At Ease (135/141)

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Justin was still reeling from bliss as Nikola fell onto his side beside the two of them and snuggled close with an arm over his wife’s back as she lay on top of Justin. She extended an arm blindly to circle his waist. “Oh, my lords, that was the most sublime, amazing thing I have ever felt.”

“Agreed.” Nikola slipped an arm under Justin’s head and kissed first him then Wisteria, before hugging both fiercely. “I love you both so much.”

The slim, long-legged beauty laying against Justin caressed Nikola before wriggling off to lie on the opposite side of Justin and rest her chin on his chest. “You are the best husband in all Paradise,” she told Nikola. “I’ve loved Lord Com – Justin – for so long.” Addressing Justin directly, she added, “You have been such a good friend to me, to both of us, strong and loyal and brave.” Justin found himself blushing again, listening to them. He’d long known Nikola loved him, but the two of them had never spoken of emotions before. It was strange to hear it now, strange and heart-achingly sweet. “But I always thought it would make you unhappy, Nikola, if you knew of my feelings.”

Nikola shook his head, smiling. “I would have thought so too, but it doesn’t. I am thrilled. My sole regret about marriage was giving him up. And now I have you back.” He rose on one arm to kiss Justin, stroking his cheek.

Justin hugged Nikola one-armed to his side. He still could not believe that this was real. Madness seems so much more plausible.

I will never consent to be cured of this.

He had never been happier in his life. Lying between his two favorite people in all Paradise, he realized that this was what he had been longing for. This peace, this connection, this comfortable physical ease, this is what he had needed even more than gratification. To stop hiding, to stop pretending, if only with these two, if only for a little while. He was more relaxed than he’d been in months, no guilt, no shame, no regrets.

“I wish we could stay like this forever,” Nikola murmured, reaching across Justin’s chest to stroke his wife’s cheek.

She stirred to press against his fingers. “Oh yes.”

Justin chuckled, squeezing them closer. “Alas that we cannot. Does Fireholt still hold Temple service at four o’clock, Nikola?”

“Ugh. Unfortunately.” Nikola shuddered. “What time is it?”

Wisteria lifted her head enough to see the clock on the mantlepiece against the wall beyond Nikola. “Half past two.”

Nikola groaned and snuggled closer to Justin, curling one leg across his and stroking Wisteria’s thigh with his toes. “I suppose I ought to get ready. I’m leading the service so it’ll be short, at any rate.” He sighed.

“Probably we all should.” Wisteria turned her head to kiss Nikola’s hand, then Justin’s chest. Her lips drifted to encircle one bare nipple, hand gliding down his abdomen to rest atop his hip.

Justin arched, half-laughing. “Ahhhh, my very dear Wisteria, that will get one part of me to rise, but it will by no means encourage me to leave your bed.”

The blond man on his other side shifted to drop kisses on both of them as he sat up. “You two may play as you like, but I had best arrive a little early. Excuse me, my lord, my lady.” He slid from the bed and padded into the bathing chamber to clean up.

Justin snagged Wisteria’s hand and pulled her up with his other arm for a quick kiss before she could tempt him further. As if she wasn’t tempting enough just being her beautiful self pressed nude against him. He ran a hand through her thick curls, smiling at her. “I should not wear myself or you out completely, my dear.”

She nodded, settling for a moment with her legs twined about his thigh and her face against his shoulder. She held him tightly, and they lay together a few minutes longer before rising.

The three of them helped one another dress in lieu of the usual servants. Nikola finished first and went to his study to collect his notes, leaving Wisteria alone with Justin as she tied his neckcloth. He stood at ease, watching her as she worked. Like her husband, she wore simple jewelry for the occasion: a single brooch of onyx and gold styled in Fireholt’s symbol pinned to the short-waisted embroidered violet jacket she wore over her long gown, gold bracelets clasped around her wrists. Her expression was neutral as always, her motions brisk and efficient. When she was done, he caught her about the waist and pulled her close; her body melted gratifyingly against his. “How are you feeling?” he asked her. “No regrets?”

Wisteria shook her head. “I am so very happy, my lord.” She rested her cheek against his shoulder. “I feel wonderful. A little wicked, perhaps, for doing something so outrageous that even I never imagined such things could happen. And I was sure you must have lost all interest in me, and that it was very wrong of me that I could not put you out of my mind even as much as I love Nikola. Now…it’s as if I had been trying to put a puzzle together with half the pieces flipped over. Now that they’re all right-side up everything fits together beautifully.” She burrowed in against him, as if to remind him just how well they had fit together. As if he needed any reminders.

Justin smiled and kissed her forehead. “A little too well, perhaps.”

“What do you mean, my lord?”

“Ah, do not mind a cynical old madman, my dear. I am only thinking that something so improbable cannot possibly last. But that will not stop me from enjoying it in the moment.” He released her to offer his arm. “Come, let us join Nikola that we may all walk out together. We ought not arouse suspicions.”

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