Loyalties split…


Xavier Brice is a man torn between duties, both to his king and to his wife. What he is learning is while his loyalty to the crown allows him to provide a life for his wife, it also puts her in mortal danger. He must make a choice and take a stand, or risk losing the only person in his life who matters.

Family alliances…

Io knows well enough that family doesn’t mean blood, and titles can be restrictive. But as those who have a claim on her begin to stake it, she must choose who she wants as family and whom she will declare her enemy.

Publisher’s Note: This steamy medieval romance contains elements of power exchange.

Chapter 1

Io Brice rubbed her face against the furs and swallowed down the bile. She’d no idea at all where she was or the time, only that she must have slept too long because she seemed to feel sicker when she did than when she slept almost not at all. Too, she’d no idea if she was again alone—abandoned by the one person she’d learned to depend on.

She knew she’d given her husband every reason this time to simply walk away. To give up hoping she might give him the trust and respect he was due, that he’d fairly earned. Why she resisted, she didn’t know. And why, now, with what resistance brought down on her, couldn’t she yet give in and give him the only thing he ever demanded—cooperation? Perhaps she didn’t deserve his continued attempts to prove himself to her, given she tossed them back in his face without cause each time.

Rubbing her face against the furs again, she made to roll to her back. Her left arm tingled from being under her body. Turning her head, she readied to let her weight pull her over, only to feel an arm go around her and a hand brace at her back.

“Settle, Io,” Xavier’s voice made her eyes fly open. “Do not roll over.” The bed shifted, and then Io felt a cushion being arranged.

Yes, the throbbing was long gone, but she could feel an ache through her arse and thighs, and the ache in her chest when Xavier moved to straddle her on the bed. But he only eased her up against the headboard, so she sat on her hip, then he moved and piled more cushions at her back.

All the movement, though, made her stomach lurch and she struggled now to keep the burning from clawing up her throat. She was ready to scramble for the edge and find a bucket when Xavier reached around, placing a pot near her, then handed her a hunk of dry bread.

“Melody said you wake sick every time you cry yourself to sleep.” He forced the bread in her hand and then moved enough she knew he was reaching for something else. A cup appeared before her. “She said the bread and wine help. Come, take some.” The hand not holding the cup wrapped around her and settled against her forehead, making her lift her head. “Eat, Io, do not make yourself sick because I am horrible to you,” he said while wrapping a finger in her hair. Io started at those words and tried to turn to look at him, but the way they sat, she couldn’t see him. “Settle, Io, and eat a little. We need to speak; I have things I must say to you.” He tugged his finger away, letting the strand unravel only to take it up again and twist it around his finger again. “We will speak. I will say what I must, but there are matters we are acting on and they cannot be halted to see this through with as much time as it will take.”

“What matters, my lord?’ Io asked. Why, if something urgent was happening, wasn’t he a part of it?

“Eat a little, Io,” he said but would say no more.

She consumed most of the bread and some of the wine when, with a soft knock, the door pushed open. “My lord,” Melody said, smiling at Io. The look gave Io a bit of courage. If Melody could smile, nothing very awful had happened. “Sir Lucas said everything is ready. Should I bring in my lady’s dress and shoes now?”

Io paused with bread almost to her mouth. “Am I going someplace?”

We are going someplace,” Xavier said, shifting to set the cup aside and reaching for the pot she didn’t have to use after all. “Do you want shoes?” he asked with a chuckle. “You probably do not,” she thought he said. “Pack the shoes and bring the gown,” he said to Melody who bent at the knee and then backed out the door. “We will hardly be where you will need them,” he said, more to himself, before he eased off the bed.

“My lord?” Io called as he walked around the bed and gathered items from the floor and the chairs and looking around the room to see nothing was left.

“You slept through every bit of the packing, Io,” Xavier said and sounded as if he found it amusing. “You slept through a great deal, as a matter of fact.” Now he sounded like he scolded. “I think Stella was correct; you must resume some schedule to your days. That is what you have been accustomed to. That is what has kept you healthy. We will return to a schedule for you.”

