This was originally supposed to go out to newsletter subscribers, but I’ve decided to release this as a special holiday treat for my readers.
A huge spoiler warning: This scene is from Crest (Book 3) of the Ondine Quartet.
Okay. You’ve been warned. 🙂
All of you have been amazing and I appreciate my readers so very much. You rock, I love you guys, and I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season with family, friends, and everyone you hold dear.
Happy Holidays – ENJOY!
It hadn’t worked.
I finally allowed myself to slow my pace, muscles relaxing as I slipped out of the tunnels into the shallow pools of the cave. Water slid around me, its cool caress a futile balm.
The hard swim hadn’t eased the restlessness hounding me. Nothing did.
It was as if the conference’s tension had spilled over the palace walls, saturating everything with the greedy stain of petty politics and cunning personal agendas.
The first time Eric showed me these caverns, we were children envisioning ourselves as intrepid explorers boldly laying claim to uncharted territory.
He had a particular talent for finding the untouched areas of our kingdom, the spots Father and the palace couldn’t reach.
Back then, I believed Eric fashioned our adventures for me, his way of giving me something I could call my own.
But I now wondered if he’d also needed space far from the looming shadow of his inheritance.
Ahead, a disturbance rippled the waters.
It was the particular strum of her movement and breath. Even before the edges of her familiar aura pierced the waters, it swept against my pelt, familiar and intimate as a physical touch.
She was everywhere.
Her scent, her pulse, her magic, her laughter had become inescapable. She was in the vastness of the endless sky and the color of the blazing sunset, in the murmur of the woods and the touch of the ocean.
In my dreams, under my skin.
Restless awareness beat against my ribs. I shifted, the flash of magic providing a moment to brace myself.
It didn’t matter. The same jumbled mess of terrible yearning and cold fear punched through me at the sight of her.
She stood, luminous and defiant, under the trickle of milky afternoon sunlight.
Rain dripped through the ceiling fissures in a mournful rhythm. Her white shirt, wet and heavy, clung to every delicate line and curve.
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
Her voice was stormy, electric. It danced along my skin, a demand and temptation, dragging my gaze down.
The shirt had turned translucent. Desire, painful and fierce, tore through me.
“You’re soaked.” It came out harsher than I intended.
“Water’s not cold.”
She crossed her arms, posture fragile and self-conscious against the craggy silhouette of the cave. Light spilled across her face and I suddenly remembered, in exquisite detail, how her mouth had felt beneath mine.
My body instantly hardened.
She studied me with suspicious eyes. “You haven’t been telling me things. I want to know what’s going on.”
I moved past her.
“Were you preparing something for tonight?”
Agitated energy churned in my blood. I needed to leave before I said something I’d regret.
“Were you out for a swim? What were you doing?”
“You should rest up for the strike.”
I felt a twinge of regret but kept moving forward. This wasn’t the time or place to deal with —
“If you have something to say to me, say it.”
Her anger flexed against my skin, coaxing my own sharp hum of anger.
“Damn it, talk to me!”
I whipped around, backing her up against the rocky wall.
Heat radiated off her body, trapped in the space between us. I inhaled her indignant anger.
Her fire stoked my own.
“For almost a year, you’ve deflected, ignored, or walked away from me every time I wanted to discuss something that cut too close. You shut me out whenever you wanted to avoid something. And now you want to talk?”
Her eyes blazed. “That’s different! You’re obviously pissed off at me and I deserve to know why.”
The words spilled out, fast and rough, before I could stop them.“Why didn’t you tell me my father was the one who put you in the infirmary?”
She startled and the telltale action infuriated me.
She’d lied. She’d deliberately kept information from me while demanding I tell her everything.
“Your father is a warrior. He wanted to see if I was one, too.” She tilted her chin. “It was his way of testing me.”
“I’m the sondaleur and the future Governor. He needed to see what I would do. It’s the language he knows.”
I didn’t know who was more infuriating. My father or her.
