Aspectians, Book 1
by Kate Hill
eBook ISBN: 978-1-59596-303-1
Vida may be only a village dancer, but she knows there’s more to royal politics than Zavier wishes to see. She dares to want more than just to be the bearer of his children. But can their frail bond survive Zavier’s meddling mother and the arranged marriage his family has waiting for him?
Black Palace thrust straight and high as a thousand houses above the kingdom of Windfarv, darkening the valley for miles with its shadow. Vida reined in her borrowed mount as soon as she and the royal party emerged from the forest.
“God,” she breathed, staring at the palace, awed and unnerved by the height of the structure. “I’ve never seen anything so tall.”
“It is said hundreds of workers died building it,” said the Captain of the Guard. “That was in ancient times. Don’t worry, miss. From the inside it doesn’t seem as imposing — except on very windy days.”
Vida swallowed, praying she wouldn’t vomit. She’d never liked heights and if she’d known about Black Palace, she might not have offered herself to the emperor.
No, I would have anyway. I had no choice.
She urged her horse onward, following the guards clad in black armor toward her new home. Her family desperately needed the money that accompanied her position as Heir Mother of Emperor Zavier. She would be the mother of his firstborn child, the heir of Black Palace and its lands. Everyone knew Emperor Zavier was an Aspectian, and such creatures usually mated with their own kind. For her to have been chosen meant Emperor Zavier himself had studied her carefully and personally selected her.
She wasn’t certain what the emperor looked like, since he never publicly appeared in his true form. Even when potential mothers had been interviewed, he’d been disguised among five representatives from Black Palace.
As they neared the palace, its width astounded Vida. From a distance, the rectangular building had appeared narrow, due to its height, but up close it seemed to span miles.
She and the guards dismounted at the drawbridge and gave their horses to waiting stable boys.
“Ready, are you?” The Captain of the Guard’s lips twisted into a nasty grin and Vida realized she must have appeared as nervous as she felt.
She nodded, glancing at a slender green vine hanging down the palace wall, just beside the entrance. As they approached, the vine seemed to curl upward. Vida shivered, wishing she were home in her village across the gorge.
“Is there somewhere I can wash and dress before meeting the emperor?” she asked.
“No point until you arrive,” said the guard. “It will take you all morning to climb the steps and you’ll most likely be a mess by then. Clothing and a bath await you at the top.”
“The top?” Vida swallowed. “You mean all the way to the top of the palace?”
“Emperor Zavier prefers it up there.”
“He would,” she muttered.
The guard lifted an eyebrow. “No one forced you into this arrangement.”
“Of course not. I could have just let my family starve.”
“Yes, you could have.”
Vida didn’t bother hiding her disgust. It seemed even the servants of royals were as arrogant as their masters. Why shouldn’t they be? Serving such a rich master, the Captain of the Guard probably wanted for nothing.
Drawing a breath of resolution, Vida took a step toward the long, twisting staircase to her left.
“Wait,” the guard ordered, removing his helmet and chain mail. “I’ll escort you.”
Together they began the trek up thousands of steps. After nearly an hour of walking, Vida felt grateful for her lifetime of hard work and years of dancing at the village faire. Breathless, her legs aching, she wondered when they’d reach the top. They must have passed hundreds of doors on different floors but the Captain always said, “Keep going.”
“What was that?” She paused, her heart pounding, as the entire building seemed to sway.
“Just the wind,” panted the guard. “We’re almost there. Are you sure you don’t want to rest? You are a mere woman, and –”
Vida brushed past him and continued up the steps, ignoring his muttering as he followed at her heels.
Finally, they reached a door through which the Captain told her to enter.
Vida stepped into a room hung with tapestries of black, red, and purple. Several oak chairs, cushioned in red velvet, stood against the wall. Black brocade drapes hung on the rectangular windows surrounding the room. A thick red carpet cushioned Vida’s feet, sore from the climb.
“Ah! Heir Mother, I have a chamber awaiting you.” A tall, slender man wearing a silver tunic that nearly matched his hair stepped through an archway to Vida’s left. “Captain, would you care for some refreshment before your descent?”
“I know where to get it,” the Captain muttered, disappearing through the archway.
“Miserable beast.” The silver-haired man shivered, then turned a charming smile to Vida. “I am Tutt, at your service.”
“Mistress Vida, you must be tired after your long journey, not to mention the climb from the castle base. I’ll take you to your chamber where you can bathe and rest.” Tutt motioned for her to follow him through another archway to the left and down a long corridor filled with paintings of prior royals. “I’ve chosen some lovely clothes for you but when you’re ready I’ll call the seamstress, since I’m sure you prefer to order some of your own.”
