Deception Brings Danger

Court is always a place where one must watch his back, but as the threats shift away from his wife, Xavier Brice must work with precision to ensure he remains alive and capable of protecting both her and the king. With each passing day, Xavier knows he can no longer avoid Io’s past or her heritage. If he is to help the crown hold the kingdom, he will have to ask every question he had feared asking since Io became his wife.

Knowing Is Not Always Helpful

Io has ignored her past her entire life. Her bloodline has never saved her from harm. Now, though, it may not be Xavier, alone, in danger. It could well be time to claim those titles she has refused to acknowledge – as long as they will not steal from her the only title she wants: wife.

Publisher’s Note: This steamy medieval romance is full of action and adventure and contains elements of power exchange.

Sample Chapter

Chapter 1

Xavier Brice pushed through the crowd, careful to keep Io in sight. He was careful, too, to take note of anyone in the crowd who caught his wife’s interest. All the soldiers and precautions could do nothing if the danger was already inside the gates. So today, he was much less bullish in how he made his way through the throngs of people. Io and her handpicked escort seemed to know exactly where they were going. But this was the first time Xavier accompanied her into the market.

Of course, she’d insisted she didn’t need him to go. The same as she insisted she didn’t need him to stay when she finally came down from her room at the tavern. Two days, Xavier spent pleading to be allowed to send her home. No one, not even the king, would hear reason. She was physically safe here, with him, with her extensive personal guards, and with the growing ranks of men at court who found Io likeable and, for a woman, interesting. When the last two days of pleading to be given leave to go home failed, Xavier pushed to be allowed to attend his wife personally for the next few days. That request was granted with little more than raised brows.

The way she’d handled Hendrix left a huge impression on many. Both nobles and soldiers were pleased with her nonaggressive solution; only a few commented a woman shouldn’t have challenged men of rank as she had. But it gave them the impression Io could defend herself from physical danger. And while she might be able to, the fact was she likely wouldn’t.

Though her number of supporters seemed vastly higher, knowing, twice, Io crossed paths with men from her past made Xavier uneasy. Especially as he didn’t know who Io had been watching before she fainted.

He’d not noticed she watched someone until moments before she dropped straight to the floor, too focused on how she refused to warm to the king. She wasn’t a woman to hold grudges, so why hold the crown responsible for having her moved often and not always seeing the house she was set in treated her well? She didn’t blame those who did her true harm.

He was about to ask her when she fell prone at his feet. And when she was roused… That had frightened him. She sat up, grabbed her left shoulder, and screamed. The kind of scream only mortal pain caused. It took nearly an hour to calm her, to convince her no injury had happened, or at least no new injury. She stayed insistent her shoulder hurt. Hurt enough, she shook with it. And she’d begged him, begged him through every emotion she might have had, fear, anger, guilt, grief to take her home. He’d tried, thought to simply spirit her away, but the next morning, Io, shaken but able to sound reasonably assured she’d get through, advised him to stay and finish whatever it was the crown wanted him to finish. It took not quite two days for her to work up both the courage and strength to leave the room. Xavier suspected Mistress Stella played a role as she’d spent several hours speaking with Io, though neither disclosed to him the matter. As soon as she could, she wanted to be out. He could only think she wanted to be where she didn’t feel trapped or perhaps where she knew she couldn’t just be left behind until the next man came for her.

He stopped now and lifted his head, trying to see where Io and her group went. Her happy squeal and subsequent laughter rang out and he followed it to the small open air shop where Io danced around with a blissful look on her face.

“Oh, it is wonderful, put it on, hurry,” she said to Roth, who rolled his eyes and then handed the tunic she forced into his hands to Samuel and reached to take the much larger one made for him. He pulled it on and shrugged his arms through. It was barely in place when Io squealed again and clapped her hands. She fussed about trying to smooth the material down. “Oh, it is perfect,” she said. “Look, Xavier.” She waved him over to stand before the five men now wearing the fashionable, short, cream colored tunic.

His eyes went to the right shoulder where his standards were embroidered in miniature, then to the left where an “Io” was stitched in large letters with a smaller “D” and “B inside the “O”. Neither of the completed threadworks was larger than the palm of his hand, but they easily and boldly announced these men were trained under him and loyal to her.

