A Claiming Novella
Coming June 26th, 2014!
It’s here! The exclusive sneak peek from Hunted, my upcoming fantasy/paranormal erotic romance. Read on…if you dare… Warning: things get hot!
From His Majesty the King
Fifth of Martz, the year of Lionel, 2463
Dear Compatriot of Tarlè Kingdom:
Join us this weekend for the celebration of the Claiming.
This year’s pick, Penelope Farris, daughter of Jesha and Marvus Farris, will step forward to be claimed in lawful ceremony to all possible male candidates.
Male matches take heed. The spirited dancer will require a gentle touch to capture.
Lionel Edward Richard Hargrowe
King of Tarlè
The font, elegant and crisp, thick and black, scrawled across the fine parchment paper in curving sweeps. Occupying the lower right-hand corner of the letter rested the royal seal stamped in viscous, ruby-red wax, like blood.
Ryon Amadeus Ward read the royal missive word for word before crumpling the letter in his fist.
“What is the meaning of this?”
The messenger who’d delivered the letter stepped back at the edge in his voice. Of course the messenger wasn’t to blame, but that didn’t keep anger from rising like a volcano about to erupt.
“W-well, you see, the king—“
Forget it, he thought, instantly regretting asking the boy. Even worse than this omen in written form was this boy’s bumbling. The General dismissed him with a wave and the boy escaped with a mumbled “thanks”.
The sun had yet to reach mid-day and already an ache blared at his temples in full force. This was shaping up to be a bad day.
He took a seat at his desk and pulled his silver-edged knife out from the bottom drawer, locking the drawer again afterward. Leather handled and sharpened weekly, the blade could cut through skin without added pressure.
Meanwhile, his mind churned, ticking by like a well-greased clock.
Penelope Farris would be available for claiming.
An uncomfortable pressure filled his chest, making him rub the spot. These emotions she’d always managed to suck out of him never ceased to surprise him. His feelings for her were too strong, he knew; fierce with possession and greed. He must have her. No other woman had ever given him such pause for thought.
I will have her.
She would be his. Completely his.
She must have known the king had selected her for claiming in advance. And she hadn’t come to him to tell him. Was this some sign? A challenge from her? But she knew where he stood, knew that he had no qualms about claiming her. It had been his intention all along. Even if he’d never voiced as much, he’d made his attentions well known through his actions. It was she who was hesitant with him. If only he could figure out how to surpass her defenses—something he’d been attempting for two years now. All this time he has waited for her to come around.
Certainly she must know he’d find out. What did she get by not telling him herself? Just what was she up to?
Surging to his feet, he nearly toppled the chair backward, but caught it. He shrugged into his worn, brown, suede overcoat before heading out into the chilly air. The door should have slammed behind him, but he had far more control than that. His hands nearly trembled with the focused, calm mindset he kept. He was the General. It was his duty to keep his composure at all times.
Wait until he got his hands on her…he’d like to wring her thin little neck.
Ha! He’d laugh if he could. As if he could ever lay a hand on her in anything other than care and passion.
Penelope Farris was the only woman he’d ever fancied for his own. She’d been as impenetrable as a fort to his advances. And that was on the best of days. Normally he might have moved on by now, but Penelope Farris had lodged a place in his heart two years ago and had never left. The elusive dancer proved difficult to trap for something as simple as a conversation. She seemed to forever be eluding him to slip back into the shadows and disappear. All the while her eyes flashed with open, sensual invitation at him like she wanted to climb atop him.
Frustrating barely began to cover how he felt about Pen.
She’d pushed his hand with this. These weren’t normal circumstances anymore. Not even close.
Now she was at risk for any male who wanted her. Anyone could stand up there during her Claiming Day and fight for a chance to have her as wife. The claiming ceremony, and the winner of it, won exclusive rights to the female. He had a time limit now. Until week’s end.
