Sadie collapsed onto the heir of Zammar’s bed platform, breathless. Prince Jalen ‘Anaq Al-Jameyri’s chest was pressed to her back and the sound of their combined panting was all she heard. Her body still trembled from the aftershocks of one more explosive orgasm, and she had to consciously unclench her fingers from where they were gripping the bedding.
As she regained her senses, she realized Jalen—calling him prince in the recesses of her own mind was getting harder every day—was dancing butterfly kisses along her shoulders and neck as his labored breathing slowed back to its natural rhythm. Each tiny kiss sent shivers down her spine, reminding her of how he could make her feel.
She marveled at how he could coax her to climax time and time again. It didn’t matter how sated she felt, he had ways to make her body sing with his touch and his mouth. She didn’t know why he even bothered to try, but she was thankful for that fact. She didn’t think she would have been able to keep up with his appetites otherwise.
If someone had asked her a month ago if she looked forward to becoming Prince Jalen’s favorite lover, she would have scoffed.
She never expected her quiet life spent tending to her sick or hurt neighbors would be upended so thoroughly. There had been the attack, the imprisonment, and the trial. Then, the verdict: death by decapitation, no chance to appeal. She had been seconds away from death when Jalen had intervened, buying her service as a diversion for year in exchange for her life when that time had elapsed. And now, here she was, living in his wing of the royal palace, pampered and protected.
In spite of the strangeness of her new life, she found herself happier than she’d been since her parents’ death almost three years ago. It was quite strange, frankly, and not something she really wanted to dwell on. Jalen showed her all the care she could ever hope from a man such as him. In exchange, she held nothing back in the bedroom, learning all she could about his tastes and desires, and she never refused him.
He was insatiable.
After that first week living in the palace—a week Jalen had spent avoiding her for some reason—he had come to find her almost every day, sometimes several times a day. And he didn’t seem to care about their location: the gardens, the baths, his room, hers. There had even been that one time in the hallway leading to his chambers where he’d taken her against a wall. Sadie both blushed and smiled wistfully at the memory.
Nevertheless, a cloud hung over her otherwise contented existence. Sadie knew Jalen was ill.
She didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he always sent her away before he disappeared for the night, only to reappear the next day, exhausted and his muscles worked to the point of injury.
So she used her healing energy any time he let his guard down. It was never enough to heal him completely, but it did ease his pain. Sadie wanted to do more, but she didn’t know how to bring up the subject. He was such a private person, and she was only a welcome distraction to him. His little firebrand.
I can’t lose my heart, she reminded herself. But not caring was getting harder every day.
“Sleep while you can, little firebrand. I’m not through with you yet,” Jalen whispered in her ear, ending her musing. Her skin grew tingly at the promise contained in those few words.
Jalen shifted his weight off her back and his now soft cock slipped free of her body. She sighed, still not used to the sense of loss the action created. He held onto her hips and pulled her onto her side, then wrapped his arm around her waist to hold her close. Perhaps she should rest. He may not let her get another chance.
She snuggled back more comfortably against him and pulled his arm up between her breasts, using it like a blanket.
Jalen pulled his hand free and cupped her breast in it. He gave it a gentle squeeze and ran his thumb across her nipple, making it grow taut. In spite of how tired she felt, her breath caught in her throat, and she moaned softly.
The prince chuckled. “Not done with you yet at all,” he whispered.
He let his hand rest possessively on her breast, and Sadie’s last recollection before she fell asleep was of his warmth surrounding her.
The beast within Jalen’s mind was still and silent, satiated for the moment. Increasingly, it urged Jalen to take what he wanted, when he wanted it. It threatened his very sanity. Jalen was still in control, at least for now, and still able to keep the beast quiet by channeling it through rage filled nights or lust filled days. He didn’t know how long this would last. The sickness was progressing faster than he had hoped. Soon—a few weeks, a few months at best—he wouldn’t be able to resist it anymore.
One thing helped him hang on to his sanity. Jalen found clarity from the madness every time he bedded Sadie. For that reason, he kept her near and naked as often as his duties around the palace would allow. The curse made him insatiable. He sometimes had to remind himself that he should give her time to rest lest he end up hurting her by accident.
Jalen was contemplating waking Sadie for another round of bedplay when a soft knock on the bedroom door interrupted him. He gently disentangled himself from Sadie’s sleeping form, and sat on the edge of the bed.
He looked down on her as she snuggled her hand closer to her face. Mine! the beast in his chest growled. Jalen agreed. She was his.
