He hadn't been kidding about tying her to his belt. Briar spent the entire evening with heavy leather cuffs fastened around her wrists, with a chain that was secured to Locke's equally heavy belt. Dinner was a humiliating experience. Locke's soldiers laughed and cheered and praised his prowess for hunting her down and bringing her back—again. Apparently it had become a great sport among the men. Especially after several more heavy drinks had passed around. They'd laid bets on how far she would get before Locke would find her, and thus found the story of her capture highly amusing.

So amusing, that they decided to make a toast in her honor. For getting three hours closer to freedom than the last time. Then Rodar, a burly, fur-clad giant of a man—who was Locke's general and closest friend—rose with a big grin behind his full beard. He lifted his mug as he wiped the back of one hand across his mouth, knocking several pieces of dangling food from the dirty hair growing around his mouth.

"To the lady whose fighting spirit so closely resembles her name! What greater conquest then a dame of such prickly temper?" he bellowed. The room dissolved in laughter, and Briar clenched her teeth against the retort she would have freely delivered in her father's camp. The men lifted their glasses and chugged away, some taking longer draws then others, some roaring with laugher as one lad in the back toppled clean off the bench at his table. Locke was laughing right along with everyone else, which frustrated her. It wasn't necessarily that she felt humiliated by all the mirth—after all, there were probably a very small few of her clan's women that could have boasted three escapes as nearly-successful as hers (they wouldn't have even gotten out of their cells, most likely)—but it was difficult to watch her captor be so jovial when her ass was going numb on his floor, and her poorly scabbed wrists were chafing again from the shackles.

Briar shifted uncomfortably on the tiny cushion she'd been given to sit on. The hard stone floor was starting to hurt her tail end, but she wasn't about to say anything about it. Last time, Locke had taken away the cushion. Three weeks was long enough to learn that there were times when even she had to keep her mouth shut. The king was generally a fair one, as kings went, but she wasn't an idiot. She would just have to deal with the discomfort—and with the stupid revealing skirts she'd been given. They didn't hide her legs very well.

"Who wants to lay bets on whether or not there will be a next time for our fair Princess?" Rodar called out then, and another wave of shouting rose up as half the men in the room started offering up their wages.

"And how far she'll get!" added another man near the back of the room.

Locke looked back at Briar then, and chuckled at her expression of chagrin. "You realize they wouldn't be so amused if you hadn't done this twice before," he said.

Briar gave a derisive snort—a trick she'd learned from her father, who had never been shy about letting people know what he thought. "I wouldn't have had to escape if I hadn't been held a prisoner."

"You wouldn't have been held a prisoner if your people hadn't been trespassing on my land and running my lawmen out of the area," Locke said.

"Well they wouldn't have had to trespass on your land if you hadn't chased the Mennau army into their territory." Briar shot back.

"You should be grateful that I'm trying to find a way not to fight them." Locke had been half lounging on his deep-seated deerskin chair, but now he sat forward to brace his elbows on his knees, and Briar saw apprehension in his posture…even though his face was blank. "I have enough problems fighting the Mennautans off."

Well, he had a point there. She'd seen firsthand how menacing the Mennau army was. That race was tough enough to run her father out of his territory, and mean enough to wreak havoc in Locke's kingdom ever since. It was odd to see a king show fear of them, but not really surprising. Briar's father was just a clansman named king. Regal wasn't exactly his style. 'Warrior', on the other hand, was his style, but even her infamously temperamental father had chosen to leave their home rather than lead his men to the slaughter…a second time. Choosing not to fight two wars at once, especially against two such enemies, was a decision Briar couldn't really blame the ooh so righteous King Locke for. In fact, if she hadn't been the kidnapee, chosen as the means through which Locke planned to keep her father at arm's length, Briar would have agreed with his reasoning. It was a good tactical move. It just rankled her pride.

"You're not going to gain any allies by kidnapping their daughters," Briar said, and gave her chain a yank.

Locke just cast her an annoyed glance, then turned back to watch his men. "You'd be surprised. It's been done before, and you were so easy to catch…all by yourself on the plains. I should have taken a hint from your guards about how easy it is to keep you contained though."

He bent down to pick up his drink then, and after taking a long chug, turned to offer her the drink. She eyed him, just to be defiant, and then leaned forward to take a swig. He turned away just as a female dancer entered the hall, and everyone's attention was caught up by the tender young flower of a girl's scanty outfit. The entire room was immediately enamored when her tiny skirt flew up and revealed one rounded buttock.

Briar cocked an eyebrow, feeling somewhat incredulous. The girl wasn't…that pretty. She was curvaceous, true, but for a dancer her body wasn't very…toned. She had a little extra weight that made her moves look somewhat less graceful than they might have otherwise. Locke looked somewhat glassy-eyed as he watched the dance though, as though his mind were elsewhere. Briar watched him for a brief moment, wondering absently why he was one of the few men in his army that kept himself clean-shaven. Locke had fine, almost pretty, facial features—the only part of him that looked like the blue-bloods that kings generally resembled. He had a strong jaw and dark brows, blue-black eyes, dark lashes, and a full mouth that was, at the moment, pulled into a frown.

