Chapter 72

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So, for the most part, life is good.
Until it isn't.
I resume my morning runs and occasional visits to the training yard to tone myself back up, and prepare to don the hood and cloak once more. I work hard, and after two months, record time, apparently, my stomach is as flat as if I'd never carried a child. I never thought I'd be so glad to put on a corset.
Connor and me go easy. He only goes on one bandit escapade, just to remind the people he's still there. I don't go, because I'm still working on getting back in shape. But we only kiss, here and there. Nothing too far... because we're both still recovering from the death of the child, and doing anything procreational seems like tarnish on its memory, because that's what it was born from.
Then, one night, he clambers into bed while I'm reading a book, sprawled on top of the covers with my legs crossed and my hair pulled back. He groans uncomfortably, stretching his legs and examining the scars down his arms.
"I'm beginning to feel like an old man." He comments, and I glance up.
"You're not even twenty yet."
"So? Maybe I age fast."
I snort. "You'd better not. I don't want you looking like Thomas in another couple of years- in fact, I don't want you ever looking like him!"
"Speaking of which...." He rolls over, frowns, snatches the book from my hands before I can protest, and twists his hand to read the inside aloud in his high-pitched imitation of me.
"Darkness treads, and he is a man
He slinks and skulks and runs and hides
He knocks on a door
He scurries away
And shadow is his name
And now he's dead
He's gone
He's died
The darkness has moved from this world
And lays now
Forever more
Still and cold and pale
And he is no more."
He blinks, then raises an eyebrow at me as I yank the book away. "That's rather ominous...."
I shrug. "I like poetry."
"Never would've guessed," He mutters under his breath.
"So, what were you going to tell me?"
"Mmm? Oh, yeah...." He runs a hand through his permanently tousled hair, and looks up at me through his lashes. The scar is now only a pale white line tracing down the left side of his face over his eye. He, apparently, thinks it makes him look more attractive, in that rugged way he has, now with freshly trimmed hair and slightly overgrown stubble... I could see that. "Well... my father, the plan... I know, it was kind of put on hold, what with the... the... child, you know," He coughs awkwardly into his hand to fill the dark silence left by his words. "But, uh... I've been thinking about it lately... and I-I've pretty much got a plan."
"Alright!" I clap him on the back. "When do we get started?"
He rubs his eyes tiredly. "Eh... don't know for sure. Not for at least another few weeks... there's some supplies I'll need to nick...."
"Like?"
"Aye...." He shrugs uncomfortably. We are talking about his own father's murder. "It's... it's hard. It would be easy just to slip through the window, climb the wall or whatever, and stab him in his sleep. Clean and painless and quick. But... that's cowardly."
I roll my eyes. "Connor, it won't be you doing it. The bandit can be a coward, as long as the goal is still achieved-"
He shakes his head. "No. The bandit has become some sort of... idol, for the townspeople, truly. And I don't want them to see this man suddenly as a cold-blooded murderer. That's why it's taken me so long to think of a way to do it... because it has to be done... but to do it in the most honorable way possible, a way justifiable and right in the eye of the law."
I nod. "Alright... and that is?"
"Ah...." He squirms and burrows under the covers, and his voice in muffled by layers of thick blankets. "I don't really know... I've got this vague idea, and that's it. So... I'll tell you... once it makes any sense at all."
"You confuse the living Hell out of me."
"I enjoy doing so."
Then I feel his hands on my hips, and I sigh.
"Connor...."
"Hollie...." He purrs back, purposely trying to arouse me with that playfully deep, powerful voice. His hands slide around my knees then slip under my dress and hold my thighs with their gentle strength.
"Not tonight, Connor."
He runs his lips down the back of my neck, though, breathing in my hair.
"I don't feel like that tonight." I say again, more mindfully, but he's already going over the edge. Another hand winding down the back of my nightdress and searching for the ties, and he leans forward and presses his face into mine, nibbling at my ear.
"Ow," I complain when he bites down harder than he meant to. He pulls away, instead cradling his head in the hollow of my neck and shoulder. I close my eyes and inhale the scent of his hair, of sun and life and the lingering tinge of iron from his helmet.
"Will you ever get enough of me?" I whisper as he cocoons his body perfectly around mine in a way that seems now like a tradition. Slowly, does he grip my shoulders and roll me over to face him.
"Never." He breaths. Then he pulls me into him, pressing me into his bare chest and holding me there like he'll never let go, then rolling over on top of me and pressing his weight on me. "Hollie... I'll hold you until death take me or the end of the world. Whichever comes last. I'm never going to let go... not when it's taken me so long to find the courage to hold on."
His lips stroke my forehead, the bridge of my nose and the arches of my eyebrows, and I find my heart speeding up.
"And you said you didn't understand poetry." I tease him, and his hands run up under the back of my dress, stroking my bare skin.
"I never said that."
And now I find myself hooking one leg around his body, looping my thigh over his hip, and he shivers instinctively.
"I thought you didn't want to do this tonight."
"Do what?" I reply, and as I speak I squeeze my other leg under his body, locking them together around his hips and pulling myself forward. His hands grasp my back and pull me into his powerful, deep chest.
"You know exactly what."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." I murmur softly, and I let him slide my collar down around my shoulders, and he runs his lips down my neck, kissing the hollow of the bones, then burying his face in my cleavage. His lips absorb my skin and surges of electricity run up my spine.
"Tell me your plan." I say again. He pops up with a head of tousled lemon hair and scowls, and I hug my legs tighter around his hips until he shudders.
"Hollie, please don't do that unless you're prepared to go all the way. You're giving me a stirring in my loins that makes me tremble...." He growls, and I quickly loosen my grip. Not tonight.
"The plan."
He gulps. "There's no escaping you, is there?"
I smirk. "Think I can't tell when you dodge a question? You want to do it without me, don't you?"
He closes his eyes, and his hands massage my lower back. "How do you always know these things?"
"Intuition."
"That was rhetorical."
"I know."
He sighs. "Alright... are you ready to do this?"
I blink. "Considering the fact that you're on top of me, I'd like to ask exactly what we'll be doing."
He snorts. "We've already done that, love, I'm afraid. Are you ready to kill the king?"
I swallow my fear, and look him directly in the eyes.
"Hell yes."

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