Priestess and one of her Zinahs were placed on the throne as Queen and King. A nation that had lived in darkness for a thousand years learned to hope again, remembered
what it was to plan for the future.

Siara’s passion had always been for books detailing the explorations of travelers, especially those to Den. In the time of peace, 1000 years before, the Land Between the Seas had been a place of great learning. Explorers had traveled to the far reaches of the land, to the sea and beyond. Many had written of their travels, detailing worlds that Siara could only dream of.

When the calm after the storm of the revolution revealed a multitude of paths open to Siara, she’d chosen to leave behind her safe life in the Temple, and had requested the position of Royal Historian and Scribe, making her a vital part of any exploration. She longed for the adventure of travel with a fierceness that scared her, but she’d never even been beyond the borders of the city.

When the King and Queen told her that the first expedition to leave would be an ambassador mission to Den, one of the wildest and far-flung parts of the Land Between the Seas, led by Anleeh, she’d volunteered without hesitation.

She’d intended to leave behind her hopeless regard for him when she left her old life behind, but here she was, at the dawn of her greatest adventure, closer to him than she’d ever been before.

Afraid her thoughts were visible, Siara lowered her eyes, staring at his knee, hoping he would not know that the treasonously loud pounding of her heart was caused by desire.

“I would not force you to do that, but we shall say that we plan to marry.”

Siara’s heart gave one more thump, and reason returned. Of course she did not want a forced marriage of pretense.

“We shall be betrothed?” She clarified, voice steady, eyes still on his knee, outlined by the fine cut of his dark leggings.

“Yes.”

“If we will not truly marry, why does it matter if I am a virgin?”

“Den is a sexual world, decadent by the standards of our city, and the way that women are trained, and the most expressive aspect of their submission, is through sex.”

“So you will … train me … to submit, when we … have sex.”

Siara could barely force the words out. Her conclusion seemed preposterous. Two days ago she was not sure he knew her name, and now they sat calmly discussing how he would train her through sex.

“I will teach you to submit in all ways necessary, but the training will come when I touch you, yes.”

Siara shuddered in pure, vibrant arousal. To hear Anleeh speak of touching her, his explanation imbuing the word “train” with deep sexual connotations she had not known it could have, brought a flush of heat, chased by a shiver, to her skin.

Staring down at Siara’s bowed head, Anleeh clenched his fists as he watched her shudder in horror. Hating himself for what he would do to her, Anleeh mentally cursed the King and Queen once more for saddling him with her.

Den was a savage land, and would have been hard for any person not of the culture to visit, let alone a woman. When they’d told him that morning who his companion was to be, Anleeh had threatened to quit, stating that any man would be better than a woman. His arguments had not swayed the Queen, who possessed the insane notion that women could do anything a man could. When this journey changed Siara, taught her to want things that were taboo and decadent in the great city, made her crave a man’s touch on her flesh, it would be on the Queen’s head.

But he would be the one to change her, to teach her passion and then control her with it. He would not hurt her, at least, not more than was absolutely necessary to make her understand, but however pure his intentions, it would change her. She was a woman of great strength and steady nature. She should remain at the College, marry and birth babies she could raise with a steady hand. Come to think of it, she’d be perfect for Moregon. She should not be dragged halfway across the world, stripped and subjected to his lust, for the sake of a kingdom she’d already served long and well.

“If there is a boy, someone you desire, I suggest you go to him before we leave.” The thought of Siara with a solider or simple farm boy, who would no doubt be a clumsy and selfish lover, displeased him. Realizing he was frowning, Anleeh ran a hand over his face, as if he could scrub away his thoughts.

“There is no one.”

The rubbing had not worked, but her simple statement, spoken as nothing more than fact, pleased him. His honor, though, forced him to be sure. They were little better than acquaintances and she was surrendering her virginity to him, with little time to find any alternative.

“Are you sure that you want your first time to be at my hand?”

Siara nodded.

Anleeh prowled around the room, touching books and papers that could not hold his attention.

“Siara, I have told you that this must be done, that to survive our time in Den you must learn to submit, but if you cannot do this of your own free will, I cannot take you.” He turned to face her and she raised her head to meet his gaze. Her expression was unreadable, an assembly of features with no animation behind it, but her eyes gave her away, dancing with intelligence and bright intensity. “Siara, I will not rape you.”

She jerked at the words, lips parting with the shock of his brutal words. “Lord

Anleeh, I did not think you would. I am … quite willing.” Her face returned to its passive mask, but her jaw line and cheeks flushed a dull cherry.
The blush lent veracity to her words, and he noticed the way her fingers twisted in her lap, worrying the cuff of her gown. Relief that he would not be asked to coerce a woman who parted her legs only for the good of the kingdom inundated him.

“When would you like to … have sex? Tonight? I have no plans. Or shall we wait until we begin the journey?” This time her modulated tone failed her, and Anleeh heard the emotion beneath the words. She both wanted to postpone it and was eager to partake of what he was offering her. She rose, apparently aware of what her words had revealed, and started clearing off the table.

