Fantastical Page 22

“It would be, if this was Cora sitting across from me, having learned to be a decent person. It isn’t because you’re playing your bloody game, you’re good at it and I’m annoyed that I’m half enjoying it.”

Uh.

Wow.

Ouch.

“Tor –” I whispered.

“Cameras, pollution and hippies. Yes, love, you’re good. I should just let go and allow myself to fully enjoy it. Hell, who knows how far you’ll take it. You might eventually give me something I’ll really enjoy, like a bloody heir.” I felt my breath stall and he went on. “And you might play it so well, I’ll enjoy creating that heir. But, gods curse me, I can’t let myself enjoy it because I know it’s all a game to get your way and, as hard as I try, I can’t stop it from annoying the bloody hell out of me.”

I felt tears sting my eyes because for once in this cursed (literally) world (at least since the very beginning with Rosa and Aggie) I was enjoying myself and he just reminded me that I could not and why.

To hide my tears, I looked away.

“Crocodile tears, even better,” he muttered.

Great. They had the saying crocodile tears here. Perfect.

I sucked in breath through my nose, focused my attention on my stew and ate it.

It didn’t taste as good as I remembered it being not five minutes ago.

I emptied my bowl and was picking at (but not eating) my bread when I plucked up the courage to call, “Tor?”

“Yes, love.”

I took another breath and my eyes slid to him.

“Can I ask one thing without giving you a kiss for it?”

“You can ask it but that doesn’t mean I’ll give it.”

Of course.

I nodded. Then I asked it.

“Can you please not call me ‘love’ or ‘my love’ when you obviously hate me so much?”

It was small, I almost missed it, but I was pretty sure I saw him flinch.

“Cora –”

“Men call women who they care about that. My Dad calls my Mom that. He loves her. Deeply. He has for nearly four decades. Please don’t sully that by using those words, words you don’t mean, on me.”

He held my eyes and I let him. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t tear mine away.

Then he said quietly, “No.”

I pulled in my top lip and bit it. Then I nodded. Then I looked out the window.

“I need to make some enquiries,” he told my profile.

“Of course,” I whispered to the window.

“Don’t leave this table,” he commanded.

“Right.” I was still whispering.

I felt him move but didn’t look then I felt his heat at my side.

“Cora.”

I closed my eyes. Then I turned my head and tipped it way back to look up at him. When I did, his hand lifted to cup my cheek and he bent low and touched his mouth to mine.

I felt a tiny tear split through my heart.

When he lifted his head, he murmured, “For my people.”

That loving gesture was for the crowd.

“Right,” I whispered.

“Don’t move from this table.”

I nodded but made no further retort even though he was being bossy and repeating himself to boot. When I didn’t speak, his eyes examined my face as his thumb tenderly swept my cheek.

That tear split deeper into my heart.

“Gods, I wish this was real,” he muttered.

It is, you stupid man! my mind shrieked.

But my mouth didn’t move.

“I’ll be back,” he stated.

“I’ll be waiting.”

His thumb swept back and his eyes held mine.

Then he let me go, straightened and he was gone.

Chapter Nine

I’ll Hand You the World

I woke half on and totally wrapped around Tor again.

But I woke to the dark.

It was still night and the fire had gone out.

I slid away from him and out from under the covers. Then I pulled on my flowy top that dropped all the way down to my upper thighs, covering my silky, lacy underthings. Then I slipped on my satin slippers.

Then I went to spend time with a being that I was pretty certain actually liked me.

Walking on tiptoe and being careful to be quiet, I ducked under the pelt curtain and approached Salem.

“Hey boy,” I whispered as I got close.

He jerked his head up, greeting me but being quiet like he knew Tor was sleeping and he didn’t want to wake him.

I got close and he let me curve an arm under his jaw and stroke the length of his nose.

“I’m not sure he’s this kind of guy, so I’m not certain Tor has told you, but you should know from someone that you’re unbelievably beautiful,” I whispered.

He gave a gentle snort, nuzzling his nose closer to me and I smiled.

I moved to his side, stroking him along the way and I leaned into him, snuggling his neck and stroking his chest. I could swear he took a teeny horse step sideways to get closer to me too.

I liked that.

“I want to go home,” I whispered to him.

This got me a soft whinny.

“It’s beautiful here but I don’t like it.”

A careful jerk of the head, done so as not to dislodge me.

“I should like it. I’m a princess married to a handsome prince and the rivers are clean and the horses are sweet…”

Another soft whinny and I smiled then sighed.

“But I wish I could get home,” I said wistfully.

Another gentle snort to which I replied with another quiet sigh.

His head moved to the right and then he took another teeny sideways horse step into me as I gave him a horse-hug and kept stroking his chest while looking out into the moonlight at the mouth of the cave.

Then out of nowhere a steely arm closed around my ribs and another one closed around my upper chest as I felt a face bury itself in my neck.

Holy crap!

“Noctorno?” I whispered, let the horse go and my hands went up so my fingers could wrap around a hard forearm.

“Stroke me like that, I’ll take you to a castle,” he murmured into my neck.

I closed my eyes tight.

Jeez, how did he get across that stone without making that first freaking noise?

“Please, let me go.”

His mouth moved up to my ear. “Let me stroke you, swear to the gods, sweets, you loosen up just a hint, I’ll make you come so hard you’ll think you’ve exploded.”

Oh God.

I bet he could do that. He was a good kisser. If he was half as good with other things, I’d definitely think I’d exploded.

“Please,” I whispered but his hand at my side drifted up and his thumb slid out and caressed the side of my breast.

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