I moved suns and cut rivers in search of you. You can put a million veils between us and disappear. But I cannot tether myself from you.

φ

Each lost in his or her thoughts, they rode in silence back to the palace, more so Yuki than Kaname, who attempted to rationalize the prior event she witnessed between the tavern maiden and her husband. She caught herself swallowing at the term. Husband: the man whose alliance encompassed her pureblood existence.

Was she condemned to a life of misery in a loveless marriage?

Yuki clenched her fists as if the action diverted the terrible possibility.

For a clandestine meeting with his ex-lover, he abandoned her in the tavern and the display of mutual rage between the star-crossed lovers transfixed seeds of doubt in Yuki. She knew better their rage was not harnessed out of hatred. Brief as it had been, but one couldn't deny the air of languished love as the epitome of their spite. It required girth in vulnerability to exhibit raw emotions like they did.

Passion!

Indeed, fire-fused emotions uncurling with evident longing and shame bubbled into turmoil and escalated to a love now lost.

Yes, passion.

A foreign prince bound to her life kept a secret. Beyond his teasing nature rested an injured heart. A past pulsated by a doomed love living real close to his palace.

He is thinking of her now.

Why did this hurt her so? Despite their contractual matrimony, she didn't deserve this, let alone learn he was rotten madly in love with another woman while pretending to be attracted to her. She was strong-willed and courageous, but it didn't explain how Kaname disarmed her with his silver tongue in such short time. Leaving her home country was not a nightmare compared to this revelation.

Just a turn on the saddle and a thrust of her arms to dismantle his grip, she could leap off like a tigress. Upon arrival Yuki hardly contained herself and dismounted as amiably as her robes allowed. Fearing what she may find, she daren't pass her prince a glance and stalked to her quarters.

From the saddle, Kaname wondered aloud. "Why the haste?"

She had disappeared in the corridors.

A breeze filled the courtyard and outlined the frailness of the world. His air and lapel, somewhere not far the trees and straws in the stable, shivered. Passive and lonely as ever, Kaname released a harrowing noise to the night that seemed to sigh with him.

He never imagined meeting Airin on their first outing. Many years dragged since they last saw each other, he swore to have forgotten what she looked like except—except in his mind's eye he could confirm every minuscule detail of her angelic face. Seconds after recovering from seeing her, the memory of their demised love recanted and anger sank its teeth. Years of stowing away emotions unraveled like a barrel of rolling ribbon, tainting the calm canvas of his mind. It was not fair. He wasn't prepared, and Yuki should not have been there to see her.

A servant came next to him to inquire. "Shall I put the horse away for you?"

Kaname did not say a word and waved the man away. He'd rather use the task to do away with his ire.

φ

Papers danced in the breeze, settling in like white lava with elegant calligraphy, slender and narrow from years of practice. Each letter began with a series of 'Dear Mother/Father' but left unfinished. Head on her wrist, one ruby eye open and the other closed, Yuki stared at the garden outside of her room. Her dyed fingers crushed another parchment and ran along mahogany hair.

A fresh start to a new day, but she found that her current state of mind didn't service mingling with the in-laws. While they were, wonderful and inviting she longed for her own who were far away in another land. Her mother's warm embrace and father's kind guidance in swordsmanship and archery, more so their openhearted nature and laughter. Early mornings they would be laughing in the dining hall and sipping tea. Her mother smelled of jasmine flowers and father looked fresh from the brisk morning rounds with the guards. Home was fun where she ran barefoot in the garden, galloped on her horse with her father and beheld the familiarity of friends and maids from a time when life was luminously simple.

Simple, easygoing, and lighthearted.

At that significant moment, entrapment and resentment welled inside Yuki. If her father hadn't rushed her marriage, she could be home bereft of dejection and with those she belonged with, and neither a trace of Kaname or his lover would exist. Her parents were deeply in love. Innately, Yuki always thought her marriage would be similar. Rich with compassion, value, vision, and unconditional love—mighty words they were, but her parents manifested it.

She could either let herself be miserable or help herself. Purebloods were famous for having multiple partners. Her marriage was not like the one her parents shared. She had no choice, but accept Kaname's love for another.

φ

"Soon, you'll be off to battle," Akemi nestled comfortably in her chaise before sampling the hot tea.

Shortly before noon, they assembled in her saloon, which was unordinary of the two. Always quick to start his day, Kaname would head to camp with guards and work alongside his father. The battle overcast all matters, yet Akemi was delighted to hear about the recent events about the newlyweds.

"You did the right thing last night." She asseverated.

He hadn't stirred or reached for his tea, and the only significant change in him was the imbedding scrawl of his jet-black brows. Apt with masking his facial expressions, Kaname had grown difficult to decipher for a long time at which Akemi wasn't proud of.

Finally, he turned in her direction, askance. "What did you hear?"

"You both went out. It was a marvelous idea," Applause heralded her voice as she went on, "She's lonely and your spending time together will draw you both closer, excellent."

Jaw clenched, Kaname slanted his red eyes at his mother in what she assumed was exasperation. "That meant nothing."

"Now is the perfect time to be her closest confidante and win her heart. When you've gone to battle, it'll make her want you more."

He sat stern-eyed and tall as a stiff sequoia tree. "Our marriage merely bound our lands, nothing more. She doesn't expect me to win her over, and I don't intend to either."

Akemi pushed her cup away and sat up raptly. "Are you daft, Kaname?"

"You heard me." He growled with an abject impulse to terminate the subject, but he was aware she was extremely dogged and impervious to her own flesh and blood.

