The Agony of Ecstasy-Scene 23


“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”


Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Image Source: Pinterest

Alexandra

Scene 23

Water from a retreating tide washed over Alexandra. She could not see nor hear anything but the pounding drums in her skull. She felt everything with acute awareness, and to feel is to live even with the excoriating pain of lost battles and dead lovers.  She struggled to move. The heavy chain mail and wet leather pinned her down under its weight, and only her right side was free. The rest of her body was mired in the sand next to the towering white chalk cliff. The water flowed over her legs and retreated leaving chilled flesh in place of the ache that enfeebled her in the sand.

She struggled, held down by the relentless grasp of the shore. The wash of water moved over her hips, her stomach, and flowed down into the sand warming against her flesh mired in the pungent grave that fought her for possession of her body, not her soul. She felt her soul unconquered as she sank deeper with every wave.

Surrender came to Alexandra like that moment of sleep when all the uncalled thoughts cease, and the darkness is not blasted away with dreams of the incubus who haunts and demands her flesh.

Distant sounds, first like a peal of rolling thunder, and soon scattered marsh sparrows chirped against the background of gentle sea lapping at the shore. Alexandra tilted her head to hear them. Another damp wave registered under her arms, across her breasts in tantalizing sweeps, first warm, and growing to a nip of frost. She detected fingers touching her. They were tender. There were love and devotion in the touch that drifted across her body, not the hungry tearing, twisting, pinching, demanding slaps and hits she was intimately familiar with; the burning pain of others who possessed her. This was different. She relaxed to focus on the hands that soothed her.

“That’s good, My Lady,” Dari cooed as she bathed Alexandra’s body. “You’ll feel much better after a sponge bath. I used some essence of lilac to help relax you.”

Alexandra moved, relented, and gasped as the warm sponge went over her. She heard Dari speak.

“I’m sorry, My Lady. You must endure this insult. Injury affords no dignity. I thought it better I bath you instead of the nurses, who you have yet to meet.”

Presence drifted away. Alexandra lay in the sand content to let her handmaid work to free her from the grasp of her sodden grave. Dari appeared in a strange halo of her vision. Alexandra saw Dari look down into her face and she felt comforted by the love she saw in her handmaid’s eyes.

Alexandra struggled back into her consciousness and considered how this life had afforded her only a deepening pain and anxiety. Even as she fought for physical superiority and a disciplined mind, she had endured the terrible hurt of those lessons she gained in mastering her art at the tutelage of Master Cho, her savior. Only he had never violated her body or trust. Only he remained in her heart as her time carried her downstream to her destiny.

Again, she slipped away under Dari’s hands. Visions of Cezar walking down the shore toward her focused her mind with a stunning grip. His armor seemed ragged, his helmet a testament to the battle they had lost. Alexandra’s heart lifted as he limped toward her and Dari. He lived. That was all that mattered. The three of them were reunited again. They would go on together, lick their wounds, and later hunt down the bastards that invaded their lands. She would lead alongside Cezar as they stormed into the villages of the invaders. She would bring her wolves next time and see how fat they grew on the flesh of her enemies.

Alexandra screamed her oath to Cezar as he stood over her with piteous eyes. I swear by Gebeleizis, the god of battle, I will go to their villages and every woman whose womanhood is bearded and used by the men will be whored to our soldiers, and the hairless virgins will live as slaves until they too are old enough for whoring. We’ll kill every male of our enemy that dreams to defile a woman with his manhood.

“Alexandra, my queen. We must rebuild our army and learn from this day. We must come to know ourselves and our skill in battle better. Our fierce hearts have led us to slaughter. It is not our blood we seek but, theirs.” Cezar’s voice echoed in Alexandra’s ears.

He speaks the truth. My King must give me sons to lead our Army while the King and I seek to subterfuge the oppressor’s secrets.

“My Lord, lift me from this grave so that my handmaid and I can join you,” Alexandra beseeched Cezar through her tears of pain and frustration. She looked up as he stared across the sea. She knew it would be a long journey home with the few of their army that still lived.

In Alexandra’s vision, Cezar stood bloodied yet strong and dignified against the blue-gray sky of a waning sun. I will die before I betray my love with weakness and dispirited thought, she heard her voice ring in her head.

