As night crept in, Eve laid in the darkness of her room, her heart and mind still struggling to comprehend and absorb all that Gabriel had told her. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift back to that first day in town, the day Rhonan had invited her to join him at the celebration. He had reeked of arrogance and self assurance, deliberately extending the invitation before all, so she would feel compelled to accept. And the boldness he had displayed when he had come to her home.
Eve opened her eyes slowly and stared out the window. Night pressed at the glass. Her eyes were wet, dripping tears. She had been so frustrated with the man, with his male ego and his assumption that she would just fall at his feet like the other foolish women. He'd looked at her with the confidence that he could make her his own. And it had angered her. But she realized now that she hadn't really been angered by his arrogance...but because she knew he was right. And she had wanted to believe she could resist a man such as him. But she couldn't and it had mortified her to think she would eventually be used by him and thrown away, meaning nothing to him. She had fought against him so hard because Marcus was right, she did love him...and she had been so convinced it wasn't within a man like Rhonan to truly love a woman in return.
A deep anguish clenched her heart. She had been so focused on keeping him away, she hadn't noticed when his desire had turned to love. Out in the barn, when they'd come so close to making love...he had tried to explain when she'd discovered Nero's seal on his arm. He'd tried to tell her right then and there. But she'd refused to listen, thinking there could be no viable excuse for what he'd done.
No viable excuse.
Eve sobbed into her pillow, her body trembling. She longed to go back to that moment, knowing what she knew now. She wouldn't have told him to stop, she wouldn't have sent him away. She would have given him everything he had sacrificed his life for; her body, her heart, her mind. Her undying love.
Still trembling, Eve sat up slowly. She couldn't leave it like this. No matter what Marcus said, there had to be a way.
When Eve laid back down, sleep refused to come. She watched the sky outside slowly lighten as dawn approached. She listened to Marcus stirring in the kitchen, pulling on his boots and leaving the house to begin his chores. But all she could see was Rhonan's face, the emptiness and lifelessness in him as he rode down the street yesterday. She ached to have back the arrogant man full of self assurance.
When she finally left the bed, she went to the kitchen, fixed Marcus some breakfast and put in on the back of the stove to keep warm then scribbled her brother a note, laying it in the center of the table where it couldn't be missed. Then she slipped out the door before she lost her courage.
Isabelle closed her eyes and imagined it was Marcus there with her, touching her, forging inside her body, claiming her in every way a man can claim a woman.
"I have a gift for you, Isabelle." Nero gasped against her ear, shattering her fantasy as he thrust himself into her with little grace.
Isabelle clung to his damp, heated body and responded to his every movement as was her duty.
"Marcus will fight in the exhibition." Nero rubbed his lips over her ear. "A special show just for you."
Isabelle stiffened, her heart racing. Marcus? He was going to put Marcus in the arena?
"No." She whispered unsteadily. "Please, M'Lord...don't."
Nero drew back and stared down in her face. Her eyes shimmered with tears. "So you are fond of the young man."
Flushing, Isabelle turned her eyes away.
"Fear not, my love." Nero kissed her lips, lingering until she responded. "He will not be harmed. It is merely for show. Entertainment."
A deep fear gripped Isabelle. She knew about Nero's exhibitions. Men died there.
"He will face Rhonan." Nero added as he drew back and sat on his heels. He grabbed her hips and pulled her hard onto his cock, stealing her breath. His thrusts intensified as he began to fuck her with urgency, panting with force.
Isabelle closed her eyes again, her breath sharp and turning to small cries as he brought her quickly to orgasm. She clawed the bed and arched her body, crying out sharply as she gave him what he craved. He leaned over her, his face tight with sexual tension as he fucked her hard and deep, driving his cock into her with the fierce need to release.
A loud, swelling groan erupted from Nero as he slammed his cock deep inside her and filled her with his hot fluids. When he lifted himself off her and lay on his back beside her, breath ragged, she knew what was expected of her.
Isabelle opened her eyes and moved down between his legs where she took his wet, heavy cock in her hands and then her mouth. It relaxed him to have her suck his cock immediately after he released.
When the knock on the door came, Nero groaned in annoyance. "Come!"
A house boy entered tentatively. "M'Lord, there is a young lady requesting to speak with you."
Nero propped himself up on the pillows as Isabelle continued to suck his cock.
"Send her in." Nero said.
When Eve entered Nero's chambers, she faltered, flushing at the scene before her. She lowered her eyes and kept them averted.