It was her turn to clench her fangs. Her ruby eyes lit up in annoyance. "I thought you were better than that. Your marriage is a great step for your future, and you ought to take advantage of her on your side. So what she's delicate and wears a veil—?"

"Even more reason to leave her alone if we're to spend an eternity together."

"Tell me why I shouldn't backhand you right now?"

"We have a marriage of convenience. We both understand our limits with one another."

"Your father and I were arranged as well. Look at us today, we're closer than ever."

Kaname returned to gazing the stained-glass windows. "You're both different than we are."

Akemi refrained from scoffing at her son. "I can't believe what I am hearing. Your stupidity will be your undoing. We're not different. Mind you, we didn't get along at all and couldn't stand the sight of each other, but your father learned to put my needs first out of free will. He fell in love with me and did everything in his power to win me."

Hard to believe the almighty Ken Kuran was softhearted. "You mean to tell me father was once a lovesick pup striving for your attention?"

Her claws unpeeled and lifted from the armrest. "Must you tempt me, son?"

"Of course, not. You wanted to be pursued." He added with a hint of scorn. "And she does not."

Akemi reclined in her seat and observed him with a degree of patience she tended to maids before she dropped a dosage of wisdom on the young pureblood. "Closing your heart to your bride will hurt you more, Kaname. She'll be the mother of your children. A time will come, Kaname, when you'll regret your words, and she'll be the most important person in your world."

He found that he didn't want to partake in the redundant conversation and declared his leave.

Agile as a predator, he whipped through the door just as Akemi turned in her chaise. "Remember my words, Kaname. Yuki is best for you and our kingdom. Let her in your heart, and you'll be free."

As far as Kaname knew their marriage was emotionally voided. Being one of her first conditions, she was free to do what she pleased, and he wouldn't interrupt her meanderings. They could equally live separate lives and emerge like a well-meaning couple in public. The arrangement was convenient. Yuki wasn't ready to be a married woman, and he'd give her all the time in the world to be at ease. Time was all he could offer his new bride.

Physically, Kaname was tougher than lightening. His strength blistering than magma, he could destroy armies without his pureblood facilities. It was well known across the country he was the fiercest, a power like his could only be rivaled by his father or another pureblood king. Emotionally, he was another story. Who could believe the commanding pureblood was lectured about being a husband, and the importance of veering over Yuki? Despite her lavish upbringing, she was a grown woman and did not require being handheld like a toddler. He didn't see the need to uphold a routine. She may be young, however, to be a distinguished queen she needed to take responsibility of the palace's expectations.

His fangs wolfishly protruded against a cheek at the prospect of showing up abruptly at her quarters. She'd screech and throw him out, he imagined. Kaname didn't believe he was vulgar toward women. Somehow, she painted him in the negative disposition. She didn't trust his jokes or him. In her mind, he was an apposite womanizer, and his regal status encouraged his mating women at all turns. The heir to his throne needed to be pureblood. With the lack of progression in their bedroom, a pureblood child was doubtful.

He could be ruthless and demand she adhere to her role accordingly or indulge in the ocean of space between them. Kaname resented forcing things against their will. Before vows and blood, he reminded he could revoke the proposal if she wanted. She was easy to read and warned him about her unpreparedness, but she didn't want to revoke it. She was open to making it work. That was enough for now.

φ

One morning, Yuki was watering her garden and listening to her personal advisor read chapters on being a filial daughter and expected queen of the nation—authorized by the current queen—when a commotion of maids beckoned her out of her compound.

Her advisor paused mid-sentence, closed the book, and pardoned a nod, "As the future pureblood mother of the country, it's established that you experience the common practices of the palace."

Yuki set the water gallon on the ground and looked away from the roses. "By common, you mean to let a carriage of maids drag you wherever they please?"

He rubbed his temple in contemplation and smirked. "Your sarcasm is enlightening, but I'm afraid not."

"You must see this. Please, come with us." The lot of bright-eyed women in charge of Yuki urged.

Three weeks passed and Yuki effectively kept her distance from her husband and had not seen him once. She was still processing her emotions, and she was pleased that their distance helped pacify her mind—and heart. Although she felt no burden to be at his side every day or house feelings for him, the notion of seeing Kaname swiveled her mood into burning irritation since that was precisely what the maids implied.

"I'm not interested." She said and retrieved a gardening tool when the shadow of her advisor materialized over her own. "You were on chapter twenty-seven, Akatsuki-sama."

He smiled sheepishly and shook his head. "It has come to my understanding that you have been hiding in your quarters for reasons other than my lectures."

Yuki dumped soil away and padded the flower bed. "What tipped you off?"

"For starters, you have not kept up with the prince's dinner appointments. After you fainted on your voyage here, he requested you dine together. He feels responsible for you, and as your advisor, I request you not ignore his appointments. Testing him will not be to your advantage, Beautiful One."

"Testing me will not be to yours." Her snap stung like razor digging into skin. Every time she considered the red-eyed pureblood, her blood boiled. She was stubborn, and she never negatively abused her counselors and maidens. Yuki tossed the tool and climbed to her feet. "I apologize, Akatsuki-sama, I didn't mean to say that to you."

He looked nervously red, and his gaze staggered to his feet as he retreated a step politely. She was in the privacy of her quarters, unveiled, and natural like the splashes of mud smearing her hands and dripping down her moon-white cheeks. Her lips were scarlet like her eyes, and her dark brows drifted like her long brown hair, straight and poised. She was spectacular, just as the maids mumbled to themselves. Her beauty was too palpable and easy to lose oneself in. He thanked his adroitness for the umpteenth time. No princess consented being ogled by her advisor every time she spoke or came near. He sighed and suppressed the fervent thoughts he hoped to never recover.

