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A King's Rival (MM)

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: SIZZLING
Word Count: 34,676
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A challenge between rivals will either lead to suffering...or to love.

Chieftain Rygar Idras must lead his warriors on a dangerous raid into Astor to rescue his men from captivity. But an ambush brings him face-to-face with Vash Terric, a powerful and ruthless king, and the raid ends with Rygar in chains. He's imprisoned within a castle in Astor, but his spirit remains unbroken, and he's determined to escape and save his men. But Vash gives him an ultimatum. The king will free one of his men every time Rygar comes to his bed of his own free will. If he refuses, he will remain in chains, a captive to the king, and his fellow raiders will languish in the dungeon. Rygar is prepared to do anything to free his men, whether that is killing the king...or sleeping with him. But denying his attraction to the commanding Vash is far more difficult than he imagined. When the king honors his promise, Rygar discovers that protecting his heart from his rival may be the greatest challenge he's ever faced...

King Vash loves nothing more than the stability and prosperity brought by law and order. Astor is a beacon of order in the world—a light threatened by barbarian raiders like Rygar. But Vash can't escape his raw desire for his captive. He's drawn to the man's strength and defiance. The longer he keeps his enemy captive at his side, the more fascinated he becomes with Rygar and his strange ways. Perhaps Rygar isn't the savage Vash thought he was. Vash is willing to conquer all his enemies to protect his people and impose order on the chaos...but his growing feelings for Rygar threaten to bring everything he has achieved crashing down around him.

Reader discretion advised

Excerpt

Despair pulled at Rygar as he marched along the cobblestone road with his warriors in a line behind him. The chains linking them together clinked and rattled as they moved. He felt shame. Worse, he could feel the shame of his men coming off them like heat. Perhaps it would’ve been better to have died with honor than be made prisoner. Was he weak to have put his warriors’ lives above their honor?

He doubted King Vash had any such compunction. The man seemed as ruthless and arrogant as he was striking. When the king had moved close to him after the ambush, it had first hit Rygar how handsome he really was, with mesmerizing dark eyes and harsh features that had their own kind of appeal. It sickened him to admit as much. To admit that part of him was drawn to the other man on a raw, physical level. Drawn to his confidence. His power. Those striking features and unforgettable eyes. Even drawn to the warrior heart inside the man. Rygar hated himself for this and worked hard to hate the king all the more. He remembered the contempt with which King Vash had treated him, and his anger flared higher.

That was better. He could fight any weakness inside himself with anger. Rygar may have preferred the bodies of men when he wanted to fuck, but that did not mean he would suffer any other man’s contempt.

He had one thin hope left. It was the main reason he hadn’t fought against the Astorans to the bitter end. Endron was with them, and Endron had escaped from Astor before. That meant they still had a chance to escape, small as it might be. He would take it. He would make any sacrifice required of him to get his people safely back to their homes.

All of them were weary by the time they reached the walled city of Highrark with the sun beginning to dip below the horizon. The city was nestled between the arms of two mountains, its gates opening out onto sprawling fields of grain. He had never seen a settlement half the size, much less the towering castle built upon a foothill at the far end of the city. Square stone towers rose at the gates and the corners of the city walls. The guards at the gate were inspecting wagons being brought into the city or leaving for the surrounding farms. Townsfolk and guards alike shouted taunts at Rygar and his men as they were marched through the gates.

He suffered the outrage without a word, as did his men. He understood they would not be loved here. These people would only see them as savages. Dangerous. A threat. He wondered if any of them would care that his envoy had been ambushed and murdered on their way to Highrark. He grunted, gritting his teeth. He doubted it. He was sure they would rather watch King Vash hang the barbarians from the city walls for the crows. So much for the civilized Astoran nation.

They headed through the city, along cobblestone streets, until they reached the castle gates. Once inside the castle courtyard, King Vash dismounted and strode for the inner keep, surrounded by men and advisors who came to greet him. The knight named Barrett was the one who, with a few of the remaining soldiers, led them down into the castle dungeons. The Matassa had no prisons. Nomads couldn’t build them. The tribe executed murderers or exiled others who broke the most serious of the tribe’s laws. Life on the grassy plains could be harsh. But Rygar suspected he would soon be learning a new meaning for the word in this dark pit.

The dungeons were dark and filthy, filled with rats and reeking of filth and waste. There were cells with iron bars along one side of the dungeon. On the opposite wall, there were chains and manacles. All were covered in rust, and the stones covered in slime. He struggled with the crushing sense of dread that fell on him in the narrow walls of the dungeon corridors. He was sweating, breathing faster. He didn’t like being underground.

The soldiers guarding them unlocked them one at a time from where they were bound together and then clamped them in irons against the wall. Rygar was the first. The thought of fighting flashed through his mind again, but he denied himself. Here it would’ve been even more futile than fighting back in the forest. He did not flinch when the manacles clanked shut around his wrists, the cold metal digging into his skin. He showed no fear, no submission.

After the rest of his warriors were locked up against the wall beside him, Endron on his left and Loken at the farthest end. Captain Barrett began to pace in front of them, scowling darkly.

“Pray to your gods that the king will be merciful,” Captain Barrett said. “Although why you would pray to such useless gods when they did not protect you, I have no idea. You should never have crossed the river.”



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