Home > From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)(6)

From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)(6)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

Not even the Ascended.

Only because I never felt anything from them, although I knew they felt physical pain. The fact that I never had to worry about picking up residual pain from them should make me seek out their presence, but instead, it gave me the creeps.

“I wasn’t expecting you tonight,” Hawke spoke. He was giving me that half-smile of his now, the one that showed no teeth, made the dimple in his right cheek appear, but never quite reached his eyes. “It’s only been a few days, sweetling.”

Sweetling?

I opened my mouth and then clamped it shut as realization rose. I blinked. He thought I was someone else! Someone he’d obviously met here before. I glanced down at my cloak—the borrowed garment. It was rather distinctive, a pale blue with an edging of white fur.

Britta.

Did he think I was Britta?

She and I were about the same height, a little under average, and the cloak hid the shape of my body, which was not nearly as thin as hers. No matter how active I was, I could not achieve the willowy frame of Duchess Teerman or some of the other Ladies.

Inexplicably, there was a little part of me, the same bit that was hidden, that was…disappointed, and maybe even a little envious of the pretty maid.

My gaze swept over Hawke. He wore the black tunic and breeches that all guards wore under their armor. Had he come straight here after his shift? I gave the room a quick once-over. There was a small table beside the settee, where two glasses sat. Hawke hadn’t been alone in here before I arrived. Could he have been with another? Behind Hawke, the bed was made and didn’t appear as if anyone had…slept in it.

What should I do? Turn and run? That would be odd. He’d be sure to ask Britta about it, but as long as I returned the cloak and mask without her knowing, I would be in the clear.

Except Vikter was most likely still downstairs, and the woman was, too—

My gods, she had to be a Seer. Instinct told me she had known this room was occupied. She’d sent me here on purpose. Had she known that Hawke was here and likely to mistake me for Britta?

It seemed too unreal to believe.

“Did Pence tell you I was here?” he asked.

My breath caught as my heart started pounding like a hammer against my ribs. I thought Pence was a guard on the Rise, one around Hawke’s age. A blond, if I remembered correctly, but I hadn’t seen him downstairs. I shook my head.

“Have you been watching for me, then? Following me?” he asked, tsking softly under his breath. “We’ll have to talk about that, won’t we?”

There was an odd threat to his voice, one that gave me the impression that he was not all that pleased by the idea of Britta following him.

“But not tonight, it seems. You’re strangely quiet,” he observed. From what I knew of Britta, she was rarely ever demure.

But the moment I spoke, he’d know I wasn’t the maid, and I…I wasn’t ready for him to discover that. I wasn’t sure what I was ready for. My hand was no longer on the dagger, and I didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was that my heart was still racing.

“We don’t have to talk.” He reached for the hem of his tunic, and before I could take another breath, he pulled it over his head, tossing it aside.

My lips parted and my eyes widened. I’d seen a man’s chest before, but I’d never seen his. The muscles that flexed and bunched under the thinner shirts the guards trained in were now on display. He was broad of shoulder and chest, all lean muscles defined by years of intense training. There was a fine dusting of hair under his navel that disappeared behind his breeches. My gaze dipped even lower, and heat returned, a different kind that didn’t just flush my skin but also invaded my blood.

Even in the candlelight, I could see how tight his breeches were, how they gloved his body, leaving very little to the imagination.

And I had a vast imagination thanks to the Ladies’ frequent tendency to overshare, and my frequent tendency to listen in on conversations.

A strange curling sensation hit my lower stomach. It wasn’t unpleasant. Not at all. It was warm and tingling, reminding me of my first sip of bubbly champagne.

Hawke stepped toward me, and my muscles tensed to run, but I held myself still by sheer will. I knew I should’ve stepped away. I should’ve spoken and revealed that I wasn’t Britta. I should’ve left immediately. The way he prowled toward me, his long legs eating up the distance between us, told me his intent, even if he hadn’t removed his tunic. And while I had little—all right, absolutely no experience—I inherently knew that if he reached me, he would touch me. He may do even more. He might kiss me.

And that was forbidden.

I was the Maiden, the Chosen. Not to mention, he thought I was another woman, and he’d obviously been in this room with someone else before I got here. That didn’t mean he’d been with someone, but he could’ve.

I still didn’t move or speak.

I waited, my heart beating so fast I felt faint. Tiny tremors racked my hands and legs.

And I never trembled.

What are you doing? whispered the reasonable, sane voice in my head.

Living, I whispered back.

And being incredibly stupid, the voice countered.

I was, but again, I stood there.

Senses hyperaware, I watched as Hawke stopped in front of me and lifted his hands, gripping the back of the hood with one. For a moment, I thought he might pull it back, and the charade would be over, but that wasn’t what he did. The hood only slipped back a couple of inches.

“I don’t know what kind of game you’re about tonight.” His deep voice was husky. “But I’m willing to find out.”

His other arm came around my waist. A gasp left me as he hauled me to his chest. This was nothing like the brief embraces I’d received from Vikter. I’d never been held by a man like this. There wasn’t an inch between his chest and mine. The contact was a jolt to my senses.

He lifted me up onto the tips of my toes, then clear off my feet. His strength was staggering since I wasn’t exactly light. Stunned, my hands landed on his shoulders. The heat of his hard skin seemed to burn through my gloves and the cloak and thin white gown I usually slept in.

His head slanted, and I felt the warmth of his breath on my lips. A tight tremor of anticipation coiled its way down my spine at the same moment my stomach dipped with uncertainty. There was no time for the two warring emotions to battle. He pivoted and strode forward with the same kind of feline grace I’d seen from him before. In a matter of a few stuttering heartbeats, he was guiding us down, his grip strong but careful, as if he were aware of his strength. He came down over me, his hand still behind my head, his weight a shock as he pressed me into the bed, and then his mouth was on mine.

Hawke kissed me.

There was nothing sweet or soft, like I’d imagined a kiss to be. It was hard and overwhelming, claiming, and when I sucked in a sharp breath, he took advantage, deepening the kiss. His tongue touched mine, startling me. Panic flared in the pit of my stomach, but so did something else, something far more powerful, a pleasure I hadn’t experienced before. He tasted of the golden liquor I’d once snuck, and I felt that stroke of his tongue in every part of me. It was in the shivers that erupted all over my skin, in the inexplicable heaviness in my chest, in that curling, tightening sensation below my navel and even lower still where there was a sudden, throbbing pulse between my legs. I shuddered, my fingers digging into his flesh, and I suddenly wished I hadn’t worn gloves because I wanted to feel his skin, and I doubted I’d be in any shape to concentrate on what he was feeling. His head tilted, and I felt the brush of his oddly sharp—

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