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1

I was easy. I was easy to get into bed, easygoing, easy to please, easy on the eyes—from what I’d heard—and just about any other form of easy. I didn’t like drama. I preferred to work hard, be happy, and just have fun.

But I wanted love. Sure, sure, we all do. That was part of being a person—craving it, wanting it and to belong.

Apparently they didn’t all have a target on them somewhere that just drew assholes to them.

“No, you’ll be dropping this whole Royal Guard nonsense, Konrad,” Olave informed me with a dismissive wave as we stepped off the plane to the stronghold.

“I’m sorry, what?” I whispered as I trailed after him, my heart dropping into my stomach. Talk about getting indigestion. A couple nights of hot sex and being fawned all over did not make me suddenly a doormat.

“You should be for questioning me, especially now,” he growled, adjusting his neck. “I ask for submission, Konrad. It’s not a difficult concept.”

“In bed,” I hissed as I grabbed his arm and tried to pull him off to the side. “That’s not the same as deciding my life for me.”

He narrowed his eyes at me as if I was a bug annoying him. “I know what’s best for both of us.”

He shrugged me off, and I froze there for several moments before hurrying to catch up when I heard my name.

“Yes, and Konrad Floriano’s things will be put in my room,” Olave was telling the vampire checking people in.

“No, no, they won’t,” I snarled as I joined them, slapping my hand on the table. “I will take whatever room my King has set up for me. I have no ties to the horses or this control freak who’s acting like we’re married or he owns me.”

“I told you not to question me and you have the gall to disrespect me!”

There was a loud crack in the room and it took me a moment to realize the sound had been made against my face… And I was flying through the air. I crashed into a pillar and slid down, blood already dripping down my head.

“Konrad, I’m so sorry,” Olave choked out as he was suddenly squatting in front of me.

I let my hands change to claws as I stared at him, trying to stay conscious. “You got that one for free because of the stress we’re all under. You touch me again and you’ll see how well trained I am. Fuck off, Olave. We’re done.”

“No, of course we’re not,” he argued even as he reached for me. I swiped at him, and he drew back his hand in time.

“What is going on here?” Abram bellowed as he pushed through the crowd. He did a double take when he saw me and started cussing up a storm.

“Don’t let Olave kidnap me to his room,” I mumbled. “He’s controlling and abusive.”

He slid his arms under me and picked me up. “I promise, buddy. I got you.”

“No, this is unacceptable. Konrad is mine and…”

I didn’t hear anything else after that. Abram wouldn’t let me end up chained in Olave’s closet or something. That was all I needed to know before I let the darkness take me.

I was fuzzy when I came back around. I heard medical machines but it was like whatever I’d been dreaming just wasn’t letting me go. And I was pretty sure they had drugged me.

I blinked at the lights and felt as if I were trying to see through plastic wrap. When I realized where I was, I groaned. Med bay was never where someone wanted to wake up… No matter how pristine everything was. My ears hurt from the excess noise, always so many people in there that one sound couldn’t be picked out, bouncing off all the metal surfaces.

When I could see clearly as to who was standing next to me, I winced. Yeah, who doesn’t want to wake to their pissed off King giving you the off with his head look?

“So, you’ve had some fun,” King Torrance drawled as Abram moved to the other side of me to help me sit up. “Go slow with the ice chips. It’s going to take you some time to heal.”

“Wait, why?” I croaked out but stopped from asking anything else when he narrowed his eyes at me.

“We will get your to health, but first we need to handle this diplomatic mess you’ve started,” he seethed. “Now, explain to me why I have dozens of witnesses saying that you verbally accosted Stallion Olave and changed your hand to a paw around him? I thought you liked him? Why start all this shit with the horses, Konrad?”

“I didn’t,” I whispered as my eyes filled with tears. Of course I couldn’t just be assaulted by the guy I was dating. It had to be an international incident. Fan-fucking-tastic.

And on top of everything, my puma was freaking out because med bay was so clean it was too clean for him. Any place devoid of smell worried a feline. Weird, I know, but I didn’t make the rules.

The King raised an eyebrow as he studied his nails, not looking directly at me. “You didn’t? Hadley’s known Olave for years and says he’s the picture of reserved. That the man would never start trouble in the midst of the distress we’re in. Yet, you’re young, not versed in the ways of the world, and probably treated the leader of an ally like one of your bed buddies and without any respect in front of his people.”

