Threads of Desire
“Threads of Desire is a delightful little novella about mages and magic, greed and corruption, power and abuse, love and family and most of all what one man will sacrifice for his child.” –Tea and Book
“Inventive and believable intimacy, and a gradual progression into a caring relationship make this book a charming addition to the short-form fantasy erotic romance scene.”—Fangs, Wands & Fairy Dust
Guild-trained weaver Ily is furious her rival Kal, a smug yet wickedly sexy rug merchant, outsells her at every turn. She knows her magically crafted rugs are far superior to anything he can produce, but can’t compete with his charming personality.
When Kal fixes his lusty attentions on Ily, she is reluctantly aroused by his interest. She knows he desires her and against her better judgment, she wants him too. A chance encounter leads her to make him a scandalous offer: her body in exchange for enough money to leave the city. She sees their time together as a temporary erotic adventure…until Kal reveals that what he truly wants from Ily is more personal—and more dangerous—than bed play. And she must choose between taking her chance at a new life or risking it all for a man she never meant to love.
Ily rolled her carpet, not looking up, not wanting to see the smirk on Kal’s face. He’d been dogging her steps for weeks, setting up his stall right next to her favorite spot and stealing away all her best prospects. She was no threat to him. He played with her purely for his own sick personal amusement. Why won’t he just go away and leave me alone?
The crowd roiled around her. The smaller merchants were beginning to pack it in for the day. The travelers who sold directly from their wagons would close their doors soon and light the fires. Best that she was gone before then, before darkness and drink made the men bold.
An instant before she rose from her crouch, Kal’s solid legs blocked her vision and she could ignore him no longer. Her gaze drifted up, lingering on the bulge between his thighs. Flat belly, firm chest, proud shoulders and the mocking smile that never failed to rile her.
“You got greedy.”
She gave the cord a vicious jerk. “My work is worth twice the garbage you sold her.”
“Sold,” he repeated. “That’s the important thing, Ily. Your pride’s not keeping your belly full.”
She stood, but he held his ground, forcing her to tip back her head. “That rug will start to unravel before the month is out.”
“Perhaps she understood that and only made do with what she could afford now.”
He would lecture her on economy? His arrogance took her breath away.
“I hate you.”
His lips quirked at the corners. “My fault, is it? You don’t hate me.”
Dark, knowing eyes dared her to contradict him, but she couldn’t. He was shrewd and powerful, wickedly sexy and for some unfathomable reason, he’d fixed his attention on her. A man like Kalar Azi could snap his fingers and have any woman. Why her? “What do you want, Kal?”
“You do good work, but the streets aren’t the place to be selling it.”
“The shops won’t buy from a woman,” she said, glancing over her shoulder to see if she could slip between the stalls and escape him. The poles were permanent fixtures, spaced less than a foot apart. Too tight a fit, even for her—there was no way through. She’d have to push past Kal, but she was reluctant to touch the lean body that disturbed her so greatly.
“I could help you.”
That brought her attention back to his face. A mistake. It was far too easy to look upon that raw masculine beauty and think that was all there was to the man. She’d seen him work before, studying his clientele in the same way he was looking at her now, searching for weakness while giving little away. Beneath all his dangerous charm, he was ruthless and cunning as a snake.
She slung the bundle over her shoulder and crossed her arms beneath her breasts, noticing the flicker in his eyes when he briefly dropped his gaze.
“So…you’d like to help me out of the goodness of your—do you even have a heart?”
He leaned in closer, lowering his voice. “It’s a simple business proposition. I speak with the shops on your behalf, you give me a cut of the profit. There are several people I use to move my finer quality merchandise. They’re reputable enough and even cutting me in, you’ll make more than you do here.”
He didn’t need the pittance he’d earn for the effort. He wasn’t here for money, which left only one other possibility, as unlikely as it seemed. She should leave now, but her feet were rooted to the spot. Curiosity held her there and greed, along with the unhealthy fascination she’d developed for this selfish, pompous man.
“And this proposition…are there any strings attached?”
He knew what she was asking and seemed intrigued that she’d stopped trying to find a way to slip past him long enough to hear him out. “No strings. We see how this small partnership progresses and then, perhaps, we can explore other possibilities.”
Heat washed over her body and though she tried to keep her reaction to herself, his smile widened ever so slightly. Knowing that she was playing with fire, knowing that she should bite her tongue bloody until the pain restored her good sense, she asked, “And if I’d rather discuss those possibilities now?”
