No Man Can Tame (Page 39)

She parted her thighs, only a little, and Holy Ulsinael, the nail file clattered to the floor.

* * *

Veron held Aless’s hand, leading her down the passage to the hot springs.

“Where are we going?” she asked with a tilt of her head, tightening the sash of her robe and looking around. “I can barely move.”

He huffed a laugh under his breath. So far, they had spent the entire night in bed, and he would happily spend the rest of it there, but Aless couldn’t leave Dun Mozg without visiting the hot springs—especially considering they had a couple of days on horseback ahead of them.

“After that landing in the ring earlier, I think you’ll like where we’re going.” He smiled at her over his shoulder.

The air turned balmy right before the entrance, the soft splash of water babbling nearby. He led her inside, and she gasped.

Silvery moonlight peeked in high overhead, refracting off jeweled veins in the stone, flowing down to the steam rising off the vivid teal water. Streams cascaded from the rock into the spring with a pleasant, continuous sound. It was, thankfully, empty.

“I thought you could use some hot—”

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, then kissed him again… deeper, slowly; untying her sash, he moved toward the water, unwrapped the towel from around his waist before wading into the soothing heat. She let the robe fall to her feet—and Holy Ulsinael, he’d never tire of seeing her naked—and then she followed, entering with a lengthy, quiet moan.

Broad steps descended into the sultry water, and he sat on one, submerged to his chest, and she sank in next to him.

“Can we stay here forever?” she murmured, her eyes closed as she settled into his arms.

He sighed. “We can stay here… a little less than an hour.”

With a quiet whine, she rubbed her cheek on his chest before resting against him.

To make their plan work, they’d be leaving Dun Mozg before dawn. As it was, they’d be traveling on little to no sleep, but he’d already planned on letting her sleep in the saddle while they rode.

“Veron,” she said, lightly stroking his abdomen, “can we talk about Gavri?”

Clearing his throat, he straightened. No, they absolutely could not talk about Gavri while she touched him like that.

She giggled and settled her arm around him. “Sorry.”

He rolled his eyes and sighed. “What about Gavri?”

As much as he cared for Gavri, her decisions hadn’t exactly been brilliant lately—from betraying him, to carrying on with Zoran, to derelicting her duty to guard Aless.

She was quiet a moment, nuzzling his chest with her cheek. “Gavri told me that once lost, your trust is unrecoverable.”

Gavri would say that, because up until recently, it had been the truth. After he’d lost Ata, he’d never wanted to go through it again. “One betrayal has the power to destroy everything. And I’m tired of losing things.”

“But you forgave me.”

He had. And it had happened through none of his own making—clearly his heart knew better than he did, and he wasn’t about to complain.

Aless sat up and looked at him, her palm pressed over his heart. “People might sometimes betray your trust, Veron, and you might lose them. But if you choose not to forgive, you don’t have to worry about losing them… because you’ve already pushed them away. It’s still loss, but of your own making.”

He blinked.

“Do you really want to lose Gavri?”

Even though Aless had lied, he hadn’t wanted to lose her… had forgiven her.

He lowered his gaze to the water, watching its steam rise. But wasn’t it better to lose someone knowingly, by his own choice, than to wait for a worse betrayal? Watching them walk away in deception, while he, without knowing the truth, was helpless to do anything about it? Wasn’t it worth the years of wondering what if?

What if he hadn’t let Ata leave that day? What if he’d followed him? What if he’d learned of Ata’s plans?

Would he have been able to stop him? To save him? Would his father be alive right now?

“She told me about what happened with your father,” Aless whispered. “You were just a child, Veron. It wasn’t fair, but there was nothing you could have done.”

He shook his head. “You’re wrong. He was my father. I loved him, and I should have known him better than anyone. But I didn’t.” That day, he’d accepted Ata’s smile without a second thought. “I have forgiven you, but there’s a reason I don’t forgive. I see people, Aless, but I don’t understand them. I can know someone my entire life and not realize they’re going to betray me. I can be in love with a person, and not know she’s plotting to kill my mother. When it comes to understanding other people, I… I can’t even trust myself.”

