“If I swear to cut my cock off, will you call off this madness?” Ladarius rubbed his throbbing temples and closed his eyes. Never had so many bared breasts caused him such aggravation.
“My King, you mustn’t say such things.”
Ladarius glared at his trusted advisor. Only Laken could force the annoyance of finding a potential mate on him. It had been six years since his mate, future queen of the Daya pride, had died. But that wasn’t nearly enough time for his heart to heal from Veda’s murder. “I’d rather endure the castration ritual than this.”
Bile had risen in his stomach each time they had led another line of women through the long, marbled room. He sighed and continued to toy with the fraying yellow and purple tassel. He’d waited for the right to fiddle with it for almost thirty years. At least now his father wouldn’t clobber him aside the head for it.
An ache radiated in his chest. He’d rather get knocked senseless than bear the loss of his wife and father. And now some worm who didn’t even have a right to dictate anything threatened his people if he didn’t find a woman. After all, custom didn’t allow a leader to go without a sexual partner for more than four years after the loss of his mate.
“The other advisors feel it is in our best interest to secure you a court-approved mate before King Mekhi discovers you have gone beyond your four-year mourning allowance. This is the last of the maidens in our quadrant.”
He grimaced at the phrasing and shook his head dismissively at the line of twenty half-naked women before him. Ornamental beads designed to seduce covered the women’s nipples and bare pussy. For some reason, the costume failed to entice Ladarius. “Mekhi had better have more to do than peek into the bedrooms of us lower kings.”
Ladarius closed his eyes as the guards approached to remove the women. Girls really. Each group over the past three days had gotten progressively younger, less experienced, more frightened. Three had erupted into tears stepping into the doorway.
How the hell was he supposed to fuck someone who was terrified? Then again, his father had never given him lessons on screwing on command for the sake of the people. Apparently that was what was going to be necessary if he was to protect the crown.
A disapproving frown crossed Laken’s aged face. The nervous tick in his jaw moved a patch of the man’s graying hair. Guilt ate Ladarius’ insides. Upsetting the one person who was like family to him didn’t bode well and seeing the pitying eyes of the royal servants across the room only made the matter worse.
“Pick whichever one you wish. I do not care.”
Ladarius stood quickly and began walking across the marbled floor. The heels of his boots clacked against the gold-flecked surface and drowned out the sound of the royal drums as he marched his way out of the large meeting room. Harried steps behind him filled his sensitized hearing along with labored breathing.
Pausing in front of the door, he patiently waited for Laken to catch up with him. The older man never did know when to leave well enough alone. “Why is that not acceptable?”
“It could be, my King, but…” Laken gasped a breath. His eyes darted to the three court guards on either side of the doorway. “Selecting someone is only good if she is used.”
Ladarius fisted the ancient wooden handle and took a deep breath. Anger boiled within him, but he knew better than react. That was what had started this nightmare a month ago. Several advisors had been quick to point out his increased agitation and foul temperament. Everyone had immediately cited the cause as sexual frustration.
“I’ll fuck the woman of your choosing before the royal council and any of our people who wish to watch. It is required, so it shall be.”
Laken cleared his throat and whispered, “My King, I wish to mention that there are a couple of other options available to you.”
“Such as?” The nervousness in the man’s voice made Ladarius’s skin crawl and his stomach knot. Whatever was racing through Laken’s mind could not be good.
“There are quite a few rather fetching men who…”
“Finish that and I will gut you like an animal and toss your remains to the wild beasts in the cages.” Outrage filled him, his brain reeled at the fact his trusted friend and advisor would entertain the idea of bringing men in for him. That would never happen in his palace. At least not for him. “Women only if I must deal with this nonsense in the first place, Laken.”
Ladarius removed the royal robe and tossed it to one of the servants flittering nervously behind them. Rubbing his hand across his neck, he willed his thinning patience to last a few more moments.
“Forgive me. I had to offer it to you. A byrna would perhaps be an ideal option.” The man’s hopefulness never ceased. Ladarius laughed softly hearing the last suggestion.
He had forgotten about byrnas. The ancient line of their Ajika race ancestrally devoted to pleasuring the nobility was as revered as the rulers. Rumors circulated among the quadrants that many of the elite royal lines took advantage of the service, even if they had mates.
Resentment spawned within him. The notion of taking pleasure from a byrna was distasteful, but at least he wouldn’t be sealing a woman to a loveless future. The nape of his neck still burned, as if missing the symbol of love that showed immediately on someone once they had been mated. It had faded within a year of Veda’s passing.
“I don’t want one who every royal Ajika has fucked. Call me possessive, but I don’t. Even if she’s here for convenience, I cannot tolerate that within my castle.”
Laken nodded as they both stepped out into the long corridor leading to the private sector of the royal court. “I have one in mind for you. She only serves one king or royal member every two years, and enforces a three year rest period in between. Those are her personal rules.”
Laughter tumbled out of him as he made his way down the long corridor. “That is priceless. A byrna with morals? I didn’t realize they were allowed to have them.”