What if...Veriel had managed to steal Erin/Jayde but Anna was killed or left behind?
What if she'd been raised in seclusion, lied to, denied her training...crafted into the perfect mate for the beast? What would she have been told? What would she be like?
Would she have chosen him in the end? Or would she have embraced her true mate, given the chance to? It all happened in an earlier beast war.
Welcome back to Night Warriors Histories, where Gaffin and a team of other Warriors have tracked Veriel to the greatest prize of all...Ragath.
Ragath strolled out of her rooms and through the nearly-deserted keep. It was early, and she’d risen for the night before most of the household again.
One of her stomachaches had woken her. She’d asked Jonus about them, but he’d assured her many women suffered fleeting aches as they matured. There was no cause for concern...troublesome, but not dangerous.
They seemed to be occuring more often of late. She shivered in nervous energy; Jonus said that meant she would soon be ready to become his bride in more than name.
She nodded to one of the maids diligently performing her duties, either an early riser like herself or one who performed her duties in the day so as to remain unseen and out of the way.
All of the servants were female. Ragath had asked Jonus about it once, and he’d supplied that women weren’t safe with more than one man about. Men were, by nature, destined to prey on unprotected females, to kill to take women from other men.
The only way to safeguard a woman was to send her into her future husband’s keeping as a child, completely isolating her from other men, not even transporting her from household to household as she grew enough to be sexually appealing. What they could not see, the other males would not covet.
According to Jonus, Ragath had been in his care since infancy. Certainly, she had no memories of her mother and father. Jonus’s household encompassed the whole of her memory.
The women in his employ had acted as nannies, wet nurses, and later as maids and confidants. Her every need was met, her every whim catered to. According to the maids, her clothing was the finest they had ever seen.
When she suffered her blood, her clothing was heavy enough and dark enough to hide the unsightly blood rags and any stains that might occur. When she wasn’t, like now, her clothing was sheer, exposing her body to the man who would be her husband.
He hadn’t touched her sexually yet, but that would come soon. She’d suffered her blood for four years, which meant she was of age for him to exercise his rights to her bed.
Ragath didn’t fear the bedding. It was a natural step in a woman’s life, and Jonus was an appealing male. Of course, she’d never seen a male besides him for comparison, but still he appealed to her.
What more could a woman ask for? Since females were not exposed to groups of men and permitted a choice in marriage, being attracted to your mate was all any woman could hope for, and the gods had granted Ragath that boon.
She headed for Jonus’s rooms. There was nowhere in his household she was forbidden to tread, and the same applied to him. Only the servants had boundaries.
A strange sound stopped her short just outside the archway to his rooms. She worked at it. It almost sounded as if Jonus was in pain. Concerned, she hurried inside—and stopped short again.
The servant was one of her confidants, a girl only a year older than Ragath herself. At the moment, she was laid out on Jonus’s weapons table, her legs circling Jonus’s predictably nude body, her back arched to facilitate Jonus’s suckling mouth latched onto her breast.
For a moment, Ragath stood there, hurt, betrayed, her emotions warring. Fury won out, and she launched at them, her fists clenched tight.
I will kill them. How dare they!
Jonus moved so fast, she could hardly track it. In the next moment, Ragath was pressed to the wall, Jonus’s body crowding hers, his hands fisted around her wrists, like the time he—
She forced that thought away. It was one of the few times he’d exercised his rights as lord of the keep and her body over her, and it was an experience she did not want to repeat.
His breath came in hot, little panting breaths that caused a disconcerting reaction in her traitor body.
“Leave us,” Jonus ordered.
The skittering sounds would be the damned servant collecting her clothing and making good her escape. Her footsteps hesitated, and Ragath turned her head, glaring at the other woman. At least the bitch had the good grace to look pained and remorseful.
Jonus motioned his head sharply, and the servant fled, holding her gown to her body.
The moments passed in silence. Finally, Jonus addressed her.
“You wished to see me, Ragath?”
“I most certainly did not want to see you like that,” she snapped back.
He sighed. “I have told you about men,” he reasoned. “Men have hungers.”
“Men are vermin. Men are insects.”
Jonus smiled. He laughed at her insults. “Yes, we most certainly are. You are barely of an age to bed, Ragath. Be reasonable. I must have a way to sate myself until you accept me.”
