3

When Danielle returned several minutes later, she was wrapped in a white nightgown and a blue robe, with a matching blue sash tied round her waist. She padded into the room and smiled when she saw him stand up from his seat at the table beside the fire, which he'd built up again. He went round the table to pull out her chair and she blinked, then gave him a grateful look as she sat down.

"My lady," he said, retaking his seat opposite her. They bowed their heads in a brief grace, and then he lifted the covers from the dishes and set them on the floor. Danielle's eyes widened as she spread her napkin over her lap, before eagerly setting to. He laughed, watching her.

"What?" she asked, after she had finished her first mouthful. "This is wonderful."

"It is?" It seemed fairly common to him—not anything to match the morning's sumptuous banquet, he was certain—but then he remembered what she was probably accustomed to eating and he closed his mouth. He would enjoy her infectious enthusiasm and enjoy the "simple" meal. With her seated across from him, it was anything but common.

He ate and watched her sigh and hum with each bite—even with each sip of the deep red wine—and he smiled as she swallowed and licked her lips. She seemed unaware of the small sounds she was making, and he delighted in them. She had eaten luncheon with him and his parents earlier in the day, but he realised now that she had been painfully self-conscious and quiet, only speaking when spoken to. And no wonder, given how tired and overwhelmed she must have been. His parents had been kind and gracious, but the Danielle of the afternoon was a pale shadow compared to the Danielle who sat before him now, relaxed and satisfied.

But he watched her, wondering what she was keeping to herself. She had curled up in the chair, her legs drawn close to her chest, and was cradling the goblet—her second—while she watched the flames popping and crackling in the hearth. There was a healthy glow to her skin and a thoughtful look in her eyes. He smiled at the prospect of enjoying such a view for many years to come, and took a sip from his own goblet, content to simply watch her.

After a time, she turned to look at him, and a teasing smile rose on her lips.

"You look very satisfied," she observed.

He chuckled. "I am."

"Good," she replied, and her eyes drifted back to the flames.

He watched her, waiting, then frowned and set his goblet down. "Are you?"

Her eyes flickered back to his and her brows furrowed in confusion. "Am I what?"

"Satisfied." He levelled his gaze, no touch of humour in his tone.

"How could I be anything else?" she asked with a smile, spreading her arms and stretching back. "Look at where I am! Look at who I'm with."

His smile was measured. "It merely sounds as though you think you ought to be."

She toyed with the edge of her robe, and smiled at him. "I cannot complain."

"Yes," he replied. "You can."

"But don't wish to, Henry. I am simply grateful to be here right now. That is enough."

He nodded and pressed his lips together, his smile conceding the point.

She shifted to face him, stretching out her legs until her feet brushed lightly against his under the table.

"So what's this new purpose you've found?" she asked. "You mentioned it when we were at Amboise, but you never told me what it is."

Henry laughed. "I didn't, did I?" He shook his head and relaxed, slouching in his chair, and let his feet settle against hers. "I want to build a university with the largest library on the Continent, and I want anyone to be able to study there, no matter their station. Even the gypsies."

Danielle's smile was wide. "What a wonderful idea!" she said, before taking a sip from her goblet. "Even women?"

His eyebrows shot up and he chuckled. "Now there's a dangerous thought. The prospect of more women like you wandering about, armed with philosophy and apples..."

She shot him a look and he grinned.

"Will you really do it?" she asked, serious again, and he nodded.

"Father thinks it's a brilliant idea."

"It's a lovely idea, enabling everyone to study, but how will the poor pay their way?" She took a sip from her goblet. "And would the nobility tolerate the upward mobility of the peasant class?" Henry blinked as Danielle continued. "How will the working classes qualify for entrance if they are not given sufficient education in their youth, but are instead required to spend most of their days consumed by manual labour?" Henry's frown deepened. Danielle gave him a chagrined smile and looked down. "I'm sorry, my lord. My mouth has run away with me again."

Henry sat forward. "You must stop doing that."

Her brows furrowed. "Doing what?"

"Apologising for thinking."

A small smile tugged at her lips. "No one has ever listened to me as you do," she explained. "Not since my father died, at least."

"More should," Henry said.

Danielle shifted uncomfortably.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I am just...always surprised that you think me worth listening to," she replied. Her gaze slid away from him, focusing on the fire again. "I had not given much thought to a husband," she continued, "but whenever I did, I did not imagine anyone like you."

"Like me? How do you mean?"

