Desomma made Rey shower before trying on the clothes she’d brought. The day-to-day items fit well, but Desomma clicked her tongue and went about making tiny adjustments as Nalti combed out Rey’s wet hair and squeezed the strands with a dry towel.
Rey felt distinctly uncomfortable with the pair of them fussing over her, helping her in and out of various shirts, leggings, tunics, and jackets in a variety of earthy shades. Each piece had fine, subtle details which transformed her look from plain to elegant. Small buttons and faintly shimmering embroidery added just enough interest without overpowering the simple lines.
“I have a surprise,” Desomma said as they reached the end. Her droid lifted a swath of buttery cream silk from the collection, swinging it forward for his mistress to accept. “I finished one of your evening gowns.”
Rey removed the clothes she’d been trying on and allowed Desomma to slip the gown over her head. The silk slid over Rey’s skin, settling in lightweight layers against her legs with plenty of room to move. A delicate lace tabard overlaid the dress, two lace panels joining at the waist to fall together to the hemline.
Desomma stepped behind her and began to fasten the back as Nalti moved to the front.
“Oh, you look beautiful,” she said. “You should wear that to dinner tonight.”
Rey nudged the hem of the dress with her foot. It stopped just above the floor, still longer than would be easy to fight in, but she’d had to compromise on length to keep Desomma from having an anxiety attack.
“Do you think…”
“He’ll love it,” Nalti said immediately.
Rey glanced down at herself. She’d insisted on necklines that no one could see down, since she was shorter than almost everyone on the Dominance. Still, Desomma had managed to create a neckline that shielded Rey’s breasts but still pushed them into a gentle swell above the fabric.
Rey had never worn anything so feminine in her life. When Desomma’s droid produced a mirror, Rey almost didn’t recognize herself.
Desomma smiled smugly. “I’m pleased with the color. It’s just enough of a contrast with your golden skin.” She gestured, and her droid pulled matching slippers from a trunk. “Here. Put these on.”
Rey stuffed her feet into the slippers, lifting the skirt to do so, and Nalti began to play with her hair. Desomma silently handed Nalti a small white flower from the same trunk as the shoes, and Rey felt Nalti affixing it over her ear.
“One last thing. I know we’re running a little late for your dinner, but I want you to look through these designs for your wedding gown.” Rey accepted the data pad and examined the first design as Desomma and her droid began putting all the new clothing into the room’s wardrobe. “I had to scrap a half dozen designs when the order came down to have it done by next week.”
Rey scrolled to the next design. “Why so soon?”
The silence felt heavy, and Rey looked up to see Desomma share a look with Nalti over Rey’s head.
Nalti spoke very gently as she finished fastening the flower in place. “That’s when the wedding is. I thought you knew.”
Ben was waiting for her by the dining table, and a small part of her tucked his reaction away when he turned and saw her in the evening gown. He stared and swallowed, his eyes fixing on the hint of cleavage before flickering up to her face.
His eyebrows rose when he saw the fury there.
She stopped in his personal space, craning her neck to glare up at him. “When exactly were you going to tell me you’d scheduled the wedding?”
He examined her in that curious, patient way of his, stretching the tension out until Rey felt her anger get too heavy to fully maintain. “I made the decision after I saw you at lunch.”
Lunch. When he’d kissed her.
His eyes darkened as if he knew what she was remembering. “You’re lucky I didn’t schedule it for tomorrow.”
She drew a frustrated breath. “Is this how we’re going to do things, Ben? You make the decisions, and I’m left to follow along like… like a pet?”
He frowned at that. “No.”
“Which means maybe you should have talked to me, the one other person this affects, before you made plans.”
“I don’t see how it matters when the wedding is. We’ve already agreed it will happen.”
“Right,” she said, “so it doesn’t matter if it’s next week or in three months.”
“I’m not waiting that long,” he said flatly.
“Do I have no say in this?” she asked incredulously.
He leaned close, features drawn with ferocity. “Be careful, or I’ll drag you off and marry you right now.”
Rey should not have found that as sexy as she did. Her heart thudded, and she could only stare at him with wide eyes, heat glowing under her traitorous skin.
She almost said yes. Yes, please drag me off and marry me right now.
But she didn’t. She wasn’t ready, and something in her rebelled at the idea of marrying him in some perfunctory ceremony on this cold, heartless ship.
“We’ll talk about it while we eat,” she told him instead, her voice not entirely steady.
He drew back, those dark eyes seeing more than she wanted them to as she went to see Desomma and Nalti out.
Desomma left the data pad with Rey, asking her to make a decision that evening. “I have seven sewing droids on standby, but I need to start tonight if I’m going to have it done in time.”
The two women scurried out past Ben, who ignored them in his usual way, and then it was just him and Rey and food on the table.
Rey sat, taking a moment to adjust her skirt. She’d never worn skirts before, so she knew she looked stupid trying to manage it, but Ben didn’t comment.
He sat after she was settled, and she turned on the data pad.
“What is that?” he asked as he draped his napkin on his lap.
“Wedding dresses,” she replied absently, scrolling through the images.
She glanced at him. He’d sounded pleased. After a moment, she asked, “Do you want to see?”
Interest sparked in his eyes, but he declined. “I think it’s supposed to be a surprise.”
