Who is Cecilia Hurst?

Complete Chapter One: Not In The Game Deleted Scenes!

“Who is Cecilia Hurst?” And why don’t I give a damn about her, only about Prince Duncan Caldwell and his phase mate, Lord Christopher Templeton?

Oh, fuck!

If she could just concentrate on piecing together the sketchy information gathered at the Nephis Valley and find the stolen heart, she would be the happiest woman alive. Instead, Ylianor Meyer’s attention kept shifting on the two gorgeous men riding by her side, which made it unproductive to focus on anything besides the scorching memories of their stay in the pledge’s sacred valley and their consequent hurried escape from it.

If it had been a spell, which she hoped it had not, it could not have happened with two more breathtaking creatures than the one she had loved all her life, and the one she had come to appreciate after weeks spent traveling.

Under her eyelashes, she stole a peak at her prince. Slightly older than his shiny blond phase mate, the very masculine Duncan Caldwell had raven black hair, falling down to his shoulders, dancing black eyes, a chiseled face with a square jaw over a tall, powerful, well-built frame with muscles rippling at every movement. Yes, he was impossibly gorgeous and impossibly taken, too, given how much he loved the very striking and very smug Lord Christopher Templeton.

Who was a real demon, no question about it, had been ever since he had walked into Black Rose with a load of rage and fury so great it would have annihilated anyone. Though not him, the eight-year-old boy that looked like an angel and had the core of a demon.

Goddamn him and his regular features with that aristocratic nose, the short thick hair flashing brighter than Stella’s rays and those intriguing blue-gray eyes she found hard to read at times. As if it were not enough, he was also tall, and his less muscular build spoke of a natural grace, elegance and sensuality that were impossible to resist. And goddamn him twice for having her fall all over him, as if she did not know he had despised her from the moment he had set eyes on her.

So there was no way around it.

Not just around his arresting appearance. Mostly around his preferences, since he was even more unreachable than the man whom he loved above and beyond his own life—Duncan Caldwell.

And to think that, however different they were, both had the same erotic charge, the undeniable allure to beguile men and women alike. Which made it all the more strange they would ever end up in the Nephis Valley, the place where couples tied their knot in order to have children. Hardly the place for two such attractive men and me in the middle to look for clues and end up in heated, passionate sex that still burns me all over simply remembering about it.

Then again, she would have never been there, had David Smith, Duncan’s supposedly faithful valet, not insisted that the prince take her along on his trip. He and his concern that Lady Sophia Caldwell might harm her had been her undoing. Or perhaps, it was all Duncan’s fault for believing David and his insinuations about how evil his mother could become.

Which was no fabrication, considering how much Ylianor had already suffered from the dreadful woman ever since she was born. And that there was no end to her cruelty had become kind of plain when she had thrown out little nine-year-old Ylianor from Black Rose, her native home, banning her from ever returning. Just her bad luck her son had found her again, in spite of all the obstacles that had stood in the way during the ten years they had not seen each other, and brought her back to stay as Black Rose’s new stable keeper.

Or so Ylianor had hoped until David had got it into his head Sophia Caldwell might put her in serious danger and packed her off to follow the two stunning men, one of which would have gladly reduced her to cinders, rather than have her intrude in his alone time with his adored prince. And the fact they had an agenda to keep had not improved matters any.

Thing was—the High Council Leader, Arthur Fairchild, had summoned them to find the missing piece of the sacred valley’s symbolic structure. Not just Chris and Duncan. Ylianor, too, as it turned out for the Leader of the High Council had made it very clear the three of them were to work as one. Duncan as the leader and mind of this small group, Chris as the body and she was the spirit of it all. Hey, who would have ever imagined that?

Now she had a long sitting in front of the mysterious tower of three-sided pyramids to prove she belonged with them. Their bond sealed by the unexpected after-effects that had kept all of them chained to a bed for days on end, prey to unforeseeable sexual cravings that refused to let her go also now that she was miles away from the wretched place.

“The real question is—what was that all about?” Chris blurted.

No, the real question was—why could she not suppress the torrid images that had already started a furious throbbing between her legs?

“Wasn’t it clear enough, Angel?” Duncan grinned.

However mocking the tone, Ylianor could not help feeling stung by the prince’s sheer love for the blond, beautiful demon, knotted in the throaty endearment.

“At least now we know why pledges take place there.” The prince chuckled. “The way it influences people…” His grin widened as he gazed at Chris. “It would make it easy to commit to a woman, even for someone like you.”

