I watch Gisa flutter around the hallway, trying to tie her hiking boots and yell at my brothers to hurry up at the same time. She’s loaded a backpack with her paints and canvases and poor Tramy is already standing like a pack mule ready to bear the burden. Near the door, Bree stands by while mom hands him backpacks full of lunch to carry for the picnic. My dad keeps to himself, watching the chaos like I am. His astute eyes narrowing on my sister every so often when she shouts something.
Cal tries to stay out of the way too by leaning against the wall, a faint smile dancing on the edges of his lips. I can sense the nervous excitement that threatens to explode out of him though. This is the longest he’s ever been around my whole family with me. If a whole week in tight quarters with the Barrows hasn’t chased him away though, I doubt anything will.
“Please be careful with it.” Gisa urges sternly as she slides the bag on Tramy’s shoulders. He gives her a quick nod and adjusts the straps making Gisa hold her hands out as if she’ll have to catch things that fall from the back. Her lips twist in displace as he hikes the bag up a little higher, probably shifting some of the contents.
“Mare, boots on.” My mom points to the door where my boots are waiting, still muddy from my trek through the woods with my family yesterday.
“I—uh,” I glance at them, and then cross my arms, “I’m not going.”
“Mare don’t be silly.” She picks them up and holding them out to me, wiggles them to urge me to take them. I look them over before glancing at Cal off to the side, who is waiting patiently to take on the bags from Bree’s hands when my brother stops being stubborn. When I look back at my mom, I end up meeting Gisa’s eyes as they dart to me. Her scowl grows deeper as if she can smell the plan taking shape in my head.
“I’m actually not feeling that well. I’m going to hang out here so I don’t ruin your picnic.” I announce, and all sound dies in the hallways as everyone turns to me. I’m used to the spotlight not though, so when I have to lie, I am good at it.
“Do you have a fever?” Mom cries, tossing my boots away so that they almost smack Bree’s arm. Her hand flies for my forehead and I dodge expertly, only to end up with my back against Cal.
“No, no fever. My throat just tickles. Woke up with it this morning.”
“No you didn’t—” I press my heel down on Cal’s toes as hard as I possibly can, until his voice cuts off and he grabs my wrist to tell me to stop before I break his toes. I pull my heel off his foot immediately.
Gisa stares me down, her eyes narrowing as she opens her mouth to speak. Mom cuts her off though, stepping in front of her to say, “Oh, well I’ll stay behind with you so you’re not alone.”
Her smile is painful as her eyes dart to the beautiful sunshine bursting through the windows of the cabin.
It’s honestly too easy, and I don’t have to plan the next part. Cal is too much of a gentleman to let my mom be sad about staying behind with me.
“I’ll stay back with her.” He says as he stands next to me and smiles down at my mom. That gets my brothers’ attentions. The two of them turn their eyes to him and it looks like two predators side eyeing an injured rabbit.
“Sure you will,” Gisa is the one to speak first though, as she pushes her fiery braid over her shoulder. Her eyes are on me as everyone turns to look at her. I give her a coy smile, and her eyes flare up in annoyance.
This is supposed to be a family trip, but Cal and I hadn’t seen each other in two months while he was away in the States. He’d come to Montfort for his two weeks off to surprise me, only to learn I was leaving for Paradise Valley that night. It had not taken much convincing for mom to agree to bring him along. So it had turned into my family and Cal. Gisa hadn’t been upset at first, not until she noticed me trying to pull him away at every opportunity. Cal was too oblivious to understand what I was doing, and honestly, seemed more concerned with staying on my brothers’ and father’s good side.
“We’ll be fine.” I assure everyone. “And if I end up feeling better, we’ll follow behind you guys.”
My brothers look just as uncertain as Gisa, sharing a look behind her back, but my mom is more than happy to push everyone out the door and get on their way. She was the one that really wanted to take this trip, and we had been happy to oblige and get away from the city for a week and a half.
The door closes behind my protesting family, and I press my tongue into my cheek and cross my arms until I can’t hear anything but the birds. When that happens, I turn on Cal with smirk.
He immediately frowns at me though. “Don’t we look proud of ourselves,” he grumbles before heading for the kitchen. My mouth falls open at the tone of his voice, and I sputter at his back before following him.
In the kitchen he moves around the center island counter, grabbing a mug before he starts digging around in one of the cabinets.
“What are you doing?” I laugh as I slide up behind him and trail my fingers along his hips until I almost slide them into his pockets.
“Making you tea with some honey to help with your throat.”
“Cal, my throat doesn’t hurt.” I roll my eyes before trailing my fingers up his sides, trying to get him to understand. His body shudders under my touch, and he cranes his neck as far as he can to try and look down at me.