He knew the men wanted to do something as Io insisted none of them go into the shires or markets wearing his standards. She’d insisted on it from the start. When it was suggested something be created telling all they followed Io’s commands, Xavier agreed it’d be a good idea.

Io clapped her hands again. “I have my own real army now,” she said, laughing.

“And what will you do with your new army, my lady?” Xavier asked, nodding at Roth who, while once supported this idea, looked as if he might have some regrets now.

“I am going to plunder all the shires,” Io announced.

“And what will you seek in your plundering?” Xavier went along because he knew she spoke in jest.

“All the wonderful goats,” she announced without missing a beat.

“No goats,” Xavier told her sternly.

“But I have an army…” she pouted. “One goat?” she asked, holding up a finger.

“No goats,” Xavier repeated, causing her to take a seat next to a woman who looked completely confused.

“A small goat?”

“No goats,” Xavier said with a firm nod.

Io tossed her hands in the air and looked at the women sitting around her. “What good is an army if I cannot plunder the goats?”

“Can you plunder goats?” one woman questioned.

That seemed to cause Io to pause. “I do not know,” she said then looked to him. “Can goats be plundered?”

The absurdity of the conversation was a balm to his soul. “You cannot.”

Io huffed and looked at the women who now seemed to grasp this was a jest. “What good is an army if I cannot have even one goat?”

“It does seem wasteful, my lady,” the older woman sitting behind her working on another one of the tunics for the men told her. She caught Xavier’s eye and winked.

“It is wasteful,” Io pouted. But then another woman leaned in, whispered in her ear, seemed to be giving directions somewhere, and before she finished, Io surged to her feet, yelled for the men to follow, and was off.

Xavier glared at the women but none paid him any heed. “Where did you send her?”

“To the east edge of the market,” the woman said, and Xavier heard them all burst out laughing as he walked away.

He came up on a livestock market, stopping to look upward and pray Io hadn’t already bought any goats she found here.

“Brice?”

He turned and found Richard coming at him barely suppressing the groan as he heard Io’s laughter above the noise of the crowd. “Tell me we declared war,” Xavier pleaded as the man stopped in front of him.

“No, and why would you hope that?” Richard asked, looking like he thought Xavier had lost his mind.

Io’s laughter rang out again and then her call for Samuel to “catch that one.” “Because now, I must go tell my wife she cannot have whatever beast she has discovered in this place.” He jerked his head and led the way. As he suspected, Io was in the center of a pen filled with so many goats there wasn’t even room to move.

“Have mercy,” Xavier pleaded as he watched Io try to hold three baby goats at once. He pushed through the crowd, Richard next to him, laughing hysterically. “Io, no goats. No goats,” he said firmly.

“But look, this one is very small,” she yelled back and held up one of the kids.

“No goats means no goats, not even small ones.” He watched her hand the small creature back to the man, who by his very disappointed look, perhaps hoped to sell the entire herd to the woman making her way back toward him. “No goats,” Xavier repeated as Io came up and leaned against him, breathless but smiling.

“What happened to the man who said he would buy me anything I asked him to,” she said as she wrapped her arms around him.

“Why can you not want me to buy you gold or furs or—”

“Goats have fur,” Io chirped out, and Richard burst out laughing.

Xavier refrained from punching him in the mouth and wrapped his arms around his wife. “Any goat, I will buy you any goat you choose… once we are home.”

“You are the cruelest husband,” she said as she snuggled against him.

Richard finally stopped laughing long enough to greet the others as they stepped out of the crowd. “I see you have officially declared yourselves Lady Io’s army,” he said, noting their new dress. Of course, he’d known of this as Xavier had gained the crown’s blessing, though no man on the council understood Io’s reasoning on the matter… hell, Xavier didn’t understand it and he was wed to her.

“Yes, but what good an army if I cannot even plunder a goat?” Io said as she turned a bit and smoothed down the front of Roth’s tunic.

“Can a goat be plundered?” Richard asked, causing Xavier to chuckle.

“Clearly, it cannot,” Io huffed. “Not with Xavier standing guard.”

