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Mallory Moore leaned back in her comfortable leather office chair, and pinched the bridge of her nose. Playing a few hands of online poker was supposed to be a relaxing way to wind down after what had been a stressful day, but she had been losing almost every game. It wasn’t that she cared about the money - she was only playing small stakes tables and she could afford to lose far more than she had without even noticing - but losing was not putting her in a good mood.

Mal sighed, looked at her cards once again, and clicked ‘fold’. ‘Icequeen93’ took her money again. It was maddening really, the other player wasn’t really any good, but Mal had been dealt hand after hand of terrible cards. She left the table and returned to the home page, scrolling idly through the list of tables waiting for players.

She recognised a few names. There was NotBaroque playing homebymidnight - both players she’d chatted to briefly in the past - but they were playing a two-person table. SpaghettiKisses she knew, but she didn’t recognise his opponent, wholenewworld. She sighed and leaned back further in her chair, flicking the scrolll-wheel idly up and down. She could always just log off for the night. It was late, she should probably get to bed. There was bound to be some sort of emergency in the morning.

 

Her cursor was hovering over the log-out button when a window popped up on her screen. ‘You have been invited to a table by NorthernLights’. She raised an eyebrow. How interesting - she hadn’t seen NorthernLights logging on in over a month, she’d thought the other player must have moved on to another site. NorthernLights hardly ever played in the low stakes games anyway, the other player was well-known in online poker circles as a no-limit player. Occasionally though, NorthernLights would spend a few hours playing low-stakes games and chatting with other players, Mal amongst them. She clicked ‘accept’.

IntoADragon: Hello Light.
NorthernLights: hey
IntoADragon: Long time no see.
NorthernLights: yeah i’ve had a lot of life stuff going on
IntoADragon: Nothing bad, I hope?
NorthernLights: i'm not sure yet. just going to have to wait it out and see where things go

Mal paused for a moment, her fingers hovering over her keyboard, and then shrugged. For some reason she liked NorthernLights, despite the fact that they didn’t really know each other. The other player had a dry sense of humour and rather cutting wit that amused Mal greatly. She could spare the time to listen to any problems, it wasn’t as if she was actually going to get involved.

IntoADragon: Well I'm often around at this sort of time if you want to chat - sometimes it's easier to talk to a complete stranger. Especially someone you'll probably never meet.
NorthernLights: true
NorthernLights: can i ask you a personal question?

Mal raised an eyebrow. She didn’t really share any details about her life as a rule, but after all, NorthernLights had no idea who she was, so...

IntoADragon: Of course. I can't promise I'll answer, but you can ask.
NorthernLights: do you get on well with your family?
IntoADragon: I don’t have any family. My parents died when I was young and I don’t have any extended family that I’m still in touch with. Why?
NorthernLights: oh. i’m sorry.
IntoADragon: Don’t worry about it, it was a long time ago. Why did you ask?
NorthernLights: i’m having some problems with my father. but he’s the only family i have, so… i don’t know. i was just thinking out loud, i guess. it doesn’t matter
IntoADragon: If it’s bothering you enough to want to talk about it to a virtual stranger - excuse the pun - then I should say that it does matter. I won’t press you, but I’m available.
NorthernLights: really now ;)

Mal gave a brief snort of laughter and shook her head. What was it about online conversations that turned most people into incorrigible flirts? For all NorthernLights knew, Mal could be a balding man in his sixties. She was fairly sure - from the way NothernLights typed - that the other player was fairly young.

IntoADragon: Hush, you. I’m sure you’re not my type anyway.
NorthernLights: what is your type?
IntoADragon: You’re deflecting.
NorthernLights: yes, i know. are you going to tell me?
IntoADragon: Nope. Are we going to play or not?
NorthernLights: aww. you’re no fun
IntoADragon: I’m a lot of fun, you impudent little beast.
NorthernLights: couldn’t prove it by me :P
IntoADragon: Put your money where your mouth is and play the cards, beastie.
NorthernLights: alright, alright.

The chat box went still for a while, as they played a few hands - NorthernLights won four out of five, but Mal knew she was outclassed. NorthernLights was just out of Mal’s league - although she’d lay odds that the other player wouldn’t be able to take her in a live game. Online poker was all about numbers and statistics - well, that and the ability to judge your opponent’s play style of course - but live games needed more… finesse.

They were halfway through the sixth hand, when there was a chime and a message flashed up ‘NorthernLights has forfeited the game’. Mal blinked and glanced at the chat box.

