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Luxuria: Chapter 6


   , I told myself as I climbed off my chair after dinner to stand between my new husband and my brother-in-law. Usually, that wasn’t a hardship in Allerick’s company, but I’d thoroughly brought down the mood with my honest assessment of my position here and he’d been even quieter and more brooding than usual throughout the rest of the meal.

Fortunately, the memory of him looming over me, his claws scraping against my scalp, was going to live in my brain forever, so maintaining a baseline level of horniness was pretty straightforward. I wasn’t entirely sure why Allerick was so intent on getting me wound up when he obviously had no intention to follow through, but I was putting it down to a sensitive nose thing and calling it a day. I knew that I didn’t always smell good to them, and this was the one scent he and every other Shade seemed to approve of.

It wasn’t like it was hard. Allerick was all my filthiest monster fantasies come to life, and there was something quite safe about lusting after him. Probably the fact that it clearly wasn’t going to go anywhere? I definitely didn’t think he was looking at me the way I was looking at him. The second I was feeling even a little achy between the thighs, he’d back off, looking at me like he wasn’t sure what to do with me.

I have some suggestions! Ask me!

Supposedly, we’d need to do the deed at least once to get the consummation aspect out of the way, but I wasn’t even sure that was going to happen. We could always just lie. My Council was well aware I wasn’t a virgin before coming here, there was no gross invasive examining procedure that would give them that proof, it didn’t exist.

″You did good,” Damen said quietly, an approving note in his voice as we made our way down the dais. Apparently, Damen had gotten all the friendly genes in the family, because Allerick was in peak silent mode, his enormous frame dominating the aisle that ran between the long tables to the main doors. I followed in his wake, forcing my chin up and shoulders back, determined not to look like I was chasing him even though I kind of was.

I’d come into this assuming my new husband and I would be allies in this bizarre situation together, but Allerick seemed determined to treat me as the enemy. I’d basically given him the perfect opening at dinner to assure me that I was more than what I’d assumed I was, and he’d said nothing.

Soren joined us the moment we were in the hallway, his posture less self-assured than when I’d last seen him. He was embarrassed, I realized. Embarrassed by his sister’s conversation with us? It hadn’t been that bad. Even though their eyes were hard to read, I knew she’d been eye fucking my husband—not great—and obviously saw me as shit beneath her shoes, but as far as confrontations went, it could have been worse.

I’d heard worse from my fellow Hunters after I’d been kicked out. If Meridia wanted to mean girl me, she was going to have to up her game.

″Soren, escort the queen back to her room,” Allerick ordered, not bothering to turn around.

″Wait,” I protested. This was my second night here, and while I didn’t want to pressure Allerick, the consummation issue was hanging over both of our heads. “Shouldn’t we talk—”

″No, we should not,” Allerick said, cutting me off before striding down the hallway without a second look. Damen hesitated, giving me what might have been an apologetic look before jogging after his brother, leaving me standing in the corridor like a gaping idiot.

What was his problem? I thought we’d made progress at dinner. He kept me in a constant state of horniness because he found the smell pleasant—weird, but okay—and we’d made civilized small talk, and got to know each other a little better. But apparently that meant nothing, since we were back to where we’d been last night when he’d abandoned me on our wedding night.

As tempting as it was to scream in frustration, I forced myself to inhale deeply and let out a slow breath, closing my eyes for a moment. He’d obviously just been performing for the sake of the court. The horniness was probably just a flex on his part, to show off how hot his idiot little huntress wife got for him. Fine. A little embarrassing, but fine.

I’d given my vow to the Hunters Council that I’d make it work, that I’d uphold the treaty and promote peace between our kinds. Allerick might be an uncooperative prick, but I wasn’t about to go back on my word.

Feeling marginally calmer, I turned back to face Soren with my most serene expression in place. He eyed me suspiciously.

″I’m ready to return to my rooms now,” I told him, clasping my hands in front of me demurely and keeping my head up, doing my best regal face. I could have sworn his mouth twitched.

″As you wish, your majesty,” he replied, inclining his head and gesturing down the corridor, the opposite way from where Allerick and Damen had disappeared to.