Locke felt her eyes on him finally and glanced back at her. "What do you think of her?" he asked, coming out of his reverie.

Briar shrugged. "She's good, but not as good as my mother." Or me, Briar thought, but she wasn't about to tell the king that.

"Your mother was a dancer?" Locke leaned closer, sounding politely interested. If the question had seemed lewd, Briar wouldn't have answered it, even though the real story was actually rather lewd anyway. Locke was the picture of polite conversation, though Briar would put money on the fact that it was a contrived appearance.

"My father fell in love with a slave girl," Briar said with an equally polite smile, and Locke paused. Briar would have liked to believe he was taken aback by her response—it had been her intention to shock him—but instead he looked mildly amused.

"I see," he said, and glanced down at the skirts that were failing to cover Briar's legs. "What about you? From the way you move, you've obviously inherited a dancer's grace. Did your mother teach you to dance?"

"I am much too clumsy to be a dancer," Briar lied with a sweet grin, and Locke laughed. He had a good laugh, clean and clear and unpretentious, and she found she liked to listen to it.

"You are much too willful for your own good," he said, and reached back to grab the chain attached to her shackles. "Come around to my knee."

He pulled her up, and Briar shifted around to sit by his leg, figuring that she didn't have any choice in the matter anyway. She settled down with her legs bent off to one side, and hooked her chained hands over Locke's knee for balance. She had to lean against his leg too, which was more intimate contact than she would have liked, but there was little help for it. When she was settled, she cast a caustically questioning look up at Locke.

"Yes," he answered. "That is much better. It won't hurt my neck to look back at you now."

"Mm," Briar said noncommittally, not buying the cover story. Locke's neck wasn't as thick as Rodar's—which probably didn't allow him to turn his head very far, and probably grew sore when he tried. No. The real reason it was better was most likely because Locke's leg was now in contact with the side of her breast, where she had to lean against him. How convenient.

"Tell me about your people," Locke said then, and Briar sighed.

"If you are trying to find out how many warriors my father has…"

"I didn't ask about your father's military might." Locke held his mug out for a passing servant to fill it again, and handed it to Briar. "I asked about your people. Tell me about your clan."

Briar took the cup and drank deeply of the strong liquid in it, suspecting that she would need it before the evening ended. When she handed it back, she answered.

"They are a fearless people," she said as Locke finished off the mug in a few gulps. "The men are great warriors, and the women are strong. When the men are gone, we defend our homes. We raise our children. We plant the fields. The men hunt, and fight for us, and keep us safe. When nighttime comes, we enjoy the fruits of our labor. There are many nights like this one, but in the morning we get back to work. If it were not for the number of the Mennau armies, they never would have stood a chance against us."

Locke nodded. "I believe you. Your father was wise to relocate. The valley you live in now is set so high in the mountains that it will be difficult for an army to reach you. There is a natural barrier around you, but you haven't trapped yourselves. There is room to farm during the warm months and enough caves to hide in should you be attacked."

"You seem to be fairly familiar with it," Briar noted warily, wondering if her family were in danger from such knowledge.

Locke chuckled. "If you recall, that valley used to be populated by a small fort where my lawmen kept their base. Despite it being a good defensive position, they were run out within hours of your father's arrival. He knows his business just a little too well, and the valley is a good place to keep your people safe."

Briar turned away from him to smile to herself. Yes, her father was wise, and she was proud of his leadership. Such praise was unexpected coming from Locke though, which was most likely a careful calculation on his part. She had best be careful…the king could do what he liked with her but her loyalties would never waver.

"Most of us, at least," she said meaningfully, and Locke chuckled.

"Yes, well. There's not much that can be done about daughters that decide to wander a little too far away from safety," Locke said.

"There's not much that can be done about kings who decide to kidnap instead of negotiate," Briar said with a shrug.

Another servant refilled Locke's mug, and he held it up. "Lady," he said. "I am attempting to be civil because I don't want reports to get back to your father of mistreatment when the time hopefully comes for me to release you. However, after a few more of these drinks, I will be far less conversational, and you will be sorry you didn't keep me in good humor while you could."

Briar studied him for a moment after he downed the drink and sat back to ignore her and watch the dance. Locke…reminded her of the war horse her father had inherited from an uncle when she was ten years old. The giant black creature was a stallion, all beauty and muscle and power. The horse was always on the brink of an explosion, just barely constrained by years of training and daily exercise to keep him as calm as possible. His muscles quivered sometimes with his excitement, but he never spooked, and never threw the tantrum everyone expected was coming. Briar remembered sneaking into his paddock some nights, risking life and limb to pet his long legs and walk under his stomach, giggling when her hair brushed his soft underbelly and got all mussed up. He could have crushed her many times, but stepped with care when she was around. When a wolf snuck into the paddock at the same time she did, the giant stallion turned into a bugling war machine, trampling the wolf before it could get to her.