“That will be very nice.” Vida relaxed. Tutt seemed to be a pleasant man and the idea of choosing dresses interested her. At home there had been little money for anything but the most basic clothes.
“Emperor Zavier wishes to dine with you this evening,” Tutt said as they entered a chamber decorated in burgundy and white. A canopy bed, larger than any she’d ever seen, jutted from one wall, and a trunk carved out of beautiful white wood stood between two rectangular windows curtained in burgundy brocade. The floor was of polished dark wood with a thick rug covering most of it. To her right, a door opened into a dressing chamber containing a large tub and a shelf filled with thick towels. In the far corner of the room, beside a round marble table with a pitcher and bowl, stood a statue of a stone beast with the body of an exquisite man and the head of a buffalo.
“What an odd piece.” Vida approached the statue and placed her palm flat against the stone chest.
“Yes.” Tutt’s smile seemed uncharacteristically forced.
“Beautiful, though.” Vida now felt compelled to place both hands on the statue. She caressed the chest, then jumped away, her pulse racing.
“Something wrong, Mistress Vida?” Tutt asked.
“I must be dizzy from all those steps.” She laughed nervously. “I could have sworn this statue has a heartbeat.”
“It is in the image of an ancient god. Some say such statues hold a bit of the deity’s power. Perhaps it’s best just to look at it.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” Vida said, her gaze still fixed on the statue.
Tutt excused himself and Vida slipped off her shoes, sighing with pleasure when her bare feet sank into the soft carpet. She walked to one of the windows and looked out, then wished she hadn’t. Her stomach lurched. The village was so far below that the homes looked like little more than pebbles on a beach of green sand.
She approached the bed and stretched out on it. Though she drifted off for a short time, she was unable to enjoy a deep sleep. She was far too nervous about meeting Emperor Zavier.
Tutt knocked on her door, saying a bath awaited her in the adjoining chamber. As Vida undressed, her gaze fixed on the strange statue. Its eyes seemed to watch her as she stood naked, using her fingertips to stroke her breasts and abdomen. For the first time, she noticed the size of the stone cock. It was long and thick, the balls beneath heavy as a bull’s.
Vida sighed and strolled to the tub. She sank beneath the warm water and closed her eyes, relaxing for a moment before using a cake of lemon-scented soap to wash.
After she’d stepped out and dried herself with a towel, she walked to the next room and examined the clothing Tutt had laid out for her. A pale pink shift, so sheer it left nothing to the imagination, was arranged beside a tunic-style dress of burgundy satin. Matching shoes and a cream-colored veil decorated with pink seed pearls rested on a chair beside the bed.
She dressed, relishing the feeling of such fine fabric against her skin. “What do you think?” she asked the statue, twirling in front of it. On impulse, she stepped close to it and touched her lips to the pit of the throat, her fingertips clasping the cool, bulging shoulders. The stone cock pressed intimately against her soft mound, making her wet.
Stunned by her reaction, she stepped away, resisting the urge to rub herself against it. “I must be losing my mind. Nerves. It’s only nerves. If you are a deity, would you keep me safe tonight? I’m not sure what Emperor Zavier will be like. Some say Aspectians have been known to rip mortal women to shreds in their lust. Since he wants an heir, I can only hope that won’t be my end.”
“Mistress Vida! Are you ready? Emperor Zavier wishes to greet you now,” Tutt called from outside the door.
Vida drew a steadying breath and stepped into the hall.
Tutt left Vida seated in a room slightly smaller than her bed chamber. A polished oval table set for two stood in the center of the floor. Flames danced in a fireplace that nearly filled one wall, two large high-backed chairs in front of it. Above the hearth hung a painting of two blue eyes staring through what appeared to be a tornado’s black and gray funnel. Other similar paintings adorned all four walls, each depicting different colored eyes peering through storm clouds.
Vida sat at the table and gazed at the black porcelain plates and goblets of fine silver. A crystal decanter of wine stood alongside a plate of bread. Vida’s stomach grumbled. She hadn’t eaten since early that morning, and even then she’d been too nervous to take more than a few bites of gruel.
The door opened and Vida’s pulse raced as Emperor Zavier stepped inside. He was a thickly built man of middling height with flaming red hair that hung to his shoulders. He wore a floor-length black tunic, the sleeves and collar embroidered with silver designs. A platinum crown encircled his head. The V-shaped bottom, adorned with a single large emerald, dipped onto his forehead. He wore a red beard and though she had never seen his face before, she was surprised by the familiarity of his blue eyes.
“My lord.” Vida stood and curtsied.
