THEY WATCHED THE TRAINING FOR a little while before Julius came to fetch Lucifer for his lessons. After much groaning and moaning, the boy finally followed his teacher back to the study room that was joined to the library. Vera excused herself to attend to her work as mistress of the palace, a job she loved and found much comfort in.
Alone, Cecelia took the opportunity to explore the sections of the castle where she was allowed to roam freely, drawing a map within her mind of the palace’s perimeter and its surroundings. Her objective was to find a route to the Cave of Doom within the forbidden forest where the Pearl of Life resided. By midafternoon, she hadn’t accomplished much more than when she’d started. Furthermore, she was getting too sweaty and hot and a little dizzy from dehydration.
She was about to turn back when she heard water splashing. Curious, she rounded the corner of a bush and came to view a secluded, small lake that resided within the thick woods. She scanned about the place but noted no one was in sight. Thirsty as she was, she couldn’t turn down the sight of refreshment that was presented to her by mere incident. She thankfully went to the side where a series of big rocks stood, got to her knees, and bent down. She scooped water in her cupped hands and brought the clear, chilled liquid to her lips. Then she began to sip. The freshness and the coolness made her sigh with pleasure. She dipped her hands into the water again and splashed some on her hot face with a content smile.
“Care to join me?”
The query made Cecelia look up, and the moment she met the gaze of the demon king, she jumped back, her backside slamming on the bed of rocks, hard. She groaned in pain and embarrassment whilst Drake laughed.
She blinked and gazed in awe at the demon as a deep sound much like thunder roared up from within the depths of this throat and bellowed loud about her ears.
Drake crossed the small distance between them, and as he came up, Cecelia noted he was completely and utterly naked. She blushed and quickly averted her gaze from the lower portion of his body where his private parts nestled between his legs. She thought it was safer to look at his face. She was wrong. His eyes were deep and scorching with a hidden hunger that made her stomach flutter with exhilaration.
Drake caught her hand and pulled her up to him. Cecelia obeyed him, much to her dismay. He was a big demon, and standing this close to him really unsettled her. His skin, tanned and smooth, glistened with droplets of water, and his face, the aquiline features and deep-set eyes, did nothing to stop Cecelia’s heart from pumping out of rhythm.
Drake tilted up her face with his thumb at the small of her chin, as if to scrutinize her features as he did a horse. To Cecelia’s surprise, he wasn’t frowning this time. Nor, however, was he smiling. She wondered if he was always so broody looking.
“How do you find us demons, Brian?” he asked. “And our home?”
Cecelia blinked as her whole body tensed. He was now moving his fingers down the delicate line of her throat, as if he found that part of her anatomy very interesting.
“Why did you avert your gaze from me? Do you find me repulsive?”
Cecelia automatically shook her head. “Nay, sire.” She told him the truth. She found him fascinating and a bit too attractive for her liking.
“Then why do you avert your gaze?” His eyes were on her lips now as she bit the lower flesh.
She blushed, and he chuckled.
“Human and demon are not different, Brian. Your body and mine are but the same.” He moved his face closer so his hot breath fanned the skin of her forehead. “I am curious, however, if you humans accept same-sex lovers. Are you interested?”
Cecelia’s blush deepened, and confusion reigned over her eyes as to the meaning of his words. She brushed his hand off her and took a step back.
“I see,” he said quietly, accepting her withdrawal as her refusal to his proposal. He changed the subject. “Have you satisfied your curiosity yet of the perimeters of our castle?”
“What are you implying, sire?” she asked.
He mistook her query and cocked his head to one side. “Are you not here as a spy? I wonder. Or is it something else you’re after?”
That made Cecelia angry. She refused to let him go any further with his assumption and turned on her heel. “Good day to you, sire,” she said coolly and headed toward the woods, leaving Drake to stand there gazing after her with an amused smile on his face.
Her heart was still pounding from the run when Vera found her near the palace wall. The woman had a basket of sustenance in her hands. With Cecelia’s curious gaze, she said, “Our picnic.”
