The Lost Heiress - Brock's POV
When he entered the room, Brock knew something was wrong. His mate stood by the door, clutching her robe in one hand and the edge of the door in the other. It was the unshed tears glistening in her eyes that tugged at his heart, and the familiar fragrance that wafted on the air that made his gut clench.
He paused in the doorway, the towel stilling in his hand that he had been blotting his hair with. “Cora? What is it, my sweet?” The little thing refused to look at him, simply shaking her head in answer to his question. He sighed as he continued to dry his hair, a towel loosely wrapped around his hips that barely concealed his half-mast member that was too aware of the beautiful creature just a few paces from him. “Lara was here, I can smell her,” he offered, hoping that it would get her to disclose the uneasiness that was written on her features.
Stepping away from the door, his mate nodded. Her eyes wandered the room while avoiding him. “She asked to see her fiance.”
His chest rumbled with his displeasure. Though he tried to read her expression, it was deadpan other than the unshed tears. The little beauty had been upset by something that Lara had said, and there was no telling the things that Lara might have said to her. Knowing her, it would not have been nice in the least.
“She is a pariah on any social decency, a drama queen, someone who thrives in tragedies of her own making.”
Cora kept her eyes averted as she turned away from him, the insecurity a salve on his lust. He practically willed her to look at him, to meet his gaze with that same fierceness and unapologetic strength of her lioness. The lioness was a reflection of the woman, it just had not caught up to her yet. When it did...
“She’s your fiance,” Cora muttered. The words made him stop what he was doing to look at her. With a grace that was mesmerizing, she stepped to the picture window that overlooked the city below. She had the grace of a queen, even if she pretended to be an omega.
Approaching her slowly, he tried to impress on her the truth of the situation. “Was, Cora. Was.” When he neared her, he wrapped his arms around her and gently pulled her back against his chest. Placing a kiss at her crown, he continued, “You do understand that, right?”
She held herself rigid in his arms, her hand refusing to relinquish the white-knuckled grip on her tattered robe. Letting one hand stroke her arm through the fabric, he hoped to ease the tension that held her. It pained him that this was a state that she was gripped in more than not.
Her voice sounded weak when she responded to him. “The treaty between coalitions is important to this pride and theirs. It is not something to treat lightly.”
Those words made him smile. Even if she did not realize it, she was already thinking like a queen. The resolve to do what is best for all is not something that can be taught.
It also meant that she had heard everything that he and his brother had discussed. More than once he had wondered if she had been listening at all, or merely hiding from everything around her. With any lesser woman, he would certainly tire of such behavior. With Cora, there seemed to be a lot more to this little thing than met the eye. It was just a matter of time before he coaxed out the strong, confident beauty that could tap into the lioness within her.
Turning her around gently in his arms to face him, he answered. “You are right, it is important...and not something that can be taken lightly.” He tilted her chin to lift and waited for her eyes to meet his. “We will not take this lightly. We can still work out a treaty that will unite both prides. A different way. It may take a little work and compromising,” just saying the word made his jaw tick, knowing that he would be the one making the compromises. Taking a deep breath, he finished his thought. “...but there are other ways to form a pact between our prides.”
The frown on her face marred those delicate features. “The marriage is between you and the other pride king’s daughter?”
Letting his head fall forward, he let it bounce in affirmation. “It was supposed to be. When I was a child, I was betrothed to a high-spirited little moppet named Arwen.” The smile on his face was instant and easy as memories of his childhood friend surfaced. “Their pride lands neighbored ours to the north, exposed and vulnerable to invasion. They have a vast amount of land, and we have the largest pride in numbers. Together, it expanded our lands and gave them protection in numbers. It was a win-win. Our parents signed the treaty and united as one coalition,” he caught himself pulling Cora in closer to him as he spoke, content to feel her warmth next to his. “I suppose it didn’t hurt that our families were very close friends themselves.” Remembering the past always brought with it an ache that he knew would never go away.
“Arwen,” she asked. He smiled down on her but he wasn’t sure what question she was asking, so he held his tongue. “And Lara is his daughter, too?”
The sneer and scoff were there before he realized. “God, no. That king was noble, honest.” When Cora flinched in his arms at his outburst, he softened his voice. “No, he was assassinated. He and his family were attacked and killed. Arwen could not have been more than four or five at the time.”
