His other arm fabricates from the darkness, suddenly around my midsection. Eldas envelops me as he pulls my body to his for the first time. His lean form is long and firm against me. My hands, awkward and inexperienced, land on his hips, quivering like skittish birds about to take flight.
Everything aches in that moment. The second his breath is on my face is the longest second of my life. I was right when I realized all those months ago that wanting to kiss someone makes all the difference.
And I have never wanted to kiss someone more than Eldas. This is not drunken desire. This is not loneliness or unattended needs.
I want him to kiss me. Now. Here. Forever.
He holds my eyes until the last moment. His lips meet mine and I burn.
I let out a whimper. He pulls me closer, heeding my unspoken command, trying to smother the blazing agony in me with his cool body. His tongue runs along my lips, seeking entry, and I grant it. Eldas deepens the kiss with cruel laziness.
More, my body demands with a need that makes me blush. I want his hands to move. I want those long fingers to brush down the curve of my neck, my breast, my hip. I want to feel things I’ve only known in concept. I want him to teach and guide me down all these carnal paths I’ve yet to walk.
But, to my supreme displeasure, he pulls away. His lips have a wet shine in the darkness and they curl into an unreadable smile. Color has flooded his face, giving it a natural hue once more.
“Luella,” he whispers, husky and deep. “You’re glowing.”
I realize it’s true. A barely perceptible glow covers my skin and dances with the darkness. Our powers radiate together, mingling, wrapping around each other in a dance of opposites.
“Then,” I reply with a sultry tone I wasn’t aware I could make, “I think you should keep kissing me. So that we may properly investigate this strange phenomena.”
His smile turns into a smug smirk and Eldas leans forward once more with hooded eyes. “My queen, ever the researcher.”
My queen. The words make me weak in the knees. They no longer fill me with fear. My queen. Those two words are almost as sweet as losing myself in the taste of his mouth.
“My king,” I murmur in reply. “Eldas, my king.” I am his, and he is mine.
Eldas holds me to him with a crushing grip the moment I say his name. He presses forward and I expect us to fall to the mossy ground below. But the shadows rise around us, and we slip between worlds.
My back settles into the quilted blanket that I loosely threw over my bed this morning. The mattress sighs around me, accepting my weight and Eldas’s. My arms wrap around his back, pulling him closer. I bend a knee and press my hips upward against his.
I’m clumsy, and no doubt awkward, but Eldas moves with me fluidly. He responds to my every movement with eager attention. He shifts just as I need him to and my breath hitches as he grinds against me for the first time.
Supporting himself with one hand frees the other to rove my body. I am outlined by his fingers. I am his to be molded and sculpted—his to cut from the night itself. With his index finger alone, he draws constellations into my clothing. Every point connected by a different aching need that I never knew I could feel so keenly.
His lips pull away and my eyes snap open as his teeth sink lightly into the flesh of my neck. Eldas kisses me like the creature of darkness that he is, determined to consume every last flicker of my light. Another groan slips past my lips and it fades into a pleasant sigh.
“Luella.” He growls my name, as hot and needy as the exhale it’s said on. I never knew my name could be such an erotic combination of sounds and caresses.
“Eldas,” I respond in equal measure. He grinds against me hard. A gasp escapes me at the feeling of him.
“I can leave.” Yet, as he speaks, his body contradicts him. He continues to kiss me. His hand hitches up my shirt, sliding over the plane of my stomach. How I’ve longed for him to touch me there again…
“Leave, and I will find you,” I whisper breathlessly in reply. “Leave me here, unsatisfied and yearning, and I will hunt you down, Eldas.”
His lips meet the shell of my ear and his fingers finally make their way up to my chest. The moan that his touch unleashes almost drowns out the husk of his whisper. “Oh, Luella, I would never even dream of leaving you unsatisfied or yearning.”
Then, as if to make good on that promise, his lips crush against mine. His weight pushes me farther into the bed and my hands come alive with permission I didn’t know they were waiting for. My nails dig into the lean muscles of his back as his hand closes around my breast.
For years, my body has been asleep. Now, like a dead limb returning to life, shocks and prickles dance across my entire being. I’ve never truly felt anything before now. I arch off the bed, pressing into him, begging him without words to touch me more—to give me all of these delicious desires that I have been denied.
Consume me, I want to say. But all that escapes are moans between increasingly eager kisses. The shadows darken, closing around us as he peels off my shirt. I take the opportunity to do the same and eagerly explore him with eyes, and hands, and mouth the second his broad chest is exposed.