Locke oozed the same feel of composed violence and raw power. Polite, but dangerous. Briar hadn't been raised to be timid, but she was smart enough to stand down when it was in her best interest. Like now. So she settled back against his leg and turned just enough to be able to watch both the king and the rest of the room at the same time. Locke's mug was filled several more times, and slowly she watched him relax into the jokes and the entertainment, and the repeatedly butchered birthday songs. Then she watched as the games broke out among his men. Drinking games, gambling games, knife-throwing games…those were somewhat concerning. Some of the men seemed to aim better the drunker they got, but some couldn't even see the bale of straw set up to throw at. Locke watched everything, his fingers trailing over the hilt of his sword, where it leaned against his makeshift throne. Sometimes he looked thoughtful. Sometimes, just amused by the rowdy show before him. Briar waited, watching him, and occasionally tried to relieve her poor backside by shifting to a more comfortable position.


It was nearly dawn by the time Locke finally leaned over to speak with one of his advisors, and then stood. There were drunken bodies littering the floor, all across the room, but some few of the revelers were left to cheer on their king as he rose and took up his sword to leave. The hooting got louder as Locke walked through the open door to one side of the low table and Briar was forced to rise and stumble after him. The noise continued for a while, as Locke walked in silence, only slightly unstable despite the many drinks. They passed up a window that was overlooking the paddocks, at one point, and Briar realized they were heading toward the north tower, where Locke's room was located.

Briar glanced back at the guards following them, and wished she'd had more of that liquor.

Locke reached back to take hold of the chain then, and swung her around him. She hadn't seen the open door until just then, because the shadows in the hall had kept it hidden. There was a spiral staircase leading up to the tower room were Locke slept, and two male servants were coming down with empty, steaming buckets. Briar dodged around them as Locke made her walk ahead of him up the stairs. Halfway up, he missed one of the steps and nearly took her down when he reached out to catch himself on the wall.

"Careful, you big oaf! You'll kill us both!" Briar hissed.

"Your good humor is so refreshing," Locke said caustically, and gestured for her to continue. She did, all the way up to his door, where he reached around her to push it open and then shoved her through.

Briar was gritting her teeth as he turned briefly to pound on the door with one fist.

"Don't let her out," Locke said to the heavy wood, and moved to lean his sword against the wall.

"Yes, sir!" said one of the guards from the other side, and Locke walked away from the door toward the steaming bath that sat just in front of the fire in the hearth, peeling his shirt off as he went. She probably should have looked away, but…in her humble opinion dinner had exhausted her minute supply of shame for the evening, and Locke was not an ugly man. She liked the way the muscles in his back moved when he pulled the material over his head.

Besides, she had failed to escape. That kind of failure deserved nothing less than whatever came of her capture now. Shame forced on her by others was something she could handle. Shame she had brought on herself…by being a fool, or being cowardly, was not.

Locke pulled off his boots and leaned against the side of the huge tub to run his hand through the water. "Good," he said, almost to himself, and then reached down to unfasten the belt she was chained to.

Briar watched him in silence. There was no escape now. They were too high up, and the only door was blocked. She was literally at the mercy of a shirtless, bootless king.

The belt hit the floor, and Briar looked up to find Locke looking at her with that same thoughtful look he'd been wearing all evening. Well…not quite the same. He looked less…civil suddenly. Briar jumped when he reached out for her hands, and lifted them to produce the key from a pocket and unlocked her shackles. They hit the ground too, and Locke watched as she rubbed her raw wrists.

"Get undressed," he said, and Briar tensed. "You're next," he said, and nodded toward a panel of wood that had been constructed in one corner of the room to allow for a changing area.

Briar hesitated. "You're letting me take a bath?"

"I may make you take a bath," Locke said as he started untying his sash. "You've reeked of sweat and dirt ever since I dragged you back here, and I like my women smelling clean."

He dropped his sash then, and Briar caught herself glancing down at the waistline of his loose pants. She swallowed. She'd never really seen much of a man's body before…well, except for a few of her father's men who hadn't been too shy about their merrymaking, who had all been ugly. Or fat. Or fat and ugly.

Briar drew her eyes back up to catch Locke's gaze, and tried very hard not to let her expression give away her appreciation. Locke had that densely muscled kind of body with hard, defined muscles that started with broad shoulders and went down to powerful biceps and a picturesque chest, hard abdomen and sides that curved down into the barely-draped waistband of his pants. WOW but that sight was enough to set a woman's…heart…on fire.

Locke stepped in and leaned close enough that she could smell the drink on his breath. "You're staring, lady Briar."

Briar nodded. "I have a theory," she said.

"And that is?"

"If I look a man in the eye then he is less inclined to see me as a victim," she said, and cocked an eyebrow to challenge a rebuttal.

