~ O ~
The water was cold; I had forgotten how much when I removed my sandals and stepped to my waist. It was refreshing, though. My feet hurt at first as I stepped on the gravel, but then I enjoyed the feel as I rubbed my feet over and over the rounded pebbles. I removed my dress and dove headfirst into the lake. My body sighed with thanks.
I swam for a moment before returning to the shore to grab my dress and the soap. Darian sat on the shore, watching the sky.
“Aren't you coming in?” I asked. “The water feels wonderful.”
“I didn’t think you’d do that,” he said, darting me a glance. In the dark, I couldn’t see his face, but I was sure from his voice that he was blushing.
“What?” I scooped a handful of soap from the kettle and rubbed it onto my dress. I lowered it into the water and started scrubbing with a flat stone. “Do you want to get clean, or not?”
The man was shy, which made me smile. Men in Aisling were as rough as porcupines. Perhaps that’s why I was becoming comfortable with Darian. He had never threatened me like I had imagined he would. I found his embarrassment charming.
“Come into the water,” I laughed. “I won’t hurt you.” As he inched toward the lake, I tugged at the cuffs of his clothing. “Take off your pants.”
Darian’s voice came out in a squeak. “What?”
I pulled on his leg. “Do you want clean clothes? Give me your pants, I’ll wash them.”
He didn’t argue, but closed his eyes as he removed his leather shoes—and his pants. Then he tossed me his shirt; the blue was fading, but it still sparkled where the blood hadn’t stained. He dove into the lake to hide under the reflection of the stars.
It wasn’t much, but I did my best to scrub our clothes with the soap I had made. I tossed them onto the shore and then covered myself with the white cream. The smell was fabulous. I could feel the smoke pry from my skin as I rubbed everywhere I could reach. Wanting more, but needing to share, I left the last bits of soap for Darian and dove back into the lake to rinse myself.
“Your turn,” I told him, chasing after him in the shallow water. “You’ll smell like a flower afterward, but it will definitely be an improvement.”
He was still shy, setting himself waist deep in the water and scrubbing from head to toe. I had never seen a man bathe before, and watched every moment while wading. Darian was perfect. His dark muscles covered in soap made me want to swim closer. His hair covered his eyes until he wet it and pulled it back with his fingers, allowing it to hang back toward his shoulders.
My stomach twisted and my breath stopped filling my lungs. I suddenly felt distant and alone. I closed my eyes and turned toward Morgan.
“I’m dressed now,” he told me. “You can turn around.” He stood on the shore, the water dripping from his clothes and his hair sparkled from the stars. He looked taller than a moment ago—and handsome.
The feeling in my stomach returned and my boldness left me. I didn’t want Darian to see me—not like this, unkempt and bedraggled. Something—pride, or something more intimate that I hesitated to name—left me wishing that he could see me like I had once looked when I was a faerie. “Please don’t turn around,” I said, dropping low in the water. “I’ll only be a moment.”
I stumbled on the rocks, twisting into my dress, franticly trying to cover myself before he turned to steal a look. But Darian never did. He watched the stars until I touched his arm.
“That feels nice,” he said, his voice melting me as his fingers caressed mine.
I smiled back. The spinning in my stomach and the tingling in my heart reminded me of innocent days and nights like this so long ago. The feeling was the same. Darian was becoming something more than a friend.
~ O ~