Authors: Susan Grant
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Romance, #Love Stories, #Fantasy, #Earth
The Star Princess
Book #3 of “The Star King” series
Prince Ché Vedla woke in his royal bedchamber with last night's courtesan curled against his back. Bed-sheets of Nandan silk draped his body from the waist down. A delicate, long-fingered hand rested atop his left hip.
Skilled hands those, Ché acknowledged with a resurgence of heat in his loins. The woman was a pleasure server, and she plied her trade quite well. The trade of pleasuring unmarried males of the royal family was one to which she'd been born, and one which she had subsequently chosen of her own free will as her life's work. But this woman, holding him so possessively, she should know better. Courtesans were to bestow pleasure with skill and passion, but were never to mistake a man's midnight ardor for feelings of greater depth.
His bedmate seemed to have forgotten the latter. It would serve them both well were he not to choose her for a time.
Ché rolled onto his back, stretching his arms behind his head. Sighing in her sleep, the pleasure server nestled her cheek into his chest and hugged him tighter, as if he belonged to her.
Did she not know? He belonged to no one. No one but his people. Although, of late, he questioned even that.
Yet he respected women; his upbringing demanded it. His culture protected women, revered them. It didn't matter if a woman was a palace worker or a Vash queen, Ché would not treat her with cruelty.
He tapped his bedmate awake. "It is morning, Kajha."
Her eyes shot open. Only for a moment did her elegant face reveal embarrassment at finding herself clinging to his body. Then, quite adeptly, a look of sultry hunger replaced her shock. Ché watched with amused interest as she scratched her fingernails down his chest and over the muscles of his abdomen. "Good morning to you, my lord." A flick of her wrist, and the sheet covering his hips was gone.
He was almost fully erect. Of course, his state of arousal was more a consequence of just having woken than the woman in his bed, but royal courtesans were schooled in every idiosyncrasy of the male body, biological and otherwise. She would have expected to find him hard and ready.
Just as he expected her to take immediate advantage of the circumstance by pleasuring him into forgetting her amateurish little gaffe.
Exhaling, he slid his palms up the woman's smooth, slender arms as she caressed him with her lips and hands. Kajha was no different to him from a fine meal, a rare liqueur, or exquisitely tailored clothing. With her body trained in the art of lovemaking, she was simply another delicacy in a life filled with luxury, a life befitting his family's sacrifices to the realm over the years.
Befitting, indeed. In the distant past, when warlords enslaved most populated worlds, Che's ancestor was one of eight legendary warriors who led an uprising against their oppressors. When those Dark Years ended, the Eight, made weary by the massive destruction and the horrors they had seen, laid down their arms and declared peace for all time. They founded what was now known as the Vash Nadah, a modern form of an ancient monarchy that predated the war. But now there were eight kings— one from Che's family and each of the other seven clans— and the Vash Nadah formed the leadership and moral core of the Trade Federation, a vast league of worlds devoted to profit and peace.
Ché was proud to share the blood of heroes. He didn't feel guilt over the privileges his family had gained as a result, privileges such as Kajha and her clever fingers.
Sprawled on his back, Ché relished the pleasure server's ministrations. Her shoulders rose, and her hair spilled over his stomach, cool and silken, a delightful counterpoint to the sensation of her taking him into her hot, wet mouth.
The courtesan's conscientious attention brought an aching, sweet heat to his loins, and a need for completion that intensified with each stroke of her tongue and gentle scrape of her teeth. He lifted his hips and inhaled in a hiss. He needed no words to articulate his desire. In one graceful move, she straddled his hips and lowered herself onto him.
Nothing equaled the feel of being inside a woman. And what this sensual little creature could do with her inner muscles put her incredible mouth to shame.
He'd certainly had many others with whom to compare her, too. He'd received classroom instruction in the art of Iovemaking from his toddler years, although no physical contact had occurred until he turned fourteen. Before a Vash Nadah man married, he was allowed as many women as he pleased in order to gain skills designed to bring a partner pleasure, ultimately to strengthen a marriage. The foundation of society is family. Sexuality enhances spirituality. That teaching was written in the Treatise of Trade: part social and moral edict and part economic law, an eleven-thousand-year-old document that was an integral part of Che's culture and his faith.
