Transgressive Sex

Brothel mural in ancient Roman city of Pompeii

Imagine, if you will, erotic scenes where Alpha males not only blindfold, bind, and spank a wildly excited woman but also touch each other. Imagine plural sex with two or three men kissing and grasping each other’s erect organs amid their lovemaking with a woman. These are the new transgressive sex scenes in popular women’s romance novels.

Back in the prim pre-Fifty Shades of Gray era, sex scenes hit the hot talk horizon by peeking into bedrooms of mistresses and gigolos. More hidden were stories of same sex encounters. Deviations from the happily-married norm, which wasn’t actually the norm, titillated readers with the excitement of lifting the covers on forbidden behavior. Would she succumb to his seduction before the wedding? Would he, the hero male, successfully awaken her carnal desires and fulfill her unrecognized erotic dream? That was the objective, the happily-ever-after ending that remains de rigueur for all romance stories.

Scene from the 1975 movie version of the “Story of O.”

A few notable exceptions to the mundane modern history of romantic works of literature (which, sadly, critics argue are not Literature at all but rather mere tawdry fluff) have been the startling chronicles of female enslavement and its various permutations such as The Story of O by Anne Descois. Other 20th century offerings include the works of the reportedly-bisexual Anais Nin, who explored same-sex attraction and incest, among other off-shade topics. Anne Rice’s mid-20th century Sleeping Beauty stories, unfolding in a fantastical world of extreme BDSM, set the high-water mark for over-the-top perversion.

Unlike Rice’s books, however, more recent works exploring dominant-submissive relationships don’t stop there. BDSM is already passé. The newest hottest form of transgressive sex in romance novels is the plural relationship. Specifically, the story’s heroine yields to seduction by men who fulfill her most craven desires by making love to her–and loving her–as a group.

In the 2017 novels by author J. A. Huss, The Turning Series, Huss goes further down the path than any previous author I’ve read. The three men of the story line, all ultra-rich Alphas with killer good looks, participate in group sex with a woman who contracts for the experience. In exchange for lots of money and adhering to a rigid schedule of who gets to be with her when, the men pursue their bisexual fantasies in the guise of pleasing a woman. Huss presents these activities in a highly provocative style without draping it in any tarnishing social condemnation. These men enjoy touching each other, admit they love each other, and yet manage not to make the male-male aspect the main point of their encounters.

Similarly, another author successful in exploring plural sex is Tiffany Riesz whose Original Sinners series delves into multiple forbidden topics. Her main characters include a female ‘switch’ who enters the story line as an adolescent named Nora who is alternately mentored, seduced, and dominated by Søren, a Catholic priest who also happens to be a sadist. His previous homosexual love affair with a school chum named Kingsley continues throughout his relationship with Nora. In occasional fits of priestly conscience, Søren ‘gives’ Nora to Kingsley who then teaches her the skills to become a highly successful dominatrix. The pinnacle, although not the end, of this storyline occurs when all three end up in the same bed.

