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Born to Be Bred by Carolyn Faulkner (Sample)

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Dr. Rance McCallister looked at the information he’d been given on the thumb drive.  Same old same old.  Nothing interesting, nothing really new – blonde, blonde, blonde, blonde… brunette, brunette, brunette . . . he skimmed forward a bit.


That caught his eye.

And he thought he recognized the name next to it – Stephanie Barnett.  He mulled it over in his head, saying it softly to himself.  Where had he heard that name before?

Then he realized where he’d heard the name, but just as quickly dismissed his flight of fancy.  The chances of him knowing one of the girls that was brought in were a thousand to one. A million to one.  These girls were the kind that had no families, no connections to anyone, no real lives beyond hooking, which made it that much easier for his men to make them disappear.  Like the Senator’s hooker in “The Godfather,” there was no one to notice they were gone.

Still, he thought he’d take a look at this lot, just for the fun of it.  It was something he rarely did; he detested all of the weeping and wailing that accompanied new recruits, even though they were all conveniently gagged.  You could still hear them and Rance preferred not to have to deal with all of that messy, inconvenient emotion.

He opened his office door and went to the lobby of the building, where they were just being off-loaded.  There were ten of them this time, which was a good haul for Benny, one of his better recruiters.  His eyes narrowed and he had his answer: there was no missing the crown of bright red curls on one of them, and, although he couldn’t see her eyes, as they were all blindfolded, he knew he would recognize that face.

Not that it was going to change what was going to happen to her, really.  Even if he decided to keep her for himself, she would still go through much the same processing and procedures as the rest of the girls would.  If he took her, though, she might have a slightly better life, although he wasn’t at all sure that the girls he’d taken out of the lineup in the past would agree with him about that.

He couldn’t really recall much about her.  She had been in college when he’d known her. If he remembered correctly, he was five or six years older than she was, already well on his way to making his first million.

Redheads were rare and the natural ones drew a pretty penny from men in the East who had more money than they knew what to do with.  He’d have the detailed reports about all of them within the hour; he made damned well sure his operation was the most efficient one going, which was why they commanded top dollar for every one of their girls – and their offspring.

“Girls!” shouted Chuck, who was his intake specialist.  (Benny had dropped the girls off and long since departed with a wad of hundreds burning a hole in his back pocket, bound for the tables in Vegas, he was sure.)   “I want to see a straight line!”  Chuck believed in all of Rance’s many rules, of which one of the core tenets was that one did not refer to the girls as women at any time.  They were girls.  Women acquired and wielded power.  Women expected to be treated a particular way.  Women made demands of men.

Not here.

Here girls took what they got and were very grateful that the situation wasn’t much, much worse, although in some cases Rance was sure that being here was better, in some ways than where they had been taken from.  (At least here they were fed well and regularly.)  Girls were younger, less sure of themselves and much easily played.  Girls needed spankings.

That’s why all of his recruiters knew that he expected women who were strictly legal, but preferably still in their teens.  No girls over the age of twenty-one was a cardinal rule , but one that Benny had obviously ignored.  There was no way that the redhead was less than twenty four or so, maybe even a bit older.

Rance believed that they should be shown the worst side of things before anything else, so that they would know what to expect if they screwed up.  Jeremy, who was Chuck’s entirely too eager assistant, was herding the girls into a straight row so that their toes touched the masking tape line that had been deliberately stuck to the floor.

The girls weren’t being particularly cooperative, not that anyone could blame them, but they would also find out quite rudely that that kind of behavior wasn’t to be tolerated.  Of course it would have been easier for them if they could have seen the line they were supposed to be aiming for, but since they were all blindfolded, with their hands secured behind their backs, that wasn’t going to happen.  They would be forced to comply in a much less pleasant manner, which was an object lesson in how their lives in the Facility were going to work.

It seemed the more Chuck shouted, the more confused and nervous the girls got, until Rance saw Jeremy look to Chuck for a second, and Chuck’s almost imperceptible nod.  The first girl who got it shrieked bloody blue murder for the longest time, and she was the one that was closest to where she was supposed to be.

“Step forward!  Toes on the line!” Jeremy screamed at her, touching her scantily clad backside with the cattle prod – just barely – until she was exactly where he wanted her.

