Abducted from her homeworld, Amazonian warrior Kel finds herself imprisoned on Ondrican, a sexual slave to its heir, Prince Aren. Being older than most Amazonians are when they take their first lovers, Kel is more than willing to discover pleasure in his embrace. But when Aren announces taking her virginity has made them husband and wife, Kel vows to escape him and return home. She wants his wooing but not the wedding. Aren has known for years he must marry and produce a legitimate heir. He finds Kel's untutored lovemaking a sensual delight, but her refusal to acknowledge their marriage stuns him and hurts his pride. Determined to win her warrior heart, he takes his reluctant bride to the country and weaves a spell of sensual pleasure around them both. Behind the lovers' backs, their parents are plotting to keep them together. Only the marriage of their hearts will end centuries of feuding between their worlds.
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Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Courting Kel by Dee Brice
"Put that one in with the chocolates, her with the caramels."
Prince Aren of Ondrican watched his cousin and spaceship's commander sort through a bevy of women according to... "Candy, Tage?"
"Eye candy, yes. The blonde goes with the white truffles," Tage shouted above the din to a crewman with two lush females clinging to him like limpets.
"Aye, Captain, if I can make 'em understand they aren't necessarily for me." He continued down the gangway, winking as he passed Aren and Tage standing on the pier.
Stroking his chin, Aren watched as more women of every size, shape and hair color debarked his flagship, The Herald. "You could group them by eye color," he said.
"Could sort them like fruits and vegetables as well. But then where would you put her?" Tage jutted his chin at the last woman in line. Two guards flanked her.
"Strawberries," Aren said without hesitation. The sun turned the tall woman's hair to red-gold flames. "Why is she restrained?"
"Easier to put one in the brig than the whole shipload."
"Tage," Aren said, sounding as impatient as he felt.
Tage said, looking rather irritated himself, "She claims she was drugged, kidnapped and sold. Demanded to be returned to her homeworld. Tried to convince the other women to mutiny."
"As Storr and I have told you, Tage, none of the brides were to be forced."
"I don't know where she came from, Your Majesty, and the others weren't forced."
"Where'd you find her?"
As if Aren should recognize her, Tage sneered. Ah. My bride, Aren thought. Although he'd been expecting her, he had not anticipated her arriving with a shipload of... But King Storr was noted throughout the galaxy for his frugality. Why send a special ship when Tage and The Herald were collecting brides for The Choosing?
"She found me. Marched right up to me on the flight deck. Claimed she'd been abducted and ordered me to turn the ship around. 'This minute,' she said, like she was in command."
"I had put her in with the other women. Two days later, a delegation of brides...requested she be moved elsewhere."
Tage's face turned red all the way to his hairline. "That's the word the brides used."
"And you're sticking to it, eh?"
"'Til I'm dead and buried."
Rubbing his chin and hiding a smile, Aren studied the woman who'd rattled Tage's composure. Taller than the other immigrating brides, she carried herself like someone who expected to be obeyed. And while the other women wore garments that showed off their assets, the redhead's simple tunic concealed as much as it revealed. A hemp rope defined a slender waist and accented her narrow hips. Beyond that, he couldn't say much about her figure. Given her height, however, he imagined her legs were long. Unbidden, his shaft swelled. He pictured her legs wrapped around his waist as he pumped into her heat. Distracting himself from that image, he said, "I don't suppose you questioned her."
"I tried. She threw her dinner at me."
"At which point you threatened to starve her." Had she really been abducted? That didn't augur a happy beginning to their marriage.
"Yes. Kept her on bread and water the entire week," Tage said. "Blasted woman only drank the water. Said warriors were accustomed to going without food." Tage focused puzzled blue eyes on Aren's face. "She could have had the best food in the entire galaxy, but she refused to eat. Now..."
"She exercised instead of eating. Worked out several times every day. And now stinks like guanshit."
Clapping Tage's wide back, Aren laughed, drawing the woman's gaze. Her dark eyebrows rose--a dismissive expression that hit him like a slap to his face.
"Have her taken to my quarters."
Tage sputtered, a sure sign of protest but said, "Yes m'lord."
Aren watched him stride away and heard Tage muttering, "Your rooms will stink for a week, m'lord. And if I were you, m'lord, I'd hide my weapons. Plan to keep my jewels, m'lord. Can't say the same for yours."
