A Stroke of Midnight (Page 19)

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Chapter 37

THE STEW WAS THICK WITH BEEF, THE BROTH DARK AND HEAVY with a faint tang of some meaty ale to balance the sweetness of the onions. Maggie May knew my favorite dishes, and this one had been on the list since before my father and I left faerie for the human world, when I was six. My eyes got hot, and my throat tight. It was the same stew it had always been, and it was nice to have something that hadn't changed, something that was the same as it had always been.

“Merry,” Galen said, “are you crying?”

I shook my head, then nodded.

He put his butterfly-free arm around my shoulders, hugging me close. I must have bent over too much, because the moth on my stomach fluttered frantically. The feel of it struggling in my skin made the good stew roll uneasily. I sat up very straight. I had good posture, but until the moth was truly a tattoo, no slumping.

“Do you hurt?” Doyle asked.

I shook my head.

“You flinched,” he said.

“The moth didn't like me slumping,” I said. My voice was much steadier than my eyes. My voice didn't sound like I was crying, not one little bit.

Kitto moved between the table he'd set up, and raised his finger to my face. He came away with a tear shining on the tip of his finger. He raised it to his lips, and licked my tear from his skin.

It made me smile, and the tears fell a little faster because of it, as if I'd been holding my eyes very still to keep the tears from falling. “The stew is one of my favorite dishes. It hasn't changed. Everything else is changing, and I'm no longer certain that all the changes will be good.”

I leaned into the warmth of Galen's body, and gazed at the others. I suddenly knew what I wanted. “Kiss me,” I said.

“Who are you speaking to?” Frost asked.

“All of you.”

Galen bent down toward me, and I raised my face to him. His lips touched mine, and my body moved of its own volition. My arms swept up his body, and we embraced as we kissed. My hands explored the naked warmth of his body, not as foreplay, but because twice in less than a day I had thought the darkness would take one or both of us, and we would never again hold each other this side of the grave.

We kissed, and his hands were strong and gentle on my body, and the tears came faster.

Galen broke the kiss first, but hugged me tighter, and said, “Merry, Merry, don't cry.”

“Let her cry,” Rhys said. “To have a woman waste tears over you is not a bad thing.” He stepped up to me, where I still sat on the edge of the bed. He wiped my face with his good hand. “Are any of these tears for me?”

I nodded wordlessly, and touched his arm in its sling. He wiggled the fingers a little. “It will heal.”

I nodded again. “I sent you out into the snow, and didn't even say good-bye.”

He frowned at me, his one good eye perplexed. “You don't love me enough to shed tears at the thought of missing our last good-bye.” He wiped fresh tears away with his hand, still frowning.

I searched his face, the scars that had stolen his eye long before I was born. I traced the lines of those marks in his skin. I put a hand on either side of his shoulders, and drew him close to me, until I could lay a kiss upon the smoothness of the scar where his other eye should have been.

The thought that he was right, that I didn't love him that much, made me cry harder, though I wasn't sure why. It just seemed wrong. Wrong that I sent him out into the dark and the cold, and hadn't cared enough to say good-bye. If someone's willing to die for you, shouldn't you care? Shouldn't it matter more than that?

I moved my face back enough to kiss him gently on the lips. He came to that kiss still puzzled, hesitating, so that even as we kissed, his body was stiff and uneasy. I balled my hands into the cloth of his suit jacket, pulling him down to me, forcing him to catch himself on the bed with his one hand.

I kissed him as if I would climb inside him. He responded to the fierceness of my mouth with his own. He let me pull him down onto the bed, onto me, though he was awkward with the one arm in a sling. His body pressed against me, but it was as if his clothes offended me. I wanted bare flesh. I needed to feel his nakedness against me. To let me know he was real, and all right. That he was all right with being third in command. With not being my greatest love, and still having to risk his life as if he was. I wanted to hold him and tell him I was sorry that my heart didn't have room for everyone, and most of all that he could have died out there in the dark and the cold, and we would never have known. That I wouldn't have known. The Goddess had warned me to protect Galen and Barinthus. But it was as if Rhys wasn't important enough to her to waste such power.

