A Changing World
Lorenz woke in a bed with a firm mattress and soft blankets. The four-poster had no canopy or curtains, and it sat in a small but well-appointed room. Large windows with heavy drapes looked out upon a modest garden. A fine porcelain washbasin and pitcher sat on a nearby commode. A single red rose in a vase stood on the table next to the bed. There was an armoire, as well as an overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. His armor—still damaged from the battle—inhabited a stand in a corner of the room.
Judging by the angle of the light, it was late afternoon. He wore a loose nightshirt over bandages wrapped around his entire torso. No blood seeped through, and when he moved, he was sore but not in agony.
He lay and watched the birds out the window, dozing, until the door opened. Instead of a servant, Leonie appeared with a glass of water.
“Oh!” She grinned, and he’d never seen anything so beautiful. “You’re awake. I’ll go get you something to eat.”
Lorenz reached for her and winced. “No, wait. Please.”
“Sure.” She sat on the edge of the bed, wearing her usual mercenary outfit, appearing as she always had.
“How are you? Were you injured?” he asked. It took all his willpower not to grab her hand.
Leonie shook her head. “I’m fine. I had a few cuts and bruises, but nothing major.”
He exhaled and relaxed back on the pillows. His greatest worry was now relieved.
“It appears that, by some miracle, I also survived,” he said.
Leoni snorted. “Miracle my foot. You think I’d go into battle unprepared? I had a few elixirs, and there are several healers in my troop. We had the worst of it fixed before we even got back to House Ordelia. Although it was pretty bad to begin with. You were out almost two days.”
Ah, so that was where they were. Part of him felt uncomfortable about taking advantage of their hospitality, but it was a very small part. They had asked him for aid, after all. Ensuring he was convalescing comfortably was only fair.
“It seems you saved my life,” he said.
“And you saved mine. I’d say we’re even. Your horse is amazing, by the way.”
Lorenz frowned as he looked at her. “I’m glad you appreciate him.”
“I sure do. He was a good boy while I rode back here with you.”
Lorenz’s eyebrows rose. “You rode Obsidian? He’s trained to not let anyone ride him but me.”
“He’s smart, and I got you up on him before I mounted. I’m sure he could tell I was trying to save you.”
“Perhaps that is so.”
Lorenz fell silent, suddenly very tired. Here she was, so close, and yet all the things he wanted to say to her stuck in his throat.
“I…” Leonie began. She laced her fingers and looked down at her hands, expression solemn. “I saw a lot of terrible things in the war. We had to destroy people we knew. I can’t pretend it doesn’t haunt me. But seeing you lying there with those weapons sticking out of you…I thought I was going to lose you, and that fear made me freeze. I’ve never felt so horrible in my life, except for when Jeralt died.”
Hearing her pain shouldn’t have made him feel good, and yet it did. “I still love you,” he said.
“I love you, too.”
She took his hand. Her palm was rough with calluses, her fingers strong. It wasn’t a delicate, ladylike hand, but it wasn’t supposed to be. He didn’t want it to be.
“If you find marriage objectionable,” he said, watching her expression, “I would not be opposed to becoming lovers. I have realized that I do not need a ceremony to commit my life to yours, and no child we produced would be illegitimate. I can adopt an heir, if you do not want children.”
“Funny, I was thinking that married life might not be so bad. You can be single-minded, but you’re not really the controlling type. I still need some time to think about it, though. It’d be a big change for me.”
Lorenz squeezed her hand. The hope that had risen within him refused to be stuffed back into its box. “Take what time you need. I will be here when you are ready.”
“I know.” Leonie shot him a smile, eyes bright with unshed tears. “And I’m grateful for it.”
“Will you kiss me now? I would sit up, but…”
“Are you sure? I sort of forced myself on you last time. I’m sorry for that.”
“You were indeed overly forceful that day, but I would be a liar if I said I did not enjoy it.”
“All right, then.”
