My breathing had only half slowed when I thought we were done. And then I was face down in the bedding as he entered me from behind, delirious and shaking.
On and on it went until the sun began to trace the shadows in the room, and my fingers did the same to his muscular back as he lay over top of me, sweating and breathing heavily.
I was nearing sleep when he finally spoke, his voice rough and hoarse. “Are you okay?”
“Perfect,” I yawned. For I was, though I knew it was likely I’d think differently some hours later. “Are you?”
My legs, still wound around his waist, tightened. “On?”
“Did you mean what you said?” He rose, his hair, freed from its tie, falling around his face. “My queen.” He pushed some hair out of mine, studying me with bright eyes and flashing teeth. “Eternally my queen.”
Wiggling beneath him as he thickened inside me, I smiled. “Yes.”
Horses shifted and snorted, singing birds and quiet chatter drifting to the trees as I walked outside the tavern and made my way to the stables.
Eyes, too many of them, fell upon me before quickly darting away.
I frowned but continued, running into Azela as one of the soldiers brought me Wen.
Her lips were pinched; her eyes careful not to connect with mine as I took the reins from Markus. “Majesty,” he said without looking at me, bowing low and then walking off.
I watched him go. Understanding slow to dawn, I turned to Azela. “Was it that obvious?”
She coughed, patting Wen. “Just… um, loud, Majesty.”
Darkness swallow me.
I sighed. “Everyone heard?”
“I’d not be surprised if they did.” She lifted her head, her uninjured eye laughing. “If I may be frank, some were making bets on whether the tavern would rock to pieces.” She then added, “I heard it was raining dust.”
My nose twitched with annoyance. With nothing to do for it, I stuck my boot in the stirrup and swung up onto Wen, determined to ignore any whispers and laughter.
Then I hissed, wincing as I tried to get comfortable in the saddle. “Oh, fuck.”
Azela couldn’t hold it in and burst into all-out giggles, waving her hand as she mumbled, “Sorry, I’m so sorry.”
My lips curled, but I shook the smile away and headed for the growing crowd of people readying to leave. Zad was already there, his head thrown back as he laughed at something one of his stupid friends said.
When he saw me, his eyes turned feverish, but he only nodded. “Good morning, my queen.”
Eternally my queen.
Words of the vow, yet they’d now taken on a whole new meaning. It took considerable effort to keep my tone aloof as I muttered, “So it is.”
A snort from Landen had Zad reaching around to punch him, but the chuckling male was too quick, darting away to his horse.
I rolled my eyes and gave my attention to Garris while he filled me in on today’s plans.
After a moment, I stopped him. “Where is General Rind?”
Zad cursed, and Azela looked over, her expression pained. “He was gravely injured.”
“Answer the question,” I snapped.
Even Landen’s head lowered as a strangling silence descended upon our assembly.
If you let them see your heart, do not complain when they tear it apart.
I shoved my mother’s voice away and steeled my shoulders. “Does he live?” I was glad the question was steady, almost flat.
Garris answered. “No, my queen. He requested we leave him.”
On the battlefield where many noble idiots like himself wanted to die.
I nodded, and we started to file out.
The leather of my gloves creaked, my fingers clenching and unclenching the reins as I remembered the times Rind had snuck me sweets while on duty. The unflinching loyalty he had for my father and our family—when it was not deserved.
He’d had no other family, no partner, no offspring. He’d served us for his entire, long, tedious life. It shamed me to wonder if it had contained much in the way of joy at all.
Zad rode quietly beside me, shielding me from requests and questions, but somehow, his presence was all the comfort I needed. Words were often completely useless.
Zad’s silence ended a few hours later when we’d stopped at a lake to wash and allow the horses to drink. “We need to talk.”
“About?” I splashed water over my cheeks and rubbed.
He threw a glance around, but I’d chosen a nice cozy spot on the opposite bank, wanting to be alone. It was bad enough we’d had to travel for days, let alone having to endure so many people’s company, their aches and scents and grief and exhaustion.
I needed to be alone.
I gave him my eyes when he didn’t respond and found him staring at me. He searched my face, seeming to be waiting for something.
He’d be waiting a while. “What?”
His lashes dropped to my neck. You couldn’t see the marks left from his canines, but I could feel them. I was willing to bet he could too, somehow. “I want you.”