He’s initially tense at my touch. His eyes follow my hands, explore my face, waiting for some kind of reaction. The only reaction I can offer him is a mixture of awe, admiration, and desire. The ridges of his muscles are illuminated by the faint glow of our magic. The sounds he releases as my nails lightly brush over his nipples drives me wild.
I want to go slow. I want to go fast. I want everything all at once and yet want the clock to stop so I may savor every second.
I’m too distracted by the taste of his mouth to be embarrassed by my own increasing nudity. The yearning is too strong to question my hands as they tug clumsily at his belt and trousers. Eldas’s fingers leave me to assist and I let out a moan that would make me blush under any other circumstances.
But I doubt nothing in this moment. My world has shrunk to pinhole focus on this man alone. This man? No. My husband.
Husband. The word smooths across my mind, as erotic as his caresses. It feels as right as his weight above me and his mouth upon me. This incredible, powerful being of a man is my husband. Through a twist of fate I never expected, our lives were forever entwined. I hook a leg around his hips, begging him closer with the movement.
Eldas hovers above me, his hair a waterfall of midnight that pools on the pillow around my head. His eyes study mine. I can see him probing for hesitation, waiting for me to back down.
I snake my fingers through his raven hair and pull his mouth to mine once more. There is nothing but magic and him. I invite both in me with a hiss and a sigh.
Eldas remains still and for a moment we simply exist, together as one. His hands caress my face as he continues to watch, waiting for yet more permission. Once I’m acclimated to him, I give a small nod and he pulls away only to quickly return again.
Our bodies move together, unrelenting. We are a chorus of gasps and moans. I never knew there were so many shades of shadow until I knew this man. He moves with all of them—through all of them—as ethereal, eternal, and incomprehensible as the Fade itself.
In that moment, we exist beyond time. We exist for every king and queen who came before us as the treaty is fulfilled in more than name. The redwood and iron thrones are finally united once more.
Somewhere distant, a clock chimes. For the second time, I wake hazy and exhausted. The events of the night before are as fresh as a hot summer’s rain on my mind. They’re as real as the heavy weight of Eldas’s arm around my middle.
Whatever glow covered my skin faded with the night that cloaked us. I wonder if it was my magic responding to his. Or perhaps it was my magic coming forward in a misguided instinct to protect me against my eternal opposite as he took me with fierce passion.
With a sigh that almost sounds content, I let my eyes flutter closed once more and I lace my fingers with his. He returns my grip but his breathing remains level. Even in his sleep, he reaches for me. His arm tightens, as if affirming the rogue thought.
I could spend forever like this. There’s no point in denying it. This prickly, awkward, and somewhat emotionally stinted man has become mine. And whether I intended to or not, I have allowed myself to become his.
But errant thoughts of what must be done—of my duty to this world and my own—finally pull me from the bed and that warm embrace. I slip out unnoticed into a gray dawn. Eldas murmurs as I grab my robe and tiptoe out of the room.
He finds me a few hours later on the terrace, overlooking the pools and the gardens. The journal he made a copy of for me is written in the old tongue. I can read it, but the words are stilted and grammar awkward, which makes for slow going. I’m searching for some kind of notion of balancing the two worlds. I can’t get that thought out of my head, even now.
But when I hear the door behind me open, I know that any hope I have of focusing on this lost queen’s journal has evaporated like the dew. A delightfully shirtless Eldas crosses over to where I’m sitting underneath the vine-covered arbor and sets down a steaming mug of tea.
Eldas sits in the chair opposite me and looks out over the gardens. I glance at him from the corner of my eye, but he doesn’t seem to notice. His focus rests solely on the mountain’s ridge. I can imagine him tracing the pathway that leads into the Fade. I wonder if he’s thinking of all the other keystones that need attending to.
“Thank you,” he says, finally. The words are soft and somewhat bashful. They bring a gentle heat to my cheeks.
“For last night?” I arch my eyebrows. “I should be thanking you for that as well.”
He looks away, eyes distant but expression relaxed, open, tender—all the emotions I never thought him capable of. “For allowing me to feel not so alone. For showing me every magnificent side of you. For giving me something I did not deserve but will cherish forever—not just last night, but our entire time together until this moment.”
When he brings his eyes back to me I don’t know how to react. My heart has swollen to the point that it pushes painfully against my ribs. I bite my lip, trying to stop myself from saying something foolish.