"No, Princess. Your wrist must remain limber. Now, try it again."
Princess Alaina of Castle Normillian groaned as she took up the stance once again. She'd thought it to be a lark, having her personal royal guardian teach her to fence. But like everything else he did, Callan D'Ambrose took these lessons seriously.
Little did she realize he would have her practicing so religiously, or training every morning under his watchful and scrutinizing eye. So now, here she was in her private courtyard, dressed in men's breeches and a white tunic, her thick gold hair clubbed back in a tail at her neck to keep it out of her way, lunging and thrusting as he called out positions to her.
"Where is your head this morning, Princess? You certainly are not concentrating." Callan shouted the words at her, his blade coming up to ring against hers. He slashed faster than she could block, circling her with amazing speed and dexterity. And suddenly her hair was loose, curling around her face and into the green of her eyes.
"Be bloody well damned, Callan, if you continue to ruin my ribbons for me, I shall have to go to the market to purchase more!" she growled at him, her mood turned foul as he easily tore the light weight blade from her hand, sending it flying through the air to catch with his other hand.
"And if you would pay attention to practice, Princess, I wouldn't be able to do so as easily as I do. Now, do you wish to whine like the little girl that you are or do you wish to practice and perchance become good enough to best me?"
Alaina glared at her teacher and protector, her eyes narrowing as he handed her back her blade. "I will beat you, Callan."
He grinned at the anger in her voice, a sight little seen in the usually sober guard. It made her blink for it changed his face from broodingly handsome to boyishly good looking, lightening the darkness of his expression to make him look almost approachable.
Though no one who saw him could forget him. His long sable hair curled well past his shoulders. His eyes were amber, darkening to brown when his mood became foul. They sparkled at her as he teased her. His face was long, with a strong jaw and a dimple by his mouth she sometimes longed to touch. His cheekbones were slashes of strength under eyes that could have been termed pretty with long lashes if not for the determined look in them. He stood over her, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulders, forcing her to look up at him as he moved around her.
"I look forward to the day, Princess, but for now..." he moved quickly, his blade flashing in the light of the sun, almost too quickly to be seen. She was forced back, desperately trying to meet his thrusts, to parry and defend her position. But within seconds, she found herself upon her back, his blade resting easily under her chin, her sword once more in his hands.
He smiled again, a crooked engaging grin, flipping his sword up and easily sheathing it before reaching down and holding out his hand to help her up. "I think you've had enough for today, Princess. I know your father has asked for your presence in the royal dining hall for supper this afternoon."
Alaina took his hand, trying to ignore the small spark that flared between them. It had been this way for the past two years, since she was sixteen and finally allowed out of the school room. Sir Callan D'Ambrose was one of the High Guard of the castle, a position given only to men of rank and of certain background, for their duties were set from the day they were taken into training. They were the guardians of the royals, given the burden of protecting a member of the royal family from any and all until they were either killed or too old to continue with the task.
Callan had been hers from the moment she donned her first long gown and put her hair up, no longer wearing the braids of the school room. For now she was deemed an adult and soon a marriage would be decided upon between her and a neighboring kingdom. Callan would go with her; he would protect her until his death.
"I wonder which kingdom has sent notice this time?" she mused aloud, used to speaking freely in front of Callan.
"Another that you'll probably find fault with as you have the last three, Princess," Callan said, taking her sword and stashing it in the trunk. He stood to the side as Alaina went behind her dressing screen, easily doffing the boys clothing she wore while they practiced and slipping into a long sleeved chemise of leaf green, covering it with a bliaunt of emerald green.
She quickly tied the laces, making sure that her chemise sleeves were puffed as was the fashion of the day, to be seen between slits cut into the fabric of the bliaunt's short sleeves, before settling a silver belt at her waist, her eating knife in its sheath at her side. When she was dressed, she moved from behind the screen, going to her dressing table and picking up her brush. Pulling the bristles through the thick golden strands of her hair, she stared at her guard in the mirror.
"Do you blame me, Callan? Faugh, if you but had your way, I'd have married the first who made the proposal so that you could be rid of some of your duties to me."
"I do not wish you to be unhappy, Princess. Far from it, indeed, I only wish for you to be settled and to find the happiness that you so richly deserve."