NorthernLights: shit sorry gotta go

Something must have come up. Mal shrugged and logged off the site. At least NorthernLights had the decency to say goodbye, which was more than could be said for a lot of players. Manners were rare in the online poker community - which, Mal supposed, was one reason that she liked to spend some of her downtime there. She spent so much of her working life plastering a convincing but false smile onto her face, being polite to people who didn’t deserve to be given the time of day, that it was nice to be able to be as rude as she liked, without fearing the consequences. Not that Mal ever was rude. But it was nice to know that, if the mood should strike her, she could be. Liberating, somehow.

She rolled her chair away from the desk, standing up and rolling her shoulders and arching her back to the sound of a satisfying series of crackles and crunches. She gave a pleasurable groan and rolled her head from side to side, working out a few of the kinks that developed after a long day of stressful meetings.

What she really needed, Mal decided, was a long, hot bubble bath. To hell with the fact that it was close to midnight; if she didn’t relax she would be up half of the night thinking about work. She had less than a week before it would be time to leave for the ICC, and if she didn’t make sure that everything was left in order, she would spend more time on the phone sorting out the inevitable blunders that her staff would make than actually attending panels.

If she could just leave Diaval behind - but no, she had promised the young man that she would take him to the conference with her this year, and the thought of his brave little smile when she told him that no, sorry, he was going to have to stay behind again this year and hold down the fort… no. The casino could look after itself for one week without her ‘micromanaging’, as Diaval was prone to call it. Pesky boy. If he wasn’t so indispensable… but he was. He got away with a darn sight more than any of her previous assistants ever had, but he was worth his weight in gold. What she would do when he inevitably wanted to move on to bigger and better things, she didn’t know.

As for the larger part of her business, she could deal with any emergencies that should arise over the phone and by email, just as she always did. She nodded firmly, and headed into her luxuriously appointed bathroom to draw a deep, scaldingly hot bath.

***

“No, I’m not Mr Moore.”

Mal looked up from her phone to see her assistant glaring at the hotel receptionist. Poor Diaval - this was the fourth person in a row who had accused him of being her husband. It was flattering really, that so many people thought she could have landed the young Irishman as a husband. Diaval was over a decade her junior.

“Really, Mal,” he’d hissed at her in the back of the taxi on the way from the airport to their hotel. “A male assistant isn’t all that uncommon these days. Am I really so pretty that I look as if there’s no room in my head for brains?”

Mal had snorted in laughter, and assured her assistant that, despite his undoubtedly good looks, he did not look like a - what was the term? - a himbo. Mollified, Diaval had flipped his perfectly styled jet-black hair, and returned to his paperwork. Mal stifled a chuckle and stared determinedly out of the window. Idiot he was not, but vain he most certainly was.

“I’m Diaval Corbin, Mallory Moore’s personal assistant. Please,” and he gave a long-suffering sigh, “please tell me that there is no problem with our booking?”

The young receptionist blushed and hastened to assure Diaval that there was no problem with their booking - their suite was ready for them now and if he would just sign here, here and here, she would call a bellhop over to take their bags up for them. Diaval favoured her with a brilliant smile - one which had her blush reaching ridiculous proportions - and reached into his pocket for a pen.

“Diaval,” Mal called to him as she slipped her phone into her pocket. “Make sure our bags make their way to our rooms safely would you, I’m going to take a walk. I’m stiff from the journey.”

Diaval waved a careless hand at her.

“No problem Mal, go stretch out those ancient muscles.” He dropped her a wink and she rolled her eyes at him.

“Impertinent brat,” she told him. “One of these days, you’re going to go too far and find yourself on the receiving end of a firing.”

“Never,” he said with a smirk. “I’m far too useful.”

She shook her head at him with a smile and made her way out of the lobby of the hotel and into the pale morning sunshine.

***

Mal had to admit that to any normal person it might seem like overkill. Here she was at a gaming trade conference, and she chose to spend her one free evening in a casino. Although one could hardly call the Clermont ‘a casino’. Mal didn’t consider any trip to London was complete unless she had played at least one hand at one of their six tables. Moore’s was her pride and joy, but she would be the first to admit that it couldn’t hold a candle to the Clermont. Then again, very few places could - Mal could name only a handful of other establishments that could compare to the elegant setting.

As it was a Friday night - not her first choice, but the only free time she had - she hadn’t been able to find a free chair to play. Instead, she had ordered a glass of cognac, and was comfortably ensconced in a large leather armchair with a good view of the room. Watching people play cards could be as much fun as playing herself. Sometimes more.

She cupped the warm glass in the palm of her hand, swirling the brandy idly as she looked around the room. It was mostly filled with the usual crowd - businessmen losing loudly and occasionally winning even more loudly and pretty young things of both genders flirting with the winners. Neither of those two groups interested her, they were far too predictable. One table in particular caught her eye, simply because two of the players didn’t fall into either of those two groups.

