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Don’t know what I’d do without you, babe
Don’t know where I’d be
You’re not just another lover
No, you’re everything to me
Every time I’m with you, babe
I can’t believe it’s true
When you’re laying in my arms and you do the things you do…
“Kiss You All Over” -Exile


The salmon was delectable, although after the cake hardly anyone had enough room to finish their meal. But everyone managed to dance up a storm anyway. Slow ballroom dancing, fast jazz dancing, and everything in between. Every man in attendance wanted to dance with Princess Tiana, a fact that Naveen only grudgingly accepted and made allowance for. He himself danced with a few other women too, but none held his attention for very long. Upon seeing that the line of those waiting for a dance with Tiana was still halfway across the room, he sighed, resigned himself to his fate, and went to the band, striking up conversations with Louis and the other (human) band members.

A reporter made his way to where Naveen stood after awhile. “Are you enjoying the party, Your Highness?”

“Of course I am!” smiled Naveen. “This is the happiest day of my life, after all.” He looked over to where Tiana had been dancing, smiling lovingly… but his smile disappeared when he saw how tired and run-down Tiana looked, that she was no longer dancing and was simply shaking her head and turning potential dance partners away.

“She tires from dancing fairly quickly,” the reporter noted, following Naveen’s gaze. “Not boding well for her future as a princess, don’t you agree?”

Surprised, Naveen turned to face the reporter. “What do you mean?” he snapped.

“Well, as princess, she’ll have a lot of these types of balls to attend… that is, assuming her Maldonian’s good enough for it. I have only heard her speak English this entire time—and even her English isn’t refined, it’s that dreadful Southern American accent—”

Naveen clenched his fists in quickly rising anger. “Stop—insulting—my wife! All the things you expect her to do are—are superfluous, and besides, can’t you see she’s had a long day, she’s tired and—”

“A long day? All she’s done is said ‘I do’ and sat on a cake.”

“Don’t you dare insinuate—”

“What’s wrong, Naveen?” Louis suddenly interjected with worry. He hadn’t understood a word of what they were saying, the conversation being in Maldonian, but he certainly understood Naveen’s anger.

Louis’s interruption thankfully knocked down Naveen’s rage by a notch—hardly anything, but enough to keep him from hitting the reporter. “Louis… I think you might handle this gentleman better than I can,” Naveen said, still twitching with anger. To the reporter he said, in Maldonian, “If you have anything more you wish to say about Tiana, you’ll have to say it through Louis first. He’s not quite as easy-going as I am. Excuse me.” He quickly made his way across the dance floor, leaving the reporter to tremble nervously under Louis’s menacing growl, all seventy-two of his teeth showing.

Naveen slipped in the line of hopefuls who wanted a dance with Tiana, who were all getting turned away without a second glance. Her voice was hoarse and tired. “No… no… no… oh.” She looked up to find that the last man she had refused was none other than her husband. “You.”

“Me,” smiled Naveen. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“Go? Go where?”

“Away. I’m tired of dancing, and it looks like you are too.”

“But can we—”

“Shh.” Naveen took her hands and led her to the doors. Very few people took note of them, and those that did just smiled and allowed them to pass. Soon they were out of the ballroom and in the hallway. Naveen pushed the door closed with his foot, chuckling a bit at Tiana’s confused expression.

“Won’t they notice that we’re gone?” she asked.

“Maybe,” Naveen shrugged. “But they won’t care. The bride and groom are expected to leave the reception early, anyway. Besides, if we leave quickly…” With a quick bounce to his steps, he led Tiana to the stairway and up the stairs.

“Not so fast, Naveen,” Tiana said, struggling to keep up.

“Sorry.” They were at the middle of the stairwell, where it turned to the left to make the last half of the journal to the next floor. Naveen let go of one of Tiana’s hands to stroke her face tenderly. “After all that dancing you did, you must be exhausted.”

“After all that terrible, terrible dancing I did,” Tiana muttered.

“You still think you are a terrible dancer! But—”

“I ain’t the only one who thinks that,” Tiana interrupted harshly. “I heard a couple of reporters talking to themselves when they were watching me. They were talking in Maldonian and I didn’t understand all of it… but I understood enough.”

Naveen felt his nerves tighten with anger again, thinking about the reporter who had so cruelly criticized Tiana, and hoping that Louis was scaring the very ability to speak out of him. “You mustn’t listen to what they say, Tiana. You know how they are. It doesn’t matter what they think.”

“But they’re right,” said Tiana, her eyes shaking with tears. “They’re… they’re right. I can’t dance, I can’t cater, I can’t even handle my own wedding day, and I don’t know anything about being a princess, or a wife, or—or anything, and I messed everything up and… and I ruined our wedding day!” Tiana finally choked out a sob and wiped her eyes, although that didn’t stop the tears.

Naveen stared at her, unmoving, for a moment, both surprised at how deeply distressed the cake incident had really left her, and also feeling as if someone had stuck a knife to his heart, a sensation set off the instant she had started to cry. “Tiana, Tiana,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close to him, “I told you, the cake was not ruined, it was delicious!”

“We’re alone now, you don’t have to lie,” Tiana muttered, still crying.

“I am not lying! Look,” he said, tilting her head up so he could look her straight in the eyes, “okay, I will say that yes, the cake was… unique. But it still tasted good! And,” he hastily added, seeing as this had done nothing to alleviate her despair, “even if it had been the most horrible tasting cake in the world, even if taking one bite of it induced vomiting on a mass scale…” He paused as Tiana gave a shaky smile through her tears. “Even if that had been the case, I would not have cared. The cake and what it looked or tasted like, or even if there was a cake at all, never had any affect on what this day means for me. This—” He grabbed her left hand in his and held them up to the light, their wedding rings catching its reflection— “This is what matters to me.”

Tiana looked at their hands, then back at Naveen, still blinking tears out of her eyes. “I… I know, that’s what matters to me too, and I’m silly for crying over this but… I just wanted today to be perfect.”

“It was.” Naveen kissed her forehead and let go of her hand to wipe the tears from her eyes and cheeks. “Actually… I take that back. It wasn’t. The wait was far too long. It would have been perfect if this had happened… oh, a year and a half ago.”

“Naveen, we first met a year and a half ago.”

“Precisely.” Naveen smiled at her and led her up the stairs again, but this time far more slowly. “It does sound funny when you say it that way… but I have loved you and wanted you for all that time. Since before we were even human again. You know I was going to ask you to marry me. When we were still frogs.”

“I woulda said yes.”

“You—you knew what I was doing?”