They had their luncheon picnic as planned near the stream to the eastern sector, close to the vineyard. Cecelia couldn’t believe just how beautiful this kingdom was. It was their summer, after all, and wildflowers were everywhere, with different shades of color unimaginable to her. The scent was lovely, rich with honeysuckle, wild lilies, and lavender. Bees and butterflies were everywhere. Cecelia closed her eyes, listening to the water running and the birds chirping.
Though the scene was indeed very beautiful, the air was lovely, and atmosphere was pleasant, Cecelia was tense. Surrounding her was not only Vera and Lucifer, but Drake, who was sitting slightly behind her to her left, Leon to her right, Gerick beside her, and Julius yonder to the front. Adam was close beside Vera, and Lucifer was sitting on his lap. She could sense the dark, intense gaze of the demon king on her person. Oddly enough, she felt her skin tingling with an unexplained excitement yet fear.
“How is your lunch, Brian?” Vera asked.
“It’s very nice, thank you,” Cecelia replied. “This place is wonderful.”
“Which is simply why so many wanted it,” Gerick said, moving closer to Cecelia. He rested his weight on his elbow, his body facing her. He took a peek at Drake and saw the demon king giving him a dark scowl, reminding him of his threat from last night. Gerick took no notice and returned his undivided attention to Cecelia.
Cecelia, in turn, looked at the handsome demon beside her, her brows raised in question.
Gerick said, “For many centuries, our kingdom had been at war with other kingdoms simply because our land is so rich. Not only is our land so fertile, but our sea is filled with great sea creatures. We have mines too, silver and gold.”
“Aye, gold. And of course, since we have returned from our many sea adventures, Drake started his own vineyard.”
“Vineyard?” Cecelia fought the urge to turn to look at Drake.
“Aye, there.” Gerick pointed across from where they sat near the top of the hill.
Cecelia could make out rows and rows of grapes. A vineyard indeed. Just like Rosevalley.
“If you want to, we could take you to have a look,” Lucifer said, chewing his sandwiches. “You know what?” he said to Cecelia.
“When I grow up, I’m going to go on a sea adventure just like Papa and Uncle Drake and Uncle Gerick and Leon.”
“And your teacher Julius,” Julius gladly corrected his student.
Lucifer rolled his eyes if as to say sure. He said, “I’m going to get myself a grand ship. You’re welcome to join if you want to,” he thought to add.
Cecelia smiled and thought that was very fine indeed. She glanced at Drake, who was resting his body against a tree. His sharp eyes were on her. She quickly glanced away, her mind once again examining the meaning of his question back at the lake.
“Have you ever been on a sea adventure, Brian?” Drake asked from behind her.
Cecelia shook her head. “Nay, sire. That is, until recently.”
“How do you find it?”
“Not to my liking at all, sire.”
He laughed. The deep, timber caused Cecelia to shiver deliciously. Her cheeks turned crimson and her heart jumped crazily in her chest. Him laughing at her comment was very disturbing indeed.
“A pity. You’ll meet many more cutthroats like those men in the future.”
Lucifer jumped up from his father’s lap and rushed around to where Drake was sitting. “I think it’ll be fun. You’ll have to teach me how to sail, Uncle Drake.”
“Indeed I will, Lucifer, in time,” Drake said, tousling his nephew’s hair.
“And you can teach Brian too,” Lucifer added.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” Cecelia interjected quickly. I will have to return home soon, she added in her head. Tomorrow if possible.
“Where is your home, Brian?” Julius asked as if he’d just read her mind.
Cecelia hesitated for a moment. “Very far from here. The vineyard, it reminded me of my home.”
“That vineyard reminded me of Rosevalley,” Drake said mildly, his eyes gazing off into the distance.
Cecelia turned to look at him. She was still afraid of him, but she couldn’t seem to take her eyes from his as he watched her.
“Yes, reminds me of that place too,” Gerick said. “Lord Van Zandt is such a stingy man. He wouldn’t give us any of his beautiful wine when we left.”
“You and your wine.” Adam snorted. “All you ever think about is drinking and wenching.”
“Hey, what better way to live than drinking and wenching?” Gerick said, laughing.
“What’s wenching?” Lucifer asked.
Adam glared at Gerick. “Nothing important, Lucifer. Take yourself off, Gerick, and prepare our horses for the hunt.”
