From Her Heart’s Liege
By Olivia Fields
Alex and the prince continued their sparring matches at regular intervals, varying tandem sword training with hand to hand. The craft of unarmed combat continued to prove frustrating for the prince, especially when defending against her attacks.
"Impossible," Holden lamented one afternoon as she put him on his face in the dirt for the umpteenth time, effortlessly seating herself atop his back. "You can't have done that. Again."
"I'm not using strength." She wound up his arm a bit more to demonstrate. "This is leverage."
"I concede." He went limp, and she sat on him for a moment longer, liking their position rather more than she strictly should. She made herself move before the moment stretched too long, heaving off him, and offered him a hand up.
He reached for her, and gave her no warning whatsoever before yanking hard. Off-balance, she toppled helplessly onto him. He rolled her under his body, pinning her arms with his hands, his waist sinking between her thighs.
"There," he said with satisfaction. "Escape this."
She clenched her fists in exasperation, trying breathlessly to ignore the sensation of his body weighing down on her, pushing her thighs apart and pressing against the center of her. "I haven't showed you everything I know. Not yet."
She bucked her hips up sharply and kicked her heels against the ground, unseating him. They rolled, trading advantage back and forth. He couldn't pin her, but neither could she escape without hurting him. They thrashed about wildly, kicking up dust, dirt, and bracken as they struggled. He clutched her tightly against his chest. He was laughing, and she realized she was too. They abruptly fetched up against one of the log segments surrounding the fire ring, and she found herself lying on top of him, her face a few inches from his.
They froze there, and their laughter faded. He did not try to dislodge her again. His eyes grew warm and deep. He was still smiling, his lips parted slightly. She lost herself in his gaze, wavering on the verge of sinking down to taste his mouth.
She felt his hands settling slowly on her waist, anticipating her kiss. He was smeared with dirt. Bits of dried fern stuck to the sweat on his face and body, tangled in his untidy hair. He looked so good he almost seemed edible. Hypnotized, she was tempted to bend her head and lick a droplet of perspiration right off his cheek.
Carl was watching them, she knew.
"You're a mess," she observed, hearing the breathlessness in her voice. "Get up and wash that dirt off. Carl almost has the supper ready."
The spell was broken.
She climbed off him, briskly dusting all the twigs and bracken off her clothes, using her fingers to pluck what she could out of her hair. It was so bad she'd have to get out her comb and re-weave her braid.
The prince went to splash in the pond, and she disciplined herself not to watch. Carl looked up as she went to the wagon for her comb and returned to the fire.
"One of these days he'll weary of you rubbing his nose in the dirt and give you a right good thrashing," he said amiably.
"On the day he can, I'll be proud of him." She slouched by the fire and began to unravel her braid, all but exhausted. She rubbed her neck, which was covered with grit and dust. That was too damned close for comfort. She'd have to see to it there was no more light horseplay of that sort.
"Ohhh, will you look at him," Carl muttered, gazing past her toward the pond, and Alex barely managed to stop herself before she obeyed.
"Look at what?"
"The results of your handiwork."
She snorted. The prince's idea of modesty still left much to be desired. "Flaunting himself again, is he?" She began combing at the bottom of her hair, slowly working her way up as the tangles came out.
"You might say that." Carl turned the spit where a pheasant the prince had managed to shoot was roasting, dripping juices on the fire and producing a mouthwatering smell. "He would be if anyone were looking, at any rate."
"Well, I'm not." She didn't bother to keep the tartness from her voice. "I wonder why you are."
"Purely to keep you informed, of course." Carl chuckled. "It's the least I can do."
"Let me guess. He has two arms, two legs, and a cock he's rather more than reasonably proud of. Just like any man." She re-wove the braid briskly and tied it with a bit of leather.
"He's sprouted a good bit more muscle than he had in Norwich. I'd have thought you'd appreciate a chance to enjoy examining your handiwork." Carl wasn't at all perturbed by her frank speech. "I believe he's grown a bit more courtesy, as well."
"If he had an ounce of politeness, he wouldn't strip naked and wash in the presence of a lady." She thought of making a mint infusion, then reached for their jug of ale instead and poured herself a mug.
"Well, mayhap if you want to be treated more like a lady, you could act more like one." Carl glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, calculating how angry he was making her.
"Instead of like a sergeant at the drill."
act like what I am," she muttered.