“Not then. But I just know… now, what I was thinking then, and if you had asked me then… I woulda been surprised, yes, but I know I woulda said yes.” Tiana giggled as she wrapped her arms around Naveen, their having reached the top of the stairs and were now moving down the hallway to the royal family’s private quarters. “I didn’t realize what you were doing, but I did realize I was beginning to fall in love with you. At the moment when you had that butterfly bowtie.”

Naveen laughed too. “Oh, was that it? All the time I was trying to be smooth and compelling and you fall for my most awkward moment. I see how it is.”

“Hey now,” Tiana retorted with a smile, “that’s just when I realized it. And then I wanted to push it away because the idea of falling in love scared the hell outta me, but then you kept holding me and touching me and telling me things that… well… it scared me, but I wanted it, I wanted you.”

“It scared you? How do you think I felt? After all the women I’d been with before and left behind, to meet you and not only not want to leave you behind, but—but then I did, and I became a wreck without you! It was absolutely terrifying, how utterly and completely I loved you! It… it still is, a bit.”

“Well,” said Tiana gently, “I guess we’ll just have to be terrified together then.”

They stopped walking.

Naveen pulled Tiana to him in a tender kiss before letting go of her and placing his hand on the knob of the door they had stopped in front of. “Well… here we are,” he said in a low, smooth voice. “Wait here.” He deftly darted in the room and closed the door behind him.

A little bewildered, Tiana let out a nervous laugh and leaned in to the door, trying to hear what he was doing. “Naveen, what are you doing in there?”

“I will not spoil the surprise!”

“I ain’t really in the mood for games…”

“You will be in the mood for this game, trust me.”

“I don’t like your tone.”

“But I adore yours.”

“I don’t like being here all alone,” Tiana suddenly cooed, sweetly and demurely. If Naveen was going to play games with her she was going to play her own games back. “Why’d you leave me, angel? The lightning and thunder is scaring me, and I want you here to make me feel better, darling love of my life, I need you…”

She cut herself off when she realized that she was hearing more than the thunder from the storm—she was also hearing from behind the closed door the faint strains of… music? Slow, inviting, music?

The door opened. Naveen gave Tiana a despairing look. “Now that wasn’t fair.”

He suddenly swooped down, placing one arm underneath Tiana’s knees and the other behind her back, and scooped her up into the traditional bridal style, Tiana letting out a yelp of surprise. “But no matter,” Naveen said softly. “I am ready for you.”

He carried her into the bedroom and kicked the door shut behind them.

Tiana’s grip around Naveen’s shoulders tightened as she drew in her breath. The room was lit by small, flickering candles, along with the occasional flash of lightning from the storm, the music from the phonograph dimly filtering through, extending an invitation to the bed; soft, compelling, enticing.

But as enticing as it was, her gaze still suddenly reverted back to him. To his eyes, heavily lidded with love, with lust, with desire, and her hands gripped the collar of his jacket even tighter as her breathing grew more irregular.

How much she loved him terrified her. How much he loved her terrified her. The prospect of making love with him terrified her.

How much she wanted to make love with him terrified her.

The intensity of the longing she felt every time she was near him she had been able to keep mostly in check up until now. But now was a different matter entirely. Now the music and the candlelight and the bed and even the thunder were beckoning her closer, more intimate, more passionate. Now they were married. Now they were alone. It terrified her, yes. But she didn’t break her eye contact with him.

Because however scared she might have been, her fear didn’t even begin to compare to her desire, to her love.

Naveen shifted her weight a little bit so that he could hold her more steadily. “You—” he murmured, and Tiana lifted her face closer to his, her eyes nearly closed, an invitation for a kiss if ever there was one.

“—are exhausted,” Naveen finished softly. He did kiss her, but it was also soft, tender, delicate, not matching the passion that she had seen burning in his eyes. He carried her to the bed and reluctantly broke away from the kiss, gently laying her down. For a few seconds, Tiana momentarily forgot the passion that was slowly burning through her body as the sheer heavenly comfort of the bed’s mattress and plush comforter drew her in and caused her to close her eyes completely in surrender to, yes, the exhaustion that suddenly reared its ugly head. It was only a few seconds, but by the time her eyes fluttered open again she saw that Naveen was sitting on the other side of the bed, looking away from her and instead at the heavy rainfall hitting the window. Smiling softly at him, she sat up, pulled off her gloves, and began to remove the bobby pins from her hair.

Watching the rain relentlessly continue to fall, Naveen also removed his gloves, wondering when he should blow out the candles and turn off the music… probably wait until Tiana fell asleep, but he had a feeling that wouldn’t take very long. What was going to take longer was for him to fall asleep, especially considering he had the little—large, thank you very much—problem of bringing his libido under control—his libido that was currently manifesting itself in a growing erection—again a large one, thank you very much, no one would ever say of Prince Naveen that his package was a small one, no sir, it was his… well, his crown jewel, his—

Naveen shook his head suddenly to cease his thoughts of self-praise for his penis and focused again at the matter at hand. It was just going to have to wait. Never mind that he had been waiting for this for what seemed like ages; Tiana was obviously about ready to pass out from exhaustion and he was going to let her do so. There was always tomorrow, after all. What was one more day?

Wait? For sex? Ah, but Prince Naveen never had to wait for sex! Which was a fortunate thing, because when he wanted it, he took it anyway without hesitation, and… and he wanted it more than ever right now, and yet bizarrely, incredibly, inexplicably, he was going to wait. What an odd difference being in love made! Love and sex were supposed to go hand in hand, not that he’d ever paid much heed to that silly sounding notion, but now the prospect of making love to someone he actually, well, loved was roaring through him greater than any sexual longing ever had before, so intoxicating, so impossible to resist, and yet he was anyway.

What was this madness, anyway?

“Naveen?”

A bit startled, he turned around at the sound of his wife’s soft call. She was smiling at him, a smile that was a bit nervous yet still inviting. Nearly all the bobby pins from her hair were sitting on the nightstand. She reached up to where the final, largest hair clip held the bulk of her hair in place.

“I ain’t that exhausted.”

She removed the clip, and her hair softly tumbled down past her shoulders in thick, frizzy tendrils.

Of all the things in the world that women of every variety had ever done that turned him on, of all the gestures, the poses, the come-hither eyes, none came even a tenth as powerful to igniting the passion in him as Tiana’s simple act of letting her hair down had. Naveen was on her in an instant. Kissing, touching, stroking, feeling, having. She moaned softly in his mouth as they fell back against the pillow, but his lips didn’t stay on hers long, instead hungrily trailing down to her neck, her collarbone, sliding the straps of her dress off her shoulders and exposing them completely, all the better for him to kiss over and over and over again…

Tiana’s breathing was deep and throaty, and Naveen could hear and feel her heart thudding intensely. “I’ve never done this before,” she breathed. Naveen looked back up at her eyes and saw that they were a bit apologetic. “So I’m sorry if I’m bad at it.”

