The door opens with a soft click, and it’s him. I can feel it. Suddenly I feel everything, the clothes and air on my skin, the anticipation in my gut, and the movement of him in the room. His footfalls are soft and steady, and I hear him enter the dressing room and the rustle of fabric. Then he’s coming towards me, and my heart rate speeds up. An odd thought strikes me. Has this all been one night? I never thought my world could change so quickly.
Then I hear the whisper of the silk tent and his voice, deeper, more commanding, just like a King. “They told me a gift was waiting. You are not what I expected.”
And just like that, reality drops away. I swallow. “No?”
“No.” The air moves around me, and I can feel him walking slowly around me. I think about just how much these clothes reveal and blush. He completes his circle, stopping in front of me, and I feel fabric brushing against my knees.
Fingers are in my hair and I stiffen, and relax, realizing he’s undoing the blindfold. Everything seems bright now, and I blink trying to regain my vision. When I do, I lose something else—my breath. Cole stands before me in a glorious costume. Long flowing pants, with an embroidered coat. He’s shirtless under the coat, and the sight of his chest, perfect and sculpted, better than I even imagined, distracts me. There’s a hint of ink peeking around his ribs, but I can’t see what it is. His hair is tousled with the careless grace of royalty, and his stance holds the confidence and arrogance of the same. He’s staring at me, his face unyielding, and my mouth waters. He’s gorgeous, and every inch a king. Given to him or not, I want him. I shouldn’t want him, but I do.
He walks over to one of the low couches, sprawling across it with lazy grace. “Stand.”
A command. There’s nothing in his voice that doubts I’ll obey. I stand, the clothes catching the light and sparkling. The split in the skirt falls open with the movement, exposing my leg. I see the corner of his mouth tug up into a ghost of a smile. Barely there.
I clear my throat. “What do I call you?”
“Your Majesty will do. Or highness.” He moves his finger in a small circle. “Turn.”
I do, slowly, feeling his eyes on me the whole time. It’s like they’re searing my skin with the heat they’re giving, and despite myself, I feel that same tiny thrill—that desire.
When I’m facing him again, he tilts his head like he’s trying to solve a puzzle. “You’re not from my country.”
“No, your majesty.”
He smiles. “So how did you come to be here?”
I swallow again, the story coming to life in my brain. “My family tends animals. I was alone with a group of cattle when I was taken. Sold at a market to the group that brought me here.”
He frowns a little. “And do you know who they are?”
I shake my head. He considers me for a while in silence before speaking again. “Have you ever been with a man?”
I look down at the carpet, face suddenly hot, body suddenly hotter. “No, your majesty.”
Silence again, longer this time. “I’m trying to figure out what to do with you.”
“I know why you are here,” he says, waving a hand. “I know what is expected. But since you didn’t choose to be in my presence wearing clothes like that, I find myself with a bit of a…conundrum.”
I don’t say anything.
“Unfortunately, the men who brought you here are not men I can afford to be on the wrong side of.” He smiles. “I can’t offend them by not accepting their gift in some way. But, I’m not a monster. I won’t force you. If you do not wish it, I’ll send you away, and you will have a place in my household as a servant.”
The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. “And if I do, I’ll have a place in your harem?”
He gives me that ghost smile. “Actually, I was going to say that I’ll let you go home.” My breath stills in my chest. “Really?”
“And why couldn’t it be both? You could send me away now and still let me go home.”
He stands, crossing the distance between us. “I wish it were that simple, but I’m not a fool. They have spies everywhere. If they see you leave my rooms now, and don’t see you serving tomorrow, they will be offended. But if you leave in the morning, they’ll never think of you again.”