Embracing Destiny

Chapter 5

Alistair studied the container with a wary eye, unsure if he trusted Hawke enough to accept her offering. “What is it?”

“Well,” she replied, rotating the neck between her fingers. “According to Isabela, it’s the finest rum in all of Thedas. Apparently, she did know what was in a couple of those crates she was moving and decided to keep one for herself.”

“There’s a whole crateful of this shit?” the prince inquired with growing interest.

“Minus the three bottles I currently have in my possession,” she answered, pushing the offered container into his chest.

He chugged down the remaining contents of the wine bottle, threw the empty container aside, and grabbed the rum from her hand. “Thanks,” he muttered before finally daring to look at her.

Her legs were gathered in her arms with her knees pulled up to her chest while a bottle of rum dangled lazily from her right hand. She lay her left temple across her knees and studied him. She didn’t smile or give any indication of sentiment or sympathy. She simply stared at him. Within moments, he was completely lost in her intense emerald gaze and left struggling with emotions he had spent seven years trying to avoid.

Maker’s breath, you’re beautiful.

Alistair had an overwhelming urge to untie her hair and watch it spill down around her face and shoulders. His gaze trailed down to her full lips, which were parted ever so slightly. He licked his own, imagining the sensation of the delicate petals brushing hungrily against his. Her chest rose and fell with heavy a breath, evoking his manhood to rise and jerk at the mental image of her unbound breasts pressed to his own bare flesh.

When his eyes locked with hers again, his mind was filled with images from the past he fought so hard to drown. The first time met Erin and made a stupid joke, netting a disapproving frown. The way she always rolled her eyes when he tried to elicit a smile from her. He never understood how or why he won her favor.

Erin was always so staunch, so serious, and Alistair’s presence only seemed to annoy her. In fact, he was certain her entire friendship with Morrigan was built around ridiculing Alistair both to his face and behind his back. Months passed, filled with derisive sneers and snarky comments, leading Alistair to believe he would never earn his fellow Warden’s respect, let alone her favor. Then something changed, and her hard exterior began to soften.

He recalled the night of their first kiss. When he asked if she would miss adventuring together once the Blight was over, she arched a brow and folded her arms over her chest. Her lips curled into an amused smirk, as if he finally told a joke she actually found funny.

“In other words, will I miss you?” she questioned.

Beads of perspiration altered to trickles down his forehead and cheeks. “And what if I asked that? Will you miss me when this is over? I care a great deal for you, Erin. Is there any chance...Any chance you feel the same?”

Her countenance turned to stone as she continued to stare at him. He wanted to crawl into a hole and bury himself. Why in the Maker’s name would he ask that? Say that? She didn’t feel the same. How could she? She thought him an idiot, a fool.

Her shoulder lifted in a nonchalant shrug. “I don’t know. It’s too soon to tell.”

Alistair didn’t know what came over him in that moment. Uncle Teagan always used the phrase, “Either sink or swim” when faced with a difficult choice. She would either return his gesture or kill him. Either way, the truth was out. He mustered his courage and swallowed every ounce of pride he possessed and pressed his lips to hers. To his amazement, she didn’t pull away, but deepened the kiss.

For the following few weeks, she drove him mad, stealing kisses when no one was watching and giving him coy smiles from across the camp. He wanted to make love to her but was afraid to ask, fearing such a bold question would muck up their budding relationship. A rejection of that magnitude would have damaged his pride to the void. After all, he was a virgin, and she knew it. Would she even want to take a completely inexperienced man to her bed? Would she laugh at him for asking?

So, he kept his mouth shut, resolved to be content with the relationship they had until one night in the Brecilian Forest when she finally asked him to she asked him to join her in her tent. That night was the best experience of Alistair’s life. Even eight years later, nothing ever compared to that first night with Erin. He lost his heart to her that evening, and all lingering doubts about their relationship were vanquished. His life was forfeit to her the moment she told him she loved him. He would have done anything, gone anywhere for her, given her anything she asked for. Well, almost anything.

