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Chapter 34

I COULDN'T WALK BECAUSE OF MY ANKLE. DOYLE CARRIED ME INTO THE hotel lobby. Kitto stayed very close to me. Rhys had made a nasty comment on the way inside. If Rhys continued to carry a grudge against all goblins, it was going to make things harder than they already were. I didn't need harder. I needed something to be easier.

What was waiting in the lobby was not easier.

Griffin was sitting in one of the overstaffed chairs, long legs stretched out so that the back of his head rested against the back of the chair. His eyes were closed when we entered, as if he were asleep. His thick wavy copper-colored hair spilled just to his shoulders. I remembered when it had hit his ankles, and I'd mourned when he cut it. I'd avoided searching the crowd for him tonight. A glance was enough to prove that that deep, nearly auburn, red hair wasn't in the room. Why was he here? Why hadn't he been at the banquet?

I watched him with his line of black lashes closed on the pale face. He was wasting glamour to pass for human. But even dulled by his own magic, he was a shining thing. He was dressed in jeans with the bottoms of cowboy boots showing, a white dress shirt, buttoned up, and a jean jacket with leather touches at shoulder and arm. I waited for my chest to tighten, my breath to catch, at the sight of him. Because he wasn't asleep. He was posing so that I could get the full effect. But my chest was just fine. My breath didn't catch.

Doyle had stopped with me in his arms just short of the imitation Oriental rug that the chairs sat upon. I stared down at Griffin from Doyle's arms and was empty. Seven years of my life and I could look at him now and feel nothing but an aching emptiness. A wistful sort of sadness that I had wasted all that time, all that energy, on this man. I'd been afraid to see him again, afraid that all those old feelings would come flooding back, or that I'd be furious with him. But there was nothing. I would always have sweet memories of his body and less sweet memories of his betrayal, but the man that sat so carefully posed was not my love anymore. The realization was both a profound relief and a great sorrow.

He opened his eyes slowly, that smile curling his lips. The smile made my chest hurt, because once I had believed that that special smile was meant just for me. The look in his honey-brown eyes was familiar as well. Too familiar. He looked at me as if I'd never gone away. He looked at me with the same surety that Galen had had earlier. His eyes filled with a knowledge of my body and the promise that he would have access to it soon.

That killed any kindness I might still have felt for him.

The silence had gone on a little too long, but I didn't feel the need to break it. I knew if I simply said nothing, Griffin would break first. He'd always been fond of the sound of his own voice.

He stood in one fluid motion, slouching just a touch so he didn't look his six feet three. He flashed me the full smile, the one that made his eyes crinkle and showed that flash of dimple in one cheek.

I stared at him, face immobile. It helped that I was so tired I could barely think, but it was more than that. I felt empty inside and I let it show in my face. I let him see that he meant nothing to me, though knowing Griffin, he wouldn't believe it.

He stepped forward, one hand outstretched as if he'd take my hand. I stared at him until his hand dropped away, and for the first time he looked uncomfortable.

His gaze slid over all of us, then came back to rest on me. "The queen insisted I not be there tonight. She thought it might upset you." The surety was sinking away from his eyes, leaving him anxious. "What did I miss tonight?"

"What are you doing here, Griffin?" I said. My voice was as empty as my heart.

He shifted from one foot to the other. It was obvious that this reunion wasn't going the way he'd planned. "The queen said she'd lifted the geas on the Guard for you." His eyes flicked to Doyle, to the others. He frowned at the goblin. He didn't like any of this. He didn't like me in someone else's arms. There was a small flare of satisfaction. Petty, but true.

"How does the geas being lifted for me and me alone answer my question, Griffin?"

He frowned at me.

"Why are you here?" I asked.

"The queen said she told you that she'd be sending one guard of her choosing along." He tried the smile again, and it faded as I stared at him.

"Are you trying to tell me that the queen has sent you as her spy?"

His face raised, that smooth chin jutting out. It was a sure sign that he wasn't happy. "I thought you'd be pleased, Merry. There are a lot of guards that would be worse to share your bed with."

I shook my head, leaned my face against Doyle's shoulder. "I am too tired for this."

"What do you want us to do, Meredith?" Doyle asked.

Griffin's eyes hardened, and I knew that Doyle had used my first name deliberately-not a title, but my name.

