April 25, 2018


Overhead, Sadira could hear the sounds of the enemy celebrating.  A raucous uproar: a hundred men dancing on the grave of her master, the great God-king Set.  He lay slain by the leader of the barbarians.  His power broken.  His clan, in chains.
His woman, their prisoner.
Sadira bowed her head, a grim and bitter scowl on her face.  They'd captured her during the day's final battle and bound her with ropes, tying her wrists and ankles. When the last of Set's men fell, and the invaders took the God-king's temple, they'd thrown her into her master's own bedchamber for their leader.  Now she waited on her knees on the bed, stripped of her leather armor, left in only a thin cotton bodice and a flimsy loincloth to cover her nakedness.
And her collar. No one had removed her collar.
But that was nothing new.  She'd been slave all her life to Set and his sadistic whims. She'd played servant, soldier, consort, and victim to his madness. She was glad he was dead. She'd lived on her knees before him, and more than once she'd wished she could sink a blade into his heart.
Only I never could. Because I am so like him. Because he alone could master the freak within me. Because only he could feed it.
The cosmic cruelty of it all cut her to the bone.  The lord of leash and whip gone, yet here she remained, bound in his chamber, waiting for her new master to take his pleasure.  The captain of the barbarian horde, Bannon Sha'kurukh, Red Bear of the Highlands, might not be the pitiless man Set had been.   She'd heard of him; he was said to be different.  A seasoned fighter, a daring leader, beloved among his own people rather than feared. Not at all like the predatory warlord kings of this desert. 
Under any other circumstances, she might have been able to admire a man like that. But tonight, he must be exactly what Set had always been: conqueror, oppressor, master. He'd banded with savage men of the Ruined Sands, and that changed things. If the Red Bear meant to keep his victory, he must confirm his right to it by the desert's laws.
The people of this world lived like lion prides. As a new male staked his claim by murdering the cubs and taking the mates of his rivals, so Bannon must take his inheritance by claiming everything that had once been Set's.  He would occupy the temple Set had built; he would kill the soldiers who fought Set's war.
He would bed the woman Set had left behind.
She bit back tears of fury.  From the hands of one tyrant into another's.
If this is the way it is to be, she vowed.  Then next time it will be me putting the blade through his heart.
The sounds of the enemy's victory carried on overhead. 

Bannon's celebration lasted well into the night, and the sounds of the soldier's triumph died out long before he ascended to the bedchambers to find Sadira.  The guards had left her only a single torch. At the sound of footsteps on the marble stairs, she sat at attention, face set in a glower to welcome the captain to his conquest. But the shadows in the doorway shielded the Red Bear from view.
There he lingered, a waiting silhouette. Sadira sensed his eyes on her. She knew what he saw: a woman marked head-to-toe by evidence of the arcane. Dark red tattoos of Akolet's cult, symbols of the serpent worshippers, circled and spiraled her sun-bronzed skin. From her left eye, down her cheek to her jaw; capping one shoulder and sleeving her arm to the tip of her longest finger; following the curve of her ribs down the slope of her hips, along the swell of her belly, down to her mons. Ink, brands, and scars, all a delicate mosaic, decorated her shoulders, ears, breasts, thighs, feet. Rings and studs of desert gold pierced her ears, nose, lower lip. More adorned her in places he couldn't see: her nipples, the curve of her labia, her clitoral hood. She was a living parchment, illustrated in strange design. The priests of Akolet had considered her a living work of art. Others called her ensorcelled. Set had perfected his strange technique on her, a contrast of arcane asymmetry and natural, tawny flesh, crafting a complex masterpiece of years.
Why do you hesitate? she wondered, when the Red Bear took his time, studying her in silence. Are you afraid of the fallen soldier, O great captain? Or does the sight of me make you sick?
Finally, Bannon came into the room.
A tall man, far more muscular than Set.  Bannon Sha'kurukh resembled the gladiators of ancient times, the type of man set against wild boars and tigers, who wrestled vicious sea monsters, and toppled great fortresses.  A diadem of braided leather held his long, red hair away from his face, and he bore his own tattoo, a vicious ursine pawprint, inked over the left side of his chest.  His skin shone, damp with sweat, the color of dust at sunset.
She glared at him as he entered.  He stood back, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Infamous Sadira," he muttered.  "I saw you on the battlefield these last days.  You're a skilled fighter.  I wish we could have met under more pleasant circumstances."