He said while he shoved those last items in a pack and sat to pull on his boots. Melody pushed back through the door, handed Xavier a dress, smiled again at Io and then backed out without a word. Xavier stood and shook out the gown. Io was surprised to see it was the dress she’d traveled most of the way here in. The very simple frock had been put up in favor of the more suitable dresses Xavier insisted she wear.

“I cannot wear that,” Io said, wondering if he was testing her now.

“You can; it does not matter what you wear, and the other gowns are too hot, or at least that is your complaint?” he asked, laying the dress at the foot of the bed and reaching for her. Io nodded as he scooped her up and placed her on the floor before deftly stripping the sheet from her body.

He said she’d slept, and she could only barely remember being pulled from the bath. That the sheet was all she wore, told her it wasn’t that she couldn’t remember anything, there was simply nothing to remember.

Xavier turned her and reached for the gown. Io didn’t miss how his eyes didn’t linger and a pinch formed in her heart. But as he lifted the dress, he stopped, turned her to face more sideways and away then crossed to pull open the window covers and let the light spill in. He made his way back. His eyes did pass over her body as they so often did. He stepped to her side, reaching behind her to lift her hair. His hand smoothed down from mid back to the top of her arse.

“I will fix this, too, I think,” he said softly as his knuckles brushed, feather light, over the swell of her backside. Io turned her head to look over her shoulder then turned her heel out to try to see better the ravages done to her flesh. She caught his eye for only a moment before he looked away with a sigh. “I am not sure which will be the hardest to mend,” he said again, lifting the gown and this time setting it over her head to fall in place. “But we will see everything mended.” He helped her push her hair back over her shoulder and then set both his hands at the top of her head, sweeping them both downward, doing his best to push it all away from her face. “Mended and smoothed. That is what we will work toward.” He let his hands slide along her arms then down to her wrists until he held her hands in his. “We will be all right, Io. We always are,” he said, lifting her knuckles to his lips the way he used to so often but hadn’t in some time. “We are strongest—”

“Together,” she finished and stepped into his hold. It was all she could do. She’d believe him, because she needed to believe him. If, after they spoke, things were different, she could make plans.

She allowed him to direct her out of the bedchamber, out of their chambers, through the passages and the hall, her bare feet making no sound over the cool stones. He guided her out the doors across the courtyard and to her little wagon, where he helped her climb the steps and, after securing them, climbed in after her.

“Are we leaving?” she asked, knowing the answer.

“We are not going home… yet,” Xavier said as he helped her get settled so every time the wagon hit a rut or rock, she wasn’t bounced on those bruises covering her arse. “But I care not any longer to keep you in the company had at court.” He chuckled again, and she could only guess it was at her expression. “One of the things we will speak on.”

“The king allows this?” Io asked, wondering if Xavier was becoming willing to defy his king in favor of her.

“He is not pleased, but I told him I had not done enough to keep you pleased with me and if you were not pleased with me, you might do murder and I could not promise you would not do murder first to all the servants without whom he would have to do everything for himself. He said I should get you gone because he liked his cook,” Xavier finished, and Io didn’t know if he spoke true or not until he could no longer hide the grin.

“Oh,” she gasped and punched his arm. “You did not tell that man I would murder the servants.” She lifted a pillow to her face and screamed into it.

“I did not,” Xavier said, snatching away the pillow and pulling her close. “I told him he either let us make a separate camp or he learn to like goats in his hall.”

Io sniffed. That he made jests told her whatever he thought so dire was perhaps something beyond their marriage. That could mean he wasn’t considering things she worried on.

“Io,” he called and lifted her chin. “I told him you and I had things to settle and we could not do it with his house standing between us. He would not let me take you home, but he agreed there was no reason to keep you where you are unhappy.”

“All right,” Io said, letting him pull her to his side as the wagon lurched forward.

“We will settle in camp, then we will try to sort this matter between us.”

“All right,” she repeated, sniffing again. “But if your king wants to invite some goats to stay, I might like his house better.”