She wanted to deny it, but he had a point. How many times had she been told that males lacked control when faced with females? How cruel was it to see her daily, from the time she was an infant, and know he had to wait to touch her? How else could a male survive such a thing besides taking other females to his bed until he was free to claim his bride?
“And when I do accept you?” she challenged. “If men are such vermin, with no control when presented with the female body, will you continue to bed the servants, when you have mine?” If he said yes, he would certainly never have her willingly. Why should he?
His smile disappeared, and he shook his head solemnly. “When I have you, I will have no want or need of the others. You have my vow on that.”
“But...” There was something left unsaid, she was sure.
He flattened his body to hers, letting Ragath feel the weight of his erect cock against her belly. “I will need your vow that you will be mine always.”
She shook her head, confused by that pronouncement. “I am yours, Jonus. My parents struck the deal with you long ago.” Even if she refused him, which was simply not done, where would she go? How would she? The bars and gates alone would trap her within the keep.
“No. You must choose. You must give your vow. The day you do, I will stop taking other women.”
Ragath worked at that without return. What difference did her vow make? The deal had been struck without it. There was no way to rescind it. Females weren’t permitted to show their faces outside the keeps, save when one was transported to her husband in infancy. What difference did her vow make?
“Your choice,” Jonus repeated. “Are you prepared to make that choice?”
A sudden and unexpected fear made her lightheaded. Why had no one told her the question would be asked? Even knowing it was a foregone conclusion that she would be Jonus’s, saying the words frightened her.
He nodded, his jaw tight in fury she could see like a dark cloud around him. “Then I will continue to seek out other—”
“No.” The word was out before she could stop herself. She had no right to order Jonus about. He was her future husband, her master. He was lord of the keep and her body.
One brow went up in challenge. “You mean to accept me?” he asked calmly.
Gods, what a choice! “Why do you need that vow to bed me?” Perhaps if she understood his needs, it would come easier.
A smile curved his lips, and his cock jerked against her. “I do not need it to bed you.”
Ragath shook her head. “I do not understand.”
“I can bed you at any time you wish it.”
“A man has needs, Ragath. The only way to meet them all is to vow to be mine...and only mine...for all time. Until that time, if needs arise that you cannot or will not fulfill...”
She pulled at his hold, intent on striking him for saying something so hurtful. He held her easily, without exerting effort that she could see. She wasn’t certain why she still tried to strike him. It wasn’t as if she’d ever succeeded before.
“Will you choose to fulfill...some of my needs?” There was something dark and seductive in that.
Ragath considered it. “On one condition.” She nearly winced at what she was saying. There had never been conditions between them before.
He tilted his head, his interest seemingly piqued by her choice of words. “And that is?”
“You will ask me for what it is you...need. If I cannot or will not provide it, you are free to seek it elsewhere, but not without asking me first.” Her heart ached at the idea of refusing him, of sending him to another to sate what she should as bride sate, and it pounded in terror at the idea of making a vow to be his forever, though she had no idea why it would.
“Agreed.” There was no hesitation in his answer. “At the moment, I need to taste. A woman’s mouth, her breasts, her...sweet sheath. Will you offer me that?”
Her body reacted fiercely to the mental image his words created for her. “Yes. Taste.”
His head titled and came down, his mouth playing at hers. He’d kissed her hands, forehead, and cheeks before. He’d brushed his lips against hers before she retired to bed every night since her blood started to flow.
This was different. His lips were soft; they played at hers as if seeking something she couldn’t name.
He pulled back minutely. “Open for me.”
She hesitated, confused by the request. Ragath parted her lips, shivering at his breath warming her mouth.
Jonus did the same, and his tongue emerged, dipping into her mouth, stroking her lips. Ragath captured it between her lips, stealing a kiss.
He moaned at the move, sliding his tongue free as if enjoying the sensation as much as she did. “That is right. Play with my mouth. Explore.”
Encouraged, she repeated the move with his lower lip...then the upper. Ragath dipped her tongue between his lips, and Jonus snaked his own around it, setting off a firestorm of need.
In the next few heartbeats, their mouths meshed, lips wide open. Their tongues dueled and danced.
His hands loosened and left her wrists, caressing down her arms. When he cupped her breasts in his big hands, she took advantage of the freedom to lower her arms around his neck.
