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"Real nature boy, aren't you?" I seated myself at the table, scooting in. "Aren't you afraid of this Benedict walking in on us?" I smiled slyly.

"He detests Amber. I'm surprised he has garderns here at all."

Now that was interesting...I was under the impression that he was the guardian of Amber. Yet he hated it? Hmmm... Perhaps he hated the politics. I wasn't a big fan of them myself, but hey, when you're a conqueror you have to know those sorts of things.

He studied the small enclosed garden, neat and balanced. "I'm a bit of a country boy, yes. Cities tend to smell, and, ironically enough, I get seasick on boats. There's nothing like rolling fields of wheat or virgin forests... or a bale of hay or two to roll in."

"I prefer grass to hay, hay gets up your crack," I remarked, disgusted. "This is sort of a quaint sort of way," I admitted, glancing around. I breathed in, the smell of exotic flowers filtering my senses. It sure was stirring up some odd thoughts when I glanced in Martin's direction. "Sort of...heady."

He nodded, and went to say something as a servant appeared. He eyed the two of us curiously, then retrieved a tray from somewhere closer to the castle and served identical plates of something with chicken, rice, and asparagus.

Martin watched on, befuddled yet impressed. After the silent servant left, Martin flashed me a thumbs up. Gads, he was cute. "Was just about to ask about that. Service gets better every day."

I started tearing into the chicken hungrily, and pointedly ignored the asparagus as I shoveled rice into my mouth. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm not big on vegetables. Meat, however... "Not bad at all! But they forgot the breath mints," I grinned at him, picking at my teeth with a toothpick.

He sighed. "There's always a critic." He ate with gusto also, not at all prince-of-the-universe-like, which pleased me. "But free dinner is free dinner. I'm not about to complain."

Martin had a point there, so I shrugged and picked up my fork again. I also made sure to loosen the latch to one of my rings, which contained a powerful narcotic. There was one particular secret that I wasn't about to let him know...that I'd never slept with a man. Rather, I preferred to drug them and wait for them to fall asleep, undress the both of us, and let him wake up thinking we were a lot more intimate than we truly were. You wouldn't believe the wonders it works when you want to bind a particularly gullible nobleman to your cause. I sprinkled a bit of the powder over my asparagus, making sure none of it ventured onto my own food.

He bit the head off of an asparagus. "So how many days do I get to duel and win your affection? Or rather, how long are you in town?"

"I don't have any affection to win," I smirked, and dumped my asparagus on his plate seeing as he favored it and I did not. "But it looks like I'm here for the long run. There's a lot of stuff I need to learn."

He looked wounded. "Then what have I won? I thought you were going to trail after me for 24 hours with a look of pure adoration on your face, praising the very ground I walked on. Isn't that what a love slave does?"

Somehow he must have misinterpreted my 'gift' of asparagus, and started helping himself to my chicken.

I snapped at him, guarding my chicken which I continued to chow on. "The meat is mine!" I chewed on the chicken flesh for a moment, then swallowed. "And no, a love slave mates 24 hours. But, like I said, you won't be able to keep up with me."

"You mean we were dueling over me getting to sleep with you?" He waved his fork dismissively. "That's silly. I would have gotten that anyway..."

Some people are so presumptuous.

He went back to his own chicken, leaving me to devour mine.

"Such a bold pimp! What makes you say that?" I looked at him through narrowed eyes with a tight smile. Did he think I was easy? Well, there were some secrets not even HE knew about!

He leaned in. "Why not? We're two immortals with nothing to do. Even if it wasn't now, I'm sure given a few millenia we'd arrange some chance enounter behind a hedge or something." He laughed. "It's like monkeys at keyboards getting Hamlet. Live long enough, you do everything."

"Ahhhhh," I tipped my head back in acknowledgement before bringing it forward sharply. "So I see. But it's just a one-time thing, you realize," I shook my fork at him. "Unless you're good at it...then I might arrange another duel and let you win." There was no sense in letting him think that this sort of thing was going to happen often.

"Let? The lady is kind... and about to get her @#$ whooped. I'd win." He sat back and smiled a crooked smile. "Not that I mind winning. Feel free to let me win all you want. Maybe I'll even let you win a few, just to see what that twisted little mind would do to me."

"You won't be disappointed," I smiled evilly, finishing off the last of my chicken. I could almost feel that foot massage...with my socks on, of course. I never let ANYONE see my feet, especially my pinky toe. "The clock is ticking," I stretched my arms over my head. "I might be too busy to fight another duel, might be your last day of opportunity."

"Oh, really? What nefarious deeds are you planning that you don't have time for that lovable, shaggable half-cousin of yours?" He openly admired the result of my stretching, an elbow in the table, and his chin in his hand.

