A/N: The following content contains sexual imagery that may be considered offensive to some readers. Reader discretion advised.
Arabelle didn’t know how they made it from the dining hall to Nathaniel’s quarters. There’d been a lot of kissing, touching and desperate grabbing that made it impossible for two people to move in any solid direction. Half the buttons on his tunic were undone by the time they arrived and it was a small wonder they hadn’t indulged in more impractical and improper measures, the way they kept backing one another against walls to stoke the out of control fire burning between them.
But somehow they managed, him sweeping her against him with his forearm, lifting her off her feet and making her stifle a squeal of surprise into his shoulder as he fumbled with the door he’d pressed her up against. The solidity of the wood gave way at her back and the two of them stumbled across the threshold and into the lantern-lit privacy of his room.
He kicked the door shut behind them, the echo of its slamming trembling through the keep and likely waking half the staff, but before she had time to feel guilty for it, he cupped her face in his hands and drank deep from her again while she continued working the buttons on his tunic.
Nathaniel traced damp kisses down the stretched curve of her neck and she stopped working those buttons for a moment to enjoy the electric thrill of chills rolling through her as he nibbled and suckled his way upward again and toward her ear.
“I want you,” he breathed across the wet skin before drawing her earlobe between his lips. “All of you.”
“I am yours,” she whispered, turning inward to meet him.
She worked through those buttons, one by one until at last she was able to strip away the woolen fabric. He shook the dangling sleeve loose while Belle traced curious fingers across his bare chest, through the soft hair lining his breastbone before following the trail of it along the taut muscle of his stomach. He quivered under curious, tickling touch, one hand slipping in to grip her wrist and draw her away. She could feel his grin rise against her mouth.
“Does that tickle?”
“Yes,” he hissed when she wrenched her wrist from his hand and moved fingers through the trail of hair leading toward his belt. Deft hands worked that buckle, metal clanging as she freed it and allowed it to drop atop the tunic already lining the stone floor at his back.
“Do you want me to stop?”
“Maker’s breath,” he moaned softly and tipped her face into his again, lips seeking, tongues tasting. “If you stop, I think it would kill me.”
Guided by some inner-resolve she didn’t even know she possessed, she stalked him backward and pushed him onto the bed. Belle paused only long enough to gather the folds of her dress in her hands. She yanked it up over her head and tossed it over her shoulder, standing before him, chest heaving as he stared up at her with wide, appreciative eyes. She felt strange and exposed, a self-conscious hand twitching against her thigh, almost reaching to cover herself.
Nathaniel half-sat, reaching for her hand to stop her. He twined his fingers through hers and drew her those last few steps before tugging her downward with a playful jerk that brought her tumbling against his chest. She fell into him, but he caught and guided her, rolling her onto her back and then moving in above her.
He was solid, lean muscle, rigid but soft in all the right ways, and even still half-clothed, her arching and stretching into him, she could already feel how perfectly their bodies would fit together.
His gentle hand caressed the quivering muscle of her stomach, fingers teasing and tickling above the ties of her smallclothes and making her shiver and stretch into him as he descended into her kiss. For a long time that was all he did: kiss her, and then those kisses began to drift. Across her cheek, down the length of her neck, over her collarbone as his firm hand rose to cup her breast and squeeze. He was still wearing pants, but she could feel how much he ached for her every time he moved against her.
Lower, those kisses drifted, the tease of his tongue darting out to flicker across her breasts, delving downward to taste the flesh of her taut stomach as he slid onto the floor, gripped her legs and jerked her toward the edge of the bed.
Head rested atop her thigh, his loose hair tickled across her skin as his soft lips traced her inner thigh. Both hands rose the length of her legs, arriving at the ties of her smallclothes, circling through them and gently tugging them away as he leaned back a moment and just stared at her, as if willing her to try and stop him.
She wouldn’t dare.
It had gone too far to turn back now. Her heart might have been racing in protest inside her chest, some voice in the back of her mind crying betrayal, but her body was in control and she couldn’t stop if she wanted to. And Maker smite her, she didn’t want to.
The things he did to her… things no one had ever done for her before. With Alistair, everything had been new and exciting, but he’d often been tentative and shy. There was nothing shy about Nathaniel. He was dominating and powerful, and he knew exactly how to bend her to his will. She could scarcely breathe as he brought her to climax, his name spilling in whimpers from her slightly parted lips. His delighted, husky laughter was warm breath across her thigh.
