“You don’t know how I suffer!” Mrs. Bailey said to her sister, Mrs. Philman. “I blame my father. He didn’t have Teo checked out thoroughly, and now I’m stuck with a huge debt and five Theta daughters.
“Of course, Jana and Lara are different. They would listen to me, and they don’t show their antics to scare men off,” she continued. “But Ela! She is the worst. She was born to vex me! If only the brute would choose her.”
“Why do you call him a brute?” Mrs. Philman said.
“I heard from one of the brocours who brokered the transaction that he was big and ugly, and that was why he had to pay for a wife.”
“Well, I heard differently from Brother Edmund. It seems that many women in the Theta enclave in Cosmos wanted to snare him and that he is big, but quite handsome. Perhaps he is only paying to get a wife because he has a special requirement.”
“Perhaps. But what requirement? The brocours wouldn’t tell me anything about it. I hope he does want the wife to perform some ancient Thetacrafts. Should I refuse him now? But I can’t! I need the teuros desperately,” Mrs. Bailey confessed, although she was unwilling to admit that she had involved herself in several bad business deals and had already gone through the money her husband left the family upon his death.
“Edmund hasn’t been able to find out any details,” Mrs. Philman agreed. “You know, the brocours have been very secretive about it. But if you think he is a beast, why did you promise one of my nieces to him? Brother Edmund is most unhappy about the whole transaction.”
“But I need the teuros now! You and Brother Edmund cannot help me, but this brute is rich. He has plenty of teuros. At least we won’t be poor any more, after the marriage. I admit and it’s a hard decision. I pray he won’t choose Jana or Lara.”
“But Jana is the most beautiful of them all. How could he resist choosing her?”
Mrs. Bailey sighed. “I thought about hiding her pretty face. Do you think that would work?”
“Won’t he have investigated us before he offers any deal? I don’t see how it could help. He must already know that Jana is five times prettier than any of your other daughters.”
“I don’t know what to do, Sister. If he chooses Jana and hurts her, I will….” Mrs. Bailey burst into tears.
In this timeless world, magical Thetans commanded wealth, and they tended to live in enclaves. Teo Bailey was an exception. He did not control much treasure, and he chose to live among normal people and marry an Earth woman. They had five daughters – Jana, Elana, Mara, Kiera and Lara – who all possessed Theta magic.
Elana Bailey had not suspected the deterioration of the family situation to happen so quickly after her father’s death. Her mother only disclosed the amount of debt and her acceptance of the marriage settlement from a rich Theta man, Mr. Dean Williams, earlier that morning. She had a small amount of teuros saved, but nowhere near enough to help her mother to repay the sum of the debt. How could she raise 30,000 teuros within a week?
Elana and her elder sister Jana listened to their mother’s loud chatter. Mrs. Bailey had been going on and on about this monster, the teuros needed to repay the debt, and the sacrifice of Jana, since disclosing the marriage deal.
Jana, at twenty-two, suffered from a chronic respiratory illness. She often had trouble breathing when stressed or exposed to polluted air.
Elana had been thinking hard, searching for a solution. “Jana, maybe when the brute arrives, I could offer myself,” Elana told her elder sister.
“But Mama told me that the brocours said that Mr. Williams wanted to interview all of us and then decide which one he wanted to marry.” Jana coughed and continued, “I don’t think your offering yourself will help. It’s truly fine for me. It doesn’t matter if he is big and ugly, or even if he’s a brute.”
“But what about performing the ancient Thetacrafts? If he tortures you, I swear I will corner him anywhere in the world and skin him alive!”
“Are there a lot of ancient Thetacrafts that torture women?” Jana asked in a trembling voice. “You are the avid reader in the family. Do you know?”
“I can only think of spanking. But you know that Mother has burned all of Father’s old Theta books when he died.” Elana didn’t want to alarm Jana, but she had, in fact, read about men tying women up and torturing them for days, in ancient times. There seemed to be many forms of mental and physical torture. But she wasn’t ready to make such an admission to her sister, and so she lied, saying, “I was not very interested in Thetacrafts before, so I wouldn’t know about those that torture women.”
