Thorn Queen (Page 28)

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“Oh,” I said lamely, stepping aside so that he could enter. “I thought you were someone else.”

“Someone in a velvet dress shrieking at the top of her lungs?” he asked. He moved past me in that graceful way of his, and I noticed he was careful to keep a healthy distance between us without being asked, as though he suspected my aversion to touch.

“Something like that.” I shut the door.

He shrugged and immediately found the room's wine. “She won't bother you anymore,” he said, pouring a cup. “I'm sending her away.”

“Yeah, she told me. You know, I feel kind of bad for her.”

“Stop,” he ordered. “She's none of your concern. She should have had no expectations about her relationship with me.”

“Yeah, well, she kind of did.”

“Again, one angry person is none of your concern-not with everything else going on.”

I grimaced. “I suppose not, though it sure seems like a lot of people are angry at me-oh. God. I nearly forgot. Do you have Volusian?”

Dorian was setting his sword and cloak down. He didn't look happy at the reference. “Yes…I enslaved him to me.”

“Can I…can I have him back?”

He eyed me. “Are you sure that's what you want? It'd be better if we banished him together.”

I hesitated, recalling Volusian's hands on my throat and knowing what would happen if I ever lost control again. I wouldn't, though. I would stay strong, and I needed him for what was to come. “Yes,” I said firmly. “I want him back.”

Dorian shrugged. “Then I'll summon him later. Let's not ruin the moment just yet. He's quite depressing, you know.” Dorian strolled toward the window and bent over, picking up the dress I'd dropped. “This is lovely.”

“I was going to put it on, but…but…” I swallowed and nodded toward the window. “There's a, um, army out there.”

He neatly laid the dress on the chair and glanced out the window. “Yes. Yes, there is. Yours and mine. Well, part of them.”

“I can't believe this happened.”

“Hiding from them won't make them go away.”

“I kind of hoped it would.”

He said nothing but gave me an expectant look. Something about it drew me out, and steeling myself up, I approached the window again, staring out at the wide, sandy stretch in the back of the castle.

There were so many more than I'd expected-and this was only allegedly a portion of the soldiers that would be fighting Katrice. My small army in their mismatched attire stood in formation on one side. Dorian's “reserves” stood beside them, much more sharply dressed in deep green shirts under their leather armor and golden oak emblems. So many…and again, still not the whole force. More of his soldiers would join up, and then my numbers would grow when the call went out throughout the land when I went to Highmore-if I went there.

“All of this,” I murmured, “all of this because of a chain of decisions. Me refusing Leith, him kidnapping me, you…” I couldn't finish the words, but Dorian and I both knew what I'd been about to say.

“Do you regret it?” he asked. “What I did?” He sounded as cool and confident as ever, but I could have sworn there was a tiny note of fear in his voice-fear that he'd done something I hadn't wanted.

Kiyo's words about how I would regret all this came back to me, and I kept wondering if it was really worth it, all these men and women who might die…for what? For my honor? My revenge? I could still respond to Katrice's message, tell her I'd marry her nephew and make peace….

A knot formed in my stomach, and I knew that wasn't an option. I could never be with anyone in that family, not without thinking of Leith, of his hands and his body. I could never let her or anyone else think I or my people could be pushed around. After all, Leith hadn't just taken advantage of me. Those girls had suffered too. I was the protector of my people. I was the Thorn Queen and the Thorn Land both.

An image of Dorian running his sword through Leith returned to my mind. Probably I should have found it gruesome. Instead, it brought me…peace.

“No.” I turned and looked straight into Dorian's eyes. “I don't regret it. I…I'm glad you did it.” My voice wavered a little. “I'm so glad you did it.”

His face transformed somewhat, filled with a type of wonder. I think he'd grown so accustomed to my usual style, my human way of being rational and merciful…Well, I think he'd been long bracing himself for my wrath. My earlier suspicion about the worry in his voice had been correct. He'd probably expected a reaction similar to when he'd given me the Thorn Land.

