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Luxuria: Chapter 5

Allerick

   chambers before dinner, waiting on the couch for Soren to appear with his report on my wife’s movements for the day. I hadn’t solely avoided her because I wanted to, though that may have factored into it a little. It had been a busy day with a pissed off Council—they’d wanted me to bring Ophelia before them for a formal introduction since I’d already warned them off doing it at the feast last night.

Why hadn’t I just dragged her in front of them today? It wasn’t like she had anywhere else to be.

It was just the thought of them grilling us on whether or not we’d consummated our marriage didn’t sit well with me. She’d only arrived here last night, the least they could do was give her a few days to adjust to her new surroundings.

Not that I cared, it just seemed… polite.

Fuck, did I care enough to be polite? She was probably here to kill me, or at the very least to spy on me and my court.

″Who put that look on your face?” Damen asked, strolling into my rooms without invitation.

″The Council wanted me to bring our new queen in today for an interrogation,” I grumbled before taking a swig of my drink, annoyed at myself now as well as the Councilors. Damen moved to the bar, helping himself to wine. “I’ll bring her when I’m ready.”

Damen snorted. “Is that the excuse you’re running with?”

I shot him a warning glare and he grinned unapologetically back at me. “Perhaps we should look at finding you a bride, hm Damen? Perhaps you’d take life more seriously with a wife.”

″You wouldn’t,” Damen shot back, looking appalled. Typical Damen, allergic to commitment of any kind. Any hint of responsibility he’d ever been given, he’d managed to shake off within weeks.

″Perhaps the Council will be dissatisfied with my marriage and demand you take a Hunter bride too, just in case,” I teased. To my surprise, Damen’s expression turned contemplative.

″So long as I could stop her emitting that awful scent your wife produced last night, I wouldn’t mind a pretty little huntress of my own.”

″I don’t know how they managed to convince one woman to move to this world, I doubt they’ll convince a second,” I scoffed. Perhaps I’d ask my wife at dinner. I supposed that there was no better way to find out what her motives were than to get to know her, as uncomfortable as the notion was.

There was a brief rap of knuckles on the door, and I called Soren in, curious to hear what my new bride did on her first day as the Queen of Shades. Hid away in her rooms, most likely.

″Soren,” Damen called jovially, immediately pouring my captain a drink of his own. “Come, come. Give us all the gossip.”

Soren ignored my brother, giving his attention to me and inclining his head in a respectful bow, hands clasped in front of him, legs hip-width apart, the constant warrior.

″Queen Ophelia walked around the palace, stopping for a while in the library and examining a few of the books before heading to the kitchens. She spent a couple of hours there preparing the food she brought with her—the vegetables that humans require—and took her lunch there with Calix and Levana. After that, she walked around the courtyard, seemingly very interested in the flowers. She then returned to her rooms in the afternoon to rest before dinner.”

″She ate lunch with Calix?” Damen repeated, as stunned as I was. Were Calix not such a talented cook, I’d have exiled him from the palace years ago for being a disrespectful prick.

″Levana said he was quite friendly… for Calix’s standards.” Soren looked like he didn’t know what to make of that either. Perhaps I needed to pay Calix a visit. Just because I wasn’t sleeping with my wife didn’t mean anyone else was allowed to get ideas about her.

″She prepared her own food?” I asked, more confused about this little huntress I’d married by the second.

Soren nodded. “And is only intending to eat it at her private meals. She’ll eat what we eat when she’s in the dining hall.”

I didn’t miss the glimmer of approval in Soren’s eyes that she was making an effort at fitting in, and he’d been the most wary of her yesterday. Apparently, my wife was good at winning people over.

A useful skill for a queen, if she were to stay.

Soren turned his attention to Damen, his gaze turning disapproving. “You’ll be pleased to know she wore the hair pin.”

″What hair pin?” I asked immediately as my brother grinned.

″A gift for my new sister.” Damen shrugged, unrepentant.

″An enormous raven with its wings pinned,” Soren added drily. “You couldn’t have been less subtle if you’d tried.”