“Alistair?” The sound of Hawke’s voice was a lifesaving buoy in his sea of painful memories. “Are you still in there?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled. “Still here.” He popped the cork from the bottle she gave him with his thumb and took a drink.

She chuckled. “I thought I lost you there for a minute.”

“Well, maybe for a minute,” he said with a grimace before raising the bottle to his lips again.

She leaned back and straightened her left leg then took a swig from her own bottle. They remained in complete reticence, each taking a turn with their drinks every few minutes. The fugitive Champion and exiled prince, both lost in their own thoughts and recollections, neither daring to break the uneasy silence.

The tension in the air was as thick as an ogre’s skin. Alistair had to do something to relieve it before it drove him mad. “So. I guess your boyfriend doesn’t like me very much.”

Hawke’s brow knitted together with confusion. “My boyfriend?”

“Yeah, you know, the elf with the big sword and bigger attitude.”

“That’s actually a pretty good description of Fenris,” she chortled. “But he isn’t my boyfriend.”

The prince arched his brow. “Does he know that?”

“It’s...Complicated,” she replied then took another drink of rum.

Relief washed over Alistair with her answer. He couldn’t explain it, but knowing she wasn’t romantically involved with the elf lightened his heart. He was surprised such a beautiful woman wasn’t taken, but, then again, maybe she was. After all, there was another man on deck with them that obviously wasn’t part of the crew. He looked to be much younger than Hawke, but such relationships weren’t completely unheard of.

“What about the other one? The blonde with the braid?”

Hawke snorted and spewed rum down the front of her blouse, a reaction Alistair found absolutely adorable. “You’re kidding right? Do I look like someone who’s interested in robbing cradles?”

An impish smile curled his lips as he gave a casual shrug. “Just wondering.”

She rotated her body to face him, crossing her legs and resting her knees on the sides of her feet, and arched a brow. “Why? Are you shopping for a new girlfriend or something?”

“Just making conversation,” he replied, holding up a hand in front of him to declare his innocence.

He swore he recognized disappointment flash in her eyes as she took another swig from the bottle. “If you’re asking if I’m romantically involved with anyone, the answer is no. At least not anymore.”

“Got your heart broken too, huh?” he queried.

He wasn’t sure why he wanted to know. Why he even cared. After all, a shattered heart was just another aspect of life, wasn’t it? He often wondered if he was overreacting to the ending of his relationship with Erin. Normal people got over such things in time, didn’t they? He stared at Hawke a long moment. Then again, maybe not. She appeared to be just as distraught as himself upon hearing his question. Perhaps she had an inkling of his emotional turmoil, felt it herself.

“Sort of,” she whispered then gulped down more rum before wiping her mouth with the back of her left hand. “His name was Anders. We were together about four years, lived together for three. We were supposed to get married, but…”

Her voice trailed off as her glistening gaze moved to her left. She bit her bottom lip, and Alistair recognized the remnants of a completely shattered heart. She became a kindred spirit in that moment. They shared a bond of loss. Loss of hope. Loss of their very souls.

“What happened?” he asked, his brow furrowed with concern.

He knew that he should just drop the subject. He never liked talking about his own pain, avoiding it whenever possible. He spent every waking moment trying to forget, attempting to drown his sorrow and memories in buckets of whatever spirits he could get his hands on. He couldn’t explain it. It was cruel, but for some reason he wanted to know. Needed to know.

She swallowed. “He was stabbed with a poisoned blade during our battle against the templars. I didn’t find out the wound was fatal until after we left the city.” A tear trickled down her cheek. He held his breath waiting for her to finish. “I was holding his hand when he. Died.”

Her last word hung in the air like a dark ominous cloud as one of the strongest women in Thedas fell into grief-stricken tears. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she croaked, wiping her tears away with her fingertips. “I’m never like this. I don’t cry. You can ask anybody.”

Alistair reached out and pulled her into a tight embrace. Her body trembled against him as she sobbed into his chest. For the first time in years, he gave no consideration to his own misery. His only thought, his only need, was comforting her.

