An Uncommon Whore 2: When I Fall

Belinda McBride

As king, Helios Dayspring is desperate to secure the future of his people and their new homeworld. His lost memories are slowly returning, bringing with them danger and betrayal. As the king’s consort, Griffin Hawke wrest...
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Full Description

As king, Helios Dayspring is desperate to secure the future of his people and their new homeworld. His lost memories are slowly returning, bringing with them danger and betrayal.

As the king’s consort, Griffin Hawke wrestles with growing isolation from his lover. When Helios’s secrets begin to come to light, Griffin finds that he barely recognizes him anymore. And Griffin is haunted by his own secrets, nightmares that bring torture and death in his sleep.

Surrounded by enemies and allies, seductive aliens and dangerous operatives, Helios and Griffin find themselves tested to their physical and moral limits. Not knowing who to trust, they can only turn to each other.

Will you be there to catch me when I fall?

  • Note:This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices, violence.

Excerpt
“No!”

I bolted upright in my bed, sweat pouring from my skin, my single eye wide in horror at the memory of the dream. I gasped, unable to breathe.

“Easy, Grif. You’re all right.” Arms surrounded me, strong and secure. Copper hair, looking like flowing ribbons of blood in the moonlight, spilled over me.

“Helios...” I groaned in bewilderment and laid my head to his chest. “Oh...Lio...” I reached up to stroke the beautiful lines of his face. Alive. Safe. I stared at him, reminding myself of the here and now. His heart beat strong and steady; his skin was warm with sleep. But still, the nightmare had been so horribly vivid.

He gently laid me back on the bed, his arms still wrapped around my body. I breathed then, gasping, surrounding myself with his warmth and fragrance.

The dream seemed real because it had truly happened. I remembered that day, watching the atrocities as the Landaun broadcast themselves to all ships and planets in neighboring systems. Markus Dayspring had stood next to me on the bridge of a rescue ship. He’d watched and, in horror and pain, collapsed to the floor at the wholesale slaughter of his family. All the while he’d been a traitor. He’d known what was to come. Had he been that good an actor, or had his treachery rebounded on him? His grief had been as agonizing and poignant as my own.

I also remembered the ritual execution. The blade flashed through the air and then came to rest on Helios’s bared neck. They’d spared him, chortling over his future as a whore and a slave. To the Landaun, surrender was a fate worse than death. Surviving defeat was to be forever shamed. The fate they’d planned for the warrior who’d fought them so valiantly was literally the worst they could dream of.

But Helios had survived and returned to us. He was here on our mysterious new world in a strange section of the system. He was alive and in my arms.

Did he remember that day? I’d asked before, and he’d always said he had no memory of his surrender. I believed him; his memories were patchy at best. The slave chip that had been implanted in his brain by Warlan slave traders had been deactivated, but Helios might never regain all his memories, even of that most horrific day of our lives. So of course, I believed him. There was no reason not to believe.

* * * * *

That day he decided to flirt.

I stood against the far wall of the newly built council chamber, where I could observe all entrances and exits as well as the councillors themselves. I also had an unimpeded view of the public gallery where Helios’s sister, Deirdre, was seated, my daughters to her left and Helios’s son, Alexander, to her right. I suspected that the children were numb with boredom, yet when I looked up, I saw that Lauren’s eyes were bright with curiosity, while Maia wore a pensive expression. Alexander was playing a handheld game. When he caught me looking at him, he smiled and winked. He was paying attention.

I glanced back at Helios. His cool gray eyes took on a sultry cast, his gaze dropping slightly down the length of my body. His index finger rested over his upper lip, reminding me of what that mouth was capable of.

I inhaled, willing back my immediate response. My face went warm; my groin went hot. Gritting my teeth, I fought to keep my expression neutral. A trace of a smile on that lovely face told me he hadn’t been fooled.

Obviously I could no longer fulfill my old duty as Helios’s bodyguard, yet I retained my former rank of captain of the Royal Guard and needed to focus on my job. Scanning the room, I took note of any who might have observed my brief distraction. We still had some trust issues with our esteemed council. There were those who used our unconventional relationship to undermine Helios’s rule. Helios wasn’t flirting out of boredom. He was playing a game that might reveal a traitor.

Never underestimate a man who’d learned to survive by using his wits and his beauty in equal measure.

Councillor Evan Pratt was droning on about a delayed shipment of agricultural supplies, and while most would detect only mild boredom in our king’s expression, his attention was sharply focused. This was council business, and as usual, they had to take the issue and worry it to death. There was no such thing as a quick solution when a problem was thrown before a roomful of men and women who were insecure in their personal power.