Kal barked an order to the boy manning his booth and then took her by the elbow, guiding her through the throng of people gathered for the midweek market. They passed quickly down the main aisle, everything blurring in Ily’s eyes as she focused on the man ahead of her. Sun and shade, the bright colors of banners and scarves, the press of people on all sides. The weather today was very fine and the marketplace unusually busy. They were jostled this way and that by the crowd, but Kal never lost his grip on her arm. They turned well before they reached the food vendors, yet she could smell fragrant rice and sizzling meat in the air. Her stomach rumbled, the roar of a lion, but Kal didn’t seem to hear it. He certainly did not pause.
Peddlers called out their wares, boasting of blades that never dulled, lace as delicate as a spider’s web and spellwoven chainmail that could turn a killing blow. That irked her. You could see the lie as soon as you looked at the lace. It was very nicely made but clearly wasn’t master level work. The armor though…you wouldn’t learn the truth about that until you were staring at the blade in your belly and thinking you should have paid the extra money for guild work. She had many complaints with the guild, but none of them involved the quality of their merchandise.
Calef, the man charged with keeping the peace at the market, was ahead of them, drawing a crowd as he tried to recruit a challenger for the evening’s entertainment. There was to be a blade dance tonight and while one of the local men could often be coaxed into entering the ring when only fists were involved, few would dare face an armed opponent. If Calef was on the street now, it meant someone had backed out. It meant he’d have to bribe another to take the risk, which meant he’d increase rents to cover his loss. She could barely afford to pay him as it was.
Avoiding the crowd, they slipped behind a pair of brightly colored tents and out of the press of the market. It was quiet here in the small space between the merchant tents and the wall formed by the warehouse buildings behind them.
Kal continued along the packed-dirt street for a ways—no cobbles on this side of town—before pulling her down a crooked alley. She could have stretched her arms out and touched the sandstone buildings that rose up to either side. He stopped as soon as the shadows closed around them and pressed her back to the wall, bracing himself with one hand beside her head.
His eyes fixed for a moment on her mouth. “Your proposition?”
She smiled thinly, looking down the refuse-strewn alley. “Is this where you usually conduct business?”
Something within her threatened to collapse beneath his hot gaze. But another part of her rose to the challenge of negotiating with him, to the possibility of winning. His body was rigid with anticipation, every hard muscle taut and expectant.
“I don’t want a business partner,” she said.
“No?” His free hand settled on her hip. “A different kind of partnership then?”
She didn’t answer, just held his gaze, knowing he understood completely, wondering if he’d make her speak the words. His fingers flexed, testing her flesh, sliding upward to the curve of her waist. “What game are you playing, lovely?”
As if she’d answer such a stupid question.
“You’re not a whore.”
“No.” But she needed money. If she ever wanted to leave this place and this life, she needed every sliver of gold she could get her hands on. And Kal…as ambivalent as she felt about him personally, on a physical level, she was powerfully attracted to him. He was rich and he wanted her. She wanted him, much more than she liked to admit. She was sick to death of being stepped on and used, trapped here in Lasura with so little hope of escape. If she was clever and very bold, maybe, just maybe, she could use him instead.
He muttered something under his breath and then said, “Roll out your carpet.”
She glanced at the bundle wedged beneath her arm and shook her head. “I don’t want it to get dirty.”
He laughed, gently prying the roll from her hands and propping it up against the wall. He turned her suddenly and fit his long body to her back. His heat covered her. Breath stirred the hair above her ear. His scent filled her nose.
Rucking up her skirts until her ass was bare, he pinned the fabric to the wall with his fist. Her breath caught in her throat. Yes, this. This is what she’d imagined as she sat across from him these last torturous weeks. His hand, calloused and warm, stroked over her skin and she trembled. When his thumb split through the valley between her buttocks, her body instinctively tried to pull away. But there was nowhere to go. Her palms scraped against the mud-flecked stone and Kal was at her back, rough and demanding, greedy as she’d known he would be. His hips pressed forward, knocking her into the wall.
“So proud and rigid, but here—” his hand dipped lower, fingers slipping in her juices and sliding easily inside, “—you’re soft as any woman.”
He bit her earlobe and his fingers withdrew.
Despite herself, she pressed against him, but he was already gone. Stumbling back, she jerked her skirts down over her bare legs. By the time she swung around to face him, he was already at the mouth of the alley.
“Meet me at my villa at dusk.” A slash of sunlight gleamed on clean black hair. He glanced back at her and grinned. “I’m a civilized man, Ily. I don’t fuck whores in the back alleys of the Southton market.”