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lie with foxes (catch their fleas)

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The ballroom is shining, chandeliers spreading a fractured light, candles reflecting on the golden decorations. Shaida takes a moment to look at one of the statues guarding the door. It's a life-size golden lion, teeth bared, claws buried in the marble foot. It's a show of wealth and power. A reminder of what House you're entering. A warning.

Shaida takes a deep breath and enters the lion's den.

Next to her, Don is checking out the crowd for familiar faces. Most people here belong to the House, the women dressed up in the House colors, broken white and gold everywhere. Don's silver and grey costume is notable, but his House is old enough for him to be welcome, and he himself of low enough importance that people just let them pass them by.

It's why she agreed to be his consort. Her own House has long ago lost the right to be here, damned by the first burning outside of the city walls. They’d always been a smaller House, and the loss of their land and half of their people has ruined their reputation and their place in the city. But now the Barracks are burning and the Houses are jonesing for power amongst each other. Shaida knew her duty. Marry wise, not well, and make sure her people were protected in the upheaval.

Don was perfect. Just enough ambition to want to better himself, his House not powerful enough to do it for him. He needed her, her charm, her looks and whatever was left of her money. As long as she was useful, her people would enjoy the protection of his House.

But that was before the House of Deer opened the Gates to the city and the fires had started to burn inside the walls. Now the Houses are scrambling to protect themselves, and everybody turned to the House of Lions.

So Shaida knows her goal tonight, shine brightly next to Don, charm the gentlemen while he charms the ladies, ensure an audience with the Head of the House, and beg for protection if necessary.

The moment she entered the ballroom proper, she felt all eyes on her. She'd chosen a grey muslin to honor the colors of the House of her husband, but the flowers braided in her hair were the dark red of the fox. The stone embedded in her simple necklace had the same deep rust color.

She might be running with the wolves now, but she'd always belong to the House of Foxes first.

Don had approved. "You’ll catch everybody's eye."

She'd spent a lot of time and effort in creating the outfit for tonight, so she resented his earlier doubts. The flowers to catch the attention, the slightly too revealing dress to keep the attention on her, the cut of her jewelry and make-up both simple, to avoid seeming too available.

It’s a well-thought out balancing act, and she wants to enjoy its effect on the people around her. It’s wasted on Don, after all, she's already caught him.

Don's hand on her elbow guides her to an elderly dame escorted by three young gentlemen.

"Dame Lena, might I introduce to you my consort, Shaida."

The gold in the Dame’s dress clearly identifies her as being someone that needs to be impressed. The expression on her face makes clear that won't be an easy task. So Shaida ignores the easy targets, the gentlemen who are leering at her. They are of no import. She curtsies at the Dame and puts on her best smile.

"It's an honor."

"I bet it is." The Dame is looking down on her, even though she only has a little height on her. "You know the saying about foxes?"

Shaida keeps the smile on her face. She has prepared for this her entire life, has heard all the things there are to say. She lives with Don's mother.

"A little itching has never hurt anyone. It's the bites you need to worry about. They tend to infect."

Don's fingers tighten around her elbow, but Shaida knows the type. No lady ever likes a coward. The Dame arches her brow, then smiles a little. "Watch out for the bigger teeth then," she says. "Cis, why don't you show Shaida around. Introduce her, while I discuss business with Don."

Don is eager to hand her off to the youngest gentleman, who despite his serious face, has been looking at her bare wrists during the whole conversation.

He'll be putty in her hands by the time they've reached the other side of the ballroom. He's not the one she needs to impress tonight, but all little bits help.

She dances with him, dances with a couple of other men she's introduced to, all of the House. She catches glances of Don here and there, talking with people, buttering them up. It'll all help, but it won't be enough. They need an audience with the Head of the House, the Dame's nephew.

She meets with Don for the waltz. When she was a little girl she used to dream of the dance, the swirling dresses, the scandal of holding someone too tight. She knows better now. Don's hand on her back doesn't thrill her, nor does the swell of the music. It's all part of the show, for Don to stake his claim. She belongs to him and this is how he gets to show it.

There's a tall gentleman watching them while they twirl around the floor. She's not sure how she noticed him, but her eyes keep catching his in the crowd.

