Release Date: June 7, 2011
One woman who’s sworn never to love again.
Two men who can’t help but desire her.
And the magic and passion that binds them together…
Haunted by a traumatic attack when she was eighteen, Lilya Orensdaughter has become a courtesan in the Temple of Dreams, determined to never again lose control. But she will do anything for Byron Andropov, the man who nursed her back to health all those years ago—and who now wants her to help his friend Alek Chaikoveii come to terms with the powerful magick he possesses.
In Alek, Lilya finds a kindred spirit. The attraction between them is immediate, and soon Lilya surrenders to nights of unimaginable ecstasy. But she can’t forget Byron, who’s concealed his feelings for Lilya because he believed she would never love again. As tensions escalate between the two men who are vying for Lilya’s heart, Lilya finds herself torn between her desire for the man who saved her, and the man whose soul resembles her own—only to discover that in the world of unrestrained passion there are no boundaries. If only you’re willing to give up control…
“Sexy and dark, Jaded is the intriguing follow-up to Jeweled. Bast has created a trio of tortured survivors who find love and healing in this historical gem.” — RT BOOKreviews, four stars
The problem was expectations.
Lilya Orensdaughter sat in an outdoor café in downtown Milzyr, sipping a cup of black coffee and watching a family at another table. The man held a small child on his lap while laughing and talking with his wife. They looked happy, in love.
Even though Lilya had long since put aside such expectations, once in a while they reared their heads. For a moment, watching the young family, she was swamped with a wish and woeful longing—a partner with whom to share her life. Just that. No more. She knew better than to add a child to her yearning. Children would never be for her.
Neither was a man. Not like that. Not one who loved her the way she loved him, wholly, completely, and reciprocally, the way that couple seemed to love each other.
She turned her face and mind away, looking down the crowded street of Milzyr. The city had changed so much since the revolution, yet in many ways remained the same. Pleasant autumn weekend afternoons still thronged the cobblestone streets with milling couples who spent the afternoon window-shopping and talking with each other as they strolled. Unless one of the odd contraptions that was meant to replace the horse-drawn carriage rumbled past belching smoke, one couldn’t see any difference now that the Edaeii and their royal court had been toppled from power.
Yet the differences were there. The Jeweled, or those magicked ones who’d been formerly called such, were mostly in hiding now, afraid to face a populace who had murdered them on sight just a few short years ago. Every face that Lilya gazed upon made her wonder. Where were the magicked? It was a sore in her heart that they hid from the world. Things were better for Milzyr apart from that lack—the country needed its magick back.
A hand touched her shoulder. She looked up, smiling into her best friend’s face. Evangeline’s belly was round as a ball these days. Grimacing from the effort it took to move in such a condition, Evangeline lowered herself into a chair opposite Lilya.
Lilya’s smile widened. “I’m surprised Gregorio and Anatol are letting you out of their sight these days.”
“It was a fight, let me tell you.” Evangeline caught the eye of the waiter and ordered a cherry sugar water. “I told them I’d had a child once before, could do it again just fine, and they needed to act more like my husbands and less like my jailers.”
“Good for you. When is this one due?”
“Soon. Within the next couple weeks. It can’t come soon enough for me. I feel like I’m twice as heavy as I was with Nicoli.” She smoothed her hand over the expensive fabric of the light green day gown that covered her stomach.
“Maybe you truly are twice as heavy. Maybe it’s twins.”
Evangeline’s eyes widened and her face blanched for a moment. “The thought has crossed my mind. Twins. Egad.”
Lilya smiled and took a sip of her coffee. “Good thing you have two able-bodied fathers to help you out.”
She smiled. “They can’t wait for this one to get here.”
“I know they’re crazy for Nicoli. That little boy seems to be the light of their life alongside you.”
The waiter brought Evangeline’s pink-colored sugar water. “I’m lucky to have them.”
“Didn’t I tell you so?”
She nodded. “And you were right. You always are.” She sipped her water. “How are you doing, Lilya?”
“Wonderfully, as usual.” Lilya took another sip of her coffee. Indeed, as long as she kept her expectations low she couldn’t ask for a nicer life.
Evangeline offered her a conspiratorial grin. “How many men have offered to whisk you away from your sordid life this week?”
“Only two.” She pouted. “And one of them is a man who offers at least once a month. The number is rather low. I may be losing my touch.” She had plenty of men who adored her, who stared at her with puppy-dog eyes and offered her the moon on a silver-plated dish, but she didn’t love any of those men back. Not the way they deserved.
If she’d been a gold-hunting sort of woman, she’d have been married a long time ago. It wasn’t that financial stability didn’t matter to her. To a woman who’d grown up impoverished, money was very important—but other things were more so.
