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The Tiger - Prequel to Adamare

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Now Available from Whiskey Creek Press - Torrid
 
The Tiger ~ Prequel to Adamare

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Chapter 2

Four days earlier

Adama Fawkes sat fidgeting upon the ornate chair. She swung her feet and folded then unfolded a long pleat in her gown. She was at yet another function with her mother. This time it was a ball to honor the dignitaries from the non-alliance countries. She sighed and surveyed the room, not really looking at anything, simply trying to alleviate her boredom.

She had begged her mother, Queen Lucia, to allow her to come along on this diplomatic conference, the first time she’d been among so many other nationalities. She was going to military academy in the fall and wanted to spend this summer traveling.

The ball had been going on for nearly an hour, and Adama found herself quite irritated with the social constraints which required her to sit and receive visitors before she could mingle or dance. Had she known how dull things were going to be, she might have simply stayed in Lyros. At least then she could have been with her friends.

He entered the room in a loud attention-grabbing scene.

Tall compared to others of his land, he stood nearly six feet tall. He was muscular, fit and lean, obviously a horseman. He was a prince from the Eastern plains of Tartak, and his face revealed a cold, cruel demeanor.

Adama had never seen a man who looked so fierce and she watched him intently.

His eyes were almond-shaped and tilted slightly at the edge; they were dark brown, almost black. A long thin aquiline nose with a razor sharp edge gave his face a regal appearance and he wore no beard or mustache.

He removed his hat and revealed long, thick, black hair decorated with warriors braids that ended in feathers and silver and lapis beads. He was handsome and he knew it, but one look revealed he was dangerous as well.

He was dressed in a long silk shirt to just above his knees, done in peacock blue, and embroidered with silver thread. He wore several chains and medallions around his neck. His waist was encircled in a wide leather belt decorated with more beaten silver, and under the shirt he wore heavy white pants that ended in leather boots which laced nearly to his knees. He looked every inch the raider he was.

He entered the room noisily, surrounded by several soldiers. He threw his black cape and hat at one of them then stood surveying the room, fists on his hips.

The people of Tartak were known as Tarks and their soldiers were known to be particularly bloodthirsty. They were traditionally raiders, and everyone knew they were the finest horsemen in the world.

The majordomo introduced him, and once the prince was certain he’d gotten sufficient attention, he walked down the steps with an arrogant demeanor, into the ballroom below. His men followed him noisily, glaring at those who looked at them and muttering in their native tongue.

Tengri-Khan was twenty-six years old and was the son of Mehtar Aga-Khan, the ruler of the Lower Eastern Provinces. Tengri was also a ferocious warrior and had a reputation as a brutal ruler. No family wanted to send him a daughter to marry, since his reputation preceded him, and therefore he remained unwed, although he had a number of bastard sons. The rumor was that his father had ordered him to appear more civilized and find himself a wife. Once he was married and had an heir, Mehtar Aga-Khan didn’t care what his son did.

Queen Lucia pulled Adama behind herself as the Royal Tark passed them. Adama, ever curious, stood on tiptoes to peer over her mother’s shoulder, watching him boldly.

He appeared not to notice at all then stopped and turned back.

Lucia’s guards stepped together, effectively blocking him from coming any closer. They were fully a head taller than he was, and stared straight ahead as he leaned back and looked up at them.

Adama saw him and smiled. She was awestruck by this forceful, charming man.

He saw her and grinned back, then boldly made a kiss in her direction and turned away.

Lucia whirled on her daughter. “You stay away from him!” She was angry and frightened, Adama knew. “He’s a dangerous barbarian, and shouldn’t even be allowed among civilized people.” She looked at his retreating back. “I do not want to see you near him, Adama.”

“Yes, Mother,” Adama replied, even then planning a way to get closer to him and see for herself if he was as dangerous as they said.

He didn’t look too bad, maybe he was only misunderstood? For now she simply wanted to get away from her mother for a bit.

“May I go and get myself a drink, Mother?” she asked.

Lucia pursed her lips. “Alexei, please go and get Princess Adama some punch,” she ordered a nearby servant.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Alexei said and quickly went to fetch her drink.

Adama sighed and flounced onto a chair near her mother. “I’m bored,” she breathed. She opened her hand and a tiny ball of magical light rolled and danced along her palm. She wasn’t very powerful yet, but there was definitely some magic within her. No one else in her family had any magic, and she sometimes wondered if that made her an oddity. It wasn’t the sort of thing she shared with her friends, but she had shown Christian, and the queen. Her mother had seemed pleased when she’d shyly revealed what she thought, and promised to see to it she was properly schooled when the time was right. Adama wished the time was right now.

Lucia glanced at her sharply. “Really Adama, stop that!”

Adama closed her hand.

“You know how to act better than this.” She decided to change the subject. “There will be dancing soon, perhaps you’d like that?”

“I don’t think so… Christian isn’t here,” she pouted. They had left him in Tourn to visit a military academy. She missed him. It was strange not having him around to talk to and laugh with.