“I want to come help,” Lucifer said, jumping up.
“Right, I’ll be off, then,” Gerick said and stood. “Come along, Lucifer. Let’s get the horses.” And then they were off, Lucifer skipping beside Gerick.
“How long ago were you in Rosevalley?” Cecelia asked Drake.
He closed his eyes. Cecelia couldn’t help admiring his physical appearance. He wasn’t that handsome. Not like Gerick, who she was sure even human females would fall head over heels in love with on first sight. Nay, the demon king had harsh features and a dark scowl that most would find petrifying upon first meeting him. Even then, she found him ruggedly handsome and simply too attractive for her peace of mind.
He opened his eyes and studied her intensely. Her throat became very dry at his stare.
“Many years ago, when I was but a young demon,” Drake said. “Have you been to Rosevalley yourself?”
Cecelia lowered her eyes. “I have heard of it. They say it is a very beautiful place. But it was destroyed by a raid three years ago.”
“Such a pity,” Drake said.
Cecelia gritted her teeth. What was he saying? Such a pity? Was that all he could think as a reply? He was the one who had destroyed her home. And here he was sitting there with not a care in the world. Oh, he was such a demon all right. He had no feelings whatsoever. He deserved no admiration from her, nor respect. He only deserved hatred from her.
“Come on,” he said abruptly and got up. “We go hunting.”
Cecelia looked up to see his hand before her.
“I’m sure you will enjoy the hunt,” he said, his gray eyes boring into hers.
Cecelia licked her lips and said politely, “Nay, thank you.”
“Come now, Brian, you will enjoy it,” Leon said, smiling at her.
She stubbornly shook her head in the negative.
Drake took matters into his own hands and caught her small arm. Cecelia jumped at the contact. His eyes were twinkling despite the dark scowl on his face. Amazing, she thought. Such mysterious, beautiful eyes. She was lost in the sea of gray clouds.
He jerked her up and dragged her after him toward the stables.
Vera shouted, “Have fun.”
Not long afterward, Cecelia found herself riding on a beige stallion. Leading the pack was Drake himself, riding on his sinfully black, dangerous steed Wildfire. Both master and beast looked foreboding to ones who didn’t know them. Even to her, Cecelia shivered at the prospect of meeting this demon alone in such a forbidden forest.
Lucifer was smiling with glee as he rode with his father. Suddenly, Cecelia had a longing. She longed to see Brian smile like that once again. She longed for him to enjoy such activity instead of dreading it and coming back hurt both physically and mentally. Those boys back at the palace, they were so cruel to have bullied Brian.
“Brian, I see it. I see it!” Lucifer shouted excitedly as he pointed his finger toward a bush.
Cecelia looked at where he was pointing. She saw rustling in the bush.
“Shh,” Drake signaled to Lucifer. When he winked, Lucifer nodded, his eyes twinkling with excitement.
All was silent as they watched. Then a boar rushed out. Cecelia gasped as the big animal ran toward the other side of the woods. In all of her life, she’d never seen a wild pig so big. A prize indeed, if caught. And Cecelia wondered why none of them were moving. They were just sitting there on their stallions, still as rocks, watching the creature running away. Cecelia couldn’t seem to breathe. She, too, stayed still, watching, wondering what they were doing.
Silence. And then whoosh!
At lightning speed, Drake and his stallion were off after the boar. Lucifer shouted, and he and his father were off too. Gerick and then Leon followed. Cecelia watched as they all raced after the animal. She couldn’t very well stay behind, so she kicked her stallion and went off after them.
They were going fast, zigzagging about the tall, thick trees. Her heart was pumping like mad as she concentrated on trying not to smash the stallion and herself into shrubs. She was scared, but she was also very excited.
“Whoa!” Gerick shouted into the hushed woods. The woods itself echoed back at him. Whoa!
Adam and Leon laughed. Their deep voices were like a lovely song in Cecelia’s ears. For the first time in weeks, she smiled. She felt light and happy. There was no heavy burden hanging on her small shoulders. She felt quite amazing. But that feeling was short lived when she felt something behind her.