He sank his fingers into the flesh of the courtesan's hips, arching upward, eliciting from her a cry of pleasure. Her thighs opened wider, an invitation, and his fingers found where she was most sensitive.
A prince of the Vash Nadah does not meet his own needs before those of others.
No, he did not. In bed or otherwise. And Ché was a Vash prince, the firstborn son of the Vedlas. Bone-deep ran his sense of duty to his people.
All his people. Even Kajha. He watched her as she rose to her peak and reached it. A telltale pulsing within her body heralded her climax. She gasped and then wailed, her entire body trembling. Then her hair spilled over his chest as her head sagged forward.
An unwanted thought invaded. Was her ecstasy staged, modified by what she perceived he wanted to see and feel, or was it genuine?
He frowned. Bah! Why should he care? Take what she offered, take it all. He rolled her over and threw his head back, his spine arching as he again sank into her. His eyes closed, not engaging her as he tried to lose himself in the pleasure, tried to use her body for what it was designed to do: keeping him satisfied.
He drove hard into her wet, yielding flesh, building toward his release, controlling the pace, the pressure. Controlling it all. You might as well be doing this to yourself.
Ah, no. His release burst through him.
He bit back a groan, thrusting into the pleasure server until the last shudders passed. Then, vaguely unsatisfied, he withdrew and rolled onto his back.
Had he just compared lovemaking to masturbation?
The idea was against everything he'd been raised to believe. He knew he'd been out of sorts lately, but his reaction to this round of sex proved it.
Frowning, Ché stared at the ceiling, an ever-changing three-dimensional holographic image of clouds drifting across a windswept sky. It struck him that his own, normally staid and stable life seemed just as changeable of late. The future he'd expected and accepted for so many years had suddenly changed.
Changed, yes. But for the worse or better?
Hell if he knew. He was still toying to figure it out. He wasn't a big fan of introspection, but anything that kept him from fully enjoying life's pleasures was worthy of examination.
Mentally, he sorted the possibilities. For one, he'd lost his betrothed to another man. Princess Tee'ah Dar had broken their vows only months ago. She and Ché had been promised to each other since childhood, but losing her had been more a bruising of the ego than the heart.
No, he hadn't loved the princess. Marriages amongst Vash Nadah royalty were arranged as part of a complicated, ongoing stabilizing of power shared by the ruling families. They were political alliances, not love matches— although the Vash culture emphasized the importance of good, monogamous marital relations. In fact, Vash society was built around such.
Ché should consider himself lucky that he'd been jilted. Yes, indeed. In her rebelliousness, Tee'ah had rescued him from months of tedious wedding preparations. Moreover, who besides an Earth-dweller would want such a wild, undisciplined woman as a wife? Certainly not him.
Absently, he slid his fingers up and down the resting Kajha's arm. If the problem was not that he was suddenly unattached, then what ate at him?
The answer came in his father's voice: You were robbed twice— the princess, and now your title as crown prince.
Yes, the demotion from crown prince to standard prince had been somewhat hard to get used to. But he'd gotten over the change in rank. How could he in good conscience lament losing something that was never supposed to be his in the first place? The title of crown prince didn't belong to any son of the Vedlas; it never had.
There were eight royal families. Eight kings. One king held the title of "king of kings," the leader of them all, ruler of the conservative, staunchly pacifistic Vash Nadah, a responsibility inherited by first-born sons of the B'kah family— not the Vedlas. It was both tradition and law. Only during those years when it appeared as if the B'kah king would not produce an heir had the Great Council chosen Ché to ascend to the throne.
But now there was a B'kah heir.
Romlijhian B'kah, the "king of kings" had married— a non-Vash woman, at that. The queen hailed from Earth, that newly discovered frontier world which was the latest addition to the Federation.
The event had shocked the clannish Vash Nadah to the core. But Rom B'kah was a hero, and not even his tradition-defying, seven-year-old marriage had diminished him in his people's eyes. What the Vedlas and others had objected to, however, was the king of kings' new, genetically unqualified heir. If marrying Jasmine Hamilton hadn't been heretical enough, Rom B'kah gained two grown stepchildren in doing so: male-and-female twins. The man was Ian Hamilton, the man who was now crown prince— and the man for whom Princess Tee'ah had broken her promise vows to Ché.
