Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Sneak preview: Her Protector (Men of Valor 3.5)

Hello readers! The countdown is on to the release of His Princess, Men of Valor series, #3 out July 20, 2012. It's 10 days to go. Yay! You can now pre-order it via Breathless Press. Check out the cover and read an excerpt here

Also, the month of July marks one year since I signed my first publishing contract which was for His Treasure, Men of Valor series, #1. It is also a year since I started this blog, so there are lots of reasons to celebrate this month.

To kick off the celebrations, I'm sharing a short story I wrote for Breathless Press birthday bash in August. But all of you as my loyal followers and readers get to read it here first. Lucky you!

What I'd love though is your feedback? Let me know your thoughts about the story, characters, etc. It is currently unedited so all your feedback will be taken into account during revisions.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to chapter one of Her Protector, Men of Valor series, #3.5. Happy Reading!




***

Igboland, West Africa pre-colonization

Oma stood across the courtyard, hidden in the shadows beside the palace barracks long house. It was a dark night, the silver moon hidden behind ominous clouds. The air stirred. Leaves rustled in the shrubs behind her.

Pulse thumping, she pushed her back into the cool mud wall and glanced behind into the dense foliage. In the gloom she couldn’t see much. Crickets chirped. An owl hooted.

Body frozen, ears pricked up and breath held, she stood still waiting for someone to spring from the bushes.
Nothing happened.
Exhaling the breath nearly busting her lungs, she returned her gaze toward Prince Emeka’s quarters.

The head guard, Jide stood outside talking to another of the prince’s guards. The square was lit with bare-flamed lamps hanging on wall sconces several feet apart. From her vantage point she couldn’t hear the men’s conversation but she could watch them unobserved.

The two men were a contrast of light and shadows. But she easily recognized their outlines.  
Lofty like an iroko tree, Jide stood a head taller than his colleague. His skin was of the darkest ebony and his bulky muscles tight and hard.

For a moment she remembered the several occasions she’d walked past him or stood close to him. She’d always been tempted to touch his skin and find out if it was as firm as it appeared.
A warm shiver crawled down her back. Heat travelled to her belly. A slow ache erupted at her core.

The sound of conversation drew her back to her location. Her spine stiffened in alertness. Soon the conversation died away as the people talking walked by her without noticing her skulking in the shadows.

She glanced back to where the guards stood together.

Jide turned and stared in her direction. Her breathe hitched as his gaze seemed to connect with hers. She pressed her bare back against the wall, the rough stones scratching her skin.

Surely he couldn’t see her.

She stood still making sure no part of her body was exposed. And held her breath for several moments, her heart pounding in her chest.

After a while he shook his head, said something to his colleague and walked away.
She let out a deep breath grateful he hadn’t seen her.

The last thing she wanted was to be caught before she’d achieved her objective.
She had specific instructions to carry out. Her brother’s well-being was at stake.

After another moment, the other guard walked off in the other direction. She knew he’d gone off on patrol and wouldn’t return for a while. She’d monitored their routine for a few nights.
This was her chance to act without being noticed.

With haste she glanced left and right across the courtyard. Keeping to the shadows as much as possible, she crept to the prince’s chambers. With each step her heart raced, her hands clammy with fear.

It didn’t matter how often she’d done this. Each time fright and nervousness gripped her.
The last thing she wanted was to be caught. The penalty for spying was severe.
Yet she couldn’t help it.

Briefly, she stopped outside the main entrance to the prince’s chambers. She turned and looked behind. No one else was out there. Pulse still sprinting, she wiped her clammy hands against her light cotton wrap skirt and peered into the prince’s obi.

The chamber was dark. All the lamps extinguished.

The gloom worked well for her well as she could evade notice more easily. However it would be more difficult to move through the room with speed. She needed to accomplish her task and be gone as quickly as possible. She also needed to walk through the room based on her memory not sight.

Luckily she was one of the maidens that served the heir to the throne and his family. So she’d been in his chambers frequently.
But never under the cloak of darkness.

She took a step in and tried to remember where all the furniture was located so she didn’t knock into anything and rouse attention. When her eyes adjusted to the night, she could see the outline of the chairs and the prince’s throne on the far end of the wall.

Then she noticed the entrance to the private inner chamber.
There was no light or sound coming through the door. Had the prince retired early for the night?
Feeling emboldened by the darkness and silence, she took a step forward in the direction of the inner chamber.

Before she could take a second step, strong arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her off the floor. She gasped, knocked breathless as her body rammed into an immovable hard object.
She twisted her body to look, mouth opened ready to scream.

“Don’t make a sound.”
The rumbling masculine voice was harsh and low. A mere whisper. Yet, there was no mistaking the command.
Nor the owner.
Jide.
The palace chief guard. The last person she wanted to encounter tonight.

Apprehension dropped into her stomach like heavy boulders. Still, she lifted her chin bravely and glared at the looming, dark man holding her against his rigid body. Excitement flared in her core.

In the darkness, she could barely make out his expression but guessed it would be stern and unforgiving.
Same as always.

“Put—“
“I warned you.”

Before she could do anything, his lips descended on hers.
Stunned, she opened her mouth to protest. He took advantage and gained entry with his tongue.

For a moment she was unsure of what to do. And froze.
Never had she been involved in such an act before. Mouth fused with mouth.
Intruding on one of her friends kissing her betrothed was not the same as living it. Feeling it as she did now. No man had ever pressed his lips against hers. Her body had never felt these alien sensations currently invading her.