Rey thought as she compared the three dresses she liked best. It was easier to think now, without people surrounding her and making demands. “I want a small ceremony,” she said. “On a planet. Somewhere green.”
He considered for a moment. “Done.”
“I want my guards there. And Nalti and Desomma.” If she couldn’t have her Resistance friends, she’d at least have familiarity.
As her staff, they had to be there anyway. They both knew that, but the fact that he didn’t point this out made her even more annoyed.
“Ben,” she said, putting the data pad down.
His eyes snapped up. “Yes?”
She blinked, her annoyance derailed. “Were you just–”
Pink crossed the bridge of his nose, confirming that, yes, he’d been staring at her breasts.
“You were.” She covered a chortle with her hand, and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“You don’t have to laugh,” he muttered, his flush deepening. Then, because apparently his mother had drilled some manners into him, he added, “Sorry.”
She blushed and looked away. “Well,” she said with a slight shrug, “I can’t be too mad. We are getting married, after all.”
She glanced up and found herself caught in his intensity.
She tried to breathe through the sudden tightness in her chest. How did he make her feel like she was drowning and burning at the same time? Wasn’t it physically impossible to do both at once?
She half-rose, leaned over, and kissed him.
It was a simple kiss, and she broke it off quickly, but his ragged breathing stroked her ego. It wasn’t lost on her that this was the first time she’d initiated a kiss, and it didn’t seem lost on him, either. From the look in his eyes, he would give her a hundred galaxies if she asked.
He tried to follow her as she pulled away, but she stopped him with a gentle hand to his chest. She could feel the way his heart pounded under her palm. “I’m hungry,” she said.
He relented, but she felt his gaze on her all through dinner. Rey glanced at him every now and then, flushing under the intense concentration he leveled at her, but she had to focus on her food to avoid spilling on her dress.
When Rey’s belly felt full enough to slow down, she’d had enough time to process their conversation. The wedding wasn’t the only thing he’d kept her out of. He’d been disappearing during the day, most likely making plans with the First Order leaders.
“Do I get to know what the First Order is planning?” she asked quietly.
The direction of his attention shifted, and she glanced over to see him frowning at her.
“You said we’d be in this together. Are we or not?”
He nodded slowly. “Of course.” He set his sliverware down, and she gave him time to consider his words. “What would you like to know first?”
“Are you trying to track down my friends?” This fear had hovered over her ever since he’d let them go.
“Not at the moment. The Resistance has been broken, giving us an opening to begin taking control of various lawless worlds. We’ve sent envoys to eleven planets to negotiate their surrender. We’ve had positive responses from seven already.”
“What happens if a planet says no?”
He watched her warily. “We take it by force.”
“And people die.”
“We give them the option to surrender.”
“And you kill them if they don’t.”
“We defend ourselves.”
“They defend themselves! You’re the ones invading, Ben!”
“We do it for their own good! Their lives are miserable, corrupt. We bring order and stability to a galaxy overrun with–”
She interrupted him with a harsh laugh. “Oh, of course. You kill them for their own good. Go on, tell me another one.”
He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “You don’t understand.”
“I understand enough,” she shot back.
“The faster we take a world, the less strain it puts on the local economy. We don’t want long, drawn-out fighting because in that type of confrontation, both sides lose. We are violent because some people only understand violence. Surrender is a much smoother, more peaceful option.”
Rey shook her head, not believing her ears. “Yes,” she said wearily. “Surrender is much easier for you.”
He sighed into the resulting silence. “We’re getting off topic. You wanted me to catch you up.”
They talked for hours, moving to the more comfortable sitting area at some point. Sometimes they clashed, their views driving them into what could generously be called a spirited debate, but mostly Rey concentrated on learning more about the bloodthirsty order she now called home.
As late night rolled into early morning, Rey found herself sagging against Ben with his arm around her. He drew idle patterns on the back of her hand with his fingers, and their conversation adapted to the intimacy.
“Have you ever kissed anyone?” she asked, adjusting so that she half-lay against him. His heart beat steadily against her ear.
He raised a brow down at her, and she blushed furiously.
“Aside from me.”
He examined her in his quiet, canny way. “Once. During my training at the Jedi temple.” He looked away, and she suspected that his impassivity was a mask. “We were kids, and we were curious.”
Rey was surprised by the acid that rose within her, and her words came out more accusing than she’d intended. “Exactly how curious?”
Those too-sharp eyes took in her discomfort. “Just a kiss. The Jedi discourage desire, and we would have been punished if we’d been caught.” Years of bitterness seeped into his words, coloring them.
Rey couldn’t help herself, asking as casually as she could, “Was she pretty?”
When he didn’t reply, she glanced up to find those big brown eyes observing her. His lips twitched, the expression almost smug, and Rey started to get embarrassed and annoyed.
He spoke, then, and her annoyance crumbled. “You are preferable.”
“Not what I asked,” she muttered half-heartedly, her skin too warm.
He only raised a brow.
She couldn’t hide from him. He always saw through her, drawing her secrets out one by one. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
He nuzzled against her hair. “What of you?”
She shrugged, drowsiness pulling at her. “You were my first.”
The breath he let out against her scalp sounded like triumph, and his arms went fiercely around her. “Good,” he rumbled.