“Siara.” She continued stacking books. “Siara, look at me.” Again she ignored him.

Anleeh grabbed Siara’s wrist, spinning her to face him. He wrapped his fingers around her hips and lifted her, seating her on the table. As she gaped at him, he grabbed her wrists and forced them behind her back, holding them with one hand. With the other hand, he tilted her chin up. It felt good to handle her this way, her still hidden body full, solid and luscious in its hidden mystery.

For the first time her carefully guarded features revealed emotion—emotions his words had unveiled. Her dark eyes widened with shock, her lips parted. She looked delectable.

“Much better,” he purred. Moving his hand from beneath her chin to curl loosely around her throat, Anleeh brought his lips to hers. Siara, her lips still parted, gasped at the first soft brush of his mouth. Her gasp drew his breath into her so that she breathed him in. His lips sealed to hers, their mouths molding together. Anleeh watched as her eyes fluttered closed and she made the smallest of noises, like the mewing of a cat. With a shudder of arousal Anleeh released her wrists, sliding his hands to her waist.

Slipping his tongue past her parted lips, he touched the edge of her teeth, gentling her to the invasion. As he ventured further, Anleeh concentrated on exploring her only with his mouth. Though his hands twitched with the need to cup her breasts, he kept them at her waist. She had begun to worry him.

Siara’s stillness was an anomaly he’d never experienced before. He did not know if the suddenness of the kiss had dumbfounded her, the pleasure of it had stunned her or, he thought with a jolt, if she were astonished and still because this was her first kiss. He was neither ignorant of his appeal nor so vain as his actions may portray, and Anleeh started to break the kiss, already preparing a suitably self-deprecating and dismissive remark.
With a final peck to the edge of her mouth, Anleeh leaned back, a half smile hiding his embarrassment and worry. “Divine lips you have, Sia-”

Siara literally threw herself at Anleeh. The force of it knocked Anleeh off his feet. He landed hard on his ass and then rocked onto his back as she came down on top of him. “What…”

Siara grabbed his ears and kissed him. There was no practiced precision, no gentle exploration. Her lips pressed against his so hard that their teeth knocked together. Anleeh opened his mouth to help her deepen the kiss but she’d moved away, raining small pecking kisses over his face, her grip on his ears keeping him still.

“Sia—Siara, what…”

Siara braced her elbows on his chest and looked down at him. Her eyes were nearly black, the pupils were so wide. Her breathing came in short hard pants and her eyes darted over his face, coming back to his lips each time.

With great deliberation, Anleeh licked his lower lip. Siara shuddered.

She is aroused. She is so aroused she trembles with it. Anleeh grinned, and licked his lip again. On a moan, Siara leaned down and bit his lower lip.

Beneath her, Anleeh jerked.

“I’m sorry.” Siara scrambled off Anleeh, turning her head, cheeks flaming with a vermillion blush. “Siara, do not apologize.”

“I don’t know what came over me.”

“I think you do.”

Siara refused to turn, despite his chiding tone. “Lord Anleeh, please accept my apologies.”

“Why are you so formal with me?” He knew the answer, knew that she was hiding behind formality and ceremony, but wanted her to acknowledge it.

She ignored the question. “Is there anything else we need to discuss?”

“Yes, we need to discuss what just happened.”

“I believe it is called a kiss. There are many examples in the library if you would like me to find you an appropriate passage.” Her tone had grown almost snippy and Anleeh smiled behind her back, enjoying this far more than he should.

“It is the manner of the kiss we must discuss,” he goaded her.

“There is no need. We kissed. From what you said, we will do so again.”

“Yes, that and much more.” Finally he asked the crucial question, all humor gone. He needed to know her answer. “Why did you…”

“Please,” she whispered, cutting him off, and then wrapping her arms around her
stomach and squeezing.

Anleeh moved up behind her. Her distress, the protective way she held herself, contained answers, but he did not want to make vain assumptions. “Are you frightened by what happened?”
“No.”

“Are you upset? Ashamed?”

“No, my Lord.”

“Anleeh,” he corrected her.

“Anleeh. I beg your leave, there is much to do.”

“There is,” he conceded. Siara finished stacking the parchments rolls and books, her shoulders drawn up to her neck, and hunched forward protectively. Awkwardly gathering an armful of reading materials, Siara executed a quick bobbing curtsey in Anleeh’s general direction and started for the door.

“Siara, wait.” Siara paused, considered his words, and then kept walking. Anleeh blinked. Her deliberate manner, the obvious way she considered and then dismissed his words, shocked, and to be truthful, aroused him.

“Siara, stop.” This time it was an order, his voice hard and deep. Siara stopped.

Anleeh came up behind her once more. He lifted the heavy braid away from the back of her neck, “I will not let you hide from me. Before this is done I will see your body and soul laid bare before me.” Anleeh kissed the exposed nape of her neck. “Until tomorrow, lover.”

Read more about Savage and other books from the Zinahs series here.

Other International Heat authors with Five for Friday posts include:
Bianca D’Arc,
Jambrea Jo Jones,
Mari Carr and
Rhian Cahill.

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