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Part 5

See Prologue for disclaimers.

After being led to a large bedroom Alean, was left alone. A quick check revealed a door that led to a bathing chamber, where the large bathtub was already filled with hot water. A door at the other end of the chamber led to another larger bedroom and another led into the wide hallway. Unable to resist the temptation of a hot bath and noting that no one was in the other room, Alean quickly stripped and settled gratefully into the water. The sheer pleasure of being in a real bath, for the first time in weeks, was enough to make her purr in contentment. Washing quickly, she then rested her head against the edge, closed her eyes and let herself sink into the steamy warmth.

When Kaia entered the chamber from the other bedroom, she found the Alean, half asleep, still soaking in the tub. Leaning against the door frame, she took a moment to study the naked form presented to her. She took in the wet blond hair, full breasts and flat stomach. When her searching eyes finally reached the darker blond hairs covering Alean's sex, she almost moaned at the sight. Quickly bringing her eyes back to the smaller woman's face, she found two green eyes studying her curiously in return.

As Alean slowly sat up in the large tub, Kaia found herself sinking into the green depths of Alean's eyes. Alean, in return, was unable to turn away from deep brown of Kaia's eyes. After what seemed an eternity, Alean was the one to look away first. Still feeling Kaia's eyes on her, she felt a blush beginning to rise. Trying to distract the tall warrior, she asked, "Is there something you want?" She immediately turned crimson when she glanced at Kaia and saw the broad grin on the older woman's face. In the silence that followed, Alean could feel the blush spreading from her face downwards as her whole body began to flush under Kaia's frank stare.

Finally, after enjoying the other woman's reaction to the fullest, Kaia, still grinning, answered, "I want a bath. Are you almost done, or do you want to just share yours?"

Ignoring her blush and her other, hopefully, less visible reactions to Kai's question, Alean rose from the tub and padded naked towards a table holding several large towels. Since the table was near the spot Kaia was standing Kaia had a clear view of Alean's lithe, muscular body as she approached. With a small smile of satisfaction, she noted that now Kaia was flushed as well, and if she was not mistaken, the taller woman was also breathing faster. Saying nothing, she took a towel and, carrying, but not using it, turned and walked across the chamber to her room.

From the instant Alean had stood in the tub, Kaia was speechless. Watching the water cascade down the slender body had made her mouth instantly go dry and her pulse speed up. As the smaller woman approached Kaia found herself unable to move, and was surprised to notice her feeling of disappointment when Alean stopped at the table to retrieve a towel before turning away and retreating to the door of the other bedroom. Even after Alean had closed the door, Kaia stood, still as a statue, staring at the spot as if Alean might come back into the room. Only the sudden gurgling sound of the last of the water draining from the tub, brought her back to reality as she moved to the tub to put the stopper back in and pull the levers so that the tub would refill. 'This is going to be very interesting.' she thought to herself as she slowly stripped and stepped into the tub to wash the desert from her own body.

Kaia rarely entertained. The large room that was, for this evening, a dining room, usually held only one large table and except for a few couches and chests, was otherwise quite bare. This room was used more often as a meeting room and office. Even on those occasions, when she had invited her officers to dine with her, there had always been more than enough room without the need to change the usual arrangement. Now, for tonight, there had been changes. It had not taken long for what little furniture there was to be moved and extra tables brought in to accommodate the number of people now milling about. There had been no need to actually remove the other furnishings, they had merely been pushed back against the wall and the extra tables had been arranged into a U pattern in the center of the room.

Kaia surveyed the men standing around the large dining room and wished she had not had the idea of an unofficial welcoming dinner for the visiting Tharins. Normally, she would have left such duties to her officers and avoided the matter entirely, but she had been serious when she had told Raneck that she wanted to see how the Tharins would react to the lone Calani in their midst. Present also were a group of her own officers, as well as Darash, who's presence had been requested by the Tharins. In Kaia's eyes, the evening was proving to be a dismal failure. Until now, all the officers, without exception, had studiously avoided the girl. Some had even gone as far as riding in a wide arc around the wagon in which the injured woman had traveled. Though they had been quite willing to relate every tale of atrocities committed by the Calani, they had been unwilling to speak to, or even about, Alean at all. Alean, for her part, had spent much of her waking time, for the first few days of travel, carefully watching the Tharins. Once it became apparent that there would be no trouble from the Tharins, she had blithely ignored them for the remainder of the trip. Now the same was being played out in the large room. The Tharins were standing at one end of the room, trying so hard to ignore Alean that they were practically staring. Alean was talking quietly with Raneck at the other end and actually was ignoring the Tharins, much to the dismay of the Tharins themselves, who tried harder to ignore the girl, with even less success than before.