"Well, well." Nero murmured in awe. "If it isn't the lovely Eve. The heart of my greatest warrior. To what do I owe this honor?"
Now that she was here, witnessing first hand the duty of Nero's women, Eve's courage began to waver. Could she go through with this? But Rhonan's face hovered behind her eyes and she knew that she could. She had to. Rhonan was not meant for captivity. It would kill the strong and powerful man that he was. She could already see it happening.
"Well, speak up, my lady."Nero urged, then slid away from the red haired woman and stood up. Eve avoided looking at him until he wrapped a robe around himself.
The woman huddled on the bed, naked and exposed. He gave her no covering. Her eyes caught Eve's for a brief moment, and Eve sensed a deep sadness and emptiness in the woman. Eve glanced away quickly before the reality of what she was doing sent her fleeing from the room.
Nero approached her. "Tell me, lovely Eve...what brings you to my humble home?"
"I wish to...to speak to you concerning Rhonan, M'Lord." Her voice was shaking but she didn't know how to calm it.
"And what about the great Rhonan?"
Nero moved past her to the table and poured himself some wine.
Eve shot a quick glance at the woman on the bed then turned and faced the man she hated most in this life. "I came to request you release him from the bond of seal." Spoken aloud, she realized how ridiculous her request sounded.
Apparently Nero agreed, for he chuckled loud. "So the great and mighty Rhonan now sends a woman to do his bidding?" He sipped the wine as his eyes hardened. "And his begging?"
"No, sire." Eve forced down the rage bubbling inside her. She hated his implications, as if Rhonan weren't man enough to speak on his own behalf. "He doesn't know I have come here. He would not have allowed me to do so, had he known."
Nero gazed at her with an amusement that boiled her blood. "So I assume you have come with something to bargain with?"
Eve trembled. "Yes, sire." She swallowed tightly. "I ask that you take me in his stead. If you will release him, I will stay with you, willingly...for as long as you desire." Hearing the words out loud filled Eve with a crippling sickness and dread. But she refused to take it back.
Nero chuckled again and approached her, moving up close behind her. Eve shuddered as he ran his hands up her arms and breathed in her scent. "Not since Isabelle here." he moaned. "Has a woman stirred me with such passion and desire." He touched his lips to her shoulder. "I do so lust for you, Eve. And we can surely discuss this proposal to greater lengths...after the exhibitions. Even for a delicacy such as you, I cannot forfeit my greatest warrior."
"No." Eve moved away from him and turned. "I'm proposing this now."
"So you wish me to make my decision in this very moment, is that it?" Nero murmured.
Eve trembled. "Yes."
Nero moved in close again. "Well, before I chose...I should at least be allowed to see what it is I would be getting." He moved around behind her and pressed his body firm against hers.
Eve swallowed thickly and closed her eyes. Nero's erection was evident. He slid his arms around her and began tugging up the front of her dress until his hands were probing her bare thighs, his fingertips playing around her warm core. His cock was pressing hard against her backside. Eve's pulse raced wildly. What was to stop him from taking what he wanted and still refusing her request?
Nero kissed her shoulder then her neck, tasting her skin as he slipped a fingertip into her warm pussy, nudging her sensitive nub. Eve gasped softly and tensed. It filled her with nausea for this man to touch her so intimately, when she craved only Rhonan's touch.
"You're very warm, Eve." Nero murmured close to her ear. "And soft, silky." He circled her clit with his fingertip. His breath quickened a bit. "I do so want to fuck you, Eve. I want to squeeze my hard cock into your tight virgin core and make you a woman." He massaged her nub more directly, making her shudder and tremble, her body responding on pure instinct. "Cum for me, Eve." He groaned in her ear, his cock hardening fiercely. "Prove to me you're not bluffing."
Eve gasped sharp as he worked her clit, setting ablaze the woman within. She was suddenly filled with self loathing as a deep sexual pleasure gripped her and a low moan of ecstasy swelled in her throat as Nero brought her quickly to orgasm. She cried out sharply, her body convulsing beneath his stimulating touch and pressing back hard against him as she clawed his forearm.
Nero chuckled low in her ear, his breath quick. "That's good, Eve." He stroked his fingertip through his hot silky juices, teasing her ultra sensitive clit until she gasped hard again and released a second time.
Tears slid down her cheeks. She felt as if she were betraying Rhonan in her attempt to save him, but she had nothing else to bargain with. Only herself.