I would never be able to send him away again without wondering if I sent him to his death. I pulled his shirt out of his pants. I had to touch more of him. I had to tell him with my hands and my body that he did mean something to me. That I did see him. That I never wanted him to die in the dark where I could not find him.

He propped himself up on his good arm, so that I could slide the shirt free. I meant to run my hands over that pale skin, but Rhys let himself fall back upon my body, pressing his mouth hungrily against mine. I'd forgotten the moth. I'd forgotten everything but the feel of his body pressed against mine.

Pain, sharp and immediate like tiny needles, pierced the skin of my stomach. Rhys cursed, and drew back from me, as if something had bitten him, and maybe it had.

He raised up on his knees, and showed his stomach. It looked like a bloody version of the moth on my stomach. He touched it, and it was flat, one-dimensional. The skin around the outline and colors was ridged and red, puffy and swollen, but I could see the image of the moth on his stomach.

The other men crowded round, and it was Galen who asked, “It's not the same thing we have, is it?”

“No.” Doyle touched it ever so gently, and even that made Rhys flinch.

“Ow,” Rhys said.

Doyle smiled. “Either the moth did not like being crushed or…”

“Yes,” Frost said.

“It cannot be,” Hawthorne said.

“It cannot be what?” Galen asked.

“A calling.” Doyle was pulling his black T-shirt out of his pants. I was about to point out that he'd never get the shirt off without taking his shoulder holster off first, but he raised the neck of the shirt over his head so that it sat behind his shoulders, still covering his arms, but leaving his chest and stomach bare.

“What is a calling?” I asked.

“What were you thinking just before you kissed Rhys?” he asked.

“That I didn't want him to go into the dark alone, and not be able to find him.”

Rhys slid off the bed, acting as if he hurt, but he was using both arms again. He noticed it, too, because he took his arm out of the sling, flexing his fingers. “Healed.” He looked down at the wound on his stomach, then up at me. “It's always the doom of any relationship to get matching tattoos.” He tried to make a joke of it, but his face didn't match the lightness of his words.

I touched the moth on me, and it still flicked its wings, irritated at the touch. “Mine's still alive.”

Doyle crawled up on the bed, and for once I moved back from him. “Explain, Doyle.” I put a hand up, not touching, but ready to keep him away from my body.

“It may be that your mark of power simply struck out in irritation. They can do such things.” He was above me now, on all fours, so that his body straddled mine but did not quite touch me. “But if it is a calling, then it will enable you to do just what you wish. You will be able to find Rhys in the dark or the light. You will have only to think of him, and your mark will guide you to him. Some of them would alert the bearer of the mark if the one they had called was in danger or injured.”

“A true calling could do many things,” Frost said.

“There has not been a true calling among us for centuries,” Hawthorne said.

“How can you doubt,” Adair said, and he had removed his helmet, so I could see him smiling. He looked so sure of it all. “She is our ameraudur.”

Doyle started to lie down on top of me, but I kept my hand in the way. I had more questions before we continued with our little experiment. The moment my hand touched his bare chest, the pain was sharp and immediate. But it wasn't my hand that hurt, it was my chest, exactly where I touched Doyle. Blood trickled down his chest, just below the silver nipple ring. Other than a tightness around his eyes, he didn't react to the pain at all.

“That answers one question.” Nicca moved to the far side of the bed, lounging and seemingly perfectly at ease. “It isn't just the mark not wanting to be touched.”

Doyle bent down to give me a quick kiss. Nothing hurt, and a tightness in my shoulders eased that I hadn't even realized was there.

He smiled down at me, a quick flash in his dark face. “You did say you wanted a kiss.”

“Why does this please you so much? It bloody hurts.”

The smile faded. “I am never happy to cause you pain, Meredith, but that you are marking us, that is a great thing.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It means you are a power.” Rhys did not look pleased. “Once I marked others, but when I joined the queen's service, she marked me. Then even that faded, and there were no more marks, not like this.” He ran his fingers lightly over the raised and reddened skin.

Hafwyn spoke in a low voice. “Do you want me to bandage them?”