She bared her teeth. When he came close, she lunged back like a serpent dancing away before it strikes.
"Please," he beseeched her.  "I am not your twisted master.  Submit, and I will not hurt you."
"We both know what you must do," she hissed at him.  "You've killed the God-king but you've yet to take his most dangerous prize.  Claim me, barbarian, and you'll have proven your worth.  If you can't, the men you've allied with will never call you Lord.  You will never control this temple or its people, unless you have the stomach for their brand of violence."
"I will not take you by force," he insisted. 
She laughed at him, a cold, vicious sound without humor. "Welcome to Set's kingdom, barbarian. I am your prize.  Your property.  You may do anything you like to me.  Hell, do it with my blessing, if you can do it at all.  But do not forget I am also a soldier, and Set himself trained me even as he made me kneel before him, bound just as I am now. The moment you untie me, I will do to you what I wish I had done to him."
"So you wish to remain bound?" He stroked his beard, musing. The torchlight gleamed red-gold in his hair, a color of northern lands, high cliffs and castles. Here in the desert, the sun bleached all rich colors to bright, pale tones, and the men and women alike kept all body hair stripped clean.
"I hoped to win you over with sweet words and a gentle touch," he continued. "I don't believe I can avoid this union, but I imagined I could make it peaceable, if not pleasurable, for both of us."
"Does this look like a marriage feast to you?" she hissed.  "Do you think the men of this land will accept diplomatic resolution?  That's not the way it works."
Cautious, he approached the bed, leaning down to take her chin in his hand and search her flashing green eyes.
"What did he do to you?" he whispered.
"Ropes were not the worst of it." She sneered at him.  "Come now, barbarian… you have your desert treasure. Take it."
"I would have you willingly, Sadira," he insisted, brushing a strand of her ink-blackened hair from her face.  "The ways of these men are not my ways. Will you not reconsider your position?"
She studied him, scanning the lines of his face, his bristled jaw.  The man who murdered the god-king. The man whose blade cut out the heart of a tyrant who bound her with more than chains.  He held her now, tied and helpless… but at the same time, he had set her free.
A giddy madness began to unravel within her. Her sneer widened to a venomous grin.  She spat in his face.
"Not your ways," she repeated.  "But they are my ways. Because I am of this desert, too. I will not bow to a man who cannot overcome me. Do it, or go back to your people in disgrace. Half a man, who can murder an insane oppressor but cannot pacify his woman."
He glowered at her.  Slowly he brought up one hand to wipe away the saliva on his cheek.  With a patient sigh, he gave her one last long, silent estimation.
And there. In the flash of his eyes. A heat, a lust Sadira recognized, slow to kindle but impossible to mistake. The hunger of a man bred for brutality. Underneath the merciful lie, a man like her master, eager to deal in pain.
"As you desire."
With brutal force, he planted his hand on her collarbone and shoved her, throwing her to the mattress.
Sadira wriggled backwards, twisting to one side.  Lunging after her onto the bed, Bannon seized her by the heel and rolled her onto her stomach. He pounced. Wrapping one heavy arm around her throat, he crushed her against his chest.
Good, a fight. She was built for a fight. She wanted a fight.
"They warned me you would be vicious," he growled in her ear.  "Let's see how well I live up to your last master."
"You're off to a poor start," she managed to laugh, struggling in his hold.  "Set would have me bloodied by now."
"You want blood?" he asked.  He tightened his arm around her throat. Air became precious; her heartbeat quickened.  Bannon kept her steady with the chokehold, and reached down with his other hand to his belt. In a second, she saw he'd retrieved his dagger, and he flipped it up to skate it across her cheek.  He used the blunt edge... but still she felt the sting.
"Shall I really cut you?" the savage asked. The cold trace of his blade tantalized her, sweet and mean against the softness of her cheek.  "But what if I scar my pretty new prisoner's lovely face?"
With slow, deliberate leisure—still holding her around the neck, just tight enough to keep her steady, but harsh enough to thrill—he drew the tip of the blade down, down her cheek and along the slender arc of her throat. The tip of it tormented her; if she twitched or quivered, it would bite. She understood the danger...and she relished it.
He let the knife slide down to her breastbone. Sadira swallowed hard—it hurt, while he still held her so tight—but if he meant to do what she thought he meant to do...
He flipped the knife, tracing the keen edge against her collar.
"Are you ready to submit?"
