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Now, Gripir was a bit of an enigma. Unlike his brother-in-arms, Sigmun, he seemed to take all of this infuriatingly seriously. I could feel the fury radiate off him every time I delayed or prevaricated. Even now, he looked as though he were barely keeping a tight rein on his anger.

“My answer has not changed, men. I will not lift my curse off that odious man nor will I reveal what I have done with his precious daughter.”

Gripir charged straight for me. I was forced against the wall by the press of his body.

“You have gone too far this time, Zelladine,” he ground out.

Inhaling deeply, I could smell the musky scent from his exertions, a mixture of animal, sweat and leather. Like the others, his jaw was scratchy with stubble, giving him a wilder and unkempt appearance than his soldier profession would normally allow. Raising my dark eyes defiantly, I slowly and deliberately pushed out my hips. Brushing the thick ridge of his shaft with my stomach, I watched as his bright blue eyes turned a deep midnight.

“You play with fire, woman.”

Rising on my toes, I whispered, “Then burn me.”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled free another black crystal. Taking a step back, he smashed it at my feet.

I did not try to resist as the tendrils of purple smoke twirled about me, once again forming a cage. All I could think of was that Briar Rose was safe, the kingsmen were distracted with me….and without my powers I would be able to feel the full weight of whatever punishment Gripir was surely about to mete out. I bit my lip in anticipation of the deliciously wicked blend of pain and pleasure which awaited me back at their fortress.


“Queen Zelladine,” came Gripir’s voice, stopping me as I prepared to rise from the chair I sat in by the fire in my bedchamber. The kingsmen had placed me in the room to await my punishment. They had removed my dressing gown, but I was becoming accustomed to being naked around them, so it was hardly a punishment. The wait, however, was. “Did you think you could escape without anyone following?” The candlestick he held in his hand highlighted his masculine features.

Defenses raised, I rose and faced him. “Did you really believe that I would not try to escape?”

“I suppose you are right in that regard. We did expect you to try to escape, but we also expected a much harder opponent in you than what we have received.”

I bristled, anger brimming then overflowing at Gripir. How dare he? I was a vicious opponent and the kingsmen should quake in their boots. “And I suppose you think that I’m a weak-willed woman who cannot destroy you if I truly wanted to?” I was shaking now, knowing that the kingsmen had not only controlled my body, they had also dominated my strength. They were winning, and there was nothing I could do to resist. And the truth of the matter was, I didn’t want to resist.

“I do not think you are weak-willed at all,” he confessed. “But it is time for you to tell us where Briar Rose is. Tell me why you led us to believe her dead. I am done with your little games. I demand answers!” His eyes darkened as his voice boomed throughout the room.

The way he stared caused me to take pause, but I held firm. “No.”

He walked toward me, so he towered mere inches from my rapidly beating heart. He still held the candlestick, burning bright, in his hand. “What was it you told me to do to you in the forest when I told you that you were playing with fire?”

I swallowed the lump in the back of my throat. “To burn me.”

His stare bore down on me.

I raised my head so I stared directly in his eyes. I would not cower, though I shook inside.

Gripir grabbed me firmly by the arm and pulled me down to the stone floor so I was on all fours. “Yes, Queen Zelladine, you did. I am about to show you that I am a man of my word.” Before I could even protest, he placed the sole of his boot onto my bare back. “Stay on your hands and knees, or your punishment will be far worse.”

I looked over my shoulder in shock at being treated like a mere animal. “How dare you?” The edges of the stone floor scraped against my palms and my knees, and the coolness of the room wafted over my damp sex. I was completely exposed to his view, as well as his mercy. Something from deep within held me in position.

He answered with a drip of the candle to my naked flesh, and then three more drips before I even knew what was happening. I tried to collapse to my stomach to somehow avoid the burning wax. He pulled me back up and said, “The burn has just begun. Stay in position.”

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