"You aren't the only half-cousin out there that I have to seduce... Oh no, there are more as far as I understand. And some half-uncles too," I winked, reaching down and playfully lifting the bottom of my halter-top just an inch, to watch his reaction...

"Oh, but I'm much better than them, trust me. But since you mentioned it, what other half-cousins do you have concidered? Not that quiet guy down in Rebma... " He made a face. "The strong silent type. How typical." He ate another asparagus. "And what's this about you seducing an uncle?"

"I'm the sort to kiss and tell," I laughed, grinning widely. Martin was great fun to tease, he really knew how to take it. Unfortunately, he also knew how to dish it out, and I wasn't the most graceful or humble woman in the world. "But no, not Thomas. He doesn't say hardly a word...boring."

He watched me toy with my halter-top bemusedly. "Do you play cards?"

"Sometimes," I smiled more widely. "Why do you ask? You normally play blackjack with your dates?"

He pulled a deck out of his pocket, protected in a plastic case. He opened it up and executed a complicated shuffle. I was dealing with a professional. "Poker, actually. Runs in my blood. And if you're so fond of toying with your clothes, I was thinking of a particular brand of poker..."

"Mind reader," I chuckled. "I'm quite familiar with the game. However, I do have a question... What happens when one person runs out of clothing to take off? Does it end? Play on until we're both equally bare? Or do we switch to another game?" I lifted my eyebrow with a faint purring noise.

He shuffled once again. "Generally, that's when the game gets interesting. Of course, if you'd rather just pout after I beat the pants off of you... no pun intended... then we can end there. But how much fun is that?"

"We'll just have to wait and find out, won't we?" I smiled, leaning my elbows on the table. That drug wouldn't kick in for another hour at least, we had to stall until then. "Deal."

He moved his plate aside and started flashing cards back and forth. Five cards ended up in front of me, and I picked them up. @#$*, nothing. I cursed silently, while he made contented noises across the table.

"So, what are you bidding?"

I glanced over the top of my cards at him. Was he cheating? My eyes narrowed. "Trousers." It was a good thing we weren't betting money, otherwise I would've been quite angry.

"Agreed." He smiled, then looked back at his hand. He laid down his cards. "Three of a kind."

I sighed and laid down mine, and he pouted.

"Oh. A flush. Guess you win." As he moved to undo his pants, my eyes flew down to my cards. Hey! It WAS a flush! How did I miss that?!

Of course, I am not above lying...or concealing the truth, as needs be. Besides, I grinned, this was getting good. I watched Martin's hands with undisguised interest, then lifted my eyes to smile at him. "All right...I'm betting trousers again this next hand, what about you?" I gathered my cards and placed it on the deck for him to shuffle.

He pulled off the trousers and tossed them to hang on a low branch of a Japanese maple. I couldn't help noting that he was wearing boxers with pink bunnies on them.

He reshuffled and handed the deck to me. "Your deal."

I laughed outright and pointed at the boxers. "Let's get those off soon...just to save your dignity," I winked as the cards flew through my hands. He wasn't the only card expert here!

He looked miffed. "I like my bunnies. Leave my bunnies alone."

With a flick of the wrist, five cards apiece danced out in front of us. Though I could have cheated...I didn't actually feel like doing so. The random chance we shared was far more intriguing. Reaching out, I took up my own cards with a sly smile.

He picked up his cards and smiled. "I bet... my shirt."

I picked up mind and couldn't help but grin wildly. A royal flush! Hot @#$*!

He laid down his cards. "Two pair." He looked at me expectantly as I triumphantly threw down my hand.

"Pity. Nothing. Guess I get those trousers, huh?"

I looked down at the cards in a panic. HEY! Where'd my flush go?!

"HEY!" I snarled, jumping to my feet. "I had a royal flush not more than two seconds ago! What kind of crack-on cards ARE these?!"

He cocked an eyebrow. "What? You dealt? Are you accusing me of cheating? Now, off with those pants, oh slave mine." He collected the cards and shuffled.

I growled, but rules are rules. I stood to my feet and undid the fly to my pants. I turned around, bending over at the waist to half-moon him with my panty-clad bottom while removing my pants and tossing them away. "No bunnies," I winked, sitting back down.

"What a sad existance you must lead." He dealt the cards again. Picking up, he wagered his shirt again.

I frowned. A pair of twos. I threw them down, frustrated, and he studied them in interest.

"Wow. Four aces. Beats my full house..." He started unbuttoning his shirt.