They'd met but once, as children, Ché and Tee'ah. Twice, if he counted their recent brief encounter in the Earth city Los Angeles, where he'd journeyed to keep his brother Klark— who had interfered on his behalf— from getting arrested.
Interfered? Che's lips quirked in an almostsmile. That was a very Vash Nadah way of saying that his brother had tried to assassinate Rom B'kah's Earth-born stepson to reinstate Ché as heir. Klark was lucky Ian hadn't chosen to execute him.
But Earth-dwellers were notoriously tolerant. Ché had learned that. Hotheaded Klark should be grateful that he was now living under the Vedla roof, restricted under palace arrest, rather than weaving rain clouds with the Great Mother in the Ever After.
Ché swung his legs off the bed and sat up, scrubbing one hand over his stubbly jaw. He'd lost the princess to an Earth-dweller and his future to the same man. But feel sorry for himself? Never, He didn't indulge in self-pity, and he didn't tolerate it in others.
Kajha's soft breath fell on his back as she knelt behind him on the mattress. Her strong fingers found the knotted muscles in his neck and shoulders. Silent, she began kneading them with her thumbs and the heels of her palms. The kiss on the side of his throat was an obvious invitation for more sex play, but when he didn't respond, she interpreted his lack of interest correctly and spent her energy on his massage.
Eyes closed, he leaned into the pleasure server's hands and pondered Ian Hamilton.
To his surprise, Ché had found that he actually liked the Earth-dweller. Ché was the first of the Vash princes to vow allegiance to the new crown prince, and the two men in fact spoke quite frequently of late. It was the beginning of a friendship, one that transcended their vastly different backgrounds. Which was why Ché believed Ian when the man confessed that he hadn't known Tee'ah was Princess Tee'ah when they'd first met on a godforsaken planet in the frontier.
As for Ian Hamilton's twin sister Ilana… that was different. Ché wasn't sure what he thought of her— only that he had, on and off for months now. Atop that roof in Los Angeles, they hadn't exchanged a single word; Ché had been too busy trying to keep his brother and hers from killing each other.
However, he did recall several details: how she'd alternately amused and bemused him; how her eyes were the precise color of Earth's odd-colored sky; how the wind had tangled her thick, shoulder-length hair.
Ché frowned. Never mind the wind; he'd wager Ilana preferred her hair in perpetual disarray. At her scalp, the strands were as dark as her twin brother's— brown, a shade rare amongst the fair-headed Vash. But the rest of what resembled an old-fashioned cleaning mop ranged from dark blond to platinum, falling in twists and snarls around her face and over her shoulders.
What would those tangled strands feel like, he wondered, passing between his fingers… ?
His fingers twitched; then Ché pushed aside the thought. An uncultured frontierswoman, she was. Totally unsuitable. Yes. Undisciplined and willful. In fact, in his urbane and educated opinion, Ilana Hamilton stood as the shining example of the opposite of everything he'd ever want in a woman.
Yes. That had to be the reason. Why else would thoughts of her have clung to his mind all these months like a convulsed sand tick?
He turned his head. Nude, kneeling behind him, her thighs pressed together, her hands clasped, Kajha appeared unsure, as if she thought she'd disappointed him in some way. She had, but it was not her fault.
He smoothed her silken hair, cupped her young face. "I thank you for the blessed gift of your body," he said kindly, falling back on traditional words, safe words, recitations from the Treatise of Trade.
Does not your life feel like a script, as well? Ché shook off the thought.
"Would you like me to take my leave now, Lord Ché?"
The courtesan smiled with shyness. Another practiced skill, he thought. No pleasure servant with such a repertoire of sexual acrobatics could be shy.
Kajha gathered her robes around her. When she had ducked out of the chamber, Ché walked to the bathing pool, prepared for him by an unseen silent-footed servant. As he sank deep into the scented water, steam rose, obscuring not only the trappings of luxury all around him but his life from his own fruitless rumination.
Afterward, dressed in the traditional way, a soft shirt and trousers tucked into gleaming, knee-high boots, Ché took his solitary morning meal on the spacious balcony that jutted out two hundred feet above the shoreline. Only for evening meals did his large family gather. Their dinners were elaborate affairs that lasted often late into the night. This morn, however, he preferred solitude.