Lost in her drug-induced visions under thick bandages, Alexandra did not see the envy in Dari’s eyes as she looked at her bandaged Duchesses sylph-like body. Nor did Alexandra know of Dari’s new challenge to become the Wolfmaster or her deepening love for Marius. Alexandra knew one thing in the worlds and lives she inhabited; fate is inexorable and her allegiance with Dari held secrets that sealed their future together.

Advertisements

Coffee with the Wolf Master


“Every dog is an Alpha until he meets a Wolf”

author unknown
Come on in, my dear. You look mighty cute in those leggings. Are they squat proof? Ah, not quite, but they look marvelous on you.

Of Flora and Fauna

Wild Creatures I have Known

"Hi! I was expecting you. I have a seat over here for you at the table."

Nothing pleases me more than to converse with my friends. While it is always my preference to listen, if there is a momentary silence, my screaming thoughts might find a way to escape my lips. Please, forgive my errant ways.

Recently, I exchanged many tales about my love of our Earth’s flora and fauna and their direct relationship to our lives as bi-pedal hominids with my blogoteer friends. I work in the metrological research sciences (no, it has nothing to do with predicting the weather although my aching bones are usually accurate in their predictions.) and keep up with the frontier of research here on Terrafirma and in space. The discoveries we’ve made regarding the hidden lives of plants and animals has electrified my long-held beliefs that we are not the only sentient life on the angry blue planet.

My entire life, during this most recent lifetime, was spent in nature and in raising my children, I always taught them that all animals deserve our respect and safeguarding. I explained to them it was not proper to imprison them with our desire for their company. We should take care of our interactions. Besides, toothy things can leave unsightly marks on our tender skin. In the same vein, I taught them the conservation of our limited natural resources. How would you like it if a Dandelion thought it was perfectly okay to make soup out of you?

The lovely offspring of my life did listen, and they have provided their peers with an excellent example of how to live well with nature.

“How does one exemplify the perfect balance of our mammalian roots,” you ask?

“Let me explain by telling you a story. What? Of course, it’s true. All of my unbelievable tales are true.”

While away floundering in the deserts of North Africa discovering all kinds of new and exciting things about camel spiders, scorpions, and of course, camels, my younglings had adopted a homeless couple of Rhode Island Reds when their humans moved away. It seems they were quite the amorous couple as Lady Red left eggs for the children to discover quite regularly.

Now, Mr. Red was the protective type and he would make a blustery fuss whenever the girls went to collect the eggs. During my monthly call back to let my one true love know that I was alive and that the life insurance payout was not forthcoming as she had hoped, I was consulted about how to keep the girls from getting spurred by Mr. Red. We had many conversations along those lines but, this was an easy problem to solve.

Just throw some feed out first and when the chickens rush over to eat, you can get in and do whatever you need to do. They will ignore you.

It worked.

But, as we all know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. All that chicken feed attracted other creatures that required the usual befriending by the girls. I soon learned of a pure white cat with rose-colored eyes and pink nose visiting most nights. The girls took to feeding him table scraps and soon he began to grow into a large feline with thick white fur. Apparently, the cat was docile with the kids and no injuries over food fights ensued.

When  I returned, the chickens were gone. They were deported by order of the Post Sergeant Major. It seems Mr. Red liked to get up early in the morning and squawk his ass off. That perturbed the neighbors, and since they knew I was away and couldn’t whip their ass for being squealers, they ratted out Mr. Red. It ended happily because the Queen of the house gave the chickens to a nice Korean man that owned a small restaurant and he liked chickens that lay eggs.

The cat met with a far better fate. I wanted to introduce myself to this strange visitor. The girls rewarded me one evening by telling me the cat was back and he was busy eating dinner. I went outside into the back yard to see this mysterious avatar of benevolent spirits.

When I found our adopted feline dining voraciously on table scraps, my anal cleft clinched so hard it was impossible to run away screaming so, I settled for just screaming. I was staring at the most massive albino male skunk the world had ever produced. With butt cheeks firmly engaged, I backed away.

