A Kiss of Shadows

Chapter 33

WE WERE BACK IN THE BLACK COACH WHEN THE DARKNESS STILL pressed against the sky, but there was a feel of dawn on the air, almost like the taste of salt in the air near the sea. You couldn't see it, but all the same you knew it was there. Dawn was coming, and I for one was% glad. There were things in the Unseelie Court that could not come out in the light of day, things that Cel could send after me, though Doyle thought it doubtful that the prince would try anything else tonight. But technically Cel's punishment wouldn't begin until tomorrow night, so the three months had not yet begun. Which meant that when the men went to pack, they'd gotten all their weapons. Frost practically clanked when he walked. The others were a little more subtle, but not by much.

Frost's great sword Geamhradh Po'g-Winter Kiss-was propped between him and the car door. Even strapped to his back, the sword was too long to wear sitting in a car. It wasn't a killing weapon like Mortal Dread, but it could steal a fey's passion, leaving them cold and barren as a winter snow. There had been a time when to be passionless, without his or her spark, would have frightened a fey more than death.

Doyle drove and Rhys rode in front with him. Doyle had ordered Rhys to ride in back with the rest of us, but Frost had insisted that he be allowed in the back. That had been... odd.

Now he sat in the far corner of the. seat, pressed against the door, spine stiff, all that silver hair shimmering in the dimness. Galen sat on the other side. Most of his wounds were almost healed, and the ones that weren't were hidden under fresh jeans. He'd put on a white tank top underneath a pale green dress shirt. The shirt was tucked into his jeans but unbuttoned so the heavy ribbed material of the tank top showed. The only thing that remained of the court was the knee-high boots of soft, soft hide, dyed a deep forest green. The braid that decorated the tops of the boots dangled down in two beaded strings, making them look very Native American. The brown leather jacket that he'd had for years was folded across his knees.

There was room on the seat for Kitto, but he had curled himself into a corner of the floorboard, hugging his knees tight to his chest. Galen had loaned him a long-sleeved dress shirt to cover the metallic thong he was wearing. The shirt was huge on him, white sleeves flapping down over his hands. All I could see were his small bare feet sticking out from under the cloth. He looked about eight, huddled there in the dark.

To questions like, "Are you all right? Are you sure?," he answered, "Yes, Mistress." That seemed to be his answer to everything, but it was obvious that he was miserable for some reason. I gave up trying to pry information from him. I was tired, and my ankle ached. No, my foot and my leg ached all the way up to my knee. Rhys and Galen had taken turns holding ice on my ankle during the after-dinner entertainment. The dance that was supposed to help me choose among the men had been a bust because I couldn't dance. Even without the ankle I felt unwell and. achingly tired.

I leaned against Galen's shoulder, half dozing. He raised his arm to put it over my shoulders but stopped in midmotion. "Ouch," he said.

"The bites still hurt?" I asked.

He nodded and slowly lowered his arm. "Yeah."

"I am not wounded." Frost's voice turned us to him.

"What?" I asked.

"I am not wounded," he said.

I stared at him. His face was its usual arrogant perfection, from impossibly high cheekbones to the strong jaw with its hint of dimple. It was a face that should have gone with a straight, thin line of lips. Instead, the lips were full, sensual. The dimple and the mouth saved his face from being utterly stern. At that moment his face was set in as harsh a line as I'd ever seen it, his back very straight, one hand gripping the door handle so tightly that you could see the strain in his arm. He had looked at me to make the offer, but now he turned, giving me only his profile.

I watched him sitting there and realized that the Killing Frost was nervous. Nervous of me. There was something fragile in the way he held himself, as if it had cost him dearly to offer me his shoulder to lean against.

I glanced back at Galen. He raised his eyebrows, tried to shrug, and stopped in midmotion. He settled for a shake of his head. Nice to know that Galen didn't know what was going on either.

I wasn't comfortable enough with Frost to tuck my head against his shoulder, but... but he could have gone out the door, saved himself when the thorns attacked, but he hadn't. He had stayed with us, with me. I had no illusions that Frost had been harboring some deep love for me in secret all these years. That just wasn't true. But the geas had been lifted, and if I said yes, sex was a possibility for Frost for the first time in a very long time. He'd insisted on riding in back with me, and now he'd offered his shoulder for me to lean upon. Frost in his own way was trying to court me.

