Endless Knight

Page 41

I remembered when the red witch had destroyed those galleons. He’d been on the shore, an observer. She’d remarked that Death had always been “fascinated with her Empress gifts.”

“Eventually I revealed to you that we’d been wed—and what you’d done to me,” he said. “You acted so horrified that you convinced me you’d never hurt me again. One night you told me I’d possess you fully. At last, I thought, I’d know a woman’s flesh, my woman. Instead, you gave me your poison kiss.”

I gasped at the unbearable pain in his eyes. The hopelessness.

He wanted to die, in order to . . . forget. To start over.

“Your lips were so sweet that even after I’d comprehended what you were doing to me, I kept taking your mouth. Only at the last second could I break away. It took me months to recover.” He reached behind him to touch the wounds on his neck. “And now this.”

“Aric, wait.”

“I’ve waited long enough.” He yanked off his breastplate, bowing his tattooed chest, offering his vulnerable skin. “What is that saying about being fooled? If shame comes to those fooled twice, then it’s only right that defeat comes to those fooled thrice.” He positioned the end of his sword, forcing me to raise it against him. “You wanted to know what the runes across my chest mean? It’s our story, Empress, a reminder never to give you my trust—and certainly not my heart. Yet I did this time.” Eyes glinting, he rasped, “I desired you before, but I never loved you until this life.”

My own heart beat faster than it had in the battle. He loved me!

“Come now, plunge this sword. I’m worth five icons to you.” He raised his right hand, displaying his markings, Ogen’s among them: a pair of horns.

Before I could react, Aric had leaned into the blade, planting the tip above his heart. Blood trickled from one of his runes. As if it wept. “You won’t even spare me the agony of your poison? Or perhaps you could deliver one last kiss? Now bitten, I can touch the viper.”

I dropped the sword hilt, and the weapon fell between us. “Speaking of vipers, I gave you a dry bite.” At his confused look, I explained, “I didn’t use my poison on you—but I could have. Those puncture marks will be healed by tomorrow. Maybe now you’ll trust me when I tell you I’ll never try to kill you again.”

His expression said he didn’t dare believe.

“While you were gone, I dreamed the memory of our wedding night. And this time, I am truly horrified by what I did to you. I won’t ever hurt you again, Aric.”

His jaw slackened, and his brows drew tight. “Sievā.”

He’d called me that before. “What is that word?”

“It means wife.” He reached for me. “Because that’s what I’m going to make you tonight.”

I was limping to him when Lark murmured groggily, “What’s going on?”

My head swung around. “Oh, God, Lark!” She looked really busted up.

Her mauled wolves had crawled toward her, their fur leaving mop trails of blood. Oh, Cyclops. Despite looking like road kill, they’d positioned themselves around her, still needing to protect. Even the falcon had hobbled over to her.

They would heal, just as long as Lark did. “Are you okay?” I asked her. Aric had said he had a medic in the compound. I really hoped that Ogen hadn’t eaten him. “Can you stand?”

With effort, Lark said, “Is the Devil dead?”

Gazing back at Aric, I answered, “Lots of things died down here tonight.”

The Arcana were buzzing.

—Death turned on his own.—

—Devil no more!—

—Empress next.—

I sat in my darkened room, lit only by fire. Aric was going to come for me tonight. Again, I wondered what I would do.

I’d left Lark and the animals in the care of Aric and the medic, a nondescript human who’d been hiding from Ogen in the coal cellar. The young man had wanted to bandage me, but once he’d pronounced his other patients stabilized, I’d left to go scour off the layers of gore.

Aric had said nothing more to me, but he’d been thrumming with tension whenever I was near. . . .

By the time I’d finished my steaming shower, my arm was almost regenerated. Puny-looking, but healing. If only I could shore up mentally. I was nervous. In essence, this was my wedding night.

I’d braided and unbraided my hair, debating clothing choices. I’d settled on a royal-blue silk nightgown and robe.

Why was I so nervous about the prospect of sex with him? I was hitched to the man, for God’s sake, and I’d already done this once.

With Jack. In that moment of time. I’m all in, peekôn.

It seemed that as soon as I’d decided to sleep with Aric, my feelings for Jack had surged to the fore, memories of him invading my mind: Evangeline, I’ve got to feel you with my every step. Or I go a little crazy, me.

When I’d been sure I was dying, it had been Jack’s face I’d seen most clearly. Why? He was non-Arcana, I reminded myself. He’d lied to me in the worst possible way. These were obstacles that simply couldn’t be overcome—

The door burst open. I shot to my feet.

Eyes aglow, Aric stood in the doorway, seeming to take up the entire space. “I’ve waited”—his voice broke lower—“so long for you to be like this.” His accent was thicker than I’d ever heard it.

Then he was striding toward me. His mesmerizing gaze pinned me in place as he cupped my face. When his lips covered mine, I gasped. He took the opportunity to deepen the kiss, groaning into the contact. His hands tightened on my face. His sexy groans made my toes curl, muddling my thoughts.

Though he hadn’t undressed a woman in centuries, before I knew it all my clothes had melted off me, his shirt and boots vanishing as well. He broke the kiss to scoop me up, carrying me to bed.

Like Jack had. Don’t think of him.

Aric gazed down at me unclothed in his arms and hissed, “Great gods.” He laid me back on my bed, climbing in beside me. He still had on pants, but for some reason I wasn’t shy with him as he surveyed my every curve.

Probably because I’d felt naked in front of him for months.