“That was just madness,” the demon spat hotly. “A trick of the damn pyramid! Something that would never happen under regular circumstances.”

Yeah, sure, as if he could dismiss his odd reactions that easily, him, Christopher Templeton, who had never stooped as low as to touch a woman before in his life, except to stick his cock in her ass or mouth. Well, guess what?

He had not just sampled Ylianor all over using the most seductive stroking ever. He had also played with his fiery energy all over her body as if she were his beloved. Unreal to say the least, yet never in her life had she felt warmer and safer than inside the same flames that had tried to burn her alive just days before. One mere touch from him and her blood had raced. Her heart had thumped so loudly she was still giddy from his passionate kisses and fierce sex. Uh, how she had begged for more, yielding to his demands the way she had with her prince alone. And how she would do it again in a heartbeat, regardless of how much he hated her guts.

“Whatever the reason, I never thought I’d see my angel kiss a woman,” Prince Caldwell sniggered, his black eyes sparkling in amusement.

“Not funny, lover.” Chris turned red. “I was under a spell, remember?”

“Yes, I’ll be sure to mention that when I spoil your immaculate reputation at the Hall.” Duncan laughed out loud.

The Hall being the seat of the High Council, the highest ruling body of their lands, it was also where Chris had chosen to live after Duncan had ended their phase. Or to hide, depending on the point of view.

“You wouldn’t dare!” Chris hissed, his blue-gray eyes sending blazing darts in Duncan’s direction. “I’ll deny everything.”

“If you can.” Tightening his knees around Fuzeon, his black horse, the prince flanked Chris. “I’m not sure about what we did with that pyramid, but pledges are notorious at reproducing their own living side effects.”

Meaning that pledges alone ensured reproduction of their species, something no amount of sex between men and women could ever do.

“It couldn’t…” This time, Chris paled all together, his face draining of all blood as the implication of what Prince Caldwell said sank in. “We didn’t…” With an enquiring gaze, he spun to Ylianor, quickly imitated by Duncan.

“Hem…” Now it was her turn to redden under their scrutiny.” If the structure’s main purpose is to help couples have babies, it’s unlikely it works since it’s missing the heart.” Then catching their looks of relief, she was quick to add in a naughty tone, “Or so I think.”

“That’s what we hope, Princess.” Duncan’s tone confirmed he also was not looking for heirs, not at the moment anyway. “But if things should work out the more traditional way, you’ll have to do the honorable thing, Angel, since I can’t possibly pledge to her.”

“What?” Chris’s face turned even paler. “That’s ridiculous!” Licking his lips nervously, he narrowed an icy cold stare on Ylianor. “Are you pregnant?”

Now funny he should ask.

Among other things, Christopher Templeton was a healer, and that was just for starters. Like the rest of them, he had power, or Virt as Arthur Fairchild had told them the ancients called it. And like her, Chris had discovered the ability to wield nature’s forces to his bidding from the earliest years possible. As far back as childhood, for he and Ylianor alone had been aware of what most adults knew nothing about or would learn only later in life.

That was why she was an aura tracer. Seeing people’s ethereal bodies in their million combinations of colored lights that shifted according to their moods was one of her specialties. And best of all, she had managed to awaken Prince Caldwell’s sleeping potential. Something not even his phase mate had been able to do, however powerful he was.

So eat your heart out, Lord Templeton!

Now Duncan’s incredibly strong Virt coursed through his every fiber, more potent than anything her world had seen, as confirmed by Arthur’s own words, a seemingly boundless pool of cool, deep and potent energy that had apparently laid dormant for the better part of his twenty-one years.

Then there was nineteen-year-old Chris. So very powerful, he was fire through and through, a pyre so strong it could disintegrate just as easily as heal, erasing the memory of it if necessary. Not that he was always so merciful. Not so cruel, either, as when he had decided to demonstrate his rare talents in front of the prince, no less.

While carving her to bits in the process.

Appalling, if not downright monstrous! Had it come from any other person, she would not have thought it possible for the way of her people had never included any form of adult violence as far back as time itself, at least until Christopher Templeton had the bad idea to show his face around. Being the black hearted demon he was, Ylianor had not allowed the utter shock of it all get to her.

No, she had fought back, refusing to give in to his sadistic knife play, when not going as far as feeling a twisted sense of pleasure at some very particular incisions of his.

“It’s too early to tell.” An amused snarl curved Duncan’s lips.

“Not necessarily.” She shifted position on Starlet’s saddle. “Whoever is the father…” And she deliberately spun her gaze from one to the other to make sure they understood she included both. “Any offspring of yours would have so much Virt it couldn’t possibly hide its presence, even at an early stage.”

