"Do you not know who I am?" The man asked inquisitively.
Eve ducked her head a bit. Would it anger him if she admitted she did not? But what else could she say? "No, M'Lord." She spoke soft, respectful. Though his initial speech and action depicted a genteel man, the woman in her trembled at the beast she sensed hiding beneath the surface.
He chuckled and approached her casually, taking her hand gently in his own. He kissed the back of her hand softly. "I am Nero, the territorial governor. And you are..."
Eve faltered then whispered unsteadily. "Eve."
"Eve." He murmured, seeming to taste the name. "The name of the mother of all man. Lovely."
Eve wanted to pull her hand from his, but forced herself to wait until he released her. Finally, he did so and moved away again, towards the window. Eve stared at his back. Nero. The governor. She'd never seen his face before, but knew him well. Nausea welled inside her, pinched her stomach severely. This couldn't be the man to take her virginity. Not him. Anyone but him.
Tears burned her eyes and she tried to blink them back. If she showed fear, weakness...would he react like the predator he was?
Nero faced her suddenly. His eyes narrowed a bit as he noticed her wet eyes. He smiled and approached her slowly. "You don't need to fear me. I mean you no harm." He brushed the back of his fingers down her cheek. She turned her face away a little, on reflex. She couldn't take his touch. She wanted to spit in his face, scratch out his eyes. But all she could do was stand there as he stroked her cheek.
"You're a very lovely woman, Eve." He murmured as he began to circle her. "So ripe." He moved up close behind her and leaned close, breathing deep, drawing in her scent. "You're a virgin." It wasn't a question. Men just seemed to know. He fingered the back of her dress, gently loosening the laces.
Eve shuddered. Fresh tears filled her eyes. This couldn't be happening. Just this morning, she'd been afraid of being in this very situation with Rhonan...and now she would give anything for it to be his hands on her, his strong body pressed up close behind her, him about to usher her into the final stages of womanhood.
Tears slid down her cheeks as Nero tugged open the back of her dress then caressed her bare skin with his fingers. She shuddered again and covered her mouth quick to stifle a sob.
"Come." He murmured against her hair. "It's well past time for you to become a woman."
He guided her to the large bed and laid her down. He shed his outer garment, giving her a clearer view of the engorged bulge in his crotch. He crawled onto the bed with her, and began to peel her dress off as one might peel a succulent fruit. When her breasts became exposed, he paused and cupped the firm, rounded mounds with his hands. Eve squeezed her eyes shut as hot tears drained down into her ears. There was no stopping him from doing as he pleased. She prayed for it to be over soon.
Nero's hot mouth covered one of her nipples and sucked at her tender flesh. Eve whimpered, longing to push him away. A deep groan rolled up his throat and his hands became more urgent, less gentle as he tugged at her dress, pulling it further down her body. He was panting as he worked it off and threw it aside then hovered over the top of her.
Eve's eyes were still clamped shut but she could feel his hot breath on her skin as his invasive mouth began to explore her body. He still wore his pants but had shed his shirt as he forced himself between her legs and ground his bulging crotch against her virgin core. His mouth and hands violated her body as he worked his hips against her.
"Eve." He groaned, his voice thick with lust. "You taste so good. So fresh and sweet." He kissed a hot path from her breasts down over her stomach and lower between her thighs. His strong hands pushed her legs open. He pressed his face close to her pussy and breathed in deep, another groan escaping him.
No. God, please...
Nero's fingertips slid over her pussy lips and spread her open. His breath was hot on her clit when a sudden, loud knock on the heavy door forced him to pause. A hiss of irritation released from deep inside him.
"Not now!" He roared.
Eve's chest heaved, her body shaking as his mouth hovered so close to her heated center. She didn't know who was interrupting them, but she prayed they wouldn't go away. Per her wish, there was more pounding on the door.
Nero swore loudly and shoved himself up and off the bed. He strode to the door, his rage visible in every movement. He ripped open the door. "If you wish to see tomorrow." He raged. "You'll do well to get away from my door."
