Masquerade of the Cursed King
by Vanessa N. Gilfoy
(Book 1 of the New Pangaea Series)
Five years. Five years had passed without so much as a visit or even a letter. Heat welled in Eleanor’s belly. She’d thought Erick had forgotten about her. The heartless jerk.
Yet there he stood at the gate, chatting so casually with a group of soldiers. His wild chestnut hair sparkled in the morning light, swept back from his tan face. Frustratingly beautiful. Enthusiastic head bobs and bursts of laughter made him seem like the boy who used to toss her up in the air but he wasn’t. He was all grown up and thick muscle bulged in his neck and strained the thin white shirt he tucked into his trousers. His knuckles rippled under the fabric in an all too tantalizing way but not where she wanted them. Just a few inches from the very nice bulge at his center. If she could just slip into his mind, she’d quietly persuade him to… Earth, what was wrong with her?
Her inner thighs suddenly felt sticky and she wished she’d worn a more conservative costume or at least underwear. She tugged on her skirt but it wouldn’t budge below mid-thigh. At least her eyes didn’t glow with lustful elven light.
He shouldn’t see her like this. Would he recognize her? Was he here for her? A bubbly wave swelled her chest. Traitorous body. She shouldn’t hope for anything but freedom from him and this cursed place.
Some other duty probably drew Erick here. Her escape attempts had never before warranted his personal attention.
He donned a gray military shirt and buttoned the front. A guard’s uniform. He couldn’t be Erick. Thank Earth.
She exhaled, though she hadn’t realized she’d held her breath.
“I know. Could they take any longer?” the huge man in front of her complained.
The line had grown to twenty people long. Similar grumbles leaked from their minds and melded into an irritating high-pitched hum at the back of Eleanor’s skull. She wished she could block out their thoughts.
The sun had risen behind her an hour ago and already chased away the slight chill left over from night, yet the heavy iron gate still hadn’t lifted.
She needed to get on the pass and over the
lace w:st="on"> Santarra Mountainslace> before her mother caught up to her. Earth, she’d made such good time. If she could get past this checkpoint, she might make it to Gildon this time.
Eleanor adjusted the straps of her cart on her sore shoulder. She’d pulled the crate-sized cart all the way from west Biston. The leather straps had rubbed blisters that oozed and stuck to the thin fabric of her bodice. Gross. With all her fidgeting, her blonde wig caught on the straps’ buckle. How stupid. But she couldn’t tie the fake hair back without revealing her pointed ears.
Eleanor ducked down to fix it, unseen. He couldn’t see her. She should be okay. Lots of people stood between them. But her heart pounded.
“Here, let me help,” the man behind her blurted. His gaze flitted down her body, pausing at the low-cut bodice that squeezed her small breasts together.
Earth, she wished her cleavage was why he stared. “No thank you,” she muttered and swatted his hand away.
The large man in front of her turned around. Bearded face lengthened, he examined her the way a child admires sweets displayed behind a bakery window. Her whole fist could probably fit in his mouth. Judging by the tools in his cart, he must be a blacksmith. He inhaled her pheromone and his eyelids drooped.
She’d just taken a bath but the morning sun heated her skin. Already, her neck dampened. Soon, everyone would stare—or worse. Earth, what was taking so long? She tugged her wig’s tangled locks loose and peeked around the human blacksmith.
Although the group of soldiers broke off and headed south, the Erick-look-alike guard still didn’t open the gate. He tugged on gloves despite the warm August morning air. The guards who had kept her prisoner wore gloves like that all year long. Warnings whispered in her head though the gloves were probably standard issue.
“That scent…” the blacksmith’s deep voice rumbled.
Eleanor quickly blurted, “I sell perfumes.” She motioned to her wooden cart where tiny bottles glistened, nestled in a cotton grid. She’d bought the whole setup, costume and all with a portion of her tuition savings. The rest of her hard-earned coin was hidden in the base of the cart, just above the axels.
The blacksmith shifted to hide the growing lump in his pants. “I ain’t smelled a perfume like that before.”
“It’s a family recipe,” she lied. Unfortunately, that scent plagued her. Her elven pheromones never turned off, due to her mixed human and elven blood. A common affliction in hybrids. The rare couplings between humans and elves sometimes produced worse deformities. Some hybrids died from them in the womb or before adulthood.
Whatever the blacksmith said was drowned out in the screech of the gate.
The lone guard cranked the chain that lifted it. His biceps jerked and trembled. The gate had to weigh as much as five men.
Earth, those thick arms could easily hoist her up and squeeze her tight. The thought beaded her nipples and heated her eyes. If she had the time, she’d enjoy his hard body. Eleanor swallowed the saliva that threatened to dribble down her chin and squeezed her eyes shut to hide the light that burned in them. She shouldn’t want him. He looked too much like Erick.
When he locked the crank in place, nearly everyone in line cheered, excited for a different reason.
Eleanor’s eyes cooled enough to open without light bursting out. Only elves’ and hybrids’ eyes glowed when they were aroused or enraged. A sure giveaway as to her identity.
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