FIGHTING AND COOPERATING
Ronan was right about the pillows. I'd forgotten how wonderfully easy it was to sleep in Hunter's bed, although I'd been falling asleep in the crowded carriage too, and I wasn't even sure which man it had been to carry me inside as we'd arrived at Hunter's grand house. I knew exactly who was curled up against my back as I woke slowly, the curtains drawn tight to guard against the bright morning sun teasing around the edges.
I rolled over and breathed in the flavor of summer, cuddling closer to the warm chest in front of my nose. The thick staff of Hunter's cock pressed briefly against my belly before inching away.
"Do you hurt, little one?" Hunter asked, voice gravelly and deep.
"No—a bit," I said, wincing at the stinging ache in my throat. I leaned back, the room grey and soft from the muted light, and Hunter's face hovered above mine. I gestured to my throat and he nodded, frowning.
"It's healing quickly, but an uncomfortable process all the same. Can you sit up?" he asked, but he didn't wait for me to try on my own, his arm wrapping around my shoulder and drawing me up to lean against the stacks of pillows at the headboard.
He twisted away from me, and I took the opportunity to nudge at the bedsheets, finding the muscular line of his hip bare at my side.
Hunter growled lightly, correcting the sheets with one hand and holding a tall glass with the other, a hazy, opaque concoction filled with ice chips.
"This will help with the swelling," he said.
I sipped carefully at first—the flavor was confusing, sweet and herbal and a touch creamy—and then more eagerly as the cold liquid soothed my throat with every swallow.
"Thank you," I rasped, pausing to catch my breath.
Hunter ran a gentle finger over my throat, frowning at the bruises. "The oil you used, where did you get it?"
I licked my lips. The problem with lying was the way it always seemed to pile up. "An apothecary," I said, which was true. "Recommended by some of the girls who used to work at the theater." Which was a lie Hunter couldn't check.
"The smell reminds me of something my parents would rub on my chest when I caught chills as a youngling," Hunter said, brow furrowed even as he smiled. "But this is very effective."
Hunter was right—it was only thieves oil, an effective remedy for a cold, but not much against bruising and cuts.
"How is your hand?"
I lifted it up between us. "We should probably change the bandages, but I think it's okay."
I flexed my fingers and they were a little weak and stiff, but I was right—they would heal fine.
Hunter sighed, a heavy arm wrapping around my shoulders. I sank into his chest eagerly. I was wearing the clean slip I'd changed into the night before, the last of the ones I had, and I remembered Hunter draping my dress over the door of the wardrobe after tucking me into the bed.
I kissed the skin in front of my lips, Hunter's collarbone, and rubbed the cool tip of my nose into the hollow there. Tender claws combed gently through my loose hair, untangling the strands from sleep.
"My task in the north is finished," Hunter said softly.
"Oh, Hunter! Why didn't you—Never mind, silly question," I said. I tried to lean back to meet his eyes, but he held me in place and I was too comfortable to wrestle free.
"I would...like it very much...if you would stay with me this week," he said.
I blinked against his chest. Hunter and I had spent more time discussing the idea of being together in any sense than actually doing so, and it was almost as if I'd never expected the offer to arrive.
"For my safety, or because—"
Hunter growled softly, squeezing me in his arms and then rolling us. My back was cradled as I landed on the mattress, and Hunter's hips fell naturally between my own, heavy and surprisingly comforting.
"Because, little one, I have wanted you in my house, my bed, my company, as much as I could have you, for as long as I have known you. And there finally appears to be time...for us." His gaze was as bright as a spotlight on me, his features sharp and fierce.
"My warrior," I murmured, reaching between us to trace my fingertips over his cheekbones and over his jaw.
I was drawing my knees up to frame his hips when the inside of my thigh brushed fabric on his, just a strip, wrapped around the muscle.
"Hunter, are you injured?!" I asked.
"It's nothing," he said, words rumbling with a content purr.
But that wasn't enough of an answer for me, and I scrambled out from under him, fighting for a grip of the blankets. He huffed, relenting and falling back onto the bed as I tore back the bedding.
I gasped as I found not one, but two new wounds. The bandage around his left thigh was tight and there was still a dressing applied to the inside, but there was also a large square taped around his right rib, a vast, purple bruise spreading around the spot like a spiderweb.
"I heal quickly," he said immediately.
"What was your business in the north?!"
"A battle," he said, shrugging his left shoulder. No doubt because the right was still paining him. "We were the victors. These will come off no later than tomorrow evening, little one. Don't fret."
"But it's over now?" I asked, frowning, ignoring the fact that Hunter was half hard too. The bruises are more significant than his arousal, I reminded myself, although there was nothing about Hunter's cock that was insignificant.
Hunter's frown sobered me. "Most likely not. In fact...I believe the theater and my friends at Star Manor may have a common enemy."
I sat back on my heels, blinking back at Hunter. "You...think the murderer was at this house—"