Cyrus and Nadir first met as hungry orphans on Behekam’s streets at twelve years old. They became friends, then partners in the thievery that enabled them to survive, and as they passed their days together, they fell in love. When they are both taken as pleasure slaves in the opulent palace of the Malik of Neyem, love becomes more complicated.
Rumors of an attempt on Malik Bathasar’s life put Cyrus and Nadir’s relationship to the test—they must pose convincingly as intimate slaves to the young malik as part of a plan to lure the assassin into the open. Teman—Malik Bathasar’s real personal pleasure slave and true lover—was once trained by Cyrus for the same duties, and the attraction and care Cyrus developed for him then still remains. The Malik of Neyem proves an easy man to love and Nadir’s feelings for him grow while they’re pretending to love each other.
Cyrus and Nadir care deeply for each other but they’ve forgotten the first rule of love: communicate in honesty. Their love remains strong enough to weather the changes—if they have the courage not only to face the coming dangers, but to put aside deception and find their truth.
- 1 To Be Read list
Behekam, Neyem—1096 A.D.
BATHASAR slid along the alley, shifting from shadow to shadow. He could just barely make out the footsteps behind him, and he kept enough distance between him and them to stay out of the man’s knife range. He had no wish to go back to the palace with a wound his advisors would lecture him over.
He took a swift right turn and then a left, but the footsteps never faltered. He frowned and melted farther into the shadows, reminding himself to be lighter on his feet. As malik he rarely worried about how softly he walked, except if he was trying to let his lover sleep when he couldn’t. He forced himself to think like a thief or assassin and worked to shift his weight. Thieves didn’t stride like a malik did, they slipped or tiptoed.READ MORE
Another turn to the left, then another right, and Bathasar found himself facing a solid wall. He grumbled under his breath and frowned, trying to decide if he should attempt to scale it or turn around. Before he could choose, however, the first knife flew through the air and embedded itself in the fence next to him. He spun on his heel and cursed soundly as three more found their marks around his torso, an inch of their blades buried in wood.
“Four? Where in the world did you hide four?” Bathasar asked, amazement and amusement fighting for dominance in his tone.
“Where I hid them, which is the same place I hid this one,” Teman said, holding a fifth knife, aimed at Bathasar’s stomach, “isn’t an issue. What is, is that I could have heard you walking from a mile away. If you insist on striding, you might as well paint a target on your back.”
Bathasar laughed. “You sound so peevish, love.”
Teman rolled his eyes. “That’s because the idea of my love’s life being taken tends to make me a bit peevish.” He pulled the knife back, spun it, and it disappeared into his pants. Bathasar watched, eyebrows going up.
“Have I mentioned lately that I am very grateful that you’re on my side?” he asked, chuckling. “And really, let them come. I do know how to use the sword I carry, you know.”
“The problem, my love, is that they won’t let you get close enough to use it. You would already be dead were it not for the fortunate position I was in my first night in the Grand Hall. They have deadly aim. They do not miss, and were it not for the fact that you had me on your side, you would be dead.” Teman shook his head and crossed his arms as he peered up at Bathasar through the gloom of the alley.
Bathasar sighed. “You are right, of course. I promise next time to work harder at walking lighter. It is exceedingly difficult. I have spent my entire life being groomed for the throne. It’s not easy to undo nearly thirty years of training.”
“I know. But your life may depend on it. I can’t always be at your side.” Teman frowned and stepped closer to Bathasar until he was enfolded in Bathasar’s arms.
“I intend to change that. I have been thinking about it, and I do not think there’s anything you shouldn’t be able to be present for.”
“Really?” Teman asked, looking up.
Bathasar nodded. “Yes. Besides, if you insist on acting as my bodyguard,” he said, sighing, and Teman chuckled at the put-upon tone. “Then we must establish that you will be with me at all times. If they think I can’t live without my pleasure slave, then they won’t question it.” He paused to push aside a bit of brown hair and run his thumb over the jeweled collar Teman wore. “And you will be able to protect me.” He frowned again. “I don’t like the idea of you being the one to protect me.”
“It makes sense. You are the much more valuable out of the two of us, love.” Teman reached up and pushed a few stray strands of hair out of Bathasar’s face.
