Published June 15, 2016.
“Are you ready?” Niniane kept her deadpan face locked down tight, tight, tight, and gave Tiago her best cool stare.
Playing poker against a Wyr as cagey as Tiago who knew her so well was quite the challenge. He could sense excitement from the change in her scent, which had thrown off many of her bluffs in the past.
“Faerie, I was born ready,” he told her in a lazy voice. From any other man, the cliché would have sounded stupid, but coming from Tiago, it sounded sexy as hell. “Go ahead, show me what you got.”
Yay! Her deadpan face broke apart into a wide grin. Fizzing with glee, she put her cards down one at a time on the blanket. By the third Jack, Tiago’s face had changed—he’d leaped to the correct conclusion.
“I can’t believe it,” he growled, staring at the full house spread out between them. “You have the devil’s own luck tonight.”
“Hee, I know!” She laughed.
She wasn’t above cheating, and they both knew it. But Tiago had learned all her tricks some time ago, which evened the playing field quite a bit, so when she won a hand, she really won it.
He snorted. “You’ve gotten even better at lying.”
“Bluffing. I’ve gotten better at bluffing.”
“Yes, well, it’s only called bluffing when you’re playing poker,” he told her. “All the rest of the time, it’s called lying.”
She made a face and waved a hand at him. “Call it what you will, you owe me another piece of clothing, mister. So, off with it.”
Honestly, playing this game against Tiago was exhausting, but she loved it like candy. And she really loved candy.
He sat forward and tugged off his shirt. Massive muscles flexed and bulged, and she sighed with pleasure when the broad expanse of his bare scarred chest came into view. While he wore his grumpy face, there was an amused light at the back of his black gaze.
Grumpy, amused Tiago was one of her very favorite things ever. His hawkish expression didn’t change all that much, but somehow he managed to look both fierce and subtly lit from within.
Her beloved Wyr mate was happy, which made everything right with her world. She didn’t even feel the slightest bit of guilt about his half naked, incredibly delicious body being exposed to the elements.
He threw off heat like a furnace, and she was well aware that he was perfectly comfortable lounging nude in front of their campfire, whereas she had to huddle wrapped in a quilt to protect herself from the cool night breeze.
Deftly he picked up the cards and shuffled them with long, dextrous fingers. “Ready for another hand?”
She gave that idea serious consideration. Those black fatigue pants of his needed to come off right now, but there were better ways to make that happen. The comfort of their pallet inside the tent was sounding better by the minute, yet as soon as she went to sleep, tomorrow would come, and she was reluctant to let this evening go.
They were camping by the crossover passageway that led from Adriyel to Chicago, so they could steal a night for themselves. Tomorrow, they would travel to Chicago to visit the Regent hotel for the first time since that first disastrous stay when she had been the heir to the Dark Fae throne, injured, scared, and alone.
Or at least that was how she had felt. Tiago had found her after the assassination attempt, and despite her attempt to send him away, he had stayed to keep her safe and help her through to her coronation. Stayed and nearly died for her sake, and fell in love and mated with her anyway.
So it had all turned out, so much better than she could have ever dreamed, but the Regent was a place that held bad memories. And even though, as Queen, she had compensated the Regent’s owners generously and paid the bill for the just completed, expensive renovations, and everybody had been very cordial on paper about all of it, this trip was the first time she would come face to face with them.
While she was perfectly capable of meeting unpleasantness head on—she had to be, on the throne—it was still…. Unpleasant.
Sensing her change in mood, Tiago tucked the cards into their wooden box and stood. “I think we’re done for the night.”
“Yeah, I think so too.”
While he tamped down the campfire, she shook out the blanket they had been lounging on, picked up his shirt and climbed into the tent. Shivering, she stripped off her pants but left her top on and crawled under the covers. Adriyel was on the verge of summer, but the spring nights had not yet warmed enough to make camping entirely comfortable without finding ways to stay warm.
Her portable furnace entered the tent too. He was a huge, black silhouetted figure against the faint light from the moon, as he stripped off his pants. Then he slid into the bed, alongside her, and she sighed with relief as she came into contact with his warm skin.
He pulled her into his arms. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”
She buried her face against his chest. “Nothing. Just—tomorrow’s going to be a little like going to the dentist, you know? It’s good to go to the dentist, and it’s good to stay healthy, but it’s not really all that much fun.”
He pressed his lips against her forehead. “So we’ll plan something fun for afterwards. What do you want to do?”
“Mm, I don’t know,” she murmured. As always when they came together, a sense of well being washed over her, and she found it difficult to remain sad or cranky. She was just so damn happy to be with him. Pressing a kiss against his pectoral, she told him, “Anything with you will be fun.”
“Well, by that token, going to the Regent should be fun.”
She stuck her tongue out at him then broke into a yawn. While she might not be able to see very well in the almost absolute darkness, she knew he could. “Let me put it to you this way—going to the Regent with you will be just about as fun as it possibly can be.”
A smile entered his voice. “How about, after we get through all the offical stuff, you and I go on a date?”
She lifted her head. “You mean a date-date?”
“I mean a date-date. Just you and me. We’ll fly somewhere out of the way. No, scratch that, we’ll drive, so you can dress up in some of your froufrou and you won’t get all ruffled by the wind. We’ll go out to dinner, maybe see a movie.”
“Maybe go dancing?”
“That too, if you wish. What do you think?”
It was always such a treat when they could spend time together, just them, and let the politics and public façade fall away. Happiness chased the glum mood away. She reached up to kiss him. “I think that sounds just about perfect.”
“I do too, your seductiveness.” Cupping her head, he kissed her back. He whispered against her mouth, “I have so much fun with you.”
She had to reply telepathically, because he rolled her over onto her back and kissed her again, deeply. I have so much fun with you too.