“That’s impossible,” Naveen murmured, bringing his mouth back to her neck and covering it with kisses, his hands finding their way through her hair, Tiana giving a low moan in her throat again. “Besides,” he added, pulling away from her long enough to flash a smile, “…I have never done this before either.”

“Get off,” Tiana retorted.

“It’s true. I have never done this before… with someone I love.”

“Well.” Tiana gave Naveen a reprimanding look, but her cheeks were still flushed with a gentle sense of flattered surprise. “I still think you know what you’re doin’ more than I do.”

“Are you asking me for lessons?” Naveen shot back with a lusty grin, tantalizingly reaching his hand down the front of her dress, but only by an inch or two.

“That depends. Are you offerin’ to give me lessons?”

“I thought you would never ask.” Naveen removed his hand from Tiana’s chest, laughing at her dismayed expression that appeared as soon as his touch was no longer upon her. “And do not despair, my love, it will be back there before you know it.”

“I’m not despairing,” Tiana argued.

“You’re pouting.”

“Am not!”

Naveen kissed her on the lips, a short kiss but long enough to both silence her and add another spark to their already fiercely burning passion. “No need to get defensive. All women long for my touch. —Of course, of course, unfortunately for them, you will be the only one receiving that pleasure from this point forward!” he hastily added.

“Nice recovery,” Tiana said, raising an eyebrow.

Naveen brought his lips to her jaw line. “Their loss, our gain,” he murmured into her, feeling his heartbeat quicken as her nerves unhinged and she sank into him in only slightly reluctant surrender. He pulled away from her again and held her hands. “Raise your arms.”

“Raise my arms?” Tiana repeated, confused, yet still doing so.

“Yes. Just like that.” Naveen clutched Tiana by the waist—or rather, her dress—and attempted to hike it up her torso, to little avail due to the fact that she was still reclined in a half sitting, half lying down position. “And now I need you to raise that pretty little behind of yours—”

Tiana smiled, finally figuring out what he was trying to do. “You’re making this far too difficult.” Kicking off her shoes, she sat up, raising her hips enough to hitch up her dress, and carefully pulled it off over her head, discarding it to her side on the large bed. Perhaps the floor might have been a better place for it, but she didn’t want to risk it getting caught on one of the candles.

The candles. They light they were giving off was dim, subdued, but still warm and gentle, and they probably were only just barely illuminating her body, but Tiana felt her arms slink around her now bare waist anyway. As if it weren’t revealing enough to have her hair down—no one ever saw her with her hair down! Wasn’t that a big enough step for one day?

“Now we can’t be having that,” said Naveen playfully, gently grasping her wrists and pulling her arms away from her body. Seeing her eyes glimmer nervously in the candlelight, however, his smile faded. “Do you want to stop?”

“No,” Tiana replied instantly. “I’m just… nervous.”

“You don’t have to be,” Naveen said gently.

“I know I don’t. But I worry about everything.” She smiled shakily. “You know that.”

Naveen smiled at her, laying her back down fully on the bed, with her head resting on the pillow. “You are making this far too difficult.”

Tiana laughed, her right hand on her exposed flesh right above her heart, but her left hand away from her body, allowing Naveen an unobstructed view. Well, mostly unobstructed. She was still wearing her slip, although it was a slip that only went up to her waist and that exposed her navel and even a bit of her panty line, and her strapless bra. But her torso, her abdomen, was there in full view, rising slowly with each breath she took, the soft light from the candles highlighting all the gentle curves, accentuated with the occasional, irregular flash of lightning.

She was absolutely beautiful. Too beautiful to touch. Almost too beautiful to even look at. And even though she had insisted that she wanted to continue, now that he had this fuller view of her, it seemed sacrilegious to dive in without permission… and besides, Naveen thought with a grin, every once in awhile it was fun to see her beg.

“Now… where was I?” he said slowly, looking Tiana over but not touching her.

“Naveen!” cried Tiana in exasperation.

“What? Something you want?”

“I think that would be a reasonable assumption, yes!”

“You are going to have to tell me what that is.” Naveen grinned even wider at both Tiana’s growing annoyance and the way her body was twitching with desire. “I am not very good at figuring these things out for myself.”

“I want what you want, now stop stalling and—”

“And what is that, again?”

Tiana growled, both in annoyance and in lust, and reached up and pushed Naveen down on top of her with her left hand, guiding his head squarely to her exposed torso. “I want you there touching me and kissing me and making these feelings in me get—I want you to continue what you were doing before and you know it!”

Naveen laughed against her ribcage as he kissed her in this new place. “I do know it. I just wanted to hear you say it.” He continued to hungrily kiss her abdomen, his hands making their way to her still covered breasts and kneading them, hearing a moan escape her throat. “Faldi faldonza,” he murmured through his kisses, which were growing quicker and more intense by the second, “that took a lot of willpower, holding out for that long…”

“Glad… glad to know I still hold some sort of power over you,” Tiana said through her quickening breathing.

“Always. Especially now.” His hands slid between her back and the mattress and to the hooks of her bra. Tiana flinched a bit in apprehension, and Naveen again looked a little hurt. “Tiana, are you going to do this every time we take off an article of your clothing?”

“I told you, I’m just nervous.” Tiana felt her cheeks flush.

“It almost seems as if you don’t really want me…”

“Lordy, not this again,” said Tiana with a conceding smile, seeing where Naveen was going with this.

“Perhaps if you persuaded me of how you really feel, we will not have to go through this for a third time?” Naveen smiled at her.

Normally Tiana would be averse to giving into Naveen so quickly, but her libido was calling the shots now. “Naveen, darling, I want nothing more in the world right now than for you to make love to me, and the more you keep stalling the more I want it and the more my body just aches with longing, and if you keep this up I think I’m gonna explode from it, that’s how much I want you! Did that convince you?”

Naveen leaned in even closer to her. “I believe…” he murmured—he pushed the bra hooks together and then apart—“it did.”

He pulled her bra completely off of her, revealing her round breasts and hard, erect nipples. “I really can’t imagine why you would wish to hide such lovely things from me,” he murmured, wasting no time in running his fingers against them, in rhythm with Tiana’s ragged breathing.

“I just don‘t wanna mess this up,” Tiana moaned. Naveen looked at her in mild surprise. Tiana winced, both from her thudding desire and embarrassment that she had said that out loud.

“You are such a worrywart stick-in-the-mud,” Naveen responded playfully.