Again, Xavier looked upward. “Have mercy on me,” he pleaded, squeezing Io tight.

“Should have prayed for that before you took your vows, husband,” Io remarked drily. “It is entirely too late now.”

Richard nearly fell over, he laughed so hard.

“Did you seek me out with a purpose?” Xavier asked as he set Io away and watched her head toward a collection of ponies. One of those, he’d buy her if she asked.

“You and your… tormentor… are requested at tonight’s banquet.”

“Any possibility of my… wife… being excused?”

“No, Xavier,” Richard said, becoming serious. “I have ordered more soldiers inside the palace, and I will replace them all with those who came with Io if you want it.”

“No, it only heightens her discontent,” Xavier told him, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “I will collect her then and take her back so she can make ready.”

“Xavier,” Richard called. “She will be safe.”

Xavier nodded, for his voice would have told of his doubt. And honestly, it was less her physical safety and more her happiness he worried for. Were he in his right mind, he’d have known better.

* * *

Io forced a smile as she extracted herself from the group which closed in on her. Xavier was still nowhere in sight and with only Mark acting as escort inside the hall, Io struggled to find any place safe from either the harder political questions or the less than subtle lude ones.

She also struggled to keep her eyes on the one man she’d never expected to see again. As she watched him now, the ache in her shoulder grew as did her anger he should even be here. And he was here with some prominence and status. Try as she might to heed Xavier’s warning about not showing any man fear, this man scared her. The better advice was probably Stella’s. Most evil men act without witness, so Io scanned the room for a group that looked to be settled in place, as Stella advised her to do.

“Oh, watch.” Io turned in time to miss colliding with a woman trying to carry several cups full of liquids.

“Pardon,” Io said and took half the cups. “Let me help you.”

The woman blushed and reached for what Io took. “No, my lady, I cannot ask—”

“You did not, I offered, and I am no lady, so lead the way.” It’d be more likely whosever company she wound up in next would be better than the group of matrons she saw coming at her. They’d already made Io aware they were friends of Charlotte Brice, and Xavier’s mother had nothing kind to say about her.

“Here, this way,” the woman said, leading Io to a small area rather brightly lit but slightly concealed behind some sheer draping.

“Well, hello,” the woman who took up the large settee said, accepting a cup from the woman Io followed. She looked Io up and down rather thoroughly.

“Hello,” Io said and smiled as she handed the cups out to the women shoved off into a corner of the hall. Io knew what they were. That they dressed far better than the women at the tavern didn’t make them different; they were only paid more. She hoped the sameness held in their willingness to be friendly. They made room when she pushed a bit further back into their group.

“Hiding from someone?” the woman asked, sitting up a bit to allow another woman to slide in more and Io to be absorbed into their clutch.

“Not really, I am not interested in hearing anymore condemnations of my person,” Io said, causing several of the women to laugh.

“Well, you are in the correct place to avoid that,” the woman said, holding out her hand “I am Alice.”

“Io,” she said, taking the woman’s hand and giving it a shake.

“Are you here with someone, Io?” Alice asked, looking around now.

“I am, but he has yet to join me,” she said then huffed. “I think he has found better company, but he will come around.”

“They all come around,” Alice told her and proceeded to tell Io about everyone in the hall. And while Io knew some of it to be little more than gossip, she learned a few things about some of the men who’d spoken both of political and personal things to her. She was chuckling when she saw Xavier enter the hall. He went straight to Mark who, despite being surrounded and engaged in conversations by dozens of men, was able to nod in her direction.

She watched him extract himself from the group who tried to swallow him as soon as he entered. He was dressed in the most formal of attire, and though he’d taken steps to coordinate the colors he wore with those she wore, he didn’t look the least bit soft, unlike most of the cumberworlds in the room.

He strode with confidence, making men jump to get out of his path before he stepped close, and as he passed, she noted women eyed him with varied emotions.

“Ah, be careful with that one, child,” Alice warned. “He is the king’s man and he plays at no game he cannot win completely.”

“No man can win at everything,” Io said and watched as Xavier was stopped this time by someone he couldn’t ignore. “Tell me, do you know if his game is only for himself, or does he share the spoils?”