I glanced at him again, and as always, my breath caught. Today he was formally garbed. Generally he preferred the flowing white robes of the temple priests. To his amusement, they were not dissimilar to the filmy garments he’d worn as a slave. He enjoyed the feel of the loose fabric on his skin. The yards of linen also hid the blades that he was in the habit of carrying. Fortunately the robes of the Sun Temple did not require that he hide his face. When I’d first found him on Warlan, he’d worn a veil.

The council had pressured him into presenting a more royal appearance for his kingly duties, so once a week, he dutifully appeared in the public chambers attired as the council saw fit. His rigidly tailored coat was jet-black. It buttoned high to the collar under his chin and dropped to the floor. The sides were open to his hips, revealing loose trousers of deep, rich maroon. The fabric of the coat was heavy silk brocade; the rising sun that was the crest of our people was embroidered across his shoulders. The wide cuffs were decoratively stitched in the same gold the crest was embroidered with. At his side hung the golden kilij, the sword he’d earned as a Sun Priest. Now he was both priest and king and entitled to both symbols of office.

His fiery hip-length hair was elaborately arranged in tiny braids and clubbed tightly at his neck. He was otherwise unadorned, save for a wide blue sapphire bracelet around his right wrist. It matched the one I wore. Once we were formally married, the bracelets would be switched to the left arm and permanently set in place. For now, I was recognized as the consort of the king, a less official position than captain of the guard. The wedding would not be scheduled until the official palace complex was complete. The delay was a council ploy to stall the big event, but neither of us seemed in too much of a hurry.

I still wore my first marriage bracelet on my left wrist. It was humble, the metal an alloy and the stone a simple clear yellow citrine rather than precious sapphire. I carried Suzan’s battered bracelet in a pocket in my utility vest. It had shattered, and every day I reminded myself to take it to a craftsman for repair. Every day I found an excuse to avoid that errand. The broken bracelet was a constant reminder that she was gone from my life forever. It felt good there close to my heart.

Helios was an uncommonly beautiful man, and that beauty was enhanced by the gentle humor in his expression. With his smooth skin and lined eyes, he was nearly too lovely to be a man. He cultivated that illusion not out of vanity, but out of a desire to mislead. No casual observer would believe that under the silken, pampered surface lay a dangerous warrior with a brilliant mind. Few of the councillors at the table woke early enough in the day to witness Helios during his private training. Nor did they realize that he used these contentious sessions to ferret out suspicious behavior. We knew that Markus had not worked alone in his betrayal of our king.

The argument began to rise in pitch and intensity. Across the room, Carlotta Berne gave me a brief smile. She had as little tolerance for bureaucracy as I. Odd, given that she herself was a displaced queen. Before I was able to respond, she was surveying the room, studying the councillors. Several feet to her right stood her old companion Caius, who served as the king’s bodyguard this day. He caught me looking, nodded, and returned his focus to his job. Caius was the king’s last line of defense, and as far as I could see, he took his job seriously. He’d come to us with a small group of Talisian refugees. They’d been mostly women and children, living nomadically, surviving on odd jobs and the money that Carlotta funneled to them from her work as a mercenary. She’d been their queen and breadwinner, but Caius had been their shepherd and protector.

I took a moment to examine his heavy features. He was unremarkable in appearance, with short sandy hair that lay flat to his head, and pale blue eyes. He was tall and coarse, yet when he moved, was oddly graceful. In spite of Carlotta’s implicit trust in the man, something struck me wrong about him. His face lacked expression. His rare smiles never reached his eyes. He must have occasionally felt anger, but the telltale signs were never there. He was as blank and mysterious as a mask. Perhaps Caius carried more scars than those that twisted down his neck to his chest. He caught my gaze once again and looked away, seemingly unconcerned.

I didn’t like that. Most of the guards would have reacted to my scrutiny with discomfort.

“Councillors. Please.” Helios finally broke into the rapidly accelerating argument. Some of those on the council appreciated his presence; they cherished the return of a strong leader. Others resented the sudden curb on their power, though until he’d returned, they’d been living at the hard edge of survival.

Helios waited until there was silence at the table before continuing. “I understand that the shipment of seedlings has been delayed due to the freighter being held by officials at Niye. We know that Niye is lamentably corrupt. We do not know when the ship will be released or if our shipment will be viable when it arrives. Sadly this is a situation we have no control over. There is nothing we can do to change what has happened. We can, however, control our reaction to the delay.”

Classic Helios. Patience had been a hard-earned lesson for him. His temper had once been as fiery as his hair, and tolerance had not been his virtue.

“Given that this is the present state of affairs, does anyone have a suggestion on how to move forward? Preferably one that doesn’t involve Captain Hawke being dispatched to wreak havoc and tear off arms?” He smiled in my direction.

