Prim and proper Lady Alyss secretly becomes the muse of a former pleasure hound turned artist. The sensual painter and his husband are both drawn to her, even as she is pitted against them in a legal battle over men’s rights. With her future on the line in the case, she can’t afford to give in to the two men’s sensual pastimes. So why is she posing nearly nude with her legs spread, her hands bound, and her eyes closed in the ecstasy known as rope bliss?
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As dawn continued its break from dusk, a burst of orange from the rising sun bled into the deep blue of the previous night’s sky. The blood orange tinted the clouds a vibrant shade of purple. When orange and blue mixed, the colors made a berry shade of red similar to that of a strawberry. Orange, purple, blue and reds. Alyss marveled at nature’s unique canvas. The Goddess was, indeed, the ultimate artist. She always got her color mixing just right.
Unlike most humans.
The pale pink adorning Lady Milysa’s skirts was a disservice to the color palette. Her top was a darker shade of red -fuchsia, Alyss guessed. And the pattern at her waist? No, it couldn’t be. But they were!
Alyss cringed. Who wore polka dots after adolescence? In fact, what self-respecting, little girl had ever donned polka dots outside of a nursery? As though the solid circles weren’t enough, there were Lady Milysa’s gold shoes. Alyss shut her eyes against the assault on good taste.
Lady Milysa, oblivious as ever to her fashion faux pas, stood in a huddle of young women, her hand outstretched, a smug smile on her pinched face. The flash of a huge diamond surrounded by two indistinguishable stones momentarily blinded Alyss as the young woman came nearer.
“I barely made it in today,” Lady Milysa said. “They dote on me so. They don’t know what to do with themselves without me there to tell them which foot to place in front of the other.”
The ladies all nodded their heads in understanding, though none of them were bonded themselves. Young girls who were considering a lifetime of service in the Sisterhood held off on bonding until they were certain of their place inside the hallowed halls. Service to the Sisterhood required a woman’s full attention, and the care and attention of men was far too much a distraction for a woman to do the Goddess’ work on Earth.
The women of the Sisterhood often did not take husbands or have children. In a society such as theirs, where female births were so scarce, joining the ranks of the Sisterhood was a heavy decision. And so it was impressed upon the young dames who entered this sacred space of the inner sanctum to think carefully about the decision of giving their lives over to Her service.
It was a decision Alyss had been certain of for as long as she could remember. She wanted neither men nor children in her life. She was a perfect candidate for advancement in the Sisterhood.
“And the wedding night?” one of the hangers on of Lady Milysa asked tentatively.
Alyss was certain she was the only one who caught the slight grimace that slid across Lady Milysa’s face before the newly bonded girl plastered on a superior smile.
“It was over in a snap. Really, all the fuss for a few moments of discomfort. I shouldn’t be surprised if I were already with child now and we won’t have to do it again for another year.”
The girls around her sighed as though Lady Milysa alleviated some great fear of theirs. Alyss had little knowledge of the physical aspects of bed sports. But she did know that her sister, Merlyn, and her cousin, Chanyn, enjoyed intercourse enough to sleep with their bondmates every night. Alyss had once visited Merlyn during the day and caught her sister in an embrace with both of her husbands at the same time.
The same time!
Intercourse was an experience Alyss was never likely to have. Not one she had ever been interested in having. But she was certain Lady Milysa’s husbands were doing it wrong if their bride was happy to wait a year before engaging in the activity again.
Alyss turned to the young lady who’d appeared at the entrance of the door she stood before. Lady Eryka greeted her with half a smile, her body half hidden behind the doorway of the Chamber of Arts and Culture. From behind her, Alyss got a peek into the large room. A rainbow of color washed over her senses. Multicolored lights hung from the ceilings. Metallic sculptures of silver and gold winked in the sunlight. The smell of dried paint wafted to her nose like a rare perfume.
“We’re you coming in?” Lady Eryka asked.
