It had been a decade since the aliens had come to their world asking for sanctuary, ten annums since the elders, in their infinite wisdom, had welcomed the insatiable locusts into their midst. For despite their glib promises, they'd begun to encroach almost immediately and to desecrate Mother Testa, the giver of all life, by the customs they had brought with them across the vast gulf of space.
It had been ten annums since he had first begun to covet the one among them known as Cara.
They had considered her no more than a child then--or so they claimed. He had never understood that, wasn't certain that he believed it, but that had been the basis for their refusal to unite their two peoples by allowing him to take her as his woman.
It was true she had just begun to blossom into a woman, but she was a woman nevertheless--by his people's customs, even physically, by her own. He had been close enough to her enough times to know that for the truth.
Not that he had approached them directly. The political nature of such a union had prevented him from doing that, but he had offered when the elders had met to discuss whether it would be better to adopt the strangers and teach them their ways or to keep their distance and allow them to survive, or not, on their own.
It had pleased his father--since he had no idea that his son, his heir, had already broken the council's decision not to interact with the strangers until they'd had time to observe them and come to a better understanding of them and their strange ways. He'd thought his son had begun to accept the responsibilities of his position.
It had made him uncomfortable, but he saw no reason to disillusion his father. It wasn't to anyone's benefit as far as he could see to admit that he'd ignored the ruling of the council and gone to spy upon the aliens himself.
He'd certainly seen no reason to admit that he didn't consider it a sacrifice, political or otherwise, to take Cara as his woman.
Her people had refused the offer--been outraged and insulted--which in turn had outraged and insulted his people since the offer had come directly from their king to unite the two peoples by the joining of his son and heir to a young woman/girl who had no stature among her own people that they could discern.
It hadn't insulted him. It had enraged him. Right up until the refusal, he'd been able to convince himself that he was merely intrigued, felt a mild sense of obligation and friendship because the girl had 'rescued' him and befriended him.
Not that she actually had, but she thought she had and it was that generosity of spirit and bravery that had first drawn him to her.
Of course, she had not known it was him any of the time.
It was hard to convince himself after that flat refusal even to consider allowing such a union that his interest was mild in any way.
For a while, he'd considered simply taking her. If she'd been one of their own, he would have without a second thought. He would have taken her deep into the forest and kept her there until he had filled her belly with his babe and forced them to see that he had staked his claim upon her too thoroughly to take her back.
She wasn't one of their own, however, and he'd discovered that her people not only would not have considered it a disgrace that could only be remedied by allowing the union, they might well have simply removed his child and discarded it.
He'd decided then and there to have nothing more to do with her or any of her people. For a time, he'd managed to honor that vow, but never for very long. No matter how hard he tried, eventually he would find himself right where he was now, watching, hoping for a glimpse of her, hoping for the opportunity to be with her even if just for a little while and even if it was not in a form that she would recognize or respond to as he wanted her to.
Hoping that, in time, he would cease to covet her.
And yet, here he stood, frozen, unable to move, hardly able to draw in a breath, watching her slowly make her way through the sacred forest she had been forbidden to enter, strolling through it as she had any time the whim struck her ... just as she had that first time.
It had been five annums since the last time he had ventured this close to the alien colony--three the time before.
Anger flickered through him, briefly, and vanished. He had been certain that this time he would feel nothing at all. He had managed to stay away five annums. He had overcome his obsession with her.
He would have been better off, he thought in disgust, if he had not decided to test it.
She had matured since he had first seen her. He had wanted her when she had still been as much child as woman--more hard angles than curves and nothing much besides a couple of little apples ripening on her thin chest. She had ripened to full womanhood, all lush curves that made his throat go dry as she came closer, made him go taut all over, sent his mind into chaos.
If she hadn't been so lost in her own thoughts, she would have seen him.
Those thoughts flickered through his mind as he stood frozen, trying to decide what to do, and for a moment, he was tempted to act upon them as he had that first day.
She was thinking of him--as she'd known him--the wounded manticore she had named Rae.
He banished the temptation as soon as it occurred to him. Not this time, he thought grimly.
Discovering he was leaning against a menzil tree, he plastered himself more fully against it, focusing his mind on replicating the color and texture of the bark and the shape of the trunk as she stopped abruptly and bent over to set the case she was carrying down. His gaze moved of its own accord to the bottom she'd turned up to him and his felt his cock, which had only begun to relax, bound upward again in hopefulness.
He glanced down uneasily and discovered it was just as he'd suspected. His shaft had refused to cooperate with his will. It was standing stiffly erect as if determined to catch her attention.
And it did.
Before he could will the damned thing to obey him, she straightened and turned, staring directly at it.
He didn't dare try to tame the damned thing once she'd spotted it. It was a dilemma he hadn't encountered before and he felt a mixture of wry amusement and dismay as she moved closer to examine the 'strange growth' on the tree.