Every part of her felt soft and molten, liquid spilling off the edge of the bed and into his lap so she might writhe against him until he was breathless and eager and unable to hold himself back anymore.
They made love bedside at first, on the floor with her in his lap, him gripping her backside in strong hands, lifting and guiding her body into a rhythm she soon matched on her own. He was in control, eager but perfectly in tune with her pleasure, driven by the sound of her gasping whimpers and desperate cries. Every time she said his name, he devoured it as it spilled from her lips, swallowing her bliss inside himself before kissing across her cheek and speaking in warm, hushed whispers.
“You are so beautiful,” he murmured. “So perfect, so warm. You feel so good. You were made for me.” Arabelle shuddered as he rose into her, driving deeper, drawing her body down harder as he whispered, “Do you like that?”
Barely able to form the word, “Yes,” he talked her through every moment of that incredible and perfect wonder that was their two bodies merged until she no longer knew where he began and she ended. Her thoughts washed over her in waves, fluid but broken as they rushed in and drew back again. He could have been hers. All along. And though some distant part of her she could barely grasp onto kept thinking the Maker was cruel to have held them apart all that time, on the other hand she though maybe she just didn’t understand His design. Maybe she’d been right, and all her experiences prior to that moment had only prepared her for him.
By the time he finally spent himself, they were tangled together in the bed and she almost couldn’t remember how they’d gotten there. Her lips felt numb and tingly when he kissed her with slow, delightful precision, and the muscles in her hips and thighs ached.
Heart thumping in her chest, she felt sated; her sighs of contentment were strange freedom she hadn’t even realized she’d been reaching for.
She stretched into him, slid her slender leg along his and nestled closer. The drafty air of the room cascaded across their flushed and sweat-slick skin, making her shiver. Nathaniel rolled onto his back, setting her free only long enough to draw blankets over them both, and then he pulled her into him again. For a long time she lay in his arms, enjoyed the thoughtful tracing of his fingertips along the small of her back, listened to his heartbeat and his breath.
Slow and thoughtful contented sighs were all that followed for quite some time before he finally nestled his face into her hair and kissed the top of her head. “Did you really ask your father to arrange our marriage, or were you only teasing me?”
A soft snort of laughter escaped her. “I told you I was only twelve.”
“I know, but… I can’t stop thinking about it. Wouldn’t it have been something if things had worked out that way? If this could have always been ours?”
“Maybe we would have hated each other,” she thought aloud. “Resented each other because we had no choice in the matter.”
“My mother and father hated one another,” he lamented. “Loathed the very sight of each other, but I cannot even fathom a world in which I’d ever look on you with scorn. Maker knows I tried…”
“My father and mother were lucky.” She nuzzled her forehead against his hard shoulder, feeling conflicted by the nature of their discussion. “But he refused to give into arranged marriages. He believed in love and only ever wanted me to be happy.”
“Maybe we would have been happy.” He turned his head away and yawned into his opposite shoulder then drew her close again. “Or maybe we wouldn’t have. I guess it’s pointless to even contemplate. It never happened and all that matters is that we find a way to be happy now.”
“I want to be happy. You know, right up until the moment it all went to hell, I held onto hope for you. My brother used to tease me, say I had a very particular type I was attracted to. All the boys I flirted with looked like you.”
“Why do you tease me?” he laughed.
“I’m not teasing. It’s true. I was so infatuated with the very idea of you I feel like a little fool even talking about it. You must think I’m… strange.”
“No,” he said. “I think you’re wonderful.”
“Your father…” She hesitated, a nervous rumble rolling through her. For a moment she’d almost allowed herself to forget what she’d done to his father. She would have given Rendon Howe a quick and merciful death, but he chose to fight her to his very last breath, spitting on her moments before life fled his body as he cursed her and said, “I deserved more.”
“You can speak of him,” he urged her. “I have come to terms… somewhat. As best one can under the circumstances.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything bad about him. It’s just… he came to Highever, you know. He was supposed to bring his men and join my father on the march to Ostagar.”
“That much I do know.”
“I met with them in the hall. My father was there with yours, talking about darkspawn and King Cailan. I don’t know even know why now my father sent for me. To meet Duncan, I guess, to receive your father and offer pleasantries. Rendon told me his son had asked after me, and all I heard was the word son. I remember I told him I would be delighted to see Nathaniel again… He looked at me as if my hair was on fire and said he was talking about Thomas, that Nathaniel was still in the Free Marches. He said Thomas had seen me at a Denerim fair and had been able to talk of nothing else since. He even talked of merging our houses, asking my father if he might reconsider his request to arrange a marriage between the Howes and the Couslands.”