“Until they heal, yes,” Doyle said, and slid off the bed.

“The queen will be pleased, but others will not be,” Hawthorne said. “There are those who always believed the marks were a sign of servitude to one greater than themselves. A mark that said plainly, this person is my master.”

I looked at him still covered in armor, helmet in place. “Is that how you feel about it?”

“I did once,” he said.

Frost pushed up his jacket sleeve to bare his lower arm. “If the marks work as they should, it will be important to be able to see them. They will carry messages between us, warnings. As much as I would love to press my body against yours, I would rather the sign be on my arm where it is easily seen.”

Doyle sighed. “Better strategy than the chest. I did not think.”

“You were befuddled with her beauty and the promise of power.”

Doyle sighed again. “Yes.”

Frost held his arm out toward me. I sat up carefully, still not wanting the moth to struggle. “Why does it hurt me every time? There are no marks on my skin.”

“You already bear the mark,” Frost said. “As for the pain…” He smiled at me gently, his eyes full of some knowledge that I did not have. “Merry, you should know by now that no power comes without a price.”

I would have liked to argue, but I couldn't. He was right. I stared at his pale, muscular arm, waiting. I took a deep breath, and let it out as I laid my hand on him. His breath hissed out between his teeth.

I made no sound for a moment, then my breath came back in a gasp. I looked at Galen and Nicca still on the bed. “If we all three have marks, then what happens if we touch each other?”

“Let us not find out, not tonight,” Doyle said. “I do not know if it would work as it should between the three of you, not with all of you so… fresh.”

Kitto came to stand beside Frost. “I would gladly carry your symbol, Merry.”

I had to smile at him. If the marks really could help us keep track of one another, I didn't want to leave Kitto out. “Your arm, then.”

He held his arm out, so trusting. I braced for it, and laid my hand on his arm. He hissed, like an angry cat, but did not pull away. When I drew back the moth was bloody on his skin.

I touched my own arm where it hurt. “Let's change arms for the next one, okay?”

“And who will be next?” Ivi said. “Nothing personal, Princess, but I bargained for sex, not slavery.”

I frowned at him. “What do you mean by 'slavery'?”

“The marks mean we are your men,” Doyle said. “They are proof that the Goddess has chosen us for you.”

“So this won't work with just anyone?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Only with those who are truly meant to be yours.”

“Define 'mine'?” I asked.

Doyle frowned. “I am not sure how to define it, in truth. Sometimes a fighter would come just when you needed him, and he would take oath. Sometimes it was a seeress, but they would be exactly who and what you needed to succeed at whatever quest had begun.”

“The marks only start collecting people when there's great need,” Rhys said.

“But once marked, it cannot be undone,” Hawthorne said.

“The queen's marks faded,” I said.

“Best not say we told you that,” Rhys said. “Not outside this room.”

“I will gladly take oath to the princess,” Adair said. He laid his helmet on the bedside table and began unfastening the armor at his hands and arms. Frost moved to help him. It was easier to get in and out of plate armor with help.

I pressed my hand to Adair's bare forearm, but nothing happened.

“Shit,” Rhys said.

Doyle nodded. “To join Andais and prove worthy of her mark, we had to fight.”

“I do not think fighting will win them Merry's mark,” Frost said.

“How important is it to mark them tonight?” Galen asked.

“The queen will be coming to fetch her for the call,” Frost said.

“I would feel better if we did at least one. If she lies with Adair and still his skin does not take the mark, then perhaps she has called all she needs to win.” Doyle moved to Adair's other side to help hurry him out of his armor. Frost, after a moment, went back to working on the other side. They began dismantling Adair's armor, exposing bits of skin and the undergarments that kept the metal from rubbing.

He looked from one to the other of them, and said, “You are jesting with me?”

“We do not jest,” Doyle said, as he and Frost undid the straps that held the cuirass. They lifted together and peeled him out of most of the ornate armor. There was still a bandage on his side where Hafwyn had conserved her magic and not healed him completely.