“Great.” Chris took a deep breath of relief. “This means there’s no foreseeable danger of—”

“But the first stages are always tricky,” Ylianor cut him off, pressing a palm over her flat belly. “And I’ve been feeling kind of queasy since we left the valley.”

“Hey, they might be the warning signs.” A dazzling smile split the prince’s handsome face.

And her heart stopped dead.


Yes, she knew it. She was a fool simply to hold on to her love for him, given how his lights went crazy whenever around the horrible demon. For there was no way he could hide his deep feelings for his angel, not to her, not to her aura reading Virt. But to be fair, she had been there first. At a time Duncan had not even known Chris existed, she had fallen in love with him beyond any hope of recovery. Barely old enough to stand, she had allowed her dark handsome hero to chase her on Black Rose’s many hills, relishing the feel of being with him in the place that was his home, too. And he had always been there for her until something had gone terribly wrong and caused a ten-year separation.

All the demon’s fault for sure, what with the prince unexplainable forgetting all about her during those ten years estrangement. Too bad for him, his plan to become Prince Caldwell’s sole claimant had backfired in the most delicious way, and she had returned to be at Duncan’s side, stronger than ever.

More in love than ever, too, particularly now that sex had complicated everything, to the point she had not bothered hiding it from him. What would have been the point anyway?

Prince Caldwell would have sensed it eventually. Better to come clean about it, even if she had no guarantees things would change any time soon. He had told her as much at the Hall, admitting straight up he could not return her feelings. Still, he had not cut her out entirely, asking for more time instead. So, if time was the only obstacle in the way to her prince’s heart, she would give him as much as he needed, and Lord Christopher Templeton be damned.

“So who knows?” Duncan’s gaze dropped to her belly. “We might have to—”

“Will you two cut it out?” Irritated, Chris pursed his lips. “Don’t you think I suffered enough as it is in that damn valley with its fucking side effects?”

What do you say, Princess? The amused glance he exchanged with her was nothing if compared to his deep voice booming in her head. Shall we let him off the hook?

That Duncan Caldwell possessed his father’s gift to share thoughts and emotions had been the most exciting twist of all. For too long she had missed Prince Charles talking in her head, something that had started as far back as her memory would go. Words and feelings alike, she had drowned in his sensations and been as close to him as no daughter could ever be to a father.

Which he was not, since he had never pledged to her mother, Mary Jane Elspeth. So Ylianor shared no single drop of blood with the Caldwells, however similar her appearance was to Duncan’s. She looked so much like him she could have easily passed for a twin, which infuriated Chris every time his blue-gray gaze chanced to glance her way. Still, it made no difference as far as family ties went.

Charles’s only children were Duncan and his sister Elizabeth, no matter how hard little Ylianor had tried convincing him of the contrary during the nine wonderful years she had spent with him. Only natural she would mistake Virt for a non-existent family connection and call Prince Charles, Father, while Duncan had nearly lost it when learning about it. About the will, too, and his father’s intention to adopt her into the Caldwell fold, giving her a name and a position that was an outright acknowledgment of all she had meant to him. So she could not wait to know if Duncan would honor it in spite of all the obstacles standing in the way, like his own reservations and mostly his mother’s fierce objections.

But if it never came about, Ylianor would not complain. Not since she had managed to re-establish a link that Prince Charles’s death had severed in the most atrocious way. She still reeled from the agonizing silence and the unbearable emptiness suffocating her when he had closed his eyes forever, unable to stand either until Duncan had returned into her life.

Then his son had knocked at her shack, and she had known she could have it all back again.

You decide, my love. All sweet and yielding, she pretended to go along with him. Were it up to her, Christopher Templeton would be dangling from that hook for the rest of the day and possibly the night, too.

“Oh, Angel.” Not for Duncan, though. “We were just talking—”

“No, you were being a pain in the ass.” Chris glared at her, as if he had picked up her intention.

So, all right, nothing in their long ride over had changed the demon to the point he had become the angel Duncan claimed he was. The gods forbid! Christopher Templeton’s nature continued to swing from one extreme to another. But then, what else could you expect from someone made of fire?

Unpredictable and uncontrollable—such was his essence, and no amount of incredibly sweet sex or heart-to-heart talk could alter it in the least.

Yet against her better judgment, she was coming round to the idea of liking him more than she had claimed so far. It was probably the reason for her slip in front of the multi-pyramids structure, which had not failed to catch the prince’s attention. Not that it surprised him any. So, all right, maybe he had guessed her change of heart before she did herself, and now she wished she could ask for his support or for some sensible advice.