“Then why did we,” he cuts off as I sneak one of my hands under his shirt and drop it toward the waist of his pants, playing with his belt. “Oh.” His voice cracks on the word and I smirk as I press my lips to the bare skin of his tricep.
“I haven’t seen you in two months and my dad made you sleep on the couch this whole trip. You have to believe I would find a way to get us alone.” I slip around his side like a fish to place myself between him and the counter. Resting my hands back on it, I push myself up as high as I can go and almost touch my nose to his when his lips curl into a crooked grin. My insides flutter and I slowly close my eyes as I press a hand to his chest going for a kiss. His heart beats steadily against my fingers, and I frown in annoyance before pulling back an inch.
“If all you wanted was that, I would have found a way to get it done before we left.” He teases, pressing a light kiss to the space between my furrowed brows.
“It’s been two months. I want it to be good.” I trail my nails down his chest, over the muscles of his stomach to hook a finger around the hem of his hands and tug him closer. He boxes me in with his arms, resting his hands on the counter on either side of my hips, before pressing my lower back against the lip of the counter. I arch back over it, and end up lifting one of my legs to curl it around his. The temperature between us jumps a few degrees making me grin.
“There are windows.” He murmurs against my temple before grabbing the outside of my thigh and squeezing.
I exhale as he slides his hand down my leg to grab my knee and pull it up to hook around his waist. I let my eyes close and my head drop back to expose my whole neck to him. He goes straight for the tender spot behind my jaw. My insides spool tighter, as I press a hand to his chest for balance. Now his heart pounds harder beneath my fingers and I grin to myself as he nips at my skin.
“No one’s going to see.” I breathe as he presses open mouth kiss up to my ear. Each one is a little bloom of fire on my skin. When he reaches my ear he nudges my head to a different angle and presses a long kiss to the hollow behind my ear. I squirm against him, stifling a groan when he exhales on the sensitive skin. I will not let him know how hard these past few months were without him. We’ve been doing this back and forth routine for almost two years now, and it’s worked rather well. He gets what he needs done, and I still get space when I need it. I have visited him, and he has visited me when each of us can. But the time between is still excruciating now that we are settling into this more and more. We won’t be able to bounce back and forth for much longer.
I grab the hem of his shirt and pull it up, my other hand dropping to brush his stomach. Again he shudders at the feather-light touch, and murmurs, “Are we sure your family is gone?”
“They’re gone.” I insist as I tug his shirt up higher, tracing the lines of his chest. He expels an annoyed sighed before letting go of me so that I have to hold myself up to keep from falling backward. Grabbing the back of his shirt, he pulls it over his head and tosses it somewhere in the kitchen. All the while, grumbling about me being demanding. I grin at getting my way and press my hands to his chest, feeling the hard muscles under my palms. He grabs my leg again before crouching slightly, and I press my lips to his immediately.
His other hand slides around the back of my leg and he lifts me off the floor to set me on the counter in a fluid movement. I grab his face to keep him from pulling away and wrap my legs around his waist, hoping to latch on tighter. His hands find my hips and he squeezes before pressing up against me.
He’s already hard. I snort at that, and turning my head to press a kiss against the corner of his mouth I tease, “Miss me?”
“Always.” He breathes, before reaching for the buttons of my shirt. He’s undoes them blindly, his lips finding mine again. I grind against him, earning a groan that travels through my mouth and all the way down to the heat in my core that is starting to turn into an ache between my legs. Nudging his mouth open with mine, I deepen the kiss and press against him harder, trying to alleviate some of that ache. It ratchets it up another notch though, until all I want to do I grind against him as hard as I can and get lost in the stars that explode behind my eyelids.
He pulls my shirt off and lets it fall on the counter behind me. I’m panting, already a mess in his hands. There’s no way he doesn’t notice. Sure enough his lips curl up into a smile as he takes in my peaked nipples.
“Did you miss me?” He whispers before pressing his lips to the spot where my collarbone meets my neck. Sucking softly, he reaches up to massage one of my breast with his thumb. I throw my head back, almost succeeding in hitting it against one of the cabinets. He pulls me further toward the edge so that doesn’t happen, and I open my mouth in a moan as he presses his thumb harder into my nipple.
“I have no idea what you mean.” I whisper as I scramble to grab his shoulder and anchor myself. His calloused fingers trace up the other side of my body and he applies pressure to my other breast. I buck against him as soon as he makes contact, and he lets out a low groan against the skin of my throat.
