• Brantwijn Serrah

Beauty's Curse - Chapter One

The enemy celebrated. The sounds of their raucous victory floated up to her from the temple courtyard: a hundred men dancing on the grave of the great God-king Set. He, her lifelong master, lay slain by barbarians, his power broken, his clan, in chains.

His woman, their prisoner.

Sadira bowed her head with a bitter scowl. When they'd caught her—And how could you let yourself be captured alive? You useless twat!—the invaders bound her with ropes, tying her ankles together and her arms behind her back. They'd thrown her into her master's own bedchamber for their leader. Now she waited on her knees, stripped of her leather armor, left in only a thin cotton shift to cover her nakedness.

And her collar. No one had removed her collar.

But that was nothing new. She'd been slave all her life to Set and his sadistic whims. She'd played servant, soldier, consort, and victim to his madness. She was glad he was dead. She'd lived on her knees before him, and more than once she'd wished she could sink a blade into his heart.

Only I never could. Because I am so like him. Because he alone could master the beast within me. He alone knew how to feed it.

The chamber stank of bergamot and cinnamon, the incense Set favored and Sadira detested. Muggy and cloying, the smell pressed in on her, and the guards had left only one torch lit in the whole grand suite. She was consigned to hot, murky darkness. Her body ached in the aftermath of battle, and sweat gathered under her arms and at the back of her neck. Her straight black hair hung damp around her face, coarse and heavy, a prisoner's hood for execution.

Maybe I'll suffocate.

The cosmic cruelty cut her to the bone. The lord of leash and whip was gone, yet here she remained, bound in his chamber, awaiting a new master to take his place. The captain of the barbarian horde, Bannon Sha'kurukh, Red Bear of the Highlands.

The people of this world lived like lion prides. As a new male staked his claim by murdering the cubs and taking the mates of his rivals, so Bannon must take his inheritance by claiming everything that had once been Set's. He would occupy the temple Set had built; he would kill the soldiers who fought Set's war.

He would bed the woman Set had left behind.

Sadira bit back tears of fury. From the hands of one tyrant into another's.

If this is the way it must be, she vowed, then next time it will be me putting the blade through his heart.

The sounds of the enemy's victory carried on below.

***

Bannon's celebration lasted well into the night, and the voices of the soldiers died out long before he ascended to the bedchambers. At the sound of footsteps outside the great iron doors, Sadira sat at attention, face set in a glower to welcome the captain to his conquest. But when the doors swung open, shadows shielded the Red Bear from view.

There he lingered, a waiting silhouette. Sadira sensed his eyes on her. She knew what he saw: a woman marked head-to-toe by evidence of the arcane. Dark red tattoos circled and spiraled her sun-bronzed skin, marks of the Cult of Akolet. From her left eye, they ran down her cheek to her jaw; capping her left shoulder and sleeving her arm to the tip of her longest finger. On her right side they followed the curve of her ribs down the slope of her hips, across the swell of her belly, down to her mons. Ink, brands, and scars, all a delicate mosaic, decorated shoulders, breasts, thighs, feet. Rings and studs of desert gold pierced her ears, nose, lower lip. More adorned her in places he couldn't see: her nipples, the curve of her labia, her clitoral hood. She was a living parchment, illustrated by strange design. The priests of Akolet had considered her a living work of art. Others called her ensorcelled. Set had perfected his twisted technique on her, a contrast of arcane asymmetry and natural, tawny flesh, crafting a complex masterpiece of years.

Why do you hesitate? she wondered, while the Red Bear studied her in silence. Are you afraid of the fallen soldier, oh great captain? Or does the sight of me make you sick?

Finally, Bannon came into the room.

A tall man. Far more muscular than Set. Bannon Sha'kurukh resembled the gladiators of old colosseums, the type of man set against boars and tigers, who wrestled vicious sea monsters and toppled great fortresses. A diadem of braided leather held his long, red hair away from his face, and he bore his own tattoo, an ursine pawprint, inked on the left side of his chest. His skin shone, the color of dust at sunset, damp with sweat from the hot desert night.

She glared at him. He stared back, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Infamous Sadira." He stroked his short, neat beard. "I saw you on the battlefield these last days. You're a skilled fighter. I wish we could have met under different circumstances."

Sadira bared her teeth. When he came close, she lunged back like a serpent dancing away right before it strikes.

"Please." Bannon held up his hands. "I am not your perverse master. Submit, and I will not hurt you."

