To Leigh Michelle Heldermon and Shelly Mykal.
Cousins. Extraordinary women. Angels (a long time ago I might have added "fallen" before that last one, but that's neither here nor there).
To Jill Monroe. You had me at hello, and now you complete me. You are the wind beneath my wings. I am nothing without you.
UPON AWAKENING, Valerian, King of the Nymphs, untangled himself from the naked, slumbering woman beside him... only to discover his legs were entwined with two other naked, slumbering women.
With a sleep-rough chuckle, he fell back onto the softness of the bed, dark strands of feminine hair cascading atop his shoulder. Silky red tendrils floated over his stomach, intertwining prettily with another woman's blond tresses. Satisfaction hummed inside him.
There were only four females in residence, and all four were deliciously human. Utterly sexual. Captivating. A few weeks ago, right after his army had taken control of this fortress, the women had accidentally entered through a portal leading from the surface world. The gods must have been smiling upon him last eve because three of them had found their way into his bed.
He grinned slowly, and his gaze traveled over the sated beauties sleeping so peacefully around him. Tall, rounded and sun-kissed they were, with faces ranging from daringly bold to endearingly plain.
Whatever they looked like, he didn't care. Quite simply, he loved women. He loved his power over them and wasn't ashamed of it. Wasn't repentant. Oh, no. He enjoyed. Relished. Savored.
Though none in particular had ever been more to him than a passing fancy, he adored every luscious inch of them. Their sweet softness, their breathy moans. Their decadent flavors. He loved the way their legs tightened around his waist (or head) and welcomed him into paradise, allowing him a gentle slide or a rough pounding - whichever he happened to prefer at the time.
As he lay there, light uncoiled slender fingers from the crystal ceiling above, caressing everything it touched and bathing his companions in a haze of glittery shadow and shimmery illumination. Desire scented the air, nearly palpable in its headiness. Heat radiated from each of the female bodies, weaving a dangerously seductive cocoon around them.
Yes, he led a sweet, sweet life.
Women had only to look at Valerian to crave him. Smell his erotically seductive Nymph fragrance to ready themselves for his pleasure. Hear his husky, wine-rich voice to strip for him. Feel a single caress of his fingertips to erupt into peak after delicious peak and beg for more. He was not boastful about this; it was simply fact.
Just then the female with the raven hair stirred and rested her small, delicate hand on his chest. Janet? Gail? He wasn't sure of her name. Couldn't recall any of their names, really. They were bodies, in a long line of well-pleasured bodies in which he found succor; females who had chosen to eagerly allow him inside.
"Valerian," the dark-headed one breathed, an exquisite prayer. Her expression remained soft from sleep, but her hand began a slow, downward glide and wrapped around his cock, stroking up and down, awakening it from slumber.
Without sparing her a glance, he reached down and clasped her palm to his, stilling her movement and bringing her fingers to his lips for a chaste kiss. She shivered, and he felt her nipples harden against his side.
"Not this morning, sweet," he said, speaking in her native tongue. It had taken him the entire length of the past two weeks, but he'd finally mastered her oddly fluid language. Once he'd figured it out, it was as if some part of him had always known it. "In a few moments, I must be on my way. I'm needed elsewhere."
As much as he would love to stay and lose himself in another hour (or two) of such delicious debauchery, his men awaited him in the training arena. There, he would help them hone their sword skills and vanquish the frustration plaguing them so fiercely all these many days. Hopefully their ever-present carnal needs would be forgotten as they prepared for the war he knew waited on the horizon.
War. He sighed. Since his army had conquered this palace and stolen it from dragons - dragons already weakened from a previous battle with humans - war had been inevitable. He accepted that. But now his men were weakened. Not from battle, though. They were weakened from lack of sex. And that was unacceptable.
Sexual contact helped their minds and bodies retain strength. Such was the way of the nymphs. Perhaps he should have brought the nymph females with them to this palace. But to keep them safe, he'd forced them to remain behind. He had not anticipated being separated from them this long.
Since the initial battle was over, he had summoned their females here. Unfortunately, they had not arrived and there was no trace of them in the Inner or Outer cities. Concern grew inside him daily. He'd sent a battalion of men to search for them - with an order to kill anyone who might have hurt them. Woe to that enemy, for a nymph's wrath was a terrible thing.
Despite his concern, he would not doubt if the females - who needed sex as desperately as the males - had stumbled upon a group of men and had yet to end their orgy. That didn't help his men, however.
"Hmm, you feel good," the dark-haired woman beside him whispered. "Being near you is better than making love with any other man."
"I know, sweet," Valerian uttered distractedly.