It was kind of awkwardly sweet. But Frost was not sweet. He was arrogant and full of pride. It must have cost him dearly to make even such a small overture. If I turned down the offer, would he ever risk himself again? Would he ever offer himself to me in even a small way again?

I couldn't crush him like that, and even as I thought it, I knew how much Frost would hate that what prompted me to scoot across the car seat wasn't lust or his physical beauty, but something very close to pity.

I slid across the seat, and he raised his arm, so I could slide underneath. He was a little taller than Galen, so it really wasn't his shoulder I laid my head against, but the upper swell of his chest.

The sheer material of his shirt was scratchy against my cheek, and I just couldn't relax. I'd never been this close to Frost, and it was... awkward. It was like we couldn't get comfortable together. He felt it, too, because we both kept making small adjustments. He moved his hand from my back to my waist. I tried my head higher on his chest, lower on his chest. I tried snuggling my body closer to him, and farther away. Nothing worked.

I finally laughed. He stiffened, arm tense against my back. I heard him swallow. Goddess, he was nervous.

I started to go up on my knees beside him but remembered my ankle and could only tuck one foot underneath me, carefully so the high heel didn't snag either my one remaining thigh-high or the satin of my panties.

Frost was giving me just his profile again. I touched his chin and turned him to face me. From inches away, even in the dark, I saw the pain in his eyes. Someone, somewhere, had done him a hurt. It was there, naked and still bleeding in his eyes.

I felt my face soften, the laughter sliding away. "The reason I laughed," I said, "was because -"

"I know why you laughed," he said and pulled away from me. He tucked himself against the car door, though he stayed upright and stiff. It reminded me of how Kitto was huddling on the floorboard.

I touched his shoulder gently. That thin veil of hair had fallen across his shoulders. It was like touching silk. The color of his hair was so harshly metallic that I hadn't expected it to be so soft. It was softer than Galen's curls. A totally different texture.

He was watching me pet his hair.

I looked up at him. "It's just that we're at that awkward first-date phase. We've never held hands or hugged or kissed, and we don't know how to be comfortable with each other yet. Galen and I took care of all the little preliminaries years ago."

He turned away from me, sliding his hair out of my hands, though I don't think he meant to. He stared stolidly out the window, though it acted as a black mirror showing his face to me like one of the white ladies of the court. "How does one overcome this awkwardness?"

"You must have dated once," I said.

He shook his head. "It has been over eight hundred years for me, Meredith."

"Eight hundred," I said. "I thought it was a thousand since the geas went into effect."

He nodded without turning around, staring at his reflection in the window. "I was her chosen consort eight hundred years ago. I serviced her for my three times nine years, then she chose someone else." There was the slightest hesitation in his voice when he said the last.

"I didn't know," I said.

"Me, either," Galen said.

Frost just stared out the window as if fascinated by the reflection in his own grey eyes. "I was like Galen for the first two hundred years, teasing the court women. Then she chose me, and when she cast me aside, it was so much harder to abstain. The memory of her body, of what we..." His voice trailed away. "So I do nothing. I touch no one. I have touched no one in over eight hundred years. I have kissed no one. Held no one's hand." He pressed his forehead against the glass. "I don't know how to stop."

I raised up on one knee until my face floated beside his in the window. I rested my chin on his shoulder, a hand on either side of him. "You mean you don't know how to start," I said.

He raised his face and looked at my reflection beside his. "Yes," he whispered.

I slid my arms across his shoulders, hugged the feel of him against my body. I wanted to say I was sorry that she'd done that to him. I wanted to voice my pity but knew that if he once smelled pity that it would be over. He might never open himself up to me again.

I rubbed my cheek against the unbelievable softness of his hair. "It's all right, Frost. It's going to be all right."

He rested his head against my cheek, and I felt his shoulders relax in the curve of my arms. I wrapped my hands across his chest, one hand grasping my other wrist. Slowly, tentatively, he slid his hands over mine, and when I didn't move or tense, he held my hands, pressed them against his chest.

His palms were sweating, oh, so slightly. His heart beat so hard I could feel it pulsing against my hands. I touched my lips to his cheek, almost too light to be called a kiss.

His breath ran out in a long sigh that made his chest rise and fall under my hands. He turned his head, and that one small movement put our faces close, so close. I looked into his eyes, caressed his face with my gaze, as if I'd memorize it, and in a way that was what I was doing . This was the first caress, the first kiss. It would never come again, never be this new again.

