by Noelle Riches
Cover by Cherith Vaughan
Expected to marry the king, desperate to change the lives of her people, Soriana must decide what is more important to her: love or power.
“Take it off.” His request is soft, his hand rising to graze the tight green fabric below my breasts. My eyes widen, but I don’t make him ask again. The ties are in the back of this gown and I struggle for a moment to loosen them, self-conscious. He doesn’t seem bothered by the wait. When the ties are undone, I pull my arms from the cup sleeves covering my shoulders and peel the dress from my body, unable to meet his eyes as I undress.
I’m still wearing the light, nearly transparent shift under my dress and he gives no indication whether this should also be removed, so I keep it on. My breasts are no longer straining against the fabric that constrained them, my dark, pointed nipples visible below the gauzy fabric. My face flames, but I say nothing and make no move to cover myself.
“Oh, but look at you.” Slowly, torturously, he walks around me. When he’s behind me, he reaches out a hand, touching my waist through the thin fabric. I flinch, but he doesn’t seem to notice. His hand keeps contact with my body as he circles around to face me once more, sliding across the small of my back, up my side and under my arm, curving under my right breast. His thumb skims along my nipple. My whole body clenches, though I can’t say if it’s from fear or a pleasant sort of anticipation.
“I’m not supposed to touch you, you know.” His words feather against my ear. “Not supposed to see you, not supposed to touch you. So many rules to break.” A shiver runs through my body, and his eyes light at the recognition of this. He drops his hand and steps back, away from me, though the smile still lingers on his face.
“You are lovely, my lady.” He turns and walks the few feet back to his chair, taking a deep swallow from his goblet before sitting once more. “Gwinolha and I have had our…disagreements in the past, but I see she did well this time.”
He lifts one hand up and rubs his chin. I hear the soft rasp of stubble too short to notice from where I stand. His gaze remains on me the whole time and I don’t dare tear my eyes from him.
“It’s been a pleasure, Soriana,” he says finally. “You are dismissed.”
I collapse, panting and depleted, trying to make sense of what just happened. I focus on my breathing as my body slowly puts itself together again. He slides his fingers from me, and I whimper at how sensitive I am, and from my disappointment as he leaves me. His hand squeezes my hip, and I glance up to see him smiling down at me, almost shyly.
“That didn’t take long, Chosen One. We will have to work on building your stamina. Shall we try again?” There’s laughter in his voice, as if he were a boy at play, so unlike the seriousness of moments before.
I gasp, my stomach gripping itself, holding me together. I don’t know if I can take anymore, if my body can even respond that way again. But I’m here to learn after all, and I don’t want to disappoint my teacher.
“Ranneth…if I’m to become queen in order to please the king, why have I not been learning how to please you?”
Ranneth motions for me to sit, looking almost relieved for the distraction.
“You’re right that your life will be to bring pleasure to the king, as I’ve been bringing pleasure to you, though it isn’t as straightforward as that. In time, I’ll teach you how to bring him to such extremes of pleasure in various ways, as I’ve tried to do with you, but there’s something you must understand about men.
“There are two types of men, Soriana.” He leans forward, and a small thrill of excitement runs through me at his use of my proper name. “We’re always trying to feel like the men we’re meant to be, yet it’s ironic that in order to feel that way, we need women. We can’t do it alone.
“Both types of man require one thing from a woman. To feel the strength and power they crave, they must make a woman cry, they must make her scream.” His voice is low, and my breathing becomes shallow, my heart jumping between my ribs.
I’m unsure whether I’m excited or frightened by this discovery.
“The first type of man seeks to make a woman cry by bringing such pleasure to her body that she’s wracked by thoughts and feelings of only him. When she cries his name, when she becomes undone beneath him, because of him, that is when he feels most like a man. Do you understand this?” He stays still, but the intensity behind his gaze draws me in.
“Yes,” I mouth, because no sound escapes.
“The second type of man seeks the same result, but finds a different way to achieve it. He feels most like a man when he can make a woman cower before him. He feels important and strong when a woman is weak, and when he holds power over her, when she screams for him to stop, and he knows he can either do as she wishes or continue the torment. He gains strength from this sort of power, as he must, because he has little strength of his own. He must borrow from women, steal from them until they cry out from pain or fear. Do you understand this as well?” His face is dark now, his words heavy and clear.
“I know the king well, however, and though he has his faults like every other, I know he’s the first type of man. You mustn’t fear him, Chosen One. He will make you happy.” He finishes quietly and a long silence stretches between us. His words remind me who I am, why I’m here. A gap has been created between us with these words, one I want to bridge.
I lick my dry lips once more, trying to spread what little moisture I have so I can ask my next question. I stare straight into his eyes, blinking once.
“And you, Ranneth. What kind of man are you?” I’m bold as I speak these words, strong, yet had I not been clutching my hands so tightly, they would have trembled. I know the answer, have learned it from him this past week.
His face softens, and I think I see relief mixed with the heat that ignites behind his stark features. Rising slowly from his seat, he places his hands on either side of me on the chair and leans in close.
“What do you think, Soriana?” His breath is warm on my cheek.
My ribs contract, holding me together, my body responding so strongly to his nearness my vision blurs. The distance created by his words has been closed. Now he’ll show me just what type of man he is.
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Noelle Riches studied English Literature at the University of Guelph only to realize she much preferred the heart–racing stories she read between lectures. She has taught English in Japan and made chocolate in Vancouver, but it wasn't until she started a job in the health and wellness field in Toronto that she returned to her first passion—writing. She now lives as a foursome with her husband, son and cat in Guelph, Ontario where she teaches her son English, feeds her husband chocolate, and tries to put all the love stories bundled up inside her onto paper.
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