“I do not share Meredith lightly,” Frost said. He got the last of the armor off the other man. He began to help strip away the cut and bloodstained padding. “But what if we lose our battle because we lack one strong warrior more?” He shook his head hard enough to make his silver hair sparkle in the dim light. “I will not have my jealousy risk her safety, or the safety of my brother guards.” He gazed down at the still bloody wound on his arm. “Meredith is a fertility goddess, among other things, but primarily that is where her power lies. Fighting will not win you her mark.”

He and Doyle both stepped back, leaving Adair to finish the last of the undergarments himself.

“If you can win the lady's favor, then do it,” Frost said, and his voice was almost empty of resentment. He was truly trying.

Adair looked to Doyle one last time. “And if the mark still does not touch me?”

“Then you will have ended your long fast, and drunk deep of our lady. For she is our lady. Whether she is yours as well remains to be seen.” Then he stepped away, as had Frost on the other side. Galen and Nicca slid off the bed. Nicca said, “It's a big bed, but the first time should either be with someone who's sharing with you, or just you and the lady.”

I realized then that Biddy was not in the room. I started to ask where she was, then Adair was beside the bed. He was nude. He must have stripped while I was looking across the bed at Nicca.

I had seen him nude before, and recently. The queen had made certain he met me at the court naked except for his weapons. Andais was never subtle, and she had been determined that I make love with as many of the vegetative gods as possible. I don't know if she'd thought their being nude would make us quicker, or if she had believed the sight of them nude would inspire lust in me. He was as beautiful now as he had been then. I expected to see lust, or at least eagerness on his face, but his eyes were downcast, and if anything he seemed reluctant.

I reached out, and took his hand. He did not respond, neither closing his hand around mine nor pulling away. “Adair,” I said, “what is wrong?”

“It has been a very long time since I was with a woman.” He dropped his gaze again.

“She will be gentle if you need it,” Nicca said, from the foot of the bed now.

“Or not gentle,” Doyle said.

“She will be what you need,” Frost said. “It is her magic.”

“It is, in part, what she is,” Doyle said.

Adair looked at the men. “What is she?”

“She is the fertility of the land,” Doyle said.

“She carried the hand of blood and flesh,” Hawthorne said. “Those are dark powers.”

“Oh, come on, Whitethorne,” Rhys said, “blood and flesh have been making the crops grow as long or longer than sex.”

“Do not call me that,” Hawthorne said.

Rhys shrugged. “Fine, but she combines the fertility of both courts.”

“The Goddess saw fit to give each court dominion over different areas of fertility,” Hawthorne said.

“What the Goddess saw fit to divide, she can also remake,” Doyle said.

I squeezed Adair's hand. It made him turn and look at me, a frightening glimpse of eyes, then down at the floor again. “I won't hurt you, I promise.”

He spoke with his eyes still downcast. “I am more afraid I will hurt you.”

Frost laughed.

It made all of us look at him.

He shook his head. “Do you remember what I said to you that first night?” he asked.

I smiled, and nodded. “Yes, and I remember what we did.”

“You will not hurt her, Adair. Did you not see what she and Mistral did in the hallway?”

Adair licked his lips, and darted another glance at me. “Did you have an audience the first time?”

“Ah,” Frost said, and a look almost of gentleness came to him.

Doyle put it into words. “We have all been where you are now. So long without the touch of a woman. We all wondered if we had forgotten how to pleasure anyone, including ourselves.” He clapped Adair on the shoulder. “I will not say that we did not improve with practice after so long a fast, but we managed, all of us, from the first time, and so will you.”

“I think he wishes less audience,” I said.

“Who would you have stay, and who go?” Doyle asked.

“Let you and Adair decide.”

That earned me a startled look from Adair. “You would let me choose who stays and who goes?”

“Most of these men are my friends and lovers, but they are not so intimate with you. Tonight is for your pleasure.”

“I want it to be your pleasure, as well.”

I smiled at him. “As do I. What I mean to say is, I have had my pleasure as I wish it. I would have you, this night, have your pleasure as you would wish it.” I sat up, away from the headboard. “How do you want me? What do you want to do with me? What dream or fantasy has tormented you the most? What have you missed the most?”

