Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rites of Mating by Brenna Lyons

The schente giggled. “What are you doing, Highness?”

Joseph growled in frustration. If the schente found it amusing, he wasn’t doing it right. He’d have to consult the text in his father’s library, which explained the ancient Keen seduction technique again. Learning the bel tro was essential. Joseph would have to win his bride, and Berel was worth nothing less than the rite of kings.

“Have I displeased you?” A touch of panic edged her voice. The schente would fear that.

Joseph had never admitted disappointment in a schente, even when it was true. The women had no greater prospects than a life of service or carrying cross-bred children, their genetics too shattered to make an advantageous marriage and produce viable children of their own. Joseph would never think of putting a woman out of service when it was obvious that they lived to fulfill their contracts.

He flopped onto his back, pulling the schente with him. “Never,” he assured her, drawing her mouth to his.

The schente relaxed against his chest. Joseph groaned, as she worked her way down his body, taking his length in her mouth. He wound his hands in her hair, guiding her movements as she pleasured him.

Joseph closed his eyes, imagining another woman, the only woman he wanted but couldn’t have—yet. Some days, Joseph wished he could turn the clock back a year to escape his adulthood, but the madness of adding another year to his waiting would not be worth the relief in other areas of his life.

He turned his mind back to Berel. Joseph was an adult, but Berel was still three years from that blessed day. Until then, the schente would be his only comfort.

Berel was in her sexual maturity. Joseph could take her with Walla teas, if she were willing, but Joseph wanted more than sex from Berel; and though lowborn could use the teas before their twentieth year, it wasn’t suggested medically that they do so. He couldn’t touch her and not take what he craved most from her. He knew himself that well.

The schente drove his body on. In his mind, it was Berel who teased his length with her tongue, Berel who sucked him deep into the wet heat of her mouth.

Joseph groaned. “Come on top of me,” he breathed.

She swung a leg over, encasing him in a slice of the soul’s reward. Joseph drove up into her, drinking in the scent of her arousal. It wasn’t perfect. Berel would be virginal.

He tightened his grip on her hips. If Berel took another before she was his, he would curse himself as a fool forever. If Joseph didn’t wait for Berel, he would break laws in claiming her. If he lost her in waiting—

The schente squealed in delight, as his thrusts became more fevered. A new understanding of how Michael could go insane for want of his mate seared him. Some nights, Joseph wasn’t much better than his infamous uncle.

Her body contracted around him, and Joseph followed her over, filling her with seed that would find no purchase, locking into a band that would stimulate no egg for him. When he lessened, she left him as the rules stipulated she must.

Joseph lay on his bed for long moments, staring at the ceiling and listening to the heavy snow pelting the windows, alone as he always was when the schente left him. He bathed and dressed slowly, dreading the night to come.

He met Jenneane in the corridor. His older sister by a quarter hour looked as nervous as he felt.

“Ready for the crowds?” he asked.

She fussed with her gown. “Do I look ready?” she managed, her hands shaking.

Joseph squeezed her hand. “No. You look positively ill.”

Jenneane smiled weakly, a smile that didn’t light her green eyes. She wound her arm through his. It was a sign of solidarity, a promise that they would survive yet another night of being pawed and propositioned by the hopefuls. “I never could lie to you.”

He led her down the main staircase and through the entryway to the ballroom. The cheers started as they stepped through the doors. The nightmare started a moment later. Suitors pressed in—his on one side and hers on the other, all vying for their attention.

“A dance, Princess?”

Jenneane shook her head.

“Highness, my father is—”

Joseph shook the hand off his elbow.

“Princess Jenneane, my name—”

One of Panor’s men pushed back a few suitors, giving Jenneane room to take a calming breath.

“I’m certified virginal, Prince Joseph.”

Jenneane shot a startled look at the speaker, turning deep crimson at the lengths the suitors would go to. Joseph urged her on, ignoring that one with all of the other comments and offers thrown his way, sickened by the spectacle they made.

“Would you care for a walk in—”

Joseph dragged Jenneane to his side as the overbearing young lord grasped her arm and pulled her to a halt. He sent a warning scowl. The man fell back a step, and Panor’s men stepped to the hopeful to hold him back. Joseph led Jenneane on, praying that the fervor would die down. The mob typically gentled, as the hours wore on. Tonight should be no different.

“The dais,” she whispered.