She turned, and to her horror, another boar was chasing her. This one was even bigger than the other. She panicked when she saw the angry, determined look in the boar’s black eyes. It was huffing at her.
She kicked at her stallion to gallop faster. She turned back to look at where she was going. There her eyes widened in horror. She watched as Drake’s stallion jumped over a big log that lay across their path. Demon and beast were one, flying over that huge log with air and grace and strength. She caught her breath at the back of her throat and wanted to cry at the sheer awe and madness of it. She’d never done this before.
Then she watched, as her stallion took her nearer to the log, both Adam and Lucifer glided over and then Gerick and Leon after them.
She didn’t know what to do and so, as her time came near, she kicked her stallion once more and hugged her body flat on its back. She closed her eyes as the steed started jumping. She felt like she was flying, the hot wind on her face. Then suddenly, she felt she was pulled down, and in the next instance, she fell off the horse and landed with a thud on the hard earth.
She closed her eyes at the sheer pain in her body. She watched above her, the trees spinning around her. She squeezed her eyes shut and groaned in pain. When she opened them again, she saw Drake looking down at her. He was still saddled atop his steed. He glanced at something across from her. Then with his powerful hand, he swiftly grabbed her arm and pulled her up. Cecelia had to blink several times to clear away her confusion. That was when she saw her stallion running toward the other side of the forest. And there was the boar, charging toward her. Drake wrapped his arm round her waist and hauled her up onto the saddle in front of him.
Cecelia nearly fainted. She’d never fainted before, but with this demon’s hands touching her body and him so close to her, she really did feel like fainting.
Drake nudged his stallion. They raced toward the other side of the forest where the others were waiting. There they stopped. Cecelia wondered why they didn’t continue their escape. The boar was charging at them for God’s sake. Surely they must run. But she couldn’t tell them that because she was too busy trying to breathe properly and was too fascinated at the angry charging boar that was coming toward them.
Slowly, Drake drew out his bow and arrow. Cecelia became aware of this when she saw the lethal weapon in front of her. She was also aware of his heat behind her, not to mention his wonderful smell—the smell of the outdoors, pinewood and earth. Her whole body shivered deliciously in response. Then she nearly stopped breathing when he moved his face near hers, his lips near her left ear so she could feel his hot breath on her sensitive skin.
“Take the bow and arrow,” he whispered.
A nice, hot liquid thrill slowly glided its way through her being, and Cecelia held her breath.
“Take the weapon,” he repeated. When she didn’t respond, he caught her hand and guided it to the bow. She couldn’t resist his gentle command.
“Just aim,” he said.
Cecelia shuddered. She just realized what he wanted her to do. He wanted her to kill the boar.
She shook her head and said, “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” he replied. “Aim.”
Cecelia was pretty good with bow and arrow, but not with him so near. She couldn’t concentrate. She was too aware of him to focus on anything else.
“I’ll guide you,” he whispered as he stared at the boar charging at them. “Pull!” he commanded.
With his hands over hers, guiding her, she pulled the bow. And then they both released it. The arrow flew across the distance and smack. It hit the charging boar right on the forehead.
Cecelia stared with wide, disbelieving eyes at the dying animal.
“Well done, Brian,” he whispered softly into her ear.
Cecelia shivered deliciously again and felt her body melt weakly. She turned back slightly to look up at him. What she saw in his eyes was pure darkness and passion. She caught her breath at the back of her throat as Drake wrapped his arm around her waist.
“You’re too soft, Brian, even for a human,” he said playfully.
Cecelia didn’t have time to respond, for he kicked on his stallion, jerking them both forward, riding toward the dead boar.
“Yeah, Brian, you killed the boar,” Lucifer shouted.
“Good on you, Brian,” Adam said, patting Cecelia’s back as he rode past.
Gerick jumped down from this horse, picked up the boar as if it were a kitten, and laid it across his stallion’s back.
“Come, we have a feast tonight,” he said, climbing onto the saddle and laughing as he rode away. Lucifer and Adam followed behind him.
“That was a very good shot, Brian,” Leon said as he trotted past.
Drake started forward, when Cecelia said, “Wait, what about my stallion?”
He stated, “It’ll find its way home.”
With that, they followed the others back to the palace.
* * * * *