“I would like it better as well,” Xavier said, holding her tight until the wagon rolled to a stop in a wide field, next to the river.

The very field Io had practiced her riding skills, she saw, as Xavier lifted her from the wagon. The camp was well established already. Tents, borrowed, as they didn’t bring but two with them, were set up, cook fires blazed and there were places for the horse. The men had their belongings spread out, so Io knew everyone expected this to be a long stay.

Melody stepped up, and Xavier handed her over with instructions to eat while he saw to camp. As everyone settled in, Io grew concerned about what Xavier wanted to speak on.

His suggestion that he’d things to say before she’d be able to give voice to her concerns made her think what he wanted to tell her wasn’t going to settle things at all. That he’d taken steps to remove her from court, gave her the opposite ideas. Why would he do this if he didn’t think they would be all right? The back and forth in her mind made her sick with worry and anticipation before Xavier stepped up, held out his hand, and walked her back to the wagon.

* * *

“Make sure you brush off the bottoms of your feet, my lady.”

Io turned at Xavier’s teasing tone. “Why? Do you not enjoy sleeping with grass and dirt?” He didn’t. He often complained while he brushed those things from their bed, even at home. It usually ended with a hard smack to her arse and a heated bout of bed sport. She didn’t want either tonight, so she placed a hand on the platform to keep her balance as she lifted each foot and brushed them clean.

Finishing, she flipped back the covers and set her knee on the bed only to have Xavier’s hands take hold of her hips and pull her back. “Let us not be so quick,” he said, turning so he sat, Io standing between his knees with her back to him.

Her skin prickled instantly, and she put her hands back trying to protect her seat. Perhaps he wanted that talk and he planned to do it with his hand rather than his lips. But a moment more, she felt him gather her hair, pull it free from under her hands, and then she felt the tug of the comb. It grew so quiet in the wagon, Io thought she could hear her heartbeat. Other than the occasional grumble over a tangle, Xavier said nothing at all until he’d worked his way up to the middle of her back.

“I am not very good at this, Io,” he said with a sigh.

“I can finish, my lord,” she told him, keeping her voice low in case he might hear something telling about how his attentions weakened her toward him.

He chuckled but went on pulling the comb through her hair. “Not this.” He stopped and put the comb out in front of her. “This… apologizing.” He resumed combing. “Given how often I must, I would think I would be better. I am not. It pricks my pride to admit I am wrong. More, when I have erred against you.” He put his hand on her back and forced her to take a few steps away. “And this time, it does more than prick; it cuts, because I have made these mistakes before. I should not make them a second time.” He drew the comb through her hair one last time and stopped.

Keeping her back to him, Io reached over her shoulder and pulled her hair forward, starting a braid. “What mistakes did you make, my lord?”

“I did not listen to you. I did not give you the chance to speak. I should have asked why you were opposed to keeping company with the queen. I should have inquired what pushed you to respond with such… harshness to the invite to ride.”

“I tried to tell Lady Nola I did not feel up to it. I tried to tell her nicely. I tried to say, too, I did not have the skills to keep up. Last time, they rode so fast I was let behind and wasn’t at all sure where I was.”

“And did you tell her, too, you did not care to be spoken to the way they spoke to you?” Xavier asked, and Io stiffened. “Why did you not come and tell me how they treated you, Io?”

“What might I have said?” Io asked and waited to hear his answer.

“They were rude to you?” Xavier offered, and Io snorted. “Io, you are a noble lady, too. You are deserving of the same respect and courtesy. They do not have the freedom to disparage or demean you. I do not allow you to be rude to them; I expect the same from them. You should have told me.”

“Do you hear yourself, Xavier?” Io asked, turning to look at him. With him sitting on the bed, they were nearly eye to eye. “Do you hear what you are saying? What might that have sounded like? ‘The queen is being mean to me, the queen says things and whispers behind my back about me, the queen’s ladies do not ride slow that I can keep up.’ Does that sound like a valid complaint? Because I hear myself say it, and I think it sounds like the complaints of a child. And can royalty be rude? What might I have said about it, Xavier? What might I have said to sway you to allow me to ignore the queen’s requests? If telling you those girls where thieves didn’t sway you… I cannot believe now ‘the queen is rude’ would have, either.”