"Hardly," she choked.
"Then you really will make me sink to the levels of these desert torturers?"
If he hadn't been pressing so heavily on her windpipe she would have laughed. "If you can't take me," she hissed. "You can't have me."
He unwrapped his arm and she gasped in cold, precious air. The knife, apparently, was forgotten. Too quickly, though, he seized a spare length of rope, wrapping one end around his palm and looping the other through the ring on the collar around her neck, making it into a leash. He yanked the rope once, fierce and furious, as he shoved her down against the bedding.
"You should have yielded," he muttered.  "This could have been so much easier."
"Would you really have preferred me easy?" she hissed.
Because I think you like this, barbarian.
One hand slipped under the fabric of her sarong, grabbing at her soft flesh and forcing her hips into the air. She uttered a short cry of protest and he yanked the leash, silencing her.  She pulled back, thrashing in his hold, until his hand came down with bright, stinging pain on the vulnerable flesh of her buttock.
"Ah!"
The first tears sprang to her eyes, tears of sudden wicked excitement. She hadn't expected it, but all at once Sadira realized she found this struggle...exhilarating. 
Bannon squeezed her tender hindquarters with rough appreciation. "You had the choice," he reminded her.  "I could have untied you, laid you back on these pillows, made love to you like no other man has.  You wanted to play rough."
"I like it rough," she hissed.  "You'd best learn to like it that way too, if you want Set's kingdom."
"I think all I will want of his kingdom is you," he growled, pressing harder against her.  "The temple and these empty sands can go to my king's regent. I'll take my reward from your hide."
With delicious surprise, she felt his growing erection adamant against her flesh.  She tried again to wriggle out from under him, straining against the ropes, but he yanked the leash hard and she choked out an angry cry. By the sacred serpent, he made her wild.
 Then he released her, letting her drop to the bed.  Flighty euphoria lingered at the edge of her senses, making her heart beat faster, making her skin tingle.  She stared out of the corner of her eyes at him, hardly able to believe it.
He pinned her down, holding her by the neck against lush animal pelts as she panted.
"Are you going to fight me the whole way, Sadira?" he whispered.  "Because I fought on the battlefield against hundreds of men today. I killed scores of your warriors, and I can easily handle a common concubine."
"I'm not so common as you think," she promised, a crazy grin coming to her face.  "And if you want to find out firsthand, go ahead and untie me."
"I thought you liked being bound," he growled.
She rolled over under his grasp, and he let her up just long enough to allow it. The instant she lay on her back, though, he seized her by the throat again. Between her thighs, a flutter of treacherous awakening stirred, and she shook her head wildly from side to side.
Bannon loomed, watching her writhe.  His free hand drifted under her sarong, to the place of her sex, and he explored her, finding her wet. Sadira couldn't help it: at the hot touch of his hand, she groaned.
His lip curled. "You're enjoying this? Twisted little freak!"
She grinned, then spit in his face again.
He seized the collar of her shift and tore, ripping it away from her body and exposing her flush, excited breasts.  The exposure—the raw pleasure rushing to her stiffened nipples, bare to his scrutiny—brought a shiver to the back of her neck. She whipped back and forth, struggling to escape as he ran the backs of his callused knuckles against the sensitive skin, teasing her, tickling the darker ring of her areola with mocking patience.  Bubbling, unruly laughter rose within her and she trembled, unwilling to let him see it, shuddering madly and trying to drown the threat of giddiness.
"Get off me—" she strained.
He removed his hand from her throat, letting her breathe.  She gasped, awash in bittersweet euphoria, swallowing air as tears streamed down her face. Light, faint, almost drugged... Her arousal heightened, eager yearning aching in her loins.
Bannon grasped the warm globes of her breasts, greedy and rough in exploring them.  The rope looped around his palm chafed her flesh, sending tiny sparks dancing down through her core.  He lowered his face, nuzzling, squeezing her breasts together hard as he traced his tongue over the stiff peaks.
"Yes," he murmured. She heard thick desire stealing away the softness in his voice. His tone changed, turning gravelly and low. "However it must be...I am ready for a good, hard fuck, to celebrate my victory."
Sadira closed her eyes, moaning as her body betrayed her, responding to his savage touch. Oh, the smell of him, wild and strange, pungent with sweat and desire, dangerous with the coppery hint of blood from his battles. Still dizzy, inexplicably intoxicated, every breath inundated her with scent and taste, and all she sensed was him.
