“I suggest a walk in the gardens.” Loren dropped a quick kiss on the back of her neck. “I need some fresh air and moonlight to clear my head.”
She wished his lips had lingered just a moment more. Frowning at her wayward thoughts, she tried to distract herself. “Good idea not to have been armed.”
He chuckled. “They do not allow weapons in ministry meetings for much the same reason.” He stepped around her and offered an arm. “Shall we?”
They walked in silence through a series of corridors and rooms until Loren led her through a small unassuming door into paradise. Dara stared at the profusion of night-blooming flowers and colorful mage-lit fountains. She couldn’t have dreamt up a more romantic setting for lovers. “Why would anyone plant a garden just seen at night?”
“Being king means many sleepless nights. Granna wanted a place of peace and perspective. Would you sit or walk?”
The scent of the flowers was almost cloying, and Dara noticed their soporific effect. “Walk,” she answered, shaking off the creeping lethargy. “What are these flowers? I won’t be drugged.”
“Be at ease. They have a relaxing effect but shall not affect your mind nor bring you to harm. Trust me.”
Dara did. Now when had that started? She sat down on a bench and willed herself to relax. Willed the world away. Peace. Sanctuary. Moonlight poured over them. Loren’s silvery hair shimmered pale blue from the nearest lit fountain. She closed her eyes, letting the sound of the fountains and the scents of the flowers wash over her. Loren sat aside her and pulled her closer. She relaxed against the warmth of his body, hearing his heart beat beneath her ear. His clean masculine scent wove through the lesser scents of distant flowers. His was a familiar presence—she felt complete when he was with her, safe and comforted within his arms.
Such strong arms. Her savior, her anchor.
She snuggled closer, feeling oddly boneless. She loved his scent. She’d never had time to appreciate it afore. Now, in the magical stillness of the garden, it did odd things to her stomach, made her tingle in secret places. She almost felt the brush of his lips on the side of her neck, and quivered with the memory. What was it about him that made him so different from other men? Always afore men had left her indifferent. But not Loren. One touch, one kiss and she yearned to rub against him like a kitten. She wished this moment could go on forever. Purring, she nuzzled his neck.
“Dara?” Her name on his lips was the merest whisper.
She dragged open her eyes to look at him. His green eyes gleamed teal, dark with a heat that made her quiver with unspoken yearning. Loren slid a hand up her arm to curl his fingers behind her neck, caressing her skin with barely there tenderness. She leaned in closer, unable to stop herself. When he dipped his head to brush her lips with his, she met him more than halfway.
The kiss started out gentle, coaxing, as Loren worshipped her lips. But heat rose quickly, and Dara found herself growing needy, impatient. With a whimper, she opened her mouth under his, stroking her tongue across his lower lip. She tangled her hands in his hair, pulling him closer. Loren’s kiss turned hot, aggressive. His arms tightened around her as his tongue stroked hers. Dara shook with need, and tension coiled deep within her. His lips moved to her ear, raining a trail of fire down the side of her neck. Eagerly, she tilted her head to the side. His fingers brushed the side of her breast, and she gasped as her nipple pebbled against her gown. Her body awakened with a need all its own.
She barely recognized the breathy whisper as her own voice. Loren shuddered, cupping her breast in his hand. Dara choked as his thumb circled her nipple, sending darts of almost painful pleasure deep into her. His touch made her reel, and she clutched his shoulders, digging her nails into the plush velvet of his shirt. A twinge of unease, uncertainty, shot through the haze of new passion. Her body protested, reveling in the shivers aroused by his touch.
Loren stopped, pulled back, forcing her to look at him. His face was flushed with passion, and his eyes glittered. “Easy,” he soothed, rubbing a hand up and down her back as if she were a nervous horse. “Do not be afraid. I know this is new for you. If you would stop, I shall.”
She didn’t want to, that was the problem. A part of her was all for dragging him off to somewhere more private—a part of herself she’d not known existed. Who was this creature of passion and fire that consumed every rational thought in a blaze of heat and need? She didn’t recognize herself—and that scared her.
Loren took a deep breath. “I feel your fear. What if we just walk about for a bit?” He rose, stiffly, and pulled her to her feet.
Dara bit her lip and fidgeted. She looked everywhere but at him.
“Hey.” He placed a hand under her chin and looked into her eyes. “You are beautiful, Dara. It is easy to get carried away under the moonlight, but I would never force you, or hurt you. Always you can trust me.”
She knew that, but had a sinking feeling it was herself she couldn’t trust.