But when they end the dance, he's nowhere in sight. Don is still smiling, but she can tell from the strain in his eyes and the way his fingers dig into her skin that he's not happy.

"Have you spoken to him yet?" She knows he hasn't, but she needs to know whether they need to change their plans. They've been invited to stay the night, so they can always make an attempt at breakfast.

"He's supposed to be here, but he's been taken up with business," Don hisses at her.

"It's only been the first waltz. There's two more to go, the evening hasn't ended yet. And there's still the Dame. She can introduce us at breakfast."

She doesn't think Don could ever fool the Dame, but she might take a liking to her. Alike spirits and all that. She did her research, knows the Dame wasn't born as part of the House. She's a survivor, and that's exactly what Shaida intends to do herself.

Don must see her point, because he walks her towards the Dame, who's in conversation with some cronies, all dressed in white and gold.

"Ah, the lady with the nasty bite," the Dame comments. "Found your prey yet?"

Don frowns. He never was much for the subtleties of House politics. It's what he needs her for. She pats his hand to comfort him and to catch the attention of the ladies.

"My days of hunting are long over. I've been caught instead."

The Dame snorts—they both know she and Don are on the prowl for something tonight—but makes room for her in the closed circle. "Take some refreshments and tell us about your House."

Shaida gladly takes the offered drink and starts to talk about the Wolves, neglecting to speak about her own House.

Don leaves her with the ladies.

"He's a bit nervous, isn't he?"

"He was hoping for a meeting with your nephew." If Shaida reads her right, the Dame likes her enough by now she'll appreciate the straightforwardness.

"Ah. As does everyone these days.”

Shaida smiles. “I’m just glad I got to dance.”

She’s made the Dame and her friends laugh out loud twice when she notices Don talking to the tall stranger who looked at them dancing.

He’s definitely looking at her and not listening to Don. His eyes move slowly over body, rest a while on her cleavage, seem to caress her hips. When he catches her eyes again his teeth flash white in a smile. Shaida sees it as the threat it is. He’s openly leering at her, and unlike the other gentlemen, he doesn’t look at her like a gift he’d like to unwrap. He looks at her like he already owns her.

She wills down the blush rising in her cheeks, turns her attention back to the Dame, who’s peering at her through her monocle.

“Seems your man finally caught my nephew.”

Shaida swallows. So that’s Rian. When she looks back at the men, he’s still leering at her with a pleased smile. Don is looking at her as well, and when he notices her he smirks, making Shaida shiver. He looks mercenary and keeps smirking while he nods at Rian and shakes his hand.

A deal is obviously being made. She should be relieved, their House might survive the upheaval after all. She's filled with dread anyway, because Don isn't savvy enough, doesn't have enough social graces to have made a good deal.

She turns back to the Dame, who ignores both Don and her nephew, and starts a conversation with the lady next to her about new children being born to the House. Shaida feels dreadfully out of place. Everywhere she looks there are people dressed in gold and white. She's all alone in the lion's den.

She wishes she could go outside onto one of the many balconies, but the Barracks are still burning, and the black smoke would cling to her clothes.

She can't afford to drop appearances. So she smiles, shares drinks with the other ladies, dances with young men the Dame recommends to her.

She's exhausted by the time Don fetches her to retire to the rooms appointed to her. She wants a bath, wants to sleep for 10 hours in their bed. She's very aware they're sleeping with the lions tonight, that there's no one familiar here, no one loyal to them.

She'd never thought she'd end up here, wishing to be in the cold company of Don's mother. But at least her disdain is familiar.

Don is still wired and nervous, undressing with quick movements. She needs help with her dress, they weren't appointed a servant, but he lets her wait. He keeps throwing her appreciative looks—she’s already resigned they won’t go straight to sleeping—but his eyes are laced with that same mercenary look from before.

She’s never minded sharing the bed with him, he’s reasonably concerned with her pleasure, she likes the way he looks well enough and he has never hurt her, but tonight his hungry eyes make her uncomfortable.

She has only loosened her hair, left the flowers on the dresser, when he finally approaches her to unbutton her dress. He pulls on her hair a little, strokes his fingers down the skin on her back while he slowly unbuttons her. “I knew I picked well,” he whispers in her ear, raising the little hairs on her neck.

When she steps out of the dress, he holds her hand, making her twirl around. His eyes rove over her, lingering on the red stone resting between her breasts.