In truth, Elana was scared, as well. Jana had poor health. What if she died soon after she married the man? Jana had been such a dear sister to her that she was also Elana’s best friend. In any case, Elana knew herself to be stronger than her sister. It seemed likely that she could survive longer than Jana as the brute’s wife.
She made up her mind to find an opportunity to meet Mr. Williams before the family did, and to offer herself. If he indeed wanted a wife just for Thetacrafts, surely there was no need to have a prettier wife; she would do. And if he needed the wife for another requirement, Elana hoped she could convince him she, being stronger and smarter, was a better candidate than Jana.
A day before the interview, Elana found out that the brute from the North had finally arrived and would be staying in Novaland during the interview period.
Novaland was a big estate which had been vacant for some time, located not far from Lawcove, where the Baileys lived. Determined to turn her plan into action, Elana set out alone, very early the next morning.
When she was two kilometers from Novaland, she climbed a large tree and settled herself on a branch, then rubbed her eagle sight and concentrated on looking at Novaland. She could see that there were many servants moving around, in the house.
Where are the men from the North?
After scanning several windows, she concentrated her focus on the morning room. Two men were there, having breakfast. Both of them were very tall, one with blond straight hair, the other with dark, curly hair. The blond man turned first.
He is very handsome! Elana reflected, and smiled. The man looked young, perhaps in his mid-twenties. He had a friendly smile and a warm countenance. Jana will be fine. Maybe I don’t need to offer myself.
Not long after, the dark-haired man stood up and walked to the window. When Elana saw his face, she hissed in instinctive reaction. In front of her eyes was the ugliest man she had ever seen. He was tall, perhaps two meters in height, and solidly built. He wore a tight black singlet and matching shorts that hugged his body. But he had red swellings on his face that distorted his eyes, his mouth and his nose. His body bore red swellings and was disproportioned, as well.
Oh my god! I hope he is not Mr. Williams, she thought, and her heart sank. Why don’t I go to Cosmos? Maybe I can find a way to help Mama repay the loan soon. But she received the deponere from Mr. Williams. She needs to repay triple the amount if she breaks the contract now.
Her mind raced as she thought about marrying such a man. Could she be brave enough to offer herself to such an ugly man? Could she not feel disgusted, looking at him every day? Could she sleep with him? And would their children look as ugly as he did?
Elana was the most well-read and intelligent of the five sisters. That was why she had become her father’s favorite. But that hadn’t prevented her from noticing her father’s disrespect to her mother. She sometimes heard him complain about being fooled by his wife’s beauty when they were young. He’d married in haste and repented later because of her silliness and extravagance. The daily domestic arguments of Elana’s parents had left her deeply wary about marriage.
Why does Mr. Williams need to buy a wife in such manner? Why should he risk tying himself to a complete stranger, one who might turn out to be very silly or whom he could not respect? It seems like a recipe for disaster. And why has he chosen our family? Cosmos was miles away, and a solution was needed now. Elana closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. Papa, please help me! I will do everything I can. She then climbed down the tree, her eyes still focused on Novaland as she walked slowly towards it, determined to apply to see Mr. Williams.
Not long thereafter, she found herself seated in the sitting room. She had scarcely settled in her chair when the blond man came in.
He looked even more amiable and kindly, up close. Elana’s heart lifted. Maybe I don’t have to interfere, after all, if he is Mr. Williams.
“Mr. Williams, I am sorry for requesting a meeting with you without introduction. I’m Elana Bailey from Lawcove.”
“Miss Elana, how very nice to meet you. I’m Carlson Blake. My friend, Williams, is unavailable so he asked me to meet with you.”
Her heart dropped to hell. What if the ugly man is Mr. Williams? She took another breath and continued, although her voice was no longer entirely steady. “Mr. Blake, it is very nice to meet you, too. I would like to meet with Mr. Williams to discuss his business agreement with my mother. I assume that you know what that business is.”
