This is one of my favorite passages.
Limbs pleasantly languid in the aftermath of passion, Lilian savors the view of milord’s long legs, well-muscled buttocks, lean waist, strong back, and broad shoulders. She knows not the source of milord’s odd humor, but until milord withdraws his license, she will indulge her desire. Lured by the enticing expanse of olive skin, she trails her fingers along one hard thigh to buttock, where she lingers to explore. Fascinated by the shape and texture, she sets lips and tongue to the exploration. The muscle tautens and shifts under her lips. Easing to her side, she meets milord’s heavy-lidded regard.
One of his arms snakes out, pulling her close. “I may need a moment to recover.”
“Recover, milord?” she asks. Lackwit. His indulgence has limits. “I beg pardon, milord. I did not intend—”
“Peace.” Milord places a finger against her lips. “I but tease.”
Resisting the urge to nip his finger, she curls against his side, reveling in his warm, hard length.
Milord stretches, and the soft sheet slides up, cocooning her in his warmth. “What possessed you to permit that rodent in the house?”
Horror. Milord’s reaction to Gloribelle was horror, not amusement. Knowing it will not truly mitigate, Lilian defends her laxity. “Gloribelle is not permitted in the house, only the kitchen and the garden shed.”
“Only the kitchen?” milord rumbles. “With your food.”
“It is not as bad as it seems. She leaves her personal soil somewhere in the overgrown gardens and she sheds no more than a cat or dog.”
“A cat or dog would be better,” milord says. “And strays are not hard to come by have you not the funds for a purebred.”
“A cat or dog is far more vulnerable than a tree wombat. I would not risk exposing one to the spite of our neighbors.”
His arm tightens, his free hand tracing slow circles on her hip. “But a tree wombat?”
“Katleen rescued it as a pup. It was meant to live in the garden shed, but they became attached, and I could not refuse it the kitchen when the rains came.”
Milord’s lips feather across her forehead. “My father would not allow my favorite wolfhound anywhere but the kennels. He was not pleased when he discovered I smuggled Colmillo onto the transport when I left for Mulan’s Temple.”
“Milord smuggled a wolfhound onto a stellar transport?” She tilts her head to meet milord’s gaze. Wolfhounds are highly prized as watchdogs and weigh eight to ten stone. Not a creature one can readily hide. “How was that possible?”
“Generous bribes to the porter and the aid of Solomon and Sabri.” His smile is warm with recall.
“Master Sabri, milord?” She thought she knew every member of milord’s extended family.
“My personal servitor. I had not much cared for him until then.”
She knows not what to say. A warrior’s personal servitor does more than tend to personal effects and grooming. Chosen after the age of consent and before entering advanced studies, the personal servitor is part confidant and part advisor, aiding the warrior in passage to full adulthood. Although the warrior’s parents or guardians provide candidates, it is done with an eye to compatibility. To have a personal servitor one does not care for would be extremely unpleasant.
“My father feared I was too unconventional and rebellious,” milord replies to her unspoken questions. “Sabri was the least offensive of the choices.”
“He helped milord take a dog to university. He sounds a bit unconventional.”
“He is not.” Milord laughs, rolling her onto her back. “Helping me steal Colmillo was the only defiant action of his entire life. For some reason, he took a liking to Colmillo and Colmillo to him.”
“Perhaps Mr. Sabri wished to please milord?” It is a motivation she well understands.
“Perhaps he wished the status of personal servitor to the Blooded Dagger preeminence,” milord counters. “At the time I cared naught, I wished only to have my dog. Now, he has earned it.” Dropping a kiss on her lips, milord asks, “What became of yours?”
“Mine, milord?” She founders, confused by the question and distracted by his kiss. “I have never had a pet.”
“Personal servitor.” His lips curve against her shoulder. “You must have had one.”
Crevasse swallow it. She cares naught for the turn in conversation. Nor can she believe milord’s indulgence will extend to withholding. “I declined to select one.”
“Truly?” Milord raises his head, eyes curious. “Dean Joseph permitted it?”
“The dean was not pleased,” she admits. “But he lacked the authority to compel me.”
“He would not have appealed to Gariten.” She was in Dean Joseph’s care to protect her from Gariten. “But why did you decline?”
“Privacy, milord.” It is well milord knows so much of her history. “Personal servitors come to know everything, and I had a good deal to hide.”
“By then, as I recall, you were planning patricide.” Milord pushes back and rises. “A personal servitor would have been a danger.”
“The phantom servitors will have left a meal.” Milord moves to the freshening closet. “Join me when you will.”
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I truly love this series, and I am terrified of the last book, because… well… it’s the LAST.
At the same time, I can’t help but hope it won’t be, because there are SO many unanswered questions that the story of Lilian proving her bond won’t cover.
We know that she and he are in love (even if they don’t, because social constructs encourage them to ignore it) and that people closest to him believe it’s a good thing because his wife, whom he also loves deeply, is dying – so there’s an assumption that after her bond proves, she will stay with Serengeti. However, that doesn’t change the fact that she will be a commoner, and he a warrior. The status situation will not change, so marriage is out of the question – but she loves him, so it’s likely she will stay a mistress – except that pretty much puts her life on hold. She won’t be able to have children if she wants them. She probably will not choose to marry someone else because she DOES love him. She won’t be able to live with him.
Their relationship will change because she will no longer be an apprentice, but because she is so afraid of the future, she won’t think about that, only “this day,” which leaves us all begging the question – how can her emotional story, THEIR emotional story, end well?
I’ve re-read every book, probably every six months or so, since I discovered this series. I still cry for her. I’m truly attached to their story. The idea of it ending gives me a deep sense of melancholia. When it’s over, I’ll likely start swallowing anything else you’ve written that I can find.
Thank you for this absolutely brilliant series, for your writing that even re-read continues to move me emotionally, and encourage my investment in the people.
Please don’t let the next book be the last.
Would you accept begging?
I’m so glad you enjoy my stories. The good news is that while Book 6 sees the end of Lilian’s apprenticeship – it is not the last in the series. There are at least 3 books after that before Lilian and Lucius’ saga resolves. I promise there will be an HEA, but as you have noted, there’s a lot left to be resolved. For more insights on what’s coming, check out February’s InD’tale (out Wednesday) with a feature on the Twelve Systems Chronicles and me. http://www.indtale.com.