A Fantasy Romance
By Cate Duncan
Reno Oakman's duty is to bring home his Lord Talbot's missing daughter, a girl he remembers from his youth as spoiled, vivacious, and the only female he ever really liked. She's been missing for ten years, and all of that time Oak has thought of nothing but rescuing the errand daughter of his Lord and the sister of his best friend. But why did his lord and master have to complicate things by telling him to make sure the girl was pregnant when he delivered her safely to the House of her father?
Rosina liked working for Felix Bender at the Cat's Cradle gambling house. All she had to do was distract the players; she rarely had to make good on the promise to spend the night with the winner of the pot, for the house gambler almost always won the night's games. That is, until the lordling from the north came to play at the Cat's Cradle and won far more than just the house pot. Rosina learned far more than the surprising fact that love-making could be pleasurable for the woman as well as for the man. It no longer felt as if it were her duty to escape his clutches.
is Book Two
of The Terrabien Series
A look at a
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Reno Oakman glanced at the cards in his left hand, as if unsure what to do with them. He let a callused forefinger rest lightly on the stack of silver coins before him, and then flipped three of them onto the growing pile in the middle of the table.
“See your one, raise you two,” he said.
The bidding continued around the table as his eyes riveted once again to the entrancing form of the woman drifting around the table. She served more purpose than just seeing that the men playing the game had a steady supply of drink. No fool, Oak knew exactly the nature of her role. Distract the players. Make them lose to the house dealer. She probably very rarely delivered on her employer’s promise that she would entertain the evening’s winner in his private quarters, for the winner was almost always the house.
The betting had come round to him again.
The delectable Rosina lifted the pitcher of beer towards him as she came around the table, catching his eye and arching a delicate eyebrow in a question. The gesture made her firm breasts bounce.
Did he want more beer? Oak nodded, not because he needed more alcohol, but because he wanted her nearer. Anything to bring her closer, to touch her just for a moment. She glided around the table, her clear, green eyes meeting his squarely in an open invitation. Oak coughed to cover the moan that threatened to escape his throat.
She reached between him and his companion, the one who had brought him to his senses on the last round of betting. Her golden hair, aflame with red highlights in the light of the candle-lit gambling hall, spilled across her nude arm. He had taken off his padded fur and leather coat in the over-warm gambling hall, and pushed up the long-sleeves of velvet tunic. Like the silver coins and the fur, the rich cloth and his well-armed companions were meant to pass him off as a northern lordling. He wished he wore his usual, rugged denim shirt. It would be more comfortable in the hot room.
As the half naked woman reached forward to filled his flagon with the golden brew, the abundant curls fell off her shoulder, sliding down her arm and onto Oak’s. The brush of the silken mass surged up his forearm and shoulder, down his torso, and into his loins. Never had he felt so unmanned and yet so fired at the same time. He bit his tongue, tasting the blood, refusing to look at the woman after the feel of her hair against his skin.
When the bet came to him again, he wanted to throw in the entire stack, risk all, end the game right then, but he knew he didn’t have the cards to take the hand. The pain in his mouth had brought him to his senses at the last moment. He folded and prayed to the goads above for patience. Too many men at the table still had stacks of coins higher than his and many hours were left of the evening. Oak would bide his time and he’d have the woman called Rosina by the end of the night’s gambling. Sucking his tongue, he reminded himself what job he had to do. He tried not to look at the rose-colored nipples on the courtesan’s sweet breasts, or that flame-colored hair as she swung it off her shoulder to catch his eye. He’d have her. By all of his sworn duty, Reno Oakman would have this woman.
“My Lord, you won the prize tonight.”
The woman called Rosina closed the heavy door behind her and leaned against it after she entered the lordling’s room at his curt “Come.”
Taller and with broader shoulders than most of the men who came to the casino on a regular basis, he’d stood out in the gaming room. In the small bedchamber he seemed a giant. She remembered the large men from her childhood, far to the north, and knew him for a northerner immediately.
He stood by the bed, appraising her, the lust on his face obvious. She saw it every night. Rarely did she have to fulfill her owner’s pledge to sleep with the man who won all of the money at the table she waited on. It was the standard prize at every gambling table at the Cat’s Cradle. Winner takes all, including the serving maid. Usually the dealer made sure no one won the table. Rosina hadn’t paid her master’s pledge for months.
The job was generally easy, simply serve the men their liquor, keep them distracted from the game while the dealer cheated at cards, let the ones who were starting to win flirt and even paw her if she had to, then go to bed and get a good night’s day’s sleep before the next evening began. She lived in relative comfort. She had convivial companions in the other women who worked at the cantina. The dealers made sure the gamblers behaved themselves, and she hadn’t been abused. The woman who’d trained her to be a courtesan showed her how to make a man happy very quickly. They were usually so lusty and drunk that she didn’t need to stay long. After watching her all evening, a man needed her so badly, it’d be over within a few moments, and she could leave.
She raked her eyes over his form as he did the same to her. He was very well made, more so than just about any other man she had ever seen in the Cat’s Cradle. For a moment she regretted the fact that she knew so little about how to prologue the act between them.
“You won’t need those clothes,” she informed him, moving across the room and taking the hem of his tunic in her hand. She started to push it up his hard torso.
