Stallion’s Accord (m/f)
Raya Varvara is what Orianians refer to as a techno snob. She thrives on her fast-paced urban life on New Earth. At least she did until she met Calder Brinkley, a horse shifter and regional governor on Oriana. Calder likes wide-open spaces, the fresh air of early morning, and turning off technology in favor of face-to-face conversation. He also likes Raya. He likes her so much he’s willing to alter some of what he enjoys about his low-tech planet.
When Raya returns to Oriana after a long, painful absence, she learns about the changes Calder introduced. Her certainty that she could never live on this backwater planet begins to falter. Can Calder convince her that being together is more important than either of them having their way, or will her stubbornness keep them forever apart?
Raya leaned forward, tangling her hands in Obsidian’s mane, relishing the feel of his strength beneath her. She was thankful her lover needed to return home quickly after their tryst by the stream. Riding his alternate form exhilarated her. Discussing the fact that a confession of love had escaped her — as Calder worked her into a frenzy — would make her cringe.
She didn’t want to be in love. She couldn’t live on Oriana, and Calder wouldn’t leave. No matter how good the sex was, their lifestyles were incompatible. That’s why she’d run from what she felt months ago. She’d tried to deny what he meant to her, but seeing him again had brought all her feelings to the surface. Then he’d touched her, and she was lost.
But she wasn’t a coward. She wouldn’t deny what she’d blurted out in a fit of passion. She was in love with Calder, and she had to face the consequences of those feelings. But the longer she could put it off, the better. Perhaps Calder would give her one night to revel in their need for each other before questioning her intentions.
All too soon, the stable came in sight, and Obsidian slowed to a trot. Finlay, the stable master, was there to greet them. He gave Raya a sly wink. “I see you’ve returned, and you’re riding Obsidian as well as ever.”
She smiled and ignored the heat that crept into her cheeks. “Damn right I am.”
Obsidian snorted as they both laughed.
“I’ll see to him,” Raya said, sliding from her lover’s back and grabbing a currycomb from the wall, ready to give Obsidian a loving brush down.
“He’d certainly love that, Miss Varvara, but his guests have already begun to arrive.”
Obsidian whinnied loudly and gestured toward the door with his nose.
Finlay nodded. “I’ll take care of it, sir.”
Raya raised her brows in question.
“He needs privacy to shift, ma’am. Not all of tonight’s guests are aware that Obsidian and Lord Brinkley are one and the same.” Calder was an unregistered shapeshifter. His mother belonged to a centaur-like race known as the Canterini, but as a half-blood, he could shift between human and horse form.
“Ah,” she nodded. Guests. Ugh. The last thing she wanted to do was stuff herself into one of the fancy dresses she’d been forced to purchase for her business on Oriana and socialize with Calder’s guests. Maybe she could feign fatigue from the long journey. Or better yet from the thorough fucking he’d given her.
Finlay closed the stable doors and locked them. Obsidian shimmered briefly, and Calder stood where he’d been, naked and obviously ready to go another round with her. Finlay tossed him some clothes and boots, and he dressed quickly. He looked damn fine in the tight tan riding pants and tall polished boots. His black shirt strained across his powerful shoulders and muscular chest. He left the top two buttons open in a manner considered rakish on Oriana.
“Lord Partington has arrived with his daughter,” Finlay said as he unlocked the doors. The stable master looked pointedly at Raya. “Miss Varvara’s arrival will be of interest to them, I’m sure.”
Calder’s eyes brightened, and he smiled wickedly. “I do believe it will.”
Raya didn’t like the sound of that. “Who is Lord Partington?”
“An idiot who thinks I’d pay his debts in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“Fuck that.” Raya’s stomach churned. Calder was hers. She didn’t want to be in love, and she didn’t want to live on Oriana, but… damn it, he was hers.
Calder chuckled. “Try to keep your claws in.”
Raya glared at him. “Why are they here?”
“I’m hosting a party tonight to celebrate the conclusion of the legislative session.”
Raya pondered his words. “Is that customary?”
Calder nodded. “When the session ends, most of the regional governors return to their own lands, and life in and around the capital slows down for several months.”
Raya tried to imagine the pace of life being any slower than it already was and failed. She’d originally met Calder when her job at Intergalactic Investors Bank brought her to Oriana to broker a deal for a client. She’d hated everything about the backwater planet except for the fine horseflesh Calder owned and Calder himself.
She’d never let herself get involved with a client before, but she loved beautiful horses and beautiful men, and Calder literally brought all the untamed strength of a stallion into his human form. He’d been impossible to resist, but when he suggested she stay, she refused. No way could an urban girl from New Earth be happy here, not even with a stud of a man like Calder.
She’d ignored him for the intervening months just like she’d ignored the terrifying mix of hot and cold that raced through her when she thought of him. She had no place in her life for romance.
When she’d received the paperwork confirming her client’s purchase of Calder’s horses, she’d chosen to surprise Calder rather than be forced to explain why she’d failed to contact him for months. She caught a flight to Oriana that afternoon, barely taking time to comm her supervisor and let her know she’d be out of the office for the next week. Now here she was, admitting to feelings she’d didn’t want to have, confused and longing to ignore the world and spend the night making love to Calder. But he had a house full of overdressed, stuffy Orianians who would find her exotic if not downright crude.
As if hearing her thoughts, he glanced down pointedly, looking at her nipples standing out against the damp cloth of her dress. Between the heat and the dip she’d taken in the stream her dress looked rather disreputable.
“You’re going to scandalize my guests.”
Raya snorted. “Fucking prudes.”
Calder laughed. “My guests include some of the biggest gossips on Oriana. When we appear at the house together with you in that ensemble, rumors will spread like wildfire. By tomorrow everyone who’s anyone in Oriana’s capital will know we’re lovers. The only way I’ll be able to save your reputation is by marrying you.”
Marry me? Marry me? He has to be kidding.