Benedict frowned as he entered his room and was greeted only with silence.
He looked around cautiously, expecting to be ambushed by the contents of his bookcase flying at full speed toward his head. He couldn’t recall doing anything wrong, but that didn’t mean anything.
Instead he found only Rae sitting glumly by the fire. Well, at least Rae had come here – that was a good sign. Nothing was worse than when Rae went back to his own room, which was so rarely used now it collected dust.
“Rae?” he asked softly, stopping to discard the bulk of his cumbersome evening clothes. Gods above he hated all the formal dinners and parties that plagued his life. Now that he had flat out refused to continue playing the role of royal whore, he had very little need to attend any of them.
Still, his family persisted. He supposed they hoped he’d grow tired of his secretary and return to his ‘usual self’. Well, not happening. Though he would never have thought in a million years that his foul-tempered secretary would be the one to capture him so, he was not complaining…except the fact that Rae still had not moved. He sat staring into the fire, as if utterly lost to his thoughts.
“Rae?” Benedict repeated, collecting the small tin he’d brought with him. He’d ordered it last week, but had insisted they take their time and do the job properly. Nothing less than absolute perfection would suffice. Cautiously, expecting the storm to erupt any moment, Benedict knelt down in front of Rae and looked at him in concern. Six months. Six months now they had lasted. He’d never had a lover more than two weeks, and that one he had dropped as soon as his parents had gotten what they wanted. Rae…all he wanted these days was to hold his Hunter and never let go. “Whatever is the matter?”
Rae said nothing, merely set his brandy down with a clink on the table and picked up a sheaf of papers. “Your parents gave these to me this morning, and told me to begin going over them with you. Highness.”
Benedict frowned and took the papers – then began swearing profusely. “Bastards! No wonder they’ve been nice to me all day.” He stared at them, then looked back up at Rae, who had returned to staring into the fire. “Why aren’t you throwing things at my head?”
“You were bound to have to get married, Bene,” Rae said tiredly. As if there was no fight left in him. Benedict didn’t approve one bit. He preferred Rae when he was breaking the most expensive objects in the room. “She will be here next week so that you two might meet. A fine princess, I hear, though they say she has a bit of a temper. I’m certain that will suit you, however.”
If Rae wasn’t going to get angry, then Benedict would. “So that’s it. All we’ve been through – our rough start, all the fights we’ve had, defying my family and everyone else and now you’re giving up because my family thinks they can marry me off?” Benedict set down his gift before he did something stupid, like throw it. “You’re usually so smart, Rae. Why are you choosing now to be so stupid?”
There was the fire he knew and loved, sparking from deep within those dark brown eyes. “Excuse me?” Rae said icily, hand tightening around his brandy glass. “You are a prince of the realm, you bloody idiot. It is one thing to refuse all other potential paramours because of me; it is quite another to refuse a marriage.”
Benedict snorted. “You’re the one being stupid. Do you honestly think my family really wants me to marry?”
“She is, so far as political matches, utterly perfect.”
“Bloody moron today, aren’t you? They don’t care about that. The things she’d bring to a marriage, my beloved fool, are things we could aware far more cheaply by other routes. The ports, the trade agreements and all the rest of it. Anything is cheaper than a marriage, trust me. They’re trying to get rid of you, Rae. Everyone knows how possessive you are. Lord B is still recovering from the bookend you threw at him. They think marrying me off will get rid of you.”
Rae glared at the mention of Lord B. “Bastard. If he tries it again, I’ll do far worse than a simple book end.”
The book end in question has been mostly wood — but with some bronze. Luckily Lord B had ducked and missed the worst of it. “So you love me enough to harm Lord B but you give up at the mention of marriage?” Benedict asked.
“You are a prince, even if you’re a lazy one,” Rae said slowly. “As I said before, marriage is different. Countries have gone to war for less than a refused marriage, Bene. That doesn’t mean…” he grimaced and slumped further in his seat. “Obviously you have not been in the office today.”
Benedict quirked a brow at that, and started to feel much better. So Rae had completely destroyed the office in his rage? He hid a grin, suddenly feeling far finer than simply ‘much better’. He reached down and retrieved the box he’d set aside. “Here. This is for you.”
“What for?” Rae asked, frowning at the green box tied with a yellow ribbon.
“I like buying you things,” Benedict said, smiling when Rae only eyed him uncertainly. So suspicious, his Rae, of things given to him for no reason. The very reason Benedict liked doing it – everyone else he’d ever been with expected things, thought they were entitled to them.
Carefully Rae untied the ribbon, and then unthinkingly held it to his nose, breathing in the scent that clung to it. “Amber and rose,” he murmured, the ghost of a smile slipping briefly across his face. He lifted the lid and blinked. “Fruit?”
Benedict laughed softly. “Try a slice of orange.”
Eying him as though he were crazy, Rae nevertheless obeyed and picked up a slice – immediately realizing something wasn’t right. Biting into it, his eyes immediately widened. “Marzipan,” he said, and licked traces of sugar from his lips. “They’re all made of marzipan. I’ve never seen any of such quality…” he looked at the box, then at Benedict. “You don’t have to buy me sweets, Bene.”
Benedict rolled his eyes, moved the box to the table – right on top of the stupid marriage contract – and leaned up between Rae’s legs to kiss him soundly, wrapping his arms around Rae’s waist. He was warm from the fire, mouth flavored with brandy and sugar, and Rae for the time being seemed more than happy to keep the kiss at a slow, steady burn. “Do you love me, Hunter?” he asked when the kiss finally ended.
“Always, pretty bird,” Rae answered softly.
Benedict smiled and stole another soft, quick kiss, then reached into the box of candy and pulled out a marzipan cherry and pressed it to Rae’s lips. The way Rae lit up over something as simple as sugar was a sight he would never grow tired of watching. He knew too many people who were insulted if they received less than emeralds and diamonds.
Those lips were too tempting, and Benedict leaned up again to lick red-dyed sugar from them. “So what did you do to the study?”
Rae’s cheeks burned the faintest bit pink, and Benedict’s mood improved a thousand-fold to know just how upset Rae had truly been. “I might have gotten carried away.”
Benedict threw his head back and laughed. “I cannot wait to see. Unnecessary, Rae, for no matter how much my family screams – I want you and no other.”
Fingers sank into his hair, a gesture that made him shiver no matter how often it was done, and Rae tilted his head just so, leaning down to kiss him hard, sharing the taste of sugar and brandy, and the flavors were almost as seductive as the scent of amber and musk that clung to him. “Good. I no longer feel like conceding defeat. The idiot princess had best not show her face if she values keeping it pretty for whomever she does marry.”
Benedict said nothing, merely smiled as Rae returned to kissing him.