When Ginna woke the cave was dark, save for the low orange glow of coals from the dying fire and the distant daylight streaming through the entrance. She stretched onto her back only to discover she was alone, and as she leaned up to scan the shadows, she quickly reached down into her pocket and then sighed relief. Her jewel was still there, but Brynjolf was nowhere to be found.
She got up slowly and wandered toward the edge of the cave, shielding her eyes against the dull burn of sunlight. She didn’t make it very far before she heard soft, clear singing and the splash of water in the stream just downwind from where they’d slept. Following the sound of his song, she listened curiously to the words as he sang.
“I once had a sweetheart, I loved her so well. I loved her far better than my tongue could tell…” Ginna ducked behind a tree as she came to the stream, her gaze lingering over the pale white skin of his broad, freckled back before he dipped below the surface. He came back up singing and slicking his wet hair back with his hands. “Her parents they slight me for my want of gear, so adieu to you Molly, since you are not here.”
He swam out deeper into the stream, long legs kicking up out of the water as he dove down and sprang back to the surface to belt out another verse of song. “The people were saying no two e’er were wed, but one had a sorrow that never was said. And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear, and that was the last that I saw of my dear…”
Chuckling into her shoulder, she started toward the riverbank and didn’t stop until she stood next to his clothes, her mind toying momentarily with the notion of swiping them and taking off. It’d teach him a lesson, that was for sure. He turned over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of her, his face lighting up with a grin. “Don’t even think about it. I’ve not an ounce of shame, lass. I’ll chase you all the way to Cyrodiil stark naked and swinging if I have to.”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Come on in.” He splashed toward the shore. “Water’s fine.”
After a week in that cell, she could use a bath to wash the grime and stink from her skin. Without hesitation she bent to draw off her boots and then lifted the hem of her dress, drawing it up over her head and tossing it down by his clothes. Slipping out of her undergarments, she strode toward the water’s edge in naught but her skin and dipped her big toe in to test it. Spoiled and used to the bathhouses in Cyrodiil, it was frigid enough for her to draw back with a surprised squeal.
He grinned and splashed her again, cold droplets specking her skin and sending chills rippling over every inch of her skin, and though his brow was raised with interest, his eyes never left her face. “Don’t be a milk-drinker. Just dive in.”
It felt like ice encased her ankles and calves as she made her way into the water, but the deeper she roamed, the more quickly her body adjusted until she was waist deep and hugging her chest, jaw clenched tight against the will to chatter.
“I thought you were a Nord.”
“My father was a Nord,” she corrected. “My mother was not.”
“There’s no excuse for it then. Nord blood runs through your veins. You should be just as at home here as you are anywhere in this gods forsaken country.”
She dropped down into the water, hoping full emersion would do the trick, but its frigid depths went straight to her head and she swore every sensitive nerve in her body reacted. “Shor’s balls,” she shrieked as she came back up, the expression making him laugh as his gaze passed over her hardened nipples.
“I think you’re already turning blue. Was your mother an Argonian?” he teased.
“My father said she was an Imperial that looked like an Altmer, but his vision and his memory were all too often impaired by cheap ale. For all I know, she could have been a Khajiit.”
“Your life sounds like a broken ballad.” He dipped lower into the water, allowing the tips of his hair to float there on the surface. She watched beads of it dripping down his face and glistening in his beard as they caught in the sunlight breaking through the trees. He reached up a wet hand to smooth them away again.
“Maybe one day you’ll sing it to me. You would have made a fine bard with a voice like that.”
“Bah, there’s no coin in song,” he said.
“From what I’ve gathered, there doesn’t seem to be much coin in stealing these days either.”
“Aye,” he nodded. “But it’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve got good a feeling about you. Maybe you can help me turn my luck around again.”
“That’s an awful bold assumption.” She was starting to adjust to the water, enough that she could wade in a little deeper without the marrow in her bones crying out in protest. “You’ve seen firsthand that my own luck seems to have run dry. What makes you think I’d bring you any?”
“It’s just a feeling. I don’t know, maybe we can help each other back onto our feet again, but we’ll have to trust each other.”
“I put my trust no one.”
“You trusted me enough to sleep with me last night,” he pointed out. “And I did right by you. Didn’t even try to slip my hand into your pocket or your between your thighs. By the by, has anyone ever told you that you snore?”