“Then you’ve just got it all figured out, so leave me be,” I snapped and grabbed my head. I pushed Abram and his ice chips away and curled into a ball on my side. “This is what always happens.”

“What does, Konrad?” Abram whispered as he squatted next to the bed so he was at eye level with me.

“Everyone just uses me,” I whispered. “No one gives a shit about me.”

“I do.” He reached out and cupped my cheek, and I couldn’t help my reaction, I flinched away. “See, your grace? I told you that it looked to me that Stallion Olave had abused Konrad. It’s his people saying Konrad started it.”

I searched Abram’s eyes and prayed for once someone would care enough to help me. Hell, I’d pleased the man enough times where at least he could give me five minutes of caring. “He ordered me to quit the Royal Guard. He was telling the vampire that all my stuff was to be moved into his rooms when he arrived.”

“After a couple nights fucking you?” Abram blanched, and I swallowed my anger. Of course it would be a foreign idea to anyone that I might be worthy of something serious. I nodded and his eyes darted past me to our King. “Is that why you were muttering something about kids in Olave’s room when I found you? You were slurring badly so it was hard to make out.”

I blew out a harsh breath, my lips fluttering at the force. “I said don’t let him kidnap me. He was pissed I questioned him a second time when I told the vampire I wasn’t moving in with him. I got snippy and said I was going to live where my King decided, not with some control freak who thinks he owns me.

“Next thing I know, I’m flying through the air and rearranging the pillars with my body. You showed up seconds later when Olave was trying to—I don’t know what actually. Apologize while getting me back in line?” Gods, it sounded even worse when I said it out loud.

“It was Olave’s people who said Konrad came after him and had his claws out,” Abram reminded King Torrance as my eyelids got heavy.

“Claws came out after I was bleeding everywhere and he tried to touch me again,” I mumbled with a yawn. “I swiped at him only after warning him to stay away, that I wouldn’t fight him over the hit but he touched me again and I would shred him.”

“You won’t have to. That stallion is mine,” King Torrance hissed. I turned just enough to see his eyes flashing his animal’s.

“No, please, your grace,” I sighed. “We’re all stressed out, and he flipped shits in the middle of our being evacuated because people were being bombed. I gave him a pass. I’m just also done. This is not worth starting shit with an ally leader when we’re all locked in the stronghold from now on. I just want him to leave me alone and I don’t see that happening.”

“Fine, I won’t gut him,” King Torrance agreed with a huff. He quickly leaned over and kissed my forehead. “His people did lie to me, and Olave did know exactly what happened. I will handle this and he’ll leave you alone. If not, then I gut him.”

“Thank you, my King,” I whispered, staring up at him with tears in my eyes. “I didn’t think you cared. I thought you hated me.”

“I hated how my mate looked at you,” he assured me, brushing my bangs off my face. “I hated that you could be a partner without a kingdom weighing on your relationship and that would be a better option for Hadley. It was never your fault. You did nothing wrong and you’re one of mine. You are training to be one of my Royal Guards but that doesn’t mean I won’t protect you as well, Konrad.”

My heart swarmed with warmth, at lease someone cared. “Thank you, your grace.”

He gave me a swift nod and focused on Abram. “I want him guarded while he’s in here. I will handle this shit, but until we get the situation calmed down, the horses will be pissed that their leader is about to publically torn down.”

“I won’t leave his side,” Abram swore. King Torrance stormed out of the room on a mission while Abram pulled up a chair next to me. Then he tried to feed me more ice chips.

I wasn’t interested.

“You’ve gotta, Konrad. You’ve been in here for days, healing.”

“Days?” I squeaked before eating a spoonful.

“Yeah,” he rasped as he tried to feed me more. “Your brain was trying to come out of the back of your head, buddy. There was a huge section of your skull cracked in. You had shattered vertebra. If you were human, you’d be dead, Konrad. They had to keep you out to try and get you to heal since you couldn’t shift in that condition.”

“Wow. Just wow.”

“Get some rest. You’ll feel better when you wake up. I’ll get your stuff to my room so we can bunk together, and I’ll keep an eye on you.”