Frost could have closed that small distance with his lips, but he didn't. His eyes studied my face as I studied his, but he made no move to finish it. I was the one who leaned into him, closed the distance between our mouths. I kissed him, soft. His lips were utterly still against mine; only his half-parted mouth and the frantic beat of his heart let me know that he wanted this. I started to pull back, and his hand slid up my arm until he cradled the back of my head. He balled his hand into my hair, squeezing, feeling the thick hair as I'd felt the silk of his earlier. His eyes were just a little wide, flashing white. He lowered my face back to his mouth. We kissed, and this time he kissed me back. His lips pressed against my mouth. He turned his shoulders into me, so that I half spilled across one broad shoulder.

I opened my mouth to the press of his lips, flicking my tongue, a small wet touch. His mouth opened to me, and the kiss grew. His hand stayed in my hair, but the other hand swept around my waist and spilled me into his lap. He kissed me as if he would eat me from the mouth down. I could feel the muscles in his neck working under my hands as he kissed me with lips and tongue, as if his mouth had parts I'd never felt before. I turned in his arms, sitting more solidly in his lap. It brought a sound low in his throat, and his hands were at my waist lifting me upward so that my legs swung to either side of his, and I was suddenly kneeling with a leg on either side of him with the kiss in one unbroken wet line. My bad ankle brushed the seat and I had to come up for a complete breath.

Frost pressed his face against my upper chest. His breathing came in ragged gasps. I held his face against me, arms around his shoulders. I was blinking as if I'd been asleep.

Galen was nearly open-mouthed. I'd been afraid he'd be jealous, but he was too astonished to be jealous. That made two of us who were astonished. I could hardly believe that it was Frost I held in my arms, that it was Frost whose mouth seemed to leave a memory like a burn against my mouth.

Kitto looked at me with his huge blue eyes, and the look on. his face wasn't astonished. It was heated. I remembered that he didn't know that he wasn't getting real sex tonight.

Galen recovered first. He applauded and said with an edge of nervous laughter in his voice, "On a scale of one to ten, I give it a twelve and all I was doing was watching."

Frost hugged me to him, still breathing as if he'd run a long way. He spoke with an edge of gasping to it, as if he hadn't quite recovered. "I thought I'd forgotten how to do that."

I laughed then, a low, rich sound, the kind of laughter that will turn a man's head in a bar, but this wasn't pretend. My body was still pulsing with too much blood, too much heat. I held Frost against my body. The weight of his face on my upper chest, his mouth leaning downward so the heat of his breath seemed to burn through the thin cloth of my shirt, and I more than half wanted his mouth to go lower, kissing across my breasts.

I found my voice, "Trust me, Frost, you haven't forgotten a thing." I laughed again. "And if you ever kissed better than this, I'm not sure I'd survive it."

"I'd like to be jealous," Galen said. "I was all set to be jealous, but damn, Frost, can you just teach me how to do it?"

Frost raised his head up so he could see my face, and the look on his face was full of a shining pleasure with an edge of something dark and satisfied in his eyes. It changed his face into something more... human, but no less perfect.

His voice was soft, low, intimate, as he said, "And that was just the touch of my flesh. No power, no magic."

I stared down into his eyes and swallowed. Suddenly, I was the one who was nervous. "It was magical, Frost, all on its own." My voice sounded breathy.

He blushed, a pale pink flush from his throat to his forehead. It was perfect. I kissed him on the forehead and let him help me bring my injured ankle back over his lap. I sat back down on the seat with Frost's arm around my shoulders. My body fit in the curve of his arm as if I'd always been there.

"See, all comfy," I said.

"Yes," he said, and even that one word held a warmth that made my stomach and lower things clench.

"You need to prop that foot up," Galen said. "I volunteer my lap." He patted his leg.

I stretched my legs out, and he put my feet on his legs. But it was awkward with me sitting up against Frost. "My back doesn't bend that way," I said.

"If you don't elevate the ankle, it's going to swell," Galen said. "Keep your feet in my lap and lie down. I'm sure Frost won't mind if you put your head in his lap." That last came out with a nice edge of sarcasm.

"No," Frost said, "I don't mind." If he got the sarcasm, it didn't show in his voice.

I laid down, keeping a hand on my skirt so it didn't slide up; with my legs elevated in Galen's lap I was very glad for the long skirt, which made it all more modest. I was tired enough that modest was just about the right speed.

