(A MOON BORNE SHORT STORY)
By Rachael Slate
Arsenius spotted Kyme by the mainmast, brushing her fingers across the manacles that kept his crew safe whenever the beast took hold.
As it had last night.
Squeezing his fists, he inhaled the scent of briny sea water and steadied his feet against the gentle rolling of the ship’s deck. As he unclenched his fists, he forced aside the tinge of crimson threatening to cast its shadow across his vision once again, and stalked toward her. “Careful with those.” She gasped and spun around. Good. She ought to fear him, to tremble before the madness of his frenzy.
Her terror just might prevent her from unleashing it again. He’d rather not reflect on what would have happened if he hadn’t managed to chain himself…
He pried the cuff from her grasp, a silent warning to be wary. Fashioned from a dangerous source, the manacles were powerful enough to squelch the compulsions of a deadly monster.
“What happened to you last night? Did your father curse y—”
He sneered at the mention of Ares. “You and I would call it a curse. Ares claims the war frenzy is a birthright.” His frenzy turned him into a crazed savage, incapable of any action except wreaking violence. The embodiment of pure, raw bloodlust.
Her gaze shifted to his right arm and upper chest. “What about those markings?” She’d witnessed his inkings the first time they’d met.
The generous bucket of ice water his best friend Thereus had dumped on his head this morning had rinsed away the ones from yesterday. Bloody centaur.
“They form whenever the beast inside me is let loose. I cannot control it, Amazone, so for your sake, don’t ever draw my blood again.” Though he knew better, he leaned in closer. Tempted by her despite every reasonable argument of why he should stay away.
Her stare fixated on his lip… The lip she’d bitten last night, drawing his blood and provoking the darkness inside him.
“Thereus said… He told me I am your mate.” Bright midnight blue eyes flashed at him, half daring him to concede the truth.
You’ll never be my mate. His jaw tightened at her question and he eased back, away from the intimacy of their closeness. “Do not fear, Amazone, Artemis would never permit such a union.”
Never, regardless of whatever assurances Thereus, also the first mate on Arsenius’s pyrate ship—the Adrasteia—had claimed. The lie stung his tongue, but Kyme seemed to accept it as valid. Why shouldn’t she? He gazed into those shining depths, unclouded by any lack of faith in her goddess, Artemis. The small spark of fear over his possible bonding to her had vanished.
If only he experienced the same confidence in his father. But he was no hero, no matter how hard his war god father, Ares, pushed him to become one.
He held her gaze, steady and unfailing, full of conviction he did not feel. At length, she nodded. Aye. There was no sense in holding any hope of bonding to her. She might be his mate, but neither Ares nor Artemis would ever permit them to bond—to unite their souls forever.
She’ll never be mine.
Better to accept the facts and crush any seeds of longing before they bloomed into true hope.
He glanced down and the high hemline of her belted chiton teased him with a glimpse of her bare, toned legs. Tearing his stare off them, he focused on the task he’d planned for this morning. Training her. “You fight well, Kyme, but you should learn some of the skills a pyrate must have in order to defend his or her ship.”
“Such as?” She perched a hand on her hip, her nose scrunching slightly, invoking ferocity despite her small size. Like any Amazon warrior, she didn’t appear to take kindly to having her abilities questioned.
Arsenius cocked his head. “You handle your daggers well, but how are you with a sword?”
Her brows drew together. “Capable enough.”
“Show me then.” He grabbed the pair of blades he’d placed on the deck earlier. They were about two feet in length, with a slight curve at the ends. “This is a cutlass. It’s light and short enough that most sailors keep one on them at all times, and it makes a good weapon for confined spaces. Very useful for slashing through ropes, canvas, wood, and of course, flesh and bones.”
“I see.” Kyme accepted the sword he handed her, balancing its weight between both her palms. She tilted her head and wrapped her right hand around the handle as though calculating its weight.
“Hold it like this.” He circled behind her, shifting her grip until it was just right. His fingers caressed over hers, sending shooting pangs of yearning through his body. Despite her harsh upbringing, her skin was soft and supple, so different from his worn and callused fingers. Wisps of her chestnut brown hair had broken free of her long, coiled braid, the sweetly perfumed tendrils defying him not to run his hands through their silk. He shrugged off the urge and cleared his throat, focusing on the task of training her.
While pressing down on her shoulders, he kicked at her boots to nudge her feet aside into a limber fighting stance. “Legs wide, knees bent, and keep your free arm out of the way or it’ll for certain be cut off.”
Grunting in satisfaction, he stepped to face her and braced his own cutlass, mimicking her pose. “Now, if your opponent is larger than you, as I am, he will possess the advantage. So you must be quicker.”
“Try me.” Her lips curved and she lunged, slashing her blade toward his middle.