In stubbornness, though, it was an absolute dead tie.
“So what did it accomplish?”
“He knows I won’t back down and I’m willing to take the hit. It’ll make things easier.”
Her voice shifted. She was evading.
“That still doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me.”
“You and I both have a lot of shit on our plates right now —“
“He knocked you out!”
“I can handle your father!”
Anger surged. She kept putting herself in danger, then deliberately ignoring any of my attempts to remedy it.
Either she didn’t care if she got hurt or was simply refusing my help out of misguided pride.
Both options were unacceptable and I couldn’t do a fucking thing about it.
“Someone in my kingdom tried to hurt you. A traitor is killing ondines and is obsessed with you. Political instability means you’re walking around with a target on your back. Then I find out, from a third party no less, that my own father injured you. Do you know how hard it’s been to not go after him?”
“Which is why I didn’t tell you.”
“You kept it to yourself even though it concerned my family? My father?”
Something flashed deep in her eyes. “I was trying to protect you! I didn’t want you to deal with his crap right now.”
Her gaze dropped.
Realization dawned. “You don’t trust me.”
She jerked her head up. “This has nothing to do with —“
“You trust me to fight alongside you. You trust me to stand beside you in meetings and Council sessions. But you don’t trust me enough to tell me when something’s bothering you.”
It didn’t matter how much I shared with her. She wouldn’t let me in.
There was always a part of herself she kept removed, locked up so tight I sometimes wondered if she even remembered it existed.
Her expression hardened. “And what about you? Why didn’t you tell me the Manhattan Lieutenant turned your brother? Or about Sian? Or that you think the traitor was responsible for what happened to Eric?”
Of course she knew. Just as she’d known how to find her way to these caves.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she found out everything about my life.
Yet, she’d somehow managed to completely shut me out of hers.
“I told you about the Lieutenant after the strike because I didn’t want you to worry during the mission. What happened between Sian and I took place so long ago it’d be the equivalent of expecting you to tell me something that happened ten years ago. You asked and I told you everything. And I didn’t tell you about the traitor because I didn’t want you to feel additional pressure in finding him.”
She crossed her arms. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“Yes, once we got closer to catching him. If you want to know something, ask and I’ll tell you. But the problem is you don’t ask. You don’t want to know.”
“Oh, really?” Her mouth tightened. “Then tell me why you left for six months.”
Because I’m a fool.
“Because my kingdom needed me.”
Her laugh was hoarse, sarcastic.“Couldn’t bother to call?”
“You needed time alone. You needed to recover, focus on entering the elites, and assimilate to your new life in Haverleau. Calling you would’ve been a distraction you couldn’t afford.”
“Everything to make me a better soldier right?” Her mouth twisted. “The ultimate weapon.”
I wanted to snarl. “Quit using the war as an excuse. When you left for New York, you didn’t bother to say good-bye or call, either. But you didn’t have to. Because we don’t have that kind of relationship.”
Something shone in her eyes, brief and bright. Hurt?
Before I could catch it, she blinked and it disappeared, hidden behind her usual wall of steely anger.
“You know what? You’re right. Let’s just stay out of each other’s business from now on.”
I wasn’t letting what happened in Manhattan repeat itself. The Lieutenant had taken Eric and had been mere seconds away from taking her, too.
“No? You’ve been shutting me out since New York. You want distance, fine. Then you don’t get to order me around, Your Highness —“
“You make me afraid.”
Her eyes widened.
“The Lieutenant could’ve snapped your neck.”
My gut clenched. He’d touched her. His hands were about to break her as if she were nothing when she was everything.
“I’ve never known the kind of fear I felt in that moment. And I dealt with it the only way I know how. I…I thought if you came here you’d be safer.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d been wrong. Not only did the threat remain, but bringing her here had only brought her deeper inside me, to a place where she now remained inextricably intertwined with my past, present, and future.
She straightened. “I’m more than capable of defending myself.”
