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“Is my Queen in?” Evan asked the guard in front of Leonora’s door.
“She’s out in the woods again, your majesty.”
“With proper attendants, I hope.”
“Of course, sire.”
Evan nodded. After all these weeks, he still marveled at how differently nobles and attendants reacted to him. He tried not to be fooled by their new deference, but finally seeing his orders obeyed without question provided an undeniable rush. “Send word to the stable. I want Iona saddled and ready for me.”
He changed and left the necessary sets of instructions. Soon enough, the wind ruffled Evan’s hair as Iona raced to the familiar spot in the forest. The king drew bittersweet pleasure from the horse’s powerful stride—he planned to give the mare to his wife once they’d been married half a year.
Without direction from her rider, Iona burst into Leonora’s favored clearing, startling six swans into the sky. Evan’s queen smiled a greeting from where she knelt amid her starflowers, but right away he sensed something amiss.
Evan dismounted, handed Iona’s reins to one of the attendants, and stepped into the clearing. As heedless of dirt and grass as his wife, the king joined Leonora on the ground— once he’d made sure that he wouldn’t disturb any of her flowers.
She did not melt into his arms. Alongside the usual forest scents of sun and earth, she smelled of nervous sweat.
Evan supported the small of her back with his palm and gathered her into the shelter of his body. He kissed the top of her head, then looked up brightly, an easy smile on his face. “How fares the day?” Evan said to the attendants.
The attendants shuffled their feet and averted their eyes. Evan released Leonora gently and stood, raising an eyebrow into the expression that worked so well for his mother. “Are you all going to ignore a direct question put to you by the king?”
The attendant holding Iona exhaled noisily. Evan turned on him. “Do you have an answer for me?”
“Sire, the day fares fine. We’re out in the lovely woods with your lovely wife, collecting lovely flowers.”
The king closed the distance between them. “There’s meaning below the surface of these words. Care to explain?”
“There’s nothing more that I can say.”
“Your tone has said it already. Now, I want the words.”
The attendant glanced at Leonora, who flinched away from the eye contact. He squared his shoulders and met Evan’s gaze straight on. “We’re either standing by while your wife practices witchcraft, your majesty, or we’re watching her go mad.”
“And who agrees with this man?” Evan asked, looking around the circle. He returned to Leonora. “They’ve been accusing you all morning, haven’t they?” More scuffing shoes confirmed his suspicions.
He glared at the attendants. “You may think the Queen cannot speak, but that’s a false assumption. She can, and does, speak to me. I won’t have her treated this way. All of you can go.”
He held Leonora until they were alone with the horses and the swans circling overhead.
“How are the shirts, love?” he whispered finally. She opened her pouch and showed him, two finished and strong, and one still fragile and on the verge of unraveling.
“I trust you, Leonora,” he said. “I believe that the purpose here is good.”
Her answering kiss began grateful, then lingered and grew hungry.
“I remember how badly I wanted to take you here, on the ground or in a tree,” Evan said against her lips, his voice husky. “I hope my show of nobility did something to win your love, because it just about killed me.”
Leonora pulled free of his arms and hoisted herself into the nearest tree. Slimmer than the oak in which she had lived, long tendrils of moss hung from its branches, glimmering in the leaf- filtered afternoon light. Leonora pushed a fistful of vegetation aside and looked back at him over her shoulder. The king shook his head and followed her, amazed by how easily she found handholds on the trunk.
Before he could reach her in the branches, her dress fell past him, thumping softly onto the leaves below. “Hey!” Evan looked up. Crouched on a high branch, Leonora slid her shift up her thighs, spreading her legs to give him a clear view of her fine palace undergarments.
He climbed fast. She removed his cufflinks while pulling him onto the branch beside her. Evan laughed and trusted her sure footing despite the height, wrestling with her to discard their clothing as quickly as they could.
Back in her world, Evan could be lost and Leonora could be strong. It felt good to stop apologizing for her or protecting her. Her confident hands placed Evan on the branch securely. Her mouth devoured him as she undressed him. She sucked his neck until it bruised, bit at his chest, and scratched her nails deep into his back.
The rough trunk of the tree rasped against his back and legs as she pressed him into the cradle of the branch. Her kisses softened. She eased herself onto his lap. She was so wet that his cock slipped inside without any guidance from her hands. Evan moaned as her flesh rippled around him. Her muscled thighs gripped both his body and the branch. She dug her fingers into the bark on either side of him, raising and lowering herself with a deliberate pace that drove him crazy with need.
Evan grabbed her breasts and brought them to his mouth, gasping at the responsive arch of her back, which made her cunt swallow his cock deeper. He bit her nipples lightly. Leonora jerked and levered her body faster, ending each stroke with a hard grind against him.
He shouted with each thrust. Their mouths crashed together, and he wrapped his arms around the back of her head as they struggled together in the branches. Bark ripped into his skin, but Evan was so caught up in her body that the abrasions only added to his pleasure.
He and Leonora matched and accelerated their rhythms. But on the brink of making him come, Leonora froze in his arms. Panting, Evan broke their kiss to check her eyes. Her mischievous expression almost undid him. “Are you trying to torment me?” Evan gasped.
She smiled and guided his hand between them, pressing it to her budding clitoris. Covered with their wetness, it slipped from under his fingers. Evan chased it, rubbing and flicking as he returned to kissing her. She resumed her motion, exquisitely slow now, her breath catching and hitching.
“You’re holding back!” Evan teased her, trying to push her over the edge before she’d decided to let herself come. He played his tongue across her nipples and dragged his fingers over her inner thighs. Grinning, Evan seized her hips and thrust up hard. Her eyes lost focus, and her muscles fluttered and clutched all around him.
Evan joined her in abandon, bucking his hips wildly and screaming her name.
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