″I could have had the raven pinned in the heart,” Damen protested with a grin. “I was curious to see if she’d wear it or not. Truly forsake the Hunters, et cetera, et cetera.”

″When did you even give it to her?” I demanded. “You can’t give my wife gifts. I haven’t even given her gifts.”

″It’s not my fault you’re a terrible husband,” Damen laughed, dodging when I took a swipe at him with my claws. “And I gave it to Affra to pass on this morning. A ‘welcome to the family and don’t get stabbed by Meridia’ gift, if you will.”

Soren grimaced.

″Don’t buy things for my wife,” I grumbled, downing the rest of my drink in one. “Come on, I should probably walk her to dinner.”

″You think?” Damen mumbled from behind me. I’d expected him to toy with a Hunter in our midst like a beast playing with his food—that he was being nice to her was a little unsettling. He may have been playing a long game, but Damen didn’t usually hide his intentions from me and Soren.

Soren and Damen waited a few feet behind me as I knocked on the door to Ophelia’s room. Affra opened it quickly, bowing low enough that I could see my wife standing behind her.

She looked exquisite in black. The dress floated around her like the shadows that hung from my own body, and her lined eyes and painted lips were darker and more sultry than they’d been at our ceremony.

Ophelia was beautiful, but it was never her beauty that had been in question.

Affra moved to the side, and my wife perused me as thoroughly as I was perusing her. The sweet smell of her fear didn’t hit all at once, rather it seemed to leak from her slowly, perfuming the air around us. I’d taken a step into her room before I even realized what I was doing, drawn in by that scent that grew more potent the closer I got.

Strangely, I didn’t relish the idea of her fearing me. I took a step back, gesturing for her to follow me. The scent clung to her, but it didn’t grow stronger. Moving away from her had eased her panic, which made sense and yet caused some kind of discomfort in my chest.

″Come, wife. We are expected at dinner,” I said gruffly. I caught a glimpse of the elaborate hair pin Damen had given her, and was both annoyed and impressed that she was wearing it.

″Of course, your majesty.”

Ophelia’s polite reply was accompanied by a low curtsy that had Damen glaring at me accusingly.

What did he want from me? Blind trust in a Hunter? One who had agreed to upend her life in the sunshine and marry me? Nothing about Ophelia was trustworthy.

Ignoring Damen’s judgmental gaze, I led the way down the corridor, waiting a moment so Ophelia could walk at my side, careful to keep a couple of inches between us. I had to slow my steps significantly so she could keep up, and I wondered idly how comfortable this palace was for her. Aside from the fact that she would be missing sunlight and color, it was designed for beings much larger than her, and the entire realm was spread out, meant for beings who could shadow walk and cover long distances in seconds.

If I was ever so inclined, I could shadow walk with her, but I doubted the occasion would ever arise. She probably won’t stick around for it to come up.

Two palace staff pulled open the double doors as we arrived at the dining hall and Ophelia sucked in a near-silent breath next to me. I glanced at her, my nose wrinkling as I picked up the faintest sour notes to her scent again. Not as bad as it had been yesterday, but unpleasant nonetheless. And if everyone else in the hall scented it… well, it wouldn’t do well for either of our reputations.

″Leave us,” I barked at Damen and Soren. My brother looked like he was about to object, but Soren wrapped a hand around his arm and tugged him towards the hall before he could say anything.

It’s for her own good, I reminded myself with an internal grimace.

Faster than she could track, I grabbed Ophelia by the waist, spinning her until she was pressed back against the wall by the doors, out of sight of my subjects. I caged her in, my arms braced either side of her head, and called on the shadows to curl around us, creating our own little bubble of privacy.

I was easily a head taller than my dainty wife, and she looked up at me in surprise, her shoulders pressing back against the wall in a way that emphasized the swell of her breasts as her breathing picked up.

Already, the sour scent was being replaced by her sweet fear.

Usually, fear was a craving I only experienced in the human realm, and while it was delicious and satisfying, it was nothing like this. I knew if I fed off Ophelia, I’d be full for weeks. And I’d be addicted, of that I was absolutely certain. There was no way I could taste that sweetness and go back to regular human fear after that.

