It was a short time after Kyrstof had left Anya on her own again that Selene returned to finish helping the young woman. Between them both thick matted hair was combed free of tangles and dirt and washed once more soon after falling in a ragged sheet of golden blonde well beyond slim hips. Skin that had been snowy white so long ago was now a silken honey under a haze of moisturizing oils and steam. Cracked nails trimmed and filed, though short, were clean and even. All it had taken was a lot of tugging and scrubbing and patience.
Wrapping herself in a deliciously heated towel after stepping from soothing waters Anya turned wary eyes towards where the young girl stirred a small pot of cooling sugar wax. Next to it was a short pile of thin cloths. The golden brown mixture would rid her skin of hair that had long been untended. Out of everything that transformed her from the ragged mongrel of Hayden’s camp to some semblance of her old self this was what she had been least looking forwards to. The oil and sugar would smooth her skin and leave a sweet taste upon it; mingling well with the fragrant scents of scrubbing salts which had already exfoliated her rough flesh. Every sharp yank of each cloth quickly after soothed by a numbing balm that smelled of sweet chamomile.
Selene had been able to hide the shock and disgust from her face so long as Anya’s back was to her. The scars that were revealed as she helped her turned her stomach, reminding her why she was blessed to be born free. Nearly finished, she helped her into the long green dress, pulling the delicate laces tight and frowning slightly when it was clear she could have taken it in even more then the laces allowed. It was a good thing that the Kassar had approved a hearty meal for them because she was certain that Anya needed every bit and more. “I hope that you like berries and cream.”
Angling her head to catch a glimpse of the one so patiently helping her, Anya smiled gratefully and nodded. Hayden had kept her well fed after he was able to get her to eat again but it was mostly dried fruits, unleavened bread and dried meat. It would be a wonderful thing to enjoy fresh foods once more.
With a delicate sigh and soft smile, Selene quickly trimmed up the ends of her hair so that it was not so uneven before tidying up the basket and Anya’s toiletry roll handing it back to her. A simple set of slippers were set before the petite slave girl the slightly weathered color matching that of the time softened dress. While it seemed those last moments of time had slowed it had just continued to tick by until it was time for her to move along the main halls back towards her Master’s room; ‘our room’ as he had said.
Another soft smile was given to the girl that had helped her so much without making her feel pitied. She wished that she could tell her of her gratitude but it was beyond her and she prayed that her smile was enough. When they parted ways in the foyer, Anya was shocked at the quick and brief embrace she received before Selene ducked towards the kitchen motioning for her to wait there for a moment. All of it occurring under the curious lift of her father’s brow where he stood behind the desk. Confused, she didn’t realize that she was just standing there until a man cleared his throat behind her. Sudden fear gripped her chest despite the comfort she’d been feeling keeping her from turning around to face the source of the sound.
Slightly irritated that the young woman his daughter had just so openly hugged refused to look at him the Inn Keeper stepped out from behind his desk not recognizing the once dirty slave the Kassar had brought in with him earlier that morning. “Here now, who are you?”
Jumping slightly at the tone of his gravelly voice, Anya encircled her chest in a tight hug as wide golden ringed eyes turned to look at him over her shoulder. The brilliant spheres wary, knowing that she couldn’t reply to him and not knowing what his reaction would be if she didn’t.
“By the High Council, girl you look as though I’m going to beat you,” exasperated he rested his fists on his round hips and glared at her. “What are you doing here? I don’t remember you coming in with anyone.”
She turned her spine ramrod straight as she had to fight the urge tooth and nail to kneel before him. Swallowing against the desert of her throat she glanced to the kitchen then back to him. Her tiny figure took a step back when he snorted and hollered out for his daughter to hurry up. The equally petite girl poking her head from the kitchen a short moment later to let him know that she just had to grab the wine for the Kassar’s meal. Selene’s response left him grumbling, not once did he look away from the bundle of nerves standing there in his foyer and in a dress he could have sworn he’d seen his daughter in not even two seasons past.
The moment he realized who he was looking at his eyes turned into saucers and it was his turn to take a stuttering step back; his reaction completely throwing Anya for a loop. He kept trying to say something but it wouldn’t come out as his eyes went from her tiny feet up along the soft sway of green fabric to a tightly nipped in waist. Ribs flared before small handfuls of soft breasts filled out the upper bodice beneath slightly curling lengths of golden blonde hair. He reached her eyes and was met with a confusion that equaled his own.
