Closing Note – The House of the Seventh Minuet

Thank you so much for reading “The House of the Seventh Minuet“! It’s been a lot of fun to write, from the serial format to the characters to the light-hearted style. Stefan and Leila will be back in “The House of the Eighth Minuet,” but first, I will be posting a gothic story based around two of their friends: Justin and Emory.

My Gothic Boyfriend” will have a few trigger warnings, which I recommend checking on if you’re sensitive to certain topics. It’s a male/male gothic romance, and I really think you’ll enjoy it if you like M/M or dark themes.

Keep an eye out for more updates, from art to sneak peaks, and also check out my playlists and my other stories!

Like spooky stories? I have a few of them!

Is high fantasy your thing? Legends of Lorata Book I: The Champion of the Goddess is for you. General consensus is that Z’Lé is a jerk; find out why!

How about a little science fiction? No distance Greater than the Stars is a space drama in three parts. I am also brainstorming a sequel for it, so that’s something to look forward to.

Thank you again, and happy reading!

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXXIII

**Special note: This chapter is very much NSFW**

Stefan and I took a break from kissing to get cleaned up and changed. That evening was the perfect opportunity to put on my silk nightgown; it was emerald green, with the lace edging and thin straps– it was almost lingerie– and tiny silk flowers. It shimmered in the candles in the light of the candles that we’d lit, and it made Stefan stare at me in awe.

He would have been just as content to come to bed in nothing but his boxer briefs, but I told him that I wanted to have a little something more to unwrap, so he obliged and put on some flannel pajama pants. It was a little funny to see him having a hard time getting them on, considering how excited he was, but it was also sweet to see him wanting to make me happy.

After a while, I had music playing softly, and the only light in the room was from the candles I had lit in various locations. Most of them were plain, but one of them was scented; something that smelled like cologne but had an abstract name like ‘Into the Night.’ When I got back on the bed to go back to kissing him, we started out face-to-face on our sides, but I eventually managed to get on top of him, straddling his waist and letting him massage my hips.

Somehow, knowing that we could go even further together because of Larsa’s gift, being together like that was even more exciting. Stefan’s hands were incredible, strong and needful, but also giving– and I was definitely ready to get everything possible from him. No more waiting, no more holding back.

I made a soft moan when his hands left my hips to squeeze my backside, hoping that it would encourage him to touch me even more. He gripped me and moved me across his groin, and I could feel how hard he was when he pressed up against me. Even still dressed, I knew how eager he was.

“Do you want that?” he murmured as he moved me back and forth across himself.

“Yes,” I gasped, although the small moans I had been making for the past few minutes would have been ‘yes’ enough for both of us.

“It’s all yours,” he told me he gazed up into my eyes, though both our visions were probably bleary with desire.

We had already agreed to take that night slow, to save the rushed flurries of need for a different time. That didn’t make my desire for him go away, though, nor his for me; it just meant that we had to work harder to control ourselves. My body was responding to his teasing and just the way he wanted it to, I was sure. As he rubbed up against me between my legs, I could feel wetness seeping out onto my panties, eager to invite him in. I almost wondered how long it would be before he noticed that he was having that effect.

His hands slid up my sides, and the feeling of the silk pressed against my skin under his strong hands was wonderful. The contrast was wonderful. The desire that filled him, was wonderful. And most wonderful of all was that fact that no matter how aroused he got, he used his strength to control himself, not to take what he wanted. It wasn’t just for himself, but for the sake of being able to protect those he loved. He was kind and gentlemanly, and his strength was shown more when he was helping others, not out of having to prove anything to anyone. He didn’t participate in machismo, believing that it was better left to animals. I absolutely adored that strength inside, with tenderness outside.

Actually, there were so many things I adored about stefan. Now that I’d actually told him that I love him, I can admit to so much more. His musical ability, his voice, the look in his eyes that showed he was intelligent but also a man of reason. That shade of blue, the way they sparkled when he looked at me… The way he suffered no fools, the way he did what he wanted in life, and did it well, but all didn’t make others feel as though they were less. He definitely had a particular Advantage because of how tall he was, and I adored his long hair, especially since he let me run my hands through it and play around with it. I really loved everything about this man.

I was caught up in thoughts of him, my fingers tracing over the lines of the tattoos on his chest, when his hands went even further up. I gasped, nearly squeaking when he filled his hands with my breasts. If he hadn’t had such wide hands, the flesh would have easily squished between his fingers; as it was, he had to squeeze quite a lot for that to happen. Not that I would have stopped him, of course. His strong grip was exactly what I wanted, his squeezing, the desire in how he gripped me, just how my body needed to be treated.

“Stefan,” I breathed, my voice shaky. I wanted to throw off my nightgown– I probably would have let him rip it off just then, but like I said before, we had promised not to do it like that just yet.

He grinned up at me, letting out a long, pleasured sigh as I pressed my hips down and moved across him again. He was hard, solid, and probably aching to be released from the restraints of his clothing. The heat between our two bodies was intense.

I leaned a little bit into his touch, and let him play with my breasts for as long as it contented him. He grinned when he felt the way my nipples peaked under the silk, and rubbed his thumbs over them again and again. I was breathing harder, making little gasping moans as he played. I don’t know how he knew what I liked, but he did it perfectly. Not too hard, not too soft– and it had been so, so long since anyone had done it right for me. Stefan and I were so compatible, he wanting to learn exactly how to please me, being willing to do it just right — which was just what I wanted to do for him.

He tugged one of the thin straps off my shoulder, and I slid my arm out of it. The silk fell away from my breast and was soon replaced by his hand– his warm, just a little bit rough, hand. I gave a happy sigh to encourage the touch, the squeeze. I dropped the other strap from my shoulder to reveal that breast as well, and let him take over keeping it warm. He pinched my nipples just enough to get a squeal from me, but not so much that it hurt. My head was light, my thoughts swimming. He groaned every time I moved across his pulsing erection, and I wanted to make him get louder and louder.

I leaned in even further, locking him in a long, sensual kiss. Our tongues danced together, my breasts rubbed over his chest, feeling the soft hairs there. My fingers ran through his hair, the long golden strands, like so much sunlight draped across my sheets. I needed him. There was no stopping me. I moved so that I was beside him rather than on top of him and slipped my fingers under his waistband. He cried out as my skin touched his, soft contrasting with hard, I squeezed gently to pull back the foreskin, finding the head already soaking with precum. He gave a long, needy whine; it was as though I hadn’t even given him relief earlier.

I didn’t know how he’d gone so long without being with anybody, but at the same time I was grateful that it was me he’d been waiting for. Part of me found it hard to believe that I was really worth holding out that long for, but he seemed so glad that he’d done it, and that I’d finally found the strength to tell him how I felt about him. His hips moved as though of their own free will, allowing him to stroke himself through my hand, unable to resist his need. His free hand grabbed my backside, the other one tangled in my curls of hair, and he gripped me tightly, whimpering my name when he could catch his breath in between kisses.

My own body reacted to his need, my belly sliding against his hips and thigh, wanting to give him what he needed, wanting to get what it needed from him, which was to be filled by him, to let his length pry me open, for our bodies to claim one another. I had no doubt that we would fit together like two pieces of the puzzle. I was blissfully lost in thoughts of becoming one with him, of having been made for him, and him for me. There would be no going back from this, no untangling ourselves from one another, no separating our lives, our breath, our bodies. We hadn’t even joined together yet, but I already knew that I was going to need him again and again, and him me.

“I love you,” I breathed as he moaned my name and let me stroke him. He was so hard, so helpless to resist my touch, so badly in need. I don’t know how he managed to not ravage me himself just then. I suppose having waited me for me for so long, he had the strength to savor the night, to take his time and enjoy every second of what we shared together.

“Leila,” he gasped, barely able to get my name past his lips. “My queen, you rule over my body. Take everything you need from me. Please.”

His body squirmed as though trying to get free of his pants, and I decided that it was time to show mercy and pull them off of him. My thumbs hooked in the fabric and pushed, my hands sliding down his muscular thighs. Once past his feet, I tossed the soft flannel away and knelt down between his legs. He strained to look down at me, almost ready to whine that I wasn’t coming back up for more kisses, but then he realized what I had planned.

“Careful,” he gasped. “It could go at any moment.”

I giggled and grinned up at him. “Even if that happened, I have a feeling you’d be ready for more pretty quickly.”

“Maybe,” he croaked out, only able to get about half the word out before I kissed the tip of his shaft, and he seized up in pleasure. After a long moment, he was able to exhale, though only slowly, trying to maintain control. His hand went straight to my hair, gripping gently yet firmly.

“Wait, please, I need…”

“What is it?” I asked gently, looking up at him.

“If you want to do that, I want to taste you again. Will you…” his cheeks turned even redder. I had an idea of what he was about to ask, and thought that maybe it was something he’d done before, but I found it endearing that this was how he felt about asking me. “We can both do it, at the same time. Have you ever– no, forget I even thought about asking that. Just, if you turn around and kneel over me…”

I moved up his body, letting my silk nightgown slide across his chest, smiling as he shivered at the sensation. I gave him a kiss and shook my head.

“You can ask me anything,” I assured him. “I won’t be angry. I haven’t before, actually. I don’t know why, because I would have, but I guess everyone else I was with… well, we just typically took turns. But I’d love to, with you.”

I adored the look of hopefulness in his eyes as I spoke to him. He was so eager, so excited, and as confident as he usually was, he was nervous. It was sweet, the way he wanted to not upset me, to do everything just right for me.