Ha! If only she was not falling for him harder than she had originally assessed. So hard, she could never quell her heart from jumping to her throat every time his arresting black eyes traveled in blatant appraisal all over her body. For nothing had prepared her for the tempest of the senses he unleashed so effortlessly.

So she was back to square one, unable to think things through because both men blinded her to the point all she wanted was to be their special toy and nothing else.

“When we should turn our attention to serious matters,” Chris reminded.

“As you wish, but I’ll never forget how you and the princess looked on that bed.” Prince Caldwell cocked his head. “Kissing and fucking like you had no tomorrow—”

“Cut it out, lover.” His tense tone revealed just how upset the demon was at the memory. “I can’t forget it either, if that’s any consolation.”

“Hey, there’s no need to get uptight about it.” Duncan seemed bent to make Chris relive the experience, whether he wanted to or not. “You were damn arousing.” The images running through his head made Ylianor flush. “Not just ‘cause you did it with a woman for a change. ‘Cause you even went as far as using your fire without hurting her.” His black eyes brimmed with glee, as he fixed Chris with a love so powerful Ylianor felt embarrassed merely to see it. “I’m very proud of you, Angel.” Then he changed register, “If I were you, I’d never forget this experience ‘cause pledges need happy memories.”

“My dear prince, let me remind that you’re in dire need of an heir worse than I’ll ever be.” Shoulders thrown back, Chris flashed blue-gray eyes in challenge. “If worse comes to worst, perhaps you’d be the one to profit more from all this.”

“Yeah, right.” The velvety black eyes twinkled maliciously. “I can just imagine my mother’s reactions if she thought the princess carried my child,” he retorted sarcastically. “She’d be so thrilled she’d probably get a heart attack.”

“Only after she killed Ylianor.” Chris burst out laughing, obviously imagining Sophia Caldwell’s hate for what she considered an unwanted meddler in her family’s affairs. “And maybe you, too.”

Ylianor worked hard at keeping a straight face. If they were able to joke about something that had caused her insufferable pain for the past eighteen years of her life, it was only thanks to Duncan and his resolve to break down the barriers that stood in the way of true unity. And Ylianor for sure had some pretty heavy load of her own to get rid of, all beginning and ending with Duncan’s own mother, at least until her sharing it with the demon and the prince had not lightened it somehow.

“Would you two get over yourselves?” Ylianor snapped in mock exasperation. “What makes you so sure I’d pledge to either of you?”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Offended, Chris’s head swung to the prince. “Can you believe it? She wouldn’t even want us.”

“Aren’t we good enough for you, Princess?” Half teasing, half-serious, Duncan searched her face.

“I might have other plans for my life.” She giggled mischievously. “Which may include someone else entirely like David,” she taunted until the prince’s scowl made her quickly change subject. “But this is beside the point.” She had almost forgotten Duncan telling her how jealous he had felt of the man. “We should concentrate on finding who stole the pyramid from the tower in the Nephis Valley, and Cecilia Hurst seems the most likely candidate.” David, too, for she had picked up his aura together with Cecilia’s during the long night in front of the multi-pyramids tower. Only, and out of respect to Duncan, she preferred to concentrate on the other one.

The man was no ordinary one, after all. Not just Prince Caldwell’s personal valet since forever, he was also a close and trusted friend of Duncan’s, something she hoped would not change given this recent discovery.

“So who is Cecilia Hurst?” Ylianor swung her gaze from Chris to Duncan.

“She was one of the prince’s flames.” The blue-gray eyes blazed, probably under the influence of a memory.

“That’s hardly significant,” Ylianor scoffed. “From what I can tell, there’s a long list of them.” Which had all been part of Duncan Caldwell’s search for a suitable pledge mate after he had ended his phase with Chris.

An unsuccessful attempt, she was glad to report.

“The girl is bright, not to mention highly perceptive.” Ignoring her, Chris’s focus trained on Duncan alone. “Too bad she doesn’t want to pledge, or I might just have proposed.”

“It happened some time ago, Princess,” he was quick to block Chris’s sarcasm. “Right after I broke off with the angel.”

“A wise choice you should’ve stuck to.” Oh, boy! Was she glad for the chance to get back at the demon. “But you can still reconsider it.”

“No way can he live without me, dearie.” Spitting fire from every pore, Chris raised himself on the saddle. “I’d have gotten him back no matter what.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Ylianor bit back. “Had Arthur himself not interfered to get the two of you just to meet again, you’d be history by now.” And the fact that the Leader of the High Council loved the demon in such a desperate way made his gesture all the nobler.

