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About King

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    The Virtuoso
  • Birthday 01/11/1990

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  1. I'm making my return if you'd like to be apart of the journey.

    1. King


      Sure, why not.

    2. elixir


      Don't sound too excited about the suggestion, man. The sarcasm gives me chills.

  2. That would be cool! I posted in the noble house ooc a few days ago asking if someone wanted to rp a member of the Honorguard to help me push the thread along, but got no bites. I'll shoot you a pm tonight?
  3. I've been waiting on my writing partner for the last few weeks. I'll be skipping them and continuing the thread alone.
  4. King

    The Conception of an Empire

    There was a time, not so very long ago, when Gabriela’s words would have hurt him. The bitterness, the cruelty, the sheer viciousness in the manner at which she attacked those cherished memories he kept—it would have been a lethal strike, masterfully delivered, that left the elder vampyre without words, and least of all the conviction to pursue her further. Nothing burned quite like the cold, after all. But that time had passed, the opportunity squared away the moment his seed had stuck in her womb. True, he was a man in spite of his power and wealth, and he loved the petulant child-queen dearly, but her attempt to wound him had proven little more than a glancing blow. Rafael had the upper hand, and they both knew it. Buying into the comfort of Tenebre’s abyssal corroboration, Gabriela strayed threw herself into the dance of wolves, tempting her husband with the closeness of her lips, the iciness of her breath. He took her by the head with both of his hands, twisting and locking his fingers at the roots of her hair. Those coils, he secured in massive fists, ensuring she’d not be able to retreat until he desired to allow so. He kept her there as he bit onto her bottom lip, pulling back to stretch the flesh between them. Long, feral fangs pricked the inside of her skin, drawing small beads of her black blood to the surface. Even Tenebre’s presence could not dampen the sweetness of it. “Mm, my sweet Gabriela,” he purred against her lips. “Mouthy, petulant bitch doesn’t suit you in the least.” The elder vampyre had become something of an authority on the topic in previous weeks, his past company considered. “You aren’t nearly as clever as you think you are, my dear.” It was then that he released her with a dismissive flip of his wrists, looking down at her from the peak of his nose. “It was when you stood for something that you loved me,” Rafael corrected her, clearly more than amused that she believed herself to be somehow different from the child that ran away all those years ago. “You were a princess, the future of a nation. You had the potential to be the greatest monarch our kind had ever seen. Our people, they weren’t perfect, but they were ours—and you abandoned them. For what? Freedom? Peace? A people that you can be proud of? How has that gone, my love? How is your grand, complicated life panning out for you, hm?” Rafael thumbed the corner of his mouth where her flavor had collected, then gently sucked it away in a slow, pointed manner. “The truth, Gabriela? You’ve never been a simpler creature in your life,” he said with a low, derisive chuckle. “You aren’t a queen, and you have never been. You're barely a mother. You’re little more than a crown, Gabriela; something to be worn on display. If not by me, then by the devil—though he doesn’t seem too enchanted with you any longer—and if by neither of us, then by Tenebre. Smirking, he gestured to her in a revealing manner. “You truly believe that your love is required? That it is the final goal of all of this, the ultimate prize? Are you slow-witted? This is all that manners,” he said, gently pressing a hand beneath her navel. “Keep your heart, keep your soul; I have what I want. Just as the devil has what he desires. All that talk of love, of family, of happily ever after—ha! You were stupid enough to believe that?” The devil masked his pain behind apathy, but Rafael knew it was there. It was disappointing in some regards, and admirable in others—they were both so young. “I couldn’t care less how you feel about your predicament, so long as you understand it. This is your reality now, and whether or not you accept it, you belong to me. No one else wants you, Gabriela. There isn’t another soul alive that can stomach you as I do. Hate it, fight it, but I am all you have—all you’ve ever had.” Rafael allowed for a moment of silence as his words sank it, searching her expression. The cold did well to hide the things she felt, but it didn’t erase them. Rather, it encased them in sheets of ice, contained them—but there were ways to crack and chip away that casing, and with the proper leverage, one could shatter it. “Time is on my side, love,” he said softly. “By the right of our births, you will never be stronger than me. Never. And so, you will forever be subject to my whims. You may be rebellious at times, as is expected from a child, but you will grow. You will learn.” Thunderous blue eyes strayed from her face, eying the shadows. “And you will not be able to protect her always.” Yes, Tenebre had proven himself a worthy nuisance to Rafael’s progression. His obsession with Gabriela, while understandable, could no longer be tolerated. There wasn’t enough of her for the three of them, and the elder vampyre was only prepared to share her with a single soul—one whom, much to his pleasure, had no immediate interest in the offer. It was in the pursuit of distancing Gabriela from the Dark Father that Rafael had taken certain liberties in Cantorra, when this keep had been constructed to serve as a “mobile” throne for the royal pair. And while the halls remained absent of love and affection, the wards set into the foundation of their chambers proved quite powerful—and most of all, effective. “Come,” Rafael said, taking her by the wrist firmly. “Let me show you just how quickly ice can thaw.” He guided her further into Cantorra’s black depths, to a place where neither devil nor god could help her.
  5. King

