Soft fingers gently stroked Inara’s back, pulling her away from her slumber. Her eyes slowly fluttered open and she was met with sunlight streaming inside the cottage.
“Good morning,” a male voice whispered, pressing his lips against Inara’s ear and Inara smiled as the events of the other night filled her mind.
Her entire body shivered with excitement as Zan’s lips moved from her ear down to her neck, before his fingers cupped her chin and turned her face to meet his in a kiss that made heat build at the center of her body. “Good morning,” she said back once they pulled apart. She turned her body around to face Zan, who was laying on his side, arm bent at the elbow and his hand supporting his head. The smile on his lips made Inara blush. Once upon a time, having Zan look at her with such adoration had only been a fantasy. She still couldn’t believe that now it was a reality. “What are you doing?”
“Staring at the most beautiful woman in the universe.”
Once again, her cheeks reddened, and she had to hide her face in her pillow. “You’re so full of it, your Highness,” she said with a giggle before looking at him again.
“No, I’m serious,” he replied. “Laying here, watching you sleep…you’re gorgeous.” Then a playful smirk spread across his lips. “Even if you do snore.”
Inara gasped. “I do not!” She said, playfully smacking his shoulder and making Zan chuckle in response.
“Sorry, but you do. It’s a cute snore, though. Not at all manly.”
Without warning, Inara launched herself at Zan, pinning him down to the bed. “And here I thought you were a gentleman.”
Zan was unable to respond though. He was too preoccupied with Inara’s beautiful, naked form on top of him. Her body was flawless, and his eyes began to darken with desire. Inara noticed this and her body immediately responded as the atmosphere around them went from playful to erotic.
“Inara, the thoughts running through my mind right now are anything but gentlemanly,” he said, his voice coming out huskier than before.
The ache in her center grew as she felt’s Zan’s manhood begin to harden underneath the sheets. She began to rock her body against his hard length, smiling as a guttural moan escaped his lips. She loved having this kind of power over him. She was just about say so when Zan reached up and pulled her face down to his.
Their lips met in a passionate frenzy that drove Inara wild. As their mouths opened and their tongues dueled, Zan couldn’t stop his hands from roaming over her naked body, running up her legs, across her back and then moving around to gently message her breasts.
Inara gasped against Zan’s mouth and he felt himself grow harder. He had to have her. Now! She must’ve been able to sense this because she immediately sat up, pulling the sheets away from Zan, exposing his hard length to her.
She didn’t know if there was anything more beautiful than the sight of this naked, muscular man beneath her. Feeling mischievous, she wrapped her fingers around his swollen member and began to slowly move her hand in an up and down motion.
“Gods!” Zan gasped, gripping the mattress and closing his eyes in pleasure. Inara may not have been as experienced as he was in this area, but she was a quick study, figuring out the rhythm that would drive him crazy. “What are you doing to me?” He choked out, feeling the pleasure mount with every stroke of her soft hand.
“Do you want me?” She asked in a sultry voice, feeling like a sexual goddess as she watched her lover struggle to form words.
“Y-Y-Yes, I want you.”
She smiled and increased the speed of her movements. “How much do you want me?”
Immediately, Zan’s right hand moved to her wet center, finding her little nub and rubbing it in small circles. Inara cried out in surprised pleasure, momentarily losing her rhythm on his cock. “More than anything in the universe,” he said, continuing his movements. “Please let me have you.”
Eager to comply with his request, Inara sat back up and positioned her wet center over his erect cock and impaled herself on him. She paused, though, wincing as she felt the lingering soreness from their lovemaking the other night.
Zan noticed the way her body stiffened and sat up. “Are you okay?” He asked, cupping her cheek in his hand.
She shook her head. “It’s nothing. I’m just a little sore.”
Realization dawned on him and he felt like a fool for not remembering that the first time would’ve been painful for her. With one hand still cupping her cheek, his other hand moved down to her and a glowing light started emanating from his palm.