We walked in silence for a few minutes, Soren leading the way, but I was already feeling my royal facade slipping. I wasn’t cut out for holding my tongue and pretending I was unaffected.

″What do queens usually do around here?” I asked eventually, not quite able to keep the bitterness out of my tone.

Soren flashed me a look over his shoulder that I could have sworn was judgmental. “A queen, singular, would rule the way King Allerick rules. There has never been a consort in living memory. Those who rule do not marry.”

I realized suddenly that Calix had referred to Allerick’s mother as just ‘Orabelle,’ with no formal title.

″But what about heirs?” I asked, genuinely puzzled for a moment before my embarrassment overtook it. I hadn’t been asking for myself, I wasn’t even entirely sure Allerick and I were compatible in that way.

″It is perfectly possible to make heirs without a marriage agreement in place,” Soren replied, sounding almost cheerful for him at my discomfort, the dick. “The King and the Crown Prince are half-brothers. My sister and I are also half-siblings. If there’s a family title to be inherited, the strongest rather than the oldest inherits it.”

″The strongest as in who has the biggest muscles?” I asked, imagining a Shade arm-wrestling match.

″No,” Soren replied flatly. “Who has the strongest… magic, for want of a better word. Manipulating shadows is a skill every Shade has, but the extent to which we can do that depends on the well of power we have to draw from. There is no doubt in my mind that King Allerick is the most powerful Shade of his generation.”

I could believe that. “Is your position hereditary?”

″No. I was selected by King Allerick.”

Soren’s tone didn’t invite more conversation, and I fell into silence as I followed him back through the brightly lit halls. Did that mean Allerick would take lovers? It sort of sounded like that was the norm here, and I suddenly felt embarrassingly naïve for not assuming that would be the case.

He was the king. Of course he had lovers. He’d probably been with one last night. Maybe a whole harem of them for all I knew. My throat grew uncomfortably tight, and I blamed it on my wounded pride because I refused to accept there was any other reason for me to be sad about it. I didn’t even know Allerick. He hadn’t chosen to marry me. Why should I care what he did?

Soren stopped, spinning so suddenly that I stumbled back in alarm. I didn’t think he was going to hurt me, but he was a lot bigger than I was, he moved like the shadows themselves, and we were all alone in this quiet part of the castle.

″Stop doing that!” he hissed, retching slightly.

″Doing what? I’m not doing anything,” I replied, bewildered.

″You’re making a horrible smell again,” Soren groaned, burying his nose dramatically in the crook of his elbow. “Come on, we need to get you back to your room before someone else notices and panics about it. It’s not even the same awful smell as yesterday, you emit multiple unpleasant scents.”

″It’s not like I’m trying to do it,” I grumbled, widening the gap between us as I followed Soren at a quicker pace. I discreetly lifted my arm, attempting to sniff myself and figure out what it was that was causing him such consternation.

I smelled fine. It was a them thing.

It made sense to me that Allerick could smell my wetness, but I didn’t understand where the ‘bad’ scents were coming from that bothered them so much.

Unless they could smell emotion somehow? Maybe they don’t like the scent of my negative feelings?

That didn’t make sense. I mean, yes, they wore clothes made of shadows and fed off human fear and theoretically anything was possible, but I was still pretty sure my moods didn’t smell like anything.

I wondered if my husband was in bed at this very moment with a sweet-smelling Shade, fucking them senseless, and some of my sadness morphed into rage as we approached the guards who watched over the royal wing of the palace. Fuck Allerick and his bullshit attitude. I’d been nothing but polite to him. I’d made an effort. He could have given me a chance to have an actual conversation like Calix and Levana had, and he’d see that I was a perfectly acceptable stranger wife.

He could have done a lot worse as far as Hunters went. My sister would have probably smothered him in his sleep by now, like the well-trained killing machine that she was.

Soren pulled his arm away from his nose, opening his mouth like he was about to explain, but then turned to look at me again with his face scrunched in confusion.

″That is… not as unpleasant.”

