Excerpt Throne Taker by Heather Long
Someday, I expected to look back on the day I arrived on Charbodey with some kind of fondness. A nostalgic reminiscence about my first look at the palace, the first moment I met my sister, the first steps I took on an alien world. Whether it was really alien or not, it was alien to me. On that far-distant day, I would probably take Reese’s hand, threading our fingers together to take a walk along this promenade in the great gallery overlooking the ballroom.
It had a ballroom.
Anyway… I digressed.
I could do this. I would hold hands with Reese, and we would walk together, perhaps even pretending that this was nothing different than that first walk we’d taken after I ran into a food truck. Had that really been over a year and a half ago? Almost two years, maybe. My sense of time had been screwed with the hibernation and the garden and the Mesothelae.
Sorry, I kept digressing.
I didn’t mean to let my mind wander, but I had trouble following every conversation I’d been forced to endure. Briggs was there, never more than two steps away, but none of my visitors—guests?—talked to him. They spoke to me. Goran was nearby, as was Reese. I could feel them. But they weren’t right with me, they were somewhere in this great huge room swelling with people, and more were coming.
Apparently, the arrival of a new queen triggered a grand party, and everyone who was anyone had been parading through the doors to be presented. I’d met about a third of the people here, and it had been six hours since we’d landed.
I think six hours, at least, that was the translation I parsed from the nanos interpreting the chronometers. They had a series of numbers, but when half the time I couldn’t remember whether California was ahead of or behind Texas, I was not even going to try and guess what was happening on Charbodey.
The nanos said six hours, then by God, let it be six hours.
My feet hurt.
My head hurt.
And I really wanted a drink.
Preferably alcohol, even if having it would make the headache worse later.
Yet, every time someone—read servants—had come by to bring me something, Briggs intercepted them and turned them away. I wanted to ask him why, but they were all muting me or something. Or maybe there was just too much noise in the room. My sister kept cupping my elbow and guiding me on to the next group and the next.
I totally missed the title of the man my sister presented. I was not to shake anyone’s hands, nor offer mine to them in any way. This, my sister had hurriedly informed me as we made our way from the ship—oh, I missed the ship. Was it still out there on that bridge? I’d have liked to head back and climb right aboard. No, I was to keep my hands in front of me or at my sides.
Gesturing, she said, was fine, but I should limit them until we’d had some time to go over the formal protocol. Particularly because some hand gestures were rude. Well, good to know some things were universal.
“Your Majesty,” the man said as he bowed. “I am honored to make your acquaintance. We have worked tirelessly with your sister, the Regent, to maintain prosperous lands in these tumultuous times, and I would be honored if you would appoint me to your council.”
“Yes, as I understand it, everyone would be honored.” Probably not the most diplomatic thing to say, and I had long since stopped looking to Kristiana for approval. She had the most unreadable resting bitch face I’d ever seen.
Grace would have adored her.
Hell, Grace probably had adored her.
Irritating habits or not, I kind of liked her. She’d been blunt and direct. Right up until she wasn’t. So there was that.
Still, I was supposed to be meeting all these people, and a good impression could save me a lot of grief later. Waitressing 101, the customer was not always right, but by God, you could make them feel important and that was effective.
“What intrigues me most,” I told him, focusing on him as I smiled. “The collective wisdom of my people is vast, and I am eager to learn more about each and every one of you.”
Fun fact, when I smiled, these people actually gave me a little space. Apparently, my sister’s resting bitch face didn’t intimidate them, but a warm and open smile did.
Wow, did they all need some attitude adjustments around here. Dour didn’t begin to cover it, and it was too damn pretty to be this depressing.
“I would be honored to share wisdom with you.”
“I appreciate the willingness to share.” Oh, had I learned my lesson with the Mesothelae. “But I think I would prefer to handle it myself. You’ll both have to excuse me,” I said the last to include his wife, who looked bored to tears by the whole thing. “Find food and drink for yourselves, hopefully, there will be some music soon.”
I didn’t bother to wait for a response, I’d gotten a little turned around when I first made it up here, but I needed air and a break—and a drink. If Briggs wanted to keep stonewalling me, then I’d do it myself.