“Did you know her? Arwen?” Her body shuddered slightly in his arms, the proximity of their bodies to one another more than likely causing her innocence to feel unsettled.
The question brought another smile to his face as his hands smoothed up and down her back. “Actually, yes. Arwen was...well, she was headstrong and demanding.” He laughed as he recalled a specific memory. “There was this time that she had decided that I was to play dolls with her, and it was not a request. At ten years old, I was tending to her and her dolls to placate the fiery-tempered little moppet. God forbid if I was not doing it right, for she was not afraid to set me straight.”
Cora giggled, acting as a balm on his own nerves. It was such a beautiful sound passing over her lips, a sound that he found he craved more of. He wanted more of it, wanted to make her happy, to hear that become a constant in her life. It touched him deep inside as it wrapped around his desire for her, only to make her allure more potent.
“She sounds...delightful.” The small smile played at the edges of her mouth, and he could not resist bringing a hand to her face to let his thumb brush against it. It caused a very small tremor to flow across her lips before he moved his hand to hold hers.
“Oh, she really was. Though, I am afraid Landon took the brunt of her demands.” He smiled down at her, enjoying the moment as her shoulders dropped from their rigid state. Beneath his hands, her muscles relaxed and she seemed to be enjoying his company for a change. “My father believed that I needed to be trained in all the skills fitting of a king,” he quipped lightly in his best imitation of his father. “So, it was up to poor Landon to amuse my little betrothed during their visits. I did my best to participate and relieve him of his duties when there was no training that I needed to be in attendance for that day. Unfortunately, those were rare days, at best.”
Her head tilted to the side as she peered at him curiously. The tendrils of her long hair shifted delicately along her back and face, driving a spike of desire through him. Trying desperately to keep it to himself, he knew that showing any sides of his growing desire might be disastrous at this moment. Especially when she was warming up to him so well in this instance.
“Did you not wish to be around Arwen?”
“Oh, that wasn’t it at all…”
Her head dipped to her chest before she brought it back up. “It was just that...well, you said poor Landon, and you relieved him of his duties. It just sounded like maybe…”
Brock threw his head back and laughed, then shook his head. “You would have had to have known our darling Arwen. She was so...full of life,” the admission caused a pang in his chest. “It was an honor to have known her, even when she was acting tyrannically. I only wish…” It was a thought he nearly shared, and not one he should have. She tensed slightly, letting him know that he did not need to finish it for her to understand what he was about to say. Internally, he cursed himself for not having better restraint. “Well, Landon was fortunate enough to have known her better than me. Admittedly, it was a bitter pill to swallow at times.”
“Landon seems nice,” she replied timidly.
“He is. Arwen used to call him Laten. Not sure why she was not able to say his name properly, but her parents used to say it was because she was too headstrong to correct it.” He chuckled but felt Cora’s hands stiffen in his. It struck him as odd. “Are you well?”
Her head nodded robotically. “Yes, I just...Laten?”
“Yeah,” he drawled out slowly. With practiced ease, he trained the smile on his face as he rubbed his thumbs across the smooth skin of her captive hand. A nearly jealous curiosity held him as he waited for her next words. The regard in her words niggled away at his insides. A familiar, yet unwanted, feeling.
“Did she have one for you, too?” Her eyes looked into his and he thought there was a note of pain there, mixed with something he thought resembled hope.
“Yeah, I suppose she did. The little moppet called me Bach. The world bowed to her every whim.” He brushed a stray hair back from her shoulders. “Much like they did to your lioness.”
The young princess was headstrong, giving no doubt that she would have made an impressive queen and mate were her family not murdered. Though Arwen’s body was never found, the bloody and shredded clothes didn’t leave much hope for her survival. She was so small when it happened, most speculated that her body was dragged off by predators. After years of searching, nothing turned up and the speculation seemed more probable than not. The thought revolted him, and his brows turned down sharply.
It was unfortunate that she was all too aware of his mood. “I am sorry, si...Brock. I did not mean to make you relive…”
Brought out of his reverie, he put the smile back on for his mate. “It’s okay, Cora. You have a right to know about me and my life.” He let a rush of air out of his lungs as he played with a strand of her hair between his two fingers, letting the curl glide through them as it twisted and twirled. The sight of its pale shine mesmerized him as the silkiness of it slid smoothly against his fingers. “It hurt when I found out. I was just a kid, but it didn’t lessen the pain. It was deplorable and heartbreaking. Our entire kingdom grieved for their loss.” They let the silence stretch between them while he watched her thoughtfully.