She shrugged, looking back at him again with a funny quirk of her mouth. "I had thought men only interested in women for the purposes of—" She glanced towards the bed. "—childbearing, mothering, and housekeeping. But you..." Her brows furrowed as she met his gaze. "You seem interested in me not because of my appearance, but because of what I say."

Henry chuckled, once again finding her feet with his own while still leaning towards her, his elbows on the table. "Oh, don't mistake me for having too many lofty ideals," he said. "I am quite in your thrall."

Danielle blushed and smiled down at the silken edge of her robe.

Grinning, he pressed on. "You are the first thing I have felt passionately about in...well, for as long as I can remember."

Her head shot up. "Surely not! You are exaggerating to provoke me."

"I am not."

"But surely you have argued with your parents about wanting to escape your—" Danielle waved a hand at their surroundings. "—'gilded cage'."

Henry snorted. "All right, yes. I have felt passionately about not wanting a great many things. But that's not the same as feeling passionate about something. Rejecting everything leaves you empty and frustrated. You can't build a life around that. There's nothing there to believe in."

Danielle nodded and looked down, but she was frowning when she raised her eyes to his again.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I just—" She bit her lip, glanced at the fire, then looked at him again. "I don't want you to believe in me. I fear that I cannot uphold such a faith. Someday I will disappoint you, and then where will we be?"

"No," he said gently. "You don't understand." He swallowed and paused to consider his words. "I don't believe in you, not in the way that one would believe in God. But you have enabled me to know what I should believe in." When Danielle blinked, frowning in confusion, he continued. "I have been taught a great many things by a host of people: my parents, my tutors, the priests, my father's advisors, my friends. Some of it they intended to teach me, some of it they were dismayed to find that I had learned. I have seen a great deal of hypocrisy, a great many people who would only use me for my influence. I have been manipulated and tricked, lied to, and laughed at. Oh, not to my face, of course, but I've heard the jokes and the insinuations. I learned quickly that I could not trust most people's words at face value."

"Diogenes with his lamp, looking for an honest man," Danielle murmured.

Henry nodded, his mouth twisted. "Except that I put away my lamp when I put away childish things."

"It is no wonder that you stepped away from me at the masque," she said, her expression tightening. "I had lied to you, too. Oh, Henry, I'm so sorry."

"I know," he replied, reaching across the table. She gave him a tentative smile, sitting forward to set down her goblet and clasp his hand. "But I meant what I said at luncheon: I forced you to continue your ruse. You kept trying to put me off, but I hounded you."

Her answering smile was sad, and he reached out with his other hand to take her free one.

"I hounded you because I was hungry," he continued. "I knew you were hiding your name from me, but you weren't hiding your true self. You know what is real, what can stand the test of hardship, because your life has been hard. You're not idly entertaining yourself with hypotheticals. You have read the philosophers and tested the boundaries. You have lived; you have known loss, and love. You have convictions and you can defend them eloquently."

"Oh, my lord—" she protested, but he squeezed her hands and shook his head.

"There is a solidity in you that has helped me to trust my instincts about what is right. I never wanted to be king before our night with the gypsies, but after what you said, I knew that I could fulfil the obligations that I have been born to. When I was a young boy, I wanted to do good, but the more I learned, the more it seemed that there was no real truth in the world, nothing worth fighting for. There was only the empty march of duties and obligations, isolation, and the pointlessness of tradition. Lacking purpose, I felt directionless, and yet everyone was looking to me, expecting me to lead them one day." When Danielle nodded, Henry pressed on. "You are honest and bold, and you do not think as others do. And when you look at me, you see me, not the crown and the wealth and the political games you can play if you have me in your pocket. You are my match, Danielle." He squeezed her hands and smiled. "The effort of rising to meet you makes me feel so alive!"

"I agree," she replied, grinning. "You are quite a lot of work, you know." He chuckled as she pushed herself to her feet, leaning over the table. Her eyes fell to his lips and he smiled, standing up along with her, but their kiss was awkward with the table between them, so he stepped around it and took her hand.

"My lady," he murmured, drawing her into his arms for a proper kiss, and they sighed together when it ended.

"I am sorry for not staying to tell you the truth at Amboise," she began, and when he made a noise of protest, she stilled him with a finger on his lips. "You think me bold, but I lost the courage to tell you the truth because what you said made me realise that I would break your heart." Danielle's eyes glistened. "You showed me a part of yourself that was too precious to be broken. I couldn't find the right words, but the longer I delayed, and the more you said, the worse it became. I realised then that I wasn't just another courtier for your entertainment. You were crediting me—little me!—with awakening your passion for life, your freedom. You see," Danielle swallowed, resting her palms on his chest, her cheeks aflame. "I've never felt this way for a man before and for this, my first time, to be with the Crown Prince, and for it to mean so much to you—I am just a poor country girl, sire! My only thought was to flee."