I rested my head on Frost's thigh, my temple cradled against his stomach. His hand slid across my stomach until his fingers touched my hand, and we held hands as I gazed up at his face. The look was almost too intimate. I moved my head to one side, cheek resting full against his thigh. His free hand played with the hair on the side of my face, fingers gently pulling.

"Can I take off your other shoe?" Galen asked.

I looked down the length of my body at him. "Why?"

He raised his hips slightly, and I felt the stiletto heel press into flesh that was far too soft to be thigh. He kept himself pressed against the sharp heel, his gaze like a weight on my face. "The heel's a little sharp," he said.

"Then stop pressing yourself against it," I said.

"It still hurts to move around, Merry," he said.

"I'm sorry, Galen, you can take the shoe off."

His smile flashed. He slipped the shoe off my foot, holding it up, , shaking his head. "I like the way you look in heels, but flats might have saved your ankle."

"She's lucky that was all that twisted," Frost said. "It was a powerful, if poorly constructed, spell."

I nodded, my head snuggling against the bend of his leg. "Yes, it was like shooting at squirrels with buckshot. You'll kill them, but there isn't much left to eat."

"Cel has power but very little control," Frost said.

"Are we sure it was Cel?" Galen asked.

We both looked at him. "Aren't you?" I asked.

"I'm just saying we shouldn't put everything at Cel's door. He's your enemy, but he may not be the only one. I don't want us to be looking so hard in Cel's direction that we miss something important."

"Well said," Frost said.

"Gee, Galen, that was almost like a smart thing to say," I said.

Galen slapped the top of my foot gently. "Compliments like that will get you nowhere near my body."

I thought briefly of pressing my foot into his groin and kneading, to prove that I was already close to his body, but I didn't. He was hurt and it would just pain him to no purpose.

Kitto was watching us all with an intense blue stare. There was something in his face, the way he held himself so attentive, that I was betting he'd be able to repeat everything we'd done, everything we'd said. Would he tell Kurag? How much "mine" was he?

He caught me looking at him, and his eyes stared into mine. The look was not fearful. It was bold, expectant. He'd been more relaxed since I'd kissed Frost, though I wasn't sure why.

My stare seemed to make Kitto grow more bold. He crept forward, toward me. His eyes flicked to Galen, then to Frost, but he knelt on the floorboard, legs straddling the hump in the middle.

He spoke very carefully, keeping his mouth as closed as he could to hide the fangs and the forked tongue. "You have fucked the green-haired sidhe tonight."

I started to protest, but Galen touched my leg, squeezing slightly. He was right. We didn't know how, much we could trust the goblin.

"You have kissed-" The "s" in kiss was the first sibilance he'd allowed in the speech, and it made him hesitate. He started over. "You have kissed the silver-haired sidhe tonight. I would ask permission to uphold the goblin's honor in this matter. Until we share flesh, the treaty between you and my king is not finalized."

"Hold your tongue, goblin," Frost said.

"No," I said, "it's all right, Frost. Kitto's actually being very polite for a goblin. Their culture is very bold when it comes to sex. Besides, he's right. If anything happens to Kitto before we can share flesh, the goblins are free of the treaty."

Kitto bowed until his forehead touched the seat, hair brushing along Frost's hand where he still held mine. He rubbed his head against the seat, along the line of my body like a cat.

I tapped his head. "Don't get any ideas about doing it in the car. I'm not into group sex."

He raised up slowly, those drowning blue eyes staring at me. "When we get to the hotel?" He made it a question.

"She's injured," Galen said. "I think it can wait."

"No," I said. "We need the goblins."

I could feel Galen tense just through the hand on my leg. "I don't like it."

"You don't have to like it, Galen, just acknowledge the practicality of it."

"I do not like the thought of the goblin touching you, either," Frost said, "but it would be a simple thing to assassinate the goblin. They are easier to kill than a sidhe, if you use magic."

I looked at Kitto's delicate body. I knew he could trade blows with almost anything and limp away, but magic... That wasn't a goblin's strong point.

I was tired, so tired. But I'd worked hard for the alliance with the goblins. I wasn't going to lose it now through squeamishness. The question was what piece of my body was I willing to let him sink those fangs into? I wasn't going to lose a pound of flesh, but a bite, which Kitto was within his rights to take. Where would you want someone to take a bite of you?

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