It was only the first of the week. Five days was not a long time, but he was General of King Hargrowe’s army and his ability to strategize better than anyone made him exceptional at his job. He wouldn’t let anyone touch her, anyone but him. Even if his life depended on it.
Slipping his knife holster across his chest, Ryon untethered his horse from the post out front of his house and took off. His destination: Prima Donna’s. The dance club where Penelope worked as part of the last known ballet troupe.
The Avagarians had nearly eradicated their entire human culture through savage warfare. Ballet dancing was one of the last few traces of art the Tarlèans still had. The ballet dancers were revered to the likes of celebrity gods by the people.
Evening blanketed the land in gloomy shadows. Pale glimpses of moonlight peeped through the trees in flashes of light.
The night seemed an apt representation of his mood, he thought bitterly.
A line was already formed out front of the dancing hall, not exactly typical for an early week night. But it looked like everyone had received their missive from the king and wanted a fresh look at the famous ballet dancer up for claiming.
Ryon stifled a curse as he tethered his horse. There were far too many men in line for his liking. Patting Dominic, his horses head, he lingered for a moment before slipping past the known security guard with a glance. Murmurs sounded around him.
“The General,” buzzed the crowd like agitated bees.
Inside Prima Donna’s dance hall the swinging cabaret music resounded in full force: a mixture of jazzy saxophones, hooting trumpets, and deep baritones of a thumping upright bass. Above it all was a husky woman’s voice crooning about tulip fields and other nonsense. A troupe of women wearing colorful leotards, tights, and ballet slippers and kicked their legs high in the air to the jazzy tunes. Ballet had changed and shaped over the years. The music they danced to had changed and morphed just as they, as people, had. The plies, sautes, and glissades were all there but the dancing was quicker and more robust.
The woman he searched for was not on stage.
Ryon pushed himself through the crowd. The heavy digestion of people made walking a chore as they shuffled shoulder to shoulder into the club. The music grew louder as he came closer to his target. He surveyed the crowd, his gaze skimming across a figure in a dazzling sequined outfit and tutu that barely covered more than the necessary parts, before locking on.
She was the center of attention once more; a crowd having grown around her at the news of her claiming day.
Her beauty took his breath away. She was the kind of woman you wanted all to yourself. He wanted many things from her, and to give many things to her. He wanted her looking up at him with soft-eyed passion after a good kissing. He wanted to feel her arms wrapped tightly around him as they make love. Too many things to name.
He’d tasted her exquisiteness once.
Before it’d been ruined.
A scowl slashed his features and in the next moment he charged through the crowd with determined strides. People parted for him, instant recognition on their faces.
“The General,” someone whispered excitedly. Others piped in too. He grew tired of the whispers, but the people knew him as a hero and that was all he was to them. They didn’t know him personally, therefore they didn’t treat him the same. Such was life. He’d learned to deal with the attention, to ignore it as saying anything usually made the situation worse.
The news must have gotten to her across the room, for Penelope Farris, looking utterly womanly in her outfit, stood from her leaning position, and locked eyes with him. As always when he looked at her, his heart lurched in his chest like a spring-loaded weapon.
Down boy, she doesn’t feel that way about you.
Her eyes widened, alarmed, as she turned to face him. The man she’d been leaning over appeared behind her and a noise much like a growl climbed from Ryon’s throat.
Duke Patrick Gaines, a wealthy, entitled yuppie of a scoundrel—he couldn’t say enough good things about the man—slumped against the wall near Penelope looking like a hungry cat waiting to be fed by hand.
Fierce jealousy surged as it always did when he saw men leering at Pen. She was his, even if he had yet to claim her.
Ryon didn’t stop to say a word, couldn’t have spoken even if he wanted to. His lips were pursed tighter than a wet seal, his biceps contracted with the urge to throw his fist into the duke’s pale, smug face until it turned purple and blue.
“General. What are you doing here?” He heard tension in Penelope’s voice. Her eyes skated down his torso then back up. Did she have any idea what her greedy copper eyes did to him? When she looked at him like he was a large, intimidating man and she liked it.