Inara felt a warm tingle within her as Zan’s healing powers worked their magic to ease her pain and heighten her arousal. Closing her eyes, Inara cried out as Zan shot a burst of energy through her, making her inner walls clamp down hard on him as she came.
“Oh, gods!” Zan groaned through clenched teeth, trying to hold himself in check as she rode out her orgasm. Once he felt her body calm, he pulled her in for a deep kiss. “Better?” He asked teasingly.
In response, Inara’s inner walls began to rhythmically squeeze his erection, causing him to suck in his breath. “What do you think?”
Unable to control his desire anymore, Zan flipped Inara onto her back and pounding his body into her, hard and fast. Inara cried out in pleasure, wrapping her legs around him and bringing her hips up to meet his demanding thrusts. The next few moments were a blend of feminine moans and masculine grunts as the two raced towards that moment of ultimate pleasure. Zan could feel Inara’s body tensing beneath him and knew she was close. And at that moment, there was nothing he wanted more than to feel her body come around him. Moving his hand down, he started stroking her clit and a few seconds later, was rewarded with the sound of her screaming his name as she reached her climax.
“Zan! Oh, my Gods! Zan!” She cried out as her inner walls pulsed wildly around his shaft, bringing him to ecstasy with her.
“Inara!” He groaned, wrapping his arm tightly around her waist and holding her close to him as he burst inside of her. A couple of thrusts later, and he was collapsing on top Inara, panting heavily from their exertions. He considered rolling over to avoid crushing her, but as Inara wrapped her arms and legs tightly around him, he knew she was enjoying their closeness as much as he was.
Zan and Inara laid together for awhile after their lovemaking, holding each other and sharing soft kisses. But they soon noticed how late it was getting and reluctantly climbed out of bed to dress.
As Inara finished putting on her dress, she glanced back at the bed and smiled to herself. Last night—and this morning—had been perfect. Laying in Zan’s arms, being loved by him, gave her a feeling of safety like nothing she’d ever experienced before and all she wanted to do was stay in this cottage with him forever. In here, I don’t have to worry about Antar’s future, she thought gravely, her smile fading. And just like that, all the worries she had about her visions came flooding back. How could this be happening now when she finally had everything she ever wanted? And how was she going to stop it?
“You look distracted,” Zan said as he came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“I’m not,” she lied.
“Are you sure?” He turned Inara around to face him. “Are you still worried about those dreams?”
The concern in his beautiful, brown eyes made Inara’s heart melt and she wished she could talk to him about what was happening her, but it was pointless. She knew he didn’t believe her and probably wouldn’t until she brought him some proof. Not wanting to dwell on it anymore, she smiled and gently pressed her lips to his.
“No, I’m not,” she answered. “I’m sure you’re right. They’re just dreams.”
After escorting Inara home, making sure to drop her off halfway to the estate so no one spotted him, Zan returned to the palace. Sneaking in through one of the passageways, Zan made his way to his bedchambers feeling happier than he’d ever been. He’d just spent the night making love to the most amazing woman and feeling excited about his future for the first time in a long time.
His happiness faded, however, when he entered his bedchambers and found his father sitting in one of the lounge chairs looking anything but happy.
“Where have you been?” King Garok asked, keeping his voice as controlled as possible. Inside, he was fuming.
Remembering the meeting he was supposed to attend, he felt guilt rise inside of him and quickly tried to explain himself. “Father, I’m sorry. I just—"
“I honestly don’t know what to do with you anymore,” Garok interrupted as he stood from his seat and started pacing. “Your mother and I have tried to be patient. When you ended your relationship with Ava without giving us any reason, we gave you time. We had hoped that if we gave you time, you two would eventually patch things up.”
Zan felt a twitch of annoyance at the idea that his parents had been waiting for him to get back together with Ava, but he remained silent.
