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He muttered some astoundingly foul words before he said, “It’s all right, love. I have you.”

A moment later he was sitting with his back to the wall of the pit and she was on his lap.

Alys felt bemused. “Is this what they mean by two people having chemistry? I never understood that euphemism. Literally speaking, it makes no sense. What could beakers and Bunsen burners and formulas have to do with sexual attraction?”

“The chemistry is mine, I’m afraid.” He tucked her against his shoulder. “You’ve merely succumbed to it.”

“You know, modesty is not one of your shortcomings.” She would have felt annoyed with his arrogance if it hadn’t seemed so right. “You’ve been with a lot of women, I guess. I would really like to have sex with you, but I know I’m going to be a disappointment. Just so you’re prepared.” She started unbuttoning her shirt.

His hand stopped hers. “Alys, you are unlike any woman I’ve ever known, and yes, there have been many. None of them had your honesty, your simplicity. There is no artifice in you. Your heart is so open and clear and lovely, I think it must be fashioned from crystal.”

He was being ridiculous; her heart was made of muscle and arteries and membranes. An organic pumping mechanism, that was all it was, so why did it feel as if it were melting? For once, she knew how to respond in kind, however. “Then please don’t break it.”

Beau tipped up her face and put his mouth to hers. Alys hadn’t indulged in much kissing; the partners she’d taken in college had devoted a desultory effort to foreplay. Beau’s mouth tasted cool and wet, and when he touched her tongue with his, it sent a shivery panic through her.

He drew back a little. “You’ve nothing to fear from me, love. Let me in. Let me show you.”

He punctuated his words with light touches of his lips to hers, coaxing them apart for his tongue. His mouth felt warmer now, and not so startling, although other things distracted Alys. Her skin seemed too tight, and she couldn’t catch her breath. This close, Beau seemed so much bigger and harder, his body like some smooth, sculpted rock to which she could only cling.

And she was clinging, Alys thought, completely befuddled by the urgency pounding in her chest and the empty ache pulsing between her thighs. She’d never been one to cling or pulse over anyone, and yet here she was, grabbing at him and opening for him and taking each deep, slow kiss as if it was all that mattered.

“Wait.” She ducked her head, gasping for breath as she ground her forehead into his shoulder. “I can’t think like this. I can’t—do this. I don’t understand. I feel like I’m coming apart.”

“Shhhh.” He stroked her arm with a gentle up-and-down motion. “Nothing more will happen. You’re tired and hurt, and I shouldn’t have touched you at all.”

Alys didn’t know what to say, but her body reacted by pressing closer against him. “Please,” she begged. “Don’t stop now. I can handle it. I think.”

“It’s all right, love. I’ll see to it.” Beau turned her away from him, holding her loosely around the waist. “Lean back against me, yes, like that.”

She glanced down at his hand, which had released the button of her jeans and was opening the zipper. The set of his fingers made her frown. “You have a crooked finger on your left hand.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Are you going to try to manually stimulate me?” She’d experimented with that, too, but while she’d eventually learned how to bring herself to orgasm, it never felt especially satisfying.

“I’m going to touch you, Alys.” His voice whispered against her ear, and the low, rough sound seemed to echo through her, reaching down to intensify the ache. “It’s not anything you have to think about. You’ve only to feel.”

She could feel his hands pushing her jeans and panties out of his way, and her thighs trembled as he coaxed them apart. “I’m not very good at having orgasms. Your hand is going to get tired.”

“I never weary of touching you.” He cupped her, threading his fingers through the curly thatch of her pubic hair, and parted her mons with the edge of his thumb. “Can you feel that?” he murmured as he stroked the inordinate wetness between her folds. “That’s your wanting me.”

Alys knew the clinical term, but decided she liked his expression better. “That’s because I want you.” It surprised her how much she did. “I like how you touch me.” A sound came out of her throat as his fingertips moved lower, pressing in.

“Here?” He drew his hand back, rubbing her own wetness over her clit. “Or here?”

She had never felt less capable of speech; her throat tightened, her limbs trembled, and every rational thought left her head. “Both,” she managed to pant out. “Please.”

“Since you ask me so nicely.” Beau shifted his hand, working his long fingers into her body while he caressed the little knot at the top of her sex with his thumb. “I wish this was my mouth, so I could taste you. And then my cock, so I could feel you squeeze me as you come. Another night, Alys, I’ll come into your bed and wake you with my kisses. I’ll strip you down until you’re naked for me, and touch every inch of your beautiful skin. I’ll bring pleasures that have no names, delight that you’ve never imagined. And when you’re wet for me like this, when you can’t bear another moment apart from me, I’ll come into you and fuck you until you scream my name.”