"We both know what you must do," she hissed. "You've banded with the tribes of the Ruined Sands, foreigner. With their help you've killed the god-king, but you've yet to take his most dangerous prize. Claim me, and you'll prove your worth. If you can't, your desert allies will never call you lord. You will never control this temple or its people, unless you have the stomach for their brand of violence."

"I won't take you by force," he insisted.

She laughed at him, a cold, vicious sound devoid of humor. "Welcome to Set's kingdom, barbarian. I am your prize. Your property. You may do anything you like to me. Hell, do it with my blessing, if you can do it at all. But do not forget I am also a soldier, and Set himself trained me even as he made me kneel before him, bound just as I am now. The moment you untie me, I will do to you what I wish I had done to him."

"So you wish to remain bound?"

The torchlight gleamed red-gold in his hair, a color of northern lands, high cliffs and castles. Darker crimson curls dusted his broad chest, and descended in a trail from his navel down his abdomen, disappearing under his leather breeches. Despite her fruitless outrage, that made Sadira curious. Here in the desert, the sun bleached all rich colors to pale, bleached tones, and the men and women alike kept all body hair stripped clean.

Cautious, Bannon bent to take her chin in his hand and search her hard gray eyes.

"I would have you willingly, Sadira. The ways of these men are not my ways. I don't believe I can avoid this union, but I imagined I could make it peaceable, if not pleasurable, for both of us. Will you not reconsider your position?"

She studied him, scanning the lines of his face, his bristled jaw. The man who murdered the god-king. The man whose blade cut out the heart of a tyrant who bound her with more than chains. He held her now, tied and helpless... but at the same time, had he set her free?

A giddy madness began to unravel within her. Her sneer widened to a venomous grin. She spat in his face.

"Not your ways," she repeated. "But they are my ways. I am of this desert, too. I will not bow to a man who cannot overcome me. Do it, or go back to your people in disgrace. Half a man, who can murder an insane oppressor but cannot pacify his woman."

Bannon straightened. Slowly, he brought up one hand to wipe the saliva from his cheek.

"What did he do to you?" he whispered.

"Ropes were not the worst of it." With a sneer, she jerked against her bonds. "Come now, barbarian. You have your desert treasure. Take it."

And there. In the flash of his eyes. A heat, a lust Sadira recognized, slow to kindle but impossible to mistake. The hunger of a man bred for brutality. Underneath the merciful lie, a man like her master, eager to deal in pain. A sharp thrill shot through her as he replied.

"As you desire."

Then he planted his hand on her collarbone and shoved her to her back on the mattress.

Sadira wriggled, twisting to one side. Lunging after her, Bannon seized her by the heel and rolled her onto her stomach. He pounced, wrapping one heavy arm around her throat, crushing her against his chest.

Good, a fight. She was built for a fight. She wanted a fight.

"They warned me you would be vicious," he growled in her ear. "Let's see how well I live up to your last master."

His skin pressed hot against hers. The smells of battle clung to him, iron and sweat. Leather. Blood. Sadira's heart sped up.

"You're off to a poor start," she managed to laugh, struggling in his hold. "Set would have me under the whip by now."

"Then you really will make me sink to the levels of these desert torturers?"

If he hadn't been pressing so heavily on her windpipe she would have laughed. "If you can't take me," she managed. "You can't have me."

He unwrapped his arm and she gasped in cold, precious air. Too quickly, though, he seized a spare length of rope, wrapping one end around his palm and looping the other through the ring on the collar around her neck, making it into a leash. He yanked it once, fierce and furious, and shoved her down against the bedding.

"You should have yielded." His voice was a low, rousing growl. "This could have been so much easier."

She bucked at him. "Would you really have preferred me easy?"

Because I think you like this, barbarian. As outraged as you pretend to be... I think you want to be a beast.

His rough hand slipped under the fabric of her shift, grabbing at her soft flesh and forcing her hips into the air. She uttered a short cry and he yanked the leash again, silencing her. So instead she pulled back, wrestling against his grip like a fish on a line, until he brought one callused palm down with bright, stinging pain on the vulnerable flesh of her buttock.

"Ah!"

The first tears sprang to her eyes—tears of sudden wicked excitement. She hadn't expected it, but all at once Sadira found the struggle...exhilarating.

Bannon squeezed her hindquarters with rough appreciation. "You had the choice," he reminded her. "I could have untied you, laid you back on these pillows, made love to you like no other man ever has. You wanted brute force."

"I like you as a brute." Sadira leaned into his touch in lewd, mocking pantomime. "You'd best learn to like it too, if you want Set's kingdom."

"I think all I will want of his kingdom is you." He slapped her again, on the other cheek this time, and a bright pink heat rose to her flesh. She twitched and cringed reflexively away, though she relished the hurt.