″I’m so relieved,” I said drily, sweeping past him and the guards for my room. I just wanted a bath and to get this heavy pin out of my hair. Maybe unwind with some drawing before bed. I already knew who my pictures would be of, even though he was an asshole and didn’t deserve my lust.

It’s just art, I told myself, letting myself into my room and shutting the door with a thud behind me. Affra immediately sprang into action, scuttling towards me to help me get ready for bed with an embarrasingly sympathetic look on her face.

So what if I draw pictures of him. So what if I fantasize about him when I go to sleep? Those things were for me.

But if he thought he was going to get even a whiff of my lust for his own benefit while he was out fucking whoever he pleased, leaving a litter of children in his wake, King Allerick had another thing coming.

The gardens behind the circular palace seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see—an endless expanse of black and gray, meticulously maintained, with wide, deserted paths cutting through sections of planting.

The garden was just as dark and gray as the one inside the courtyard, and it was making me feel a little… morose. At some point, I’d need to get some more items from the human realm, and I was already planning on buying some colorful paints while I was there.

I didn’t hate the shadow realm, but I needed a little brightness in my life.

Was it too early to take a trip back to the human realm? Probably. I was supposed to always reenter at the Hunters Council portal, and I was sure they’d wonder why I’d only lasted a couple of days before needing to return home.

It felt very eighteenth century to be taking a turn around the garden, but I didn’t have anything else to do. Calix had sent a side of vegetable stew up with my breakfast and there was plenty more prepared, so I had no need to visit the kitchen. The library held some appeal, but in a world that was already dark and quiet, the library was even darker and even quieter. I liked the idea of spending time there, but the cloak of silence was too oppressive for me to follow through.

I glanced behind me at Levana, who was following my footsteps just a few feet back, ever vigilant she scanned the garden for threats. The palace didn’t seem like the kind of place where conflict was a common occurrence—there were no high walls around the garden, no battlements, and the guards I’d seen appeared mostly unarmed. The obsessive shadowing of my footsteps was specifically an Ophelia thing, apparently.

″What does it feel like when you feed?” I asked her, hoping my casual tone would hide the fact that I’d been wondering about this my entire life.

Levana did a double take, everything about her posture wary. “Why do you ask, your majesty?”

Honestly, the ‘your majesty’ felt a little sarcastic. While Levana was a lot friendlier than the Shade I was unfortunately married to, she was clearly looking at me as an outsider, assessing whether I had nefarious reasons for asking.

″I’m curious. I’ve basically been shipped here to live forever, and all I know about you is what I’ve been taught from the Hunter perspective. I’m sure you have some incorrect preconceptions about me, so it would make sense that I have some about you.”

Levana hesitated for a moment, and it irrationally hurt that she clearly didn’t trust me. It made sense—I was technically a Hunter—but I’d also been barred from Hunter business for a decade. Maybe a naïve part of me had hoped I’d fit in here in a way I’d never fit in with my own people. If Allerick’s behavior towards me hadn’t demonstrated how hopeless that dream was, Levana’s certainly did.

″Okay, it makes sense for you to learn more about where you live,” Levana said, like she was talking herself into it. Comforting. “Feeding feels… good, I guess. Satisfying. Necessary.”

″Do you crave fear? What happens when you haven’t had it for a while?”

″It feels wrong to be telling you this,” Levana muttered. “It’s a form of sustenance for us. Yes, we crave it in that we’re hungry, and our survival instincts kick in before we starve to death.”

Well, that was a lot less ominous than what I’d been raised to believe. Growing up, the Hunters had made it sound like Shades were mindless beasts who fed indiscriminately on every human they encountered. The Councilors had backtracked on that significantly when the treaty was announced, insisting that they weren’t entirely mindless, and they could choose where and when to feed.

″That makes sense to me,” I replied, sensing Levana’s gaze on me as she waited for a response. “When I’m hungry or thirsty or tired, I take action to remedy that.”

Besides, it wasn’t like Shades killed humans. What would be the point in that? The humans were only useful to them while they were alive.

Levana was quiet, but some of the tension in her posture eased. “Do Hunters really tattoo marks on their back for every Shade they kill?”