Both authors present their ideas in well-written tales full of rich backgrounds and compelling story lines. These aren’t stupid little sex scenes isolated from any greater character development. Sex serves not only to gratify readers in ways that many of us would never pursue in person but also to examine theoretical and even ideal human relationships. Such fiction reflects our innate yearning for absolute freedom in pursuing emotional and physical completion.

~~~

There’s no limit to how far back in literary history one might go in exploring the depths of such erotic tales. The Greeks celebrated male-male relationships in poetry and in art and named the island of Lesbos as the place where female-female sex proliferated. Roman art depicting all kinds of erotic couplings survives to teach us about that aspect of their culture. Throughout the succeeding centuries, with works ranging from the Marquis de Sade’s Justine to Nabokov’s Lolita, censors managed only to heighten a work’s notoriety by banning them. A major success of modern culture has been the lifting of censorship so that humanity might more fully express its sexual fantasies and realities. [Look here for an overview of erotic literature.]

1969 movie “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” played by (L-R) Elliot Gould, Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, and Diane Cannon.

As recently as the ‘free sex’ period of the 60s generation, however, the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice found couples willing to tolerate extramarital affairs and even an attempt at wife-swapping, but nowhere in even the subtext was there a hint that Bob and Ted would consider touching each other.

What does it mean now, if anything, that women’s romance novels reveal an intense interest in Alpha males, successful, intelligent, and seductive men, who not only want to pleasure women but also each other? These aren’t gay men. In Huss’ series, these thirty-something males have shared their sexual relationships for years. They suffer no guilt and no second thoughts about their pleasure in each other.

Parameters of their bisexual activity are obvious, however. They never act on each other unless in the process of acting on the female. The woman and her desire, her satisfaction, is the appropriate arena for them to express their erotic thrill with each other. As they dominate her, their genitals may touch and even be handled by one or the other of the three males in the relationship. They may kiss. Watching each other expose and self-stimulate their arousals serves to both trigger the men’s greater excitement as well as the female reader’s.

One of the favored features of such play is double penetration so that both men’s genitals enter the women and can be felt through the thin fleshy wall between the woman’s vagina and rectum. The woman’s fulsome enjoyment in such penetration is described but so is the man’s gratification in feeling the other man’s cock next to his own.

Not every reader enjoys such stories, as reviews of these works quickly testify. But that’s the nature of erotic literature in general, forming a rabidly interested readership on one hand and a horrified coterie of critics on the other. But the fact that we as a culture have advanced to the point where authors can openly present such ideas to the public gives hope that human sexuality can flourish in offering new and important ideas to society as a whole. What is more promising than the concept of men who aren’t afraid to acknowledge their desire and love for each other alongside their love and desire for women? Nothing could be further from the inherent violence traditionally characterized in male control of females.

Not to say that women’s romance literature offers much of interest to men. Tending more toward the visual, men’s erotic media often show a man with two or more women intent on pleasing him in all ways as well as delighting each other in various lascivious acts. Finally there’s a full set of options available for male as well as female delectation.

So-called ‘plural marriage’ such as shown in the reality TV series “Sister Wives,” is just the latest iteration of men taking more than one wife. In Biblical times, men such as Abraham had a wife and concubine. Harems featured multiple wives and concubines with varying degrees of favoritism by their husband. Mormons most famously practiced polygamy (more accurately polygyny), but other cultures around the world share wives between brothers, among other examples.

Polyamory, the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, with all partners aware and accepting of those relationships, is the latest actual manifestation of the new sexuality making inroads into longstanding tradition. This is not exactly the same as a plural relationship. A woman could have two male partners in a plural relationship and not be polyamorous, meaning she and her partners would not see anyone outside the relationship. Or they could all be polyamorous, meaning that while they enjoyed a committed relationship with each other, they could dally with persons outside the relationship.

The movement of a socially-enlightened population toward diverse sexual relationships promises an interesting road ahead. These are natural progressions of people freed from the strictures of ancient religious rules promulgated in the interest of preventing bastardy and confused inheritance. Old patriarchal traditions no longer hold sway over the actions of women, thanks to the advent of effective birth control. While the nuclear family may remain the norm for rearing children, experimentation even in this arena shows us that the male-female couple is not necessarily more successful than a same sex couple or even a communal family.

In her stories, Huss sidesteps the potential of her characters to form a plural family. [Spoiler Alert] Each of the three novels conclude with one of the men pairing off with a woman in a happily-ever-after. Personally, I found this mildly tragic and somewhat disappointing. Why should men who both love the same woman and each other have to yield to tradition? Why couldn’t there be a happy family with two men and a woman and their child?

Similarly, in her Original Sinners series, Riesz conforms to the expectation that true love between a man and a woman results in a monogamous relationship. But is that true? Is three always a crowd?

So far lacking in any measurable amount is literature showing female domination of men in ways that strengthen the female or liberate the man from his duty to be Alpha. Romance stories still affirm the male’s ability and desire to take care of the female and the female’s ability and desire to ‘complete’ the male’s life. These are elements women demand in ‘escape’ reading. Apparently, the more ‘liberated’ and equal women become in the real world, the more they crave fantasies where men take unerring charge in the bedroom.

~~~

Further reading:

More than Two, written by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert and published in 2014, addresses the ethics of consensual non-monogamous relationships.