“But you’ve only gotten worse,” Garok continued. “You sleep around, you shirk your responsibilities, you’ve made no effort—”
“Father, I—” Zan tried to speak, but was once again cut off by his father, who was suddenly in his son’s face, grasping his shoulders and looking at him with a sense of urgency that Zan had never seen before.
“Listen, son, you have the potential to be a great king. You’re smart and brave, and underneath all of the anger you’re feeling, I know you have a good heart,” he said passionately. “I know that you don’t feel ready for the responsibility that we’re giving you and I wish that I could give you the time that you needed, but I’m afraid we don’t have that kind of time.”
“Wait, what do mean?” Zan moved away from his father, looking worried. “Father, what’s going on?”
Realizing how much he had said, Garok closes his eyes and takes a breath, looking more composed as he stared into his son’s concerned eyes. “One of the things about being king, son. You always worry about the future of your people. So much happens in this life that we can’t control. I just…” he paused, taking another deep breath. “I want to know that my family will be all right if something happens.”
A few months ago, Zan would’ve rolled his eyes in exasperation. This wasn’t the first time his father had lectured him about his responsibilities as future king. But he’d never seen his father look so worried before now. And for time, Zan really thought about what he’d been putting his parents through. This entire time, he’d been running around acting like self-indulgent brat while his father has had the future of an entire kingdom on his shoulders. A kingdom that will one day be mine. The weight of that thought hit him like a ton of bricks. “I promise I won’t miss another meeting,” he promised.
The two of them were silent for a moment, but Zan could see skepticism in his father’s eyes. “I’m sorry for my behavior,” he continued. “I’ve been acting immaturely and treating my family horribly. I want to do better.”
Garok studied his son, unsure of what to think. He wanted to believe that his son was sincere and would finally get his life together, but it was hard for him to believe it. “I really hope that’s true,” he replied. “So, may I ask what kept you away yesterday?”
Zan suddenly turned sheepish. “Something important distracted me.”
Garok arched a brow. “Something or someone?”
Zan couldn’t help but blush a little at being caught by his father. “Someone important to me,” he said. “She needed me yesterday.”
Garok couldn’t help but roll his eyes as his original skepticism returned. “I’m sure,” he said dryly.
Zan shook his head, not wanting his father to believe that Inara was like his other trysts. No, she was so much more than that. “It’s not like that,” he assured. “This woman…she’s special to me.”
Garok watched the way his son’s eyes suddenly lit up as he talked about this mystery woman. And the skip in his step as he entered the room. He looked…lighter. Happier. And for a moment, Garok’s heart filled with hope, wondering if the woman was who he thought. “Is it Ava?”
“No,” Zan blurted out as fast as possible, hoping to squash any dreams his father had at a reconciliation. “It’s not Ava. Honestly, I didn’t even feel this strongly about Ava.”
Garok sighed in disappointment, choosing to focus on the fact that his son was happy. “All right. Just don’t let it happen again. I need you to take your training seriously.”
Zan nodded. “I promise I will.”
With that, Garok turned to leave, then paused and glanced back at his son with a smile. “Oh, and your mother and I intend to meet this lady soon.”
Before Zan could respond, his father was gone. He knew that his father was serious about wanting to meet the girl that had stolen his heart, but he couldn’t help but wonder how everyone would react when they found out that Inara was the woman he’d fallen so deeply in love with.
Inara climbed the trellis on her family’s estate, hoping to avoid getting caught by her father. Something told her he wouldn’t be happy to find out his youngest daughter had been out all night, especially if he knew what she’d been doing. Making it to her balcony, she swung her leg over the ledge and landed on the balcony with a tired sight. Why couldn’t she have Zan’s ability to levitate?
