There were, at the very least, not literal traps between the Solar in the back left of the downstairs and Senga’s room in the middle right of the upstairs, or at least not new ones. Senga found that she was holding Erramun’s hand, and she found that he was holding very firmly to that hand.
She closed the door behind them and locked it. She turned to look at him as he released her hand and dropped to his knees in the middle of her sitting room. “Mistress.” His voice sounded rusty; it hitched in the middle of the word.
“Erramun.” She needed a manual for this. Aunt Mirabella had clearly not seen fit to provide her with all of the things that she needed for this endeavor. If it turned out she wasn’t really dead, Senga was going to have come very stern words with her.
He was looking down. She put her hands on his shoulders and thought very carefully about her next words. “I do not need you on your knees.”
From the slapped look on his face, she had not thought nearly carefully enough about her words.
She swallowed. “For one,” she offered lightly – she could do this, she could diffuse a situation, couldn’t she? She’d certainly done so in worse situations – “I was thinking of going into the bedroom. Since you wa – suggested I might want to kick the tires, and all. And for another, it’s hard to get your pants off like that.”
His flush was balanced well by his smirk, so she might have done something better this time. “As my mistress wishes.” He rose back to his feet and gestured towards the bedroom. “Unless you want me in front of you to clear the way?”
“Perhaps I just want you in front of me so I can watch the view.” She gestured him ahead of her and, with a growing smile, he led the way into the bedroom.
There, he turned to face her with his legs up against the giant bed. “Where would my mistress have me?”
She closed the door – noticed how his eyes tracked it – locked it anyway. “Eventually…” She didn’t even have to work to get a throaty, earthy note into her voice right now. “Everywhere in the house. And maybe the garden.” She walked towards him, noticing the way his eyes were noting the exits, noting her hands – empty – noting the mirror behind her shoulder. She broke eye contact and made a show of looking around the bedroom. “I like what you did to the place. It looks … it looks a lot more like me.”
His chuckle was nervous. “I figured that pink chintz probably wasn’t your style. That is,” he sounded almost cautious as he teased her, “if you can be said to have a style.”
“Well, from the looks of things, by the time you’re done with me, I will have one.” The place looked rich – which made sense, all things considered – but comfortable. The thick duvet on the bed looked like it was made of velvet. There were more pillows than she had ever seen on one bed at once. “I’m a bit afraid to mess it up,” she admitted.
“The carpet’s pretty soft,” he offered. She looked up at his face; he was smiling; she looked down at his hands; he was holding on to the edge of the bed.
“Oh? Well, then.” She closed the last foot of distance between them and put her hands on his hips. “We could try that out.” Her eyes flicked to the huge headboard on the bed. “Or we could put this bed through its paces, too.” She slid her hands into the waistband of his pants.
He swallowed. She resisted the urge to stroke the Adam’s apple as it bobbed up and down and then second-guessed her own resistance. A moment later, she had snuck one hand further down into his pants – he wore them snug – and the other was touching his throat.
His hands were white-knuckling the poor duvet. There was no way she was going to try having sex with him when he looked like he was riding a roller-coaster he didn’t particularly enjoy. She slipped her hand out of his pants and put both of her hands on his waist. “Okay.” She couched her voice gentle and calm. She was a little startled when that caused him to tense further, but she didn’t know – couldn’t, yet, know – what his triggers were. He’d probably deny having any.
“Could you put your hands on me?” she offered. He looked at her as if trying to make her words make sense and then, moving slowly, put one hand on her hip.
Testing her? She didn’t correct him. “So.” She tilted her head and smiled at him, like she was quizzing him. “If you couldn’t unlock the door and wanted to leave here, how would you leave the room?”
His hand on her hip twitched. “I would not leave a room without my mistress’ permission.”
Well, that answered one question. “You have my blanket permission to leave any room at any point – unless I have specifically told you to stay. Which I will do so in those words, such as ‘stay in this room’ and not any other way.”
He lifted his eyebrows. “You want me to leave?”
She poked him in the chest very lightly. “I am giving you permission to leave if you want to. Regardless of the circumstance. So… if you couldn’t unlock the door?”
“You’re a strange woman. I would go through the window.” Something that was nearly a smile crossed his lips.
She grinned back at him. “And if you couldn’t go through the windows?”
“Look for a secret passage. Since your house seems to be riddled with them. If that didn’t work… The ceiling is probably easier to get through than the floor or the walls, in a house this old. Or I’d take the door off its hinged; I might be able to slide through that way.” His fingers had stopped digging into her hip. Good.
She let herself properly smile. “Are you telling me you don’t have a single Working that would apply?”
And the tension was back. “Has my mistress told me that I may use Workings?”
“Everything not compulsory is forbidden, is that it?” She looked up at Erramun. “You may use any Workings you feel necessary, as long as you do not use Mind or Emotion Workings on me without my express permission. If you need to save my life, that exception does not apply.”
He nodded slowly. “Then I would Ignore the door and walk through it. It’s the minimum of damage to my mistress’ home. But -” He looked at her. “Why are you asking?”
“Because you are not trapped. The door is locked to keep Chitter or Ezer – Allayne has better manners – from barging in. You can leave at any point – through the door, through the window, through the hidden passage, or through the wall. You are not trapped,” she repeated.
He looked down at her. “I am being very obvious.”
“You have been being rather obvious since I showed you your room.”
His twitch was nearly invisible this time. He must be trying to hide it. “I am yours,” he rumbled. He couldn’t quite look at her.
“Yeah, well, me and my crew can be quite a bit to handle, and I don’t assume that you’re going to want to be around them – or even me – constantly. You can sleep in my bed any time you want. You can be by my side any time that it’s not going to impede a mission. You don’t have to be unless I directly order it. Okay?”
“You are spelling things out as if I’m an idiot,” he grumbled. “I’m not stupid.”
“I don’t think you’re stupid. I really don’t. I just think that you have impressions of Keeping that are not what I want from a Bond Servant – hold on.” She grabbed his arms firmly as he went a little bit ashy around the gills. “Easy, easy. You’re not doing anything wrong. Nothing at all. You’re erring on the side of caution-”
“Which is, by the very definition, an error.” From the way he was standing, if she had not been holding him, he would have dropped to his knees.
“Someone treated you badly as a Kept.”
“Someone treated me as their Bond Servant.” He looked pointedly away from her
“Someone treated you differently than I will treat you while you are wearing my collar.” She tapped his throat lightly. He did not flinch. Interesting. She lifted herself up to her toes, put both hands around his neck without offering any pressure, and kissed his lips.