With no end in sight to his army's abstinence, he should have felt guilty for his excess last night. And he would have felt guilty, if he'd been the one to summon the women here. But they had followed him, tearing at his clothes and tracing their tongues over every inch of his flesh before he stepped a single foot into the room.
Truly, he had tried to peel them off and send them to his men, but the women had attacked him all the harder. What else could he have done but give in? Any other man - with a fully functioning cock, that is - would have done the same.
Perhaps, after the training session, he would suggest once again that these delectable morsels find other lovers.
"I know you have to leave, but... I'm dying to touch you, Valerian." Black lashes fluttered coyly, and the raven-haired female dipped her lips into a pouty frown. She eased to her elbow, placing her lush breasts in his direct line of vision. "Don't tell me no," she beseeched, tracing a fingertip around his nipple. "You took such good care of me last night. Let me take care of you now."
On his other side, his other companions stirred.
"Mmm," the one with the fiery curls breathed. "Morning."
The other stretched like a contented kitten, uttering a low, throaty purr. As she inched into a sitting position, her disheveled golden locks tumbled onto her shoulders. When she spied him, she smiled slowly, seductively. "Good morning," she drawled, sleep clinging to her voice.
"You were amazing," the redhead said, her pale blue eyes wide with remembered satisfaction.
"As were you... sweet." Again he tried to remember her name, but couldn't. He shrugged. It wasn't important, anyway. They were all sweet to him. "Morning has arrived, and it's time for everyone to go about their duties."
"Don't send us away. Not yet," the dark-haired one said. Her warm breath fanned his ear a moment before her tongue flicked out and traced the curve of his left cheek. "Let us have another - " she kissed his jaw " - taste of - " nibbled his throat " - you."
Three sets of hands and breasts were suddenly all over him. Hot, greedy mouths sucked at him. Wet, needy female cores rubbed against him. The scent of new desire wafted from the bed, enveloping him.
"Just being near you makes me desperate to come," one gasped.
"You always know what I want even before I know," another panted. "I can't get enough of you."
"I'm addicted to you," the third breathed. "I'll die without you."
Moans and cries of pleasure echoed in his ears, the women's insatiable lust making them frantic for his touch. A fiery heat ignited in his own blood, strengthening him as only sex could. At times, when the need came upon him, he was reduced to an animalistic state, taking his lovers with a savage intensity better suited for the battlefield.
Now was one of those times.
With a growl, he opened his mouth and accepted someone's kiss, his hands tangling in hair and sweetly fragranced skin. Perhaps he'd join his men for lunch... .
CLANG. WHOOSH. CLANG.
Sweat trickled down Valerian's bare chest, riding the ropes of muscle and pooling in his navel as he swung his sword, slamming the heavy metal into his opponent's upraised weapon.
Broderick stumbled backward and fell on his ass, flinging dirt in every direction. Some of it sprinkled on Valerian's freshly polished boots.
"Get up, man," he commanded when Broderick remained prone.
"Can't," his friend panted.
Valerian frowned. That was the fourth time Broderick had hit the ground during this training session, and they'd only been practicing an hour. Usually as stalwart and powerful as Valerian himself, Broderick's weakness today was disconcerting.
The guilt he'd managed to deny earlier roared to life. He should have sent the women on their way last eve, should have resisted them more determinedly this morning. While he was stronger than ever, these battle-hardened warriors were reduced to this.
"Damn it all," Broderick muttered, his voice strained. Still he remained on the ground, head bent and held in his upraised hands, golden hair shielding his eyes. "I'm not sure how much more of this I can take."
"What about the rest of you?" Valerian slashed his sword's tip into the sand, a tip that had been shaped and honed into the image of an elongated, lethal skull - a tip that inflicted irreparable damage. He'd aptly named it The Skull.
His gaze traveled the ranks of his army. Some were sitting on a bench, sharpening their blades, while others leaned against a silver-and-white stone wall, expressions lost, far away. Only Theophilus appeared ready for anything more than a nap. And only Theophilus paid him the least bit of notice.
Well, that was not quite true. Joachim was hunched over, elbows resting on his knees, his head tilted to the side as he gazed up at Valerian with undeniable sparks of fury.
What was his cousin angry about now? "Line up," Valerian commanded the entire group. "Now." The sharpness of his tone finally snagged their attention.
Slowly they ambled into a clumsy line, only a few of them trying to appear alert. His frown deepened. They were tall and well-muscled, his men, with bronzed skin and perfectly chiseled features. The force of their beauty sometimes caused grown women to weep. But right now they sported lines of tension around their eyes and mouths, shaky grips and unsteady legs.