Her knees weakened in the passion washing over them. As if he could feel it, Jonus pulled away, guiding her further into the room.
Jonus didn’t take her to his weapons table, as she’d feared he might. She was forbidden to touch the table or anything on it, and his displeasure when balked was a fearsome thing.
He took her to his bed.
His mouth left hers, and he started working the gown up her body. Her nudity wasn’t a shocking thing. She was nude for her physical training, for sleep, and bathing. Jonus was not unwelcome at any of those activities, though he’d never shared her bed, to her knowledge. This was the first time she’d been disrobed with the idea that Jonus would execute his rights as husband.
The material slid over her head and extended arms, leaving her skin to skin with him. Ragath clenched her fists for a moment, reminding herself that he’d seen her nude form for her entire life.
Jonus tossed the gown away, and he lifted her to the bed, following her down. She’d been to his bed from time to time. When she was a child with nameless nightmares, she’d been encouraged to seek out his bed for comfort.
There was nothing comforting in this. It was hot and harsh, exciting and frightening.
Jonus took his time, sampling her lips...then the depths of her mouth. Sometime during the latter, a meal appeared silently on the bedside table. Part of her burned in jealousy that it might have been the same servant he’d been so engaged with; another hoped it was, so the bitch would see that Jonus was hers alone.
Left to her own devices, Ragath would have ignored the food, but Jonus demanded she eat. He watched her, his gaze hot with the promise of more. When she offered him food, he begged off, claiming he’d indulged earlier. All the while, the tension rose between them, the need to have him continued. At last, her stomach protested the idea of more. Not that she was full. Rather a strange ache and tremble made the thought of eating when she might be in Jonus’s arms unpalatable.
As if he read the thought from her mind, Jonus turned her beneath him again. His lips parted hers, his kiss making her lightheaded.
Time lost all meaning. Ragath resorted to ordering what passed between them in rare moments of lucidity.
His mouth on her breasts brought her off the mattress and hard against him. Somewhere between there and the disconcerting play at her naval, the second meal arrived. She managed a few bites and a glass of wine, then she invited his kiss again.
Jonus was unhurried in his tasting, and her body rioted for more. Her breathing caught in her lungs at the first stroke of his tongue between her thighs. It escaped on a rush at the second.
Then he was everywhere, suckling at the forefront, tracing her woman’s seam, licking from front to back. Strange sounds escaped her throat, and Ragath reached for him.
Her heart skittered at Jonus pinning her wrists to the mattress. Fear faded in light of his continued attention to her rising pleasure. Ragath forced her hips up, encouraging him.
His groan vibrated against her; the sensation tightened muscles all over her body and stilled her breath. The next suck on the sensitive bundle released that breath in a shout of surprise. The tension inside her rebounded, tightened, loosened again, more powerfully with each movement. Her head spun, and she moaned out her confusion. What was he doing to her?
His mouth left her, and Jonus snapped an order for someone to leave them. Ragath whimpered, her mind working at the truth that he’d spent the night tasting her, another corner arguing that it couldn’t possibly be the late meal he’d been turning away.
He returned to her body, tasting more avidly, forcing her to a more powerful response than the last time. Her inner muscles clenched on emptiness, and she felt every finger-width of the channel Jonus would soon fill.
As if the thought summoned him, he levered himself over her, holding his weight up so his cock bobbed between them. Ragath stared at it—curious, frightened, ready yet not.
I should. He has given me such pleasure. And her channel was empty and aching for a filling.
No. It is too soon. Wait. The time is coming. Ragath didn’t doubt it. It wasn’t time to take him to her body.
Jonus grumbled a harsh curse. He knew. Would he seek out another female to do what she was uncertain about?
At a loss to stop him, she touched his cock. She’d only done so once before, when she’d been very young. At the time, it had sent Jonus into a rage, and she’d fled to her nurse’s arms in confusion. This time, his hungry expression attested that the tension in his body was sexual in nature.
Encouraged, Ragath stroked him. Jonus shifted his weight, brought one hand to hers, and repositioned her hand. Once her fingers circled his girth, he guided her and squeezed her hand tighter where he needed it to be so, his breathing going ragged and his eyes red in arousal. When she’d learned what he wanted, he released her and left her to bring him pleasure.
