“What are you up to?” I asked, turning my head to watch Raven as, grinning, he leapt up from the chair and hurried across the room.
“I said don’t look!” he replied, making shooing movements with his hands as he went to answer the door to the royal apartments.
One of the palace servants waited on the other side. The woman handed him something that he shielded with his body—clearly not wanting me to see it. Raven thanked the woman, sent her away and shut the door behind her, leaving us alone in the royal apartments. That was just fine by me. I didn’t get nearly enough alone time with Raven at the moment, with everything that was going on.
“Asha, will you do what I say? Close your eyes!” he growled. “It’s a surprise!”
I rolled my eyes, then screwed them tight shut. I felt rather than heard Raven cross the room. The bond allowed me to sense him acutely: where he was, what he was feeling. Right now, he was feeling a little smug.
What was he up to? He’d been cagey all morning, nipping off at regular intervals—even when we were in session with the rest of the council—to check how my ‘surprise’ was coming along. He’d refused to say a word about it other than all would be revealed when we were alone.
Well, here we were.
“Hold out your hand,” he said, kneeling in front of me.
I did as he asked. Raven placed a flat, rectangular object in my hand. A smell came from it that set my taste buds tingling and made the hairs in my nostrils do a little dance. No way! It couldn’t be! Could it?
I began to open my eyes, but Raven placed his hand over them. “No peeking! Take a bite.”
I raised the object to my lips, placed the tiniest corner in my mouth, and took a little bite. The taste that spread over my tongue was so sweet and so unexpected that I gasped. My eyes flew open and widened when I saw what sat on my palm.
“Chocolate!” I gasped. “It’s chocolate!”
Raven grinned triumphantly. “You like it?”
“Like it? Raven, I love it!”
I took a big bite of the chocolate and my eyes slid closed in ecstasy. In my old life in the mortal realm, I’d been something of a chocoholic. To my dismay, I’d soon learned that here in the Summerlands the Fae didn’t have chocolate. Or coffee. Or pizza. Or any one of a hundred little treats that I’d taken for granted back home. How long had it been since I’d eaten chocolate? I couldn’t remember.
It took me less than a minute to finish the bar. “Where did you find it?” I asked with my mouth full.
“I didn’t find it. I had Kalla—the head chef—recreate the recipe from your description and what I could remember of the taste from the mortal realm. He’s been experimenting all morning and, if that look on your face is anything to go by, it seems he might finally have gotten the recipe right.”
“So that’s why you’ve been disappearing all morning? To go check on his progress in the kitchen?”
A faint smile curled Raven’s lips. “Of course. And it made a perfect excuse for getting out of meeting with the council.”
He tried to make his tone light, but the bond was too strong for me to miss the sudden flare of disquiet that went through him. It had only been twenty-four hours since our confrontation with Eliana Rose, the woman who had once been the Spire, the spiritual leader of the Fae, and whom everyone had thought murdered at the hands of a mortal. It had only been twenty-four hours since she’d used the Orb of Tir to gain control over Raven and order him to kill me.
Since then, he’d been trying to make it up to me, even though I’d told him over and over again that I didn’t hold him responsible for what had happened. How could I? Nobody could withstand the Orb of Tir, a device that amplified the power of the Fae glamor a thousand times over.
It was now locked deep within the bowels of the palace, guarded by layer upon layer of protective magic. We all knew the Unseelie would be coming for it. The Orb was instrumental in their plans to invade the mortal realm because it had a second power: the ability to bring down the Veil that separated the two realms. Unease squirmed through me at the thought and I pushed it away, forcing myself to concentrate on my mate.
“You did this all for me?”
He grinned and his lavender eyes sparkled. “Of course I did all this for you. Well, technically Kalla did really, but I put him up to it, which is almost as good. And there’s plenty more where that came from.”
He shifted to reveal the low table behind him. A large silver platter sat on it, piled high with chocolates in all shapes and sizes. There was white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate that looked like it had nuts in it, chocolate dusted with icing sugar.
Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my.
My mouth formed a little O of surprise. Now all I needed was a skinny latte with cinnamon sprinkles, and I would really believe I’d died and gone to heaven. I plucked one of the chocolates off the plate and popped it into my mouth. Crunchy caramel. Divine.
“Aren’t you having any?” I asked Raven.
He pulled a face. “It’s a little too sweet for my liking.”
I scooted to the edge of my seat and put my arms around his neck. “Maybe I can find a way to show you my appreciation.”
I kissed him, pressing my lips against his and pulling him close. He kissed me back hungrily. His tongue slipped inside my mouth and his hands pressed into the small of my back, forcing my body against his hard, muscular frame. Heat shot to the space between my legs and I felt him grow hard in response. It was always like this. Raven’s slightest touch, the tiniest feel of his skin against mine, awoke a desire in me that I could barely control.