Alaina's laughter filled the air with its musical trill. She set down the brush, carefully sectioning her hair and began to braid it loosely, tying it with another ribbon, this one green to match her gown. Then she picked up her gold circlet that bespoke of her rank within the palace, placing it with care upon her hair before turning in her chair to speak to Callan.
"Do you think I shall be happy with some man I do not know in some far away castle away from all that I care about and love?"
Callan stared at his beautiful charge, feeling that same jealousy he always felt when he heard her speaking of marriage. He'd take her as his own, but for the laws of the land that would have him killed as a traitor if he even spoke of his feelings. But no, better for her to be happy and him to still be her protector even if she was with another.
"What is love, Princess? Is it an emotion such as happiness or hatred? Cannot such emotions be contrived, and if such, does that not make love a fickle thing to flit here and there at a whim?"
Alaina, her green eyes wide as she thought of his words tapped a long slender finger upon her lips. "You have the sound of a cynic, Sir Callan, or one that has had his heart trampled once too many times. But that would be impossible for I have never seen you occupied with the matters of the heart before. Is there some fine lady who has taken your heart and kept it, leaving you without?"
"There is such a lady, but she does not know she carries my love with her. I have neither the nerve nor the ability to tell her. But we speak not of me, Princess, but of you and the marriage proposal your father most likely will bring up during supper."
"Who is she?" Alaina asked him, feeling jealousy sit like an evil imp on her heart.
"She is no one, Princess. And I wish not to discuss her or have you meddling in the matters of my heart. You should concern yourself with your own as they are coming home to roost in a timely manner."
"I am but curious as to what manner of creature could possibly break down the barrier that surrounded your heart, Callan. She must be an extraordinary person indeed."
"Are you ready, Princess?" he asked her. "Your father waits below with another contract to discuss with you."
"You but wish to change the subject, Callan. I will allow it for now but know you that I wish to meet your fair lady one of these days and give my blessing to the match, perhaps make her one of my ladies in waiting so that you might see her during the day when your duties are at their most stressing." She smiled as she saw him square his broad shoulders, bowing slightly before her before going to the door.
He checked the corridor, a habit of his that she always teased him about. She knew he did it to protect her. He always put her safety first, no matter what her wishes. He would give his life to save hers, this she knew. But where else could she be safer than behind the walls of the palace?
She moved to stand in front of him, knowing that he would keep the two steps behind her that society's dictate demanded, though if she'd had her way, he would walk beside her, allow her to take his arm, to talk with him. Instead she had to turn her head to speak to him and anyone close by could hear their conversation. It was a needless mannerism and one she tried to rid him of, but he refused, determined to protect not only her life but her reputation as well.
She walked leisurely through the palace, not anxious to fight once more with her father about her views of marriage and how they differed so vigorously from his. Instead, she paused before one of the opened windows that led out onto another balcony, this one used when her father would make his royal proclamations to the crowds gathered below. Sneaking a quick peek back at Callan, she slipped through the satin draperies and stood in the warm spring sunshine and cool air.
"Princess!" Callan yelled, charging through the draperies, his hand upon his sword. He turned and glared at her as she stood giggling at the look upon his face. He skidded to a halt, his eyes narrowing. "Do you try to get yourself killed?"
"No, but neither do I wish to become isolated in the Palace, Callan. There is no one here, no walls high enough to shoot from, no enemies surrounding me wishing to do my royal personage harm," she said. "I just wish to enjoy a spring day without thoughts of duties and safety constantly foremost in my thoughts."
"Those thoughts must be first and foremost in my thoughts, Princess. For if anything were to happen to you," he closed his eyes, swallowing heavily.
"It would distress you?" she asked him softly, her hand coming out as if to touch him.
"I should die," he said, his voice deep, his eyes blazing. Then it was if he collected himself, turning his head. "It would be my punishment for not doing my duty."
Alaina felt her heart drop and she sighed quietly, telling herself not to be foolish. She was but a girl and Callan, he was a man full grown and wanting more than what her meager experience with the males of the species had given her. Suddenly the spring sunshine didn't seem such a wondrous thing. Her heart heavy, she turned back towards the draperies.
