Find out in Chapter 16 of The One That Feels! Missed out on the early chapters? Check it out from the beginning: Chapter 1.
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Nem looked at the clothes the goblin had laid out for him with an arched eyebrow, his long, thin fingers delicately prodding the last item—a slim bit of silk.
“You want me to wear this?” Nem asked.
“Under the other clothes,” I said, stepping up to him and rubbing my beard into his cheek.
I kissed a spot underneath his ear and whispered, very softly, “Because it’s sexy. You’ll look so hot in them. Don’t feel you have to. Brian never would, so it’s not like….”
Nem reached up, though he did not turn, simply leaned back against me as his hand cupped my cheek. “It’s important to you?”
“For you to want to be sexy for me. Yeah,” I said, kissing him on the cheek. “I’ll know, all through the ceremony. I’ll know that you’re just waiting for it to be over so I can take those clothes off and you’ll be wearing that. And I”—my breath was heavy—“I’ll be on fire for you.”
I leaned my head over his shoulder and rested it there. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“I’m burning for you already.”
“You promise?” asked Nem, blushing.
I slid so close to him that he could feel the truth of my words rubbing against him.
Nem groaned and pushed back against me. “Want it,” he said, turning his head to catch my lips in a kiss.
I stayed like that, rubbing up against him, for longer, probably, than I should have, given how worked up I was getting. But his lips felt good against mine—so good—and everything felt righter than it had in a long time. I finally broke the kiss and pulled myself away from him, turning so I couldn’t see him. “We should get ready,” I said, breathless despite my attempts not to sound that way.
I felt the soft kiss through my still awkwardly tight shirt, and then Nem’s body against mine. He was hard and I could feel that hardness as he pulled me backwards into him. “Want you to know,” he said into my shoulder, “it’s not just you.”
“I’d let you,” I whispered softly. It was a hard admission. I was a top, mostly, and had only ever let Brian inside me.
His lips formed a smile against my shoulder. “I’d like that,” he said very softly, “once our bond is strong.”
I seized one of his hands and squeezed. “We’ll start on that tonight,” I said, and brought the hand to my lips. “I promise.”
I felt the gasp as the Realm sealed my words into a vow that I wouldn’t, couldn’t break. His arms wrapped tight around my chest and I could hear a soft sob of relief.
“I’m marrying you, sweet prince,” I said. “Did you really think I wouldn’t….”
“I wasn’t sure. I mean, after what we did earlier, I hoped, but I was still afraid.”
I turned around and looked into the mercurial depths of his eyes, wiping away the flakes of silver that clung to his cheeks from his tears. “Don’t cry,” I whispered. “I am here, and I am honored to be chosen.” I stroked each side of his face in turn and then kissed him softly, barely a brush of my lips against his. His eyes fluttered closed at the touch and I caressed my lips against his again, the barest of touches, before pulling away.
Nem opened his eyes. His gaze was the honest, soul-baring gaze he’d shown me only once before. “I meant it,” he said very softly, “when I offered to let you walk away.”
“I know,” I said, closing my eyes. He’d chosen me as a mate. It would mean a life alone, bereft. A short life. Most died without their mate. “It’s partly that you meant it that convinced me to stay.”
“What was the other part?” he asked, his musical voice cracking.
“How much it hurt you to mean it,” I said quietly. “Because you half-expected me to run. You gave me a choice anyway.”
He blinked away silvery tears. “You deserve better than me,” he whispered. “I’m just a pathetic boy who is afraid of his father.”
“No,” I said, kissing him lightly on the forehead, “you’re a great deal more than that.” I stroked his face gently from his temple down to the line of his jaw. “Get dressed. It’s time.”
Nem trembled openly and nodded, looking at the clothing arrayed on the bed. “I’ll be out in a minute,” he said.
I left him alone, returning to the living area of the tiny suite, where an ancient looking goblin waited and stared at me with a strange sort of gaze that looked more through me than at me.
I bowed my head. “Thank you for coming, honored one.”
He did not answer, instead merely shaking a rattle made of bone. The corner of my mouth turned upward. The seer had come—that was enough. I stood, feeling jittery as I waited. I took the opportunity to smooth the wrinkles from my gray and silver tux. I felt a little silly, but this was our wedding, and it was going to be small and intimate. I wanted to make it right for Nem.
It took more than a few moments, but before I could really get to worrying, Nem stepped from the bedroom. His tux was a raiment of the Realm, long and elaborately cut and woven of silk harvested in the light of the moon, pure white and pristine. His long silver hair was fantastically braided, cascading across his shoulders and down his chest, framing the fine pale flesh of his face. His horns rose, majestic, crowning him. I gasped a little at the sight. He is so beautiful, my Nem.
The eyes of the seer widened, taking in the garment. I could tell he was surprised, and he gave me a look after that was as crass as any I might get in a locker room of the Real. He’d guessed then, that the declaration Nem was making was real. That he’d yielded to this rite as an untouched virgin.
