The foxling soldati, p.11
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       The Foxling Soldati, p.11

         Part #2 of Soldati Hearts series by Charlie Cochet
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  Khalon approached, huge and imposing in his black armor, his black cape flowing in the breeze. He addressed the Orso, including the court and servants who were all flooding out of the castle. Khalon's voice carried far as he spoke.

  "People of Dell'Orso, your king is dead. His reign of tyranny is over. As per Orso law, my victory allows me to claim your kingdom as my own."

  There were gasps and murmurs, with nervous glances going to Prince Merlo, who stood to one side, looking terrified.

  "I, Khalon, King of the Soldati, have no need for the Kingdom of Dell'Orso and hereby declare Princess Verity your new queen. May your kingdom and its people prosper under her noble and just rule."

  The people cheered, and Toka could have sworn Prince Merlo appeared relieved by the decision. Even the Orso warriors looked relieved. Some looked less pleased. They were most likely those closest to Pavoni, and the Orso Toka had heard arguing as he sped through the halls. The princess approached her warriors, who pledged themselves to her. She held her head high, her gaze intense as she addressed the Orso warriors.

  "Under my rule, there will be honor and integrity. I will restore the good name of our people. If there are any who believe they cannot comport themselves in the manner befitting their great Orso birth, may I suggest you find another kingdom in which to do harm, for you will not be welcome in mine."

  The people cheered again, smiles on their faces as they entered the castle, all chatting excitedly with one another. The sun's rays broke through, and Toka gazed up at the clouds. Even they seemed to have brightened.


  Toka could barely contain his joy at the sight of his prince. Riley, looking dashing and dangerous in his black-and-gold armor, scooped Toka up in a tight embrace, making Toka laugh.

  "Your Highness." Toka beamed as Riley placed him on his feet. "You came as well?" Tears welled in his eyes, and he quickly wiped them away. His prince had taken up arms and readied himself to face a war of shifters and magic the likes of which he'd never known, all for Toka.

  Riley huffed. "Like I was going to stay home."

  "Believe me, I tried," Khalon grumbled, a smile tugging at his lips when Riley planted a kiss on his cheek. "Your prince was most indignant at the mere suggestion of remaining in our realm."


  Princess Verity's soft voice caught his attention, and she approached him, a handsome Orso warrior at her side. He was great in stature with warm brown eyes. "Had I stood up to my brother, you would not have suffered at his hands. Please, say you forgive me."

  Toka hugged her. "I forgive you." He pulled back and smiled up at her. "You'll be a wonderful queen."

  "Thank you, my dearest. You are braver than any warrior I have known. Rest assured that my brother, Merlo, will answer for the part he played in the deception." She kissed his cheek and turned to face Khalon, her fingers laced with the Orso warrior at her side. "I shall forever be grateful to you, Khalon. I hope the Soldati will come to see me and my kingdom as allies."

  Khalon kissed her free hand. "I have faith in you, Princess Verity. If anyone can return glory to the Orso, it's you."

  "Thank you."

  "I have one request," Khalon said, as a very large Orso warrior approached. His hair was as black as Khalon's but longer, reaching below his shoulders. His jaw was chiseled, filled with coarse stubble and various nicks, and a leather patch rested over one eye. Toka would have been frightened, if it weren't for the gentle sadness in his near-dark eye. Was this General Segreti? He seemed like someone of importance, or perhaps merely carried himself as such. A proud Orso for certain.

  "You have but to name it," Verity replied, smiling warmly.

  "Release General Segreti from his pledge. Allow him to pass his helmet on to the next worthy Orso. He has fought fiercely for your kingdom for centuries. Grant him rest."

  General Segreti appeared stunned, his eye wide. He turned his gaze to Verity, who reached out to him. He quickly dropped to one knee, accepting her hand in his.

  "Your Majesty."

  "My dear General, you have been as steadfast as the great Orso mountain. If you wish to be released from your pledge to live out your life in peace, it is done."

  Segreti's head shot up, and he opened his mouth to reply, but no words were forthcoming. The man appeared to be stupefied.

  Verity laughed softly. "Simply nod if you wish to be released."

  Segreti nodded.

  "Then you are released. Choose your successor when you so desire. We shall discuss your royal bounty once my affairs are set to rights."

