My eyes narrowed. “That may be true, but that is one thing I do know.”
“You’re wrong. And I can prove it.”
“Whatever.” I sighed.
“I can, and when I’m done, right before you drift off to sleep with a smile on your face, you’re going to tell me I’m right,” he told me.
“Doubtful,” I said, wishing that he could actually do—
The hand that had been dangling in the air was suddenly flat against my upper stomach, startling me.
My head jerked back around. “What are you doing?”
“Relaxing you,” he said, and all I could tell was that his head was dipped.
“How is this relaxing me?”
“Wait, and I’ll show you.”
I started to tell him that he didn’t need to show me anything, but then his hand began to move in slow, small circles. My mouth fell shut. Somehow, he’d gotten that hand between the folds of my blanket, through the cloak, and under the sweater to move against my thin undershirt. He moved those fingers in circles, first in small, tight ones, and then larger arcs until his fingers reached below my navel and his thumb almost brushed the undersides of my breasts. All he was doing was rubbing my belly, but it was new and different and it felt like…like more than that. A warm, shivery sensation radiated from his hand.
“I don’t think this is making me relaxed.”
“It would if you’d stop trying to strain your neck.” Suddenly, his head lowered, and his lips touched my cheek. “Lay back down, Poppy.”
I did what he said only because of how close his mouth had been to mine.
“When you listen to me, I think the stars will fall.” He followed me down so he spoke just above my ear. “I wish I could capture this moment somehow.”
“Well, now I want to lift my head again.”
“Why am I not surprised?” The sweep of his touch drifted lower, now below my navel. “But if you did, then you wouldn’t find out what I have planned. And if I know anything about you, it’s that you’re curious.”
An answering warmth bloomed under his hand and spread lower. I sent a nervous glance to the guard. “I…I don’t think this should happen.”
“What is this?” His fingers brushed the band of my breeches, causing me to jerk. “I have a better question for you. Why did you go to the Red Pearl, Poppy? Why did you let me kiss you under the willow?”
I opened my mouth, but his lips brushed the curve of my cheek, stealing my words.
“You were there to live. Isn’t that what you said? You let me pull you into that empty chamber to experience life. You let me kiss you under the willow because you wanted to feel. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.” His lips coasted back up my cheek, sending a fine shiver over my skin. “Why can’t tonight be that?”
My eyes closed briefly and then reopened, fixed on the guard.
“Let me show you just a little of what you missed by not coming back to the Red Pearl.”
“The guards,” I whispered, and it wasn’t lost on me that they were my concern. Not the gods. Not the rules. Not what I was.
“No one can see what I’m doing.” His hand moved, slipping down and between my thighs. I gasped as he cupped me through the pants that no longer felt thick at all. “But we know they’re there.”
I could barely breathe around the sharp swirl of sensation that settled low in my stomach and made my chest feel heavy, achy.
“They have no idea what’s going on. No clue that my hand is between the thighs of the Maiden.” His voice was a hot whisper as he pulled me back and pressed against me, causing another puff of air to escape my lips. My rear nestled into the cradle of his hips. He made a deep, rumbling sound that sent a flash of heat through me. “They have no idea that I’m touching you.”
And then he was no longer just palming me. He was touching me, rubbing two of his fingers over the seam of the pants, over the very center of me. A rush of damp heat flooded me. My gaze dropped, and I almost expected to see what he was doing under the blanket.
I saw nothing in the darkness.
But I felt everything.
How did we get here? I couldn’t quite figure it out, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I’d had a taste before of what I was feeling now, and just a tease seemed so unfair. And wasn’t that what living meant? Taking more than a sip here and small bite there. It was all about gulping and swallowing as much as you could.
I wanted to feel as much as I could, especially after feeling nothing but pain and anger for so long. I felt none of that now.
I would be in the capital soon, and it was quite possible that my Ascension would happen sooner than expected. And if I came back from it, I knew beyond a doubt that whoever I ended up with wouldn’t make me feel half of what Hawke always seemed to elicit from me, whether it be irritation and anger, laughter and amusement, or this—this consuming, rippling wave of acute pleasure.
His fingers toyed with the stitching, pushing in just hard enough that I felt the touch all the way to the tips of my toes. Every part of my body became hyperaware.