“What’s wrong Daddy?”
“Girls, let’s go inside and let kitty eat in peace.”

My skunk PTSD was in full bloom. I’d learned as a youth that skunks can appear friendly and happy go lucky until you pick them up. The memory of my mother screeching in horror as I came inside the house smelling all funkadelic made me shudder as the long secluded traumas revisited.

Luckily, my mother saved the entire family with her quick reactions. I was taken outside and handed the water hose and a large can of tomato juice, which was rumored to be an antidote to my horrendous body odor. It was then I discovered the spiritual liberation of naked tomato juice bathing. My erotic underpinnings were brought to the surface in glorious fashion, but I still stunk like an outhouse long after the tomato juice had percolated into the ground. I tried my mother’s perfumed girly soap. Now, I smelled like a French prostitute in a public toilet. I suppose I could have lived with that except I had basketball practice to go to.

While nonchalantly changing into my gym clothes, I began to outgas my perfumed odors into the locker room that already smelled like sweaty feet and dirty butts wrapped in moldy towels.

“Who’s the jerk that busted ass in here?”
“I don’t smell any….Arrgggghhhhh!”

Busted.

Right before my teammates set me on fire, the coach came to the rescue and told me to do 100 laps around the school gym to air my nasty ass out a little. There was a lot of gagging in agreement and so, sentenced to shame and corporal punishment, I ran my stinky self around the gym for an hour and went home to more rejection.

I couldn’t let my girls go through what I had been through. I had to find a way to gently provide a little distance for them and still not do harm to our adopted, gigantic, albino skunk.

“Girls, our furry snow white friend is what you call a Stink Kitty. If you pet him, he could fart and it’s a damned sticky fart at that.”

“EEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWW”

Problem solved.

We weened Mr. Stink Kitty from his high-calorie diet because it isn’t healthy to overfeed wildlife and Stinkie left for greener pastures. He would come back on occasion, and one day I saw him ambling across the field with his girlfriend and four little kits. They looked like little snow leopards pouncing on butterflies and grasshoppers hiding among the Dandelions. Life was in the balance as it should be and my little princesses never had to live with the memory of that scornful who farted look.

Do you have an interesting nature story you would like to share? Let us hear from you.

Image Source: Pinterest

The Agony of Ecstasy-Scene 22


“As he took her hand, he gave her all she had been waiting for – a shiver down her spine.”


Atticus – Love Her Wild
Image Source: Pinterest

Marius

Scene 22

The Silver Wolf knew there was no defying him now. He had the Wolfkeeper’s daughter where he wanted her. He was confident she was ready to take on the responsibilities of Wolf Master, but he had to test her spirit much like a young wolf is checked to see if the animal was suited for an Alpha’s role in the pack. The confirmation, as in nature, was not kind. It was necessary.

Marius helped Dari out of the coarse wool coat and set it on the sofa next to his. The soft orange glow of firelight outlined a vision of sensual curves flared from waist to hips and angled in on sturdy legs, built from a lifetime of servitude. The ageless enchantment of feminine beauty greeted the hungry gaze of the Black Wolf leader.

Dari stood naked before Marius; legs together, head and eyes averted, and her hands clasped in front with diffident fingers seeking to preserve a thread of dignity. A glance at her black boots laced to the top of her calves revealed no scuffs or soil of any kind. Marius saw the outline of his reflection in the toes. The polish was faultless. Ah, these were not the boots she wore with the wolves. She was late because she went to her room to change.

“Wait here, please,” Marius instructed. He didn’t wait for her reply. In the drawer of the end table, Marius withdrew a jade box. He opened it and took out a strip of fabric. It was time this heirloom of the Wolfkeeper was returned. Dari was covered in goosebumps from the hidden currents of air and anticipation, Marius touched her elbow. She blinked several times.

“Turn around.”

Dari turned with fluid grace and a bit of sway giving him ample time to take in every detail of her dewy skin glistening in the light of the fire. She paused facing away from him. Marius admired the blond hair spilling down on the back of her neck forming a shallow arc between the shoulder blades. Mmmm, straight shoulders perched over a curved back, good posture. Ah, those hips, he sighed.