“I should not know; he has never played with anyone I know.”

“No?” Io wasn’t surprised. Any woman Xavier shared his bed with before her wasn’t going to be someone Io might run across. At least not before Xavier warned her and probably threatened her to stay away. He’d made it clear he didn’t want her knowing about any of his exploits prior to their union.

“No,” Alice confirmed. “In my thirty years at court, I have never so much as heard of that man taking a lover, or a woman, for the night. Or a man for the night, for that matter.”

“I wonder why that is,” Io mused and smiled as he started toward her again.

“Because he is dangerous,” Alice warned as the women around her seemed to tighten their group, the closer Xavier came.

“Yes, but he is… very fine,” Io said, hoping she didn’t lick her lips now that she was feeling like a hungry dog looking at a bone.

“He is more than fine, but do not play with him, little mouse. He is no cat; he is a lion,” Alice warned as Xavier stepped behind the drapes.

“Fair evening, ladies,” he said without even a hint of disdain.

“My lord,” the women all muttered and curtsied before him.

Io watched him look over all of them before turning his eyes on her. “You look like a sweet morsel,” he said, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips.

“Perhaps more bitter for being left unattended for so long,” Io said and saw Alice scramble to her feet.

“Better to eat you when fresh?” Xavier said and again brought her hands to his lips.

“My lord, I beg pardon,” Alice said, putting her hands on Io’s shoulders and drawing her back from Xavier. “This one is not one of us. She belongs to someone.”

“You do?” Xavier asked like he was shocked to hear it.

“I do, and yet here I am… neglected,” Io pouted as Alice whispered warnings in her ear.

“Well, any man who would be so foolish as to neglect a prize like you does not deserve you. Is it out of neglect or some other reason you seek to keep company with these ladies?”

“These ladies were kind enough to host me a while,” Io said then stepped forward into his embrace.

“Tell me,” Xavier went on, “at what price might I take over the hosting of your person?”

She heard several gasps. “I think you might buy my attentions with as little as… a goat?” Io teased and watched Xavier’s head drop.

“I think a better price might be forty strokes with the flat of my hand applied to your arse,” Xavier told her.

“Well, depending on how it is done, that could be completely acceptable.”

“Io,” Alice nearly shouted. “Do not play with this man, “she finished in a more moderate tone.

“It no longer amazes me, Io, you always find the correct people to stand with.” He placed a light kiss on her cheek then turned to face Alice. “Madame…” he started and took the woman’s hand in his own.

“Alice, her name is Alice,” Io told him so he’d know because it was important to know someone’s name.

“Alice, then,” Xavier went one. “My heartfelt thanks for keeping Lady Io company during my absence. For tolerating her… vulgarities. If you should ever have need, simply call out and I will do as I can.” He brought her hand up but didn’t actually touch it with his lips. Alice dropped into a deep curtsy, but when she gripped his hand, she gained his full attention.

“It is some comfort to know you are acquainted with the young lady, my lord, but again I tell you, whatever you might hear from her, she is not one of us. She belongs to someone,” Alice said, and Io didn’t miss the warning; she simply wasn’t sure about its intent.

“Yes, she belongs to me,” Xavier said, and a collective gasp went out among all the women. Xavier turned and faced Io, an amused look on his face. “How is it you always manage to garner such loyalty?”

“Maybe it is because I say please and thank you,” Io said and winked at Alice, who was looking between the couple. “I tell you often enough if you but show kindness, you will get kindness. But all you wish to do is bash people in the head,” Io said, leaning in to hug Alice. “We will speak again soon.”

Xavier put his arm around her waist and started them forward. “I do have a duty to bash people in the head, you know.”

“Yes I know, but you could at least try to say please and thank you when you do it,” Io said and let the flush caused by his bellowing laughter swirl around her body.

He walked them closer to the walls. “Were you hiding, Io?”

“A little, perhaps. The people here can be… unpleasant,” she finished, not wanting to say more and turn Xavier’s attentions to one of them. “But people who give other people the opportunity to be… unpleasant, through their neglect—”

“Are you feeling neglected, love?” Xavier asked, turning and pulling her flush against him.

