A/N: Thanks for staying with me on this story.
I wrote this chapter the day before I got my greedy little hands on Hunt the Moon. The good news is that my ideas on Cassie's feelings about her upcoming coronation and some of her reactions to Pritkin were not too far off from the book. The bad news is that if you've read Hunt the Moon, you'll see that I really made the wrong call on my ending.
I considered rewriting this chapter, but since nothing much really happens in the entire story, it didn't seem worth it. It's really just a little timeout with Cassie and Pritkin. I hope you enjoy their last dance together. (Before Hel breaks loose, of course.)
The song ended and another waltz started playing. At least this one was slower.
"Don't forget you must be able to carry on a conversation while you're dancing."
Casanova was seriously beginning to get on my nerves. Unfortunately, he was right. I knew I'd be expected to keep up my side of the small talk. Part of my preparation for the coronation and the reception was memorizing a ton of names, titles, and topics to avoid if I didn't want to trigger an international incident. I might as well get this over with.
"Commander Pritkin, I'm pleased you could join us tonight."
He formally inclined his head towards me. "The pleasure is mine, Lady Cassandra." After a brief hesitation, he continued. "But I'm retired. Commander is no longer my active title."
"Since the Corps' ill-advised decision to start killing Pythias."
Oh. Good answer.
He'd given up so much to uphold his oath to me. What do you really say to that?
"Don't mention it." He pulled me a little closer. "We should try a real turn. Has Casanova taught you the moves?"
"Yes, but I..." I didn't get to finish before Pritkin changed his position. Okay, then. Looks like I was about to do a turn. He raised our joined hands and gave a tiny push to get me started. I'd only tried this a couple of times with Mircea. Needless to say, it hadn't gone well. I'd never been able to get the timing right to end up facing him after I spun under his arm.
Gritting my teeth, I counted out loud as I stepped into the six-beats of the turn. Pritkin tugged on my hand, and I knew I had to speed up. As I hurried to get into position, I stumbled slightly. He lifted me just off the ground and set me back down in time to the rhythm. We never lost our momentum, though I went a little breathless as his arm held me tight against his hard body.
"Again!" Pritkin barked. He was getting to be almost as bad as Casanova about this whole dancing thing. "Plan on making the turn in five steps so you can use the sixth to synch back up with me."
I counted to five and this time managed a complete turn. It was a little rough, but at least we flowed into the normal waltz moves without too much of a hitch.
My next turn was smoother. And the one after that was even better.
I was starting to enjoy a little too much the feel of Pritkin's arm as it came back around me at the end of a turn. He was gentle and strong at the same time. The combination was irresistible. Most of the time when he touched me it was to push me out of the way of something scary, or he was moving me around like a mannequin while trying to teach me some new self-defense technique. Gentle wasn't part of the equation.
Dancing reminded me of the last time he'd been gentle. He'd called it an emergency, and I'd been only too happy to call it that, too. But there were moments when I found myself thinking of that emergency. Of those callused fingers sliding along my bare flesh, the incredible sensations his talented mouth could produce in my body. I shivered.
"Cassie, are you all right?" Dark green eyes stared into mine. I saw enjoyment in their depths and something more.
This was getting dangerous. I blinked and tried not to look at his lips. It would be so easy to close the small gap between us. I was appalled at how badly I wanted to feel those lips on mine again. "Stop asking me that." Time for more small talk to distract me.
"Since when do you know how to dance?"
The sparkly went out of his eyes, and they became flat and cold. I tensed, afraid I'd triggered a self-defense lesson that would get him out of answering my question. I concentrated on the feel of his arm around me and watched for the slight shifts in body position that would warn me of a sudden change in direction. I hadn't realized how close our bodies were until I felt him draw away.
"Rian taught me before my wedding."
I was not expecting that answer. Or any answer, for that matter.
"Did you get to dance with her?" For some reason I had trouble saying with your wife. Pritkin seemed to know who I was talking about anyway.
"No." He abruptly changed direction. I was glad I hadn't let down my guard, or I would have stepped on his foot. "The day did not go as planned."
That was the understatement of the century.
His wedding was supposed to be the start of a normal life that had so not happened when he'd killed his bride on their wedding night.
We circled the dance floor in silence. His body was rigid under my hands.
I usually didn't have a problem talking to Pritkin. Okay, yelling at each other might be a better description of our communication style, but it was rarely this awkward between us. I couldn't take it any more.
"What do I call you now?"
"What?" He looked at me with a blank, hollow look in his eyes.
"Your official title? Are you still Mage Pritkin?"
"That's accurate." It took him a moment, but I could feel when his full attention returned to me. He looked at me with an expression I couldn't quite place - gratitude or tenderness or something else I didn't recognize. And then the song was ending and my body was cradled in his arms as he dipped me backwards.
"Or you could call me John."
Looking up into those dark eyes, I'm not sure what surprised me more. That he'd finally asked me to use his given name or the half smile that tugged at the corner of his lips.