“I can’t help it. I just want—I want to be perfect for you, I don’t wanna screw this up.” Is this the kind of thing one should say while having sex? Not that she had any experience in the matter, but she was thinking it probably wasn’t, it was probably a mood killer.

Naveen brought his lips to the corner of her mouth, his hands still rubbing her nipples, gently yet relentlessly. “Tiana,” he murmured, lettings her name sink into her, feeling her breathing grow deeper, feeling his own breathing grow deeper, as they lay against each other and did nothing but breathe and knead for a few moments. “You are perfect,” he finally said with a low, gentle purr into her mouth. She responded by letting out a small whimper of longing. “Which is odd for me to say,” Naveen added thoughtfully, pulling his mouth away from hers, “because there is a lot about you that drives me crazy, and yet you are still perfect. I am not exactly sure how you manage it.”

“I’m not exactly sure how you can just talk the night away instead of—”

“Because you are distracting me from you!” He moved down her body and brought his face to her breasts, kissing the space between them as his hands continued their rubbing with even greater intensity. “I wish you would stop that!”

“Oh God,” gasped Tiana, her body arching against his.

Were words necessary anymore?

And yet they were still trying to come out of her mouth, in discernable forms or otherwise, as he now brought his mouth to her left breast, his tongue grazing her nipple, as she let out an even louder moan of pleasure before biting her lip and turning her face to the side. No, no no no, she wasn’t going to scream and cry out like she had heard others do. Her home neighborhood in New Orleans had been small and tightly packed, and there were some neighbors who got a little too wild and crazy during their nights of fun, and Tiana had heard them clearly some nights when she got home from work, walking a bit faster past their houses, looking away, blushing and hoping that when she saw them next she wouldn’t think about what she had overheard—but how could she not have heard, they were so noisy! Lovemaking should be quiet and sensual and solemn, not loudly projected for all to hear! The thought of everyone—anyone—downstairs hearing her was appalling, and yet all her energy and desire was trying to escape from her throat, leaving her to hum through clamped lips and clutch the comforter with one hand and Naveen’s shoulder with the other, it getting harder and harder to contain her moans of pleasure as he pulled off her slip, running his fingers along the line of her panties, teasingly flicking a finger where she had grown damp with desire. Tiana exhaled sharply, allowing a small cry to finally escape her lips.

Naveen gingerly pulled this last bit of clothing from her, holding them delicately between his thumb and forefinger, examining their wetness with his other hand. “This also convinces me,” he said with a lidded smile.

“Yes, I want you, I want you I want you I want you now stop fooling around and—!” She didn’t finish, instead clutching the sheets again in preparation of what she knew he was about to do.

But again, he hesitated, kissing the inside of her thigh slowly, deliberately, and sliding his hand along her trembling labia in rhythm with her pulsating breathing. One finger tantalizingly began to creep inside and Tiana stopped herself from crying out again by biting her lip and whimpering helplessly. God. No wonder he had the reputation he did. This was torture. Sheer, unadulterated, delirious torture. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could persevere. But he was still going along at an agonizingly delightful slow pace. Count on lazy Naveen to not rush into things. Not even sex, despite how quickly he had moved upon her at the beginning.

He still didn’t move up. Instead, his lips made a trail of kisses down her thigh and into the soft curls of her sex, her whimpering growing more and more urgent the closer he got. Finally, he stopped in the dead center between her legs, right where the slit began… right on what she was now one hundred percent sure was the most sensitive bundle of nerves in her entire body.

She bucked.

“Uhh—!” she cried out, this time having to stuff her fist in her mouth in a futile attempt to keep quiet. Madness. Complete and total madness! Oh sure, so she had with shy curiosity touched herself down there before in the privacy of the shower or her bed late at night and had been surprised by her body’s reaction, but she never in a million years would have dreamed that it could ever feel as powerful as—as this! She moaned again into her fist, clenching her knuckles and feeling the muscles in her stomach and below clench tight and relax, clench tighter and relax less, clench tighter still…

Naveen looked up at her with those eyes, and while he didn’t say anything, Tiana could still tell exactly what he was thinking—”Ah, you like that, don’t you?” With a maddening slowness and caution—Tiana would have wanted to slap him if the torture hadn’t been so exhilarating—he brought his mouth back to her clitoris, one finger still stroking her labia, his tongue slowly slinking out of his mouth… and flicking her.

She bucked, clenched, moaned again, her fist in her mouth doing little to stifle her cry. “Naveen,” she whimpered into her fist, pleading him to—stop? Keep going? She was going to explode if he kept going. Oh God did she want him to keep going.

Whatever her request was, he complied with it. His tongue finally began to move faster, more fully covering her with its wide, precise brushes, his finger tentatively moving deeper inside of her. Tiana’s whole body was twitching and bucking now and she couldn’t stop it. She was biting her hand so tightly she was probably close to drawing blood and she couldn’t stop it. As her movements—involuntary though they may be—grew faster, so did his. He licked her faster, more fully, now sucking her, playing with her stinging sensitive skin through his lips, once, twice, deeper, longer—

“Mmmff—!” Tiana gave a muffled cry into her fist as she felt all the inner workings of her body shudder with one last clamp and release… something. Pent up energy. A lot of it. She finally was forced to remove her hand from her mouth, reddened from the grip of her teeth, to gasp for air, her pubic area still stinging with pleasure.

Naveen pulled himself away from her and gave her a surprised glance. “Achidanza, it certainly was your first time!”

Tiana returned the surprised look, not entirely sure what he meant by that statement, her breathing calming down only slightly.

Naveen smiled at her reassuringly, crawling back up to her face level and kissing her forehead. “Invigorating, no?” he murmured alluringly. Tiana only continued to gasp for an answer. “I will get you a glass of water.” He stood up and looked at the phonograph, the record it had been playing having long since ended, leaving only the scratch of the needle on the inside. Giving a low chuckle in his throat, he removed the needle and the record, leaving the only sound left in the darkened room the patter of the rain from outside, and went into the private bathroom that was adjoined to the room.

Tiana was finally beginning to get her breathing under control, as a relaxing, peaceful calm seeped into every muscle of her body…

Wait a minute.

She sat up and brought her hand to her mouth again, not to bite it but in worry, realizing that she’d done what she’d feared she’d do. She’d messed it up. Yes, of course, this was her first time and she was sure Naveen was allowing her some room for error, but she still came… came way too quickly. She finished before he’d even started—he was still fully clothed! Certainly her first time indeed!

Naveen stepped back into the room with a glass of water in each hand. Sitting down on the bed next to Tiana, he handed her one glass. “Here, drink this.”