He caught up with her as she took her seat at the long table, stepping back as was his duty, taking up his stance next to the King's personal guard, nodding his head at the man and then ignoring him as was their way. His eyes searched the room slowly, before resting upon her shining head.
As if she felt his eyes upon her, she looked up, gifting him with a small smile before turning back to her father and the meal that had been held up for her.
"I have accepted him, Alaina. I am sorry if he's not to your liking, but Prince Adair is the last ruling prince on this continent that is searching for a bride." King Damon held his hand up as if forestalling any arguments that she might make. "I do not wish to have to climb into a boat every time I wish to visit my daughter or worry about her out on the ocean if she comes to me."
"Do I even get the chance to see him first, father? Or do you plan just to ship me into his bed, to hell with the vows?" Alaina was more than upset. This was a bigger blow than she'd thought following so soon after her heart had been broken by Callan, it was almost more than she could take.
"Alaina, hold your tongue and quit your foolishness. You know your happiness is paramount, but I must think also of what is best for the country. Prince Adair has a huge army, mounted knights, more than I could ever hope to raise if needs be. His coffers are full to flowing over, he is generous to his peoples and seems a fair man. He is still young, enough at least to satisfy a young woman like yourself. It is time you were settled, Alaina and I've made my decision."
King Damon sat back in his chair, letting the servants fill his plate, picking up the tiny salt cellar that was unheard of at most tables in the kingdom and sprinkling some of the precious white spice onto his food. "Perhaps you will grow to love Prince Adair. He is a handsome enough fellow, I was told by his petitioner. It is of no matter now, though, for the deal has been met and the contract signed. You will be traveling to him in one month's time, daughter."
Alaina sat as if stunned, her eyes lifting to meet Callan's over her father's head. She wondered what he thought of this situation, though his expression was inscrutable. His eyes showed nothing of his thoughts and after a moment, he turned away, checking the room as was his habit.
"If it is done, then it is," she said quietly, wiping the food from her eating knife and slowly sheathing it at her waist. "I wish to retire, Father, if that is acceptable to you."
King Damon sighed, lowering his head into his hands. "I wish there were another way, daughter. I should have wed you off two years ago when you first were of age. You were much more biddable then." He peeked out at her from between his fingers, something that would have made her laugh before this evening. "I am sorry, Alaina. Perhaps, in my bid to keep you happy, I gave you too much freedom to choose? I know not."
He waved his hand at her when she cocked her brow, silently requesting permission once more. She rose, refusing to even meet Callan's eyes. She would go to her room. She had to think.
Alaina was alone in her chamber, her back against the softness of the down pillows on her bed. She was wrapped in a satin coverlet, separated by the thinnest of silk sheets imaginable. They were light and airy against her skin.
She wore only a tiny night rail, a gown that was mistakenly placed in one of her orders to the dressmakers, but after trying it on and admiring the soft amber color, with matching lace that covered the low cut bodice, she decided to keep it and sent around payment. It was thin satin, held to her shoulders by the tiniest of straps, it draped in long folds from the waistline to her feet.
There must be a way out of the predicament she was in, there must be, for she could not stand the thought of marrying anyone. The idea of a man's hand upon her flesh, a man's hand that was not Callan's was more than abhorrent, it was repulsive.
Callan! Why had she not thought of this before? She slipped from her bed, her feet finding the tiny slippers that went with the gown. Grabbing a shawl from off the edge of her bed, she left her robe where it was and opened the doorway leading out of her room. She knew where his room was, two doors down from hers where he would be ready to protect her in a moment's notice.
The room next to hers, a room very similar to her own, was reached by a connecting door into her room or from the hallway. It was for her husband if one had been found that wished to make his life with her here. She slipped by that door easily, carefully opening the door into Callan's room and making her way across the darkened room to the side of his bed.
He lay upon his back, his arm thrown across his eyes as if bothered by some light. His chest was bare, the thin sheet that covered him coming barely to his waist, exposing the lower part of his stomach. He was a magnificent sight, his daily training making him hard and muscled from the wide plains of his upper chest to the rippling muscles of his stomach, there was no softness on him anywhere.
She must have gasped for he rose with a move faster than she could see, grabbing her and throwing her to the bed, his hand at her throat.