“Aw, but I will,” he protested, smiling, his dark eyes catching the gleam of the single candle in the far corner of the room.
Rosina sucked in her breath at how his face changed. The desire mixed with a masculine attractiveness even a woman of her kind could not resist. She felt his pull like a magnet and had no thought to resist him.
Her hand, pushed away from the hem of his tunic, now strayed to the stays of his pants. If he wanted to keep his shirt on, he would still need to free his manhood. She could see the huge bulge at his groin, echoing the lust in his eyes and lax jaw.
But he pushed her away from that area, as well, laughing.
“We haven’t time, Rosy,” he grinned. “Not the way I want you, long and sweet until I’m sated. Not here in thirty seconds, like it would be if you touch me again. I’d be worse than before, if you set me off now.”
Rosina stared at him blankly. He talked no sense. Of course it would be now. That was why she had come to him. She stood back confused, arching her back a little, making sure he saw her major assets.
“Take the rest of those ridiculous clothes off,” he snapped quite suddenly, turning his back towards her and starting to rummage through a pile of clothing on the bed.
“You don’t want to watch?”
“I’ll be inside you and off so fast I won’t enjoy a moment of it, if I watch,” he shot over his shoulder. “Put these on.”
He tossed her a thick divided skirt, a heavy woolen overskirt, two tunics, one of them woolen, heavy woolen stockings, and a pair of riding boots that looked as though they would climb to her knees.
“You’re kidding. What sort of a pervert are you?” she demanded.
He chuckled. “Maybe I like to do it out in the snow. Come now, get dressed. We have a ways to ride tonight, and I want to get on with it.”
Something about his tone brooked no argument. Rosina began to obey without question, stripping off the filmy skirt that flowed from the wide band hugging her hips. It was not until she had donned the under tunic, lighter skirt, and stockings and was pulling on one of the boots that she realized he meant to remove her from the casino.
“Hey. Felix won’t let you take me out of the Cat’s Cradle. It’s against the rules. We pay up here, in the rooms.”
“What Felix doesn’t know Felix can’t do anything about. The earlier the start, the farther we get.”
Rosina climbed to her feet, leaving one empty boot. “Nope. No way. He hurts women who disobey him.”
“He won’t hurt you. I’ll see to it,” the lordling promised.
Something about his cocky attitude reassured her, she didn’t know why. He had a manner about him she’d only seen on a man once before, full of self-confidence. That man she’d never see again. It wasn’t the assurance of the men who thought the could win at cards. They went away disappointed and angry. Maybe it was just that he had won. Was he the type who always won, always got what he wanted?
Again Rosina hesitated. She watched as he pulled a heavy, padded, leather jerkin over the sturdy tunic he had somehow substituted for the dark, velvet one he had been wearing. She now noticed his legs encased in well-worn denim pants instead of the fine woolen trousers of the nobleman. Heavy riding boots covered his well-turned calves.
“You’ll need this, too,” he said as he tossed her a fur-trimmed leather coat.
She pulled on the over-tunic, noting its fine quality, a contrast to the rougher, worn clothing he wore. So he had obtained new clothing for her, had he?
“Where are you taking me? This isn’t part of the prize. I’m not to leave the house,” she insisted, even as she shoved her arm inside the sleeve of the jacket. Lynx fur lined the inside, the outside tanned against the wet.
“You’ll want your hair confined. We’ll be riding hard,” the lordling explained as he took her by her shoulders and spun her back towards him. With quick hands, he parted her long mane into three sections and braided the tresses into a single rope down her back. Taking a thin leather cord from between his teeth, he quickly tied off the tail. Then she felt him jam a hat on her head. The tickle of fur told her it would keep her warm in the cold.
Abruptly, he turned her around to face him again. Holding her at arm’s length, he appraised her, raking her with his eyes in a way that he had not done since she had first walked into the gaming room hours ago. Now, his mouth curled up on one side in a lopsided smile and the gleam returned to his eyes.
“Ah, even padded in wool and fur you are ravishing, Rosy,” he murmured.
He dipped his head, and his mouth covered hers. His tongue parted her lips. Angry with him for doing everything in such precipitous ways, nothing the way it was usually done in the Cat’s Cradle, nothing the way she expected it, she tried to stop him. He pulled her in closer. Even through the padded leather jerkin and her fur coat, she could tell he had powerful, iron-hard muscles in his arms and chest, and the bulge had not yet left his groin. His tongue forced her teeth apart.
Fire raced through her body. Men didn’t do this sort of thing to a woman, enflame them so. She’d never heard of such a thing. She responded to the kiss, wanting more of it. She knew how to make a man give more, and keep giving, until he had given all he had. That’s all he needed to do, and this nonsense about riding the night away would be over. Instead, he’d be spent and sleeping, and she could go off to her bed, with a new set of very nice winter clothing.
She gave herself to the kiss. It was so very easy, it had never been easier. She slipped her hand inside the jerkin, feeling for the edge of his tunic. She wanted to feel his skin, to see if it burned in the same way hers did.
Then he stepped away from her.
“Oh, no, Rosy. Not yet. By the gods, I want you, but not yet.”
He grabbed up a belted sword that lay on the bed, buckled it around his waist, and grabbed her hand.
“Let’s go, Darlin’. Time’s a wasting, and my men are waiting for us.”