The Ethical Slut, written by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt and published in 1997, discusses how to live an active life with multiple concurrent sexual relationships in a fair and honest way. Discussion topics include how to deal with the practical difficulties and opportunities in finding and keeping partners, maintaining relationships with others, and strategies for personal growth.

Why rules don’t apply:  https://www.quora.com/Why-do-the-various-plural-relationships-like-polyandry-and-polygamy-survive-flourish-in-society-Shouldnt-they-be-crushed-or-declared-a-crime-the-very-day-they-first-come-into-light

Multiple ‘husbands’ per woman (None of this material addresses male-male sexuality in polyandrous relationships.): http://jezebel.com/5981095/polyandry-is-actually-way-more-popular-than-anthropologists-have-thought

Advertisements

The Witness

Cara Lawrence drained the last of the martini and slid the shiny stemware away from her. A little world to itself, the elegant glass on its clean white napkin. A little white square with a world on it. She wanted to go there.

The muscles in her neck relaxed. God, she needed this. She’d chewed the inside of her cheek raw, driving mile after mile across land colored in faded shades of brown, tan, gray. Scraps of bleached vegetation. Peaceful in a desolate way. Like her.

At some point, she had redirected the air conditioner vent away from her face and slipped into a reverie. She could be anywhere in any time. Not much traffic on the highway. Cactus dotted the landscape. Finally, as late afternoon started to quench the outside glare, she’d been able to smile.

Now, not so much. Much as she needed her senses on full alert, she also needed a break. She sighed, not carried away, not in a different world. That man lurked in the back of her mind, dark and threatening. Looking at her intently as if he could read her mind. She wasn’t good at hiding her thoughts. He knew.

Not many people remained in the dim hotel bar, but it felt good to be tucked into this corner booth at the back of the room. Everything about the place comforted her, the scent of leather upholstery, the clatter of glassware, the faint drone of the television above the bar blending with distant voices, the bartender, a couple of nearby people talking. Facing the door, she could see anyone who came in. Not that he would come in. She was seven hundred miles away in another state. There was no way he could have followed her here.

But she felt like he had. That feeling crawled up the back of her neck like he was watching, waiting. For what? Why did it matter what she knew? Wouldn’t he fare better leaving her alone no matter what heinous act he committed?

A short laugh rolled up her chest. Fucking ridiculous, Cara. What the hell is wrong with you? She’d never been this paranoid. All this terror built on the flimsiest of evidence, a few minutes of unexplained noise, a brief encounter…so what? He’d been polite, said he was sorry, left her alone. A killer wouldn’t have done that. Would he?

She hadn’t seen anything anyway, not really. She saw him go in, heard a loud noise like gunfire. Maybe it wasn’t gunfire. Maybe the sound didn’t come from where he went. Maybe he just went in and came back out. Maybe leaving the door open didn’t mean anything. She drained her glass, satisfied that between the hearty chicken-fried steak dinner and a couple of strong cocktails, she’d have a good night’s sleep.

Okay, most of the dinner had stayed on her plate.

She wanted to sleep, a deep restful sleep with no restless half-awake time lying there, listening, waiting. Resisting the urge to have a third drink, she slid out of the booth, dropped a generous tip on the table, and walked across the room. Her legs hadn’t recovered from being in the car all day. And the day before. Walking felt good. A long walk in the twilight would feel fabulous.

No. He might have followed her. She had been his only witness. He would want her gone.

Cara got to her floor gripping her door card. If she had a Xanax, she’d take it now. She kept seeing the guy’s eyes, pale gray in a weathered face. A face that had seen a lot. And that scar. How many regular guys had a scar on their cheek?

How much of this was being off balance from the breakup with Travis?

A cluster of young men stood at the ice machine, talking and joking.

“I need your help,” she said impulsively, aware of the absurdity of what she was about to say. “Someone is following me,” she continued, thankful the young men looked at her with concern. “I’m afraid to go to my room,” she continued. “Would you help me get my bags, maybe let me sleep on your couch?”

The young men glanced at each other, all of them tall and athletic. Surely they’d defend her, if it came down to it.