“Yes, he has offered a settlement to your mother, in exchange for one of her daughters becoming his wife.” Blake smiled calmly, and Elana was encouraged by this pleasant young man.
“May I ask for a few moments of his time, to discuss with him?”
“He is busy right now, so he can’t meet up with you. He will be conducting the interview here tomorrow. Can’t you wait another day?”
“I assume you know that we are Theta sisters.”
“So I assume you know my special talent.”
“No, Williams hasn’t told me any details.”
“Well, Mr. Blake, I have eagle sight. I can see four times farther than a human. I confess to spying on you and Mr. Williams before I came knocking on the door, so I know he is available. He was in the library next door, reading a poem. Is there a reason why he doesn’t want to meet me?”
The sitting room door burst open, and Elana was suddenly face to face with the big ugly beast. She had mentally prepared herself for the confrontation but now, up close, he seemed to be ten times uglier. Some of the lumps on his face and body were red, others purple, and all of the lumps were swollen. She could not help but let out a groan.
He stared at her coldly. “I like to do business as I plan. My meeting with your family is not until tomorrow. Is that not a good enough reason for me not to meet with you now?” Mr. Williams demanded.
What an ugly and arrogant man! Elana thought, her anger overcoming her fear of his ugly features. Rather than make an angry retort, she tried to calm herself, reasoning that there was no point in making him mad and worsening things for Jana. Instead, she turned to Blake and gave him a smile. “Mr. Blake, may I speak with Mr. Williams privately?”
Blake's gaze shifted uneasily from her to his friend.
She saw Williams give him a grudging nod, and Blake said, “Very well, Miss Elana, I will leave you to my friend.”
Seeing that Williams had walked to the window and turned to look at her, Elana took another breath and came directly to the point. “I would like to offer myself as your wife.”
Williams tilted his head and gazed at her for a few moments, looking startled. At last, he said, “I told you I liked to do business as I plan. I am sure you know from your mother that I have arranged to interview all five of you tomorrow and decide then. Why should I want to change my plan for you?”
Insufferable man! Elana thought but she replied, “I have heard two versions of why you needed to pay for a wife. First, that you want to perform some ancient Thetacrafts on her. Or, second, that you have a special requirement. I couldn’t find out what that requirement might be, but I assume, if you are willing to offer for one of us even before you meet us, that any of us should be fine for you. So why can’t you accept my offer to be your wife?”
“You are good enough with logic, I suppose, but I would prefer to like my wife. After all, I'm paying top teuros for her. You are tolerable, but perhaps your other sisters are even better.”
Tolerable! Elana was outraged. “I’m sure, with your wealth, that you must have had us investigated. I’m sure, as well, that you know precisely what we look like and what talents we possess. And anyway, how can you expect to find out whether you like a person in just one meeting?”
He seemed unruffled by her assertions. “Yes, I did have your family investigated. That is why I offered for one of you, rather than other women in the Theta enclave in Cosmos.”
Elana’s heart sank. He must already have seen a picture of how pretty Jana was. “So,” she said, “you have already decided on one of us? Then why the pretence of setting up an interview and saying you would decide after that? You may as well save us all the headache by simply declaring which one of us you want.” She was ready to admit defeat and leave when, suddenly, her eyes seemed to play a trick on her. She seemed to see some of his swellings change shape, and a small smile appear on his face. But it was gone in a second, leaving her to wonder whether she had imagined it or whether, perhaps, there might be more to this brute than she had first supposed.
“I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have asked for the interview. I’m a busy man. Why would I waste my time with interviews if I had already decided which one of you I want? You must know that seeing a picture is very different from meeting a person face to face. The picture I have of you shows a calm and intelligent young woman, but you seem anything but calm to me now, and your decision to come here and offer yourself seems extremely stupid to me.”
Stupid? I’ve never been called that in my life! She took a deep breath and said, “If you tell me why you want to pay for a wife, I will be able to tell you why I am more suitable than my sisters to become yours.”