He deftly blocked her strike, knocking her sword arm aside.
She gasped, wincing at the stinging likely shooting through her arm.
“Careful, Amazone.” He frowned at her. “Remember, I’m stronger than you. Don’t offer me a blow I can counter easily.”
Her eyes narrowed and she brought her sword forward once more. “Oh, I won’t.”
“Good.” He grinned. “Again.”
She shot toward him, aiming low, at his legs, but he swung his sword on top of hers, slapping it away. She didn’t balk, raising her sword to his shoulder. Metal clanged as they tapped their blades, almost like raising a toast to one another.
Their swords clashed together in the air and he whipped his free hand out to grasp her arm, thrusting their weapons to bow to the planks. Gripping her arm brought his face dangerously close to hers. “I’m stronger. Fight harder.” Gritting his teeth, he repeated his taunts, hoping she would determine a way to best him.
“Argh!” she cried, jerking her cutlass high and freeing it from his. “Stronger but not better.”
She brought her sword toward his neck and he blocked it with his, seizing her forearm. Countering, she twisted free and slashed her blade at his legs. He hopped to skip over her swing and brought his cutlass back to clash against hers.
As he lunged forward, she spun to the side and whipped around to face him, his blade meeting only air.
“Good, good.” He nodded in approval. “But show me more.”
They faced off against each other. Color rose in her cheeks, her eyes shining with the thrill of the exertion. Kyme was a warrior. She appeared to thrive in battle, just as he had been bred to.
Damn, but that still did not make them mates.
“Is that all you have, Amazone?” he goaded, provoking her emotions to rise and perhaps cloud her judgment.
In his experience, passion was better left off the battlefield. Yet fervor seemed to fuel her skills.
She swept forward and their weapons caught, drawing a circle in the air as neither opponent relented their hold. The cutlasses twisted from one side to the other and rose up to the level of their heads. He braced their swords between them, growling as their battle waged.
The firm set of her jaw declared she would never surrender. He shoved his blade toward her, but she drove him back with her free hand and sliced her cutlass through the air toward his neck.
He ducked just as the air rustled above his head.
By the gods, she was brilliant. Straightening, he slashed his sword toward her middle. Gracefully, she sprang out of its path, up onto the ship’s railing.
“Care to make this more interesting?” She nimbly skipped backward, the spark in her eyes flashing with mischief.
One false step and she would plummet into icy waters.
“Absolutely.” He climbed onto the balustrade, stalking toward her slowly, intently, locking his gaze onto hers. “The last time I joined you for a swim, I never got to collect my prize.”
A slight flush crept into her cheeks. “What was that?”
Ah, playing coy. “You would drive a man to madness for just one kiss.”
Her dark lashes fanned across her cheeks as she tilted her face aside. “Best me and you can claim one.”
Now there was incentive.
His muscles tightened at the sight of her pink, velvety tongue swiping across her plump bottom lip. This would be too easy.
“What do I get if I win?” Her lips curved smugly.
“Hmm.” She tilted her head, studying him. “What if I wished for a different reward?”
“Oh, but you don’t.” He seized one step forward; she eased one backward. “Every inch of your body is begging for my touch, Kyme. I smell it in your sweet scent, I see it in your sultry eyes, and later, I’ll taste it on your soft lips.”
Arsenius stabbed his blade forward and she blocked it, their swords clanging. Crouching low like a feline, she drove her cutlass toward him. He brushed off her strike, hopping onto a wooden crate to her left and circling around her.
Stalking her as though she were his prey.
Somehow, he had the feeling it was the opposite.
Light on her feet, she navigated around him, switching their positions.
He swung his sword at her legs, causing her to canter in a backward dance. Whipping around, she sprinted along the rail and leapt off its ledge onto the deck. He chased after her, vaulting from the balustrade and landing to ram straight into her.
“Oomph!” Her breath squashed from her as they crashed into the side of the main cabin. “You’re not fighting fair.” She brought her elbow spearing down onto his shoulder.
“Umph.” He staggered back a few feet, assessing her from his hunched position. Her chest rose and fell in rapid pants, her cheeks flushed bright. Drawing in a heaving breath, he was fairly certain his heart pounded just as hard as hers appeared to. “Pyrates don’t play fair. Had enough yet, Amazone?”
“Never.” She shot him a smug grin. “Pyrates might prefer their foul methods, but Amazons don’t surrender.”
“Mayhap not in battle.” He straightened and prowled from side to side. “But I could make you beg for mercy.”
“Yargh!” she cried, rushing forward with her blade pointed straight at his heart.
He swerved to the side, catching her arm in his grasp, and twirled her around, wrenching her into his chest. His grip was iron-tight. Inescapable. A grin tugged at his lips. “I warned you I was stronger. Now, it seems I’ve caught you.” She writhed against his hold, but she couldn’t escape him.
