In the flesh, p.3
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       In the Flesh, p.3

           Sylvia Day
 
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  They crossed the large receiving room with its massive divan and traveled down an arched hallway to the center atrium. The sight of a large bubbling bath surrounded by lush greenery filled her with joy. The rest of her life would begin in this home, and her blood quickened at the thought of the freedom she would enjoy here.

  Dalen stopped before a door nestled along the rear wing of the courtyard and waved his hand over the lock pad. The door slid open, and she stepped inside. In the center of the small room stood the cylindrical glass healing chamber. She took one look at the unconscious man inside and her instinctive response to him was so powerful, she ordered Dalen to leave her. When the door slid shut behind the retreating mästare, Sapphire walked closer to the chamber.

  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. She wondered what color his eyes were. Brown maybe, like her own? Or perhaps blue, like the king’s?

  Sapphire circled the chamber slowly, wincing at the myriad wounds that striped and gouged his flesh. The man had been tortured most grievously. The length of time he’d already spent in the chamber told her he must have been near death when they brought him to her. Who would have selected such a man for her? He was as different from the other mästares as she was from the queen. Even unconscious, this man radiated mastery. He was no mästare.

  Returning to the front of the chamber, she continued her heated perusal, her nipples puckering as desire quickened her blood. His broad and powerful chest was almost healed now. A thin strip of hair led her eyes down the ripples of his abdomen to his cock and testicles below. Her mouth went dry as she noted the carefully trimmed curls at the base of his shaft and his heavy sac that was completely denuded of hair. She stepped closer to the chamber until her hands and breasts were pressed against the warm glass, her eyes riveted to his groin. Even flaccid, his penis was impressive. She wondered how it would look when aroused.

  As if it could read her mind, his cock suddenly twitched and began to swell. Rising slowly, it took on commendable size. Becoming aroused by the sight, Sapphire rubbed her breasts against the glass, then stilled as the stunning phallus grew in response to her wantonness. Startled, her gaze flew upward and was arrested by dazzling green eyes. Emerald bright, they raked her body hungrily, able to see her completely through the sheerness of her gown. Her skin tingled and grew warm as the man studied her with breathtaking boldness.

  Nakedness imparted no vulnerability to the man’s undeniably arrogant bearing. She was so hot for him she was on fire, this stranger with the battered body and handsome face. For the first time in her life, Sapphire felt the pull of true desire, heady and overwhelming.

  “Who are you?” she whispered, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her through the glass. He reached out a hand, pressing opposite hers against the barrier that separated them. Sweat misted her skin at the thought of touching him. She wanted to curl her fingers and lace his long digits with hers. She longed to caress his bronzed skin and see if it was as smooth as it looked.

  He was almost healed. Soon, he would exit the chamber. Prolonged, intense healing was exhausting. He would most likely collapse at her feet. With a sigh of regret, Sapphire stepped back and was startled when he lunged toward the glass as if to catch her. Don’t go, he mouthed. The stark plea in his eyes made her chest tight.

  “Guardian.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “Who is this man in the healing chamber?”

  “He is Crown Prince Wulfric of D’Ashier.”

  Chapter 2

  Taken aback by the introduction, Sapphire recoiled from the glass. Wulfric remained against it, watching her with a narrowed, alert gaze.

  The D’Ashier crown prince.

  Sari’s refusal to acknowledge the full power of D’Ashier often led to war. The General of the Sarian Army had become a national hero with his victory in the D’Ashier Confrontations only a few years past.

  The stunning man before her was the legendary warrior son of the present king of D’Ashier. Wulfric was the eldest, the heir to the throne. He was renowned for his ruthlessness and his military genius. It was rumored that it was he who truly ran D’Ashier, while his father acted mostly as a figurehead.

  Her voice shook with confusion. “Why is he here?”

  “He is one of your mästares.”

  She shook her head. “That’s impossible. This man rules a country. He cannot remain here. His presence in Sari could restart the war.”

  “His countrymen believe him to be dead.”

  The fiercely intelligent green eyes studying her knew the exact moment she realized who he was. His lips thinned and his gaze hardened.

  Sapphire’s hand went to her throat. “I cannot keep him.”

  But she wanted to. With a primitive hunger she’d never experienced before. There was fire in her blood, such as her mother had told her about. And the way he looked at her…

  Sweat broke out on her skin.

  She knew that look. He wanted her, too. Yet Prince Wulfric was dangerous in every way imaginable. He was a master to her slave, a prince to her concubine. She’d just been released from that life and she would never go back to it.

  “How am I expected to keep him here, and why? Who chose him for me?”

  “He is a gift from the queen, Mistress. She bids you to tame him as you did the king.”

  A dry laugh rasped from her throat. This man was no gift. He was a spiteful punishment for stealing the affections of the king. The queen probably hoped the prince would kill her. Or that she would kill him first.

  “The queen has provided seven of her personal guardsmen to assist you.”

  “I see.” Sapphire licked dry lips and watched as an answering smolder lit Wulfric’s eyes.