She took the glass from him and greedily began to gulp it down, trying to come up with the words—and the breath—to apologize. Naveen took a small sip of his water too, but then focused his attentions back on her, using his now free hand to brush her hair away from her face and wipe the beads of sweat off her forehead.

So natural. So familiar. So… practiced.

Tiana felt her limbs stiffen.

How many other girls before me have reacted to him just like I did?

She shouldn’t think that way, she shouldn’t think that way, she wasn’t going to think that way because she knew of his track record long before she married him, and yet right now that didn’t matter. Right now she could only see him performing that tongue-dance on a dozen girls before her, having glasses of water ready for all of them.

Naveen saw Tiana’s eyes darken. “What’s the matter?” he asked gently.

“Nothing,” Tiana murmured.

“You did enjoy it, no?”

“God yes.” It came out as a far too honest moan of pleasure, much to her embarrassment. Biting her lip but still keeping eye contact with him, she added, as lightly as possible, “I’m sure I ain’t the only one you’ve driven to those extremes with those maneuvers of yours.”

Naveen took another sip of water, and then placed the glass on the nightstand and examined it thoughtfully. “Actually,” he said, looking back at Tiana, “I have never done that before. Used my tongue like that, I mean. Hands yes, tongue no.”

Tiana felt her eyes widen in surprise. “Really?”

“I never needed to,” Naveen said with a shrug. “Even though it takes different girls different ways to get ready for…” He cut himself off, realizing that discussing past sexual encounters with one’s wife on one’s wedding night probably wasn’t the best strategy, but seeing that Tiana was still raptly listening to him without a trace of annoyance in her wide, surprised eyes, he spoke up again, although slower this time, making sure to chose his words carefully. “I never even considered using my mouth. It would have been a waste of time. They were always ready for me without it, so why would I do it?”

“I was ready for you before you even used your hands,” Tiana reminded him.

“I know.” Naveen stroked her hair again, looking just as surprised as she was, if not more so. “And normally I would have not wasted any time and just… taken my pleasure, but…” He finally gave a small smile, touching her lips with his other hand. “For the first time in my life, my partner’s pleasure was more important to me than my own.”

Tiana felt herself smile too. She leaned up and kissed him, gently and gratefully, feeling his smile deepen as he kissed her back.

Her smile faded, though, as she realized she had yet to apologize to him. “I’m sorry I was bad at it,” she murmured as she broke the kiss.

“Bad?” Naveen looked completely taken aback. “What do you mean, bad?”

“You know—you said it, it was obvious this was my first time and I did it wrong, I—came—too quickly.”

Naveen laughed gently. “Tiana, you did not do it wrong. You did nothing wrong. Yes, okay, so you were quicker than I anticipated, but the truth of the matter was that I hadn’t intended to spend that much time on the… well, the preparation like that. So even if it was wrong, it was completely my fault.”

“You bet your royal behind it was,” Tiana mumbled with a low, soft tone.

Naveen laughed at that and leaned back in to her, touching his forehead to hers. “In fact, I think it went perfectly,” he murmured with a low, suggestive growl in his voice. “Now we can have a round two.” He pulled back by an inch and suddenly gave her a worried look. “That is, if you have the strength for it. —Not that you are weak, you are the strongest woman—the strongest person!—I know, but I know how tired you are and I have not done anything to make it better and I have already given you so much pleasure and I fully understand if you are ready to call it a night and—”

“Naveen!”

Naveen instantly closed his mouth.

Tiana’s firm stare melted into an inviting smile. “Give me a minute or two and I’ll be ready for your… ‘round two’.” The truth was, part of her was ready now now now, but her pelvic region was still stinging from the rawness of the new sensations and she honestly wasn’t sure if she could handle more of the same without giving herself at least a little time for a breather. Besides… “And while we’re waiting,” she added, playfully raising an eyebrow, “you need to do something about your clothes. You’re far too overdressed for this occasion.”

Naveen laughed again. “Point taken, Miss Wilcox.” He pulled off his boots, then his socks, and wiggled his bare toes. “Now are you going to raise a fuss again if I go slowly?”

Tiana smirked. “Take all the time you need, Your Highness,” she said, setting her glass of water down next to Naveen’s and lying back comfortably, her hand automatically making its way to her crotch and stroking her still somewhat sore and tender clitoris. “I’m just gonna enjoy the show.”

Naveen’s eyes bulged. “Faldi faldonza, that’s hot.”

“What?”

“The way you are looking at me and touching yourself and the position you’re in and…” He clumsily pulled off the sash from his royal uniform and tried to unbutton the jacket as quickly as possible. “And of course I have to be wearing a thousand layers of clothing right now…”

“Ah, payback,” smiled Tiana. With her other hand she began to play with one of her nipples, attempting to make the action look absent-minded.

Naveen let out a squeak and lurched forward, his jacket only half removed.

“Oh no you don’t!” Tiana admonished, waving a finger at him. “You’re not to touch me until you’re completely naked.”

“You are a cruel, cruel woman…” His jacket finally off, he quickly yanked his undershirt over his head and tossed it to the side as well, finally revealing his full torso. Tiana drew in her breath softly. She had never seen a naked man even from the waist up before, and seeing him… her husband, now, his soft muscles gently highlighted by the dim candlelight… for someone who had, at least up until very recently, prided himself on not doing anything, his body sure didn’t reflect his inactivity. Or perhaps constant sex really does keep one’s body in shape? Another rumble of thunder dully roared as she felt herself involuntarily gripping and rubbing her lower regions more tightly.

Naveen noticed. Although his own heart was also thudding madly with desire, he grinned at her expression. “Ah, finally I am regaining the upper hand here!” But his words came out with a bit of a squeak again, letting on to the slight falsehood of his statement. He was regaining ground, yes, but he had never had the upper hand. He had been completely and totally giving in to her from the moment she had cooed for his company outside the door. Before that, even. And he wanted to. He wanted to lose himself completely to her, to fully surrender to her every whim, to become completely and utterly hers hers hers. He already was, who was he fooling, he had been wholly hers for a year and a half now, he had been falling all that time and he wanted to, and he wanted her to lose herself to him too, he wanted to fall together with her for the rest of their lives… He fumbled with the stubborn buckle of his belt, his haste making it all the harder to undo. “Chista,” he cursed under his breath.

Tiana gave him a stern glare.

“Uh, I mean… darn it to heck!” He finally pulled the strap out of the buckle and yanked it off in full abandon, flinging it to the floor and rapidly climbing to his feet, fiercely tugging his trousers off as fast as he was able. Okay, yes, normally he was able to strip for ladies, while no less slowly than he was now, at least with a little more dignity and suaveness, but at that moment he wasn’t concerned with looking suave or even alluring. He just wanted his clothes off so he could continue with her, chista.