Locke chuckled, and took the challenge. "A bluff?"

Briar smiled. "Of course."

Locke's head tipped back as he grinned at her statement, the only indication in his manner that he was still intoxicated. "You have a woman's gift of clever mind tricks. Lead a man one way, then double back to confuse him." He stepped closer. "What you forgot though, is that when you literally have no escape, mind games don't always work."

Briar stepped in as well, until they were nose to nose: barely a hair's breadth away. "Anything could happen, oh arrogant king. Even a woman can deal out a few surprises."

Locke's hands came up then, so fast they made her jump as his fingers clamped around her upper arms. "I don't doubt your creativity, little Briar. Only the lack of your present options. Now," he turned her around then and pushed her over to the partition. "I am this close to stripping you and dropping you into the bath myself. Hurry up."

"Fiend!" Briar said, and twisted out from under his grip, catching his wrists to keep him from touching her again. "There's just one problem."

"And that is?" Locke asked.

She didn't want to ask, but…"I can't untie this stupid dress your maids gave me," she said, never looking him in the eye.

Locke laughed again, amused by her predicament, and lifted a hand to twirl one finger mid-air, indicating for her to turn. She didn't want to be intimidated by the move, so she just swiveled around on her heel and ground her jaw together. She HATED it when she was helpless.

Briar felt his fingers working at the fastening to her dress. They started down by her waist, where she felt his knuckles just barely grazing her backside, then he worked on loosening the ties up the length of her back. Her skin started to tingle by the time he'd gotten halfway, and once he'd reached her shoulder blades, a shiver broke out over her skin.

He paused, silent, and Briar waited for a question, or a reaction, or anything…but his hands didn't move. Then she felt warm breath on her neck and her nerves went wild, sending a blast of electricity through her veins and forcing out an involuntary gasp.

"Interesting," said Locke, and just as he reached down to glide his knuckles down her hip, she caught her breath a second time and pulled away. He caught her arm and held her there.

Briar swallowed again. It was the middle of the month…exactly half-way between cycles. In the past she'd been a little worried when she noticed how extreme her emotions got round about that time of the month, and now was just one more of those moments where body and mind were somewhat less than syncopated.

"Briar," Locke whispered, like he was trying out the sound of it, and another chill raced up Briar's back. Then she saw the knife sitting on the nightstand by the giant bed, and felt Locke pulling her back, and made up her mind. Her body was ready enough. Locke was handsome enough. The rest shouldn't be hard to fake…

Briar reached up to lift the heavy tunic she was wearing over her head, and then dropped it to the floor and slid off the dumb skirt that was useless anyway, so she was standing in the little underpants she'd been wearing under the skirt, with a half-length shift hanging loosely over her breasts and stretching down her arms. Locke drew in a long breath behind her.

"Damn me to hell…" he said as he reached out and placed his hands on her hips and pulled her back against him. He ducked his head to breathe in against her neck. "I forgot that women always have the most potent weapons in their arsenal."

"Mmm, told you," Briar said as she turned around and started pushing him toward the bath.

"Oh, so you think I can't resist?" Locke asked with a smile. "That's cocky."

"Really?" Briar asked. "Then I just might enjoy this."

"Ah, but little Briar…being incapable is one thing. Being unwilling is another," he said as he reached up to place a hand over hers, where it rested against his muscled chest.

"Just remember you said that," Briar said as she slid her hands down his ribbed abs, and then slid a single finger along each groove that arced from his hips down into the front of his pants. She scraped her nails along his skin just lightly enough to tickle his nerves—it was somewhat gratifying to see the muscles in his chest twitch in reaction—then hooked her fingers into the front of his pants.

Locke's legs bumped into the side of the tub then, and he stopped his retreat. Briar didn't stop the advance though. She pressed one soft kiss to his neck and pushed him over the side—a feat that probably wouldn't have been possible if Locke had put up much of a fight. The water splashed over the edge as he went in, pants and all, and Briar stepped in after him. The intense heat brought a gasp from her, and as Briar settled down in the water, her legs straddling his waist and her tunic soaking up the water, she clenched her teeth against the warm ache in her breasts. The wet material was rubbing roughly against her skin, almost hurting her as it began clinging to her in heavy ripples. Mmm, yes. He noticed that. Her breasts were one of her prouder assets. Briar leaned in to kiss him, and Locke placed a hand on her chest to hold her away.

"You," he said with a clearer tone than a man with his hand on her breast ought to have been able to, "are too uncooperative to be so accommodating without an ulterior motive."

"And you," Briar said as she shifted his hand to cup her breast through her shirt, "should be too drunk to be thinking so clearly."

She backed away though, shifting her groin away from his lap, where she felt his lust stirring despite his blasé little act. There was a rag hanging over the side of the tub, with a ball of sweet soap sitting in a groove of the tub's lip right by it. Briar picked up the soap and dipped it in the piping hot water, and leaned back to dunk her head below the water. When she sat back up, she rubbed the soap between her hands and then spread the lather through her hair.