“No, you are correct. It is my mistake, I left you with this impression. But I would you tell me, so when it becomes a matter between us, as it did, I might have better reference before I make demands. It was my mistake, that second time, when I did not first question you before I punished you and commanded you ride with them. I should not have forced you in their company. I cannot now say had I known then how they treat you, I would not have still insisted, but I can say I do regret I put you in that situation. I am sorry.”

“You are sorry only because it left an opportunity for me to try to leave,” Io said, finishing her braid and tossing it back over her shoulder.

“No, though I do have something to say on that matter. I am sorry because I forgot I promised you that you would not have to change to do well at court. I forgot it is who you are, to try more… polite… soft, means to make yourself understood before you start being vile and unseemly. I forgot both when I soaped your mouth and when I thrashed you and sent you out with those women. I will do better to remember you are rarely a scold to start. At least with everyone else but me.”

She worked to keep from smiling. He sounded like he pouted. “Sometimes you only give me consideration when I am a scold, a harpy.”

“It is truth, but I will try harder to give you that before you must turn from goddess to demon. Again, I am sorry.”

“Thank you,” Io said and stepped closer. But when he didn’t move aside, she knew they were not done. “You have more?”

“About what you said. About when you ran—”

“I did not run,” Io said and hated that she whined. “I was going to the home. Not away from it.”

“Io,” he said then put his hands at her waist and pulled her closer. A tightness formed in her stomach and not the good kind. “You and I are not going to agree on this. At least not unless we understand each other better. “I understand you left to go home. I should not fault you that idea. I do not wish to hold you accountable for it. You do not like it here. You have not wanted to be here, even before we left Bainsport. I understand this. I did not punish you because you were going home.” He pulled her a little closer and slid his hands up her back so she leaned against him. “But you ran, Io. You ran because people were mean to you and you were not happy. That is not cause enough. There was no danger. You were not in harm’s way. And while you justify it saying you ran for home, you forget you ran from me. I was not at home, Io. I was here. You did not run to me, but from me. I cannot help if you do not seek me out.”

“I could not come to you,” Io said, lifting her arms to hold on to him. “I had no valid complaints.”

“All your complaints are valid. Perhaps they are not all equal and some have no solutions, but I wish to hear them. It is not like you do nothing but complain. I learned well enough, early on, you only complain when you cannot find the solution. You can complain to me. Do you understand?” She nodded against his shoulder. “Io,” he said as he pushed her back again. “Do you understand? Do you understand me on both matters? That you can complain and that you cannot run from me?”

“Yes, my lord,” she grumbled. What could she say? All she could do was see if he held to his word.

“Io,” he said then shifted, and bending, he hooked her knees and pulled her into his lap, but he settled her so her arse hung between his knees. “This is still a place you can come to find safety. This place, right here.” His arms went around her and squeezed. “It will always be open to you.”

They sat a little while longer, and Io hoped he might be done. He was unraveling her resolve. But he wasn’t done.

“There is something else I want to settle between us. Perhaps the more important matter.” He nudged her, making her sit up. “Please look at me,” he said and waited until she did, though it took a while to gather the courage. “I command you, Io,” he said, his voice firm and his expression serious. “I command you. No one else. Not king or priest. I command you, and I will not command you often, frivolously, without cause. That is the vow I gave you. You will not become yoked, you will not be led to slaughter. What others find unacceptable in you will only matter if I have found them unacceptable first. I command you. No one else.”

“You said the crown commands everyone. That any request from them was a command?” Now, how was she supposed to know what behaviors to employ? He was going to set her in a situation where she’d always be wrong.

“The crown does not make requests; that is true. But that does not mean there are no options. That does not mean every command must be followed. I thought you understood that when you told the king… you said something about following the king’s command because it would be my want you do so.”