“I’m sorry, Hawke,” he whispered. “I am so sorry. I shouldn’t have pried.”

With a gentle hand, he stroked her hair as his own tears began to flow. He nuzzled his dampened cheek against the top of her head, relishing in his first real human contact since that fateful day of the Landsmeet. Since the Blight, until that moment, the touch of woman never went beyond satisfying his lust. He never allowed anyone near the walled-up pieces of his sundered heart. He wouldn’t take that chance again.

As he gently rocked her in his embrace, he gasped when he felt a crack in his otherwise impenetrable fortress. She stopped shaking and gazed up at him, her eyes shining like polished emeralds. Black streaks stained her face where the kohl lining her lids mixed with her tears. His lips curved into lopsided grin as he reached up and swiped his fingers across her face. He was overwhelmed by the urge to see her smile. No color or light would touch the world again until she did. He rubbed his nose against hers and stared into her eyes with the most serious face he could muster.

“I hate to tell you this,” he whispered. “But you look absolutely hideous.”

Her brow creased in bewilderment for a moment before she pressed her forehead against his and broke into laughter, eliciting a chuckle from him. Until that moment, Alistair’s attraction to Hawke was completely physical. She looked so much like Erin, he both wanted her and loathed her for it. That all changed the instant he made her laugh at such a lame attempt to cheer her. The emotions spinning around in his head and his heart had nothing to do with the woman who destroyed his life. Although Hawke looked like Erin, they were two different people with two very distinct personalities.

When their laughter subsided, Alistair reached up and took her face into his palms. The corners of her mouth turned up in a smile, and, once again, he found himself lost in her eyes. For the first time in years, he began to give serious consideration to the possibility of love’s existence.

“Sweet Maker’s mercy,” he murmured. “You are absolutely beautiful, Emily.”

“So which is it, my handsome prince?” she teased. “Hideous or beautiful?”

He lowered his gaze to her mouth and gently traced it with his thumb. “Stunning,” he whispered then pressed his lips to hers.

As Alistair moved his arms down to encircle her waist, she wrapped hers around his neck and pulled him in closer. His heart pounded against his chest, and he wondered if she could feel its rhythm against her own. A quiet gasp escaped him when the tip of her tongue brushed lightly against his, inviting him to explore her mouth further.

His senses came alive with the heady mixture of the scent of her perfume, the feel of her body pressed against his, and the taste of her kiss. He slid his right hand up her body to settle on her left breast and teased her hard nipple with the flat of his thumb then trailed soft kisses down to her right shoulder. A guttural moan of pleasure escaped her throat when he closed his mouth over her flesh, and she grabbed a handful of his strawberry blonde hair, encouraging him to suckle harder. His mouth moved up to her ear and he exhaled a long, slow, hot breath. She gasped, her body quaking beneath his expert touch.

“Emily,” he growled, nipping at her lobe. “I need you. Stay with me tonight.”

She turned his head and captured his mouth. The flavor of spiced rum left him dizzy as he gently scraped his teeth across her lower lip. She pulled away from him, her breath coming in short gasps, and his body shuddered from the loss. He moved in to kiss her again, but she stopped him by placing her fingertips across his lips.

“Wait,” she whispered.

Alistair pulled her hand away from his face, the corners of his mouth forming an uneven grin. “I’m not sure I can,” he confessed before kissing her again.

He leaned back onto the floor, pulling her with him then took hold of her right thigh and drew it across his body. He kneaded and massaged her ass with one hand while following the curve of her spine with the other until it came to rest on the back of her head. When she shifted her weight, he could feel her heat against his groin, prompting him to trace the band of her trousers until he found their leather laces. As he fiddled with the bindings, she sat back, eliciting a growl of ecstasy from his chest at the sensation of the increased pressure against his cock.

“Wait,” Emily repeated in a strained voice. “Alistair, wait.”

He took her by the hands and pulled her back into him, joining their lips together once more. His tugged at the ribbon around her hair until her wavy, sable locks spilled down and curtained both their faces. When he tucked the thick tresses behind her ears, her beauty forced a gasp from his lips, and he drew her back in for another kiss. A moment later, she broke the contact and pulled away far enough to gaze into his eyes.