When she looked up, Locke's gaze met hers, and Briar lifted both arms, her dripping wet shirt pulling tight over her breasts as she scrubbed at her hair. She leaned back again to rinse out her hair, stretching her neck and arcing her back to dip her head into the water. When she came back up, she sighed, and glanced up at Locke through dripping lashes.

"Is this a battle of wills, or a bath?" she asked sweetly as she leaned in just close enough for the droplets of water on her lips to brush against his.

He was leaning back against the side of the tub, his arms draped over the sides, a mildly bemused expression on his face. If it hadn't been for what her hand felt under the water, he would have had her fooled.

Locke sucked in another breath as her fingers slid across the front of his wet pants. "Always misbehaving," he said against her lips, and finally leaned in the last fraction of an inch to kiss her. He lifted one hand to wrap her hair around his fist and then opened his palm against the back of her head, pressing her lips harder against his as she opened her mouth and met his tongue with hers.

"Really should have just let you take your own damn dress off," Locke said against her mouth. "I wonder what kind of plan you've got in mind."

"The plan, at the moment, is to wash off the dirt," she said as she pulled away and lifted her arms, and Locke reached out to slide his hands up her stomach, catching her shirt as his palms slid over her breasts. He lifted the shirt over her head and then hooked it behind her neck, trapping her arms.

"Mmm," said Locke as he grabbed her wrists in one hand and pinned them behind her head, "if nothing else, at least you won't be able to escape for a little while."

Briar gave a smug little grin and cocked an eyebrow at him, and his other hand plunged beneath the water to hook around her butt and drag her close against him. Her hips shifted and she ground herself against him as his head dipped to her breast.

Whoa! The surprise that escaped her lips was a little sharper and a little louder than she'd meant for it to be. The feel of his mouth against her skin, molding around her soft flesh was strangely electrifying and baffling all at once, bombarding her with sensation even as she attempted to savor a feeling as fleeting as mist. The press of his lips against her skin tickled her nerves and crackled through her chest like flashes of chilling bliss. Her muscles clenched, her hips rolling in a slow grind as she squirmed beneath his mouth. Yeah…that felt good.

Locke shifted his grip and pulled her hips closer. His muscles were bunched and tense with restraint, and she found one tiny corner of her brain that was thankful he didn't mean her harm. She wouldn't escape a grip like the one he had on her wrists…and even if she'd wanted to get away, which, oddly enough, she didn't, the arm around her middle was practically immovable. She…kind of liked that.

She also wanted a kiss though, oddly enough. She'd started this as a charade, but damn it, she wanted another kiss.

"Locke," she said. Her voice didn't want to work quite right, so it was more of a sigh than a name, so she started to repeat it…but the thought was interrupted.

Briar threw her head back and arced her hips, startled suddenly by the sudden pressure on the acutely sensitive, hardening flesh around her nipple. He'd bit her! And he wasn't being particularly gentle about it either. Briar opened her mouth to chide him—for all the good it would do—but the pleasure was so intense it felt as though her skin were on fire. It was like a web of intense, euphoric sensation that bled through her breast and down through her chest to settle like molten lava between her legs…and it…itched. She itched to be touched, to be teased…no…to be satisfied. Oh, how her body craved it. Then he opened his teeth, slid a hand into the wet linen that stretched between her legs and tied at her hips, and took a mouthful of her breast into his teeth, softly scraping across her skin until his teeth caught just the very tip of her nipple…and his fingers pressed into her with all the gentility of an avalanche.

"OW!" Briar jumped, expecting to feel pain and only finding herself excited by the rough pressure of his fingers rubbing over her skin and then pushing into her. His thumb pressed against the overactive bunch of nerves at the mouth of her vagina, and one of his fingers rubbed against her clit as the others shoved deep into her.

Briar let out a harsh, choked moan. She'd meant to fake it but...somehow she was finding it less necessary than she'd expected. The powerful elation that ran through her felt like a consuming wave that she wanted to give into wholeheartedly, and the severe concentration of need that filled her body through several more soft moans kept growing until the craving grew almost too much for inaction. His hand was working through her guard and ravaging her senses with a steady, skillful ease, but then he shifted her so they swapped spots and she was leaning with her back against the tup. He knelt now on one leg, and the other was raised up to hook under her knee and spread her legs. His hips were pressed against her, and she could feel his arousal through his pants. It excited her for some reason, to think that he might feel this enticing, powerful desire as strongly as she was…

That was when she realized how badly she wanted him. Briar's fingers clenched, her nails digging into her palms as she lifted her free leg to hook it around Locke's waist. She thrashed, pulling herself away from Locke and demanding to get her arms back. He let go of her wrists, and Briar tugged her shift off and tossed it aside. It gave a wet slap as it hit the ground, and Briar reached down through the water to seek out the waistline of his pants. Locke got busy with the ties at her hips, but only got one untied, so he just dragged it down her leg to get it out of the way. Just a little more maneuvering…and his pants splat against the ground next, and their breathing grew harsh as they kissed. Briar dragged her fingers through Locke's hair, matching his harsh kiss with the same fanatical verve, tongues clashing and lips warring in a dynamic dance. Locke's hands spread her ass cheeks and guided her over his swollen pride…but he paused.