There was an open door with the sky visible through it, and I strode for it. Kristiana had reached for my elbow, but nope. I was done with being steered around like I was a toddler. I understood throwing me in the deep end to see if I could swim, but I could also just get out of the damn pool and sit on the side for a moment.
Briggs was half-a-step and closing as I stepped through the archway and out onto a balcony overlooking the city.
Then the roar of the crowd below threatened to deafen me.
I jerked before I caught myself. There were so many people down there.
“They’ve been waiting to see you.”
I could have cried. “I was just looking for a moment of peace.”
“I know.” He took my hand in his. “I can feel it. But not here, obviously. Raise your hand and wave slowly. Then we can go.”
I did as he said. The action was so surreal, and inside of me, two conflicting emotions warred. One was an utter embarrassment—it felt like I was in some kind of parade, and I had to amuse the crowd—and the other was anger. I hadn’t done anything but survive. Why were people celebrating me for that?
Reese appeared behind my shoulder. “It’s all set, and it’s safe. I’ve checked in three times.” He spoke in a low voice. “But I’d like it if you’d check it again, Briggs.”
“On it.” My guardian squeezed my hand again. “That’s good. Come along. We’re going to our quarters. For a break. I’m going to take us the long way to avoid your sister, temporarily.”
Reese nodded. “I’ll run interference. Get her out of here before anyone notices. Where is Goran?”
“He has the generals all lined up already. Couldn’t even get through the welcome reception.” Briggs tugged, and I followed him.
It seemed like we went through a million twists and turns before we finally walked through a large mahogany door that Briggs quickly shut behind me. He placed his hand on it, and a second later, a loud click sounded.
He turned with a loud sigh. “I’ve set it up so that right now, the only people who can get in and out of here are us. It’ll open for Reese, Goran, Dalton, you, and myself.” Striding away from me, he went to a computer on the wall. Turning, he gave me a grin. “You know how the ship was connected to you?”
It had practically purred. I was going to miss the vessel. “Sure.”
“Well, think of this as your ship here in your quarters. Come put your hand on it so it can code you in.”
I joined him, placing my hand over the device where he indicated. A warm sensation coated my fingers, and it quickly turned on.
Briggs kissed the place where my neck met my shoulder. “It’ll answer to the four of us, but it is yours. You can override us if you wanted.”
That was good and fine, but I didn’t even know what it did. “What kinds of things will it do?”
“Anything. Deliver your food. Pick out your clothes. Remind you of your day. Locate anyone on the planet you’d like to see. Send directions to anyone. You could literally never leave this room if you didn’t want to. But I think after you’ve had a shower, something to eat, and slept—in other words, tomorrow—I think you should absolutely jump back to it.”
I blinked. “Briggs, I thought I was ready.”
“No one can be ready for that, not really.” He smiled at me just as Reese entered through the mahogany door. I jerked. The door was probably not mahogany. We weren’t on Earth. That was going to be a different material altogether. My nanos perked up inside of me. Yep, not mahogany but another tree. Also a reddish material and…
I really didn’t care. The point was not the tree, the point was that everything had changed, and I needed to remember that. I didn’t know a thing.
“Has anyone heard from Dalton?” His absence was not going to make this any easier.
“Not yet, Little One,” Reese said as he swept across the room and wrapped an arm around me and began nudging me toward another door. “Briggs is going to fetch you a meal and a drink…”
“What was up with that?” I halted to glare at Briggs. “Nothing. I got to drink nothing. I had to keep talking to all those people, and they were eating and drinking and I couldn’t. Is there some law about monarchs eating in public?” God, I sounded like a petulant two-year-old, but I had been starving, surrounded by strangers, and I didn’t know where Dalton was.
“No,” he said, his expression intent. “But I have no idea who prepared any of it. Nothing passes those lips that hasn’t been tested. Go with Reese, Dear One. I’ll bring you a full meal, as familiar as I can put together for you.” He brushed the hair away from my face and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “I promise you, it will get better.”