"I overstepped my boundaries, princess. I'm deeply sorry." He bowed.

One of the maids approached immediately. "It's rare the prince holds a show with soldiers, but when he does, the entire palace convenes. He is the strongest fighter and is nearly undefeatable."

Yuki's eyes narrowed in connotation, "Nearly?"

The fair maid blushed, "The king defeated him when he was an adolescent, but it has not been so since that time. The prince is tougher than before."

Yuki regarded the eager women and the amused advisor. "Five minutes only." She declared, and a chorus of excited cheers came. They hurried to find her a suitable veil as Yuki rinsed her hands free of dirt.

"You made the right decision." Her advisor murmured, joy shimmered evidently in his gaze as she met them evenly.

"To watch the fight or watch him?"

He fought a grin, but laughter prickled the depth of his words. "Your union is a celebration, and your attendance will be a highlight."

Less than a minute later, Yuki was hurled in a corridor funneled by palace maidens of all ages and ranks. The public learned of the occasion and herded the courtyard. Not accustomed to such an uproar over sword fighting, Yuki gaped widely at the cheering faces. Watchmen, assemblymen, council members, soldiers, and various purebloods caroled. She was escorted to a chair overlooking the courtyard. Like a fence, her maids barricaded her from women of other quarters and began relating the scene.

"There he is!" Rima pointed with a slender finger toward the bare-chested pureblood.

Streaks of raven hair swept along sweaty temples, he blinked at the burly army and closed the distance. Drips of blood splattered his chest and shoulders. Judging by the smell and marred contenders, he had gone many rounds unscathed. He moved with nimble grace, undeniably confident and practiced as ten men circled him. He shifted to the left and a chasm of sweat sprinkled in the sunlight. Every inch of him from torso up was bridged with muscle, dented by movement each time he repelled a strike, and his lurching strides from pure instinct as a blade descended over his head from behind, softened into a bend and dodged the blow, but only to deliver a sharp jab of the elbow into the man's mid-center.

Kaname.

Prime in his masculine and single-handedly tossing one man after another. He was unarmed compared to his armored contenders. The pureblood's punch threw a guard off his feet, and another crept into his blind-spot to attempt a swipe at his legs. He moved with the speed of a wild animal and kicked the sword in one move. The rules insisted he forgo pureblood powers as well. All he had was that body—glistening in the sun.

Every woman sat dreamy-eyed with baited breath, many aired their flushed cheeks. Out of the corner of her eye, Yuki noticed Rima nibble her nails. She caught herself frantically leaning forward despite herself and pushed on the backrest. The man knew how to lure a crowd and women. He was an extraordinary fighter and whenever occasion arrived to defend himself, he didn't employ destructive strength to subdue the ten men but enough for deflection.

"You see the man standing in the diagonal, the blond?" Rima leaned toward her veil, "He is the son of the loyalist, more revered than the council combined. Hanabusa, son of Lord Aido, right there—attacking the prince from behind." Rima flinched and looked away.

The armored man was slammed into the ground by a fist. Three seconds passed and Kaname straightened as the man feebly collected himself. A running swordsman aimed directly for Kaname's mid-center, but the pureblood grasped the tip of the anti-vampire weapon and reared his eyes at the bold man.

"You hurt my son." He simply conveyed, a glimmer of amusement sparkled his eyes.

Kaname felt a smirk needle through the firm line of his mouth. "This, I expected of you, Nagamichi-sama."

The Lord was thrust back, not too pugnaciously, but a sufficient force where he slumped backward in the mud.

Yuki was starting to understand why the fight was a big deal. Kaname, the current undefeated soldier, faced vital Lords and their progeny in a fight before the impending battle. Their final attempt to seize championship. So far, no one came close to scratching the pureblood.

"Here comes Lord Ichijo, his son, and grandson." Rima alerted as soon as the trio assailed Kaname.

The patriarch of the Ichijo clan, Asato, managed to pierce Kaname's left arm. For the first time, the audience gasped and the rest of the female population squealed in terror. The dye of red blood puddled around his feet, but he never hinted a noise of discomfort, and the immutable mask of self-discipline on his face sat coolly. He snatched the crackling sword, the anti-vampire electrocution ate away his flesh and thwarted the punch aimed at his face. Kaname twisted the elder's forearm and held him fast, the sword still embedded in his arm. The second of the kin raced and jammed another blade in Kaname's side.

Pensively, Rima shot up. "This has never happened before."

The last of the kin, Takuma, raised his sword to pin Kaname's leg. The hilt of his sword sat between a collection of muscle and bone. Clenched fangs, Takuma stepped back triumphantly and met him in the eye.

Kaname breathed irregularly as a trail of blood crawled his temple and straight into his left eye. "Takuma." He heaved against the waves of anti-vampire poison tucking away in his blood. "Your focus has gotten better. To have stabbed me for the first time in your life, my beloved comrade, you have become resilient."

Takuma's brows tilted and dropped in their unique manner of shrugging the statement. "Kaname, you are a lover of pain, and I'm just doing my part to help you out,"

"Since that appears to be true," Asato gestured to a guard and claimed his sword, "I will not lose my chance to stake you one more time."

Takuma reacted as his grandfather stabbed the sword in Kaname's other leg.