The same happened to the next girl, and the next, until there was a relatively straight line of blubbering women – even the redhead.  But unlike the rest of the group, she was looking up, constantly biting at her gag, and actively trying to wiggle her wrists out of the plastic tie things they used lately to keep their hands bound behind them.

That type of restraint was a Godsend to this type of operation; it was extremely cheap and not in the least bulky, especially as compared to the padded leather kind of cuff thing they used to use, and since they were extremely thin with no sharp edges, they didn’t mar the goods at all, either.  He’d gotten a great deal on them from a wholesale place in Thailand when he had first set up this little operation, and he still had yet to work his way through them all.

Rance loved the Internet!

He only half-heartedly watched the rest of the intake process; he knew how it went because he’d created it.  They would get a lecture from Chuck that they were too overwrought to really hear and comprehend, and their gags would be removed.  Inevitably at least one or two of them would immediately start to scream at the top of their lungs, and would then be re-gagged, along with a liberal application of the prod until they learned to keep their traps shut.  The rest would whimper and cry quietly throughout the rest of the proceedings, but because they could hear and surmise what had happened to their comrades, they did their best to avoid the same fate.

They would each be given a number.  The girls’ names were almost never used, not that they didn’t know what they were – or at least what name they were living under at the time they were procured.  They would be marched down several deliberately empty corridors to the infirmary, where, as en masse as possible, depending on how many places were available, they would be brought in, secured to examination tables that were kept quite cold and uncomfortable, with no padding whatsoever, and given a thorough going over by one of his highly competent physician assistants.

There were, of course, several doctors on staff but intakes were relatively routine, and P.A.s were much less expensive than actual M.D.s, even with the huge bonus he paid for them to handle women who were enlisted against their will.  Most of them thoroughly enjoyed intimately examining the snuffling, sobbing, sometimes outright bawling women, and that was actually something that Rance looked for when he interviewed for those jobs.  If the guy had an erection while just talking to him about the elements of the job he was applying for, then that was the man for the position, as far as Rance was concerned.

He liked working with men who enjoyed their jobs, because he certainly enjoyed his!

As the women were being marched away, he tapped Jeremy on the shoulder, causing him to swing abruptly around and practically get him with the blasted cattle prod.  At least Jeremy had the presence of mind to act horrified at what he’d almost done, although the young man was enough of a psycho that Rance bet he would have loved to see his big boss take a hit. Rance assumed Jeremy thought he’d managed to keep his true self hidden . Jeremy was wrong.

“Jeez, Boss Man, I’m sorry.  I nearly nailed you there.”  That smarmy smile of his never did reach his eyes, and Rance almost felt sorry for the females who were under his care.  Almost.  At least until visions of his bank balance danced before his eyes.

Rance returned the same blank smile – having perfected it long ago – and Jeremy straightened up, recognizing the look on the older man’s face.  “What can I do you for?”

“The redhead.  Number ten, I believe.  Bring her to me.”

“Sure thing, Boss.  Right away.”

As he turned to go back to his office, Rance could hear Jeremy making his way up the line of very reluctant women, and he counted each of their squeals.  He’d gotten nine of out ten of them, but was intelligent enough not to jolt the one he was going to bring to Rance.

Smart man.

He’d barely had a chance to sit down before there was a not so timid knock at his door, and Jeremy appeared, using a short leather whip that Rance had designed himself to encourage his selection to go into the room ahead of him.  “Here she is, Boss.  I’d be careful if I was you – she’s a bit of a handful.”

Rance glared at Jeremy hard enough to make the younger man begin to bob and bow, knowing he had just made a very bad mistake.  Rance didn’t like anyone in the Facility to refer to anyone else as someone in charge, kind of like officers who took their insignia off so that they wouldn’t become an enemy target.  He knew he was being paranoid  (and that that was, indeed, a psychologically valid diagnosis; his mother had had him tested)  but Rance always tried to err on the side of caution.  There was no sense in letting the girls hear or see anything they didn’t absolutely have to about the operation.  All they needed to know was what pertained to themselves, and even then, they would be largely kept in the dark and told no more than they absolutely had to know.

She was still blindfolded, as she and the others would be throughout the intake process.  Rance had found, when he was doing a lot of the leg work himself, that it kept the girls quieter than not.  He was for anything that kept them from getting hysterical about where they found themselves and a lot of them were quite discerning from the beginning.  Her hands were still behind her back, feet bare as he required.  They kept whatever clothes they were wearing at the time they were acquired, and considering the predominant profession of most of the girls, that usually consisted of startlingly little.