We kissed for a while. He slid my nightgown up my back, just above my hips, then put his hands into the back of my underpants, squeezing me again, getting more moans from me, getting me to rub up against him again, this time wet silk against his needful erection. He moaned loudly and went back to kissing me even deeper. When he slipped off my panties, I knew I had to be careful not to slide over him, not until we had protection in place. He laid them aside, then went back to pulling my nightgown up my torso, his hands caressing my body. He was breathing hard beneath me, watching me, his eyes full of awe at the sight of me above him, undressed, bared and wanting him. I looked back at him the same way, of course.

I had had a thought then: back when we were still in Tierney Ríocht, when I’d first told him that I loved him and we’d spent those long, beautiful minutes kissing, I probably would have let him have me– or to be more precise, he would have given me what I desired. I was actually glad that Larsa had interrupted us, because the temptation to make love right then would have been too great.

“Come here,” Stefan said as he grabbed my legs, almost commandingly. He turned me around, my knees up near his shoulders. His face went between my legs, and he hummed contentedly at the slick feeling he found there.

“Wow,” he breathed, “you’re already so wet.”

He licked along the slit, just like someone would an ice cream cone that was starting to melt. I moaned, then did the same thing to him. His musk was irresistible, and I was thrilled to know that it was me in specific that got him so excited and hard. We traded licks and kisses and touches for as long as we could stand it, until he grabbed my wrists and made me sit up, no longer close enough to suck on him. He held onto me, keeping me close, so that I was practically sitting on his face as he devoured me. I was a moaning mess, barely able to breathe, my juices running down his chin.

“Stefan!” I begged when I knew I was getting close to my climax. I could tell from this hunger that he would have been more than happy to finish me off while I was on his face, to lick me clean and then make love to me while I was relaxed and lost on bliss. Another day, I told myself, but just then, I wanted him being inside me to be what brought me there.

He let go of my hands and help me turn around and lie down beside him. We stared into each other’s eyes as he caught his breath.

“You know,” he said with a chuckle in his voice, “if there’s not already a saying that hungry men make for happy women, there really should be one.”

“Uh-huh,” I replied, “and what does that mean for starving men?”

He laughed and gave me another kiss. “Should I answer that now, or in a few more minutes?”

I glanced down at his erection and reached over to caress it gently. “Oh definitely later. Right now, I need to feel what you can to do to me with this.”

My words had him whining and sitting up. He was on edge, leaking precum freely; it was time. He grabbed the condom from the nightstand, opened the wrapper carefully, and let me help him position it. I rolled it down his shaft, careful to pull back the foreskin and let it retract back over the latex, completely coating him in a protective layer. His body trembled as my hands went down his length; even that felt incredible to him. Again I felt incredibly lucky to be the one worth waiting for even though it had him on edge, like it was his first time all over again.

He kissed me hungrily as he laid me back down. The pillows felt so soft and comfortable around me, the perfect contrast to his strength and hardness. Stefan knelt between my knees and kissed on my neck, around both my breasts, making me squeal when he suck the nipples, then down my belly. he spoke words of love and affection and devotion as he descended, then kissed and caressed my thighs, down one and up the other, trembling all the while. As he kissed his way back up, his body was even closer to mine, and I could feel his soft chest hairs along my belly, then the muscles of his abdomen. He whispered into my ears how much he loved me, how much he treasured me.

Then I reached between his legs, grasping him, guiding him to where he needed to go. “Please,” I all but begged him.

We kissed, and I pulled him closer. He gasped when he found the wet heat of my opening; it was warm and slippery, and it would be so easy for him to slide all the way inside with just one thrust if he wasn’t in control. He wrapped an arm tightly around me to steady himself, and I grabbed his shoulders. When he finally pushed inside. my body opened up to him, welcoming him, keeping him warm and happy. He let out a long moan, one that spoke of the bliss and relief that he felt now that he could merge with me.

“Leila…” my name trembled as it passed his lips. His eyes met mine and I stared up at him.

“My Viking– my nordic king.” He was so gorgeous, his face framed by waterfalls of golden hair. I was so in love with this man, with everything about him. He couldn’t take me for granted, not even after all these years of knowing one another. The look in his eyes– he was so astounded, so thrilled that he got to be with me.

“I love you stefan,” I whispered. One of my hands moved down to the small of his back, and I gently urging him forward, deeper into me. I rewarded him with a moan of my own, then wrapped my legs around his waist.

He kissed me again, then pulled back just a little before sinking deeper into me. I remembered how long it had felt in the shower earlier, how it was more than I could get down my throat, and wave of excitement flooded me. He was mine– and I his– and he had exactly what it took to please me– both in mind and in body. Stefan was the type who was willing to bring his partner to climax a dozen times before he worried about himself, and even then, he would take care of himself of his partner couldn’t–no matter how badly he needed release. He was a lover and a gentleman first, and he was grateful whenever he was doted on. He was a giver– one with a lot to give, and I welcomed all of him.

Stefan took his time with delving deeper and deeper into my body. Even when I urged how to do more, he steadied himself and moved slowly, deliberately. It felt wonderful. He was desperately hard, the vein pulsing with need as he caressed my inner walls. He moaned and whispered to me about how soft I felt inside, how he loved the way my body embraced him. He was nearly lost in my depths, awash with pleasure and trying his best to make it last. Despite all of his self-control, I knew how on-edge he was, how any stroke could be the one that sent him over.

The deeper he got, the louder I moaned. I was thrilled at being opened like that, pried apart by both our desires. At one point, he grabbed the backs of my knees and lifted them, opening them even wider. He sat up straighter, giving himself a view of his shaft disappearing inside me with every inward thrust.

When he finally got all of himself inside of me, fully sheathed, he stopped moving for a few minutes, focusing simply on kissing me. In a way, I felt that I had captured him, conquered him, and that he was more than happy to have been vanquished. Stefan was breathing hard, trying to resist the urge to thrust in with greater speed, with more force. It would have been so easy for him to make the final thrust it would have taken to climax, but that wasn’t the kind of man he was; that wasn’t his focus. He was happiest when he knew that he was giving pleasure rather than taking it. Although he knew that his length gave him a certain advantage, he wasn’t conceited about itl he wanted instead to show how giving he was.

I was starting to move my own hips under him, to slide my body across him, when he realized how badly I needed that movement. He obliged, pulling back slightly, then pushing in as deep as he could. His tip pressed against my cervix, and he grinned down at me when he heard the resulting cry I gave. I smiled back and begged him to keep going. The effort to keep himself from climaxing as he focused on my pleasure had him breathing hard. He let me guide him, he listened when I asked for more, for him to go faster, for him to put more strength into what he did to my body. I don’t know how he managed to not release everything inside of him as I cried out beneath him, to last long enough that I was louder than the wind blowing fiercely outside. But he did, and the bed shook as he obeyed me.

I gripped his body tightly as he made love to me. I begged him for more, and we shared hurried, breathless kisses in between moments of pure physical pleasure. I could have let him have me for hours, he was so amazing. It felt so wonderful sharing myself with him, having him give himself to me. We both gave and took shared in the joy and ecstasy; we were both so eager to please the other. He seemed to know when my body was tightening up, preparing for a huge release, and he pushed in deeper, as though all of him could have fallen into me if he just tried hard enough. I loved it; I loved all of his body.

“Stefan!” I cried his name as he kept going.

“Stefan…” He was incredible.

“Stefan,” I moaned, getting louder and louder.

And then I screamed his name. “Stephen!” And I clung to him even tighter, refusing to let him move, not letting him pull away even a millimeter.

He kissed all over my face and neck and shoulders as my cries of pleasure floated out, as my body closed tighter around him, spasming, gushing out fluids to make it even wetter inside for him. He seemed thrilled at the heat, the change in texture, thrilled that he had given me such ecstasy, such bliss, that our emerging had brought me to such a magnificent climax. He had worked so hard for me, and it had all been worth it.

I brought his lips back to mine for more kisses, and told him that it was time– time for him to use my body for his pleasure. I felt as light as a cloud as I slowly started to relax around him, letting him move, enjoying the view as his muscles flexed. He was so beautiful, so powerful, and I was what he treasured most. I was what made him excited, the one he wanted to share everything with. I was so happy it was him, and he seemed happy that it was me. How much more perfect could it have been?

He whispered to me as he moved, telling me how wonderful everything felt, how the warmth and wetness made him so happy. He promised to always make me happy, to give me everything, to dedicate his life to me. Well, I didn’t expect him to go that far, but if that was what he wanted, I was happy to have him along for the ride. I wanted to do the same for him, really. We were together, we were in love, and we would do anything for each other.

Stefan cried my name when his moment came, and then he buried his face in the pillow next to my head, moaning loudly into it, because otherwise his cries would have echoed throughout the house. I could feel the twitching and spasming inside me as his release came, as everything he had poured out of him. He clutched the sheets, he pushed in deeper, he shuddered and shook and groaned. This was powerful; certainly more powerful than anything he could have done by himself, and probably more powerful than anything he’d had with anyone else. I hardly even needed him to tell me that.

My beloved Stefan Nilsson was majestic, primal– he was king and conqueror and warrior all at once, but he was also tender and caring and grateful. As his cries died down, he went back to kissing me, telling me how happy he was, how much he loved me. I was happy, too, and it was all because it was him, the man who had promised that we could make music beautiful together for many years to come. He wanted to journey all of Earth me with, and would be right there with me as we explored Tierney Ríocht together.

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Kadri Oja

Kadri Oja, from the haltija villages in a far corner of Tierney Ríocht, with her unicorn friend, Lorelei. She’s looking forward to learning the oboe from Leila and Stefan!