It made me smile. "Take me up to the room and contact the queen. I will not be forced to share a bed with him again, not for any reason."

Griffin took a step toward us, hand stroking my hair. Doyle moved me out of his reach with a turn of his shoulders.

"She was my consort for seven years," Griffin said, and there was anger in his voice now.

"Then you should have valued her as the precious gift she is."

"Go away, Griffin," I said. "I'll get the queen to send someone else."

He moved in front of Doyle, blocking our way to the elevators. "Merry, Merry, don't you -"

"Feel anything?" I finished for him. "I feel like getting out of this lobby before we attract a crowd."

He looked toward the desk; the late-night attendant was giving us all her attention. A man had come and joined her, as if they were afraid there'd be trouble.

"I am here at the queen's orders. Only she can send me away, not you."

I stared into his angry eyes and laughed. "Fine, fine, let's all troop up to the room and call her from there."

"Are you sure?" Doyle said. "If you wish him to stay in the lobby, we can make it so." There was the faintest edge to his words, and I realized that Doyle wanted to hurt Griffin, wanted an excuse to punish him. I don't think it was personal over me. I think it was more that Griffin had had what they all wanted, access to a woman that adored him, and he'd thrown it away while all they could do was watch.

Frost moved up at Doyle's back. Kitto followed him. Rhys moved in from the other side, and Galen began to edge around to come at Griffin from the back.

Griffin was suddenly tense. His hand went to the edge of his belt and started to slide out of sight under the jacket.

Doyle said, "If your hand goes out of sight, I'll assume you mean us harm. You don't want me to assume that, Griffin."

Griffin tried to keep them all in sight, but he'd allowed them to flank him. You couldn't look at every side of a circle. It was too careless for words, and Griffin was many things, but not careless. For the first time I wondered if he had truly felt distress at our breakup, enough distress to make him careless, enough distress to get him hurt or even dead.

The idea was sort of amusing in a sociopathic sort of way, but I didn't want him dead. I just wanted him away from me.

"As amusing as it would be to watch you beat the shit out of each other, let's not and just say we did."

"What are your orders?" Doyle asked.

"Everybody upstairs, contact the queen, clean up a little, then we'll see."

"As you like, Princess," Doyle said. He carried me toward the elevators. The others came behind, forming a sort of half-circular net to sweep Griffin at our backs. Without being told, Rhys and Galen took up posts to either side of Griffin as we entered the elevator.

Doyle stood to one side, back to the mirrored walls so he could see both Griffin and the closed doors. Frost mirrored him on the other side of the doors. Kitto kept eyeing Griffin as if he'd never seen him before.

Griffin leaned his shoulders against the wall, arms crossed on his chest, ankles crossed, the picture of casual ease. But his eyes weren't casual. There was a stiffness to his shoulders that no amount of pretense could hide.

I looked at him between Galen and Rhys. He was the taller by three inches and a lot more than that for Rhys.

He caught me watching and he threw off his glamour, slowly, like a striptease. I'd seen him do it nude too many times to count. It was like watching a light spread from under his skin, his feet first always, then up the muscled ridge of his calves, to the strong thighs, up, up his body until every inch of him glowed like polished alabaster with a candle inside it, so bright that there were almost shadows cast from the glow of his skin.

The memory of his body nude and shining was burned on the inside of my head, and closing my eyes didn't help. It had been too dear a memory for too long. I opened my eyes and watched his copper-red hair glow as if it had thin metallic wire running through it. The thick, large waves in his hair crackled and moved with his power. The eyes weren't honey-brown. They were tricolored: brown around the pupil, liquid gold, then a burnished bronze. The sight of him all aglow did make me catch my breath. He would always be beautiful. No amount of hatred could take that away from him.

But beauty wasn't enough, not enough by half.

No one said a word until the elevator stopped. Then Galen grabbed Griffin's arm, and Rhys checked the hallway before Doyle carried me out.

"Why the caution?" Griffin asked. "What happened tonight?"

Rhys checked the door, then took the key card from me and opened the door. He checked the room while we all waited out in the hall. If Doyle's arms were getting tired from lugging me around, it didn't show.

"The room's clear," Rhys said. He took Griffin's other arm, and they escorted him into the room. The rest of us followed.

