Possessive gaze on my face, he leaned into me, taking my lips as if he hadn’t seen me in weeks, as if he’d never get enough of my kiss.
I couldn’t get enough of his. My palms traced up his chest to rest at his neck, my fingers twining in his tousled hair.
He teased me wickedly, till I would do anything to ease this ache. I wanted him to lose control, to be as lost as I was. Finally I wriggled over his lap, pleading against his lips, “Aric . . .”
He drew back, eyes blazing. He stood, setting me on the edge of the desk. With one sweep of his arm, he sent all his papers flying, clearing the way for me to lie back. Well, clearing everything except for the poppy that still grew.
He used his speed to strip us just enough. Not at all like a gentleman.
He was fierce with me on that desk.
And then on the couch.
And then up against the bookshelves with my legs around his waist. We were both fierce, the force jarring books from their shelves.
When they went crashing to the floor, I cried, “Your books!” They meant everything to him.
He laughed, his face glorious. “Let them fall!”
“But these are your treasures.”
Voice rough with lust, he said, “I have one treasure.” He slowed, pinning my gaze with his starry one. “And she owns my soul.”
Between breaths, I said, “Does she, then?”
He nodded. “She keeps it right here”—he pressed his palm over my heart—“next to hers. . . .”
Afterward, as my pulse tried to return to normal and I basked in his tender kisses, I asked,
“You’re truly not mad?” I recognized his favorite book on the floor—The Prince. The one written in the original Italian.
With his forehead resting against mine, he said, “In the past, I never had anything more than the game and my books and relics. No longer. I have a wife I adore. I am more than a mere killer and a collector. I am a husband.” He rocked his hips, ready for more. “And if I’m not mistaken, I’m a damned good one.”
“I have something for you,” I told Aric after we’d showered and dressed. “Will you sit there and close your eyes?” I waved him toward the bed, determined to give him the ring I’d secretly pocketed again.
Brows raised, he sat. “I’m not a lover of surprises, sievā.”
“Especially not from me, huh?”
With a half grin, he closed his eyes.
He’d said he was a damn good husband. God, I agreed. So what was I waiting for?
As I reached for the ring, the wolves started howling at something. Lark’s zootopia was going to drive us insane before it was all done. I tried to ignore them, telling Aric, “I hope you like it.”
The wolves got louder and louder.
I’d just worked my hand into my pocket when a scream came from somewhere in the castle. Lark?
“I FOUND FINN!!” The mountain echoed her with a thousand animal calls.
Aric was on his feet in a flash. “Shall we reconvene later for my surprise?”
“Yes!” We both hurried to find Lark. She was in the entry hall, with a train of creatures following her.
“Well, where is he?” I asked, thrilled that Finn was alive. “Did he tell your falcon what happened to him?”
She nodded excitedly. “Over the last few months, he teamed up with Joules and Gabriel. Since there haven’t been any Arcana calls, the three of them have been attacking the Emperor in guerrilla raids. Once the falcon found Finn, he split from the other two. He scored a car, so he can follow—”
“The Tower and the Archangel?” Aric interrupted her. Voice dropping to a menacing pitch, he said, “Are you leading the Magician in this direction?” At her terrified nod, he snapped, “To this castle?”
She swallowed. Gulp.
“Stop the falcon this instant!”
Her eyes went red. Moments later, she blinked. “Finn’s pulled over.”
I got chills from Aric’s expression. “What’s wrong?”
“At best, the Magician’s friends are using him—to find us. At worst, he’s in league with them.”
Joules had been gunning for Aric ever since Aric had killed Joules’s girlfriend, Calanthe. In self-defense, but still . . .
“Boss, I swear Finn’s not!”
Furious, Aric added, “Even if he’s innocent, how do we know Fortune and the Emperor aren’t following the Tower and the Archangel? Or that the Sun isn’t keeping tabs on their location through his Bagmen? That falcon could be leading a trail of Arcana directly here.” Gaze shifting to me, he rasped, “Endangering what I hold most dear.” He turned back to Lark, towering over her. Voice booming, he said, “And when in the hell did I give leave for the Magician to call on this castle?”
Lark shuffled her feet, on the verge of tears, so different from her usual swagger. “I wrote him . . . I thought . . . you might let him . . . live with us—”
I squeezed between them. “Finn is my friend and ally,” I told Aric. “At Fort Arcana, he told me about his and Lark’s plan to reunite, and I gave my full support. Lark checked with me earlier about Finn living here at the castle. If this place is truly my home too, then I invite him to stay here for good.”
Aric narrowed his eyes. “I don’t suppose your husband gets to say anything about your invitation?”
I jutted my chin. “No, he knows better. Because he’s a damned good husband.”
“This is the most ill-advised thing I’ve ever done,” Aric informed me as he drove us through Circe’s river opening. “Which is saying something, considering my age.”