He realized his hands were gripping the bed cover tightly enough his knuckles had turned white. Jalen cursed, annoyed at his growing inability to separate the curse’s influence from his own desires. He had to force himself to release his grasp on the edge of the bed. He turned and grabbed his discarded wrap pants from the floor. He hastily pulled them on before he strode toward the door.
He opened it to see Kadar standing on the other side. He’d known Kadar for eighteen years and fought side by side with him, so he knew the man must have news to share or he wouldn’t interrupt him while Sadie was in the room. “You have something to report?” he asked, frowning.
“Yes,” Kadar answered.
“Can’t it wait?”
“I thought you’d want to hear about this at once.”
Jalen stepped outside and reached back to pull the door closed behind him. As he did so, it didn’t escape his notice that Marek, on duty guarding his chambers, turned his head just enough so he could see inside using his peripheral vision. He knew Sadie’s naked form was within the man’s line of sight.
The rage swirled higher and the beast growled again, Mine! Jalen took a steadying breath, forcing the rage to the back of his mind. Jalen longed to oust Marek from his entourage. Unfortunately the man’s position within the palace was secure or he would have been dismissed that first day. In any case, he had to admit Kadar had managed to keep Marek in line. There had been no more reports of improper behavior towards Sadie.
The beast blustered Mine! one more time before falling silent.
“We found him,” Kadar said, bringing Jalen’s attention back to him. “The mercenary who attacked Sadie. We finally found him.”
The beast flexed in pleasure at the news.
“We’re transporting him to the city jail for a more thorough interrogation—” Kadar’s eyes lit with the excitement of the hunt “—but I couldn’t wait to extract an initial report.”
Jalen could picture the process. He’d seen Kadar work before.
He glanced around the room. Marek’s eyes held too much interest. Normal curiosity? Or something more?
Jalen turned to Baqi, Fahd, and Marek and dismissed them. “You are relieved of duty for a half-hour. Seek your leisure elsewhere.” He waited until they quit the room before turning to Kadar. “And?”
“She’s not the only healer within the city—or surrounding towns—that has been targeted. Someone wants all the healers dead.”
Jalen straightened, his expression sharpening. “All healers?”
“Yes. We knew about the magical healers, but even some of the herbalists, like Sadie, have been targeted.”
Interesting. And worrisome. Why would someone target healers? He had the sinking suspicion someone was making damn sure he didn’t find a cure.
“Do you know who ordered the purge?” he asked Kadar tightly.
Kadar shook his head. “Not yet. There are rumors circulating of bribes being given to some bureaucrats like the one in charge of Sadie’s trial, but no one’s been implicated. I’m hoping our prisoner can shed some light into the matter.”
Someone had bribed people to get rid of his little firebrand. Jalen felt the beast inside his mind press at his control. It was with great difficulty that he suppressed his emotions.
“Is that all?” he inquired when Kadar made no move to leave.
Kadar hesitated. “There must be more to your Sadie than you know,” he finally said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she possessed magical abilities of her own.”
A magical healer? No. She couldn’t be. He wouldn’t allow himself to hope for the impossible.
“She’s not,” Jalen said at once.
“Did you ask her?”
“Yes. I did a month ago. She listed the things she did in her shop. All herbalist remedies.” He dismissed Kadar’s question. “She’s no magical healer, no matter how much I would want her to be.”
“I think you’re wrong, Jalen. What about the massage?”
“I was exhausted. Her massage relaxed me. Nothing more.”
Undeterred, Kadar forged on. “Before her death, Sadie’s mother used to have quite a reputation for her almost miraculous ability to heal just about any injury or illness. Rumors are that your Sadie inherited more than her mother’s shop—”
The beast growled in irritation at Kadar’s continued insistence. It didn’t want to listen, and it forced itself forward. “Enough,” Jalen snapped, his ears buzzing from its proximity, distracting him. “I don’t want to hear another word on this subject.” Did he? Or was it the curse’s influence that made him think this way? He shook away the self-doubt.
Kadar frowned at him and opened his mouth to protest. Jalen didn’t want to hear it. “Back to your post captain,” he ordered. Kadar did not respond.
Jalen’s anger grew. He did a quick check to see if his hands trembled. He relaxed an iota when he did not detect any tell-tale signs that an episode was imminent. He still had time for another round with Sadie. Maybe two. It might even clear his head of the incessant buzzing the beast created.
“Send her away for the night, Jalen,” Kadar implored.
Jalen focused on his friend again.
“Your eyes—” Kadar hesitated “—your neck… It’s waking. You’ll put her in danger. Send her away.”
Jalen felt in control. Did he not just confirm his hands were steady? So he chose to ignore the request and stalked back into his bedroom, using a whisper of power to slam the door behind him.