Nero suddenly grew quiet. Eve heard low voices, but couldn't make out their words. She glanced at the door. Nero was speaking to one of the gladiators. He stepped back suddenly and closed the door. Eve turned her face away, closing her eyes again, waiting for him to resume. She flinched when she felt her dress fall across her body. She opened her eyes slowly.
Nero was standing beside the bed, looking down on her. A strong lust still burned in his eyes, but he seemed content to leave her be. "Get dressed." He said calmly. "You may return to the festivities."
Eve grabbed the dress and pulled it over her chest as she sat forward. Nero turned away and exited the room, leaving her alone to dress.
When Eve returned to the main hall, she paused in the doorway, searching for Rhonan. She couldn't see him anywhere. She gasped when a strong hand suddenly clamped onto her arm and half dragged her across the floor towards the outer exit. She looked up in shock at Rhonan's hard face, his jaw clenched and flexed in what she could only interpret as extreme rage.
He led her outside to where the carriage waited. Yanking open the door, he practically shoved her inside without a word to her, then closed the door hard. Through the window, she saw him step back and bark an order at the driver to take her home. The carriage jerked suddenly as the driver laid the whip to the horses hind quarters and the animals lunged forward.
Eve grabbed the window for support as she was thrown off balance, then settled back against the seat. Her pulse raced and her head was spinning. What the hell had just happened? Why would Rhonan be angry at her? She hadn't left with Nero of her own free will. He had to know she had no choice but to comply with Nero's wishes. And yet his actions were those of a man who had been betrayed by his woman.
Well, I'm not his woman, Eve was suddenly seething. How dare he blame her for something that wasn't her fault? That she had no control over?
Her face burned with her own fury. She had been right all along. The man was a brute. Well, perhaps now he would stay away and leave her in peace. In the end, she was getting what she'd wanted from the start.
The carriage rattled over the stone bridge. Eve's nerves were frayed. She needed out of here, outside in the open air. She leaned out the window. "Driver!" She called loudly. "Stop the carriage!"
The carriage immediately slowed then rolled to a halt. The driver jumped down and opened the door. "Is everything all right, M'Lady?"
Eve nodded. "Yes. But I can walk from here."
"Walk?" The driver frowned. "I was instructed to drive you to your home."
Suddenly annoyed with the man and not sure why, Eve crawled out of the carriage, pushing past the driver. "Well, perhaps the great and magnificent Rhonan is your master. But he is not mine." Eve fumed. "I will walk from here."
Without waiting for a response, she started down the road, leaving the driver to stare after her in shock.
The large hall pulsed with a loud humming noise. Rhonan had returned to his place at the table, but he was barely aware of anything or anyone around him. His fists rested on the table, clenched tightly. His heart thudded heavily in his chest. On the far side of the large hall, Nero sat with a serving wench in his lap, drinking and laughing loudly. His two gladiators had women of their own to fondle, and were becoming as raucous as Isaac had been.
A moment before Rhonan looked away, Nero caught his stare. A smirk played on his lips. Rhonan's head felt like it would explode. He ripped his eyes from the despicable man and glanced towards the large, outer exit - and frowned hard. The carriage driver stood in the wide opening, talking with another man.
Rhonan stood up so suddenly his chair shot backwards. He shoved his way through the crowd of bodies to the exit and grabbed the driver, whipping him around.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Rhonan's chest heaved. "I told you to take the woman home."
A real fear darkened the driver's eyes. "Sir, the lady insisted on walking."
"Walking?" Rhonan raged. "You let her walk?"
"Sir." The driver hurriedly explained. "The lady was quite insistent. To prevent her, I would have had to physically restrain her."
"Then that's what you should have done." Rhonan hissed. "When I give you an order, I expect it to be carried out."
Rhonan spun away, leaving the driver in shock for the second time that night. He rushed outside and mounted his steed quickly, dug in his heels hard and yanked the animal around, sending it off down the stone street. The large horse's hooves clacked loud across the hard surface, echoing through the night. He raced up and over the stone bridge and away from town.
The thundering of hooves reached Eve's ears before she saw the large white steed appear out of the darkness behind her like a ghost from the netherworld. She gasped and stepped to the far side of the road as Rhonan came up on her in a rush, dragging back on the reins in a single forceful yank. The large horse dropped its butt low and came to a halt so suddenly it spit dirt and rocks with its massive hooves.