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXXII

**Special note: This chapter is NSFW**

I snuggled Stefan during the entire movie. He brought down his Sleipnir blanket, and we stayed warm together. For once, Larsa was entranced by the movie. That was good for us, though, because it meant that I could kiss Stefan whenever the mood stuck me, and we wouldn’t get Larsa’s every comment or reaction to us. I noticed Killian rubbing his shoulders, though, and sometimes whispering to him. Larsa looked extremely happy about that.

I was just starting to get tired, and debated taking something to help me fall asleep faster so as to avoid the temptation to do anything risky with Stefan, or just find other ways to play so we could fall asleep in bliss. Whenever we made out, I could feel twitching in Stefan’s pants, his heart raced, and his breathing quickened. He needed another release, and I wanted to give it to him. I didn’t usually talk about it, but there was a certain pride I took in knowing that I could bring my partner to climax.

Even with Killian and Larsa busy with their own interactions, Stefan and I felt a little bit like naughty teenagers under that blanket. He kept looking around before grabbing my breasts, and I had to keep my moans in so as not to attract attention. He caressed my thighs, and I was certain he wanted to explore between them. I craved his touch, of course, but didn’t let him go too far.

As the movie got close to ending, I could tell that Killian was having a hard time paying attention to it. Well, so were Stefan and I. Larsa seemed to want to see how it ended, though, and afterwards, he made Killian promise to show him the rest of the series. Judging by the look in his eyes, I think Killian would have promised him anything in order to get him up to bed.

That movie would be one of the last things we did together that weekend. Killian would be driving Larsa back to Portland the next day, soon after breakfast. Stefan would stay a couple extra days, giving us more time to talk and get used to being a couple. I had made clear to my friends in Tierney Ríocht that it would be weeks before I could visit them again, so my time with Stefan would be relaxing.

After we all said our good-nights and exchanged hugs, Larsa whispered to me, “There’s a surprise present in your room.” I tried to speak, to tell him that he really didn’t have to, but he quickly interrupted. “Sshhh, it’s actually for both you and Stefan. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.”

Stefan was busy talking to Killian, so I don’t think he heard anything Larsa had said. Then Killian finished his conversation and called to him, and they went upstairs together. Stefan walked over to me with a big grin on his face and pulled me into his arms.

“Well, here we are without any more chaperones. What are we going to do to behave ourselves?”

I shrugged. “I guess all there is left to do is go to sleep,” I teased.

He kissed the top of my head. “If only sleeping wasn’t the last thing I wanted to do.”

“I know, I know, but I really don’t think I’m ready for a night time drive down the mountain just to find a store that sells what we need.” I took his hand and led him out of the entertainment room. “Come on, let’s go do some reading.”

I figured that if we got a little too handsy, I could find a different way to satisfy both our needs without too much risk. We had managed it earlier, and we could either do that again, or something else that was just as fun. We’d be fine.

We headed upstairs, and Stefan made a detour for the bathroom. I turned on the light in my room, and as I was walking over to the bedside table to plug in my phone, I noticed a little gift bag. It was a simple one, a silvery shade of gray, and barely big enough to hold a Beanie Baby. There was also a little bit of white tissue paper in it. I picked it up, looking it over, and decided to wait for Stefan before checking to see what was inside.

It wasn’t until I sat on the bed that I noticed there was something on my pillow; something in a little foil packet, the bow on it bigger than it was. There were also a couple of fancy little chocolate mints next to it. I giggled, remembering how funny Larsa had thought it was that fancy hotels left mints on the pillows for their guests.

“What are you giggling about?” Stefan asked, suddenly appearing in the doorway.

I looked up at him and smiled. “Looks like Larsa gave us another present.”

“Us, huh? It’s your birthday.”

“Yeah, but Larsa said this would be for both of us.”

I picked up the bow in such a way that Stefan saw what was attached to it before I could get a closer look at it. Then he started laughing. “Oh, that little boy!”

“What?” I asked.

He shook his head and crossed. “Oh, that naughty, naughty boy– yet what a very good boy he is!”

“Stefan…” I turned it around to see what exactly was attached to the bow, figuring it was probably just some little candy or other snack. What I saw definitely wasn’t edible.

Stefan dropped onto the bed next to me as I felt my cheeks heat up, probably turning as red as cherries.

“I probably should have asked Larsa to get a whole box of those while he was in town,” he Stefan admitted. “I think I was so caught up in the emotion of everything, I figured I needed to just get them on my own.”

That was when I pointed out the bag on the bedside table. “Stefan, Larsa was pretty specific that it was for both of us. How much do you want to bet that it’s not just chocolate in that bag?”

“There’s a bag, too?” he laughed. He reached across me to the bedside table, seeing that I was a little too surprised to do so myself, and grabbed it.”Okay, let’s open this together. Go on, take out the tissue paper.”

I kept telling myself not to be embarrassed about what I thought was in the bag, that if I was right, it was actually a really nice thing for them to have done. It shouldn’t matter whether we felt that we should have taken care of this matter on our own; our friends cared about us and wanted us to be happy. Being responsible was part of that happiness. Still, I was fairly pink when I pulled the paper out of the bag and tossed it aside, giggling again.

“You were partly right,” Stefan said as he peered down into it. “There are a few different chocolates in here.” He pulled out a delicious-looking Lindor chocolate truffle ball.

“And also…?” I asked him, knowing that there was something else in there.

“Well,” Stephan replied and a teasing tone, “not that you’d be interested in these at all, but I think they managed to find the largest box of condoms the store sold.” He pulled it out of the bag to show me.

I took the box and I looked it over. A twenty-four pack. Not only that, but a variety pack. And Larsa had already opened it to put a bow on one of them. “He sure was sneaky when he came up here,” I giggled.

“Only in the best way possible,” Stefan replied. I was glad to see that he wasn’t as irritated with his cousin as he’d been before we admitted to being in love with each other. “And look, a little note card.”

I leaned over to look at it with him, but it was in Swedish. “What does it say?”

“He basically said that we’ll probably need more soon, but this should be enough to get us through the weekend.” He laughed again. “Sounds like a challenge to me.”

“Oh, you think you can dare me do you? Are you sure you wouldn’t be exhausted before we got even halfway through them?”

“Who,” he replied, “me? I’m the descendant of vikings! I could go through those in a day if you wanted me to, but I really don’t want to hurt you.”

“I might have to hurt you if you refuse to try!” I teased. Then I pounced on him, making him fall back on the bed as we both laughed together. Larsa’s little extra gift might have been the very best thing he could have given us, because now Stefan could give me what we both wanted.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXXI

**Note: this chapter is NSFW**

Latin: Domus septimae Minuetae

After the shower, we relaxed on my bed together and talked about this and that in between kissing and touching and exploring each other’s bodies.

Once he’d recovered from what he called the best orgasm he’d ever had from oral sex, Stefan was intent on exploring my skin with his tongue. I was perfectly content to let him suck on my nipples while his big hands massaged my breasts. His hands were wide and strong, warm and just rough enough to remind me that he wasn’t afraid of a little hard work. Being in his grasp was a wonderful feeling, and I felt proud to be the one to satisfy his needs.

It turned out that his favorite place to let his tongue explore was between my legs. He showed me the talents he had with his mouth, and I swore my cries of pleasure could have been heard all the way downstairs. I didn’t care though, and not just because Killian and Larsa were still out; Stefan had a way of showing me that he was totally focused on my pleasure, and it seemed as though he didn’t even came up for air.

Stefan quickly learned where to lick to make me get louder, and I’m certain that he was blessed with a long, serpentine tongue, which he wasn’t shy about plunging into the depths of my body while I played in his long, golden hair. He devoured me like a starved man, and I loved every second of it. His mouth brought me to an orgasm that felt like I’d gone supernova; he seemed very proud of himself when I told him that.

Once we were cleaned up, we cuddled and made out more, and just generally relaxed until we heard the front door open to let Killian and Larsa’s excited bantering in.

“I think that’s our signal to get up and go greet them,” Stefan said.

“Oh, don’t sound so disappointed,” I giggled. “They’re bringing us food, after all!”

Stefan gave me a wolfish grin, and I felt myself blush all over again. “Stefan!” I laughed. “You– you’re thinking about making me your meal, aren’t you?”

His grin widened devilishly. “Why wouldn’t I,” he asked, “when the woman I love so much tastes so amazing?”

This was the result of all those months of having nobody to be with, I reminded myself. The way he was acting now, it was almost a surprise that he’d been able to hide his true feelings for so long; that just goes to show how much he values our friendship, and how much he wanted to protect it. Stephen wasn’t just strong physically; the things he felt, he felt very powerfully.

“I don’t know whether to be scared or excited about that,” I said.

“Both,” he replied. “Excited about how wonderful I can make you feel, and worried about how lonely it’s going to be when I have to go back to Portland. And then excited again,” he added as he knelt over me for more kisses, “when I return to you.”

We had talked about a good many things since coming back from Tierney Ríocht;that included the question of our living situation. We were both okay with our relationship moving a lot faster than most other couples did, because we’d known each other for so long. There was no way I could sell my house, and Stefan really liked it too, he admitted. He was willing to live with me eventually, but he couldn’t move away from Portland just yet; he could still compose music and take commissions online, but he wanted to find a source of income to replace what he was getting at the record store.

On the upside, between pooling our resources and having fewer bills, we didn’t need to make all that much money. Really, the main expense that would be increasing was the cost of travel. Even with that information, Stefan insisted that he be able to contribute towards all expenses; power and other utilities, taxes, food, and so on. I’m certain that he also wanted us both to be able to build our savings, and that he intended on taking me nice places. I really couldn’t argue with that; as long as we could live together in the end, I was content to let him make it happen in a way that he was comfortable with. He could work in Portland, visiting me on some weekends, until he was ready to really merge our lives together.