There were five people sitting at the table. Two young businessmen, a slightly older woman, a middle-aged woman and a blonde girl. The two men were more than a little drunk and blustering loudly; both trying to impress the older woman sitting between them, who looked to Mal’s practiced eye as if she was having a good time throwing away someone else’s money. The middle-aged woman, who had steel-grey hair pulled back into an elegant knot low on the back of her skull, a look of concentration on her face, and a truly obscene pile of chips on the table in front of her caught Mal’s interest.

That was the sort of player she would always have her own pit bosses keeping an eye on. A run of luck was one thing, but when someone was consistently winning, it was time to make sure that they weren’t using anything more than skill and a large dose of luck. It was also time to start plying them with free drinks and tickets to shows, anything to get them away from the table. Mal’s gaze didn’t stay for long on the winning player however. She had spent countless hours poring over security tapes, prowling the floor and sitting in on games herself, and the grey-haired woman wasn’t really the one to watch.

After every card, the woman paused; either her eyes flicked subtly to the young blonde, who was sitting to the dealer’s immediate right, or the blonde spoke. Everyone at the table was speaking, idle chit-chat Mal assumed, but it was glaringly obvious to her that the two players were communicating with each other. She took a sip of her drink, and smirked, amused to have picked up on something that the Clermont’s security obviously hadn’t.

She continued to watch the blonde girl, trying to work out exactly what she was doing. It didn’t take long, once she realised that there was something to be watching out for. The dealer was sloppy. As he put cards down, he mishandled them just enough to allow anyone sitting in the correct place - in this particular instance, in the seat immediately to his right - to get a glimpse of the face of the card. The blonde girl had to be signalling plays to the winning player, although Mal hadn’t been watching for long enough to decide whether she was signalling anything more than the value or type of the cards she had seen.

Pleased with herself, Mal leaned back further in her armchair, ignoring a space that had opened up at another table, and continued to watch. There was nothing illegal about what the two layers were doing. Once the Clermont’s staff noticed, they would of course ask them to leave, but until then, Mal was rather enjoying watching the skilled pair at work. The girl hadn’t won a large amount, and Mal assumed this was on purpose, in order not to draw attention to herself. A quick mental tally showed that she had several hundred pounds worth in chips. Her partner was sitting on at least ten thousand, by Mal’s estimation. Not bad for one evening’s work.

It was curious that the (much) younger partner seemed to be the brains of the operation. Assuming that she wasn’t using any kind of false identification, and given the Clermont’s careful checks Mal thought it was likely that she wasn’t, the girl had to be a minimum of eighteen. Mal would put her at a few years older, but certainly not many.

She had been idly watching them play for around fifteen minutes, when something caught her eye on the other side of the room, out of sight of either of the two players unless they had been playing close attention to their surroundings. A quiet conference was taking place between two staff members who were making enough gestures that she was able to tell that they were referring to the table - and therefore presumably the players - that Mal had been watching.

On impulse, Mal stood up and made her way over to the table. She positioned herself within sight of the girl, and attempted to catch her eye. To her surprise, rather than seeming confused, the look which crossed the girl’s face was… almost predatory. Her gaze traveled slowly over Mal, from her face down to her feet and back up again. Mal felt a hot flush rush over her and knew that two spots of bright colour had appeared on her cheeks. The girl’s gaze lingered for a moment on Mal’s lips before raising to meet her eyes with a quirked eyebrow.

Mal smirked, raising an eyebrow of her own, and was pleased to note the sudden dilation of the girl’s pupils. She raised her half-full glass with a questioning look. The girl looked at her cards, shrugged, and placed them face-down on the table. She gathered the modest pile of chips in front of her into her bag, sliding a large-denomination chip to the dealer with a bright smile.

Her partner gave her a subtle, quizzical look, and Maleficent noticed the girl make a peculiar little flutter with one hand. The woman nodded, and turned back to the table. Maleficent assumed she would play another one or two hands before leaving.

“So,” said the girl in a low voice, “unless I’m mistaken, that was an offer of a drink.” To her surprise, Mal caught the faintest suggestion of a French accent lurking in her vowels.
“It was,” Mal agreed. “However, I suggest you cash those chips in and we take our business elsewhere. You and your… associate have attracted the attention of our lovely hosts.” She lifted a hand as if to brush her hair back behind her ear, turning the motion into a subtle indication over her shoulder. The girl’s gaze moved briefly from Mal’s face and towards the back of the room, before her eyes widened in understanding.

“Ah.” She said, somewhat shortly. “I see. Well, thank you for the warning.”

