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SHAYE KEPT HER BACK pressed against the far wall of the enclosure, as far away as she could get from the prisoners. She didn't want to accidentally release them. They begged and pleaded relentlessly, and she tried to distract herself by composing anti-cards. Well, not really anti. All her ideas were for a new, not-so-anti collection. Things like, "I'd like to spend more time with you." And, "Being with you isn't so bad."

"Let us out!" one of the prisoners said, cutting into her thoughts.

Beasts, Valerian had once called them. Killers.

They didn't look like killers. They looked like handsome men who were tinted blue from cold. Well, not men so much. They looked like little more than boys.

"Be careful," she told Brenna.

"Who are they?" her friend asked, a tinge of fear in her voice.

"I don't exactly know."

"Please," the youngest beseeched. "My name is Kendrick. Let us go. We will not hurt you. We would never hurt a woman. Perhaps we can help each other," he rushed on. "I will help free you from the nymphs' spell, and you can let me go. Just touch the bars."

Whether she believed him or not was moot. These boys despised the nymphs. When Kendrick had said the word, he'd sneered with absolute hatred. Because of that, they would remain here. Valerian's safety came first. "Why were you imprisoned?" she asked.

"Because we are dragons. Because this is our palace and the nymphs coveted it for their own."

As she'd suspected. Still. "Sorry, boys," she said. She did feel sorry for them. "I can't. However, I will speak to Valerian about setting you free in the wild or something."

They looked to Brenna.

She bit her lip and shook her head no.

"Don't you see?" The most handsome of the group gripped the bars, gazing at them with piercing gold eyes. "You're under Valerian's spell. Fight it or you'll remain his slave for eternity."

Under Valerian's spell... how true those words were. She hadn't been herself since she'd first laid eyes on him. Was it the general allure of the nymph, though, or Valerian the man that enchanted her? She suspected the latter, because none of the other men appealed to her.

"Even still." She squared her shoulders, determined. "I'm leaving you in here. And I feel really bad about that, but - "

"You look like you feel bad," Kendrick said dryly. "Your eyes are sparkling."

The thought of seeing Valerian again did that to her. "Hey." She blinked as a thought occurred to her. "You're speaking English. My language."

He shrugged, as if the observation had no importance. "Our king wed a human."

She blinked in surprise. "So there are more humans in the city? How - "

"Where is she?" she heard a man shout. There was terror and fury in his tone.

Valerian.

Her heart kicked into overtime, beating like a silly drum. Heat infused her cells. "Gotta go," she told the boys. "I won't forget you, I promise, and I'll even talk to Valerian about you. Come on, Brenna."

 

"Shaye!" Valerian shouted, his voice frantic. "Shaye!"

"Don't leave us," Kendrick pleaded. "Fight against his allure."

She gave him a pinky wave and raced from the enclosure, Brenna right behind her. When they emerged from between the rocks, they rounded the corner and stepped directly behind the portal. She heard another, "Shaye," this one more panicked than before.

"I'll return as soon as possible," he said to someone.

He was about to step into the portal, she realized. "I'm here, Valerian. I'm here."

He whipped to face her, reaching out automatically to grab her arm. He tugged her to him, and their gazes locked. Shadows of relief couched his features... followed quickly by fury. He released her and braced his arms over his chest, and it was then she saw what he was holding. She almost cried. He was holding an orange.

A lump filled her throat. He'd found it for her. She had mentioned that she wanted one, and in the midst of war he'd found one.

Her knees shook. Her nerve endings sizzled as she took it from him. "Thank you," she said softly. She drank him in.

His hair was sweat soaked and hanging in sand-coated tangles at his temples. Streaks of blood covered his face and arms, and his turquoise eyes shot sparks at her. Of fury, yes, but also of lust.

She nearly dropped the orange as she noticed the rest of him. A deep gash branded his chest. "You're hurt," she said stupidly.