Stefan and I decided to get dressed before Larsa got tired of waiting and came upstairs to get us. We arrived in the kitchen together and found Killian and Larsa putting groceries away. They almost looked surprised to see us.

“Well. ye two came down fast,” Killian noted.

“Yeah, well, I was pretty hungry,” I explained. “Do you guys need help bringing stuff in from the car?”

“Hey, birthday girl,” Stefan chimed in, “you don’t need to be doing any kind of work. Just sit down.”

“What?” I asked teasingly. “You think I’m going to sit down and watch the boys work? I grabbed the pizza boxes and carried them out to the dining room. “Let’s eat at the nice table!”

Killian was asking Larsa to bring out plates and cutlery, but Larsa took off, and I could hear him stomping up the stairs. “I’ll be right back!” he called down.

I figured he just wanted to change or use the bathroom; it didn’t matter; he actually was quick, and soon enough, the groceries were all put away, and we had plates and everything set out on the dining table, and were happily devouring pizza and wings together– plus salad and cold cider. Larsa was giggling and whispering to Killian in between chatting with us, and no matter how much Stefan asked him, he wouldn’t say what was going on.

Once we were full on dinner, Killian asked whether I wanted to go straight into having cake, or open my presents. I opted for presents, since I wants a little extra time to digest before we got started on cake.

Larsa insisted on going first. I had told them before that he and Killian were welcome to give me one thing from both of them, and that I didn’t even need presents anyway, but Larsa had been so excited about giving me a birthday present that I couldn’t tell him no. He plopped a colorful gift bag in front of me, stuffed with glittery tissue paper. He was practically bouncing in his seat, as excited as though it were his birthday. it was adorable, and I gave Stephen a look that said ‘let him be’ when he tried to tell him to calm down.

There was quite a lot of tissue paper in there, plus a card, which I opened first. Some people probably wouldn’t have appreciated getting a ‘How to Train Your Dragon’-themed birthday card as an adult, but I had let drop little hints here and there that I liked the series — books and movies alike. Larsa was grinning wider and wider as he watched me, and when I went back to digging through the tissue paper, I pulled out two plushies, one black, the other white; it was the main pair of dragons from the series.

“Oh, they’re so cute!” I exclaimed

“You can’t have one without the other,” he insisted. “Oh– and watch this!”

He showed me what happened when I help them face-to-face: they snapped together (no doubt due to magnets hidden inside) in a way that looked like they were kissing. I thanked him, and we exchanged hugs, and then Larsa said that he wanted Killian to give me his gift next. The box he said in front of me was actually pretty heavy, and I looked up at him curiously.

“It’s just a few things for the house, lass. Ye’ll see why it’s so heavy when ye open it.”

I peeled off the dragon-themed wrapping paper, then opened the cardboard box to see several items made of stoneware or metal, each wrapped in bubble wrap and nestled in among styrofoam peanuts. There was a tankard with a simplified version of the Moss coat-of-arms, a brass candelabra with little dragon charms hanging from the various arms, and a couple of wall sconces that look like dragons holding torches.

“Wow, those are really cool, Killian!”

“And now you need to put mead in your cup!” Larsa cheered. He ran halfway to the kitchen before turning back to grab my tankard, and then took it to the kitchen to rinse it. Stefan didn’t even get a chance to say anything before he came back with a bottle of mead in hand.

“Whoa, Larsa,” Stefan said, “why are you giving her that now?”

“It’s the perfect time!” Larsa told him. Then he said to me, “Stefan got you this mead in Portland; it’s really good. Oh, and he has another bottle of it at home– or three.” He opened the bottle and poured a generous serving into my new tankard.

“Okay,” I laughed, keeping a good spirit, “but if I’m having mead, then so are all of you.”

“Yeah!” Lara cheered excitedly before running back to the kitchen to get more cups.

Stefan had a horn cup back at his apartment– one that he’d gotten at a Renaissance Festival years ago. He was probably wishing that he’d brought it with him. Still, Larsa managed to find some cups that were halfway decent for serving mead in. He poured smaller amounts for the three of them, and then we said cheers, and drank it down.

“Oh wow,” I said, looking at Stephen. “This really is good mead!”

“Only the best for my girlfriend,” he said with a grin. Then he leaned down for a kiss, which I was very happy to give him.

Larsa offered to pour another round for all of us, but I asked him to set it aside for now; we could have drinks later. He looked a little disappointed, but I think he understood that mead was something to savor, not something to chug, so he went off with Stefan to bring in my next gift, which wasn’t nearly as heavy as Killian’s, but wasn’t exactly light. either. The paper was shiny, and had a sort of Celtic pattern on it. I wasn’t sure where he had found something quite like it, but he had a knack for finding something special. I opened it gently, and found inside several books wrapped carefully in what looks like some kind of fancy-natural fiber tissue paper. I gave Stephen a knowing grin; I always loved getting books, and he was well aware of that. Even though I already had so many, there was always another title out there that would interest me.

“Wow, Stefan, these look like really great reads.”

They were older books, and looked a little on the rare side. There was an art book about faeries by by Brian Froud, a full set of “Enchanted World” books, and The Ballad of Never After and Once Upon a Broken Heart By Stephanie Garber, whom he’d probably seen on one of my online wishlists. We talked about the books for a little while, and I eventually told him I would read a little bit of one of them to him later, since it had several short stories inside it. As thanks, I gave him a tight hug, and then along, happy kiss. I really didn’t care that Killian and Larsa were watching; they could see us happy together, and we wouldn’t do anything over the top.

Larsa wanted me to see my cake next. I said that we could do that, but I would like to eat the cake and ice cream while we watched a movie. He seemed to like that idea, and said that it since it was my birthday, I could pick the title. Killian managed to convince Larsa to let him be the one to carry the cake, since he didn’t want to have it dropped in all the excitement.

He and Stefan went into the kitchen for a moment, and Larissa turned down the lights. When they came back, they had the candles lit on the cake, and they carried it over to me while singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ I giggled and listened to them as I sat there, feeling a little on the spot. Thankfully, they hadn’t set up 25 little candles, but two candles, a two and a five, to write out my age.

Once the cake was in front of me, I could see in the candlelight the pattern they had gone with– it was ‘How to Train Your Dragon- themed! It was adorable; there were even little plastic dragon and human figurines on it. Like I said before, I wasn’t the type to dislike stuff just because other people considered it to be only for kids. Maybe it was kid-friendly, but I could still like it at my age, and there was nothing wrong with that.

I blew out the candles when they were done singing, and they all clapped, but Larsa also cheered and jumped around. I swear he was more excited for cake than anybody else. Stefan helped cut and serve it, and I was thrilled to see that it was marble cake with chocolate buttercream in the middle; he knew me well. For ice cream, Larsa had picked out moose tracks, and there was also death by chocolate, and Ben and Jerry’s cherry garcia. I was open to most flavors of ice cream, as long as it was a higher quality, but that evening I went with the death by chocolate flavor.

Then we all carried our plates into the entertainment room, and I put on another movie that Larsa had never seen before, “Highlander.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXX

**Special note: This chapter is NSFW**

Frisian: It Hûs fan it Sânde Menuet

Steam was already filling the bathroom, and the doors were shut tight to help keep it all in. I guided Stefan into the shower, under the water, and let it pour down on him while I took off the undergarment and added it to the pile of clothes on the floor. then got it next to him and closed the shower door. Once he was thoroughly soaked, he turned around and let me get into the spray.

The steam and the vapors from the menthol crystals already seemed to be helping him feel better. Stefan’s coughing subsided, and I was able to spend more time kissing him and less time making sure he was going to be okay. Eventually, he became less nervous about touching me, and was grinning with absolute joy in between kisses.

“You’re really soft,” he said, and not for the first time.

Stefan thought the skin on my cheeks was soft, and my shoulders, and my belly, and my legs, and of course my breasts, and even my backside. Sometimes by ‘soft,’ he meant ‘plush, bouncy, and squishy,’ and other times he meant ‘smooth and silky.’ Stefan, meanwhile was completely the opposite of soft. he was long and muscular, and he could have picked me up as easily as a doll at any moment. I’d seen in shower scenes in movies what strong men could do, and I would have let Stefan do any number of things to me in that shower if we’d had any protection with us. as it was, they were only one or two things I could do to safely help him take a little of the edge off.

I’d been petting and stroking his erection ever since we’d gotten into the shower, though I didn’t manage to do it for very long each time, as he turned around to wash one of us with the soap, or kiss me, or something else that got my hand off of it. It must have been a long time since he’d gotten any relief, on top of the fact that it was me he was finally with, because every time I touched him, it seemed like the sensation was too much for him. Nevertheless, I had to get him to let me do it, because the tension was just going to get worse and worse if he didn’t let go.

I finally got him turned around, his back to the wall, and knelt down in front of him.

“I- it’s clean,” he said as I stroked it and pulled back the foreskin. Well, more like gasped while trying not to jerk away.

“I know,” I giggled placing one hand on his hip to steady him, “I washed it myself so I that cound do this.”

I kissed the tip of it, and he was already whimpering. “You d– oh gods! You don’t have to– ooooooooohhhhhh, wow… don’t have to…”

“I know, but I want to.”

He wanted me to do it, too, of course. He might try to claim that it was just his body reacting, but that was him being nervous after over a year of not being with anyone. Even my gentlest touch had him at full length, solid and eager for more. He gasped and stuttered as my hands caressed the length, and I smiled up at him.

