The room at the inn was already agreed to be shared; practicality dictating this choice, not passion. However, with their rumpled bundles of possessions tossed on the floor and the top layer of dirt shook free once the door swung shut behind them, they only now went forward in contemplation of the only bed.
“Just one bed,” Jem pointed out, lip quirking up merely because he knows the observation will rile her. As if inns in these parts kept rooms in expectation for a man and a woman traveling together, unmarried, wanting a bit of personal space.
Mary was silent, merely strode to a pitcher of water and went about cleaning the mud off her face in the mirror. It was only afternoon, the sun was still up but the day of riding had been hard and they had continually forgone to plan what next after their most recent stumbling into money, only to find somewhere decent to stay and work it out in a more leisurely style. She’d slept at his side for weeks at this point, since she’d chosen him. The thing they really had to fight over was the warm bath already prepared for them.
“What should we do about that?” he prompted, when his first attempt at teasing wasn’t tempting enough bait.
“Obvious answer seems to be we share it. Unless you’d rather claim the floor.”
He grinned at her, as she pretended not to look at him in the reflection of the mirror, and flopped down on the bed.
“Suits me just fine,” he said in a pacifying tone, holding his hands out and open to her before tipping his hat over his face as though he’d gone to sleep then and there.
His way of teasing was quick, hers was rough. He heard the tell-tale sounds of clothes dropping to the floor, but before he could get an eyeful of her washing, she was curled up in the metal tub, her back facing him.
“You look lonely there,” he observed blandly, “company may suit.”
“Whole bath to myself suits me fine.”
“You’re a cruel one, Mary Yellan.”
At this she peeked at him over her shoulder, shrugging them. She was sharp-tongued when prompted, but in the past few weeks of peace he had learned her quiet nature as they rode through the moors together. Her face was vulnerable, chin pressed to her knee.
He hadn’t really touched her after they chose to continue on together. A few kisses kept them happy, and the knowledge that the last time they were alone in an inn together, she had wanted him….Well, Mary was grieving, if not her family her innocence, and he was fine for just the company.
But Mary knew who she was dealing with, and even bait dangled high up was still fair game. Jem rose from the bed, shedding his jacket and waistcoat.
“Move forward, before the hot water’s gone.”
His fingers flicked against her bare shoulder, and he noticed the shudder, noticed and savored it.
“I’ll not let you in here if you have ideas about it.”
“On my honor as gentleman, Mary Yellan, you will go unmolested in this tub. Just don’t deny a man a warm bath”
She inched up further in the tub, giving him enough space to climb in behind her. There was some fumbling for the right place to preserve whatever modesty she had left.
“You’re no gentleman,” she muttered, but her weight settled back against his chest.
His arms slid around her. Her own arms were banded tight around her bare chest, but he was still overwhelmed by the initial contact with warm, slick skin.
Despite her prickling, his hands only ran up and down her arms soothingly. Sure, his face was sneaking peeks over her shoulders, but the embrace was relatively chaste, the womb-like warmth bringing them to a closer intimacy than before.
“Stop sneaking,” she ordered sharply when his looks became too obvious.
“Nothing you weren’t prepared for me to see if I had gotten ten more minutes in that inn with you.”
She pinched his leg, and he flinched, which re-distributed a great deal of their balance. Slick skin rubbed together suggestively. A soft breath escaped her.
His hands settled on her belly, pushing her back to rest her weight on his chest. His legs already caged her. She’d never been held like this, nothing even close.
Despite his darker intentions, her breasts were obscured by water and an awkward angle, so he merely gained the satisfaction of getting away with peaking and a burning desire to see more.
Her face was so close to his, drowsy, her eyes fluttered shut as he stroked up and down her hips.
He pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder, which required moving some of her hair out of the way. The bared shoulder gave way to a bared breast. Mary felt foolish, as though she’d expected before to give him no such satisfaction.
Water poured down her face. She sputtered, but he merely poured another cup over her head, slowly, reverently, like a baptism.
“Would you like another slap?”
“Hush,” he was working the bar of soap between his hands for a nice lather, which he then combed into her scalp with his fingers, “unless you prefer dirty hair?”
She relaxed again. Soon enough, the gentle massage on her scalp had her half-melted against his body. When he came to the nape of her neck, a soft sound escaped her lips, prettiest sound he ever heard. His thumbs worked the cradle at the base of her skull.
“You like this,” he observed. Her head hung forward to allow him to work unobstructed.
He could feel her trying to ignore the comment.
“You’re melting like sugar, this pleases you so. It worries me that I might not have any Mary left in a few minutes.”
She grunted in protest. He poured another cup over her head, rinsing out the lather. He could resist leaning close to smell how clean she was.
“You could drape your thighs over mine, open your legs up for me,” he suggested carefully, parting her hair back over one shoulder to whisper in her ear, “If you’re going to be so good for me like this, I’d like to show you what it gets.”
This felt too easy. Too sharp from the gentle, soft touches he’d given her before. Yes, she wanted to know what it felt like, to feel his rewards, but she was gentled by his own tenderness, and that didn’t give her lust as much as it did a pliant, trusting body. To give herself to him mean not surrendering either of these things, and he had indeed just earned the harder one.
His unshaven face scratched at her soft skin.
He’d already had her lust.
She shifted her legs experimentally, draping the crook of her knee over his. His hands dipped between the space she allowed him. Her head tipped back over his shoulder. It was more of a tease, which he knew better than her, just coaxing his fingers through her lips to acquaint her with these kinds of touches.
Her stomach loudly growled. They both seemed to awaken at the noise, blink as though they’d lost their surroundings.
“You hungry?” he whispered after a moment of silence.
She hadn’t been thinking past the feel of his touch. But she wouldn’t lie.
“Of course you are. I should have thought of that sooner.”
All at once, he left her, she heard the water dripping from his as he rose from the tub. He wrapped a towel around himself before guiding her out, eyes downcast but glancing cleverly up in a way that made her feel desired more than anything else, and wrapped her in a towel as well, headful of wet hair veiled by the fluffy material.
He stepped away from her to let her get dry, dressing hastily and heading to the door. She didn’t move, just watched him as though he was just going to leave her there again.
“Get as comfortable as you need,” he crossed back to the room and kissed her, “I’ll bring up a plate for you.”
She still hesitated, bundled up and looking younger than he’d ever seen in her hardened face.
His next kiss was furious, all of his wants and desires from a single touch of his lips, to ensure her they were there, they were real.
“I will come back to you. I won’t let anything stop me from coming back to this room and holding you again. Get dressed. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
This time, like the last, she believed him.
This time, he didn’t betray that.