She was in a schoolgirl outfit, complete with a little pleated red plaid skirt that barely reached to the bottom of her behind and a white oxford shirt that was unbuttoned to the third button.  The shirt was at least two sizes too small, judging by the way her breasts were about to fall out of the black lace pushup bra she was wearing beneath it.  All she needed to complete the look were white knee socks and the stiletto heels most men seemed to prefer these days – even on a schoolgirl.

Of course, it was all a fantasy.  In his profession, he saw a lot of that in in reality as well, but he expressly didn’t deal in it, and if he found (as he had on one occasion in particular)  that one of his subordinates had something like that going on the side, it was dealt with in the harshest of manners.

He came around to lean against his desk as he watched her.  She wasn’t just taking this lying down – although she would be shortly.  She had turned around immediately upon entering the room, almost before Jeremy got the door shut and walked right towards it.  He might have thought she could see through her blindfold if he hadn’t know that that was impossible, and then she started reaching her feet out alternately, hitting them up against the edge of the wall where it met the floor, doing her best to try to Braille the room as much as she could.

Carefully avoiding contact with her, Rance got up and opened the door to his own, private, examination area, then, began using his own favorite method of cajoling a reluctant female: a stiff, somewhat weighted, leather tawse that would leave bruises and marks, but would not permanently mark her.  It would hurt like hell as it popped down onto her skin with a well-practiced flick of his wrist, but there would be no lasting damage, ever.

He herded her towards the open door, but she was smart enough to deduce that that was probably exactly where she didn’t want to go, and that might be a bit of a bother.  Smarts were a trait that he diligently tried to avoid in the females he used.  Too much curiosity, too much ability to add things up in her head could get a girl into a lot of trouble in his world.

But it was definitely a trait he found arousing in those he carefully selected from the incoming girls and decided to play with himself.  The smarter ones usually still had dreams that could be crushed, even expectations of themselves getting out of the hole they had dug themselves into with drugs or alcohol and hooking – usually all three.

Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to indulge himself with this girl after all.  But he couldn’t see doing anything else with her until he had had a chance to sample the wares.

Rance could see the nasty looking red welts that the tawse had left on her creamy white skin, but it didn’t seem to be working very well as a deterrent for her, so he stepped up the pace considerably for her and began using a short, single tailed leather whip.

From the first time it cracked startlingly loudly down onto her backside, leaving a trail of fire across both halves, she seemed to forget all about not wanting to go where she was being led and practically danced into the other room, anxious to get away from that awful implement.

He closed and locked the only door behind them.  This place was a haven for him, where he often came to escape and indulge himself with whatever female caught his eye at the time.  Of course, she didn’t usually have such a good time, but that wasn’t at all his concern.  Most of them were too frightened to enjoy anything he did, even if they might have in a more comfortable setting.

It was a good thing she couldn’t see what decorated the walls yet, he thought.  That would have her bumping full-bodied into them, trying to get out.  It took him a pleasant few more minutes furiously decorating her behind to get her to understand that he wanted her to get up onto the table, but by the time she did, her bottom was a mass of very uncomfortable looking red welts and scores that had her practically howling when she sat down on the short end of the table.  He made all of the restraints ready then undid the plastic tie that held her wrists together, which immediately had her bolding swinging her fist out, as if she intended to cold cock him with one roundhouse punch.

He concentrated on the other arm, wrenching it up her back until she settled down.  And then, keeping that one arm in its uncomfortable position, he secured first one wrist then the other to the hook at the top of the table.  He let the back down quickly, and she had no choice but to follow it.  Before she had a chance to jump off the table or do something equally annoying, he secured a thick leather belt very tightly across her midsection, just below her breasts, which would show them off very nicely as her nervous, panting breath heaved out of her, then one across her flat stomach and the last over her hips.  He barely managed to wrangle her violently flailing legs into the stirrups, where specially made restraints of his own design enveloped her whole foot, keeping it right where he wanted it.

When she was well-secured yet still struggling mightily against it, he stood back and admired his handiwork for a moment. He had yet to speak to her, and he found that to be exciting, too.  She had had no verbal cues from him as to what she should do, only viciously harsh corrections if she did something wrong.

