The foxling soldati, p.7
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       The Foxling Soldati, p.7

         Part #2 of Soldati Hearts series by Charlie Cochet
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  Khalon didn't turn to address Rayner. He continued to stare out the window when he spoke, his voice calm. "We are talking about war with the Orso, Rayner."

  "You know what Pavoni will do to him. Toka won't last a week at his hands. The man is a monster!"

  "Rayner, I know you care for him--"

  "If you know how I feel, you wouldn't go through with this. You're sentencing Toka to degradation and hell, Khalon. The only reason Pavoni wants him is because somehow he discovered Toka means something to me. He knows taking Toka wounds me more than any lashing could."

  Toka closed his eyes, letting Rayner's words wash over him. He held back his tears, refusing to give in. Not here, not now in the king's study. How had Pavoni known? They had been so careful.

  Khalon shook his head, but he said nothing.

  "If this concerned Riley, you wouldn't think twice--"

  "Riley is a prince!" Khalon spun around, his eyes filled with pain and anger.

  "And that makes his life worth more than Toka's?" Rayner growled.

  "Toka is a servant. It is what he was born into."

  "When Riley was killed, you offered to pay any price to have him returned to you, and that was before you knew he would accept his title of Soldati prince. You agreed to pay a price, any price, in exchange for his human life."

  "He was still my mate, chosen by the priestess. He bore my mark, Rayner. I'm sorry. Toka is a gentle soul, and I know he's come to mean a great deal to you, but you cannot expect me to expose our kingdom to war, to death, for a foxling you can never mate with."

  Toka flinched at Khalon's words. They were the truth but still hurt. The two men faced each other, anger rising dangerously, their fists at their sides. It hurt Toka's heart.

  "I can if you change that blasted law!"

  "It is law. Always has been, always will be," Khalon spat out.

  "You are the king, Khalon. If you can't help your people, who the hell will?" Rayner swallowed hard. Toka stifled a gasp when Rayner dropped to his knees before Khalon and clasped his hands together. No, Rayner. Please. Toka shook his head. Never in the whole of Rayner's life, had he begged. Toka could barely stand the ache to his heart at the sight.

  "I beg of you, Khalon. There must be some other way. Do not give Toka to that beast. Spare him. I don't care about the flogging or what happens to me, but as your dearest friend and brother, I am begging you not to do this."

  "Get up," Khalon growled.

  "Khalon, I have never asked you for anything." Rayner's amber eyes beseeched his king.

  "Get. Up." Khalon's jaw clenched, and he closed his eyes. "You disgrace yourself."

  Rayner got to his feet, his fury evident in his hardened gaze. "And what of you? You're supposed to be my brother!"

  "Stop," Khalon pleaded.

  "I have loved you like no other. I have fought for you, bled for you, done everything for you because I love you, Khalon, and now you would let this monster take the one who matters most to me?" Rayner shoved Khalon, and Toka jumped to his feet. "You miserable bastard! You're supposed to love me as I love you!"

  Khalon looked on the verge of shattering. "Rayner, I do love you, but you can't expect me to risk our kingdom, or the human world. I can't let them die. Not again. You of all people should understand more than most."

  Rayner shook his head. "I understand that Riley was right. You are not the man we believed you to be."

  "Please, no more!" Toka stepped forward, tears blurring his vision. He couldn't stand to see any more. He wouldn't let them hurt each other like this. "I will go with Pavoni."

  "Toka?" Khalon blinked, as if he had only just realized Toka was there.

  "Your Majesty, I do not wish anyone to be killed in my name. I won't let either of you put yourselves or your kinship at risk for me."

  Rayner crossed the room in three strides. He took Toka's hands in his. "Toka, you won't survive--"

  "Rayner...." Although his heart was breaking, Toka summoned a smile. "Should the worst come to pass, then I will die happy, knowing I have your affections, having been touched by your hands and kissed by your lips. Knowing you would have me as your mate if you could.... It's more than I could have hoped for." He turned to Khalon and bowed his head. "You are a kind and noble king. Forgive me for any pain I may have caused you and yours. Cherish our prince. He is like no other. And forgive my impertinence, but perhaps you might grant me one favor?"

  "What is your request?" Khalon asked, his voice quiet.

  "That you allow me to spend my remaining night with Rayner."

  Khalon nodded. "Your request is granted."