Locke pulled away from her kiss, with a little bit of difficulty since Briar had hold of his lower lip. He smiled.

"Now…" he warned her, and she nodded.

"Don't be shy," she said, and with a thrust of his hips Locke entered her, splashing water over the side of the tub and onto the floor. He broke through her maidenhood—something she was glad was over with quickly, considering all the dreaded anticipation she'd had for it over the years—and she cried out, her mind a mess of want and pain. Her womb throbbed with the sting of his entrance, and Locke swore.

"Surely not…" Locke said with an incredulous look on his face—her clan's reputation wasn't the best, in all honesty—and Briar chuckled. She looked up at him and gave a saucy smile, then lifted one hand to cover her breasts and the other to trail her nails first down his hip and then his thigh.

"Are you…going to stop?" she asked with exaggerated disappointment in the sweetest voice she could manage to fake, and raised an eyebrow as she tipped up her chin and rolled her hips. Locke's arm shot out to grab the rim of the tub, which happened to displace more of their bathwater, and he gave a harsh groan.

"Someone," he said, "has got to teach you how to behave."

"Think you're up to it?" Briar dared him with a mocking brow.

"Ha!" he said, and leaned in close to her ear, so his lips just barely grazed her jaw and the soft breath created by his words sent a shiver through her body. "A woman like you, with more thorns than nectar in her personality, little Briar, would never survive the lesson."

Briar turned her head just a little, because being close to her ear meant his was close to her as well, and used her tongue to trail up his neck and suck his earlobe into her mouth. She closed her lips over it and pulled away slowly until it popped out of her mouth, and then said, "All it takes is a little bait for the trap, silly king. A smart woman just keeps a few defenses ready in case she falls prey to the wrong captor."

"Clever girl," said Lock, and lifted her hips to thrust into her again, hard, splashing water all over his floor. Briar moaned, the sound rough and elemental as it sounded through the room—but then he thrust into her again, hard…and again, hard, until the rhythm became like a drumbeat in her head and the water churned around them, splashing over their bodies and onto the floor with every move they made. Maybe he set out to tame her…maybe not. She didn't care, particularly, because if he meant to domesticate her he was doing it the smart way.

Briar wrapped her arms around him to drag her palms across his back, loving the feel of his mobile muscles beneath her touch as he thrust into her again, and again, and again…Then he kissed her, devouring her mouth like he was starved for her flesh, until his tempo grew too fast for the sweet little extras and he pulled away to give more attention to the action that was sinking them both into mindless passion. Each time he would fill her, scraping along the keenly responsive walls of her inner flesh, stretching her skin to make room for him and ramming into her body. They were breathing hard, she realized when she had enough sense to observe it, and mixed with the ragged inhales and exhales were the sounds of their lust spilling into the air—along with the constant noise of sloshing bathwater. She was already flooded with the chemicals of her lust in both mind and body, but with every thrust the ravenous demands of her body multiplied with exponential insistence. He must have noticed when she was near the brink…because he slowed, and her growing cries culminated into one of disappointment as just enough clarity returned to her mind to bring her back from the staggering drop into oblivion.

Fine, she thought. So he wanted to be crafty. She never lost in a game of guile.

Briar's arms snaked up his body until her fingers had tangled themselves in his hair, and she lifted herself to rub her body against him as she kissed him, deliberately writhing against him so her wet, slick skin slid across his in a sensual dance. Her breasts pressed against his chest, mapping out the curves and contours of his muscles with mischievous pleasure—a double-edged calculation meant to tease him into greater excitement and to give her an excuse to explore him…just a little. His thrusts even helped out a little, if unintentionally. Locke moved up and down her body as she squirmed against him, and she hitched her hips up, twisting and clenching in a little teasing dance that came on a sudden whim, finally eliciting a rough groan from him.

"You're a malicious tease," he said quickly, right before he went back to her lips, and she started trailing her fingernails from his neck to his shoulders, then down his back, at first tracing the lines of his muscles until she found somewhere that made him groan with pleasure, and she stroked her fingers across those nerves as her tongue toyed with his and her lips suckled his.