Chris growled, “Why you presumptuous witch—”

“Cecilia has nothing to do with what happened between the angel and me.” Duncan’s tone was firm as though to dispel any doubts.

One thing she was noticing about him was that he was getting a kick out of her quarrels with Chris, which she was not sure was such a good thing.

“She was one of my first experiences with women and an odd one at that.” The prince paused as if to recapture some of the old memories. “Sex obsesses her.” Given her people’s propensity to do it as much and as often as they could, Ylianor was not sure how Duncan meant this. “I’ve never seen anyone do it with so much effort yet get so little out of it.” He frowned in puzzlement. “It’s like her mind works overtime to undermine what her body should know by instinct.”

“Hey, since you’re such an expert, tell us what sex is,” Chris provoked in mock dare.

“Well, my dear angel, sex is your beautiful body language.” The prince’s attention was all on the blond head. “The way you react to my every touch is what tells me how much you want me to claim you, possess you in all ways possible.” His voice lowered, “Then you swing your ass, and I can’t take it anymore. I just gotta have you, gotta melt in that irresistible fire of yours until nothing matters except my cock stuck up your ass or down your throat, until we both shatter in pleasure.”

There was a comprehensible momentary suspension as Ylianor felt the vibrations travel from one to the other.

“All right, you convinced me.” Eyes glowing with lust, Chris seemed ready to jump off his horse. “Let’s stop and do it here.”

“I was merely answering your question.” Duncan smiled regretfully. “It’s a shame Cecilia can’t come close to understanding any of this. Her mind always prevents her body from joining in the fun, ‘cause she uses a cold and rational approach to what’s hot and fiery by default.”

“Cecilia is just a bitch out to make any man pay for her lack of sexual satisfaction,” Chris snickered. “At the Hall, she always goes around with that stern expression of hers, like she wants to chastise everyone for taking pleasure in sex. Which is something so beyond her that she’s got no hope of ever getting it.” Kind of obvious the demon knew her well enough and couldn’t stand her.

“I bet she doesn’t approve of the Arthur boys either,” Duncan offered.

Now who were the Arthur boys, Ylianor had no idea.

If she had to take a wild guess, it would have to do with Arthur and his need to find a way to control what no one could except for the dark-haired prince. And knowing Chris, this way would have had to do with sex.

“That’s an understatement,” Chris snarled. “As a high and mighty council member, she abhors our innocent orgies and harmless parties, to the point she’d erase them from the Hall’s life if she could.” He gripped his reins harder. “And if it wasn’t enough, she’s a permanent member, too, which means I’ll have to put up with her forever.”

Right. Had Cecilia only been a temporary member, she would have had to leave the Hall after three years. How long they stayed in office—such was the difference between the twelve permanent members and their twelve temporary counterparts.

“And I bet she already can’t stand you.” Ironic yet to the point, Ylianor had no doubt Duncan was right.

“Hates my guts is more like it.” Never one to let the chance to demean people he did not like, Chris was only too happy to tear the poor woman apart. “She’s a jealous bitch who hasn’t taken it kindly that I rose higher than she ever will in the Hall’s hierarchy.”

Had she mentioned how vain Christopher Templeton was?

“‘Cause I got the looks she never will.” The demon licked his lips like a satisfied feline. “And a position she can just reach in her dreams.”

“At least she’s an official council member.” Just for the heck of it, Ylianor loved to ruffle his feathers the wrong way. “While your title is what exactly? Besides being the leader’s sex toy I mean.”

“That’s a whole lot more than Cecilia will ever be.” Scornful, Chris threw back his shoulders as though getting ready for a fight. “And being the leader’s lover and the son of the vice-leader is really all you need to get to the top of that place.”

Yes, definitely Christopher Templeton had such a high sense of self nothing could bring it down.

“All in all, she’s one of the worst women at the Hall.” Smirking, he glanced at Duncan. “So I’m not surprised that, in the end, you dropped her for her phase mate.”

“Her phase mate?” Uh, do tell, Prince.

Not that she shared this thought. Just tried to keep her extreme curiosity in check knowing how little he cared for her unwanted invasion of privacy.

Yes, ‘cause the sad thing was that Prince Duncan Caldwell had not accepted his Virt of head talking all that readily. To put it mildly, he still had a world of reservations about it, most stemming from her and her constant presence in his mind.

“Rowena Sentry.” At the name, Duncan flooded Ylianor with the woman’s face.