If he trusted those who betrayed him, if he forgave them, would the next betrayal leave Aless dead? Or Mati? Or Riza? Or any of his sisters and brothers? His people?

He knew Aless would never betray him again, that she’d never hurt him or anyone he loved, and so he’d been able to forgive her. That had to be why.

But anyone else? He’d trusted Gavri after her lie, at least enough to let her continue performing guard duties, and what had happened? Aless and Noc could have been buried under rubble.

There was a reason he couldn’t forgive betrayers. And it wasn’t because they were terrible, or selfish, or evil. It was because he couldn’t trust himself to understand them. And that could mean losing someone he loved… again.

Aless turned to face him, slowly brought her knees down around his hips, and settled into his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and as hot as the water was, the warmth inside of him wasn’t from the spring, but the soft look in her eyes as she leaned in and lightly brushed his lips with hers.

“People you love will let you down, Veron,” she said softly. “I’ve been let down and I’ve let down others more times than I can count. But no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. If you don’t forgive, the only difference is that they’ll make their mistakes without you. Is that really what you want?”

Those mistakes hurt. But never laughing with Gavri again? Or losing her, Aless, or any of his loved ones?

“And may I remind you,” Aless said, kissing him lightly again as she leaned into him, “that if not for your forgiveness, we probably wouldn’t be right here, like this, right now?”

A solid point. A very solid point.

“You might not be pushing away just the bad, but the good, too.” Her mouth fell open as she rocked against him, water lapping about them.

Just the thought of her caring enough about his friends—and him—to broach this was enough to make it worth considering. “I’ll think about it, I promise,” he replied.

“Good,” she said with a smile, and he held her close as he lifted her from the water. “Because we have a long ride ahead of us.”

And a few days’ worth of traveling, too.

Chapter 20

As the rain started to fall midafternoon, Veron tucked Aless’s copy of A Modern History of Silen inside her cloak, into her belt. Riding double with him on Noc, she’d been reading it aloud all morning since they’d left Dun Mozg, and the trip had been far less dull with her animated voice spinning tales.

She was fast asleep now, her head resting against his arm, and Noc’s gait had become all the smoother.

You’re fond of her, he told Noc.

So are you, Noc answered.

He laughed under his breath. It couldn’t have anything to do with the apples she’d brought in their pack, which had mysteriously disappeared after their rest stop. Even for that short reprieve, she’d been eager to learn the bow, and could even hit a target now… sometimes.

“You spoil her,” Yelena murmured, riding up to him, hooded and cloaked.

He sighed. Queen Nendra had insisted that Yelena and some of her kuvari accompany them to Nozva Rozkveta, saying she wouldn’t risk Queen Zara’s son and a Sileni princess being killed on the way home from her queendom.

“She was attacked last night, in case you forgot,” he shot back. “By fanatics and, earlier, by you.”

She scoffed. “You know my mother would have me given into the Darkness if I destroyed the peace.” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, let’s not pretend this is about her little tumble in the ring, or the human scouts you killed.” She gave him and Aless a stern once-over. “You were seen all over each other on the main thoroughfare. It was the talk of the cavern this morning. And then you”—she curled her upper lip—“disfigured yourself like that.” She cocked her head toward his hands. “No dark-elf woman would have you now.”

Aless nuzzled his arm sleepily, and he held her closer. He didn’t want a dark-elf woman, or any other. The only one he needed was right here, would always be right here. “All that matters is she does.”

Yelena shook her head.

“Let me guess—you disapprove.”

A huff. “Well, she’s no dark-elf.” Yelena’s eyes fixed on Aless. “But I heard she killed one of those scouts last night. A crossbow bolt through the head, by hand.” She whistled softly. “She may not be a warrior, but she’s not the typical scurrying salamander, either. I still don’t like her, though.”