    Winter Lullaby

    “You’ll do not such thing,” Rafael said curtly, intercepting Gabriela’s hand with his own just as she reached for her scarf. His touch was not so much harsh as it was commanding, a gesture that served to underscore his authority over her welfare. “My apologies, master-servant, for Her Majesty’s hasty response. She is known to be somewhat impetuous.” While the weigh seemed to vanished from his thickly accented voice, there was neither smile nor smirk to confirm any suspicion of amusement. But his eyes, oh, how they scorched and admonished her. You forget your place far too often, those thunderous blue eyes said to her. You know better than to speak for me, Gabriela. Yet, his touch remained soft, as it had since their rendezvous in Veelos. With careful pushes and prods from his fingers, Rafael saw her work undone—button by button, strap by strap, until her coat hung loosely against her figure. He eased it from her arms and then off her shoulders, draping it over his right forearm once it had been removed. “We are guests in this man’s home, Gabriela,” he said, taking her by the chin with his left hand. Lifting her head, Rafael met her darkened eyes unfettered, studying her expression as he was known to do. “He has done well to make our lives simple, and for that, I am grateful. You will go to him,” he decided, punctuating his orders with loving strokes of the thumb across the swell of her bottom lip. “And you will not provoke him.” Frowning, he reached up and collected a single strand of her dark hair on his fingertip that had rebelliously fallen from its place and dusted her forehead. Tucking it back into place, he smiled, and dipped his chin to kiss her. She thought it boring to him, these shows of affection, or little more than a chore he’d long-since found himself enslaved to. But no, it was little more than an illusion cast by the ice that now clouded her vision. The passion, it burned hot in his veins; the sheer need and desire of it threatened to consume him at all hours of the day. That she carried his child only stoked the flames, and just as when she’d labored with Philippe, Rafael had never in his life craved her more. Her mind, her heart, they may have been ignorant of these things—but her body had always known its one true lover, its one master. Rafael kissed her with ravenous hunger, though for the sake of propriety kept the embrace brief. “Once you’ve concluded your meeting with him, we will return to the capital together. I will wait for you. We will tend to those other matters together, as is proper.” It was much too dangerous to let her saunter off into the wilderness, or wherever she believed she might find solace, to quell the storm raging inside her. While she seemed determined to focus her efforts on Philippe (which he could never fault her for), Rafael would not let her simply dismiss the safety of the child growing inside her. More than a child, more than an heir to the throne, it was the future of their species. Rafael lifted his chin in direction, dismissing her. “Now, go.” The matter settled, the elder vampyre looked at the dark-skinned man. “As for refreshments, I will have to decline. But, if it’s no issue to your Lord, I would prefer to stay here with the little prince. It’s been quite some time since last I saw him.” Rafael’s gaze slid to the child’s bed, his soft, rhythmic breathing telling of his sleep. A smile curved his thin lips. “They grow so quickly, and I fear I’ve already missed so much.” Of course, were the master-servant to protest, Rafael would make no fuss about it. Things had, indeed, gone swimmingly since that night in Veelos. There was no need to disturb the peace, least of all over a visit. After all, he had an eternity.
  6. King