Mal tipped her head sideways in momentary confusion, before she recognised the expression slipping across the girl’s face. Disappointment. The silly child assumed that Mal’s flirtation was nothing more than an excuse to get her away from the table - which was, she supposed, partly true. If the girl hadn’t been so extraordinarily pretty, Mal would likely not have bothered.

“Don’t be silly,” she chided. “Although of course you’re very welcome. I would very much like to buy you a drink.” She dropped one eyelid in a subtle wink. “Or several.”

“Oh!” The girl gave an embarrassed little chuckle. “Well, in that case, allow me one moment and I’m all yours.” There was a definite sultry drawl to the last three words.

Mal attempted to reign in the smugness of her grin as she watched the girl cross to the counter to cash in her chips and collect a short jacket. After a moment, Mal followed her to retrieve her own coat.

Outside, waiting while the doorman flagged down a black cab for them, the girl turned to Mal.

“Did you have anywhere in mind? Or should we skip the small-talk and head straight to my hotel?”

Taken aback by the girl’s forthrightness, Mal was shocked into a bright peal of laughter.

“The youth of today…” she drawled, laughter still bubbling in her words. “Although you do make a good point. I have to be up bright and early tomorrow morning though, so I suggest we adjourn to my hotel room.”

The girl chuckled softly, climbing into the cab which had pulled up while they were talking.

“I’m okay with that,” she said, sliding over the leather seat to make room for Mal. “Although we should probably have exchanged names before we made… arrangements.” She grinned and held out a hand. “Rory Thorn. Delighted to make your acquaintance,” she drawled in a mockingly upper-class accent.

Mal gave an amused laugh.

“Mal Moore,” she replied, taking the offered hand, although not to shake it. She turned it palm up and studied the lines there for a moment, before stroking softly over them with her fingertips. Rory shivered.

“I know,” she said, smiling softly. “I recognised you.”

Mal looked up from the hand, although she didn’t relinquish it, nor did Rory attempt to take it back. Her fingers continued to play gently over the soft skin as she considered the statement. How very unusual. Moore’s was well known - the woman who owned it, less so. Although given Rory’s nationality and choice of career, perhaps it wasn’t so unusual that she would be familiar with the owner of one of the most prestigious casinos in France.

“Hmm,” Rory hummed as if amused, turning her hand over in Mal’s grasp to slide her fingers around Mal’s wrist, thumb rubbing at the tender skin where her pulse fluttered.

“Hmm?” Mal echoed the noise back at her questioningly.

“Oh, I just wouldn’t have expected to run into you so far from home. Although as it is the week of the ICC, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Indeed,” Mal agreed, becoming more intrigued by this girl with every word she uttered. Then Rory’s fingers left their place around her wrist and slid up her forearm before running back down again, nails leaving the palest of red marks. A wash of goosebumps followed Rory’s fingertips, and Mal lost track of her thoughts.

“How far is your hotel?” Rory asked, tipping her head forwards and giving Mal an impish look up through her eyelashes.

“Not far,” Mal chuckled. “Impatient little beast, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely,” Rory agreed with a smug grin. “I don’t want to give the driver an eyeful. So I’m being good. But it’s difficult if you’re going to sit there looking all edible.”

“Well, I’m terribly sorry,” Mal drawled, sitting back against the seat and withdrawing her hand from Rory’s to lay it primly in her lap. “There. I shall conduct myself with every ounce of decorum I can muster.”

Rory giggled, tucking one loose blonde curl behind her ear.

“I’ll see your decorum, and raise you well-bred propriety,” she said, sitting up straight and setting her shoulders back. She lasted all of perhaps thirty seconds before dissolving into more giggles.

Mal chuckled along with her. She had known that Rory was intelligent, but this quick wit was a nice bonus to the night of relaxation she was expecting. Sex without intelligent conversation was all very well, but it was nice to spend time with someone who could keep up with her out of bed.
“And you call yourself a poker player,” Mal teased. “Yet you can’t keep a straight face for even a minute.”

“It’s not my fault you’re so distracting,” Rory pouted. “It’s sad, my one weakness is a beautiful woman.” She turned her head so that she could look sideways at Mal. “Shush, don’t tell anyone.”

Mal raised a finger to her lips, giving Rory a solemn look.

“I knew I could trust you,” Rory said dramatically. “Don’t betray me!”

Mal shook her head in amusement at the girl’s antics. Rory was adorable. Ridiculous, but adorable. And Mal had always had a weakness for adorable blondes. She shook her head again, this time to clear the unpleasant thoughts that were threatening to steal in and ruin her evening.

“My lips are sealed,” she said, gratified to note that Rory’s eyes flickered downward for a moment to the lips in question.