Jide's tongue danced atilogu in her mouth, wrecking havoc on her senses. His mouth tasted like udara fruit, sweet and rich. His scent was of the fresh earth after a rainy day.
For the first time in her life, she was aware of her feminity. Aware of heat coursing through her body. Aware that she wanted to yield her body to this man.

When he turned his head, deepening the kiss she let out a soft moan and yielded to the feelings of confusion and excitement. All he did was hold her to him and kiss her. Still her body bloomed. She snaked her arms around his shoulders clinging on tightly. The slow burn of fervor warmed her insides.

Abruptly, he released her body and her bare feet hit the hard earth. In that instant, she missed his touch. His heat. His kiss.

Disorientated, it took her a moment to realize they were no longer in the prince’s quarters. They stood outside, in the dark corner of the courtyard where she’d been spying on the guards previously.

“Are you suddenly speechless?” Jide asked, his voice dangerously low.

Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Fear and excitement made her body tremble.
She stiffened her back, quelling her body’s quakes. Digging into her reserves of boldness, she stared up at the fierce-looking sentinel who towered above her.

Even in the dim light, his features were striking.

Jide didn’t have the proud handsome features of the Prince of Umunri. Rather it was as if Chiokike, the god of creation, endowed him with intense features in preparation for his life as a warrior—to frighten his opponent, instead of to attract attention.

Yet, his dense curved brows, eyes the color of the blacksmith’s furnace, strong wide nose and full sensual lips drew her to him each time. Even now she was mesmerized by him.
The rest of his physique was superb. She could now attest to the firmness of his bulky musculature. She had felt their solidity when he’d held her to his body.

Oma had lived through eighteen New Yam festivals. In that time, she’d never met any man like Jide. He was the most feared of the palace guards and the heir’s most loyal sentry.

If you want to live through another eighteen festivals you have to get away from him.

Remembering where she was and her situation, she bit her cheek to stop being distracted.
“You caught me unawares,” she retorted.
Angrily, she stared at him. He lifted his lips up in a half-smile. She looked away, conscious of the way his amused knowing gaze seemed to bore into her mind.
“Now I have to return to my quarters.”
Thinking to get away quickly, she turned, her feet ready to flee.

“Where do you think you’re going?”
He grabbed her arm, stopping her before she could take a step away.
“I’m not done with you, yet.”

Her cheeks flushed with heat again at his words’ implication.
“Do not think I will allow you to maul me like you did a little while ago,” she injected disdain into her voice.

A low chuckle erupted from Jide. He sounded like a man who was out of practice with laughter. She’d never seen him laugh before now.
“You did not resist the last time. As I recall, you were positively speechless. For the first time ever from what I know of you.”

“Do you imply I’m a chatterer?”
Intentionally, she ignored the implication that he observed her activities. It couldn’t be. A man of his station had more important things to do than watching a maiden go about her duties.

“On the contrary. I merely refer to your refusal to obey my instruction in the Prince’s chambers. Why were you there in the first place?”

She had practiced her response in event of being caught out. Yet in front of this domineering sentry who seemed to see through her, she stuttered. “I—I went to retrieve the rest of the dinner utensils that I forgot earlier.”

“You are certain of this.”

“Of course,” she replied. Flustered, she continued speaking to cover her nervousness. “I was plainly not aware the prince had retired for the evening. It was not my intention to disturb him. You must admit it is unusual for the prince to retire this early.”

“It is none of your concern what time the prince of Umunri retires for the day, maiden.” For the first time that night, Jide’s tone was harsh and reprimanding. She knew instantly she’d spoken beyond her station.

“Forgive me for speaking out of turn,” she said, her tone chastised, her head bowed to hide the tears that threatened to cloud her eyes.

It was bad enough she’d been caught where she wasn’t supposed to be. Now she seemed to have incurred the wrath of the chief guard. She had failed in her mission tonight. And the consequences would be terrible.

“Oma, you are forgiven,” he said, his resonant voice losing its harshness.
He lifted her chin. The calluses on his fingers grazed her skin, searing it as his fiery gaze held her captive. For a moment, she thought he was going to kiss her again. To her chagrin, she wanted him to kiss her. She hoped it meant she had escaped punishment for her offenses this night.

“But I do not believe your reason for going to the prince’s chamber,” he continued, his words sinking her hopes along with her heart falling into her belly. His gaze was stern again.
“To be certain you do not attempt it again tonight, you will stay where I can keep a watch over you. Or are you going to tell me the truth?”

“I—I told you the truth already.” Her nervousness returned along with her body’s trembling. Her heart pounded in her chest in a quick tempo. She wondered if he could hear it.

“Right, you will come with me then.”

Suddenly rage coursed through her veins at being planted in this precarious position in the first place. Her annoyance was compounded because only moments previously the now implacable Jide had made her feel something no one else had ever elicited from her. Making her think perhaps there was more to him that his forbidding exterior.

Now he would extinguish the light of hope he’d lit in her.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she replied irritably and clenched her fists at her sides.
He grabbed her arm. She wriggled and pulled but couldn’t get away. She opened her mouth to protest.

“Don’t even think of making a noise. Otherwise I know exactly how to shut you up.”

Remembering exactly how he’d shut her up previously, warmth travelled up her body and stung her cheeks. She couldn’t allow him to kiss her again. She needed her mind unconfused.

Clenching her fists, she gritted her teeth and nodded instead.
Smiling victoriously, he tugged her arm. She followed him like a festival goat about to be slaughtered.


Copyright Kiru Taye 2012
***
Here is a visual glossary of terms.
Udara fruit

Atilogu dancers

Iroko tree