″What?” I laughed. “No, definitely not. That makes them sound a lot more… badass than they are. Most of the Hunters I know are accountants or teachers or something by day. Just very sensible. Dull, even. They’re encouraged to blend in, not stand out. You haven’t encountered one?”

″I likely wouldn’t be standing here with you if I had,” Levana said quietly and my amusement dissipated instantly. No wonder my husband abandoned me at every opportunity. My people had killed so many of his own, and even for the Shades who’d been kind to me like Levana, Calix and Damen, my presence here was probably a painful reminder of that.

″I’m sorry. It probably isn’t worth much, but I’m sorry all the same.”

″But you never…” Levana began, clearing her throat. “Right?”

″No,” I said immediately, shaking my head. “I’ve never been hunting, never even owned a weapon. I didn’t make the cut, something I’ve never been more grateful for than at this moment,” I added, rubbing my temples.

″Is that why the Hunters Council suggested you come here?”

″No.” I snorted a laugh. “I was told that they asked a lot of women before me, but none of them were willing to come.”

I could tell Levana had more questions, but she was trying to figure out the least offensive way to ask them—even with her difficult to read features, the ‘why you’ was written all over them.

Why me, indeed.

At first, I thought it was because no one else would go and I was a last resort option. That’s what they’d hinted at, but they’d never actually told me who’d said no. My older sister, Astrid, had been weird as hell about the whole thing, talking about the treaty as little as possible in the few times I’d seen her, but she’d insisted that she was never an option for this.

Maybe… maybe it wasn’t that she’d chosen not to be an option. Maybe it was that the Council had never considered her one. Maybe they’d never considered any of the other successful, young Hunter women options.

Astrid hadn’t seemed thrilled for me that I’d been selected for this role. At best, she’d been resigned. Perhaps even a little remorseful.

″I’m ready to go back inside now,” I said quietly.

I’d spent the better part of the afternoon feeling sorry for myself, which wasn’t how I liked to spend my time. After I’d been kicked out of the Hunters, I’d gone too far in the toxic positivity direction, and I was trying to let myself be okay with my own negative feelings even if I didn’t want to have them.

After a little bit of sulking over a lunch taken in my room, I’d manifested my anger in the form of a particularly X-rated drawing of a Shade who wasn’t not Allerick rigging up a naked, dripping Hunter lover who wasn’t not me with ropes made of shadows on the four-poster bed.

I’d hidden it away along with all my other drawings in the top drawer of my dresser before bathing and dressing for dinner.

I was prepared this time. I knew what to expect.

And no matter how seductive Allerick’s voice was, or how gently he squeezed my throat while sucking down my scent like he needed it to survive, I was going to stand my ground.

He didn’t get to have horny Ophelia. Rude kings who probably had a harem of monster side chicks didn’t get to have horny wives.

That seemed like solid life advice to stand by.

Schooling my features into my most impassive expression, I stood back as Affra opened the door and then strode out with all the aloof confidence I imagined a jilted queen would have.

″Queen Ophelia,” Allerick greeted me with a mocking bow. For all his assholery, he couldn’t quite suppress the way he ran his gaze appreciatively down my body.

Do not react, I instructed my vagina. We’re not doing that anymore.

I’d known exactly what I was doing when I’d slipped on this blood red velvet cocktail dress and dark heels that tied around my ankles. The dress was strapless, and Affra had pulled my hair back into a low bun at my request to show off my neck. While the Council had provided me with a decently fancy “queen” wardrobe, they hadn’t included any fancy jewelry which was a shame. I could have done with some vicious-looking earrings to help set the mood.

For me, not for him. I was in a vicious kind of mood.

″You look…” Allerick swallowed thickly.

″Shall we go?” I asked, already turning towards the hallway. If he finished that sentence, my stupid pheromones would be all ‘ooh yes, sexy monster husband! Tell me more about how attractive you find me! Let me do the scent dance of my people!’

″Did you have a good day?” Damen asked, rescuing us all from awkwardness. Allerick looked momentarily stunned as I set off in the general direction of the dining hall with all three of them trailing behind me, and I felt a small swell of victory.