Had she gone mad?

“Sure, lady,” one of them said. “Charter,” he said, straightening his shoulders and sticking out his hand, his valor ready. “Besom, Hank, Jason,” he said, waving his hand at the others.

“Charter, nice to meet you. I’m Cara.” Maybe she was drunker than she knew. What did they think about this, really? What the hell was she doing?

It was a brilliant plan, she decided as they closed her room door and walked with her to their suite. A rugby team. That explained it. Did it mean anything to her that their bodies radiated youthful male exuberance? Maybe she would give herself to them, yield up her flesh to their exploitation for however many hours they would have her.

What if she offered and they declined? After Travis, could she endure another rejection? Oh hell yes, this would be exactly what she needed to get Travis out of her mind forever. Travis hardly mattered now that she had a murderer on her trail.

What was she thinking? First she was thinking a murderer was on her heels and now she was imagining sex with a sports team. She shook her head. Did therapists have nervous breakdowns?

Maybe first thing tomorrow she’d look up a local therapist and try to get a session. Stay here long enough to get her head on straight. This whole thing with Travis had wrecked her equilibrium. Everything had been tossed in the air, years of shared goals, combined assets, promises about the rest of their lives.

She’d been a damn fool. And then she had to go and witness a murder. Or not.

Charter and the other boys jostled each other, joking back and forth as they walked down the hallway. She couldn’t believe she had invited herself to sleep on their couch. Or especially that she contemplated having sex with them. They probably had their pick of countless females younger and more attractive. What could they possibly gain from sex with a freaked out thirty-something woman clearly in diminishing grasp of her sanity?

Well, of course, they didn’t know that. The most obvious point was that they probably hadn’t thought about sex with her at all. They were upstanding young men, dedicated to their sport and their team, doing a favor for a stranger. She straightened as she hurried along behind them.

No one could say, actually, that she was losing it. Everything she thought could be true. She was intelligent and intuitive. There was something about that guy. He knew she knew what he’d done.

“Our team has six suites down this hallway,” Charter said. “So if we piss you off, you can check in with some of the other guys.” He grinned and the corners of his green eyes crinkled. His hand ran through short hair as he closed the door behind her. The room smelled of men, slightly sweaty, spicy. The television blared and she wondered if she would get any sleep at all.

“We’ll turn in pretty soon,” he said, as if reading her mind. “Game tomorrow, so no late crazy stuff.” He leaned slightly closer. “Tomorrow night, that’s when things will get wild. You’re welcome to stay around, if you want.”

He paused, his eyes searching. Oh, my god. He had thought about it. Her breath caught. She knew what he wanted to know.  Hell, she wanted to know too. How do you tell someone about a fear formed on so little basis? How do you explain something that makes no sense? She leaned up and brushed a soft kiss across his startled lips.

“Thanks, Charter. You can’t possibly know how much I appreciate you taking me in. Thank you.”

She watched him react, a slight blush, the inevitable thought of whether she wanted him, what he should do, if anything, in response. So young, so beautiful with his lean muscular body, perfect in so many ways. Her fingertips longed to smooth over his tanned skin. His scent filled her nose. If they had been alone, if she wasn’t on the run …

She stopped herself. Was she on the run? From what her marriage had become, from Travis and his selfish ways, yes, most assuredly. From the crazy incident this morning, something that even now at the brief memory, gooseflesh ran down her arms? Yes, that too.

But she was running toward something, too. A new life. On her terms.

She shook her head and gave him a thin smile. “Sorry, don’t mean to intrude. I’m just feeling worn out. It’s so good to feel safe. I’ll take the couch and get out of your way.”

He watched her with the eyes of an older man. Maybe that meant he felt desire. She had no energy to speculate. The day and the alcohol swept over her like a leaden blanket, and all she wanted, now, finally as she dropped her shoes, snugged her cheek against the pillow, and stretched her feet to the armrest at the far end of the couch, was to disappear into oblivion.

Sometime in the night a disturbance roused her. Light from the parking lot rimmed the heavy curtains and illuminated the room. Snoring, a cough. Someone moving around. Her head fell back onto the pillow. Probably someone going to the bathroom. She waited to hear the flush to know the coast was clear for her own trip to the toilet.

