Chapter 1- The hottest fires burn blue
"Sometimes painful endings bring the best new beginnings."
The sky thundered and roared as we danced under its blanket of rolling clouds. His touch scorched my bare skin and the need for his nearness nearly unhinged me. We danced to the eerily soothing music of the falling raindrops and thundering clouds.
His breath warmed the arch of my neck as he held me against the front of his body. Strong hands gripped my waist as they turned me to face him. It wasn't the color of his eyes that caught my attention but the love and raw desire radiating through them.
I wanted to be lost in his gaze and surrender to his every whim. His rough hands cupped my face while his lips found my own. A throaty moan slipped past my lips. His fingers curled into my hair at the base of my neck and pulled my head back, he left heated kisses from my jaw to my collarbone.
The rain continued to fall down on us and the thunder continued to pound against the trees and palace walls, but our attention would not be shattered. Expert hands picked me up and placed me against one of the palace walls. I linked my legs wantonly around his back and locked them.
Unshy hands found the buttons of my blouse and roughly pulled them apart. His eyes blazed a fiery blue. I guess it was true, the hottest fires burned blue.
Tobias's name throatily pushed past my lips.
"No, it's Georgiana," Tobias's mouth uttered.
I pulled back confused.
"Georgiana," he repeated again.
I pushed away from his body.
"Wake up, Penelope."
I shook my head, trying to erase Georgiana's voice coming from Tobias's mouth.
My eyes popped open to find a smirking Georgiana a few inches above me. "Having a good dream, were you?"
"Oh shut up," I said slightly annoyed by her knowing grin. "You know I don't need you to help me get up in the morning," I said dragging myself out of bed.
"Are you sure about that, your highness?" she said with a raised brow. "You'd still be asleep dreaming about who knows what if I hadn't woken you up this morning. As it is, you're already late for the arrival of your guests."
I groaned at her reminder. Today the arrival of twenty men was on the agenda. The Great Mother had chosen men she was willing to bless as king of Iron Forge. How I had been tricked into saying yes was beyond me. I had been firm when I told the Terran Trinity I would not marry and yet here the men were.
"I don't plan on choosing anyone," I stated. "I'm only doing this to appease the council and the Terran Trinity. You know that."
"I do," Georgiana acknowledged.
Her pale blonde hair was pulled back into a braid and she wore black slacks with a teal neck ruffled blouse. Her baby bump was very in your face, but she wore it well. It was nearly time for baby Jasmine to enter the world.
"Georgiana, you are not my part of my personal staff anymore. You do not have to be doing this," I admonished. "You should be taking care of yourself and my sweet godchild."
She narrowed her baby blue eyes at me. "Don't you be telling me what to do," she said wagging her finger at me dramatically.
I sighed. I had given her freedom to speak freely and treat me as a friend rather than queen.
"I'm sorry, Georgiana. I just want you and Jasmine to be safe," I said patting her arm.
She thawed a bit and nodded. "Very well. I may not be your part of your personal wait staff but I am your personal administrator and it is my job to get you to your meetings on time."
She opened the door to the servant's waiting room and allowed my personal entourage to enter.
"No," I whined. "Not the assembly line!"
They all stood in line waiting for their turn with me. Georgiana gave them the okay and they turned into busy working bees. One zoomed to my dressing room to find me clothes while another sat me down to begin working on my hair. The last began assembling the things needed for my new makeup routine.
I didn't want to wear the makeup but they all agreed today was a special occasion and in instances, like these, they looked to Georgiana for the final say rather than me.
It took them two hours to finish what they'd started and by that time I was severely irritated. I was tired of having my hair pulled and face painted. I hated that I was going through hoops to be paraded around the group of men. If anything they should be paraded around me. I was the one they needed to impress, not the other way around.
I stood in front on my floor to ceiling mirror and nearly had to do a double take. Who was that angular creature staring back at me? I had sharp cheekbones and pouty pink lips. It was my face but at the same time, it wasn't. In a way, it felt nice to have on. It was a sort of armor against the world. Only those who truly knew me would be able to see me and I was okay with that.