"I am fine. How did you escape the cell?" The question was uttered in a still, quiet voice, so much more ominous than if he'd shouted. "And I see you took Brenna with you."

Shaye, too, assumed a battle stance. If he wasn't worried about the wound, she wouldn't be, either. "Leave her out of this. I got out with a little thing called ingenuity."

He ran his tongue over his teeth. "How long have you been free?"

"Long enough to go through the portal."

His expression relaxed in gradual degrees. "But you didn't."

"But I didn't." Why were they talking? She wanted his tongue on her. She wanted, finally, to know the most erotic place on her body, and she wanted him to bring her to shuddering climax. Twice. She wanted to drip orange on his skin and lick it up.

Behind her, Dylan and Terran ushered the rest of the women from the cell. "Take this one, as well," Valerian said, motioning to Brenna.

"No," Brenna said. "No touching."

"Take her, but do not touch her," Valerian allowed.

Brenna walked willingly to the group.

Kathleen spotted Shaye and frowned. "I thought you were going to escape."

"Didn't work out," she said, fighting the urge to hang a sign around Valerian's neck that said Mine. She faced him. "Listen. I was chatting with the dragons and - " She pressed her mouth together. Maybe that wasn't a good thing to admit.

Valerian's nostrils flared. "I put you in that cell to protect you. Not only do you escape, you visit my enemies, too."

Shaye drew herself to her full height. "That's right. So? I will not tolerate being locked away. I told you that. Where's my thanks for staying down here when I could have gone back to the surface?"

"Your thanks? Your thanks?" He pounded a fist into his open palm. "Did the dragons hurt you? Did they touch you in any way?"

"No. And since we're on the subject, I think you should let them go. They're just boys, Valerian."

He smoothed a hand down his face. "They are dragons, Shaye."

"So give them back to the rest of the dragons."

"That is my plan," he said, throwing his arms in the air. "They will make excellent bargaining tools."

"Good."

"Good." He shook his head. "While I like that you are stepping into the role of queen, advising me and issuing orders, you are in dire need of punishment, woman."

His words elicited an erotic response from her. That wasn't what he intended, but that was what he got. Her eyes lowered to half-mast. "Punish me, then. Go ahead, for God's sake. You know how much I hate it."

Instant fire consumed his anger, leaving only white-hot lust. "You hate it? Truly?"

"More than I can ever say," she whispered. Her stomach clenched deliciously, swirling and fluttering with need. It was as if he'd never stopped making love to her. All of her desires returned full force.

She, the woman who prided herself on remaining distant from every situation, couldn't fight Valerian's allure. She, who found comfort in a frosty, utterly cold attitude, quaked with sensation. Was desperate. Needy. Raw and exposed. There was a vulnerability inside her she hadn't known was there, one that cried out for the love and affection she'd never received. Not from anyone.

Except this man.

Slowly, never breaking eye contact, he closed the small gap between them. The closer he came, the hotter the air grew, chasing away any hint of chill. Her nipples beaded painfully, reaching for him, yearning for some type of contact.

"I won't stop this time," he warned. "Not for any reason."

"Good. We agree about something else." Touch me. She didn't care that people were just beyond the rock. She only cared about Valerian.

"Run," he said softly.

She blinked, certain she had misheard him. "What?" Was he turning her away?

"Run. To my room. Now."

There was no humor in his tone, no sense that he was through with her. Instead, he projected a fierce lust that went beyond anything he'd ever shown her before. The breath in her throat snagged. She backed away from him, her heart skipping a beat. His expression was intense, savage. Utterly wild.

"Run," he repeated. "Now."

Clutching the orange, she sprang forward, racing around him, careful not to touch him. Her arms pumped at her sides as she pounded up the stairs. Footsteps echoed behind her. She remembered the path to the room and whipped around corners. Warriors roamed the halls, collecting their bed partners. Some hadn't made it to a room and were having sex right there in the hall.