How did he think this was going to help me sleep?
I was wide-awake now, pulse pounding and heart crashing, and he was touching, rubbing me in a way that caused my hips to twitch.
He dragged his hand up the front of the breeches. His palm brushed along the bare flesh of my lower stomach. Those long fingers settled over a throbbing point and moved in slow, steady circles. “I bet you’re soft and wet and ready.” His voice was a lush growl in my ear. “Should I find out?”
I shuddered, half afraid that he would.
Partly scared that he wouldn’t.
The friction of his fingers, the rough material against my flesh…and his words… Oh, gods, they were decadent, purely sinful, and I never wanted it to end.
“Would you like that?” he asked, and my hips rolled instinctively, seeking his touch. He made that sound again, that rumble of approval that was so raw and primitive. “I would do more than this.”
Eyes open only a slit, I watched the not-too-distant shape of one of the guards slowly patrolling the north-facing side of the camp, my skin and body flaming with forbidden heat as my hips moved again. This time, it wasn’t only a reaction I couldn’t control. I moved them purposefully, rocking them against that slow, steady circling of his fingers. I reveled in the spike of aching, biting pleasure that followed.
I shouldn’t allow this. Not even in the privacy of a room, and surely not where someone could just turn around. I imagined if they paid close enough attention, they’d know that something was happening. I was almost positive that the guard closest to us, the one I watched even now, was Kieran. He seemed as alert as Hawke.
This was wrong.
But how could it…how could it feel so right, then? So good? I was becoming a being of liquid, pulsing fire, all due to just two long, graceful fingers.
“You feel what I’m doing, Poppy?”
“Imagine what my fingers would feel like with nothing between them and your skin.”
“I would do this.” His fingers pressed in, a little harder, a little rougher, and my legs jerked. “I would get inside of you, Poppy. I would taste you. I bet you’re as sweet as honeydew.”
I bit down on my lip as my grip eased off the blanket. I reached down, placing my hand over his forearm. He stopped. He waited. Wordlessly, I lifted my hips to his hand as my fingers dug into his skin. The ache was becoming unbearable.
“Yes,” he breathed. “You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” I whispered, forcing the word out past my lips.
His fingers started moving again, and I almost cried out. “I would work in another finger. You’d be tight, but you’re also ready for more.”
My breath was coming out in quick, shallow pants as I felt the tendons in his arm flex under my hand, as my hips moved in the same circles he was making against me.
“I would thrust my fingers in and out.” His lips brushed the skin just below my ear. “You’d ride them just like you’re riding my hand right now.”
That’s what I was doing, shamelessly so. Clutching his arm, I rocked against his hand, chasing that unbelievable tension that kept building and tightening.
“But we won’t do that tonight. We can’t. Because if I get any part of me in you, every part of me would be in you, and I want to hear every sound you make when that happens.”
Before I could even feel disappointment, before I could truly process the silky promise in his words, he shifted his hand lower, pressing his fingers against the very center of me while his thumb rolled over the part that throbbed. There was nothing slow about his movements then. He knew exactly what he was doing with all that swirling, inescapable tension. Hawke shifted beside me, somehow, working his other arm under my shoulders. He hauled me flush against his front, and I was no longer just moving against his hand, but against him, the rolls of my hips erratic and sharp. Soft, low moans escaped my lips. I felt trapped, wonderfully pinned between his hand and the hard, unyielding length of his body. Something…something was happening. It was what his kisses and brief touches before had hinted at and promised. My body suddenly went as tight as a bowstring taking aim, and my lips parted a second before Hawke folded his hand over my mouth, silencing the moan I wouldn’t have been able to suppress. His hot mouth moved against the side of my throat, his lips, his teeth. There was a wicked sharpness—
The tension broke. I broke. Pleasure whipped out, intense and sudden. It was like standing on a ledge and then being pushed over. I fell, shuddering in pulsing, throbbing waves, and I kept falling until the hand between my legs slowed and then stopped. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, or when Hawke’s fingers slipped from my thighs or his hand eased away from my mouth. My heart was only beginning to slow when I became aware of his hand pressed against my stomach, and his arm curled around my shoulders, keeping my boneless body snug against his.