Lord, she drove him mad.
If only she’d stop running from him.
“Please, do tell. What’s your business here, General Ward?” the duke drawled. “I don’t believe it’s every day you find the General visiting a ballet hall.” Mocking words had never sounded so obvious.
Tall and slender, the aristocrat wore his black hair pulled into a long braided thong around his shoulder. His lips dipped into a twisted scowl, disdain dripping from every pour of his body. He wore expensive clothes made with fine etchings in gold and silver thread. The red velvet cape draped across his narrow frame must be worth more than Ryon’s current ensemble.
Ryon and Patrick had never been friends. They’d done some military combat training together during their education years. In that time, they’d managed to compete and learn to loathe each other. They both had one thing in common though—an interest in Penelope Farris.
Penelope, or Pen, as he preferred to call her, no matter how much it rankled her nerves, put her hands on her hips in a move he recognized all too well. Anger. “Yes, what is this interruption for, General?”
His fist twitched. He hated when she called him that. They both knew it. Thus why she did it. The little devil.
“We need to talk.”
That surprised her. “About what?” She fidgeted with the lace of her tutu, one thin slipper lifting to scratch her calf with the toe.
Ryon pulled the folded missive out of his pocket and flashed it at her.
“Oh…that,” she said vaguely, cheeks turning redder. They both knew why he was here. She was the only one pretending.
The duke wouldn’t have any of it.
“Listen here General, I’ve come with good money here so let the girl dance.” The duke leaned forward and wrapped an arm around Penelope’s small waist. His hand dipped even lower to grab a feel of something he had no right touching.
Ryon told himself that what he did next was because of that inappropriate grope and not because of his possessive feelings for Pen.
Murmuring a brief excuse for what he was about to do, Ryon whipped the duke’s hand away and ducked, pushing his shoulder into Penelope’s midriff in the next second. He lifted her up and over his shoulder so easily you’d think he did it often. In fact, a feeling of deja vu struck him.
They had done this once before under similar circumstances. And look where that had landed them.
There was no stopping him now. He had everyone’s attention trying to steal their most talented dancer. But no one dared to stop the General. Not even the duke dared to stop him with the hard look Ryon sent his way. Everyone by now had heard the tentative history between Ryon and Pen.
Tonight it was all coming to an end.
He could feel the tightness in her muscles as he waded through the crowd, could feel her nails scraping into his back where she hung on for dear life, possibly puncturing his skin—on purpose. Ryon made it through the dance hall and out the back door, one arm latching Penelope’s rear-end to him.
It wasn’t the closest he’d ever held her, but it was the most he’d touched her in a long time. He’d take it. Having her touch him felt far better than not.
Outside he hitched her higher on his shoulder, not even feeling her slight weight, and marched to the woods with only one place in mind.
Maybe in a way it was their place. It was the only time she’d ever opened up to him and admitted her feelings for him. He’d been stunned stupid by her honest, raw statement, and staggered by the passion of their kiss. After their first kiss, like a young fool, he’d been unable to speak for a long minute. And, typical to any naïve fool, he’d said something he still regretted to this day.
“Do you mind telling me what you’re doing, General?” Penelope’s anger jerked him swiftly back to reality and out of his reverie.
There it was again. The nickname, not his real name. She never used it, was too personal. If she gave him a chance maybe she’d see how much he knew about her, how much he cared.
For this he needed to be face to face, so he readjusted her in his arms so that he cradled her to his chest like a baby. She reluctantly wrapped an arm around his neck—and resumed glaring at him like she wished he’d drop dead.
“You shouldn’t frown like that,” he told her.
“Why not?” An instant, snapping response.
“Because it makes me want to kiss you.”
Her breath hitched. He’d surprised her. Who knew he was a man of surprises, aside from using his cleverness in military strategies. He’d never thought before that he could use those same skills towards wooing Pen. But the idea looked better and better the longer he thought about it.