“I did say, his just and reasonable commands. And I meant I would follow his commands to send your armies into battle for him. Not that I should spend my days sitting and watching foolish, prideful men bashing each other in the name of good sport. I warned all of you I would protest such commands.” She could understand Xavier’s dissatisfaction. It wasn’t as if the king made petty demands on him. It was not his experience to be the man’s fodder of entertainment. When the crown commanded Xavier, it was with seriousness. And while Xavier thought her capable of more than needlework and directing servants, there was no reason the crown would. This discourse arose because the queen had no experience with a woman who’d no use for her. A queen’s favor meant many things to a girl. They simply meant nothing to Io.

“So you did,” Xavier said then pressed his lips to her temple. “But it matters not anymore, what was said or what was meant. I command you. And from now until we leave, if someone else makes a request of you, you tell them, politely, to seek me and make the request. If it is something I know you care not to do, I will find a way to have you excused. If it something I need you to do, I will make the demand on you myself, with explanation, and if I am uncertain, I will speak with you and we will find middle ground. It will not come to curses or thrashings again.” He paused, kissing her temple again. “Unless those things are the last resort.”

Io frowned hard at him, only to have him chuckle. But these were better terms. And with him more resolved to keep people from making demands on her, causing her to have complaints, perhaps their stay would be easier. “Xavier,” Io asked as he let her slide out of his lap. “When will we be allowed to leave?” She held her breath. His expression said a lot, but not enough.

“I do not know,” he answered. “But we will go home, Io. We will go home, together. I will give you my oath. I promise.”

If she was going to question him on this, his kiss made her forget to. When he leaned down and softly covered her lips with his, his words stopped echoing in her ears. When he slowly began working them over hers, his tongue coming out to trace her bottom lip before his teeth took a gentle hold and pulled, causing her to gasp, her worries and doubts fell silent. And when he pushed past her teeth and she could taste him, her mind went blank. The fire sparked instantly and became an inferno before she could take control of it.

Reaching up, she tangled her fingers in his hair, pulling him down more. His arms around her waist tightened and she lifted up on her toes so she could better fit against him. She was beyond ready until his hands slipped down and grabbed her arse. It was common enough for him to do that, but this time, it sent a pain rippling through. She pulled away and cried out. Sucking in several breaths, she tried to blink back the tears.

“Ah, love. I am sorry,” Xavier soothed as he took her back into his arms. “Perhaps it is time we move on and fix that.”

“You cannot,” Io complained and almost smiled because she’d complained about it and his response was rather sweet.

“Well, I can give it my best effort,” he said, bending, grabbing her dress hem and pulling it over her head. He made her giggle when it got caught and he complained she wore too many clothes. She made him laugh when she reminded him her dress was his idea not hers. And most of the pain was forgotten by the time he helped her climb onto the bed and settle, face down, on it. He stripped out of his own clothes as he made his way to a small box near the open end of the wagon. Whatever he took from it, Io couldn’t see and had no concern about, until he was climbing into bed with it.

She’d, at first, made to shift closer to him, but his hand at her hip stopped her and so she lifted her head to see what he was about. The lid to the jar came off and Xavier dipped his fingers in the unguent before Io could catch her breath.

“No,” she yelled, rolling to her side so her arse was to the wall, and reached for the covers still bundled at the foot of the bed. “No, please. I will not…” What? She didn’t even know what he was about to punish her for again.

“Io, stop it,” Xavier said, only a hint of annoyance in his voice as he set the jar down and forced her to roll back to her stomach. He had to work at it, too, because Io knew if he rubbed that stinging nettles on her skin right now, she’d die. “Io, lie down,” he ordered, his hand in the small of her back holding her as his fingers settled lightly on her bottom and began rubbing small circles. Io held her breath, waiting for the sting to start, but it didn’t. “If I am going to treat you to the nettles, my lady,” Xavier grumbled, though his touch remained gentle. “I will tell you. Understood?”

“Yes, my lord,” Io said with a sniff and tried to relax. His slow, patient attentions made it a little easier to do so.