Evangeline laughed, her blond hair curling around her face. “I highly doubt that.”
Lilya reached into a bag on the ground near her feet and pulled out a frilly baby gown. “I brought you a gift for the impending little one.”
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” said Evangeline, taking the gown into her hands. “Truly, it’s gorgeous. It’s also very, very pink. Do you know something I don’t?”
Lilya leaned forward a little. “I am very good at predicting the sex of babies. I say yours will be a girl.” She shrugged a shoulder and smiled. “Maybe two girls. If so, I’ll have to buy a second dress to match.”
Evangeline blanched again.
Lilya laughed. “You’ll be fine.”
“Says the woman who is footloose and completely free.”
She shrugged. “Ah, well, I am that.”
“One day you’ll meet a man who wants to whisk you away and you’ll want to be whisked away by him, Lilya. You’ll be in love.”
Lilya rolled her eyes. “Perish the thought, Evangeline. I’m happy where I am, doing what I’m doing.” Really, she reminded herself firmly. It was wrong to hope for anything else.
Evangeline smiled and shook her head. “Just as I thought I was happy in the palace as a J’Edaeii. I had no idea how sweet life could be until all that was taken away. Listen to me, Lilya; you never know what might be around the corner. Stay open to the possibilities.”
“You know my stance on love, Evangeline.”
She nodded. “It interferes with your work.”
“Kills it, actually.”
“Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”
Lilya smiled gently. “I know you mean well—”
“I want only the best for you. I owe you a lot, after all.”
“I love my life the way it is, Evangeline, really.”
“I know you do.” Evangeline smiled, reached across the table, grabbed her hand and squeezed. “And I love you. I just want you to have someone to share your life with. I never understood how wonderful it could be until I had it for myself.”
Lilya squeezed her hand back and smiled. Maybe, but it would never happen. Not for her.
Lilya headed back to the Temple of Dreams a while later. These days she didn’t get to see her friend Evangeline very often and Gregorio, one of Evangeline’s husbands, even less. Gregorio had been a frequent visitor to the Temple of Dreams before he’d met Evangeline. He’d never been Lilya’s client, though he had been her friend. Now he never visited. It was a testament to the love he shared with his wife. Lilya knew quite well—it was not always so. Many were the husbands who frequented the temple.
Quite regularly so-called happily married men visited the temple in search of liaisons beyond the marriage bed. When Lilya knew that to be the case, she refused them, as was her option. True, deep love—love in which both partners remained faithful . . . it seemed rare. Yet Evangeline had found it with not one but two men. Evangeline was the luckiest of women and Lilya couldn’t help but feel a little envious.
Lilya entered the Temple of Dreams, stepping into the parlor. It was a lavish room, brimming with only the best that the considerable money of the Temple of Dreams could buy. Business was good. In a society that put very little shame on the act of physical lovemaking, she’d put aside quite a large sum of money, even apart from the help she’d had long ago from a friend. She was an independent woman, able to take care of herself. If she chose to leave this life tomorrow, live in her own house, have her own carriage, and live idly for the rest of her days, she’d be able to do that.
And, maybe, one day she would.
Ariana approached her from the entrance adjacent to the foyer while Lilya was taking off her gloves. “Wilhem is here. I showed him up to your rooms.”
She frowned, laying her gloves on a small table. “He’s not supposed to be here until tomorrow.”
“Should I send him away?”
Lilya thought about gentle, shy Wilhem for a moment. That would crush him. “No, that’s fine. I’ll see what he wants.”
Ariana nodded, smiled, and walked away.
The heavy skirts of her blue gown swishing with her movement, Lilya headed up the stairs to her apartment. Wilhem was one of only three clients she had at the moment. She’d amassed enough of a fortune by carefully selecting her men. Rich. Gentle. Nonthreatening. Broken. Unattached. Men she could trust when alone with her. Men who paid vast sums for the opportunity to occupy her bed. Men who needed her.
The only problem was sometimes they needed her too much.
Wilhem was a scholar, a gentle man with fluttering hands and a kind disposition. He was awful with women and awful in bed as well. But he was an easy client and Lilya felt that their arrangement was mutually beneficial. He paid her well, and she offered him the female companionship he seemed unable to procure for himself. It was so with all three of her clients.
She entered her apartment and Wilhem stood immediately from where he sat on her divan. “Lilya.” His hands jerked, his fingers threading, and his kind, homely face split into a smile.
“Wilhem.” She crossed the room with a bustle of her skirts, took his long, narrow hands, and kissed his dry lips. She smiled into his face. “I was not expecting you until the morning. Why have you come to me today?”