She ran her fingers through his hair, her face set in a forlorn frown. “I have to say something. And I have to say it now. Before this goes any further.”

Her expression turned his turned his guts to jelly. She planned to reject his request. Maybe she felt guilty. Her lover passed such a short time ago. Alistair heard that widows sometimes struggled with such emotions after the death of a husband. As much as he wanted her, he wasn’t the type of man to force himself on a woman, but he could try to change her mind.

Caressing her cheek with his thumb, he pulled her closer and nuzzled the tip of her nose with his. “You can tell me anything, sweetheart.”

She shuddered as she drew a ragged breath then closed her eyes with a sigh. “Alright. I don’t know exactly how to say this. I’m usually not very good at expressing my feelings. People tell me I tend to deflect serious topics with sarcasm and humor. And I guess that’s true…”

She’s more perfect than I thought.

Alistair developed a similar defense mechanism very early on in his life. Diffusing difficult situations with humor got him out of more scrapes in his life than he cared to count. As a child, he was always small for his age, and growing up around nobles and knights, he found it much easier to deflate a foe’s anger with a smile or a joke than a fist or a sword. Apparently Emily learned the same lesson, unlike Erin, who was far too serious and possessed no sense of humor at all.

“Anyway,” she continued. “I just wanted to let you know, before this goes any further, that I’m not really a one night stand kind of woman. I really want this. You. But, if that’s something you can’t handle, then I’m afraid we need to stop now because I’m just drunk enough and want you badly enough to give in if we don’t.”

Alistair heaved a sigh then shifted his weight to roll her over onto her back. He gazed into her beautiful emerald eyes for a long moment before softly touching his lips to hers one last time. When he finally tore himself away, he lifted his upper body to support his weight on his elbows and ran his fingers through her hair.

“First of all, I want you to know that you are an incredibly beautiful and sexy woman. Any man would be lucky to be with you.” Her throat constricted with a gulp as she braced herself for his next word. “But…”

The space between her brows disappeared in a pained expression. “That man isn’t you.”

Alistair shook his head. He wished he could say yes. He really wanted to, and not just because he wanted to have sex with her. Although they had only met a few hours before, there was something about her that made him want to throw caution to the wind and hold onto her forever. But he was a broken man, and his heart was scarred too badly to ever recover. He just wasn’t capable of being the man she wanted, the one she needed.

“You deserve someone who can love you and take care of you,” he whispered. “I can’t do that, Emily. I’m sorry.”

He rose to his feet, then helped her to hers. With a forced smile, she touched his cheek, then silently turned for the door. The deep recesses of Alistair’s heart screamed at him to run after her, but the walls around it kept his feet glued to the floor. In the long run, he knew he made the right decision, but it certainly wasn’t the easy one. He sighed. Nothing was ever easy.

Emily’s head was pounding like the void when she awoke the following morning, and the pirate captain bellowing in her ear only made it worse. “Rise and shine, my beautiful sleeping friend. It’s time to face the day. And pay the piper.”

The mage covered her face with her pillow and moaned. “Go away Isabela.”

“Uh-uh. Somebody got into the rum last night and, judging by the empty bottle lying under your bunk, I would say that someone was you.”

“I’ll pay you for them later.” whined Emily. “Just leave me alone and let me go back to sleep.”

Isabela jerked the pillow from her friend’s grasp and grinned. “I noticed that our resident royal is also feeling a bit out of sorts this morning. Is there something you want to share?”

“Nothing happened if that’s what you’re insinuating,” the mage lied.

The pirate’s brow lifted. “Then why is your lip cream smeared?”

Emily sat up and swiped her fingertips across her mouth only to be greeted by a huge cat-like grin. “My lips cream’s not really smeared. Is it?”

“You’re not even wearing any,” Isabela laughed.

The mage fell backward into her hammock. “You are a wretched bitch, and I hate you.”

