I’d always loved them. Whenever there was an art show near Manhattan, I made it a point to go and see the artwork and possibly buy one. Or two. Or three.
What I looked for in a painting were the strokes the painter used, the vibrant colors and how they blended in with the picture in general, and, of course, the drawing.
I had always been a sucker for fantasy-inspired paintings. Fantastical landscapes, mythical creatures, men and women wearing weird clothing—oh yes, I collected them all.
They had always reached out to a part of my soul that I had been guarding since I lost my parents. They had always called out to a part of me, though I wasn’t sure which exactly.
Maybe my parents being painters could be the reason. They had influenced my tastes after all.
But deep inside me, I knew there was always something special about these types of paintings. I just couldn’t quite figure out what.
One rainy day, I ran across an antique shop in downtown Manhattan about to be closed by the bank for bankruptcy.
The different antique displays were spread all over the street in the hopes that some passersby would still buy them.
I caught sight of a beautiful painting of a landscape. It was breathtaking and, for lack of a better explanation, out of this world.
The painting showed a mountain range with its slopes covered in fall trees. In the center of this mountain range, just nestled atop the hill, was a silver-plated castle.
The details were extraordinary, magical even. I couldn’t resist its call, so in the end, I bought it. Plus, I didn’t want it to be wet in the rain. I wanted to give it a home.
The antique shop owner, an older lady probably in her late sixties, was gracious enough to give me a discount considering the painting had smudges on the edges because of its aged state.
I was kind enough to refuse it. If she was in bankruptcy, at least my full payment for the painting would help her in some way.
“May magic be with you always,” she said with a smile as we parted.
I just shrugged, not really thinking much about her words. I didn’t know then that they had meaning.
The first night the painting was with me, I dreamed about magical creatures—behemoths in the sky, beautiful mermaids swimming in the ocean, and fairies hiding in the woods. The dream was lovely. I didn’t want it to end.
The second night, I dreamed about a castle on a hill. It was beckoning me, wanting me to go there. I woke up in the middle of the night panting, not knowing exactly what had gotten me so worked up.
The third night, my dream brought me inside the castle. It was enormous, with arched roofs and glass walls. In a blink of an eye, I was sent to a bedchamber.
The sheets were covered with an embroidered insignia, a profile of what looked like an animal—a wolf—and around it were curves, lines, and symbols I had never come across. It was beautifully intricate.
But what really captured my attention was the person lying on it. A man and, from what I could gather, the king of the castle, as he had a crown on the top of his head, which just seemd to scream ‘almighty powerful.’
Of course, that wasn’t the only thing that made my eyes pop.
It was a certain body part of his that stood like a rod as if saying ‘hi’ to me. It was located down south. Really, really down south. Lower than his waist and just between his thighs.
His right hand—oh yes—was curled into a fist, wrapping securely that body part of his like it was its second skin.
The thing that woke me up from that weird dream was when his hand started pumping, and he groaned like it was the best fucking masturbation he’d had.
I had to take in deep breaths just to calm myself down. One, two, three. One, two, three.
But I knew I was fooling myself. I felt wet, hot, and bothered by it, and I stayed like that for the entire day until the fourth night came.
The dream didn’t start with anything magical or downright erotic, really.
It was just me on my bed, lying like a log, unmoving; yet inside my head, I heard an ethereal voice—a woman’s voice—calling out to me to stand up and touch the painting.
And like a puppet, I did.
The next thing I knew, I woke up inside that castle’s majestic bed chamber with the said king on top of me.
On his deathbed, my father gave the crown to me, but he made me promise I’d find a queen in the next three days.
Three fucking days.
Of course, considering he was dying, and that I had desired the throne all my life, I had to agree; but deep inside me, I knew I was lying.
Fast forward ten years later, and I still hadn’t fulfilled his wish, and not an ounce of guilt crept inside my head.
I hated women—all of them in general—and that probably all stemmed from my mother, Olivia, the queen of Phanteon. Whilst with my father, she had bedded another man. Lots of them.
She had an insatiable appetite for all things cock-related. My father’s was, unfortunately, not enough. Driven mad by jealousy and betrayal, he killed my mother.
Only a few people knew about it, and the kingdom was fed with false information that she had died due to an illness.
Lately, my ministers had been pressuring me into taking a queen. Or at least to own a harem that would cater to my sexual needs.
Those ministers that did that—they were six feet under the ground now. And the harem they started? Well, let’s just say my army was grateful to me.
I didn’t have any phobia of women, really. I simply abhorred them, and the entire kingdom knew it. Hence, most—if not all—of the staff of the castle were male.
The female staff had to hide whenever I was near, else they’d be beheaded on the spot.
But don’t get me wrong. As king, I was benevolent, fair, and saw to the welfare of my people, be it of the opposite gender or not.
I just disliked seeing a woman inside my castle or even entertaining the thought of having a queen.