His lips trail over my skin until he’s kissing the edges of the scars on my neck. He races the raised edges, all the while massaging my breast and earning a few desperate murmurs from me. His other hand slides up my back to trace the scars there too. His open mouth kisses turn into soft pecks as he goes. “Beautiful,” he whispers between each kiss that he places like a flower on the branch points of my scars. My eyes fly open, and suddenly my focus consolidates to his mouth and his words instead of his fingers which are rolling my nipple in tortuously slow circles.
He turns his head to side eye me as my breathing grows more ragged. “They’re beautiful, and so are you.” He murmurs to me, sensing the mercurial shift in my thoughts.
I let my temple rest against his forehead, and close my eyes. He stays there for a moment before continuing along my collarbone. He pauses again though, his hand stilling on my breast, and his shoulders tensing.
My eyes open and my stomach curls when I spot the expression on his face when he sees the brand. Fury, regret, and agony all flash across his face as he takes it in. I refused to remove it. It would always be a reminder of what I endured, and what I was strong enough to overcome. I would not remove it, no matter how many times my mom begged me too, or someone made a roundabout comment about it.
His thumb leaves my breast to slide up to it and trace the raised lines. The ecstasy fades, and slowly I start falling back to reality. It’s like coming off a high, my stomach rolls and my blood goes cold. He sighs again, and then presses a kiss right in the center of it. I wait with baited breath for what he is going to say. He’s never told me to get rid of it, but I know every time he sees it a part of him burns.
“Beautiful.” He whispers to me before pressing another kiss to the brand. I trail my hand up his shoulder to thread it in his hair when I sense the tension in his muscles leaving. He doesn’t open his eyes to look at the brand again when he presses another kiss to the raised skin. His breath is hot on my shoulder as he speaks though. “I love every part of you Mare Barrow. Every single part.”
My heart flutters, and I drop my chin to trail my lips along his jaw to his ear. “Show me,” I breathe to him and damn me, because when he turns his head and looks up at me with lust filled eyes it undoes something within me. Whatever restraint I might have had shatters and all I want is him, more of him. For the rest of my life. I grab his face and capture his lips in a kiss that almost knocks our foreheads together.
He grabs me and pulls me off the counter, before spinning to set me down on the center island. Breaking off the kiss, he presses my shoulders back so that I’m lying on my back. Undoing the buckle on my pants with practiced hands, he lets it slide to the floor before pulling me until my hips are almost hanging off the edge.
“I will love you until I’m nothing but a faint memory, then I’ll love you long after that.” He murmurs as he drops hot kisses on my stomach and reaches up for my breast to return to his earlier ministrations. I drop my head back against the counter and close my eyes, my insides turn into a melted mess at the deep growl in his voice. He never speaks like that unless we’re doing this, and it drives me insane when he does it. If I could bottle feeling it gives me, I would just to feel it in my lowest moments.
He unbuttons my pants and peels them off of me. It’s torturous how slowly he’s going, and his fingers leave burning trails behind as he goes. His lips follow after, and he presses a light kiss at the lowest point of my hips before looking up at me from between my legs. I exhale sharply as he smiles. “So you don’t forget where I’m going to finish this.” He winks lazily before pulling my pants off completely and tossing them in the direction of his shirt. Then he slowly drops to his knees and guides my knees over his shoulders.
A Silver on his knees for me, a king on his knees, it’s intoxicating. The minute his tongue finds my entrance, I cross my ankles around his neck and grab the top of the counter. Gasping in pleasure, I let my back arch off the counter at the same time that I throw a hand down to grab his hair and keep him there. His hands squeeze my hips to keep me in place, even as I squirm against his hold, demanding more friction. I can feel his laugh against my core, and I groan at the sensation, my eyes squinting shut as I grip his hair in a fist. He let it grow out during those two months and now it’s long enough for me to grab fistfuls of it. It’s wonderful.
He works at me like I’m a novelty to explore. Slowly, then quickly, then slowly once again. It’s driving me insane like it always does. Every part of me is focused on his hands on my hips, kneading my skin softly, and his tongue—damn him.
I’m right on the edge, teetering over complete bliss when the door opens. My eyes fly open and before I really react, Cal slides me off the counters so I land in his lap. Our panicked breathing is all I hear for a second until Bree’s voice carries through the hall as he walks by the kitchen.
“Oh Bree? Go back and get my jacket won’t you?’ Can’t believe this. It’s hotter than hell out there and she wants her damn jacket. Honestly, she’s more worried about the damn paint than she is about her own well-being. Get my jacket, damn her.”
I slap my hand over my mouth to keep from spitting with laughter. Gisa Barrow was without a doubt a menace and a threat to my general happiness. She left her jacket on purpose. I was going to have to shove her in a river or something for that.