He stroked his fingers along her hair and smiled. "I know. You have no need to apologise. Let this be the end of it." He fixed her with a direct look. "Let this also be the end of you calling me 'sire'. You are my wife now." He softened his gaze. "Please, Danielle. Call me Henry."

"Henry," she breathed, closing her eyes, and he smiled and rested his cheek against her hair.

Then he drew back with an incredulous look. "You thought that I entertain myself with the courtiers?"

She blinked. "Well, don't you? The way people speak of you..."

"What people?"

"Well, everyone is always competing to win your favour. You are the Prince, and can take your pick. Surely you've..." She raised her eyebrows suggestively. He let her dangle, purposely waiting for her to finish her sentence, until she finally gave his chest a fond thump. "You know!"

"Yes, I do," he answered, his amusement quickly dying. "And no, I do not 'entertain myself' with the courtiers."

"Why not?"

He gave her a look. "Have you seen them?"

She laughed, but tilted her head in question. "Many of them are very beautiful."

"But empty-headed," he replied, "and the ones that aren't look at me like a prize stag." He shivered, then shook his head and focused on her with a warm smile. "If I was to take a lover, I wanted it to be someone whom I really loved."

Danielle blinked, frowning slightly. "You are not saying this to me only because I am now your wife."

"No."

"But Paulette says—"

"Who is Paulette?"

"One of the two women who raised me. She is a servant in the Baroness's household. She says that men take advantage of every...opportunity. The nobility in particular."

Henry made a short noise. "Some do."

"For most of the men I have watched, it seems true," Danielle said, narrowing her eyes. "Of course, Maurice has only ever had eyes for Louise..."

"And who are Maurice and Louise?" Henry asked, chuckling. "More colourful characters in the Baroness's household?"

"Yes," Danielle answered, grinning now. "And my friend Gustave is their grandson. He's the one who brought Leonardo to free me and make my fairy wings for the masque. Gustave is a wonderful painter; he fashioned my glitter. Under Leonardo's direction, of course."

Henry nodded, making a mental note to find the young man and thank him properly.

"You have truly never bedded a woman before?"

Henry smiled, reaching up to brush his fingers against her neck. "Would you believe me if I said no?"

Danielle chuckled, then coloured and glanced away. When her eyes returned to his, there was something sparkling in them. "Yes, now I would."

"Why now?" he asked slowly, his eyes narrowing, looking forward to parrying her next thrust.

"Because..." And she swallowed, lifting her chin. "...I wasn't satisfied."

His mouth fell open and he bent his head. "Truly?"

She dropped her gaze, demure. "Well, I wanted...more."

"I'm sorry, I didn't realise." Henry swallowed. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I thought you knew how it's meant to go," Danielle answered, finally meeting his eyes. "I was following your lead."

"My lead?" he repeated. "I was following yours."

"Mine?" She gave him an incredulous look. "But I am not a woman of the world."

He chuckled. "And yet you know that my performance left something to be desired."

Danielle blushed, but she did not break from his gaze. "It was an impression only, my lord. I do not wish to give offence."

"You? Not wish to give offence?"

"I never wish it, exactly..."

"Well, since I am now thoroughly offended," he said, smirking at her. "You must make proper amends."

"Oh yes?" she replied. She pursed her lips and stepped away from him. "What did you have in mind?"

He advanced on her. "Clearly, this requires an application of the most enlightened scientific principles." He paused and put a finger on his bottom lip in mock-deep thought. "What is it that Leonardo is always going on about? Oh, yes." Henry fixed Danielle with a look. "Observation, hypothesis, experimentation—" He wiggled his eyebrows at her, and she laughed softly, still backing up. "—and verification."

She bumped into the bedpost and he pressed against her, capturing her mouth in a deep kiss.

"This won't do," she murmured, when he drew back. At his frown, she gestured behind her at the bed. "No sheets." His frown deepened, but she only smiled and took his hand, twisting away from him, and led him towards her bedroom. He gave a soft laugh.

When they reached her bed, however, she paused and turned to him. "I might not be able to accommodate you a second time this evening. There is still some...tenderness."

"That's all right. I expected you'd say that." He smiled. "I wasn't planning to take you in any case."

"Truly? Why not?"