“Stefan, don’t worry about a thing,” I assured him, massaging his hip. “It’s okay if it’s quick. You need to let me take the edge off. Now relax and let me take good care of you.”

“Leeeiiiilllaaaa…” he moaned low, resting his back against the wall of the shower. He was finally starting to give in to me.

I gave Stefan a smile to tell him that I was glad, then kissed around the base, letting my fingers play in the fine blonde hairs that curled around the shaft. He was clean, but I had him so excited that he still smelled musky. I kissed my way back to the tip, which was already leaking a slippery, clear fluid. Stefan yelped when I licked up the little droplets, and I looked back up at him.

“You missed this, didn’t you?” I asked him knowingly. hH gave a shuddering sort of nod, though it was a little hard to tell that it was a nod because he was trembling and nervous.

“But it– it’s so amazing that it’s you doing at this time,” he gasped, hardly able to speak. “I didn’t think…”

“Yeah,” I giggled, “I don’t think you can think right now, either. Just enjoy yourself, okay?”

Another jerky nod. “Yeah– yeah, anything– A-as you wish, Leila.”

I grinned; we both knew that reference, and I knew that he said it on purpose, that I’d appreciate it. As a reward for that, I closed my lips around the end of his shaft and enjoyed listening to him crying out in pleasure. I was going to have to get very used to him moaning my name– plus the names of the Nordic gods. It was worth it though, to get to be with him and know that I made him happy. He made me happy, too, and even if we couldn’t make love just yet, we could still make one another feel good, help break through that initial tension so that we could start to relax with one another.

I had to take Stefan’s wrist to let him know that he could put his fingers in my hair, or grasp the back of my head. I knew he wouldn’t be rough with me, but I wanted his hands on me, and I wanted to feel his reaction to what I did to him as much as listen to it. I loved the feel of his strong hands on my body, whether it was going to be the comfort of holding his hand, or the relief of a massage at the end of a rough day, or letting him explore my body the find ways to give me pleasure. I planned to let him do a lot of that until he had to go back to portland.

His fingers felt wonderful sliding between my curls as I pulled more of him into my mouth. I slid back up to the tip, licking up more of the salty precum, listening to him moaning as he relaxed into the pleasure instead of being so jumpy. I was relieved that he was finally getting to the point where his body insisted that he accept what I was doing and enjoy the moment. I took more of him in as I went back down, and my hands explored between his legs, which he spread eagerly when I guided him to do so.

I got several more shaky moans from him as I cupped his balls, which were huge and soft, full from not being emptied for quite a while. I didn’t doubt that he took matters into his own hands from time to time– a man needs relief sometimes– but I think being in Tierney Ríocht had made it hard for him to get an opportunity to do so. Judging by the way he was moaning and gripping my scalp (trying to be gentle, of course), dripping with more and more precum, it wouldn’t take long for me to empty them.

I worked on him for a little while, my lips and tongue moving across the shaft, swallowing the musky droplets, my hands caressing around the base and his balls. He was moaning my name, trying to resist thrusting more of himself into me, not wanting to choke me. I was grateful for his self-control, because he really was long. It wasn’t nearly as evident when he was relaxed, but once he got aroused, his length increased quite a lot.

Within just a few minutes, Stefan could hardly breathe. The way he moaned, he was obvious how good he was feeling, but there was also a neediness to the sounds he was making. He needed this more than anything, more than his resistance to seeing me kneeling before him, more than his desire to treat me like a queen. It felt good to be respected like that, and I liked how grateful he was that I was still willing to do this for him. He made it very clear how wonderful every move I made made him feel. The pleasure kept building and building within him, and he encouraged me to keep going.

“Oh– o-oh gods– oh, Leila!” he was rushing the words out now, as though if he didn’t have perfect timing, things would happen before he could warn me. “Le– Leila, I… Oooooooooohhhhhhh!”

“Don’t hold back,” I told him, and then got right back to work.

“Leila… It’s… almost… oh, g– Leila, you are a goddess!”

I grinned around the shaft and smiled up at him, then I applied more suction.

“Le– Lei…. Oh, Leila. I–“

His ability to speak left him, and all he could to was make desperate sounds of pleasure. He tried to pull away, but I held him firmly and pulled more of him in, sucking and wiggling my tongue and enjoying his screams. He glanced down at my one last time, and his eyes reflected a man completely stunned by the vision before him.

“Mmmmmmm…. Ooooohhh… Le– Leeeiiiilaaa, I– I– oh, I’m–“

His body stiffened as his muscles all tensed at once. He threw his head back. At first, he couldn’t make any sound, but then I got the first gush, and as I swallowed it down, he let out long, loud moans; moans that were practically screams. He was gripping my scalp, trying not to hurt me, but his body spasming was almost too much for him. Then there was another gush, and then more and more, so much that I could hardly keep up with swallowing it. My ears were filled with the sound of his declaration of utter ecstasy, of joy and pleasure and– finally– relief. I didn’t let up, but kept stroking and sucking in between swallows.

The outpour seemed to go on almost as long as I’d been working on him. He twitched and spasmed as the last few small gushes came out. I wanted everything I could get from him, wanted to help ease years of tension, even though part of me knew that it would take more than just this once to do that. I needed every time to be as good as it could be for him.

I could feel how weak and drained he was as he started to quiet down. I gave his softening shaft one more kiss, then rose up to meet him.

“Hands on my shoulders,” I told him as I slid up into his grasp. “Don’t start sinking now; I can’t pick you up, and tile is no good for a nap.”

“Gods, Leila, what you did to me he,” gasped once he started to catch his breath.

“It was magical?” I filled in for him when when he didn’t finish his sentence.

“More than that.”

I gazed up into his eyes and smiled. “You can look for the right adjective later. Right now, I’m just happy that it had the desired effect on you.”

“You mean sucking out my soul and making me your slave?”

I buried my face in his chest and laughed. “Stefan, you’re hilarious. Anyway, I don’t think your soul is white and sticky.”

His cheeks became a lot redder. “Leila, you– you swallowed it, didn’t you?”

“Does that surprise you?”

“Uummmmm…” He looked away nervously.

“That’s okay, I don’t need an answer.” I cupped his cheeks and brought him back to meet my gaze. “What I really want is to go back to kissing you.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXIX

This chapter reverts back to Leila’s viewpoint.

**Note: There are some NSFW aspects to this chapter; it’s a little more direct than the references made in previous chapters. Also, the next couple chapters will definitely be NSFW.**

I had been staring into Stefan’s bright blue eyes for a long time. They reminded me of the sky on a bright summer’s day, and between them and the golden sheen of his hair, I kept thinking of him as–

“…the light in my life,” I breathed, forgetting for a moment that he couldn’t have known the thoughts that came before those words; but the sense was too profound not to give voice to.

He smiled a pushed a lock of hair behind my ear, gazing back at me before kissing my cheeks tenderly. “Just like you’re the light in mine,” he whispered.

I gave him a warm smile. ‘Okay,’ I told myself, ‘it’s time to do this.’

I took a deep breath, “Stefan, I…” My voice was shaking, and I also had to pause to clear my throat, but I made myself go on. “Being y– making it official that we’re– Argh, this wasn’t supposed to be this hard! Stefan, I want us to be together, boyfriend and girlfriend, but the without the jealousy or– or whatever you want to call what you and Larsa were doing. He wasn’t taunting you, but you didn’t feel encouraged by his methods, either.”

Stefan nodded, and his expression told me that he was being earnest and sincere. “I know what you mean, Leila. I want to be with you, too– and I’ll be the man you fell in love with.” His voice was hoarse, and I couldn’t tell whether it was because of nearly drowning or because he was becoming emotional. “No more strife.”

I moved onto his lap and let him hold me. “Good,” I said with a sort of finality. “And I’m going to be upfront again and say that I’m going to take this relationship seriously. I want us to be together for a long, long time, Stefan.”

He didn’t reply right away, and my heart nearly jumped into my throat with the thought that I’d overstepped and said something that would scare him off. I looked up with him at him with worried eyes and laid a hand on his cheek. “Stefan?”

His eyes sparkled with extra moisture, and I wasn’t sure whether he was tearing up or having some kind of allergy issue. “Leila,” he said, nearly choking on my name, “I… I like that idea. I’m so glad you said it, because I was too scared to admit that we could all end up as… umm, as… family… someday.”

“I’d like that,” I told him, my voice softer now. “What if my cousin marries your cousin?”

“Y-yeah…” he replied, looking nervous. “And– and if…”

I smiled fondly at him. “I think I know what you mean. Don’t worry, Stefan; I’m hoping things go that well with between us, too.”

He nodded stiffly. “Right. I mean, I would talk about how I hope we can still be friends even if we’re no longer together as a couple, but…”

“I hope that never happens,” I told him. “I mean, I hope this doesn’t add on a bunch of pressure or anything that’s going to make you go back to being stressed out, but nothing would make me happier than things going well between us, and never getting to the point where we have to have that strained friendship that comes after breaking up.”

He caressed my cheek as he stared into my eyes. “So then Larsa’s cousin… and Killian’s cousin… could…”

I nodded, though it hardly felt like I was moving. “Someday,” I whispered. “But–“

“It’s okay,” he reassured me. “You don’t have to explain. No pressure; we’re just here for each other, focused on the now. I feel the same way.”

He was leaning in to kiss me, but then suddenly turned his head away and started coughing.

“That doesn’t sound good at all,” I said when he eventually recovered. “I think what you really need is to get into a steamy shower.”

He smirked and made another weak cough before saying, “Is this going to be your new thing? Get me out of my clothes and soaking wet?”

