by Jennifer Blackstream
Leta went still, her request for Torben to describe the room to her dying on her tongue. Her body remained blessedly calm, soaked in a well of magic tea, but her thoughts benefited from no such aid. They screamed inside her head like a chaotic whirlwind, dragging up memories of awkward conversations with her mother and aunt over the duties she would have as a wife someday.
She was still trying to decide how she felt, a surprisingly challenging task without her body’s reaction to guide her, when Torben spoke.
“It’s been a trying day and we’ve traveled a good distance. You must be tired. Get some sleep and I will see you in the morning.”
His hand tugged on her, pulling away, and without meaning to, Leta tightened her grip. “You’re leaving?”
There was a humiliating tone in her voice, a twisted combination of shock and wounded pride. She let go of Torben’s hand, jerking away and then going completely still, unwilling to add to her embarrassment by falling over a piece of furniture. The tea in her system soured, taxed by strong emotion. The magic held. Barely.
“I have some things to do before I sleep, and I don’t want to keep you up,” he said finally. “I don’t mean to upset you. Do you want me to stay?”
Disappointment swelled inside her, and Leta didn’t bother to fight it. The fact that he could so easily leave her on their wedding night, that he so obviously had no desire to stay with her… It was just one more blow to her pride.
“Is this to be the nature of our marriage, then?” she asked quietly. “Are we married in name only?”
He sounded surprised, completely taken aback. It was a small comfort.
“I’ve not been at my best today, and I know that. But this has been an exception to the rule. I don’t have panic attacks so often—everything doesn’t scare me.” She took a deep breath and turned to face him, reaching out, trusting her senses that he hadn’t gone far. Her fingertips found the warm, bare flesh of his stomach, and she pressed her hands against him, feeling the sculpted muscle of his human form. “You don’t scare me.”
He was so still that she thought he might have turned into a statue. Only the heartbeat beneath her palm, solid and beating faster with every pulse, told her he was still very much alive. His chest rose with a deep breath, and then the weight of his hands settled on her waist. His fingers met on either side of her body, and she marveled at the size of his hands. The size of him. His bear form was impressive enough, but somehow his human form was even more so. A fierce protector indeed.
“What do you feel when I touch you?”
His voice was gruff, roughened by what she dared to hope was desire. The question caught her off guard, should have made her blush. “Calm,” she said firmly. She raised her chin, daring him to argue with her.
“You shouldn’t feel calm.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
He knelt before her, forcing her to slide her hands up his chest to his shoulders or else pull away. His fingers flexed around her waist. “The magic is strong in your system. It’s a blessing that it keeps your body from responding to fear, but it also keeps you from responding to…other things.” He brushed her hair back from her face. “When I come to bed with you, I don’t want you to feel nothing. I don’t want you calm.”