Home > No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)(15)

No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)(15)
Author: Miranda Honfleur

Another throat clearing. “Your Highness, if we could—”

“No.” He speared the elderly little human with a glare and strode to the exit doors. Enough was enough.

He pulled them open, then gestured to the humans. “Out. Now.”

They all stared at him, then exchanged glances with one another.

“Your Highness,” the same human objected, “it is this kingdom’s custom that—”

“It is not my custom, nor that of my people, nor was it part of the marriage agreement that this ‘consummation’ be witnessed. Leave. Now.” He stood firm, his glare at them unwavering, steeling through his uncertainty.

Mati knew the full details of the agreement; he didn’t. She had told him what he’d needed to know, and she hadn’t mentioned this specifically. It was possible he was wrong.

But he had to try.

One by one, the group of humans trickled out into the hall, until only the one who had spoken remained. The little man stared back at him defiantly.

Whispers came from the hall. “What will he do to her?” one asked. “Perhaps we should call a healer,” another suggested.

Veron didn’t break eye contact with the little man. This was the sort of idiotic ignorance they aimed to defeat. And as much as he wanted to defeat it right in its bulbous nose, defeat it until it shrieked in fear and then fled, instead he took a breath.

Finally, he closed the distance between them—the man cowered—and baring his teeth, Veron shoved him out into the hall, where Riza and Gavri were posted. He shut the doors on the whispering gossip and wide eyes, and turned the lock.

A cough came from the bed.

He turned, and Alessandra was observing him over the rim of a wine goblet as she drank.

“What will you do to me, dark-elf prince?” she mocked with a nervous laugh, then took another sip before setting the goblet down. “Will you chop me up into little pieces and eat me? Will you skin me alive and wear my hide?”

He shook his head, and a grin rent free. “I don’t know. Perhaps we should call a healer.”

Another nervous laugh. Hopefully he could put her mind at ease.

He moved back to the bed, back to the basin. Her curious gaze followed him, the mirth still glimmering there as he lowered to a knee and rolled up his other sleeve. He gestured to her foot. “May I?”

She frowned, a small, puzzled one, but nodded.

Silky fabric brushed against his fingertips as he lifted the hem of her nightgown, baring her feet. They were narrow, small, unblemished, as if she hadn’t ever walked barefoot on the stone. Perhaps she hadn’t.

He gently bathed one in the warm water, smoothing his hands against her too-soft skin.

She shivered, then smiled. “Is this a dark-elf custom?”

“It is.” He patted her first foot dry, then grasped the other delicately and repeated the process. “On the night of the Offering, it says to a bride, ‘I am not too proud to serve you. I will never be too proud to serve you. It is my honor and pleasure.’”

She held her breath as he poured water onto her skin from his cupped hand. Slowly, sluggishly, she blinked. “Things are quite different where you’re from.”

He laughed. He could say the same to her. The outlandish things that had happened today alone could fill an entire tome. “Different… in a bad way?”

She shook her head. “Just… different.”

After toweling her other foot dry, he set the basin and towel aside. She moved over in the bed, and he went to the hearth and put another log on the fire.

His heart pounded as it never had. It wasn’t fear, exactly, as he’d had lovers before this and knew what happened between a man and a woman. This was required for her human kingdom to acknowledge the marriage.

But no part of her was anything like a dark-elf woman, not ferocious, nor intimidating, nor dangerous. No claws, no fangs, no muscle nor combat prowess to speak of. Was human lovemaking anything like the fierce, raging, unrestrained madness that was a night with a dark-elf woman?

There had been a gleam in her eye, when she’d taken off the white cloak in the abbazia, that could have rivaled that of any queen of the Deep. Heat flushed in his chest. That look had been ferocious, yes, but fleeting. Then the wildness smoldering in her at the feast… as her fists had clenched tightly enough to break.

But to her, he was little better than a beast, wasn’t he? Nothing like a human man. Not someone she desired nor envisioned herself with.