Mal parted her lips and wet the bottom one with the tip of her tongue, before nibbling it gently with her teeth. Rory swallowed - Mal could see the convulsive movement of her throat. Mal knew that her mouth was one of her best features, and she knew exactly how to ‘work her assets’, as Diaval would say.

Rory shifted slightly towards her, before determinedly moving back again, almost plastering herself against the door of the cab.

“Nuh-uh,” she said, shaking her head with a pout. “Well-bred propriety, remember?”

Mal was about to bring out the next weapon in her arsenal, the finger-to-the-mouth, when she felt the cab slowing down.

“Saved by the bell,” she told Rory, pulling out her purse and handing a note to the driver.

“Or the meter anyway,” Rory quipped, opening the cab door and standing by it while Mal climbed out, before closing it behind her.

“Quite the little gent,” Mal told her.

Rory sketched a joking little bow. “One does one’s best,” she drawled, and Mal chuckled, ushering her into the hotel.

***

Somehow, they made it all the way to Mal’s suite fully clothed. Diaval was either still out, or not yet returned, as the door to his bedroom was closed.

“Normally,” Mal said, turning to Rory, “I would offer you a drink, but as my assistant is quite likely to either come out of his bedroom to see what’s going on, or return from a night out and attempt to make conversation, I suggest that we move this to the bedroom.”

“You talk too much,” said Rory, a little breathless.

Mal suppressed a snicker. She had mercilessly teased Rory in the lift up from the lobby, sixteen floors of running her forefinger over her lower lip whilst running her eyes over the girl’s slender body. Rory’s chest had been heaving quite gratifyingly by the time the lift had finally delivered them to the correct floor.

“Probably,” she said, crossing the little lounge area and opening her bedroom door. Whatever she had been about to say next never made it past her lips, because the second she set foot over the threshold of the room, Rory took hold of her shoulders and pressed her to the wall next to the door.

As Rory raised up on her toes to even their height and closed the last few inches between them, Mal had a moment to ponder the oddity of not being the aggressor for once. It wasn’t that she had some pathological need to be in charge or anything of that sort, but she did have a tendency to wind up in control of sexual encounters. Once again, Rory was surprising her.

Rory’s hands slipped up from Mal’s shoulders to tangle in her hair as their mouths met. Rory was an aggressive kisser, suckling roughly on Mal’s lower lip and licking into her mouth as soon as Mal’s lips parted under the onslaught. Mal’s hands went to Rory’s slender waist, slipping under the loose drapes of her top and resting lightly on the bare skin above her waistband. Rory shivered.

“Your hands are cold,” she whispered, her lips bare millimeters away from Mal’s, her fingers tightening slightly in Mal’s hair and tugging lightly on the tumbled tresses. Mal gave a shiver of her own as the soft pulling of her hair caused a thousand little prickles to trip over her scalp and go running down her spine.

“Sorry,” she murmured, and pressed a small apologetic kiss to the tip of Rory’s nose. “They’ll warm up soon enough.”

“Oh, I don’t really mind,” Rory giggled, wrinkling her nose in response. She moved to brush her lips against the tender spot below Mal’s ear.

Mal turned her head a little to the side and Rory sucked lightly at the skin over her pulse. She sighed quietly, a noise which became a throaty groan as Rory nipped gently at the sensitive flesh. A low, pleased noise rumbling in the back of her throat, Rory bit down again a little harder and her fingers raked roughly through Mal’s hair, nails scratching over her scalp.

Mal’s legs actually felt a little shaky and she found herself clinging to Rory’s back to remain upright. How embarrassing it was, to be trembling like a teenager after just a few minutes. And she was trembling, there was a faint almost-not-there quiver running under her skin. It had been years since someone had affected her as strongly as this. The violence of her response was faintly unnerving, and it was making Mal feel out of control. She hated not to be in control of herself.

Sliding her hands out from under Rory’s top, she brought them up to cup either side of her face, pulling Rory’s mouth away from the deliciously aching spot on her throat. Rory’s eyes slowly opened, deep blue, pupils huge. Mal smoothed her thumbs possessively over the girl’s cheekbones before taking one of Rory’s hands and leading her over to the bed.

She pushed Rory’s jacket off her shoulders and Rory let it slip from her arms to fall haphazardly to the floor, her eyes fixed on Mal’s. Mal shrugged off her own coat before pulling insistently at the hem of Rory’s top, tugging it off over her head when the girl helpfully raised her arms. Her hair fell back down, the curls tumbling into even more disarray than before and Mal couldn’t stop herself from running her fingers through the silken strands before taking a fierce handful of hair and pulling Rory forward against her.

