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Chapter 13

"YOU MUST UNDRESS," he said.

Ji Yue recoiled in shock, her heart beating triple fast. It was one thing to be the woman caressing him, bringing him to a place where he had no control over his body. It was quite another to remove attire that kept her safe. Except, of course, no cloth could keep her safe. The very idea was ridiculous, but she felt its protection nonetheless.

"If you wish to know how to seduce a man," he said softly. "It begins with your body."

"You will see my bruises."

"Your body will always be beautiful to me," he said. She saw honesty in his eyes, and her heart broke. How had she come to this?

But if her future was in a harem, many women to one manor even no man when the emperor diedshe would take what memories she could. So she put her hands on her buttons and began to pull off her clothes.

"No. Not like you are at a dressmaker's," he said. "Slowly. Shyly. But with a hunger in your eyes."

As a virgin, she should not know what he meant, but she felt an aching longing and a building excitement in what she did. And in what they risked together. She looked at him and let her thoughts pour into her face. She let him see her desire, her fears, and her desperate wish

"My heaven" he murmured. And if she doubted the desire in his voice, all she had to do was look down. His jade stem had stiffened again.

With shaking hands, he pulled the cushions from the couch behind her and laid them on the floor. There was little space in this tiny corner of a lesser palace, but from what she understood of the Forbidden City, he must be valued indeed if he had a room of papers and books all for himself.

She smiled at the thought that one day he might have a whole palace of his owna home and a library with emissaries from Peking coming and going. And in that wonderful fantasy, she was pulling off her blouse and undershirt for her husband.

"Mama said that men love breasts," she told him as she looked down at her chest. "Is that true?"

He nodded then gestured to her. "Come lie down, Ji Yue. I will show you what men do with breasts they like."

She lowered herself to her knees. She had not yet pulled off her skirt, so he did it for her, unwrapping it as one would a jade statue: slowly and with great care.

He frowned as he tossed the fabric onto a stack of scrolls. "I do not like it that they hurt you and I did not stop it." He ran his hand slowly down her hip, touching the scratches and discolored bruises.

"Stop them when I am about to be killed," she said. "Anything less, and I must endure. Or fight back." She leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Ask the doctor when she next comes. Ask her how many girls have bruises worse than mine."

He pressed his lips to her neck and swirled his tongue over a scratch there. "Brave warrior. How does the rest of you feel?" His hand brushed over her lower hair.

She gasped in response, her hips undulating without her willing it.

"You need no cream, you know," he said softly. "Your scent is sweet enough." Then he lowered himself over her body until he pressed his face to her thighs. "I could get drunk on such a scent."

She ached for him to touch her. She well remembered what he had done before, but this was too new for her to know how to ask for what she wanted.

"Do you want me to touch you here?" he murmured as his fingers toyed with her hair. He looked up and she saw a flash of hardness in his eyes. "I will tell you a secret, Ji Yue. The emperor will quickly have his fill of shy virgins. It is the bold, the mischievous and the unusual girls who will entrance him."

She nodded and found a bravery she only had with him. "Very well, then," she said firmly. "I want you to touch me like you did before. Between my legs."

He grinned. "No."

Her eyebrows rose in shock. "But"

"You have already learned that. Today, I will teach you something different." And so saying, he pushed her down until she lay prone on the floor, her head pillowed by the cushions. He kneeled beside her hip. "I do not kiss your lips this time. Not with your makeup still on your face. Kissed lips are too easily seen."

She nodded. She had forgotten about the white face paint she wore for her dance.

"There is much that a man likes to do with breasts," he said as he idly lifted and shaped hers. His stroke alternated between firm and gentle, between light tugs and harsher squeezes of her nipples. And every caress was like breath to a flame, making her own breath shorten and her pulse pound. She squirmed from the torment he built inside her. "This is what I like," he said. "I like to watch how my touch affects you. I like to see your body shudder and your lips darken. But my favorite is when you gasp."

He accompanied his words with a sharp pinch and she whimpered in delight.

"That sound is nice, too," he said. But then he stopped short as footsteps and two men's voice sounded in the corridor.

She looked at their naked bodies and then up at the blocked doorway. There was no way she could dress fast enough before someone tried to open the door. And still his hands toyed with her breasts. She smiled at him, then put strength in her voice.