“I should leave some of the unwrapping.”

He pulls her closer and kisses her, using his teeth and tongue, his hunger palpable. They’re both slightly out of breath when he pulls away, and despite her unease, she’s aroused. She likes him better when he’s certain what he wants, which has been a rare occurrence these last precarious months.

His hand is wrapped in her hair, so when he tightens his fingers she’s forced to hold still.

“Remember your family is in my House. Without me, you’ll lose all protection you thought to find in the city. Without me, your people will be left to burn, like the rest of your House.”

He hisses the words and they land heavy in her stomach. The arousal she felt disappears in a rush of fear and adrenaline. Whatever happens, she needs to protect her family. They’ve already lost too much.

So she smiles despite the fear, moves towards him despite the hand pulling on her hair, and kisses him. “You know I’ll do whatever you want.”

He grins at her. “That’s what I thought.”

There’s a knock on the door. Don lets her go, moves towards the door without surprise at the late night interruption.

Shaida wants to cover herself, but Don holds up his hand. “Remember you’re mine,” he says and opens the door.

Rian walks in the room.

Shaida takes an involuntary step back. The room seems to shrink with every step he takes towards her, the private bedroom atmosphere broken with the sheer power of his presence. He’s a tall, broad man, but it’s his personality that makes him seem to loom. Here’s a man who has never hesitated, has never been stopped, has always simply taken what he wants.

“You’ve prepared her for me,” he says to Don approvingly. He says it like she’s not a person, like she doesn’t have a say.

Maybe because she doesn’t.

Don smiles and nods at Rian, closes the door behind him. The click of the lock is loud in the charged silence of the room.

She could scream her lungs out, and nobody would come to her aid. So she smiles instead, hopes it’s not as brittle as she feels on the inside.

Rian stalks towards her in big, loose, strides, circles around her without touching her, eyes taking in every detail of her body. She fights down the urge to cover herself up, to cower behind Don. Don, who threw her before the Lion and plans to watch.

The betrayal almost stings more than the fear.

Rian finally holds still in front of her, gently grabs the stone on her necklace and pulls on it until she can’t help but take a step closer to him. The red seems deeper in his hands. It’s the only point of color in the white and golden room, and when he closes his hand around it, she feels like he’s choking her.

“You’ve been calling to me with this all evening,” he murmurs. “Like a red fire calling to the moths. Shouldn’t have wandered into my House, little fox.”

“It’s you who heeded my call,” she says. It’s a lie, but she learned early that you should never show fear to a predator. Shaida isn’t planning to fall prey to this one. She’ll survive and she’ll get what she wants: the safety of her people.

Rian shows his teeth in a threatening smile, turns her around by the shoulder, starts to loosen the strings of her corset. His hands linger on the skin he bares, sending shivers down her spine. From his place by the door, Don is looking at them, no trace of remorse or guilt in his features. He sold her to gain an association for his House and he’s satisfied with his transaction.

She takes all the betrayal and fury she feels and tries to convey with her eyes how much she loathes him. She might be his consort, but she’ll never forgive this.

She looks at Don while Rian opens and removes her corset, stays looking at him when Rian pushes down her panties, stays looking at him when Rian pushes his hand between her legs.

“Let's make him watch,” Rian says into her ear. He bites her in the neck, soft enough to be arousing, hard enough to be a threat. That’s when she closes her eyes, heaves out a sigh.

She doesn’t object when Rian pushes her towards the bed, body moving on auto-pilot. He doesn’t disrobe, just loosens his breeches, freeing his cock. He’s already hard and the size of him would be frightening, if everything else about him wasn’t even more so.

“Hands and knees,” he orders her. “I want the first time to be quick and easy. You can show me what you got later.”

Shaida tightens her fingers in the mattress at the mention of a first time. She thought Don had traded her for the night, but of course once wouldn’t be enough. She’s got a good body, but it’s not worth the cost of protecting all the people belonging to House Wolf and her own. She should have realized.

Rian pushes down her shoulders, so her ass is up in the air. He spits in his hand, spreads it around her opening, pushes his fingers inside of her, once, twice. It's a perfunctory imitation of a caress. He pushes in his cock in the same way, without hesitation or doubt, assured of his welcome.