“Adama, you shouldn’t limit yourself to him exclusively. You cannot marry him. Christian is a sweet boy, but you must marry someone of royal lineage. It would be better if you would at least consider other suitors,” her mother reminded, not for the first time.

“Yes, Mother.” Her tone was syrupy and insolent at the same time, causing the queen to bristle.

Lucia shook her head and decided to drop the subject for now. At some point Adama would have to give up the Andalosian boy. She hoped it would be soon.

Adama scanned the room trying to find something to do besides talk to her mother. Alexei brought her punch and a few small cakes on a china plate, bowing low as he gave them to her. She smiled her thanks.

Alexei looked at her and said quietly, “They call him ‘The Tiger’.”

“The Tiger? Hmm…sounds dangerous,” she said grinning.

She sipped her drink and looked around. She saw the Tarks had taken up a strategic position at the farthest back corner of the ballroom. They faced out, but had the doors behind them.

The Prince, Tengri-Khan was seated on an ornate embroidered chair like the one she sat upon.

He was speaking to an overdressed lady who looked old enough to be his mother. The woman laughed and tapped him with a folded up fan.

He glanced up and locked eyes with her, catching her watching him, and he grinned.

She looked away quickly. Why was she so interested in him? she asked herself.

The orchestra had begun to play some sort of disjointed tune in the style of the Qasslian homeland. A few of the Qassli dignitaries made their way to the dance floor and moved to the music.

Adama sighed and pulled a loose thread from her gown.

Several people had stopped to speak to Lucia and take the opportunity to introduce themselves and their marriageable sons to Lucia and Adama. It wasn’t often Queen Lucia left Lyros and no one wanted to miss the opportunity to speak to her, and maybe meet her daughter as well. Adama would nod politely or speak to some pimply boy who would sit beside her, but noticed quickly what her mother was doing. With some of the people the queen spoke to she merely nodded and smiled, while with others, she would engage them in conversation and subtly touch her secretary on the shoulder. The girl would record the name of the person to whom the queen was speaking.

Outraged, Adama realized her mother was lining up prospective husbands for her. Once again, she was being shown like a prize mare!

Silently she fumed. She didn’t even want to marry, but no one seemed to care.

From across the room, Tengri-Khan watched it all, his eyes slightly narrowed. She was beautiful and he knew he must have her.

Adama felt his eyes on her and turned to look. His black eyes bored into hers, seemingly into her soul. His face revealed nothing.

Without looking away, he raised a hand and one of his men bent to hear what he said. The soldier bowed low then stood and approached Lucia’s party. He stopped well before the guards and bowed low again.

“Most Gracious Lady. His Majesty Tengri-Khan requests the honor of a dance with your lovely daughter.”

“No,” Lucia said firmly.

“Yes,” Adama said immediately and stood up. She could see his brilliant smile from across the room.

“Adama, I really don’t think…”

“Mother, I shall be fine. There are a hundred people here. It’s not as though he’ll carry me off.” She laughed.

Lucia didn’t laugh. She suddenly wished very much she’d left Adama in Lyros. “One dance, then you go back to our rooms and you can think about your apology for defying me.”

“Agreed,” Adama said flippantly.

The orchestra had begun a more sedate tune and Adama walked to the dance floor to the waiting hand of the Tiger.

He kissed her hand and then swung her into his strong arms.

He knew the dance and danced well, turning and stopping as the music dictated.

“You dance well, sir,” she breathed.

He flashed his white teeth at her. “Thank you. You have not told me your name.” His voice was low and he spoke Andalosian with a beautiful accent. Everyone used Andalosian as a courtesy here in the capitol.

“Adama…I mean, Princess Adama Fawkes.”

He smiled. “I am Prince Tengri-Khan,” he said and inclined his head towards her.

“Why do they call you the Tiger?” she asked him boldly.

“So you know of me?” He laughed.

She smiled and her cheeks turned pink, charming him.

“It is because of my stripes,” he said softly then added, “or perhaps because I am ferocious.”

“You seem quite tame to me.”

“Looks can be deceiving. I am much more dangerous than I appear, I assure you.” He looked closely at her. “You, on the other hand, appear to be a very sweet and lovely young virgin.” He dipped his head and ran his tongue around the delicate shell of her ear.

She shivered deliciously and drew back. “I’m no virgin,” she said hotly.

He laughed and turned her to the music. The steps called for him to hold her close to his body. He pulled her in tightly and she could feel how rock solid he was.

“Maybe no virgin, but not experienced either, are you?” he whispered in her ear.

She stepped away from him, cheeks blazing.

He regarded her mildly.

“I’m done dancing. Thank you,” she said and turned to leave.

Incensed at her dismissal of him he grabbed her arm and whipped her around to face him. As she turned, she swung hard and struck him across the face. He didn’t release her arm, but dug in painfully as he bent away from her blow. His other hand came up to his face quickly, touching the corner of his mouth where she’d split his lip.

Orospu!” he swore. No woman had ever struck him before.

He held onto her and examined the blood on his fingertips then looked her in the eyes. Furious fire stared back at him from their green depths.