When Set bound her, when he loomed over her and beat her, he'd painted his pleasure in pain, yes, but also in ugly terror.  She'd feared him when he did these things, feared his vicious torture even as she loved it, love and heat and need welling up from that poison core he'd unearthed inside of her.  Now, each harsh grab, each smart slap, brought her a rush of indignant desire. And when this barbarian said he wanted to fuck, wanted to fuck her...
He'd been right. This was unlike it had been with any man before. And she liked it.
The heat of his breath sent prickles through her skin.  "Sadira. One last time. Will you submit to me peacefully?"
She swallowed the thick lump in her throat. How much further do I push?
"I am the soldier and the slave of a conquered nation," she panted.  "And I am not yet ready to yield."
She lifted her head, staring down at him between her breasts.   "So I suggest you do what you need to do."
He returned her glare, and pressed his hips closer to hers. His stiff cock raged beneath the leather of his breeches, hard and firm, unmistakably eager.
"As you like," he said. "I gave you every opportunity."
As he shifted positions to shed his leggings, she tried to escape him again, pulling herself up to her knees to gain leverage. Bannon caught her, snapping the leash and pulling her towards him, down to all fours the mattress, and landed another smart slap on her ass, making her shriek.  Sadira glared at him as he freed his straining erection at last.
It stunned her. Heavy and thick, darker than the rest of him and marvelously endowed.  His cock was hooded, wild and untrimmed, unlike the men of the desert. He stroked it in one fist as his other hand cradled the back of her head. Before he could do what he intended, she turned her head sharply to the side.
"I wouldn't," she warned him.  "I'll bite."
"You won't bite me, bitch," he snapped, sending a spike of pleasure straight down to her loins.  Taking his hand off his cock, he traced her lips with two fingers, and when she didn't open her mouth he forced it open, slipping his fingertips past her teeth.  She tasted the dewy bitterness of his semen already on them. Closing her eyes, she bit down with a vengeance.
He jerked his hand out of her mouth and slapped her. This time a wild wave of frenzied laughter escaped her, and she rode on that laughter, too dizzy to stop him as he grabbed her head in both hands, pressing his thumbs down hard on her jaw, and forced his cock into her mouth.
She gagged almost at once, startled by the invasion.  She tried to make good on her promise and bite but his thumbs dug in, keeping her jaw sprung, giving her barely the room to breathe. Finally, she submitted. As she relaxed, Bannon found a steady rhythm, sliding his cock slowly in and out as she begrudgingly obeyed.
"There's a good girl," he rumbled. "I want it wet, whore. Get it ready. You're going to want it so, in a minute."
More tears, most of them from the sheer difficulty of accepting him, trailed down her face.  The words raked her like rough burlap across bare skin. Anger fought to rise—this bastard meant to choke her on his cock!—but underneath the outrage, the poisonous creature stirred, hungry and mean, brought to life with that hard word, that beautifully cruel word. Sadira pressed her thighs tightly together, knowing now she needed him. The hungry monster inside of her starved for him and she needed him to feed it, fill its gluttonous desperation.
But Bannon wasn't Set. Bannon wouldn't feed her monster, cool its heat with indulgent punishment. If he knew the poisoned heart of her passions...he would strike it under his heel.
As men do with all serpents.
Pushed to gagging again, she pull back on impulse, and he surprised her by letting her go. He watched with approval as wet strings of saliva dangled for an instant between his shaft and her lips.  His hazel eyes shone, practically glowing like lit coals.
"Down," he ordered, tugging the leash.  She resisted. He pushed her ruthlessly to the bed and circled to climb up behind her. Holding her by the shoulders with one hand, he struck her on the haunches with the other. It stung, and Sadira groaned, twisting against her bonds.  She tingled through and through, rage and yearning coiled tight in her belly, her flesh racing with electricity everywhere he touched her.
Bannon gave her no warning as he tore away the last of the flimsy fabric covering her, and his hands roughly spread her aching thighs, exposing her slick, pinkened pussy, hot for wanting of him.  She shrieked as, brutal and aggressive, he plunged into her.
"Fuck!" she cried. Fresh tears of joy sprung to her eyes and she clenched her teeth. Oh, it ached, but it was so raw, so animal. 
"Is this how your barbarian women like it?" she gasped.  "Spread like whimpering bitches for you?" Strange, dazed pleasure shivered through her, tempting and teasing the rest of her body.