He blinked and fidgeted, then glanced at a bunch of beautiful flowers that had obviously been raised in a city greenhouse. “I came to bring you these. I think they’re as lovely as you are.”
“Oh,” she breathed, as though she didn’t receive flowers every day, and scooped them up from the table. “Wilhem, they’re gorgeous. Thank you so much.” She wouldn’t put them over by the two other bunches sitting in vases on a nearby table. No need to point out his weren’t the only ones she’d received lately.
He wrung his hands. “I think of you often, Lilya. Every day. Every night. I want you with m-me always.” He fidgeted again.
She struggled to keep a smile on her face. Oh, no. Here it came. She knew these lines in all their forms, and was more than familiar with the nervousness that preceded the declaration. If he spoke the words she assumed he was about to utter it would probably be the end of their arrangement. What a pity.
“I think I love you.” He swallowed hard, his gaze darting away from her. “I had hoped you might consider making me more than just a client. I have money, you know. I could offer you a good life.”
Yes, they all thought they could do that, give her a “good” life. As though the life she had now wasn’t good. As though she hadn’t chosen it. As though she wasn’t a property owner with a considerable amount of money in the bank and didn’t have the ability to walk away when she chose.
As though she needed them.
He fumbled with something in his pocket. An offering ring, she was certain. She had an entire drawer filled with them. A fortune in offering jewels. She couldn’t bear to sell any of them, however, because of the sentiment in which they’d been given to her, and the men almost never took them back. Instead the rings lay in a jeweled and glittered heap in a drawer she tried to never open.
Before he could pull out the small ring box, she put her hand over his to stop him. “Wilhem, please sit down.”
She sank into the couch with the flowers in her lap. He sat next to her, his pale face flushing. He pushed his spectacles back up onto the ridge of his nose.
Swallowing, she pretended to choose her words carefully. In reality, they were the lines she always used. “I am very flattered that you think of me this way, but I am not the right woman for you.”
He started to protest and she set her fingers to his mouth. “Let me finish.” He fell silent and she let her hand drop into her lap. “I am happy here, doing what I do. You must accept that our relationship can be no more than what it is right now.” She paused and looked hopeful. “Can you?” There was always the chance the arrangement could be salvaged.
His gaze dropped into his lap and he pulled the small box from his pocket and opened it. Inside was a beautiful sapphire ring. “But I wish to marry you.”
She reached out and closed the box. “No, Wilhem. I care for you greatly, but these deeper feelings are ones I do not share. I cannot marry you.”
He sat for several long moments and she held her breath. Here was the moment where she would either lose Wilhem as a client or keep him under uncomfortable circumstances. She would not turn him away. The choice was his to make.
Finally he stood stiffly. “I cannot remain only a client to you, Lilya.”
Letting out the breath she’d been holding, she relaxed and stood. “I think that’s a very wise decision, Wilhem.”
“There’s no chance you will reconsider?”
She smiled kindly. “You are a wonderful man, but you are not the man for me.”
His face went wooden. “I want you to have this to remember me.” Without meeting her gaze, he pressed the ring box into her hand and hurried toward the door.
Lilya stood in the middle of the room with the box clasped loosely in her hand, watching the door close behind him. With a sigh, she walked over and carefully placed the box into the drawer that held so many more. Her heart felt heavy at the loss of Wilhem. He’d been a nice man and she wished him well. She hoped he wouldn’t be lonely.
A knock sounded at her door. Immediately she walked over and opened it, wondering if it was Wilhem, perhaps having decided he didn’t want to leave her. She hoped not. Under the circumstances, it was better he left. There was nothing worse than the uncomfortable relationship between two people when one knew the other didn’t love as much.
Ariana was on the other side. “There’s another man here to see you.”
She frowned. Goodness, she hadn’t even had a chance to take her coat off yet. “I’m not expecting anyone. Who is he?”
“I don’t know.” Ariana shrugged. “He showed up and asked for you. I gave him something to drink and put him in the blue receiving room. He’s not one of your regulars and doesn’t look like your type. Should I send him away?”
She chewed her lip and shrugged her coat off. Ariana had said he didn’t look like her type, yet perhaps he was a potential client. She was very selective in whom she agreed to see regularly, but she gave all men an equal chance. “No. I’ll go see what he wants. Thank you, Ariana.”
The Temple of Dreams was quiet this afternoon. Normally their clientele didn’t start arriving until the late afternoon or evening, though she had no appointments for the day. She reached the blue room and entered to find a large man sitting at the small table, seeming to dwarf it.
“Can I help you?”
Her breath caught. It couldn’t be. She took a step closer, examining his face. “Byron?”
He smiled and her heart skipped. “Hello, Lilya.”