"These cards...something fishy about them..." Though I didn't voice the complaint until AFTER he'd finished taking off the shirt. He wasn't a muscle man, but I'd never cared too much for the overly built types. He was lean and slim, with more of a runner's structure. And he was immensely attractive to me right now. I still blame it on the smell of the dogwood blossoms. "Not bad," I let my hand waver from side to side. An understatement naturally, but I was enjoying the games between us. "So inventory time...I've got boxers and a halter top, you've got boxers, boots, socks, and...nothing else. Gonna be a close one," I winked, gathering the cards and shuffling before dealing them out. My own socks you say? Those are not an option. Nor will they ever be. ~I bet I lose this one...~ "I'm betting the halter top."

As our hands landed on the cards, Martin's eyes flashed up, and he smiled at someone behind me ruefully. "Hiya, Ben."

A voice said quietly, "Did you enjoy my dinner?"

This wasn't a good sign. We'd invaded his gardens (despite Martin's assurance that Benedict wouldn't interfere), and also eaten his meal. I *knew* that servant was too fast to be true! Time to play it cool, I thought.

I turned my head up, regarding the tall, long-faced man coyly. "Care to join us for a game?" I grinned, motioning to my lap.

He pulled Martin's trousers off a tree and sighed. "No. And I'd prefer it if you didn't scandalize my garden."

Stick in the mud. That's all I'm gonna say.

Martin stood up and bowed. "Oh, but how impolite of me not to introduce you two. Benedict, this is my love slave, Faetan." He moved beside the displeased looking man and poked him in the ribs. "Won her fair and square in a duel. Looks like all those lessons were good for something after all." Benedict shot him a look to kill, and Martin grinned broadly.

I looked less than pleased myself (love slave indeed, thanks a lot!), and looked back at Benedict, hoping to change the subject. "I've heard quite a bit about these fabled lessons myself," I folded my arms. And then I glanced at Martin. "And I *will* win next time."

Benedict shrugged as Martin put on his pants again.

"Sure you will. Until then, you start your second career as love slave to me." I wanted to strangle him.

Benedict sat at the table, and Martin watched him a moment. He took my arm, and I secretly hoped Benedict didn't plan on eating the rest of Martin's asparagus. "C'mon. Let's find somewhere else to play."

I picked up my clothes, and waved to Benedict. "See you around!" I beamed cheerfully, and ran after Martin.

Martin led me into the castle. "Not a good time to banter with him. Something's eating him." He paused and finished dressing himself. "Well, let's see. We've disgraced my uncle and probably caused a stir among the servants. Now what?"

"Time for BEER!" my fist jetted into the air. "Says I, the all-powerful and magnificent love slave...this is more amusing than I thought it would be!" I cackled, tapping my fingertips rapidly together. Perhaps he wasn't as bad as I'd figured...he certainly wasn't what I'd expected, certainly.

He laughed. "Fine then. And where would you like this beer? In one of the towers, high above the city? The dining hall gets so crowded this time of day... Or maybe your dad is back?" He licked his lips. "I'm fond of your dad's collection..."

"Heck, I don't know where he keeps it, but I wouldn't recommend getting HIM angry. If I know him, he's got every bottle and drop intricately catalogued. Let's go hit a rowdy tavern!"

Martin wheeled and placed a hand on each of my shoulders. "Faetan...Jarl. Are you _scared_ of something?" He smiled, savoring the moment. He danced away. "Ooooo... I bet daddy just scares the pants off of you. Do you cry into your pillow at night? Do your knees get all wobbly?"

I swung a punch at him. "Shut up, rat! You can't goad me into doing anything! You wanna take on an elder god, so be it, but even *I* know my limits!"

He caught my fist and spun me. At first I thought it was some weird kung-fu move, but then I realized he was simply spinning me in a pirouette. He twirled me back in and caught me about the waist. Oh. Dancing. That was some weird dance move...

"Oh, don't be afraid to admit you're scared! I bet you have a nightlight too, don't you?" He leaned in and whispered in my ear. "You don't have to worry about the elders. Their bark is much, much worse than their bite." He nibbled briefly on my lobe, then releases me.

For a split second I was stunned. I felt heat flushing my veins, and for a moment I even forgot to breathe. Luckily I recovered before he could notice. I growled, shoving him away from me and brushing off my shirt as though he'd soiled it somehow. "Well, I have sensitive ears, so I'd like to *avoid* the barking, thankyouverymuch." I readjusted my hair, clearing my throat. I had to show him I was not phased in the least by the charm of his little...nibble! At least, as far as he would be able to tell. "What's a nightlight?"

"One of those neat tech things that once you discover, you wonder how you lived without them." He accepted my shove stoically, but raised an eyebrow. "Now, is that anyway for my love slave to act? I thought you were supposed to be wild with desire for my touch? Don't tell me I have to seduce you..."