The pirate continued to laugh as she gripped Emily’s hand and pulled her out of bed. Once the mage’s feet were firmly on the floor, Isabela grabbed the other woman’s face and squinted her eyes. “Okay, don’t be stingy. Spill. What happened? Did you...?

“I’m not telling you anything, Isabela,” Emily replied, shaking her head to release her friend’s grip.

The pirate’s lower lip jutted in a pout. “Oh, come on Hawke. I tell you stories about my escapades all the time.”

“Yeah, but you always volunteer those stories,” Emily countered. “Even when I don’t want to know the details.”

Isabela’s expression altered to a scowl. “Fair point, I suppose.” After a long pause, the pirate bumped her shoulder against the mage’s. “So. What happened?”

“Fine,” Emily sighed with exasperation. “We kissed, alright.” Isabela crossed her arms, dropped her chin to her cleavage, and arched a disbelieving brow. The mage rolled her eyes. “Okay, we kissed a lot.”

“And?” Isabela prodded.

“And he might have untied my trousers a little bit. But that’s as far as it went.”

The other woman appeared confused. “But why?” She grimaced in thought before regarding Emily with a pitying expression. “Oh no. You didn’t tell him you love him, did you?”

“Oh please, Isabela,” the mage huffed. “Do I look like a sixteen year old virgin to you?”

Isabela chewed at her bottom lip in thought for a few minutes then waggled her head. “You didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” Emily asked, feigning innocence.

“You told him you wouldn’t sleep with him unless it was going to lead to a relationship, didn’t you?” When the mage’s gaze dropped to her boots, the pirate heaved a sigh. “Oh Hawke. Why in the void would you do something like that?”

“Okay, so I acted like an eighteen year old virgin,” the other woman confessed. Her brows pleated together in anguish. “I’ve been through all that before, Izzy. What Fenris did...I felt worthless and dirty and cheap afterward. I don’t ever want to feel like that again. I always thought that, if I knew he didn’t love me, I wouldn’t have made that mistake.”

Isabela brushed the hair away from Emily’s face and extended a sympathetic smile. “You’re utterly hopeless. You know that don’t you?”

“I know,” the mage shrugged with a forlorn frown.

The pirate cupped Emily’s chin between her fingertips. “Next time, try to remember that no man wants to hear about anything dealing with a relationship on the first date, sweetie. That’s the best way to scare them off.”

“So is there a way to fix it so things won’t be totally awkward when I’m around him?”

Isabela’s lids narrowed. “You were both drunk right?” Emily nodded in reply. “Then pretend it never happened. He probably won’t bring it up, and, if he does, just tell him you don’t remember any of it.”

“You think that’ll work?” Emily questioned, her brow furrowed with skepticism.

The other woman smirked. “Always has for me.”

Emily’s head still felt like it was going to explode any moment, but at least her anxiety over facing Alistair again subsided a bit. “Thanks, Izzy.”

“Anytime, sweetie,” the pirate told her before arching a brow and pointing at her friend’s shoulder. “By the way, you might want to cover that up before Fenris sees it.”

Isabela spun on her heel and sauntered away, leaving Emily standing there with a bewildered expression. What in the Maker’s name was Izzy going on about? She inspected her shoulder until she spotted the edge of a very dark, very noticeable love bite between the strap of her bodice and her neck.

“Oh shit,” she mumbled. “Of all the...”

The sound of a baritone voice interrupted her complaint. “Hawke?”

Maker’s balls! Why now?

“Hawke,” repeated the silver haired elf as he circled around to her front. “May I speak with you for a few minutes?”

Her palm flew to her shoulder to cover the mark Alistair left before she slid her fingers under the edge of the strap and scratched at her skin. She had to think of an excuse and fast. Fenris made it clear he didn’t like Alistair. If he saw the love bite, it would only start a fight. The last thing her pounding head needed was the elf’s booming voice adding to its pain.

She offered the most genuine smile she could muster. “Sure, Fenris. But can it wait for just a bit? It’s kind of embarrassing, but I’ve been sweating in these clothes for a couple of days, and this leather itches like mad. I just need a few minutes to freshen up.”