Finally his pants fell down to this ankles. He kicked them off and quickly pealed off his underpants, his last remaining article of clothing, relieved that they were far more cooperative in getting off his body than his trousers had been.

Tiana’s eyes doubled in size.

Naveen smiled enticingly at her. Ah, yes. The reveal. The full reveal of the sight that made all women gasp and tremble, a sight that now Tiana and only Tiana would ever have the privilege of seeing. Did her gasp come from knowing this, knowing that this was now hers and hers alone, that he was hers a thousand, million times over and that—

“That—that can’t possibly fit in… in me, it’s too big!” Tiana suddenly said, her hand now gripping the space between her legs as if it were a lifeline.

Inwardly, mentally, she slapped herself. Had she been taking lessons on the completely wrong things to say during sex, or what?

But again, Naveen knew how to turn the mood-killing comments into mood-enhancing comments. “I have never had any troubles before,” he murmured, bringing his hands to her torso and running them up and down her body comfortingly. Tiana shivered at his touch. “Would you like to give it a try and see for yourself?”

Tiana nodded dumbly.

Oh faldi faldonza, here it was, finally they were truly to become one, finally he could show her just how much he loved her—he kissed her lips with a sense of both gratefulness and urgency before parting her legs and—

“Wait!” Tiana shrieked suddenly. Naveen jerked back in surprise. “I don’t want kids, I don’t ever want kids, I don’t wanna get pregnant!” Tiana continued in a panic.

Oh God. There she went again. She was probably already shaping up to be the absolute worst lay he’d ever had, what with her worrying and inane interjections—

“Faldi faldonza, you’re right, I completely forgot…” He smirked at her, raising her knee a little further up so that he could kiss it gently. “You gorgeous distraction you. Give me just one minute. Less. Half a minute.” He let go of her legs, moved off the bed, and began digging through the drawer in the nightstand.

Tiana turned her head and watched him, supporting her body on her elbows and lower arms, her legs still spread apart. “What are you…”

“Found one!” Naveen pulled a rolled up piece of something that looked like thin rubber out of the drawer. Tiana continued to stare. And Naveen continued to smile. “Wipe that disapproving look off of your beautiful face, my love. All you have to do is slip this on me and it will prevent you from getting pregnant.” He paused. “Well, they say it is not entirely foolproof, but I have not had it fail me yet… at least as far as I know…”

“Can’t… can’t you slip it on you?” Tiana asked.

“Where is the fun in that?” He placed the condom in her hands and folded his arms, still smiling at her in that maddening, cocky, adorable way of his. “Now go ahead and put it on me. That is, unless you do not mind the possibility of a little baby nine months from now.”

“I do mind. Nine months from now or ever. I don’t want children.” She paused and looked at Naveen thoughtfully. “Do… do you?”

Naveen shrugged. “Oh no, not really—”

“Don’t lie.”

“You are stalling.”

“And you’re saying what you think I wanna hear and not what you really feel.”

“It is the truth, though! Okay, I guess I would not be completely against the idea of having children in the future, but even then, I would like to have you to myself for at least a few years before then.” He ran his thumb against her lips, and she smiled against it instinctively. “Besides, I do not have my heart set on it. If you feel that strongly about it, then we will not have any children. I don’t mind.”

“As long as you’re okay with it.”

“Of course I am. What I am not okay with is how you are still stalling. Now please—what was it you said to me earlier—stop fooling around and continue, yes?”

Smiling nervously, Tiana pushed herself up in a fully sitting position again and examined the condom with a look of complete confusion on her face. Naveen grinned at her anxiety. “There is really nothing to it. It would help if you grabbed a hold of it to keep it steady while you slip it on, though. And if you stroked it. And rubbing would help too. And if you were to use your tongue, I would not object—”

Tiana barked out a nervous laugh and rolled her eyes. “You’re taking advantage of me, Naveen.”

“I am only trying to help!” Naveen grinned back at her. Seeing that she still looked a bit scared, however, his smile faded and he gently ran his hand through her hair. “I am sorry, Tiana. If it really makes you feel that uncomfortable I will put it on myself.”

“Nuh-uh,” Tiana said firmly, shaking her head. “I ain’t gonna back down from something as simple as this. I’ve done far more frightening things in my time.” Biting her lip in determination, she unrolled the condom a little bit and tentatively grasped his penis in her other hand.

Naveen let out a shaky exhale of pleasure, and Tiana felt herself smile, realizing now that the torturous pleasure of having your lover touch you was just as satisfactory on the other end, knowing just how much you were pleasing him by something as simple as a stroke. It was an amazing, exhilarating sensation, and she gently moved her hand up and down the length of him once, twice, thrice—

“Tiana,” he moaned softly, gripping her shoulder, and she felt herself sigh with him. Her name. Of all the things he could have said, as involuntarily as he had right then, and for someone who had probably been with more women than she could count, the word that escaped unexpectedly from him was her name. He wanted her, not just sex, not just with any old girl, but sex with her and no one else because she was her.

And they had been waiting far too long.

She quickly pealed the condom down to cover him fully and leaned back on the bed in her half-reclined position from before, supporting her body weight with her elbows and slightly parting her legs again. She gazed at him longingly through lidded eyes and no words had to be said between them. Naveen quickly climbed back up on the bed, getting on his knees between her legs and lifting her lower body up slightly, then pulling her towards him, on him, and—

Tiana winced sharply.

Naveen pulled back before he had fully entered her.

Oh, right.

Virgin.

He had slept with virgins before. He had never exactly gotten off on their initial pain—in fact, in his past encounters with inexperienced women he had always taken care to make the initial entrance as comfortable as possible for the girl—although there was always only so much he could do. Still, even though he never understood the appeal of causing a woman pain, he did always feel a nice sense of satisfaction to know that he was her first, of watching the thrill of new sensations flicker through her eyes. That thrill had been tenfold with Tiana up until now; knowing that he could please the women he loved so completely, like she deserved; hearing her try to contain her obvious pleasure yet fail, it being even greater than her self-resolve, which he knew was strong as steel—oh yes, he loved being her first. And yet right now he hated it. He wished now that he wasn’t her first, that someone else had been the one to hurt her, that that unpleasant task hadn’t fallen to him.

“What… what are you waiting for?” Tiana demanded desperately, her voice raspy with impatient longing, her eyes wide with both nervousness and desire, her legs open and inviting, her body glimmering with sweat, her hair matted and tangled and beautiful, her whole body beautiful, and she shone like a star, and she was gorgeous, and he loved her, and virgin—

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Naveen blurted out.