Bathasar rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, so you’ve told me. Well, I have had enough of ‘training’ for one night. There are much more pleasant things I can think of to do with you.”
“Mmmm, I can agree with that,” Teman murmured and tilted his lips up to be caught by Bathasar’s. A full minute later, they pulled apart, both having trouble breathing.
“Let’s get back inside. I want you,” Bathasar managed as he struggled for air. Teman had been back at the palace for over a year since his initial release and self-discovery, and even after all that time, Bathasar still had trouble gathering wits after kisses like that.
Teman stepped back and took Bathasar’s hand. “Then let’s not wait any longer, my love.” Teman grinned, and Bathasar laughed as they turned toward the palace entrance.
HE ALMOST missed them. If he’d been just a few minutes later, he would have. He ducked into a shadowed alcove between two doorways and watched them making eyes at each other. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he didn’t have to. He could guess.
The rumors of the malik’s pet were still running rampant a year after he’d ascended to the throne. There were quite a few accusations, including those that said the man didn’t care one bit about the country or how it ran. Rather, he spent all his time with a pleasure slave—and sometimes even more than one.
He knew that only part of those rumors were true. Like all rumors, they were founded in reality and embellished along the way. Though what part, he didn’t know.
He reminded himself that wasn’t his job. His job had been to spend the time over the last year learning the malik’s comings and goings, understanding routines and schedule, and security and its weaknesses. He’d watched, waited, and made notes.
It was just about time. He still wasn’t sure about trying while the man was in the palace, and it was frustrating to note the malik rarely left it. But this evening confirmed the malik did, in fact, leave. He cursed his luck at not having seen them depart. He would have loved the chance to be through with the job.
But it was okay. He was patient and had other, smaller jobs he could do until the right opportunity presented itself. And he knew it would. Sooner, rather than later.
IT WAS shiny, it was red, and he was so hungry. He had to give real thought to the last time he’d had a full meal. He’d managed to work for a few scraps the night before by washing dishes at a tavern. Before that, he’d helped an old lady carry her things and was given a peach for it. Before that… he couldn’t remember.
Not that this was a meal either. It was just one apple. But it was so pretty, looked so juicy and fat. He looked up at the merchant, a large man with two chins and a sour expression, and immediately was sure the man wouldn’t give him the apple. He doubted the merchant would allow him to earn it either.
With a frown, Cyrus considered the apple again. He was so tired of begging for food and scraps, trying to do things to earn the bits he could get. But at twelve, there wasn’t much he could do. Or at least, there wasn’t much they would allow him to do. And out of that, even less he would do.
The tavern keep had kicked him out immediately after the dishes were finished. He’d taken his bread scraps and half a meat pie and sat on the roof of an empty house, watching people move around the night market as he ate. When Cyrus had asked the keep about coming back, the man had gotten angry and asked if he looked like he ran an orphanage.
Cyrus would be avoiding that tavern from now on.
He turned his gaze back to the merchant and was about to open his mouth to get the man’s attention when he spotted another head around the corner of the stall. The boy couldn’t be any older than Cyrus was, had slightly lighter olive skin, longer black hair, and a thinner face. The boy looked up, two sets of black eyes met, and Cyrus saw a similar hunger and fear that he was sure was in his own. The other boy’s eyes dropped to the apples in front of him, then came back to meet Cyrus’s.
And Cyrus made a decision he would never regret. He nodded at the boy, then turned to the merchant, moving around the booth so he was on the opposite side from the other boy. “Sir.”
“What do you want?” the merchant asked gruffly, his eyes running over Cyrus’s shaggy clothes and dirty face.
“I… I was wondering if I could do some work for you? To maybe earn an apple?” Cyrus asked, glancing off to the side. He made a show of looking nervous and unsure, though he was actually looking for the other boy.
“What do I look like? A charity? Get out of here!” the merchant shouted.
Cyrus opened his mouth to protest, but he saw the other boy slip around the corner behind the booth. “Sorry! Sorry to bother you!” Cyrus said, afraid the merchant would call the guards down on him. He’d heard of them taking some of the troublemakers to the dungeons, and he had no interest whatsoever in going there. He turned and hurried away from the booth in the opposite direction from the other boy.