"Princess?" he exclaimed, jerking his hand away, staring down at her as if she were some kind of specter or dream that was too familiar. "Why are you here?"
Alaina had problems breathing no matter that his hand was gone from her throat. His body pressed down upon hers, his hard plains angled into her soft curves. His body was warm and heavy, the sensations it caused had her pulse racing and her breathing ragged.
He seemed to realize it at the same time, for his eyes changed, seeming to glow with amber lights, they swept over her face and down to the bare skin of her collarbones, and lower. Her shawl had come off when he'd grabbed her, leaving her clad only in the thin gown. Her breasts were outlined by the soft fabric, her nipples hard little bumps against the shimmering material. She heard his harsh breath, felt the hand that still held her arm tighten before his eyes were drawn back to her face.
"God," he groaned, his hand tunneling into the silken softness of her hair. "If I am to die, at least let me taste your lips before I do."
Alaina felt his breath upon her mouth as her eyes fluttered shut. Even though his words had been harsh, his lips were gentle, brushing against hers with a softness that surprised her. His breath rushed over her, heating her skin. She inhaled of him greedily, wishing she could freeze this moment in time.
He heard the small moan that came from between her lips, felt the way she pressed up against him, her innocent response flaming his passions, drawing forth the barbarian in him, the one that his family had worked so hard to repress for over a hundred years. Now it battled with him, wanting to plunder her soft lips, to stroke the inside of her hot mouth with his tongue, to rip the gown from her body and feel the heated wetness of her pink flesh, taste her nipples in his mouth.
"I want you, Alaina," he growled. "I think I was born wanting you."
His mouth moved to her throat, his teeth nipping the tender flesh, suckling upon it. He found the soft hollow at the base of her throat, inhaled greedily of her scent. His fingers plucked at the tiny straps, slipping them from her shoulders, the silken material sliding slowly off her skin.
Her body responded to his lips, arching against him, her hands threading through the thick silky locks of his hair, holding his mouth to her. He moved on, kissing and licking, finding the edge of the neckline of her gown that still clung to the fragile peaks of her breasts. His tongue slipped under, stroking over one taut bud, hearing her breath catch, change to a moan even as her back arched, pushing her against him.
Alaina felt the heat of him, like an all consuming fire, it burned her body, creating a need that swirled within her, deep in her belly, creating an itch between her thighs that became maddening. She touched his shoulders with her hands, hearing his hum of pleasure, becoming bolder and stroking the long muscles on his body that had always fascinated her. His skin was smooth, his muscles hard and unrelenting beneath her fingers. She kneaded him like a kitten would, murmuring her pleasure in his caresses.
Callan pulled her gown down lower, exposing the rounded curves of her breasts to his eyes and his mouth. She was so beautiful, so perfect, with taut pale pink peaks that capped full breasts that filled his hands perfectly. His mouth worshiped her, his tongue laved over her beauty even as his hand slid lower, climbing slowly down the slight ladder of her ribs, touching the curve of her navel.
It slid further, huge and hot against her skin, his palm rough and calloused, creating tingles of nerve shattering pleasure. He skimmed it across her lower stomach, feeling her muscles contract, her hips jerk before he settled his hand between her thighs, his palm resting lightly on the crinkle of curls that covered her mons.
His mouth sought hers, pressing slow, sweet kisses to her swollen lips. His eyes gazed into hers, seeing the nervousness as well as the desire fighting for supremacy. He used his free hand to stroke her hair, his eyes never leaving hers as he slid his longest finger between her thick lower lips.
It was like immersing his finger in hot cream, thick and slick, her body wept its dewy moisture for him. "Ahh, God, love, you are so wet," he groaned, feeling his cock jump and thicken even more than before at the feel of her around him.
The scream, when it came, brought his head up from where he'd been about to kiss her again, to lose the last of his will to her. With that scream, came the sound of feet running, heavy ones, armored ones.
He was up in a second, racing silently to the door and opening it just a crack. As he did, a palace servant ran by, blood sliding down his face from some kind of wound to his head. He saw Callan, stopping only to scream out a warning before running once more.
"What is it?" Alaina said, coming up to her elbows on the bed, her breasts still bared to his gaze.
"We are under attack."