It was much later when she left the library. She and the Brothers had talked for a long time. It was clear that they no longer thought of her as their slave. They’d even asked her to help with their estate’s accounts. Only Mace had ever had formal learning in that regard and he’d had little interest in it, leaving home before his education had been anywhere near complete. Neither of the others had ever owned property before. The running of a large estate had, of course, been a large part of her education as a freewoman. She found that though the Brothers’ wealth was sizeable, their books were in much disarray, and it would take time to untangle the mire of the keep’s finances. There were other problems as well, she realised now that they spoke freely in her presence.
Having little experience with how an estate was run, they were quite ignorant of the day-to-day duties that needed to be performed both in the keep and for the local people who lived on their land. An estate such as this could improve the lives of all if it was managed correctly. But it was not. And the Brothers were not popular with the local free-folk. They also needed more people to staff the house, which they couldn’t easily get because they were so disliked. It was too much for Davas and one slave. She got the impression that they would not be purchasing any more of those, which she was glad of.
Unable to sleep, she went to the belly of the keep, hoping the warm waters would soothe her mind as well as her body. When she entered, she found Lucian already there.
She froze and turned to go with an immediate apology, but he stopped her by clambering from the pool. ‘Stay. I was about to leave myself.’
Her eyes widened as he stepped from the water without hesitation, the wetness making his body glisten in the light from the torches. She knew she should turn away, but she couldn’t bring herself to. Like the others, he was built like a god, but his arms and chest, his abdomen – everything was more honed. The V that led down … She swallowed hard as a sudden desire tore through her, forcing herself to look away. He seemed unaware of her predicament as he dried himself, ignoring her.
She found herself in front of him and gently ran a hand over his shoulder. He stilled and slowly looked up at her.
‘I don’t trust you,’ she announced.
‘I know. I hope that one day I give you reason to, though.’
‘I want …’ She trailed off. She didn’t know how to say it, even.
His lips curved up slightly and his hands cupped her face gently. ‘I know what you want and I would give it to you, Kora.’ He closed his eyes and groaned. ‘I would lift you up and pull your legs around me. I’d play with you until you begged me to fill you.’
Her breath quickened as she imagined his words, her eyes closing as her core seemed to pulse. She was enjoying his torment for once and couldn’t help the whimper that burst from her lips.
Then he continued, cooling her ardour. ‘But after all I’ve done…’
She put a finger to his lips to stop him. She didn’t want to remember how it had been. What was she doing here? ‘My body doesn’t seem to understand what my head is able to grasp so easily.’
He chuckled softly and stepped away from her. ‘Let me go, would-be ravisher.’
She’d put her hands on his chest, she realised. She stepped with him, keeping her hands on him. ‘What if I don’t want to?’ she tested.
He cocked a brow and looked into her eyes. ‘You said yourself you don’t trust–’
She closed the space between them and took his lips with hers, silencing him. He was right, of course he was, but she couldn’t deny herself just a kiss. She deepened it and heard him growl as he gripped her arms, keeping her at a distance, though his body shook with need.
Finally he pushed her back gently. ‘You test me,’ he panted, ‘but I won’t give in, not until the past is behind us and I’ve proved myself to you.’
He twisted away from her and was gone, leaving her alone by the pool, wishing he hadn’t suddenly sprouted morals but also thankful that he had, because she was suddenly realising how weak her resolve was where the Brothers were concerned.