I’d missed that part of the conversation, it seemed.

To everyone’s relief, they left behind lawsuits and bloody vengeance and tabled the issue. Margh Wall accepted the task of locating the needed trees, and I had no doubt the shipment would arrive right at the proper time to drop them into the thousands of little holes waiting for them. She’d once been the lady-in-waiting to our late queen and now was one of our more effective council members. She’d adapted well.

The new argument at the table was more personal in nature, and anxiously I glanced at Helios but saw little more than polite interest on his face. Once again, he caught and held my gaze, allowing me to see a flash of heat. This time I didn’t look away, and his ivory skin flushed slightly. Our charade was growing all too real.

Reluctantly he turned back to the discussion, a slight pucker in the skin between his eyes. It had moved on to an old family conflict that predated our evacuation from Arash. I automatically looked up at the gallery, where Deirdre watched with concern.

None of the councillors were aware of the patchy nature of Helios’s memory. In the year that we’d been home, Lio’s memories hadn’t returned as we’d hoped. He might remember what he’d had for breakfast on a given day a decade ago, but not the face of a former acquaintance. Deirdre, Carlotta, and I were generally able to mask those times when he drew a blank. Covering for him in chamber took a bit more imagination.

Carlotta cleared her throat. Helios looked up at her in question.

“Sir. You have a scheduled communication with Interstellar Coalition delegates as well as a lunch appointment with your family.”

Brilliant intervention, even though it put Helios’s assistant in an awkward position. Tanar Ralston did his best to support Carlotta’s slight prevarication. He consulted his handheld calendar. “Yes, sir, you have an appointment to speak with Vash Ambassador Kaarin today.”

The call to the coalition wasn’t for several hours, but it would take preparation. And the lunch appointment? We hadn’t arranged that. From the corner of my eye, I saw Deirdre exit the gallery. No doubt she was going to quickly arrange an impromptu family luncheon.

“Surely council business takes precedence over...social commitments?” Councillor Pratt frowned in my direction. I reached down and clasped the heavy bracelet on my right arm. Under the eye patch, my scars began to throb in time with my anger. Evan Pratt was one of the most vocal opponents of my relationship with Helios. He’d also been one of the bastards who had pressured the council into sending the ragged remnants of our military into space, separating them from family and denying the community our skills. I squeezed the bracelet, feeling the sapphires bite into my skin.

When I’d brought Helios home, Pratt had been sitting at the head of the council and was largely responsible for the sorry state our people had fallen into. With one look at the shoddy settlement, Helios had ordered a mass evacuation, moving thousands off the floodplain they’d settled on.

Pratt and his allies had simmered in their anger until cyclical winter rains washed away the abandoned city.

“I’m sorry, Councillor. As I’m sure you understand, my family is always a top priority in my life.” Helios pushed back from the table and rose gracefully. “Please continue the meeting. Pratt, you may mediate this discussion. Ralston, please prepare a summary of the meeting and send it to me.”

His assistant had been on his feet, ready to accompany the king. At Helios’s curt order, he flushed and sat. Ralston was a blandly handsome young man who’d worked for Pratt until Helios had commandeered his services. Since that time, he’d devoted his every waking hour to serving the king. I strongly suspected he’d sleep at the foot of the bed if Helios requested it.

Helios strode to my side, Caius a respectful distance behind him. He reached out, pried my hand from the bracelet, and raised it to his lips. His public display cooled the anger that lingered in my gut. I glanced at Pratt, satisfied that he’d seen the gesture.

A small hand gripped mine, and Maia clung to me. Lauren slipped between me and Helios, taking a hand in each of hers. Alexander appeared at the far side of Helios. We looked at each other, and he smiled at whatever he saw in my expression.

It always surprised me how joy and despair could be so different and yet so similar. As I looked down at my daughters, the pain in my chest was a sweet sensation--one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I looked at my lover and saw my emotions reflected in his face.

He was happy. I was as well.

Copyright © Belinda McBride

Reviews

Customer Reviews

A perfect sequel! Review by Stephanie Lake
Quality
The series keeps getting better and better.

Writing in this series (An Uncommon Whore Series and The Bacchi) is fantastic. Truly professional!

Sexy heroes, bad to the bone villains, tight plot points. I’ve not read a series this great in many years.

This is a must read series!
(Posted on 6/8/2016)
Great story! Review by Catsy
Quality
Still a great story but more political intrigue. See if you can guess who's the traitor and who's the patsy. (Posted on 4/11/2016)
Wonderful Review by Carolyn
Quality
This author just keeps getting better. (Posted on 10/29/2013)

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