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Relief drenched Rey when Ben entered, surveying the room with a frown before drifting to her side. “Did you forget about dinner?” he asked.

Rey blinked. Was it that late already? She smiled an apology, trying not to let her feelings of isolation seep through their bond. “Sorry. I guess the time got away from me.”

“Send them away,” he suggested.

Rey pressed her lips together, not wanting to ruin anyone’s fun. She glanced around, seeing that her guards had noticed Ben and now kept a wary eye on the two of them – the fun had already begun to leech out of the room.

Ben didn’t seem to notice or care. His attention stayed on Rey, unwavering.

The only other person who didn’t tense at his presence stood across the room, behind Rowdy and Valkyrie.

Ruby.

Something in the way her gaze fixed on Ben’s profile left Rey unsettled. As Rey watched, Ruby’s tongue darted out to wet her lips, and Rey instinctively sent out a tendril of Force to skim the other woman’s thoughts.

She physically recoiled at what she found there.

Rey stumbled back against the wall and felt her stomach rebel, trying to send up the little she’d had to eat and drink. She’d caught a series of thoughts in image form, hazy but for the greed that accompanied them – Ruby resplendent on Ben’s arm, head high as the First Order gazed up at her in awe; Ruby commanding armies; Ben forcing their enemies to grovel at Ruby's feet; Ruby naked in Ben’s bed, clutching his hair roughly as he buried his face between her thighs.

Rey couldn’t help scanning Ruby’s mind again, prodding it like a sore tooth. She found intent there – not to replace Rey, but to offer herself as a… Rey caught the word mistress. Ruby wanted to scratch the dual itches of ambition and lust in one move.

Rey’s probing finished in seconds. She didn’t know if she meant to catch Ruby’s gaze but catch it she did, and the other woman immediately paled. Rey didn’t know what Ruby saw in her face, but the other woman left the room at a pace just shy of a run.

Rey stared at the exit, her attention locked into an internal battle. A clawing beast roared in Rey’s chest, urging her give chase so that she could rip that bitch limb from limb.

“Nalti,” she choked out, her eyes never leaving the door to the hall.

Nalti approached, the whites of her eyes showing as she took in Rey’s ferocious expression.

Rey felt hot with the effort of holding herself in check. “See that everyone is fed before they leave. And reassign Ruby to the farthest First Order outpost you can find.”

Nalti’s eyebrows rose into her hairline. “Yes, of course.”

Rey knew that Nalti would pepper her with questions later, when they were alone. Maybe Rey would be calm enough to give her answers by then. Now, however…

“Make sure I never see her again.”

Their conversation had been too low for anyone but Ben to overhear, and he did nothing more than raise an eyebrow as Rey opened the door between their rooms and preceded him through.

When it shut behind them, Rey let her tense shoulders shake with suppressed adrenaline.

“What was that about?” he asked.

Rey clenched and unclenched her fists. “You.”

His brows rose further, attention sharpening. “How so?”

Rey couldn’t hold still anymore. She began to pace, ignoring the comfortable black and red furniture. She used the Force to shove a chair out of her way, and Ben watched her with the same patient focus he’d employed when she’d hurled accusations at him through their bond on Ach-To.

The image she’d gotten from Ruby, the one of his head between Ruby’s long, shapely legs, had lodged itself like a tick under Rey’s skin.

She was furious.

“She wanted you,” Rey burst out, the words coming out in a feral tone Rey had never known she possessed. “She was thinking about it. She was going to try.”

He tilted his head, only a slight pinkening across his cheekbones indicating that the words affected him. Still, his focus remained on Rey. “And you exiled her for it?”

Pace, turn, pace. “It was that or kill her. You would not believe the things she was thinking… Why are you smiling?” She stopped and glared up at him.

He reached out and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “You’re jealous.” His voice was low and husky, mixing with her adrenaline-fueled anger to stir her blood.

“It’s not funny, Ben,” she snapped at him. “She was thinking about you with… and she was…” Rey couldn’t get the words out, gesturing wildly.

He caressed the shell of her ear. His breath stirred the strands over her forehead. “Naughty girl, peeking at other people’s thoughts.”