  Looking at him, she felt a strangely profound regret. She would never be allowed to enjoy him the way he should be enjoyed. They were at odds without saying a word. He was a prisoner and she was his keeper, but given the slightest chance, he would easily reverse their roles. He was hot. Her resistance would melt. And while she would most likely glory in every minute of it, Sapphire couldn’t allow it to happen.

  She offered a mournful smile. Wulfric’s mouth curved up on one side, his gaze still burning with desire but sharp with challenge. She could read his response to her withdrawal in his eyes. Relentless, ruthless—that’s what the media said about him. He got what he wanted, and he wanted her.

  “Guardian, what if I wish to release him?” she asked.

  “But you do not. Your vital signs tell me—”

  “I know what my vitals are telling you. That’s precisely the reason he has to go.”

  “Yes, Mistress. No order was given forcing you to keep him. I conclude that leaves the choice to you.”

  Sapphire held the prince’s gaze. Something passed between them, an awareness that intensified with each passing second. How could she feel this way about a man she’d never touched or spoken to? For all she knew, he could be a cruel and selfish man.

  Yet she sensed he wasn’t. His gaze was too direct. He allowed her to see everything he was feeling—attraction, desire, defiance, determination.

  She sighed. “The queen knows I will do nothing to bring attention to this. We could both be executed for treason. Brenna’s bitterness must truly run deep for her to resort to this reckless and ill-conceived plan of revenge.”
<
br />   “As you say, Mistress.”

  “How could she predict my reaction to this man?” she wondered out loud. She was startled by this depth of feeling. How could a stranger know?

  “My conclusion is that she expected hatred, due to your father’s position.”

  Sapphire stiffened. Her father. If he were to discover Wulfric…

  She had to hide him.

  The moment the thought was conceived, she rejected it. What was she thinking, wanting to protect the prince? Only two men had ever held important places in her life—her father and her king. The prince was their enemy. Why was she considering his welfare first?

  “Guardian.” Squaring her shoulders, Sapphire turned toward the door. “Send for three guardsmen. His Highness is almost healed and will be released from the chamber soon.” The portal slid open as she neared it. The heat of Wulfric’s gaze burned her back until the door closed behind her. She refused to return his look.

  “What are your orders in regard to Prince Wulfric?”

  “Have him dressed, fed, then locked in his room to sleep. You will advise me when he awakens. In the meantime, gather all the information you can about him and give me a report. I want to know what I’m dealing with.”

  “Of course, Mistress.”

  “Pull up the architectural plans for this palace. I’ll need to study them, and set in place the means to confine him.”

  “You could ring him.”

  A mental picture of a confinement ring came to mind. The innocuous-looking but deadly band of metal was placed around a prisoner’s ankle. As long as a ringed individual remained in the designated areas, there wasn’t a problem. But should they venture too far, the ring would burst in an explosion that annihilated the wearer.

  With the virile beauty of Wulfric still fresh in her mind, Sapphire shuddered at the thought of killing him. “No. I won’t go that far. If he escapes, I’ll hunt him down myself.”

  “As you wish. Do you require anything else?”

  “Yes. Send a thank-you to the queen for her thoughtfulness.”

  Wulfric entered the receiving room with freshly laundered towels in his hands. With all the work he was doing, he was gaining a new appreciation for his own servants. It took great effort to keep a household running smoothly. He would never have fully appreciated that without performing the menial tasks himself.

  He also appreciated the constant duties, which kept his mind from thoughts of his recent confinement and torture. Sleep was elusive, his dreams tormented him. Hard work was the only thing that distracted him.

  Catching a flash of jeweled color out of the corner of his eye, Wulf turned his head to catch the departure of his lovely brunette keeper.

  In truth, work wasn’t the only distraction. He was fascinated by the woman who’d stood like a wanton angel before the healing chamber.

  He always seemed to be one step behind her. It didn’t help that she was avoiding him. In the last three days, he’d caught only fleeting glimpses of her scantily clad figure. Brief, tantalizing glimpses. After hovering near death, the way she brought his senses to life was a miracle he wanted to explore.

  But Wulf tempered his impatience. Their time would come. He would have escaped already if he didn’t know that for a certainty.

  Looking around the room, he noticed all of the other men engaged in various tasks. He approached the one closest to him, the one who seemed the least wary. They all looked alike to Wulf—tall, blond, and possessed of lean lengths of muscle so different from his own bulk.

  He couldn’t comprehend why these men chose to be mästares. With their good looks, they could have any woman they wanted. Why they chose to dedicate their lives to one woman they had to share among them was beyond his understanding.

  “Mästare.”

  “Yes, Your Highness?”

  Wulf snorted, finding it amusing when they called him by his title, as if he were not toiling alongside them. Their forced respect was her doing, he was certain. Some of the mästares bore him a barely restrained hatred and he could well understand. It was a sad fact that several of them must have lost a friend or loved one during the Confrontations. While he had not been the instigator of that war, he had fought without mercy, doing whatever was necessary to protect his people. Of course, the citizens of Sari would not see it that way. “I have some questions to ask you.”

