Illicit love, burning hot sex...
Keliana is an imperial harem mistress, but that doesn't stop Jareth Nikolai from wanting her. A colonel in the imperial fleet and the prince's right hand man, Jareth has earned his reputation as a loyal, stone-cold soldier, but thoughts of Keliana heat his blood to boiling--even though she's the property of his prince.
Keliana knows it's forbidden, but she can't get the handsome colonel of out of her mind, nor can she ignore her dreams of one day loving him openly as a free woman. When she's called before her prince and given to Nikolai as a gift, she thinks her dreams have finally come true. Until Nikolai is raised to prince and cannot marry his harem mistress.
And deep within the shadows, enemy machinations work to keep them apart forever...
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© Mina Carter | 2012
There was no rose.
Used to hiding her expression Keliana, Mistress of the Imperial Prince’s harem, hid her disappointment behind a calm and serene mask. Then she remembered there was no one in the empty harem garden to fool and let her frown show. Her slippered feet were silent on the ornate flagstones as she approached the fountain in the middle of the garden. No matter how much she looked at it, the stone bench next to the azure pool remained empty. No flower, midnight or otherwise, graced its smooth, pale surface.
His unit had shipped back in this morning, but he hadn’t left her a rose. He always left a rose.
Sitting down, she ignored her disappointment and allowed her gaze to wander over the gardens. They were a delight to the senses, designed for the prince of princes to spend time with the women chosen for his pleasure. Benches sat between the flowerbeds and low couches with sumptuous cushions were shaded by fragrant bowers, all there for his gracious majesty as he decided which of his harem he would summon to his bed that night.
It was a favorite place for the women of the harem and in days past the garden would have been full, even at this time of day. The women choosing to rest in the shade before preparing for the evening, each hoping that night would be the night they were summoned to pleasure the prince.
She remembered it well. Remembered being brought here as a young girl. Barely into womanhood and fresh from the outer systems, she’d been dazzled by the bright colors and sensual fabrics. Remembered her first night with her prince, the current prince’s late father, and the rush of elation when she became his favorite. She’d never loved him. How could a slave love her master? Then he was gone and his son, the handsome Prince Sethan, had taken his place on the imperial throne and everything had changed.
A soft sigh escaped her lips, puffing the veil that covered the lower half of her face. A small rectangle of sheer fabric, scarlet to match her dress, it concealed nothing, but announced her position and status to anyone who saw her. Only the harem-mistress wore a veil, a proclamation to the world that she had earned the right to shield her face and sleep alone.
As alone as she was now in the deserted garden.
Prince Sethan had finally married the Lady Jaida after a chase that spanned years and the entire galaxy and now that she was caught, the new princess had no intention of sharing her man. The harem had been dismantled, most of the women given jewels to mark their time in the imperial harem and sold onto the pleasure house of their choice within the city. Those girls who had not been bedded were transferred to the household staff.
Only a few remained. The others awaited transport from their new homes to collect them, but Keliana’s own fate was undecided. She was harem-mistress, a member of the prince’s household. No pleasure house would have the audacity to approach the Royal household for her price and likewise the household would not release her bond-price to public knowledge. To join the household staff was unthinkable; such a drop in rank and status was totally inconceivable.
Keliana didn’t care. She looked out over the gardens, her face implacable as the soft breeze ruffled her blood-red skirts as her fingertips stroked over the smooth stone by her thigh. She was the last courtesan of a prince who didn’t want a harem, owned by a man who didn’t want her, and she wanted a man who left her roses but couldn’t claim her. She’d rather scrub floors. At least then she would be free to make her own decisions, like whom she could love.
“Such a serious expression on such a beautiful face.”
The deep voice from behind made her jump. With a gasp, she turned on the bench in a rustle of silk. There, in the shadows of an archway, was a familiar, tall figure dressed in a black combat uniform, his dark hair caught at the nape of his neck. Just the sight of him was enough to weaken her knees.
