Even in the candlelight, I could see how tight his breeches were, how they gloved his body, leaving very little to the imagination.
And I had a vast imagination thanks to the Ladies’ frequent tendency to overshare, and my frequent tendency to listen in on conversations.
A strange curling sensation hit my lower stomach. It wasn’t unpleasant. Not at all. It was warm and tingling, reminding me of my first sip of bubbly champagne.
Hawke stepped toward me, and my muscles tensed to run, but I held myself still by sheer will. I knew I should’ve stepped away. I should’ve spoken and revealed that I wasn’t Britta. I should’ve left immediately. The way he prowled toward me, his long legs eating up the distance between us, told me his intent, even if he hadn’t removed his tunic. And while I had little—all right, absolutely no experience—I inherently knew that if he reached me, he would touch me. He may do even more. He might kiss me.
And that was forbidden.
I was the Maiden, the Chosen. Not to mention, he thought I was another woman, and he’d obviously been in this room with someone else before I got here. That didn’t mean he’d been with someone, but he could’ve.
I still didn’t move or speak.
I waited, my heart beating so fast I felt faint. Tiny tremors racked my hands and legs.
And I never trembled.
What are you doing? whispered the reasonable, sane voice in my head.
Living, I whispered back.
And being incredibly stupid, the voice countered.
I was, but again, I stood there.
Senses hyperaware, I watched as Hawke stopped in front of me and lifted his hands, gripping the back of the hood with one. For a moment, I thought he might pull it back, and the charade would be over, but that wasn’t what he did. The hood only slipped back a couple of inches.
“I don’t know what kind of game you’re about tonight.” His deep voice was husky. “But I’m willing to find out.”
His other arm came around my waist. A gasp left me as he hauled me to his chest. This was nothing like the brief embraces I’d received from Vikter. I’d never been held by a man like this. There wasn’t an inch between his chest and mine. The contact was a jolt to my senses.
He lifted me up onto the tips of my toes, then clear off my feet. His strength was staggering since I wasn’t exactly light. Stunned, my hands landed on his shoulders. The heat of his hard skin seemed to burn through my gloves and the cloak and thin white gown I usually slept in.
His head slanted, and I felt the warmth of his breath on my lips. A tight tremor of anticipation coiled its way down my spine at the same moment my stomach dipped with uncertainty. There was no time for the two warring emotions to battle. He pivoted and strode forward with the same kind of feline grace I’d seen from him before. In a matter of a few stuttering heartbeats, he was guiding us down, his grip strong but careful, as if he were aware of his strength. He came down over me, his hand still behind my head, his weight a shock as he pressed me into the bed, and then his mouth was on mine.
Hawke kissed me.
There was nothing sweet or soft, like I’d imagined a kiss to be. It was hard and overwhelming, claiming, and when I sucked in a sharp breath, he took advantage, deepening the kiss. His tongue touched mine, startling me. Panic flared in the pit of my stomach, but so did something else, something far more powerful, a pleasure I hadn’t experienced before. He tasted of the golden liquor I’d once snuck, and I felt that stroke of his tongue in every part of me. It was in the shivers that erupted all over my skin, in the inexplicable heaviness in my chest, in that curling, tightening sensation below my navel and even lower still where there was a sudden, throbbing pulse between my legs. I shuddered, my fingers digging into his flesh, and I suddenly wished I hadn’t worn gloves because I wanted to feel his skin, and I doubted I’d be in any shape to concentrate on what he was feeling. His head tilted, and I felt the brush of his oddly sharp—
Without warning, he broke the kiss and lifted his head. “Who are you?”
Thoughts oddly slow and skin humming, I blinked open my eyes. Dark hair fell forward onto his forehead. His features were shadowed in the soft, flickering light, but I thought his lips looked as swollen as mine felt.
Hawke acted too fast for me to track the movement, tugging my hood back, exposing my masked face. His brows lifted as the haze cleared from my thoughts. My heart jumped around in my chest for a whole different reason, even though my lips still tingled from the kiss.
My first kiss.
Hawke’s golden-eyed gaze rose to my head, and he shifted his hand out from behind my neck. I tensed as he picked up a strand of my hair, drawing it out so it shone a deep auburn in the candlelight. His head tilted to the left.