His sounds were harsh, and his hips started moving. Ragath stared at him, stunned at his fierce hunger.
“Harder, Ragath. Make your hands tight as your virgin sheath will be.”
She complied, and his eyes slid shut. His hips sped, and her body responded to it. Would he thrust into her as avidly? Cream flowed from her at the thought.
His hair swung wildly around his face, and his expression hardened. Then he roared, his male fluids splashing against her stomach and breasts. Ragath stared at it, shocked at the sight. There was so much, much more than she’d thought there would be.
“We will bed fully soon, Ragath,” Jonus promised.
She nodded, touching the slick of his seed with trembling fingers. This was what would give her a child? What magic was there between a man and a woman?
Jonus used the linens on his bed to wipe the precious fluid away. Then he lifted her and carried her to her room.
The servants scrambled to do his bidding. Jonus passed Ragath into their hands with orders to bathe and feed her. Then he turned to leave.
“Wait,” she called out. She’d refused to take him into her body. Was he off to sate himself in another? Perhaps in that damned servant he’d been playing with earlier?
He turned, offering her a smile. “Be at ease. I simply have business to deal with, Ragath. Sleep well.”
“Will you join me?” It was a question she’d never asked before.
Jonus hesitated, for the first time in her memory seemingly uncertain. “Perhaps... I am weary, Ragath. Perhaps...another day would be better.”
She nodded, feeling dismissed as she rarely had with Jonus.
He paused, shook his head as if to push away an unwelcome thought, then walked away.
“Lady Ragath?” one of the older servants called her.
She turned, noting the water being poured into the tub for her. All things considered, a bath might be the best thing. Ragath always thought best at the restful moments.
It was the perfect temperature, cool but not cold. Everything in her life was perfect.
Again, the servant’s face was in her memories. Jonus often sent servants away to other duties in his holdings. If she asked, would he send that one away? But, he left the keep on business. Even if he sent the girl away, what was to stop him from sating himself in her when he was away?
My vow. He said he would take no others, if I gave the vow.
Not yet. The time is not right.
That meant accepting that he might bed others until she gave it. It was an imperfect solution.
Then again, if life were perfect, how boring would that be?
On that thought, she settled into the tub and closed her eyes. It had been years since she’d bathed herself, most likely since she’d started to bleed. It was Jonus’s opinion that a lady should have to do as little for herself as possible. Hers was a life of leisure—reading, practice, and music, while others did the work. Bathing herself was something of a guilty pleasure.
Her servants had told her males sometimes chose to dismiss servants and bathed their brides themselves. Her heart ached that Jonus hadn’t chosen to do so tonight.
She chided herself. Jonus had business to see to. He’d spent the entire night with her and would likely forego some of his sleep to see to the business he’d neglected.
What business is it? Perhaps he had to order troops or the overseer of his fields. Ragath had seen neither of those things, but she’d heard Jonus speak of them. Like everything else in her life, scores of others toiled while she amused herself...and Jonus.
Soft cloths stroked at her sensitized skin. The scents of herbal soaps and food tantalized her senses.
And it struck. The pain knotted her stomach as it rarely had, an intense, breath-stealing fist. She pitched forward around it, grunting, her teeth and eyes clenched tight.
The movement sent water splashing to the floor, and she shuddered. A wild need to run gripped her, but she couldn’t walk like this, let alone run.
And where would I run? Why would I? There were no answers to those questions.
Hands pulled at her, and she shook her head. It had to ease. It always eased.
“To the bed,” one of the older women ordered. “Before she drowns.”
That might have seemed extreme any other time, but this time, Ragath wasn’t certain it was. The pain was worse than usual, and she was lightheaded in response. Hands supported her and stared to lift Ragath out of the water.
The pain intensified, a searing in her gut that doubled her fully. Her tenuous control in the face of pain shattered, and Ragath screamed. Tears pooled in her eyes and ran down her face.
It ended. Her muscles unknotted, and she went boneless in relief. The servants lifted her to the floor and wrapped her in a length of cloth.
Whispered conversations made no sense. The smell of food turned her abused stomach, and Ragath sent it away in a rough voice.
Probably at a loss for something better to do, they dried her and settled Ragath into her bed. Suddenly, Jonus joining her wasn’t so important. She needed the sleep rushing toward her.