  "Yes, of course, Your Majesty." Segreti bowed, eye glassy. "Thank you so much." He rose and turned to Khalon. He gripped Khalon's arm as his hand came to rest on his shoulder. "I am indebted to you, old friend."

  Khalon shook his head, his smile wide. "You owe me nothing. Perhaps a visit to our kingdom instead. Should you wish to spend your days in the Soldati Realm, know you are always welcome."

  Segreti pressed his lips together, and Toka tried his best not to let his emotions get the better of him. The light and joy in Segreti's expression was overwhelming.

  As Khalon, Riley, Segreti, and the new queen of Dell'Orso talked, Toka turned to Rayner, speaking quietly. "I can't believe you came for me."

  "Forgive me for not coming sooner. I--"

  Toka placed his fingers to Rayner's lips. "No more regrets or remorse. I am in your arms once more. That is all that matters."

  "That's not all that matters," Khalon stated, coming to stand beside them. He placed his fingers under Toka's chin and lifted his face to meet his gaze. "Rayner was willing to give up everything for you. You may not be a Soldati warrior, young foxling, but you have proven yourself just as noble. You showed great courage, sacrificing yourself for the good of the realm, for your love. I believe it's time I revisit some of the realm's old laws. Until then, as these things take time, there is one change I can make now." Khalon wrapped his fingers around Toka's upper arm, and Toka flinched at the fire burning beneath his skin. When Khalon removed his hand, Toka was stunned by the Soldati markings left behind. His head shot up, and he stared at Khalon. "So that everyone may know your bravery. Soldati warrior."

  "A Soldati warrior? But... I'm a foxling."

  Khalon shrugged, his lips quirked in a cheeky smile. "And I'm the king."

  Toka's happiness bubbled up inside him, and he couldn't help throwing his arms around Khalon and hugging him. When he realized what he'd done, he gasped and quickly pulled back.

  "Forgive me, Your Majesty!" He quickly bowed, and Khalon chuckled.

  "All is well. You're a Soldati now. I'm certain your mate will aid you in the responsibilities of your new role." He tucked Riley against his side and kissed his cheek. "Come. Let's all go home."

  Everyone said their goodbyes, and Khalon opened a portal to their realm. Rayner took Toka's hand in his, and they stepped through to emerge in front of the Soldati castle.

  Toka blinked back his tears of joy at the sight. He was home, with his beloved at his side. With his mate. Toka could barely contain the happiness in his heart. He shifted into his fox form and pounced around Riley's legs in sheer joy, making him laugh. He barked cheerfully when Rayner pounced beside him, chuffing.

  "All right," Khalon said with a laugh. "Off with you two. Go make mischief elsewhere." He brought Riley in for a passionate kiss. When he pulled back, he waggled his eyebrows. "Come, my Prince. We have our own mischief to make."

  Riley laughed, then shifted into his beautiful golden tiger form, the only one of his kind in the Soldati Realm. He leaped toward the east gardens with Khalon in his tiger form quick on his heels. Toka hopped and pounced, his brush wagging happily as he darted about with Rayner bounding after him. They ran into the south gardens, through the colorful, sweet-smelling flowers. Toka shifted, rolling onto his back beneath one of the many cherry blossom trees. He laughed as Rayner flopped down beside him. Unable to resist, Toka scratched Rayner behind his ears. His fur was so soft. Rayner chuffe
d and closed his eyes in contentment. He shifted back to his human form to steal a kiss.

  Toka beamed up at him before a thought occurred to him. He ran a finger down Rayner's jaw, his smile turning sinful. "Darling."

  Rayner's eyebrows shot up, his eyes filled with amusement. "Oh, darling is it?" Rayner stole another kiss. "What does my foxling want of his darling?"

  "A bath. With you."

  Rayner blinked. "A bath with me?" His eyes became hooded with lust. "I think that can be arranged." He stood and helped Toka to his feet, then pulled him close against him to murmur in his ear. "And after we bathe, I thought perhaps you might allow me to claim you."

  Toka gasped. He stared up at Rayner. "Really?"

  Rayner nodded. He lowered himself onto one knee and placed a fist over his heart. "Will you be at my side as my mate, and when you are ready, as my husband?"