“You are most definitely not who I thought you were,” he murmured.
“How did you know?” I blurted out.
“Because the last time I kissed the owner of this cloak, she damn near sucked my tongue down her throat.”
“Oh,” I whispered. Was I supposed to have done that? It didn’t sound like it would be something enjoyable.
He stared down at me, gaze assessing as he remained with half his body atop mine. One of his legs was thrust between mine, and I had no idea exactly when that had happened. “Have you been kissed before?”
My face caught fire. Oh, gods, was it that obvious? “I have!”
One side of his lips kicked up. “Do you always lie?”
“No!” I immediately lied.
“Liar,” he murmured, his tone almost teasing.
Embarrassment flooded my system, suffocating the shivery pleasure as if I’d been doused in cold, winter sleet. I pushed at his bare chest. “You should get off.”
“I was planning to.”
The way he said it made my eyes narrow.
Hawke laughed, and it was…it was the first time I’d heard him do so. When I saw him in the Hall, he was quiet and stoic like most guards, and I’d only seen that half-grin of his while he trained. But never a laugh. And with the anguish I knew lingered below the surface, I wasn’t quite sure that he ever laughed.
But he had now, and it sounded real, deep, and nice, and it rumbled through me, all the way to the tips of my toes. I was slow to realize that this was the most I’d heard him speak. He had a slight accent, an almost musical lilt to his tone. I couldn’t quite place it, but I’d only ever been to the capital and here, and it was not often that many spoke to me or around me if they knew I was present. The accent could be quite common for all I knew.
“You really should move,” I told him, even though I liked the weight of him.
“I’m quite comfortable where I am,” he added.
“Well, I’m not.”
“Will you tell me who you are, Princess?”
“Princess?” I repeated. There were no Princesses or Princes in the entire kingdom beyond the Dark One, who called himself such. Not since Atlantia had ruled.
“You are quite demanding.” He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I imagine a Princess to be demanding.”
“I am not demanding,” I stated. “Get off me.”
He arched a brow. “Really?”
“Telling you to move is not being demanding.”
“We’ll have to disagree on that.” He paused. “Princess.”
My lips twitched in wry humor, but I managed to stifle the smile. “You shouldn’t call me that.”
“Then what should I call you? A name, perhaps?”
“I’m…I’m no one,” I told him.
“No One? What a strange name. Do girls with a name like that often make a habit of wearing other people’s clothing?”
“I’m not a girl,” I snapped.
“I would sure hope not.” He paused, lips curling down at the corners. “How old are you?”
“Old enough to be in here, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“In other words, old enough to be masquerading as someone else, allowing others to believe you’re another person and then allowing them to kiss—”
“I get what you’re saying,” I cut him off. “Yes, I’m old enough for all those things.”
One eyebrow rose. “I’ll tell you who I am, although I have a feeling you already know. I’m Hawke Flynn.”
“Hi,” I said, feeling foolish for doing so.
The dimple in his right cheek deepened. “This is the part where you tell me your name.”
My lips nor my tongue moved.
“Then I’ll have to keep calling you Princess.” His eyes were much warmer now, and I wanted to see if the pain had eased but managed to resist. I thought that perhaps his pain had gone away. If so…
“The least you can do is tell me why you didn’t stop me,” he said before I could give in to the curiosity and reach out with my senses.
I had no idea how I could answer that when I didn’t fully understand it myself.
One side of his lips quirked up. “I’m sure it’s more than my disarming good looks.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Of course.”
Another short, surprised-sounding laugh left him. “I think you just insulted me.”
Chagrined, I winced. “That’s not what I meant—”
“You’ve wounded me, Princess.”
“I highly doubt that. You have to be more than well aware of your appearance.”
“I am. It has led to quite a few people making questionable life choices.”
“Then why did you say you were insulted—?” Realizing he was teasing me and feeling foolish for not seeing that right away, I pushed at his chest once more. “You’re still lying on me.”
I took a breath. “It’s quite rude of you to continue doing so when I’ve made it clear that I would like for you to move.”
“It’s quite rude of you to barge into my room dressed as—”
He raised a brow. “I wouldn’t call her that.”