His big hand slid over my stomach and under the waistband of the loose pants I was wearing. He didn’t stop kissing me as his fingers slipped into that hot place between my legs and began to explore. I moaned against his lips, my eyes sliding shut. Raven was an expert at this. He’d explored every inch of my body many times and knew exactly what I needed.
The calloused pads of his fingers circled my nub, gently caressing. Shivers of pleasure rippled down my spine, and I couldn’t help the tiny gasps that escaped my throat. Sensing my need, Raven shifted position and slipped a finger inside me.
The shivers became a deluge. I threw back my head, panting, as Raven worked me, bringing my body to the brink of pleasure. I grabbed his shoulders, dug my fingers into his hard flesh. My climax took me. I shuddered, losing myself in the ecstasy that rocked my body.
“That was supposed to be the other way around,” I gasped. “I was going to show you my gratitude.”
He smiled wickedly, revealing his perfect white teeth. “You’re my mate, Asha. It’s my job to bring you pleasure, and I’ll keep doing it. Forever.”
Forever. That word ought to make me feel good, but something about it bothered me. It stirred up an issue that I’d been doing my best to ignore. Raven was a Fae, near immortal, but I was not. In seventy years or so, I’d be nearing the end of my life. I would be old, weak and infirm. Raven would have barely aged a day.
So, whilst it might be forever for me, it would not be for him.
Raven cocked his head. “Asha, what is it?”
I looked away. “Nothing. It’s nothing.”
He took hold of my chin and turned me to face him. “Something is bothering you; I can feel it. There are no secrets between us, remember? What’s wrong?”
I chewed my lip, trying to think of the right words. “It’s something Ffion said. About how long-lived your kind are—about how you’re practically immortal.”
“But you already knew that.”
“That’s not the problem. It’s me that’s the problem. I’m not like you, Raven. I’m human. Mortal. What happens when I get old? When I…die?”
He stared at me for a moment as if puzzled by the question. “There’s nothing to worry about, Asha. Fae mates share the same fate. The moment you became my mate, your life-force became that of the Fae. You are as immortal as I am, Asha.”
My jaw dropped and I gaped at him, stunned. You are as immortal as I am. Had he really just said that? Had he really just said that so matter-of-factly, as though it was the most normal thing in the world?
“I’m what?” I said incredulously. “What the hell are you talking about? I’m human, not a Fae!”
“That doesn’t matter. The bond sustains you now. You have the same life-force as I do.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me this?”
“I didn’t think it would be an issue.”
“You didn’t think it was an issue? Are you serious?”
I jumped to my feet. He had assumed I would be okay with becoming immortal? Without even discussing it with me first? Without even telling me?
“Asha, what’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong?” I snapped. “What’s wrong? You’ve just told me I’m going to live for what? Hundreds, thousands of years? Jeez, Raven! Why didn’t you discuss this with me?”
He blinked. “I assumed you knew.”
“Well, you assumed wrong! I’m human, Raven. I’m not meant to live that long. All that time…almost eternity.” The scale of the thought staggered me. It was too much for me to take in. I pressed a hand to my forehead. “Oh hell. Oh, holy hell.”
He reached out a hand but I stepped back.
“You should have told me! What else is there that I don’t know? What else have you been keeping from me?”
His lavender eyes flashed. “Sit down and we can talk about this—”
A sudden pounding on the door cut off his words. Hawk’s voice called, “Raven! Come on, we’re late! They’re all waiting!”
Raven cursed under his breath. “I have to go. We’ll talk about this later. Okay?”
I crossed my arms but didn’t reply. Raven looked as though he was about to say more, but then spun on his heel and strode to the door. He paused and glanced back at me on the threshold, then pulled open the door and left.
I sank onto the chair and blew out a long breath. Immortal. How could I be immortal? And how could Raven have thought it wouldn’t bother me? For the first time since I’d met him, our differences loomed like a chasm between us. He was Fae. I was human. No matter the bond that joined us, we remained so very different.
Immortality. My human brain struggled to comprehend the concept. For a Fae, it would have been as simple as breathing. For me? For me, the idea of all those years stretching out into eternity was utterly terrifying.
And Raven had not even asked me. Had not given me the choice. That stung more than anything. I suddenly felt very alone. I had nobody to discuss this with. I was the only human in a world of Fae. None of them would understand, not even, it seemed, my mate.
My gaze came to rest on the platter of chocolates. I scooped it onto my knee and began popping them into my mouth.
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