Even at Winter’s steady plod, it wasn’t long before they left the last of the villages behind. Grinda sucked in a deep breath, her heart thundering. Hard not to be excited to be out in the open countryside. Especially with the sky so blue, the sun so bright, with so much to explore and experience, and with Mock at her side—or at her back.
Smiling, she nestled back into him, gripped his muscular forearms as they held the reins. She smoothed her hands over them, tracing his ropey veins. Once, she could do the same with his scars. Even now, her fingers wandered, expecting to find them. No more. Not after the Mother—or was it her daughter?—had healed him. His nails were still black with grime, though. She chuckled. No matter how hard he washed or how much she tried to help, he could never seem to get clean enough.
Grinda didn’t mind. She liked him that way.
‘Thinking good thoughts, I hope, biala,’ he said.
‘Just about when we first met.’
She smoothed her hands over his forearms again. She remembered how she gripped them hard, frightened of falling from his horse as they galloped away from her burning village. His horse. No. Her horse. Spirit. Her giant, black draft horse. It seemed so long ago when she feared his thundering hooves, his enormous size. She slumped a little, the thought of his death bringing a prickle of tears to her eyes.
A mountain. He will be a mountain, Grinda.
Gazing ahead at the tallest of the Windy Mountains, she smiled.
She felt Mock stiffen slightly. ‘Not such good thoughts. Best to think about ahead, not behind.’
‘I have few bad feelings now.’
She rocked from side to side. ‘My arse is getting sore. Shall we stop?’
While Winter grazed, Mock and Grinda sat together under the shade of a tree, knees touching as they drank from their water skins and ate the last of the berries they had scavenged along the way. Grinda licked at her hands, turned blue from the juice. She could feel Mock watching, smiling. Brushing the hair away from her neck, he kissed her on the throat, down her neck, pushed aside the top of her tunic as he continued along her shoulder.
Chuckling, she mashed her blue hand against his cheek. He jerked back with a grunt. Far from discouraged, he grinned, grabbed her wrist, then began sucking at her fingers one by one.
Laughing, she tried to pull away. ‘Stop it! That’s disgusting!’
‘You asked for it.’
Dipping his tongue into the middle of her palm, he lapped like a dog until Grinda was reduced to fits of giggling. Finally he released her, pulling her into his lap like she was little more than a child. Closing her eyes, Grinda leant her head against his shoulder as he held her tight. Feeling his heart beat, his warm breath against her face. Her tunic itched. She wanted to remove it so badly, wanted to have his skin pressed against her skin, wanted her breasts pressed against his chest. He wore nothing except his kinta: the animal pelt skirt all his people wore. He rarely felt the heat. Grinda wasn’t so tough. She yawned. Too comfortable, anyway. Too sleepy.
She felt him kiss her head, her ear. Opening her eyes, she gazed up at him, into his deep brown eyes, with that ring of ochre around the edge. She touched his cheek, heavily stubbled, then ran her fingers through his beard. She couldn’t understand how she once thought it so disgusting. All men should have beards. All men should have long, wavy hair. All men should have big gentle hands, soft deep eyes, dark brown skin, even yellow teeth! As long as they smiled a lot. She wriggled against his pelvis. Not to mention a cock that wouldn’t rest. Burying her face into his chest, she laughed.
All men should be like her big, brave Mock. Her best friend. Her lover. Her barbarian. Strange to think how far they’d come in only two months. She, his victim. He, her predator. When she had hated and feared him. Recalling that stolen kiss in the chapel so long ago, she could only shake her head in wonder. How ugly he had been. How filthy and sickening and utterly horrifying.
How enormously things could change.
‘Stop thinking, biala. The past is over.’
‘Sorry.’ She peered up at him impishly. How was it he always seemed to know what she was thinking?
His soft, warm eyes smiled as he pressed his finger to her nose. ‘I’ll have to make you forget.’
She grabbed his finger, raised an eyebrow. ‘Is that so?’
‘That’s right.’ Gently, he lowered her to the ground.
Careful to hold his weight away, Mock lay on his hip beside her. He still couldn’t get over how small she was. Always he had to be careful. He laid his hand against the mounds of her breasts, almost covering her whole chest. Her blue eyes shone as she watched him. Her golden hair gleamed in the sunlight. Kissable pink lips. Barely a woman, little more than sixteen, but she had seen so much, done so much. Small and delicate she might be, but she’d faced more than many of his warrior brothers could ever hope to claim.
A remarkable woman—and all his.
She raised herself onto her elbows. ‘Well? I’m waiting.’
Grinning, Mock pushed her down. He shook his head at her clothes. Annoying. Frustrating. Long, heavy skirt. Oversized tunic. So many layers. How could she be so cold when he was always so hot?
The tunic bunched up with a rustle as he slid his hands beneath. Already, her nipples were hard against the gentle rub of his fingers. She lifted her rump as he pulled down her skirt. A kiss to her bellybutton, her hip, then he pulled back, brushing the back of his hand gently along the length of her body, over her breasts, over her ribs, her hip, down her thigh. She shivered. Goose bumps erupted beneath his touch.
‘Mock,’ she croaked. ‘I really want—need—you inside me.’
Mock could have laughed. A woman didn’t know anything about need, not compared with a man. She couldn’t know how hard the blood hammered in his veins. How fast his heart beat in his chest. How painfully his cock throbbed, his balls ached. Grimacing, he adjusted his kinta, then thought better of it and removed it entirely. His new belt of knives swiftly followed. Grinda’s eyes glinted hungrily at the sight of him. Sitting up, she reached between his legs.
Mock grabbed her wrist. ‘Patience, biala.’
Gently, he lowered her back down again. She gave a sigh but smiled at him. Kneeling in front of her, he parted her thighs, kissing them both on their soft inner sides. Her opening glistened, already wet. He laid a kiss there too, brushed a light finger along it. Sucking in a breath, Grinda shuddered.
How many times had he loved her? How many times had they held each other in the moonlight, in the sunlight, on crisp mornings and hot afternoons? Mock smiled. So many months lay before them. So many more moments like this.
He laughed, a great booming laugh. Sitting up, Grinda wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him down.
Rolling in the Autumn leaves as the sun glared above. As the breeze swept through the branches, raining down a new shower of leaves. Laughter and shouting. Her high piercing squeals and choking cries as he poked and prodded and tickled her. A blur of golden hair. Flashes of white skin and laughing eyes as they tumbled and played. Somehow he managed to get her tunic off, and, kneeling, pulled her into his arms so that her back arched and she dangled limply in his arms. She was trembling. Her skin was prickled. She was motionless, but he could hear her panting, feel her heart thumping. So much in his power. So trusting. Take me, she was saying. Kissing her between the breasts, he lowered her.
Everything slowed as he entered her. She groaned as though it pained her. Groaned again, louder, more quickly as he thrusted. Pressing his cheek against hers, he whispered biala into her ear, over and over. Cherished one. The love of his life. The mother of his future children. His best friend.
Then he was groaning along with her. Faster, he thrusted, until the world was nothing but a blur and he felt nothing but the fire in his balls and Grinda’s warm, sweet breath against his cheek.
Mock grunted, Grinda cried out and they wrapped their arms around each other. For a moment, they were still, gasping and holding each other. Then he rolled onto his side, pulling her along with him as he pressed his nose into the nape of her neck and took a deep breath. There, they stayed, as their bodies eased their throbbing, as the heat between them slowly cooled. Then he looked up, met her eyes and kissed her, long and deep, her lips soft against his, his tongue wet against hers.
Still connected. Deep inside. Hearts thudding in time.
So many months ahead.
He couldn’t wait.