Who is he?” I asked, my hands clenching the window ledge of the storeroom. My eyes devoured the young man dismounting from his horse in the stable yard below, with his shoulder-length brown-gold hair hanging in thick, wind-tangled locks.
“Which one?” Terix said at my side, his arm almost pressing against mine as he leaned forward to get a better look at the barbarian strangers crowding the stable yard. We’d been sent to fetch an empty chest from the storeroom; a fortunate thing, since it was the only place in the enormous country villa where one could see into the stable yard. Terix’s glossy black curls obscured my view for a moment, and I craned around him, trying to keep the young man in my sight. I would have pushed Terix aside, but I wasn’t allowed to touch anyone; nor was anyone allowed to touch me.
The man’s narrow hips drew my gaze, bound in a leather belt decorated with a mosaic of gold and garnets, with an equally ornate short sword and scabbard at his side. For a brief moment as he swung his leg over the saddle, the blue tunic he wore rode up his thighs, revealing short breeches pulled tight across the firm mounds of his buttocks. I felt heat rising across my breast and up my neck. My heart pounded.
“The only one worth looking at,” I said. Gods, I could gaze upon him all day.
Tall. Broad shoulders shown exceedingly well by both the close fit of his tunic and the red fur cape held in place at each shoulder with an enormous gold fibula. For all his breadth of shoulder, his body still bore the evidence of youth: he was lithe and nimble, not yet heavy with the muscled girth of a fully mature man. His feet were encased in short leather boots, but between them and the breeches were no clothes at all, just bare muscled legs tanned by the sun.
Terix slanted a look of feigned innocence at me from his freckled face and wide, hazel eyes. A slave like me, he was full of mischief and spent much of his spare time musing on his own prick and in what inventive way he might use it next. “There are half a dozen I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, like that bull there with the hair coming out the neck of his tunic. I’d give a month’s meat to see Lady Lydia riding atop him, her big soft thighs spread wide, her fingers digging into his pelt while her great jugs bounced up and down like to—”
“I would, Nimia. But I suppose you mean that young wolf with the hungry eyes and the fox-fur cape over his shoulders.”
The wolf looked up at that moment, his cold blue-gray eyes meeting my own. A wash of awareness went through me, unlike anything I’d felt before. It was an overwhelming premonition of a future both terrifying and ecstatic. This man, something within me said. This man will take my soul. I could feel coils of fate wrapping around me, squeezing the breath from my body. My heart raced, a cold sweat breaking out over my skin.
Gods, what’s happening? Who is he?
Below, the young wolf’s expression held neutral, the cold eyes assessing mine. Did he feel it? Did he, too, know? The corner of his mouth quirked in the hint of a smile and he winked at me, broke our gaze, and joined the other men as they passed through the gateway into the living quarters of the villa.
I drew in a quaking breath, my muscles weak from the power of the premonition, my thoughts disjointed and echoing like lost voices in the fog. The wolf hadn’t felt it. I was no more than another female slave, of no import beyond the possibility of a quick toss in a shadowed corner.
A wink, he’d given me. A meager, flirty, thrown-away-on-any-wench wink!
Terix was saying something. “What was that?” I asked.
“I said, don’t let Sygarius see you looking at the wolf pup like that. You know who that belongs to.” Terix pointed at my loins.
I flushed. “I’m not likely to forget who owns me,” I said, and touched the thick gold torc around my neck. It was crafted in the style of the long-conquered Celts from whom I was partially descended, of a hollow tube of gold as thick as my thumb, encircling my neck and ending with dual caps at the center of my collarbone. Inscribed along its length were the words Touch me not, for Sygarius’s I am. It was meant as a warning to any man who might forget his manners and make use of this particular slave without asking; but it was also meant to remind me that my body was not mine to share.
“Maybe your head remembers, but I’ll bet your cunny would rather drip on someone else’s cock.”
“It doesn’t drip on anyone’s, and well you know it. Must you always be so lewd, Terix?”
“I think I must, yes,” he said, his eyes dancing. “It comes so naturally to me.”
I laughed. “Better a cock rubber—”
“—than a pot scrubber,” Terix finished, and grinned. It was our private joke, a reversal of what a scullery maid, jealous of an old gown Lady Lydia had given me, had once sneered. There was a hurt defiance hidden in our joke, a recognition of what we were: slaves who could be used at the will of their master. Better to own and flaunt the truth than to let it corrode our spirits from the inside.
Though there were times—increasingly frequent—that I wondered if the truth was destroying me, no matter how hard I tried to embrace it.
“There you are!” Kyrian cried, spotting us. Eleven years old and dressed androgynously in a loose tunic, with his glossy black hair worn to his shoulders, Kyrian was a slave treated as a pretty pet, neither male nor female. If he was lucky, he’d have a year or two more of such delicate treatment before his voice started to change and spots to mar his skin, at which point his hair would be shorn and he’d go from waiting at table to mucking out the stables. He was already as tall as me, so his time was undoubtedly short. “Lady Lydia is furious with you, Nimia. She says she’ll have your hide.”
A familiar rush of panic went through me. Ah, gods. What had I done to displease her now? I dashed away to see what she wanted.
Lovely Nimia is a slave to King Sygarius, who’s grooming her to be his consort as soon as she reaches full womanhood. And that time is very close. Nimia is forced to attend shocking lessons in the erotic arts; lessons that leave her body aroused and her mind conflicted. Because while she’s attracted to Sygarius’s power and eroticism, her spirit rebels at being his slave.
Then one of Sygarius’s allies comes to visit. Smart and ambitious, Clovis burns to take over Sygarius’s kingdom—and the beautiful Nimia. And though her virginity is meant for Sygarius, Clovis takes it with her enthusiastic consent.
When Sygarius learns that she is no longer a virgin, Nimia flees for her life. But can she find Clovis before the wrath of Sygarius—and imminent death—finds her first?