″Levana took me to the gardens.” It was probably an unnecessary answer since I had no doubt Levana was reporting back on my movements.

″Were the gardens to your liking?” Allerick asked, taking me off guard with his sudden willingness to converse. He must really like this dress.

″Yes,” I replied, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye but refusing to get caught up in his intimidating beauty. Not today, Satan. I’ll spend this entire dinner thinking about the day I moved into my old apartment and realized no one had unclogged the shower drain in fifteen years if I have to.

I’d prepared a mental list of my least sexy thoughts in advance.

″Good,” Allerick grunted, delightfully confused.

We paused outside the doors of the dining hall again, ready to make our dramatic entrance, and I breathed through the slight fluttering of nerves before they could take hold. Most everyone I’d bumped into in the halls had been respectful but distant. A few had glared, but that was to be expected. Dinner last night was fine. Meridia was intimidating, but Damen and Allerick seemed more than happy to tell her where to go, and Soren had looked ready to intervene if she’d gone too far. I was probably safer now than I had been just strolling through the gardens with only Levana for company.

″Do you need another reminder?” Allerick asked in a low voice as he stood next to me. I absolutely didn’t imagine the rough purr to his words, the seductive tone he was choosing to take with his question instead of barking at me like he was more than capable of.

″No thanks,” I replied breezily, keeping my eyes trained straight ahead as the doors swung open. From behind me, I could have sworn I heard Damen snort.

All eyes were on us as we made our way down the aisle, Allerick occasionally acknowledging someone as we passed. It may have just been wishful thinking, but the looks I was getting seemed less intense than they had been so far. Like the novelty of my presence was already wearing off.

As we did yesterday, the moment Allerick and I were seated, everyone else took their seats too. Shades emerged from the wings with loaded platters of meat, walking down the aisles as tendrils of shadow floated the dishes into the center of the tables.

″Did you get your vegetable fix today?” Damen teased, pushing an enormous pile of lamb shanks—maybe?—towards me.

″I did,” I replied, smiling to myself as I served a small portion of meat onto my plate. “Though I’m already sick of stew. Perhaps I’ll grab some tinned vegetables as well next time,” I added, more to myself than anything. I could eat them fresh for a few days then have tinned ones until I had a chance to restock instead of having the same stew day after day.

″You can go to the human realm and get them whenever you like,” Allerick said in an irritated voice, dragging an enormous piece of steak onto his plate. Apparently, he wasn’t a fan of my new aloof attitude. “So long as you return for dinner, there’s no reason you can’t spend your days there.”

Oof, that hurt. Be more obvious that you want me gone, why don’t you? My nails dug into my palms hard enough to sting, but focusing on that helped distract me from the gut punch of his words. Damen made a slight hissing noise, leaning away from me, and I guessed I was making whatever gross smell they hated once again.

I breathed through the rush of disappointment, taking a stab at meditating my brain into a more neutral space. Aside from the fact that I didn’t want to be broadcasting whatever I was feeling with my scent—if that’s what was happening—I really didn’t want to lose any control of my emotions in front of this room full of Shades. Even the ones who sort of liked me weren’t about to forget that I was a Hunter, and that came with suspicion.

As infuriating as Allerick was, I could understand why the sudden changes in my scent from pleasant to unpleasant were alarming for him.

He leaned into my space like he was going to repeat his little party trick from last night, but whatever he saw on my face made him pause before his claws could touch me.

″Stop that,” he commanded.

″She has stopped,” Damen mumbled, sounding baffled. Whatever, I wasn’t about to engage when I was so effectively disassociating.

″Not that,” Allerick snapped. “The other thing you’re doing, Ophelia. Stop it.”

He leaned in closer, not touching me but letting me hear the quiet click of his teeth in my ear a hair’s breadth from my skin, his warm breath ghosting over my cheek. Everything about him was still kryptonite for me, but it was remarkably easy to not get horny when you imagined your husband fucking his way through the entire court behind your back.

It was remarkably easy not to feel anything, if I really focused on it.

″Whatever you’re doing,” Allerick growled. “That is enough. You will fear me.”

I gave him my blandest smile. “Whatever you say, your majesty.”


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