Cored's attempt to capture Pilar as his re-bred mate goes completely awry, leaving him exiled from Braeden Home and barred from pursuing Pilar, forcing him to re-examine his quest to regain his title and fortune. When Pilar pursues him, his life only gets more complicated. Will a Trial Moon save his neck or cook his goose?
Jearsen, damaged at birth, has been pampered and hidden away, an embarrassment to his noble family. Eve challenges him to stop accepting the assumptions about himself, to pursue the truth of his existence. But will those truths cause heartache or bliss for the two of them?
It's rare, but it happens--anaphylactic responses to the drop of the first egg. Kyra has sworn off men for life. Though Steden has always wanted her, he's been relegated to 'safe, male friend' for a decade. Then Kyra makes a startling request; she wants him to be the father of her child. Can a woman scarred to the act of love claim the man of her dreams?
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.
"Damn it," Andrew cursed in English. Pilar's transport was in front of Cored's cottage, just as he'd feared.
"Don't jump to conclusions," Alex chided him.
"You think she hasn't had sex with that bastard by now?" he snapped.
"Probably, but if she did, she chose to. Pilar came here willingly. Cored didn't kidnap her."
"She's played right into his hands," Andrew complained.
"Willingly! Pilar is an adult. She has to be allowed to make her own choices."
Andrew ground his teeth in frustration. Of course, his twin wouldn't appreciate the gravity of this situation. After all, the man played stud twice a month. He was the ultimate bachelor. "Adult or not, you know what Dad said."
Alex sighed. "Cored didn't pursue her. Dad can call Jole in, and the decision will be for Cored."
"Then Jole will make the decision," he growled.
He nodded, seemingly exasperated with Andrew. "We'll take him in, but hands off. If you hit him, he'll have the right to press charges."
Andrew glared at the door to his adversary's home. "As long as he hasn't mistreated Pilar, Cored will make it to trial in one piece."
The door was locked. Alex raised a hand to knock, but Andrew grasped his wrist, stilling him. He unsheathed his dagger.
Alex shook his head. "You have no right to--"
"Until proven innocent," Andrew growled. "Pilar is a re-bred."
He snapped the lock with a muted crunch of metal against metal, then pushed the door wide. The smell of iri brandy assaulted him first. Andrew curled his nose in distaste and strode inside. Pilar's dress and Cored's robe lay crumpled on the library floor, soaked with the brandy that had spilled from the table above. Andrew's hand tightened on the hilt of his dagger reflexively.
"Put it away," Alex ordered quietly, as if reading his thoughts.
He sheathed his dagger with a snort of disgust, then turned down the corridor. Andrew stared at the upset table and shattered oculars for a moment, unsure whether the idea of Cored on a rampage or in the midst of sexual abandon with Pilar bothered him more. He moved on, stilling again in the bedroom doorway.
Pilar was there, asleep in Cored's arms, her gold hair tossed over his chest, hiding her face. A silin sheet covered them from the waist down, but Andrew could clearly see Cored's leg tucked between her thighs.
"Get up," he barked, his anger rising fast at the possessive way the criminal held her.
Pilar startled, sitting up abruptly and looking at him with wide eyes.
Beside her, Cored groaned, running a hand over his face. He squinted at Pilar, then at Andrew and Alex. "What in Len's Unholy Underworld do you want?" he grumbled.
"You were warned to stay away from Pilar."
She blushed deeply, crossing her arms over her breasts. "I came here," she reminded them. "You have no right--"
"I have every right. He should have turned you away."
"Why?" she argued stubbornly.
Alex grasped Andrew's shoulder, then spoke calmly. "Get up, Pilar. You too, Cored."
Cored rubbed at his temples, no doubt suffering an iri brandy headache. "Let me get this in perspective. You broke into my home, where your sister is a guest, to arrest me?"
Pilar nodded. "That would seem to be the case."
"Pilar..." Alex reasoned.
"I am an adult, and I am tired of you two treating me like a child. Go home. I'll be there when I'm good and ready." She scowled at Andrew. "And you will pay for whatever you broke to get in."
Andrew dragged off his tunic and threw it at Pilar. "Put this on--now!" He caught it as she threw it back at him.
"Put it on yourself."
He stormed to her, grasped Pilar by her upper arms, and hauled her struggling form over his shoulder. He looked up in surprise as Cored launched off the bed at him, but Alex was there first, his dagger pressed to the man's throat in warning. For a moment, they stared at each other.
"Don't," Alex growled. "My father has no legal recourse. I know that, and you know that, but we have to take you with us to settle it. Please, stand down."
"Put her down," Cored bargained. "I'll get dressed and come quietly if you let her go."
Pilar stopped squirming. "They have no right to do this," she argued.
Cored sighed. "It know it, but that rarely stops the nobility. No offense to you, of course."
"None taken. I'd be glad to be rid of the lot of them." Pilar laid a sloppy punch on Andrew's shoulder. "Let me down."
"You'll put on the tunic?" Andrew asked pointedly. "You'll--"
"Never. I'd rather die than wear your tunic."
Cored motioned Alex away and turned toward the door. "I'll get your dress."
"Don't bother," Andrew informed him. "It's ruined...soaked in brandy."
"I don't care," Pilar snapped. "I'll go nude before I wear your tunic."