I felt my cheeks getting warm as I cracked up. “Are you asking because you mind?”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all,” he said, his tone light and playful. “I just wanted to know whether to expect to be ordered to undress on a daily basis.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, contemplating how far I wanted to go with teasing him. Eventually. I decided to just ease into it, and slid off his lap, then off the bed. “All right, you hairy viking, off my bed. It’s time for a shower. Oh, and I need you to help me get out of this dress,” I added as I started unlacing the bodice I was wearing. “I swear, the more I asked for something simple, the fancier the dresses they brought me. I had to threaten to throw them down to the beach before they’d stop trying to dress me like a princess.”

“I would have done the same thing,” Stefan replied as he got up and helped me lift the heavy fabric over my head, which I then tossed onto a nearby chair. “Except you’re much more of a queen, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Heh, what does that make you then, king of the vikings? You really let them dress you up like one before they sent you home,” I commented as I started unbuttoning the pine-green vest he was wearing.

“You don’t seem to mind,” he said with a grin as he watched me. “It seems like I’m a present that you get to unwrap.”

My blush deepened, and I pulled the vest down his arms and tossed it over with my dress. “So my birthday present is a tall man with long golden hair?”

“….One of them,” he admitted after a moment of thought. “But I got you something even better that I’ll give you after dinner.”

I gave him a dubious look. “Better than you? So… dragon eggs?”

“Almost that good,” he teased back, now unbuttoning his shirt.

We’d taken off our shoes long ago, and since there wasn’t much left for us to remove, I grabbed his hand and escorted him across the hall to the bathroom. He laughed and went along with me. I turned the shower to hot and went back to helping him with his buttons. Once his chest was bared, I laid my face on it, breathing in his scent and nuzzling the soft golden hairs. He took good care of himself, so even though he worked hard, he was easy to cuddle instead of scratchy or rough.

“Wow, you’ve been wanting to do that for a while now, haven’t you?” he chuckled, though he didn’t hesitate in wrapping his arms around me and caressing the back of my head.

I nodded, still nuzzled against his strong chest. Even though I usually insisted that I could handle myself, I loved how safe I felt in his arms; it was more about knowing that he was devoted to me than anything else. He was very warm, too. He coughed again, and I straightened up.

“Okay, shirt off, Stefan,” I said, hoping I sounded determined rather than commanding.

I went into the cabinet and pulled out a jar of menthol vapor bath crystals with camphor and eucalyptus oil. They worked just as well on the shower floor, as long as they weren’t placed so close to the drain that they flowed away too soon. The vapors would work with the steam to help soothe Stefan’s throat and chest.

Once I had a couple scoops of crystals down, I turned around to see him standing there watching me. “Pants too, silly,” I said with a laugh.

“Oh really?” he teased. “But then I’ll be naked and you’ll see–”

“Yes!” I practically cheered. Then I started helping him with the laces on his pants. “Everything off. If you’re good, maybe I’ll scrub your back, too.”

“Wait…. You stripped me naked last night, didn’t you?”

“You didn’t remember that until now?” I looked up at him, uncertain whether to keep joking around or be worried.

“I’m not usually focused on modesty during a near-death experience,” he replied, keeping his tone light. “I’m sorry that had to be the way it went.”

“The important thing is that you’re safe now,” I said as I finished with the strings. I decided not to remind him of the few times we’d accidentally walked in on each other over our years of being friends; those had only been the briefest of glances, anyway. “All right, off with your pants! I declared, using the same tone a certain queen would when she yelled, ‘off with his head!’

The tan leather pants he’d been given back at Lord Thorne’s castle were not terribly tight, but they weren’t loose either, so they didn’t fall down on their own. I pushed them down to his ankles and stood back up to see him both grinning and blushing.

“It’s okay,” I assured him, knowing he was only tense because it was our first time doing this; he was usually very confident. “You look great.”

My hands grazed over his belly, up his chest, all the way to his shoulders. I wrapped them around his neck and pulled him in for another kiss. his hands went around me, too, timidly at first, and then I could feel him grabbing fistfuls of the soft cotton of my chemise. He pulled up on the fabric slowly, bunching more and more of it into his fists, as though uncertain whether he should be working on taking it off or let me do it.

“Don’t start being shy now that we’ve told each other how we feel,” I urged him, keeping my tone light and gentle. “It’s okay; I want you to undress me.”

“Do you have anything on under this?” he asked, his voice betraying his nervousness.

‘Says the man standing naked before me except for his bracelets and necklace,’ I told myself. And yeah, it was perfectly clear to me how excited he was about all of this. “You’ll find out soon enough,” I replied, as though daring him to take it off.

“Leila, by the gods!” He looked away, his face even redder now.

I giggled and kissed his cheek, understanding what he was what he was probably so nervous about. “Stefan, do you think you’re going to blow your top when she see me? It’ll be fine. Besides, I don’t mind if you get my clothes a little dirty, or get it on me.”

“Oh wow–“

As I went back to kissing him, I laid my hands over his and guided them up, lifting my chemise and revealing that the only other thing I had on was what passed for underpants in Tierney Ríocht. He was shaking as he pulled the cloth up over my head and tossed it aside, and I took his hand and laid it on my chest.

“It’s okay,” I whispered. “Just remember how much I much I love you.”

“Y-yeah,” he gasped, cupping my breast as though in awq of it. I knew he’d seen and touched plenty of others before, but somehow mine seemed special to him. His other arm wrapped around the small of my back. “Ummm… it must be a lot, putting up with me acting the way I’ve been, and you still let me do this.”

“A very, very lot,” I confirmed, moving a little closer to him, my hands around his waist, massaging his hips. “I don’t mind that you’re nervous, Stefan, and I don’t mind if you need to release a little pressure early on.”

“O-oh… okay, yeah,” he said, still sounding as though he was close to fainting. “Oh gods, it’s probably going to– there’s a lot of pressure built up.”

“Then let’s get in the shower and help take care of that,” I said, urging him gently in that direction.

“Leila,” he gasped. “Leila, I–”

But it was time for a shower, and there was no turning back from that.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXVIII

Irish: Teach an Seachtú Nóiméad

“Larsa,” I grumbled as I got out of the bed. Why did he have to interrupt everything I did? I liked it better when he was in Sweden and not here, trying to control my relationships.

“Stefan, it’s okay,” Leila said with a giggle.

“No it isn’t,” I replied as I crossed the room.

Larsa was still practically pounding on the door, and he would have hit me when I opened it if I hadn’t stepped aside.

“This better be good,” I snarled at him. “What world-ending event has you bothering us right now? You knew we were going to have a serious conversation.”

“Well, this is related to that,” Larsa said, way more cheerfully than I thought he should have. “Where’s Leila?” He tried looking over my shoulder and around my sides; it was a good thing she was still dressed.

No,” I insisted, blocking his view. “You wanted me to talk to her, now I’m talking to her. What do you need?”

“Really Stefan,” Leila said, also getting out of the bed and coming over to the door. “I don’t know what you’re so cranky about.”

“It’s about something Leila asked me for,” Larsa said.

“Why didn’t you just come out and say that in the first place?”

Leila’s expression brightened. “Oh, did you find any?”

Larsa’s expression changed to one of disappointment and defeat.

“What did you ask him for?”

“I looked everywhere, and Killian help me look too,” Larsa said, “but we really don’t have any anymore. I think Stefan gave us his last couple a long time ago, and we either used them or gave them away to someone who needed them more.”

“Okay,” Leila said, “thanks for checking.”

“Wait, wait,” I said, “what did you send Larsa to try to find?”

“What do you think, silly?” she giggled. “Condoms, of course.”

“And you thought Larsa could help with that?”

“Why wouldn’t he be able to?” she replied; she wasn’t looking very happy at that moment. “You act like he’s all fun and games, but he knows how to be safe and responsible when it comes down to it.”

“Yeah,” Larsa added. “Killian and I used them all the time until we got really close in our relationship– and we got tested.”

“Are you still grumpy that he came by?” Leila asked, looking up at me. Her expression was a mix of ‘I told you so’ and… well, something else.

“Maybe not as grumpy, I admitted, “but it would be even better if he actually had anything for us, rather than pounding on the door empty-handed.”

Larsa gave me a sheepish grin and rubbed the back of his head. “Well,” he said, “I figured you guys were probably making out or undressing each other, so I wanted to stop you guys before you got carried away and did anything risky.”

I could feel my scowl getting worse and worse the more he spoke. Leila, meanwhile, was looking more and more amused. I looked between the two of them.

“So basically, you came up here intent on interrupting us?”

“Of course I did!” Larsa replied, as though doing so was actually doing us a favor. “Look, you and I both know how much tension you’ve been building up over the past year and a half– or however long you’ve been in love with her– and there’s one best way to relieve that tension, and–“

“And you thought I was going to take a risk with her? Or that she’d let me?”

Larsa gave me a look that meant ‘yes,’ but that he was afraid to say it out loud.

Leila put a hand on my arm. “The way we were making out this morning, can we really blame him?” she pointed out, always the practical one. Then she told Larsa, “I appreciate you being concerned about us. We weren’t that close to needing you to step in, though. Stefan really need to talk about a lot of things before we end up…” she paused and blushed.

“Making love?” Larsa suggested, wiggling his eyebrows at us.

Leila giggled, and I raised an eyebrow at her.

“Oh my gosh, don’t mind me,” she said. “I think, between you nearly drowning last night and me being so excited, I’m just not my usual easy-going self.”

“Heh, so I noticed. Okay Larsa, that’s your cue to go so we can talk.”

“Wait, but–“


“No, it’s about dinner! Killian wants to drive down the mountain and pick up food and, uh… other stuff.”