When he’d gone far enough that the merchant couldn’t see him anymore, he ducked into an alley and found a quiet spot to sit. He sighed and stared at his toes, working to forget about the rumbling in his stomach. He had to do something. He couldn’t keep going like this. He curled up with his chin on his knees and stared off into space, ignoring the sounds of the alley and city around him.
Cyrus looked up and blinked. The boy he’d helped at the stall was sitting next to him, holding out an apple. “You’re welcome,” he answered, his gaze dropping to the apple. “I… you should keep it.”
But the other boy shook his head. “I got it for you. And it took me a little while to find you. I didn’t expect you to go the way you did.”
Cyrus looked up again, his eyes widening. “You came looking for me?”
The boy nodded. “Yes. I thought it was only fair that you get one too, for helping me.”
“I… don’t… normally steal. I haven’t yet, anyway,” Cyrus mumbled, taking the apple.
“That was my first time too,” the boy said. “I am Nadir.”
“Cyrus,” Cyrus said, holding his hand out. Nadir took it, and they shook hands. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I have been trying to earn food, but the merchants and taverns don’t like to employ small boys. At least… not for the things I’m willing to do.” Nadir looked away, and Cyrus thought he heard a whispered “yet” tacked on to the end, but then Nadir took a bite of his apple and Cyrus let it go.
“Yes, I know what you mean.” Cyrus took a bite of his own apple, and the two sat in silence, eating. They were slow, taking their time and savoring the flavor. They both picked every last bit of meat off of their cores and even ate bits they probably shouldn’t have. When they were finished, Cyrus sighed. “I’m tired of begging.”
Nadir nodded. “Me too. But… I don’t know what else we could do. And… it doesn’t help that we look like street rats.”
“No, that is true,” Cyrus said, looking down at himself. His pants were at least two seasons too short, his shoes had holes in them, and the shirt he wore was frayed in too many places. And all of it was dirty. Nadir’s clothing was in a similar state. “We at least have to clean up.”
“There is a spot along the river that I know that is shallow. Perhaps the laundry women would let us use some of their soap if we offer to carry their clothes,” Nadir suggested.
Cyrus’s eyebrows went up. “I hadn’t thought of that. That is a good idea. Say… do you… want to work together?”
Nadir nodded. “I was thinking about that. We… did pretty well at the apple seller. Perhaps together, we could do more?”
Cyrus smiled. “I bet we could.”
Nadir’s smile spread across his face slowly. Cyrus blinked at it, noting the way it lit up his face, and the thought came to Cyrus that Nadir was a very good-looking boy. He shook the thought off and nodded. “Then it is settled. Partners.” He held his hand out again, and Nadir shook it.
“Partners, it is.” Nadir’s smile widened, and Cyrus’s matched it.
“CYRUS.” His shoulder was shaken gently, and Cyrus fought to open his eyes. He let loose a yawn and started to move but realized he was pinned. He glanced down at Nadir’s black head, pillowed on his chest, and smiled, then looked up.
“Hello,” he greeted Salehi.
Salehi’s thick black hair was getting on the long side, and he pushed it back in annoyance, but then his quick smile surfaced when his kind eyes focused on Cyrus again and he saw Cyrus’s eyes were open. “Good afternoon,” Salehi said.
“Good afternoon,” Cyrus replied, rubbing his eyes and working to clear the cobwebs from his brain. “I’m sorry, we must have fallen asleep.”
“It is no wonder. Lord Atherol kept you quite late. Are you okay?” Salehi asked.
Cyrus considered it, knowing his master didn’t ask unless he truly wanted to know, then nodded. “Yes, I am. Lord Atherol spent a good deal of time last night squeaking….” He paused when Salehi laughed.
“Yes, that is what the man does, isn’t it?”
Cyrus grinned and nodded. “Yes. Apparently, his wife is insisting on making the journey from Saol and joining him here in Neyem. He was not happy about it.”