Quite different from Cecilia’s hard cut features, Rowena had a lovely warm smile, dazzling blue eyes, blond hair falling softly around her perfect oval face with a straight nose and tempting lips.

“She’s beautiful.” Ylianor took a deep breath.

“At least she’s feminine,” Chris grinned. “While the other one…” Meaning Cecilia. “Looks like an ugly man.”

“They were phase mates until Rowena decided she wanted men in her bed.” Duncan intercepted her gaze. “And Cecilia never got over the break-up.”

Nothing strange there. Phases often ended abruptly. It was an adolescent thing after all, her people’s special way to discover and explore sex with a friend of the same age and gender. Just Ylianor’s bad luck not everybody had one. And not having had it herself, simply watching Chris and Duncan’s easygoing relationship had made her realize how much she had missed out in her life.

“What you have to understand is that Cecilia was an orphan.” The prince sat up straighter to tighten his hold on Fuzeon. “She lost both her parents when she was very little. An aunt took care of her, but then she died when Cecilia was only ten. So it’s hardly surprising she fell in love with Rowena and believed her phase would last forever.”

“Didn’t Lord Templeton have the same insane notion?” Oh, she was asking for it.

She knew it!

Only could not resist provoking the detestable demon to his face.

“We lasted, dearie.” Of course, Chris would strike back. “They didn’t.”

“That’s because Rowena was very interested in men.” Prince Caldwell lifted a shoulder. “She thinks they’re more fun in and out of bed, at least until she got the urge to pledge.”

“Don’t tell me she had the nerve to ask you!” That this was new information for Chris was evident from his shocked expression.

“She did.” So Duncan made it sound like he was sorry he had not accepted her offer.

Just to make fun of his blond lover.

“I refuse to believe you regret it!” Which got Chris flying off his horses.

“She wasn’t a bad lay,” the prince kept taunting. “So I could’ve lived with her, had I been ready to commit to a woman.”

For Ylianor, it was not a question of being ready, rather of being too choosy. Duncan Caldwell had such an impossible aristocratic taste people seldom met his extremely high standards. Which was why he had few friends, no mate and no stable keeper, as Anne Peacock, Black Rose’s cook, had so aptly put it.

“What’s happened to her now?” Ylianor pushed some loose strands off her face.

“She’s happily pledged to an older man who stays at home and looks after their son while she goes around, screwing any available male.” The demon beamed. “In other words, she’s got the perfect pledge.”

Small wonder Chris should know. His love for gossip had become clear from her first day on the road with him. And something told her he had used it abundantly in his rise to the top of the Hall, taking advantage of all his influence and information to become the number one.

“Theirs works perfectly.” The prince nodded in agreement. “Also ‘cause Oliver prefers to dedicate his time to farming. He has such a gift for it and uses such innovative techniques no one else dares put into practice, to the point that he has managed to turn parts of Cecilia’s desert lands into green and fertile areas.”

“The man is nothing short of a genius.” There was a note of healthy respect in Chris’s tone she had never heard before, if not connected to the prince. “My brother, Steve, says so, and he should know ‘cause he was Oliver’s phase mate.”

“I’ve no doubt he is.” There was no hiding Duncan’s admiration, either. “Anyone who could make plants sprout from a wasteland is.”

“But Rowena cares nothing for this,” Chris pointed out. “Even if he’s a good man, he’s too boring for her taste. That’s why she’s always after every pair of pants passing her way.”

“Completely unlike her phase mate, who doesn’t care too much for man and has way too many responsibilities as it is.” Amused, the black eyes sparked. “Besides her council duties, Cecilia is also the heir of the Blandry District, a desert land west of the Nephis Valley.”

“Yeah, and unfortunately a neighbor of ours, too.” Chris hung his head in mock despair. “Our district, Dartmouth, is just south of the Nephis Valley and borders with Blandry.”

“Please, don’t tell me we have to cross another desert.” After how stressful travel through the Wadirum Desert had been, the last thing she looked forward to was another go at those steeply rising temperatures and Stella’s rays blazing all day on her head.

“I’m afraid so.” Duncan shrugged apologetically. “And it’s right there.” He indicated the vast emptiness just a few miles away. “She probably keeps the missing pyramid at Blue Oasis, her home, which is where we’re going right now.”

“I see.” Now she understood why Duncan had seemed to follow a definite direction, in spite of his rush to leave that enchanted shelter in the Nephis Valley. “But how do you suppose we look for it without arousing suspicions?”

“That’s easy.” Prince Caldwell seemed certain of it. “By entering her Game, which starts in just a few days.”