I wanted to believe him so much. “I’m hungry.”
“I know.” And I swore, he was laughing at me without laughing.
Reese rubbed his hand in soothing circles against my back. Even my star clusters had dimmed and barely shifted. “We do, Little One. Briggs will bring you a feast, and I’ll hand feed it to you if you wish.”
If it wouldn’t have completed the image, I think I would have stomped my foot. They were trying to placate me, and I was stretched so thin, it was like every nerve inside me jangled. If I’d woken up and arrived for every college final in the last five minutes, I couldn’t have been more upset.
So I settled for asking, “Do you have chocolate?”
Vibrations quaked along the link, they were both laughing at me but neither showed a trace in their expressions. “I know something you’ll like,” Briggs promised. “Trust me?”
“Yes.” Then I gripped his face and kissed him fiercely. “But no sex for you tonight because you starved me for hours. You have to wait until tomorrow.”
His eyes held mirth despite my chastisement. “As you command, Wife.”
A shudder went straight through me, rupturing the tense chains pulling on every nerve. Wife.
I loved the sound of that. Reese wrapped a warm arm around my middle and drew me back against him. “Does Briggs have your leave to go, Wife?”
Briggs shot a playful, if brief, glare at Reese before looking at me, his expression expectant.
“With due speed.” Then he was away with a flash, and I barely saw the door open before he was gone again and the door closed. The definitive clank of the locking mechanism engaging echoed behind.
Reese nuzzled at my temple, his fingers spreading over my bare abdomen. I closed my eyes and just leaned into the contact. The star clusters began to swirl and stroke their way over my skin, a brush against my nipples then writhing a path down to my thighs.
“I thought I was going to take a shower.”
“You are,” he whispered. “And I am going to help you take this edge off, Wife.”
That title again, and I shuddered, squeezing my thighs together. This was so much nicer than the party. Better. Some of the tension eased from my shoulders, and I glanced up to find him watching me with shining eyes. “Then have me, Husband.”
The flare of his pupils expanding matched the rush of pleasure through the link. With gentle fingers, he caressed my cheek. “Quiet your connection to the others.”
I sent a rush of love to each of them, even silent Dalton, a kiss of affection, then muted them. Not so much that I couldn’t hear them if they truly needed me—or they me, if I needed them, but so we wouldn’t overwhelm them with our activities.
Reese scooped me up and carried me toward the bathing chamber.
My mouth dropped open. It had been carved out of the stone, as if technology and plumbing had fused with the marble and natural rock. A huge bathing pool and a genuine waterfall of a shower took my breath away.
I think something in me melted.
With a soft chuckle, Reese set me down and began to remove my clothes. The tightening of the clusters on my thighs dragged my attention to him as he knelt to pull down my pants.
“Hi,” I whispered, as even more of the wildness itching under my skin quieted.
His mouth pressed to mine. “I think you will find the water is exactly the right temperature for…”
Goran’s arrival in the chamber—well, his stomping really—interrupted. He kicked off his boots.
Reese and I both stared at him for a long second. I cleared my throat. “Are you okay?”
“They’ve all gotten weak, disorganized, and it cannot stay like this.” He took off his shirt next, disrobing all of his clothes before he hopped into the tub. “If the generals are this bad, I can’t even begin to imagine the men. This is going to be a huge project.”
I stood, taking off my undergarments, winking at Reese as I did. He rose, following suit as he also stripped. Looked like we were all bathing together. I stepped into the water, sighing as the liquid surrounded me. Reese had been right. The water was the perfect temperature.
I swam over to Goran, sitting in his lap. Reese squeezed in next to us. “Tell me more about what’s wrong with them?” As stretched thin as I’d been, Reese had soothed me, and now I would soothe Goran.
Goran groaned. “I can’t think with you on my lap like this. All of the blood from my brain has rushed to my nether region.”
I snorted, the laugh taking me by surprise. “Guess it might be as much a problem if I shifted like this.” I deliberately squirmed on his lap, and he moaned. With a grin, I crooked my finger for Reese to come closer and kiss me.