Salehi chuckled. “If you knew his wife, you would understand why.” He glanced down at the still-sleeping Nadir, then back at Cyrus. “You and Nadir have been requested by His Highness, the malik,” Salehi continued. “He wishes you to join him in his rooms before the evening meal.”
“Of course,” Cyrus replied.
“You will be cleaned up and adorned, as I believe he intends to take you to the court dinner.”
Cyrus blinked in surprise at the unusual request. However, if there was more information, Salehi would have imparted it, and so whatever was happening, they would find out in due time. “We will go now, as soon as I wake Nadir.”
“Good. Thank you,” Salehi finished, bowing his head at them. When Cyrus returned it, he left.
Cyrus brushed the silky black hair out of Nadir’s face and ran his fingers over one soft cheek. “Nadir,” he called softly, and his lover stirred.
“I am awake. We are to go to His Highness’s?” Nadir murmured sleepily.
“Yes. And adorned as we do for the court dinners. I don’t know what is going on, but we should get moving.” Nadir nodded in reply, rubbing a cheek against Cyrus’s chest, then looked up. Cyrus leaned in and caught Nadir’s lips with his own in a long, slow kiss. “We can at least be sure that if we are to be involved with them, that we will be allowed to be together,” he said when they broke apart.
“I would like that. It has been a while.” Nadir smiled and cupped Cyrus’s cheek with his palm.
“It has, though we have gotten used to it.” Cyrus smiled, and Nadir nodded, though there was something behind Nadir’s eyes that gave Cyrus pause. He opened his mouth to ask about it, but Nadir chose that moment to kiss him again, and he let it go, instead concentrating on the need he felt coming from his lover. He wrapped his arms around Nadir and shifted them, wanting to feel more of Nadir, deepening the kiss. Tongues slid slowly, tasting, dancing, savoring. Hands moved over soft skin, and Cyrus paused to cup Nadir’s ass and pull him in so their caged cocks were grinding. Even with them trapped in silver, it felt good, and both of them loosed soft moans.
When they broke apart a moment later, fighting for breath, Nadir said, “We should probably stop this. Bathing is going to be a struggle.”
Cyrus cleared his throat. “Yes, it will be. But I don’t mind.” He brushed at Nadir’s long hair and closed his eyes briefly when Nadir nuzzled his neck. “We should go, though. We do not want to be late for His Highness and Teman.”
“No, no we don’t.” Nadir sighed and sat up. Cyrus’s eyes traveled over Nadir’s naked body, pausing to take in the way his lover’s cock strained hard against the cage. The devices they had to wear locked them down and kept them from touching or using their cocks, not even allowing an erection without the permission of the master they were supposed to serve. It was moments like this he wished fervently that things were different, that they weren’t pleasure slaves and he could do for and be with his lover anytime they wanted.
But they were pleasure slaves, their bodies property of the malik, his brother, the amir, and anyone else that requested them. They hadn’t been masters of their own bodies for seven years now, and Cyrus reminded himself he had accepted that and they deserved their positions. He took Nadir’s hand as they got to their feet and made their way out of the slaves’ common area and then down the hall toward the bathing room.
As they stepped through the wide, double wooden doors, he paused to take in the room. The large, raised, pool-sized tub in the center was filled with steaming water. Several clothed servants moved about, taking things out of the cabinets that lined the walls and adorning slaves in various states of readiness on the benches scattered about the room. Two other male slaves were in the bath, being cleaned up by two more male slaves. With a last kiss to Nadir and a squeeze of hands, they moved toward opposite ends of the room.
He could watch Nadir being bathed, but he was not allowed to do that for his lover. The temptation to pleasure Nadir was too great, and though they had many freedoms—they slept next to each other, could kiss and touch—they were not allowed to give pleasure unless ordered to by a master or mistress. He watched as Nadir’s cock cage, collar, and wrist cuffs were removed. His lover’s cock hardened—thanks to the training and conditioning they all underwent—and then Nadir climbed the three steps into the tub and settled into the water.
Bahi, another slave, a man they had made friends with, stepped up to Nadir, and Cyrus watched as they talked. He couldn’t hear everything—there was too much noise with the other slaves and servants—but he caught bits about being requested by the malik and spending time with Teman.