Alyss shook her head left to right while her eyes held fast to the scenery behind LadyEryka. Inside the door, the young novices pulled a sheet covering off a new painting. Alyss tilted her head to the right for a better look.
Eryka opened the door wider, as though she knew Alyss’s eyes yearned for more access to the room. “Did you have documents for Sister Mychelle?”
“Hmm?” Alyss blinked and focused on Lady Eryka.
Eryka’s eyes sang with mischief as she played with the door, swinging it to and fro.
Alyss focused on her friend. “I was just passing by and…”
Eryka opened the door wide and leaned against the door frame, giving Alyss an unobstructed view of the treasures within. “We’re preparing a new bill. Its to mandate the teaching of the arts to discards. Namely music and painting.”
“Why would you teach discards?” Alyss’ eyes caught a sculpture of the Goddess holding the world on her shoulders. “Little boys have to be told what to do, they can’t come up with thoughts on their own. Men have no artistic merits.”
Most men. Alyss had seen the merits of one man. The lines of his artwork, his color choices still haunted her dreams. He was the reason she’d visited her cousin, Chanyn, on more than one occasion in the past few months. He was never there and Alyss never asked after the dark-haired artist. But she’d had to see his painting again, to be sure it wasn’t her imagination. Each time she saw it, it took her breath away over and again.
“Unfortunately most of the other Chambers see it the same way.”
Alyss shook herself from her memories and focused on Lady Eryka. “You’re such an idealist Eryka.”
“She has to be with a face like that.” Lady Milysa approached, her entourage in tow.
Eryka ducked her head halfway behind the door once more. It swung on its hinge as though she wanted to close it, but she didn’t. Her eyes held fast on Alyss, as though she feared Alyss was about to be abandoned at sea, and the door was her life boat.
Alyss turned to her friend. She’d known Eryka’s misfortunes were in plain view. But in all the years they’d known each other, and all of the beauty she’d seen Eryka create through her pottery and painting, Alyss ceased seeing her friend’s imperfections. Lady Eryka had been born with a cleft lip, which she hid on the other side of the door. Down by her side was her left hand where her fingers were set in a permanent curl. When Eryka walked, it was with a slight limp. Each of these misfortunes had come with her into this world. But she was a girl. A girl birth, every girl birth, was a miracle. What Eryka lacked in physical beauty she’d been gifted in artistic ingenuity. Her sculptures and clay pottery were heralded in their society. Though she rarely made public appearances, she’d received many accolades in the press.
“Felicitations of your bonding, LadyMilysa.” Eryka said, eyes cast down to the ground.
“You must think it cruel of me to flaunt my happiness, a happiness that is so evidently out of your grasp.” LadyMilysa waved her manicured nails in the direction of the curled fingers resting by Erykah’s side. The girls behind Milysa giggled.
Alyss stepped in front of the door, blocking Eryka from their sight. “LadyMilysa, I’m so shocked to see you at work today. Most newlyweds don’t emerge from bed sport for days after the bonding ceremony.”
LadyMilysa turned beet red. The pop of color on her face was an improvement to her ensemble. “Well, you would know. The women of your family are all sex-crazed harlots.”
The girls behind LadyMilysa began to whisper and murmur. It was widely known that Alyss’ cousin, Lady Chanyn, who had been born outside of society, had bonded with a Pleasure Hound, a male who was a glorified sex worker. Her second bondmate, although a prince, had a history of mental illness running through his family tree. And then there was Alyss’ own sister, Merlyn, who had run off with a bona fide sex worker and her lab partner. Suffice it to say that her family reputation had taken a few hits over the last year.
“Besides,” sneered Lady Milysa, “you’re just jealous because now that your family’s reputation is tarnished, no male will have you.”
Alyss raised an eyebrow at that. She turned her focus down the hall until she found a victim coming her way. “Good morning, Lord Jaimes.”
Lord Jaimes tripped over his feet at the sound of his name on Alyss’ lips. “Greetings, my lady.”