Eyes fluttering closed, Rory’s lips parted in a silent gasp as Mal’s fist tugged on her hair. Smirking, Mal experimentally tightened her fingers just a little more as she pressed her lips to Rory’s. Rory moaned and let Mal pull her head back, offering her face up to the taller woman. Wonderful. Mal did so like to be a little rough.

One hand still curled into Rory’s hair, Mal slipped the other around her and ran her fingertips softly up the indentation of her spine, pausing to toy with the clasp of her bra. A neat press and twist and it was falling open, and Mal couldn’t help letting out a pleased chuckle. One of Rory’s eyes opened and she gave a giggle of her own.

“Smooth,” she said, and Mal grinned at her.

“I try,” she replied, before raking her fingernails down Rory’s back, now unencumbered by the presence of her bra.

Rory whimpered and arched her back into Mal’s touch, pressing their hips harder together and clutching at the front of Mal’s shirt. The silk would wrinkle but Mal really didn’t care. Mal dragged her fingers lightly up Rory’s back, feeling the slightly raised lines her fingernails had left. Rory quivered as Mal teased the sensitised skin, and she began to fumble clumsily with the buttons of Mal’s shirt, eyes still closed and fingers trembling.

Amused, Mal continued drawing abstract patterns across Rory’s shoulder-blades with both hands now, letting Rory undress her. Finally, Rory got the last button undone, and impatiently tugged the fabric off Mal’s body. Mal removed her hands from Rory’s body for long enough to let the shirt slip to the ground to join her coat before returning them to her back.

Rory dipped her head to run her lips along Mal’s collarbones, pausing to dip her tongue into the hollow at the base of her throat, while her hands dropped to unbutton her trousers and pull the zipper down.

“Impatient,” Mal said, with a chuckle that turned into a gasp as Rory slipped her hand down the front of her trousers.

“Mmhmm,” Rory murmured into the skin of her shoulder.

Mal’s hips twitched forwards of their own accord as Rory curled her fingers, unerringly finding the length of Mal’s clit and pressing firmly along it through the thin fabric of her underwear. Mal stifled a curse and found herself clutching at Rory’s shoulders once again as Rory fluttered her fingers. Feeling that unnerving sensation of lack of control creeping up on her again, Mal brought her hands to Rory’s breasts, cupping them for a moment before pinching her nipples roughly, delighting in the feeling of the flesh puckering under her fingertips.

Rory gave a sharp moan and her hand stilled for a moment. Mal chuckled and pushed her gently backwards, the edge of the bed hitting her behind the knees and forcing her to either sit down or lose her balance. Rory sat, pulling her hand quickly out of Mal’s trousers and Mal stepped back, efficiently stripping off her remaining clothes.

Rory watched intently, eyes fixed on each smooth expanse of skin as it was revealed, cheeks burning a bright pink, lips red and bruised-looking. Finally naked (and really, she thought, someone should invent a seductive way of taking off socks), Mal stepped back to Rory and pulled her up into a standing position.

She unfastened her skirt, then with one smooth movement managed to lower the skirt, tights and underwear together. Rory crowed with delighted laughter and stepped out of her shoes. She wrapped her arms around Mal’s waist and tumbled them both down onto the bed, still laughing. Startled by the sudden move, Mal didn’t have time to resist, and suddenly found herself lying on top of warm skin with Rory’s happy, flushed face looking up at her.

After a moment of shock, Mal joined in with Rory’s laughter, shaking her head as she chuckled. Moving so that she didn’t crush the girl lying under her, Mal nudged one knee between Rory’s, bracing her hands on either side of her shoulders. Rory’s laughter ended with a strangled gulp as Mal angled herself to press the firm curve of her hipbone up into the wet softness she found there.

Smirking, she rocked her hips gently, lowering her head to nip and kiss at Rory’s neck and shoulders. Rory tipped her head back, baring her throat to Mal’s lips and teeth. Mal lavished attention there until the skin was pink and sensitive before starting a slow path downwards. Rory grasped at her back, her shoulders, her upper arms, all fingertips and fingernails, giving soft breathy little moans.

Mal kissed down over her chest, over the swell of one breast until she reached its peak, brushing her lips gently over the pale pink nipple. It was already drawn up tight and Mal pulled it into her mouth, laving her tongue over it before biting down gently.

“Plus fort,1” Rory said with a gasp, arching her back to press herself up into Mal.

“Volontiers,2” Mal replied, amused that in passion, Rory seemed to revert to French.

Humming in the back of her throat, Mal bit down harder, finding herself rewarded by a soft cry and a stinging press of nails into her back. Carefully, she bit again, holding the pressure with her teeth this time and pulling her head back. The cry was not soft this time, and Mal wondered if Rory’s nails in her back were actually drawing blood. She released the nipple and flicked the tip of her tongue over the abused flesh, catching Rory’s other nipple in her fingers and twisting it.