    Winter Lullaby

    “You’ve always had a pleasant singing voice,” Rafael commented from the doorway, casting his long shadow over his wife and her little prince. His presence at the devil’s villa had disturbed the natural order of things, and the tension beyond the prince’s chamber was thick enough to cut with a knife. But Rafael shirked the curious glances he received, the murmurs that trailed behind his passing, and did not fault the servants for their suspicion or loyalty to their master. He was here for Gabriela and Philippe, and cared little else for the rest. “It’s quite a shame that you’ve not found more frequent uses for it.” In spite of his imposing figure, the elder vampyre moved without sound. There was nothing to herald his stealthy approach, and when caressed the side of her neck with his knuckles, and then placed that heavy palm on her shoulder, it was as if he’d simply appeared beside her. “You should use the native tongue,” he commented a moment later. “Your blood courses through that boy’s veins, thus, so does the motherland. He should know his roots, Gabriela.” His lips curved into a smirk as he thought of more unrefined blood Philippe had somehow inherited from his father. “Besides, it’s far more elegant than this crude common tongue the mortals use,” he continued. “His father may insist he behave like them, but he needn’t grow up idolizing them and all of their flaws.” While he still carried a great deal of love for the young prince, the devil’s continued presence—and Gabriela’s pregnancy—had, in some ways, resigned the elder vampyre to the reality he’d been so determined to cast aside. Philippe was not his child, not truly, and while he’d always seek the boy’s best interests, he’d not look to overstep and disturb the tumultuous peace they’d managed to establish. If it was Roen’s desire to dress and raise his child as a mundane child, then that was his prerogative. Rafael had his own child to look after, now. Letting his words hang in the air, his eyes were drawn to the window, gazing out at the swirls of snow as they swept across the roofs of the villa’s longer wings, layered across the ground in thick blankets that stretched on for as far as the eye could see, and the clouds that blackened the sky to a thick, impenetrable pitch. Reports from the mainland spoke of a highstorm brewing in the east, its winds terrible and its rain thick. Tendrils of it had spiraled across the pass, reaching Orisia’s borders, but seemed to compound with La’Ruta’s influence—which he knew had become entangled with that of his darling wife’s emotional state of being. A perfect mirror then, the elder vampyre thought. Unfortunately, these were not the capricious or sunken thoughts of a young woman. These were winds that could carve boulders into rubbles, or bury cities in ice and snow. It wouldn’t take much for the situation to become dangerous, and so, Rafael decided that he would monitor its development closely. Much like his cousin’s relationship with the island’s strange lifeforce, Rafael and La’Ruta’s affair was becoming more intimate by the day. The hole left in its chest by the Warlord’s departure was grand, but the elder vampyre had done well to tend to the wound. Already enamored with him for the connection he shared with Gabriela, it had been a relatively easy process, and the slow, steady growth of the ebony tree in the garden of Cantorra was a testament to that fact. While he might not yet have commanded the sheer force to break La’Ruta to his whims, he felt confident in the thought that he might be able to seduce her to his reasoning. All in due time, he supposed. “This is because of you,” Rafael said evenly, gesturing toward the window with his unburdened hand. The palm upon her shoulder remained, fingers caressing the skin it touched. “You know that La’Ruta is sensitive to your feelings. But, I fear that this might be something different.” His eyes darkened at the possibilities; none seemed pleasing. “There’s a highstorm in the East and it’s slowly been spilling its way here,” he said grimly. “They’re known to have a… mm, notable effect on the latent magic presence of the land. Combine that with what’s going on with you, and you can see my reason for concern.” He let her ruminate on the words for a moment, casting his gaze from the window to the babe in her arms. Surely, she realized the threat such instability could pose to the prince, as well as the child growing steadily inside her womb. “I understand that this may not have been the outcome you desired, Gabriela, but it is your reality. You need come to terms with it, and quickly.” While there was an unmistakable urgency in his tone, it was not so much disappointed, or off-put, as it was fatherly. While she’d lived several lifetimes as at a wholesome three hundred, Rafael was still her senior by a great deal. Speaking to her in such a way came naturally, though she proved herself determined to be seen as his equal for no other reason than her entitlement to it. Rafael looked at her keenly. “I’ve done my part to make you comfortable, have I not?”
  7. I figured I'd put this up here first. Is there anyone that would be interested in playing a member of the Kholin honorguard? The list of current members can be found here. Beyond the names, nothing is set in stone as far as the characters themselves go. Feel free to shoot me a PM or post on my profile, if you are.
  8. King