"Make me come," she whispered after a while. He must have liked that request, because the grunt that followed was filled with smug compliance. Before he could follow through, however, she reached down to test a theory. Her hand stretched around behind her, and then hooked up from beneath her ass to trail across the soft skin encasing his distinct…"family jewels". Surprise mixed with the loud groan that came out that time, and Briar smiled. Sometimes, it paid to be curious. Even brainless bliss couldn't quite cure her of it…

Locke dipped his head to her breast then, trailing his tongue through the droplets of water that clung to her skin, and then sucked her nipple back into his mouth. With his other hand he groped her other breast, then trailed his hand down her side, then down her thigh. When his hand came back his fingers stretched over her ass and gave it a good squeeze, and the same time pulling her into his thrust. He gave a groan, but this time it was the sound of a man fighting back the inevitable, and Briar realized with some amount of remaining clarity that he was close too…

One, two, three, four more thrusts…her cries grew louder with each one, her mind and body overwhelmed with sensation until the bubble of bliss popped and the rush of need besieged her defenses, crashing through them and leaving her almost bereft in its passing. She felt Locke thrust into her once more, and distantly heard his loud grunt of release, and was filled with a new sensation as he filled her with his seed.

She sighed out a moan, and Locke leaned over her for a time, letting them both catch their breath. He watched her closely, and she had to give him credit…he was at least a good enough man to look after her in the aftermath of spoiled virginity. Somehow she doubted most of the men in her clan would have cared.

"And now we find out, how has the vixen fared?" Locke asked under his breath. He wasn't really breathing hard anymore, she noticed, but he still sounded…slightly aroused.

Briar glanced up at him through her wet eyelashes, and cocked her head with playful mockery as she ran a hand up his chest. "The vixen," she said, and shoved him away from her to hop out of the bath and wring out her hair, "has decided that being the king's prisoner has its benefits."

She had her back to Locke, so the only warning she had was the slosh of water hitting the floor when he got out, and then suddenly her feet went out from under her and she was getting lifted high into the air. Briar squealed in alarm and amusement, but then before she knew it she was falling again. It worried her for a second, and she turned in the air, ready to catch herself…only it was a bed she was landing on, not the floor.

Locke had her wrists again before she even knew what was happening, and was leaning over her with his knee between her legs and his other hand braced by her chest.

"What an interesting change of opinion," he said as he leaned over her, so close his almost-kiss teased her senses. "The captured princess succumbs to the charms of her captor. I don't think I've heard that kind of bullshit since the last time Brogar brought home a stag."

"Charms, indeed," Briar said with a soft snort, even though at that moment her mind was undeniably occupied with his 'charms', as it were. She could feel the heat of his skin from where he knelt over her, and the moisture on his tanned skin caught the firelight occasionally. It was strange, but her mouth hungered for another taste of his lips…she wanted to run her hands over him…she…she wanted him.


"I should probably be worried, I think," Locke said.

"But…I'm not acting!" Briar said with a weak smile, realizing as she said it that it wasn't, exactly, a lie.

"That's precisely why I should be worried," Locke said, and leaned down to kiss her neck, sparking a wave of electricity that washed through her. Mmm, yep. It was official. She was officially ruined for a life of abstinence. Happily.

"Of course you should be worried," Briar said with a sigh as his lips trailed along the hollow near her collarbone, where her skin was most sensitive, and the muscles in her stomach began to quake in an attempt to restrain the emotion he caused. "As soon as my father finds out he's going to skin you alive and run you through on the nearest stake." She lifted one leg to rub her thigh along his side, teasing him.

Locke didn't seem very surprised by the threat. "Is that your game then?" he wondered aloud, and pulled away just enough to look her in the eye. "Call in daddy's forces to avenge you? Curious reasoning, but it might have worked."

"If?" Briar cocked her head, honestly curious.

"That," he said, "is confidential information."

Briar narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "The only way I can see my father being forgiving is if his daughter's frolicking is conducted within matrimony."

Locke chuckled again. "That was a mouthful."

Briar stared at him in shock for a moment, too dumbfounded to react…and then she started thrashing.

"Whoa, now, hold on," Locke said, and fought against her buckling limbs to hold her down. "It's not such a repulsive idea."

"Get off me!" Briar shouted, and planted her foot in Locke's chest to shove him off. He grabbed her foot and shoved it away, followed by the other foot as she tried to get free. She managed to twist loose one of her arms, and shoved her hand under the pillow for the knife.

Her fingers closed around the hilt and Briar pulled the knife out to swing it at Locke. The problem with pulling a knife on a warrior, unfortunately, was that he didn't spook as easily as most people would have. Instead Locke just grabbed her wrist, but the problem with wrestling with a banshee was that you couldn't always hang on to all four limbs at once. He had to let go of her other hand to do it, and Briar dropped the blade into her free hand and swiped at him again. Locke dodged it, just barely, but the blade nicked his shoulder just before he grabbed that hand too and twisted his hips so he could sit on her legs.

"Damn you!" Briar said. Too soon…she'd gone for the knife too soon. It had been irrational, but she was just so furious! She'd been played! By the man she'd meant to play!

"So that was your game," said Locke then. "I'd be more irate, I think, if I hadn't left the knife lying there on purpose."

Briar swallowed her retort and turned her head aside, trying to gather her senses. Marriage? To a man that had kidnapped her?