As she entered her bedroom, she knew she had a little more time before the maids came in to clean. She quickly messed up her blankets and sheets, so no one would be suspicious and then headed to the bathroom to clean up. She drew herself a warm bath and, with a blissful sigh, she submerged herself in the water. As she shifted, she felt a dull ache between her legs and smiled. She was glad that Zan’s healing hadn’t completely taken away the pain. She loved having this erotic reminder of what he had done to her the night before. Inara finished bathing and put on a flowing, lavender gown just as the maids came in and started straightening up her room.
“Good morning, mistress,” one of the maids greeted cheerfully. She was a sweet, elderly lady with gray hair and a plump body. She’d been with the family for as long as she could remember.
“Good morning,” she greeted back with a smile before leaving her room. She made her way downstairs just as the doors to her father’s study swung open. Her father stepped out of the study followed by Prince Kivar. “Kivar,” she said in surprise.
Both men glanced up as Inara joined them in the foyer. “This is an unexpected visit.”
“Inara, it’s so nice to see you,” he said, unable to hide the smile that appeared on his face at her presence. “Yes, my fiancée and I are just here for wedding business. She really wanted Antarian Orchids for the wedding.”
“Where is your fiancée?” She asked as she realized that Princess Saria wasn’t with him.
Before Kivar could reply, Jarek spoke. “Kivar did the wise thing and left the ladies to their own devices. Wedding planning is dangerous business for us men,” he chuckled, slapping Kivar lightly on the back.
Kivar laughed. “Yes, it is. Princess Saria is with her mother and my step-mother. And I thought I’d come for a visit. I hope I’m not intruding.
“Nonsense,” Jarek replied. “You are always welcome in my home. And you were just in time for breakfast.” He gestured towards the dining room. “Shall we?”
“If you don’t mind,” Kivar started before Jarek and Inara could leave the room, “I was hoping to speak with Inara for a few moments.”
Jarek looked curiously between Inara and Kivar before nodding. “Of course. But don’t be too long. Wouldn’t want the food to get cold.”
With a smile, Jarek walked away, leaving Inara and Kivar standing alone in the foyer.
Once he was sure they were alone, Kivar grasped Inara’s hand, surprising her, and gently tugged her with him in the direction of her father’s study. Releasing her hand, he quickly shut the double doors to ensure that no one overheard their conversation.
“Kivar, are you all right?” Inara asked, watching him in confusion.
“I actually wanted to ask you the same thing,” he answered, studying Inara closely.
“I’m fine,” she said, becoming even more confused and uncomfortable. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Kivar pulled out a piece of paper from his coat pocket and unfolded it, handing it to her. Taking it from him, Inara felt her heart drop to her to her stomach as she examined the page and saw the same spiral symbol that was on her necklace.
“Inara,” Kivar spoke again, his voice more serious than before. “Please tell me where you got that necklace.”
Inara just stared at him for a few moments, unsure of what to say or do. She didn’t know how to answer his question because she still didn’t know who gave her the necklace, or what was happening to her. The sense of helplessness made her eyes begin to well up with tears, but she did her best to stifle them. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly, trying to ignore the lump in her throat. “It was a graduation gift, but it didn’t have a name attached to it. When I touched the necklace, something happened to me.”
“What happened?” Kivar took a step towards her, becoming more intrigued by the second.
As Kivar stared intently at Inara, waiting for her answer, she took a deep breath and prepared herself for whatever his reaction would be. “I had this vision…of the future, I think. And I’ve been having them ever since.”
Kivar didn’t respond at first as his mind tried to process the information she gave him. Before now, the idea of someone having the gift of premonition would be ludicrous, but after everything he’d discovered from Nikolai, he couldn’t discount the possibility. And if this was true, if Inara could see the future, there was no telling the kind of power this could bring me. “What do you see in these visions?”
Inara was taken aback by how calm Kivar was. She’d expected him to call her crazy, or to try and convince her that these visions were just dreams like Zan had. But he seemed to believe what she was saying. “Antar being destroyed,” she said cautiously, studying his face, trying to figure out what he was thinking. “You believe me?”