The look on his face made me flustered and confused. I turned back to the window and admitted, “But I…I'm scared. I don't want to wage a war. I certainly don't know how to.”

Dorian came to stand beside me, still careful to maintain a buffer between us. “It's in your blood,” he said. “Storm King was the greatest tactician in centuries.”

“I'm not him. I don't want to be like him.” A nasty voice spoke in my head: But you called yourself Storm Queen, according to Kiyo.

“You can inherit his genius without his cruelty,” said Dorian.

“I suppose, but still…I still don't know what to do. Will you help me?”

We turned to look at each other, and again, his face seemed to be lit from within. “Of course. You're not the only one Katrice is after. I'm the one who killed the poor bastard, remember?” The light faded from his face a bit at the reference to Leith. He leaned toward me, eyes intense. “I'd do it a thousand times over, if I could. War or not.”

That earnestness in voice, that fierceness-it sent a shiver down my spine. “You only say that because we haven't gone to war yet. You don't know what's going to happen.”

“Ah, Eugenie. I know. We will be victorious, you and me. We're the strongest monarchs in this world. Katrice knows this but is blinded by her grief and rage. You and I will lead this army, and we will conquer the Rowan Land. We'll split it between us, adding on to our own kingdoms…and from there, we can go anywhere. We could rule half this world together-all of this world-you and me. Kingdom after kingdom would fall to us…”

I stared him, almost caught up in his vision. The apprehension I'd been holding began to lift as I imagined us destroying her forces and me summoning up storms that made the world tremble. I laughed uneasily, alarmed at the way my thoughts had gone. “One kingdom's enough,” I said, the human part of me bringing me back to earth.

“You say that now, but I tell you, it's in your blood.” He looked down at me intently, and those rapture-filled eyes seemed to be every shade of green and gold in the world. I fell into them. I felt beautiful in them. Like a goddess. “Eugenie, you're going to be a warrior queen the likes of which no one has ever seen. Your name will live on when Storm King's has faded to dust. You will lead your armies on-powerful, fearless, and beautiful. Katrice's 'war' is but a skirmish you'll stamp out underneath your boot.”

I had a disorienting moment then, recalling a vision I'd had in the Underworld. My soul had been seeking Kiyo's, but it was Dorian I'd seen in a dream-like state, with the two of us standing on a cliff before armies, both of us radiant and majestic. There'd been a baby in my arms and a crown on my head.

I'd never told anyone about that. It had been a test, not a vision of the future. Trying to keep things light with Dorian, I asked, “And where will you be in all of this? Somehow I don't think you'll be lurking in the shadows.”

“My sweet Eugenie,” he said, back to his flippant, gallant self, “there you go, always suspecting ulterior motives.” He straightened up, affecting a dignified air. “I, of course, shall be by your side.”

I laughed. Dorian would always be Dorian. “Sharing in that glory and power, no doubt.”

“A little, certainly.” His mirth vanished, and he grew serious once more. “But also there to keep you safe. Whatever battles you engage in, whether you choose to conquer this world or simply go back to exorcising ghosts…what happened with Leith will never, never happen again. Not while I live. I swear it. I will always keep you safe.” He moved forward but was still careful not to touch me. The vehemence in his voice was so strong, however, that it was practically tangible. “Always.”

My smile was gone. I studied him for a long time and realized I believed him. Kiyo had failed me. Dorian would not.

And I realized then that I'd been an idiot to keep trying to push Dorian away. Did I entirely trust his motives? No. I did trust him to protect me, though. I'd realized just before my capture that I loved both him and Kiyo, loved them just as my blood and soul were also split in two. The two halves of my nature would always war with each other. And right now, I didn't need the cautious human half that would rationally seek peace. I needed the part of me that wasn't afraid to unleash all the power I had, to charge forward with no restraints. I needed Dorian right now. It was his love that was going to allow me to be strong and unafraid of what was to come.

Slowly, hesitantly, I reached out and caught hold of his hand. It was monumental. I think he knew it was, too. I hadn't been able to stand anyone except my mother touching me these last couple of weeks. I certainly hadn't been able to handle any man doing it. His eyes widened slightly at my contact, and I realized he was holding his breath, afraid for me.