In this oasis, I could pretend I was still on the ship. Reese’s lips were warm and welcoming. I pressed back against Goran while I kissed Reese. With my hand, I stroked Reese’s cock. He was as hard as Goran felt against my back. It wasn’t going to be long for either of them, but I was wound up tighter than a ball of string.
Running his hand over my hip, Goran dipped his fingers between my legs, but I locked my legs against his wrist and leaned away from Reese for a moment. Goran blinked as I studied him.
When he tilted his head, I smiled. “You can sit there and relax. You’re very tense.” The sense of him touching the link made my smile widen because his expression grew contrite.
“You muted us…”
Reese pressed a kiss to my shoulder, laughing. “We thought you would appreciate not coming in front of the generals. Little did we realize you would be too preoccupied to notice.”
Goran actually went a little red. Shifting on his lap, I cupped his face and kissed him lightly.
“I’m sorry, Bright One. I can—”
“Sit right there.” I nipped his lower lip. “You’re not the only one in a mood.” And I had to wonder if my mood had affected Goran. I still had him muted as I did Briggs. I hadn’t shut off the connection to Dalton, though it was silent and dark. He’d quieted me. “I want you to relax. Can you do that for me?”
Then there was the issue of Goran’s lack of sleep. All things to be addressed. But Reese glided his hands against my back, and Goran’s gaze lingered on my breasts as he eased his hand from between my thighs.
“I can wait,” he promised. “Though I don’t know how you expect me to relax.”
I laughed and then kissed him again. “Because once I’m relaxed, I’m going to relax you.” With one last kiss, I leaned back against Reese. His mind tickled at mine, the sense of him.
Do you really want to tease him?
It’s only a tease if I don’t make it up to him after, and I want you… It was really that simple, it seemed years since Reese and I had been alone.
Suddenly it hit me. It had been years. They had all been with me, but I craved the time with each of them. I’d had it with Goran, Briggs, and Dalton when we began our journey, and I’d been with all of them together a couple of times, but in truth, we’d spent so much of our time together apart.
The jangling of my nerves had quieted, and the headache pounding behind my eyes receded. I was still hungry, but I could wait for food. I couldn’t wait for Reese, and I wanted Goran with equal fervor.
“Then let me do this.” Reese tugged me away from Goran to run his hands over me in the water. He had me stand at one point as he washed my legs, my hips, abdomen, and then my breasts. The whole time, Goran leaned back and stared at us. When his hand drifted toward his very stiff cock, I shook my head.
He made a face, but then planted his hands back on the side again. Head tilted, I smiled as Reese stood behind me, then massaged my shoulders and leaned me back for a kiss. “Now we’re going to step out, and you’re going to lie on the bed.”
The heat of Goran’s gaze followed me as I stepped out of the pool and into Reese’s waiting arms. He tracked me as Reese toweled me off. When Reese linked our fingers to pull me into the other room, I glanced back at Goran and crooked my finger.
With a groan that sounded equal parts tantalized and tortured, he rose out of the water, and I grinned as I drank in the sight of him and the very erect cock straining upward toward his belly. Reese caught my chin with two fingers and pulled me around to look at him. “Now you’re teasing me, Wife.”
Inhaling deeply, I wound my arms around his neck and met his kiss with open eagerness. The soft delve of his tongue requested access, and when I opened to him, the sense of him flooded me. The star clusters began to roll across my skin, dancing as they rearranged themselves, the clouds trailing like ghostly fingers lighting me.
Then Reese’s hands were on me as he lifted me up and then lowered me to the bed in one sharp movement. I laughed as I landed amidst the covers. It was like being buoyed on a cloud, and at the same time, I stared into the laughing eyes of my golden god—my healer.
A foolish smile stretched my face, and I reached for Reese, but he was already nudging me back down, light hands on my wrists keeping me still as he kissed me. With ever gentle fingers, he glided his touch along my arms just as the star clusters tightened on my nipples like a kiss, and my whole body arched. All the teasing in me fled as he nudged my thighs apart; his skin on mine was so delicious.