Slender fingers toyed with the hair at the nape of his neck. He nearly stumbled a step when she pressed her cheek again his. Gentle breath teased his ear and his grip tightened around her reflexively. She always managed to catch him by surprise. Just one of the many things he appreciated about her.
The effect she had over him had been there from the moment he first saw her. Any move she made touched him like a bolt of energy, left him aroused and edgy. Even the simplest touch such as her wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling closer made his vision hazy.
From how they must look you’d think she’d asked to be carried out of the club and not forced. He didn’t have much further to go.
They were nearly there. Not much longer, then he could put her down—a bittersweet thought.
“Do you want to kiss me?” A teasing whisper blew across the shell of his ear with each word.
He didn’t hesitate. “You know I do.”
The quiet woods surrounded them in solitude. Only the light from the stars guided them on this fortuitous night.
She caressed his cheek with hers, rubbing like a cat, grazing the stubble on his jaw with her soft skin. Chills swept down his spine. As always her touch aroused him, hardening his cock.
Thank God. They finally made it to his destination. Ryon set her down near the edge of the pond. Their pond. Pen looked around and laughed, her smile lighting up her face.
“The pond? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.” She kicked off her heels and stepped into the water before he could say a word. “Do you want to see me get wet, General?” A playful light graced her sparkling eyes.
He stifled a groan, or maybe a curse. “You are a tease, Pen. Always have been.” Here he came to talk privately about the royal missive he’d received and she was already taking control of the situation. She always managed to rip the power from him with careless ease.
Or maybe he allowed her to take control, he supposed.
Her face lit up with delight at his proclamation and not with a touch of shame. He loved that about her.
Tossing her head back, she laughed throatily. “You make it sound like a bad thing. Look at you all grumbling about because you heard about my Claiming. You know you’re my favorite. Surely you know that.” Her pretty, almond-shaped eyes softened.
“That’s as close to a confession as I’ve ever heard. I suppose I’ll take what I can get,” Ryon said.
Pen looked away avoiding his gaze. “You received the missive then?”
“You should have told me yourself.”
The statement hung out there like an accusation.
He wasn’t afraid to admit what she did bothered him. She should have come to him, should have told him. Everyone in the kingdom knew he’d been trailing after her scent for two years. He had thought that he simply needed more time to break down her defenses.
Not for his lack of trying. But he could only get so far while trying to tamper his aggression. His tightfisted nature shook her up and he’d yet to soften enough for her apparently.
She already thought he was too dominant for his own good. Or so she’s said. Didn’t she see how badly he wanted her? He needed her to end his torture and finally put him out of his misery.
“I suppose I was too nervous to tell you myself. I only learned that I’d been chosen last week.” She waded deeper into the water, raising her sequined dress higher to reveal shapely thighs. The water level rose to lap at her tantalizingly milky calves, shapely with muscle from years of dancing. He watched her move gracefully through the water on the tips of her toes, riveted.
“A cowardly move,” he chastised.
“Perhaps. But I’m not the only one here who’s a coward. Am I, General?” Her teasing banter was punctuated with a heated, low-lidded look. She looked at him from dazzling blue eyes that sparkled.
When she had fun it was contagious. That laughter threatened to weaken Ryon’s own defense; his mouth twitched to laugh. Something he couldn’t let happen.
“I’m here right now. I don’t think that makes me a coward.” He was daring her to be honest. But would she rise to the bait?
“Do you like my new dress?”
The question took him by surprise. But no more than what she did next.
With a laugh, she flicked one of her dress’s strap off her shoulder. The material slipped down to reveal a whole glimpse of overflowing mounds of supple flesh. This sight of her breasts barely being contained by her tight top had muscles tensing in his neck until they felt ready to snap.
He advanced towards her. “Stop this and come out of there. We need to talk about this.”