That appealed to me, actually. So I slapped myself mentally. No, no, NO! That drug wasn't even showing any effects! Perhaps dipping into Bleys' wines wasn't such a bad idea. I had enough in my ring for one more dose, it ought to strengthen the last and put him out cold.

"Stupid pimp," I folded my arms crossly. "And except for gnawing on my ear like a rabid mouse, that's the first sign you've shown of being the owner of a love slave!" I smirked, looking pleased with myself. "Seducing...*might* help."

"Rabid mouse?!" He frowned. "What about me winning the clothes off of you? And, hey, I _do_ recall dipping you and kissing your nose. I think I've been a perfectly acceptable love slave owner." He sniffed. "Seducing _might_ help, indeed." He darted in, low, and caught me at the knees. Straightening, I was thrown over his shoulder and my eyes bulged in shock.

He marched off. "I'll show you 'stupid pimp.'"

"HEY!" I slapped my palm against his back. "I am NOT a sack of manure! Put me down or I'll...I will BITE you!" I snarled. So why was I enjoying this so much? Stupid pimp.

"Pfft. Go ahead. I have buns of steel!" He carried me quickly, drawing a few odd looks on the way. He reached a door, tried it, and finding it locked, kicked it in.

The room was dark and, well, upside down. I struggled to recognize it as he tossed me onto a couch. A comfy couch...

But before my mind could drift to thoughts of what we might do on that couch, I gasped as I realized that we were in Bleys's room, and Martin was currently investigating the contents of my father's wine cabinet.

"Typical," I snorted, crossing my arms and tossing my head aside. "Some love slave, more interested in my father than me! You're gay, aren't you? Don't try to deny it...I recognize the signs!"

"No," he replied. "I'm a connosieur. And so is daddy-kins." He pulled a bottle out and snagged two glasses. "And where better to ravish his daughter than in his own suite?"

"I'd wager he walks in on us," I sniffed, still feeling cross and neglected. "And I don't want any."

He poured two glasses anyway and set them on a table. "More for me." He sniffed and swallowed the burning liquid, and smiled. "You don't know what you're missing."

Oh, I knew...and I'd missed my opportunity to put in that last dose! @#$* it!

He sat back for a moment and started to think. With a resolved look, he set down his glass and went to a desk. While he did, I quickly emptied the rest of my ring's contents into his glass. Perhaps he would refill it. He wrote something on a piece of paper, then grabbed a tack, opened the door, secured the paper at eye level, then went back to the couch with a broad grin on his face.

"He won't bother us now."

"What makes you so sure?" I stared at him for a few moments, trying to discern just what he'd been about. "What did you write?" I got up off of the couch, opening the door to peep out at the sign.

He followed me. I pushed back the door and read the sign...


Go away.

Ravishing daughter.



Before I could react, he caught me about the waist and closed the door. "See? He won't bug us!" He laughed.

"Just so long as you follow through on that note," I purred, wrapping my arms around his neck.

Waitaminit!!! I jerked away, remembering that I was supposed to be angry. "You're just using it as an excuse to drink his wine."

"This is congnac, my little slave." He pulled me back to the couch. "You should try it. Nice and heady. Now, are you going to make up your mind whether you're going to stay in a snit, or if you're going to forgive me for carrying you." He handed me my own glass. "After all, _you_ were the one that suggested I carry you away and ravish you."

"I don't remember saying any such thing," I scowled, glaring at the cognac as if I could make it explode out of the glass. If only! And besides, he was supposed to be refilling his own. Did he know?! "I'M the one used to doing the ravishing! You're too innocent to do any such thing! And...yeah!" I sputtered. Gads, I sounded like a retard. No one had ever worked me up the way he did. To cover up for my verbal clumsiness, I snatched up the glass, just to show him, and gulped down the alcohol. "So there!"

I tried very hard not to tear up as the liquid scorched my throat. Oh. That's why he was sipping it...

"Innocent?" He cocked an eyebrow. "Why in the world do you think I'm innocent?" He sipped at his drink again.

SUCCESS! I did a mental backflip of joy.

"And I enjoy seeing you squirm. You're not used to being bested, or one-upped, or out-done, and now we can add 'seduced' to the list of things you've experienced today that you never had before."

I was staring at him, my mouth hanging open slightly. Did he know about my secret then...?

He eyed me. "Discomfort sits well on you."

I growled, trying to glare at him with watery eyes...not very effective. "I can tell you what would sit well on YOU! A mouth full of teeth!" I snapped furiously.

"Promises, promises..." He stopped, a look of understanding dawning on his face. "Oh... I get it... You should have told me." He looked at me slyly. "You can drop the facade now. I know why you've been so aggressive and excitable. You're a virgin aren't you? Tch."