The emperor motioned for her to sit as he took the chair across from her. He sat back, his gaze fixed on her in a manner she found most unsettling.
When she grew so uncomfortable in the silence that she could bear no more, she tried starting a conversation. “The palace is very beautiful. I think…”
Her voice faded and her eyes widened as his hair changed from red to black and his features seemed to rearrange themselves before her eyes. His eyebrows thickened, cheekbones grew sharper, and lips thinned. When he rose, his height had changed so that he appeared very tall and slim. He walked to the room’s single window and parted the curtains, staring outside, his back to her.
Once Vida had recovered from the initial shock of watching him shift shape, she felt a bit insulted. In the middle of her conversation he’d simply turned his back on her. But what could she expect? He was a royal and a creature of myth. She was merely a human woman of common blood.
“What do you think?” he said after a long moment.
“I think I’ve never imagined any structure as tall as this palace.”
He turned, his long, dark hair curling upward into short blond locks. His snubbed nose elongated, almost reminding her of the buffalo statue in her chamber.
“Come.” He motioned for her to follow him through the door at the back of the room. As soon as she stepped onto the short staircase, a cold wind struck her. Shivering, she followed him upward. The entire palace swayed in the wind and again she felt a little sick. Outside, they paused near a black parapet. The emperor’s gaze fixed on hers, demanding that she take a step closer to the edge.
“Oh, God,” she whispered, her belly clenched in fear. Slowly, she approached, staring over the side. Through the clouds and fog drifting below her, she saw lights flickering from the village.
“Magnificent,” he murmured.
“Yes, I suppose.” Vida fought to keep her teeth from chattering, though she wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing her chilly arms.
“I’m afraid this dress isn’t much cover against the wind.”
“Then we should go back inside.” He motioned for her to descend the steps, then followed, closing the door behind them once they’d reached the chamber. Vida stepped closer to the fire, extending her hands toward it to warm them. Now that she was back inside and away from the frightening view she felt almost sane again. A robe of ebony velvet covered her shoulders and she glanced up at the emperor who stood close beside her, this time wearing chestnut hair and a goatee.
They held each other’s gaze and Vida realized that his eyes never changed. No matter what shape his face took, his eyes remained the same all-knowing blue.
“What do you look like?” she asked softly.
“What do you want me to look like?”
“You must have a true form.”
The emperor folded his arms behind his back and strode to the table. “An Aspectian only shows his true form to his blood kin — or his mate.”
“Am I not to be a mate?”
“You’re to be my first born child’s mother. A mate would be bound to me for life, and I bound to her.”
“Forgive me but I find it strange that you wouldn’t want your mate and the mother of your children to be one and the same.”
A smile flickered around his full lips as he reached for the decanter and poured wine first into her goblet then into his. “And why are you willing to bear the child of a man whose name you won’t share? The payment, of course?”
“Yes.” If he could be brutally honest, then she could, too. “My family needs to be cared for. I have a mother and six young sisters and brothers.”
“I’ve been told. They’ve already been seen to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Their needs are being cared for. They won’t want for anything again — even after you’ve gone, if you decide not to remain here once we’ve raised our child.” He sat at the table and took a sip of the wine. A long, black braid hung over his shoulder and he shrugged it aside. “Something else is bothering you?”
“Do you think you could keep one appearance?”
“If you like.”
“Dance for me.”
Vida felt a bit taken aback.
“I’ve seen you dance in your village,” he said. “Dance for me now.”
She wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or frightened. Though the emperor spoke in deep, quiet tones, his shapeshifting unsettled her. If he’d watched her dance in the village, who knew what else he’d seen or how many times he had spied on her? According to legend, he could become anything — plant, animal, or object. What would it feel like to make love with such a creature when the time came?
“There’s no music.”
Vida shrugged off the cloak and stood in the empty space in front of the fire. It had been years since she’d felt this nervous about performing. She began moving her arms like reeds, her hips gently swaying as she seemed to drift across the floor.
Emperor Zavier devoured her with his gaze. Though she was accustomed to men ogling her, she’d never seen one glow with such raw sexuality while keeping his facial features calmly arranged. He knew how to exude lust without appearing like a drooling wolf.
Tutt entered carrying a tray of food that he set on the table, and Vida joined Zavier who filled her dish with sweet fruit, fresh bread, and cooked vegetables. In spite of her nerves, Vida was starving. She tried not to eat too quickly, particularly since Emperor Zavier’s gaze never left her face.
She noted he chewed slowly and his fingertips stroked the rim of his goblet. When they’d finished their drinks, he poured more and they carried them to the chairs by the fire.
The emperor stared at the flames and Vida noted his expression seemed apprehensive, almost sad. He finished his wine in one swallow and looked at her.
