In the flesh, p.1
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       In the Flesh, p.1
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           Sylvia Day
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In the Flesh


  THE INJURED MAN TOOK HER BREATH AWAY

  Tall, dark, and devastated with whip marks that were slowly healing before her eyes, he still boasted raw potent masculinity. He was nothing like the king or her mästares. He was nothing like any man she’d ever seen.

  Rich, gleaming black hair blew gently around his nape as the swirling air pressure inside kept him upright. His skin was deeply tanned and stretched over powerfully defined muscles. She’d never seen a man with so many ripples of power beneath his skin; not even her warrior father displayed such strength.

  His facial features were strong and bold, like the rest of his body. High cheekbones and an aquiline nose gave him an aristocratic cast; the powerful jaw and sensual lips made him dangerous. He was simply magnificent.

  In The Flesh

  LIVIA DARE

  ZEBRA BOOKS

  Kensington Publishing Corp.

  http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

  This is for all the readers

  who’ve been waiting for Sapphire’s story

  for five long years.

  I hope you love it!

  Acknowledgments

  My gratitude goes out to Sasha White, Annette McCleave, and Jordan Summers. Thank you all for your input. And thank you for the support and encouragement over the last few years while you waited impatiently for this book to release. What great friends you are! I’m blessed.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Author’s Note

  Prologue

  D’Ashier, the Borderlands

  ��Is he dead, Your Highness?”

  Closing the bio-scanner, Wulfric, Crown Prince of D’Ashier, rose from his low crouch and stared down at the corpse at his feet. Desert sand swirled around the body, eager to bury it. “Unfortunately, yes.”

  He lifted his gaze and scanned the berms around them. “At the next check-in, make the report. No need to call this in early and risk the signal being detected.”

  They were too close to Sari to chance discovery. The Sarian king was always on the lookout for any provocation to go to war, hence the border patrols that never ceased.

  Once every two months Wulf accompanied a platoon of D’Ashier soldiers on their rounds. His presence wasn’t required, but for him it was a necessary task. A good ruler lived the trials experienced by his people. He saw the world through their eyes, from their level, not from so high above that he lost touch with their needs.

  “Was he coming or going, Your Highness?”

  He glanced at the young lieutenant next to him. “I can’t determine. It’s so hot today I can’t even tell how long he’s been dead.” The bio-suit Wulf wore protected him from both dehydration and the scorching sun, but he could see the heat waves shimmering above the sand.

  After the recent Confrontations, the border had been closed abruptly, which left many families divided. The unfortunate result of this was the death of many citizens who tried to cross to their loved ones. Wulf attempted to reopen treaty negotiations with Sari on a regular basis, but the Sarian king always refused. Despite all the years that had passed, Sari still held a grudge.

  Two centuries ago, D’Ashier had been a large, prosperous mining colony of Sari. After years of disagreements and injustices claimed on both sides, a bloody revolution had freed the small territory from its homeland, creating a permanent animosity between the two countries. The people of D’Ashier had crowned the popular and well-loved governor as monarch. Over the years, Wulf’s ancestors had expanded and strengthened the fledgling nation until it rivaled all others.

  But the royal family of Sari still looked disdainfully upon D’Ashier such as a frustrated parent would look on an upstart child. Sari remained steadfast in its decision to ignore D’Ashier’s power and sovereignty. The talgorite mines of D’Ashier were the largest producer of the coveted power source in the known universe, well worth every battle and war waged in an effort to reclaim them.

  “Something is off.” Wulf lifted his field-sight lenses to scan the sky.

  He and the lieutenant stood on a mound several kilometers away from the border. His skipsbåt hovered nearby, waiting. D’Ashier guardsmen kept watch all around them. There were a dozen of them altogether, the requisite number of every patrol. From this vantage, he could see a good distance and should feel relatively secure, yet the hair at his nape stood on end. He’d learned long ago to trust his instincts.

  Surveying the situation anew, he said, “There’s something posed and artificial about this, and there are too many unanswered questions. This man couldn’t have traveled so far without transportation. Where is his skip? Where are his provisions? Why hasn’t the sand buried him?”

  As his headset crackled to life, he lowered the lenses.

  “There is no sign of anything of note, Your Highness. We’ve searched the surrounding two kilometers.”

  “Any more unusual readings, Captain?”

  “Nothing.”

  He shot a glance at the young lieutenant who stood expectantly beside him. Wulf’s patrols were always officer heavy, usually with many newly commissioned. The general had made that request years ago in an effort to demonstrate to his subordinates how the weight of command should be carried. It was a mantle Wulf had worn without strain since birth. “Let’s go.”

  They moved swiftly to their abandoned skips, using the economical movements that were innate to inhabitants of a desert planet. Just as they prepared to mount the slender bikes, the ground rumbled ominously. The source was easily recognized, and Wulf cursed his failure to foresee the trap. Loosening the restraint of the glaive-hilt holster attached to his thigh, he yelled out a warning. Leaping onto his skip, he engaged the power and tugged hard on the controls, flying away just before the small enemy borer emerged from the sand.