“So he told you to come interrupt us to ask about that?”

“Not exactly, but I figured while I was up here I would ask if you wanted pizza or gyros or Chinese food, or– or something else.”

“Pizza and wings would be great actually,” Leila said. “Do you want me to give you some money to help pay for it?”

“No, don’t worry about it,” Larsa insisted. “It’s our treat. You two focus on having a good time together; we’ll see you later tonight.”

It was a relief when Larsa actually let me close the door and I could hear his footsteps fading away. As I locked it and turned around to go back to the bed, I saw that Leila was staring at me with a serious expression. I realized then that she actually was mad.

“Come on,” she said, grabbing my hand and escorting me over to the bed. We have a few things to sort out.”

I wasn’t about to argue with her about that; I couldn’t deny knowing what she was probably irritated about. I climbed back onto the bed and sat beside her, leaning back on the pillows. She turned her body to face me a little bit, then sighed heavily.

“All right stefan,” she said, “we’re going to start off being open and clear with each other. Got it?”

I nodded.

“Good. And with you no longer talking, it seems like you know I mean business right now. I don’t mean it lightly when I say I love you, Stefan, and really, that’s why I’m willing to cut you some slack and give this a real try. I want to be with you and see where this leads us.”

“I do too,” I agreed, my throat starting to feel dry, making it difficult to get the words out.

“And I believe you. You want it so bad that you’ve been really uptight about it, and I realize now that the reason you’ve been so irritable with Larsa is that he kept almost telling me what you weren’t ready to say.”

“You’re right about that actually,” I agreed.

“Go on,” she said when I stopped talking. “Say what you need to say.”

She really didn’t want anything left unsaid. “Well, if he had told you that I was in love with you, and you weren’t interested in being more than friends, or– I don’t know what else, but I didn’t want you to be upset or stop spending time with me because of my feelings.”

“Or?” she said, clearly wanting me to be thorough.

“What if you knowing that I was in love with you, but you didn’t feel the same way, made you stop trusting me?”

“That would be a pretty terrible thing to lose,” she said. “All those sleepovers we had over the years…”

I nodded. “Yeah. What if knowing how I felt about you tainted all those memories, even the times when we were with other people? I would hate it if you started second-guessing everything we’ve been through together.”

Leila scooted closer to me, so that our sides were touching, and laid her head on my shoulder. “I would hate that too,” she agreed. “can you imagine, all those years of being friends, and then I tell you that I love you, and you think I’m just confused, or choosing whoever’s most convenient? I mean, I know you know I’m not just another shallow girl, but I was afraid you would think something like that if I told you how I really felt.”

“Like how in so many movies or TV shows, the male and female lead characters bicker and fight, but then suddenly end up together, as though they couldn’t even bother to do any better?”

“Some kind of trope like that,” she said with a nervous laugh. “People who don’t seem at all right for each other, but who get together because it’s convenient. But with you, Stefan, the only convenient aspect of me loving you is that I couldn’t find anybody else like you even if I searched all over the planet.”

“Not even one or two people?” I asked teasingly.

“I should have known you’d take my hyperbole literally,” she laughed back. “Yeah, it would be really hard to find somebody else like you, and if it’s someone like you that I want, why shouldn’t it be you?”

“You like me all that much huh?” I started running my fingers through her long curls of copper hair.

“My big strong bear of a viking? You better believe it.”

“Bear?” I feigned being affronted.

“Okay, I get it– wolf,” she teased. “Fenrir tattoo and all.”

I gave her an endearing smile. “Well, Leila, your wolf thinks you’re just as rare and special, and wants to remind you of that every day.”

And I hoped she would let me. I knew I hadn’t been myself for a while– months, if I was being honest. Not only that, but if anyone else had acted the way I had around her, my advice would have been for her to not date them. Part of me tried suggesting that I was different, the exception to the rules because I knew my own good intentions, but another part said not to make excuses. Regardless of her saying that she loved me, was I really good enough to be hers?

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXVII

This chapter is told from the point-of-view of Stefan Nilsson.

Scots-Gaelic: Taigh an t-seachdamh mionaid

Once I found out that Blackthorne could get us home within the hour, we started to sort out our plans and say our goodbyes. Lord Thorne was grateful that Leila had helped Ingrid as much as she had, and he assured us that what she and Blackthorne had given her would be more than enough for her to help Brielle properly adapt to having been turned. Apparently, Brielle would stay in the vampires’ castle with Ingrid while she acclimated to her new way of life, and Sir Maël would stay with her for a little while longer to assist. The agreement was that Lord Thorne would look after her needs as a vampire, and she could be with the woman she’d fallen in love with, but she would also be free to attend to all of her duties as one of Tierney Ríocht’s musicians.

Leila and the rest of us didn’t have anything to pack, considering the way we’d gotten to the vampire lord’s castle. All Leila had to do was make sure she had her key, then help Kadri get ready to go. It would be Evander’s duty to look after Kadri while Leila was back on Earth. Until the eighth palace was found and Leila unlocked it, Kadri would be staying in Jean-Marc’s home, where he– with Brom’s help– could also teach her more about being a musician.

Tobias or Aubré had offered to let her stay in their palaces, seeing as how the haltija had so much in common with fae- and elf-kind, but she stuck with the tradition of staying in the home of the musician who’d come before her. Jean-Marc was a little inexperienced, but I think some of the other musicians planned to stay at his house for a while, leaving him with less to be nervous about. part-way through their conversation, I tuned out most of their talk about logistics.

They caught my attention again when Leila said that Kadri and Evander could keep in touch with her by way of messages sent with the owl. It would take me awhile to get used to an owl visiting us frequently, knowing what they symbolized, but after everything else we’d been through, and knowing that Layla trusted it, I really couldn’t argue.

“I’m so glad I got to meet you before you went back home!” Kadri said as they shared one last hug.

“So am I,” Leila agreed. “I can’t imagine how we’d have found each other if you hadn’t come out this way.”

“It’s all thanks to the ballad,” Kadri told her.

Right. The ballad that was supposed to explain more about this world to Leila, and that was supposed to lead her to where she needed to go– but that couldn’t get through, because she was kidnapped in order to feed vampires. As bitter as that sounds, I was actually grateful to Kadri; if she hadn’t run straight to Leila the night before, those merrow might have succeeded in drowning me.

“We’re going to make sure you get your own copy of the ballad,” Kadri assured her, “and I’m going to get ready to learn a lot from you when you come back!”

I wasn’t left out when it came to the goodbye hugs, either. “We won’t go to the beach next time,” she teased. “I really hope you come back with Leila. You two belong together, and I really think it’s going to take both of you to teach me.”

That had me exchanging a wary look with Leila, who ended up giggling. “Well, if I can get Leila to play Poulenc’s Elégie, I’m pretty sure I can help her teach you beginner oboe skills.”

Leila gasped and then laughed. “That one was really hard!” she explained when Kadri gave her a curious look. “I don’t think I could do it again.”

“Of course you can,” I said; I took it as a dare that she’d said she couldn’t. “And Kadri will play it along with us. But for now, I need to get some rest and clear out the extra salt.”

“I look forward to it!” Kadri told us with a bright smile.

Once we were ready, we met upstairs in Blackthorne’s room. It was mostly dark in there, and once the four of us were there with them, he had Justin blew out the candles so that it was even darker. Then he focused on the darkest part of the room, which soon became solid black, and I could smell what seemed like a cavern, as well as ozone; Justin explained that this is was how shadow portals smelled. It was too dark for me to see as we walked through it, but Blackthorne was kind enough to let us know when to follow him. Better yet, Leila took my hand to make sure we stayed close to each other.

It was cold and pitch black all the way up until we stepped out of the shadows and into the dimly lit library of Leila’s house. Blackthorne looked over his shoulder to make sure all of us were through before he released the shadows and closed the passageway.

“Well, Leila, I have to say, this seems to be the library of your dreams,” Blackthorne said.

Leila gave him a smirk. “I guess it’s almost big enough,” she teased.

“Well, I might be able to help you knock out a wall and expand the library into one of the neighboring bedrooms,” I suggested.

“Not anytime soon, mister!” Leila said. “You need to take it easy.”

before I could get my reply in, Larsa grabbed Justin’s hand and led him out into the hallway. “Come on! he declared. “Let me show you the house; it’s really cool!”

Killian followed them out, leaving me in the library with Blackthorne and Leila.

“How long can you stay?” she asked him. “I’d offer lunch or dinner, but we just had a big breakfast. Can I get you something to drink?”

“I wasn’t planning to stay, actually,” Blackthorne admitted. He sounded like he wanted to stay, like he was just a little bit disappointed that he couldn’t, and that he felt a little bad for not being able to. “We were just getting started on our honeymoon when Matthias came to get us, otherwise we would consider staying.”

“Oh right!” Leila said. “It’s your honeymoon. I was going to say, I hope it’s not because Justin is having a hard time seeing killian.”

Blackthorne nodded his understanding. “He’s a lot better at voicing his feelings these days. If it bothered him, he would speak up. But they’ve talked– some conversations just the two of them, and some all four of us. It helps that both Killian and Justin have found better matches, but ultimately they’re not holding any grudges.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Larsa has been having a great time with Killian. I’m just worried about what will happen to them when he goes back to Sweden.”

Leila’s expression looked worried too. “It’s not going to be easy for Killian to have someone leave him again– and Larsa has made so many friends here.”

“We’ve talked about some of those things, actually,” Blackthorne said, “when it was the four of us.”

“Seriously?” I asked, raising a brow. “You got him to talk about that?”