Oh, sweet pain! She bit her lip against a cry. Oh, barbarian... do you really have it in you to sate a monster like me?

When Bannon growled this time, he sounded strangely patient, pensive. He gripped her ass hard, as though testing her flesh, a man appraising ripe fruit. "Yes..." he mused, squeezing hard enough to make her mewl. "The temple and these empty sands can go to my king's regent. I'll take my reward from your hide."

He'd grown hard. The adamant shape of his erection pressed against the backs of her thighs. She tried again to wriggle out from under him, straining against the ropes, but he yanked the leash hard and she choked on a cry.

Eyes of Akolet... yes!

Bannon crawled over her, rolling her onto her back and pinning her down. One big, hot hand closed around her neck and held her against lush animal pelts as she panted. She breathed in the scent of sweat and leather as he leaned down very close, whispering in her ear.

"Are you going to fight me the whole way, Sadira? Because I fought on the battlefield against hundreds of men today. I killed scores of your warriors, and I can easily handle a common concubine like you."

The heat of his breath brought a shiver to her skin; she closed her eyes and pressed her thighs together. "Not so common as you may think. And if you want to find out firsthand, go ahead and untie me."

She sucked in a breath as his coarse beard rasped against the sensitive skin of her neck. His voice rumbled like desert thunder. "I thought you liked being bound."

Between her thighs, a flutter of treacherous awakening stirred.

Bannon's free hand drifted under her sarong, to the place of her sex, and he explored her, finding her wet. Sadira couldn't help it: at the hot touch of his hand, she groaned.

His lip curled. "You're enjoying this?"

Her moan turned into a cackle of delight. She spat in his face again.

With a roar, Bannon seized the neck of her shift and ripped it away from her body, uncovering her flush, excited breasts. The exposure—the raw pleasure rushing to her stiffened nipples, bare to his scrutiny—sent her into riotous, rebellious arousal once more. She whipped back and forth, struggling to escape as he ran the backs of his callused knuckles against the hard, gold barbells and sensitive skin. Bubbling, unruly laughter rose within her and she trembled, unwilling to let him see it, shuddering madly and trying to drown the threat of giddiness.

"Look at this." He gave one pierced bud a tentative twist. "Pretty decorations for soldier, Sadira. Is this the fashion among your armies? Or only your brothels?"

"Get off me—" she strained.

He removed his hand from her throat, letting her breathe. She gasped, awash in bittersweet euphoria, swallowing air as tears streamed down her face. Light, faint, almost drugged. Her arousal heightened; eager yearning became an ache in her loins.

Bannon grasped the warm globes of her breasts in hot, greedy hands, and rolled his thumbs over the cold metal barbells, pinching, tugging. The naked sensation of her helplessness flared at his touch. The rope looped around his palm chafed her flesh, sending tiny sparks dancing down through her core. Without warning, then, he lowered his face, nuzzling, squeezing her breasts together, tasting the stiff peaks.

"Ah!" she cried in surprise, arching with pleasure as he flicked the gold embellishments with his tongue.

"Yes," he murmured. Thick desire stole away any softness in his voice. His tone changed, turning gravelly and low. "However it must be, I am ready for a good, hard fuck, to celebrate my victory."

Sadira moaned as her body betrayed her, responding to his savage touch. Oh, the smell of him, wild and strange, pungent and dangerous. She'd grown dizzy, inexplicably intoxicated. Every breath inundated her with scent and taste, and all she sensed was him.

When Set bound her, when he loomed over her and beat her, he'd painted his pleasure in pain, yes, but also in ugly terror. She'd feared him when he did these things, feared his vicious torture even as she loved it, love and heat and need welling up from the poisoned core he'd unearthed inside of her. Now, each harsh grab, each smart slap, brought her a rush of indignant desire. And when this barbarian said he wanted to fuck, wanted to fuck her...

He'd been right. This was unlike it had been with any man before. And she liked it.

The heat of his breath sent prickles through her skin. "Sadira. One last time. Will you submit to me peacefully?"

She swallowed the thick lump in her throat. How much further do I dare push?

"I am the soldier and the slave of a conquered nation," she panted. "And I am not yet ready to yield."

She lifted her head, staring down at him between her breasts. "So I suggest you do what you need to do."

He returned her glare, and pressed his hips closer to hers. His stiff cock raged beneath the leather of his breeches, hard and firm, unmistakably eager.

"As you like," he said. "I gave you every opportunity."