“I do not snore,” she laughed, gliding her hand across the water and spraying it out to meet him.
He reached for her wrist as he ducked out of the line of fire, slippery fingers tightening gently around it as he drew her across the water to stand in front of him. A bold move for a near stranger, but then she had walked into the water in naught but her skin. It was practically an open invitation.
“At first I thought it was a bear,” he quirked an eyebrow, a devilish grin drawing at the corner of his mouth as his other hand sliced through the water to rest on her immersed hip. “It was terrifying.”
“And just where do you think your hands are roving right now?” She looked up into his eyes, which gleamed with unspoken mischief and flirtation.
“Don’t tell me you don’t feel it, lass.” He took a step closer, bare skin touching skin beneath the water, and she immediately knew what he was talking about. That familiar warmth and tingle sparked in her belly as his gentle hand slid around her waist and dipped in to rest on her bare tailbone, drawing her body even closer to his. “I felt it the minute I saw you at the Embassy and it only grew stronger when we danced together.”
“You mean when I had my blade to your throat?” She lifted her brow.
“Then too.” He drew his lower lip between his teeth, tilting his head to look at her. “Every time I close my eyes, I imagine the things someone like you and someone like me could do together. Cons and shills, heists and rackets. Wreaking havoc and bedlam in every hold of Skyrim, the entire world at our disposal, our pockets brimming with more coin than we can count. Just thinking about it stokes a fire in my groin.”
Those words were foreplay.
She couldn’t deny that those same thrills ignited her own desires, but it had always been a solo yearning, something she’d never imagined sharing with another who knew her passions. Mallus had been a snake, a con-artist and in his own way a thief, but he’d never had any interest in working alongside her. He’d preferred to lay back and let her do all the dirty work while he got rich on her efforts. But the thought of working side by side with someone in that capacity, the thrill of untold riches and success driving them into a frenzy of passion as they rolled around naked in their spoils was so hot she actually thought she felt the water temperature change.
“Being bad is always better with someone else,” he upped the ante with that admission. Beneath the water his tickling fingers slipped over her belly, delving lower until she closed her eyes and muttered no more than a sigh as he explored her. “What do you say, lass?” Lowering his face against hers, he whispered, “Be bad with me?”
“Show me how bad you can be,” she challenged, but the words had barely left her lips before he stole them, his mouth coming down hard on hers in an aggressive assault on her senses that actually made her knees feel weak.
He remedied that weakness quickly, catching her before she could go down, fast hands gripping the backs of her thighs, sinking fingers pressed hard into her flesh when he hiked her against his waist as if she weighed little more than a thread. It took a bit of maneuvering, but he moved fast, his hunger furious as he raised himself into her until she gasped and wrapped her legs tight around him to gain leverage, squeezing, lifting and lowering to meet his every upward thrust.
He was an intense lover, rough and demanding—as if he’d known her before and knew exactly what she liked. It was bliss like nothing she’d ever felt before. A lover who wasn’t afraid to give back everything she gave; just the way she wanted it. She nipped at his shoulder with her teeth and he bit back. They pinched and squeezed, bruising and pushing as they stretched and writhed together like animals. Brynjolf nearly lost his footing on the slippery rocks beneath them several times, but always managed to keep them right and steady when it mattered.
“Come on,” he growled against her neck. “Tell me you don’t feel that!” Suckling lips followed the tantalizing bristle of his beard against her skin as he passed across her mouth, muttering, “I dare you.”
She felt it; though she didn’t exactly know what was feeling. Power, maybe; the epic colliding of two worlds. If they’d been anywhere but in the water, they would have taken down walls and shattered everything in their path with the endless rage and fury of their mutual lust. It was like their skirmish at the Embassy, but without blades, and it could have gone on forever that way if they let it.
She scaled the heights of pleasure rising inside her, and only after he brought her to shuddering climax, her cries echoing through the quiet woods, did he stiffen and release himself, squeezing her tiny body so tight against his, she thought she might break in his arms. Shaking off the chills that danced along his pale, freckled skin, he shivered and loosened his grip on her, but he didn’t put her down. He sought out her lips again, finishing her off with a slow kiss that made her entire body tremble.