Sleeping forms reassured her as she returned to the couch, glass of water in hand. If her circumstances hadn’t been so completely bizarre, she would have been amused, even pleased, to be sleeping amid a room full of young men.

How long had it been since she felt the pleasure of men, their predictable ways with food, rest, entertainment. Simple and yet exquisitely complex, each one of them a world of contradictions and needs that would probably never be fully met. And yet so irresistible, sweet and funny and tender in so many ways. Nothing like Travis with his demands.

The pillow sweated her head and she couldn’t get comfortable. Alcohol did this, gave her that early crushing slide into sleep then later kept her awake. She lay on her back, forearm over her forehead as she wondered if the man in the truck had lost all his charming male attributes. What if anything did he still have in common with these young men? Not that she knew, really, anything about these young men. She turned to her side, pulling at her rumpled clothes.

She wanted to take off her clothes and lie naked on the soft upholstery, receive Charter and the rest one after another until their semen filled her like a warm flood. Let them kneel at the altar of her body, lavish her with their mouths and hands, spear into her with their hot cornucopias. They would fill her up and all her lines would vanish, her empty places, her loneliness and fear. There would be no place left untouched, no shadow not illuminated. Whispering, groaning, they would yield their youth and plenty to her age and hunger until she had been restored, reborn, resurrected.

“Cara.”

She felt his hand on her foot. Charter. His weight dented the couch where he sat by her knees. His hand ran up her leg.

“Yes.” Her voice barely penetrated the thick silence. His breathing told her everything — shallow, fast. Her legs eased apart, welcoming his hand to her thighs as he eased his way upward.

She sat up and pulled her shirt over her head. The bra fell to the floor, exposing her breasts to the cool air. Her nipples shriveled to hard knots, more from the certain knowledge that he would touch her than from the air conditioning. She lifted her hips to let him remove her skirt and panties then lay in blissful quietude as his hands explored her.

He wore nothing but a towel, she realized, now that her eyes had taken a cat’s sight in the dark. He leaned over her, his torso rippling with honed muscle, his thighs parted. She slid her hand onto his thigh where fine hair bristled her palm. Tense, hardened, his body arched over her.

“I want you,” he muttered, bringing his lips to her mouth. “Can we do this?”

“Yes.”

His mouth grazed over hers, his tongue explored gently. His hands brushed her breasts, her belly. Asked permission, discovered, got his bearings. How many young girls had felt his touch? She smiled into his kiss.

He drove himself into her, plunging in short hard lunges like a coiled spring, like iron, like a lion stalking and running and leaping on its prey. His mouth on her neck, biting. His back bowed, his hips tucked. Her fingertips brushed over the soft skin of his taut buttocks. Tears of relief burned her eyelids.

She swallowed her shouts, her screams, her groans of pleasure. Short gasping huffs escaped her in the last seconds as his motions peaked, his heat burning into her with long trembling ejaculations. Maybe the sounds were as much his as hers, their muted voices as mingled as their bodies.

As much as if she heard his words, she knew his thoughts. They echoed her own, whether they had done the right thing, whether the other person was satisfied, what to say or do now that it had happened.

None of that matters, she said back silently. We did what we did. It was good and that’s what counts.

He returned to his bed. She dressed in silence then lay quietly, waiting for dawn. It’s my life now, she thought, smiling into the dark.

Discounted til July 20

her brother's voice

Limited Time Offer! During pre-release period for Caerwin & Marcellus (Book II), Book I Caerwin and the Roman Dog is reduced to 99¢. During the pre-release period, Book II is also discounted to $2.99. These two great novels complete Caerwin’s story at prices you won’t see again.

Your personal time travel to experience firsthand the conquest and glory of ancient Rome! Pick up these books and read your way through this breathtaking saga of brutal warfare, BDSM rough sex, and tender romance that grows in the wake of devastation.

An ambitious Roman commander captures a fiery maid of Britannia and forces her to his will. A story of conquest and love set in the glory days of empire, their struggle to meet each other’s needs and expectations exposes the underbelly of Rome’s legal system, its dependence on slavery, and sexual secrets from Marcellus’ past. Can young Caerwin survive unexpected challenges to her womanhood?