  Toka nodded his thanks and laced his fingers with Rayner's. He bowed, nudging Rayner to do the same. A deep scowl came onto Rayner's handsome face, but he bowed nonetheless, then allowed himself to be led out of Khalon's study. Toka headed for Rayner's bedchamber.

  "Not there," Rayner said, his voice laced with anger.

  Toka turned and smiled, his heart swelling with love. He placed a hand to Rayner's cheek. "I would have your bedchamber filled with sweet memories of us, Rayner. When you lie in your bed, it's me I want you to think of. Please?"

  Rayner let out a heart-wrenching sigh. "Yes."

  "Come." Toka led him into the room and closed the door behind them. Rayner's bedchamber matched him perfectly--all solid woods carved with simple designs. The room was adorned with a combination of rich navy and black, with silver accents. It was warm, inviting, practical. Bookshelves lined one wall and more books were stacked on the small table beside the chaise lounge that sat across the hearth. Toka would have loved staying here, lounging against Rayner before a roaring fire, listening to his husky voice as he read. It was best he not fantasize about what could never be.

  Toka tugged at the rope by the wardrobe, and within minutes a knock sounded at the door. He answered with a warm smile and friendly greeting.

  "Sansone, thank you for coming."

  Sansone bowed, his long sandy hair falling over his brow. He was a wisp of a young man, a tiny fennec foxling with big dark eyes. What Sansone lacked in size, he more than made up for in speed and agility.

  "Good evening, Toka. How may I be of service?"

  "Would you be so kind as to replace Rayner's bedding? Have the old ones incinerated."

  "Right away, Toka." Sansone bowed, and he was off, whizzing over to the bed, gathering all the bedding in his small arms, before dashing from the room, nothing but his slender legs visible as he hurried off. Within minutes he had returned with new bedding. How the foxling could see over the mound of pillows, duvet, blankets, and sheets was beyond Toka, but Sansone did not miss a step. He darted around the bed, until it was perfectly made, not one crease on the duvet or pillow. He bowed before Toka. "Is there anything else I may do for you?"

  "That's all, Sansone. Thank you."

  Sansone bowed again, turned, and bowed to Rayner before scurrying off. Toka closed the door. He found Rayner standing at the stone hearth. He stoked the dwindling fire and leaned one arm against the mantle. Toka joined him, wrapping his arms around Rayner's waist and letting his head rest against Rayner's back. Rayner's hand covered Toka's. They stood together in silence until Rayner's soft voice broke through.

  "You must leave."

  "I beg your pardon?" Toka released Rayner and stepped back. Rayner turned, reached for Toka, and brought him into his arms.

  "Pack light and get as far away from here as possible. We'll simply tell Pavoni you ran away. I would go with you, but then Pavoni would blame Khalon for allowing our escape. Most likely he would believe Khalon was involved. I cannot allow Khalon or the Soldati to pay for my crimes."

  Toka was stunned. Run away? Even now, Rayner was thinking only of Toka. "He'll hunt me down, Rayner. What then? He'll find a way to blame you, and who knows what he'll demand next." Toka shook his head, his heart filled with sadness despite his warm smile. "This is for the best."

  "For the best? This is a nightmare! I will never forgive Khalon for this. He--"

  "Is like a brother to you."

  "A brother?" Rayner scoffed. "If he were my brother, he wouldn't wound me in such a manner. He'd never allow this disgrace."

  "Don't be cross with Khalon," Toka pleaded. "He's our king, with an entire realm filled with innocent people who depend on him to keep them safe. It's his duty to put their needs before his own. Your brethren Soldati, Adira, Ezra, Riley... I would no more put them in harm's way than I would you." He put Rayner's hands to his lips for a kiss. "You know I speak the truth. I want to do this."

  "You are better than all of us."

  Toka put his hands to Rayner's cheek. "You will always have my heart. I love you, Rayner."

  "And I love you. Forgive me for being a coward. For not confessing my love sooner. Now it comes the eve before I lose you, forever. I thought we had more time. I was never in any rush, believing I had forever with you. I believed I had time to confess my growing affection, my love. Time to change Khalon's mind about that insufferable law. Time to memorize every dip and curve of your body. A lifetime of seeing your beautiful face, of cherishing your timid smile and those radiant eyes." He wrinkled his nose as he tried to remain in control of his emotions. "I can't do this. I can't let you go."