Ignoring the voices around her, Kaia closed her eyes and witnessed again Alean's nude, glistening body crossing the length of the bathing chamber. 'It's been way too long' Kaia thought. As she reopened her eyes the first thing she saw was Alean watching her, with a small, knowing grin. 'She can't possibly know what I was thinking.' Kaia reminded herself as she moved without conscious thought towards the small blond.

When she reached the smaller woman, Alean's grin widened and Kaia raised a questioning brow. "You are totally bored, aren't you?" Alean asked.

"How can you tell?" was the sardonic reply.

"Well, you keep scowling at everyone and when you're not doing that, you keep closing your eyes, as if you're trying to see something a thousand miles away." Alean was surprised when she noticed the beginnings of a blush trying to creep up the tanned cheeks.

Kaia was saved from trying to respond when the servants entered and began laying out dinner.

Alean looked around the table with some curiosity. To her left was Raneck, who had kept her company from the time she had entered the room. To her right, at the head of the table, was Kaia. She hadn't expected to be seated so close to the dark woman and she found the closeness distracting. She barely noticed to raucous behavior of Kaia's men or the tense attitudes of the Tharins seated nearby. Though the food was well prepared and plentiful she barely touched her food. She could sense the warmth of Kaia's skin and her nearness had the quality of a physical touch. She found herself wondering what Kaia's touch would actually feel like. 'It's been way too long.' she thought to herself. It wasn't until she felt Raneck's touch on her arm that she realized that the stocky man was speaking to her.

"Are you all right?" he asked her. "You've barely touched your food."

"I'm fine." Alean replied hastily. "I'm just not very hungry."

"I guess it's hard to have an appetite with so many of your people's enemies in the same room." Raneck commented.

Alean shrugged and didn't reply. She was not about to admit to her new friend that it was Kaia that was affecting her appetite. Raneck had been nothing but kind to her since her first day among the Alorians. Though the man's obvious crush was an annoyance to her, she found that she genuinely liked him. During the long days traveling the desert, he had made it a point of checking on her often and Alean had found that she genuinely enjoyed his company. Though she had told him nothing of herself or her people, they had managed to get to know one another and the friendship that had grown between them was real.

'It must seem strange," said a low voice on her right, "to be having dinner with people who have been your enemy all your life."

Alean turned from Raneck and found herself staring into Kaia's deep brown eyes. She lost herself drinking in the beauty of the woman leaning towards her and almost didn't answer until a fine dark brow arched in amusement. Taking a breath the calm her racing heart, she answered, "I don't know how to describe it. I suppose strange is a good start though." She said nothing more as she noticed the Tharins suddenly staring at her with open hostility.

Noticing the look Kaia grinned slightly, "It's going to be even more strange in a minute." she whispered to the blond. Raising her voice she said clearly, "I don't think you have been properly introduced to my other guests."

Alean saw the looks from the men in question and barely managed to suppress a laugh. "No I haven't." she said.

"This is Kagan, to his right is Oban....." as Kaia named each man Alean saw the same reaction. Their hatred was an almost physical thing, but none dared to offend their host. Still she nodded politely to each one in turn and this time did grin, as the men reddened with barely suppressed rage at being forced to acknowledge the girl.

Total silence fell around the table as the introductions were completed. Even the dozen or so, of Kaia's men present were still, as the tension in the room became almost a physical thing. Both women quietly took in the reaction of the men around them. Alean, waited for the explosion she was sure would come. Kaia merely watched. Only Darash seemed unconcerned by the sudden change in the already tense atmosphere.

Leaning towards Kagan he laughed as he said, "I can't believe this. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were afraid of this little girl."

"Of course not," Kagan sputtered. "We have no fear of any Calani."

"I wonder," started Kaia, "If you don't fear them, why all the stories? You've been telling my men a lot of things that would make any man fear them."

"They aren't stories." Kagan blurted "Only those, who know no fear, can dare to stop them."

"Your stories are of strange monsters and magics. Are you saying that the Calani deal in such things?" Kaia asked, with a quick glance to Alean who was grinning slightly as if amused by some private joke.

"They play at such things, My Lord," stated Darash. "Of course, their wizards are few and of limited skill. They are of no threat to anyone with any real ability in the art of magic." He finished, as he directed a condescending look to Alean.

Kaia turned fully to observe Alean, "It that true? Do your people use magic against the Tharins?"

Alean was about to offer some glib response when she noticed the intense look on Kaia's face. For some reason, this question was very important to the dark woman. Hoping for a safe answer she replied, "There are wizards among us, but we do not magic in battle."

Before Kaia could respond Darash snorted, "So you say, and what would you know of magic?"

'If only you knew.' Alean thought as Darash, not so subtly, changed the subject. As the room gradually came back to life around her, Alean began to relax. Only Kaia's frank appraisal made it clear that this conversation would be continuing sometime soon.

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