Book I
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/611102
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B016LA6ZVA

Book II
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/644340
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H9EBZCQ

New Year, New Start

hot news Jan 16

And a new chance to win a fabulous Surprise Gift Box including my latest novel, Caerwin and the Roman DogSecond place wins a paperback copy of the novel.

How to enter —

1.  Like and share this post on your Facebook page.

2. Like my Facebook page.

3. Subscribe to Liz’s Hot News monthly newsletter. FREE stuff, excerpts, pre-release deals, and much more. Sign up at http://eepurl.com/bHOyS9

4. Comment below saying you’ve shared, liked, and subscribed. This is important!

Entries close January 9. Winners chosen by random drawing and will be announced January 11. The contest is solely my responsibility.

Caerwin and the Roman Dog

Caerwin cover*✩* 99¢ PRE-ORDER now through November 9 *✩*

Set in 47 AD, the story centers on a young Cornovii princess—Caerwin—who watches from the rocky battlements of her tribe’s hillfort as Rome’s legions approach. Devastation ensues as the Roman phalanx crushes Briton’s valiant warriors. Captured and held in Roman camp, she faces Legate Marcellus Antistius who makes it clear she will submit to his demands. In spite of her resistance, he forces her pleasure. She begs to die.

Caught between his increasing infatuation with this Briton princess and the demands of his military command, Marcellus must come to terms with his past.

A fiery novel of domination and submission, this historical romance follows Caerwin as she refuses to come to terms with her new reality: life as she knew it is over. Forever. In its place stands a man she can never love.

Excerpt:

The man she had seen on the white horse paused in the opening. His stare fastened on her and sent chills down her spine. He stood taller than the other men, his body of a stature more like her own people than these rat men of Rome. His layered metal vest had been removed as had his helmet and other outer garments, so that he wore only loose breeches that ended at his knees. She swallowed, casting her eyes away after her first long frozen moment.

“Do you like what you see?” he asked quietly.

The words shocked her, spoken fluently her familiar language. She turned to face him. Words rose to her lips but remained unspoken. He examined her, openly casting his gaze up and down her body as if he owned her. The terrible realization struck her—he did own her. She had been caught up at his command and now stood captive to his whim.

She spat in his direction and turned her face away. Tugging against the tight leather bonds, she succeeded only in chafing her wrists. Her nerves heightened to brittle pitch as she sensed him approaching. She knew what he would do, what such men did to captured women.

He placed himself in front of her, so close she could not look away without seeing his chest. His scent stung her nose, sharp and edged with the copper hint of blood. Stains marked his arms and face, sweat-encrusted dirt and smears of blood. His voice startled her, so close and so quiet.

“What is this trinket?” he asked, fingering the torque.

She glared at him. “Shall you steal it from me like you have stolen our lives and our land?”

“I wish only to converse with you, to ease this friendship we’ve started.”

She snorted and strained at the bonds holding her. “I wish only to kill you. I would leave your body for the crows.”

He grabbed her face and held her still while his mouth tasted her. His lips moved against her lips. His tongue sought the seam and when she refused to spread her jaw, he bit her lower lip. Her shocked cry gave him entry, and his tongue invaded her mouth, probing and pushing.

Hate rose in her chest, blinding her. She clamped her teeth down on his tongue, savoring a brief taste of blood as he jerked back.

Vipera!” He wiped his hand over his mouth. “You won’t win this battle, but if you wish a contest…” His big hand closed over the neck of her garment and ripped it down the front of her body. The beautiful woolen dress she had so carefully woven hung off her shoulders.

“I will have you,” he said in a hoarse voice. “Whether you wish it or not. Let the others portion out the gold and silver, whatever meager wealth your tribe held. I have wealth enough in coin. You with your hair like copper,” he added, fingering her long braid, “your eyes blue as sky—you are my pillage for this day.”

Evening damp had risen from the nearby river, and the cool air hit her exposed skin like a slap. She refused to look down on her nakedness or to meet his smirking gaze as he made a show of his careful examination. He pinched her nipples and probed the thatch of red hair between her legs.