Doyle laid me on the bed, so I was sitting against the headboard. He took a pillow out from the blue covers and propped it under my ankle. He took off his cloak and laid it at the foot of the bed. He was still wearing the leather and metal-studded harness across his bare chest; the silver earrings still glittered in his curved ears; the peacock feathers still brushed his shoulders. It occurred to me for the first time that I'd never seen Doyle any different than he was right now. Oh the clothes, but I wasn't sure if he was using glamour or not. Doyle didn't try to be other than what he was.

I looked at Griffin still glowing, still beautiful. Galen and Rhys had made him sit in a chair. Galen leaned on the small table by the chair. Rhys leaned against the wall. None of them were glowing, but I knew that Galen, at least, wasn't trying to pass for human.

Kitto climbed onto the bed curling beside me, one hand sliding across my waist, dangerously close to my lap. But he didn't try to take advantage. He curled his face against my hip and seemed content, as if he meant to sleep.

Frost sat down on the far side of the bed, legs still on the floor, but not leaving the bed to just the goblin. He crossed his hands over his chest just below the blood stains. He sat there tall and straight and heartstoppingly handsome, but he didn't glow the way Griffin glowed.

I had a sudden revelation. Griffin hadn't removed glamour. He'd added it. All those times that I thought he was throwing off all trickery, he was actually wrapping himself in the greatest trick of all. Most sidhe couldn't use glamour to make themselves look better to other sidhe. You could try it, but it was wasted effort. Even with me having come into my power he glowed, but now I could see it for what it truly was- a lie.

I closed my eyes, leaning my head back against the wall. "Drop the glamour, Griffin. Just sit there like a good little boy." My voice sounded tired even to me.

"He is very good at it," Doyle said. "Maybe the best I've ever seen."

I opened my eyes and looked at Doyle. "Glad to know the show wasn't just for my benefit. I was feeling pretty stupid."

Doyle glanced at the rest of the room. "Gentlemen?"

"He glows," Galen said.

"Like a lightning bug in June," Rhys said.

Frost nodded.

I touched Kitto's hair. "Do you see him?" I asked.

Kitto raised his head, eyes half-closed. "All the sidhe are beautiful to me." He snuggled his face back against me, and it was a little lower than my hip that he was cuddling against.

I looked at Griffin, still gleaming and so beautiful that I wanted to shield my eyes as if I were gazing at the sun. I wanted to scream at him, things about lies and trickery, but I didn't. Anger would have convinced him that I still felt something for him. I didn't- or, rather, not what he wanted me to feel. I felt tricked and stupid and angry. "Contact the queen, Doyle," I said.

The dresser sat in front of the bed with the large mirror facing me. Doyle stood in the center of the mirror. I could still see myself in the glass. I stared back at myself and wondered why I didn't look more different. Oh, my hair needed to be brushed, the makeup needed to be retouched, the lipstick was gone completely, but my face was still the same. My innocence had vanished years ago, and there was very little surprise left in me. All I truly felt was a great numbness.

Doyle pressed his hands just above the glass. I felt his magic crawl through the room like a prickle of ants marching along my skin. Kitto raised his head to watch, resting his cheek against my thigh.

The power built to a push of pressure, as if you could clear it by making your ears pop, equalizing the pressure, but the only thing that would make the pressure ease was use. Doyle caressed the mirror, and it wavered like water. His fingertips were like stones thrown into a pool where the ripples spread outward. He made a small gesture with his hands, a flexing at wrist and hand, and the mirror was no longer clear. The surface was milky, like a cup of fog.

The mist cleared, and the queen sat on the edge of her bed, looking at us through the full-length mirror in her private quarters. She'd removed her gloves, but the rest of the outfit was intact. She'd been waiting for the call. I'd have bet a body part on it. Eamon's naked shoulder showed to one side of her. He was turned on one side as if asleep. The blond boy was kneeling beside her, propped on his elbows. He was naked, too, but he wasn't under the covers. His body was strong, but thin, a boy's body without the musculature of a man. I wondered again if he was really eighteen.

Doyle had stepped aside so that I was the first one that the queen's eyes sought. "Greetings, Meredith." Her eyes took in the scene, the half-dressed goblin and Frost on the bed with me. She smiled and it was a pleased smile. I realized that the two scenes were similar. She had two men in her bed, and I had two men in mine. I hoped she was having a better time than I was. Or maybe I didn't.