Joseph nodded curtly and led the way to the seats set up for them at their parents’ sides. It would mean only a momentary reprieve. The suitors dared not follow them onto the stage, but eventually Joseph and Jenneane would have to leave that safety and tend to their duty. They had to get to know the hopefuls and actively seek out one who would be a suitable mate.

He growled in frustration. The hopefuls. They were hopeful of little but the prestige of being chosen, of joining the ranks of the royals.

Their mother offered them weak grins, as they settled into their seats. Susan hadn’t intended this life for her children when she gave them life. She'd apologized for that more than once.

* * * *

Joseph bit back his rage. He reminded himself that his patience was worn thin by hours of dealing with grasping hopefuls. Still, he wasn’t about to sit still for this.

Berel inched away from the noble who crowded her. Her smile was strained, and she flicked a glance at the dais.

He was on his feet and striding through the crowd without a coherent thought of why he was acting this way. Only one thought registered clearly in his mind. Berel was Joseph’s, and no other man would touch her, especially one she so obviously didn’t want.

Joseph brushed off the suitors with barely contained disdain. He would make it seem that he gave consideration, but unless Berel refused him, he wouldn’t choose another. Joseph grimaced. She could refuse him. Despite the looks of interest Berel shot him, he might be misreading her intent.

Berel looked up, as Joseph reached her side, gratitude in her eyes. “Joseph,” she greeted him in a husky voice that sent tremors of pleasure through his gut.

Joseph smiled and offered his hand. “I believe you promised me this dance,” he commented smoothly.

She took his hand and accompanied Joseph to the center of the floor without a backward glance at the upstart young lord who had been hounding her moments before. Joseph pulled Berel to his chest and wrapped his hands around her waist, thankful that this was an Earth celebration with Earth-style dancing.

Berel wound her hands around his neck, her body pressed close to his. “Thank you for saving me,” she breathed.

Joseph pushed back his anger again. “Any time. It gave me an excuse to dance with you.”

She blushed, moving her body against his fluidly. “I love this song.”

He nodded. It was a ballad from Earth, a traditional Christmas song, one of hundreds his mother had brought with her from her world.

Berel listened to the haunting tones. “Said the evening breeze to the tiny kit,” she translated smoothly.

Joseph grinned. Her translation wasn’t perfect, but it was nearly so. “I love that you speak English.” He offered the comment in English, thankful that he and Berel could be alone, even in a crowd.

“How could I not? Being raised in a household that spoke it?”

He took a calming breath, a thousand Earth endearments coming readily to mind. It was too early for that. Berel wouldn’t be an adult for three years. When she was—Joseph hardened at the thought of claiming her.

Berel gasped, meeting his eyes in surprise.

Joseph offered her a sheepish grin. “I am undeniably male, Berel. A beautiful woman in my arms...”

She smiled, her eyes making offers she wasn’t old enough to fulfill, her body brushing by his, firing him into a fierce state of arousal. He wasn’t misreading her. Berel wanted him as desperately as Joseph wanted her.

The ballad ended and another commenced, a song about lovers curled before a fire while the snow mounted outside the windows. Visions of hanging a gola sprig over her and kissing every inch of Berel’s body came unbidden but not entirely unwelcome to his mind.

“May I claim this dance, Highness?”

Joseph scowled at the lord over his shoulder, then at the lord’s sister. He’d seen this treatment before. The lord would dance with Joseph’s current partner, while his sister cornered Joseph.

“I’m sorry, Lord Byen, but I promised the lady to see her back to her family. Captain Tyrel is protective of his daughter.”

Byen bowed, red-faced. “Of course, Highness.”

Joseph threaded Berel’s arm through his own and returned her to her parents with a warning to Tyrel to guard her from the more unscrupulous elements in the crowd. He took his leave, claiming fatigue. In truth, fatigue wasn’t what Joseph felt. He ached for Berel. His nerves were ragged.

“A schente,” he barked at the guard who held position at the door to his rooms. There wasn’t typically a need for guards in the royal chambers, but on celebration nights, things got crazy. Until the young royals chose their mates, it would be like this.

Joseph had stripped by the time the schente came to him. He had balked at the schente at first, accepting them only when he was told that the heir apparent would be expected to keep them. Joseph was glad that he’d agreed to the schente on nights like this. A willing woman he could momentarily relieve tension in might be the only thing keeping him sane for his chosen mate. Berel.