“”Your soak did not help,” Xavier said as he went back to working the ache from her flesh.

“I soaked because it was hot,” she hissed when he hit a tender spot. “There was no breeze,” she told him with a sniff and another gasp as his fingers rolled over one area he must have battered especially well.

“Summer in these low lands is unpleasant,” he remarked but seemed not to give much thought to it. He shifted a bit, and sitting up more, he again added cream to his fingers and, this time, when he started making circles, he put a little more force behind it.

He went over that one spot again, and Io pushed her face into the bed, screamed, and kicked her feet. It did nothing to dissuade him and, eventually, the painful tightness let go. She continued to whine about his touch. More, as they started to do as they did so often and make her feel things she, at this moment, wasn’t sure she wanted to.

“I will not apologize for the paddling, Io,” he said quietly. “It was deserved.”

“Because I ran,” Io muttered.

“No, because you ran without an escort, without supplies, without a plan, and at night,” Xavier said, and Io didn’t miss the tightening in his voice nor the shift in his posture, but his touch didn’t change. “I was harsh, I know; that was because your running was hurtful. And maybe…” He stopped to add a little more cream to his fingers before he set the jar aside. “A little frightening.”

“Frightening?”

“You have almost always been successful when you run, Io. I can think of only one time you did not make it miles from me before I caught up to you. Each time, I caught up only barely in time to keep you from death.”

“I am sorry for those times,” she said and blinked away tears. He wasn’t wrong. Though maybe he could only recall a small number of the times she did what she could to escape him.

“You need not be. I am satisfied with each outcome. I was frightened when no one could find you, and I was harsh.” Rarely, did she hear guilt in his words.

“You did warn me you would be so, while we were here. I should not have ground to complain when you told me directly you would give no graces.”

“Did I say that?”

“Yes, after you strapped me for throwing the vase. You said as long as we were here and people watched and judged, you would not… be merciful.” It wasn’t exactly what he’d said, but it was the meaning behind the words.

“Yes, and I should apologize for those words. I should not have spoken them,” he said as he lay back down beside her, his fingers still making circles.

“People here do watch,” Io told him. “The servants gossip like bees. I am talked about, but so far, what is said is hardly… shameful.” What did she care if everyone remarked she was too free in letting her husband touch her body? He was touching her now, and she couldn’t think of anything she wanted more.

“Yes, I know, but while I said it knowing it was a valid concern, it was not the truth in my reasons or actions.”

“No?”

“No,” he said then rolled more to his back, though his hand still rubbed her arse. “Io, I did not want your time here filled with… fear, I suppose. There are dangers at court. I know you know this and you were already doing so well at keeping your men with you. But I made the choice to be harsher than I might because I needed to know you would be more vigilant in avoiding acts that would bring down my wrath.” He stopped again, rolled back to his side, facing her and scooted closer. “It is dangerous at court. Everyone plays at some intrigue they hope will gain them power or wealth. But it is normally controlled, easily found out, and stopped. And it is not usually the common people or lesser nobles who are targets.”

“Something is being played out now?” Io asked and lifted up so he could slide his arm under her. The fine hair on his forearm ticked at her nipples when she lay back down.

“Something, but I do not know what. Do you?” he asked, but she only shook her head.

“I cannot explain, Xavier, I wish I could, but I know something is coming.” She felt his arm flex under her.

“And I will trust that from you. The way I should have known to trust it when we were at the cottage.” Again, his arm flexed, and his hand on her arse went still. “I do not want you unhappy, I do not want you to walk around fearful, or worse, to not walk around at all. And I will remain strict with you should you act recklessly. I want you cautious, more than you have been.”

“I will be, my lord. I promise,” she ended on a hiss as his thumb moved, striking a particularly painful spot.

“Is my care not helping to mend this injury?” he asked, his lips against her cheek so she knew he smiled as he spoke.

“You did great damage,” Io pouted and elbowed him. “A little cream will not be enough to make it feel better.”

“Perhaps,” he said as he pushed his hand under her belly and down to her sex. “I have not used the correct cream.”