″Mm, much better,” I murmured, running one clawed finger down the side of Ophelia’s face, pausing at her jaw. She tipped her head back, offering me her throat, and my cock swelled almost painfully at the sight. What a strangely confident little thing she was. Was she so sure she could disable me that she’d willingly give me the most vulnerable part of her body?

Testing her limits, I scraped my claws lightly down the column of her throat, pausing to press against that delicious pulse that thudded beneath my fingers. Watching to see if she’d take a swipe at me, I flattened my palm against her, wrapping each finger around her neck with deliberate slowness. Not enough to cut off her breathing—I wasn’t about to kill my wife—but I was curious to see what she’d do.

Ophelia’s scent exploded, like a bomb of sugar had gone off around us. It was the right reaction to having a monster’s claws around her throat, yet it somehow wasn’t. She was trembling. She smelled afraid. Her breath was coming in short, sharp pants. Her pupils had dilated.

All the signs of fear were there. Why didn’t she seem afraid?

A good actress, I decided. That had to be it. Hunters began training to kill Shades when they were just children. Perhaps she couldn’t suppress her body’s physical fear reaction, but she’d undoubtedly learned how to keep it from showing on her face.

Ophelia made a noise in her throat I could have almost mistaken for a lusty moan, her small dainty hands rising to wrap around my wrist, though she didn’t make any attempt to pull my hand away. She was so warm. Had she been this warm yesterday? The heat of her hands seemed to sink through to my bones.

Focus.

″Remember this feeling,” I rasped, the rough timbre of my voice surprising even myself as I leaned down to speak in her ear, my lips brushing the shell with each word. “Whatever you were thinking as we were about to enter the dining hall, wipe it from your mind. This is how I want you to feel, to smell, throughout dinner. Do you understand me, wife?”

I caressed the soft skin of her throat with the pad of my thumb, and Ophelia somehow grew more pliant beneath me.

″I understand your instructions,” she breathed. “You, I don’t understand at all.”

″How feisty you are whilst pinned to the wall by a monster,” I murmured, trying to understand this unusual creature I’d married. Fearful and defiant, all at once. She was certainly intriguing.

″How talkative you are whilst pinning your prey to the wall,” Ophelia breathed, those dark eyes flashing dangerously at me. Almost in… annoyance? Human eyes were so much more expressive than ours, I didn’t know how to interpret the wealth of emotions that seemed to pass through hers in the span of a few seconds.

″It’s like you want to be eaten,” I grumbled, releasing her throat and taking a step back, the shadows around us falling away.

Ophelia paused for a moment, smoothing her clawless hands over her dress and tucking her hair behind her ears. “You can stop trying to intimidate me, your majesty. I know your kind don’t eat people.”

She moved towards the double doors, and I had no choice but to follow with the eyes of my subjects watching.

Of course I’m trying to intimidate you. What do you think all of that was for?


Fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately—Ophelia was seated between myself and Damen at dinner, and he conversed enough for all three of us. The intimate round table from last night had been replaced with the usual long table that faced out towards the rest of the hall. Most evenings, it was just Damen and I sitting up here. My mother was too fragile to join us, and while Soren had an open invitation, he usually preferred to stand guard during the evening meal and eat later.

″So,” Damen began, pulling a platter of shredded beef towards him and offering it to Ophelia, “are you missing sunlight yet?”

″I wouldn’t say I’m missing it,” she replied carefully, taking a small sampling of meat. She’d only selected a small amount from each platter, and it annoyed me that I was even a little concerned that she wasn’t eating enough. “It’s only been a day, and usually I’d be cooped up in a windowless office anyway. It’s more that it’s strange to look up and not see the sun in the sky.”

″What did you do in your windowless office all day?” Damen asked. I was glad he did before I could.

″Boring marketing stuff,” Ophelia said absently, flicking her hand. “Writing newsletters and trying to make engineering software sound cool and sexy.”

Damen’s eyes met mine over her head. Neither of us knew much about the human world, but that didn’t sound like how a highly accomplished huntress would spend her days.

″Your parents must have been sad for you to move out of their home,” I commented mildly, helping myself to a stack of ribs.