He shrugged. "I...just don't feel ready yet."

"Oh." She blinked, frowning in confusion. "Then how do you intend to...experiment?"

He grinned and raised his hands to wiggle his fingers at her, making her giggle.

"I noticed," he began slowly, "how freely you responded at first, when I just touched you." Holding her gaze, he tugged at the sash of her robe with one hand while sliding his other inside the opening to cup her breast, and he smiled when she drew in a soft breath. He hummed in approval, stroking with his thumb until she clutched at his nightshirt, moving into his touch and allowing him to play. As her soft nipple pebbled under his fingertips, she gasped, and he smiled.

Kissing her softly, he slid her robe down her shoulders until she shook it the rest of the way off. As the cool fabric landed around their feet, Henry tugged at the drawstrings of her nightgown, loosening the neckline and making the white linen fall open. The sliding fabric exposed one shoulder and draped perilously close to the swell of her breast, so he pulled at the strings until the lovely feature was fully in view, then gently backed her up to the bed and encouraged her to sit on its edge. Kneeling before her, he kissed her skin patiently, waiting for some sign to either pause or continue. When she ran her fingers through his hair and pulled him closer, drawing him into the space between her legs, he looked up at her.

She was smiling.

He matched it and turned his head to explore further, nuzzling the soft, warm flesh of her breast, and when his lips drifted over the nipple, she gasped again, tightening her legs around him. With a low hum, he closed his eyes and captured the sensitive tip in his mouth. She made a surprised noise, her hands flexing against his scalp. He could feel her whole body responding and it filled him with a heady delight. Eagerly, he continued suckling—

"Ow!" she cried suddenly, tugging him away, and he looked up at her.

"What—?"

"Too hard," she managed. "Gentler."

"Ah," he replied with a nod, and returned to her breast, but a moment later she tugged on him again.

"I have two of those," she said, smiling.

He gave a soft laugh and saw that the other nipple now formed a tantalizing, visible peak under the thin fabric. "Indeed you do." He moved to widen the opening of her nightgown, but the neckline caught on her opposite shoulder and the drawstrings seemed to keep wanting to get in the way, so he finally just settled back on his haunches to allow her to rise, and they removed the long garment together.

She sat down on the bed, now in just her drawers, rubbing her arms to warm herself, then noticed what she was doing and lowered her hands to give him access again.

Henry chuckled and got to his feet, bending to press a quick kiss to her forehead. "I've been remiss," he said. "Let me just build up the fire."

Danielle gave a soft laugh and Henry glanced back at her as he crossed to the fireplace.

"What?" he asked.

"The prince, offering to build up the fire for me..." She shook her head, a half-smile on her lips. "That's my task in the mornings."

"Not any more," he answered with a grin. "Now you have servants for that. You can sleep in tomorrow morning."

"Ohhhh..." She flopped back on the bed with a happy sigh, stretching out her arms. "I haven't slept in since..." She frowned. "I can't remember when I last slept in without having to rouse for work." She shrugged. "Work never stops for the servants, even on holidays."

Henry selected a few split logs from the woodbox, thinking that he hadn't been roused for work a day in his life. Or at least, not work in the sense that she meant it. His days could still be draining in their own way. He wondered how it would feel to finish a day's honest labour and go to bed with the satisfaction of having worked the land with his own hands. Danielle had spoken of taking pride in such labour. Straightening up, he glanced at her, noticing for the first time how the swells of her breasts curved to the sides of her torso when she lay on her back. He watched in fascination as she rolled onto her side, propping her head up on one arm, her breasts' weight shifting with her movements until they formed new curves, the upper one now cradled by a crescent shadow that outlined the fullness of her form.

"I believe it only works if you put the wood on the flames," she observed dryly.

He blinked. "What?"

"The fire," she answered, sitting up. The movement made her breasts take on a more expected shape; they swooped with smooth, round curves that his hands ached to cup once more.

"Oh. Right." Wrenching his eyes away from her enticing form, he quickly turned to set down the logs and knock some of the ashes out of the grate with the poker. When he heard her chuckling softly, he snuck another glance back at her. She had climbed off the bed and she began busying herself with something on the far side of the room. He smiled at the sight of her long hair swinging, partially obscuring her lovely bosom as she moved.

A minute or so later, when he had placed all the logs and made sure the flames were licking well enough at them, he straightened and set the poker back in the rack, then turned—

Danielle lay on her side, stretched out across the bed in all her glory, her head once again propped on one hand. She was watching him with a small smile playing on her lips. She had spread a bath sheet out atop the covers, and she patted the spot beside herself, beckoning him over. He grinned and eagerly obeyed, stripping off his nightshirt before climbing up to lie beside her.