“Thomas was barely seventeen.”
“You know that doesn’t matter when men are planning to merge their great houses and form powerful alliances.”
“Do you think they’d spoken of it before?”
“Maybe with Fergus and Delilah. I don’t know. My father wasn’t keen on the idea when I brought it up, but I was so young it was like a joke to him. Some silly thing his little pup said to make him laugh. He told me I would never forgive him if he did what I asked of him. That one day I’d thank him, and I suppose he was right. I don’t think we would have loved one another well at all if we hadn’t been given a choice in the matter. It would have been… duty.”
“You’re probably right, but things… Everything would have been different then, wouldn’t it? Our families… They might all still be alive.”
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
“It’s something my father used to say.”
“I don’t think I ever understood what it really meant until after it all went to the void. Wishing for something different than what we have been given is a foolish thing.”
“That is a good point, but I cannot help but wonder sometimes when I think about it.”
“There still would have been a Blight,” she pointed out. “Duncan might have had to conscript me. He told me later he’d come to Highever to specifically recruit me, and no amount of protest from my father would have stopped him. Had I been married to you, I don’t think that would have stopped him either. And you… You might have already been at Ostagar with your father and his men, and maybe I would have lost you. I’d have been terribly heartbroken.”
“Or maybe you would have been overjoyed to lose me if you’d been forced to marry me,” he proffered.
“Or maybe we would have been happy together. Who knows, Nathaniel? Arranged marriage or no, I can’t imagine a world in which I’d be happy to lose you. I spent so long wanting you, I just can’t see it.”
“You say that now…” he laughed.
“I do say that now, yes. I feel silly for saying it, but it’s true. I think of a world without you in it and it breaks my heart.”
“Is that why you really conscripted me?”
“Because I let twelve-year-old me run the show?”
Sliding his hand up the length of her spine to draw her in across his chest, she tucked her arm under his and laid down her head again. “Because you couldn’t imagine a world without me in it?”
“I’m relatively sure twelve-year-old Belle was in charge that day. Throwing a fit, unable to fathom the idea of seeing you hang. I should have just set you free. I had no right to force this life on you.”
“I probably would have come back and asked to undergo the Joining anyway.” He shifted a little in the bed, a thoughtful moan merging with a contented sigh. “The armor is quite fetching, and I’ve always had a thing for redheads.”
“Good to know.”
She was grinning—stupidly, and she knew it, but she couldn’t have cared less in that moment. She was sated and blissful and he was so warm. And she wasn’t comparing anything about that moment, about the way it felt to be with him to the only other set of experiences she could draw from memory. On the occasion she allowed herself to indulge in the fantasy over the last few months, she feared she would spend every moment in his arms thinking about Alistair. How different it had been, how strange it felt for her body to answer so eagerly to someone else’s touch.
It was a strange thing, she thought, but the only time she’d thought of Alistair was when she realized she hadn’t thought of him at all. Only Nathaniel, the softness of his hair against her cheek, the feel of her own fingertips tracing across his chest, the sound of his heart beating beneath her head.
“So what happens now?” he wondered aloud.
She couldn’t imagine what he was thinking, but that subtle questions spoke volumes. He was asking about the future. People in search of a one night stand didn’t ask what happened next, unless they were playing some twisted game. At least she didn’t think they did. She’d never had one; maybe they did.
“Where do we go from here, Belle?”
“I don’t know,” she confessed. “Right now I’m very tired and contented. You could ask me to do anything and I would probably say yes, so maybe I should…”
“Close your eyes and go to sleep?” he suggested.
“Could I? Would you… mind if I fell asleep right here? With you?”
“I would be deeply offended if you slept anywhere other than right here tonight, my lady.”
“You know, I never liked to be called that, my lady,” she whispered, turning her face upward and finding his waiting lips. “It always made me feel pretentious, like I thought I was better than everyone else. But there’s something about the way you say it. I like it when you call me that,” she whispered, turning her face upward and finding his waiting lips.
“I live to serve you, my lady.”
And then he was kissing her again, deeply, slowly at first. Each gesture drawn out, lingering and delicious, and then desperation consumed them once more. Forgetting how tired they were, Nathaniel eased her onto her back and came in above her. Arabelle knew there was no turning back, that every moment of her life until that point had been leading her, at times around twists and turns that were difficult to make sense of, but inevitably straight to him.