PROGRESS IN SMALL MEASURES
Afingertip traced over my lips, and a soft puffing breath tickled the hair at the back of my neck. Another hand brushed strands back from my face, and a third hooked two fingers into the sheet covering my breasts. Still half-asleep, I smiled as I realized who was in front of me.
My eyes blinked open slowly, sunlight bright in Hunter's bedroom, and I rolled back into Ronan's chest, drawing a sleepy murmur from my imp. Nireas was seated on the bed, leaning against the heavy and swirling headboard, staring down at me.
"Hunter and Jude left?" I asked in a whisper.
"Jude did. Hunter's downstairs," Nireas answered.
Constantine had left us while we were still at the theater, called back by that horrible tether the warlock had over him, and this time it wasn't just me unhappy to see him go. After cleaning ourselves up, Ronan, Jude, Hunter, Nireas, and I had stuffed snuggly into Hunter's carriage and traveled to his home. I'd woken once in the night, tangled between three bodies all of a mind to make me scream and beg for release, but it took me a moment to sort through the foggy, pleasure-hazed memory to sort out who was who.
"You didn't sleep with us last night," I said.
Nireas shook his head, wearing a wry smile. "There wasn't room. Don't pout, nymph, I didn't mind."
I pressed my lips flat to try and hide the supposed pout, rolling back and pushing Ronan. I let the sheet slide down as I moved, stretching my limbs out in invitation to Nireas.
His tongue flicked out over his lips, eyes studying me at odds. I was still mostly covered, but my body warmed with every pass of his gaze until his eyes all flicked up to the ceiling in unison and his head shook slightly.
Now I was certainly pouting.
"Asterion just arrived. I think he might have some news, and I came to see—"
Nireas didn't need to finish the sentence. I was already sitting up and scrambling for the edge of the bed. Ronan groaned, reaching for me and coming up short.
"What news?" I asked, bouncing off the side of the mattress and racing around to the wardrobe. It had more new items—it seemed to accumulate clothing for me like something out of a fairy tale—and Hunter was learning my tastes at last, the new garments simpler in design but still made of luxurious fabrics.
"Not sure, but I know you don't want to be left out of the conversation," Nireas said.
I paused in dressing long enough to offer him a sincere smile. "Thank you."
He nodded and rose from the bed. "Here, bring all your buttons and laces to me. I have six hands and they might as well be of use."
"I feel as though I've been simultaneously run over by a carriage and gone for a bath in some sort of holy pool of rejuvenation," Ronan muttered, rolling to his side and making no effort to cover himself as he stroked his morning erection with aimless attention. He grinned at me as I hurried to Nireas for help in dressing. "Constantine is a revelation, isn't he?"
I arched an eyebrow at Ronan. "I told you." I wiggled in place as Nireas finished lacing the corset, then reached back behind me, but he swatted my hands away. "Bit tighter," I instructed, laughing.
"You know your orc—"
"Hunter," I corrected, rolling my eyes at Ronan, just as the light cotton skirt billowed over my head.
"—opened his house to all of us last night," Ronan finished.
"Obviously," I said, waving at the pair of them.
"No, he means…Hunter made it clear that we were every bit as welcome to make a home here as you are," Nireas said.
My cheeks flushed, and Ronan smirked. "I've never thought of being a monster's kept lady, but I have to be honest, it doesn't sound so terrible," he said.
It was partly presumption—had Hunter even said the words to me directly yet?—and partly the usual openhearted generosity I was used to from the orc, but it made me rush to dress a little faster, combing my fingers through my unruly red waves until Nireas shooed me away, three of his hands making quick work of a French braid.
"Are you coming down with us?" I asked Ronan as Nireas finished tidying me.
Ronan's hand was still around his cock, and he grinned at me, head shaking. "I plan on having a very long and very pleasurable bath to myself, as a matter of fact. Feel free to come and join me and catch me up when you're done."
I snorted and turned, taking the hand Nireas offered and smiling as another arm wrapped around my waist and a third over my shoulders. We left Ronan to his wickedness, and I fought the impulse to study the house in a new light as we walked downstairs. The paper on the walls in the upstairs was old and dark, showing its age and making the more narrow halls feel somewhat oppressive by comparison to the bright rooms on the first floor. It would be nice to make some small improvements…to stake a claim on the space, but it also felt as though I was still an infrequent guest in the house.
"Thank you for last night," I said to Nireas as we walked down the stairs, his hand on my shoulder toying with the tail of the braid he'd fashioned. I glanced up and found him blushing.
"It was really Ronan and Jude's idea. I was just the lucky bastard who got to keep you company," Nireas said softly.
"Just the idea that any of you, all of you, are willing to work together for my enjoyment is a gift on its own, Nireas," I said, squeezing the hand I held.
He stopped us at the bottom of the stairs, moving me to stand in front of him, all six hands holding onto me. He bent slightly so I didn't have to crane my neck to meet his gaze. "You've made five very unlikely men into friends, something I…have somewhat foolishly been avoiding for quite a few years. It's lonely to be without a lover, certainly, but even more so to be the idiot who hasn't anyone to speak with, to share with. So the gift is mutual, nymph. In fact, I'm still not certain the odds aren't in my favor."
I sighed and rose up to my toes, reaching for Nireas's face. He leaned down the last few inches, lips tender and insistent against mine, hands drawing me in to press to his front.
"I missed you for so many years," I whispered.
"No more," Nireas answered, temple stroking my cheek, mouth trailing to my jaw and neck before he stood upright again, his smile tenuous. "No more, I promise."
I drew in a deep breath, accepted the ache of my heart in my chest as a sign of it still being capable of growing and beating, and together, we turned and walked toward the dining room, Nireas leading the way.
The mood was grave as we arrived, Asterion sitting at the table without a plate and Hunter leaning back in his own chair, wearing a deep frown. They both rose at my entrance, bowed to me as if I were some woman of consequence, and ignored my flapping hands urging them to sit again.
"What is it? What's happened?" I asked, hurrying for the table.
"It's news related to Miss O'Mahony," Hunter said, drawing out a chair at his side for me.
"Related to?" I repeated, sitting down.