Having been aware of his reaction, Kaname waved him aside. "Let him, Takuma. He has dreamt of putting me down."

Yuki's mouth hung at the gory sight. Her fingers clenched into fists for control as episodes of fear swarmed her blood. He was supposed to be most skilled and elusive, and now he was turning into a pin-cushion. What's this? She was supposed to be angry with the infidel still in love with his ex-lover, and here she was, trembling with worry.

Get up, you stupid man!

"You can be a showoff in the battlefield." Asato imparted with a grunt, "It's about time we put you in place. Your winning streak ends now." He gripped the handle tightly and shoved the blade into flesh.

Kaname punched the blade out of the way. The sound of shattering iron collided with the faint wrestle of the soil irrupting the air. Lord Ichijo jumped on him in half a second and restrained him, but the motion turned futile instantly. Kaname hoisted him off his shoulder and slammed him into the ground. His healing capabilities pushed the sword out as bone and tissue realigned. Still gripping the broken sword, Asato made a quick swipe at his neck. Kaname tilted on the balls of his feet and extracted the rest of the sword from his arm, before slinging it at the patriarch of the clan.

Takuma rushed to Kaname's side—at the sword sticking in his body—and pierced deeper. The pureblood was not surprised and locked his head under his arm and twisted him around. He spun slightly and slumped flat on the ground, immobile. Kaname tidily plucked off the sword and dropped it.

Asato grimly examined his kin on the ground. "This is far from over."

Kaname smirked and stepped over the unconscious Lord Ichijo. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

The elder vampire chuckled and felt the mirth tickle his belly. "Luck is on your side again."

"Only because you remind me of what I fight for." Kaname was not tantalized to boast nor did he let pride swallow him with its thick skin. He continued in a low octave, considerate and respectful of the elder who trained him to wield a sword in the first place. "Victory is forever mine, so long as you are on my side, Ichijo-sama."

"I'm not sure," Asato frowned at the broken sword, "I'm going to need a swordsmith and send these rascals to boot camp. Shameful." He tsked at his son, asleep next to his foot.

"Takuma fought boldly." Kaname gestured to the blond regaining consciousness, "I wouldn't dismiss him. He has never gotten close to cutting me." He bent forward to offer his beloved comrade a hand.

The blond gratefully took the assistance, but not before inspecting Kaname's wounds. An order from Kaname prompted Lord Ichijo to be taken away to sleep off the fight. His snores climaxed in the halls as the men carried him to his quarters.

"Another year and no change," Asato bemoaned to the crowd, "Our prince remains undefeated! Is there anyone valiant enough to resist him?" He searched the crowd of civilians and trains of soldiers he fashioned. "Is there a challenger and brave soul among us today?"

The women gushed and spied warriors circling the courtyard but shied out of respect. If the Grand Marshal could not defeat the prince, no one could.

Yuki felt weight dissipate from her chest, setting her free. Her fingers tingled, uninhibited from their nervous occupation. Flat on her sides, she graced the warm wood of her chair and stared composedly at the wrinkled but inviting face of the elder vampire below. She was up in one firm move, an infinite vibration of questions consumed her maids. They watched in silent surprise as Yuki leaned over the balustrade, her veil swaying in the breeze and dipped over the courtyard.

"I will."

Takuma was worriedly poking the wound he manufactured on Kaname. Even though it was healed, guilt possessed him. Kaname was like his brother, and he had the audacity to stab him.

I will give you my leg at whatever cost. I swear on my life, Kaname.

Kaname understood the inference of his frown but averted. More interested in the terribly overdressed figure lurching over the balcony, he squinted against the sunlight to grasp the flutter of red material.

Hmm, a veil.

Widely, he clenched his jaw.

Not possible.

Kaname took a graceful step forward and looked up at the woman who was sure to be none other than his bride.

φ

Lately, all Akemi did was fume. At her maids, guards, and Ken. She fumed so much she thought she could die. Her heart cauterized black from frustration. She was gasping over the table, her claws scraped the chestnut edge.

"Stop them at once!" She cried to her husband.

The repressible and unruffled pureblood king looked up from the parchment to register his wife for the first time. Always a tornado, havocking left and right, something irked her that he was used to her temper and reaction. Not the greatest function on his part—his wife was a busybody, and if he didn't stop her from snooping around people's private lives—Kaname and Yuki's nonsexual relationship—Ken would have to pay the price. Yes, Kaname taunted along the lines of siring a non-pureblood heir and throwing off the trajectory of pureblood kings. Ken was as fearless and thunderous as any god or king to touch the human world. He was obstinate and determined, therefore, he understood gravely Kaname was not to be provoked or he would make-do his warning as soon as within the hour.

Akemi, however, still considered her son—her son. She contained her wrath for as long as she could. Now she was past the verge of forgiveness and sanity, and if Kaname and Yuki speared each other, she would jump off the palace tower.

"Quiet down," Ken issued with a torch of irritation, "Why must you be so damn reactive all the time? Let them be."

She was not intimidated by the scariest pureblood in the land. The fact was, Ken could be more horrifying than monsters and murderers if pressed. "It has gone too far. She has been avoiding him. The first time they see each other in almost a month—with swords."

Ken folded the parchment and threw it. The thing flopped off the table. "They are sensible."

Akemi clenched her jaw and pricked the exquisite flesh of his throat. "Aren't you paying attention? They should be locked in a room, mating, and giving us tons of grandchildren."

