The Flamebearer Chapter Thirty-One


EVAINE KEPT OUT of sight in the secrecy of their leafy bower. Mute and motionless, she stood clutching a knife in her right hand until Ciaran returned.

“Gentle, love,” he said, taking the dagger from her. “We’re in no danger. It’s ap Gryffin and the cohort. They’re a trifle less than an hour from here; Robyn went back to get the others.”

“How on earth did they find us?” she asked, hurriedly slipping into her tattered gown.

“If I know Robyn, it was luck, in large measure. That, and good tracking. He knows these woods as well as anyone.” Ciaran pulled her into his arms and gave her a lingering kiss. Gently maneuvering her backward into a curve of stone, he lifted her skirts and with one hand began stroking her thigh, while continuing to cover her face, lips and throat with kisses. He cupped a breast with his other hand and pinned her to the great boulder with his body.

“Ciaran ap Morgan, what do you think you’re doing? Are you mad?”

“Without question,” he said between kisses. His breath had already begun to quicken. “Mad for you.” He let his hands wander over her. “I just want to do this – one last time, before -”

“Before what?” Her heart beat a little faster. Evaine debated whether to fight him or give in to him. Held captive by ambivalence, her paltry efforts at resisting him amounted to naught.

“Come now, love, we haven’t much time.” Without allowing her a moment to decide, he scooped her up by the hips and impaled her, leaving her no choice but to commit. “You are perfectly wicked!” she exclaimed, pounding his shoulders with her fists.

“That’s me,” he said with a grin, “the old boy himself.”

Despite her protests, her body turned traitor; delicious waves of pleasure flooded her belly and spread throughout her limbs, followed inevitably by an intoxicating weakness which rendered every muscle inert. Savoring his sensuous warmth, she nuzzled his neck and his cheek, breathing in his sweet, smoky scent. She wrapped herself around him and surrendered to the vigorous thrusting of his hips, letting him dominate her completely.

He was a study in contrasts: abrupt and impatient one moment and achingly tender the next. His pale, almost fragile slenderness masked a deeply masculine molten core; the studied arrogance concealed a profound vulnerability.  And hidden beneath the fiery intensity,  there was a haunting sweetness about him that broke her heart a little every day.

“My heart is breaking,” she told him. “My heart breaks open to your fire, your love fills me and I’m stretching to contain you. My heart is breaking open and you are pouring in.”

“Love is pouring in,” he amended. In the grip of his body’s unstoppable drive, Ciaran sucked in his breath and tipped his head back, heat radiating from him.

“Damn!” he panted. “Evaine, I’m sorry, I -”

“Hush,” she whispered. She looked at his face, the face she loved so much, and his eyes met hers with an open, rapt gaze, but his trembling chin betrayed the sadness she had come to know, that somehow her deepest Self had always known. His glistening eyes conveyed the message words could not: this would be the last time, for how long neither of them dared to consider.

His eyelids fluttered and his brows came together. “Don’t cry,” he begged, his lips quivering as he fought to hold back the flood. His eyes closed involuntarily as the dam burst and he cried out sharply, then came back to himself and convulsed with an agonized groan. Swept up in the torrent, Evaine buried her face in his shoulder to stifle her tears.

“Forgive me, my heart,” he moaned. “I didn’t mean for it to end so soon.”

“It’s all right,” she said, kissing his brow. “I love you. Just hold me a while longer.”

He set her back on her feet amid the ferns and mosses and enfolded her in his arms. Swaying ever so softly, he began to hum a quiet tune as if rocking a sleepy-headed nursling off to dreamland. His gentle motion and the sound of his voice seemed to echo the rhythms of the forest: his breath merged with the breeze rustling through the leaves, his scent mingled with the earthy scents of pine and moss. The lilting song of the swallow and the meadowlark added a counterpoint to his soft lullaby, and his body’s marvelous warmth kissed her skin like the summer sun.

Evaine closed her eyes, letting the sheltering stillness of this magical place transcend all fear. Their embrace became the very embodiment of life; their love connected them to each other and to every other living thing. She laid her head against his chest and listened to his strong, steady heartbeat. A quiet joy spread through her limbs and brought a smile to her lips, and for one timeless moment, the world with all its violence and sin and sorrow fell away.

Chapter Thirty-Two

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