Behind me, Ash sighed and I felt his breath flutter in my hair, which matched the fluttering in my stomach and that wasn't a good thing because it made it even harder to keep myself from turning around. Clenching my fists at my side, I reminded myself that he probably thought I was innocent who had never—
"Zara, are you certain you're well?"
"Yes!" I yelped.
"You seem quite out of sorts this morning."
I nodded quickly, refusing to turn and look at him because I might actually launch myself at him and climb him like a tree. "I only… I'm a little nervous… the King… this whole… situation."
"Yes. Yes. Of course," he said soothingly… then put that warm, calloused, massive, strong hand on my shoulder.
I actually groaned.
"Ash, can you do me a favor?"
"Anything. You know I will—"
"Please go put on a shirt."
I felt him freeze behind me. "Oh. Right. Yes. Of course."
I dropped my face into my hands as he pulled away from me quickly, obviously embarrassed, and thinking that I hadn't approved.
I waited until I was sure he was behind that tapestry again, and I could hear things rustling around, before I turned to face it. "I'm sorry I'm acting strangely," I said to the tapestry, trying not to notice when something pressed it out away from the wall. Trying not to imagine what he looked like pulling a jacket around his back, how his arms would stretch and flex, and his abs would—
"I think anyone would find themselves… not themselves, under these circumstances," he said kindly, his deep voice muffled by the tapestry.
"You're very sweet, Ash," I sighed.
He didn't respond to that, but a moment later the Tapestry fluttered back again and he appeared, this time fully dressed, his sword belted to his waist over the formal uniform jacket, and his black boots shining.
His face was lined with worry, and his eyes came up hesitantly to find mine, to measure me. Because he thought I'd disapproved, and he didn't realize nothing had been further from the truth.
Without thinking, as he carefully placed himself a few feet from me, watching me, I closed the space between us, took his handsome—still deliciously stubbled—face in my hand and pulled him down into a soft, but insistent kiss.
He sucked in a breath, his body tensing. Then one of his hands came up to dive into my hair and hold my head as he opened his mouth to welcome me with his tongue.
It was wrong. So wrong. I shouldn't do this to this man who thought I knew him and thought I'd consider committing my life to him. It was wrong on so many levels, but seeing the uncertainty in his face, the vulnerability.
I made myself break the kiss.
Ash took a moment longer to open his eyes, but as he drew back, he did, and he let go of my head as well.
"You said we… weren't going to…" he croaked.
I nodded. "I know. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. But I didn't want you to think… I didn't want you worried."
His forehead pinched to lines, but as he opened his mouth again, the door swung open again and Abigail appeared, carrying a tray with a large, steaming mug, a porcelain pitcher, and a smaller goblet similar to the one I'd used for wine the day before.
Heart pounding at how close we'd come to being discovered again, I made myself turn away from Ash and follow her over to the small, round table at the side of the room, with a small chair alongside it.
"Abigail," I said as she placed the tray on the tabletop. "Can you please show me where the water closet is?"
"Oh, yes! Dear, I'm so sorry! You must be bursting. Please, come with me." She took my hand and led me out of the bedroom, which was exactly what I had hoped she'd do. And I didn't let myself look at Ash, or think about him as she walked me through the sitting room, to a tall, narrow door alongside the large cupboard there.
And when I was finally alone, I dropped my face in my hands.
He was a dream, I reminded myself. I didn't have to worry about his feelings because they ceased to exist when I woke up.
But that didn't help the trilling in my belly, because if I didn't need to worry about Ash's feelings, or anyone else's, that meant I could just strip naked myself and turn this dream into a smorgasbord of lust and…
All my breath left my body in a vast sigh and I raked my hand through my hair.
It just wasn't me. I knew myself.
If I manipulated this story so that I did nothing but let my Knight take me to bliss Palace I'd be horrified when I woke up.
I'd been embarrassed by my dreams before. Nicholas had laughed at me about that. But I knew… I knew that this was a part of me, even if it wasn't real. And I wasn't that person.
But that meant I had to do better. I couldn't just turn Ash into my sex-toy. And I couldn't turn myself into someone wanton.
I still had to live with myself in the morning.
An image of Ash's body flashed in my head and temptation tried to sing its song, but I shook my head.
I didn't know why God was letting me escape the thought of Nicholas and all that had happened. But I was grateful for the rest. And the fun. And the intrigue, and… And turning myself into someone who treated men the way men in my life had treated me before wasn't going to make me feel better. I knew that, but Lord, how I wanted to.
Maybe that was the point? Maybe… maybe all of this was just the way I could figure out what was right and what was wrong and try to be a better person for it all.
Yay, for being an adult...
I jumped when a soft knock sounded on the door and hid my face from embarrassment when it was Ash who spoke on the other side.
"Zara, are you certain you feel well?"
I sighed again and made myself resolve not to use this man. "I'm sure," I said as brightly as I could. "I'll be out in a minute. Go ahead and have a cup of coffee or something if you want."
There was a silent beat on the other side of the door, then I heard soft footsteps walking away.
I waited a full minute before opening the door, and sighed with relief when no one was there to see me come out.
At least when I woke up I wouldn't have to add being embarrassed that a hot Knight had heard me go to the bathroom.