Rites of Mating [Kegin Series Book 2]
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by Brenna Lyons
Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Fantasy
Description: Book Two in the Best-Selling Kegin Series! Twenty-one years ago, Jole and Susan had a set of twins. A year into maturity, the race is on. Keen nobles will go to almost any lengths to be the chosen mates of the re-bred royals. All either of them wants is to find a mate who will see him/her as a person and not a re-bred. Finding that is only half the fun.
eBook Publisher: Phaze, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: September 2008
145 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [292 KB]
Reading time: 177-248 min.
"Mother, I am not interested," Tirin Li, Captain in the royal guard, growled through clenched teeth.
Giriam Laes looked at him, paling at his scandalous words. "Not interested? It is your duty to make an advantageous marriage, Tirin."
He sighed, rubbing at the tight spot in his neck. It was a duty no one ever mentioned in the six years since adulthood, hoping that Tirin wouldn't find another and would win one of the re-bred princesses. Now that the princesses were coming of age, it was a duty he never heard the end of. "And, I will do my duty, Mother. I am simply not interested in playing fawning fool to a pampered princess."
Tirin scowled at the throng of men surrounding the princess in question, begging for her attention, for a dance--or for more, if she were willing. The king's chief of security, Panor, pushed through the moving mass of male bodies and drew the young woman away to the angry chorus of the suitors. He scowled harder. The hopefuls.
It was disgusting. The men presumed too much. They looked at the princess. They touched her. Tirin fisted his hand as another reached out, and Princess Jenneane crowded closer to Panor to escape the grasping hands. By the laws of Kegin, it wasn't permitted. Soldiers should be forcing the suitors back, making them mind the laws.
Tirin kept his gaze respectfully lowered or averted, never looking directly at Princess Jenneane as she approached. Still, he glanced at her briefly out of the corner of his eye. Tirin bit back an expression of deeper disgust, settling instead for the same scowl. Her outfit was indecent, despite the current occasion.
The occasion was indecent enough. Many Keen nobles flocked to the Earth celebrations Susan Rig had introduced when her oldest children were infants. Hallo-ween was Jole Ri's favorite holiday, but it wasn't Tirin's.
Too many Keen reveled in the custom of wearing revealing costumes and going masked. Already, anonymous couples, drunk on iri brandy and lizor berry wine, were seeking darkened corridors for intimate encounters. Some of them wouldn't even know who they'd had sex with when the morning came.
Princess Jenneane's garment wasn't as revealing as some. It didn't show excess flesh. In fact, it hardly showed any, but it was snug to her body as if drawn on. A single garment of black silin covered her from above her ample breasts to ankle and wrist, leaving her shoulders completely bare. It hugged every curve and valley, leaving no secrets of the body beneath. Her boots were low, cuffed black hide creations almost as shiny as the silin. She wore a fur mask, the likeness of a jaglin, most likely done in real jaglin fur.
Tirin glanced again, drinking in the sight of her, heedless of the laws he was breaking, the laws he'd been supporting only moments earlier. The princess seemed to glide across the floor, her hips swaying in a way that brought images of slow, deep kisses and hours of sex to mind.
His breathing hitched as he stared at her back full on. Her hair was a thick mass of choc waves with a rich under-cast of lizor berry burgundy that reached mid-curve on her buttocks, tangling around the base of the fake silin tail attached at the upper curve of her lovely backside. She was perfect.
Tirin muttered a curse. Princess Jenneane stopped, probably in response to his ridiculous outburst. He dropped his gaze as she turned back.
"I like your costume," she whispered, leaning close enough that her perfume teased his nose. It was a light scent, young iri blossoms like those that grew on the outside walls of the palace in late spring. It was feminine, alluring.
Tirin tried to bite back the smile curving his lips. Costume indeed! He was unmasked and wearing his guard uniform. He bowed slightly. "Thank you, Highness."
"Should I call you Captain, or do you prefer me to use a name?"
He forgot himself and his place for a moment and looked at her face. The princess's lips were pulled up in a wide grin, and her green eyes glittered in mischief. His eyes locked on the emi bead encrusted choker at her throat.
Tirin lowered his eyes again, pushing away an errant vision of leading Princess Jenneane to his bed by a leash on that choker. Dear Fion! Where had that idea come from? "As you wish, Highness," he managed.
"I'd--" She sighed. "I would prefer to use your name." The princess sounded uncertain, nothing of the self-assured temptress he'd viewed across the room.