I nodded, not wanting to start anything else right then or having the strength to.

 

* * * *

 

The next time I woke I wasn’t in the clinic. I was in a much softer bed and without all the horrid lights in my face.

But I was naked.

And not alone.

“How are you feeling?” Abram mumbled as he pulled me tightly against his chest.

“Confused,” I answered honestly, very aware of his hands teasing my stomach and moving lower.

His fingers teased my hips as he pressed his lips to my shoulder. “You were cleared to leave the med bay and those beds look uncomfortable so I brought you back here. You slept for another day.”

I cleared my throat and pulled away. “Explains why I’m starving.”

“What’s your rush?” Abram purred as he kissed my neck. “I’m so glad that damn horse isn’t going to take you away from all of us. We love the way things were with you too much for it to change.”

“We? All the Royal Guards who fuck me?” I whispered, my heart hurt to finally hear it aloud.

His cock rubbed against my ass, moving between my cheeks when he turned me slightly. “Yes, you’re our favorite. We love playing with you.”

“Like a toy.” I held my breath and waited for what I figured was coming.

“Yes—what? No, I-I—no. Not—not a toy toy.” Abram’s eyes practically bugged out of his head when he realized what he’d said. “Just someone to play with in naked fun.”

He was staring down at me as he rubbed his hands over my arms. “That you won’t ever keep.”

“Well, no, it’s not serious. It’s just fucking.” Abram shrugged and then moved to kiss me again as he tried to spread my legs.

I stared up at him and shook my head. “Why did I ever love you? You’re such a jerk.”

“Wait—what?” he gasped as I rolled out of the bed.

“I was so in love with you,” I chuckled bitterly as I glanced around the room. There were boxes everywhere, making it seem more like a garage than a bedroom. My stomach sank as a thought hit me… Abram was normally better organized than this, so what’s been going on he hasn’t made time to unpack? “I let you have my virginity, Abram. You looked my way and I thought you saw me.”

“But you gave it up so easily,” he blanched as I found the boxes with my handwriting on them and quickly pulled out clothes. “You were a virgin? Seriously? Everyone was drinking and you were new and hot so I asked you to talk privately and you threw yourself at me.” The scent of lust filled the room, taking over all other smells. Even as he had trouble with the concept of my having been a virgin before him, the idea he took me first of anyone turned him on.

“I wasn’t new,” I rasped as I yanked on shorts so fast I thought they might tear. “I grew up at court. My family are Royal Guards that had the duty of protecting King Torrance’s father. I was new to training with you guys. And I didn’t throw myself at you. You were drinking and friendly. I didn’t realize you were drunk until you barely stretched me and then shoved it in.”

“Ouch, sorry. Yeah, I would have done that better if I’d known,” he apologized and got out of bed. “But you still liked it, right? I mean, I remember us going all night.”

“Yeah. I loved it. I loved you. I thought, who better to trust my virginity to than the honorable Abram.” I shuffled to the door, exhausted in a whole new way. “Instead you told all your friends about the hot new trainee you banged, and I’ve been the Royal Guard slut ever since, anyone only wanting to be my fuck buddy instead of just friend. Or fuck boyfriend like I mattered. But that’s my fault. I’m done letting people fuck me so I get any affection or attention.”

I walked out the door, feeling bad for dumping that all on him now, but my pride was hurt, he’d opened wounds by what he’d said… And apparently my brain had almost fallen out of my skull.

Everything would calm down and do better with coffee and food.

A few people in the halls helped me get to the cafeteria where I just about ate everything in sight, drank a gallon of juice, and finally started to feel like myself again.

“You ditched Abram already?” Hadley asked as he and the King were leaving. “I’m sorry about Olave.”

I swallowed my eggs down hard and nodded. “Thanks. And yeah, Abram thought it would be best for me to get under him to forget the first guy ever who wanted me for something real hit me. It’s been fun. How long have I even been here?”

“This is the morning of the fourth day,” he hedged, studying me closely. “Are you having trouble remembering or did Abram put the moves on you before filling you in?”

“I saw the King, whenever, he left, I went back to sleep and just woke up in Abram’s bed where he was trying to get laid before coffee.” I shrugged and kept my gaze on my food. “He said he was going to make us bunk mates, but that’s all I know.”