Panting, she barreled past them. Thankfully no one tried to stop her. Valerian's intensity was frightening. And arousing. And startling. And wonderful.

When she reached the outer bathing area, she picked up speed. What was he going to do to her when he caught her? She shot past the white curtain separating the two sections of the room, and it whooshed behind her. A split second later, it whooshed again.

Valerian. Close, so close.

She gulped, was just about to spin around and demand he explain why he'd not picked her up and carried her here, why he'd not let her wrap her legs around his waist and feel every step he took between her legs, when he slammed into her from behind. Together they soared through the air. She screamed, dropped her fruit. Just before she hit the bed, Valerian turned them, absorbing the impact with his own body.

One of his arms flipped her over and banded around her waist. The other pulled at her shirt, stripping her.

"Why... why?" she panted, unable to get any other word out.

"Couldn't wait." Her breasts were suddenly bared. He held her above him and laved one of her nipples into his mouth. Pure heat. She sucked in a gasp of air. Somewhere along the way, he'd lost his chest armor. Her hands kneaded him, mindful of his injuries. His nipples were hard and abraded her palms erotically; his nipple ring was cool to the touch yet burned her with its masculinity.

She straddled his waist, anchoring her weight on her knees. This was exactly where she belonged, she mused. Her hair cascaded around her shoulders. Adrenaline from the chase rushed through her blood, blending with desire, making it all the more potent. All the more consuming. Her skin felt alive with pulses of electricity.

He untied the belt holding her pants in place and flung it aside, causing the pants to gape open. He paused a moment, staring at her with purpose.

"I'm going to kiss you here," he muttered roughly. His fingertip grazed a path along the center of her panties. "Then I'm going to pleasure your body the way I've wanted from the moment I saw you."

"Yes." She loved his raw language, was excited by it. "Pleasure. Do it."

"Nothing will stop me."

"Nothing." She arched her hips slightly forward, sliding over the hard length of his erection. Sensations of utter bliss tore through her, and she moaned.

"You'll love everything I do." His hand clenched on her waist. His eyes closed, and he bit his lower lip. "You'll beg for more."

She slid over him again. They both groaned. "Love it," she promised. "Beg."

He rolled her over, jerking at her pants while he did so. His feet kicked the material the rest of the way down. Her panties quickly followed, yet he didn't have the patience to work them off her so he ripped the seams and discarded the tattered remains.

Completely naked, she reached between them and worked at his pants. Her motions were clipped, eager, desperate, but she made no progress. "I can't get them off," she growled. "Help me get them off."

Within seconds he had them peeled away and she was in heaven. Hmm. Skin to skin.

"Soft," he praised. He traced a path along her collarbone, then nipped at her neck, grazing her overly sensitive flesh with his teeth.

She could feel his penis on her belly, as hot as a steel band. She arched against it, needing it inside her. "Now," she said.

His shaft jerked against her. His teeth bit more sharply. "Kiss," he said hoarsely. He licked down her body, exploring her breasts again, lingering at her stomach, flicking her belly button.

"Grip the top of the bed," he demanded.

She'd been reaching down, intent on threading her fingers through his hair. "But - "

"Do it. Grip the bed."

She obeyed. The moment her fingers curled around the ivory base, his tongue glided over her clitoris. Her hips shot up, and she gasped his name.

With one of his hands, he opened her fully. With the other he glided a finger into her, probing, stretching. His tongue never stopped working her. The combination of sensations was shattering. Another coast of his tongue. A pump of his fingers. Then he sucked at her, increasing the tempo. She cried. She sobbed. Oh, the bliss. Her legs locked around him. Her hands clutched the headboard so tightly her knuckles could have snapped.

Her eyelids squeezed shut. In her mind she saw him between her legs, his tawny hair falling onto her thighs. His muscled back clenched tight as he reined in his own need.

"Valerian! I can't take any more."

"By the end of the night, you'll have taken everything I have to give."

"Push me... give me... let me come."

