Floren had gone off to get a map.
Gacharre had headed off to pick up some reports that he had questions about.
Pakkon had left on a thin excuse with a suggestion – a very polite suggestion – that none of the Claw would be back for at least an hour.
“Did they just clear the room to give us time to–” Carrone’s gesture was only evocative if you knew certain Haloran idioms, but since Deline did, it made her grin.
“And to clean up, air the room, and dress, I think. They’re professionals. Still, even I was impressed at their ability to do that whole thing while the room has a certain, mmm, miasma to it.”
“I wouldn’t call it a miasma.” He stretched and pushed the sheets off, looking at her with a certain predatory glint to his expression. “Still, if the smell bothers you-“
“Then clearly we should intensify it.” She shoved him lightly back onto the bed and smiled with all her teeth showing. “Come on, you can’t tell me you’re not a little interested in more.”
“I am always interested in more. Unfortunately, Wife of the Emperor, Sharpest of the Claws of the Bear, you have to make war – or at least espionage – on Dekleg. All I have to do is lay here and look pretty for my very sharp royal lady.” He pillowed his head on his hands and waggled his eyebrows at her.
“Well then, if you’re just going to lay there and look pretty, I suppose that might be a little bit of a challenge for me.” she straddled him, pushing the last of the bed linens out of the way. Like this, she could see his scars, but he was beautiful, tan-brown and muscled and lean and grinning at her.
“Well, I might be persuaded to do a little bit of something, I mean, in the interests of keeping you happy, of course.” He shifted a bit and leaned up towards her.
She pushed him back to the bed. “I didn’t say I didn’t like a challenge, now did I?”
He made a happy rumbling noise deep in the back of his throat. “You know, there might be advantages to this whole arrangement after all.” He pulled one hand out from under his head to put it on her hip, raising his eyebrows in challenge.
She didn’t push his hand away, but she did smirk at him, bumping her hip against that hold. “You’re just now figuring this out?” She brushed her hands over his chest and down to his stomach. He had a lovely toned body
“Hey, I’m good at tracking down people, not, you know, new ideas.” He squeezed her hip, trying to coax her closer to him without pulling or shoving.
“New ideas, hrrm?” She lifted her hips further away from him and ducked her head down to hiss at his collarbones and his chest. “Like hey, being in bed with a woman is nice?“
“Being in bed with the Emperor’s wife… okay, no, I can’t even pretend that I ever thought that wouldn’t be delicious.” He looked away, baring a long stretch of neck for her to kiss. “But you know what I mean.”
She licked from below his earlobe down to his shoulder, slowly, considering if she wanted to take offense.
“Being in bed and being a captive,” she breathed against his pulse. “Belonging to me, wearing that bracelet, and being under me here, in my home, in my bed.”
He groaned softly. “That,” he agreed. “Being – being your slave, forever, for ever, and being here, being – uh. All yours.”
She caught up his chin in her hand and coaxed his head to the other side. He didn’t resist, but she caught the look he was giving her, almost worried.
Almost worried and very anticipatory. It made her want to get him all tied up in spell-rope like he’d been when she first caught him.
Instead, she licked up the other side of his neck. “And yet here you are. All mine.”
“And your Claw-” He grunted as she flicked her tongue over the back of his earlobe.
“Aren’t here. Nor are they normally here. Well. Aside from reporting.”
“Mmm. Probably for the best. They look like they might wear me out.” He winked at her playfully. “And I’d rather you do that.”
“Oh, don’t worry.” She grinned sharply at him. “I can do that.”
Their hour passed quicker than she’d thought it might, and a glance at the candle burning down its time told her they had only a quarter-hour to clean up and air the room, but she found herself with her head on Carrone’s shoulder. “You thought it would be torture.”
“I thought it was going to be, uh. Being a fetch-and-carry boy. For a murderer,” he added helpfully. He was stroking her back as they talked; he didn’t stop, but his movements slowed. “I thought there was a good chance that you were – mmm, that you weren’t quite what they’s told us you were, but that you were going to use me. Punish me. I mean, I had just tried to kill you.” He huffed a little, the breath moving Deline’s head up and down on his chest. His fingers drew idle circles around the small of her back.
“And yet you took the option.”
“I thought it was the best way to uh.”
“To kill me,” she filled in.
“To kill you,” he agreed quietly. “To have a chance to go back to my life. I mean-” He shook his head, his hair brushing against the pillow. “No, I mean it. I thought it would be something I could get around.” His hand stilled on her back. “You knew that, didn’t you? And yet you made the offer.”
“I thought it was the best way to survive the trip,” she admitted quietly. “And I don’t like killing people. But I gave you a choice.” She breathed in his scent and tried not to let the next thought come. “I suppose I thought you understood, at least a little, what you were getting into. But if you didn’t-“
If he didn’t, he’d made a decision that was going to bind the rest of his life unless she set him free, and he’d done it in ignorance. Mother Bear wouldn’t condone that. Nobody in the Claw or the priesthood would condone that.
I gave him the choice. I explained.
“If you didn’t,” she repeated.
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