“You have no idea how horribly neglected I feel,” Io said, setting her palms flat on his chest, running them up and around his neck.

“You are the most brash, vulgar, unseemly woman in the world,” he said but, taking her hand, made short work of leading her out of the hall, down an elegant passageway to a door, which he didn’t even give consideration to what might be behind as he pushed it open and, grabbing a torch from the wall, stepped inside.

“Xavier?” Io almost cried as he set the flame in a holder and then shoved her to the center of the room where she all but toppled over the low bed.

“I believe I should pay that price and make up for my neglect,” he said, taking a seat on the wide footboard and pulling her around to his right side. She was over his left knee with his right leg over both of hers before she could speak a single protest. Not that she wanted to protest, but it was a poor showing if she didn’t.

His hand slapped down firmly, but over her skirts, she hardly felt it. Propping her elbow on the top of the footboard, she put her chin in her hand and sighed, “Is that all you have? I might need to go back and stand with Alice a bit more.”

“Hedonist,” Xavier growled, bending to yank her skirts up. The next smack she did feel, and the one that followed that had her twisting to get out of reach.

“Not so hard,” Io complained, only to get one of exactly the same strength.

“I always pay in full, my lady.” His hand cracked down again. “And I will not have it said I do not pay with enthusiasm.”

Io cried out with the next blow, no longer sure if she’d somehow offended him. “Xavier, please.”

“Please?” He sounded almost amused. It was so hard to tell with him. “Ah yes, please and thank you. That is your secret.” His hand lifted up and Io tensed.

“Xavier, please, I… Ah,” she cried out and tried more to twist away.

“Please what?” he asked as his hand slipped over the skin of her arse now well heated and aching from his action.

“I… cannot … tell, I do not know…” she stammered as his hand, warm too from making contact, dropped lower. His calluses caused the skin on her thigh to prickle and when his thumb brushed her sex ever so lightly, she shuddered.

“Such lies,” he chided, stroking her cunny. “You know exactly.”

When she’d become so wet she couldn’t remember, all she knew was if he touched her now the way he usually did, she’d come apart. “Xavier,” it came out in such a rough manner, it scratched her throat.

“There is never any doubt with you. You always know,” he said then pushed past her thighs and into her sex. “And I always know.” His fingers pulled back then thrust in again, and Io tried to clamp down to stop him from bringing the end on so soon. The act earned her a slap on the arse, and even with his left hand, it was enough to make her jump and yelp. “I will not have resistance; you will let me make restitution.”

“Xavier, please,” she begged, but when his fingers pulled back and went forward again, she matched the move. What did it matter if she spent only minutes into what they did? He’d see her sated later if they’d no time now. She felt the pressure and tightness as he added another finger and continued stroking at her insides, while he also laid down more biting slaps in an erratic fashion to her outside. He raised heat on her skin and in her cunny, and with each blow to her arse or thighs, she was rocked forward so his knee pushed on her clit. The combination was too much and Io gritted, her teeth pressing her lips together to prevent the scream as the pleasured ripped through her almost violently.

“Yes, and now I think you say thank you,” Xavier said, setting her on her feet before she caught her breath. But he didn’t end it there. Rather, he stood, faced her toward the head of the bed, shoved her face down over the footboard and tossed her skirts up, covering her head briefly. She pushed them off only to have his hand crack down on her backside as hard as when they had started. “Say thank you, Io,” he said, and his hand fell again.

“Thank you,” she gasped out but then managed to lift her hips to meet the next blow he landed. How he was able to make her enjoy this, she didn’t know. There was so little difference in what he did now and what he did when he was displeased with her, and yet when his hand landed again, she had to bite the bed to stop the frustrated cry as her body sought the end.

“Ah, yes. I see now how please and thank you earns one… enjoyment,” he said, and before Io inhaled again, he was inside her, his hard, thick cock making long deep thrusts so with each entry, he penetrated completely and she cried and gasped in time. He was deliberate with every move, and Io tried several times to fall in rhythm with him, but every push forward left her working to keep from getting scooted up the bed and she’d no chance to find leverage and match him.

