He whispers into her hair, “I don’t deserve you.” The guilt strains his throat as the words come out husky.
Her gentle, slim fingers stroke the fine lines of his jaw, curling around his beard, and up to brush over the soft of his lips. “Don’t you ever say that, my love.”
He stares up to the ceiling where the reflection of the flames dance over broken beams. “The things I have done.”
Gently and playfully, she tugs on his beard to bring his lips down to hers. The kiss feeding the air into his lungs is light and touches the darkest parts of him, dispelling every negative emotion clouding his mind.
When she releases him, her words settle into the marrow of his bones. “All you have done for your people, for me…” she begins, “All that matters in this brutal world is your intentions, Prince. And your intentions have been only honorable.”
Mischief twinkles in his eyes. “I am inclined to disagree.” He smirks, staring down at her leg wrapped around his waist.
The silence falls between them. They had just committed treason, but neither of them wants it to end just yet. “Avelyn,” he speaks her name, adding, for the first time, “My goddess.” He tastes the endearing term with elation. “I want you to come with me, I have something to show you.” He shifts to slip out from under her.
“The hour is late, my love. I am rather tired. Would you mind,” she says as her lips feather the nape of his neck, “if we put it off until tomorrow?”
He studies her. “You dismiss me so quickly?”
“You know why…” she begins, tears brimming her sultry eyes.
“I will never do anything that puts you or your loved ones in danger. Do you believe that?” Leif gives a sigh.
“Of course, I do. I’ve known you since you were a little brat, since nine years old and to this day, never once have you lost control around me.”
The words feel good too hear. Moments later, as she jumps from the bed, he says to her, “If you trust me, then why do you so easily dismiss this important thing I want to show you?”
Her eyes settle on his, green-lit stars as the flames of the fireplace reflect in them. “I ask of you, my prince, to give me time to savor our night. Can you grant me that speck of happiness?”
Wanting to interject, he sits up, sheets slithering down his flawless chest, he opens his mouth when she adds more forcefully, “I, too, have sacrificed all I have wanted. My happiness, my family…” her voice breaks.
He sighs. “Yes, of course.” He looks down ashamed. “I will give you this night you deserve. It would seem being the acting king has made me a selfish man these days.”
As she moves, the glow from the hearth lights up her skin like the gleam of the moon, and all thought and trouble floats away in the beauty of the redheaded woman who has robbed him of his heart. A terrible thought crosses his mind. It is not enough, everything he has done was for her, and he couldn’t help but feel that it is not enough. As if the words were spoken out loud, Avelyn spins around, undergarments in hand falling to the bed with the creak of wood and the ruffle of sheets.
“I love you.”
His head spins, his heart swells, and his human mind is set adrift in a sea of songs, stars, and the promise of endless nights like these. He watches her with absolute verve as she slips into her dress, her delicate feet settling in her shoes. She turns, grabbing the necklace his father had given her and pulls the clasp to her neck. From over her shoulder, she calls him near to assist her in clasping the necklace in place. When she sits, he shifts forward, feeling heat rise up inside.
The sight of the necklace drives him mad. With delicate fingers, she parts her red curls to expose the soft of her neck and shoulders, dispelling his anger for just a moment. As the big, shiny jewel settles on her chest, his heart hardens. Now more than ever he wants to put his plan into motion. For her, to keep her, to save the ones she loves, he would do it no matter the cost to him anymore.
Standing, she smiles up at him, and exits the room almost silently, taking with her his breath and his heart.