I held his hand, feeling its warmth and the long, smooth fingers. There was so much power in connecting with another person, in having physical closeness. With just as much care as I'd used to touch it, I moved his hand to rest on my hip and stepped forward. Dorian swallowed, and for the first time since I'd known him, he looked timid.


I pressed a finger to his lips and then stood on tiptoe to kiss him. His mouth opened instantly to mine, warm and eager. I pushed myself closer to him, but when I put his other arm around me, he pulled back slightly. I could feel and see the desire all over him, but he shook his head.

“No, no…it's too soon….”

“I'm the one who says when it's too soon.” I kissed him again, harder, and was surprised at how quickly the lust burned through my body. Despite what I'd just said, I had believed until this moment that I would never want another man. But being near Dorian, feeling that electricity and power crackle between us…it brought forth all the old desire I'd been fighting recently, the desire that had nearly made me give in to him in that little village, back when I'd still been committed to Kiyo…

But I had no such commitments now.

He returned my kiss with equal intensity, his hands running along my hips. The passion was seizing him, he was starting to lose himself in it. Then, like before, some reasonable part of him slapped him to attention one more time. I think the world would have been shocked to know the Oak King had such a conscience. He broke away again, but this time, I didn't let him speak.

“Do you want my most recent time to be with him?” I demanded. “Do you want Leith to be the memory I carry with me of the last time I had sex?”

My fingers moved to the buttons of my short-sleeved cotton shirt and unfastened them all. Catching hold of his hands, I brought them toward my chest, spreading the shirt apart and making him touch my breasts. I'd gone braless today, and his hands felt warm where they stroked my bare skin.

“Make this my memory,” I said huskily, with a bit more command in my voice than I'd intended. “Make it good. Make this be what I think of when I think of sex. Finish what you started that day….”

His hands no longer needed my urging. He cupped my breasts, fingers dancing around my nipples. At the same time, he pushed me toward the bed, laying me out on my back. His mouth crushed me with its kiss, and then his lips moved down my neck and to my breasts, taking one of my nipples in his mouth. He sucked gently at first, tongue darting back and forth, but then his lips grew more urgent. His teeth nipped at me while his hands deftly slid my jeans off. After they were on the floor, he sat up a moment, surveying me and all the bare skin before him.

Not having him touch me was agony, and I reached up, unfastening the bejeweled belt and his pants. He backed off the bed, standing up so that he could push his pants down the rest of the way. His shirt came off next, and then he stood there naked before me for my inspection, the perfect, marble god he'd been once before. Looking over the leanness of his muscles, how strong and hard he was, I felt my own body respond urgently. I'd complained to Kiyo before about foreplay, but right now, I wanted none with Dorian-though I had no doubt he would have given me hours of it, armies be damned.

“Don't wait,” I begged him as I pushed my panties down over my hips. “Don't wait.”

He caught hold of the panties and pulled them the rest of the way. I thought he'd join me on the bed, but instead he remained standing. He caught hold of my ankles and pulled me toward him until my ass just rested on the bed's edge. Still holding my ankles, he brought my legs up so they were nearly straight in the air, almost leaning on his shoulders. Then he leaned forward and pushed into me, moaning at the warmth and wetness he found there.

I threw my hands over my head, arching my body up and watching as he thrust back and forth. His eyes were on me too, taking in every part of me. There was something special about sex in the daylight, particularly with him standing over me like that so we could both fully see each other. There was no hiding. Everything was exposed. Vulnerable. It's easy to feel insecure in such moments, but I didn't, not with the way he looked at me, not with just lust-but with awe and adoration too.

He buried himself in me over and over, hard and forceful without being painful. It was such a lifetime away from what had taken place at Art's house that I realized nothing there could even be considered sex. Having Dorian in me felt good and right. My body was brimming with need, and he felt like fire where he moved between my thighs. That heat intensified within me, and I felt a spark of aching pleasure grow stronger and stronger, fueled with each thrust. I cried out, feeling my body on the verge of orgasm, and when it came, it was like an explosion of me, of the world…pure ecstasy and elation bursting from between my thighs to the tips of my fingers and toes.