"Greetings, Aunt Andais."

"I thought you'd be all tucked into bed with one or more of your boys. You disappoint me." She stroked her hand along the boy's bare back, sweeping at the end of the oval, fingertips across his buttocks. It was an idle gesture, like you'd pet a dog.

My voice came out very neutral, carefully empty. "Griffin was here when we arrived. He says you sent him."

"I did," she said. "You agreed to sleep with my spy."

"I didn't agree to sleep with Griffin. I thought after our little talk you understood how I felt about him."

"No," Andais said. "No, I didn't understand that at all. In fact, I wasn't sure you knew how you felt about him yourself."

"I don't feel anything about him," I said. "I just want him out of my sight, and I am certainly not going to sleep with him." I realized as soon as I said the last part that she might insist on it out of sheer perversity. I added, quickly, "I want to know he's celibate again. He was freed of the geas ten years ago so he could sleep with me, but he used his freedom to fuck everyone that would have him. I want him to know that I'm sleeping with the other guards, that they're getting sex and he's not. That unless I consent to lie with him that he may never have sex again for the rest of his so unnatural life." I smiled as I spoke and realized it was the truth. Goddess bless me, it was vindictive, but it was true.

Andais laughed again. "Oh, Meredith, you may be more my bloodline than I ever dared hope. As you will. Send him back to his lonely bed."

"You heard her," I said. "Get out."

"If it's not me," Griffin said, "it will be someone else. Maybe you should ask her who she will send to replace me in your bed."

I looked at my aunt. "Who are you going to send to replace Griffin?"

She held out her hand, and a man stepped into view as if he'd been patiently waiting for his cue. His skin was the color of soft spring lilacs, his knee-length hair the color of pink Easter-egg grass. His eyes were like pools of liquid gold. It was Pasco, Rozenwyn's twin brother.

I stared at him, and he stared back. We had never been friends. In fact there was a time or two I'd thought we were enemies.

Griffin laughed. "You can't be serious, Merry. You'd let Pasco fuck you before me?"

I stared at Griffin. He'd stopped glowing and looked almost ordinary as he stood there. He was angry, so angry that there was a fine tremble in his hands as he pointed to the mirror.

"Griffin, honey," I said, "I'd let a hell of a lot of men in my bed before you."

The queen laughed, drawing Pasco down until he sat in her lap, like a child visiting Santa Claus in the mall. She stared out at me, running her hands through Pasco's cotton-candy hair.

"You agree to Pasco as my spy?"

"I agree."

Pasco's eyes widened just a bit at that, as if he'd expected at least a little protest on my part. But I just wasn't up to it tonight.

Andais caressed a hand up Pasco's clothed back. "I think you have surprised him. He told me you'd never agree to sharing a bed with him."

I shrugged. "It's not a fate worse than death."

"Very true, niece of mine."

Our eyes met through the nothing of the mirror. She nodded and pushed the man to his feet. She slapped his butt as he walked out of frame. "He'll be right over."

"Great," I said. "Now get out, Griffin."

Griffin hesitated, then walked into view of the mirror. He glanced from one to the other of us. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it. Probably the wisest thing he could have done.

He bowed, "My queen." He turned to me. "I will see you again, Merry."

I shook my head. "What for?"

"You did love me once," he said, and it was almost a question, almost a plea.

I could have lied-there was no spell on me-but I didn't. "Yes, Griffin, I loved you, once."

He looked at me, eyes roving over the bed and the smorgasbord of men. "I am sorry, Merry." He sounded sincere.

"Sorry you lost me, sorry you killed my love for you, or sorry that you can't fuck me anymore?"

"All of it," he said. "I'm sorry for all of it."

"Good boy. Now get out," I said.

Something passed across his face, something close to pain, and for the first time I thought that maybe, just maybe, he understood what he'd done was wrong. He unlocked the door, stepped outside, and when the door closed behind him, I knew he was gone, gone in a way beyond simply not being around. He was not my honey bun anymore, not my special person.

I sighed and leaned back against the wall. Kitto snuggled close, sliding one bare leg up and down against mine. I wondered if there was a chance in hell of me getting any alone time tonight.

I looked at the mirror again. "You knew I wouldn't accept Griffin as your spy, not if it meant having sex with him."