With his lips at my ear, Reese whispered, “My wife,” and pushed inside of me in one relentless thrust. As wet as I’d been, it wasn’t what I expected, and God, he filled me, stretching me, the sudden delight of his pleasure sparking my own. Then he kissed me as he pulled out, only to thrust back in.
His energy danced over me as his body filled mine again and again, driving the last several hours, the questions, the frustrations—all of it—from my mind.
He kissed my face, my cheeks, my nose, and still he rocked into me, and I held on as he chased away the bruised and worn bits, flushing them shinier and new. Suddenly, he changed the angle of his thrust, and I was so close, so close…
Lifting his head, Reese’s eyes glowed as he met mine. He caught my chin in his hand lightly, then turned my face so I could see Goran, standing there, riveted.
Caught between a laugh and cry of delight when Reese began to suck against my ear, his thrusts growing fierce and more demanding, I couldn’t look away from Goran.
Every thrust shook me, twisting me higher and higher. “Wife,” Reese said. “My wife.”
“Husband,” I answered, gripping him even as Goran’s hot eyes stared into mine.
With a sudden twist of his hips, I was crying out at every thrust. My thoughts shredded, and the flood of blue hazed through me as I tasted Reese in every part of my being. I could feel Goran’s mental fingers tickling at the link. Opening it, I struggled to keep my legs around Reese while I dug my nails into him. Then Reese kissed me, and the world went white and brilliant.
Our mouths fused together as Reese’s pace doubled, then he whispered against my lips, “I love you, Khloe. I love you, my wife.”
And I was lost; I came with a scream, the orgasm ripping through me, even as I dragged Reese over the edge. His breathing was so loud as he pulsed inside of me, and I was where I belonged.
We just breathed. That was all that I could manage right then, and it seemed Reese was the same. After a while, I left him lying on his back, his eyes closed. He was almost asleep. I turned my attention to Goran.
He smiled at me. “There is nothing like watching you.”
I climbed on top of his lap, straddling him. “I imagine your generals are going to be so much happier to have you back after you’ve had a full night’s sleep.”
He shook his head. “That’s never easy for me.”
“I know, but now that we’re not hurtling through space, you are going to get into a regular sleep, wake cycle. That is me telling you that, not just as your wife—which I am—but as your queen—which I am—and as a person who loves you and wants you to be healthy.”
I kissed down his body, scooting back as I did. He was hard, and I smiled up at him a second before I took him into my mouth. He jerked against me.
“Khloe.” Shock laced his voice.
“Shh.” I licked the tip of his cock, taking his head slightly into my mouth. He tasted salty and all male. My mouth watered, and I wanted more. I might be slightly out of practice. I doubted Goran was going to complain.
Inch by glorious inch, I took him farther and farther down my throat. He moaned, an unabashedly loud sound. I loved undoing Goran. He was fantastic when he was stiff and on alert, but when he let his guard down, there was nothing as wonderful as my big, strong warrior coming apart.
I found a rhythm that worked. There was no way I was getting all of him into my mouth or down my throat. He was simply too big for that, but as I did my best to deep throat him, I covered the bottom of his cock with my hand. When I could, I played with his balls.
He gripped the bed. “Khloe. I… I…”
Yep, I knew what was happening to him. It was just what I’d wanted. I took him deeper, once, then twice. He pulsed in my mouth until, with a suddenness that surprised me and thrilled me all at once, he came. I drank him down for long minutes, not letting go until he softened.
Lifting my head, I grinned at him. He raised his hand, and I took it, letting him draw me to him. “Give me a second.”
I shook my head. “No. Not tonight. Tonight, you are going to close your eyes, and you are going to sleep all night. That’s what is happening tonight.”
His eyes were half closed already. “Khloe, I…”
“I am perfectly safe.” I kissed his chin. “I promise.”
Reese hadn’t moved, except that he slept with his eyes closed now, his breathing deep. Goran finally let his close. I stepped back to look at both of them. They were beautiful like that, my men, out cold on the bed.
I made my way back to the bathtub and used it to clean myself up. I grabbed a bathrobe and clothed myself in it. Walking back out to the bedroom, I stopped and watched the guys for a long moment. They were actually snoring. I smiled. They never did that.