She slid further down Rory’s body, kissing down the soft line at the center of her ribcage, over the smooth skin of her belly, dropping a biting kiss onto each softly rising hipbone. Rory whined and raised her hips but Mal ignored the blatant demand, settling comfortably between her spread legs and running her hands up the outside of Rory’s legs while she alternated placing kisses first on the inside of one thigh and then the other.

“You’re a cruel woman,” Rory said breathlessly after a minute or so of this treatment and Mal looked up at her with a devilish smirk on her lips.

“So they tell me,” she purred. “Say please.”

Rory flushed and bit down on her lower lip for a moment. She closed her eyes for a second, then opened them again to look steadily at Mal.

“Please,” she whispered. “Baise-moi.3

Mal made a small, pleased noise in the back of her throat as she slid both hands up the inside of Rory’s thighs and leaned forwards to place a single light kiss, chaste almost, to Rory’s mound, just above the tuft of dark blonde curls.

Rory groaned and Mal chuckled.

“That’s cheating,” Rory complained, and Mal laughed again.

“Perhaps I just wanted to hear you say it again,” she said. “I like you begging.”

Rory huffed indignantly.

“Do it again,” Mal told her steadily, holding Rory’s gaze with her own. Rory swallowed hard.

“Je t'en supplie,”4 she said throatily. “Lèche-moi.5 Défonce-moi.6

“Now that’s begging,” Mal murmured, and leaned down to oblige.

She spread Rory’s lips apart with her thumbs and paused a moment to admire the deep red, glistening flesh before dipping her head and licking in one long, slow stroke from entrance to clit. Rory exhaled unsteadily, breath catching as Mal pointed the tip of her tongue and flicked it firmly over her clit. Her hips jumped and Mal looked up at her.

“Too hard?” she asked. Rory shook her head.

“No,” she gasped, “but I won’t last long if you keep that up.”

“We’ll see,” Mal said, and lowered her head again, bringing her right hand up under her chin and sliding one long, elegant finger into Rory. Rory’s hips bucked and Mal had to move quickly to avoid being smacked in the face.

She wrapped her free arm over Rory’s hips, not so much to hold her down as to make sure that she moved with her if she bucked again, and curled the finger inside her. Rory whimpered and clenched down on her. Mal added a second finger, and a third, feeling Rory tight and hot around her.

When she sucked Rory’s clit between her lips and flickered her tongue rapidly over it, Rory’s back arched and her walls clenched down around Mal’s fingers. Teasing was all very well and for a moment she contemplated backing off, making Rory wait, but she wanted to make her come too much. Remembering that Rory had asked to be fucked hard, she slid her fingers almost all of the way out before thrusting in firmly.

“Fuck,” Rory moaned, hips rising to meet Mal’s thrusts as she kept up the rhythm of fast and slow.

One of Rory’s hands flew down to cup the back of Mal’s head, grasping desperately. Mal curled her fingers hard, and Rory keened in the back of her throat, back arching up off the bed. Rory was muttering obscenities in a jumbled mix of French and English before she broke off with a sharp cry and Mal felt her walls clenching down around her fingers, harder than before.

She didn’t let up with her tongue or her fingers until Rory’s back dropped down onto the bed and then she switched to slow, soft licks, gently fluttering her fingers, until Rory sighed and relaxed. Then she tipped her head sideways and rested her cheek on Rory’s thigh, fingers still inside her, and looked up.

Rory was smiling down at her, the very picture of sated contentment, hair spread out across the pillows. She lifted an arm and let it fall back limply onto the bed.

“I think you broke me,” she said wryly, and Mal grinned smugly at her before wiping her mouth with the back of her free hand.

“I thought that was the idea,” she said, before curling her fingers and chuckling at the way Rory shuddered.

“Come up here,” Rory demanded, catching hold of Mal’s upper arm and tugging insistently. “I’m post-coital. I require snuggles.”

Laughing softly, Mal crawled up the bed to lie next to Rory, extending an arm and wrapping it around her back when Rory rolled over to rest her head on Mal’s shoulder. Rory threw one leg over Mal’s and drew idle patterns on her abdomen with the arm that wasn’t pinned in between them.

“Give me a few minutes to get my breath back,” she said, “then it’s my turn.”

“You don’t have to,” Mal said, staring up at the ceiling. For some reason, something prompted her to be more bluntly honest with Rory than she usually was. They had fallen into such a comfortable dialogue that it just seemed natural. “I don’t - I mean, I sometimes find it hard to, with other people I mean -” It was still a hard thing to articulate.