Ophelia cut me a glance out of the corner of her eye, noticeably more comfortable talking to my brother than she was to me. Irksome.

″I moved out of their home years ago. Of course, I’m a little less accessible to them now, but it’s been a long time since I lived under their roof.”

None of this sounded like what I had expected Ophelia’s life in the human realm to be like. As far as I recalled, Hunters lived in communities. We had our own scouts who tracked them for that exact purpose, ensuring that Shades never fed too close to Hunter grounds.

I’d expected Ophelia to be some kind of high-ranking huntress, assuming the Hunters would have sent their best. To send us a threat, to remind us that this was a treaty based on both sides making concessions.

But maybe…

Maybe Ophelia wasn’t so much a threat as a sacrifice.

I opened my mouth to ask, but movement out of the corner caught my eye. Damen groaned, not even trying to hide his dread as Meridia approached the high table, hips swishing in what she likely assumed was a tempting way.

The shadows covering her body dissolved to all but wisps as she approached, and Ophelia stiffened beside me, her scent souring.

Had it been just yesterday that I’d been concerned about what that change in scent had meant for Meridia? Well, maybe not her specifically, because she was a demon sent here to drive me fucking insane, but I’d been worried about what that scent heralded for my subjects.

Today, I was bothered by it for an entirely different reason. An annoying reason that I didn’t want to feel. Even if Ophelia had been sent here as a sacrifice, that didn’t mean I should soften my feelings towards her. I had a whole realm to consider, not just her. She didn’t have any loyalty to my people, and I couldn’t forget that.

That didn’t mean Meridia could fuck with her though.

I angled my body towards my wife, leaning one elbow on the table and turning my back on Meridia as she stopped in front of the table. Ophelia’s dark eyes shot to mine, her breath hitching as I leaned into her space.

″Didn’t we talk about this, wife?” I purred, scraping my claws over her throat. Damen had the good sense to look away, concentrating on his meal.

Ophelia tipped her head back, lips parting softly. Curious little thing. “Perhaps I need a reminder, husband.”

Meridia made the faintest noise of discontent, one that Ophelia’s less sensitive ears likely wouldn’t pick up, which was good. Only was allowed to be discontent with my wife.

I cupped Ophelia’s neck, leaning in close to inhale her increasingly sweet scent. She held herself completely still as I scraped my sharp teeth over the shell of her ear, the pulse in her neck thudding wildly. Sweeter and sweeter and sweeter, I couldn’t help myself. I dipped my head and my tongue darted out to taste the inviting skin at the base of her neck. I groaned before I could stop myself, licking a long stripe up the column of her throat.

Ophelia tasted better than the finest wine, the most potent human fear. She was exquisite, dangerously so. If Shades had known how delicious Hunter fear was, I doubted we’d have ever run from them no matter how many silver weapons they were carrying.

Her hand landed on my thigh, and I frowned as I realized she was clinging on. Pulling me closer. Why did she never respond the way I expected her to? The way any normal being would when they were afraid? What kind of elaborate trick was this?

Meridia cleared her throat impatiently, and I reminded myself that stabbing her in the heart in front of my entire court would not be a good look.

I pulled my head back, but as I was still leaning towards her chair to grip her neck, I’d inadvertently lowered my head below hers. I hadn’t meant to put myself in such a position—it was a sign of great respect to bow my head to her even a little—and I didn’t think she realized the significance.

My court would.

However I felt about the treaty, it had been made with my people’s best interests in mind. This is a good performance, I told myself. This is the right thing to do for my people.

It didn’t feel like I was doing it for them as I yanked my gaze away, removing my hand from Ophelia’s neck but tugging her chair towards me with a loud screech. I stretched my arm over her shoulders, toying with a loose piece of hair as I slowly turned my attention to Meridia.

Soren had left his station near the door, standing at the base of the stairs that led to the dais, the worry on his face clear at whatever his sister was going to say.

″Your majesties,” Meridia cooed, using the infuriating voice she put on when she was trying to play down her own power and dominance. “I wanted to congratulate you on your… nuptials.”

