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Chapter One

The twin moons hung low in the lavender sky. The small moon, Akita, is forever being pursued and protected by her larger mate, Ishlay. So was the natural order, that the male protect and pursue the female. Only here, within these walls, was one of those natural laws reversed.

Her hands slid over the rough stone balustrade, rubbing back and forth, back and forth, the motion reminiscent of a soothing touch to a lover’s shoulders. The stone was abrasive against pampered hands; she craved the roughness of the touch, a small reminder of the dark pleasure of pain. She raised her hands, turning them to examine the reddened palms. In the light of the moons, the lines in her palms were deep, carving the surface of her hands into valleys and gorges. Stretching, she bent her fingers back until the light showed a smooth, white expanse of palm extending into five slim fingers. Slowly she turned her hands inward till the palms faced each other only a breath apart and raised them up, her head falling back in prayer. Her body made a taut line, stretched from the tips of her fingers to her heels. As she raised her voice in the secret words of invocation, the space between her palms began to glow. A ball of white mist began to grow, pushing her palms further apart until they were in line with her shoulders. With a few shouted words, she finished her prayer and the globe of mist burst, shattering into a thousand small points of light. As the light rained down onto her upturned face, shoulders, and breasts, the five watchers drew deep breaths.

From inside the darkened chamber, the figure on the balcony was so remote and comely that they could not imagine her to be anything but the Goddess herself. She was silhouetted by the moons, their light outlining the slim length of her legs and swell of hips and breasts through the thin gown she wore. The light motes had settled onto her upswept hair, haloing a face with almond eyes and smooth cheeks, arched eyebrows and a gently rounded chin. Though it was turned away from them, it was as familiar as their own.

When she felt the last flicker of light settle onto the tip of her eyelashes, she lowered her arms. With one smooth motion, she turned, balanced on the balls of her feet. She advanced towards the opened doors which lead into their chamber. Her step was light, each foot placed gently before the other. Toe, then heel touched the stone of the balcony, worn smooth by centuries of feet. As she entered the dark chamber, her vision failed for a moment while her eyes adjusted to the change in light, but her steps never faltered. Everything was where it should be, where she willed it to be, nothing would dare to be out of the place she had prescribed for it. The five men who knelt in a semicircle before her, their heads bowed, were no exception.

The moment she turned to enter the chamber, they dropped their eyes, none daring to look upon her in this state without her permission. In this moment she was the essence, the embodiment, of her power. She stood before them; they were her protectors, her guardians--her possessions. One man, he who knelt directly in front of her, raised his eyes. In a single glance, a wealth of feeling passed between them; she did not, could not, berate him for his disobedience. Had one of the others seen, she would have had no choice but to inflict torment upon the body which was laid bare before her gaze, but that glance was secret, private.

His heart, against the dictates of his head, demanded that he gaze upon her, that he steal this one moment that would belong to the both of them. It was enough to fortify his heart for what would come.

She held his eyes for only a moment, before breaking their gaze. Her lashes swept down, imprinting the moment in her mind, locking into her memory the feeling of the floor beneath her feet, the touch of the cloth against her body, the smell of the herbs in the air. Most importantly, she mentally imprinted the sight of him, the tilt of his head, the strength of his shoulders, the look in his eyes. She combined that with memories of the way he tasted, the lilt of his voice, the play of his muscles under his skin. And then, with her eyes still closed, she locked away the part of her that would have knelt before him, shedding the trappings of her power, her rank, for the simple pleasure of his touch.

When her eyes opened, they glowed with the power of whom and what she was. Her gaze was hot as it roved over the bodies of her men. Her whispered words were husky and low, her passion-rich voice so erotic that they each felt a small shiver caress their skin.

“Come to me.”

It was a command, one which none of them wished to disobey.

While the natural laws dictated that male be the protector and the pursuer, here the men were not the pursuers; they were the pursued, and they were owned, body and soul.


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