He looked skeptical. “How do I know that you are not offering yourself because you want to live the wealthy and comfortable life I can afford you?”
Stung, she retorted, “I’m sorry to pain you, Mr. Williams, but have you seen your face in the mirror lately? Do you think anyone will feel comfortable looking at you every day, even under the inducement of your money?”
“So, you find me ugly. Then why offer yourself?”
“I will tell you my reason if you tell me yours.”
“What makes you think you have a chip to bargain here?”
“Because I don’t think that someone as arrogant as yourself will walk away from a challenge.”
“I don’t see a challenge here. You have a reason why you want to offer yourself as my wife, but I’m not interested in your reason. I have all the power here. I can continue my plan to interview tomorrow and choose whomever I like. So why should I tell you why I need a wife now?”
Damn! Elizabeth thought. He didn’t take the bait. Would it help to let him know Jane was scared? But if he is a sadist kind of man, he may like a scared rabbit better.
While she was deep in thought, he continued, “However, I am a businessman at heart. If you give me some incentives, I may be tempted to tell you why I need a wife,” he said, in what he clearly intended to be a charming manner.
“But I don’t have anything valuable on me now, except this garnet cross my father left me.” Elana bit her lip. “I don’t know what sort of incentive I could possibly offer you.”
“You sell yourself short,” he said in a low voice, his eyes narrowing. “Your body, for example, is potentially quite a valuable asset.”
“You just said I was only tolerable,” she protested, flustered.
“I’m a man, after all! I won’t mind a silver platter put in front of me, so early in the morning.”
She bridled. “You think I will be so stupid as to sleep with you right now, like a whore? If any one of us lost our virginity, I doubt we could fetch as high a price.”
“I didn’t say I want to have sex with you right this moment. I just want some incentives, in exchange for my reason for wanting a wife. How about you take off your clothes so that I can properly assess your assets? You may be able to persuade me to choose you tomorrow at the interview, after all.”
The dreadful man was grinning now. It was an unsettling sight, with all the red swellings on his face.
“And how would you assess my assets?”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “I just want to look.”
“None, I assure you.”
“And then you will tell me why you need to pay for a wife, after you have seen me naked?”
“Your true reason, no lying?”
Elana debated for a few moments, and decided to take the risk. If he liked her body, maybe he would choose her, the next day. After all, she had more generous breasts, a smaller waist and a bigger bottom than her elder sister, Jana. Most men were attracted by those womanly assets.
So decided, she walked to the door and locked it, then stayed near the door, as far away from the monster as possible, as she started to undress. She had worn her nicest outfit today because she wanted to make a good impression on this man. What an irony! Clearly, he wasn’t impressed with her, fully clothed.
The upper part of the yellow dress was a tight bra made of body-hugging material. There was a blue pattern on the bra, making it look as if two hands were cupping her breasts. The bra was linked to the yellow mini skirt with lacy material, so that her navel could be seen. The skirt was very tight as well, showing off the roundness of her pert bottom. Her long legs were bare, and she wore flat-bottomed sandals with laces that ran up to her calves.
Bracing herself, she took a deep breath and unclipped her bra. It fell, exposing her breasts and nipples and upper body. Then she pushed the skirt and underpants down together, and stood there, naked, except for the sandals. She tilted her chin, head held high, and stared back at him.
She saw his pupils dilate, and he swallowed. Then, in the blink of an eye, he charged towards her, picked her up and put her on a bench nearby.
Taken by surprise, Elana screamed, hit and kicked him. “You promised you wouldn’t touch me! Cheater!”
He pressed her down on the cold stone bench, one of his big hands holding her hands on top of her head, his legs restraining her kicks. With a wicked smile amplifying his ugly face, he said, “First rule of business: trust no one, especially someone you only met today!” Then he lowered his mouth and kissed her.
Elana thought she might vomit, seeing his swollen face so close, but surprisingly, his mouth was very soft. He teased her lips apart and thrust his tongue inside her mouth. She nearly choked as he thrust his tongue deep into her throat, then swirled it around the inside of her mouth. She had kissed a few local boys before, but nothing like this. A strange sensation cruised through her body. Her heart pounded, and she felt wetness between her legs.