* * * * *
After weeks in space, Kel wanted to kiss the ground before she fought with her guards. No matter how great the temptation to maim them, with her hands bound and her feet hobbled like a horse that would bolt as soon as it was free, she was helpless. Moreover, if they hurt her badly she'd have to wait until she recovered to make her escape. She'd bide her time and fuel her strength. For now.
At massive carved doors, the guards pulled her to a stop. One freed her hands and feet while the second kept a firm hold on her elbow. A third opened the door and the fourth shoved her through it.
Stumbling, barely catching her balance before she careened into a marble tub, she heard the door lock slam into place. Free yet still imprisoned, she thought resentfully. Barbarians! The men who had taken her from her homeworld had treated her with more respect than that spaceship captain or these ruffians.
"M'lady?" A timid voice came at her from across the room.
Instinctively, Keleos reached for her dagger. Her knife was the first thing the kidnappers had taken from her, she remembered now, her hand falling to her side. Empty.
"Stand where I can see you."
A girl of perhaps fourteen summers stepped from the shadows. Pale blonde curls fell over her small bosom to her waist. From this distance, her eyes seemed blue. She carried a shiny green fabric that cascaded over one shoulder to the floor.
"If you wish to bathe, m'lady, I can fill the tub for you."
Kel firmed her lips against a smile of pleasure. A bath was the last thing she'd expected from her new jailers. But this probably was only the opening gambit in a war of wills. A war she intended to win, no matter the cost.
Still... Her indrawn breath reminding her she'd gone without bathing for nearly two weeks, she said, "Do so."
The girl shot her a sullen look before carefully laying the fabric aside on a padded bench. Perhaps servants here were treated with more courtesy than Keleos had given. Softening her tone, she said, "Please fill the tub. And if you brought me fresh clothing, kindly see this is burned." Untying her belt, she let the homespun tunic fall around her feet. Gratified at being free of the rough, itchy gown, she kicked it away. The clothes she wore at home didn't make her itch like this one did.
"What scent would you like, m'lady?" She still sounded resentful.
"My name is Kel. What's yours?"
"D-Drew, m'lady." She smiled shyly, apparently willing to forgive Kel's earlier high-handedness.
"Tell me, Drew, what scent do you recommend?"
"There is sero and chiord and caill."
Unwilling to admit she had no idea what Drew was talking about, Kel said, "Which do you prefer?" On Amazonia everyone smelled pretty much the same. Sometimes of the unpleasant odor of swamps and muck. At others, the aroma of roasting meat if the wind blew over them. She resisted shaking her head at her hunger the thought of roasting meat aroused. A warrior--
"Caill's my favorite."
"Caill it is then. The soap is scented?"
"Yes m'--Kel. And the bath oil, shamwash and lotion too."
"Until I learn how much of each to use, I'll just use the soap and--the shamwash is for my hair?"
"For your hair, which is a lovely red."
Kel eased out a sigh at the girl's accepting tone. She couldn't afford to alienate anyone. Especially not a potential ally to help her escape. "I am named for its color. Although certain people, like that ship's captain, would think it for my temper," she added with a grimace.
"Tage has a bit of temper himself."
Covering her mouth, Drew giggled.
Well, there's one word we both understand. "Ahh," Kel groaned as she eased into warm water.
"If you wish it warmer, just say the word."
"It's perfect." Leaning back, Kel submerged completely.
"The tub will remember the proper temperature for next time," Drew told her when she surfaced. "Shall I scrub you?"
"No, tak." Pouring shamwash into her hand, Kel inhaled the light floral fragrance then poured more over her head.
"Do you like it?"
"It, too, is perfect."
Drew beamed. Kel decided to see just how quickly and how far she could push her young friend. "Please bring me something to eat."
The request wiped the grin off Drew's face. Her turquoise eyes shone with regret and a hint of fear. "That I cannot do, m'lady."
"You are to dine with me," said the tallest, darkest man Kel had ever seen, his voice startling her. She'd been so focused on Drew, she hadn't heard him enter. She recalled a man of similar build and coloring watching her leave the spaceship that had brought her here. Since he resembled no one aboard the spaceship or on this guanshit world, she'd assumed him a visitor. By Drew's reaction, he belonged here.
Bobbing a curtsy, Drew fled.