  “I can’t get a distress call out!” cried the panicked lieutenant. The rest of the patrol assembled into the V-shaped group formation, and sped farther into D’Ashier territory.

  “They’re blocking it.” Wulf’s tone was grim. “Damn it, they must have been boring their way through the sand for days.”

  “Why didn’t they show up on the scanners? We were directly over them.”

  “The power was off. Without that signature, they were effectively invisible.”

  Wulf was highly conscious of the powerful hum of the borer behind them. The warning blip that had sparked their investigation must have been made as the transport entered D’Ashier from Sari, before the engines had been turned off. The corpse was merely the lure that ensured the anomaly wasn’t dismissed as a malfunction.

  “How the hell could they stay under without environmental controls?”

  “With desperation,” the captain muttered, flying upward as a warning shot from the borer spewed sand into a cloud before him. “That’s not a Sarian borer. They’re mercenaries.”

  Studying the upcoming landscape through his navigational scanner, Wulf said, “We can’t outrun them. Break up over the rise. Circle the rock outcropping.”

  Clearing the embankment, the patrol separated into two lines. Another shot from the borer hit its mark, sending a skip spinning briefly before it exploded and killed the soldier who rode it. The rest of the men bent lower
as they sped toward the multi-towered rock formation that rose as monoliths from the desert floor.

  Wulf cursed when a well-aimed shot from the borer crumbled a tower of red rock. Blood-colored dust billowed as a horrifying cracking sound rent the air. Glancing down at his console, he saw transport-sized debris break loose, crashing down upon the other half of his patrol. From the loss of readout, he knew only a few survived.

  Rounding the corner, he saw an opening that could give them a fighting chance.

  “Dismount,” he ordered, weaving his skip between the monoliths. “Draw them out in the open.”

  In the center of the rock outcropping was a circular patch of sand. They set down, alighted, and fanned out, forming an outward-facing circle. Drawing their glaives, they engaged the powerful blades and waited, the tension palpable.

  Phaser fire shook the ground beneath them, but they were safe inside. The gaps and crevices between the various obtrusions were large enough for a skip to enter, but not the borer, which was much bigger. If the attackers wanted to kill them, they’d have to come in on foot and fight hand to hand.

  The waiting was endless. Sweat coursed down Wulf’s temple. The rest of his skin stayed dry only by benefit of the dammr-suit, which regulated his body temperature.

  “We just want the prince.” The words echoed around them. “Give him to us, and the rest of you can live.”

  Wulf felt the anger that spread through his ranks.

  “You’ll have to kill us first!” the captain challenged.

  “I was hoping you would say that,” came the laughing reply, then blaster fire lit the air and was deflected by the quick movement of a glaive, the powerful laser blade more than a match for the inelegant handgun.

  Almost before he could blink, Wulf found his men surrounded. As he thrust and parried with almost innate reflex, he knew there had to have been more than one borer. All these men could not have fit inside one of the small transports. He also knew there was no chance for victory, not when they were outnumbered four to one.

  The urge to surrender for the lives of his men was strong. Despite the risk his ransom would present to D’Ashier, Wulf was about to yield when his headset crackled.

  “No, Your Highness.” The captain shot him a sidelong glance. “They will kill us regardless. Let us at least die with honor.”

  And so he fought on, his chest tight with regret and frustrated anger. Every one of his soldiers gave their all, despite knowing the inevitability of the outcome. They kicked at those who got close enough, cut down those who stumbled in their path, and kept as near as possible to Wulf in a vain effort to spare him.

  One by one they fell, the air thick with the smell of burnt flesh. Bodies, both soldiers and mercs, littered the sandy floor. But all too soon, he stood alone against the many.

  In the end, Crown Prince Wulfric of D’Ashier went down with the knowledge that he could not have done any more than he had.

  For him, that was enough.

  Sari, the Royal Palace

  Sapphire lounged in the small private atrium that was attached to her quarters and absently studied the design of the Sarian palace on her compu-pad. Birds called out from their hanging cages, singing in chorus with the splashing water in the fountain. Sunlight poured onto the large plant fronds that lined the walls and shielded her in shade, the scorching rays diffused by the low emissive skylights above.

  The other mätresses, royal concubines like her, were gossiping in the seraglio, but she didn’t want to socialize today. In fact, over the last few years she’d found herself growing more dissatisfied with her life in the palace. She was an active woman with a variety of interests. The indolent life of a concubine, while highly respected and esteemed, was not suited to her temperament.

  Despite this, Sapphire remained grateful that the King of Sari had chosen her from among the many women graduating from the Sensual Arts School in the capital city of Sari. Her graduation had come soon after the end of the D’Ashier Confrontations, a drawn-out war with a neighboring nation that had drained Sari’s resources. For a time, concubines became an unaffordable luxury, and many graduates had been forced to auction their contracts to the highest bidder. The king’s interest saved her from a similar fate, and created her high social status. All she’d had to relinquish was her name. She was now known as Sapphire, the royal stone of Sari. The appellation was an undeniable declaration of the king’s possession, and the driving force of her fame.