Listening to his rough, passionate promises set her imagination on fire; hearing his last threat sent her body out of control. Alys felt herself clench around his fingers as the first hot burst exploded inside her, shaking her to her heels as she lost herself in the heat and sensation. Beau thrust his fingers deep, his thumbnail grazing her swollen clit as he caressed her in time with the pulses of her pleasure. She slipped from one peak only to be hurtled to another, her heart drumming in her ears, her breath sobbing in her chest.

Beau murmured something as he put his mouth to her shoulder, and Alys felt something sharp tear through her shirt.

His teeth grazed her flesh with two sharp points, and she thought he would bite down, but suddenly he wrenched his mouth from her and abruptly put her aside.

Alys propped herself up on one elbow, unable to believe he had shoved her away at such a moment. “Beau?”

“Forgive me, love, I…” He stopped and turned his back on her. “Forgive me.”

Alys’s eyes widened as Beau crouched, and then shot up through the air, disappearing over the edge of the pit. “Beau.” She scrambled to her feet, wincing as her movements pulled at the wound in her back. “Beau, don’t leave me down here.”

As she called out his name over and over, the air around her came alive with a soft, shimmering light. Alys’s voice died away, and when she tried to move back, her body turned to stone.

He will return for you soon, a deep voice whispered inside her head; a voice that belonged to Beau. As Alys fell to her knees, and then lay down on her side, the light filled her with its golden warmth. Sleep now, my child.

Chapter 10

Jayr didn’t need another fortnight to decide whether Devan Leeds was the best candidate to serve as her chief tresora. Over the last two weeks the man had fit himself seamlessly into her household, and had managed the running of it so skillfully she couldn’t imagine the Realm without him.

Only one obstacle remained, and he was sitting by her bedchamber hearth brooding over a half glass of whiskey.

She sat up, swamped as always by the enormous bed she shared with her lover, and looked for her robe. “Why are you drinking that swill?”

“This swill?” Byrne regarded his glass. “I refuse to give it up. Like you, my lady.” He rose and came to her, pausing to scoop up her robe from where he’d tossed it on the floor the previous night. “I dinnae know why you insist on wearing garments anyway. I’d chain you naked to this bed if I could.”

“You like my touch too much to clap me in manacles.” She lifted her face to kiss him, looping one arm around his strong neck as he lifted her from the sheets. “Now tell me what has you resorting to that god-awful liquor.”

Byrne carried her over to his big armchair and settled in it, holding her on his lap. “I’ve to ask you a favor. One you’ll not wish to grant me.”

She smiled. “Nonsense. You know I would do anything for you.”

He kissed the end of her nose. “Send the Englishman back to Italy.”

“Anything but that,” she said, her smile fading only when she realized he meant it. “You cannot be serious. Aedan, the man has been working like a slave for us.”

He picked up his glass again and drained it. “Aye, and so he has.” He studied the empty crystal. “A veritable rabbit of efficiency, he is.”

“How can you object to him?” she demanded. “He’s everything courteous and mannerly; he conducts himself so perfectly I wish he’d take the rest of the mortal staff in hand. He’s moved the renovations ahead of schedule by a full week. Every task I’ve set him has been done perfectly, and when I have no more, he finds work for himself. I vow, Devan hardly sleeps.”

“So you’re calling him Devan now,” he muttered.

Jayr studied his scowl. “You cannot be jealous. Of a mortal? Sweet Jesu.” She thrust herself off his lap and strode to the bed, jerking on her robe.

Byrne came up behind her, turning her to face him. “He is a man, and you a beautiful and powerful woman. God’s teeth, Jayr. Have you never wondered why he labors so long and dearly for you?”

“Could it be that I am the ruler of this territory, and he wishes to earn the highest and most important position for a mortal in my household?” She pretended to think. “No, that cannot be it. You are right; he wants only to crawl in my bed. I wonder how he will get you out of it first.”

“There is more to it than lust. He tries too hard. He watches you every second, and not merely to drink in your beauty. Test him.” When she started to tell him what she thought of that, he seized her up in his arms and kissed her. “If I am wrong, I will make my apologies and accept him as your tresora with all my heart.”

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