"No, master! I have done nothing!"

He looked at her, an apology in his eyes. "Bitch! Whore!" he bellowed. Then he slapped her bottom with the flat of his hand. The sound was loud, the sting very real, and she cried out in genuine surprise. He immediately soothed her flesh with his mouth, kissing at the red marks, but it was a very pointed reminder of the dangers she faced. If they were caught, she would be out on the street or dead.

Then before she could think further he hauled her one leg up. Again, the movement was abrupt, the invasion startling. "Oh, no, master!" she cried. "No!"

"Silence, whore!" he growled, then his fingers began to open her up. His touch made her belly spasm and she whimpered.

"Oh, no! Please forgive me!"

He leaned sideways, and his hair caressed her inner thigh as he pressed his mouth to her flesh. Her leg rose higher to give him better access.

"Aie!" she cried out in stunned shock at what he did, but oh, it felt so wonderful! His tongue burrowed and coiled. He pressed his lips flat against her body there, and while she shuddered and whimpered, he began to suckle.

"Painful cries, Ji Yue. You must sound like you're in pain." Then he straightened his legs so that he lay on his side. As she watched, he lifted one hand and slapped it hard on his own thigh. The sound echoed in the tiny room. "Scream!" he whispered. Then he did it again, only this time as his hand descended, his mouth pulled hard on her most sensitive spot.

"Aie!" she screamed. "Aie!" she cried again as he repeated the action. Over and over he slapped and kissedone hard sharp pull then a pause that lasted too long. Soon she was sobbing for real, but not in pain.

Her wriggling brought her more in alignment with his bodyonly reversed. His organ was before her face, thick and dark red. She smelled his musk and knew that she wanted to taste him again. She meant to touch him slowlygentlybut what he did to her made her hands unsteady and her body wild. She must have gripped him too hard because he gasped, his hold on her thighs tightening almost painfully hard. That gave her the breathand the boldnessto do what she wanted. She touched him lightly with her teeth, abrading around the head and rim.

He shuddered. "How did you learn that?"

She pulled away. "Is it good?"

"Everything with you is good," he said. Then he returned to stroke with his tongue. Long slow pulls from back to front, then a swirl and a push at the peak where her tremors began. He repeated the caress over and over as she mirrored his movements.

It was exquisite! Whenever her thighs tightened or her breath grew too short, he changed his tempo. He stroked slower, fuller, longer as she tried to hold on to the sensations. And as he worked on her, she tried to drink him. His hips seemed to move of their own accord, and he thrust large and thick into her. But then the sensations became too much. She arched her body against his mouth. She demanded more from him just as he pushed harder and hotter into her mouth.

Then he pressed his lips to that place. He flattened his mouth around it and began to suck, then stroke, then suck again with no space between each movement. She mimicked himsucking, then swirling, then

She erupted, her body convulsing in expanding waves.

She would have screamed, but he pushed deep into her throat. Her cry became a gurgle and she was grateful. Then she had no thought as waves of delight shimmered endlessly through her.

If only they could truly last forever

If only she and Bo Tao could


She slipped back to Earth. They had rolled apart, falling onto their backs so they had enough space to look down into each other's eyes. She saw dazed joy shimmering in his.

Is this love? she wondered. Was this feeling inside simply her body's awakening as a woman? Or was it love? Could she feel this way with the emperor? Or did it center on Bo Tao alone? She didn't know, and that unsettled her even more. So she eased back onto her side and focused on Bo Tao. Only him. And she felt joy because the strain around his eyes had smoothed.

There were noises in the hallway: footsteps, eunuch voices. She released a whimper for their benefit, making a mental note to put on her clothing so that she looked like she'd been beaten. Then she turned back to Bo Tao. She pressed a kiss into his belly, loving the way his muscles rippled in reaction.

This was love. She was in love with Bo Tao. She'd wanted to hide from the realization, but it had come, anyway. She was in love with the emperor's best friend. She was in love with a man that she would see often, perhaps daily in the Forbidden City, but she would be married to someone else.

She turned away, not needing to force the tears that streamed down her face.

Chapter 12 | The Concubine | Chapter 14