“I’m sure it can’t be that bad,” Tiana retorted. She turned her head away from him. “Besides… it won’t be the first time you’ve hurt me.”

Naveen choked out a small sob. A high-pitched, unmanly, undignified sob, but it was a sob that was forced out by the strongest of forces, the truth. “No, I promise, I promise I’ll never hurt you again, I promised you, promised myself that a year and a half ago—”

“That’s the stupidest promise you can make anyone,” Tiana interrupted. “You can tell someone you promise you’ll never hurt them, then go on a walk with them and accidentally step on their foot—whoops, broke the promise. So don’t even make it.”

“I have to make it now,” Naveen insisted, “after—after all I’ve put you through, all the hurt I caused you—do you really think I can ever make it up to you, even now, even though I know I’ll be trying for the rest of my life? Do you really think I will allow myself to hurt you again?”

Tiana’s irritation melted into surprise as she noticed tears in his eyes. Real, honest-to-goodness tears. The very thought of hurting her was making him actually cry. And in her heart she cried too, cried with him, wanting nothing more than to comfort him and assure him she’d be alright, she’d be fine… and that she would do, but not before doing something drastic first.

And so, biting her lip and acting quickly before he had a chance to realize what she was planning, she simultaneously pushed him back towards her with her knees and jerked her hips back up towards him.

It worked.

She had thrust herself on him.

Her entire body tensed in pain as she felt tears spring from her clenched-shut eyes. Even with a little time to prepare for it… he was right, it did hurt. The pain shot through her, a pain that would have been unpleasant yet manageable if it had left as quickly as it came, but it didn’t. It continued to settle through her body, from her pelvic region to her abdomen to her arms and legs. She finally drew in her breath, sensing that though her attempt to stifle her cry of pain had been successful, it had still drawn blood from her lower lip.

“There,” she choked out, turning her head back towards him and shakily opening her eyes. “You didn’t hurt me. I hurt me.”

Naveen stared at her, wide-eyed, unable to breathe from the million different sensations that ripped through him the instant she had so forcibly pushed him in her. Trying to keep her hand from trembling as much as it was, Tiana reached up and touched his chest, giving him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “You okay, angel?” she murmured.

Slowly, carefully, Naveen lowered himself so that he could more fully comfort Tiana—and the movement caused both of them to let out small gasps at the sensation of their conjoined flesh moving against each other. Tiana let out a half-sigh, half-laugh, the full sensation of sexual intercourse finally starting to manifest itself, but first she had to make sure Naveen was alright—and let him know she was alright. She reached up a hand to brush his tears away at the same time he reached down to wipe hers, each of them kissing the other’s hand as it passed by their mouths. Tiana’s shaking was subsiding as she realized that the pain was, too, being replaced by a slowly roaring sensation of pleasure and longing. Tentatively, she circled her hips.

Naveen let out another choked sob, but this one was clearly from deep desire rather than despair. Smiling at him, Tiana circled her hips again.

Again, she didn’t have to say anything.

Soon they found each other’s rhythm, rocking back and forth against each other in perfect time, at a slow, easy pace, and yet their breathing soon became panting, their panting soon became moaning. Without thinking—she couldn’t think, her brain was completely detached from any notions of think, it being completely consumed by feel—Tiana brought her fist to her mouth again to stifle herself.

Naveen’s next pant came out as a breathless, incredulous laugh. “What… are you doing?” he breathed, gently pulling her hand away from her mouth.

“I don’t—I don’t wanna be noisy,” Tiana panted as an explanation, feeling her face flush.

“Leave it to you—” He thrust into her with more force than before, still holding her wrists and keeping her hands away from her mouth, leaving her no choice but to whimper out in uncontained pleasure— “to take the fun out of sex.”

With her hands held away from her face and her breathing now far too ragged to even attempt to keep her mouth clamped shut anymore, Tiana’s moans were now coming out of her at a quickening rate in both speed and intensity. “What—” her words were coming out gasp-like between her moaning— “what makes you think—I’m not having fun?”

Naveen’s vocalizing was also impaired by the low groaning in his throat that accompanied every pulsation of Tiana’s hips. “Right—right now, nothing.”

Tiana gripped Naveen’s lower arms, causing him to let go of her wrists. With this newfound mobility, she suddenly pulled herself up so that both their bodies were vertical to the bed, now in a position that she was sitting on his lap, her legs around his torso. Naveen let out a surprised gasp at their new position before grinning lustily at her. Placing his hands on her hips, he raised her up in the air and off of him, then back down. Then he repeated the procedure. And again.

“Ahh—!” Tiana cried out in exhilaration, a huge smile spreading across her face. Naveen also smiled at her enjoyment, a smile just as deep and sensuous as hers. He quickened the pace, their moaning become faster and more urgent along with it. She wasn’t hiding it now, she wasn’t hiding how pleasurable she found this, how happy it made her, the uninhibited smile on her face was stirring him more than he ever thought a simple facial expression could, and of course not forgetting that other sensation ripping through his entire being, oh God—

“—Oh God, oh no!” Tiana suddenly cried out.

“What?” Naveen asked urgently, letting her fall back down on him and leaving her there without moving.

“That—that little boy, Rushil, in the yellow robe, your second cousin or third cousin or whatever—I promised him I’d get him a cookie at the reception, and I never did!”

A flash of lightning accentuated the awkward silence.

Naveen finally let out his breath incredulously. “You are thinking of that at a time like this?!”

“It… it just came to me suddenly…”

“You… are impossible!” But he was smiling, an incredulous, amazed smile, and he pulled her to her with one hand so that their bodies were completely touching, his other hand stroking her face. “You are impossible and I love you, I love you, you impossible, impossible…”

With the only words able to come out of his mouth apparently being just “love” and “impossible”, he completely closed the gap between them and kissed her, Tiana parting her lips to moan in his mouth as their hips began pulsating against each other again. She gripped her arms around his shoulders, he gripped his arms around her back, and they rocked against each other as they whimpered in each other’s mouths, pulling away long enough to gasp out in pleasure when their bodies demanded it… which was becoming more and more frequent.

The pace was relentless. The delirium was suffocating. Tiana’s entire being was now begging for relief. How long—how long had they been at this? She didn’t want to climax too quickly again… but if she waited much longer she wasn’t going to have a choice. “I—I can’t last much longer,” she panted, breaking her mouth away from his.

“Neither—can I—” And oh boy, was that an understatement, Naveen frantically thought to himself as Tiana’s flesh continued its urgent motion against his. In fact, if he hadn’t had the breadth of experience that he did, he probably wouldn’t have been able to hold in his orgasm for as long as he was managing now—and even now, the only reason he was forcing himself to outlast her was because of how he had teased her earlier about her quick orgasm—but she could very well have just as much, if not more, cause to tease him.