“You’re the Kassar’s girl?”
Shocked by the question Anya nodded in response quickly dropping her eyes now that he realized who she was. Fear began to tingle along her spine. Worry welling up as she feared that he might tell Kyrstof of how she brazenly looked him in the eyes.
“You look nothing like this morning. Does he know that this was beneath all of that grime?”
Shaking her head meekly, she stiffened as he moved to circle her. A glance to his profile told her that he was astonished by what had been uncovered. She didn’t know whether to feel pride in that for her Master or to worry that she’d changed too much.
“Dad, stop circling her like a starving carrion bird,” Selene jokingly admonished as she finally rejoined them; her small soft hand resting against Anya’s arm even as she gently shooed the older man back to his desk. “I am certain that her Master will appreciate your approval of how she looks.”
He balked and huffed. His cheeks coloring slightly as they started towards the stairs, “just… just get her to his room. Some of the others should be getting up by now.”
“I will,” smiling at him, she turned her soft grin to Anya and entwined their arms as she hurried them up the stairs; a heavy bottle of wine weighing down her other hand. “I must apologize for my father, he doesn’t get out much and even my mother says he was never really one to know what to do around pretty women.”
Caught in the little family whirlwind she was still stuck wondering over the comment about the other guests before she could focus on Selene’s apology. Tilting her head to show her confusion Anya couldn’t help the slight blush that crept across her cheeks at the compliment.
“Oh, what, you don’t think that you’re pretty?” She let out a bark of laughter at Anya’s humble glance down at their moving feet which slightly startled the older woman. “Your Master is going to be speechless, Anya, just you see. I was. Whatever happened to you that caused you to hide like…” Shaking her head when she realized that train of conversation might bring up bad memories. Selene just smiled again, “forget what I said. I saw your Master earlier and he kept looking back at the bathhouse as he came back inside. He wants to see what you look like.”
It all was startling how much this girl was trying to ease her fears and complimenting her after seeing the scars that slashed and bored into her skin. Granted her face had been relatively untouched but her worries weren’t so much about her outward appearance. It was what lay beneath the clothes and in her mind and heart that she feared the most.
Coming to a stop outside of the Kassar’s room both women looked to one another again. The youngest smiling sweetly, encouragingly, as she handed Anya the bottle of wine. All Anya could do was look from it to Selene slowly returning the girl’s smile before her eyes perked and she motioned for her to wait. Curiosity got the better of the young woman as Anya carefully handed her back the wine and opened her toiletry roll. The delicate barrettes and pins hidden beneath a layer of fine silk at the end of the roll were revealed. A lovely comb of carved ivory with expertly painted flowers edged by gold was offered without hesitation.
“Are you… Is this for me?” Selene watched as Anya nodded urging her to take it, which she did out of pure shock. Her slightly calloused fingers delicately clinging to it as she thumbed the spines while Anya rolled the pouch back up. “I can’t take this…”
Surprised, Anya looked to her, reached timidly to cover the girl’s hand over the comb and press it towards her.
“It’s too pretty. This is too much.”
Blowing a lock of hair from her eyes, Anya smiled and gave another soft push of Selene’s hand before filling her free one with the wine bottle so that she couldn’t take it back.
“Really? Are you sure?” Shoulders slumping, Anya looked down at the clothing she was wearing then back at the girl before her as if that would explain it all and though Selene couldn’t really understand she didn’t want to protest too much and find them under her Master’s attention. “Thank you, I’ll take really good care of it.”
Anya’s smile brightened to its full potential surprising the other woman once more before they parted ways with another brief hug. A few short moments were taken to herself in order to gather herself before appearing to her Master. She’d learned many things about him that morning. He was not just the warrior that he appeared to be but a man of title. The knowledge that he came from common blood shouldn’t have soothed her but it did.
Clutching her possessions against her chest she took a deep breath and reached out to knock on the sturdy wooden door. For a moment she was left worrying that he’d stepped out when no voice or sound greeted her first attempt. A second, questioning, knock earned a reaction and she realized that she had been holding her breath. The low rumble of Kyrstof’s voice rose to meet her ears and shortly after the lever clicked and the scent of hot meat and fresh bread slipped through the open portal to greet her.