Io groaned, trying to prevent him from learning the lie from her body as her complaints were less a concern than she made them. He needn’t know how easily she was won over. She flexed her hips down. “No, Xavier.”

He stilled, but he didn’t move away. “No?”

Now, with his fingers right there, almost at that place he used to bring her so much pleasure, she was unsure. She again pressed her face in the pillows. “No?”

“Tell me what you want, Io?” His fingers once resting on her seat now slid back, his thumb pressing between each side and trailing through the crack until it found a place to settle. The other fingers, too, found a comfortable place between her thighs, and now they simply flicked about, making her sex pulse and the wetness grow. “Should I stop?”

“No,” she said and lifted her hips both to deepen his touch from behind and to allow his touch from the front. “But do not think me defeated.”

“I would never think you defeated, my love. It is not your defeat I seek. Only your… comfort. I only wish to reduce your pains,” he said as he pushed his fingers against her clit and started rubbing.

He waited until she was climbing toward that bliss, then, from behind, he pushed those fingers well up inside her. He didn’t need the added lubricant of the cream; she was ready for his entry. He kept the strokes gentle, keeping most of his work focused at that little bud, and Io did what she could to direct his touches as she needed them to find the release.

When it came, it took her harder than she was ready for. But she’d not been touched by him in so long. She cried out into the pillow, fortunate she’d the little sack full of goose feathers, lest she wake the whole camp.

Content was never where Xavier left her. Sliding toward the end of the bed, he pulled her leg over his chest. “Xavier?” Io called as she shifted to be on her hands and knees. It wasn’t exactly a good position if he intended to put his cock in her. But with one solid shove forward, Io knew exactly his intent, and no matter how she braced for it, the moment his tongue swept between her folds, the climb toward ecstasy began. He again kept most of his attentions on her clit, and the pulsing heat took her right to the very edge, only he held her there. Changing from sucking on the little nub to stabbing his tongue deep inside her, he’d go back to her clit but only with the lightest of licks or bites, abandoning it again for other places. His hands pushing on her arse, so she sat more firmly on his mouth, sent her tumbling over the edge. But her second time seemed to drive him harder to force her back one more time. His mouth covered her throbbing bud and he shifted so he could get his fingers inside her and stroke the walls that ached to feel that very pleasure. She was again on her way there. On her way to those pleasures she could always find when she shared her body with him. They were so much else together, but this one thing was something they were only for themselves. No one took anything from this, save for them. There was nothing but satisfaction, complete satisfaction, when they were at this task. This, they did for both selfish and generous reasons.

Io dropped her hips a little more, hoping he might bring this to an end so she could return the pleasures, but he didn’t seem inclined and she stopped resisting his demands on her body. Her head spun, her chest burned for lack of air, but she’d no want to stop. When he shifted again and she felt his fingers at her back hole, she lifted to that touch and bore down to make his entry easier. She could feel his fingers, separated only by a thin wall, as they continued to keep her in so much bliss her limbs shook. One more time, he called her to spend and she did, though she’d little left to give.

His touches eased and, little by little, ended, and as he slipped back up the bed, he brought the covers with him, tucking them around her and pulling her so she was more on top of him than on the bed. Both his arms wound around her, and he rested his cheek on the crown of her head.

Like that, it was done. “Xavier?” Io asked, trying to lift up to look at him, only to feel his arms tighten more. “Xavier, I—”

“Did those touches help a little more?”

“Yes, but I—” She was confused by his tone. Not harsh, really, but not satiated, like he normally sounded.

“Rest, Io,” he said and shifted under her like he was trying to get comfortable.

“I would return the—” She could feel his hard cock. It jumped and twitched against her thigh.

“I will take mine when those marks are well faded.”

“What if I do not care to wait so long for more of this?” Io asked but snuggled closer.

“There will be no waiting for you. I assure you of that.”

“How terribly kind of you, sir,” Io grumbled, though she could look forward to a few more of these experiences. Xavier’s response was a soft snore, and Io smiled.