“Lift your chin, and your hair too, please.” Marius placed the black leather choker lined with silk around her neck and fastened it. He took his time to let the silk and his fingers fondle her neck. He drew his fingertips over her reddened shoulders, paused, then let his hands trail down her back and cupped her waist before stepping back. The front of the choker had a silver badge carved into the profile of a wolf with head lifted as if baying at the moon. “There. Much better,” Marius said.

“It’s beautiful,” Marius heard from the reflection in the mirror over the fireplace. He sat down on the couch and watched as she smiled through a veil of distant dreams reflected back at him. She continued looking at the choker around her neck and fingering the silver wolf.

“This was my mother’s. I remember she never took it off.” Dari said as she touched the wolf badge, lifted her face, and closed her eyes.

“Yes. Your mother wanted you to have it when your time came to be the Wolf Master.” Marius saw raw emotion wrack through Dari’s body from his words. Her hands wiped her face, wet fingers glinted in the firelight.

“How did you come by my mother’s choker?” Dari’s question came as a torturous interrogation to Marius.

“I knew your mother. She taught me how to care for my wolves and to train them to hunt only the prey I gave to them. She trusted me to give it to you at the right time.” Marius could not bear to tell her how he came across Daciana in the forest after searching for weeks. Her madness had gone too far, and there was no way to bring her back.

In that state between sleep and wake
traversing birth and mortality
there is the faintest hint of earthy candles,

“She abandoned me. I was only a girl with no mind to live on my own. You cannot know what it is like to be young and alone; a handmaid by day and the Wolfkeeper by night.” Dari turned back to face the fire and stare at the wolf badge on her neck.

“She loved you, Dari. It was because she loved you that she left. She knew you would be taken in by the Countessa and prepared for your role as the handmaid to the Duchess. If she stayed, her dark art would consume her life as well as yours. She freed you from Moira, the mistress of the knots.”

“What would you have me do now?” Dari asked in a soft voice. Marius knew she wanted to leave the subject of her mother. Just as well. Daciana’s memory twisted his heart in a web of knots like those she so skillfully tied. He was determined to save Dari from such a fate.

“Will you accept the test of the Wolfmaster?” He asked in an uncharacteristic soft tone.

“Yes, when?” Came the confident reply.

“You will test on the next full moon when the wolves are most active.”

He let her stand there waiting on him while he enjoyed the strudel she brought him. Such sapid anticipation. He washed the last of the pastry down with his tea. Delicious. All of it, delicious.

Marius could sense her impatience for his attention growing. “Come here,” he commanded. In all his harshness there was a subliminal playfulness. His desirous Wolfkeeper seemed to detect his well-hidden feelings for her. She turned with elegance and took a few hesitant steps toward Marius. Unsure of his intentions, Dari waited.

“Turn back around.”

The hard discipline of a lifetime in the service of his Count wavered as his hands slid up her legs to her buttocks. Dari looked back over her shoulder, studying his reactions, looking for encouragement, and appreciation. She needed validation. He gave her nothing but sensations that made her shiver.

The red abraided skin on her hips and shoulders caught his attention. The coat. She wore that heavy wool coat with nothing underneath. It had chafed her. She bore the insult to her body only for him. She knows how I like to see her emerge from her rough cacoon like my favorite Carpathian butterfly. Marius appraised this in his mind. His desire grew more careless and urgent.

Still sitting with Dari’s back to him, Marius reached around to her stomach and trailed his fingers down until his little finger found the manicured hairline. He guided her with the slightest pressure of his fingers and heel of his palm. She turned to him.

Misty eyes looked back at Marius in a questioning face. He answered by taking her breast between his lips, his tongue teasing her. Dari wrapped her arms around the head of thick black hair and silver threads and held him to her. She looked up at the patina of copper designs on the ceiling, possessed by the soft pain of his mouth on her. Dari maintained her silence before him. She signaled her desire for something else with longing, a silent begging need in her gaze and upturned face.

Scintillating wet eyes searched him up and down. Dari’s skin was glowing bright pink, and Marius was enraptured at how the mottled rose color washed down her neck and over her breasts like water over smooth stone. Ah, she is looking for clues of my arousal. She is ready.