  Toka's eyes widened, and he launched himself at Rayner, who laughed when they toppled over onto the grass, Toka landing on him.

  "Is that a yes?"

  "Yes! Nothing would make me happier." Toka kissed Rayner everywhere. His lips, his jaw, his brow, his chin, and the tip of his nose. "I love you, Rayner."

  "I love you, Toka."

  They hurried into the castle and rushed up the steps to the royal wing and down to Rayner's bedchamber, where Rayner ran water in the large bath. The room was warm, sunlight filtering in through the two arched windows. Rayner stopped kissing Toka long enough to prepare the bath. It smelled and looked heavenly, with white flower petals floating on the water's clear surface. They helped each other undress, and Rayner led him down the steps into the heated water. Toka groaned at how good it felt. Toka picked up the sponge on instinct, but Rayner laid his hand over Toka's. His smile stole Toka's breath away.

  "Let me. Please."

  Toka nodded and let out a sigh of contentment as Rayner bathed him. Nothing had ever felt so incredible. Well, maybe one other thing, but that would come later. Rayner stroked and caressed Toka as he washed him. He planted little kisses on Toka's shoulders, on his neck and temple. When Toka was clean, he smiled up at Rayner.

  "My turn."

  Rayner looked uncertain, and Toka tilted his head. "What's wrong?"

  "The scars... they're horrid."

  It was then that Toka realized Rayner had not had his back to Toka since he'd undressed. His heart squeezed, and he cupped Rayner's face.

  "My love, you have always been and always will be the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on. Your body, no matter its state, will always be loved by me." He took the sponge from Rayner's hands and came to stand behind Rayner. The freshly healed scars were many. The scabs had fallen off, leaving raised, discolored skin all over his back. Toka placed the sponge over Rayner's back and squeezed the warm water over him. Rayner shivered, and Toka was extremely gentle when washing him. Then he placed a tender kiss over the marks.

  "You are a fierce warrior, my love. Your body is one I cherish and will always look upon with great pride. As should you."

  Rayner turned, his eyes bright with emotion. "What could I possibly have done to be so blessed?"

  Toka kissed Rayner's lips sweetly. He finished bathing Rayner, and when they were done, they dried each other. Rayner escorted Toka into his bedchamber, and Toka caught his reflection in the mirror. He walked over and stood before it, admiring the marks on his arm. Him, a foxling Soldati? "I still can't believe it."

  Rayner wrapped his arms around Toka's waist and nuzzled his temple. "No one deserves it more, my foxling Soldati."

  Toka's smile faded, and he turned in Rayner's arms. "I've only ever been a servant."

  "That doesn't mean it's what you must remain. Khalon does not appoint new warriors so freely. He's done so now because he believes you, Toka, have brought the Soldati great honor. You're part of the court now. Find your calling, and it will be granted. There's plenty of time for you to settle into your new role, and I will be at your side every step of the way."

  "I am grateful to Khalon for this position. Now I am worthy of you."

  Rayner smiled down at him, eyes filled with adoration. "My foxling, you have always been worthy. Whether you're a servant or a Soldati warrior, my love for you remains the same."

  "Will you show me how to fight with a sword?"

  Rayner threw his head back and laughed. "My darling, I will show you anything you desire."

  "Anything?" Toka smiled wickedly, and ran a finger over Rayner's chest. "How about you show me how a Soldati warrior claims his mate?"

  With a playful growl, Rayner scooped Toka up in his arms. Toka laughed giddily as Rayner carried him over to the bed, dropping him down onto it with a bounce before he rounded the bed and leaped onto it, making Toka bounce when he landed on the mattress. Toka laughed, his giggles soon giving way to soft moans when Rayner descended on him with an onslaught of kisses. He licked at Toka's lips, seeking entrance to Toka's mouth, and Toka quickly obliged. Their tongues dueled as they hungrily explored each other's mouths, tasting and sucking. Rayner moved away long enough to fetch the supplies, and Toka could barely contain himself knowing what Rayner was about to do. He gently pushed at Rayner, and rolled onto his stomach.

  Rayner chuckled. He leaned in to murmur in Toka's ear. "Are you eager for me to claim you, my foxling?"

  "Never stop calling me that," Toka pleaded. "I will always be your foxling."