I glance at Cal only to see panicked eyes staring at the doorway to the rest of the cabin. I can’t even imagine what is going through his mind right now.
Bree stomps by again. “Now I have to run to catch up. I’m gonna kill her for this.”
The door to the cabin slams shut, and I wait a heartbeat before bursting out laughing. Cal rests his forehead on my shoulder, his exhale taking all his anxiety and tension with it. “Not funny, Mare.”
That only makes me laugh harder until have to heave for breath and slide out of his arms to rest my back around the island counter. He sits back on his heels to watch me, a smile threatening to creep to his lips. He tries to stay it off, but is eventually overcome with laughter too.
“Your face,” I wheeze my breathing making each word hitch, “you should have seen your face.”
He drops his chin to his chest and tries to stifle his laughter, but his whole body shakes with the movement. When he finally raises his eyes, there is true amusement in them. “My only thought was whether I could fit through one of the windows.”
That brings another breathless round of laughter, and I crawl back into his lap during it, tipping his head back so that I can see the laughter in his eyes. Brushing his hair off his forehead, I press a kiss to the space between his eyes. “I would have fought Bree off to give you time.”
“I don’t think I’d get very far with Tramy, Bree and your dad hunting me down.”
Waving my hand as if dismissing the idea, I press another kiss to the side of his mouth. “I’d protect you from them.”
He turns his head to complete the kiss, and the anxiety my brother caused with his unexpected arrival slowly starts to shift into teasing excitement. We almost got caught, but we didn’t, and that thrill makes us even more bold.
I reach a hand between us and undo his belt, but he pulls my hair to tip my head back until I have to arch and he can grab my breast in his mouth. I moan at the feeling, and almost lose track of his belt before I drag it through the loops and blindly throw it. “Next time,” I pant as I grab at his hair too, “next time I tie your hands together with that.”
He laughs, and I can feel it reverberating in my chest from the point where his tongue is doing lazy circles around my nipple.
Gathering a small spark on the tip of my finger I poke his neck. Every hair on his body stands up and he gasps at the sensation but it gives me enough time to push him backwards and go for his pants to remove them. The spot between my legs hurts so bad that I press one of my hands to it just to alleviate some of the pressure. He grabs my wrist and pulls it away before replacing his fingers with mine.
“Cal,” I whine when he finds the ball of nerves at the top and starts pressing against it. My back arches and I grab fistfuls of his pants as I ride the first waves of pleasure.
“You wanted me to show you.” He breathes with a crooked grin that almost undoes me right there. I yank his pants off in one move and bite my lip at the sight of him. Trailing kisses down his chest, I let the tip of my nose ghost over his tip, and feel him squirm immediately. I can wait long enough to get him to the point I’m at, even though my whole body is screaming for me to get him inside of me as soon as possible.
I drag my tongue up his length and one of his knees bends behind me as he tries to get away from me. I don’t let him escape though, just like he did with me. Smirking up at him, I close my mouth around him. His hand slaps on the ground as he cries out. Good, I think as I suck and take as much as I can. He grabs my hair, and squeezes it into a fist, his breathing turning into pants as he says, “You got me.”
I break away then, before sliding up to straddle him. We lock eyes and I let my lips curl up in a lustful smile. He reaches between us, and places another hand on my hip to guide me. My fingers curl as he fills me, and I moan his name so loud I worry that Bree might still be close enough to hear. I take a second to adjust, and when that knot in my gut squeals for release, I lift my hips and then grind down.
“Fuck, Mare.” He barks my name as I start moving, and tiny sparks dance across my fingers at the same time that they explode behind my eyes. I dig my nails into his chest, dispelling them so that I don’t hurt him as the heat builds in my core to a painful magnitude. His hands grab my hip though, and his fingers dig into the skin there until I know he’s left bruises. I focus on that, and on the feeling of him filling me as I thrust down on him again.
He moans, and I whisper his name lovingly as we move as one. Each thrust creates sparks behind my eyes, and helps me climb higher. Sweat rolls down my back in droplets and I pant as I go. My thighs burn from holding the position, and I grimace as I start slowing down. Sore legs from hiking all week are going to ruin this for me. I’m so damn close, but I’m slowly falling off at the same time. Fuck, it’s not fair.
Before I can protest, he hooks me and flips us over so my back is pressed into the cool ground. He grabs my legs to keep them wrapped around his hips and takes over the pace. He hits the exact right spot, and it’s the last thing I need. Throwing my hands over my head and grabbing my own hair, I cry his name as I arch off the ground and climax.