So, with that said, you could say I was pretty surprised when a woman suddenly materialized under me when I was just about to drop myself into the bed.
Our eyes met, both wide with surprise and confusion. She had her arms spread on each side, her chest rising and falling double-time. Her legs were spread apart.
I was in between them, and I couldn’t deny the satisfaction the brief press of my sudden erection against that fleshy part down below her abdomen gave me.
At first I felt disgusted, but the next second, I felt…
No. Certainly, it is just a trick of my mind.
Going back to the matter at hand, my hands remained paralyzed, not knowing exactly what to do.
Should I shove her away? Should I grab a fistful of that waterfall of brown hair and drag her off the bed?
Or should I behead her as I would usually order my guards to do? Not like that had ever happened to date, but it was an excellent demonstration to all my subjects to keep order in my halls.
Neither of my ideas actually happened, for two seconds later, my double doors burst open, and in came my audacious younger brother, Elijah.
He had the gall to not even knock on my bedroom door, and that meant he was in trouble over something only I could fix.
“Oh, what do we have here? I guess the rumors aren’t true after all,” he said, the amused tone in his voice clear.
I groaned. “This is not what you think.”
Glaring at the mysterious, tongue-tied woman, I stood up and pulled myself away from her lightning fast. At the sight of her two abominations—breasts—I cringed.
She wore a yellow chemise that left little to the imagination. I wasn’t surprised. My whore of a mother used to wear similar clothing when seducing her men.
The said garment was almost see-through. The outline of her nipples was as clear as day. Her legs—widely spread, to my horror—showed the smoothness of her inner thighs.
Luckily, she wore a covering that hid that despicable part of her as a woman.
When our eyes connected again, she actually had the sense to look surprised and fearful. Not my first time, really.
All women I came in contact with, be it a princess of some neighboring kingdom or a priestess, showed fear in their eyes. My reputation preceded me.
But this mysterious woman actually had the audacity to frown at me in the next second. She covered her body with the available bedding within her reach and shot me a glare.
“What kind of prank is this?” she yelled. “I demand an answer!”
SHE demands an answer?
I scoffed. What a bold but reckless woman she was. Her head had loose screws, maybe? Did she not know I was her king?
“No, I demand an answer, woman.” The muscles of my jaw became taut. My eyes turned to slits as I met her glare head-on.
“I’m your king. You, however, are a nobody. Who told you to suddenly poof your way inside my chamber, into my bed—under me, no less—and demand an explanation?”
Suddenly, she appeared lost for a moment, her brows furrowing, and she couldn’t speak.
My younger brother saw this as a chance to butt in.
“I’m not sure what you guys are trying to prove by acting as if you’re both strangers,”—he clucked his tongue and grinned at me—“but it seems to me, brother, judging from what I saw earlier, my problem is solved.
“Just tell me you really like women and be done with it. I clearly saw both of you ready to fuck. You can’t say I’m imagining things!”
“This is a prank, right? Tell me this is just a prank,” the woman cried out, her voice shaky and desperate.
Finally, she left the mattress and stood on the other side of the bed, a distance away from Elijah and me.
I would have to order my attendants to change my bedding.
“I was just inside my room,” she continued, her eyes wandering about the room to us.
“I heard a woman’s voice. She told me to touch the painting. I did, and then suddenly I was here. It seems like a goddamned prank to me.”
She turned to Elijah with another glare, then back to me, and continued, “Who are you, and who told you to do this?!”
I was beyond pissed by her demanding voice. Without thinking, I crossed the room and went straight to her in purposeful strides.
“Woman, nobody,”—I inched closer, making her feel tiny with my tall frame—“I repeat, nobody talks to me like that. You are trespassing in the royal chamber. You are disrespecting your king.
“You have shamefully stripped yourself in front of me. You have raised your voice to two royals. Need I say more? For your transgressions, I will behead you at the first light of day.”
Fear crossed her eyes again, but it was only briefly because she suddenly burst out in laughter, belly-deep and full.
“Oh my god, you’re the best actor I have seen in my entire life!” She placed a hand on my bare shoulder and patted me. Patted me!
The gall of this woman…
“And the setting. Wow. The details of this room sure look striking.” She sashayed past me and then enthusiastically studied my kingdom’s emblem embroidered on my bedding.
“Wow,” she gushed, her smile stretching from ear to ear.
It took me off guard for a moment. Her smile was disarming.
“Seriously, what did you guys do, huh? Rent the whole of bloody Hollywood for me? Who set you up? I’m sure it was Jenny, right? My cousin can be theatrical sometimes.”
What is this woman blabbering about?
Elijah and I exchanged glances, confusion swirling in our heads.
Tell me this is just your ploy to make me think you still hate women, brother, he mind-linked.
I tossed him a stern look and answered, No. As I said, she just materialized in front of me. I didn’t bring her here, and we were certainly not about to fuck.