Colonel Jareth Nikolai. Prince Sethan’s right-hand man and commander of his armies. The man who had been leaving her forbidden roses the color of the midnight sky and who occupied her lonely dreams.
Heat and excitement skittered through her like rabbits during spring as she rose from the bench. Instead of leaving her a rose, he’d come himself. Her initial pleasure at seeing him dissipated as she darted a look around the garden in case one of the women still here wandered out and saw him. Then it would be alarms and hell to pay. No man other than Sethan was allowed within the harem walls.
For a man like Jareth though, a member of the elite Sector Seven, breaking in and getting out without being caught would be child’s play. Leaving something was one thing…sticking around for a chat was suicide.
“What are you doing here?” she whispered urgently. “You have to get out of here before they catch you.”
She reached the archway and shivered as she stepped from the warmth of the midafternoon sun into the coolness of the shadows. For a moment she was blinded, blinking rapidly as she waited for her eyes to adjust.
His deep chuckle reached her ears a moment before his warm hands closed over her upper arms. Heat sparked between them and the merest brush of his hand sent a wave of longing through her so complete she had to bite her lip to stop the moan spilling forth. Hot on its tail was a gasp for his daring.
Not only had he broken into the harem, he’d touched her. Touched one of the prince’s women. Never mind that Sethan didn’t actually want her. Rules were rules. Rules bound everyone, even Jareth, commander of the Prince’s armies.
She wriggled. “Go, you have to get out. They’ll kill you if they catch you.”
“So fiery. You know you look like a kitten spitting when you’re mad?”
Her eyes adjusted and she could make out his face. See that damned little half smile and the heat in his eyes as he pulled her closer to his hard body. His hold was firm, his hands large enough and fingers long enough to wrap around her arms, shackling them above the elbow.
“What are you damn well smiling at? This is dangerous, you idiot!”
She squirmed some more, but he was stronger than her, his grip like iron. There was no way she was breaking loose, not without some form of physical violence she just wasn’t capable of.
Amusement ran through her for a second as she stilled and let him hold her. Over six feet and with the hard build of a professional soldier, there was no way she could stop him. Shivers of illicit excitement whispered over her skin as she looked up at him. He could do whatever he liked to her and she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
His face was partly in shadow, revealing one blue-black eye playing peek-a-boo from under the long fall of his hair. It was a less than regulation cut, but she’d heard rumors his mother had been Hestarian, the warrior-nomad race whose very name sparked fear into many hearts. It would explain the nearly black color of his eyes, the iris expanded with just a small ring of arctic blue around the outside.
Her voice was a soft murmur as she reached up to touch his face gently. A darkening bruise decorated one of his cheekbones, the cheek marred with the telltale furrow of a laser-blot.
Fear clutched at her heart, squeezing until she could barely breathe. He’d come so close to being killed. Just a fraction to the left and he’d have been done for. Despite her best efforts, her moan of distress wormed its way loose.
Not wanting to touch the wound directly in case she hurt him, she paused, fingers waving in the air like a court debutante without a dance partner. He solved her dilemma for her, capturing her slender hand in one of his and pressing it against his broad chest as his other caught her about the waist. His heart beat strongly against her fingers.
“It’s nothing, just a little cut.” His voice oozed with the self-assurance and quiet confidence she found so compelling, but it didn’t do anything to ease the ache inside at the thought of losing him.
“It’s not nothing. You could have been killed!”
He grinned, a feral slash of white teeth in the darkness as he pulled her closer until she was flush against his hard body. His uniform caught, snagging the thin silk of her robes and making her more aware that he was fully clothed and she wore the traditional robes of a courtesan. A couple of tugs in the right place and she’d be naked before him.
Heat hit her low down, her pussy clenching hard. She was the prince’s property. Even touching another man was a death penalty, never mind the erotic fantasies swirling through her mind.
“Why? Worried about me?”
The heated gleam in his eyes as his fingertips stroked the silk over her waist said he was just as aware of the possibilities of her state of dress as she was. That didn’t surprise her. She knew he’d had a couple of the palace women…those who belonged to other nobles and were lent out to pay a debt or to gain a favor. Jealousy hit her, a monster that clawed at her gut and made her heart ache at the thought of him bedding other women.