Teman was something of a legend among the pleasure slaves. He’d been brought to the palace just over a year ago, having been caught during an attempt to recover stolen property. However, during the attempt, he had assaulted someone, and by their laws, he was to be punished. Since it was his third time getting caught, he was brought to the palace for sentencing.
He’d taken to palace pleasure slavery well. Cyrus had done the training himself, and they’d forged a close friendship. He had, in fact, been forced to question his feelings for Nadir a time or two when he and Teman had been together. Just as, he knew, Nadir had questioned things when he’d spent time with Teman’s best friend, Jasim. Nadir had become attached to Jasim very quickly, and it had stung, but Cyrus had dealt with it by admitting to his own fascination with Teman.
And then Teman had saved the malik’s and amir’s lives and drawn the attention of the crown amir, Bathasar. Teman had fallen in love with Bathasar, who’d fallen just as hard for Teman, and before long, Teman had become Bathasar’s personal slave. Bathasar was now malik, and Teman, though he’d been granted freedom, had voluntarily returned to slavery, unable to stay away from Bathasar. They were still together, still very much in love, and Cyrus had found himself discontented for the first time since he’d accepted his sentence as a palace pleasure slave.
He wanted more. Cyrus wanted the freedom to love Nadir as he deserved to be, as he needed to be. Cyrus thought he could see the contentment they once had—what they had accepted as enough—wasn’t in Nadir’s eyes any longer. Nadir insisted he was happy, that they were fine, but Cyrus wasn’t so sure.
Maybe because he was no longer quite so happy. He was still happy with Nadir—his love hadn’t changed in the years since they’d realized it, had only gotten stronger. It was their situation he was frustrated with, though he worked to keep that knowledge to himself and away from Nadir. He didn’t want to upset his lover. There were other things they had to deal with without adding this to the mix.
He shook the thoughts off as another of the slaves approached.
“Hello, Karum. I am to be prepared for His Highness, the malik,” Cyrus said, forcing a smile onto his face as Karum removed his cage, collar, and cuffs. Still partially aroused from the touching with Nadir, his cock hardened even faster than normal. Working to ignore it, Cyrus settled into the water and turned to wait for Karum to get the soap and washcloth.
“Oh! Special indeed. He rarely has anyone besides Teman with him. Except for you and Nadir.”
Cyrus nodded. “Yes, we are the only others that keep him company. I am grateful that he likes us—he is a good man.” Cyrus kept to himself that they were just shy of calling each other “friend,” though the reticence for that was mostly on Cyrus’s part, as he had trouble considering a malik a friend. The familiarity he and Nadir had with the malik was something they had decided was to be kept among the four of them.
This malik was the polar opposite of his father. Malik Mukesh had been… horrible. He’d been sadistically brutal and selfish, often requesting slaves and beating them, then taking them and refusing to allow release after sometimes hours of teasing and tormenting them. As all slaves were trained to be unable to orgasm without the command, sessions with Mukesh had been something they had all wished to avoid. Unfortunately, that hadn’t been possible. Cyrus himself spent many evenings at the other end of Mukesh’s cruelty. He was very glad the man was gone.
Malik Bathasar was very different. He spoke with respect and care to everyone, including the slaves, guards, and servants. Teman was, in fact, the first pleasure slave he’d ever requested. Since then, he had only added Cyrus and Nadir to that list, most often for Teman’s benefit, as they were good friends. He didn’t like the things the slaves went through but understood that there were benefits to having them, and many of the slaves much preferred their position in the palace to the alternative—the dungeon. And so, the palace slaves stayed.
“That he is,” Karum replied, then paused to focus on washcloth and soap and started scrubbing Cyrus down. “So much better than his father.”
The second comment was almost indecipherable, but Cyrus caught it. The man was dead and not returning—they knew this—but they still hesitated to speak out loud about just how horrible he’d been. “Indeed,” Cyrus agreed. He turned around as Karum finished with his chest and stomach and presented his back for cleaning.
“Your hair is getting long, Cyrus. About due for a trim?” Karum asked.
Cyrus nodded and tilted his head back as Karum poured the water over him. “Yes. It is. Nadir says he likes it like this, but it gets in my eyes and drives me insane. Though, if Nadir likes it, I may just leave it and learn to deal.”
