Fantastical Page 28

“Indeed, love, like me.”

And I knew this to be true the way he sat astride a horse and beat back an army of vickrants wielding a sword.

Not to mention, all his scars.

“And,” he started and I focused on him to see his eyes lit with something I’d never seen before, “apparently like my wife.”

“What?” I whispered.

His eyes moved over my face then his head dipped. I tensed when his lips brushed mine sweetly, slid along the skin of my cheek just as sweetly and ended up at my ear.

“You are valiant,” he whispered there and I shivered.

“Valiant?”

“Never in a million years would I think you had that in you.”

“Had what?”

His head lifted and his eyes locked on mine. “You fought alongside me and Salem. No hesitation. Quick reflexes, brilliant instincts. You did not recoil. You did not become hysterical. You were no burden. You were a boon. Had it only been me and Salem, they may have taken me or they may have harmed him.”

I felt something squishy in my belly at his words but also felt the need to point out, “You’re pretty good with a sword yourself, big guy.”

He grinned at me. “I’ve had plenty of practice. You, my love, as far as I know, have never wielded a dagger.” His fingers tensed in mine. “Your strokes were awkward, uneconomical, you expended more energy than you needed. You lashed out, were reactionary rather than tactical.”

Well!

“Nevertheless,” he went on, “you instinctively protected my weak flank and our mount.” He gave me another finger squeeze. “You did well, sweets.”

My belly was even squishier when I whispered, “Uh… thanks.”

He grinned at me and dipped his head yet again to brush his lips against mine.

Damn, but I liked it when he did that.

He lifted his head and I saw his eyes were smiling. “Now, as brilliant as it is to have your soft body under mine in an actual bed, my love, I need to drag you out of it, feed you and we need to be on our way.”

What?

“We do?”

“I’ve given Salem his oats, he’s rested, we have to press on.”

“Press on to where?”

“My castle.”

Oh. Wow.

“Seriously?” I asked, wanting, despite myself, to see his castle.

“Yes, Cora.”

My eyeballs moved around the room then back to him. “But, if this is safe –?”

“It is safe but it’s rustic, one room and there’s no tree cover. The cottage is sacred ground, the land around it isn’t. You or I leave the house, we could be spotted. My castle, and the land around it, is bigger, more comfortable and all of it is off-limits thus it’s safer.”

“Oh.”

This made sense.

“Now kiss me quickly, make it good, earn your breakfast and we’ll be away.”

Uh. What?

“Are you joking?” I asked.

He grinned and answered, “Not even a little bit.”

The squishiness in my belly and the excitement at seeing his castle disappeared and I glared at him.

“So we’re back to that?”

“We never left it.”

“You let me have a bath, clothes and dinner without earning it,” I reminded him.

“You cleaned my cave,” he informed me.

Ugh!

“Why is it when I think I can start liking you, you remind me why I don’t?” I asked and that earned me another insolent grin but no response.

Drat the man!

“I think I should get a pass considering I helped you hold back the vickrants and put up with your foul temper in the church,” I informed him.

The grin faded and the amusement in his eyes died but still he said, “And I think you should stop talking and earn your breakfast so we can be on our way.”

I tried to unlace my fingers from his (and failed, by the way) so I scowled up at him. “You forget, I’ve decided to go it alone.”

“And you forget that you foolishly left me, taking my horse while doing it. It’s my duty to protect you, you put yourself in danger and doing this, you negated anything you might have earned in our fight and enduring my foul temper in the church.”

“That doesn’t add up!” I snapped.

“It certainly does,” he returned.

“It doesn’t!” I shot back and his fingers tensed and stayed tensed in mine.

“The curse has just begun. The Shrew cannot complete it unless she has a half of both the souls. She gets you, and it’s highly likely, you go on alone, wherever the bloody hell you think you’re going, she’ll get you. That means my land, my people, will live under that curse in all its fullness until the next divided souls blissfully wed. My people, as yet, are unaware of what has befallen them. They are experiencing unpredictable weather patterns but, as far as I can tell, nothing more. As the curse has not descended for millennia, there is no known record of what to expect except whatever it will be will likely mean floods, droughts, crops failing, plague, famine and the only hope would be to endure, for a shred of humanity to hold on as the decades pass until the new souls are united in matrimony. You endangered that, again, my love, and for that we return to our terms and you earn your keep.”

Oh dear. I didn’t know any of that. I’d f**ked up again. Royally (in my case, seeing as I was a princess, that was weirdly literal).

Shit.

“Then I’m not hungry,” I decided. “We can just go.”

“You’ll eat and you’ll earn it.”

“Nope, I’m fine. Thanks for your concern but I’m good.”

“Did you eat yesterday?”

No, I did not and, incidentally, I was starved.

I didn’t tell him that.

“Cora, you can earn it or I can take it from you.”

I blinked up at him. “What?”

“You kiss me or I kiss you. Those are your choices. You have two seconds to decide.”

“Don’t you dare kiss –”

“One.”

“Noctorno, you kiss me, I’ll –”

“Two,” he muttered, his eyes dropping to my mouth then his lips dropped there.

Hells bells.

I fought it, I did. Seriously. And I worked hard at it. And it seemed I was winning.

I kept my mouth resolutely closed no matter how he coaxed (and he coaxed) with lips and tongue to get it open.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when his free hand suddenly cupped my breast and his thumb, with pinpoint accuracy, swept over my nipple.

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