“You know, Lord Jaimes, it’s such a lovely morning. I had a hankering for cherry juice.”
“But cherries aren’t in season, my lady.”
“Oh, isn’t that a pity,” Alyss pouted. Then she batted her eyelashes as she’d seen ladies do in old movie reels. It still floundered her when the ridiculous ploy worked.
“They may have some on the outskirts of town.”
The outskirts of town were over an hour away if he drove above the speeding limit.
“I’ll go and get some for you straight away, my lady.” Lord Jaimes took off down the hall, crashing into a door in his attempt to get outside.
Alyss knew her looks were above the ordinary. She had golden-brown skin adorned with luscious curls that tinted a deep red in some spaces. She had ample breasts, a narrow waist, and wide hips. She’d been told that her hips were good for breeding. They were wasted on her since she had no intention of filling them with any children. She had no interest in males carnally, socially, or intellectually. But she was not above using what the Goddess, and her family genes, gave her to get what she wanted. She was her Mother’s daughter after all.
The girls behind LadyMilysa watched the spectacle of Lord Jaimes speeding down the hallway in awe. Then they turned their owl eyes back to Alyss. Lady Milysa flounced off by herself. The other girls hesitated. Alyss saw two of them wearing a similar style dress to what she’d worn only last week. The third girl, whose hair had been straight yesterday, now had her tresses styled in springy curls and pulled back by barrettes that matched her shoes. When the girls received no welcoming smile from Alyss, they hurried after their leader.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Eryka whispered from behind her.
Alyss shrugged. Lady Milysa was wrong on many accounts. Most of the lords, self-respecting or not, were at her heels. It was Alyss who had no interest in them. And her family’s reputation wasn’t tarnished. At least not yet. Alyss’ harlot of a sister had discovered the key to gender selection. With this scientific find, bonded triads could now choose the gender of their child while in utero. All they needed was for the Insemination Bill, which would allow the procedure to progress to human trials, to pass.
“Don’t let snot noses like Milysa get to you,” Alyss said. “Girls like her are so small they need to push others down to get ahead.”
“It’s easy for you to say things like that. You’re beautiful.”
“I’ve learned that if you smile at people, they generally do what you want.”
“My smile is nothing like yours.”
“Your smile is unique. No one else has it,” insisted Alyss. Eryka was attractive. She had a shapely figure that called to the ancient Grecian style. Aside from her cleft, the rest of her skin was flawless porcelain, which was topped off with honey blonde hair and blue eyes. “You’d be beautiful too if you’d simply stop wearing that garish red. It’s murder on your skin tone. Honestly, Eryka, for someone who understands art the way you do, its a crime.”
Eryka cracked a small smile. “Your talents are wasted in the Chamber of Health and Sciences. You belong in here with us in the Chamber of Arts and Culture.”
“Don’t be silly. Art is a waste of time.”
Alyss stole a glance over Eryka’s shoulder once more. They’d masked the painting with the sheet once more and were carting the masterpiece off deeper into the chamber. Alyss’ shoulders slumped, and she sagged against the door. She hadn’t gotten a chance to see beneath the sheet.
She turned to her friend, preparing to take her leave when she realized her folly. Like her, Eryka had no intention of bonding. But not by choice. Eryka’s whole life was dedicated to art.
“It’s not a waste of time for you of course,” Alyss backpedaled. “You make dirt beautiful.”
A tentative smile began at the corners of Eryka’s mouth, but then dropped like a stone.
Alyss held in her groan at the sound of her Mother’s voice. She turned into the oncoming storm.
“What are you doing wasting your time out here.” Lady Angyla wrinkled her nose at the Chamber of Arts and Culture. “You need to get back to your Chamber. The Male Voice is trying to push down our bill at this very moment.”
With barely a goodbye wave to Lady Eryka, Alyss allowed her Mother to usher her down the hall.