Karum laughed. “Makes me glad I don’t have a lover. I like my hair the way it is.”
Cyrus glanced over his shoulder at Karum’s very short black hair. It was cropped almost to the scalp and in tight curls. Karum had dark skin, much darker than any of the other slaves, and it was rumored that he had been picked up by a trading caravan on the other side of the sea. “Oh, it is worth it.”
“Even here?” Karum asked.
Cyrus hesitated. How many times had he said something like absolutely! But he wasn’t sure that was true anymore. He glanced up at Nadir, who caught his eye and smiled. That smile always made him feel better, always warmed him, and he put aside his gloomy thoughts. He returned Nadir’s smile, and his lover’s widened. “Yes, even here,” Cyrus replied. “We are limited, but I can accept that to have Nadir with me. I love him.” He shrugged a shoulder at the simple statement and closed his eyes so Karum could rinse his hair.
Karum made quick and silent work of the rest of Cyrus’s bathing; then he was dried off and moved to the bench to be adorned. These adornments hadn’t changed much since Bathasar had taken the throne, as the nobility they appeared at dinners to entertain still liked to see them. So the basket Karum brought over contained a familiar jumble of gold in chains, clips, and other things.
Salehi stepped in at that moment and crossed the room. “Just a moment, Karum. They won’t be using all of that yet. They will be taking some of it along.” He lifted a cloth bag. “The snake and chains that connect to it will be put on them later.” So saying, he lifted a few items from the basket and placed them in the bag. He handed a light golden version of their cock cages to Karum. “Put this on him first,” he instructed, and Karum did as he bid, oiling the inside of the cage portion before securing it in place and locking it.
The next thing Karum picked up was a metal plug. Cyrus braced himself on the bench as oiled fingers stretched him just enough to take it. Karum worked it into him slowly. Then, at a light tap on his back, he stood and fidgeted slightly as the pressure on his prostate increased. It was one thing he never really got used to. He wasn’t plugged all that often, except when he was present for court dinners.
His collar and cuffs were returned to him next. His collar was like the other slaves’: wide and thin, made of etched gold. It was hinged in the back with a loop in the front for the lock and another below it. Originally, the second loop had been for a leash to be attached, but Bathasar refused to allow them—one of the changes he made to the slaves’ treatment—and so it was reserved to connect simple decorative chains instead.
The cuffs were made just like the collars, without locks. Roughly two inches wide, they were very thin and etched in a similar pattern as the collar. They had small rings on either side of the wrists, but that was all.
Karum next fitted small gold nipple rings that surrounded Cyrus’s nipples, and pinched them closed. They didn’t hurt—barely even put pressure on them, just enough to stay in place and cause his nipples to harden. Cyrus could—and often did—take pain during the course of his service, so he didn’t mind a bit of it, but he liked these rings because they didn’t cause any. Chains were attached to the rings, then hung between his nipples and connected to the loop on his collar.
He was given gold hoops for his ears and more snakes to wrap around his biceps. Karum carefully combed his hair, Salehi handed him the bag with the other items in it, and he was ready.
When he looked at Nadir, adorned as his lover was, his cock jumped. He never got enough of seeing Nadir done up like this. Nadir’s lighter olive skin warmed with the gold, and the thought came to Cyrus that someday, maybe, he could put jewelry on Nadir—jewelry he had purchased just for his lover.
He closed the distance across the room and took Nadir’s hand. “You are, as always, beautiful,” Cyrus murmured and kissed Nadir on his cheek, near his ear.
Nadir’s smile was wide. “You are the beautiful one, Cy.” Cyrus shook his head, but Nadir just laughed. “Stop. You know it is true. Lord Atherol tells us all the time. So does Teman. Even the malik.”
“They also say that you are, as well,” Cyrus countered, and Nadir laughed again.
“That is true,” he conceded. “Well, we shouldn’t keep our master for the night waiting, should we?”
“No, we should not,” Cyrus agreed. He turned toward the door, and, with head bows at Salehi, they made their way out of the slaves’ wing.COLLAPSE