If my eyes could glow red, they would be doing so right now. "WHATWHATWHATWHATWHAT?!?!?!?! *NO*!" I exclaimed emphatically. The glass shattered in my hand, though I hardly noticed. My hair stood on end before suddenly gleaming white in the soft light of the setting sun, and my tail lashed furiously. "How DARE you accuse me of such a thing! *I*? The conqueror of nations? The goddess of worlds?! I have conquered MANY men! And I will conquer many more! You insignificant little pissant! I will crush you like a grape in my fingers!"

He looked at me with a pitying expression. "You're really in denial, aren't you? It's nothing to be ashamed of, my gentle kitten. Why, we all have to be virgins at one point or another. Some just tread more into the... old maid terretory." He held out a hand. "But worry not! I'll remedy the situation! No need to thank me!"

I shrieked, and suddenly I was on top of him with my hands firmly esconced in the fabric of his shirt. I bent down, my face close to his as I snarled. "Listen here, little know NOTHING about me!" I paused to spit my distaste to the side. "I've crushed the skulls of men who displeased me without breaking a sweat...without even wincing as their brains splattered upon the ground! Know you not that you are treading on dangerous ground? Little pimple!" I gave his collar a mean shake. "One more remark like that out of you, and I will clutch your eyeballs in the palm of my hand! UNDERSTAAAAAAND?!" I howled at him.

He smiled, not frightened in the least which only made me more angry, and slipped his arms around my waist and pulled me to him. "Ah, she's cute when she's angry too. I must catalogue these things. Uncertainty, bloodlust, coquetishness..."

I stared at him wide-eyed, sputtering and stammering helplessly. It was all that I *could* do! The closeness of our bodies robbed me of all my basic motor functions. I could feel his heart beating against me. No...he couldn't possibly have doing this because of a mere attraction. He was too calm, too cool. "What are you about, worm?" I narrowed my eyes. "What are you after? An alliance with Bleys? Blackmail? What goes on in that warped little mind of yours?"

He laughed and hugged me tight. "I thought I was an innocent! If I wanted an alliance with Bleys, wouldn't I be drinking with him?" He grinned wickedly. "And if you can call me worm and pimp and all other sorts of nasty four-letter things, I reserve the right to call you kitty."

I stared in astonishment. ~I want to kill him! And yet...I find myself strangely attracted to this creep...! What am I supposed to do NOW?!~ Escape. I had to escape and delay until that drug knocked him out. I put my hands on his shoulders, pushing

back. "Drink your wine," I ordered, between clenched teeth.

"Congnac!" He corrected on the way down, and polished it off with gusto. He placed the glass on the ground and put his hands behind his head. "Now, was there a reason I had to rush good alcohol?"

I glared at him, and the sinking feeling that he knew what I was about was overwhelming my common sense. "If it quiets your infuriating mouth, it's worth a boatload of treasure!"

He spread his hands wide. "But you're not doing anything to stop my mouth any more! So I guess I get to be infuriating some more, don't I? Oh, let's see... where to start? There's just so many things that seem to annoy you and get your hair all high-lighted." He paused in mock contemplation.

I started grumbling, my fists quaking in fury as I launched myself off of the couch. "...don't have to take this..." I muttered, stalking to the door. It wasn't worth the facade any longer, he already knew everything. And worse yet, he didn't care. I should've figured that something as measly as a little sleeping potion wouldn't affect an Amberite...a GOD!

He jumped off the couch and caught me before I could make good on my getaway. "Now, sulking is not in my new list of 'Faetan's Mood: Favorite Hits.'" He laughed. "You've been following me around all this time. What could you possibly want?" He spun me back around to face him. "And don't say it's just because I won you, because then you wouldn't be threatening ruining my evening by walking out that door. I made a sign and everything."

"I want to know what's in it for you!" I jabbed his chest with my finger, tired of the game. "I don't care if it's blackmail, just tell me the truth!"

He laughed again. "You were going to teach me things, remember? Me, the innocent boy-worm? Stupid pimp? And please. Blackmail is just _crude_. I can be much more refined."

"You're NOT answering my question!" I snapped at him. "You dance around the subject like a pantywaist! I'm done! Now get outta my way, I've got things to do!"

He refused to ease up his hold. "Again. Promises, promises. You're my love slave, and you want to give me a raincheck so you can go off an conquer the world? That's not fair. I won you, miss Kitty. No running off." He kissed my nose irrevrantly and smiled.