As he shifted positions to shed his leggings, she tried to escape him again. Bannon caught her, snapping the leash and pulling her towards him, awkward as she moved on her knees, arms roped behind her. He landed another smart slap on her ass, making her shriek. Sadira glared at him as he freed his straining erection at last.

It stunned her. Heavy and thick, darker than the rest of him and marvelously endowed. His cock was hooded, wild and untrimmed, unlike the men of the desert. He stroked it in one fist as his other hand cradled the back of her head. Before he could do what he intended, she turned her head sharply to the side.

"I wouldn't," she warned him. "I'll bite."

"You won't bite me, bitch," he snapped, sending a spike of pleasure straight down to her loins. Taking his hand off his cock, he traced her lips with two fingers, and when she didn't open her mouth he forced it open, slipping his fingertips past her teeth. She tasted the dewy bitterness of his semen already on them. Closing her eyes, she bit down with a vengeance.

He jerked his hand out of her mouth and slapped her. This time a wild wave of frenzied laughter escaped her, and she rode on that laughter, too dizzy to stop him as he grabbed her head in both hands, pressing his thumbs down hard on her jaw, and forced his cock into her mouth.

She gagged almost at once, startled by the invasion. She tried to make good on her promise and bite but his thumbs dug in, keeping her jaw sprung, giving her barely the room to breathe. Finally, she submitted. As she relaxed, Bannon found a steady rhythm, sliding his cock slowly in and out as she begrudgingly obeyed.

"There's a good girl," he rumbled. "I want it wet, whore. Get it ready. You're going to want it so, in a minute."

More tears, most of them from the sheer difficulty of accepting him, trailed down her face. The words raked her like rough burlap across bare skin. Anger fought to rise—this bastard meant to choke her on his cock!—but underneath the outrage, the poisonous creature stirred, hungry and mean, brought to full life with that hard word, that beautifully cruel word. Whore. Sadira pressed her thighs tightly together, knowing now she needed him. The hungry monster inside of her starved for him and she needed him to feed it, fill its gluttonous desperation.

But Bannon wasn't Set. Bannon wouldn't feed her monster, cool its heat with indulgent punishment. If he knew the poisoned heart of her passions...he would strike it under his heel.

As men do with all serpents.

Pushed to gagging again, she pulled back on impulse, and he surprised her by letting her go. He watched with approval as wet strings of saliva dangled for an instant between his shaft and her lips. His hazel eyes shone, practically glowing like lit coals.

"Down," he ordered, tugging the leash. She resisted. He pushed her ruthlessly to the bed and circled to climb up behind her. Holding her by the shoulders with one hand, he struck her on the haunches with the other. It stung, and Sadira groaned, twisting against her bonds. She tingled through and through, rage and yearning coiled tight in her belly, her flesh racing with electricity everywhere he touched her.

Bannon gave her no warning as he tore away the last of the flimsy fabric covering her, and his hands roughly spread her aching thighs, exposing her slick, pinkened pussy, hot for wanting of him.

"More gold?" he mused, fingering the dual rings piercing her labia. As his fingers searched, he found the smooth jewel studding her clitoral hood, and he probed it curiously. Sadira tried to stifle her moan but the sweet indignity, the cold assessment, drew the sound out of her. Bannon considered the jewelry a second longer, running two fingertips over it, gently tugging until it made her writhe. Finally he withdrew his hand.

"Set likes his whores bejeweled," he mused. He didn't wait for her to answer as he moved into place behind her, taking hold of her by the hips.

Sadira hardly had time to clear her head of the floating, conflicting pain and desire before he entered her in one bold, smooth stroke.

"Fuck!" she cried out. With her arms behind her, her face was pressed down into the plush, musky animal pelts. Fresh tears of joy sprung to her eyes and she clenched her teeth. Oh, it ached, and it was satisfying and good, but so raw, so animal.

"Is this how your barbarian women like it?" Strange, dazed pleasure shivered through her, tempting and teasing the rest of her body. "Spread like whimpering bitches beneath you?"

"I wouldn't reduce a barbarian woman to this," he growled.

She wriggled against her bonds and cried out again as he thrust. She'd never been so poignantly aware of a man inside her, so attentive to the newness and lovely strangeness of his heft and girth, the way he moved as he claimed her. Wet as she was, she hadn't been ready for him; her body yet resisted, startled and overcome while Bannon held her down. It hurt, and the hurt resounded through her in pleasure, a perfect, deep down, delicious violation.

"How's this for a man who can't tame a woman?" Bannon snarled. "Do you think your people will accept my rule now I have their master's slut beneath me?"