  “Certainly. And my name is Dalen.”

  Wulfric nodded. “Dalen, what do you know about the mistress of this household?”

  “I know everything about Mistress Sapphire.”

  Arching a disbelieving brow, Wulf tested her name silently. Sapphire.

  “Truly,” Dalen insisted. “It’s in her best interests to have us understand her. The more we know about her, the better we can serve her needs.”

  “A man such as you could have his own needs met.”

  “Your reputation with women precedes you, Your Highness. You think I should have many women rather than just one.”

  “The thought had occurred to me,” Wulf agreed dryly.

  “A hundred women couldn’t give me the prestige I receive from being in the service of Mistress Sapphire. Her value increases mine, which in turn increases my family’s.”

  “What makes her so important?”

  “She is the king’s karisette.”

  “The king?” Wulf’s gut knotted.

  “Makes your position quite interesting, doesn’t it? I’m certain the king has no knowledge of your presence here.”

  “Someone will turn me in.” Wulfric looked around the room with renewed alertness. “Some of these mästares would pay dearly to see my capture.”

  “When I first learned of your identity, I intended to give you up. My older brother was almost killed during the Confrontations. General Erikson saved his life. If he hadn’t…” Dalen tensed, the thought visibly taking root before he shook it off. “The other mästares and I swore to serve the Mistress. She may be the king’s karisette, but she is our first responsibility and turning you in would endanger her.”

  “What the hell is a karisette?” Wulf snapped, suspecting from the way the word was said that he wouldn’t like its meaning.

  Dalen lowered his voice. “The king’s love.”

  “A concubine?”

  “More than a concubine. His Majesty is in love with her.”

  Wulf’s jaw tensed. His angel belonged to his greatest enemy.

  “The Mistress is something of a national celebrity,” Dalen explained. “Her value to the king is well known to the people of Sari, which makes my position as her mästare a prosperous one.”

  “If he loves her, why send her here? Why not keep her in the palace, where access would be more convenient?”

  Owing to the bitter relations and ever-present threat of war between their countries, Wulf had learned all there was to know about the Sarian Army and the king’s family, but he had left interest in the king’s concubines to others. Now he had a very strong interest in a royal concubine, one who’d brought him back to life just from the sight of her. It had been a very long time since he’d felt such attraction to a woman. So long, he couldn’t recall it.

  “You know the king has no children, Your Highness, and Sari needs an heir. All royal offspring must be made naturally. The king must spill his seed directly into the queen. Assisted inseminations are not allowed, as they are for the general population.”

  “It is the same in D’Ashier.”

  “The king was unable to perform his duty to the queen with Mistress Sapphire in the palace. So he sent her away.”

  Wulf wasn’t confused exactly, the story was quite clear, but the king’s motivation eluded him. “Did he send all of his women away?”

  Dalen shook his head. “From her first night in the palace five years ago, the king has only had Mistress Sapphire in his bed. A year after she joined the seraglio, His Majesty realized the desire he once had for his other concubines would not be returning and he offered to end their contracts. A few ac
cepted his offer, the rest stayed. The mästares in the palace service the remaining women, since the king does not call for them. Therefore, whether those mätresses stayed or left meant nothing to him, but the Mistress had to go. Having her close at hand made his duty to the queen impossible.”

  Wulf grew very still. “Your king kept Sapphire in his bed exclusively? For five years? With no break?”

  “I see by your expression,” Dalen grinned, “that you have never been in love.”

  It was beyond Wulfric’s imaginings to picture the same woman in his bed over a five-year span. If he wanted longevity in a bedmate, he’d marry. As it was, he was blessedly unattached.

  “So,” Dalen continued, “maybe now you can see why the Mistress has been gifted with this palace and all of us mästares. It’s no coincidence that we were all selected based on our physical resemblance to the king.”

  Very clever of the monarch, conceded Wulf, to keep constant reminders of himself all around his former lover.

  But the king had only imitations to give Sapphire.

  Wulf was here in the flesh.

  Chapter 3

  As Wulf walked the length of corridor that framed the center courtyard, hot air coursed over his sweat-dampened skin. He relished the heat, accustomed to it from long months spent in the desert protecting and strengthening the borders of D’Ashier. Attired in a mästare’s uniform, he was clad only in a loose pair of linen drawstring pants that hung low on his hips. His chest and feet were bare. He moved toward Sapphire’s office with his customary bold gait, a stride that proclaimed without a word that he controlled all things around him.

  The cool tiles felt wonderful against the soles of his feet. Apparently Sapphire shunned technology whenever she could comfortably do so. He liked that about her. He’d had his share of pampered, indolent women. The thought of an earthy lover made his pulse race.

  And now, finally, he was moments away from seeing her again, face to face. Wulf’s palms itched at the thought.

  The first time he’d seen her, he had been rousing from near death. In the days since, he’d almost managed to convince himself that she couldn’t be as breathtaking as he remembered. He was hopeful those first moments of renewed life and consciousness in the healing chamber had simply caused a temporary susceptibility. Perhaps any woman would have been especially appealing.

 
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