“My darling General, why don’t you join me instead?” She took one long look at him and that was it—she had him pinned. Nothing was worse than a beautiful woman getting the hold of you and Penelope had him lined up in her sights. Gentle, taunting laughter almost succeeded in coaxing a smile from him. Almost.
“No.” The answer did not coming easily.
“Now who’s the coward?” Her chin lifted in challenge. She squared her shoulders like a soldier, all the while fighting a smile.
“You shouldn’t taunt me with how I feel right now, Pen.” Like a string too tightly wound, that had been cranked and cranked beyond capacity. The pressure was full to overflowing. All it would take was the faintest crack for the pressure to burst. He’d explode.
A crash of water as she dropped down into the water then surged up to her full height. She looked like an exotic enchantress with water cascading down her body in the moonlight. Already her magic was weaving itself around his bones, beckoning him to do her will.
“Taunt you? Why, oh why, would I ever do that? General” she added the last part like she couldn’t help herself.
His muscles coiled like a loaded spring. “What did I tell you about calling me that ridiculous name?” He recognized that dangerous glint in her eye; it was the same look she wore before chaos ensued.
Ryon stepped into the water, moving to stop the impending destruction.
That didn’t stop her. “It’s what I want to call you, so I will. There’s no changing that. Why do you continue to fight a war with me that you can’t possibly win?”
He closed in on her, mere feet separating the distance between them. Warm supple female to hard aching warrior.
She slipped the second strap off her shoulder.
Bare skin, mounds of palpable flesh with hardened tips bobbing gently from her chest. Sleep ribcage flaring out to wide hips. Beckoning him like a magic spell. Exquisite. She bared her breasts to him like an ancient offering. The mouthwatering sight didn’t stun him as he might have expected, but empowered him instead.
Ryon charged forward, catching her startled intake of breath a moment before he snatched her by the shoulders and pulled her into his arms.
“Say my real name.” A demand.
He couldn’t catch his breath; neither could she. His control was a thin piece of thread tethered to an anvil, fragile strands softly snapping as the weight proved too great to hold. She knew what he wanted to hear, but refused to give it.
“General.” A breathless hitch hung in her answer.
Bare breasts pressed against his crisp shirt and he captured one with his rough palm, snatching it. It felt incredible. Better than he could have imagined—soft, warm skin and a mound that filled his hand. His fantasies couldn’t live up to the real thing, not even close. He palmed her with growing intensity, molding her and learning her shape, the texture of her skin, the firmness of her tit and nipple. His shaft throbbed with undisguised longing.
Indecision skewed across her face: the need to obey and disobey warring in her mind. He could see her thinking, struggling to choose the right path.
Her breast heaved in his hand, yet she kept herself tightly guarded against him. He could see it in her hesitant scrutiny. He’d need a battering ram to strike down those walls—and he had only a few days to do it. He had to make his mark now.
Ryon pinched her nipple between two fingers, applying pressure until her eyes snapped back to his. Then, as he held her attention, he gave her an order as he had to many a soldier.
“Say my name.”
For years, Penelope Farris, has been narrowly escaped the soul-searing gaze of General Ryon Amadeus Ward. No other in the village has the kind of reputation he had: for being a true dominant. When she learns that the overly-possessive Ryon plans to fight any male competitors on Penelope’s first claiming day—she is not happy. To win the Claiming is to win the female as a mate. Immediately following the male winning the female, he then consummates their partnership with a wild coupling filled with dominance and mind-numbing pleasure.
But Penelope doesn’t think she wants Ryon. He’s too big, too strong, too dominating, too everything for her. She wants someone a touch more submissive in her life. The days preceding her claiming day offers Penelope and Ryon the opportunity to test the bonds of their attraction to each other. Her greatest fear is of being caged by a man, but can Ryon let her run free even if it tears out his own heart to do it?
Coming June 24th!!
– See more at: http://www.tagrey.com/pages/ACN/book1.php!
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And, a preview look at the coming books in The Claiming series…