To take a larger role in the power games my father insisted on playing.
Sequined silk covered me from shoulder to ankle, the ivory tone similar to that of my skin and leaving little to the imagination. My sable hair flowed in straight lines down my back to kiss the curve of my spine and drape over my breasts, meeting my navel.
“My princess,” a velvet voice drawled.
Smirking, I peered over at the lord of the east and tipped my drink to him. “Good evening, Lord.”
With his hands tucked in the pockets of his black pants, he stepped out of the shadows in nothing else save for his black boots.
I swallowed hard at the muscular expanse of his chest, as well as the harsh etching of his pelvic area, which had me wondering, even if just for a second, what it would feel like to trace with my fingertips.
Shaking off the thought, I tilted my head as our eyes met. His wore a look of knowing, but it was the bored set to his mouth that really knocked me out of my trance. “Do you wish to take a closer look?” he teased. “If you stare at me like that again, I might just let you touch.” Those last words were weighted, low, as though what he’d wanted to say was beg you to touch.
I snorted, grinning. “Just observing how predictable you are, is all.”
His russet brow arched. “I can assure you, the last thing I am is predictable.”
I rolled my eyes, sipping the remainder of my wine. “I’m sure.”
His eyes darted behind me, hardening for a brief second, and I headed that way. The lord of the east might have been fun to look at, I was coming to realize, but he was no fun to be around.
My fingers dragged over trellises teeming with roses and flickering with fireflies, and I could have sworn I felt the lord’s eyes upon me until I’d walked out of view.
“You rob me of breath.”
A stuttered exhale left me as I turned to find Raiden leaning against a vine-strangled column with a goblet of wine.
His parents had departed swiftly after the celebration of our commitment to vow. He, however, had stayed behind.
When he’d cornered me in the hall outside the kitchens just two days later, I could scarcely mask my shock at seeing him. He’d invited me to ride with him. I’d said no and left him standing there as I went in search of Berron.
That was three days ago, and though I’d heard he was making himself quite at home—roaming the gardens, training with our soldiers, and undoubtedly flirting with nobility and staff alike—I hadn’t seen him since.
“You opted for pants instead of a shirt.” I sat, peering around at many a male wearing similar. “How boring.” My palm met the cool sandstone of the garden’s edge, and I crossed one leg over the other, my gown bending with my body like a fitted glove.
Raiden emptied his wine, and I watched his throat ripple as he swallowed. He then turned to the left, bending to scoop up more.
I allowed my eyes to trace every dip and solid line of his torso. Muscles moved in his abdomen and lower back as he straightened, and I noticed only a fine dusting of hair smattered his broad pectorals.
I didn’t bother hiding my assessment as he swung his legs closer, his feet bare and long toes curling over the cold ground.
He extended the hand with the goblet to me, and I lowered my brows at it. “I’d rather not drink wine that’s been sitting there, open for any enchantment or laced herbs.”
Raiden licked his teeth, then shrugged and drained the lot himself before tossing the goblet into the garden behind me and taking a seat.
“Smart, I suppose. But tell me, silk…” He leaned closer, close enough for the hairs dusting his arm to graze my own, his voice reminiscent of gravel over skin. “Doesn’t it get tedious, not allowing yourself to truly live this ever long existence of ours?”
My nails scratched at the stone as I turned my face to his. “Oh, I do plenty of living, Prince. Believe me.”
His eyes narrowed on mine, thick brows scrunching. “I believe you. Though I have it on good authority that you’ve not sought a lover since I arrived.”
I’d have to take the finger of whoever was feeding him information and ram it down their stupid throat. “Then you need to find a new source”—I bent close, my lips a hair’s breadth from his—“because they’re lying.”
His breath retreated, then plumed hot over my mouth, smelling of the berry-flavored wine. “Of all the lies I’ve ever heard, yours are by far the sweetest.”
I blinked, and then his hands were cupping my face and his lips caressing mine. It was a mere touch, a tease, and then he was standing and pulling me to my feet. “Walk with me.”