His cell phone buzzed in his pocket, and he gave it a cursory glance.  It was the first medical report about the girls.  On their trip here, they had been lightly drugged, and hair, urine, and blood samples were taken from each of them so that they could determine both their medical and nutritional needs, whether any of them had STDs that needed treatment before they were bred, as well as identification information about them and DNA information.

He was nothing if not thorough.

Rance liked to know everything he could about a girl before he put her with one of his studs and let them get her pregnant.  Although he realized that precise record keeping was a risk, his personality was such that he simply had to do it.  Of course he employed as many precautions as he could against anyone gaining access to his files – they were heavily encoded, nothing was ever printed out, and the servers where the information was stored was located so remotely as to be pretty much untraceable.

The only girl’s information that he paid any attention to was the redhead’s, and he found he was proven quite correct.  She was the Stephanie Barnett that he had known a few years back.  How far she had fallen! The woman he knew – briefly – was highly ambitious, extremely smart and funny – definitely on the track to somewhere, even though she was too young to be able to narrow down just what it was that she wanted to do.

He had figured that she had probably gotten hooked on drugs or something like that, but her tox screening didn’t uphold that.  She was completely clean – not even marijuana in her system.  Her file showed her school I.D. pic, which must’ve been on her when she was taken.  Might she still be in school?  Medical school maybe?  But then what was she doing hooking dressed as a schoolgirl?

And then he saw the last scan about her.

It was a press pass for a major newspaper.  She was probably doing some sort of expose on hookers or something and got caught in Benny’s roundup.

Rance knew that, having discovered that about her, there were only two smart solutions to the fix he was in:  either kill her now and dump her body somewhere where it wouldn’t be found for decades, or keep her and sell her off somewhere well away from him and his operation.

But – as highly as he prized being completely logical – he found he couldn’t – didn’t want to let her go.

He had a feeling he was sealing his own fate, but – especially once he’d made it, he had never done well in the area of denying himself that what he wanted.

So he deleted the picture, and made a mental note to delete it completely from wherever it had been stored in their system, and also to get a hold of his computer guru to make sure there were no traces he’d left behind.

Whatever she had been, she was no more.

Finally, he could wait no longer.  She wasn’t already pregnant and had no communicable diseases.  As happenstance would have it, she was right at the fertile part of her cycle, she was here, and she was his to do with as he pleased.  He intended to do just that.  Perhaps he’d even make a bit of money in doing so, if she became pregnant by him.

He wanted her, and right now, taking her would be what pleased him.  He stood behind her head, where she wouldn’t be able to crane her head to see him, and removed the blindfold.  He had had enough work to change his appearance in the past few years that he had no worries that she would recognize him.

Her eyes seemed to adjust quickly to the bright lights in the room, and she immediately began to look around it, and he just loved watching her reaction to his little playroom as she opened her mouth and screamed from behind the gag, eyes abnormally wide, drinking in all of the various implements and instruments that were displayed artistically – if he did say so himself – on the walls and drawing deep breath after deep breath to shriek her heart out, for all the good it did her.

He waited, staying behind her, until she had calmed down a bit, then moved around to stand between her legs, leaning against her crotch and partially over her.  Then he reached and plucked a convenient machete off the wall and slid it, blade side up, under her shirt, slitting it open without any effort at all; the blade was so sharp.

Of course she had begun shrieking again at the sight of the large blade, writhing and trying to contort herself to get away from him, but he had strapped her down so tightly that she could barely move a muscle.

Breeding the Virgin Goddess by Korey Mae Johnson (Sample)

The Living Goddess of Banatal had been nothing but a problem to be taken care of, and now she was finally in Brock and Gareth’s grasp.

Brock’s hand settled on the hilt of his sword as he glanced up at the Goddess’ home, which overlooked the realm from high on her hill. He was going to kill this woman, this false Goddess… She was the last. He had defeated and destroyed the rest of her kin. Gareth, the scholar, was merely curious to see her since she, above all of them, was the most revered by her people. Nonetheless, he confidently kept his stride as he walked next to his brother.

“Kill the Goddess, win the war,” reminded Brock.

Gareth grunted.