Forgive me, Rhonan, her heart cried as she forced herself to remain still as Nero touched her with his vile hands and mouth.
When Nero finally stepped back, taking his hands off her, Eve shuddered and quickly shoved down the hem of her dress. The woman on the bed was watching her, tears wetting her pretty face. Eve looked away in shame.
"Perhaps we can come to an arrangement." Nero spoke low as he poured himself more wine. "But I will have to think on it awhile first." Nero walked back to her, rubbing the back of his fingers down her neck. "You're asking me to give up a lot. Something I've worked very hard to get. It isn't a decision that can be made at a moment's notice. You must be willing to give me some time."
"As you wish." Eve whispered, her throat tightening. It was the best she was going to get from him and she knew it.
Eve's legs trembled unsteadily as she walked home along the dirt road. She hugged herself tightly as the realization struck her that there could be no winner in all of this.
She felt her knees hit the dirt before she knew they had buckled. Her arms tightened around herself as a heart wrenching wail swelled up in her throat and burst force into the warm afternoon air.
"Will you trade Rhonan for her?" Isabelle asked tentatively as Nero returned to the bed.
Nero smiled and fingered her thick red hair. "Jealous?"
Ducking her head, Isabelle gave him the deliberate impression that that was why she posed the question.
Nero lifted her chin with two fingertips. "No woman will take your place, darling Isabelle." He murmured. "Do not fear."
He hadn't answered her question, and she needed an answer. "Will you accept her offer, sire?"
Nero chuckled. "I will let her believe so." He murmured. "I will bed her, and let her believe she has saved the man she loves. But I will never release the greatest gladiator I've ever owned. Certainly not for a woman."
Isabelle lowered her eyes and laid her head on Nero's chest.
She had the answer she needed.
He was caught in the throes of the torturous dream once again. Eve's soft, sensual hands moved over his body, her warm lips kissing him and touching him in places that set his senses on fire and burned him alive.
"Eve..." He whimpered aloud, a sob sticking in his throat.
A hand touched him outside the dream and he clamped onto it on reflex, dragging the body down next to him. A sharp female gasp burst forth. Intoxicated by the dream and still drowning in Eve's kisses, Rhonan began to ravage the woman in his bed, unable to hold his hunger and passion at bay any longer. His body screamed for satisfaction and fulfillment, and though somewhere in the back of his tortured mind he knew it wasn't really Eve in his bed, he no longer had the will to resist where his anguished body was taking him. Eve was lost to him forever...what did it matter anymore who he was with?
The woman's voice came from a great distance away, it seemed, but he barely heard her as his hands moved over her warm, soft flesh with a desperation unlike anything he'd experienced before.
"Sire, please." She begged, her hands pressing against his arms. "Sire, you have to listen...you have to stop her..." Tears filled her voice. "You have to stop Eve."
Eve's name on the woman's lips stopped Rhonan cold. His head cleared in an instant and he drew back quickly, staring down at the red haired woman, her green eyes wet with tears and pleading with him.
"What did you say?" He rasped.
"Eve." The woman whispered thickly. "She was here."
"What?" Rhonan hissed and sat up quick, dragging the woman with him, squeezing her arms. "What are you talking about?"
The woman winced as fresh tears filled her eyes.
Realizing he was holding her too tight, he released her and stood up. "Why would Eve come here?" He asked low, a touch of fear in his voice.
The woman gazed at him with both sadness and fear. "To bargain for your freedom." She cried softly. "But, sire, you cannot let her come here. You cannot." Her tears ran freely down her lovely face. "Your Eve is a heavenly creature...you cannot let her plunge into this hell." She trembled with sobs. "She does not belong here."
Rhonan's eyes burned as he stared at the distraught woman...and saw her for the first time. Really saw the woman she was. He stepped closer and touched her face. "Nor, I think, do you, my lady."
His words broke her and she covered her face with her hands, sobbing hard. Rhonan sat next to her and pulled her into his arms, pressing his lips to her hair. "Please tell me." He whispered tightly. "Please tell me what Eve has done."
She raised her head slowly and looked into his dark eyes. "I will tell you, sire." She shuddered. "But please...you must do something for me."
She gripped his arms with a measure of desperation. "You must not let Marcus enter the arena."
Rhonan stiffened. A hard frown cut across his brow. Marcus?
He swallowed thickly as a new fear crept in and melded with his fear for Eve. "Tell me everything."