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©Copyright 2004 by
Edited by Debi Sullivan
Cover Art by Ferra Dubrinsky
No part of this book
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and
storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright
Strong fingers massaged oil scented with vanilla, ginger and potent herbs into Aster's temples and toes and she closed her eyes, trying to relax as two of the servants, one at her head and one at her feet, applied the mixture in silence.
It was impossible.
The purpose of this ritual was not to soothe but to stimulate. It prepared her for a wedding night with a man she'd rather kill than bed.
As nimble fingers moved along her throat and across her ankles, lust and repulsion battled inside her. Attempting to keep her desires at bay, the stimulating oils rendered her helpless to the encroaching passion. As Aster breathed in the fragrant scents, her nipples tightened to sensitive peaks beneath the touch of soft, oiled thumbs. She resisted the urge to squirm her hips as the servants' palms caressed her arms and thighs, kneading closer to her heated feminine flesh, already aching for a lover's touch.
Or anyone's touch.
Aster closed her eyes and clenched her fists in helpless rage. Carnal need might be enveloping her body, but she was determined it would not touch her soul. Tonight she would give him, that murdering Harmonish bastard, her body.
And, because of the oils and herbs, she would want to.
It didn’t matter whether or not she slept with her husband tonight, or any other night. Like the marriage itself, their bedding was simply a duty she must perform for Queen and kingdom. How had she managed to be thrust into this situation? She was a general in her Queen’s army, one of her Queen’s most trusted military advisors.
“Which is precisely why you have been chosen to marry this Harmonish man,” the Queen had informed her the day before the union had been announced. “This war, between Subania and Harmony, has lasted for far too many years.”
“After careful negotiations, we've sealed this alliance. As agreed, one of our generals will marry the Captain of the Harmony King's personal guard. Two respected military leaders, joined in matrimony, will prove our kingdoms have truly united and will bring peace to our lands.” From the look on her Queen’s face, this order was not to be argued with, but Aster had to try.
“But why can’t General Berta marry him?”
“Berta is far too old. You are the best choice and it is my will that you marry Captain Symon, of the Steel.”
Such a stupid name: Symon, of the Steel.
She'd met the man several times during their negotiations with Harmony. A tall bearded gargoyle, he had stood behind their king, silent and stony.
Symon might have a reputation as warrior without peer, but Aster was also known for her martial skills. Perhaps, after their marriage, she could tempt him into a sparring match, where they could kill each other and end their mutual misery. She didn't doubt he hated the idea of marrying a Subanian and much as she dreaded wedding a Harmonish.
It was common knowledge that his home had been destroyed by Subanian warriors, who had killed all that they found. Not that they didn't deserve it.
The village had been a secret military base; its inhabitants believed to be spies and warriors. Women, children, or the elderly; none could be trusted. Both sides had lost lives during the skirmish that had left his village in smoldering ashes. It was human nature for Symon to hate Subanians for the deaths of those closest to him, even if they had all been murdering spies.
Aster was well acquainted with hate.
She despised Harmony for even beginning this war.
They had snuffed out the lives of countless Subanians - all in the name of avarice. Her younger sister and brother were just a few of the loved ones she had lost in Harmony's desperate attempt to rule their entire island.
“Please stand, General Aster. We must dress you for the ceremony,” said one of the servants.
Aster stood naked in front of the window overlooking the courtyard where her marriage would take place. Below her dozens of servants scrambled preparing the grounds, decorating the cobbled walkways with fragrant flowers, and filling long wooden tables with inviting foods.
“Yes. Dress me for my funeral. This is the death of what may have been a happy life.” Aster's belly tightened with anger as she raised her arms so the servants could cloth her in a floor-length tunic of shimmering green silk, sliding it over her well-muscled curves.
She wondered if Symon felt as miserable as she did.
By the Goddess, she hoped so.