Marius reached his hand out. Her alluring movement returned as he led her to his lap. The Silver Wolf wrapped his arm around Dari and eased her to his chest, head resting on his shoulder. Her lips touched his neck and warm shallow breath flooded him with fantasies of carnal delights. He held her there and soothed her with sweeping caresses. The Wolfkeeper’s daughter regained her boldness.

“Do I please you? She asked.

“Without fail, you do please me, my dear.”

Marius sat back on the couch as Dari removed her boots then his shoes, tie, shirt, and undershirt. She paused to touch him. Her glance along his feral body was rapacious. She sucked her lower lip as her nails scratched over the ripples of his stomach. He let her follow her own script.

Dari kissed him, starting with his forehead, lips, the neck, and down his chest. Her fingertips explored his body for those wells of pleasure she could release for him. Deftly, the belt unbuckled. He lifted up for her as she removed his pants and boxers. She explored further, her hunger increasing.

Now, with both of them warmed by the fire of desire and radiant heat from the fireplace, Dari descended on him with her own form of slow burning vengeance. She stole glances at his face. He rewarded her with his ecstasy. In unaccounted for moments, skilled hands felt him tense his legs and stomach.

He urged her up with light touches under her jaw. She persisted. He was so close, she wanted to finish him. “Your turn, darling,” he whispered in a husky voice before guiding her on the couch. Marius relaxed in her piercing gaze, letting several heartbeats pass before he gripped her breast, and reached down to pleasure her with the other hand. He could see the rush of blood to her face and feel the sensations that stirred on her skin under his hands.

Her chest heaved for air, forcing Dari into a state of heightened sensual awareness and near paralysis. Marius kissed her stomach, climbing to her neck, and over to her mouth. He devoured her top to bottom. She fell deep under the spell of his lips and hands. He smothered her with his body. He knew every button to push.

Marius left no sacrosanct part of her unexplored to its depth. Every rise or crease of enlivened flesh came under his careful scrutiny and ravenous hunger until finally she came undone. Disquieted fingers pressed his groin and urged him to let her sink alone in the undulant ocean of her rapture.

No longer the beast, Marius kept a vigil on the depth of her pale blue eyes, seeing her transformation through a sleepy veil. With gentle care, he kissed her and held her until he saw she was back in the present with him.

macabre dreams interrupted by sighs
the soft strophe of sonnets and the odd
sensation of strung pearls falling like
tiny moons through my open palm.

“You are my only paradise, Dari. Without you, I am lost to this madness we suffer.”

At the boundaries I find you
not your spirit or rose tinged snow,
but flesh and bone and sinew.
Now I am sleeping less
roused by the wing beats of boreal Owls
circling ancient Cypress,
their knife edge talons entwining knotty branches.

“Shhhhh, my love. Don’t spoil this moment with thoughts of a time gone or coming.” Dari placed her fingers on his lips and sought to comfort him with her body, guiding him to her, pulling him into her world, wrapping her legs around his waist, and sending him into the realm of her majestic beast. His discipline and stern manor collapsed in a fevered passion until exhausted and soaked in sweat, the spent flesh rested in a tangle of arms and lust drugged kisses.

When sleep intrudes fitful winds erupt
feathery curtains, vibrate my hemispheres.

No one dared disturb their exhausted sleep when the sun rose above the mountains and painted the sky in broad swathes of fire and wind-driven clouds. The entwined lovers never felt granted the time for themselves or each other until now. Their dutiful lives didn’t permit it. Oh, but love and passion are the grandest thieves of time, Marius mused to himself. I love her, but I want to leave her Wild and Free.

A  swift breeze lifts me over the
valley to a moonlit hillside of sweet lea
where a silver wolf lies down beside me.
He is the scent of golden meadows and
his eyes are the color of the eastern sky.

The Wolfkeeper’s Secret


“Much more genius is needed to make love than to command armies.”


Ninon de L’Enclos

Daciana looked up at the faded picture of her first grown male wolf with her pen tapping her lips to an old song of love and loss. She loved that big brute. She had trained him from a pup given her by the old master. During that time, he taught her the duties of the wolfkeeper and the dark arts of passion and lust.