She nodded. "I needed to know how you truly felt about him, Meredith. I had to be sure that you weren't still in love with him."

"Why? "I asked.

"Because love can interfere with lust. Now I'm sure that you are rid of him in your heart. I am pleased."

"I'm just tickled pink that you're pleased," I said.

"Have a care, Meredith. I don't like sarcasm directed at me."

"And I don't like having my heart cut out for your pleasure." The moment I said it, I knew it was a mistake.

Her eyes narrowed. "When I cut your heart out, Meredith, you'll know it." The mirror spilled into fog, then was suddenly reflective again. I stared at myself in the mirror, my pulse thudding in my throat.

"Having your heart cut out," Galen said. "Poor, poor choice of words."

"I know," I said.

"In the future," Doyle said, "keep your temper. Andais doesn't need any help coming up with awful ideas."

I pushed Kitto away. I lifted my foot off the bed, carefully, using the bedside table to stand up.

"What are you doing?" Doyle asked.

"I am going to clean some of this blood and dirt off, then go to bed." I looked at the men gathered in the room. "Who wants to help me run my bath?"

The silence was suddenly very thick. The men looked at one another as if not sure what to do, or say. Galen stepped forward, gave me his hand to help me stand. I took the hand, but shook my head. "You can't be with me tonight, Galen. It has to be someone who can finish what we start."

He looked at the floor for a second or two, then up. "Oh." He helped me back to the bed and I let him do it, then he walked to the chair where he'd thrown his leather jacket. "I'm going to see about getting a second room next to this one, then I'm going for a walk. Who's going with me?"

They all looked at each other again, little eye flits from one to the other. No one seemed to know how to handle the situation. "How does the queen choose between you all?" I asked.

"She simply requests the guard, or guards, she wishes to have for the evening," Doyle said.

"Don't you have a preference?" Frost asked, and there was something almost hurt in his tone.

"You say that like there's a bad choice here. There is no bad choice; you are all lovely."

"I have had my release with Meredith," Doyle said, "so I will bow out for tonight."

That got everyone's attention, and Doyle had to explain very briefly exactly what he meant by the comment. Frost and Rhys looked at each other, and suddenly there was a tension in the air that hadn't been there before.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"You must choose, Meredith," Frost said.

"Why?" I asked.

Galen answered, "You can't bring it down to just two of us without the danger of a duel."

"It's not just two, it's three," I said.

They all looked at me, then slowly at the goblin still on the bed. He looked as surprised as they did. He stared back at us with large eyes. He looked almost frightened. "I would never presume to compete with the sidhe."

"Kitto is coming in the bathroom regardless of who else comes in," I said.

Every pair of eyes in the room swiveled back to me. "What did you say?" Doyle asked.

"You heard me. I want the alliance with the goblins sealed, that means I have to share flesh with Kitto, and that's what I'm going to do."

Galen went for the door. "I'll be back later."

"Wait for me," Rhys said.

"You're leaving?" I asked.

"As much as I want you, Merry, I don't do goblins." He walked out with Galen; they shut the door behind them, and Doyle locked it.

"Does this mean you're staying?" I asked.

"I will guard the outer door," Doyle said.

"What if we wish to use the bed?" Frost asked.

Doyle looked thoughtful, then shrugged. "I can wait just outside the room if you feel the need

of the bed."

There was a little more negotiating. Frost wanted it clear that he did not have to touch the goblin. I agreed. Frost picked me up and carried me into the bathroom. Kitto was already in the room running the water for the bath. He glanced up as we entered. He'd taken off Galen's shirt and was back to just his silver thong. He said nothing to us, just watched us with his huge blue eyes, one hand trailing under the water as it poured from the faucet.

Frost looked around the small room. He finally sat me on the counter by the sink. He stood in front of me, and suddenly it was awkward. The kiss in the car had been wonderful, but it was the first time Frost and I had ever touched each other. Now suddenly we were supposed to have sex-with an audience.

"Awkward, isn't it?" I said.

He nodded. The movement sent that thin veil of silver hair gliding around his body. He reached out, slowly, tentatively, to the dress's jacket. He pushed the velvet off my shoulders, slowly, sliding it over my arms. I started to help him with the sleeves, but he said, "No, let me."