  "Please, Rayner. If I'm never to see you again, I wish this night to fill my heart so I may cherish it and look back on it always. Make love to me."

  "Yes." Rayner brought his lips to Toka's, the warmth of his mouth, the taste of his lips, the feel of Rayner's body against his own was something Toka would carry with him as long as there was breath in his body. He laughed joyously as Rayner swept him up in his arms and carried him to the bed, where he laid Toka down gently, his eyes filled with so much love, all for Toka.

  Slowly, Rayner undressed Toka, his hands caressing as he revealed more and more of Toka's naked body. He left trails of scorching kisses against Toka's skin, his tongue tasting, teeth nipping. He took one nipple between his teeth, and Toka feared he might lose himself right then. Rayner toyed with the nub, nibbling and licking, teasing, and sucking. When he finished lavishing attention on the pebbly nub, he moved on to the other nipple. Toka slipped his fingers into Rayner's hair, a low moan rising from his throat.

  "I dreamed of this for so long," Toka said quietly, afraid it would all disappear if he spoke too loud. Rayner moved his lips lower, kissing down his torso to his stomach. The kiss to Toka's inner thigh sent a shiver through him, and he hummed in delight.

  Rayner's hot mouth took in Toka's shaft down to the root, and Toka arched his back, gasping in surprise. He clutched fistfuls of the blankets as he writhed with pleasure. The feel of Rayner's expert mouth moving around him, his tongue playing with the slit of Toka's cock, the way he licked and laved was almost too much.

  "Oh goddess above." Toka groaned, his head thrown back and his toes curling in ecstasy. "Rayner," he gasped, the fire within him threatening to consume him.

  "Touch yourself," Rayner commanded softly as he pulled away and left Toka to fetch supplies. He returned quickly, and Toka bit his bottom lip as Rayner kneeled on the bed between Toka's legs, his eyes never leaving Toka's as he slathered the lubricant on his beautiful hard cock. He was resplendent. Every inch of his sculpted body achingly beautiful, from his broad shoulders to his tapered waist and strong legs. Rayner's lips parted as Toka stroked himself.

  "Please," Toka said through a moan.

  Rayner swiftly obliged, bringing a pillow under Toka's hips before pressing the tip of his engorged head to Toka's entrance. He was so careful, tender, as he pushed in past the ring of muscle. Toka groaned, and Rayner moved gingerly, pushing in until he was seated against Toka. He bent forward and kissed Toka, sweetly, lovingly. Then he began to move, and Toka tumbled over the precipice into a sea of pleasure. He dug his fingers into Rayner's back, holding on tight as Rayner pulled out then plunged deep inside Toka. He moved slowly, pulling almost all the way out only to drive himself in deep, making Toka gasp each time. Toka feared he might shatter at the overwhelming joy and pleasure that coursed through him every time Rayner sank inside him. Rayner rotated his hips, and Toka cried out, certain he had reached the stars. Rayner kissed Toka and did it again, striking something incredible inside Toka, sending a burst of light through him.

  "Oh my... oh, Rayner."

  "That's it, my darling. I want to feel your release. Let me see the pleasure only I can bring to your beautiful face." Rayner laced his fingers with Toka's and snapped his hips once more. Toka threw his head back, his cry filling the room as his release flared through him, the ribbons of his semen hitting his stomach as he came undone beneath Rayner.

  Rayner growled, thrusting his hips against Toka over and over, until his muscles grew rigid, and he let out a roar that shook Toka down to his depths. The white light inside Rayner's Soldati soul lit up the room until Rayner collapsed, spent, his weight a heavenly welcome against Toka's body. There was no place he felt safer, happier, or more loved than right there at that very moment, holding his love in his arms.

  Toka nuzzled Rayner's cheek, murmuring soft words of love as he stroked Rayner's hair. Rayner didn't speak. He simply held Toka close, welcoming Toka's comfort. Toka never lost faith. Despite knowing it was unlikely he would ever be claimed by or mated to Rayner, he dreamed of holding Rayner in his arms every night, just like this.

  It would seem his dream would have to remain just that. A dream.

  Chapter Six

  THE RESOUNDING crack of the cat-o'-nine-tails before the knotted thongs sliced through Rayner's skin jolted Toka as if he had been struck.