“Release my arm at once,” she said firmly.

He looked at her a moment longer, then grinned a slow, menacing grin. He let her go.

The room was deathly silent.

She hesitated a second before turning, and he said to her, “Bir azmetek sahip, olmak sana; I will have you, my beauty.” His black eyes burned into her as he spoke softly, making sure she knew exactly what he’d said. She backed up a step, suddenly frightened.

Her mother’s guards were moving towards them, and she could see Tengri’s men approaching as well.

Everyone stopped when the Tark said, “KESMEK!” He held up a hand. “Simdi biz hazir!”

He raked his eyes across her boldly then turned and left the ballroom.

She stood her ground despite her trembling legs until he left, then turned and saw her mother’s angry glare.

Lucas Masters, her mother’s man at arms, stood beside her and she turned to him. “Will you please take me to my room?”

In her room, Molly, her maid, rushed to help her remove her gown, then helped her into her silk robe.

“Do you wish to bathe tonight, Mistress?” Molly asked.

“No, Molly, I think I’ll just go to bed.”

“Is everything alright, my lady?” she asked, concerned.

Adama sighed. “I’ve managed to attract the attention and the ire of Tengri-Khan, Molly, and my mother is extremely angry with me for causing a scene as well as defying her.” She sighed again. “No, I’d say everything probably isn’t alright.”

“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” Molly asked. She would never understand the nobility.

Adama smiled tiredly at her. “No thank you, I think I just need to go to sleep.”

Molly dipped a little curtsey then left, closing the door behind her.

Adama walked to the terrace. She could hear music flowing from the ballroom downstairs. Her mother was furious with her, she knew; and while that distressed her, she was more upset about Tengri-Khan.

He had been serious when he said those words to her. “I will have you…”

She looked out at the dark sky. No stars or moon shone through and it was as black as his eyes. Her blood ran cold and hot when she thought of how strong he’d been, as well as how warm and tingly she had felt when he held her tightly to his body. She ran her hands lightly up her own arms.

He had sent waves of excited fear through her, and she was vaguely ashamed of how she’d felt when his tongue had caressed her ear.

“You liked me touching you.” Adama whirled around. Tengri-Khan was sitting on the ledge at the corner of the terrace.

“How did you get here?” she demanded.

“I’d say that was obvious, Princess,” he said, cutting his eyes over the side of the wall to the darkness below.

“You can’t be here!” A knot of terror coiled inside her stomach. All alone with this rough, rude man, and no one was close enough to help her if she needed it.

He leapt nimbly from the ledge, landing silently near her. She stood stock still.

“You drew blood on me, girl,” he reminded her. Slowly he circled her, examining her body through the sheer robe. She swallowed hard, and watched him until he was behind her.

“You must leave, right now! Sen Hazir!” she said, attempting to speak his language.

He chuckled low. “Your Tarkir isn’t very good, but I’m charmed nonetheless.” He stepped closely behind her and ran his hands lightly up her body.

She gasped and shuddered.

“Are you sure you aren’t a virgin?” He chuckled. “You act like one.”

“Please…”

“I’ll go, but first you must pay me a forfeit for drawing blood on a royal Tark,” he said.

Cautious relief flooded her. This was all about money! She could manage that. “How much do you want?”

He still held her shoulders, and she turned to face him.

“Kiss me.”

“What?! No!”

He let her go then entered her bedroom and threw himself onto her bed, his spurs and belts jingled musically.

“You can’t be here!” she hissed, shocked at his boldness, and hurried after him

“Why don’t you call your guards?” he asked.

“I…” she floundered. She didn’t want to see him hurt.

“Come here.” He sensed her hesitancy.

“No.” She was desperate to regain some control of this situation.

“Then I’ll be here until your mother arrives.”

“Her guards will kill you!” she whispered, horrified.

“Then you must kiss me before I die,” he mocked.

“If I kiss you, will you go?”

“I will go.”

She crossed to the bed and leaned down, then pecked him on the lips.

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Is that how you kissed the boy who took your virtue?”

“I…um…no,” she said, her cheeks blazing.

His dark eyes flashed as he reached up and drew her down to him again.

His lips found hers in a feather touch and she felt his tongue flick out and touch her lips as well.

“This is how a woman should be kissed, Seref‘behar,” he said softly.

Tentatively she opened her mouth to him and allowed him to explore as her own tongue cautiously touched his. A flower of passion began to bloom in her breast, and she felt slightly breathless.

He pulled her onto the bed beside him and deepened the kiss, running one hand through her hair, caressing her cheek.

All at once, he stopped and got up, leaving her lying there.

“I shall come again.” He left the bedroom and, then leapt over the ledge. She heard him speak to his men, and they clattered out of the courtyard in a noisy racket.

She lay on her bed touching her lips, confused at her warring emotions. She knew she should tell her mother he’d been here, alert her guards at once. She was suddenly unsure of what to do, and most definitely unsure of how she felt about Christian. He had never kissed her that way before, and she’d never felt as inflamed as she had when Tengri-Khan had kissed her.