Cored's jaw tightened, and he shot a glance at Alex, then Andrew. "Will you wear one of mine?" he asked.
"No," Andrew answered for her. "She won't."
Pilar tried to kick her way down again, growling when Andrew immobilized her legs. "Oh, let me down," she complained. Under her breath, she muttered something that sounded of a promise to bite his ass, if he didn't comply.
"You'll wear the tunic? You'll walk out of here calmly?"
"Yes and yes. Now put me down."
Andrew set her on her feet and extended his hand with the tunic still clutched in his fist.
Pilar turned on her heel and strode to Cored, smiling. "Where would one find a tunic?" she inquired sweetly.
Alex grasped Andrew by the arm. "Give up while she isn't fighting," he advised.
"She is not wearing his tunic," Andrew insisted. "Not when we're taking him to judgment."
Pilar turned to them, paling. She stepped back, nestling her back to Cored's chest and seeking his hand with hers. "There is no judgment. You don't have a choice."
"What do you mean?" Andrew demanded.
"I came to Cored and offered myself. What do you think I mean?"
"Pilar," Cored cautioned her. "Andrew is the wrong person to--"
"We have to inform someone," she reasoned. "My older brothers are close enough. They act like overprotective parents." Pilar met Andrew's gaze. "Cored demanded a Trial Moon. I'm not filing a grievance. By law, you can't intervene."
Alex placed himself between them, holding Andrew back when he surged toward Cored to throttle him. "She's right. You can't interfere. He has thirty-seven days to win his contract."
Andrew glared at Cored. "And his title," he growled.
Cored didn't reply to the accusation. The former lord wrapped an arm around Pilar's waist and leaned to whisper in her ear, most probably thanks for saving his worthless skin. And if Pilar didn't fight the Trial Moon, his skin was decidedly safe.
Alex leaned close enough to whisper in Andrew's ear. "Maybe her heir will be enough for her. Jole's new laws award the child to the re-bred, male or female. Pilar knows that."
Something told Andrew it wasn't going to be that simple.
* * * *
"Are you insane?" Cored whispered, fighting back the attack of nerves warring with relief. Laws or no laws, Pilar's father might have made a case that would have seen Cored dead. Pilar's lie ensured that he couldn't be tried.
Still, he hadn't asked for this. Why, no matter what path he sought to take with Pilar, did he end up with an opposite result? "I didn't ask for a Trial Moon. I had no intention of forcing you to--"
Pilar turned in his arms, hiding the hurt in her eyes. Why was it that trying to put her at ease hurt her? Why could he never make the right choice with her?
Her voice was deceptively calm. "One month of your time and you're free." She pressed closer to him, and Andrew tensed behind her. "It's worth one month, isn't it?"
Cored avoided her emotions, sure of what he'd find. This was a contract of sorts. Pilar would have her heir in exchange for his freedom, and Cored would be rewarded handsomely for his services as stud, better than he ever had been before.
He nodded. "As you wish." It had always come to this, to what people could use him for.
"Good. Then we should dress."
Cored released her and pulled out one of his formal tunics. The long silver silin tunic reached nearly to Pilar's knees. He cuffed the sleeves for her, then tied the neckline to just above her breasts. Cored stared down at her for a moment, stunned. She looked far too good in his tunic...better than his sanity would withstand, possibly.
Pilar smoothed the silin over her thighs and blushed, scooping a lock of her pale hair behind her ear.
"Your clothing, Cored," Andrew reminded him.
He nodded, pulling on a matching tunic to the one Pilar wore, then his best black trousers and boots. He paused with his hand on his belt. "I suppose my dagger would be unwelcome," he noted.
"It would," Alex answered.
"Very well." Cored turned and offered Pilar his arm.
Andrew scowled as she took her place at his Cored's side, but her brother wisely remained silent and waved them out of the cottage.
* * * *
Pilar sighed, fighting the urge to smooth the tunic down her thighs again.
Why did I think this was a good plan? Her father didn't have any right to ask for a judgment on Cored, but Cored didn't trust that the nobility abided by the laws that should have protected him. Pilar couldn't let them punish Cored for her mad urges.
That's all it had been. She'd spent days, curled in her bed, dozing fitfully, dreaming of their time in the garden, waking aching as she had when Alex had pulled Cored out of her. It had been driving her mad. Pilar had considered consulting her woman healer about it, but she was afraid Nolga would tell her she was crazy.
So I did something crazy to prove it? What was wrong with her?
"You're certain about this?" her father asked, shooting Cored a look that promised retribution.
"I'm sure," she replied. "I'm not fighting the Trial Moon."
He nodded grimly. "Will you be staying here?"
"Yes," Cored stated at the same time.
Pilar shot him a look of disbelief. "Here? With my brothers watching our every move? Listening at doors? Not acceptable." She'd never pull this off if Andrew was allowed to barge in at any time.
"My home lacks the comforts you're accustomed to."
"It has privacy." She scowled at Andrew. "Or...it will, once you have the lock you destroyed replaced."
"I cook for myself," Cored warned her.
"Then you can teach me," she reasoned in reply.
"I'm not that good."
Pilar smirked at him, tempted to make the most of the set-up he'd dealt her.
Cored darkened, shooting Andrew a pained look. "All right," he decided. "My home it is."