She could feel the knots of rope digging into her flesh along the meridians of nerves that set her skin afire. She touched the leather choker with silk lining on her neck and remembered how her master had made the wolf badge of silver melted from his rings. He made it in the image of her wolf.

A tear fell to the journal as she recalled in vivid detail the night he gave it to her. She believed in her heart it was the night he whelped their daughter from her zealous womb. Daciana glanced over at her sleeping daughter. Dari was fourteen now, too young to learn all the secrets of a man’s heart and too young to discover her own heart. In time she will learn both.

Daciana knew her time was finished. Her master had died long ago, and no man had visited her since. They feared her wolves and the rumors of what she could do with rope and chain. What I can do is take the beast from a man and give him nourishment for his soul. I can liberate him from hate by making all of his pain go away and keep it for myself. It’s their hate of each other that burns the world to the ground in every generation. It’s their defeat they cannot live with, and so they kill the things they love. They kill their women with fists, knives, guns, silence, and words. I take that away from them.

The wolfkeeper looked down at the page. She wanted to leave her last words for her daughter. Daciana thought how she had only shown her the softest part of being a woman; how to care for the burdened, how to be compassionate, and empathetic. She would be a wolfkeeper too but instead of an addiction to the pain a man can give, she wanted her to be a caretaker of their soul. Dari would learn about love by giving love and feeling it returned to her in a thousand ways.

Satisfied, she inked a secret message and placed the journal on the table for Dari to find. In the old chest in her closet, Daciana took out a measure of rope and wrapped it around her waist. She pulled on her boots, threw on her hooded wool jacket, slipped across the castle grounds, and into the dark forest.

 
Wolves

In that state between sleep and wake
traversing birth and mortality
there is the faintest hint of earthy candles,
macabre dreams interrupted by sighs
the soft strophe of sonnets and the odd
sensation of strung pearls  falling like
tiny moons through my open palm.
At the boundaries I find you
not your spirit or rose tinged snow,
but flesh and bone and sinew.
Now I am sleeping less
roused by the wing beats of boreal Owls
circling ancient Cypress,
their knife edge talons entwining knotty branches.
When sleep intrudes fitful winds erupt
feathery curtains, vibrate my hemispheres.
A  swift breeze lifts me over the
valley to a moonlit hillside of sweet lea
where a silver wolf lies down beside me.
He is the scent of golden meadows and
his eyes are the color of the eastern sky.

A poem Gifted by Holly Rene Hunter - House of Heart 2019

The Agony of Ecstasy-Scene 21


“Pleasure and pain, the good and the bad, are so intermixed that we can not shun the one without depriving ourselves of the other.”


Francoise d’Aubigne, Marquise de Maintenon
Image Source: Pinterest

Marius

Scene 21

Marius looked out the arched window of his room. Across the castle grounds to the Hillcrest beyond were tall fir trees that seemed like dark sentinels under the silver light of the waxing gibbous moon. He waited, lost in thought. Plans, strategies, orders, and the synchronicity of his constant vigilance with his forces afield tumbled through his ever calculating mind. His network of agents ferreted out the plotters who attempted the heinous act of murder on his Duchess. The secret war he had hoped would never come was his to win or lose.

No one attempted such things in my old days with the Secret Police. Marius thought to himself. Ah, for those days again, but without those damned Stalinists interfering at every turn. He lit a candle in the window with his cigar lighter and watched the small yellow flame gain strength, becoming a hot, flickering tongue.

The officer’s mind drifted to other, more pleasurable thoughts.
He looked out again and saw his reflection on the glass vibrating to the beat of the dancing candle flame. She’ll dance for me tonight by the gods below, Marius told himself as he tapped his fist on the granite window seal.

A short time later, Marius was rewarded by the sight of wolves prancing out of the shadow of the trees, looking back, and darting around and over each other. My, how they play like children. He mused.

The wolfkeeper’s daughter stepped out into the moonlight dressed in a hooded, wool coat. She paused to watch the wolves play. Marius saw her glance up at the window just as one of the wolves flipped the front of her coat open to sniff her.