″Did you now?” I drawled, scratching Ophelia’s scalp with my claws, loosening her updo. My odd little wife hummed, a strangely contented sound. I had no idea what to do with her, so I kept scratching for lack of a better idea.

″Of course,” Meridia replied smoothly, her posture stiffening slightly. “And to offer my services to our new queen.”

″How magnanimous of you,” Damen remarked, leaning forward and bracing his forearm on the table. He tilted his head to the side, and I knew he was cataloging Meridia’s every movement—Damen wasn’t so good at getting under someone’s skin by accident. He watched and noted and remembered, then twisted every weakness to his advantage. “How easily you’ve given up your own ambitions after proclaiming loudly for years that being queen was all you ever desired.”

Meridia flashed him an insincere smile. “The position is taken, what would you have me do?”

″Remember who you’re speaking to,” I rumbled in warning, making Meridia drop her gaze to the floor. Obnoxious trickster or otherwise, he was still the Crown Prince.

Next to me, Ophelia seemed to be holding her breath. Did she think I’d accept Meridia’s offer? I wasn’t that cruel.

″Your offer of assistance is noted, but unnecessary,” I told Meridia. “You have your own job to focus on.”

Her hand flexed at her side, but she gave no other indication that she was unhappy. Meridia was one of the scouts assigned to keep an eye on the Hunter communities, and I didn’t trust this treaty enough to dismiss those positions yet.

″The offer stands if you change your mind,” she replied stiffly. I felt the moment her attention moved fully to Ophelia, as did my wife. Our eyes didn’t give as much away as a human’s, but there was no mistaking that Meridia was staring right at her, and Ophelia’s grip on my thigh tightened in response. Had her hand been there the whole time?

″Thank you for your generous offer,” Ophelia said before I could speak, her voice appropriately aloof. Huh. I hadn’t expected her to say anything to Meridia directly. The dismissal in her voice was clear, and Meridia had no choice but to give us a curt bow before backing away from the table.

″Look at you go, Queen Ophelia,” Damen murmured approvingly. I shot him a warning look over her head that he ignored completely.

″I wouldn’t be much of a queen if I couldn’t speak for myself,” Ophelia replied, swallowing thickly. She seemed to notice at that moment that she had a death grip on my thigh, looking surprised to find her hand there before snatching it back. I took my time untangling my claws from her hair, relishing that fearful little catch in her breath at my proximity. She’d even kept the unpleasant smell away this time, though it was creeping in now.

It wasn’t the same as yesterday, not the sour repulsive stench that had made my stomach heave. This was something different, but still uncomfortably wrong. Sharp and unpleasant.

″And what kind of queen do you intend to be?” I asked, the words escaping before I could stop them.

Ophelia looked up at me, and I tried to ascertain what the look on her face meant. It was a little strange to be looking at human features when they weren’t contorted in terror. What did it mean when her eyes narrowed like that? Why did she tilt her head to the side in a way that highlighted her vulnerable throat? Her plush lips were pressed forward, drawing my focus to her mouth, but I didn’t know what that was sign of either.

Not knowing was unnerving, even though I was unquestionably the bigger threat when we were in this realm. I should have no reason to be unnerved by her.

She should be unnerved by me.

″Well, I don’t suppose it particularly matters what I want or intended,” Ophelia replied eventually, speaking slowly as though she was choosing her words with great care. “I’d hoped I would have something to do to fill my days, some kind of activity or job or something, but I’m under no illusions about what I am.”

″And what are you?” I pressed.

″A hostage. A prisoner. A prize.” Ophelia shrugged as her words sunk into me more effectively than any claws ever could. “I’m a bargaining chip, though I won’t pretend there aren’t advantages for me. No one forced me to come here.”

I should say something cruel. Tell her she was right, that she was nothing and no one, and never to forget that, but I didn’t need the warning look Damen was burning into the side of my head to keep those barbs to myself.

Ophelia didn’t need me to remind her that both councils who’d arranged this union thought of her more as a symbol than a person, so I didn’t.

No, she’d known that before I had.

That lingering sense of wrongness haunted me all the way through dinner.


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