  But she possessed her king more surely than he would ever possess her. His love for her was obsessive, his desire insatiable. He demanded her presence at all public events. Since their first night together, he had never taken another woman to his bed. Not even the queen.

  This last result pained Sapphire greatly. It was obvious the Queen of Sari loved her husband. Sapphire had no personal experience with that powerful emotion, but she imagined the pain would be devastating—loving a man who in turn loved another. She hated to be the cause of such misery.

  Over the last few years she had taken every opportunity to speak highly of her queen. She pointed out Her Majesty’s beauty, poise, and ease with command, but her praise fell on deaf ears. Her best efforts to help the other woman all met with failure.

  Setting aside the compu-pad with a sigh, Sapphire rose to her feet and began to stroll along the tiled path.

  “I hate to see you so bored,” came a lilting voice from the doorway.

  Sapphire turned her head and her gaze met eyes of soft, pale green. Dressed in flowing pink robes, the blonde woman who’d spoken was a welcome sight. “Mom!”

  “Hi, sweetheart.” Sasha Erikson opened her arms and Sapphire rushed into them, curling with pleasure into the maternal embrace. “I’ve missed you. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”

  “A great deal of nothing, sad to say.”

  “Oh, sweetheart.” Her mother kissed her forehead. “More and more, I think I did you a disservice by not seeing where your true calling lay.”

  Sasha had loved the life of a concubine and urged Sapphire into pursuing the career. Retired now and a tenured professor at the Sensual Arts School, Sasha was widely appreciated for her beauty and the adoration of her idolized husband. Sapphire’s success was largely attributed to the tutelage of her mother and she was grateful for that advantage. However, she’d realized too late that she was far more suited to her father’s military occupation than her mother’s sensual one.

  “You know better than that.” Sapphire’s tone was softly chastising. Linking arms, she pulled her mother into the atrium. “I wouldn’t have pursued this career if I hadn’t wanted it. My expectations were off. That is no one’s fault but my own.”

  “What did you expect?”

  “Too much, apparently. I can tell you what I didn’t expect. I never expected the Confrontations or the sale of my contract to the king. I didn’t expect that the political marriage between our monarchs was in fact a love match for only one of them. I never would have accepted His Majesty’s offer if I’d known.” She wrinkled her nose. “I was naïve.”

  “You? Naïve?” Sasha squeezed her hand. “Sweetheart, you are one of the most pragmatic women I know.”

  “You wouldn’t say that if you knew what I’d hoped for then. I wanted to find what you and father have. You have a great love story—the handsome, heroic general who falls in love with and marries his beautiful concubine. You said when you first saw him it was as if your blood caught fire. That’s so romantic, Mom.” She sighed dramatically and her mother laughed. “See? You think I’m silly. Girlish fantasies and daydreams.”

  Her mother shook her head. “The majority of people don’t find love in the course of their employment. But I don’t think you’re silly.”

  Sapphire arched a dubious brow.

  “Oh, okay,” Sasha conceded. “Maybe a little silly.”

  Grinning, Sapphire rang for a mästare to bring wine. Then she sat on the tiled lip of the fountain and settled in to experience much-needed excitement through
the words of her mother.

  In just a few moments, her husband would leave the exotic haven of their private rooms for the bed of his concubine.

  Desperate to reach him before he left, Brenna, Queen of Sari, spoke bluntly. “You have to make love to me, Gunther, if you want me to conceive. I cannot do it alone.”

  As the king began to pace in front of her, his frustration was clear. He was such a handsome man, tall with golden hair and skin. In all of her life, she had never met a man who could equal him. With every breath she took, she loved him more than the last.

  “The precedence is clear and unbreakable. I cannot be artificially inseminated,” she reminded him ruthlessly. “All royal heirs must be conceived naturally.”

  Running a hand through his hair, Gunther shot her a scathing glance. He strode past where she sat on the velvet-draped divan. “I know the rules!”

  His reluctance to bed her cut deep. As she thought of his concubine, her nails dug into her palms. Sapphire was the karimai—most prized of all the mätresses.

  The concubine’s quarters remained full with women of every description, but for five years now the other mätresses had exclusively been sexually pleasured by the mästares who protected and served them. Only Sapphire shared the bed of the king—a place that should be Brenna’s, and would be again. Soon.

  “Send her away,” Brenna suggested, as she had a hundred times. It always sparked an argument, but she refused to stop trying. She would get rid of her rival. Somehow. “Sari must have an heir.”

  He growled and paced faster. “I weary of your harping.”

  “We have been married for years! The people grow restless. They begin to doubt our fertility.”

  “You lie. No one would dare speak of such things.”

  She leaped to her feet. “They think it. They whisper it.”

  Coming to a halt, Gunther’s gaze darted around as if he was trapped. No doubt he felt as if he was.

  “Gunther?”

  “Do it, then.”

  Her breath caught.

 
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