Then he squeezed her breast and plucked her nipple, hard. A tingle shivered down her belly, and she experienced a bursting sense of need in her apex. Instinctively, she arched up to meet his hot, strong body.
He stopped the kiss and whispered in her ear, “What a responsive girl!”
She was horrified by his words. She was a virtuous maiden, only intending to fulfill her side of the bargain, and he had cheated and was treating her like a loose woman. Anger surged in her body, and she struggled and tried to dislodge him.
He ignored her, and his mouth traced its way down to torture her breasts, while his hand moved down to the apex of her thighs. His large fingers slid along her folders and rubbed her roughly.
When she realized to her horror that he was about to thrust a finger into her sex, she reared up, hitting his head with her own.
He yelped and released her hands.
That was the opportunity she needed to break free of him. Pushing him off, she hastily grabbed her dress from the floor near the door and began pulling it on.
The brute just eyed her from the floor, without pouncing on her.
It pleased her to see that he was massaging his head. She unlocked the door, yelled, “Cheater!” and ran out of Novaland.
That night, Elana cried for the first time since her father’s death a year ago. She had failed in her mission miserably. She hadn’t discovered the man’s reason for wanting to buy a wife, and he hadn’t agreed to accept her in replacement for Jana. Would he be even more beastly toward Jana, in retaliation for her visit? What more could she have done? Should she have allowed him to take her virtue? Would that have been enough to secure his agreement? Would he still have gone ahead with the interview, even after he had sex with her? Should she let him have the pleasure of her body tomorrow? And what, if anything, could she do to protect Jana now?
“Why, Ela, your eyes are all puffed and red. Were you crying last night?” Jana asked with tender concern as the sisters joined their mother in the family motorcraft to head to Novaland for the interview.
“No, actually, I have been reading ’til early morning.”
Their mother scowled. “You were born to vex me, Ela! You know that today is the day when Mr. Williams is going to interview all of you and select his wife. You have never been as pretty as Jana, and now you deliberately make yourself look like a dead fish. He will definitely not choose you. You simply won’t sacrifice for the family. What a selfish girl!”
“Mama, I can hear voices in Novaland now,” Jana said in an attempt to distract her mother from scolding Elana.
“What are they talking about, Jana?” Lara, the youngest who was at sixteen, asked eagerly. “Do the men from the North have nice voices?”
“I think there were only two gentlemen there. The others are servants. One has a deep baritone voice, while the other sounds more boyish. Let me concentrate. They seem to be talking about a girl.” Jana used her bat hearing, which was five times better than a human’s, to listen to the conversation taking place in Novaland. Her expression grew more abstracted as she began, in a toneless voice, to repeat what she was hearing, for the benefit of her mother and sisters.
She is a very pretty girl.
You find every girl pretty.
I would not be as fastidious as you are. She had guts to come here and confront you. She didn’t flinch much, so spirited and full of fire. I don’t know why you had to deliberately scare her off.
I need someone with more than headstrong spirit. I need someone with wit and determination, who will not be easily scared off, if we are to be successful with the quest.
I don’t know if you are going about this the right way, buying yourself a stranger as a wife. You could at least choose someone you have known longer.
Who do you mean? Don’t say my cousin Anne, or Caroline, or any of the women in the enclave in Cosmos. No offence to you, but I don’t think your sister Caroline would survive the first hurdle of the quest. She sulks for days if she so much as gets her nails slightly dirty. As for Anne, you know she is so sickly. How could she bear what I intend to do with my wife? And as for the women in Cosmos, most of them are only interested in my teuros. I don’t need that kind of woman to complicate the quest. In fact, let’s not discuss this any further. The Lawcove party will be here soon, and Jana, the eldest one, has bat hearing that can hear things kilometers away. We don’t want to let anything important slip.
