Laced with Desire
More erotic corset stories from Jaci Burton, Jasmine Hayes, Joey W. Hill and Denise Rossetti.
Berkley Heat, 2 February 2010
ISBN: 0425232298 and 978-0425232293
Rhio's a battle-scarred veteran of both love and war, a soldier right down to his bootstraps. But he's never met a woman as fierce, as fascinating - as dangerous - as Dancer. And she's up to her pretty neck in political intrigue. She just might kill him before they're through, but what a glorious way to go!
Caracole of the Leaves, Palimpsest
When the hypnotic rhythm of a single drumbeat snaked out of the shadows, Rhio was thinking about his aching feet.
Godsdammit, he detested royal receptions, even a small, private soiree like this one for the Trinitarian ambassador. He'd tried every trick he knew to stay alert-and in twenty years as a career soldier, he'd learned a few of them-wiggling his toes in his boots, flexing the long muscles in his thighs and calves, calculating his finances. Another couple of weeks and he'd have enough creds for his annual visit to the Garden of Nocturnal Delights. Despite himself, his thoughts drifted.
A slim form moved into the pool of light beyond the door, hesitated, and faded back into the darkness. He caught the impression of a voluminous hooded cloak, skimming the tops of bare feet, fine boned and high arched, a gold chain winking around one slender ankle. The evening's entertainment, right on schedule.
Rhio's breath came a little faster.
Who should he ask for at the Garden? Plump Bertha or delicate Chuoko? Bertha's breasts were full and broad, spilling into his hands like heavy fruit, her nipples dark as fine wine. Chuoko had slender, clever fingers and a way of wrapping a man in her hair. . . . His pulse marched in time with the drum.
A mysterious shadowed figure, the drummer sat cross-legged near an arched doorway that opened from the elegant reception chamber onto a dimly lit colonnade. Beyond lay the Palace gardens. His face expressionless, his back ramrod straight, Rhio stood the prescribed two paces behind Her Majesty's thronelike chair, sweating lightly beneath his dress uniform.
He'd stationed half a dozen of his Guards out there, and all around the building. By the seven hells, he hated diplomatic duty at the Palace. The place was a security nightmare. The gardens were bad enough, providing enough cover for an entire phalanx of Trinitarian pike men. But the velvet lawns were worse, meandering down to the canals of Caracole, which in turn led to the open sea. Rhio had fought too many battles against the old enemy to trust the bastards now, peace or no peace. The Queen's Navy had increased patrols up and down the coast, but nonetheless, he'd taken no chances, selecting only his best people for tonight's duty.
They'd better be scrutinizing every dark shape that shifted in the night breeze, he thought grimly. Or he'd take it out of their hides on the practice floor.
With a grin, the drummer turned his head toward the cloaked figure and spoke a soft phrase. The light of the double moons, the Brother and the Sister, gleamed on the man's shaven scalp, the graceful calligraphy of a slave tattoo showing dark along one cheekbone. Rhio didn't approve of slavery, the whole concept being beyond him. You might be able to command a man's actions, but you couldn't get into his head and make his thoughts your personal property. So how could you truly own him? It was plain common sense.
The cloak swirled, parting to reveal an astonishing length of bare, slender leg, the skin tinted to a smooth honey copper by the moonslight. A fleeting glimpse and he was left staring at the spot where the woman had stood, willing her to return.
He couldn't afford a distraction, not now. Careful to keep his face impassive, Rhio shifted his gaze to the spare, elegant person of the guest of honor, Ambassador-Pasha Ghuis Gremani Giral of the Trinitarian Republic. Smooth little shit with his pointed goatee and his retinue of bustling attendants and scantily clad slaves. The courtesans at the Garden might sell their time, their delightful company and their beautiful bodies, but they were no one's property save their own. Woe betide the man who assumed otherwise.
Soon, soon he'd be with them. He stifled a sigh. For one night in his life, there'd be beautiful music and exquisite food, cultured conversation a world away from duty and discipline. And, oh, gods, silk sheets and silken limbs, sweet, hot mouths and sweet, hot flesh, urging him inside where it was wet and strong and clasping, and he could rut and slide and thrust until he spilled. After it was over, he'd sleep with his head pillowed between soft breasts while gentle fingers petted whatever part of him they could reach.
And he could pretend someone cared.
Beneath the polished leather of his formal battle kilt, Rhio thickened. No matter, he was a man of discipline, known for his iron will. He regulated his breathing until the pressure eased.
As the Ambassador pushed his chair back and rose, the drumming sank to the merest breath of sound. After a deep obeisance in the general direction of the Queen, he straightened, the fine cream silk of his loose, flowing trousers and embroidered tunic glistening in the light of the glowglobes.
Beautifully modulated, his voice carried to every corner of the octagonal chamber. "Your Majesty, as you are aware, the most earnest wish of the Grand Pasha, exalted be his name, is for peace and goodwill between our two great nations. As a token of his esteem and affection, I bring you a gift."