"You..." He exhaled a hum and ran a hand reverently over her skin. "...are the loveliest..."

She moved one leg between his and drew closer to him, her eyes falling closed. "Mmm. You're warm."

"Good," he answered, already lowering his head to kiss the soft hollow of her throat. She pressed against him, sighing her pleasure, and he continued his exploration, now cupping her breast as he kissed her skin, listening closely to the sounds she made and the way she moved in response. She really was the most wonderfully expressive creature...

Her leg tightened against his, drawing her hips into contact with his belly, and he luxuriated in the way she pressed herself against him. He decided to help her, and slid his hand down her side until he was cupping her bottom. What a satisfying handful, firm and soft! She groaned and pressed again, her movements hungry, and he pulled her leg up over his hip. She eagerly wrapped herself around him and he let her, encouraging whatever she seemed to be trying, but her movements eventually slowed and she made a small noise of frustration.

"What do you want?" he murmured, drawing back to look at her.

"More," she breathed, her brows furrowing as she pressed against him.

He stilled the movement with a hand on her hip and lifted his head. "More...inside?"

She blinked, swallowing and shaking her head. "No..." She pressed her lips together and frowned, then sagged. "I don't know. I'm sorry."

He paused to look at her. "Have you ever experienced the little death?"

She drew her head back in confusion. "The little what?"

"You know..." He raised his eyebrows. "The moment when you reach the peak and release?"

"I..." she trailed off and shook her head. "I don't know. I don't think so."

He tilted his head, a thought suddenly occurring to him. "Do women feel it, I wonder?"

"Perhaps if you describe it, I could tell you."

Henry refocused on her and his cheeks warmed. He shrugged. "Well, you know...when your body reaches such a height of pleasure that it..." He blinked, trying to find words for something he had never had to describe before. "...convulses and releases its seed, and then you just...relax."

Danielle blinked. "No," she said clearly. "I have never felt something like that before. I'm not sure women have...seed. Only a womb." She gave a small half-smile and her gaze grew distant. "But it sounds wonderful."

"Hm," he answered, looking down at her body again. He encouraged her to draw her leg away from his, despite her noise of protest. "Lie back," he said, running his hand over her belly, and she obediently straightened out beside him, opening herself to his view. She had been trying to press her hips against him, but she didn't want him inside; she was still too tender. What did she want? What were her movements telling him? He closed his eyes, letting his fingers continue to drift, and listened. When did her breath catch?

As his hand brushed against the patch of soft curls that lay at the base of her belly, her body quivered. Earlier in the evening, when he had first been trying to find his bearings, he had touched her here and she had pressed up against his hand. He wondered...

She gasped and there it was again—she pressed up against his touch. He smiled and opened his eyes; hers were closed now, and her lips were parted, moist and pink. He leaned down to kiss her and continued to stroke, marvelling at the feel of her body; the soft, pliable flesh, the slick folds and curves, the warmth, the hair that tickled his palm. He slid his hand further down, his fingers exploring, and she suddenly hissed, her eyelids flying open.

"No—not there—" she said, her hand grasping his to still it. "Above, below—yes. But not there."

"Why not?" he asked.

"It hurts."

He slid his fingers further down, finding her entrance. "Here?"

"Yes, but not too deep...at least, not tonight."

He nodded and pulled his hand back up, brushing through her patch of hair, finding that small nub again—

She squeaked, her hands flying up in surprise, and he immediately pulled away.

"I'm sorry—"

"No, no," she breathed. "Please..." Her skin was already flushed, but colour rose on her cheeks and her eyes grew heavy-lidded. "Do that again."

"Here?" he asked, and there it was, the touch that made her hips buck up towards his hand. He grinned. He thrummed with delight as he watched her writhe, her eyes falling closed when she moaned.

"Yes," she managed, after a moment. "Please..."

Her skin there was soft but dry, so he dampened his fingers at her entrance and returned them to the small nub, running them around it in a small circle. She made a tiny noise in the back of her throat and her hands flexed on the bath sheet that lay beneath them.

He continued his ministrations, trying different strokes, different pressures—she reached for him with her near hand, clutching his upper arm, and her breathing quickened. He found a swirling pressure that seemed to please her, for her body grew taut, neck extended, bosom thrust up and one peaked nipple brushing against his chest in a delightful way—and then she was shaking under his hand, trembling. She gave a long, deep moan and tossed her head. He continued the steady movements of his fingers until she sighed and finally relaxed, sagging against the pillow with a final shudder.