He looked at me then, not a darting glance, but a full-out stare. His eyes glittered, and it wasn't magic. “Everything.” He looked away, so I would not see him cry.

“Everything is a tall order,” I said, “when we will be soon to wait upon the queen's call.”

His shoulders hunched, just a little, almost as if I had struck him.

I squeezed his hand, and pulled him gently toward the bed. “It is a tall order, but I will do my best.”

He looked at me then, and his eyes held disbelief. He simply did not believe that I meant what I said. He did not trust that I would not hurt him, or cheat him, or starve that part of him that Andais had abused for so long.

I went to my knees, and closed the distance between us, with my hands on his shoulders. “Kiss me, please.”

“Please,” he said, and he raised eyes to me that glittered with tears, but held anger. “You say 'please,' what trick is this?”

“I say please, so you know that it is not an order. I ask for a kiss, because I want one, but only if you wish to give it.”

He looked back at the men ranged around the room. “Does she understand what this means to us, to be asked?”

Most of them nodded. “She understands,” Doyle said.

“That's why she does it,” Nicca said, “because she feels our need.”

Adair turned back to me. “What would you have of me?”

“Only what you are willing to give,” I said.

He came to my mouth with a sob, but the moment our lips touched, it was as if all the uncertainty vanished. His mouth ate at mine, his fingers dug into my arms. He climbed onto the bed and forced me back against it. He laid his body on top of me, and found, as most of them did, that he was too tall for true missionary position. His body was heavy with need, but not as heavy as it would grow. He grew larger even as he hesitated above me, supporting himself on his arms.

He held himself above me, working very hard not to touch any part of me. I remembered that when I had met him in the hall yesterday his magic had recognized mine. That even being this close to him with my clothes on had made our magic shiver together. Tonight it was as if his body was cold. His hand had been warm in mine. He was alive as any man, but his magic seemed locked away.

I gazed down the length of his body, his skin the color of sunlight through leaves, that wonderful shade of gold that no human suntan can touch. Sun kissed the sidhe called it, and sun kissed it was. I brought my gaze back to his face, and the threefold color of his eyes. Their inner ring of molten gold, then a ring of pale yellow sunlight, and last, and thickest, was an orange-red, like the petals of a marigold. His brown hair had been shaved so short that his face seemed more naked than his body, as if something more important than mere hair had been taken from him when the queen took all that beautiful hair.

I gazed up at his face, and said, “You're shielding your magic from me, why?”

“Barely touching, and our magic caused the healing spring to appear and run with water again. What will happen if we do more?”

I studied his face, his eyes, and saw… fear. Not cowardice, but fear of the unknown, and something more. That fear that you feel at the top of the roller coaster, when you're afraid of it, but excited about it, too. You want to do it, want to give yourself to the experience, but the desire doesn't make it not frightening. Less frightening, maybe, but not without fear.

“Not to put too fine a point on things,” Rhys said, “but the queen's summons could come at any time.”

“Not until she's done torturing Lord Gwennin,” Frost said.

We looked at him. “I met one of the queen's maids on the way up from the kitchens. She and Ezekiel have taken a personal interest in Gwennin.”

“Poor bastard,” Rhys said.

Even knowing he'd put a spell on me and Biddy, using our human blood against us, I couldn't do anything but agree with Rhys. Torture was one thing, being at the queen's mercy was another; to have both her full attention and her pet torturer's attention, that was an entirely new level of pain. One I had no wish to contemplate.

“But there is a little more time,” Frost said, “that is all I meant.”

I gazed up at Adair. “Lower your shields for me, oak lord. Let your magic call to mine, and make light and shadow dance upon the walls.”

A look of something close to pain filled his eyes. He whispered so low that I think none but me heard. “I am afraid.”

I didn't ask him what he feared, for to do that would risk the other men realizing what he'd said, and he obviously didn't want that. “Kiss me, Adair, just a kiss.”

“It will not be just a kiss with you,” he whispered.

I smiled at him. “Do you want me to make this offer to Ivi or Hawthorne instead of you?”