Nem moved to stand next to me and looked at the seer. “I am grateful, Nimmet, for the favor of your presence. You must know my fath—”
The goblin cackled. “Is favorite thing of Nimmet to annoy kings of Zaharoth. Will have a turn, and will annoy you as much!” He shook a rattle and began to prance in strangely graceful steps around us. “Now is time. Now to celebrate. Circle is to be made.” He spun in his dance until he’d circled all the way around us and then gave each of us in turn that look, that same look that pierced deep and moved through, not at, until it seemed the wrinkled old goblin had known the soul itself.
Nimmet grumbled and shook his rattle again. “Nem, prince and heir of Zaharoth, is coming freely into circle?”
“I come freely.”
“Thommas of Ashe, child of the Real, is coming freely into circle?”
“I come freely.”
The goblin looked at me, and then again at Nem. “Is asking to be joining of two souls, to be binding together”—he shook the rattle in emphasis—“to be making of one.” He spread his hands wide. “Be telling old Nimmet why, little prince, you seek this one to be joined.”
Nem did not look at the goblin. His eyes were on me, and they burned, how gloriously they burned! That gaze bored into me, and I knew a hundred, a thousand years later I would still feel it burning.
“I met him by chance. A child of the Real. We knew the Real had touched our lands, and I was so excited. It is not something that happens, and I went, to the place of death to see it. A creature of the Real. It was my right to claim this duty, to seek out the interloper and demand our just payment.” Nem reached up to stroke my cheek. “But what I found was a man of sacrifice. Someone who stepped into the Realm out of love. And I had never seen it. Love. Not that way. Not that pure perfect feeling that this man gave so completely, without thought of himself. But I threatened, as I’d been taught. Made the demands of my duty. And he was not concerned. Calm, collected, sexy. Such power and yet feeling at the same time. And he spoke his name. ‘I am the One That Feels,’ he said. And I knew I was lost.”
Nem’s eyes darted away. I was bereft. I’d felt his gaze and I needed it, and I wasn’t ashamed to gasp from my loss.
“Here was the hero and monster and villain, all wrapped up in one, and he’d come to me, to Zaharoth, and I squandered my opportunity. I yielded in the name of Zaharoth, and spoke a cruel untruth, and fled.” Nem was blinking back tears, but he looked at me again, and my heart danced as he continued. “And then he came again. With a sword woven of the bitter pain of loss he fought our guardians, and he won. And I confronted him again, and asked of him the price that is Zaharoth’s due.”
Nem’s gaze met mine, and stayed there, the mercurial depths of his eyes filled with silver fire. “I told him there was no wisdom in feeling. But now I feel. I feel him to my bones, and while there may be no wisdom in it, that feeling makes me very strong, and brave in ways I have never been. Without ever really meaning to, I chose this man as my mate. Help me, Nimmet. Help us.”
Nimmet looked at him very oddly. “You know he is of the Real, your mate.”
“Please, Nimmet. I have marked him as mine. I need him to belong.”
It has never been easy to read the bodies and feelings of goblins, but I could tell that Nimmet was shaken, and when he turned to look at me, I could see the uncertainty in the eyes of the seer. “And you, Thommas of Ashe. Why do you seek to join?”
“There is only one reason to join,” I said simply. “I am the One That Feels. And I feel it. I love him.” I looked at Nem and then I let the careful protections wrought over my feelings fall. The glimpses I’d given Nem of it were nothing to what I did now. I was raw and open, and the tiniest glance at me showed how deeply the young prince had invaded my heart. I was incomplete, and he filled the gaps of my heart with a perfection that made me yearn to touch. And that was open, and perfect and he could see it, but because I was of the Real, because I was the One That Feels, my yielding of this truth was a thousand times more than the brief glimpse he’d seen at the hospital. My feelings touched the Realm, and the Realm in that moment of openness knew what real love was.
“Is truth in this wisdom,” said Nimmet, tears flowing openly down his cheeks. “And yet this mating is not wise. You are of the Real, Thommas of Ashe. And he can only love you here.”
I stepped up to Nem and set my hands on either shoulder. “Then I will live here.”
The goblin gulped. “You make this sacrifice willingly?”
“I give it in offering to my mate, who offers to me his body as mine.”
“Then you must offer also your souls”—the rattle shook—“for they are joined, and bound. You are one, Thommas of Ashe, with Nem of Zaharoth. You are one, Nem, prince of the blood, with Thommas of the Real. You are one”—again the rattle shook—“and it is so.”
The circle of the old seer’s steps flared in a brilliant flash, and then there was a burning inside my chest, and from the gasps Nem was making he was feeling it too. I had to hold him, and touch him, and kiss him. His lips opened to mine as our bodies pressed against each other and our tongues danced and our fingers roamed and for those moments we stood in the circle, there was no Brian, no quest for Jordan. There was only Nem, my Nem, my mate. A love I had forgotten how to feel filled me as he explored the open gates of my soul with his tongue, and I yielded to him the keys to my heart forever.