“As soon as she’s out of the way, maybe people will come back to their senses.” Nothing was worse than when a culture believed their Queen or King was some sort of God—it made the people very hard to conquer, and the chance of there being a surrender decreased dramatically. People might not be willing to die for a Queen, but they’d be willing to die for their Goddess.

They marched, flanked by several of their personal guard, up to the main steps of the palatial temple. Their eyes were focused on a priestess who waited, calmly as still waters, with her hands folded before her, at the top of the steps.

Brock looked for warriors, but could see none. “Lillia, Queen and Living Goddess of Banatal, welcomes you, Warriors of The Brazen,” the priestess told them as soon as they were in earshot.

Confused expressions crossed the face of each and every approaching conqueror. Brock and Gareth, for once in their life, were too stunned for words. They had expected a fight. They had at least expected begging. They had gotten a lot of that since they began conquering the realm, country by country, seven years ago.

“I am Goh, Head Priestess of the Queen.” The head priestess was not very old, maybe only twenty-five, and she was very tall and thin-boned. She wore clips in her hair that glowed like fireflies, so that her head appeared like it had a halo glowing about it. “She asks for an audience with your King.”

“I am King Gareth of Brazenloch. This is my elder brother, King Brock,” Gareth said very smoothly and diplomatically, trying his best to swallow back his surprise.

The priestess blinked. “Which of you is King of the other? The eldest?” she asked, confused.

“We both have equal claim. We both share the crown,” Brock immediately grunted, looking very impatient. “There is none over us.”

The priestess bowed her head. “Will you excuse me? I must inform my Queen.”

Gareth waved his hand and excused her.

“What is this foolishness?” Brock demanded of his brother in soft tones so their personal guard, who stood right behind them, could not even hear.

“Patience, Brother. Remember that these people we mean to rule look upon an audience with their Goddess as a legendary affair. We should feel honored that she would lower herself to speak with us. Past Goddesses have been known to take their own lives before they’d meet with someone with blood on their hands.” He watched out of the corner of his eye as Brock looked down at his hands, as if checking them for stains. Gareth sighed and rolled his eyes towards the heavens with exasperation. “Not literally, Brock.”

When the door to the temple opened again, not just one but several priestesses filed out and stood to the left and right of the entry. “She asked for an audience alone with the both of you. She said you can bring your weapons if that would make you feel more comfortable. You will not need them.”

That promise hadn’t made Gareth or Brock any less wary that there might be an ambush, but they walked into the main hall of the temple alone, and the tall, heavy doors immediately closed behind them. They jumped slightly when the doors shut loudly, their hands gripping the hilts of their blades, but then they turned and walked down the hall when they realized that they were truly alone.

They walked the empty hall until they reached an empty throne. They stared at it, puzzled. They looked at each other. “For two men who have so easily taken my entire realm, you do not look around very well,” said a voice behind them.

They quickly turned, unsheathing their swords, and saw a small, petite girl standing not far behind them. The girl had dark black hair, curly and shiny, and an ornate crown topping her head, ending with a glittering jewel in the middle of her forehead that seemed to glow in the dim light of the room. Her eyes were large like a child’s, and the brothers were immediately struck by the color of them—her eyes were a very light, beautiful violet.

She stared at them and the swords in their hands. “Jumpy, too,” she added, strolling around them to reach her throne with her hands behind her back. “As you might have guessed, I have no Earthly powers. Or else you’d have already been long dead.” Instead of walking up to the throne, she turned and sat down on the steps leading up to it.

You’re the Goddess?” Brock demanded incredulously. He sounded angry. “You’re nothing but a child!”

“I am twenty, actually,” she corrected softly. “And yes. I am Lillia: the Living Goddess of Banatal.” She blinked. “You’re not as I expected, either. I expected a barbarian with blood still staining his shirt.”

“I had my brother change,” Gareth hedged.

“You cleansed yourselves of blood before you came to kill me,” she replied, her face void of all expression. “How kind. I have requested to meet with you only to beg you to cease the killing of my people. I will relinquish my throne to you peacefully, and I will take my own life in the traditional way, so there’s no chance of rebellion. My people would die for me rather than serve a king that took the throne without my blessing.” She sighed. “They’re loyal, honor-bound. You should treat them well when you’re King, for if you do, they shall treat you even better.”

Gareth shook his head, aghast. She was too beautiful to be saying these dire things, and too young. “Excuse me—what’s the traditional way of taking your own life?”