“You received her invitation?” Chris sounded surprised.

“I most certainly did.” A flash and the image of a red carton slip with an emblem engraved on it filled Ylianor’s mind. “In fact, I think she invited me to all the editions, all four of them.”

“Then she must really like you.” Chris seemed impressed. “I know for a fact she’s never asks the same person twice and only after a very rigid selection.”

“Then I guess she must think I’d be particularly good at playing her Game.” Duncan chuckled.

“Her Game?” Now why did she have the sneaky suspicion she would not like where this was going? “What game?”

“Well…” Duncan exchanged a knowing glance with Chris.

“Oh no, lover, I’m not going to help you.” The demon held up a hand as though to block the prince’s unspoken request. “It’s your idea, so you tell her.”

“All right, then.” Prince Caldwell cleared his throat. “As I said, Cecilia is obsessed with sex. After I met her, she devised a game for it, with strict rules about how to play. Like the one about participants having to be at least two but no more than three together, ‘cause there are only three roles available—master, guest or slave.”

“Slave?” She knew she would not like where this was going.

Even more, she knew she should have stayed at Black Rose instead of following them around like a lovesick puppy.

“Yes.” Duncan spurred Fuzeon to get closer to Starlet, Ylianor’s beautiful mare and a gift from Prince Caldwell himself. “On entering the Game, you have to choose who plays what. Then you’ve got to follow every rule for that particular role. Like slaves become completely subjected to their masters. They can’t speak unless someone asks them for their masters name. They can’t do much of anything without their masters permission, nor can they refuse to have sex with other players if their master so orders.”

“So masters have total control over their slaves’ bodies and minds, right?” This was not too difficult to get. And that’s where you got your idea of turning me into your slave, isn’t it?

It was practically what she had been doing with Duncan ever since leaving Black Rose, enslaved to him body and mind at least as far as the bed went. Only difference—she had no one to blame except herself for having surrendered everything to him. True, he had asked her to do it. And she had to spoil it all by accepting.

“Right.” Partly, but Cecilia is still a dilettante at this. “Slaves have no rights. Their only duty is to obey their masters’ orders however outrageous they might be. They can starve to death ‘cause they’re not allowed to ask for food or drinks. Only their masters can provide these things, and sometimes masters aren’t so merciful.”

“And what’s the guest supposed to do?” Whatever it was, she suspected it would fit Chris’s needs perfectly.

“Guests are a step up from slaves, so a master cannot order them around.” And yes, my angel would have no problems playing guest. “They’re free to do pretty much what they want after their masters consent to it.”

“Sounds a lot like our present arrangement.” Which was a relief in a way. At least it would prove no hardship to enter this game of Cecilia’s. “So there’s no need to guess what role I’ll be playing.”

“Actually, Princess, there’s also an age limit for each role.” It was kind of obvious Duncan was ill at ease.

Not because she would play slave.

Because she seemed to have no choice in the matter, yet choice was all her dark handsome prince believed in.

“Masters must be twenty-one or older, guests nineteen and slaves at least eighteen.” Duncan took a deep breath. “I’ve played guest once, but for obvious reasons, I’ve never played with the angel—”

“‘Cause I could never play slave.” The demon threw back his head defiantly.

“While I have a natural talent for it, right, Lord Templeton?” Ylianor challenged.

All right, whom was she kidding?

Truth was—she loved being Prince Duncan Caldwell’s slave. Not just because she got to service him, because she got the other one in the bargain, too. And there could be no greater pleasure than being at their complete mercy. If the prince seduced her every time he got his hands on her, the demon laced his sex with that extra veneer of cruelty she was coming to appreciate every day more. No, crave was the right word, particularly after he had revealed the extent of his fiendishness. As though that knife of his had awakened something buried inside her, to the point she sometimes fantasized they could repeat it…just to see how far this intriguing game might get.

So, yes, she was a slave through and through and would have gladly dropped to the ground to obey their every whim, had they only ordered it right there and then.

“You said it, dearie, not I.” From his noncommittal tone, there could be no doubts he thought her nothing better than a slave.

And that sent a thrilling shiver down her spine.

Because no matter what he said, she would get him in the end. And nothing would work better or faster than playing it like she had no will of her own.

“No one’s born slave,” Prince Caldwell was quick to rectify. “It’s simply a question of balances. And like you said, Princess, this seems to fit our present arrangement, at least when we’re in bed.” No surprise he would underline this particular detail.

Things had slid so far down when he had been angry with her and had treated her like she was a slave for real, which was the farthest thing from the man he was and the principles he had upheld ever since his childhood.