A faint smile played on his lips as he stepped towards her. “Yes, I do. And I want to help you figure this out.”
“Why?” She couldn’t hide the skepticism in her voice. “Why do you care about this symbol? What’s in it for you?”
Reaching out, Kivar traced the spiral symbol on Inara’s necklace, resisting the urge to allow his fingers to wander onto the smooth, creamy flesh of her neck. Reluctantly, he brought his hand down. “Nothing at first,” he said, staring down at her intently. “I was mildly curious when I saw you wearing this at Vilandra and Rath’s wedding reception. But then I found out that my father was researching this symbol as well.”
Inara’s eyes widened in shock. “What?”
“Inara, my father isn’t one to put stock in fairytales, but he’s obsessed with this thing. And now that I know you’re having these visions, I’m concerned. This symbol is connected to an object of great power and I think my father wants it for himself.”
As he watched Inara process what he was saying, some part of him knew he should feel guilty for withholding his real motivation for helping Inara—that he wanted that power as much as his father did. This is for her benefit too, he rationalized to himself. Once he had what he needed to take down his father, he could finally be with Inara and give her the kind of love that she deserved.
“Do you think he’s the one who’s going to destroy Antar?” She hoped he wouldn’t be offended by the question, but she had to ask it. For the first time since she returned home, she had some proof that she wasn’t crazy. That this was really happening. And knowing that filled her with as much dread as it did relief.
With a sigh, Kivar took a seat in one of Jarek’s large chairs. “It wouldn’t surprise me,” he said, feigning concern. “My father is a ruthless man. He’s always wanted the power that Antar has. If he gets his hands on this thing—whatever it is—he won’t need to rely on arranged marriages. He can just take Antar by force.”
Inara sat down in the seat next to Kivar, watching him with a pang of sympathy. She couldn’t imagine what he was feeling at that moment. To have a father who was capable of such evil. “I’m so sorry, Kivar,” she said, taking one of his hands in hers.
The feel of Inara’s hand on his made Kivar’s heart beat wildly in his chest. One day, he vowed to himself. One day you will be mine. Once this was all over, he was certain that she’d see that no man could ever love her the way that he did, and she’d return his feelings. And her childish crush on that dolt Prince Zan would be nothing more than a distant memory.
“Inara, Antar may not be my home world, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it destroyed by my father. Let me help you.”
Before she could stop herself, tears began to well up in Inara’s eyes, but she tried to contain them as she sat back in her chair. “How can you help me?”
Kivar pulled his hand away from Inara’s and reached inside his pocket. “Have you ever seen this woman?” He asked as he pulled out a picture and handed it over to Inara.
She took the photo and studied it closely. It was an image of a woman in her early fifties with sleek dark hair going all the way down to the small of her back. With beautiful olive skin and brown eyes, Inara could tell that this woman had most-likely been beautiful her entire life and always would be.
With a disappointed sigh, Inara handed the photo back to Kivar. “No, I’ve never met her. Who is she?”
“Her name’s Lar-el.” He tucked the photo back in his coat pocket. “That symbol is connected to a book written by a man named Rinaldi, a worshiper of Illyria. Some say he had the gift of sight as well.”
“But what does this woman have to do with anything?” She asked.
“The book is written in a language I can’t translate. It’s also only one half of the original book, which makes things even more challenging,” he replied. “Lar-el is obsessed with Rinaldi.”
Inara nodded in understanding. “And you believe there’s a chance she could tell us about these books.”
Kivar smiled. “Exactly, and I promise that I will do everything in my power to find her.”
The certainty in his voice filled Inara made her feel a sense of safety she hadn’t felt in a while. Unable to control herself any longer, tears began to slide down Inara’s cheeks. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “You don’t know how hard it’s been carrying this by myself.”
Kivar gave Inara a gentle smile and wiped a tear from her cheek. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure this out together.”