Shaida groans. She’s afraid, angry, and humiliated, and the mix of feelings needs to leave her body in some way, lest she explodes with it. It’s either screaming or crying, so Shaida opts to groan. Let Don think Rian pleases her, that she’s never been fucked this well in her life, let him be hurt in this way as long as she can’t hurt him in other ways.

Rian slaps her on the ass. “The little fox likes the big, bad cat, doesn’t she? Knew you would.” He starts fucking her in earnest, his cock pushing deep inside of her, stretching her. The fabric of his trousers rubs against the back of her leg and with each thrust he pushes her a little deeper into the mattress.

He grabs her by the hair, forces her to bare her neck to him. He licks and bites her, makes her groan for real this time. “So hot and tight, so angry. I’m going to fuck the anger right out of you, little fox.”

He thrusts even harder, gets a hand under her so he can pinch her nipple. It all feels good, despite her anger, and she can feel her orgasm getting closer with each thrust.

He pulls her back onto his cock by her hip, pushes a finger in her asshole to keep her in place. The burn of the intrusion travels up her spine so her skin feels like it’s on fire. She comes screaming in the mattress, loud enough that the sound isn’t muffled entirely. Somewhere in the room, Don makes an uncomfortable sound.

Rian ignores them both, keeps fucking her hard and fast, until he comes with a soft groan. Except for their heavy breaths, the room is eerily quiet until Rian pulls out. His come drips down her thighs, but she's too shaky to do anything about it. She wants to be composed, not let either of them how she’s feeling, so for now she needs to hide her face.

“Don, you should clean that up,” Rian says. He sits down into one of the chairs by the hearth, pours himself a glass of water. “Lick it all up.” Don makes a noise of disgust. “You have to work for it if you want to fuck her.”

Shaida can’t help but grin a little. It’s only right Don should clean her up like this, he caused the mess in the first place. Wolves shouldn’t play with cats either.

It takes him a minute but then she feels his hands on her calfs, his warm breath on her skin. His touch makes her shiver in disgust. He’s worse than Rian.

Don does as he was told, dutifully licks her clean until there’s no more come on her thighs, and her pussy is wet with his spit and her arousal instead of Rian’s come. She’s deriving a weird sort of satisfaction of Don being humiliated by having to lick up another man’s come, so she chooses to focus on that instead of her own humiliation.

“Lick her ass open for me,” Rian’s deep voice comes from the corner of the room, making her quiver. Don doesn’t protest this time either, just moves up a little to push his tongue inside her ass. He’s never spent this much time on orally pleasing her before.

The mattress dips with Rian’s weight. He pushes her hair away from her face, caresses her cheek with surprising tenderness. “You should show him what he gave away,” he suggests. “Fuck him for me.”

His request calls to her need for revenge so Shaida nods and pushes herself up, turns around to look at the men on the bed with her. They’re both naked and looking at her with hunger. But where Rian is coated with an air of triumph and satisfaction, Don is obviously furious. His brown face is flushed with an angry blush, his fingers tightened in the sheets at her feet.

“I think you bit off more than you can chew with this one,” she tells him. Her voice is a little rough, but it’s steady and strong. She has survived more than Don will ever have to, and she’ll survive this too.

Next to her, Rian laughs out loud. “She’s a feisty little fox indeed, Don.”

Strengthened, she reaches forward, pulls Don next to her by his arm. “Do it for your people, Don.”

He hisses something at her, but she can’t understand, ears rushing with sheer adrenaline. She pushes him down and straddles him. His hands reach up to her, but she slaps them away. “You gave away the right to touch me.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll touch her for you,” Rian laughs next to her. He holds down Don’s hands, touches her breast with his other hand. She imitates his movement, strokes down Don’s chest. When Rian pinches her nipple, she pinches Don’s, relishes in the sound of him hissing in pain. He’s rock hard between her thighs, and his desperate arousal despite his humiliation quells her humiliation. She’ll show him indeed.

She slips his cock inside her easily, her pussy still wet and stretched by Rian’s cock. Below her, Don groans. She braces her hands on his chest, rides him quick and hard, searching for her pleasure. It feels good, but her second orgasm always takes more, and she’s not going to reach it like this. Rian is still petting her, hand stroking down her back, fondling her ass. When she looks at him, his face is flushed with lust, his desire obvious. He’s hard again.