"Please—" she begged. She couldn't take it anymore, fighting him. All she could think of was how much she wanted him, how much the poison core of her wanted him. Jealous, hateful fear fled her mind, because she recognized something in him...something good...dangerous, but good, so good. "Please, Bannon, you win—"

"Oh, I win?" he scoffed. "Is that all it takes, Sadira? Are you so easy to subdue after all?"

"It hurts," she whimpered. Even as she said it though, her body climbed towards astonishing bliss. She arched back—as she relented he slipped in further and she hitched in a gasp of surprise. Pleasure flooded her senses, gilded with bruises and abrasions, beautiful shining pain. He thrust hard and she cried out again, this time in joy, and pressed herself back against his demanding frame like a beast in heat.

"How do you like the feel of barbarian steel, witch?" He punctuated each demand with a fierce thrust. "Does it measure up to the sorcerer's cock? Is your lust for punishment sated?"

She shut her eyes, uttering a long, needful groan. She lost herself in the pleasure, yielding completely for him to have his way. The outrage of their struggle merged with ecstasy, rounding it out and suffusing her blood like liquor.

"More," she begged him. "Oh, barbarian, give me more."

He drove it into her, fingers digging into her hips. Then he pushed harder, hunching over her to cover her with his own body, wrapping one arm under her while his free hand tangled in her hair.

"How far does one go with such a slave?" He tugged her head back so her cheek brushed his, the rasp of his beard rough and masculine against her smooth skin. "How much farther can you stand to be taken?"

"You are not what I expected, Bannon," she panted. "The way you fuck...I think you like it rough, as well."

He snarled, and gave her three extra sharp, mean thrusts in reply. She moaned.

"You have won. Please, warrior... let me feel you come. Come inside me, Bannon."

"I told you I wanted you willing," he snarled. "You made me fight you. Perhaps now I'll take my pleasure and leave you unfulfilled."

"No, please," she whispered. "Don't stop. I'm more than willing now, now you have shown me your strength."

He slowed his motions, and she gave a ragged, mewling cry.

"You win," she beseeched him. "Please, have pity and finish what you've begun. Don't leave me begging..."

"I don't trust you," he snarled. "Suddenly you're all sweet concession and flattering appeals... but you're a deadly bitch, Sadira."

She could only manage a half-mad grin, mostly hidden against the plush animal pelts beneath her.

"Monster, barbarian," she whispered. He might not even gave heard her, but she repeated herself. "I am a monster, as he made me."

"Moan," he ordered. "Let the men hear how the barbarian satisfies your twisted ritual."

She obeyed, raising her voice in pleasure. She didn't care who heard her—she hoped the whole temple heard. She'd hardly caught her breath again when he picked up his former furious pace, fucking her like a stallion, making her reddened buttocks ache beautifully. He plunged deep, pushing her to the limit. She moaned, dizzy with the heat of their bodies uniting, fighting one another as they each strove for climax.

Then Bannon's teeth sunk into her shoulder and Sadira screamed with pleasure, arching, pressing back against him until his member filled every inch of her inner sex. His thrusts intensified, pounding once, twice, three times, so hard she cried out as he drove her body hard. He reached his peak: she felt him swell and then spill forth within her, hot semen flooding her, his fearsome cock throbbing deep within. The resounding shudder set off her own reaction and rang through her like a cymbal crash, uniting the pain and ecstasy, breaking every last resistance.

He held her there, face-down in the furs, forced to hold him inside of her until the last tremor faded and he was satisfied.

Finally, he relaxed, withdrawing, letting her breathe. She heaved, throat sore, body aching, relishing the slick, wet heat running down her thighs—the heady perfection of the claim he made on her.

"The bitch is tamed, I hope?" he muttered, climbing up from the bed.

"You did what you had to," she assured him. Their confrontation—pain and pleasure alike—left her dazed, and pleasantly, fantastically weak.

Bannon drew a knife from his belt and cut the ropes binding her arms. Sadira uttered another long, lovely moan as she stretched them out before her, working out soreness and stiffness from hours of restraint.

"Still intend to put a sword through my heart?" he asked. She shook her head, staring at her hands.

"You are not like him," she whispered.

"No," he said coldly. "Never."

"But what will you do with me now?"

Sitting up on her knees again, Sadira wrapped her arms around herself. The hot, muggy, cinnamon-scented air now felt cool upon her sweat-drenched skin. When Bannon didn't answer her, she turned toward him. He didn't meet her gaze; with a dark, stony glower, he regarded the granite tiles of the chamber floor.

"Barbarian?" she asked in a soft voice. "What will you do with your monster now?"

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