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The more summers Daine spent at Numair's tower, the more complicated her feelings about it got.

It was nice to be as secluded as they were, surrounded by sea and sky and green with the Swoop less than half a day's ride away should they ever want the company. Numair's tower was comfortable and messy in its own wizardly way—an extensive and somewhat dusty collection of everything he thought interesting or useful shoveled into the shelves, furniture that served no purpose but to be comfortable, books on every surface imaginable—and she loved her room there. Numair himself was there, and he didn't mind how much time she spent wandering around the nearby glen and field talking to her friends.

Most of the time, there weren't any downsides to staying in the tower, except maybe that Onua and Alanna and her other human friends weren't there.

In the summer, however...

Numair wasn't particularly attached to his shirt in the summer. Numair explored the ocean in just his breeches in the summer. Numair was prone to sleeping in and walking down the staircase mid-morning, rumpled and yawning and bare-chested, in the summer.

None of which had been particularly notable when she was thirteen. It had gotten a fond eye-roll when she was fourteen. It had been more notable when she was fifteen, but they'd both been distracted. Her sixteenth summer had, sadly, contained no visits to the tower.

The summers after that had gotten exponentially awkwarder and pleasanter and tenser, each sleepy morning leaving her swinging between telling him to put on a shirt before he came down for breakfast and being disproportionately disappointed that he did. If he knew of her struggles, he never showed it, but by eighteen, those struggles (among many, many others) occupied a very large portion of her attention.

She wished they wouldn't. They were distracting.

Not that that stopped her from camping out on the beach when he decided that his latest project needed to be submerged in salt water.

It was absolutely fascinating, the way he wrestled with those leather straps, the water making a mess of his coal-black hair and the muscles flexing under the skin of his tanned back. His breeches were slicked skintight and the treasure trail leading into them was doubly interesting for it.

Teasing out that sweet ache of craving in the pit of her belly was much more enjoyable than it had any right to be. She bit down a sigh as she watched, her textbook forgotten on her knees.

He straightened, submerged to the thigh (and not much higher, revealing—) with his left hand a fist full of straps and his right shoving those thick curls away from his face, the fur on his chest and belly matted dark on his skin—and then turned her way with a droll look. "You know, instead of laughing, you could come here and help," he called.

Belatedly, Daine realized she was leering. Gods bless it. Aloud, she said dryly, "Certainly, but I haven't got my shift—unless you prefer me in a breastband."

He glanced at her tunic and breeches and flushed. "As you were, then."

(Not that it wasn't tempting to go down to the water in almost nothing at all, to see if he would blush any darker, or draw her in and run his hands all over her, project forgotten as he kissed her deeper and deeper and deeper... Goddess help her.)

She turned a page of her textbook for deniability and then went on ignoring it entirely until it was time to start dinner.


Later, he (somewhat sourly) asked her what she'd learned, and it was entirely without guilt that she said, "Nothing, I'm afraid. Your experiment was too much fun to watch."

"Was it," he grumbled, carefully patting his locks dry with a towel, and she glanced him over—a loose shirt in a shade of green that flattered him well, dry breeches, bare feet, all damp hair and soft fabric and understated sensuality.

"Very much so," she replied, grinning.

His eyes briefly fixed on her grin with a pinpoint focus, and then he looked away with a put-upon sigh. "I have been forsaken in my own home."

"Which is why there's rice and fish and tarts waiting for you, I'm sure," she retorted.

For one very, very strange moment, she thought he might kiss her—so sure of it that her mouth tingled—but all he did was squeeze her shoulder and send her a smile as he passed. "You're forgiven. And thank you."

She waited until he'd left to scrub her heat-pricked face and release the breath she was holding. Maybe she should go take a dip in the nice chilly ocean herself, to cool her racing heart and glowing flush.

Summer.