Hadley let out a whistle. “Okay, wow. You’ve had a fun time lately. Let’s get you squared away and up to speed.”

“You’re probably slammed,” I mumbled, wishing once again that someone like Hadley could want me instead of the asses that did.

“Hey, I can carve out ten minutes for my favorite puma,” he teased with a head tilt to let me know I couldn’t say no to him. “Let me show you the map of the joint.”

I nodded and got up to follow him, putting empty dishes and tray in the racks on the conveyer belt so they went through the auto dishwasher. It was neat. When a rack was full, someone hit the button, and it moved through the dishwasher, drying on the other side for one person to stack in between feeding the masses.

Way better than having a waitstaff to take care of all us twits. I mean, we were being fed so we could help with the dishes.

“Okay, so the stronghold is basically a huge six-pointed star,” Hadley explained as we walked to the main map they’d had put in. “In the middle is all the training and food, and everything else on the different levels. Each point of the star is a triangle of rooms, facing inward and out like the halls so there are small courtyards in each wing. Very small. This place was designed to pack as many people in as possible in an efficient way. It’s not a pretty castle for sure and—”

“Konrad, you’re awake,” Olave greeted from behind us. I was still recovering and there were a lot of scents so that was the only reason I didn’t catch his scent sooner. “I wanted to apologize for my behavior.”

“Which part?” I whispered without even turning, shaking at the sound of his voice. “Trying to control me, ordering me around, or hitting me?”

“I should never have struck you. I do not know what came over me,” he answered as he stepped closer. “I’ve never hit a lover before. I won’t even try to excuse the behavior, and catastrophic setting and conditions or not, there is no reasonable explanation. I am truly sorry.”

“You’re forgiven for that but—”

“Good, good. I assured the King we could work past this, you were safe to be with me, and—”

“Are you nuts?” I hissed as I no longer cared if I made a scene. I stepped away from him, pivoting so I could see him in my peripheral, and shook my head. “I’m not with you, Olave. Stay away from me. I forgive you for hitting me but not the rest. Two nights does not make this anything.”

“Nonsense. You felt what I did. You enjoyed me and the passion we shared,” he argued as he moved closer, his eyes darting about wildly. I bumped into Hadley who looked as if he was waiting for my word to get involved. But then it hit me.

“I enjoyed it as much as when Hadley kissed me to make a point. You’re good in bed, and I like dancing with you. But that’s all. I won’t be controlled or ordered to give up my job. I’ve been training to be a Royal Guard since I was eight, Olave. No man is worth giving up my dreams for. And I deserve better, more passion even, because it comes from love. Not owning the other.”

I spun away and for once felt good about myself until I met the eyes of two other Royal Guards who gave me the thumbs up.

Because now they could fuck me again.

“Konrad is off the fucking market all around! No one gets my ass,” I shouted, probably sounding like a lunatic. I didn’t care. I was tired.

I raced to the front door, catching Hadley warn Olave to stay away from me and some other people shouting as well. Great, now I’d ruined that friendship.

The moment I hit the fresh air, I yanked off my shorts and shifted. I needed time to myself.

I needed time to think.

I needed time to get my bearings on what day it was and where I was.

Oh fuck, I just needed time.

I lapped around the outer wall of the stronghold, committing every indent, doorway, and anything of note to memory. I did my job. I checked out all the entrances and exits, I surveyed the flow of the building, watching cameras and best climbing advantages if the doors weren’t an option. I noticed every detail, even how the grass was growing like spring instead of drying out since it was fall.

Which meant the elves were here.

When I was done, it was hours later. I shifted back and went to find my King. I needed a room away from everyone trying to fuck me or fuck me over and to get back to my training. I was the new guy but I should be cleared as a full Royal Guard soon if I kept at my learning. I was actually surprised I hadn’t been promoted already.

That was what was important. Not this bullshit with men and love.

Love was only for important people, and I was a nobody.

Fine by me. Maybe everyone would forget how often I’d bent over for them if I just stopped for a while. I’d done it to make friends, find love, and well, okay, I really liked sex. But I’d done it for all the wrong reasons.

I wasn’t going to do it again until it was for the right ones.