“No.” She shook her head in denial, her dark hair shifting over her bare shoulders. “Not at all. Why should I be? If you’re stupid enough to stick your head out when people are shooting at you, you deserve to get it shot off.”
His rumble of amusement filled the darkness around them. “Kitty has a sharp tongue. How about you put it to better use and kiss me.”
Oh Lady, yes please.
Heat and longing almost took her knees from under her. She curled her fingers into his black jacket, seeking purchase, as she forced her legs to hold her. How pathetic was she—she’d been bedded by a prince, feted as the beauty of her age, but just the thought of Jareth’s kiss and she all but melted into a puddle at his feet.
“How about you get some sense through that thick skull of yours and leave before someone catches us?”
The words were meant to be sharp and warn him off but for some reason her voice wasn’t cooperating. Instead, her words emerged as a breathy whisper, not a deterrent.
“You’re convinced we’ll get caught, aren’t you?” He slid his hand up her back to cup the nape of her neck, an unreadable expression on his face as he used the other to unhook her veil. “Perhaps I should do something to earn it. Crime fits the punishment and all that.”
She didn’t get a chance to argue as he bent his head to claim her lips. Molten heat charged through her at the first touch. His lips were firm and warm, slanting over hers in a torrid kiss that took her breath away. He didn’t explore. He wasn’t tentative. His hands held her in place as he conquered, parting her lips ruthlessly to force his way inside and explore the sweetness of her mouth.
She whimpered, the sound lost in his mouth as his tongue slid along hers, tangling and stroking in an erotic dance that fanned the flames of arousal already burning through her to fever pitch. Her body burned, her pussy ached with need. No longer caring where they were, she arched against him, driving her hands into his overlong hair to hold him against her. Anything to ensure he kept kissing her.
“The maid in the great hall said she saw the colonel come this way.”
They froze as voices filtered through the door behind them from inside the palace. Carefully Jareth lifted his head, lips a mere fraction above hers.
“Are you sure? There’s nothing down here. Perhaps he passed her again and she missed him?”
A second voice joined the first as they grew louder. Keliana held her breath as footsteps grew level with the door. Fear hammered through her. They were near the door. If they stopped and looked through the screen, they’d see her and Jareth. They were done for.
“No, she said she only started in there fifteen minutes ago. He has to be down here somewhere.”
She tried to hold her breath, as though that would help. Cold sweat trickled down the furrow of her spine. If they were caught, it meant death—at least for her. She wasn’t sure about Jareth. Hopefully his friendship with the prince would protect him. Frustration rose at the double standard. Sethan didn’t want her, but she was still his. No other could have her, no matter how much she might want it.
“Why? There’s nothing down here apart from the old harem quarters and the music rooms. What would he want down here?”
“I dunno, perhaps he fancied a tinkle on the ivories?” The first voice sneered as they passed the door. “I haven’t got a fucking clue, dipshit. How about you ask him when we find him?”
“Fuck that. I ain’t asking Nikolai anything. He’s a mean son of a bitch at the best of times.”
The voices trailed off, footsteps fading into the distance. It wouldn’t last long though. There was only one corridor in and out of the music room so they’d be back. She looked up to find Jareth watching her, the expression in his blue-black eyes amused.
“What are you waiting around for?” she whispered urgently, urging him toward the door. “They’ll be back. You have to go…please.” She was begging, but she didn’t care anymore. Anything that would keep him safe.
He smiled as they reached the door, turning and capturing her hand again to bring it to his lips. His expression was wicked as his lips brushed the back of her knuckles. The merest touch was enough to make her gasp, a bolt of heat sizzling through her body again.
“Anything to please my lady.” His voice was like chocolate and coffee, rich with a hard edge she couldn’t resist. “Until later…”
And then he was gone.
Available now from: Amazon | Amazon.co.uk | ARe | OmniLit