The growl of her stomach went unheeded as her Master filled the space that had once let her glimpse the variety of foods inside. His cobalt eyes were startled by the figure that stood before him but she didn’t notice that either. What she did see was a broad chest loosely covered by soft creamy linen; the deep V revealing strong stretched flesh deeply tanned by the sun pointing down to where it disappeared into fitted pants. If she thought her throat had been dry before it was nothing compared to how it felt now. A shudder tickled her spine at the sight of his body molded by dark brown cloth. As a woman there was no way that she could not react to pure masculinity of his figure.
What she couldn’t see were the reactions of her own figure. A figure that had Kyrstof taking her in like he would water in the desert. His fingers gripped the door until his knuckles were white. Her hair captured the light that flowed through the room’s open windows turning it several shades of gold. Her eyes, shadowed with something he dared not call lust, had darkened slightly beneath honey brown lashes almost long enough to caress her cheeks; once cracked lips were smooth and tinted to match the flush that spread across her face; her breathing shaky. The whole sight of her had his blood pounding.
The sound of her name almost growled from the chest before her tore her from the delectable path her gaze was taking. The briefest glimpse of strong bare feet left behind as she looked up into eyes that were almost black. Strong fingers reached out to her gathering a thick lock of hair and drawing her into the room without so much as a tug. She couldn’t look away from him not even when his touch let golden silk slip away to fall gently against her cheek. Her pulse thrumming against his smallest finger as it traced along the heated flesh. This tension was something she had never experienced before.
Anticipation for something she had no pleasant memories of should have sent her running right back out the door but instead of hurting her, he was caressing her skin almost as if he didn’t believe what stood before him. His thumb followed the plump line of her lower lip, shaped the soft hollow of her cheek and traced the inner seam of her jaw and ear. He was so close but it wasn’t suffocating as it had been when Kaduna stood before her. He wasn’t trying to overtake her, allowing her the space to step away if she needed and that drew her in all the more.
Almost like a dance they shifted so that he could close the door and set the lock. The resounding click of the bolt catching a peek from her but it was quickly redirected back to him as long fingers combed up along her nape to cup the back of her head. A gentle press urged her to look up at him while he relieved her of the leather roll and wine. There was their meal waiting for them but he was savoring the vision before him. Even having seen her in the baths he had not expected this to be the final product. Her eyes, so big and open, showing every emotion that warred in their depths pulled him in until he realized that his forehead pressed against hers. Anya’s breath warm against his lips.
She hadn’t stopped him nor did she pull away. It was as if they were both lost in some strange spell that blocked out everything else except for the other. Her eyes became hooded with every bit of distance that disappeared between them but just before she would feel the temptation that teased above her lips he angled his head, brushing the soft stubble that dusted his jaw against her silken cheek. Hot breath caressed her ear and neck making her shudder and fully close her eyes, reveling in the sensations that coursed through her body. The shiver tracing her spine arched her towards him with a delicate gasp. Slender fingers finally reaching out to bury into loose linen. Their tips scorched by the heat of his body.
This was not what he’d planned on happening but there was absolutely no thought to what was happening. Her eyes had only been a peek of the beauty that lay beneath. He had to touch her just to be certain she was real. There was some small part of his mind wondering if Hayden had ever had the blessing to see her as he did now. The tiny scars that couldn’t be hidden by her hair or clothing made her all the more alluring; beautiful imperfection, he had just been able to keep himself from kissing her. He knew that if he did he would be far to weak to pull away before possibly causing irreversible damage to the trust that wove between them.
A single day was all it had taken to completely change his life and he was far from regretting it. The scent of her skin hovered just beneath his lips as he drew her softly against him with a gentle press against her head. The difference in their height drawing him up and letting him pressed his head against hers. The scent of her hair as intoxicating as her flesh; everything smelled like flowers and honey. It was the hardest thing for him to draw back, capturing her cheek once more so that his thumb could caress the lips he wanted so badly to taste.
“You have surpassed anything I imagined, Anya, so much I fear I may not be able to stop until I have discovered all that has been uncovered.”
Cold without his body pressed so wonderfully against her, she found herself breathless as well as she took in his words; shimmering tears teasing golden lashes above a trembling smile. She had not wanted him to let go, a thought that both surprised and slightly worried her but she simply couldn’t feel fear beneath his touch and that was even more confusing. She wanted to cry and laugh and just fall apart against him, her fears of how he would react completely decimated under the heat of his gaze. Pushing away all decorum, she all but leapt up to bind him in her arms, pulling his tall frame down into a tight hug.