“Shall we begin, Vida?”
In a movement so swift and fluid she could scarcely see it, he stood and swept her into his arms. Since she’d asked him not to continue changing shape, he’d retained the form of a tall, muscular man with long, light brown hair, a silky beard, aquiline nose, and full lips. His looks — all of them — appealed to her, but it was his manner that aroused her. The emperor’s voice, expressions, and motions were so slow and incredibly sexual that her body had tingled for him since the moment he’d stepped into the chamber.
In spite of all she’d heard about his kind, she wanted to make love with him.
The emperor’s mouth descended on hers. His lips moved gently at first, then grew more demanding. His tongue traced the shape of her lips, then parted them to explore her mouth. Vida moaned softly and entangled her fingers in his hair. He tasted wonderful, partly his own taste, partly that of the wine. In scarcely any time at all, she was returning his kiss enthusiastically, her tongue stroking his, her teeth gently nipping his lips.
He carried her through another door at the opposite end of the room. By the size and richness of the dark oak furniture, she guessed it was his private chamber. He placed her on an enormous bed covered with black satin sheets, tugged her dress over her head, and tossed it aside. The shoes and veil followed, leaving only the thin silk shift.
The emperor kissed her throat and bare shoulders, then covered one of her breasts with his mouth. His tongue stroked her nipple through the fabric that molded damply to her flesh. The sensation was so arousing that she moaned again and clutched his head closer. He sucked harder, his teasing tongue flicking across the hard nub of flesh. One of his hands slipped between her knees and stroked upward until he reached her wet, aching pussy. His fingers slipped inside, gathering moisture. When they withdrew, she moaned in protest, but that moan soon turned to a cry of delight. Using his wet fingertip, he circled her clit and stroked it up, down, and along each ultra-sensitive side.
Vida’s entire body tensed with pleasure. She arched against him, her hips lifting in time with his rubbing finger. The sensations were almost too much to endure. Between stroking her clit and sucking her nipple, he had her hovering on the brink of explosion. He rubbed and sucked faster, hurling her over the edge.
“Oh! Yes. Oh!” she cried, her eyes closed and her entire body pulsing in a savage rhythm as waves of pleasure broke over her.
Panting, she remained unmoving on her back, only protesting weakly when he slipped from the bed. Her eyes opened halfway and she watched him shed his clothes. She only had a moment to glance at his thickly muscled form before he covered her body with his, the tip of his cock pressing against her pussy lips.
With frustrating slowness he began filling her with his thick, velvety erection. Vida gasped, clinging to his arms, her body tense at the combination of pleasure and pain.
“Are you all right?” he asked, panting slightly. Gazing at him, she saw intense desire gleaming in his eyes and knew he was restraining himself to keep from hurting her. This was not the shapeshifting beast she had heard rumors about, but a man with the utmost respect and concern for his partner.
“I’m fine,” she replied, drawing a deep breath and shifting her hips upward. His eyes flickered shut and his lips parted as he drew a sharp, pleasured breath and continued easing into her wet sheath.
When he reached the hilt, he remained still and opened his eyes again, staring at her.
Vida’s heart raced and she clutched his shoulders hard. He filled her so completely!
“Please,” she whispered, wiggling her hips as the pain subsided and pleasure grew.
Zavier began a slow, steady thrusting that drove her toward another climax. Sooner than she would have expected, her body again pulsed and quaked in ecstasy. Throughout the marvelous waves of pleasure, he continued thrusting, driving her to yet another peak before she had fully descended from the last. His motions ranged from fast to slow, teasing her, stimulating her until she no longer felt connected to anyone or anything except this irresistible man. As she pulsed and panted beneath him again, she wondered how much longer he could endure such unbelievable tension before joining her in bliss.
Groaning, he withdrew his cock and rolled her onto her stomach so he could mount her from behind. His large hands covered the backs of hers and their fingers entwined as he pumped into her heated body.
“My lord, oh, my lord!” she panted, eyes shut tightly against the pleasure.
“Say my name,” he ordered, his deep voice ragged with need. The speed of his thrusting increased. His breath fanned her ear, sending ripples of delight down her spine. “Say it!”
“Zavier!” she cried. “Zavier, please, please!”
Panting, he lunged hard and fast into her quivering body. In the midst of her orgasm, she felt him come long and hard.
“Ahh! Vida!” he shouted, collapsing atop her, his hot flesh slick against hers. He eased some of his weight off her, though still kept part of his body draped over hers.
A smile touched her lips and before she drifted to sleep, she thought her fate wouldn’t be nearly as bad as she’d imagined.