He’s going to fuck her again tonight, she realizes, and who knows how many times after this. He’ll fuck her until he tires of her, and then she and her people will be without his protection and without Don’s.

One way or another, she’s screwed.

She fucks herself onto Don mechanically, all pleasure in the act gone. She should never have consorted herself with him. Should have picked better. She’d thought she could play him, but instead, he threw them both to the lions.

Rian pulls her hair, so she pulls Don’s. He’s still looking up at her with violence in his eyes, but his hands are tightened in the sheets without Rian holding them down, so he’s into this, whether he admits it to himself or not.

She’s distracted from her own thoughts by Rian moving behind her, straddling Don’s legs. He pulls her hair to the side, sucks on the bite mark he left on the side of her neck earlier. “Time to really make you mine,” he says. “Show Don how it’s done.” He laughs a little at his own joke, then pushes her down so her breasts flatten against Don’s chest.

“I’ll get you,” Don hisses at her.

“I’d like to see you try,” Shaida hisses back. She wants to say more, but then Rian pushes his cock against her ass and all her words seem to disappear. She tries to scramble away, but his hand is wrapped around her neck so she can’t move.

“Hold her for me,” Rian orders Don.

Don smirks at her and complies, fingers digging into her hips. He fucks up into her with some force, making her gasp.

“Like that,” Rian says approvingly. His hand is heavy on her back now, pushing her down on Don’s cock. He’s still pressing against her, her hole still wet with Don’s spit. He pushes and pushes and pushes, until he slips inside slowly.

Shaida screams. It’s too much, too full, and she can’t bear it. Rian ignores her screams, just tightens his hand in her hair, and keeps on fucking her slowly in the ass, while Don is still fucking her pussy.

He pulls her up by the hair, so her back presses against his chest. The feeling of too full is waning, the rhythm of it starting to feel good again.

“Now you’re all mine,” he says into her ear. His voice travels down her spine, adding to the pleasure.

Don is still smirking at her, his fingers still biting into her skin, his thrusts hard and fast while she’s perched against Rian’s thighs. Rian fucks her differently, slow and deep, stretching her wide open.

Don reaches for her breast, but Rian slaps his hand away this time. “Mine,” he growls.

Don is obviously biting back a remark, and Shaida relishes in the look on his face. ‘I’ll kill you’, she thinks. The thought is arousing.

“Rian,” she moans to add insult to injury, reaching back for him, tangling her hand in the soft hair on the back of his neck. With her other hand, she pinches Don’s nipple as hard as she can. He comes with a scream.

Rian fucks her faster now, hand on her breast. He bites in her neck again, almost drawing blood, until she comes as well, all strength leaving her body so she falls on Don’s chest. Rian speeds up, fucks her pliant body harder and faster, until he groans and comes inside of her.

He falls down onto the bed next to them. They’re all breathing heavily, the room smelling of sweat and sex. Rian sits up first, pats her on the ass with a satisfied sigh, and gets up to pull on his clothes. “I’ll see you both at breakfast to discuss business,” he says. When he closes the door the room is quiet again.

Don pushes her off him suddenly, disappears into the bathroom.

Shaida closes her eyes. She’ll deal with him tomorrow. She feels numb, too tired and fucked out to care about any of it now.


They still haven’t said a word to one another by the time they arrive at a late breakfast. They’re not the only guests, and by far among the least important, but the Dame gestures for them to join her side, so they obey.

The food is rich and bountiful, and the windows open up onto an arboretum, filling the room with the smell of freshly watered plants. Even here you can’t smell the fires burning in the city.

“Still proud, I see,” the Dame says, pointing her glass at the red jewel resting between Shaida’s breasts.

Shaida shrugs. “I’m still alive.”

Rian chooses that moment to walk into the hall, shirt half-open, showing off the reddish scratch marks marring the dark skin of his throat and neck.

He smiles at his aunt and arches his brow at Shaida. Next to her, Don’s hand grabs her leg painfully, but she ignores him.

She leans over to the Dame and whispers to her, “it’s not only our bite that’s nasty.”

The Dame laughs loudly.

Shaida smiles into her tea. She’ll survive them all. The city is burning, so what’s another little fire?