Eve barely saw the gladiator move before he was standing before her, towering over her like a mountain about to crash down. The same rage she'd seen in him earlier still burned in his eyes.
"What the hell are you doing?" He was clearly struggling to keep his anger under control. "Why did you get out of the carriage?"
Eve met his hard eyes straight on, refusing to cower. She'd had her fill of submission for one evening. "Because I wanted to walk." She stated bluntly.
"It's too far to walk at night." Rhonan said tightly.
"Why do you care if I walk?" Eve wondered. "I am not your concern."
Rhonan stared at her for a long moment in silence. Something flickered in his steely eyes, as if a battle were raging deep inside him.
Suddenly, Eve was trembling and she didn't know why. She wasn't cold. Or frightened. But every nerve in her body had surfaced and she couldn't stop it. "It wasn't my choice." She blurted out, startling herself. "I didn't choose to go with him. Why are you blaming me as if I had a choice?"
Rhonan continued to stare at her, his brow furrowed deep, his eyes like stone.
"If you somehow feel that I've betrayed you." She trembled. "Then leave me alone. Just leave me alone anyway. I did as I said I would, I accompanied you to the celebration. Now please...just leave me be."
Tears were burning behind her eyes and it disturbed her that she felt on the verge of breaking down. But she'd be damned if she let him see it. She turned away quickly, ready to flee his overwhelming presence, when he suddenly and without warning scooped her up in his arms. A sharp cry flew from her lips as she was hoisted up on the back of the large horse. She grasped the saddle, clinging with her legs, and stared down at Rhonan, wide-eyed.
"What...what are you doing?"
"You will ride him home." Rhonan's voice was determined and left no room for argument.
"I-I can't ride this horse." Eve insisted. "I'm not a good rider."
"He'll take care of you." Rhonan said. He rubbed his hand down the animal's thick neck. "Show him kindness and respect." Rhonan met her eyes, his voice low. "And he'll return the courtesying."
Eve was held by his penetrating eyes for a long moment as she sensed an underlying meaning to his words. When he suddenly released her from his stare, she again clutched at the saddle.
"Please...let me down." She said quietly, unsteadily. "Just let me walk."
Rhonan tucked the reins into her hands. "He's a large animal, but he will listen to you. Gentle commands will get him to obey much quicker than harsh orders."
Eve stared at Rhonan's face as he spoke, avoiding her eyes. His words felt heavy, weighted down by indirect messages, as if he were trying to tell her something without saying it directly.
When he stepped back from the horse, he finally met her stare. "I'll send someone for him in the morning." Again, a battle raged behind his eyes. "You won't be seeing me again. As per your wishes."
With that, he raised his hand in a quick movement and smacked the horse on the rear. Eve gasped, released a sharp cry, and clung to the animal as it surged forward like an arrow shot from a bow.
The massive steed bolted away, disappearing into the night like an apparition fading from one world to another. Rhonan stood motionless, watching as Eve vanished in the darkness. It had taken every bit of his will not to swing up on the horse behind her, take her to her home and spend the remainder of the night in her warm arms, kissing and tasting every inch of her young, fresh body until they couldn't take it anymore and became one with each other.
By the strength of force in his crotch just now, he knew he could spend the entire night ravishing her without the need for rest. Perhaps when he'd lifted her up in front of him when they'd first met, that was how he'd envisioned this night ending. Her in his arms, in his bed...and it being her wish, her desire to be there.
But that fantasy was dead. Though she clearly harbored sexual desires for him, her heart and mind despised him. And perhaps it was truly better this way. For though Nero had released her before fully violating her, he retained a lust for her. The further she was from Nero, the safer she would remain. And to be with Rhonan now...would put Eve in Nero's direct path.
It was better to let her go. Better that she didn't know all he'd sacrificed to protect her honor, her virtue.
Rhonan turned back towards town. He rubbed his hand up over his arm, and winced slightly. He shoved up his sleeve and stared at the fresh, swollen, raw burn and the symbol branded into his flesh.
Nero's seal of ownership.