  "Always," Rayner agreed. He placed a pillow beneath Toka's hips, and Toka was all but vibrating with anticipation. How long had he dared to dream of this, of being mated to Rayner, being claimed by him? He felt the sharp sting as his entrance was stretched, and he welcomed the burn. Rayner, always so gentle, pushed in slowly until he was buried deep inside Toka. He lay against Toka, mindful of his weight. "This will hurt, my darling."

  "It will be worth every drop bled."

  Rayner kissed his skin behind his ear, and Toka shivered. He moaned as Rayner began to move inside him, slowly pulling out, then sinking back in. Toka fisted the bedsheets; the feel of Rayner's body pressed against his was the most wonderful feeling in the world. Soon he was panting, his toes curling as Rayner's movements quickened, his hard, thick length driving into Toka over and over.

  "Rayner," Toka gasped, thrusting his hips against the mattress, the bed moving beneath them as Rayner snapped his hips, the sound of their skin slapping together music to Toka's ears. Rayner's warm breath tickled Toka's shoulders, and he gasped in anticipation. "Claim me, Rayner. Make me yours."

  Rayner's hips lost all rhythm, and Toka cried out at the sharp pain as Rayner's fangs pierced Toka's flesh between his neck and shoulder. He smelled their blood as Rayner's fangs transferred his blood into Toka's body, sealing their bond. The pain was great, and he flinched when Rayner's fangs retracted, but his body would heal quickly. Rayner sank inside Toka once more, sending a jolt through Toka, and he cried out Rayner's name as his release barreled into him. He squeezed his body, and Rayner's muscles tightened, coating Toka's insides with his release. Rayner snapped his hips twice more when the light building inside Toka, a warm familiar glow, one he knew belonged to Rayner, swirled and spread before it burst through Toka's mouth. The room flashed white before the glow subsided. Toka's body ached in the most delicious way.

  Rayner rolled off him, landing on his back beside Toka. He was breathless, but he turned onto his side to face Toka, his handsome face etched with concern.

  "Are you all right?"

  Toka smiled lazily. "I have never been more all right." Toka noticed the five thin black bands around his wrist, the last one resembling a tiger stripe. He could barely contain his grin. "Your mark."

  Rayner sighed. "Now you really have to keep me." He laughed when Toka pounced on him. His body protested the movement, but Toka didn't care. He was too happy. Rayner held him close, and Toka closed his eyes, releasing a contented sigh.

  "Tonight you are the first of your kind, and by tomorrow the realm will be awash with tales of the foxling Soldati."

  Toka smiled as he met Rayner's proud gaze. "The foxling Soldati. I like the sound of that."

  "Me too." Rayner kissed him sweetly. "My brave and beautiful foxling Soldati."

  More from Charlie Cochet

  Soldati Hearts: Book One

  One moment Riley Murrough is living a normal life working in a coffee shop, and the next he's running for his life from demons, learns he bears the mark of a shape-shifter king from a magical realm, and--worst of all--he's destined to become the mated prince to the arrogant tiger shifter he would rather strangle.

  Khalon, the shifter king, is equally distraught at the idea of being bound to a human prince, and along with his Soldati warriors, he sets out to return Riley to his own world where he belongs. On their journey they might discover why the priestess brought them together--if they can escape the demons and make it to her alive.

  He's hot. He's dangerous. And he can't remember anything.

  As the owner of Apple'n Pies, Joe Applin leads a quiet, uneventful life, content to spend his days serving customers who come from all over to eat his delicious homemade pies. Along with his motley crew--Bea, Elsie, and Donnie--Joe couldn't be happier in his little kingdom of baked goods and java.

  Experience has taught Joe that love is overrated--and at times dangerous. He has no intention of repeating past mistakes. But then he meets a mysterious, handsome man with amnesia, and Joe can't deny something sweet is in the works. He isn't one to take risks, not with his heart and certainly not with his life, but the more time he spends with the man he knows as Tom, the closer he is to losing both.

  Enthusiastic, play-it-safe Kelly Sutton is an American intern at the Photonic Royal Society in New London. He's been working on Project Mars for over a year, a mission kept so secret by the society even Kelly doesn't know exactly what it is. What Kelly does know is his contribution to the task will benefit mankind, and that's enough for him.

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