“It wasn’t so hard,” Blackthorne told us as he started to walk out of the library. “I think with you, he was more focused on other ideas. And Larsa has only just met Leila, so he hasn’t been able to open up to her as much. Let me put it this way: once Justin heard that Larsa only came to the States to study, his curiosity had him asking a lot of questions.”

“Oh really? we walked out into the hall,and downtowards Leila’s room. “Anything I should know– so I can help him out when the time comes, I mean?”

Blackthorne gave me a long, thoughtful look. “He has what, about a year left in the states? I think he and Killian are going to see how their relationship goes in that year, and make a decision based on that when it’s actually time. The only thing that’s for certain is that Larsa plans on going back home to his people. He really loves his roots.”

“He does,” I agreed. “Back when he first came to Oregon, he was nervous about leaving the reindeer and the village behind. Killian has made his stay here really happy, and he’s succeeded so much more because of it.”

“I wish them all the best,” Blackthorne said. “Even if they don’t stay together, they’ve made some beautiful memories together. Still, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been watching Killian pretty closely, and he keeps mentioning that he doesn’t have anything forcing him to stay here; it’s completely the opposite of how Larsa feels the need to go home. I think he’s really rolling the idea around in his mind about going to Sweden at some point.”

Leila grinned brightly. “I’m so happy for them! Now, blackthorne,” she said taking his hand, if Justin’s getting a tour, then so do you!”

Justin and Blackthorne didn’t even stay for an entire hour before insisting that it was time to get back to their honeymoon resort on Silver Star Mountain. I tried getting Blackthorne to stay for Leila’s birthday party, but he really wanted to get back to some quiet time with Justin. Fortunately, they were open to exchanging phone numbers and other contact information so that it would be easier to keep in touch. We all shared hugs before he opened a passage through the shadows and they disappeared together.

It was late afternoon by then, and whatever birthday activities we might have partaken in were set aside in favor of relaxation. Leila told Killian that he and Larsa could do whatever they wanted around the house, but that she needed some private time to talk to me, then took my hand and led me to her room. She closed the door, had me sit down on the edge of her bed, and then I heard the soft click of the lock being engaged.

As she walked over to the bed to sit next to me, she looked like she had a million things on her mind, but she didn’t say anything right away. She sat close, so that our legs were touching, and when she took my hand, I could feel her shaking a little bit.

“Oh man,” she sighed, “I don’t know why I’m so nervous; I already told you that I love you. I guess… it just…” Another sigh. “It still seems so unreal that I actually said it.”

“I love you too,” I told her, really having no idea what else to say. I would have gone back to kissing her and avoided the whole conversation, but she was pretty serious about the need to talk first.

“Stefan…” she began, then paused for a long moment. I gave her time, knowing it couldn’t be easy to get out what she needed to express. “If I had known how you felt that night we were at the goth club in Portland, I would have told you that I love you back, and I would not have let you sleep on the floor while I was in the bed. Actually, we probably wouldn’t have gotten much sleep that night.” She looked away, and I caught sight of a blush on her cheeks.

“I kind of feel like a coward for not admitting it right when I threw that satyr across the room,” I admitted. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little about tossing the satyr, but I should have.

“Me too,” she admitted as she moved further onto her bed and lounged on her pillows, “but it would have made for an awkward night if it had been one-sided, like we feared, and I don’t think either of us wanted to feel like that during your debut as DJ. It was the same at the hotel when we got put in a room with only one bed.”

I nodded, and followed her up to the pillows, where I pulled her close to me.

“I kept wanting to say, ‘Stefan, this is perfect, I’m in love with you and I want to sleep in your arms,'” she went on, laying her head on my chest. “But… I wanted you to be able to focus on the concert, and confessing to you would have either kept you from getting enough sleep, or upset you to where you couldn’t play well.”

“I can’t tell you how hard it was to resist admitting my feelings for you,” I said. “I didn’t want it to seem like that was just an excuse for taking advantage of the situation– the one bed, you know?”

She made a sarcastic sort of laugh and shook her head. “We were both so stuck on not playing into tropes or stereotypes that we denied ourselves a lot of good times. The funny thing is, it probably would have been easier to pop down to a local pharmacy to get some condoms in Seattle or Portland, but out here…” She laughed again. “You don’t even have any in your suitcase do you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, too. “No. I don’t even think I have any in my apartment, either. If I manage to find any when I get back, I’ll have to check to make sure they’re not expired or damaged.”

Leila took in a deep breath, as though trying to calm herself down. Then she sat up straight and looked into my eyes. “We should move on to the important points, then.”

But before I could reply to her, I heard heavy footsteps in the hallway, and then loud knocking on the door.

“Leila!” Larsa called through the door. He sounded frantic, and I couldn’t tell whether something was genuinely wrong, or if he was just overexcited. I narrowed my eyes when I heard him jiggling the handle. “Hey, Leila, open the door!”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CXXVI

Hausa: Gidan Minti na Bakwai

Claire came by– thankfully she had the courtesy to actually knock– and we talked about plans for breakfast. Everyone else was downstairs in the dining hall, so Stefan and I decided to join them rather than taking breakfast in my room. We had a lot to talk about with the others, and I didn’t want to have to explain it over and over again.

Kadri came downstairs along with us. She was thrilled to see that Stefan and I had actually admitted our feelings for each other; apparently she– just like Larsa– had picked up on some of the subtle hints.

I was surprised to see Lord Thorne at breakfast; I’d expected him to be getting ready to get some sleep, but he said he wanted to see us that morning. Oddly enough, Blackthorne and Justin were not there. In fact, they didn’t make an appearance until most of the others were done eating breakfast. I had expected Blackthorne to be excited to see Stefan out of bed and doing a lot better after everything that had happened last night, but he didn’t really say much about it; he was busy clearing off plate after plate of food.

“Emory went to feed Ingrid one last time this morning,” Lord Thorne eventually explained. “I had asked him not to give her more than he could spare, but it seems that he insisted on giving her just that.”

“It did her a lot of good,” he told his grandfather. “I had almost considered asking her and Brielle to come down to breakfast and greet everyone, but it’s getting to be late in the morning, and they’re better off sleeping than anything else.”

“Blackthorne,” I said in a worried tone, realizing why he was so ravenous and pale, “you didn’t have to. I could have given more.”

“I know you could,” he replied, “but I don’t think you should. I think you and Stefan should get back to Earth and have a serious conversation. You two have a lot to talk about.”

Stefan narrowed his eyes and looked at Blackthorne for a moment. “What do you…” Then his eyes shot over to Larsa. “What did you tell him?! How could you do that?”

He was halfway out of his seat when I grabbed his arm and looked up at him. “Stefan, settle down.”

The whole time, Blackthorne was just staring at him evenly, no emotion on his face. “I don’t know what you’re so angry about, but I haven’t seen Larsa since last night.”

Larsa looked hurt. “Come on stefan, you have to know I wouldn’t tell anybody! I– I–“

He was trying really hard to defend himself without actually saying what Stefan didn’t want him to say. Killian laid a hand over his.

“It’s all right, lad. I know Stefan’s worried, but everyone else knows you wouldnae gossip like that.”

I looked back over at Blackthorne. “What is it we need to talk about? The key? Finding my palace?Getting started on teaching Kadri how to play the oboe?”

Blackthorne shook his head slowly. “Stefan knows. And I have a feeling that you know, too, or at least suspect. There are things I’ve noticed about you; your actions, the things you’ve said. After everything I saw last night, you both need some time away from here, and the space to talk about some serious things.”

Stefan growled, sank heavily into his chair, and gave Blackthorne an angry look.”Who do you think you are, making it sound so easy to get back to Earth? Besides,we have less to talk about than you think.”

Blackthorne raised a brow and met his gaze evenly.

“Leila told me that she’s in love with me,” he said after several tense moments. His eyes flashed between Blackthorne and Larsa. “So now there’s no big secret to keep, and you don’t have to pressure me to confess to her anymore.”

“Wow!” Justin cried, sitting up much straighter. “Really, you two are in love with each other– you’re together now?!”

“We are,” I confirmed for him. I knew I was blushing again, but I really didn’t mind. I wove my fingers with Stefan’s and smiled at him. “And I’m really happy I finally said it.”

Merveilleux!” Jean-Marc declared. “That’s wonderful news for you both. Ah, l’amour, c’est le meilleur, n’est-ce pas?”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “it really is.”

“It was so evident in the way he fought for you,” Tobias added.

Aubré nodded his agreement, but didn’t say anything.

“I am happy for you both,” Evander said in his usual elegant yet smooth tone. “I do agree with Prince Emory’s suggestion that you spend some time together back on Earth. You need rest as well as time to talk everything through.”

“Again with the talk of going back to Earth,” Stefan grumbled with a weary sigh that seemed to emphasized his hoarseness. “We don’t have to wait for the stars to align now that we have the key, right? So where do we have to go to use it?”

“You won’t need it today,” Blackthorne said. “I have my own way of getting you home.”


Blackthorne nodded. “I don’t believe I made it clear enough what I can actually do with the powers I inherited from my grandfather.”

Stefan gave him a curious look, and I decide to fill him in on some of the details. “When we went out to the beach to save you last night, I rode Sleipnir, but Blackthorne had to run and get Larsa. You think he had time to run all over the castle and still get to the beach before you drowned? He can make portals through the shadows– kind of like wormholes.”

“Well, not–” Blackthorne stopped to think. “I’m not even going to worry about the distinction right now. All you need to know, Stefan, is that I can take us back to Earth as soon as you’re ready to go. Evander won’t have to expend his magic, and you won’t have to spend days traveling back to Jean-Marc’s manor.”

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