Ken rubbed his temple and considered her supple flushed cheeks. He grabbed her thin wrist over his shoulder and playfully ran a fang along a blue vein. "Don't you remember how long it took you to lower the wall around your heart before you gave yourself to me?" Her blood pulsed persuasively, the pull hypnotized him with lust. "Akemi, you are a tough catch."

"You did marry me, but you did not win my heart—at first." She solemnly realized and peered through the window into the courtyard.

Even a forward and beautiful pureblood like her did not gallop into her husband's arms right away. She was afraid with no one to help mollify her loneliness. She missed home terribly, and Ken was an odd mountain in the shape of a man. On their first eve, they were locked in the same room to mate. She should know better, but now she led a life of happiness and rage—of seven hells—with Ken that she overlooked details about a lonely time.

Ken rose from his chair and leaned against his table. "Maybe this is how they'll get close. Give them a chance. No schemes or wild mating rituals will help those two. Trust me, if Kaname doesn't treat her well—"

"I'll cut his—"

Ken's brows shot up. "Akemi."

"His ear off, alright." She relented and peeked over her shoulder at his extraordinarily iridescent red eyes enjoying the view of her silhouette. She smirked, and he tugged the flesh of her wrist between fangs. "You don't suppose Kaname has urges to go to brothels?"

Ken drew her with intricate precision against him. His forehead pressed against hers and her nose nuzzled his. "He is a man, Akemi. He'll feed his urges wherever he chooses."

Akemi yanked back automatically. "The hell he is." He pulled her pout against his lips, but she turned away to mumble. "He better not waste a perfect opportunity wit—ah." He did something with his tongue that made her shudder to her bones. Oh, she loved her mountain.

Ken grinned victoriously. He had her. With a fist in her hair, he turned her face up and kissed her on the lips.

φ

It was rare for the Grand Marshal to doubt his actions. He offered the anti-vampire weapon to the heavily dressed lady in a veil. A white hand, bare and elegant in its simplicity, reached forward.

Asato hastily retracted and considered her tender looking fingers. "The anti-vampire sword is powerful and harmful. Princess, I advise you wear protective gloves to handle the weapon properly." At the back of his mind, he debated how she'd wield a weapon larger than her.

"I'm aware," The princess coolly answered and grasped the handle. Electrocution sizzled her right hand and stroked up her arm. She turned and approached the center of the courtyard with even footsteps. The leftover guards and noblemen gaped, caught in a quiver between disbelief and skepticism. One of the men lurched in front of Yuki, but she braced herself and lifted her head up. "Yes?"

"Take my armor." He suggested and began unclipping the binds.

"No, thank you."

Takuma warily inspected Kaname and returned to whisper in her ear, "Kaname is a formidable swordfighter, no one has survived his strikes. Do not go unarmored."

Yuki glanced at the dark-haired man in the sunlight. He stood shirtless, his hair drizzling freely in the wind, forever crisscrossing around mysterious dark eyes. A guard offered him a sword, which he accepted, gloveless like her. "That's because he hasn't fought someone like me."

Divested of her royal garb but an ordinary black hakama and white silk shirt, her veil collected with her hair in the back. Her face remained indiscernible in the red material. Between the sun and shadow presented the vague shadow of her nose and chin, and two black lines pronounced high, denoting eyebrows. Two crimson eyes sparked like firecrackers against the sunlight and diminished with a turn of her head. She held the electrocuting sword unflinchingly for someone delicate, which alarmed and surprised the crowd. Then, Yuki, Princess of the Foreign Land, removed her shoes and bowed to the ground, to the earth for consent on her first fight in a land that was not hers.

Kaname paused and waited for her to arrange herself. She moved like liquid as if her knees did not bend, and her arms, boneless. Yuki folded her hands neatly to her breast with the sword tucked against her elbow and bowed her head to her contender. He swiftly returned the gesture.

She stood erect, and Kaname was prompted to wonder. "You are challenging me to a duel, why?"

"You promised me a swordfight."

A wry smirk died on his lips. "I can't promise your safety."

"I wasn't asking you to."

He motioned the tip of the sword to her veil, "This won't set you back?"

Her eyes narrowed, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

"I'd sooner rip it off."

"Try it, please." She goaded with a hint of mockery.

Kaname steadily contemplated the petite figure bearing a deathless sword. She had no business sword fighting, but she mentioned her father taught her a great deal. He was torn between testing her skill and disturbed by her rashness.

"I will not go easy on you." He cautioned, inching toward her.

Yuki stood her ground. "Neither will I."

"Why are you really doing this?" His eyes hardened.

A fang nipped her bottom lip. "You sound worried."

He waved the sword and held it to her neck. "I don't need to exert strength or thought and this blade will behead you. Aren't you afraid?" Those were not empty words for someone like him.

All Yuki did was draw her sword and slid against his. Sparks glinted, iron-to-iron. The palace sat in suspense. Neither wore protective garments and faced each other in what was supposed to be a friendly match, but it had scaled to another type of duel altogether. Kaname was an expert fighter, and Yuki didn't stand a chance. He wouldn't dream of harming his bride, assuming his gentlemanly attributes, he'd let her win.

In a heartbeat, Yuki swiped her sword and locked his around and under. His gaze did not stray or blink from her veil, and she half expected him to react or tear away. Kaname resisted and rewound her move. The power of the swing caused her arm to tremble. She huffed a little under her breath, surprised by the sheer force he managed without budging a muscle.

Kaname scoffed and stared at the ground for a moment. "I must be a fool to let you do this."

"Yes," Yuki gritted her fangs and seized her opening, "You are!" Her sword separated with a jerk.