No more than he could her.
She lifted her chin, her pretty lips pouting at him. “Are you going to claim your prize, then?” Her body pressed into his as she shifted closer, her mouth inching toward his.
His cock thickened, a deep-seated, aching longing settling in his groin. Ignited, his blood pulsing through his veins like magma. Scorching as it devoured its path toward his heart.
Can’t have her.
Tilting her chin, she leaned into him… So close.
And then she reared, slamming her forehead against his.
He snarled and stumbled, toppling backward onto a low crate.
Blinking the stars from his eyes, he squinted at the tip of her cutlass, poised directly above his throat.
One leg planted on the crate, her free hand perched on her hip, Kyme smirked, hovering above him. “I win.”
He opened his mouth to protest her foul play, but since he was teaching her how to be a pyrate, he ought to commend her.
She tossed her sword aside and clutched a handful of his ivory shirt, yanking his mouth to hers while she sank to straddle his hips.
He swallowed his bruised pride and groaned, his hands seizing both of her cheeks to drive his tongue inside her lush mouth.
Huffing, she drew back. “You didn’t lose on purpose, did you?” The gleam of triumph faded from her eyes.
“Indeed, I did not.” He inclined his head. “Though now that I know how you claim your rewards, I may consider it in the future.”
“Hmm.” She scowled at him, but shifted forward and feathered her lips across his.
He slid his hands along her toned, yet feminine, warrior’s body, down to cup the curves of her bottom, and gave her a squeeze.
She moaned and rolled her hips forward, rubbing her sex against his. Being a virgin, she likely possessed no notion of how suggestive her movements were, of how he was one breath away from freeing himself from his leather breeches and thrusting up into her sweet heat.
She sighed and purred into his mouth, rocking in that slow, sensual rhythm, her arms draping lazily across his shoulders.
He might not be able to claim her, but he could offer her satisfaction. Sliding one hand around her waist, he dipped it between them, slipping under the hem of her chiton and grazing the tips of his fingers across her silken flesh.
Gods. His chest rumbled as his fingertips met her slick honey, the evidence of her arousal.
No matter what else she declared, Kyme could not hide her desire for him. She bit her bottom lip, breath hitching, but she didn’t stop him. There might be uncertainty in what she sought, but she trusted him to show her. To gratify her needs. To fulfill her longings.
No one had entrusted him with that much since his sister Lena, and he certainly hadn’t earned Kyme’s faith.
But damn, he would do his best to be worthy of her. A mere week ago, he’d captured her with the intention of selling her in exchange for Lena’s freedom. Now?
Now, he had to admit that choosing between Kyme and his sister was an impossible decision his heart had never been cold enough to make.
The side of the cabin hid them from the prying eyes of his crew, but undoubtedly any one of them could stumble upon him and Kyme. The threat of being caught with his hands where they did not belong sent his pulse jolting.
It would be worth it, to hear his name cried upon her lips once more. Their intimacy last night had been cut too short, before he’d had the chance to truly savor her.
But not this time. This moment was theirs. Pulses racing from their dueling and bodies aflame with unsated passion.
Her tense muscles eased, melting against him. His fingers spread across her sex, desperate to delve inside her and claim what was his.
No, she’s not.
His body warred against itself. Soul and mind at opposing ends.
He shifted her on his lap, lifting and spreading her legs wider to kneel on either side of his. Slipping one hand behind her, under her chiton, he fanned his fingers across the softness between her thighs. He flicked the fingers of his right hand across her bud while his left caressed her, claiming every inch.
She tugged him closer, her greedy mouth eagerly seeking his, stroking her tongue alongside his with abandon.
I could claim her. Press his fingers inside her and make her his.
Let the gods counter that.
Mind resolved, he tenderly skimmed his left hand along her soft flesh, inching toward her center. He’d be gentle and careful, and employ every useful talent his father had gifted him.
Slowly, he dipped his fingertip toward her core.
She stiffened, lurching forward, her mouth slipping off his as a cry parted her lips.
Her sex convulsed, the throbbing spasms pounding against his fingers.
“I thought I told you to make me work harder, Amazone.” Arsenius groaned and tossed back his head while she whimpered and clutched at his shirt, muffling her screams into his chest.
He’d been so close.
To committing the most dangerous transgression. To condemning them both.
The deep rumble of men’s voices drifted toward them. Kyme hopped off his lap as though it were set afire and scurried around the corner. He watched her leave, shifting his legs to mask the unsated desperation of his swollen cock.
Relief should have poured through his veins. Clarity should have swept across his vision.
And yet all he could think of was…
Damn, I want more.
Read more of Kyme and Arsenius’s story in Moon Borne (Halcyon Romance Series, #1) by Rachael Slate