I put my hands back at my sides, and he pulled the sleeves off one hand, then the other. He dropped the jacket to the floor. He ran the tips of his fingers down the bare skin of my shoulders. It raised goose bumps down to my fingertips.

"Undo your hair," I said.

He took out the first bone clip, then the second, and the hair fell around him in a glorious spill of Christmas-tree tinsel. I reached out and grabbed a handful of it. It looked like silver wire, but it felt soft as satin, with a texture like spun silk.

He stepped close enough that his legs brushed mine. He ran his hands over my bare arms. His touches were so tentative, as if he was afraid to caress me. "If you will lean forward, I will unzip the dress."

I did what he asked, leaning my head against his chest. The sheer material of his shirt was scratchy, but his hands as they unzipped the dress were slow, gentle. His fingertips slid inside the open dress, circling the smooth skin of my back. I tried to pull the shirt out of his pants, but it wouldn't budge. "I can't get the shirt out."

"It is fastened so it lies smoothly," he said.

"Fastened?" I made the word a question.

"I would have to take the pants off to get the shirt off." He was blushing, a wonderful pale red rose color.

"What's wrong, Frost?"

The bathwater stopped running. Kitto said, "The water is ready, Mistress."

"Thank you, Kitto." I looked at Frost. "Answer the question, Frost. What's wrong?"

He looked down, all that shining hair acting like a curtain. He turned away from me to face the far wall, so even the goblin couldn't see his face.

"Frost, please don't make me hop down from the counter to make you look at me. I don't need to twist another ankle."

He spoke without turning around. "I do not trust myself with you."

"In what way?" I asked.

"In the way of a man with a woman."

I still wasn't understanding him. "I still don't understand, Frost."

He turned suddenly to face me, eyes a dark storm grey with anger. "I want to fall on you like

some ravening beast. I don't want to be gentle. I just want."

"Are you saying you don't trust yourself not to..." I searched for a word, but had to settle for, "rape me?"

He nodded.

I laughed, I couldn't help it. I knew he wouldn't like the laughter, but I just couldn't help it.

His face grew arrogant, distant, eyes cold but still angry. "What do you want of me, Meredith?"

"Frost, forgive me, but you can't rape the willing."

He frowned at that, as if he didn't understand the phrasing.

"I want to have sex with you tonight. That's the plan. How can that be rape?"

He shook his head, sending the hair sliding around him, sparkling in the light. "You do not understand. I do not trust that I can control myself."

"In what way?"

"In every way!" He turned away again, hugging himself.

I finally began to get an inkling of what he was trying to say. "Are you concerned that you won't last long enough for my pleasure?"

"That and..."

"What, Frost, what?"

"He wants to fuck you," Kitto said.

We both looked at the goblin still kneeling by the bathtub. "I know that," I said.

Kitto shook his head. "Not sex, just fucking. He's been so long without, he just wants to do it."

I looked at Frost. He was avoiding my eyes. "Is that what you want?"

He hung his head, hiding behind all that hair. "I want to strip off your panties, put you up

against the sink, and just be inside you. I don't feel gentle tonight, Meredith. I feel half-crazed."

"Then do it," I said.

He turned and stared at me. "What did you say?"

"Do it, just the way you want it. Eight hundred years, you're entitled to a little fantasy."

He frowned. "But it won't be enjoyable for you."

"Let me worry about that. You forget that I'm descended from fertility gods. As many times as you go inside me, I can bring you back to need with a touch of my hand, a tiny use of power. Just because we begin the night here, doesn't mean we have to end it here."

"You would let me do that?"

I looked at him, standing there with his broad shoulders, the swell of his chest peeking through that glorious hair, the narrow waist, the tight hips encased in those so-tight pants. I thought about him dropping those pants, of seeing him nude for the first time, of having him push himself inside me, urgent, so full of need that he would touch nothing, do nothing but shove himself inside me. I had to let my breath go in a sigh before I could speak. "Yes."

He crossed the room in two strides, lifting me off the counter, setting me on the floor. I had to balance on the bad ankle, but he didn't give me time to protest. He pulled the dress off my arms in one abrupt movement. I had to grab the edge of the counter to keep from falling. He jerked the dress down, letting it pool on the floor around my feet. He grabbed the black satin of the panties and pulled them down, too.