“Naked! She was naked! And you were…”

He raised an interested brow.

Rey threw her hands into the air, flushing. “I don’t even know what you were doing!”

He leaned close to her ear, his voice rolling silkily against the sensitive organ on a warm puff of breath. “Was it something you’d like me to do to you?”

The image of Ben pressing his face between her legs as she clutched his hair suddenly swam into her mind, making her shiver against the fever that gripped her. Her eyes closed against it, body swaying toward his.

He pulled her close, his touch tender but firm. “Tell me what you want, Rey. Anything you want, I’ll give you.”

Rey’s breath caught, but then her stomach rumbled and she had to laugh against his chest, some of the heat cooling. “Food? We kind of… missed lunch.”

His amused huff stirred her hair. “I suppose we did, didn’t we?” He ran a hand down her back. “I’m willing to miss dinner, too,” he offered.

Rey stepped away, and he released her. She smiled shyly up at him. “One track mind,” she teased, choosing to ignore the fact that she’d brought the subject up.

He gazed down at her with those meltingly dark eyes and the creature in Rey’s chest growled, Mine.

“Food first,” she said.

“First?” he echoed.

Rey fought to hold back her smile and failed.


Caramelized fruit slices, flaky meat pastries, and small sweets that melted on the tongue. Ben had ordered an assortment of rich, easy-to-eat finger foods and then locked his door against visitors.

He kissed her neck while she leaned over the options, nibbling her the same way she nibbled at the food. Rey shifted her hips against a different kind of hunger, one that grew at the juncture between her thighs.

“Are you done yet?” he murmured against her throat, his hair tickling her cheek.

She laughed and blushed, enjoying the eager wet kisses he left in his wake. “You should eat something, too.”

“Mm,” he mumbled, too busy stroking her ear with his tongue.

Rey squirmed harder and picked up a slice of sticky fruit, holding it up for him. “Here, try this.”

He bit, heavy gaze on her face as he chewed, swallowed, and leaned in to take the rest into his mouth, his tongue finding her fingers and licking them clean before he let them go and finished the bite.

Rey couldn’t take her eyes off of him, wondering how he’d turned something as simple as food into a seduction.

He leaned in to kiss her, and she caught a glimpse through their bond of his uncertainty. He worried that she would push him away, that she didn’t want him.

She turned in his arms and kissed his mouth, his lips sweet with traces of the fruit she’d just fed him. She pulled back just far enough to tell him, “Clothes stay on. That’s my only rule for tonight.” She thought about the time she’d seen his naked chest, about Ruby’s awful fantasy now burned into her brain, and she knew she wasn’t ready for that.

But for this… yes.

Rey pulled his mouth down to her own, making him hunch over her, and ran her hands across his chest, thinking about the smooth skin she’d seen and searching for his muscles under the black cloth.

His hands spanned her waist, fingers against her lower back. He hadn’t taken advantage like she’d thought, his lips doing wicked things to her senses but his hands firmly planted far away from the places she wanted them.

Rey pressed closer, wiggling in his grip to encourage him to move, but he didn’t get the hint. Instead, he groaned, his mouth opening as they fought over control of the kiss. He bit her lip lightly, and Rey gasped at the frisson of pleasure from that tiny nip. She drew back just far enough to tell him, “Do that again.”

He growled and began to tug at her lips with his teeth, covering them with teasing nibbles and bruising bites, alternating pressure often enough to leave her breathless and arching against him.

He wrapped an arm tight around her waist and lifted her, steadying her with his other hand under her thigh as she wrapped her legs around his torso.

He began to carry her toward his bedroom, and Rey tugged at him to get his attention. “Bring the food,” she gasped.

Ben’s head fell onto her shoulder with a thump, and she felt him shake with silent laughter. When he raised his head, he strode into his room, threw her on the bed, and left to fetch the food. By the time he returned, Rey had her belt and vest off, struggling with her boots as he pushed the food to the side.

“I thought you said clothes on?” he asked as he knelt to help with her boots.

“Still clothed,” she replied, gesturing to her perfectly serviceable shirt and pants.