“I shall throw myself into the volcano after a traditional feast, where I will crown you,” she said, gesturing in the direction of a nearby mountain. “That’s the only way we ‘ascend’, as far as the people are concerned. It will not be sad for them. They will believe I just went home. They won’t feel conquered this way. They will not fight you. That’s why I asked my people not to fight you since you’ve gotten as far as my kingdom.”

“You say ‘your people believe’ like you do not believe this,” Gareth said, dry-throated.

“When I look into the mirror in the morning, I see nothing but a girl. But these people are my responsibility, passed down from my father, who you’ve already slain. They would not believe me if I told them I was not a Goddess. They’ve been believing it for thousands of years. Even my parents believed they were Gods. Where we really came from is knowledge forgotten, but it was probably a realm far more distant than your own.” She sighed. “What say you?”

“I…” Gareth began, but then his brother grabbed his arm and traveled to the other side of the room with him, whispering in his ear.

“This is madness. I’m not going to let a little girl launch herself into a volcano. And people call US barbarians!”

“I agree, Brother… But it seems like it’s what she wants… She’s so calm…” Gareth replied slowly, though he didn’t know what to think himself! She was nothing like he’d expected. He’d expected something terrifying and powerful, not someone childlike, lovely, and soft-spoken!

“Calm my ass. Look at her hands! She’s trembling! She’s frightened to death. She’s used to putting on a show, Brother. That is all. There has to be another way.”

Gareth looked over and saw what Brock had seen—the girl’s hands were trembling, and they were white as she tensed them with fear. Brock was right; she didn’t want to die. Her emotions were right under the surface like wine in a water skin.

And it came to Gareth. “We marry her, then.” It was traditional for two kings to only share one queen in their culture. Who better than a Goddess? They could make her share her crown as easily as they could make her relinquish it. “Think about it,” Gareth continued, “Any child of ours that she begets will be said to be a God, looked upon with the same loyalty, but will have the conquering power of The Brazen! He won’t be just a king to his people!”

Brock shook his head. “She is too young for marriage—at least she looks it! Too innocent. Look at her—do you think she’s spent a day outside the walls of this place? She doesn’t know how to please a man!”

Gareth smirked. “Don’t act like that innocence is not part of her appeal, Brother. It is lucky to take a virgin to the marriage bed. I, for one, could see us taking her as a wife. She is beautiful and exotic-looking. It would save her life, and it would help us. Besides, I could think of worse things than to be known as the Masters of a Goddess.”

Brock grumbled and then put his sword away to rub at the back of his neck with indecision. He huffed and then puffed out his bottom lip thoughtfully. “Virgin wives are lucky,” he admitted in a surrendered way. “But mind you—we will breed her fast. I want the people invested in us as well as in her. I want her filled with child within the year—these people will be understandably leery of us for taking their goddess and making her our whore in bed, until she gives us a new God-King with our blood in him.”

Gareth agreed with a nod. “She seems healthy and old enough to warm our beds and be bred. Do not worry yourself, Brother. This shall be a good end for all. I’ve never had a maiden complain at me in my bed. They have all been better after the wear.” He put a reassuring hand on Brock’s arm. “It is an easy end to the violence, and the peace will give our sons an army more true and loyal than any army before him.”

The brothers turned around. This time, instead of being overwhelmed by her flowing white gowns, her pale skin, and her crown and jewels, they saw the body of a woman. Her body was petite, but her hips and breasts were ample; the image of putting one of her lovely breasts to their lips was suddenly making their mouths water.

Her eyes widened and her shoulders tensed like a deer who realized it was being hunted. “What say you?” she asked, nervousness now lining her face.

Gareth stepped forward confidently. “My Lady—we have decided to decline your request. But we have a proposal of our own…”

* * *

Two husbands? Two!

The utter shame she felt now was nearly unimaginable! Lillia hadn’t even heard of whores pleasuring more than a single man in one evening! And she, a living goddess, was supposed to take two men into her wedding bed, and at the same time?

The worst part was putting on her ‘brave face’. She was sick of wearing it! She had been wearing it since The Brazen began to conquer her family’s realm when she was thirteen years old! Her father had been killed in the wars, by soldiers of the very same men she was now forced to marry.