They were both panting with exhaustion, but still kept their frantic pace, their confessions giving the other approval to seek resolution.

A bright flash of lightning illuminated the room, followed quickly by a crack of thunder, and that was all Tiana needed to go over the edge. She gave out a cry as her body finally gave in to its release. Having outlasted her, Naveen finally let himself come as well with a barely repressed groan, making his total time ahead of her a grand total of perhaps one second. Well, one second was one second.

Gasping, they clutched each other tightly as they caught their breath, the pattering of the rain a steady constant that they both clung to. The other steady constant being each other.

Tiana’s grip around Naveen’s shoulders grew a bit tighter as her breathing started to come out of her more fully, sounding somewhere between a sob and a laugh. She began to kiss the side of his face, absent-mindedly and with no real sense of purpose, and Naveen could sense that she was smiling… and how he adored her smile. But how he adored her kisses too. So instead of pulling her face away from his to see her smile as he might normally have done, he instead just gave a helpless moan against her cheek and tightened his grip around her body.

Sex and love going hand in hand, what a ridiculous notion.

A ridiculous notion that was absolutely true.

The exhilaration of just being with her, just seeing her, was far greater than sex had ever been with any other women, ever. He couldn’t ask for more. And yet he had more. That exhilaration added to the exhilaration of sex? The thrill of hearing her cries of pleasure, of seeing her eyes burn with desire for him and only him? It had nearly driven him mad. No, it probably had. But he didn’t care. He might have been driven to madness but he was still there with her, their bodies pressed close together, her kissing still continuing in its deep, gentle urgency, and he had never felt more complete. He had never felt more whole.

Satisfied.

Satisfied.

Satisfied.

He finally slightly drew his face away from hers, but not to look at her, but to return her kisses with a tender one on the lips. She parted her lips slightly for him and their tongues lightly flicked, but in their exhaustion they could do little more than that and whimper softly in each other’s mouths, the glorious afterglow settling into their limbs. They gently sank back down on the bed, Naveen on top of Tiana, still unable to pull their lips away from each other.

The day had been long and exhausting. Tiana had been racked with stress over everything. She had endured the humiliation of completely ruining a cake and having it be seen by everyone anyway, she had been stuck dancing for hours with people she hardly knew, she had been on her feet pretty much the entire day—up until now, that is, with the now adding in passionate lovemaking and two orgasms into the mix. She should have been ready for sleep the moment her head hit that pillow. And part of her was. But the other part of her didn’t want to end this kiss, either.

But of course they had to end it sometime. She felt him move away from her and off the bed, and even though she was too tired to open her eyes, she still mumbled inarticulately, “Where you goin’?” as her body dully protested being left exposed and untouched.

“I am going to put out the candles,” she heard Naveen murmur softly.

“Mmm,” she hummed in acknowledgement, the comfort of the bed already beginning to lull her to sleep, aided by the sound of the rain and thunder and the sense of post-climax utter absolution.

Absolution.

She had always had high dreams for her life. She had always expected great things to come, and had always believed that she would obtain them with enough work.

But still, she had never been prepared for the absolute sense of completion she was feeling right at that moment.

She had her restaurant. She had her place where she could bring people together with her food, despite the language barriers, despite the cultural barriers, every day being surprised and astounded by some new facet of the wonderful culture of the people here. It wasn’t New Orleans, it wasn’t the old sugar mill, but that didn’t matter in the slightest. She was still living her dream. Somehow, inexplicably, somehow it had worked out this way.

Somehow she had love. Somehow, even after how much she had closed herself off to it, fought it, tried to deny it, she had it now, so fully, so wholly, that she wasn’t sure how she had even managed before without it. She had Naveen… and he was everything to her. Everything, everything, everything.

She never could have believed she could be this happy. Ever.

She felt herself shiver a bit. The sweat on her body had dried and was leaving her exposed flesh cold, despite the heat of the August night air and the heat of the passion. Sleepily, she moved to pull the covers off the bed, having to open her eyes a bit to do so. The candles were no longer flickering, but she could still see Naveen sitting on the edge of the bed, watching her with a soft, tender smile, the smell of burning tobacco from the cigarette in his hand adding to the…

Tiana frowned in mild surprise. “I didn’t know you smoked,” she murmured.

Naveen looked at the cigarette and back at Tiana with both an apologetic and embarrassed look in his eyes. “I only smoke after really, really amazing sex.”

Tiana felt herself chuckle. “So I was good then?”

“Exceedingly so.” He took a long drag from the cigarette and sighed in satisfaction. “I have a feeling I will be going through a lot of these from here on out.”

Tiana smiled softly. She wasn’t too keen on the smell of cigarette smoke, but perhaps she could get used to it. Besides, in the near darkness of the room with the soft trail of smoke dancing around him… it was rather alluring, she had to admit.

Naveen also continued to smile at her, almost incredulously, as if he still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “You are so, so beautiful,” he murmured.

The sound of his voice made Tiana sigh softly, and her sigh made her close her eyes again, and her closed eyes were enough to send her drifting off to sleep again. She pulled the blankets over her body and settled into the pillow.

“And now you are hiding your beauty from me, you are so cruel…”

Tiana smirked sleepily, not opening her eyes. “I’m cold,” she murmured. “Are you about done with that cigarette yet?”

She felt the mattress shift slightly as he moved away from her—to the nightstand, maybe? She still didn’t open her eyes, she wasn’t sure if she could, she was so tired.

But then she felt him move back towards her, crawl under the covers, and wrap his arms around her and bring his lips to her cheek, as if he had been intending on kissing her but had forgotten what he was doing halfway through.

She was in his arms.

Now she could sleep.

But she did manage to open her eyes again, to twist her head slightly and gaze at him, and he gazed back at her, and the thunder rumbled and their hearts swelled.

“Stay with me,” Tiana whispered.

Stay with me for tonight, yes, that was part of it. Stay with me and don’t get up again and hold me in your arms and let me fall asleep with you here and tomorrow when we wake up we’ll still be holding each other.

But not just tonight. Stay with me forever. Which was a moot point to bring up at all because they were married and wasn’t it part of the deal anyway, and she didn’t doubt his dedication to her for a second. But still. Stay with me forever. Stay with me forever and hold me like this every night and wake up with me every morning for the rest of our lives, I’m not sure if you realize how much I need you…

She felt his fingers gently graze her skin and he brought his lips to the corner of her mouth, and she thought that maybe he did realize. Maybe he needed her just as much.

“I will,” he whispered back.

They both closed their eyes and smiled.

Perfect.