He set her boot aside, ran a hand up her calf, and planted a kiss on her ankle before he stripped off his belt and outer layers, leaving him in a black undershirt like the one Desomma had given her to wear and the high-waisted pants she’d seen him in before. He kicked his boots off and climbed above her, his mouth returning to her neck.

Rey ran her fingers down his scar, the permanent mark she’d left on him, and thought pleasantly that she’d branded him as her own, claimed him. She used their bond to send him a hint of the purring possessiveness the scar evoked, and he cried out against her, hips slamming down against hers with more force than finesse.

He devoured her mouth, and she grappled his head closer, biting his bottom lip and moaning when he remembered to use his teeth.

Rey let him between her knees and lifted her hips to his, encouraging him to rub against her, and he made wonderful, helpless noises in the back of his throat as she urged him on.

His lips broke from hers as he tossed his head back, his hips working faster, the friction making them both pant, and Rey found her body coiling tight beneath his.

His head dropped forward, his dark hair a mess. He watched her, his normally steady gaze wild, his breathing coming fast and hot as he drove them both higher.

One of his big hands slid over her breast, and Rey felt all of that desire compress at her center. “Ben!” she half-sobbed, half-begged.

He threw their bond wide open, and his frenzied desire poured into her.

The tension exploded outward, filling every corner of her body. She felt Ben squeeze her breast painfully hard, jolting the pleasure higher as he ordered her to open her eyes.

She hadn’t even realized she’d closed them.

The moment her gaze locked with his, his own eyes widened and his jaw worked. Their open bond draped the fire of his explosive release across her, catching her up like a net and driving her over the edge again. She wailed as he rutted his hips against her convulsively, riding the pleasure hard until it broke and ebbed and he collapsed on top of her, gasping.

Ben shifted off of her with effort, but he kept one leg across hers, nose bumping her ear as his breath puffed hot against her skin. He idly palmed her breast through her clothes as their heartbeats slowed, and Rey snuggled against him, arching her chest into his hand. He couldn’t get a very good grip with her breastband and shirt in the way, but he didn’t seem to mind, rubbing and squeezing until the flames under Rey’s skin began again at a low smolder.

“I didn’t know,” she murmured, unable to form a coherent thought. “I never… I didn’t… That’s a thing?”

He chuckled against her ear, the deep, satisfied rumble warming her further.

“Is that going to happen every time?”

She felt his smile against her skin as he leaned in to press a lazy kiss against her throat and gave her breast an enthusiastic squeeze. “I hope so.”

Rey laughed and turned her head to meet his lips with hers. “Ben,” she murmured against him, making him smile again. He twitched his fingers on her breast, pinching the tip through her clothing, and Rey gasped into his mouth.

His long fingers switched between plucking at her and palming her, stroking the swell of flesh as his mouth devoured her own. It was during this exploration of her breasts that something crinkled beneath his hand, and Ben lifted his head to examine the spot. “What’s that?”

Rey stiffened, remembering that she’d stuffed Leia’s letter over her heart. She didn’t want to ruin Ben’s playful mood, but she didn’t want to hide the truth from him, so she reached down her shirt, smirking when he angled his head to follow the motion, and tugged the paper into view.

“It’s from your mother,” she murmured as she passed it into his hands. His fingers stilled, gaze riveted to it. “I meant to show it to you earlier.”

He unfolded it slowly, carefully, almost as if he feared it would explode in his face. Rey watched his eyes as he absorbed the words, saw the way his mouth trembled and twisted at the end. He swallowed hard and handed it back to her.

“She sent gifts,” she explained into the silence, giving him a chance to get his emotions under control. “Jewelry, mostly.”

“I see.”

Rey tucked the letter back beneath her breastband and threaded her fingers through his. She tried to ignore the guilt that she’d kept the secret of the bracelets from him. She had plenty of perfectly rational reasons, but she had never kept anything from him before. It felt wrong.

Ben wrapped himself back around her, body stiff, and they lay awake together for a long while. Eventually their breaths synchronized and he relaxed into a light doze, Rey caged in his arms. She put aside her worries and let his warmth lull her to sleep.