A remote region in the Pacific Northwest
600 years ago
“Why are we here, Maman?” Leonna raised her hand to shield her eyes from the bright sunlight.
A calm breeze filtered through the pines, whisking through the branches in a soft caress, but the familiar sound didn’t calm her nerves. On the contrary, the wind ratcheted up her excitement, her desire, her need. The prospect of participating in the Betram ritual sent a surge of adrenaline into her bloodstream. The evening’s rite was her chance to be free, if only for one night.
Maman glanced at her only daughter. Despite the scarf draped over her thin frame, the older female couldn’t hide the obvious pain evident in her stiff back. “This is a special place, Lea, one that changed my life. The Rock of Roan can change yours, too.”
“You really believe in the power of the stone?” A flutter built in Leonna’s gut.
“Roan’s rock and the sun brought your father and me together during a Betram ritual.” A familiar glimmer crossed her mother’s features, and her pale blue eyes held a radiant shine.
A small clearing surrounded the large boulder as if the old growth trees were afraid to get too close. Moss covered the stone’s northern edge, and the rock seemed out of place, a relic of a different time.
As Leonna approached the old sentinel, morning dew coated her toes. She glanced at the youth sandals she’d outgrown. New shoes were not an option, not with her father’s declining health. She touched the seashell in the center of her necklace. The smooth texture eased the ache in her chest, at least for the moment. With her brother, Corbin, in the tryouts for the warrior class, she was the only one to help her parents with the honey cart. Her sense of honor burned a hole in her soul, but she wouldn’t let her parents down.
Maman circled her finger in the air. “Turn around, Lea.”
A thrilling shiver crept up Leonna’s arms.
Maman’s cool fingers caressed the back of her neck as she flipped Leonna’s braid over her shoulder. The long hair tickled the skin on her arm leaving a trail of goosebumps in its wake. The chain holding her most precious gift slid from around her neck, and the cherished trinket landed in her palm. The rare shell, gilded in fine gold, reflected the sunlight.
Maman had obtained the rare object in trade from one of the humans who shared the forests and lived in strange dwellings made of mud and wood. Given to her when Leonna was a child, this piece represented hope. Leonna never took the necklace off, even wearing the jewelry to bed. She felt naked without the familiar weight against her chest.
She faced her mother. “What—”
Shhhh. Maman held a finger to her lips. Her eyes sparkled with amusement, the creases of her skin wrinkling, aging her before her time. “You must be ready for the ritual.”
The warmth from the early morning sun already coated Leonna’s skin in a fine sheen of sweat. The temperature would soar later. Today was the first day of summer, and tonight was the full moon. The occurrence happened approximately every thirty years. The pull of the sun and the moon on the same day brought out their beast, along with the urge to mate.
Betram was a Lemurian festival created to celebrate life and allow the beast the freedom to rut for one night without attachments, without restrictions—and to prevent the havoc that would ensue otherwise. All unbonded males and females of age were required to attend. She’d been a newb during the last ritual, too young to take part in the events. This time, at thirty-two, she was old enough. Now, she couldn’t wait to participate.
“What do you need my necklace for?” Her heart tripped at the thought of losing her precious piece.
“The energy from the sun works in tandem with the magic in the stone, infusing the gold with good luck.” Maman looked into the distance. A small smile curved her bottom lip. She placed her palm on the rock, caressing the smooth surface with her fingers as if remembering her own ritual many years ago. “Find a place that suits you, and leave the necklace there. Return before nightfall and good luck shall be yours.”
Leonna scrunched her eyebrows together. The ritual was all about releasing the beast and letting go, having fun. “But Maman…why do I need luck?”
Maman winked at her. “Many a Stiyaha has found their mate on this night. Perhaps you will as well.”
Ugh. Bonding to a male was not something she wanted. She’d already had one relationship that hadn’t ended well. She didn’t need another one. “Why would I want that? Males are so,” she waved her hand in the air, “demanding and possessive.”
A thin laugh burst from her mother’s throat, startling her. “Yes, but you’ll find them alluring and hard to resist tonight.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m interested in bonding to one of them.” Leonna clenched her fist around the shell, the gold chain bouncing against the back of her fingers, teasing them with the promise of hope and love. Her heart skipped a beat, the traitorous organ giving away her innermost desire. She pursed her lips.
“If you don’t want to bond, then you won’t. The luck is the hope that you will find what you really want, be that love, courage, faith, or whatever your soul craves.”
Find what you really want. The words echoed in Leonna’s mind. A swell of energy made her chest expand. I want to paint. Her love of painting had been instilled in her from an early age. She still remembered her first brush and how she’d swayed to her own rhythm, creating her painted canvases. Others had marveled at her work, commending her for her style and attention to detail.
A sharp pain radiated from her chest. That was before the accident.
Leonna looked at her index finger, the one remaining digit on her right hand. She still painted, when she could get away from her responsibilities at the family honey cart. The paintings were good, but she’d lost her special touch. With a loud exhale, she bit her lip.
Maman placed a warm hand on her forearm. “My daughter, fear not. My maman did this for me at my first Betram ritual, as her maman did for her. This necklace,” she touched Leonna’s closed fist, “was made for this very occasion. I gave the shell to you on your first birthday in anticipation of tonight.”
Leonna stared into her maman’s eyes, moist with unshed tears. Her chest tightened at the realization of how much her maman loved her. She threw her arms around her mother’s neck. The scent of cherries filled Leonna’s senses, and her heart swelled all the more.
“Thank you, Maman,” she whispered.
Stepping back, she studied the boulder, searching for the perfect spot. Placing the gilded shell on a small bump, she gently straightened the chain, making sure as much gold as possible absorbed the sun’s rays. She’d be back before nightfall to collect the precious gift. A lump formed in her throat. Now, if she only knew what she really wanted.
The Betram ritual, when the full moon occurs on the summer solstice, is a sexual rite—and a requirement—for all unbonded Stiyaha of age. The irresistible urge to mate drives their inner beasts. Some succumb and transform, while others hide behind masks. None can escape the compelling need.
For Leonna, Betram offers one night of freedom from a destiny she doesn’t want. Eager to participate, she’s drawn to a formidable male whose tenderness burrows into her soul. Despite discovering she’s below his status, she is caught up in their passionate frenzy, and loses her heart to a male she can never have.
Though reluctant, as an unbonded male, Prince Nicholai must participate in the Betram ritual. Because he fears harming anyone he gets close to, he dons his mask and vows to stay in human form. What he doesn’t expect is the intensity of his hunger for a certain honeyed female hidden behind a disguise. As much as he longs to forget her, he can’t, for she’s unforgettable.
After finishing a rewarding career in finance and accounting, it was time for Rosalie Redd to put away the spreadsheets and take out the word processor. She writes Fantasy/Science Fiction Romance inspired by classics from the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres layered with a good, hot dose of romance.
She lives in Oregon, where rain is just another excuse to keep writing. When not at her computer, you can find her at Jazzercise, waterfall collecting in the Pacific Northwest, or relaxing with her husband and their pesky cat, Snookums.