She was still not used to the blinding weight of the anti-vampire weapon. Yuki clamped her claws in the burning handle and looked up. He was waiting for her to strike, but if she played that game, she'd tire quickly, and he'd throw her down and win by default. She knew the age-old trick too well.

Instead, she did the unthinkable.

With every ounce of power in her body, Yuki threw her massive sword skyward. The crowd exploded in queries. She leaped and kicked him square in the chest. Silver pillared over her head, she snared it just in time and raked the blade across his neck. Kaname was one second fast and propelled his weight back with the sword and blocked the attack. She yanked back and rammed the hilt in his chest, bulldozing him two steps back.

His feet dragged, and the crowd exclaimed incredulously.

Kaname hissed and planted one foot down to leverage him and shoved her back. The moment he did, she skittered off balance. He found her weakness. In one swing of his sword, he made a direct slash against hers bluntly. Her sword vibrated. She was on him, beating the blade, and the clash of fire smiting fire crackled. Yuki grunted and used both hands as their swords locked.

He grinned sardonically down at her, holding her down by a single hand, "What's the matter, my dear, sword too heavy for you?"

Of course, it was, and she'd been trying to play if off but it was damn near impossible.

Kaname stunted her with a blow of the sword, followed by another, and two more. She kept slipping, her steps scattered and whirled around—a risk—to ram the hilt of the sword in his abdomen. Foreseeing it, Kaname bounced back and knotted one firm arm across her waist. Yuki stilled once his stinging blade lingered at the base of her throat.

The guards inched closer warily.

"Give up." Kaname panted against her ear.

She did what came naturally to her and stomped on his foot, immediately breaking out of his hold and circled him. Kaname charged at her, swinging and splicing her moves with ease, a skilled slayer but each flick and swipe held secret intention, which Yuki recognized too late. She reared the sword intrepidly at his arm, he preceded the move by sharply knocking her in the back. Yuki balanced herself as soon as the momentum lurched her forward and set the blade at his jaw. They kept returning to the same place, breathing hard.

"Your skills are outstanding," Kaname breathed. "Using the element of surprise, you're thinking on your feet."

"Save your praise for your soldiers," Yuki replied.

He smirked, "Now you're being cocky." Not only did she block him, but succeeded in jolting him. He had an interesting advantage, however. Kaname flicked the sword and singed her veil. A narrow line winked open to reflect smooth skin, the subtle tip of her nose. She attacked before he got a good glimpse.

Yuki teemed with ferocity, best suited for a sword fight than any other activity. She blocked his attacks, reciprocating with several well-deserved of her own. Kaname was panting under his breath, never knowing what to expect. She fought with pure instinct, no premeditation, but each swing and smash of the sword were pulled with brilliant thirst. She dodged his spearing thrust and jumped high. Kaname pulled back instantaneously, his reflexes sharp and overpowered her assail by shoving her with grueling force.

She skidded on the gravel. Symptoms of pain or weakness no longer part of her. Yuki raised herself to her feet, never losing grip on her sword. A breeze trembled the veil, through the fuzzy rip, a pair of glowing red eyes seared at him.

Kaname stilled upon the pair of shimmering wine-colored eyes. Large, fiery, and surging with power. There was no softness. She was hell-bent on getting her way. His mouth unfastened and cool air assuaged the heat of impassioned discovery.

You are marvelous.

He panted in fascination at the breathtaking pair of eyes shining with determination. His heart shuddered.

Yuki encroached upon him with bloody feet. She struck his sword once, swinging to the left, once more to the right and spun, kicking the healing wound against his rib cage and cut down the handle, missing his fingers by a hair.

The sword plummeted to the ground and dust rained on the broken iron.

The crowd gaped in astonishment. Asato hurried two steps, fretful.

She looked up from his sword to find her reflection in his starry crimson eyes. A faint smile, almost foolish, occupied the normal flatness of his mouth. Kaname stared in enthrallment at his bride who had just defeated him.

"So much for 'undefeated'." Yuki threw her sword on the ground. Her hands dripped of blood, but she was not aware of the smell or the ripped veil displaying her eyes that captivated the prince. "My Lord, you may be at ease. The prince is no longer reigning champion."

Asato looked hesitant to respond and checked Kaname. He hadn't stopped ogling Yuki. "Ahem," He approached the pair. "Not every day this happens. Congratulations, my princess. What would you like as your reward?"

Yuki rested her gaze on Kaname. "I don't want a reward." She answered and walked away with blood prints on the courtyard.

Asato reviewed the mute pureblood on his side. "You went easy on her."

"Remind me never to test my bride with a weapon." Kaname retrieved the broken anti-vampire weapon. He examined the handle coated in blood.

φ

Yuki was in a great deal of pain. The maids concocted an herbal bath where she dipped her feet in warm water to heal the cuts. The worst impact had been on her hands. Regardless of her pureblood healing abilities, the anti-vampire electrocution would not go away easily. She didn't know any tips to sooth the pain. The maids brought her more salve. It reeked of leaves and animal intestines.

The curtain of the bathhouse shimmered and her maid knelt on the lip of the stairs. "Ouji-sama is here."

Yuki flung for her veil and situated it errantly just as the curtain dropped to reveal the dark-haired man. He inspected her steadily for a minute and discarded his shoes to make way around the stairs.

"How can I help you?" Yuki, the hostess of her quarters, asked collectedly.

"You can't help me." Kaname merely replied, "But I can help you." He indicated her burned hands wrapped in white bandages while the rest of her legs were underwater.