Mrs. Bailey looked stricken. “Oh, Jana, can we turn back the motorcraft? He must be planning something sinister. Did you hear him? How could she bear what I intend to do with my wife? He must be planning to torture whoever he selects. I will go back to the brocours and demand that they cancel the transaction.”
“Mama, you know you can’t cancel it now,” Elana said, heavy-hearted. “You have already spent most of the deponere. How would we find so many teuros?”
“Damn! My nerves! I pray that he won’t choose Jana or Lara. I blame your father! He left us with nothing. Ela, you must use your charm to make him choose you. You can’t allow your sisters to suffer.”
The women in the motorcraft were in uproar. Mrs. Bailey continued to complain about everyone and everything. Mara chanted religious learning to calm herself. Jana sat silent and trembled, with Elana holding her hand. Kiera and Lara argued over who should sacrifice for the family. They also speculated about which girl the two men had been referring to, what the quest might be, and what Mr. Williams might intend to do with his wife. The most sinister motives and methods were not spared from their imaginations.
I don’t think he is impressed by my wit or my body, Elana reflected grimly. Horrible man! But I will do everything I can to make him choose me, she vowed, biting her lower lip.
When the Bailey women were invited into Novaland, Lara marveled aloud at the luxuriant decorations in the house. She touched the velvety tablecloth and the gold rim of the cup. She had not encountered such splendor in her young life. Their family had been comfortable when Mr. Bailey was still there. She did not lack for ordinary food, modest clothes and occasional treats. Since her father’s passing, however, she received fewer restrictions from her mother. She often hung around Battiton, the little town near their house, and there, in exchange for small womanly favors, she received exquisite gifts from mildly loaded men who were passing through. Maybe I should be friendlier to Mr. Williams, she thought.
A handsome young blond man walked into the room, and Lara sparkled, offering him a flirtatious smile. But when she saw the gross man who followed him, her mouth gaped open.
Mrs. Bailey nearly fainted. Jana was pale and shivering. Kiera hid behind Elana, not daring to look, while Mara squeezed her book, not daring to raise her gaze from the ground. Lara’s eyes started to fill with tears. It’s so unfair! Why do all rich men look so revolting!
“Mrs. Bailey? How nice to meet you and your lovely daughters. I am Carlson Blake, a good friend of Dean Williams. Williams will conduct the interview in the library. As he doesn’t want your daughters to share what he has said in the interview with each other, I will bring those who have finished the interview into another room. When all five of your daughters have been interviewed, I will bring them all back here to you, and Mr. Williams will announce his choice,” Blake explained.
Neither man acknowledged having met Elana before.
“Mr. Williams has also requested that his bride-to-be to stay here for a few days while you plan for the wedding,” Blake continued. “He will want to get to know your chosen daughter better before the wedding takes place in eight days’ time.”
Mrs. Bailey looked shocked. “But I cannot possibly allow that. What if he took advantage of my girl and then abandoned her before the wedding?”
“Mrs. Bailey, as you must know from the brocours, Mr. Williams is an upstanding gentleman from the North. His family has over a thousand years of history in the region, and he is well known for his honest dealing. Also, I can personally guarantee that no such thing will happen. If you like, you can ask another person to stay here with her, as well, to make sure that nothing improper happens.”
Don’t believe him, Mother! Mr. Williams is a liar! Elana thought. She opened her mouth, intending to warn her mother, but then she caught Mr. Williams’s challenging gaze. Does he want me to confess to coming here yesterday? To explain to my mother how I know he is a liar? Damn! I can’t reveal that he has already seen and played with my body. Mother would be hysterical. And I still vow to convince him to choose me today. I can’t contradict him now.
While Elana debated what to do, Mrs. Bailey agreed to the arrangement, frightened by Mr. Williams’s hideous face and his somewhat sinister glare. If there was truly no escape, then she wanted the whole ordeal done with, as quickly as possible.
“Also,” Carlson Blake said smoothly, “before we begin, Williams would like to ask Miss Jana to use these plugs to blunt her bat hearing.”
