Francis slept like a man without enemies. Deep and sound. That was one of the things Estella liked best about him. It spoke of competence and confidence and certainty. It also pissed her off. She sat on the other side of the room, legs tucked up tight against her chest, watching him. She was seriously considering stabbing him in the back, just to teach him a lesson, just to show him that it was foolish and dangerous to be so trusting.
“Why are you staring at me, little star?” He rolled over, finally awake, stretching the long line of his body beneath the fine linen sheets.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Oakmen,” she said, ignoring the way his laugh made her feel weak and girly. “I was just thinking. And not about you.”
“What troubles you?” He sat up, the sheet falling away from his body and pooling low on his hips. He looked at her with his head tilted to the side like an inquisitive kitten. This was a side of him only she saw, and only in moments like this, when he was sleep rumpled and naked and deliciously spent. She loved and hated him in equal measure for sharing this part of himself with her.
As the captain of the princess’s guard, he was known to the rest of the Light Elvish as a stoic warrior, as a hard ass who rarely smiled and never joked. That rigid, unrelenting man would be a lot easier to disappoint, to hurt, to kill if it became necessary, than the one staring at her with genuine concern in his diamond eyes.
“I have no troubles,” she said.
“Liar.” His voice was smooth and warm, like a well-worn pebble in the sun.
She shrugged, unwilling to discuss it. Her greatest trouble was her inability to kill the child he was sworn to protect. Hiding that from him, a man known for missing nothing, was an effort. Over the years, it had turned their attempts at conversation stilted and awkward. She liked it better when they didn’t talk.
“I need you to go,” she said.
“But I want you to come.”
He opened his arms and she went to him, unable to resist. She climbed into his lap, sat facing him with her legs straddling his trim waist. While he kissed her deep and wet and soft his thumbs brushed back and forth against the small of her back, sending waves of pleasure along her spine.
“You can trust me, you know,” he whispered against her neck.
She doubted that but didn’t say so. “I do.”
“Then tell me what’s on your mind, little star.”
Revenge was on her mind. Always revenge. It seemed to Estella that only days had passed since Queen Gwendolyn, her best and only friend, had been driven to suicide by the pain of being raped and ruined by the Dark King and then forced to bear his child, but somehow a decade had slipped by. It was ten years to the day since she’d promised her Queen she would kill the princess before the taint of Darkness the infant carried spoiled everything that was clean and bright in the Worlds. Ten years of failing to make good on the promise.
“It is the exiled Princess’s birthday tomorrow,” she said, leaving him to draw his own conclusions about the effect that news had on her mood.
“She invited twelve little girls to Witchwood Manor for a sleepover party.” Francis chuckled. “Maybe I’ll come back here to you.”
“No. Don’t,” she said quickly. “I won’t be here.”
“You’re hardly here now.” he chuckled. “It’s lucky I know how to get your attention.”