Khantara is a Haanta conqueror, meant to wage war and rule over the enemy nation of Thellis, but after vanquishing Thellis and occupying a construction of a Haanta outpost, he meets Anelta, a woman enslaved by her own people bearing a brand of servitude on her neck. Khantara contrives to save her from a cruel home and bring her to the refuge his people can provide, but how can he do so successfully when the eyes of Thellis are upon him?
She grinned with senseless glee and thus began her inspection: the enormity of his arms, the extent of his chest, the broadness of his gargantuan back brought all its usual delights, but seeing features so close gave her unfathomable joy. She had been used to see him from so lofty a height that though he ever leaned down to listen to and speak with her, she could never gain a full viewing of his aspects. Now, however, every attribute was before her in the purest light: his square chin and wide maw complemented his high cheekbones; his moderate nose, bent and flattened at its bridge, accorded him a something like gallantry; his sparse grey brows and deep-set eyes granted the seriousness of continual deliberation; and all of this framed by a trail of thick and cylindrical locks afforded him a handsomeness merely for his individuality. The one feature of greatest interest to her was the large and gaping scar riving his left cheek. It extended as high as the corner of his eye and was drawn down to the bottom of his chin. She was forcibly struck with it, as there was no creature in her limited understanding that could make such a mark. She wondered that he had lived after sustaining such an injury and that he had not been more marred by whatever had given him such a disfiguration. There were scars enough scattered throughout his body, many along his arms and some upon his chest, but none were so large as the one on his face. She was entranced by it, was narrowing her gaze to better investigate it, and was even putting her hand to it, but the instant her fingertips made the unconscious connection with the giant’s skin, his black and golden eyes peered open, his lips curled into a smile and she drew back her hand in sudden horror.
“That was given to me on my first Endaraas,” said Khantara with perfect calmness. “Endaraas are the traditional hunts in which all of our men participate. One of the hangaara, the large black cats that live on the islands, attacked me. I did not yet know the jungle had entered her den unintentionally. She thought I had come to hunt her young when in truth I was hunting her mate. She lunged and I attempted to escape, but I soon became trapped and was forced to kill her if I was to survive.” He looked down momentarily, and then, with half a sigh and turning back to her, said, “I won the Endaraas, but I did not win unmarked.”
He made his explication, but she had not heard him. Still struck by his not being asleep, she wondered at how much of her assessment he had seen through the indiscernible slit of partially-opened eyes. “I…” she stammered, looking away and holding her retracted hand to her breast. “I apologize. You were—that is, I thought you were sleeping.” The shame of her forwardness assailed her, and she endeavoured to turn away only to be pulled further toward him by a gentle curling of the hand beneath her. She closed her eyes, inhaled, and dreaded to look back; his smiles were too pleasing, and to see them at such convenience was an added disconcertion. She must look back and address him, however; he seemed to be waiting for her to do so with his silence and his drawing her ever nearer. When she did find the audacity to glance once more, she found his features so very near hers that she could feel the warmth of his exhalations. Her chest surged, her throat tightened, and when the tips of their noses grazed, she felt unequal to speak under such pleasant anguish until his droning words arrived to soothe her.
“Amghari are trained to rest in meditation,” the giant thrummed. “We do not sleep.” He smiled at her, enjoying their closeness. He could, if he wished, relinquish his principles to imprudence; she was so artless and beguiling, and her ignorance to her excellence made her even more desirable. He leaned forward, his mouth hovering over hers. “Your mate has not returned,” he observed, his eyes smiling.
“No,” Anelta breathed, “he hasn’t.”
She was ceaselessly oppressed. Would that he were not so near her, she should not be so desirous of what his pleasing lips could warrant. She silently entreated him to right himself, governing herself not to give way to indiscretion, but he was lifting her back, he was grasping her chin, and before she could make any remonstrations, his mouth was upon hers and her mind was in a silent rapture. Her body stiffened in the terror of what she was doing: she was kissing someone, and was even kissing a Haanta supreme commander. Such a notion beleaguered her with feelings of unworthiness, but the tongue parting her lips and invading her mouth was attestation enough to the contrary. He deemed her laudable enough to touch, to hold, to ravish, and this must be all her consolation. She was persuaded by his wandering hands and pleasurable mouth to pull on his locks and arch her back in answer. Affection and predilection with a warming glow she had never hitherto felt resonated within her, and she would not have removed from him for the world.
About the Author: Michelle Franklin