Meekly, Jana took the plugs from Blake and covered her ears.
Williams spoke for the first time. “I would like to interview Miss Lara first.”
Lara burst into tears and held onto her mother, wailing, “Mama, I don’t want to be near him.”
“Mrs. Bailey, you had better tickle her. We wouldn’t want her crocodile tears to flood Novaland,” Williams said coldly, and turned to go inside the library.
Mrs. Bailey obeyed his instruction, tickling Lara until she stopped crying. “Lara, be a good girl, and just go in. I don’t think he likes you. See how cold he has become. The interview will be over in a minute.”
Lara went inside the library reluctantly but found, true to her mother’s words, that the interview was very short. Williams then accompanied her out and asked for Mara, and soon after for Kiera, completing their interviews in quick succession.
When Williams asked for Jana next, Elana squeezed her sister’s hand to give her encouragement. Jana was coughing and shivering, but she held her head high.
Left behind, Elana waited in patience for as long as she could, then began to pace in the sitting room.
Damn! What takes him so long? They have been in there for over twenty minutes. I hope he is not terrorizing Jana...
When the library door finally opened, Elana breathed a sign of relief, but not for long. She could see that Jana was distraught. She had tears in her eyes and was shuddering as if she had a fever. Elana approached Jana, hoping to comfort her, but Mr. Blake stepped in, took Jana by the hand, and led her away to another room.
“Miss Elana, it is your turn,” Williams said firmly, and walked back into the library.
Elana was furious over his treatment of Jana. Forgetting her earlier resolve to make him choose her at whatever cost, she marched into the library and slammed the door shut behind herself.
“What did you say to Jana?” she demanded. “She looks absolutely scared to death. Did you play your dirty trick on her, just now? You have been in here with her for over twenty minutes.”
“Are you jealous that I find her prettier than you?” Williams asked with a smile. “That I spent more time with her today than with you yesterday?”
“Why would I be jealous?” Elana’s eyes flashed with fire. “You are not some handsome man here. You are just an ugly, lying cheat. ‘He is well known for his honest dealing.’ Ha! Did you feed Mr. Blake that pathetic line? Did he not know how you lied to me yesterday?”
“No, I didn’t realize that you wanted me to tell Blake how I enjoyed your naked body yesterday.” He smirked. “Shall I tell him and your mother how you stripped for me? How you opened your mouth for my tongue? How your … sex became wet for my fingers?”
Elana blushed, mortified at his vivid retelling of their encounter of the day before. She wanted to wash his dirty mouth clean and then sew it shut. But it also made her remember that she had a mission to complete today, and so she took a few deep breathes to suppress her anger before remarking, “We heard your conversation with Mr. Blake on our way here. What quest were you talking about? And what is it that you plan to do with your wife, day after day?”
A devilish grin spread across his face. “I’m the interviewer here, not you. Tell me, what do you know about ancient Thetacrafts?”
Elana looked at him angrily, hating him for evading her questions.
“If you don’t want to answer, it is fine by me.” Williams shrugged. “I will simply choose from your other sisters. Jana looks heavenly. I will enjoy bedding her. And Lara is…”
Desperate to stop his comments about her sisters, Elana burst into speech, replying to his question with a brief summary of her knowledge about the ancient crafts.
He then fired more questions at her, questions about the history of Theta, about the various enclaves, about political matters, and she replied to the best of her knowledge. When he contradicted her by offering his own opinion, the interview evolved into a spirited debate, although he avoided asking anything personal.
They had been talking for almost half an hour when Williams concluded the interview by asking her to perform a test.
“What kind of test?” Elana asked suspiciously.
“Give me a full body massage.”
She stiffened. “Why do I have to go through such a test?”
“The woman who is my wife will have to cater to all my needs. After a full day of hard work, I will require a nice body rub from my wife.”
“Why can’t you ask your servants to massage you?” She didn’t want to get near him again. He did strange things to her emotions. “I thought you were rich, with many servants. Why should a rich man like you have to work?”