He set my legs back flat on the bed and then lay on top of me, never breaking stride. If anything, he pumped more forcefully, nearing his own climax. That glorious hair rained down on my face, and I wrapped my arms around his neck, tangling my fingers in the silken strands. His own arms wrapped around my body, encircling me like a cocoon as his hips moved harder and harder.

Then, he exclaimed loudly, words that had no real form, and pressed his face against my neck as he came, his body spilling into mine. I held him close as he breathed heavily against my neck, his heart racing. Minutes passed, and his body finally calmed, though I continued to hold him. Finally, without breaking from my embrace, he lifted his head and brushed the hair from my face.

“I told you, Eugenie. I told you the world would be reborn when we were together. It will be reborn, and we will conquer it all….”

I brushed his lips with my fingers. “Don't get carried away. We're just settling a grudge here.”

The look in his eyes told me he believed a lot more would come of that, but he wisely said nothing. Rolling over, he settled beside me on the covers, and we both lay there, our fingers interlaced.

“I suppose,” I said at last, “I should go talk to all those people out there, seeing as they're going to risk their lives for my honor.”

“It's more than just your honor,” he said. “It's the land's too. You are the land, and when they see you, they will gladly fight for you.”

I sat up, my eyes falling on the silk dress. “I guess I've got to play the part. Too bad there's no crown.”

Dorian sat up as well. “Isn't there?”

He walked over to the table he'd set his sword and cloak upon when entering. I'd been too distraught to notice at the time, but there was a small cloth-wrapped bundle there too. He brought it over to me, and I found myself holding my breath. I suddenly knew what it was, and I was afraid.

“What's wrong?” he asked when he held it out to me and I didn't take it.

“I…I had a dream….”

I couldn't explain that vision from the Underworld to him, that one where we'd stood on the hill together. When we had, I'd accepted Storm King's crown-or, well, a feminine version of it-and that's when I'd found myself looking down upon all those soldiers waiting to fight for me.

“What kind of dream?”

“It's hard to explain.”

Not waiting for me, Dorian unwrapped the bundle himself. My heart lurched as I braced myself to see it again, an elaborate work of platinum, laden with diamonds and amethysts…

But it wasn't.

The crown he held was gold and very, very delicate. I hesitantly took it and studied the fine details of it. There were little roses etched into it-roses with lots of thorns. Tiny emeralds-nothing too overwhelming-were scattered amongst the golden leaves. It didn't resemble Storm King's crown at all.

“This is Girard's work,” I said with certainty.

“It is,” Dorian agreed, running a finger down my bare arm. He seemed relieved that I had taken the crown. “You aren't the only one who can commission projects.”

“But he works for Katrice.”

“Not anymore. Remember that day you met him? I told you then he was an opportunist. He's rolled the dice and decided we're the side to align with-which, of course, we are. He'll come in very handy for weapons, I think.”

My eyes were still on the crown and its beauty. I couldn't explain how relieved I was that it was nothing like the crown from the vision. Hesitantly, I lifted it and rested it on top of my head. I looked to Dorian for confirmation. “What do you think?”

He smiled, reaching out to straighten it and arrange my hair slightly. “Go see for yourself.”

Climbing out of bed, I walked over to the full-length mirror and surveyed myself. I was still naked, all that pale skin contrasting with the red of my hair and the glitter of the crown. My hair didn't have the blond that Jasmine's did, but it had the occasional gold highlight, and the crown made those locks gleam as they rested just past my shoulders. The emeralds were subtle, not gaudy, but vivid enough to further set off my hair and eyes.

“So what do you think?” Dorian asked.

I glanced over at him, still sprawled on the bed and watching me with amusement. I turned back to the mirror, studying my naked, crowned self. I smiled.

“I think it looks good on me.”