"Good," Locke said, and sighed. "If you're quiet maybe you can take a moment to realize what this would mean for your clan. The pass would be theirs, as long as they need it, for whenever they need it. They would have my protection, and my aid against the Mennau armies."

"The worst part is that I don't even have a choice, do I?" Briar turned to glare at him. The quick movement brought her nose to nose with him, but he didn't even flinch.

"I would give you the choice," he said without missing a beat, "if I thought you were a rational enough creature to make the right one. I've had you under surveillance while in my care for the past several weeks, and so far you've escaped three times—which, I admit, has displayed a great deal of stubborn creativeness, along with a stupendous lack of good judgment. Tonight is the first night, if you recall, that we two have done more than scowl at each other, and yet again you chose a course of action that, while…appealing, did you no good." Locke raked his eyes down the length of her, then returned his gaze to her eyes with a smug sort of superiority that made her absolutely peeved. "I am still drunk, little Briar, and you couldn't even manage to take me down with the element of surprise. You were rash and temperamental, and this judgment of your character makes me think you would choose your pride over your clan's well-being."

Locke let go of her then and stood, not even bothering to cover himself as he stepped back, and as Briar looked at him she saw more clarity in those calculating eyes then could have ever been possible had he been, as he claimed, inebriated.

"You're not even slightly drunk," she said, and the corner of Locke's mouth cocked back in a boyish smirk that was, at the same time, the expression of a man who had outsmarted his quarry so completely that its execution had been a work of art.

"No," he said, "I'm not. Mead has never had much of an effect on me."

"The stumbling was an act…" Briar realized.

"And the knife placed where you were sure to see it," Locke said. He wasn't quite gloating, just helping her to realize how completely she'd been manipulated.

Briar smiled, hiding her stung pride away for later use. "I've been played for a fool, I see," she said, keeping her voice calm. "And now you plan to wed me and bed me and lock me away so my father's men will join yours."

She stood. "I don't think I've ever met a man that was able to dupe me so completely that I couldn't even get sore over it."

Locke snorted as she stepped toward him. "I don't think you're the type to 'not get sore' when you've been outmatched, little Briar."

Briar threw the knife, but Locke didn't move, because it wasn't aimed for him. There had been a statue of a man sitting on a table in the corner, and the knife sank into the little wooden face and sent the figurine soaring off onto the floor.

"If you're so astute then you should have noticed that your livid little bride-to-be would make a very poor peon," she stepped up to him and looked him square in the eye—even though she had to crane her neck up a little to do it. "Though, even considering your apparently considerable skills for deduction, I think it's fair to warn you that if you force me to wed you, I will see you dead by nightfall."

Now Locke looked pissed. "An outcome like that would throw our people into their own war." He turned to stalk away from her, and Briar watched him move away, unable to help the drop her gaze made to his taught ass. Ey-yai-yai…he was so…extremely…attractive…it took some effort to remember why she was furious.

"We have enough to face with the Mennau in my territory," Locke was saying, and he paused to cross his arms. "I would have to lock you up to keep you from causing further problems."

Briar grabbed a blanket from the bed to wrap it around her breasts so it hung to the floor, and bunched it up in the front to hold it closed against her chest. "You say I'm irrational but everyone in my clan feels the same," she said with feeling. "It is why we are nomads, and why the fighting power of my father's men appeals to you. We would rather die than be a man's slave. No matter the grandeur of our master, we refuse to serve a man without choice. Give us that choice, and prove to us the worth of a man, and we will follow. It is as simple as that."

Locke looked over at her, and Briar tossed him a pair of his leggings. He caught them mid-air, but his gaze never followed its path. His gaze was trained on hers, weighing, judging.

"Let me make my own choice," Briar said, her gaze just as intense. "I'm no fool, even if you've taken me as one. I will never fight alongside a man I had not chosen to serve, and neither would my father. I will run away once a day until you either have to bury me alive or let me go. Give me a choice, and prove to me that it is truly mine, or it's all in vain. All of your plotting will be for nothing if my father ever learns that I was forced against my will into this marriage."

"Then he's a fool as well," Locke said.

"If our reasoning were backed by temper alone, then you'd be right," Briar said, and glared at him. "But you've misjudged us. It's a way of life. I would put money on the fact that you even know what I'm talking about, but you see reason and the renouncing of that pride as the lesser of two evils. I'd wager you would rather discard your pride to defeat your enemy then die defending it. My clan would wipe itself out before denying themselves the freedom of choice."

"You're wrong," said Locke. "I don't always believe the end justifies the means."

Briar cocked an eyebrow. "Oh really? Then prove it."

A/N ~ Fudge. I WANTED to make it a oneshot, honest. However, Locke & Briar present so many delicious possibilities...would you like to see more? Lemme know. I might make it a legitimate short story.

PS: don't forget to read my other stuff n tell me what you think. Even if it's shit. 'Cause if I know it's shit, I won't write more like it ;)