He lowered his face, almost making the top of his head touch my body. “No,” and that was almost a shout. He raised his face to me, and there was that look of determination, anger, pride – all the things you usually saw in his eyes. “No,” he said again, and he let go his shields.

Chapter 38

HIS MAGIC TREMBLED ABOVE MINE, SHIVERING OVER MY NAKEDNESS. I writhed under just a touch of his power, and the power wasn't even manifesting. He had simply stopped shielding as hard as he could. My voice came breathy. “Why does your power feel so different to me?”

He was still just above my body, on hands and toes. He had to swallow twice to say, “Our magic is similar.”

“Like calls to like,” I whispered.

“I am the power that makes the seed break forth from its prison and reach toward the sun.” He began to lower himself, as if doing some exquisitely slow push-up. It was as if he were pushing himself down through layers of power, and our auras began to flare between us, like two different kinds of flame. I could see it inside my head with that vision that has nothing to do with optic nerves and everything to do with dreams. He spoke through the power. “And you are the earth that receives the seed.”

“No,” I whispered, “Amatheon is the earth.”

“He is the plow, not the earth,” Adair said.

I shook my head, shivering as his power curled over mine. Our auras, the very skin of our magic, pushed against each other, two pieces of a half joining together.

“Amatheon is the magic of the earth that quickens the seed. You are the heat of the sun that calls that seed to the light. Amatheon is the lord of the shallow dark, who holds the seed in its dark cradle until you call it forth.” The words were mine, the voice was mine, but I knew the echo of the Goddess by now.

Adair's power flared so bright we both closed our eyes, as if the vision fire were real, like shielding the eyes from the sun. My power blazed in turn, a white luminance to balance his golden heat.

When the light died down enough to see his face, his eyes were one solid yellow glow, as if his power had swallowed the other colors. It was as if there were some great, golden candle inside his skin, glowing in a long, thick line down the center of his body, but leaving the outer edges of him in a kind of darkness.

My skin glowed as if the full moon were rising up through it. But the moon's light is a reflection of the heat of the sun. Reflecting Adair's power made mine grow brighter. It was as if his power was meant to feed mine.

His mouth hovered over mine as he whispered, “If I am that which calls forth the seed, and Amatheon is the ground that holds the seed, then what are you, Meredith? What are you?”

“I am the life that springs from the seed, Adair. I grow, I feed my people, I die, but am reborn. I wax and I wane. I give light and hide in the dark. I am always, and always will be.”

“Goddess,” he whispered. “Danu.”

Our lips met, and he breathed in a rush of warmth through my mouth. It was as if I could inhale the essence of him, his magic.

He drew back from that kiss and magic trailed between our lips like something warm and thick and sweet. He whispered through that sweet power, “Meredith.” I felt his body settle against mine. “Meredith,” he said again. He slid his legs between mine, and I spread my thighs for him. “Meredith.” He whispered my name like heat against my skin, as the thick curve of his body began to push between my legs, seeking. He was so hard that just feeling him thrust against me made me writhe. Made my hips roll toward him, help him find what he sought. He slipped inside me, and I expected him to have to push his way in, for he was not small, but he did not. He entered me like a sword finding, at last, its perfect sheath. The magic seemed to draw back for a moment, like a giant taking a breath. We lay on the bed in that most intimate of embraces, as close as man and woman can be, and it was like coming home. It was as if I had waited lifetimes for this man to hold me, for this body to be inside mine. I saw the same wonder in his face.

I watched the glow at the center of his body begin to spread outward again. I felt the magic begin to swell, the giant was about to exhale, and with the sensation of that rising magic, Adair began to draw himself out of me. He pulled himself out until only the round head of him remained inside me. The magic blazed to life, and a heartbeat before the power took us, he slid himself home deep inside me. He brought my upper body off the bed, screaming, my nails digging into his flesh, trying to hold on to something, anything, while his body, his magic, thrust inside me again and again. Until I was no longer certain which was flesh and which was magic, pounding through my body.