    The Conception of an Empire

    “Fair enough.” It seemed that devil’s temperament concerning his cousin was as unpredictable as the sea; serene and inviting in one moment, a hellish and violent in the next. He spoke of the Summer Isles and its heir, but Rafael was not naïve enough to believe that this would be the final chapter in Gabriela and Roen’s story. It never was. Perhaps not that night or for many that followed it, but sooner or later, one of them would once again pick up the quill, ink its end, and continue writing. Still, he’d not argue with the man or force the issue, as the current terms were more than favorable to the elder vampyre’s ends. Rafael nodded to the devil’s terms, both more than acceptable. “I will do my best to respect your solitude and limit your involvement to the direst of situations, or when your particular talents will provide the most sensible course.” After so many years of turmoil and treachery, it almost seemed ludicrous that their long campaign of back and forth, tit-for-tat, came to such an abrupt and simple end. Rafael couldn’t help but wonder how much time they’d wasted pointlessly hating each other. Would this have been the result had they’d talked sooner? “One family,” Rafael agreed, nodding curtly as he met the devil’s eyes. “He is the heir of Orisia’s throne and will be looked—” It was the brush of Gabriela’s shoulder against his that killed his claim, earning a suspicious glance as she continued toward the Outsider. You again, he thought bitterly, having long-since grown tired of Tenebre’s obsession. While the coldness that crept into her heart from his touch was a welcomed reprieve from the overwhelming emotion she was prone to fall victim to, which often times proved too rich a meal for Rafael to stomach, that it was Tenebre’s doing vexed the elder vampyre to no end. She is mine by every right, he thought as he watched her walk and engage the devil over the wicked sword in his hand, and you won’t have her. Then she was off, gliding into the mouth of the grand hall so that her captors could finish their conversation. Rafael approached the devil next, hands clasped at the small of his back. “Not to occupy too much of your mind before your appointment,” he said in a hushed voice, as if the shadows themselves mind betray his confidence. But Rafael was not like Tenebre’s other children, and his words were his alone—mute to the Dark Father. “But once you return, I’ll need your help with something of great importance. We’re going to kill Tenebre.” After a moment, he added: “Or, if that proves impossible, we will seal him away. He’s toyed with our family long enough.” Then, after another moment and cautioned glanced at the sword in his hand. “Good luck with your match.” Continuing his stride, Rafael followed his cousin’s steps out into the hall, trusting the devil to see himself out. Gabriela’s pace was lackluster, uninspired. In fact, she almost seemed to be wandering the citadel’s halls in an aimless daze. “You shouldn’t have left,” he said firmly, announcing his presence from her rear. Several steps later, he was beside her, a hand around her slender arm to impede her gait. It wasn’t anger in his eyes, nor bitterness, but the hardness an adult takes when lecturing a child on inappropriate behavior. “You heard what he said, Gabriela. You belong to me, mind, body, and soul—just as I’ve always told you—and I did not dismiss you. Never do that again.” Guiding her closer to him, Rafael hooked a finger beneath her chin and tilted her head back. The smoldering flames of her golden eyes had gone out, leaving dark, honeyed cores behind. Not distant, not dull or unaware—just darker. “This is not a dream,” he whispered down at her, looking her over as he committed her expression to memory. This day, this face she made, he would remember for all time. “And now, you can finally cast off the last of those foolish, girlish notions you’ve clung to for nearly all your life. This is where you belong—by my side, in my hands, and in my bed. This is who you were born to be.” He thumbed her lips as he spoke this last bit, pressing the tip of the digit into her mouth at the crest of the motion. “Now, tell me: who do you belong to?”
  9. King