"This is my son, Highness," his mother interrupted excitedly. "He is Tirin Li, son of my first mate, General Kyril."
Tirin felt his face heat. "Enough, Mother. My lineage is of no importance," he argued.
"Well, of course it is, dear child. Any prospective mate--"
"It's all right, Captain," the princess assured him. "I understand."
Before Tirin could gauge her sudden reserve, she was gone. His eyes followed her, as Princess Jenneane left the ballroom. He growled in displeasure. More than once, she was forced to sidestep an overeager noble trying to lay hands on her.
Was this the life she led? Pursued? Men allowed to handle her, simply because she was of age to marry? Tirin hoped she chose a husband quickly and escaped this mockery of her purpose.
Or, perhaps it wasn't that simple. After all, the princess sought out his company. She didn't seem overly vexed by the men crowding her. Perhaps she liked the attention. Tirin had heard as much bandied about in rumors he would like to believe were vicious lies.
He glanced at Princess Gibril in distaste. It wasn't as if the idea of a princess who enjoyed the games was a new one on Kegin.
"I think that went well," Giriam noted. "Perhaps next time, you will offer more conversation for Her Highness's enjoyment, but she did notice you."
Tirin bit back a sound of disgust. It had been going well, until his mother interfered. "Why don't you go see how your daughter is progressing in her pursuit of Prince Joseph, Mother? I need a bit of fresh air."
He headed for the closest doors to the gardens without waiting for her answer. The last of the iri still in bloom sent visions of a silin-encased beauty with deep green eyes through his mind. Tirin pushed them away. He didn't want things to go well. Tirin didn't want a pampered princess.
Did he? * * * *
Jenneane slipped into her rooms, sighing in relief. Every occasion for more than a year, state or holiday, had been like this. She could talk to her parents, but Jenneane feared what would happen if the soldiers felt compelled to enforce the mores with fight batons. No. It was better to endure the crowds of hopefuls and weed them down to someone she could accept as her husband.
She bit her lip, the memory of the captain she'd spoken to filling her mind. He'd endeavored to hold to the mores, though his arousal was painted in his deep choc eyes. There were no games with him, no posturing, and no bold advances. Were it not for Tirin's rather overbearing mother and the knot of suitors led by Lord Byen making their way toward her, Jenneane would have enjoyed continuing her conversation with him.
Captain Tirin was wonderful. His gaze was unassuming almost to the point of uncertainty. His face--Jenneane was glad Tirin wasn't masked as most of the other men were. He was tall and muscular like most Keen soldiers were, more than a full head taller than she was and beautifully male. His black hair was cut short in the manner of many of the younger soldiers, but still long enough to run fingers through. She wanted to see that face and body again, but how would she manage that without being mobbed?
Jenneane smiled, heading to one of her cabinets. The suitors would be looking for this ridiculous outfit that Eve designed for her. If she changed clothing, Jenneane could slip in and find Captain Tirin.
She stilled with her hand on a full-skirted green ball gown. What if Tirin wasn't interested?
"Oh, be real," she grumbled in English. Was there a man on all of Kegin over the age of nineteen who didn't have his heart set on Jenneane's interest or the interest of one of the other princesses or re-bred ladies? "Probably not."
She pulled at the back closure of the costume in annoyance. It had taken Eve and Berel to get her into this bodysuit. Jenneane could call for a servant to help her with the tiny hooks, but that might take too long. She wanted to reach Captain Tirin before he decided to leave. Worse, any of her usual servants would see her nervousness, and she would be too closely watched to carry out her plan.
Jenneane unclipped the tail from the two tiny silin loops and tossed it aside. She'd have to wear the same mask, but the gown would cover her costume, and she could clip up her hair. Yes. That would do it. If she kept her eyes cast down, it would work. A quarter of an hour later, she surveyed the results of her efforts. It was perfect. Now she just had to find Captain Tirin. * * * *
Joseph smiled at the sight of the woman hurrying through the hidden corridors. Since he'd left the rest of his family in the ballroom only moments earlier, it had to be Neane. He hid in the ancient checkpoint designed to police the use of the corridors and waited for her to pass him.
He touched her shoulder, falling back with a laugh and blocking her blows. "It's me, Neanie. Calm down."
His twin sister struck him again with a frustrated growl. She really did hate people touching her without her consent. Joseph felt a pang of regret for causing her discomfort. She'd had more than her share in the ballroom.
"Are you insane?" she whispered in a fierce voice.