They entered the Chamber of Health and Sciences to its beige walls, beige desks, and brown chairs. Alyss’ shoulders stiffened as the door closed behind her. Then she brightened when she saw Sister Valyrie. She was dressed in the deep purple robes of her station as a Sister. Alyss sighed every time she saw the color. The purple was going to look perfect with her brown skin tone.
“We implore you, do not take up this bill. A bill of this nature will take away the rights of men.”
Alyss focused on the deep voiced man standing before Sister Valyrie. It was the Male Voice. He was a first son who’d eschewed his rights to marriage to speak for all of his gender.
In their society, bills could be brought forth by ordinary citizens -including men. But each bill needed the backing of one of the Chambers to be brought before the full Sisterhood council. Alyss’ Mother and Grand Mother had crafted the Insemination Bill and were now looking to have the Chamber of Health and Sciences back the bill and bring it before the council. In addition to bringing this, and various other bills on health and reproductive sciences, to the Chamber of Health and Sciences, Lady Angyla had also bought her daughter a spot in the chambers as a novice. Alyss had been a novice within the chamber since her eighteenth birthday. Now, three years later, she was vying for an apprenticeship under Sister Valyrie. With her family’s backing, it was nearly a done deal. She just needed to walk alongside her Mother and sister as they pushed the Insemination Bill into law. With its passage, she’d be made an apprentice.
Alyss’ Mother gave her a shove forward. The shove told Alyss that it was time for her to take action.
“With respect, Sister Valyrie,” Alyss bowed and waited to be recognized. When Sister Valyrie motioned her forward, Alyss stepped in front of the Male Voice. “Men forfeited their rights when they pushed the button that began nuclear war, genocide, chemical warfare and-”
“That was a dark spot in our human history. We’re talking about the present.”
All in the room gasped.
The Male Voice was given the gift of a voice before the Sisterhood, but he always had to wait his turn to speak. His turn always came last. And he was never to interrupt a lady.
Alyss turned her head to see the Male Voice’s eyes were pinched shut.; as was his mouth. It wasn’t him who’d spoken. It was the larger male standing beside him.
This male’s skin was the color of chocolate mixed with a touch of milk. His eyes were the hazel of an acorn shell. His hair was an uneven mess of dark, tight curls cropped to his head, like a hillside on the horizon. Alyss wondered if he allowed it to grow long would it be as riotous as her own curly mop.
“My apologies, my lady.” The Male Voice bowed. “My associate is still in training. He doesn’t know all the ways and means of political order within the chambers.”
The man beside the Voice, grimaced and bowed. The grimace did not appear apologetic or cowed, Alyss noticed.
“See that you train him to behave,” admonished Sister Valyrie.
Alyss saw the younger male bristle at the directive.
“I have decided,” continued Sister Valyrie,” that this bill does meet with the directives of this chamber. In two days time, all sides will present their cases and then a final decision will be put before all the council.”
Thusly dismissed, Alyss watched the men bow once more and head towards the exit. The larger male caught her gaze as he passed. Recognizing him as part of her competition, Alyss offered him a small smile. But his eyes rolled away from her, his face appeared unaffected. Alyss frowned after him. He must not have seen her.
“You need to get prepared.” Her Mother pulled her attention away. “This bill must pass.”
“Me? But this is Merlyn’s study.”
“Your sister will not be helping.”
She’d assumed the passage of this bill and her ascendancy to apprenticeship would be an easy walk.
“Mother I can’t present it. I don’t understand the science. Surely you can-”
“I will present the findings, but you will lead the lobbying. I have no gift for social nattering. That’s what you’re for. You wanted to be apart of the Sisterhood. You will get this bill passed. Otherwise our family will be ruined.”
Lady Angyla stormed out of the chamber. Her Mother was not one for the dramatic, so Alyss took the words as the Goddess’ gospel. Alyss turned towards the window. There on the horizon, she saw the dark purple now bruised the sky, eclipsing the happy orange from mere moments ago.
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