The elf’s brow furrowed in contemplation for a few moments before softening to an odd smile. “Of course.” He pointed his thumb toward the nearby hatch in the ceiling. “I will wait for you on the upper deck.”

“Thanks,” she managed in her most cheerful and sweet voice given her condition. The moment her friend was out of sight, Emily began rummaging through the bundle of clothes Isabela left for her.

Oh, Isabela. Don’t you have anything in here that will cover this thing?

Throwing the bundle onto her hammock, she heaved a sigh of exasperation. It was no use. Why in the bloody void did she leave all her own things behind?

“Is there anything I can help with, falon?”

The sound of Anion’s voice made Emily jump. Forgetting about the mark on her skin, she covered her heart with her hand and spun around. “Anion, you scared the shit out of me. I thought I was alone down here.”

He extended a sheepish grin. “I apologize, Hawke. I did not mean to frighten you. You just seemed a bit frustrated.” His eyes dropped to her shoulder, eliciting a very Anders-like smirk. “That is quite a nasty bruise you have there.”

Her hand slid up her chest to the mark on her neck. “Oh, yes. Well. Um” She couldn’t come up with a single excuse as to how the bruise came to be.

“No worries, falon,” he chuckled. “I am a healer, remember? Your secrets are safe with me. It does seem that someone got rather amorous though.” Emily’s face flushed crimson, amusing the young elf further. “There is no need to be embarrassed. It is nothing I have not seen before. Would you like me to heal it?”

Of course. Anion was a healer. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? Anders often healed the love bites he left on her body. She extended a grateful smile.

“If you don’t mind. I’d really appreciate it.”

His azure gaze locked onto hers as he placed his warm hand on her bare shoulder. His touch was gentle, much like her deceased love’s. When the tingling pulse of his magic began to radiate between his palm and her skin, it evoked a vivid memory of the last time Anders did that very same thing.

Six months before the healer’s death, the couple took a day for themselves to spend some much needed alone time together. Anders’ behavior had changed over the preceding weeks, keeping late hours at his clinic and oftentimes not returning home at all. Emily was always proud of his dedication to his patients, but all the time he spent away was putting a strain on their relationship.

After several days of prodding and pleading, she finally convinced him to spend a day away from his work. She awoke that morning to the delectable aroma of hearthcakes smothered in homemade strawberry syrup, Anders’ specialty. They chatted happily over breakfast, just as they had hundreds of times before, as if nothing at all was amiss. At the end of their meal, they threw their trays aside to revel in each other then retreated to bathing room to make love in the tub. After that, they went shopping in Lowtown where Emily found the perfect outfit for the healer-black and dark green with gold trim. Then they ate an early supper at a tavern in Hightown before heading to the docks to watch the ships roll into the harbor. When they returned home just before sunset, they made love again then followed that with a bout of wicked grace. As usual, Emily lost royally to her lover, but instead of gloating, his mood grew quiet and serious.

“What’s up?” she finally asked.

He took her hand and helped her to her feet. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about for a while now. I’ve just been waiting for the right time.”

Her green eyes narrowed with curiosity. “What is it?”

He tugged at the ribbon in her hair, allowing it to spill onto her shoulders, then slowly ran his fingers through her tresses with a wistful smile. “Dear Maker. How did I ever get so lucky?”

With an impish grin, Emily followed suit by removing the tie from his ponytail. She rubbed the scruff of his cheek with her fingertips then hooked a blonde strand behind his left ear. He was absolutely gorgeous with his hair down. The contrast of his soft, thick locks against his chiseled features left her breathless.

“I was just wondering the same thing,” she whispered. “Have I ever told you how happy you make me?”

The corners of his mouth curled into the sexy, lopsided smirk she adored. “Maybe once or twice, but, for right now, I’d rather talk about how happy you make me.”