    Un-Foretold Journey

    “Fascinating.” Paris earnestly listened to the woman as she told her story, eyes not daring to move away, lest he distracted by the beauty of their surroundings. As a great admirer of all things strange and exotic, the crown prince did what he could to educate himself on matters concerning their origins, habits, and abilities. Unfortunately, there were few werewolves—lycanthropes, as she’d called them—this far north, and those south of the Great Barrier were stingy when it came to their heritage. “The books I have, they all seem to revolve around a curse of some sorts.” Paris frowned at the thought, realizing how one-sided his library was in this regard. “There are maybe a pair that reference lycanthropy as something one can inherit, and when they do, it’s done so in the same fashion one might a disease or other genetic anomaly. That’s probably because they’re written by humans,” he added after, to dissipate any insult she may have taken at the comment. Born a werewolf, the crown prince thought to himself. So, she wasn’t human—not entirely, at least. The wolf was as much part of her as the human flesh he saw, making her a cousin, at best, to his species. I’ll need to need to speak with the conscripts when I return, he decided. I’m sure they’ll be able to find something more satisfying in the Red City’s library. If not, perhaps the Midlands might have more books on this subject. “So, your clan,” he continued at a moment, eyes still trained on her. “Do they operate similarly to that of a typical wolf pack? Alpha male paired with an alpha female? If so, how is this determined? Brute strength, or are they elected by the others of the pack?” Perversion aside, Paris found himself intrigued by the balance of the wolf and human halves. Which proved triumphant in terms of government and social hierarchy? Okina was clearly sharp of mind, determined, but she’d been detached from her clan, it seemed, for quite some time. The others—were they more beast, or more man?
  10. King

    Valucre music thread

  11. 01/01/2019 A major event has been launched to start the new year. The Stormwatch post has been added to the Magestorm thread. The current magestorm lasts from January 1 - April 31, and its nature is the weakening.
  12. King


    Stormwatch Here you will find the current status of all official* magestorms in Genesaris. This mainly includes their current location, nature, and duration, though any other unique factors and information will also be listed here. *Official magestorms are setting elements and cannot be ignored. Players are more than welcome to write their stories during magestorms or not (even when an official one is or isn't active), but for threads seeking canonization, the story itself should be in line with significant events of the board. Jan 1st - Apr 31st: The Weakening January 1 - February 1: Orisia/Arcane East February 1 - March 1: Midlands/Great North/Cold South. March 1 - April 1: Midlands/Southern Swell. April 1 - April 31: Rising West.
  13. King