They were both utterly exhausted. This was a new place for me, a world of things that were new and stressful, but for them, it was finally coming home. They’d been gone for a very long time and wanted me here with them all the years they’d been here.
I leaned in the doorway. A presence behind me had me turning around. Standing in the room, coated in darkness, was Dalton.
I closed the door to the bedroom and padded over to him. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“That is the idea.” He drew me to him. “I should be staying away entirely, but I can’t. I needed to see you with my own eyes. Briggs will be back momentarily. But I had to have this moment.”
I folded myself around him and buried my face against his throat. The cool leathers were thick under my fingers, the many straps biting against me through the silky fabric I wore. And I didn’t care.
“I missed you.” Longing collided with loss, both swirling up the scrapings of my earlier temper. “The reception was hell.”
Hyperbole? I didn’t care. It had been awful.
“No one would let me eat, and I met so many people.”
A soft chuckle brushed against me as my darkness enfolded me, the rush of him spilling through what few jagged pieces remained. “Part of why I came,” he teased. “I can’t resist that temper.”
Leaning away, I peered up at him, and my mouth fell open. The darkness swirled around him; we were wrapped almost completely in his shadow, and yet, light glowed off of me, populating the darkness with hints of the stars.
“This is what you do to me,” he told me, a smugness in his voice. “The void has always been welcoming, but it’s too empty without a piece of your light.”
Cupping his cheek, I rose up on my tiptoes, and he ducked to meet me halfway. The brush of our lips wasn’t about passion or desire—though both simmered—this was hope and heart and happiness.
He sighed as I pulled him into me and threaded myself through him. Then he pressed his forehead against mine and curled a lock of my hair around his finger. “Briggs is coming,” he warned. Oh. I had him muted still. But I waited because the sense from Dalton was that he had come only to see me for these few precious moments. “He will feed you food deemed safe. Pour wine for you that will only sweeten your palate. You will never eat at grand receptions, my queen, my life, my love…”
“Your wife,” I reminded him, and his grin was a sunrise in the shadows.
“My wife.” Another sigh escaped him. “Listen to your other husbands, trust us. We will never let you be harmed…”
He kissed the tip of my nose. “I know, Khloe, I love you, too. I have to go.”
My heart squeezed, and I clasped his hands. “Come to me again.”
His expression tightened, but almost immediately, he relented. “I will—look for me in the darkness, Sweet One. I will find you.” Then with a brush of his finger against my cheek, he was gone, like he hadn’t been there at all.
The doors opened, and Briggs motioned a floating tray—no, a hovering tray—laden with spicy and sweet foods that almost immediately perfumed the air, preceding him. Outside my doors were men in the uniform of the guardians. Not a single one glanced inside as the doors closed.
Briggs glanced at me, his expression wary and cautious.
I’d been so terrible to him.
He shook his head. “You’re starving. Come. I’ve got delicacies for you that you’re going to love, including alcohol that won’t make your head hurt.”
I gawked at him. “I’ve never had that.”
“Well, you’ve never been home before.”
I walked over to the tray, and it sunk to the ground in front of me. I stared down at it. “Am I supposed to eat it on the floor?”
“We do, usually, here.” He sunk down to one side of the tray. I did the same. Eating on the floor was common here?
Briggs continued. “The dining room table isn’t a thing. We sit, cross-legged, on the ground.”
My nanos showed me pictures of people doing this in my mind. I blinked. “That would be one of those things I wish I knew.”
But I wasn’t going to argue about it. Not when I needed to eat. “Do you use silverware?” I didn’t want to be rude, and I didn’t see any.
“Not for this kind of food.” He picked up what looked like noodles in his fingers and placed them in his mouth. He closed his eyes like it was the best taste he’d ever had.
I did as he did and tasted the food. It was savory but also sour. I nearly choked on the taste before I managed to swallow it down.
Briggs winced. “No good?”
With tears streaming down my face from the sour I tried to speak. “Intense.”
I could already tell… this was going to be a hard adjustment.