My personal dresser had chosen a gold halter top dress that reached the floor and hugged my every curve. My hair had been curled and pinned to one side to cascade down my left shoulder. It felt over the top, but I guess it came with being queen. I sighed and accepted my beautiful but overwhelming ensemble.
"Ready?" Georgiana asked as my entourage left the room.
She rolled her eyes. "We could always talk about that mature-rated dream you seemed to be having. All that thrashing and moaning," she said seriously.
"I'm ready," I said stepping away from my mirror hastily. I did not want to rehash my dream with Georgiana when I myself didn't know what it meant.
I hadn't seen Tobias in nearly six months, but this dream had become a constant nightly occurrence for the last month.
She grinned. "I thought you would be."
I rolled my eyes at my best friend. She knew me too well and knew exactly what would get me moving. "You don't play fair," I complained.
"Never said I would," she laughed.
We walked towards the throne room, where we would be meeting the group the Great Mother had chosen as potential king material.
The room used to hold two thrones, one white marble, and the other black marble. The black marble throne had been removed when I was crowned alone, but it now sat back where it started. An incentive for the twenty men who were about to begin the game of winning the heart of a queen.
I took a seat on my throne as we waited for everyone to get what needed to be assembled. The Terran Trinity was already waiting and stood to the side just below the step towards the thrones.
They had been chosen by their Priestess Kaitha to share our origin story with their territory. Iron Forge used to have an established Trinity, but they had recently been stripped of their powers in an attempt to clear any wrongdoings on their part. Now, the Terran triplets were training the new Trinity that would take their place. A set of male triplets out of Iron Forge, all of seventeen years old.
It was an odd precedent since Trinity was chosen at the age of eleven, but they claimed it was what the Great Mother wanted. The Great Mother had taken a keen interest in our territory lately since her daughter, Priestess Xandra, went on power stealing crusade that ended in her exile to Taweah; the pits of the underworld, where she would oversee the worst of our kind in the afterlife.
The sisters held their noses up in the air, ignoring all, as usual. Meanwhile, Viktorya Vanguard strolled into the room with a small entourage of her own. She snapped her fingers and a young boy of about sixteen stumbled over his feet trying to hand over a tablet of paper and a pen to her.
It wasn't an easy decision making her hand of the queen, but it was the smart one. I had disliked the woman tremendously but she truly wanted Iron Forge to prosper and she'd proven herself worthy in the Game of Crowns and a trustworthy hand of the queen.
We had a respectful working relationship and some sort of friendship in the works. She had proven herself these last six months and I was grateful for her help.
"Your Highness," she said as she held her fist over her heart in respect. Not something I ever expected to see her doing, especially aimed at me.
Her soft features were another tool in her arsenal. Not many could see past her dainty features and beauty, but beneath them was a shark and my queendom were her waters.
"The gentlemen are ready and waiting on your go-ahead for entrance," she rattled off as she came to stand behind me.
A sly grin crept into her features.
"What is it?" I asked.
"You should probably prepare yourself," she laughed quietly.
"Oh, you'll see, but don't say I didn't warn you."
I groaned. She hadn't given anything away. She was still annoying as ever.
"Very well. Let's get this over with," I said. With a wave of the hand, two palace staff opened the throne room doors and the twenty men poured in.
Sir Hawthorne walked in followed by twenty well-dressed gentlemen. Their eyes eagerly devoured me in as an uneasiness settled in my stomach.
Sir Hawthorne's usual parted gray hair was slicked back and his handlebar mustache had been shaved, making him appear five years younger.
"Sir Hawthorne, how very nice to see you again," I said, making polite conversation.
"The same to you, Your Highness. May I present these fine gentlemen?"
"You may," I said scanning the handsome faces before me.
As Sir Hawthorne began to rattle off names of the participants, my gaze fell on three men I knew well.
Thomas, Tobias, and Rowan.
My surprised gaze met their determined ones.
Well hell. The Great Mother had a sick sense of humor.
I looked back at Viktorya whose quiet laughter rolled off her in waves.
At least she found this funny because I sure as hell didn't.