He follows a second later, my name tumbling off his lips like a prayer as he slowly bends down to kiss me. We’re both panting, sweaty messes but he tastes as wonderful as he always has when I grab his face to keep the kiss going. Sliding his hands underneath me, he lifts me off the floor so that he’s cradling me to his chest. I drape my arms over his shoulders, feeling my body quiver with aftershocks. He’s still inside me, and it makes me twitch when he shifts me to straddle him easier and he ends up pressing against still sensitive spots.
“You’re going to need to get an apartment in Montfort. I don’t want to be apart from you like this anymore.” I whisper to him after we both settle down enough to breathe normally. I press slow, soft kisses to his temple. He laughs softly at my comment, but doesn’t argue.
I draw lazy lines on his chest as I watch the sun set outside the living room window from our position on the floor. I’m warm and drowsy under the blanket, and his arm makes an excellent pillow while his fingers rub my neck soothingly.
We’d cleaned up the kitchen and showered, only to end up staying in there for another round until the water got cold. Now, he smells like burning oak, and I inhale deeply as I close my eyes to doze off.
“We’re you serious about me getting an apartment in Montfort?” He murmurs, and I shrug with a sigh.
“I missed you.” I reply as I open my eyes again. He cranes his neck to look down at me, waiting for a real answer. Blowing some of my hair out of my face, I roll on top of him. Draping a leg over him, and resting my forearms on his chest, I prop my chin on them. “I want you around more… not just every few months for a couple of weeks, but all the time.”
He trails the back of his fingers along my cheek, his eyes softening. “I want that too.”
There’s a but coming, I can feel it. So I wait patiently for him to speak, taking a page from his book and letting him come to me. He slowly rests his head back to look up at the ceiling.
“But I can’t leave the States yet. We’ve settled a little more, but the Lakelands are still dangerous and Piedmont has been causing more problems lately.”
My face falls, knowing that while I love him, Norta and now the States was always his first love. I let my head fall to the side and stare over the floorboards. His fingers run through my hair and he plays with the purple ends until they tickle my shoulder blades.
“But I’m also slowly being phased out. The States run themselves, and I’m doing less and less.” His voice rises in hope and I bring my eyes back to his face. He smiles softly before cupping the back of my neck. “I suppose I’ll have to ask Evangeline to help me find somewhere.”
My face lights up, and the lightbulb in the lamp near us flickers. His eyes move to it and he laughs before pull me close to kiss me. I cup his jaw and deepen the kiss as much as I dare until he grabs my leg and drags it until I’m straddling him completely. He sits up, and the blanket falls away, exposing my bare body. Normally, when he stays, we’ll stay at my apartment and the less clothes I’m wearing around him during that time the better.
My lips curl in a smile as I feel him going hard beneath me again. I grind against him to let him know I’m just as interested in a third round.
The door bangs open again just as we go to kiss. We both freeze, and his entire face drains of blood until there is nothing but black under his eyes. I scramble for the massive think blanket and drag him off the ground and onto the couch. Positioning him until he’s reclining, I throw the blanket around my shoulders and dive on top of him. He grunts when my knees go into his hip. I press a kiss to his neck in apology.
“Pretend to sleep.” I whisper in his ear and he immediately throws an arm around my lower back under the blanket and closes his eyes. I tug the blanket up a little higher to cover his bare shoulders and try to force my racing heart to slow.
My mom’s voice filters through calling my name softly. I close my eyes immediately when I hear her boots as she looks in the kitchen first. I force tense muscles to loosen and hope that she doesn’t look too closely and Bree doesn’t try to yank the blanket off of us.
“Where are they?” My dad’s voice now, low and dangerous as he starts looking too. I feel Cal’s chest hitch in panic underneath me.
“Oh,” my mom’s voice is right behind the couch.
“Do I need to take him—” Bree now, hunting for sport.
“Quiet,” my mother hisses, ignoring Bree’s words, “everyone lower your voices. They’re sleeping.”
“Sleeping my ass. Cal’s too light of a sleeper to sleep through all this.” Gisa grumbles, and I hear her make her way in the room. I keep my eyes closed and try to force my face to relax. My next fear is that Cal is panicking so much he gives in to his fate and tries to bolt and get a head start on my brothers.
“Gisa, leave them alone. You sister wasn’t feeling well.” My mother hiss whispers and I can imagine her face as she grabs my sister.
Gisa protests as she’s dragged away and my lips curl up into a smile on Cal’s collarbone. His thumb brushes against one of the dips in my back as he moves his head to press a kiss against my hair.
“This is why you need an apartment in Montfort.” I breathe to him, and I have to cover his mouth so that his laugh doesn’t carry.