"The salve has been helpful."

"The salve is terrible." Kaname interrupted and divested her hands of bandages.

She couldn't argue there.

His hands were normal, free of burns and blood. Years of handling the weapons allowed him to transcend its dangers, barely. He was not injury proof either, but he managed to heal quicker than the normal pureblood such as herself.

Kaname rinsed her hands in the water first. The mint tingled and her bloody palms were covered in fissures of scars, burned tissue, and bone cracking to the surface. He breathed weightily, uncomfortable that she was uncaring of her safety. Kaname inspected the lesions and glanced at her tersely. Bearing himself mindfully, he patted the wound dry. She clearly made a reckless move to forgo hand gloves. He continued cleaning the wound for numerous minutes.

"I will not sword fight you again if you don't wear gloves." He growled irritably.

Yuki was vigilant of the creases on his brows in pristine focus on his handwork and the trail of expressions he had no intention of vocalizing. Sinister anger, past annoyance ignited around him.

"The anti-vampire weapons were constructed to kill us. Your powers and immunity are not resilient enough."

"I can practice-"

"No." His crimson eyes festered with ruthless disapproval. Her hands trembled in his as he stopped to convey his meaning with a glare. "You proved your skills. I commend you, Yuki." Curiously he lingered over the vague mystery of her eyes behind the veil, giving into a vain attempt to catch it again. They were beguiling, bursting with life and passion.

Yuki frowned and turned toward the water. He seemed upset by her actions.

"Don't hurt yourself again." Kaname released softly, "You're my responsibility. I protect you even from your stubbornness if I must."

"I'm not a child." She retorted.

"Correct," Kaname's eyes narrowed implicitly on her veil, "You're my bride. Act like one."

She continued to be troubled by their loveless future and did not stray from her quarters. It took no genius to understand her dismay. His heart belonged to another woman. What was Yuki? A bride in the palace with no one to love. Even though she was primarily against their arranged marriage, Yuki always wanted to share love with her husband—if not today, someday. Reality showed a different take on their marriage. While his lover worked at a tavern he visited, Yuki lived emptily in a palace so their nations supported each other.

A harsh sacrifice to pay.

Kaname blew gently on the wounds. She shivered, the heat of his mouth never forceful or impulsive. Perhaps years on the battlefield taught him how to assist injured soldiers. In milder wonderment, Yuki observed Kaname detach clean bandages and place them on his lap. Her arms suspended in air between them and her wretched palms held up in place—begging for attention, for restoration, begging the pureblood to reconsider.

He started with her left hand. A lick startled her, causing Yuki to lose her balance. Kaname snatched her by the forearm.

"What are you doing?" Yuki exclaimed.

He did not answer and took her fingers in his mouth. The sensation of hot tongue took away her will to mute her vocal cords. She whimpered from the sucking and salivating motion of his mouth.

"Does that excite you, Yuki?" Kaname wondered and let the healing agents seep into the tissue.

She was redder than her veil, gasping and shaking.

Kaname continued with the rest of her hand. She grunted at the back of her throat, wincing from the healing components surging on the raw tissue. He paused to regard her amusedly. She was ducking away from his stare and he tugged her insistently closer.

"Please." Yuki gasped.

"Please, what?" Kaname waited, devious purposes swallowing the blood irises of his eyes.

Indignantly Yuki shook her head.

"Try it slow, like this?" He ran his tongue languidly along her palm. Electric heat flickered her bloodstream. She hissed and flinched. He insistently drew her back. The wound healed quicker than the insufficient salve. He watched her sway deliriously from the stroke of his tongue and paused in contemplation. "Will you make these restless moans when I take you in my bed?"

"In your bed?" Yuki wheezed. "Says who?"

Kaname's mouth rested on her index finger, lingering for a second and traced the faint fold lines. "If you insist, your bed then."

"Must you make everything sexual?" Yuki cried out of exasperation.

He smirked and sucked her fingers greatly. "Yes." Her head shot back at the searing sensation. Kaname turned to admire her. "It's my duty to remind you of our imminent marriage bed. How sad not to have celebrated one of the deliciously bouncing moments between a man and wife. Our children will have to hear how their mother was repressed."

"I am not repressed." She was adamant. What children? Fire seized her elegant frame, a rivulet of shivers echoed throughout her.

"Really," Kaname couldn't help but smile menacingly at his pureblood bride. "Show me how unrepressed you are."

Yuki shook her head at her lap and scoffed to herself. She was not in her royal clothes but a light yukata. The parting of her robe was stitched meticulously but a red belt, wound demurely around her narrow waist, as the end of robe opened to sensual thighs and legs that disappeared in the herbal water. The veil did not cover her chin or neckline, and when she tossed her head in response to Kaname's 'healing techniques' it lifted, revealing vivid red lips. Her posture emanated grace and poise even in less stylish clothes. Yuki smirked at Kaname, at the intense shimmer challenging at her through his eyes, as well as the devilish smirk he wore.

"What exactly are you asking me here?" Yuki tilted her chin up, confident and soft at the same time.

Kaname caressed her right palm. "Show me you're not sexually repressed."

Yuki scrutinized him. "Are you asking me to seduce you?"

He grinned this time and a perfect row of fangs unveiled.

She pulled her hands back. The wound was lessening but her fingers were sore. "You have court ladies to seduce you. Why don't you ask them?"

"I know of their performances." Kaname replied, "But they are not the ones in question."