His hunger was undisguised, yet when he dipped his head down to my body, he kissed . . . my healing arm. “My fierce Empress. I could not be prouder.” He bestowed a real smile on me, not a mocking sneer, not a grudging half-grin.

Glorious man.

His lips were flawlessly shaped, his teeth even and white. Though his eyes were starry, I could see their golden color. They were filled with warmth, with . . . love.

If he’d been gorgeous before, now he was devastating. My glyphs flared in response, drawing his gaze. “These used to fill me with confusion. I find them so beautiful, but whenever I saw them, you were usually about to strike.”

Jack had found them beautiful too.

Block that out! I was Aric’s wife. I’d wronged him in the past, had consigned him to misery for hundreds—no, thousands—of years. I needed to make this right. Like penance.

He rubbed his thumb over my bottom lip with a hand that had begun to shake. I got the sense that he was losing his polished control, his desire stoking hotter and hotter. “You could not be lovelier.” He looked like he was about to devour me, giving me both shivers—and chills. “I am a patient man, sievā, but tonight . . .”

There was something vaguely threatening about his words. Misgivings about this arose. Too fast.

Yet then he leaned down to kiss me, taking my mouth until my thoughts had blanked again. When he trailed his lips to my neck, flicking his tongue over my skin, his mouth was so hot, it was dizzying.

He’d always been polished and sophisticated. Now the raw force of his need staggered me. Between kisses, he murmured in Latvian.

“What are you saying?”

He drew back, curling his finger under my chin. “That you taste like life. You are my life now.”

His words felt so final. If he’d looked possessive in that far-distant past, now he looked as if he’d lost himself.

In me.

I was about to ask if we could take this more slowly, when he lowered his head to my breasts, kissing me there. The pleasure was so intense, I had difficulty recalling my misgivings, could only sigh his name.

When I arched my back for him, he groaned around one tip, then the other, pulling with his lips, flicking with his clever tongue.

Had penance ever felt so right?

Against my damp skin, he rasped, “Better than millennia of imaginings.” When I squirmed with need, he lifted his head. Eyes smoldering, he said, “I’ve imagined other things as well.”

His grazed his lips past my breasts, down my belly, his warm breaths ghosting over my skin. He nuzzled my navel, then continued his path lower. Lower.

“Uh, Aric?”

With a desperate groan, Death . . . kissed.


I stared up at the ceiling, limbs sprawled, mind dazed from the pleasure he’d just given me. “I . . . you . . . where did you learn that?” Was there anything he couldn’t do?

Quaking with eagerness, he gave a pained laugh. Eyes brighter than I’d ever seen them, he said, “You’ve never wondered what I think about as you dance for me? I pretended things were different and you craved my touch, my kiss. I fantasized a thousand things I wanted to do to your beautiful little body.”

Mouth back at my breasts, he snatched off his pants. I caught glimpses of him naked—and the mere sight of him made me weak with need.

As he moved over me, between my legs, he shuddered out three words: “At last, sievā.”

Wait, something was wrong . . . what was missing? My eyes widened. “Do you have, um, protection?”

He tensed. “At this particular moment, are you truly asking me to go fetch something for you? Perhaps you’d like a glass of wine as well?”

“No, it’s not like that. What if I got pregnant?” Jack had been so careful. Stop torturing yourself, Eves. For the best . . .

“It might not even be possible for me to help create a life,” Aric said. “But we’ve nothing to lose by trying. If you want to end the game, this is one move that’s never been tried. How could we ever harm each other if we started a dynasty between us?”

“Aric, I’m too young!”

He rested his forehead against mine. “You are not. Now that we are together, the game will lag on. We will continue to age as long as more than one Arcana lives. Already seventeen of your brief mortal years have passed. Twenty-three of mine.”

He was talking about starting a family? When I wasn’t even sure the sun would ever rise again? This was too intense. He was.

Too carnal, desirous. His manly needs.

No, don’t think of the witch! “I can’t do this tonight.”

“Are you jesting?”

“Things are moving too fast.” Spinning, flying, like the days here. Maybe I needed to get back out into the world, stop eating the lotus, and then find my footing with this man?

Aric raised himself on straightened arms, his gaze narrowing down at me. “Your hesitation stems from another cause, does it not?”

Did it? I’d accepted that there were serious obstacles between me and Jack. But he’d said the two of us could get past anything—and at the time, I’d believed him. He’d asked me to give him a chance just to get to me.

If I did this tonight, I wasn’t giving Jack the chance I’d promised him. Didn’t I at least owe him the opportunity to tell me his side of the story?

I knew this thinking was naïve, ridiculous even. It could never work out between us, not after what he’d done. Hell, I was probably too far gone in my feelings for Aric.

Then a simple truth struck me: by sleeping with Aric, I was making a decision about my life—but I didn’t yet have enough information to make that decision.

And no one could make me choose anything before I was ready.

No one.

“It is because of him.” Aric twisted around to sit on the edge of the bed, squeezing his brow so hard his arm bulged.

I sat up and touched his shoulder, but he flinched. “Aric, please. For whatever reason, can we take this more slowly?”

“Do you deny it?” Jealousy emanated from him in waves.

“I’m not saying that I don’t want something with you. But I made a promise to him. You said I didn’t keep them in the past, but I do now. I owe him at least one conversation about all this, before I decide to take things further with you.”

“I told you how he wronged you, and still you want him!”

“I could say the same about your feelings for me.”

With a brusque sound of annoyance, he rose to dress. “I thought you were past this. Past him.”

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