21 Listen

I hadn't realized how close he was standing until he leaned down until our noses almost touched, then put a finger to my chest—high enough not to be suggestive.

Then he gave a one-sided, cynical smile. "Actually, yes."

"Oh my word—"

He took my chin in his hand, forcing me to keep holding his eyes, that jaded smile pulling lines into his cheek on one side.

"As King, I have been educated in all aspects of royal life and leadership." A shadow passed behind his eyes. "Making love is a skill—did you know that?"

I sneered. "So you've taken enough women who were blinded by your power, or too scared of you to say no, to learn a few tricks?"

His teeth clenched and fire rose in his eyes. "No." He bit the word off. "My father made certain I was trained in the art of seduction, Zara." An eerie darkness entered his tone. "Since the age of sixteen I was… instructed."

I blinked. "Wait, how—?"

"However, educated or not, I would not take an unwilling woman, no matter how… compliant she may be," he snarled. "You offend me with these accusations. Perhaps the problem here isn't that you've been hurt before, but that it was those boys with claws who pushed into your life, or your body, with no regard for your heart?"

My blood ran cold, but he'd said something important.

"What do you mean you were instructed?" I asked breathlessly.

His eyes went dead and he let go of my chin, straightening so that he looked at me down his long, regal nose again. "I mean precisely what I said. I was taught. My skills were trained, then honed, so that when the time came I might use them to benefit my wife."

"By who?"

His jaw flexed. "Does it matter?"

"Of course it matters! Did you want them to touch you?"

"That isn't the point, I am merely trying to make you understand that I do not enter this part of the Selection blindly. I will not sentence my wife, whoever she may be, to finding the marriage bed boring… or a prison."

My head spun—I was now simultaneously angry about what he planned, nervous about what he might have experienced, and also flustered, because there was a heat in his gaze when he talked about skills and benefits and…

I took a deep breath. First things first.

"I'm glad that you don't want your wife to be bored," I said dryly. "But, that's not the point. What we're talking about is using people. I told you I didn't say this was wrong just because I didn't want to do it. If you were touched or… or… compelled into contact with a woman you didn't want, that's no different than if some man forced himself on me."

David's jaw flexed. "I cannot believe I am going to say this, but if it will reassure you, I was never raped."

I folded my arms. "But were you… persuaded?"

That lopsided smile crept up, a glint in his eyes. "What is seduction if there is no persuasion involved?"

I gave him a flat look. "Were you being pushed to do something you didn't want to do?"

That glint turned into a gleam. "You tell me."

"I… what?"

But he was looming again, his eyes narrow, but locked on mine. "You are a beautiful woman, Zara, you cannot tell me you have not been seduced before?" His voice was gravel and honey, the darkness of it shivering in my belly.

"Well, I mean… that's not—"

He lifted one hand slowly, allowing me to see it rise. I stiffened when he was near my breast, but he kept moving until he reached my jaw. I thought he would cup my face and was wondering how I would feel about that, but then he let his fingers slide to the back of my neck, and up, splaying them slightly until they ran into the hair at my nape that was revealed because Abigail had twisted my hair up this morning. When he found it with those deliciously slow fingertips, he slowly, slowly straightened and curled them through the hair, raising goosebumps that skittered down my spine. My heart thumped and my breath caught. I wanted to close my eyes and wallow in that touch, but I made myself hold his gaze.

"I wonder if you know that touch is a language?" he said softly, a slight question in his husky tone.

"Oh?" I was trying hard not to react, but I wanted to arch into that touch like a cat being scratched behind their ears.

He nodded and tilted his head as if he was trying to see his fingers touch me. "Touch that is not… suggestive tells your lover that you are devoted not to your own pleasure, but to theirs."

I swallowed. "I can see how that would be true. Theoretically." I wished my voice sounded stronger.

David's half-smile grew and he dragged his fingertips down, around the side of my neck again. I didn't want to admit that I grieved the loss of that tingling touch at the base of my skull.

But then he curled his fingers to run his knuckles gently along my jaw and it felt as if my skin rose to meet the touch. I wanted to speak, to take back control, but I was locked in that heated gaze.

"Touch that follows the lines of the body speaks of how your lover admires you," he said, his voice a touch rougher than it had been.

I nodded, because I remembered the way I'd wanted to follow the lines of Ash's muscles when he wasn't wearing a shirt.

And suddenly I found myself wondering what David looked like without a shirt.

As if he'd heard my thought, the other side of his mouth quirked up so that he was smiling for real, and the sweet handsomeness of it stole my breath completely. His eyes sparkled and the lines in his cheeks somehow seemed strong and vulnerable in the same moment.

My stomach clenched and my heart began to race.

No. No, no, no, Zara. This was not good.

Unless, of course, it was perfect.


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