Theatrically, he paused, and with impeccable timing, the cloaked woman glided into the room, and sank gracefully to her knees, her head lowered.
"This woman is unique, the last of her kind. The Grand Pasha, exalted be his name, gave me the privilege of command, and I placed my foot upon the neck of her upstart tribe. They are no more."
The woman's shoulders stiffened, the movement ceasing almost before it had begun. If Rhio hadn't been studying her so intently, he would have missed it.
Framed by the neat beard, Giral's lips curved. "Dear lady, forgive a personal observation, but it is common knowledge you suffer from the jointache." A short bow. "As do we all at a certain age. This slave has magic fingers, trained to provide ease and comfort. For the period of our visit, she is yours alone. But first"-another obeisance, his hands fluttering-"she will dance for you. My slaves have many talents. She may look dangerous, but she has been well disciplined. No need for alarm, dear lady."
Sikara's mouth opened, but before she could speak, the dancer uncoiled in a lithe, unhurried movement - a tygre rising from deep cover. The drummer added a more complicated rhythm, his hands flying, the hasty beat thudding like the heart of an angry god. Loosening his sword in the scabbard, Rhio took a silent step forward, until he stood directly behind his Queen.
Catching the movement, the dancer's head turned toward him. With a sweep of one arm, she threw off the cloak in a dramatic swirl of black fabric. Poised on her toes, she stood straight and tall, staring him down.
Rhio clamped his jaw shut, breathing hard through his nose. He'd never- Fuck, not in all his years as a Guard, and as a mercenary before that. Not in the markets, the brothels, the bazaars, the villages, the fairs. He'd never seen a woman like this.
Quietly, he eased his sword back into the sheath and clasped his hands behind his back. Parade rest. The dancer gave him an infinitesimal nod, as if he'd done as she bade him.
The thin, bright sound of a flute joined the drum, a Trinitarian double flute, breathy, yet pure. If he glanced to his left, he knew he'd see the player standing in the colonnade, but he didn't look. He couldn't.
He had the impression of a long, lean body, of shapely, supple muscles shifting beneath flowing drapery, but there was no way he could drag his gaze from her face, too thin for beauty, with an imperious, high-bridged nose and dark, slashing brows. All he could think of was a great fierce bird, tethered to the earth, its pride in the dust. It was there in her raptor's eyes, large and dark and burning with banked fury. But her mouth was wide and soft, all woman.
Rhio blinked, resisting the impulse to shake himself like a dog just out of the water. His mouth was dry, his heart thundering in his ears.
Fine. So the dancer was unusual-what of it? With calm deliberation, he took stock. She was swaying now, her arms weaving in boneless, graceful shapes to the liquid notes of the flute, long fingers moving in complex patterns. Gods, there wasn't an ounce of fat on her. Her bones were long, her flesh taut. In fact, she could have passed for a beautiful youth, if not for that sweet, sinful mouth and the braid of shining black hair that hung down her back to brush the rise of her buttocks.
She spun around, her hips rotating as the pace quickened.
No, not a boy. The womanly dip of her waist flowed like music down to a superlative ass, the cheeks high and round and biteable. Rhio frowned. What, in the Brother's name, was she wearing? Filmy draperies fluttered around her knees in a range of warm sunset colors from vermilion to yellow to a golden pink. But from neck to hip she was encased in glittering mesh.
A corset, godsdammit. A corset of the finest, most supple chain mail he'd ever seen, a feminine parody of a warrior's garb.
His balls hummed with interest, even as his disquiet grew.
The dancer's feet slapped the floor of polished seastone as she whirled and spun. The flute wailed in the strange minor harmonies so beloved of Trinitarians. The woman's movements weren't overtly erotic. Although they were fluid and graceful, they were stylized, even martial in character. But it didn't matter. He was half-hard, and only the weight of his duty and that nagging sense of something off-kilter kept him from complete embarrassment. Hell, no better than a randy lad. Rhio gritted his teeth, grateful for the hard leather of his kilt.
Gods, she was intense, wholly engaged in her artistry, lost in the music. The faintest of lines between her brows revealed her concentration. A drop of sweat trickled from her hairline and down the side of her face. His feet planted solidly apart, his face a careful blank, Rhio could almost taste the salt of that liquid on his tongue, feel the heat radiating from the dark honey of her skin.
The music built to a crescendo, dropped, and built again. No one in the chamber moved, save the dancer. When her dark gaze flicked past him, and returned, Rhio felt the touch of it like a branding iron. Clenching his fists behind his back, he fought for breath.
The drummer's palms beat out a rapid tattoo; the flute keened, high and wild. Her head thrown back, the dancer spun, too fast for the eye to follow. Abruptly, she gave a high, ululating cry, her voice echoing eerily off the walls. As if her bones had turned to water, she folded her long body to the floor, directly before the Queen, both arms outstretched before her, the long braid tumbling forward over one shoulder.
No one breathed, or spoke.
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© 2009 Denise Rossetti
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