I could see Kitto in the foggy mirror. He watched everything with eager eyes, utterly silent, as if he didn't want to break the spell.

Frost had to unlace the pants, and it took time. He was making a small noise low in his throat by the time he had gotten them unfastened and peeled down his body. The shirt was fastened over his groin, and he ripped the material away. He was long and hard and more than ready. I had a glimpse of him over my shoulder, then his hands were on my waist, turning me to face the fogged mirror.

I had a moment of feeling him sliding against me, then he was inside me. He shoved against the tightness of my body, forcing himself into me. I'd given him permission, wanted him, but with almost no foreplay it was still pain with the pleasure. A bruising, almost tearing pressure brought my breath in a gasp that was both pain and desire. When he was sheathed inside me as far as he could go, he whispered, "You're tight- not ready for me-but you are wet."

My voice came out breathy. "I know."

He drew himself out, part way, then in, and after that there was nothing but his body inside mine. His need was large and fierce and so was he. He thrust into me as hard and as fast as he could. The sound of flesh hitting flesh punctuated every thrust of his body. It forced sounds from my throat, from the sheer force of it, and from the sensations as he moved inside me, over me, through me. My body opened to him, no longer tight, just wet.

He used his hands to force my body down on the counter, then lifted me so that most of my body was on the counter. My feet were no longer touching the ground. He pounded himself into me, as if he were trying to force his way not just into my body but through and out the other side. A tightness began to grow low in my body, my breath coming faster. Flesh into flesh, so hard and fast with such strength that it danced that thin line between pleasure and pain. I kept expecting him to finish his need in one long glorious burst, but he didn't. He hesitated, using large strong hands to move my hips along the counter, a small adjustment as if he were looking for just the right spot, then he thrust inside me again in one long hard movement, and I cried out. Frost had found that spot inside my body, and was running himself over it, and over it, and over it, as hard and as fast as before, but now he drew small sounds from me. The tightness began to grow, swell, like a warm thing growing inside me. It grew large and larger, flowing outward along my skin as if a thousand feathers were being drawn down my skin to send me shivering, twitching, drawing noises from my mouth that were wordless, thoughtless, formless. It was the song of flesh, not love, not even desire, but something more primitive, more primal.

I looked into the mirror and found my skin glowing, my eyes startled full of green-and-gold fire. I could see Frost in the mirror. He was carved of ivory and alabaster; a glowing, shining play of white light pulsed against his skin as if the power would burst from him. He caught me looking at him in the mirror, and those glowing grey eyes like clouds with moonlight behind them turned angry. He put his hand on my face, turned me away so I couldn't watch him, kept his hand there, trapping me, his other hand on my back, his body pinning me. I couldn't move, couldn't get away, couldn't stop him. I didn't want to, but I understood. It was important to him that he be in control, that he say when and how, and even me looking at him was an intrusion. This was his moment-I was just the flesh that he drove himself into. He needed for me to be nothing and no one except someone to fill his need.

I heard his breathing quicken, his thrusts taking on an urgency, harder, faster, until I cried out, and still he didn't stop. I felt the rhythm of his body change, a shudder run through him, then I was gone. That swelling warmth spilled over me, through me, pulsing deep inside my body, making my body contract, jerking, unable to control it, only his hands on my body kept me still, kept me whole. But if my body couldn't move, the pleasure had to come out some way; it spilled out of my mouth in screams, deep, racking screams, over and over as fast as I could draw breath.

Frost cried out above me, sending his cries after mine. He leaned over the counter, a hand on either side of me, head down. His hair spilled over my body like warm silk. I lay totally passive, still pinned under his body, trying to relearn how to breathe.

He found his voice first, though it was a ragged whisper, "Thank you."

If I'd had enough breath I'd have laughed. My throat was so dry, that my voice sounded stiff. "Trust me on this, Frost, it was my pleasure."

He bent over and laid a kiss on my cheek. "I will try to do better next time." He moved his hands away from me, letting me move, but stayed sheathed inside me as if he were reluctant to let that go.

I looked at him, thinking he was joking, but his face was utterly serious. "It gets better than this?" I asked.

He nodded solemnly. "Oh, yes."

"The queen was a fool," I said softly.

He smiled then. "I always thought so."

Chapter 33 | A Kiss of Shadows | Chapter 35