His deep rumbling chuckle filled the room as she was hauled tight against him and lifted from her feet, his steps turning them towards the table so he could finally set down the bottle and parcel he held. Anya, on the other hand, remained in his arms, his unhindered hand spread against her side as an arm curved beneath the soft curve of her bottom allowing her the chance to be taller than him. Her delicate fingers gripped his shoulders as she looked down at him unable to hold back her smile.
Anya’s seat upon his arm was soon after shifted to his lap when he took to his own chair at the table his arm shifting to brace her back, fingers tangling in and out of her hair where it rested against her shoulder blades. The unexpected nuzzle against his neck bringing their lips far to close once again and this time he was unable to resist. The barest brush caressed her mouth when she lifted her eyes to his again. He didn’t apologize, embracing her cheek with into the heat of his palm and drawing her back to him when she pulled away in surprise. It was gentle, testing, giving him that taste that he’d desired the moment her scent touched his nose. The flavors of honey, lanolin and peppermint teasing his tongue as it swept the line of her lips. There was no stopping the growl of pleasure that trembled against her fingertips when blunt nails raked over the firm plane of his chest and a tiny body shifted upon his lap trying to get closer to him.
One final taste and he pulled back the tip of his nose playfully touching the tip of hers, his own smile broadly conquering his face. Whatever bewitchment she had cast upon him he cared not. The moment he had a chance he would seek out his scribe to pen a letter of gratitude to Hayden for casting such a ‘terrible burden’ upon him; one that curled against him contentedly and gripped the front of his shirt as if she never wanted to let go.
Finding his voice he curled a finger along her jaw, “are you tired?”
She shook her head far too mesmerized by the intimate embrace they’d just shared to think of anything but the spice of cinnamon and wine that flavored his mouth.
“Well, I think we should try to eat then. Our hosts have made us quiet the feast and I would hate to make them think we are not grateful,” reaching around her so as not to disturb her from the welcome way she huddled in his lap, he dipped a piece of fresh flakey bread into a thick pool of honeyed cream and berries. The sweet mixture drawn to her lips to entice her to eat, “you may have as much as you’d like. Eat anything that appeals to you, Anya. We will stay here tonight and set off for my home in the morning so that you can rest a bit more.”
Sitting up, she gently captured the offered bite in her teeth, a small hand lifting to cover her mouth as she chewed peeking up at him through the flush that burned across her cheeks. The amusement that lit up his eyes was not mocking and further encouraged her. Turning to the bounty that was laid out for them, she carefully lifted a small bowl filled with layers of rice, coddled eggs, hearty cuts of tender meat and thin sliced vegetables. A spicy sauce soaked the dish with its fragrant aroma. The mound was undisturbed and when she broke into it with the long welled spoon it still steamed in the center. A brief glance to him found his eyes watching her but he did not interrupt as she cooled it with a soft blow from sweet lips and took a testing bite.
The slight tearing of her eyes told him of the spice but she finished it, swallowing the dish that she would find was common in his home. He had asked for several that one would find in the lands of his birth to see which she preferred. When she took a larger scoop and twisted in his lap to offer it to him, he couldn’t help but take her up on her offer. Their eyes locking over the steamy curtain between them as he took a bite without a flinch as to the heat of the spices; swallowing his laughter at the narrow-eyed pout she gave him when he didn’t react.
“Eat. Much of these are dishes you will eat in my home. I’m used to them, and they are by far not the spiciest in my region.”
Looking down at the food that still tingled on her lips she was clearly surprised to know that they were mild in comparison to what he might usually eat. It was something that she would have to get used to but it also gave her an idea of where he was from - the lands of Iskalo. A region buried with in deep lush forests, rich in spices and sweet fruits, it was known for finely tooled textiles and their spicy foods. His stallion should have tipped her off earlier if she had been of a mind to pay more attention. The feral beast made for moving through and over thick roots and uneven terrain. Clawed paws in places of hooves to grab and maneuver quickly away from sleek predators. His dark features another clue that told her she was right in her assumption.
Lost in her own thoughts she continued to eat despite the fire that spread through her body. Kyrstof content to watch and pick at plates he had already tasted of prior to her arrival. A comfortable silence covering them in a soothing blanket as they took their time to eat and drink their fill. Sharing from each other’s plates and fingers until a soft yawn broached Anya’s lips leaving her to curl against him for a long needed rest. Tiny fingers toying with the tips of his hair in her sleep while he simply held her close with a stein of mulled wine held loosely within his fingers.