    The Conception of an Empire

    Indeed, there were a myriad of feelings that Rafael felt assaulting his senses through the bond he shared with Gabriela. They weren’t explicit in detail, nothing so clear as to say he could read her thoughts, but rather, impressions of raw and unfiltered emotion. Anger, insecurity, disbelief, pain, sadness—and, if he didn’t know better, he could have sworn there was a sense of relief buried beneath it all. It was little more than a thin, errant strand of emotional fabric that had woven itself into the tapestry of her state of being, but it was there. “How could you?” she asked the devil. “I hate you! I hate you!” Sadistic as she liked to believe her cousin to be, Rafael took no personal enjoyment in her despair, and it showed in the muteness of his expression. Gabriela’s loss and sacrifices were all necessary, though she often failed to see how or why. Young as she was, her vision proved too crowded, too unfocused. Where she saw only that which was placed before her, he, one many times her age, was cursed to see both the then, now, and what could be—every action and its consequence days, weeks, months, and years down the road. Everything the Black Queen had endured, it had led her to this moment. To the lap she sat upon; to the ruby eyes that searched her expression from across the room; to the soft, pale palms she sobbed into now. “Don’t be childish,” Rafael murmured from behind her shoulder, his voice strangely empathic as it passed his thin lips. He began gathering the child-queen’s hair in his hand leisurely, setting the thick, dark tresses over her right shoulder when he was finished. “There’s no need to say such things, especially when they are untrue. You love that man, the same as you love me. Otherwise, you’d not be sitting here, your son at home, resting well, and our son”—he could not help but caress her belly at the words—“growing inside you.” Rafael paused, humming in satisfaction. “Whether you know it or not, Gabriela, this is what you wanted. It’s what you’ve always wanted.” It might have disgusted her at the moment, hearing the truth put so plainly, but she would learn to accept it. Rafael suspected the devil to be unbound by time, and the vampyres lived long, robust lives. She would have all but an eternity to adjust to her new circumstances and the parameters of her relationship. After all, Gabriela was a marvelous student, when the proper leverage was applied. In a show of manners, Rafael shifted Gabriela’s weight from the bowl of his lap to the left, then slid from beneath her. He left his child-queen sitting on the throne, whether she be crying, murmuring, or glaring bitterly at the two authors of her fate. However, as her ire seemed more fixated on the devil, he remained between them, more than aware to catch her mid-stride were she to attempt something foolish. The sword in the devil’s hand was a concerning matter, though the elder vampyre chose to acknowledge it as a precautionary measure. Fortunately, Roen would find no need to defend himself. “Peace,” Rafael said, the wording tasting strange on his tongue. “It is my motive, yes, but not so to have you serve me. It is as I’ve said to Gabriela just moments before: that the three of us form a collective of our resources and powers, governed together… as a family.” His head tilted ever so slightly toward his shoulder, as if to silently ponder Gabriela’s position amongst the triumvirate. Neither of her lovers had ever paid any heed to her council, and Rafael suspected that would not change once these arrangements were finalized. She was at her best when she was seen, not heard—at least for now. Perhaps when she was a bit older the elder vampyre supposed, they could revisit the subject. Then, Rafael stepped aside in a single motion, allowing the devil a clear viewing of their sobbing beauty, if he so chose to look. Already knowing what he would find if he dared look himself, Rafael kept his attention focused on the devil, still gauging his reaction. “What I propose is acceptance. We should share her, Roen, and all that entails. She will never stop loving you, no matter what you do to her, no matter what happens between the two of you, and I have denied that truth for too long. At the same time, Gabriela and I’s attraction is beyond either of our control,” he said, flattening a pale hand against his stomach. “We were born to be paired together, and that is not something that can be”—he snapped his fingers—“turned off. To that end, no matter which man she chooses, the other will always be there. We are all, in a sense, a single package. Let us be that and prosper.”
  14. King

    Blood on the Crown [Ild Pass]

    There was no offense to be taken by the Queen’s command. This foreigner was no friend of his, no “brother” or ally, as she had so aptly described herself, and so the line he walked was clear. He served his monarch first, and then his people, a close second. Gabriela’s relationship, however, was naturally more complicated than that—as always. This was someone that she trusted, someone she held a history with, and so it was easy—albeit disappointing—to understand how she might stray from the path, opting to wade through muck and foliage. “My Queen,” Marcellus replied, nodding his armored head. The knight removed himself from the room with a series of prompt steps, stepping beyond the cabin’s threshold and out into the hall. The door remained open, however, and his gilded form well in view. Hopefully, Raylon would see how a subject should behave under their monarch's oversight. Gabriela’s Queensguard regarded him with a curious look, rightfully perturbed by their queen’s blatant disregard for her safety. She was too trusting, they knew, and far too eager to martyr herself. But they noted their captain’s change in posture, in stance: how his armored hand now rested on the pommel of his blade, how he seemed to stand on the balls of his feet, ready to act at a moment’s notice. Even with the brief distance between them, she was safe. There’d been few swordsmen as accomplished as Marcellus in Atitlan, with some praising him as the best of his generation. While his position may not have been as ear-grabbing as devil king, or emperor, becoming the Captain of the Queensguard was not a matter of political savvy or a path one could tread lightly. Each step was marred with strife, each page of that story inked in blood. The Queen did not know what the men and women that surrounded her had endured, had survived, so that they could protect her. But if the foreign king sought to bring her harm, she would see.
  15. King