“Orgasm with someone else?” Rory offered, still stroking spirals and curlicues on Mal’s stomach.

“Yes,” Mal admitted quietly, eyes still fixed on the ceiling. It was stupid to feel that way, she knew, but it left her feeling inadequate, as if there was something wrong with her body that it wouldn’t do what everyone else seemed to find so easy. She knew it wasn’t uncommon. But it was never talked about.

“We don’t have to, if you’d rather not,” Rory offered, and Mal turned her head to look into her eyes, finding to her surprise that Rory wasn’t looking at her with pity, or disdain, but something that looked like acceptance. As if it really didn’t matter to her.

“I want to,” Mal admitted, “but…”

Rory smiled, and took hold of Mal’s wrist, pulling her hand down and pressing it between her legs. Her own fingers rested lightly on top of Mal’s, pressing their twined fingers down. She turned her head to the side, pressing a kiss to the spot below Mal’s ear that she had lavished so much attention on before.

“How about this?” She suggested, stretching up to catch Mal’s earlobe between her teeth.

Mal froze, wanting to circle her fingers in the way she knew would bring the release she craved, too self-conscious to start.

“Please,” Rory whispered, her hot breath making Mal shudder. “Je te pleure. Jouis pour moi7.”

She moved her hand from Mal’s, stroking up her arm and over her shoulder, delicately tracing the line of her collarbone. She smoothed over the curve of Mal’s breast, plucking gently at her nipple. Mal swallowed hard and closed her eyes, forcing her fingers to move. She could feel Rory smiling against her throat, and she concentrated not on her own hand but on Rory’s, dancing across her breasts, flicking first at one nipple and then the other.

After a moment, Rory ducked her head to draw one of Mal’s nipples into her mouth while her fingers continued to attend to the other. Finding that starting was the hard part, now that she was going it actually felt quite natural, Mal sped up her fingers’ circles and turned her head to the side, resting her cheek on the top of Rory’s head, inhaling the herbal scent of her hair.

Rory smiled around her nipple, and moved her hand downwards. She pulled her head back for a moment to look up at Mal.

“I’d like to feel you come,” she whispered, “may I?”

Mal nodded silently, and Rory drew her hand further down Mal’s body, tucking it up under Mal’s own hand, and teasing her entrance with her fingers. Mal gasped and pushed down, wanting Rory’s fingers inside her but Rory giggled and moved with her, keeping up the light teasing.

“I thought you wanted to be inside,” Mal said dryly. Rory giggled, and finally slid her fingers into her.

Eyes fluttering shut again, Mal bit down on her bottom lip as she was assailed with sensation on all sides, Rory’s mouth, her fingers, the smell of her hair, Mal’s own fingers. She could feel her orgasm building, thighs feeling weak and heavy, a knot of tension building low in her stomach. Rory’s fingers curled and uncurled inside her and Mal’s own hand sped up, fingers circling hard and fast and slightly unsteadily as she heard small helpless noises coming from her own throat.

Finally, with a strangled ‘fuck’ and a particularly hard curl of Rory’s fingers, Mal came, hard and slow, free arm clutching desperately around Rory’s shoulders. Rory fluttered her fingers gently until Mal relaxed, drawing them out of her and wrapping her arm across Mal’s stomach.

She let Mal’s nipple slip from between her lips and moved slightly to tuck her head up under Mal’s chin. Mal sighed and stroked Rory’s arm before catching her fingers and squeezing them. Saying ‘thank you’ would have felt more than a little weird, so she hoped Rory understood.

After not nearly long enough, Rory rolled away from her and sat up, and Mal felt an unaccustomed sense of loss. Impulsively, she reached out and caught Rory’s hand.

“Stay,” she demanded. “I have to leave quite early in the morning, but I’d like to fall asleep with you.”

Rory’s face, which had seemed oddly blank until Mal spoke, broke into a bright grin, and she turned back to the bed.

“Ok,” she agreed. “But I sleep on the left.”

Mal laughed and sat up, moving across the bed and taking the opportunity to slip under the covers.

“Well, that’s handy,” she observed. “I sleep on the right.”

Giggling, Rory clambered inelegantly over Mal, flopping down next to her and rolling into her arms.

“G’night,” she murmured, tucking her head up under Mal’s chin once again.

“Good night,” Mal whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to the top of her head, too tired to wonder at how right this felt.

Translations

1. [Plus fort - harder]

2. [Volontiers - gladly]

3. [Baise-moi - literally kiss me, usually fuck me]

4. [Je t'en supplie - I’m begging you]

5. [Lèche-moi - lick me]

6. [Défonce-moi - fuck me (hard)]

7. [Jouis pour moi - come for me]