He grinned and lifted the finger he had settled into using. "More?" he asked, although he was fairly certain she had reached her completion. For the first night with his new wife, it seemed he had done quite well.

"Mmm," she sighed, her eyes still closed. "Yes, please."

He raised his eyebrows, his finger still poised above her. "Truly?"

She smiled without opening her eyes, and nodded.

Amused, he touched her again, and was surprised to feel her hips once more moving eagerly against his palm. But when she began to grow taut as before, he withdrew his finger with a wicked smile.

Her eyes flew open. "No! Don't stop! Henry, what are you—?"

Chuckling, he slid down the bed until his face was level with her hips and rolled to align himself with her. She had lifted her head and propped herself up on her elbows, a look of concern on her face. Sliding his hands under her haunches, he encouraged her to raise her legs to either side of him, then paused briefly when he caught sight of dark marks encircling her ankles. He opened his mouth to ask her about them, but stopped himself just in time when he realised: they were bruises from Le Pieu's manacles.

Danielle did not seem to catch his glances. "Henry, I'm not sure this is—"

"Shh," he replied, and bent his head to kiss her with focused intent, fighting a dark rush of fury. He closed his eyes and inhaled the earthy scent of her, pulling himself back into this moment. Then, drawing in a deep breath, he touched her with the tip of his tongue and raised his eyes to gauge her response.

"Oh—" she exclaimed, her eyes widening. "Oh, oh—ah—!" Her breath flew out of her in a shocked rush and her head fell back. He laughed softly against her warm, slippery depths, taking his fill of the sight of her even as his tongue tasted her, again and again, until he focused his efforts on that sensitive little nub. Her legs trembled against his shoulders and she finally cried out, her hands once again flexing in the rumpled bath sheet.

Dear God, he could do this all night, if this was what she wanted. That she could feel this more than once, and in such close succession! He was hungry to witness more, and he felt his body waking up, surprising him.

When she had fallen limply to the pillow again, her chest heaving with her breaths, he lifted his head.

"More?" he asked sardonically.

Her laugh was soft and filled with a kind of pleasant exhaustion. He grinned, watching her lie there looking so thoroughly spent and satisfied.

"I..." She sighed. "I do not know if I can...my lord." Her arms were splayed out, her legs spread to either side of him; she lay with complete abandon, trusting him without reserve, and he watched her with a warm glow of pride. Danielle, my beautiful wife. Mine.

"Well," he rumbled. "Let us see, shall we?"

She gave a kind of helpless laugh that was cut off by a renewed moan and a sudden undulation when his tongue found her again. But this time, she did not seem to respond as readily, so he tried a different experiment, brushing his fingers against her entrance as his mouth continued its slow enjoyment of her. She moaned at his touch, her hips bucking softly, and he explored, testing, enjoying the sense that he could play her as a court musician played his instrument, plucking the strings and making beautiful music...and there it was again, her body growing taut, then shuddering against his lips. She was the most magnificent creature.

This time, when she finished, she lay utterly spent and unmoving, except for the regular rise and fall of her chest. Smiling, Henry licked his fingers before quietly shifting out from under her legs and moving up to stretch out beside her again. He rested his head on the pillow and watched her, admiring the full curves of her lips and the way her eyelashes lay against her cheek. The hair around her temples was damp and darkened, and he reached up to brush his fingertips through it.

When she finally opened her eyes, they were filled with a warmth and a peace that made him smile and lean in to kiss her. She rolled into his embrace with a contented sigh.

"I see why it is called 'the little death'," she murmured. "I feel as though I have gone to heaven."

He laughed and then sighed, cradling her with his arm, letting his own eyes fall closed. He might have been inclined to try to find a bit of heaven again, himself, if it weren't for how tender she said she was. He hadn't seen any more blood, but she was probably wise to want to avoid being taken again this night. There was time enough for her to heal. He smiled at the thought. A lifetime together like this...

He drifted, rousing only when one of the logs fell in the grate, sending up a shower of crackling sparks. Danielle yawned and opened her eyes, her expression sleepy.

"Excuse me, my lord," she said. "I'll only be a moment." She rolled slowly off the bed and got to her feet beside it, swaying slightly.

"Good idea," he answered, when he saw her heading towards the screen; the chamber pot likely stood behind it. With a groan, he stood up and crossed into his own bedroom to relieve himself.