Wow. He shook his head slowly, looking amazed. ~Talk about a rip-off.~ He watched as the woman sauntered from corner to corner of my bedroom, looking for who knows what.
He tossed me another look, and I swear I clearly saw the cogs in his brain turning. Okay, I’ll take it from here, he told me, grinning from ear to ear. ~You just…uhm…keep your mouth shut.~
She won’t find you attractive if you keep up with your stingy attitude, he finished.
What’s that supposed to mean? I growled, but he dismissed me, instead establishing a conversation with her again.
“It seems you have been misguided, beautiful. This is not a prank. You are truly inside the king’s chamber. If you would be so kind as to look outside the balcony, you’ll see I’m telling the truth.”
Elijah gestured to the grand balcony I had left open and beamed a smile her way. The woman seemed to consider it.
She slowly moved outside, sweeping the long see-through curtains to the side as she walked past it and then stood in the center of my balcony.
The sight of her back with her straight brown hair had me swallowing a nonexistent lump in my throat.
I had never had a woman in my chamber before, even more so in my arms. To see her standing there on my balcony wrecked the normal beating of my heart.
I hated it.
“Oh god, this is …This isn’t real.” She shook her head and then turned to face us again. Through the sheer curtain, our eyes met again. Hers was a mixture of more confusion, utter surprise, and dread. Mine was all pride.
“Oh, but we are,” I said, the tone of my voice turning low, predatory. “So if you don’t want your head cut off, you would do well to respect me.”
She gasped audibly, took a step back, and tightened her grip on the bedding. “My head?” she murmured shakily, her face a painting of genuine fear. “My…”
Then I saw her eyes roll back. From where she stood, her balance simply disappeared.
She was hurtling down to the floor faster than I could react, but luckily, before her head contacted the ground, Elijah caught her.
He was known across the kingdom to be the fastest werewolf there was. Well, second to their king—me—at least.
Cradled in his arms, her head hung low and her eyes squeezed shut. Whatever made her unconscious, I didn’t care. It would be easier to dispose of her like this.
My brother looked at me, displeased. It was the first time I had seen him like this.
“Brother, don’t scare her away, please,” he said, shaking his head. “She’s my only chance at freedom.”
“What are you talking about, Elijah?” I barked, my brows knitting.
He looked surprised for a moment, and then an amused smile reshaped the grim line of his mouth. “The council didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?” I asked. Nothing escaped my attention unless it was something I purposefully ignored.
Elijah tsked and sighed. “Father knew you wouldn’t take a wife after his death despite your promise,” he started. With that sentence alone, I had a feeling I wouldn’t like what would come next.
“So, to solve that problem, he set a limit to your kingship. You’ll kiss your crown goodbye if you don’t take a wife forty days after your twenty-ninth birthday.”
“What!?” I bellowed. Why the hell didn’t I know this?
My birthday was three days from now. For a normal man blessed with good looks and wealth, forty days would have been no problem to procure a wife, but to me, it was close to impossible.
I would prefer to go to war with the Fae realm than woo a woman.
“You could only imagine how that sounded to me,” my brother went on, his jaw tensing. “I’m the next in line to the crown, but you know I don’t want it. Just thinking about duties gives me chills.”
He looked back at the woman and, as quick as a flash, his expression lightened. He smiled again.
“However, it seems the Goddess has smiled down on you, brother. The timing is just perfect. Look at her. She’s your ticket to solving your marital problems. She’s my ticket to freedom.”
“She’s my ticket to a big-ass headache,” I quipped.
“She appears to be clueless about where she is and who we are. My suspicion is that she came from a different realm. She could be anything, and I don’t want that.”
I cast a disdainful look at the woman and snarled, “I don’t need a wife. I don’t need a queen. I’ve told the council that repeatedly.”
“But your kingdom needs an heir,” Elijah replied. “If you won’t give them one, who else will?”
“You will,” I answered without hesitation. “You have several women in your lap, Elijah. You probably have a brood as we speak. Let one of your firstborns be my heir.”
“And risk a rebellion?” He frowned at me. “Aero, you are the rightful ruler. I am just your stepbrother. I’m not cut out for this stuff, and neither are my sons…” He cleared his throat and shrugged.
“Well…if I have one, but that’s not the point. As your royal adviser, I advise you to take this woman. She materialized under you, for crying out loud. Doesn’t that mean something?”
“I hate women. I hate their guts. I abhor their bodies,” I stated point-blank. “If you won’t help me fix this problem, then I’ll fix it on my own. I’m the alpha king of Phanteon. I’ll overwrite our father’s decree.”
“Good luck with that,” he snapped.
I rolled my eyes heavenward in response to his statement, then I turned away from them both and walked off, off the balcony.
“Take her to the dungeon! She can rot there for as long as possible.”