There were no witnesses here. Not anymore. Would it really matter if this consummation happened?

With a silent exhalation, he turned back to the bed, offered her what he hoped was a consoling smile, and joined her, careful to keep his distance.

He sat next to her as she lay deathly still, barely moving but to breathe. Staring up at the bed’s canopy with intense focus, she looked as though she were preparing herself mentally for an amputation.

He suppressed a laugh. No, he really oughtn’t laugh at her when she was making such an effort to bear this indignity. “Alessandra, I do not share their”—he nodded to the door—“expectations for this night. You need not fear me.”

Only her eyes moved in his direction, wide and a chatoyant tiger’s-eye brown. “But the consummation—”

“Is not a custom required by my people.” He kept his bearing loose, open, unthreatening.

She blinked, her breath coming faster, harder, shifting that sheer red fabric of her nightgown in folds. “Then you don’t wish to”—she closed her eyes—“to…”

“No.” He watched the tension melt from her body. “This arrangement is new to both of us.”

She sat up, leaned her back against the pillows, and nodded, bunching up the covers at her chest.

“Neither of us wants that tonight, but I don’t mean to close the door on this, either. I want you to know that I’m open to your wishes, and that you shouldn’t fear rejection should you express them to me.” Now that they’d made the Offering to each other, she would never be heartsore with him, ever, not if he could help it.

She reddened. “But you don’t find me desirable?”

Raising his eyebrows, he looked away. She’d asked that directly? Admirable, and… difficult. “You’re intelligent and bold, but we only just met yesterday. I am yours and yours alone, but this… will take some time.”

She laughed. “So then you don’t.”

“I don’t need to ask you the same.” He hid a smile.

She slapped the duvet. “You’re the first dark-elf I’ve ever seen face to face!”

“So then… you don’t.” It was his turn to laugh.

She waved him off and sighed. “Good. I’m glad we cleared the air.”

“So am I. Trust is the one expectation I have,” he answered.

A long silence. “Veron, I… There are many things I want to discuss with you, but I don’t wish to offend you. Well, to offend you more than I already have.”

He huffed. It would take more than a style of clothing to offend him. “You haven’t. And you can discuss anything with me.”

She bit her lip, stroking the duvet. “Maybe after Bianca’s wedding?”

That was in three days. It seemed as though she planned to attend.

There was only one problem: he was under strict orders from Mati to leave with her tomorrow. “Alessandra, we… we can’t stay.”

Her eyebrows drawn together, she stared at him. “What?”

“We’re scheduled to leave tomorrow.” Had her father not told her about the schedule for the Royal Progress? The famine in the queendoms?

She threw off the covers and knelt on the bed, angling to face him. “Veron, my sister is marrying in three days. My sister.”

“I know,” he said gently, but even so, her eyes were widening, glistening. “I’m sorry, but—”

“It’s my sister’s wedding. I can’t—won’t—miss it,” she said with a vehement shake of her head.

“I cannot disobey a direct order, Alessandra.” No matter how much he wished she could stay. “Not even for this. And we have a strict schedule—”

“Please,” she said, her voice breaking. “I’m begging you. I can’t miss her wedding—I can’t. She and I, we’ve always been the closest of all my brothers and sisters, and she’s in love with him, Veron. This will be the happiest day of her life, and you and I are moving away. I have to be there, please, just for her wedding, so could we just delay our departure, just a little, shift the Royal Progress arrangements, only until after Bianca’s wedding, and—”

Tears rolled down her cheeks as he shook his head.

Her father really hadn’t told her anything. Had let her hold out hope.

Holy Ulsinael, he wanted to take her in his embrace, comfort her, but what could he say? He had orders from Mati. Vadiha and Dita were starving, as were the rest of his people, who awaited them and food on specific days. Nothing would change that they had to leave tomorrow. “People are expecting us, expecting we’ll bring—”

With a sob, she covered her mouth and scrambled from the bed.

“Alessandra, let me just—”

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