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Clare London - Twisted Brand
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Available at Dreamspinner Press and other ebook and print sellers.
Sequel to The Gold Warrior.
Find me and all my work at my website.
No longer a revered Gold Warrior, Maen is a disgraced soldier, held in suspicion despite his role in winning the Queenship of Aza City for his Mistress, Seleste. Returned alive from his captivity by the rebel Exiles, his reward was to be cast out from his position, his brave loyalty dismissed. He remains an unwilling thrall to the new Queen while his heart mourns the memory of Dax, the young Bronzeman he helped escape from a sentence of death.
When Maen is put under the guard of the arrogant Gold Warrior Zander and given the thankless task of preparing a Royal History, they both join up with the lively scribe Kiel. The youngster's bold curiosity initiates a chain of events that will change their world and that of the City forever. Maen's own discoveries will cast a new and shocking light on the Royal history and stir revolution in both citizens and rebels. And he will finally return to the Exile camp to face the one thing that can make him choose desire over duty.
The visiting soldier glanced at me and his eyes widened. I wasn’t unused to the effect, but it still made me weary. “The Queen’s Secretary is through the east door,” I said. Was he here with a message, or for disciplinary reasons? There were no other soldiers with him. “You may leave your message with her.”
He didn’t move away. He was also unarmed, though he wore the daily breastplate to show that he was a serving soldier. He was black-haired and slim, and his eyes were an unusually deep shade of grey. They stayed fixed on me, and he showed no signs of leaving the office. “I’m here to meet with the Queen and her Gold Warrior, sir,” he said. His voice was slow and had a thick sensuality; he sounded respectful but there was a hint of calculation underlying it. He was still staring at me. “Are you…?”
“Please,” I said, frowning slightly. “You’re not here to see me. I’m not the Queen’s Gold Warrior. Not even one of them.”
He took a step towards me. “You have the bearing, though. I took you for a Gold Warrior, sir,” he said, more boldly. He was a couple of inches shorter than I was and a few years younger. His face was suddenly more familiar.
“I saw you in the Battle,” I said. “You are – were – one of Mistress Flora’s men.”
“You brought me down,” he answered, nodding. “Although I am – was – one of her best, as she herself would tell you.” And then he smiled. I was startled, both at his boast and his apparent cheerfulness after having been defeated. “I’ll have a scar on my belly to show for it, but that’s a matter of pride for me. Such fine fighting is what I’d have expected from your reputation. You are Maen from the Exchequer, aren’t you?”
I nodded. “I was. Now I’m in the Royal Household.” I couldn’t tell him what position I held, I suddenly realized, for I had nothing official now that the Battle had been fought and won. I saw he’d moved even closer, now within a foot of me and still gazing steadily up at me. “Stand back, soldier,” I said. “The Queen is not here at the moment to see you, so you should return to your barracks and await another call”
He paused. He tilted his head to one side, as if to share a rueful joke with me. “And so, Maen, when I’m in the Guard, will I be close to you?”
There was something about his unnecessary, repeated use of my name that unnerved me. “No,” I replied. “I have no duties in the Guard at present. You would be under the command of one of the Queen’s Gold Warriors.”
“Are they all good men?” he asked. “Will I enjoy being under one of them?” His eyes looked clear of mischief, but I couldn’t believe a trained soldier would ask such a ridiculous – and provocative – question of me.
“Of course they are.” I took his enquiry at face value, but I wondered how much longer Seleste and her Ladies would be. “What’s your name, soldier?”
“Darius. I was one of Mistress Flora’s finest Silver Captains. Had she won, I would have been promoted to Gold, there’s no doubt about it.”
“She didn’t,” I said, brusquely. “You’re a prisoner of this Household now, and of my Mistress’s whim. You can take up the matter of your promotion with her, if you dare.”
His flush was from embarrassment now, and his look was angry. His eyes were astonishingly expressive, although I didn’t recognize everything I saw there. “You’re very harsh, Maen, when I only hoped to show you respect and admiration.”
I frowned. I didn’t know what to say to him that he might take notice of.
“After all, you can ill afford it.” His voice was suddenly sharper. As I stared back at him, he smiled, though it looked malicious this time. “You’re used to respect, I imagine, like our civilians are used to the air they breathe. It can’t be easy, falling from the highest position a man can have, to being a kept animal.” I was astounded, and my face must have shown it for he flushed more deeply, though he didn’t back away. “Maybe you are a pet, Maen, rather than something more wild. But then, I wonder what else the Queen might make of someone with a reputation such as yours. And we both know I’m not talking about the military reputation now.” He lifted a hand to his mouth, lazily wiping a drop of saliva from its corner. He sucked it slowly from his finger tip.
“You offend me,” I said, as calmly as I could.
He shrugged, as if pleased with that effect. “I would like to be under your command, Maen,” he murmured, his voice low but clear to my ears. “Under you.” He breathed more heavily than before, and as he’d just said, we both knew that he no longer spoke of military matters. “You make me hard, just to hear your voice. I promise I wouldn’t disappoint you – I’ve never had any complaints, from man or woman.” His eyes glinted as if filled with tears, though his mouth was set firmly. His gaze raked down my body as if he were measuring me. “A man of your experience; of your looks … I have never allowed any man to bring me down like you did in battle – unless I liked it. Did you like it, too, having me lie at your feet? Defeated? Bleeding?”
“That’s enough!” Darius’s arrogance was offensive in an entirely different manner than the disrespect from a fellow soldier such as Zander. I could smell the sweat from Darius’s body and I was disconcerted to find that it was arousing. My physical instincts betrayed me too often, although I fought to control them. It was much harder without the Devotions to rely on. “I will be leaving now, myself, so you can wait here for your orders for as long as you wish.”
“What is it?” He looked agitated. “For Devotions’ sake, why are you refusing me? Look how strangely you’re acting!” His eyes glanced down over my groin and his voice dropped to a low, sultry hiss. “I want you, Maen, I have since the day of the Battle, what’s wrong with that? It’s natural; commonplace, surely. Tell me where I can find you after my meeting with the Queen. I’m all yours then, cock and ass, discipline me then if you like, use me so fast and so hard that I scream your name when you come inside me. You’re a fool to pass up an offer like – ”
I had him pinned against the wall in two seconds. My hand was tight around his windpipe and his eyes bulged with shock. “Maen – ” he croaked, clawing at my fingers.
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