A vengeful emperor conquered her country…now he’s after her heart.Julissa has only known life as a sheltered princess in Sebboy’s opulent but restrictive society, ruled over by strict parents and the righteous Prophets of her god. She is all but destined to a marriage of alliance until her brother kidnaps a foreign princess as his bride, and Julissa’s country becomes the target of the girl’s vengeful brother. Gaspar Leonnte may have a big nose and be the subject of ridicule at Julissa’s family table, but he doesn’t have any trouble conquering Sebboy.
While fleeing the city, Julissa falls into Gaspar’s hands and everything she ever knew changes. When a misunderstanding brings Julissa to his bed, the victorious emperor sees no reason not to enjoy his pretty captive for the night. Julissa should refuse him and honor her duty to her family and Prophet, but how can she fight the passion Gaspar awakens… even if doing so might mean her life?
In my M/M books there are no heroines. Secondary female characters, yes, and some get the chance to be heroic. It’s in my M/F books that heroines come out to play. No two women are the same—at least, I don’t think they are—and each carries inside them a tiny germ of their creator.
Captive Heart was conceived as an erotic fantasy. It’s heroine, Julissa, represents a certain type of woman, a type I happen to be. Or, rather, was. She’s young, sexually inexperienced, just discovering her parents might be sadly mistaken about a lot of things, and has a fundamentally positive disposition that leads to her to assume the best about people. So Julissa is not a cynical heroine.
She’s trusting, and tends to blame herself for moral failures. That’s she’s physically attracted to a man isn’t a moral failure, though succumbing to him is. The man in question faces his own moral failures, for which he also blames himself. Heroine and hero are well-matched in that sense, and in others. Imperfections ultimately define us.
One of the joys of writing heroines is that it gives me, the author, a chance to explore a woman’s world. Her self-imposed definitions, her physical and social vulnerability. Does a woman have to be bad-ass to be strong? What about the quiet strength of a woman who is not subversive, but merely determined to survive and find happiness? Finding her own strength and defining herself as a person might be her key to Happy Ever After.
Here’s a small excerpt from Captive Heart:
She thought she might drown in the moss and forest depths of his eyes as they delved into hers. There was so much she wished she could say, and questions she wanted to ask. Gaspar was not acting like a man intent only on satisfying his lust. But she could not trust herself around him, not even a little.
He studied her for a long moment then curled his fingers under her chin to raise her face to his. “Tell me again how much you want to leave,” he said, “this time without words.”
She opened her lips to him even before his touched hers. As their mouths warred, his evening beard rasped her skin and a small, yearning mew escaped from her throat. He pursued that sound, his tongue pushing into her surrender, teasing her hunger for more of his honeyed kisses. The man barely knew her at all, and already knew her too well.
“Now you tell the truth,” he said, his deep voice rumbling with triumph.
He slid the opened overdress from her shoulders and reached around to untie the strings that held her dress snugly. Two tugs later, that garment too was about her waist. Gaspar sat back and looked at her, a blissful smile on his face.
“You have the most beautiful breasts. I could just look at you all night.”
She began to think he would. “I’m getting cold,” she said after a full minute had passed. Her areolae had flushed under his attention, the pink rings now deeper rose and her nipples poking out like berries begging to be tasted.
“We’ll get under the covers. We’ll be nice and warm.” He yanked back the heavy coverlet, then the sheet.
Ridding herself of her dress, Julissa climbed in and he divested himself of the rest of his clothing and got in beside her. His body slid with muscular heat alongside hers. When they were both in the bed, he reached to the bedside and picked up the lantern, which he hung on a hook overhead, spilling warm light in a circle.
A moment later, he wedged one of the books into her hands. “Read to me.”
She held Writings from the Shining Lands. “Read to you? From this?”
“Yes. I’m tired. Your voice will relax me.”
Perhaps if she put him to sleep, he would not ravish her again. Her disappointment at the prospect felt more wrong than being naked in bed with him. She opened to the beginning, but he stopped her before she even began.
“Not that part,” he said. “I’ve read it but recently. Choose something later.”
Julissa leafed to the latter half of the book and found a passage of interest, a commentary on the funeral oration delivered by Anniki, wife of Volsung, about whom she had read a great deal on Agatha’s recommendation. Word by word, she related the body of the translated oration itself, Anniki praising Volsung’s deeds and life and making a case for her husband to be elevated to divine status. With formal cadence, she laid out the arguments of the long-dead queen as she exalted the hero’s conquests, the number of cities he had founded, the populations he had brought under his rule. She called upon his heirs to remember his majesty and the bold purpose with which he had issued forth to lead his people to the greatest glory of all: the Shining Empire that straddled the world. She compared him to the gods, bearded with lightning, a voice like thunder and impervious to destruction. Even now, she said, he was immortal in all but body because the world was changed because he existed. Julissa’s voice calmly conveyed the power of the queen’s arguments. She paused to take a breath before continuing to the commentary, the first lines of which she had scanned and knew would be interesting.