Then the world shifted. Through the blaze of white and yellow light that was our magic, our bodies, I saw a great dark space rearing above us. We were no longer in the queen's chambers. Doyle, Rhys, and Frost climbed to their feet, and stood watch over us. Part of me wondered where the sithen had taken us, but most of me didn't care. I cared for nothing in that moment but the feel of Adair between my legs. Our magic shattered the dark into shadows and dancing light, and still Adair thrust between my legs. Still the power pulsed and grew until I thought my skin could no longer hold it. That I would melt away and become the light. I screamed my pleasure into the fire-shadows of our lovemaking, and still it was not done.

I felt my nails tear along his skin, watched his body bleed yellow and gold like sunlight.

The ground underneath my body began to move under the thrust and push of Adair's body, as if I would sink into the ground as Amatheon had done in vision. The ground boiled and for a moment the earth was water, pouring around my body in a thick, warm tide. The water spilled inside me, so that Adair pushed himself through it, and forced that blood-warm water deep inside me. Hands came out of that warm liquid. Hands and flesh pressed against me, following where the liquid ran. Muscles, skin, a body, whole and real, formed beneath me. I knew who it was before Amatheon raised his face up enough for me to meet his flower-petal eyes. His body was already inside me when it became solid. Inside me, as Adair thrust inside, so that their bodies shared me.

I was glad now that the magic and Adair's body had worked so long and hard inside me. Even with all they had done, it was a tight fit, with so much stretching, pushing, fighting against each other's bodies.

I screamed again, and this time it was a mixture of pleasure and pain. They were almost too big, almost too wide for me.

Adair propped up on his arms, and Amatheon's hands found my breasts.

They found a rhythm together, and it was like having one great member thrusting inside me, as if they had become one, as wide as a young tree. I opened my mouth to scream, to tell them it was too much, and the orgasm was suddenly there, turning pain to pleasure, too much to just right. My body convulsed around them, and I felt their bodies convulse together. Then I could feel them again, two men inside me. And they thrust inside one last time, and they came again. It brought me screaming, tearing at their bodies. Their screams echoed mine.

We lay for a moment exhausted in one another's arms as the light began to fade. Adair had collapsed on top of me, and I could feel Amatheon's heart thundering against my back. It was a wonderful thing to lie between them, but almost as soon as I thought it, my body let me know that once the endorphins had faded completely I was going to be hurting, because I was hurting just a little now. Not pain exactly, but aching, and it would only grow worse. They were both still erect, though not as hard as they had been, but I needed them out of me before the endorphins faded completely. Otherwise it was just going to hurt. I wasn't entirely sure it wasn't going to hurt anyway. The two of them together had been my limit, not beyond it, but definitely at it.

I drew breath to ask them to move, but another voice filled the silence first. “Oh, Meredith, brava.” She clapped, and others clapped with her, because when the queen applauds so do you.

The endorphins left in a rush, tightening my body painfully around the two men, almost as if my body was squeezing them tighter. It brought a small moan of protest from my body. I was going to be sore.

Adair slowly, carefully, began to draw himself out of me, which brought another sound of half-pain from me.

“Meredith,” she said, “I didn't know you had it in you.” Then she laughed at her joke, and was still laughing when Adair had moved enough of his upper body to reveal her to me.

Andais's body glinted in the thin light, glinted with fresh, and not so fresh, blood. She was covered in it. Her long hair was plastered along her body with blood and thicker things.

Amatheon tried to move out from inside me, but he was at a bad angle for it. Rhys came to help me, cradling me in his arms, helping give Amatheon a little more room to maneuver.

But it was Rhys's lifting that got me free of him. He stood with me in his arms, and I was just as glad, for I doubted I could have stood. Frost and Doyle stood by us, not quite guarding me against the queen, but close.

“We were coming to find you, niece. It seems we didn't need your policemen after all.”

“What do you mean?” I said in a hoarse voice.

“We have a confession to our murders, Meredith, and we did not need forensics to get it.” She bent down near her feet and raised her hand upward; a thick rope trailed down to something on the ground. My eyes saw it before my mind would accept it. There was a body at her feet, curled on its side, so covered in blood and so destroyed that I could not tell if it was man or woman.

Andais pulled on the ropes in her hand and the figure screamed. She wasn't holding ropes. She was holding intestines, and they were still attached.