It was Cora that finally filled the silence. “So, who stood in as king for their pride?”
Brock’s facade fell with distaste before he fixed the smile back on his face. “The king’s own brother stepped in to honor the treaty and offered his own daughter to unite the two prides. Over the years, he has tried to change and manipulate the marital contract to demand more and more for the benefit of himself. A greedy man that thinks only of himself and not his pride. An unworthy king, but we have done our part to honor the treaty of the original king.”
She squirmed within his hold, but he did not let her go. “Until now,” she muttered.
Pressing a kiss to her forehead, he shook his head. “This is not something you should concern yourself with just now.” Placing his hands on each side of her face, he smiled down at her. “When I get back from my meeting, we can talk more. I will fill you in on everything that you need to know, as well as everything you want to know. We will have lots of time to get you acquainted with your new life, my sweet.”
He pressed his mouth against hers, and could not resist the urge to let his tongue slide against that beautiful pout of hers. Her dainty, oval face had been sporting it for most of their conversation and it looked so delectable, though he wondered at ways that he could bring back the tinkling sound of her laughter. When she let her mouth slack a fraction, he let his tongue surge forward into her mouth so that he could take a deeper draught of her flavor. She was so delicious, beautiful, and warm, his towel bearing the burden of her effect on him as she mewled softly against his mouth. There was no telling how much longer it would be able to hide his arousal from her purview.
Out of necessity, before he could no longer control himself, he pulled away from her with a low grumble. “I just can’t seem to resist you.” His lips tugged at the corners with thoughts of all the heavenly things he wanted to do with her. “I will be sure to finish what I started when I get back.” He let that sensual smile spread and hoped that it would not frighten her, letting his gaze flicker over her. “There will be no need to rush, and I plan on taking my time to allow us to become intimately familiar with one another.”
Her blush moved furiously over her face, going from pale to blush in two seconds flat. The air between us was heavy with her scent, pleasingly so as she must be remembering the days they spent in each other’s arms. Words tried to free themselves from her throat but in the end, she just couldn’t seem to find the words.
Cora was divine in every way, though it would take more than a few shared moments to bring her outside of the shell she had been forced to live in for so long. However, he wanted to let her know how amazing he thought she was, to let her know that she was worthy of him and that he only hoped he could be as worthy of her. Though he knew there would be time to say all that he wanted, he felt compelled to tell her at that moment. “Cora, I…” he rubbed at the back of his neck. “I…”
The knock at the door stopped him from finishing what he was trying to say. Telling her how utterly drawn he felt towards her would have to wait. Letting her know how endearing he found her innocence, the fascination he found in her underlying strength, and the delight he found in exploring her body would all have to wait. What would she think of him if he told her how comfortable he was around her...how familiar it all felt to him?
“Yes,” he called out in response to the knock.
Landon did not bother to open the door as he called back to Brock. “We are still waiting, brother. Our pride can understand your new circumstances, but I am afraid that is the extent to which understanding is given.” Landon was a terrific mediator, but the man that demanded his presence downstairs was not about being fair. His pockets needed filling, and his patience seemed as thin as the current lining in his pockets.
“I know. I am coming,” he retorted, uneasy about the hasty amendments that needed to be renegotiated. If these people were not already under his roof, and he wasn’t so ready to be rid of them all, he would have made them wait. As it was, it was better to get it over with so that he could focus on his responsibilities to his new life and his new mate.
Throwing off his towel, he heard her gasp. It made his belly warm and his arousal more pronounced at the feminine softness of it. To know that she was not immune to him as her actions might imply was music to his ears. Something he would have to explore with her. Once he threw on a pair of slacks and a t-shirt, he moved to stand next to her once more.
He placed a kiss on her cheek, then whispered in her ear. “When I come back, I want to explore every part of your heavenly body and pleasure you in ways you have never dreamed.” The little nibble on her lobe elicited another breathy gasp, and he growled in return. If he did not leave now, he knew he would not be able to. As it was, he would be facing these pride members with proof of his desire on full display.
Backing away from her to the door, he could only think of all the ways he planned on making her one very happy woman...and counting the minutes till he was back in her arms so he could start checking off every last one of them.