Desperation froze me in place. He was going through with it...he was really going to hold me to that stupid love slave deal!!! And because I couldn't break an oath, even though I could pretend I wasn't interested, it filled me with pure anger. "Do that again and I'll bite your face off!" I snapped. "I'm tired of this game, and I have work to do!" I started struggling furiously, prepared to punch him if needs be.

"Okay, rememind me never to duel for you as a love slave _ever_ again." He sighed. "Well, if you're going to bite my face off for kissing your nose, what in the world will you do about this?" And before I could react, he kissed me, this time fully on the lips.

I stiffened in his arms, completely paralyzed as I sucked in my breath sharply. A strangled, choking noise of startlement eeked out from my throat, muffled by his mouth pressed firmly against mine. It was... It was... I suddenly pulled back...and my hands were trembling. " you...ARGH!"

He looked surprised and slightly hurt. "What? Did I have something stuck in my teeth? Eat too much garlic with lunch? You've been falling over yourself for a go at me, and now you have it." His grip on me lessened. "Don't tell me you've gotten shy?"

I shouldered away from him, backing off and regarding him with a slight 'o' mouth of apprehension. "Why did you do that?" I pointed my finger at him, leveling it just between his eyes. "WHY?! I AM FAETAN! I AM FEARED! I am not some giggling love-starved twit, I need no *kisses* or to be seduced!"

I was severely and dangerously confused, unsure of what was going on. ~I wasn't like this before... Why now?! @#$* IT!!! This is Bleys' fault! AND JAXX!~

He crossed his arms and made walks around me in a circle, studying me. "Oh, that's right. I remember. You said you did the seducing, didn't you?" He laughed. "I'm not scared of you. But generally kisses are a perfectly normal place to start, don't you agree? Or do you have a rougher form of foreplay?"

I eyed him suspiciously, as though expecting him to pounce at any moment. (Which he had better not, that's MY job!) "You *should* fear me! I'm of a mind to twist your monkey head off and stick it on a pike to feed to the pigs!" I spat. Never mind the fact that he kicked my can at dueling...

He sighed and moved back to the couch, refilling his cognac. "I stand by my earlier conjecture. You're an innocent, and you're bluffing." He smiled widely at me. "Are you going to huff about, or call me on it?"

"Do I *look* like an innocent to you?" I snarled. "Does an innocent walk around in boxer shorts and a low-cut halter top?" And if I didn't do something now, he would know for certain if I was or was not. Time to take drastic measures. "Does an

innocent do THIS?!" I ripped the shirt away from my body and threw it aside haughtily. "NO! I AM NOT AN INNOCENT YOU INSIGNIFICANT FOOL!"

He grinned evilly. "I'm not convinced. I think it's an act. I should break out one of those purity tests... you know, ever been felt up above the waist, over the sweater, over the bra... under the sweater, over the bra... under the sweater, under the bra..."

It's a good thing I was swept up in the heat of the moment, for enraged as I was, his words were filling my head with images that were too tempting.

He sipped the cognac again. "But at least we're making progress."

"You name it, I've done it," I leered for a moment before scowling again. "And you wouldn't believe what you can get away with by exchanging that sort of favor. Are you insinuating that you want a feel? Go right ahead, see if I care!" ~He won't do it.~ I narrowed my eyes at him. ~He wouldn't DARE!~

Martin set down the glass and stood up slowly. He walked over at his leisure. It took every ounce of willpower not to swallow as I glared at him defiantly. He stopped barely inches from me, and put a finger under my chin. "With the way you're glaring at me, I'm convinced you have them, ahem, booby trapped." He kissed my nose again and chuckled. "So so so defiant. This is going on your permanent record, you know."

I batted at him, annoyed. "Quit slobbering on my nose, you mongrel! Drooling maggot! And they are NOT booby-trapped!"

He laughed. "What shall I slobber on then? You don't want to be kissed on the lips, nose, ear... if I keep experimenting, this will get interesting, you know..." He kissed my nose again. "I'm sorry. You have a cute nose, kitten."

"I am NOT cute!" I stomped my foot childishly. "I am fear-inspiring! I am awesome! I am incredibly STRONG! I am a GODDESS! I AM NOT CUTE!"

I was also bordering on hysterical.

"You're adorable," he laughed, "Just the picture of innocence and sunshine and gumdrops." His hand crept up my back. "Soft and pretty... and I bet you're honorable too. Do you always keep your promises?"

My eyes bugged out as I stared at him. I felt my spine tingle with shivers at the feel of his fingers on my skin...and I paled. ~What's going ON?!~ And as I looked at him, I knew I was trapped. Caged. Fenced in. All because of my @#$* honor in keeping my oath! "Yes I do. How dare you insinuate that I do not! I should rip your lungs out!"