  As the sun rose, Toka woke to the sight of Rayner's beautiful face. He watched Rayner sleep for some time, taking note of his full lips and rugged jaw, the way his long lashes rested on his cheeks, his thick dark brows and strong nose. The golden amber when he slowly opened his eyes and his sultry smile were forever seared into Toka's mind. They had made love again, a tangle of limbs and searing kisses. Rayner brought Toka to release, his name a broken promise on Toka's lips. For as long as Toka lived, Rayner would be his home, his solace, his heart.

  Then they came for Rayner.

  Toka and Rayner had been dressed by then, holding each other on the chaise lounge as they waited. The doors to Rayner's bedchamber opened, and two mournful-looking Soldati came to take Rayner and prepare him for the flogging. Now Toka stood, clinging to Riley, grateful for his prince who held on to him, keeping him from crumbling to the ground as Pavoni joyously dispensed one lash to Rayner's bare back. Rayner's wrists were each shackled and chained to a marble pillar. Both pillars had been erected in the west garden overnight, as the castle did not possess posts for flogging. Khalon had made certain to choose a place farthest from Riley's garden, and Toka was grateful for his consideration. If Toka was leaving his prince, at least Riley would still find peace somewhere he loved, untainted by this horror. It had been centuries since such an act had been performed on castle grounds. It had all but broken Toka, seeing Rayner shackled to the posts, his torso bare and unscarred for the last time.

  The whole of the Soldati court was in attendance, and from inside the castle, the servants watched despondently from the windows. They all knew what Rayner meant to Toka, and many of them had secretly expressed their hopes that Rayner might one day be Toka's. Riley had not accompanied his king this morning, but instead, he'd arrived at Rayner's room after the guards left with Rayner. No words were exchanged between Riley and Toka. None were needed. His prince was as bereft as Toka. He had laced his fingers with Toka's, and together they left for the gardens.

  Another crack, and Toka covered his mouth with his hand to keep from crying out. Tears blurred his vision, and he tried so very hard to be brave as Rayner had asked him to be. The second lash was worse than the first. Rayner didn't scream. His mouth and jaw muscles flexed as he took the pain, only flinching when the whip snapped at his skin. His eyes were dark and hard, his hands clenched into fists as he fixed his gaze on Khalon. There was no mistaking Khalon's heartbreak. Toka had n
ever seen his king look so mournful. He might be dressed in all his regal glory, standing at the forefront of his warriors, with back straight and shoulders rounded, but his eyes were that of a grieving man. Khalon's flinch when the whip cracked was subtle, barely visible, but Toka saw it clearly.

  The court was silent, their expressions pained. The whip cracked again, and Toka winced. Riley's arms squeezed Toka, and he wished he could bury his face in Riley's jerkin, but it was not permitted. How much longer would he have to bear this? A tenth, eleventh, and twelfth strike had Toka shivering. Rayner's back was bloodied from the gaping wounds, a crisscrossed mess of gashes. Toka had given up fighting back his tears. With every blow, Pavoni seemed to grow angrier. Was it because Rayner refused to scream? Refused to beg for mercy?

  Pavoni drew back his arm and struck with all his force. Blood splashed against the stark white columns as Rayner cried out. Toka freed himself from Riley's hold and sped over to Rayner, cupping his face. Rayner was awake, but barely.

  "Rayner," Toka cried. "I'm so sorry."

  Rayner shook his head. Sweat dripped from his face, and Toka brushed his plastered hair away from his brow. "Your only crime... was to love me."

  "Forgive me for not telling you sooner how much I love you." Toka kissed Rayner's lips, but he was jerked away, Pavoni's snarling face between them.

  "Pavoni," Khalon warned, leaving his men and heading in their direction.

  Pavoni's voice was a low growl so only Toka and Rayner could hear him. He spoke quickly, most likely because Khalon would be upon them at any moment. "Take a good look at your foxling, Rayner. The next time you think of him, imagine my cock in his tight little hole. I'm going to enjoy claiming his ass every day whenever the mood strikes." Pavoni grabbed Toka's hair and brought him up against him. "And you. I will break you of your spirit."

  "Pavoni, what is the meaning of this?" Khalon spat as he crossed the garden.

  "Perhaps. But you will never take the love I have in my heart for him," Toka replied through gritted teeth.

  "We shall see," Pavoni sneered. He tossed the whip aside and dragged Toka with him as he marched for the castle. Khalon grabbed Pavoni's arm, but before he could speak, Pavoni snarled at him.

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