“A virgin?” He laughed, pressing his finger deeper. “I’m surprised you’ve reached such an age without marriage. I will find much pleasure in this.”

She flinched at his intrusion. Were it not for the ties binding her ankles and wrists, she would have flown at him and gouged out his eyes. She cursed him, calling down the wrath of gods on him and his company.

“Your gods won’t help you,” he said, removing his finger and inspecting the faintly-red stain. “I’m your god now.”

Amazon → Buy link

A Dane’s Bride

vikingAetherlin stared at the man through the leaping flames of the firepit. Hrald, Jarl of Dunholm. Her hands clenched in want of a weapon. Fire cast his shadow to the far wall as if he were a denizen of Hell itself, his tall frame looming and pale eyes glittering in the orange-red reflection. Breath hitched in her throat.

He wore fitted leather leggings and an open vest over his muscled chest. Lengths of dark hair brushed his wide shoulders. Gold bands wrapped his biceps and forearms, a badge of his prowess in battle and the respect of his tribesmen. His forehead creased in his determined expression, although the quirk of his cruel mouth bespoke lascivious thoughts. About her. And what he would soon do to her.

In spite of the message of anger and resistance she sent with her glare, he did not relent in his survey of her. She wore a red marriage dress with scrolling needlework and golden thread. Her attending lady had wept as she dressed her, ordered by her father Aetherwulf, Earldorman of Gloucestershire. These were not garments Aetherlin would have chosen, cut low to reveal the curve of her breasts, to present her body as if a fattened goose. But then, she would not have chosen this day, this man. Or perhaps any man at all.

“Loose your hair, maid,” Hrald commanded, his deep voice echoing through the empty hall.

Her body stiffened. Again she thought to refuse, to turn and run. But the great hall had been emptied and the door barred. She had been given to him, to be his chattel just as the hall itself, the trenchers and tables, the servants moving in the adjacent kitchens and storerooms, his pledged warriors and lesser vassals going about their evening tasks in the courtyard, the stables.

In a fury, she yanked off the narrow silver band holding the linen scarf and flung them to the floor. Her thick braid took more time as her numb fingers combed through the long wavy strands, separating and spreading them over her shoulders and chest. Golden glints of firelight reflected on the red-blonde hair. Aetherlin could not look at him, but she knew his gaze stayed on her—it burned like coals on her skin.

He said nothing for a time. The fire’s crackle barely matched the noise of her heart thudding in her ears. Did he mean to possess her here, in the public hall?

“Now the dress,” he demanded.

His voice had taken a husky tone. That recognition startled her. She wished it did not matter whether he cared about what she did. Surely he did not want her, but rather embraced the power, lands, and wealth that came with the marriage. Still, his reaction caused her to flush.

Her glance flew to his face. What did he intend, forcing her to undress in the main hall? Anyone could enter, even though he had dismissed them all. Would he shame her? What man treated his bride so coarsely?

A fiend. A filthy, bloodthirsty Dane.

His eyes had narrowed and his body leaned slightly forward, so that the spiraling patterns carved into his leather vest picked up more of the fire’s light and seemed to move of their own accord. Likewise, the inked design of dragons rippled over his muscled arms as if alive. His dark hair brushed at his wide shoulders, casting his clean-shaven jaw in shadow.

Why did he not simply rip down her clothes like the ravening beast he was? The sudden thought of such an act caused her heart to leap against her ribs. Her fingers stumbled at the clasps. The heavy woolen dress fell to the floor around her ankles. She stood in the linen shift, waiting, her breath shallow and fast.

“Do you think I wish only to see your undergarments?” he questioned in a hard voice.

“I think you wish to lower me, so that I am the least of all possible things,” she snapped back. “Expose me, like a village girl at the hands of your men.”

He laughed. “Beauty and spirit. It seems I’ve bargained well.”

He came nearer to her side of the fire and braced a heavy boot against the rock hearth. She feared what he might do. Her tongue slipped along dry lips.

“But you will please me,” he said, lowering his voice slightly. “The rest of it, bride. Now.”

(More of this story in a future publication…)