She writhed. On the verge. So close, yet not close enough. He slid another finger into her, and it was a tight fit. Stretching her. Filling her. So. Good. Quickly his tongue flicked over her clitoris, showing no mercy. Not that she wanted any. This was everything she'd dreamed, everything she'd ever needed without knowing she did.

"I'm going to sink my cock into you, Shaye. You're going to spread your legs and welcome me, every stretching inch."

"Yes." Oh, God, yes. The thought of his penis inside her pushed her over the sweet edge. She spasmed around his fingers, clenching them tight. A scream, a sob. Flashing white lights blinked behind her eyes.

He suddenly loomed above her, her legs cradled in the crook of his arms, opening her fully. Exposing her completely. He was poised on the brink of penetration. "Once I'm inside you, you will be mine. Say it."

"Yours. I'll be yours." There was no denying it. She was his. Now, this moment, she was his. She reached up and wrapped her fingers around his neck, tangling in his hair. His chest was pressed against hers and she could feel the fine-grained sand that still clung to him from the fight, adding friction, another depth of pleasure. "Kiss," she beseeched.

His head swooped down, and he claimed her mouth. The moment their tongues touched, he slammed inside her. No waiting. No gradually letting her become accustomed. He was simply in her to the hilt. As if he couldn't go another minute without being there.

She cried out in his mouth; he swallowed the sound. She was so aroused, so slick with desire, so prepared for him, there was only a slight sting, then complete pleasure. He stretched her erotically, filled her inexorably.

On and on the kiss continued. She tasted herself on his lips. Tasted him, the heat of him, the passion. In and out his tongue probed in sync with his strong body. In and out. Moving quickly, hurtling them both to the stars.

"Can't... slow... down," he panted.

"Glad."

His testicles slapped at her. The tip of him hit all the way to her womb, the exact spot she needed him. She was already close, ready to explode for the second time. Tension coiled in her stomach, in her blood.

"Shaye!" he roared. He pumped into her, hard, delicious. "Mine."

Mine, she silently repeated. The climax gripped her, more intense than the first, making her shudder against him. Her knees clenched at him, and to the heavens she soared. High, so high.

He joined her there. He spasmed against her, inside her. Gave a final, pounding thrust. His eyes squeezed tight. Bliss consumed his features.

"Mine," he growled. "Mine."

VALERIAN HAD NEVER FELT more powerful. Strength radiated from him, filled him, pulsed and sizzled. He always felt invigorated after sex, but this... Never like this. And with Shaye it had not been sex, he thought. It had been lovemaking. A union. Total and complete. Especially that last time when they'd licked her favorite fruit off each other.

Mine, he thought again.

The word would not leave him. He'd never felt so possessive of another person. Actually, he'd never felt so possessive of anything, including his cherished sword. Including the palace. She'd tasted like no other woman. Erupted like no other woman. Pleased him like no other woman. He was the nymph, yet it was she who wrapped him in her sensual spell. It was she who enslaved him.

She snuggled into his side, her curves nestled against him. He could feel the soft exhalations of her breath. He would die without this woman. Simply perish. Cease to exist. He wanted to give her the world, offer her everything her heart desired.

Never more than now had he been so determined to keep the palace. He would not have his woman homeless, staying in whatever shack he could find for them. Yes, he would keep this place from the dragons.

He would keep Shaye. For eternity.

When he'd returned to the dungeon and she had not been inside the cell, his heart had stopped beating. Panic, dread, fury had consumed him. He'd nearly hacked Dylan and Terran to pieces. Then, when he'd seen Shaye as relaxed and at ease as if she had not a care - while standing next to the portal, for the love of the gods - he'd panicked again.

How close he'd come to losing her.

Then she'd begun issuing orders with bravery and wisdom, acting every bit the queen she was meant to be, and he'd been struck anew with love for her.

Somehow, some way, he'd gain her oath to stay forever. He would never let her go.

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