His throat constricted with a gulp as he closed his eyes and took hold of her hands. His own trembled, as if he caught a terrible chill. Emily’s heart thundered in her chest, and her face flushed from the heat rushing through her body. Whatever he was going to say, it would either make her extremely happy or tear her world apart.

He drew several deep breaths before exhaling a long, ragged sigh. “Okay, here it goes.” Releasing her right hand, he concentrated his warm amber gaze on her eyes. Moments later, he dropped to one knee as she felt a ring slip over her finger.

“I love you Emily. I have wished and hoped for many things in my life, but I’ve never dared to hope to find someone like you. I always thought having a woman like you love me was an unattainable dream. It was just way too big a wish for a man like me. And then, when Justice came along. I thought any chance of finding love was completely lost. In any capacity. I never imagined anyone would look past what I became. But, you not only looked past it, you accepted it as being part of me. I know I’m far from perfect, and sometimes I go way off the deep end. And I know that I ask a lot of you, but I’d like to ask just one more thing. Will you be my wife, Emily? If you say yes, I swear to you I’ll spend the rest of my days loving no one but you, and I’ll try my best to prove to you that your love hasn’t been wasted on me.”

Tears flooded her eyes when she pulled him to his feet then kissed him. He picked her up from the floor and carried her to the bed. They whiled away the hours whispering desperate oaths of love and eternity into each other’s ears as he rocked her gently in his embrace. Soft, lingering kisses ignited her senses as his lips and tongue traced every inch of her body. Never before had Emily felt so alive, so loved. The evening was absolutely perfect. The next morning, he woke early to head for the clinic. When he was on his way out, she leapt from their bed and ran into his arms to give him a proper goodbye.

The corners of his mouth curled into a rakish smirk upon drinking in her naked form. “Wow. I guess I got a bit carried away last night, huh?

Emily slipped her wrists around the back of his neck and laughed. “I don’t mind in the least.”

“Maybe not, but you are a noblewoman. It wouldn’t be proper for you to go traipsing around Hightown covered in love bites like a common guttersnipe. Now would it?”

She brushed her lips against his. “Who cares what those old biddies think? Their tongues already wag over my live-in, apostate boyfriend. ”

“Maybe,” he replied with a grin, taking her left hand into his right. “But I’m doing my best to make an honest woman of you.”

He kissed the polished emerald of her engagement ring then placed his hands on the sides of her neck. Gazing into her eyes, he allowed his magic to flow into her body. When he finished, he drew her in for a long passionate kiss, running his fingers across her left inner thigh.

“I think I’ll leave that one,” he whispered into her ear. “No one besides you and I will see it, but I’m hoping it serves as reminder of what’s in store for you when I return home tonight.”

The sound of Anion’s voice forced Emily back into reality. “Are you alright, falon?”

“Yes, Anion,” she replied, her voice cracking against the tears she didn’t want the young healer to see. “Everything’s fine.”

His lips turned up in an uneven grin, reminding Emily once again of her departed love. “Well, you are all healed.”

“Thank you,” she managed. She needed to get away from him as quickly as possible before she fell apart. She liked Anion, and she wasn’t sure what she would have done about the marks had he not been there, but he simply looked too much like Anders for her comfort. Given the memories swimming around in her head, she just couldn’t remain in his presence.

“You are most welcome. And now, I shall leave you to your privacy.”

With a sense of relief, Emily watched the healer climb up the ladder to the upper deck. After a long moment to compose herself, she grabbed the few items from Isabela’s hand me downs that would fit both her body and personality. On her way to the cargo hold, she grabbed a hairbrush, a water bucket, a bar of soap, a towel, and a clean cloth. Once she reached the hold, she shut the door behind her and stripped out of her clothes to begin her makeshift bath.

While in the process of bending over to wash her legs, a low whistle sounded from somewhere between the crates. Emily jumped with surprise and nearly fell on her ass when she slipped in the puddle at her feet. She grabbed the towel draped over the side of the crate at her left and threw it around her to cover her nudity.

Alistair stepped from around one of the wooden boxes with a smirk. “I never expected to wake up to see that. I have to admit, it was a very pleasant surprise.”

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