I tossed and turned for a long time. Every time I would begin to drift towards sleep, something in my mind would scream, I'm going to wake up! and jolt me out of the dark.
As the flames of my fire ebbed and faded to glowing embers, I turned over in the bed again, throwing the covers back because I was beginning to sweat.
My eyes stung with weariness. My feet were sore from being on them all day. And my heart… my heart ached with the echo of Nicholas's rejection. It ached with a little hope for Ash, and it fluttered for the handsome King with the sultry smile.
I didn't want to lose the dream yet! I was having fun!
But then it occurred to me… even if I did wake up, even if I did have to face the drudgery and embarrassment of my life without Nicholas, I would sleep every night. I'd been here once. I could dream again!
A wave of relief washed over me, which helped with the sick feeling that crept up at the thought of walking into work on Monday and having to explain to my friends that my incredible boyfriend had turned out to be a lying fuckboy.
As my eyelids dragged down again and my body began to feel heavy, I sighed, trying to release the tension in my chest.
I hadn't done anything wrong. This had been a very welcome distraction. But I didn't need a dream to keep me away from the truth.
Nicholas was the asshole in this scenario. I just needed to remember that.
And maybe send his extremely conservative mother an anonymous tip that he was voting democrat.
I smiled at the thought of how he'd have to scramble when she confronted him about that.
And then I didn't do anything, because the blanket of sleep embraced me so deeply, I didn't have another thought.
I woke slowly at first, not opening my eyes—then I remembered what Nicholas had done and the fact that I was going to have my first Saturday without a brunch with him in months.
My entire system jangled with adrenaline and I pulled the thick down comforter high up over my face.
Thick? Down? Comforter?
Throwing the weight back, I sat up and a moment later, fistpumped.
YES! I was still in the dream.
Holy shit, this was awesome. Thank you, God! I get to play another day!
Just…please don't let me wake up before I get a chance to kiss the King?
I wondered if it was wrong to ask God to give me a chance to imaginary kiss an imaginary man, but decided that He probably had enough to deal with without getting too heated about whether I was thirsty for a man who didn't exist.
I pushed back the blankets and swung my legs over the edge of the massive bed, then frowned and realized I didn't know where the "water closet" as the people in my dream called a bathroom, was in this suite.
Would it be embarrassing to ask when the people didn't really exist?
I decided it wouldn't. Because it was my dream, and it was just a practical need, after all.
So I pushed off the high bed, dropping to the thick carpet and hurrying across to the Green door, praying that Abigail would be nearby so I didn't have to—
I shrieked, almost wet myself, then whipped around, panting and holding my chest, to find Ash pushing out from behind the tapestry, his face shadowed deliciously with stubble… and no shirt on.
"It's not safe, Zara! You can't go out there without a guard!"
My lower jaw went slack.
Ash was several inches over six feet. He was handsome, and strong.
But his body…
As he strode toward me gripping the sheath of his sword in one hand, the belt hanging off it because he'd only gotten as far as the tight leather pants, I was speechless.
He was… heavenly.
Broad shoulders rippled with muscle, framing wide, flat pecs just barely peppered with dark hair at the center, which gave way to a set of abs so deliciously defined I struggled to tear my eyes from them.
"You scared me," I breathed, licking my lips.
"I apologize, but you must be more circumspect, Zara. You cannot leave this chamber without me or another Knight Defender under any circumstances. Now that you're Select, the King's enemies will be taking an interest in you, and we can't know how they might try to get his attention through any of you…"
He went on, but I wasn't following. His chest kept expanding every time he took a breath—which also happened to be the same moment those abs flexed, like a lovely, rippling wave that made the apex of my thighs ache.
I tried to blink, but my eyes refused to close against this… vision.
"Zara? Zara, is something wrong?"
"I'm thirsty," I breathed, then gave a little groan when he suddenly stalked past me in all his half-naked glory.
"You should have said so! I'm sure I heard Abigail preparing in the sitting room. I'm certain she can bring a drink."
I would have complained about him walking away, but it gave me a view of his naked back, which in many ways, was even more delicious than his stomach, and the curl of his bicep when he reached for the door…
My breathing got shallow.
He grasped the door, opened it, and leaned through, not moving his body from the room, but speaking quietly to someone on the other side. I followed the lines of muscle that carved down his forearm from his elbow to the back of that large, masculine hand gripping the doorknob, my body beginning to hum. But a thread of fear unfurled as well.
"How are you, Zara?"
I almost shrieked again. I recoiled physically and finally tore my eyes from Ash's delicious form out of sheer fright when I realized he'd pulled back from the door to let Abigail enter.
They were both staring at me, confused.
"What?" I squeaked.
"Are you sure you're well, dear?" Abigail asked, her brows pinched with concern.
"I am. Definitely. Well. And dry as a bone. Completely."
"Yes, Ash mentioned that you were thirsty."
"Very. Very very."
"I will call for a servant. Do you want the hot chocolate, or the fresh-pressed juice?"
"Oh, neither. I'm not… I mean… Just a coffee would be great."
"Are you certain? You're one of the Select now, Zara. An honored guest of the King himself. The world is your oyster."
"I really don't think oysters are going to help," I croaked.
Abigail chuckled. "Very well, I will call for coffee and a pitcher of water. Is there anything else that you need?"
I shook my head, keeping my eyes fixed on her as Ash strode back across the room to place himself at my shoulder.
I could feel the heat coming off his skin.
As Abigail trotted back out the door, leaving it ajar, I made myself stay facing the door. But I wanted to turn and run my fingers along those ridges on his stomach. I wanted to stroke my hands over his shoulders and claw down his back and—
Dear God WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.
Forgive me, God. Forgive me for my lust. Forgive me for objectifying this man. But thank you… Thank you for making him. Thank you for giving me a mind that can make him. Because he is truly beautiful.
Good job. Like… for real.