Yuki looked up from her hands finally. "You were not the only pureblood to ask for my hand in marriage, and just because we haven't consummated does not mean I don't understand the joys of the flesh. You are the one who wanted a bride in your palace. The real question is, are you able to seduce someone else? You express bravery but have you ever seduced a woman? You will have all of me if you can."

Without averting, Kaname took one of her hands and tugged her powerfully. She landed against him. His arm folded around her narrow waist and turned her lightly, above the water and stairs. The veil dropped against her cheek and temple, inches from the waiting bath.

"I can take you right now," Kaname peered at her feverishly panting in his arms, dizzy from hanging with nowhere to land but the water.

Her fists firmly clamped on his arms, undecided whether to push or pull him in. He leaned into her lips. Shudders rippled inside her, and a soft groan fleeted. She fit pleasantly along his arm and torso. Every part of her was luscious soft. How alluringly her waist filled the curve of his arm and lines of ribs jutted. She was thinner than she appeared in inflating outfits. Fleshy thighs tucked next to his legs. He found her iridescent wide eyes through the pale veil.

"I can do a million things to you. Things you can't imagine." Kaname whispered. "You'll beg me not to stop."

Heaves of sensations overwhelmed Yuki. His entrapping arms were bulky, brimmed with unexploited power. He could do whatever he chose with those arms, and Yuki was partly curious. She hadn't deliberated on his appearance much. Up close it was hard not to. His long hair poked through her veil and tickled her cheeks. She found herself fascinated by the hypnotic glimmer on his red-black eyes. Moments ago, she swore they were bright red. Eager passion swarmed and dilated, drawing her an invisible inch close. She breathed fast. The wall of muscle she was pressed against felt satisfying on her soft breasts. She remembered clearly how the muscles contorted in graceful execution in the sunlight. Kaname was a stunning pureblood.

And if she gave in to the challenge his gaze posed, she knew he'd master her physically, train her senses, mold her like putty in his hands, and her exquisite flesh to his hardness until she shriveled from exhaustion in tangled sheets. He would not tire because he was a beast, and she desperately wouldn't want him to remember—that he conquered her physically only, never bothered to embrace her emotionally. The fire would subside. The doors closed, and the dam of eerie sinfulness between their soggy bodies would desiccate. He continued to be a stranger, and she remained an empty puppet in his palace.

"Say the word," He whispered against her lips. "Let me in."

Yuki trembled, not out of fear, but excitement. His arms felt wonderful, secure and warm around her. It dawned on her that she was not uncertain of him and his magical grit. Why did it offend her he—the handsome pureblood—was in love with someone else?

"I want it to be me." Yuki realized in a daze.

Kaname scrutinized her mouth hanging open in shock. "What do you want to be you?" He murmured.

She ducked her head and hid in his chest, eyes squeezed shut. His arms kept their solid wrap around her and she gripped his sleeves intricately tighter. She had not fallen in love with a man she did not know—impossible. Nonetheless, she wanted him to be receptive to her in his life. But, he was a carnal fiend with bands of court ladies, among others, to instigate sexual escapades. Not to mention, he was currently joggling her to submission. Yes, she hoped secretly her marriage to whoever would be one of love, not lust.

His hand slid across her waist toward the belt of her yukata. An artless tug of the sash would unravel her robe. Yuki stayed the hand, and Kaname knew his answer. He set her on the stair and collected the bloody bandages.

"I will send for you tonight," He spared a thoughtful glance over his shoulder, "You can't say no."

"What for?" Yuki watched him slide into his shoes.

"You need blood." He added specifically, "My blood."

"You've done enough. My hands are almost healed, thank you," She lingered in the bow of her head, "Kaname…"

He halted and glared ahead at the swaying curtains. His arms itched to feel her pressed on him again. How roguish would he be for throwing her on his shoulder and taking her to his quarters and doing to her exactly what he wanted, unrepressed and making her sing under him all night? For a minute, he thought she'd agree. He sensed her waver and crawl back. He was a hot-blooded conqueror and conquer Yuki he would.

"Dine with me tonight," Kaname invited. Frustration aside, he wanted to make do with his word. Every night she declined his invitation. "Instead of saying 'thank you', dine with me,"

That evening Yuki combed her long hair. Her mind silent and her actions echoed the canvas of her inner world. She came to the palace and promised not to give the prince any portion of her will, mind, body and heart. She expected it to be easier. A fidgety tryst formed within her. She couldn't hold her promise. She was a bride, a princess, and her path was to be the queen and mother of their nation.

Her maids draped her in a light veil and pinned it to a precision where it hovered the cupid's bow. She could eat without messing the arrangement. The servants guided her to Kaname's quarters. Their quarters resided on mere opposites and the vast courtyard was normally raided by active guards and maids.

Kaname was sitting on the balcony ledge, lost in the falling sun at the end of the earth. He searched the dissipating colors and houses it back dropped. Yuki stopped, a breeze fell around him and brushed the locks around his jaw. The moments and years he spent apart from his lover haunted him. Yuki wondered if he was looking for her in the vague roads creeping into markets and rice fields—which house was hers?

He stiffened under her regard unconsciously and turned. Surprise was not an emotion Kaname usually embraced, but there she was, in his quarters, dressed and ready to dine for the first time.

"How are your hands?" He gestured to them on her sides.

"All healed." Yuki waved her fingers playfully.

Kaname regarded her between the patters of maids. The dining hall doors opened and he was on his feet. Yuki followed a few steps behind. They sat on the floor across each other. Their first meal together since their wedding.

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