“Do you think she loved him?” Gaspar asked. He reclined on his side, angled up on an elbow, watching her face. His hand caressed her naked thigh.
“They were hardly ever together,” Julissa remembered from her studies. “She was more interested in getting people to give her sons the same adoration they gave her husband.” The commentary, in fact, was about to say as much.
“It’s hard to say if she succeeded. After all, her first act upon his death was to murder all the rest of Volsung’s sons by his many concubines.” The commentary was about to say that, also.
She slid a narrow glance at him. “You’ve already read this part, too!” she accused.
“I read a lot. But I love watching your expressions, the way your lips move. Read something else.”
Miffed, she opened the book at random to a page of poems from the region of Sura, an ancient kingdom of Koth. They were even written in the old Shining tongue. He might not understand a word. It would only serve him right. She began reading aloud.
“I praise your mouth, your voice, your honey-sweet loins…”
Her voice trailed off and her mouth went dry as she realized the nature of the poem she was reading. Cutting a glance to Gaspar, she saw his wide grin. He did understand it, every word.
She should have guessed Uttor’s emperor would be educated in old languages. The Leonntes, though of brutish origins, had been royal for nearly as many generations as her own. She resumed reading, though her cheeks burned brighter with every word. At least she could be thankful the archaic imagery was woven around ornate figures of speech about orchards and fields, not humans engaged in copulation, though there were numerous references to brides and kings. Before the coming of the Prophets, the Shining Lords had been indulgent and sensual, wallowing in their harems and spouting now forbidden poetry—poetry this book, written by an Uttoran, found somehow admirable. Even she had to admit there was an undeniable elegance to the verses, a stately procession that resembled worship. Her voice followed the cadence of conjugations learned in the temple school, the rises and falls of a language preferred throughout the Koth Kingdoms not for erotic poetry but deep and scholarly discourse.
“Speak to my mother and I will come to you; speak to my father and he will make a gift of me,” she read. “Speak to me and we will spread our grains in the honey-sweet furrow you will plow, so that the fruits of our labors burst forth in abundance to the songs of maidens and the war promises of kings.”
“It all sounds very martial,” Gaspar said. He looked more relaxed now, and not at all sleepy. “The Shining Overlords worshipped gods not very different from those of Uttor.”
“They sound…lusty,” was her opinion. She laid aside the book.
“All that talk of freshly plowed furrows and swollen stalks, you mean? Like this one?” he inquired. He flipped back the coverlet to reveal how much his own stalk had swollen.
Though she knew doing so was immodest, Julissa could not take her eyes from it. Gaspar’s erection enthralled her. His cock rose above his flat loins with sleek authority, a sturdy and entirely enticing scepter with a florid and completely exposed crown. She reached out to touch it and used her hand as a measure, learning he was somewhat longer than from her wrist to her longest fingertip. And he was thick, too, as she discovered when she wrapped her fingers around his girth. Just her touch caused the most amazing change—he grew even longer and thicker, and droplets of clear fluid visibly welled from the slit in the crown. As she watched, the fluid pooled there for a moment, then slowly slid down the smooth skin of the tip.
“I love that expression on your face,” he said. The adoration in his voice was terribly real as it acknowledged what she’d just been feeling.
“I’ve never seen one before,” she said, though that was not strictly true. She’d seen Felene’s drawing and her brother Peta naked that night in the palace, though his cock had looked quite helpless, unlike this proud member.
“Not pretty, perhaps, but up to the job. He likes to be stroked.”
“He’s actually…quite pretty,” she said.
And someone really did like to be stroked. With every movement of her closed fingers up and down that steel-hard shaft, more droplets welled from the tip—and the more labored Gaspar’s breathing became. Julissa squeezed her fingers near the base of dark curled hairs and firmly moved her hand upward, eliciting yet another, open-mouthed inhalation and a thick welling of the droplets she watched so avidly. Was that his seed? It had seemed thicker and stickier when she had washed herself before.
Gaspar reached out with his right hand to sweep her long hair from her shoulder, away from her breast. She quivered at the brush of his fingers across her skin.
“You realize by now, I hope, that I’m going to keep you. You are entirely too lovely not to belong to some man,” he said, “and I am entirely too under your spell not to want to be that man. I promise you shall wear the most invisible of chains.”
Tali’s books include the three preceding Uttor books: Captive Heart, Dangerous Beauty, Adored, and Victory Portrait, all with Resplendence. Her gay male high fantasy stories, Thick as Thieves, Sorcerer’s Knot, and The Prince of Winds, are published by Dreamspinner Press. She often publishes in anthologies, and puts up free stories and excerpts on her blog.