"I need you strong and capable, but you're as weak as babes, every one of you." At any moment Darius, King of the Dragons, would learn Valerian had taken this palace, defeating everyone inside, and attack. How quickly these warriors would fall if they were challenged today.
His hands fisted at his sides. Defeat was not something he allowed. Ever. No, he would rather die. A warrior won. Always. No exceptions.
Broderick sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face, his expression grim. "We need sex, Valerian, and we need it now."
"I know." Unfortunately, the three exhausted humans sleeping in his bed would never be able to handle all of these lust-hungry nymphs at once.
He could send a handful of soldiers into the Outer City to capture sirens - a race of women who reveled in sex just as the nymphs did. Dangerous women, yes. Women who lured, seduced and killed. Well, tried to kill. But they were wonderfully satisfying to tumble, completely worth the risk.
However, the few times his men had entered the city in these past weeks, females of every race had remained well hidden, avoiding the nymphs as if they were hideous, foul-smelling demons. None wanted to find themselves enslaved to a nymph's dark, sexual hunger, losing their very identity, wishing only to please their lover. An inevitable outcome. Even for mates. Those females, whomever they happened to be, wherever they happened to be found, were treasured, but they were still enslaved.
"I can smell the humans on you, and it's making my own need all the more intense," Dorian said. With his obsidian hair, godlike features and mischievous sense of humor, women of every race usually flocked to him. There was nothing mischievous about him now, though. He radiated jealousy and resentment. "I'd kill you if I had the strength."
More guilt swept through Valerian. He had to make this right. As much as he hated to admit it, there was only one true solution to this predicament.
"Do you still wish to travel through the portal?" he asked, bracing his hands behind his back. Since discovering the strange, upright pool in the caves beneath this palace - the very pool the women had used to travel from the surface world to Atlantis - his men had begged to enter it so many times he'd lost count. Each time his answer had been the same: Gods, no. His friend Layel, King of the Vampires, had told him that Atlanteans could not survive on the surface for long periods of time.
Besides, he needed his men here, ready to fight and defend. But weak as they were now, these warriors would not obtain a victory over a tail-chasing griffin, much less a brutally savage fire-breather.
If there was a chance they could find more human women, traveling to the surface would be worth the risk, he realized.
"Well?" he said.
Nearly all of his men smiled and closed around him. A chorus of "Yes" burst from their mouths. Only Theophilus remained quiet, but then, he had no need to visit the surface. He was mated to the fourth human female in residence.
Mated. Valerian tried not to cringe. When a nymph mated, he mated for life. No matter his age, no matter his circumstances, when he found the woman destined to live at his side, his body would crave no other; his heart would beat only for one. The one. He'd been told a nymph would know this "one" the moment he scented her, and she would, in turn, recognize him, choosing him above all others.
Valerian, as well as many of his men, lived in fear of finding his mate, for too well did he enjoy his freedom. He couldn't imagine desiring only one woman. He couldn't imagine one woman being able to hold his interest and sate all of his passions for longer than a single night.
Perhaps he was not destined to take a mate. A man could hope, anyway.
"Will we travel through the portal?" someone asked, cutting into his thoughts.
"Yes," he said. He splayed his arms wide in surrender. "At last, my friends, I relent."
"How soon can we leave?" Broderick.
"Thank you, great king." Shivawn.
"Gods, my cock needs some female attention." Dorian.
Relief dripped from their voices. Already lust burned white-hot in their eyes, strengthening them. He didn't blame them for their eagerness to leave the palace. He would have been reduced to a snarling beast had he been forced to go without a woman's sweetness for as long as they had. But that was something he, as king, had never had to endure. And would never have to endure, he was sure.
His carnal appeal was greater than any other's, and quite simply, no woman could resist him. A fact his men had long since accepted - and he himself enjoyed. "Most of you will have to remain here, guarding the palace," he informed them. "And those who go cannot stay long. No more than an hour, mayhap two. We'll bring back as many as we can, then decide who gets whom."
"We should have gone days ago," Joachim grumbled.
Valerian chose to ignore him. He knew frustration spoke for his cousin.
"Why do we need to return so quickly?" Dorian asked, frown returning. "I want to enjoy a lover or two before coming home."
"We know nothing of the surface, their people or their weapons, but more than that we do not know when the dragons will attack us. We must go in, grab the women we want and hurry back."
Broderick's sandy brows arched. "We?"
"I will lead you, of course." He wouldn't send his men into uncharted territory without him. "But do not worry. I won't be taking a woman for myself. The three happily sated and sleeping females in my room provide enough stimulation for me." For now. "I'll leave the claiming to you."