Joseph cupped his hands on her shoulders. "Come now. Who else would be in these corridors?"
Neane shook off his grip. "Why are you here?"
"I escaped just like you did. I'll bet Panor is furious with us."
"I don't particularly care."
"I know he's not Pyter--"
Neane scowled as she always did when someone mentioned their beloved 'Pappy.' "Don't compare them with me," she warned.
He looked at the ball gown and the mask in her hand suspiciously. "You've made your escape. Why are you going back in a new outfit?"
She shifted from foot to foot and pulled at a curl over her ear, a nervous habit she'd had for as long as Joseph could remember. "I--Oh, Joseph." Neane looked at him miserably.
He smiled. Neane wanted to lie, but she had never been able to lie to him. He glanced at the mask again, and his smile disappeared. "You're meeting someone, aren't you?"
"No." She glanced at his face, reading his mistrust clearly just as he intended. "Not really. I'm looking for someone."
"Who?" he demanded.
"Please, Joseph. I just--I think I could like this one, if I could just get a few minutes of peace with him to find out. He doesn't hound me or paw at me." She looked heartbreakingly hopeful.
Joseph touched her cheek. "Father would gladly end that. You know he would, if he knew how much it bothered you."
Neane shook her head. "Some fool would just get himself hurt."
"Better than them hurting you," he reasoned.
She lowered her gaze, pulling at the curl again. "No one has hurt me, Joseph."
Yet. But, the crowds get more out of hand every time they gather. He sighed. "I'll take you."
"No," she gasped.
"You can't hide."
"Just to the ballroom. I'll leave you to find the man in peace."
Neane smiled in the dim light around them. "Thank you, Joseph."
"You still won't tell me who he is?"
"Soon. If he's the one. You have my word."
"Very well. I will probably hate myself for allowing this." Neane would be safe in the ballroom. Joseph could keep a close watch over her and intervene if the pack of suitors ... or one suitor got out of hand.
He led her through the corridors to the exit near the kitchens. They parted company there. Joseph laid a kiss on his twin's cheek then pulled her mask over her face.
"Good luck to you, Neane," he whispered.
"And to you."
"I'll have Panor deflect the worst of the pawing. Don't be afraid to ask for help, if you need it."
Joseph made his way to the dais where his family sat. His parents held the center seats with Joseph's place at his father's left empty and waiting for him and his youngest sibling, Pyter, in the next seat. Neane's place to their mother's right was also empty, but Eve and Rebecca chatted from their seats.
Gibril's chair stood empty. The only one of Uncle Michael's brood to attend this year was probably off tending to her own amusements. Knowing Gibby, those amusements consisted of teasing young lords with her approaching adulthood and budding availability. Joseph was glad none of his sisters enjoyed that game. Keen men were a fiercely sexual lot, almost equal to the females they pursued.
He brushed away several unwelcome advances on his way to his father's side. Life was no easier for Joseph than it was for Neane. Though Uncle Michael was next in line for the throne if Jole died before Michael did, Michael had abdicated that role long ago, and Joseph was heir apparent. Few noblewomen weren't on the hunt to become the next queen.
He flicked glances at Neane as he crossed the ballroom. She moved steadily, her eyes cast down, seemingly not finding what she sought. Joseph ached for her. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to find someone to share your life with only to lose the chance to follow that path.
"Why so tense, Joseph?" his father asked as he sank into his chair.
Joseph leaned back in the padded throne, crossing his legs at the ankle and steepling his hands in front of his face. "Escaping my avid admirers, Father."
"When the right one appears, you'll know it."
"Hmm." Joseph knew it, but he had to bide his time. He watched Neane out of the corner of his eye. He just hoped Neane knew it as fully as he did.
She stilled, meeting a man's eyes, then turned and made her way out of the ballroom. Joseph's heart beat hard against his ribs.
He reasoned himself calmer. Neane was inside the palace. One scream would bring the guards.
The man glanced toward the dais, smiling widely. He turned and followed Neane.
Joseph swallowed a sour wave. Lord Byen was the man Neane sought? Please Fion! Let her see what poison that man is. Byen wasn't meant for her. Joseph wouldn't wish that undisciplined buck wariken on Gibby.
"Joseph?" their mother called. "Where is your twin sister?"
Byen disappeared from view.
For a fleeting moment, Joseph considered sending Panor after her--or going himself, but he'd given his word that he'd leave her in peace. "I don't know, Mother." Fion, protect her. Neane isn't ready for a man like Byen.