“Our age doesn’t help us, either, ‘cause it determines our roles.” Again, he seemed sad she would get the short end of the stick. “Neither you nor the angel could play master nor can you be a guest, so…” He hesitated. “But we’ll do it only if you agree to it.” This definitely improved his mood. “I don’t want to force you into anything, Princess.” The caring gaze he sent her way melted her heart. “Like we agreed at the Hall, you are no slave. You are an equal partner of this arrangement of ours, so I’ll understand if you’d rather not play this game.”

Oh, could she love him more than she already did?

“If that’s the case, all we’ve got to worry about is finding another way into Blue Oasis.” He flooded her with a most enchanting smile, as though to reassure he did not consider this as a setback at all.

“Sure, losing a whole lot of time in the process.” The blue-gray eyes blazed in annoyance.

“Oh, I’m sure we can be inventive enough.” The long, black hair fluttered as Duncan spun to confront Chris. “Even if this game is the best opportunity for us.” Then his gaze locked on Ylianor. Not to mention the most exciting.

She swallowed hard, her face growing hot with the images he was sending her.

“What’s important in this Game is the interplay between a master and his slave.” His voice became husky, “‘Cause it tests their limits and determines how far they can both go—the master in submitting his slave, the slave in obeying her master’s every order.” The picture he painted was so arousing Ylianor’s clit throbbed furiously, “Most people don’t understand this. They think that any slave would do, so they bring someone who’s inconsequential to them. They are such fools.” He snorted contemptuously. “They don’t realize that, without a connection between the two, the Game becomes a sterile repetition of heated fucks.” Glancing fondly at the demon, he beamed. And I know you understand why the angel could never be a suitable candidate for playing slave.

Yeah, she totally got that. The difference in how Duncan related to her as opposed to how he related to the demon was the key that would spin this particular game out of its rigid structure.

Yeah, you get it. Duncan’s broad smile splitting his beautiful face was her unique reward for being on his same wavelength. “Also the fact slaves can’t talk will be an extra turn-on for us.” ‘Cause we don’t need limited words, right, Princess?

“That would be cheating!” The demon flared.

Sometimes Chris was too perceptive for her taste. Like right at the moment, when he seemed to have heard his lover’s silent musing.

“Since when have you followed rules, Angel?” Duncan raised the stakes. “And just for the record, don’t think I’ll make it easy for her only ‘cause I know what she wants—”

“You’d choose the exact opposite, wouldn’t you?” Ylianor could practically count on it.

“Sure, just to spite you,” Duncan joked.

“As if I didn’t know it already,” she scoffed. “That you’ll use our connection to…” Get a real kick out of what they’ll do to me.

Exactly. His full lips curved in a most attractive grin. The angel was right. You are a bright girl after all.

How devious. She stuck her tongue out at him.

How delicious! “But, we’ll do it only if you agree to it.” His voice now serious, it was obvious her assent was very important to him.

What you’re proposing is a game within the Game. She still could not believe he was cutting the demon out of this, wanting her to be his playmate in a way Chris could never be. Right?

Right again, Princess. The black velvety eyes shone with barely suppressed arousal. And it’ll be loads of fun. You’ll see.

And damn him!

She could not wait for that to happen, though she acted like she had not heard. “Has Cecilia set up a special place in Blue Oasis to play this Game of hers?”

“Yes.” The prince nodded. “She has devoted an entire hall to it.”

Unbidden, the images came to her of a large rectangular chamber. Lit by torches hanging on the walls, it was full of alcoves with comfortable couches around low tables. Sex oozed from the walls themselves, enveloping the naked people sitting on the tables and the more dressed ones hovering over them.

“What an odd setting.” She sifted through Duncan’s pictures. “The dress code is strange as well.”

“Masters wear robes.” The projection Prince Caldwell sent her was of a man dressed in a dark blue tunic that fell to his ankles. “Guests have bare chests and wear either pants or skirts. Slaves are naked.

So only natural for Ylianor to wonder how she would look on one such low table.

“Oh, yes, you’d make a most erotic addition to that chamber.” Duncan smacked his lips in evident anticipation.

“If I decide to participate.” No, she would not give him the satisfaction of an easy surrender, no matter how fiercely her body stung. Why should she?

He had taken too much for granted already, using also her foolish love against her. So if she would accept anything, it would have to be on her own time!

No point in sharing this, she straightened her shoulders. “I’ll think about it while we get there.” Then fixing her gaze on the long road ahead, she pretended nothing else mattered.