It was also very clear that she was expected to breed for them like a prize filly! She fumed through the ceremony under a serene countenance her people had expected her to wear, wishing that she was throwing herself into the volcano instead.

“Aren’t you going to make a fertility prayer?” Gareth asked her head priestess. So, Gareth knew about their religion a little bit, after all. That was cold comfort.

Her priestess laughed. “When the goddess wants to carry your child, she will carry it. It is in her power to carry who she chooses!”

Gareth looked over at Lillia, a heat in his eyes. Lillia gulped, but then she regretted doing so. She didn’t want any of her people or priestesses to know that she feared what would happen. She hadn’t heard much about the marriage bed, and what she had heard was that it was painful—particularly the wedding night.

Her new Brazen Kings, their heads surely still unused to the Banatalian crowns she had rested on their heads less than an hour ago at the wedding ceremony, would not be virgins. Brazen males were given their first women on their twelfth birthdays, especially the royal ones. Both brothers had probably had dozens of women satisfy them every evening.

“It is indecent to take two husbands,” she heard one of her priestesses huff to another. “Why does our Goddess allow it?”

“Our Goddess has decided they are worthy Kings,” another priestess hissed back. “Besides, this is normal for The Brazen. They’re brothers. It’s common for royal brothers marry the same queen in their lands.”

“I don’t understand why.”

Lillia didn’t know why herself, and she listened with interest. She felt slightly ashamed about not knowing her enemies at all. She should have studied. She should have predicted this day seven years ago when they started scooping up her cousin’s country on the outside rim of the realm.

“I have heard that if a Prince has lived long enough to take a bride, then he deserves to call himself King. Their children will grow up brothers, and they will love them like their own, even if they are not. They will not ask whose is whose. None of her children will be slighted by the other, and if one King must travel abroad, one may stay at home to protect his territory. Some of the best reigns have been during the reigns of King Brothers.”

Lillia twirled a lock of her black hair around in her fingers. How could their reign be good? Surely, she had made a mistake! They would be hard on her people! How could they be good kings when they were such barbarians?

At least they were handsome barbarians. A far cry from the cousin she had been promised to before they killed him and rendered the match obsolete. Jerrif had been a true God King—slender, violet-eyed, golden-haired… But she had certainly never been very attracted to him, as beautiful as the man was.

These men couldn’t have been more different from Jerrif. They were very tall, and very muscular. Their shoulders took up a broad yard on their own. Their skins were tan and their jaws strong and chiseled. There wasn’t a scrap of fat on their muscular bodies, she was certain. But they weren’t twins—they didn’t look at all the same, except for their eyes and noses. Gareth had the brighter eyes of a younger man, and his hair was a sun-dusted blonde. Brock’s hair was much darker, and long enough for him to tie it back. He was also stockier, though an inch or so shorter.

It was Brock who approached her during the feast, sitting next to her at the end of the table. “Are you ready for your lessons in the marriage bed, Goddess? I was admiring you—your beauty. I cannot wait to fill you with my seed.”

Lillia’s eyes narrowed; it was the first true emotion she had displayed in some time. She could taste her own hatred in her mouth now, and her hand came up and slapped him across the face.

There was silence—silence everywhere. If she had wanted to, she could probably have heard the crickets chirp miles away. But she didn’t have a moment. She quickly stood up from the table and walked away as fast as she could.

* * *

“Don’t, Brother. Don’t you dare,” Gareth hissed, grabbing Brock’s arm before his hand could unfasten his belt. “You cannot beat her in public.”

“Watch me,” Brock argued, watching her walk away. “I shall bring her back here, lift her skirts, and strap her hide raw! How dare she strike me!”

“We must allow her to play the part of a goddess for now. She will appear conquered enough when she has our babes at her breasts,” Gareth beseeched.

Brock visibly swallowed back his anger enough to tightly smile. “You cannot say our Goddess does not have spirit!” he said loudly enough for the entire room to hear, lightening the mood for everybody. Many even laughed. Afterwards, he trudged in her direction.

The brothers eventually found her in her throne room, hiding behind her chair. She didn’t make a sound. “Come out, Lillia,” Gareth asked calmly.

“No,” she replied stuffily.

“Come and apologize to your husband.”

“Not until he apologizes to me. He mocks me. He’s taken everything I have!”

“I’m going to take the skin from your hide, too, if you don’t mind us this instant!” Brock threatened.

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