"Because you're doing everything in your power to get me to give up, that's why." He tickled my spine, holding my eyes for a moment, then sighed a meloncholy sigh and broke our hold. He turned and headed over to a bookshelf. "Oh well. So, read any good books lately?"

"I--I don't have time to READ!" I snapped, stomping around the room as I attempted to locate something to use as a shirt. "Honestly..." I turned away to hide the redness that was slowly creeping into her cheeks. Now that he was talking about books, I Vulnerable. And I hated it.

He glanced back, and noticed my blushing. "Aw. Shy again?" He turned back to the bookcase. "Figures. I say not only are you an innocent, but also a tease. Honor, my left foot..."

I whirled about angrily, my hunt for a shirt completely forgotten as I stalked across the room to grab his shirt and shove him up against the bookcase. "I steal. I cheat. I kill...oh boy, do I KILL! But one thing that I do NOT do, is break an oath!" I hissed. "You got that? UnderSTAND!?"

He seemed to enjoy my outburst. "That's no fair. You don't have a shirt for me to grab." He put his arms around me. "But you're being so obstinate about not being seduced and not seducing, that I'm beginning to think you're trying to weasel your way out of a deal. I'm not going to drag you into that bedroom by your hair, if that's what you're waiting for."

"All right, hot shot!" I growled, not pulling away as I glared up at him. With dismay I realized I'd have to face the music and keep my promise. "What am I *supposed* to be doing? Answer me that! And if you humiliate me," I shook a warning finger at him, "you will be unable to imagine the countless torments I will conceive to plague you for the rest of your days!"

He laughed. "Even if you are a virgin, you still shouldn't be clueless. Threatening to kill a suitor when he kisses you isn't the best way to start a night of sheet rumpling, you know." He lowered his voice. "Don't tell me I'm actually right."

I scowled at him, reading the expression in his eyes. NOW he knew. Before was just teasing, but he definitely knew the truth. I moved my glare to some unknown point on the wall. "I never said that I actually had sex with them...I just said that I seduced them!" I grumbled.

His jaw dropped in genuine surprise. "Oh. Well. That's novel." He suddenly looked very uncomfortable, as if he wasn't sure what he wanted to do. "Maybe we have differing opinions of what seduction is."

"Hmph," I let go of his collar and stepped back. "So you're going to back out now, now that you know I've never BEEN with a man before? Typical...I knew you were a goody-two-shoes to begin with!"

He laughed nervously. "I just never knew there was any such animal as an Amberite virgin over the age of 16." He crossed his arms. "Then I won't be rumpling any sheets with you, at least not while you can blame it on being my slave." He patted my cheek. "We can talk later, kitten." He turned to leave.

At first I was relieved. I was off the hook! But I was confused, also. Since when did men turn away from a half naked woman offering herself to him...and a virgin no less?! Was he one of those guys that pretended to be honorable? Or was he simply not attracted... Then I was furious. He was going to make me an oath-breaker! NOW it all made sense!

"Coward!" I spat before leaping at him with a flying tackle. We tumbled to the ground, he on his back, and me holding his collar, face seething. "I made an oath! I will NOT be known as an oath-breaker! YOU made an oath, too! YOU'RE not going anywhere! Now kiss me you ugly maggot!"

"Kiss me you ugly maggot..." he echoed. "Well, I guess I'm not going to get any closer to 'Kiss me you irresistable piece of man-flesh,' am I?" He pulled me down to him. "Fine."

"Good!" I gloated, feeling like I'd come across as the victor in a battle. Besides, now that I'd prepared my mind for an encounter, I believed myself ready. I was nervous, yes, and even...intimidated. NOT scared. I am never scared. "First time for everything." With a little smirk on my face, I began toying with the buttons on his shirt. "Let's see now...while I'm waiting for you to steal my breath away with some ravaging kiss, let's get on equal ground. This must go." I tried to make my smile charming...but I felt so *anxious* as well, tempted to bite my lip or some other such nonsense.

I felt a hand go to either side of my face, and as I struggled with an infuriatingly small button Martin sat up and kissed me. My hands stilled automatically.

He pulled away, an enigmatic smile on his face. "I stand by what I said. No ravishing until you can't blame it on being a slave."

"I don't...understand," I blinked. "What are you saying? What are you getting at?" I sat up and moved off to the side, cocking my head as I stared down at him.

He rolled onto his side, propping his head on his elbow. "What I'm saying is that I'm not going to take you into any bedchamber and ravish you, only to have you lament that you were in any way forced. No 'duty', no 'oaths'. If I were one in a long line of men, I could have cared less, but, being the first... I'd rather not risk you getting bitter and coming after me later, sword drawn. I'd hate to scar you."