Leonie pulled off her boots—he breathed a sigh of relief at this small sign of civility—and lay on her stomach next to him, propped up on her elbow. Lorenz closed his eyes as her mouth found his. Their kisses were sweet, gentle, and loving—at first. The movement of their lips grew more impassioned, and she made a sound and tangled her fingers in his hair when he slipped his tongue against hers.
She finally pulled away, panting. “Keep that up and I’m not going to be able to stop. We should wait until you’re healed.”
“I refuse to wait until I am fully healed to kiss you. Will you…” He took a deep breath and forced out the next words before he lost courage. “Joinmeinbedtonight?”
Leonie chuckled. “I’ve already been sleeping in here, so I don’t see why not.”
Sure enough, the corner of a cot poked out from behind a dressing screen. Warmth filled him at the thought she wouldn’t leave him injured and alone. She had been with him the entire time. Perhaps she really did love him.
“Such scandal,” Lorenz murmured with a smile.
Leonie grinned and smoothed his hair away from his face. “Only the best scandal for you.”
“I suppose I shall have to learn to live with it.”
She gave him another soft, sweet, lingering kiss and put on her boots. “Rest for now. I’ll have the healer come take another look at you while I get you something to eat.”
“Thank you.” It was all he could do not to grab her hand and never let go, but somehow, he found the strength.
Leonie departed. Soon after, a healer arrived and worked a few spells. Lorenz felt better after the session and was sitting up by the time Leonie returned with some porridge. It was common fare, but she had cooked it herself. That alone made it as precious as any feast.
After he ate, she helped him bathe. He was recovered enough he didn’t truly need the assistance, but he wasn’t about to turn it down. It was a bit embarrassing undressing in front of her—he’d never been naked in front of a woman before—but the way her gaze swept his body restored his confidence.
“I like your body,” she said as she handed him the soap and a washcloth. “You’re slender but toned.”
Lorenz opened his mouth to reply, but no sound came out as she took off her shirt. “Wh-what…what…”
“Oh, should I not join you?”
“I-I…yes, please do.”
Blood rushed to his groin as she stripped. Goddess, she was beautiful. She bore several scars, but her skin was otherwise flawless. Her waist was small, her breasts full, and her muscles well-defined. She tied her hair up on top of her head, exposing her elegant neck. The tub was a tight fit for two people, and it turned out breasts floated. Lorenz didn’t mind the cramped quarters in the least.
She took the soap and washcloth from him—he’d been just holding it, stunned like a fool—and lathered up. Her movements were businesslike as she scrubbed his back, his chest, his arms, even his legs and feet. He insisted on washing his own intimate bits, although he harbored no illusions she was unaware of his state.
“Wash me now,” Leonie said, presenting her back to him.
Lorenz tried to keep his thoughts clinical as he washed her back, shoulders, and arms. When it came to her chest, he broke out in a sweat. They were already crammed together, his hardness pressed against her back. Did he dare? Would she be upset?
“It’s okay,” she said softly.
He slipped his hand around to her front and cupped her breast. Its soft weight sent another surge of blood into his penis. She let out a sound that might have been a laugh or might have been a sigh. He leaned his forehead against the back of her skull and took a deep breath.
“Come on, soap me up,” she said.
“I think you enjoy torturing me,” he mumbled.
“Doesn’t have to be torture, you know. This can have a happy ending.”
Soon he had both of her breasts in his hands. She leaned against him, back of her head hooked on his shoulder, and closed her eyes as he fondled her. Her lips parted as he circled her nipples. Pink crept into her cheeks, and her mouth grew very red. She arched her back, thighs parted, and it was all he could do not to rock his hips against her.
Instead, he ran his hand down the taut muscles of her abdomen and brushed the hair between her legs, and her thighs opened wider. He slid his fingers down farther. Leonie rewarded him with a gasp. It appeared he had permission to explore. He was very careful to be gentle, accompanying his touches with kisses to her neck and ears even though it required a bit of contortion on his part.
“There,” she murmured.
Lorenz continued touching her, his concentration on performing the task properly distracting him from his own arousal. Her body was a wonderland, his every dream fulfilled. A part of him—most of him—couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
“Want to continue this in bed?” she asked breathlessly.
