Dark, sensual promise lay in his star-flecked eyes.
I bit my lip as I approached the rolled arm of the couch and perched on it, my dress glittering like a river in the firelight.
“You look beautiful tonight.” His words were low, rough.
I stroked a hand down the lap of my gown, the fabric shimmering beneath my fingers. “You say that every night.”
“And mean it.”
I blushed. “Cad.”
He inclined his head.
“I know High Ladies are probably supposed to wear a new dress every day,” I mused, smiling at the gown, “but I’m rather attached to this one.”
He ran his hand down my thigh. “I’m glad.”
“You never told me where you got it—where you got all my favorite dresses.”
Rhys arched a dark brow. “You never figured it out?”
I shook my head.
For a moment, he said nothing, his head dipping to study the dress.
“My mother made them.”
I went still.
Rhys smiled sadly at the shimmering gown. “She was a seamstress, back at the camp where she’d been raised. She didn’t just do the work because she was ordered to. She did it because she loved it. And when she mated my father, she continued.”
I grazed a reverent hand down my sleeve. “I—I had no idea.”
His eyes were star-bright. “Long ago, when I was still a boy, she made them—all your gowns. A trousseau for my future bride.” His throat bobbed. “Every piece … Every piece I have ever given you to wear, she made them. For you.”
My eyes stung as I breathed, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
He shrugged with one shoulder. “I thought you might be … disturbed to wear gowns made by a female who died centuries ago.”
I put a hand over my heart. “I am honored, Rhys. Beyond words.”
His mouth trembled a bit. “She would have loved you.”
It was as great a gift as any I’d been given. I leaned down until our brows touched. I would have loved her.
I felt his gratitude without him saying a word as we remained there, breathing each other in for long minutes.
When I could finally speak again, I pulled away. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Should I be worried?”
I slapped his boots, and he laughed, deep and rasping, the sound curling around my core.
I showed him my palms, the eye in both of them. “I want these changed.”
“Since you’re no longer using them to snoop on me, I figured they could be something else.”
He set a hand on his broad chest. “I never snoop.”
“You’re the greatest busybody I’ve ever met.”
Another laugh. “And what, exactly, do you want on your palms?”
I smiled at the paintings I’d done on the walls, the mantel, the tables. Thought of the tapestry I’d bought. “I want a mountain—with three stars.” The Night Court insignia. “The same that you have on your knees.”
Rhys was quiet for a long time, his face unreadable. When he spoke, his voice was low. “Those are markings that can never be altered.”
“It’s a good thing I plan to be here for a while, then.”
Rhys slowly sat up, unbuttoning the top of his tight black jacket. “You’re sure?”
I nodded slowly.
He moved to stand before me, gently taking my hands in his, turning them palm-up. To the cat’s eye that stared at us. “I never snooped, you know.”
“You certainly did.”
“Fine, I did. Can you forgive me?”
He meant it—the worry that I’d deemed his glimpses a violation. I rose onto my toes and kissed him softly. “I suppose I could find it in me.”
“Hmmm.” He brushed a thumb over the eye inked into both of my palms. “Any last words before I mark you forever?”
My heart thundered, but I said, “I have one last Solstice gift for you.”
Rhys went still at my soft voice, the tremble in it. “Oh?”
Our hands linked, I caressed the adamant walls of his mind. The barriers immediately fell, allowing me in. Allowing me to show him that last gift.
What I hoped he’d deem as a gift, too.
His hands began shaking around mine, but he said nothing until I’d retreated from his mind. Until we were staring at each other again in silence.
His breathing turned ragged, his eyes silver-lined. “You’re sure?” he repeated.
Yes. More than anything. I’d realized it, felt it, in the weaver’s gallery. “Would it be … Would it indeed be a gift for you?” I dared ask.
His fingers tightened around mine. “Beyond measure.”
As if in answer, light flared and sizzled along my palms, and I peered down to find my hands altered. The mountain and three stars gracing the heart of each palm.
Rhys was still staring at me, his breathing uneven.
“We can wait,” he said quietly, as if fearful of the snow falling outside hearing our whispered words.
“I don’t want to,” I said, and meant it. The weaver had made me realize that, too. Or perhaps just see clearly what I’d quietly wanted for some time now.
“It could take years,” he murmured.
“I can be patient.” He lifted a brow at that, and I smiled, amending, “I can try to be patient.”
His own answering smile set me grinning.
Rhys leaned in, brushing a kiss to my neck, right beneath my ear. “Shall we begin tonight, mate?”
My toes curled. “That was the plan.”
“Mmm. Do you know what my plan was?” Another kiss, this one to the hollow of my throat as his hands slipped around my back and began to undo the hidden buttons of my dress. That precious, beautiful dress. I arched my neck to give him better access, and he obliged, his tongue flicking over the spot he’d just kissed.
“My plan,” he went on, the dress sliding from me to pool on the rug, “involved this cabin, and a wall.”
My eyes opened just as his hands began to trace long lines along my bare back. Lower.
I found Rhys smiling down at me, his eyes heavy-lidded while he surveyed my naked body. Naked, save for the diamond cuffs at my wrists. I went to remove them, but he murmured, “Leave them.”
My stomach tightened in anticipation, my breasts turning achingly heavy.
I unbuttoned the rest of his jacket, fingers shaking, and peeled it from him, along with his shirt. And his pants.
Then he was standing naked before me, wings slightly flared, muscled chest heaving, showing me the full evidence of just how ready he was.
“Do you want to begin at the wall, or finish there?” His words were guttural, barely recognizable, and the gleam in his eyes turned into something predatory. He slid a hand down the front of my torso in brazen possessiveness. “Or shall it be the wall the entire time?”
My knees buckled, and I found myself beyond words. Beyond anything but him.
Rhys didn’t wait for my answer before kneeling before me, his wings draping over the rug. Before he pressed a kiss to my abdomen, as if in reverence and benediction. Then pressed a kiss lower.
My hand slid into his hair, just as he gripped one of my thighs and hoisted my leg over his shoulder. Just as I found myself somehow leaning against the wall near the doorway, as if he’d winnowed us. My head hit the wood with a soft thud as Rhys lowered his mouth to me.
He took his time.
Licked and stroked me until I’d shattered, then laughed against me, dark and rich, before he rose to his full height.
Before he hoisted me up, my legs wrapping around his waist, and pinned me against that wall.
One arm braced on the wall, the other holding me aloft, Rhys met my eyes. “How shall it be, mate?”
In his stare, I could have sworn galaxies swirled. In the shadows between his wings, the glorious depths of the night dwelled.
“Hard enough to make the pictures fall off,”
I reminded him, breathless.
He laughed again, low and wicked. “Hold on tight, then.”
Mother above and Cauldron save me.
My hands slid onto his shoulders, digging into the hard muscle.