“I have over a hundred servants in Percival, my estate in the north, but I still work hard to keep it in good shape. Besides, having a wife give me a massage is very different from having a servant do it. I can take my pleasure with my wife’s body at any time during a massage, something that I can’t do with a maid. My wife wouldn’t want me to do so with a servant, anyway.” Williams distorted eyes seemed to focus on Elana’s body, devouring and challenging her.
“I’m no expert in massage.”
“I will be the judge of that.”
“Turn around, then, and lie on the bench,” Elana directed.
“I want you to remove my clothes, first.”
Elana protested, “Why can’t you take the clothes off for yourself?”
“I would expect my wife to take my clothes off and give me a full body treatment. This test should be an accurate one,” he said in a wicked manner.
Hateful man! He loves to see me squirm. But I have seen naked boys before. I can do this. He is just uglier than most. I will simply imagine him as a handsome god.
So decided, Elana moved to stand close to him and started to remove his clothes. Today, he was wearing a black leather waistcoat and matching trousers. Both were tied closed with laces, rather than buttons or zips. She was so close to him that she could smell his musky, manly scent. She concentrated on untying the laces, rather than looking at his face or body.
“So,” she said as she worked, “what sort of test did you give my sisters?”
“That is none of your business. I suggest that you concentrate on performing your own test well.” Williams lowered his head to kiss her earlobe.
Elana recoiled. “You only specified that I give you a full body massage.” She felt a burning tingle down her neck, and forgot to be compliant as she chastised him. “Don’t kiss me!”
“I’m the interviewer. I set the rules, and I can change them at any time.”
Glared at him, she tolerated his kisses, but she removed his clothes with more force than was strictly necessary.
“Be careful!” Williams cautioned. “You are hurting me.”
“You didn’t say I had to do it tenderly.”
When she had stripped him down to his underpants, she turned him around and gestured for him to stretch out, face down, on the bench.
When he had done so, he looked back over his shoulder at her and said, “Take off my underpants and straddle me to give me the massage.”
Elana ignored the order to take off his underpants but, as a compromise, she did straddle his hips before she started kneading his shoulders and back.
At first, she was afraid to touch his swellings. Then a wicked thought came into her mind. Since she wanted to make him suffer, she squeezed the lumps, hard. To her amazement, she discovered that the ulcers were more like muscles. Although they were all reddened, they were neither inflamed nor soft.
Williams didn’t seem to experience any pain, despite her harsh kneading. In fact, his moans and deep breathing seemed to indicate that he was enjoying her massage very much.
“That’s enough,” Williams said at last.
Elana climbed hastily off and stepped away as he turned over and stretched out on his back.
“Now the front.”
Elana’s eyes widened. Does he expect me to straddle him like this?
When she didn’t move, Williams reached out and pulled her down onto his body, arranging her so that she straddled his hips, with his bulge positioned between her thighs.
It’s lucky for me that I didn’t obey his order to remove his underpants! Perverted man!
She started massaging his shoulders and torso, keeping her gaze on his body, rather than his face.
“So, you don’t like to look at me? Am I too ugly?”
Elana could feel his bulge growing under her thighs. Flustered, she refused to look at his face, despite his taunting.
Without warning, Williams raised his hands and squeezed her breasts, sending a shock wave through her body.
Elana scrambled off his body. “I have had quite enough of your interview!” she yelled, and stormed out of the library, slamming the door shut loudly.
Elana stewed angrily, furious both at him for his lecherous behavior and at herself for failing yet again to persuade him. Why can’t I hold my temper?
After a few minutes, Carlson Blake found her and brought her back to the sitting room, leaving her there with her sisters and her mother to await Williams’s choice.
When Williams himself entered, she gazed at him boldly, but he did not return her attention.
All of her sisters were sitting with her, but none spoke, silenced by the men’s grave countenances. Even the boisterous Lara had nothing to say.
Mr. Blake took his place beside Mr. Williams, and it was he who broke the silence in the room. “Miss Jana, Mr. Williams…”
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