Maybe following him was foolhardy, even if she had indeed seen him. Cian had left of his own free will, left her. His absence had allowed her some freedom and taught her a good number of things, but she missed him. He had been her mate, her companion, for six years now. He understood her in ways no one else had ever been able to, in a way she herself had not understood. And while she and Soryn had indeed grown stronger together again… she still missed Cian. And so even the chance of seeing him was too much to ignore.
She had followed his shadow into the dark woods, the high canopy preventing all but the smallest, surest moon rays from reaching the ground. Her eyes adjusted quickly once away from the campfires, but much of the world was still left in darkness. The wind rustled the drying autumn leaves, so that even if Cian made any noise she would not have been able to detect it.
“Stop,” his voice was almost at her ear, and at the same time she felt something sharp press lightly into her neck. Her heart skipped a beat and uncertainty fluttered in her stomach. “Why did you follow me?” He asked.
“Why wouldn’t I follow you, my lover?”
“We’re done Xoe, you know that.” His voice was hard, unmoving.
Xoe closed her eyes as if in physical pain, gathering her wits before speaking, “You don’t mean that. We’re mated… You fathered my only child. Stop playing games with me.”
“What makes you think I’m playing?” Cian demanded, pressing the sharp object – an arrow tip, she realized – deeper into her skin. She felt the slight sting that told her he had broken the skin, followed by the tiny trickle down her collarbone.
She felt the tears well up, clouding what little bit of vision she possessed. Her voice broke as she spoke, “Then kill me now and be done with this.”
“You know I won’t. You’re too important to all those people back in that camp,” he spat. “To Soryn.”
She sniffed a little, still holding herself suspended against the arrow point. “Soryn has always been important to me, you know that.”
“You’ve taken him back to your bed,” he breathed in her ear. “You’ve let him ride with you, counsel you, steal private moments with you. Have you accepted his mark again?” His lips brushed her earlobe and she shivered, as much from the cold as the desire that ran warm under her skin.
“Does he make love to you like I did, Xoe? Does he hold you close and caress your back, your sides, your hips? Does he kiss your breasts and bite your nipples? You told me once when we were younger that Soryn was unsure of himself in bed, and that he could not possibly guess at the dark temptress hiding inside you. Does he know you like to be taken from behind?” He bit her ear hard enough to make her gasp and squirm, the arrow tip moving against the bleeding wound.
“What do you want me to say? Yes, I’ve taken Soryn back to my bed, but you would find me a different woman than the one you left three moons ago, if you bothered with something other than an arrow.”
“So Soryn said,” he growled, “but it is not a change that I like. We pledged ourselves to each other, Xoe. You are mine as much as I am yours.”
“You’ve talked to Soryn?” She demanded. “When?”
“Earlier in the night. When you go to him tonight, when you let him lay you down among the furs, know that I left the bruises on his face.”
She felt a tear roll down one cheek and asked, “Why can you two not be civil, at least for my sake?”
His laugh was dark, and spread gooseflesh over her skin. “Because we are two powerful men who want the same woman. Only one of us can have you.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” she insisted with her new found passion, moving without being aware of it so that the arrow was no longer a threat. “That is the Nayrro speaking, but in times of the Mother it would have been a common enough thing for two men to love one woman.”
“This is not that time anymore, Xoe. You seek to bring it back, but the world has changed. The peoples have changed. And the way you would bring it back is wrong.”
“You say that only because your mother is involved, and the prize for her is your greatest loathing.”
“Yes!” He shouted, directly in front of her now that he didn’t have to hold her at bay by weapon. “Does it not strike you that you’ve promised her the very thing that I led a war to prevent?”
“A war that you have since denounced as being the result of your very mother’s schemes and manipulation!” She fired back. “Everything that was supposed to define you was nothing but another woman’s playing with you!”
He kissed her hard as the words left her mouth, a relentless, punishing kiss. He told her to shut up with his tongue on hers, told her to melt for him with his teeth pulling at her bottom lip.
“Yes, my mother manipulated me, and it is not a glorious tale. Surely now that you have it all you can see why I hid it from you, why I buried it under the life we built together. But just as surely you can see how easily manipulated by women I am.” His hands caressed her sides, pulling her close to him.
She melted into him, too aroused and too tempted by the chance of having him back to care what the real circumstances were. “Clearly,” she whispered through her bruised lips, “you are not the clever prince you’ve led everyone to believe.”
Cian reached down to the hem of Xoe’s short top and pulled it over her head, running it carefully over her long, tangled hair. His hands came to the sides of either breast, caressing then cupping their weight, his thumbs flicking the cold-hardened nipples. She shivered, taking a step closer to be in his arms, nearer to his heat. She laid her head in the crook of his bare shoulder, her hands finding the long contours of his back with practiced ease.
He reached his hands into the back of her leggings to cup her butt. She pressed up against him, finding his sex already hard. With a little push the loose pants fell to her ankles, and before she had a chance to step out of them he had picked her up and laid her back against the damp grass. Her legs widened instinctively as she heard him pull at his own leggings. When he came down to her, pressing his hot body against her shivering one, he was naked. He moved without preamble, desperate to be inside her, finding she was already wet and sliding quickly inside. He had not meant to let on that he enjoyed it, for pleasure was not part of his plan, but he couldn’t stop the moan. No matter his ulterior motive here, he missed Xoe, missed feeling her naked body beneath his, hearing her gasps and being inside her.
Xoe wrapped her legs around Cian as he thrust hard into her. His pace was immediately demanding and she knew from experience that when he was like this he didn’t last long, but it was amazing while it did last. His thrusts were so forceful that he pushed her by the inch with each inward plunge, and his grunts were that of a wild animal in rut. She was helpless beneath him, positioned only to take his lust and feel her own, and she loved it. He was darker, more dominant in a way Soryn could never be. And this was what had first attracted her to him all those years ago.
Cian came suddenly, pushing almost violently into her one last time as she felt him release his seed. He remained atop her a moment, his breathing heavy against her ear. Suddenly she felt a coldness that had nothing to do with the wet grass and chilly autumn air.
As Cian pulled from her body, he whispered in her ear. “It gives me pleasure knowing I send you back to Soryn smelling like another man.”
Xoe stared dumbfounded into the shadows of trees above her, still sprawled out on the forest floor while Cian scooped up his clothing, bow and quiver. He did not dress, but merely cast his smug gaze upon her in the darkness and tread lightly away, fading into the trees.