Sure enough, the water had gone cold.
“I would love nothing more,” he said. “Let me wash my hair. It smells like smoke, and I want this to be perfect.”
“Don’t set your expectations too high. It can be awkward until we get used to each other.”
As if he would ever get used to touching Leonie. His gaze devoured her as she stepped out of the tub and dried herself off. He washed his hair as quickly as he could. Getting out of the tub proved more challenging than he’d anticipated, since his wounds were still a tad tender, but he managed.
Leonie handed him a towel, nonchalant about her nudity. “You should wear your hair in a ponytail. Get it out of your way. You’ll be able to fight better, and I’ll be able to see your entire face.”
“You are so romantic.”
“You know exactly how I am and have for a long time. It’s a little late to complain.”
He dried off and allowed her to pull his hair back before he slid into bed. She propped him up with pillows so he could sit up more comfortably. To his surprise, she slid into his lap, straddling him. Her bare breasts pressed against his chest. He immediately went fully hard again.
“See?” Leonie kissed his throat and nibbled on his ears. “Isn’t it nice, having your hair pulled back?”
He answered her with a kiss. Her arms slid over his shoulders and behind his neck as his hands found her hips. Heaven, this was pure heaven.
“Your injuries are all right?” she whispered against his mouth.
“If they pain me, I will let you know.”
Any residual discomfort he felt was overwhelmed by the pleasure of having her in his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her throat, her collarbones, and the top of her chest. Finally, he found the courage to take her nipple into his mouth. She gasped, and the fires within him roared. He switched to her other breast as she moaned.
“Are you ready?” she asked. “Because I’m ready.”
He nodded, since he couldn’t find words. It already felt as if he might explode.
Leonie rose up a little and used her hand to guide him inside her. He made an undignified sound and shuddered as her slick warmth closed around him. His head tilted back, his hands gripping her hips harder. Even without moving it was amazing.
“Now we are one,” he said and moved to kiss her throat.
“We are.” She smiled. “You’re still injured, so let me do the work, okay?”
“What—” he began, but his words turned to a moan as Leonie moved her hips. His universe narrowed to where their bodies connected. Her low chuckled reached his ears, barely audible above his own ragged breathing.
“Hold on a little longer,” she said in his ear. “I’m close.”
It was too late. Lorenz rarely lost control in his life, but now he abandoned all sense of decorum. His hands clamped down on her. The sitting position make it awkward to thrust, but he bent his knees, planted his feet, and did his best. Leonie fell forward onto his chest. The sounds she made as he moved deep inside her were too much for him, and he half-grunted, half-shouted as he orgasmed.
Leonie spasmed around him, her body shuddering against his as he fingers gripped his shoulders. Small, gulping moans escaped her. Lorenz wrapped his arms around her and held her until her quaking subsided.
“That was your first time?” Leonie murmured against his shoulder. “You did well.”
“A true noble endeavors to excel in all things.”
She snorted. “Some things take practice.”
“True, but education can make up for experience.”
“Should I be jealous?”
Lorenz smoothed her hair away from her face. The idea of Leonie being jealous was far more delicious than it ought to be. “Of course not. I did embarrass myself by purchasing certain sorts of books, however.”
She chuckled and shook her head. “Just when I think I have you all figured out, you surprise me.”
Lorenz gasped when Leonie climbed off him. He retrieved a handkerchief and wiped himself clean while she went to visit the privy. By the time she returned, he had fluffed and rearranged the pillows and was already half asleep.
She kissed his cheek as she slid into bed next to him. He improved the situation by kissing her on the mouth and pulling her into his arms.
“I know you have your own goals to pursue,” he said softly as his eyes fluttered closed. “I do as well. Yet falling asleep every night with you in my embrace seems like the most beautiful of dreams.”
Leonie blushed. “Keep saying things like that and you might just turn me into a romantic after all.”
Lorenz chuckled and drew her closer. He might not have the life he truly wanted with her, but what she had given him was enough. As sleep claimed him, he was both content and looking forward to what the next day would bring.