It didn’t matter after a while as he pushed her to climax again, before taking hold of her hips, lifting her slightly and driving into her hard and fast. She pushed her face into the bed and screamed as he spent inside her, the heat and sensation taking her one more time to bliss.

She heard him groan and then growl, but then he stepped back, freeing himself from her sex which still clutched at him.

Io gulped for air, pushing up. She wasn’t ready yet to be done. And turning and seeing him standing there, he wasn’t, either. “No, Xavier.”

“No?” he asked, gasping for air and wiping sweat from his face. “No, what?”

“No.” She slid back, off the bed, to the floor on her knees. “Do not be done.” Leaning forward, she took his hard cock in her mouth. The taste of his seed and the smell of her sex overwhelmed her senses and she set one hand on his thigh to help balance her while she placed the other at her sex and started working her nub in time to taking him in her mouth.

“Io, for the love of,” Xavier choked out but started working his hips to get further down her throat. She kept at him until he was again fully erect.

“Give me more, Xavier,” she pleaded as she got to her feet.

“What more, Io?”

She hardly had to think. It was how he introduced her to the act. Turning, she bent over again, lifted her hips and, reaching back, parted her arse cheeks. “Take me, Xavier. Here, take my arse.”

Xavier’s response was to step behind her, drag his fingers from her front to her back and then line his cock up. One smooth, slow push and he was seated. When he pulled back and came in again, his balls slapped against her cunny and Io reached under to rub herself.

Xavier was a little slower this time, but there’d been no preparation for his entry other than the use of his cum to help slicken her up. Of course, Io knew that meant the drag and friction would be worse. Worse, though, in a wonderful way. Again, she couldn’t ever explain why sometimes pain was so pleasurable and would simply assume it was because Xavier was skilled at what he did. And what he did was work her so she opened for him and allowed his undulations to become more forceful and more pleasurable.

“Save me, Io,” he said as he leaned over her and pushed in harder and deeper. “You will be the death of me.”

“More, Xavier,” she demanded. He had her right at the edge; all it’d take was… she hardly had the thought go through her head when the sensation sent everything from her mind.

Now, she was sated. Xavier took a while longer to find that release but he spent with a long deep groan and a chuckle as he tried to hold himself off her, only to have his arms shaking so much, he fell back down. Her power to weaken him so was as intoxicating as any drink she might be served and felt ever so much better than the dizzy feeling she got from wine.

“You vulgar little scold,” Xavier said next to her ear. “That was not what I intended when I brought you in here.”

“No?” She turned her head to look at him, but his mouth was right there, so she kissed him first then pulled back to see his face. “What was your intent, sir?”

“To…” He rolled a bit to the side and smacked his hand down on her arse. Io gasped then moaned and watched Xavier roll his eyes before claiming her lips. “You are simply vulgar.” He made a few sounds of complaint then pushed up and away from her. “Come, I knew there was no need to rush, but I think we have been gone from the hall long enough now, there will be talk.”

Io rolled to her back and watched him adjust his clothes, tie his britches back together and then try to wipe at the wet spots on the front of his hose. He tried to tug down his tunic to cover them. “Will it matter? Talk, I mean,” Io asked as he reached for her and pulled her to her feet.

“Not to me,” he said, leaning in to kiss her then stepping back to look her over. “Women have such an advantage in these things. Your layers cover everything so nicely. I will be left hoping some servant spills wine on me, lest it is thought I pissed myself for how wet you made the front of me.

Io laughed and copied his act of brushing back a strand of hair from her face when it wouldn’t stay behind her ear. “Yes, it is far less noticeable, your seed running down my leg; at least until it reaches my shoes. But then if we both find a seat and stay there, perhaps no one will notice anything.”

“That, my little goddess, is an excellent idea.” Xavier said, taking her hand and, leading her back out the room, slipped them both back into the hall at an end crowded with people newly come. It might have appeared to some they were simply mingling with people around the room so as not to be noticed, but when Io caught Alice’s eye as she passed by with a man who looked at least a hundred years in age, the woman nodded approvingly before going back to saying whatever she was saying to the old lord whom she’d entertain for the next little while.

Io simply smiled and kept her eyes on the cup she was handed, letting Xavier lead her from group to group until supper was called and the king joined them.