"I wouldn't reduce any barbarian woman to this," he growled.
She braced on her forearms and cried out again as he thrust. She'd never been so poignantly aware of a man inside her, so attentive to the newness and lovely strangeness of his heft and gift, the way he moved as he claimed her. Wet as she was, she wasn't ready for him; her body yet resisted, startled and overcome while Bannon held her down. It hurt, and it resounded through her in pleasure, a perfect, deep down, delicious violation.
"How's this for a man who can't tame a woman?" he growled.  "Do you think your people will accept my rule now I have their master's slut beneath me?"
"Please—" she begged.  She couldn't take it anymore, fighting him. All she could think of was how much she wanted him, how much the poison core of her wanted him. Jealous, hateful fear fled her mind, because she recognized something in him...something good...dangerous, but good, so good. "Please, Bannon, you win—"
"Oh, I win?" he scoffed.  "Is that all it takes, Sadira?  Are you so easy to subdue after all?"
"It hurts," she whimpered.  Even as she said it though, the hurt climbed towards astonishing bliss.  She arched back—as she relented he slipped in further and she hitched in a gasp of surprise. Pleasure flooded her senses, gilded with bruises and abrasions, beautiful shining pain.  He thrust hard and she cried out again, this time in joy, and pressed herself back against his demanding frame like a beast in heat.
"How do you like the feel of barbarian steel, witch?" He punctuated each demand with a fierce thrust.  "Does it measure up to the sorcerer's cock?  Is your lust for punishment sated by it?"
She shut her eyes, uttering a long, needful groan.  She lost herself in the pleasure, yielding completely for him to have his way. The outrage of their struggle merged with ecstasy, rounding it out and suffusing her blood like liquor.
"More," she begged him.  "Oh, barbarian, give me more."
He drove it into her, fingers digging into her hips. Then he pushed harder, hunching over her to cover her with his own body, wrapping one arm under her while his free hand tangled in her hair.
"How far does one go with such a slave?" He tugged her head back so her cheek brushed his, the rasp of his beard rough and masculine against her smooth skin.  "How much farther can you stand to be taken?"
"You are not what I expected, Bannon," she panted.  "The way you fuck...I think you like it rough, as well."
He snarled, and gave her three extra sharp, mean thrusts in reply. She moaned.
"You have won. Please, warrior... let me feel you come. Come inside me, Bannon."
"I told you I wanted you willing," he snarled.  She sagged against his strong, rigid arm, and he moved it away from her without a word. She let out a tiny sound of dismay as he slipped away from her, letting her fall, unfulfilled, on the wet, rumpled sheets.
"No, please," she whispered. "Don't stop. I'm more than willing now, now you have shown me your strength."
All over, her body throbbed with petulant, numbingly delicious euphoria—in supplication, she rolled onto her back, raising her bound wrists over her head, offering him her full, vulnerable body.
"You win," she whispered again.  "Please, have pity and finish what you've begun. Don't leave me begging..."
He studied her, prowling across the bed toward her, smoldering eyes full of distrust.  She lay patient and obedient beneath him—for the first time in her life she knew pure joy in her submission: a surrender drawn not from fear and fixation, but from sore, beautiful want.
Bannon kept his eyes on her as he lowered his face to her skin. With careful, indulgent charity, he traced the curve of her belly with his tongue, tasting the salt of her skin.  She moaned, pressing against him. Shifting, he skillfully maneuvered himself over her body.  He retrieved his knife and with it, reached under her thighs, prompting her to lift up her legs. He cut the ropes binding her ankles without ever looking away from her, holding her gaze.  Once her heels were unbound, he forced her thighs apart with his knee. Before indulging her pleas, though, he put the knife to her throat.
"I don't trust you," he muttered as he gripped his cock, poised to invade her again.  "Suddenly you're all sweet concession and flattering appeals... but you're a deadly bitch, Sadira."
She could only manage a half-crazy grin, delighting in the tickle of the blade over her skin.
"Monster, barbarian," she whispered. He might not even gave heard her, but she repeated herself. "I am a monster, as he made me."
A long, wholehearted moan escaped her as he slipped into her this time, the motion slick, smooth—welcome.  He filled her with gluttonous, intoxicating ease, then withdrew with slow, skillful attention.  She lifted her hips, tilting her body to accept his, and her head spun with bliss. His tongue found her nipples and he favored them with gentle kisses and affectionate nuzzling.