“I have to watch you head into danger again.”
“I do the same for you.”
“I worry you’ll do something rash to protect others.”
“You’d do the same.”
I held her gaze. “I’m terrified of losing you just when I’ve found you.”
This time I saw it clearly. The fear that flashed through her eyes.
But again, she ran from it, choosing to show me something else.
“Is that what this is about? About tonight? You think I can’t do it?”
“Stop deflecting. Do you trust me?”
I wished I believed her.
“Do you believe I worry about you? That I don’t like seeing you hurt?
A pause. “Yes.”
“So why won’t you tell me when something is bothering—“
“Because it hurts! When I spend time with you or share something with you, it’s just a reminder of what I can’t have, okay?”
I forced the words out. “Do you want me to never speak to you again?”
“No, I just…I don’t…Tell me what you want!”
Those words were dangerous and she knew it.
I took in the line of her cheekbone, the curve of her lips. Awareness colored her skin, the faint flush spreading to the irresistible curve of her bared shoulder.
How many times had I dreamed of touching her there?
Slowly, cautiously, my fingers grazed that small patch of skin.
A soft sound escaped her lips.
It was silkier, smoother, more incredible than I had ever imagined.
“I want you to be safe.” Mesmerized, I tracked the perfect slope of her shoulder.
Her breathing quickened.
“I want you to receive what you need.”
Over the delicate ridge of her collarbone.
“I want you to be whoever you want to be.”
Over the tattoo that first fascinated me on a moonlight night in a San Aurelio alley.
The feel of her was almost unbearable.
“I want you. I just want you.”
Heat swirled, fogging my brain.
I forced my hand to let go and my body felt as if it would break from the effort to hold back.
I dropped my head and took a shaky breath.
Her scent flooded me. Jasmine and roses.
Sharp arousal lingered along her skin, in the curve of her spine, and the angle of her jutting hips.
I gritted my teeth. “You need to go now.”
Her breasts firmed, tightening and lifting against my chest. Her pulse fluttered wildly at her throat.
Desire, hers and mine, rubbed my senses raw.
My hands curled into fists. “Kendra. Leave.”
A last plea.
She stared at me. “No.”
Nothing existed but sensation and instinct.
Hunger. Desperation. Need.
My mouth slanted over hers, hard and unrelenting.
I lost myself in the pleasure of her lips, in the heat of her tongue and a maddening tangle of emotions. Tenderness, passion, anger, fear, want.
I couldn’t get enough. Would never get enough.
She bucked and arched, all legs and arms, wild energy whipping about, a raging inferno revolting against this war, this life.
The same desperate mutiny raged within me.
My arms locked around her, containing all that power long enough to bring her to the embankment.
She lay against the slope of ebony rocks, lips parted, hair spread beneath her. Darkened eyes smoldered beneath half-closed lids heavy with sensuality.
Need clawed my insides, a voracious beast terrifying in its enormity. I struggled to temper it.
I didn’t want to hurt her.
Strong fingers twisted in my hair, fierce and insistent.
I groaned, my hands catching her hips, lifting her tight against me.
“So beautiful.” A whisper against her throat, the acknowledgment of a rarity that defied blood and death.
She removed the last layers between us and more words – nonsensical, frenzied – tumbled forward, borne from reverence and wonderment at what lay bare to my touch.
And with every moan, gasp, and deliciously sweet cry, she pushed me deeper into a sea of frantic desperation.
Because I knew.
My hands and mouth may explore every curve and dip and hollow, but there would always be a part of her I could never touch.
Even as we found temporary relief from the restless demons haunting us, she would belong to the duty binding her to everyone else.
But what I could have was her pleasure.
I could give her a memory that would be seared into her skin, imprinted on every part of her just as she had long been on me.
That pleasure belonged to me and I savored it, demanded it, and drowned in it with every stroke and thrust until we arched and shuddered, both revealed and shattered in the mirrored aftermath of our uprising.