    The Conception of an Empire

    Rafael frowned at his cousin’s bold accusations, leaning back from the arch of her spine, allowing his fingers to resume the trail his nose has previously blazed. He stroked her idly, consoling her with the gentle touch, as he ruminated on her worries—unfounded though they may have been. “You truly do think the worst of us, don’t you? If it was the devil’s desire to take Philippe from you for this transgression, he would have done so already. He certainly wouldn’t have let you come all the way to Veelos, by yourself, and deliver this news to me.” Despite the firmness of his tone, the Elder’s touch remained soft as a feather, reassuring as the most supportive of lovers dared be. Of course, she was right to worry. While it may not have been either of the two titan’s agendas, if ever such vindictive intentions bore fruit, Gabriela would be helpless to dissuade either of them. Beautiful, elegant, persuasive—but utterly powerless in the face of the two men she’d enraptured with her love. They could take what they chose from her at will, and she knew it. She’d always known it. And yet, it seemed that only now, as his seed took root in her womb, that she felt the gravity of the fact. “As for our child, I’ve no desire for my son or daughter to grow up without the presence of their mother. A terribly capricious lover you may be, but a terrible mother, you are not. Our child will know your company intimately, and they will be better for it.” The hand he’d placed on her hip worked its way around the swell, cupping the rise of her belly now that she’d buried her face in her palms. Rafael thumbed beneath her navel pensively, a habit he’d formed during her pregnancy with Philippe. He always seemed to be touching her stomach those days, as if the child’s presence brought him clarity. “Your devil will never let you go, Gabriela,” he said matter of factly, just barely able to bite back the disdain in his voice. “You, Philippe, a family – it’s what he’s wanted for years. He has that now. It may not be perfect, or even close to what he’d hoped for the very first night he took you to his bed, but reality is often disappointing.” Finally, the stroke of his thumb came to a halt at the peak of her stomach’s dull hill—and the blood there became keenly aware of him, as if focusing on the single touch of his fingernail. “But, as you know, you already belong to me.” Lifting his leg a little higher, angling it toward him, he eased her back until she was flush against his chest and her bottom sat centered in the bowl of his lap. The pressure of his hand against her stomach remained lightly, barely there at all, and yet an immovable barrier to any escape. “You’ve made a mess of things, my love,” he whispered against her neck through the thick, luxurious veil of her hair. “And now, as always, it’s up to me to clean it all up.” If he was bothered by the notion, wasn’t audible in his tone, nor visible in the light, amused expression she could not see behind her. “You belong to me,” he reminded her darkly. “But, there is a part of you that also belongs to him. I’ve spent too much time ignoring it, trying to eliminate it, and for all my failures I’ve naught but exacerbated the issue. We are a family”—he pressed his hand against her stomach for emphasis—“all of us, and it’s time for us to accept that fact. I’ll not have our child separated from his brother because of petty in-fighting. We’re better than that, and if we plan to be a strong example for our people, we’ll need to start thinking, working, differently. Outside of the box, so to speak.” The enthusiasm in his voice vanished as he leaned away from her, parting his lips from the lobe of her ear, and instead let his weigh anchor against the tall back of the throne. “You can’t very well run your own life, Gabriela, you’re too indecisive for that. You’d bring all the world’s nations to war if you were allowed to follow your heart, or yet alone, acquire that elusive freedom you’ve been searching for. It’s clear to me, now more than ever, that you are in need of education—to remind you of your place in all of this nonsense and chaos.” With his left hand, hooked around and arrested her wrist, pulling her hands from her face. Not firmly, but dismissively, as if the mere act of her crying—or languishing—was a sight too lowly to behold. Then he pressed his fingers against her spine, forcing her upright, and adjusted her shoulders with light pinches as he maneuvered her into a more stately posture. “You’ve slouched long enough, my love,” he whispered, leveling a finger beneath her chin, tilting it back so that she had no option but to hold her head high, honeyed eyes gazing out into an empty room. “We’ll have no more of that, you understand?” The fingers beneath her chin pressed to the opposite side of her jaw, turning her head so that she could see him over the supple rise of her shoulder. “The devil and I will work together in the endeavor of your education,” he said plainly, though the hint of a smile touched his lips. “Together, we shall love you, protect you, guide you… and you will serve us with all that you are.” Instinctively, his thumb rolled beneath her navel, emphasizing the point. “We will become the family we should have been years ago, the three of us. We will consolidate our power and resources, govern it all as a triumvirate. It will bring peace. You understand that, don’t you?”