“Our bodies fit nicely together.” He lowered his forehead to hers, nuzzling the tip of his nose into her cheek. “Imagine the things we could do if we put our heads together.”
There was no denying that. Their bodies did fit nicely together. She wanted to imagine those things he spoke of, and she wanted to trust him, but trust was not something she’d ever offered easily. Now that she’d felt the cold hard steel of betrayal from someone close to her, she had no intention of ever trusting again. But she did need to get back on her feet, pull together enough wealth and resource for a stealthy reentrance into Cyrodiil to exact her revenge when the time was right.
“Maybe we could help each other,” she decided tentatively. She’d keep a close eye on her back in the meanwhile, and if she could satiate some pent up sexual frustration at the same time, it’d be more than she’d get out on her own.
She disentangled herself from his arms and dropped into the water once more, swimming toward the shore to find her clothes. The heat they’d shared melted away from her body as she rose up into the air, shivering as she dropped down to grab her dress and draw it over her wet form. The fabric grew damp and clung to her in places, but at least she felt a little cleaner.
He waded through behind her and joined her on the pebbled shore, tugging into his breeches while she sat down to slip into her boots. She watched him dress from the corner of her eye, his perfect backside disappearing into the worn black leather of his pants. He turned to face her as he buckled them just below the thin strip of bright red hair trailing down his belly. The damp strands of his hair hung loose around his shoulders, occasional droplets of water slipping down his chest before plunking to the ground at his bare feet.
“So, I’ve got a bit of a scheme I’m cooking up over here,” he announced. “A way to get us back to Riften in style. Maybe get you something warmer and more comfortable to wear than that old thing.”
“I’m listening.” She drew her knees up under her dress and circled her arms around them, hugging herself as she lifted her gaze to meet with his.
“Markarth is teeming with untapped wealth,” he went on. “Between the Dwemer ruins and the silver mines, it’s simply begging for a hit. With the Stormcloaks running the show over there these days, you’ve got packs of randy soldiers who haven’t seen their wives and husbands in months. They’re practically screaming for the courage to step across a line they’ve all been toeing since that bloody war started.”
“And that’s where we come in with vials of mystical Falmer Blood Elixir.”
“Falmer Blood Elixir?”
“Aye,” his face lit up as he painted it out for her. “Make love like a saber cat and crush your enemies like a giant. The things this stuff’ll do for you are absolutely endless, and for a fair price of just fifty septims, how could you possibly turn down the chance to explore your inner-potential in ways you’ve never done before.”
She actually grinned, his enthusiasm sparking a fire in her she hadn’t felt longer than she’d even realized. “All right, and where do we get Falmer blood?”
“Not actual Falmer blood. I take down a deer on the side of the road with my bow and drain its blood into a bucket. We mix it with just enough Alto wine and moon sugar to make it potent, and voila. Instant enhancement.” The excitement in his eyes was more than intriguing. “It’s a two-fold operation. While I work the crowd, taking in their hard-earned coin, you pick their pockets and we’re on our way to Riften.”
“You’re forgetting a few important things,” she started. “For one, we don’t have any Alto wine, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve never touched moon sugar or Skooma in my life. And how do we bottle it? Packaging is everything.”
“We’re just a few miles from Dragon Bridge. We sell our loot from the farm and pick up the supplies we need there.”
“And the moon sugar?”
“That could be a bit of a problem,” he agreed. “There’s bound to be a caravan between here and Markarth. Let’s just hope we happen upon it.”
“And if we don’t?”
“I’ll think of something, lass. Trust me.” He tugged into his shirt, untucking his hair from the collar before lowering his eyes back to hers. He was asking a lot when he’d said those last two words. More than she could give to a stranger, even one she’d just engaged in incredible sex with. “So, what do you say? You game?”
She had nothing else going on, and a few days on the road would definitely give them time to get even more intimately acquainted. She certainly wouldn’t mind that. It would get her back into the thick of things and draw her mind off of her troubles. And if his little scam worked, maybe, just maybe, it would restore a little of her faith in Nocturnal, who she was really starting to think had turned her back on them all.
“All right,” she decided. “I’m in.”
“A woman after my own heart.” Grinning, he held his hand down to her and drew her to her feet. “I knew you couldn’t resist.”