Marius saw her velvet skin in the pale light along the open front as the woman pushed the wolve’s wet nose away and scolded him. An electric tingle gripped Marius. His yearning for comfort only a woman could give filled his fervent mind. It has been too long with this hunt as the pain of duty and the rush of time weighed on him like a ship’s ballast in a tossing sea.

Fantasy and desire gripped the man as he watched with the same piercing stare his wolves often displayed when observing their prey. He stood as a predator stands before the chase. His hunger grew insatiable with each day. Sweat formed on his brow and on the small of his back. He felt a fullness in his loins and an emptiness in his heart.

The wolfkeeper’s daughter threw the baton down the hill and watched as the frolicking beasts took off to retrieve the stick in the hope of a treat. They were rewarded, and the game began anew. Upon return of her creatures, she bent down to pet each canine and give them their snack. Marius saw the flash of her breast in the open collar. The inside of her exposed thigh was a torturous display of erotic temptation. Damn that woman. She plays with a fire she cannot put out.

Agitated fingers snuffed out the candle and drew the curtains closed. Marius went to the fireplace and lit the gas logs. A black leather couch with two end tables provided a comfortable seat before the fire. Marius removed his jacket and threw it over the back of the sofa. He loosened his tie then retrieved a black cherry flavored cigar with honey cured tobacco. Marius poured a brandy and set it over the spirit burner to warm up. The cigar came to life as he leaned over to the heater and drew in flames.

A column of smoke twisted like Arabian dancers in the light of the fire, and the aromatic odor of tobacco and brandy filled the air. It was the smell of privileged men. It was Marius’ scent. He relaxed and let the urgency of his need drain down and cool the heat in his mind and heart. He leaned the back of his head on the couch and exhaled smoke in the air. Calm determination returned as he contemplated his next move with predatorial sureness. Marius glanced at the mantel clock. Ten after midnight. She is late. I’ll have to punish her for that.

Soon, the hallway echoed the opening of the door to the stairs. Marius listened as the sole of petite boots tapped out a rhythm until they hit the center carpet and the tapping became a muted thud. He put out the cigar and finished his brandy. A light rap came at the door. He ignored it. A louder knock. Nothing. The door eased open and then clicked shut. The lock clanked with mechanical sureness. Marius stared at the fire, lost in his thoughts.

He saw her out of the corner of his eye. She leaned over to place a small tray on the end table. He detected the aroma of a freshly baked apple strudel, spices, buttery crust and the scent of wolves, wool, and warm, soft skin. She paused as Marius took in the inebriating view of her exposed breasts. His mouth watered. She had his attention now. She straightened herself and closed her top button to rebuke him for the pleasure he took from her.

“I brought your favorite strudel from the kitchen.”

“You’re late.”

“I had to . . .”

“What have I told you about keeping to your schedule?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll not let it happen again.”

“Of course, you won’t. Is that barley tea with the strudel?”

“Yes, sir.”

Marius got up from the couch and approached the wolfkeeper’s daughter. She watched with wariness, appearing to try to read his mood. Marius grabbed the lapels of her jacket. He looked into her wide eyes full of surprise. The pupils darted around the room and back to him. He pulled her closer feeling the slightest tremble of her body against him and looked down into her face. There was no fear in her, only the wonder that seemed to settle into something else, a kind of subtle anticipation.

He studied her. His face came closer to her’s, invading her space. He saw her nostrils flare as she inhaled his essence, her pupils widened almost obliterating the blue irises reflecting his face and the glow of the fireplace superimposed in the moisture of her eyes. Ice and fire drifted through his mind. Her mouth parted and her breath flowed over his face in a familiar sweetness.

Marius lifted her chin and brushed her lips with his.

“Mmm. I see you’ve had your share of the strudel already.”

“A girl has to eat,” she replied in a confident tone. It was a mistake. She overestimated her power to quell the beast in his heart. More punishment. He smiled with the foreknowledge of how to restore discipline. The trepidation came to her eyes when she recognized her error.

“Take off the coat.”

“I…uh. I don’t…” She stammered, momentarily frozen in a modest virtue, desire, and her deep-rooted sensuality.

“Now, please,” The commander insisted, no malice in his curt reply.