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"I cannot do this, Lucian," Mirin pleaded.

He struggled to keep a straight face. He must. It simply wouldn't do to burst into laughter right now, not with her beautiful face drawn and her amethyst eyes sparkling with tears and her long, lovely hands, those marvelous, skillful hands, wringing at her breast. No, he mustn't laugh, even though he found her expression hilarious.

"But you must, my love." He froze what he surmised to be a compassionate look on his face.

She threw herself into his arms and buried her face in his neck and sobbed. "I cannot!"

He must be patient. He must be careful. But now that he had decided on a course of action, had spent many pleasant hours imagining it, he would not be denied. "You can. You will," he whispered into her hair.

She shook her head wildly; her hair tickled his chin. He giggled.

Her head shot up.

His eyes widened in innocence.

"Lucian, I will do anything for you. Anything! But please, please, do not ask this." Her lip trembled; he longed to kiss it, to bite it. "You do not understand! He is too powerful, too..." She turned her face away. "Too good."

Lucian couldn't help himself; he threw back his head and laughed.

Her chin fell and tears spilled down her gown.

He caught his breath and gasped, "Too good? Oh, what a pity.” He stifled his giggling. “For him." He cupped her face in his hands and turned it to him. "Nothing, no one, is too good for you, my Chosen."

His eyes captured hers. Her body relaxed; her expression softened.

And suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to touch, to kiss, to possess. His beauty. His Chosen. Damn revenge! She was so very beautiful.

Her lips brushed his, and he shuddered.

She spoke, and her breath was warm and moist; he wanted to suck it out of her, into him, to drown in it. "You don't want me to kiss him like this, do you, Lucian?"

"No," he managed to gasp.

Her fingers stroked him. "You don't want me to touch him like this, do you," she purred.

"No," he whispered. No!

"I am yours, Lucian, only yours. Your Chosen."

She was: to do with as he willed.

He drew his hand back, slapped her hard. The mark stood out red on her white cheek. Her amethyst eyes glittered again with tears.

"Do not think to use your wiles on me, Mirin."

"But, Lucian, I..."

"Save them for the Defender." He glared at her and clenched his teeth.

Sobbing, she turned away.

Lucian sighed and rolled his eyes. This would not do at all. He clenched his fists, relaxed them. Somehow he must convince her. Somehow! For, truth to tell, he feared this Defender of the Faithful, just a little, though he could not let Mirin know it. The man could heal! Extraordinary power in that. He was a warrior, trained to kill. And, he was Chosen. No, Lucian couldn't take any chances.

Broken, beaten, this Defender could be dealt with. Lucian knew the type: big, stupid, propelled by duty, blinded by faith, he would simply collapse when he thought he had failed in his duty, wavered in his faith.

And Mirin would see to that. There was not a doubt in his mind. The Defender would fall, oh yes.

Lucian looked upon her, at the golden hair hanging past her waist, at the perfect body, and he almost wept to think of another man possessing his Chosen. No! He needn't fear: the foolish oaf would have no idea what to do with his dearest, his beauty; he would fumble and pant and grunt, and Mirin would long, would ache, for her master, her lover, her Lucian.

Yes, it must be done. It would be done. She would do it.

He took a deep breath and dropped to his knees at her side. "Forgive me, my Chosen," he whispered, lowering his eyes, bowing his back like a penitent. "Forgive me," he wailed as, to his amazement, tears fell obediently from his eyes.

He felt the gentle touch of her hand upon his head and smirked under cover of his hair. Forcing his tears to flow harder, squeezing them out like juice from grapes, he raised his voice a little higher, made it quiver. "I am only doing this for us, my dearest." He dared to look up and noted, with satisfaction, the softening in her eyes.

"It is the only way," he hurried on, before she could speak, could question. "You, yourself, dearest, have told me of the reverence, the love, the people hold for this Defender of the Faithful." His face felt warm; he knew the brand was glowing. "Only by breaking him will I be able to sever the tie of faith that binds the folk of Brennor." He took her hand and kissed it. "Only then can I make you my queen, my Chosen."

Her hand shook so, yet she did not draw it away. Lucian permitted himself the smallest of smiles. Yes!

But he heard her say, "I cannot," and his face grew warmer then, hot, and he wanted to strike her, to hurt her. He opened his mouth to speak.

"I have not the power, Lucian." Her voice was not sweet or husky or fearful, it was sad, simply sad.

But she did! She had no idea of her power. A power that could make even him, Lucian, lose control. Almost. Unless, until, she believed in it, his plans, forged through sleepless nights, torn from his aching heart, would not succeed. He nearly wept with frustration.

He snatched his hands away and touched upon the amulet he wore at his breast. He cherished it still, even after a thousand years, though it was dull with age, the ancient writing obscured. His mother, his dear mother, had given it to him so long ago: a relic of an age, he was sure, when the Chosen did not intermingle with mere men, when they surely ruled the world.

He grasped the amulet tightly. Mirin had questioned him about it many times; why did he wear such a plain old thing when they had so many treasures to choose from? It had irritated him; it was his only link to the life he'd lived. He'd never really answered.

But now he would.

"Dearest," he crooned, forcing himself to draw his lips back in a smile, "believe me, you will have the power." He stood and unclasped the chain and drew it from around his neck. He held it out to her.

Her eyes widened.

"This amulet will give it to you."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, my Chosen, that the Defender will have no will to resist you."

"Because of that?" Her eyes narrowed and her brow arched as she looked upon the amulet.

He nodded and smiled. "Let me fasten it about your neck." He lifted her hair and nimbly fastened the catch. "Ah, yes, it becomes you."

"And how will this accomplish that?" She wrinkled her nose as she turned the amulet over in her hand.

"How?" Lucian sighed and tenderly touched it with his fingertips. "I have no idea, dearest."

"But you said..."

"I know what I said." He met her eyes. "It will indeed give you the power." His fingers closed around the amulet; he pulled her closer to him. "I do not know how it works," he whispered, drawing her face even nearer, "I only know that it kept me alive for a thousand years."

"This?" Mirin gasped. "I had no idea!"

Neither did I until I made it up a few moments ago, thought Lucian, the muscles of his face straining not to break into a grin. "I am ashamed to say, my love, that I feared to tell you of its power." The tears once again, at his command, sparkled on his lashes. "I have been hurt so, dearest. I was afraid to trust."

The amethyst eyes were shimmering. "I, too," she whispered, and he could feel her breath upon his face, her tears wetting his cheek, her body, warm and soft, trembling against him. For a moment, just a moment, Lucian felt an unaccustomed emotion. Was it guilt? Pity? Regret? For a moment, just a moment, he entertained the notion of doing as she wanted, to simply flee, to forget the past, the long, long, past.

But he could not forget. He would never forget. "You are my Chosen." He enfolded her in his arms. "Together we will rule the world." His face was buried in her hair; she could not see his smile.

She would do as he wished. She had no choice. She was Chosen. By him.