Not likely. And I frowned. It felt like he was telling the truth...but why? What opportunity was in it for him by waiting? He'd pointed out that he was in fact interested. Did he...respect me? Impossible! Unthinkable!!

He smiled. "Tomorrow, once our deal is up, then we can talk. Now, since I won't be getting a dessert of one kind, I'll go for one of another." He sat up and buttoned his shirt. "Do you like ice cream?"

"YOU'RE just trying to get out of it!" I accused, pointing my finger at him. I was lying...I knew it. And judging the look on his face, he knew it too. "You're scared I'll rip your face off with my teeth, aren't you? No, no, don't bother denying it...heh..." I stood to my feet and tossed my hair. "I *am* fear-inspiring. Now where does my father keep his spare clothes...?"

He laughed and brushed by me. "He's a bit broader than you are, so I don't know how becoming it would be, but I'm sure we'll wrestle up something." He moved to what I assumed were my father's bedchambers. He opened the door, but as he stepped into the darkness he turned and winked. "Oh, and you never gave me much to be frightened of, dear. The Clairol trick isn't something that causes my heart to flutter. But you should be proud of all the other things you've stirred up this day." He turned and disappeared into my father's room.

"What things? *I* didn't stir anything up! Nothing *fun* anyway," I sulked, crossing my arms uncomfortably. And what was Clairol? "I like my white ha--oh crap, it's black again," I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. "Stupid hair."

His voice floated out from the room. "You haven't had fun? I'm injured. I thought you were having all sorts of fun inventing new ways to tantalize and curse me. _That_ you seemed to enjoy."

Well...okay, I admitted it to myself, it WAS kind of fun.

His voice lowered, but I could still hear him. "Okay, this is way more clothes than is healthy for any man. I don't care how old he is." I heard rustlings of material and doors opening and clothes being shifted about.

"What's FUN is a tavern brawl! Now THAT is entertaining," I gloated happily. ~I don't get he interested? He can't be! I swore and cursed at him enough to make his leperous arms fall off! He should be running for the hills now!~ My fists clenched. ~Something fish rot.~

"In time, in time. You can gain noteriety later, when it's your father that would be billed for the damamge. But for now, I want something sweet, and you are no longer an option, so I say we raid the upper kitchen."

He reentered the sitting room, holding a shirt and a belt. He placed the belt on a convenient chair, and moved to help me get the shirt on.

I tried to pout, but allowed him to slide it over my head. "Better...I'd hate to cause you so much embarrassment by appearing in the kitchens topless." A mischievous smile crossed my face. "Then again..."

"Embarrassed? You have a nice set. I'd be honored to show them off. but protocol..." He sighed. "You know how it is."

Actually, I was more familiar with what it wasn't, but oh well.

He savored a last look before he covered me up in the light silky shirt, and clasped the belt around my waist. The belt was a golden thing, made of links. Pretty, and smacking of Bleys. And again, for some mysterious reason, I was enjoying the feel of his hands and the glow of appreciation reflected in his eyes.

"Now, let's see what we can find."

I watched him, masking my surprise and confused interest. ~He...honestly respects me! WHY?! Why can't this be black and white?!~ "All right..." I acquiesced. "You ARE officially still in charge until the 24-hour time period has expired. I still think it would be fun to get into a fight."

"Oh, you never know. Maybe we're seeking dangerous, nefarious ice cream, that hides in shadowy alleyways." He straightened his own shirt, but not so much that it didn't still show some rumpling. It was powerfully attractive on him, I thought, when it was disheveled like that. It made him look more roguish.

"What flavor?" he asked, escorting me out of the room.

"Er...what flavors...ARE there?" I eyed him with a sidelong glance. "What is this ice cream thing? You say it's something sweet..."

His eyes widened in horror. He shook his fist at the ceiling in mock rage. "Bleys! You fiend! You'd deprive this sweet girl of one of the most treasured things in life?!" He dropped the facade, glancing at his note as we left. "Oh, we'll have to see. The cold cellar is kept a few floors down, a bit near the servants. They go raiding every once in a while. It used to be guarded by a hell hound, but Julian took him back, so all is clear now."

"Pfeh, I'M not scared of a mere hell hound...I've dealt with worse!" But I only said that because I didn't know what a hell hound was yet. I cast a quick glance at the note as well, and grinned evilly. "Let's leave it there... I want to see what Dad does. I bet he'll just shrug and pass it off as interesting. He's more likely to flip about the cognac."

However, I was caught by surprise when I saw, beneath Martin's messy scrawl, the ever so neat penmanship of my father.

"I'll bill for the door and the headboard.


"Hmph," I put my hands on my hips. "Sometimes I think Dad is just a little TOO supportive of whatever I do."