"Oh, Bannon," she moaned.
"Don't get comfortable," he warned. 
"Why?"
"I offered you this to begin with," he reminded her, sliding himself in, inch by glorious inch, setting her body aglow with sparkling satisfaction.  "I told you I wanted to make love to you, to make this union enjoyable for the both of us."
"Yes," she murmured.
Without warning, he slid out of her and grabbed her by the ropes around her wrists, pulling her from the bed.  He pushed her up against the stone wall instead, looping the ropes to a hook high overhead, forcing her to stand on tiptoe to keep her weight off her arms.
"Mnnnn!"she protested as his hand clamped down over her mouth.  Again the knife came to her throat, the edge of it barely kissing her flesh.
"You had your chance," he growled.  "But you wanted me to prove I could tame you and by the goddesses I will prove it."
She tried to shake her head, heartbeat racing.  He trailed the tip of the knife down the contours of each breast, down the flat of her belly, like an artist drifting a paintbrush across the canvas. When he had teased her with it on one side he switched to the other. Her skin prickled and she jerked, making him press down harder.
"Bannon—" she moaned as his grip around her mouth faltered momentarily.  "Please…"
"Shut up." He switched the blade to hold it in his teeth, and the hand over her mouth slipped down to grasp her neck.  With his other hand, he lifted her leg, and guided his cock back into her open sheath.
"Oh!" she moaned, rocking to meet him.  He held himself steady, refusing to indulge her, until she bucked her hips at him, pleading.  His grip around her throat tightened, leaving her only a little freedom to breathe, as he very slowly, oh-so-slowly gave it to her, forcing her naked ass against the stone.
"Moan," he ordered.  "Let the men hear how the barbarian satisfies your twisted ritual."
She obeyed, raising her voice in pleasure. She didn't care who heard her—she hoped the whole temple heard. She had hardly caught her breath again when he picked up his former furious pace, fucking her against the cold granite, her reddened buttocks aching with renewed abuse. He plunged deep, pushing her to the limit.  Unable to grasp at him, embrace him or pull him closer, she surrendered entirely, softly opening her whole body up for him to take.  She tried to lift one leg over his hip, but on one foot she was unable to relieve the strain on her arms.  So she leveraged herself on him and lifted the other leg around him, crossing her ankles behind his back and suspending herself between his glistening body and the hook by which she hung.
Bannon dropped his knife, putting his palm flat upon the stone behind her, crushing her to it.  She moaned, dizzy with the heat of their bodies uniting, fighting one another as they each strove to hold off their climax.
Then Bannon's teeth sunk into her shoulder and she screamed, arching, tightening her legs around him until his member filled every inch of her inner sex.
He dropped the hand at her throat and placed it, too, flat against the stone; his thrusts intensified, pounding once, twice, three times, so hard she cried out as he drove her body hard.  He reached his peak: she felt him swell and then spill forth within her, hot semen flooding her, his fearsome cock throbbing deep within.  The resounding shudder set off her own reaction and rang through her like a cymbal crash, uniting the pain and ecstasy, breaking every last resistance. 
He held her there, hanging between him and the hook, open, forced to hold him inside of her until the last tremor faded and he was satisfied.
Finally, he relaxed, backing away from the stone and letting her breathe.  She gingerly unwrapped her legs from his waist, feeling the slick, wet heat running down her thighs—the heady perfection of the claim he made on her.
"The bitch is tamed, I hope?" he muttered, turning away from her.
"You did what you had to," she assured him. Their confrontation—pain and pleasure alike—now left her dazed, and pleasantly fantastically weak in the knees.  Bannon retrieved his knife and reached up to cut the ropes around her wrists.  She crumpled to the ground, no strength left in her.
"Still intend to put a sword through my heart?" he asked.  She shook her head, staring at her hands on the stone.
"You are not like him," she whispered.
"No," he said coldly.  "Never."
She nodded.  Then, to her surprise, he offered his hand.
"Come on up, then," he said.  She accepted his help, letting him lift her to her feet.
For a moment, he stared at her. His eyes took in the marks he'd left: the shallow cuts of his knife; the shadows of his fingers on her throat; the several tender spots which would probably bruise by morning. Sadira studied his gaze, and found doubt, and confusion.
He lifted one hand and ran his knuckles gently along her cheek. Still he said nothing, though, his face stony, and closed.

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