Joy In the Morning
When Despina rouses, she is still safely curled against Ragnar. Two nights in a row... This is starting to be habit-forming.
She tries to slip out to answer the call of nature without disturbing him, but she is unsuccessful.
He wakes like a soldier -- all at once, he goes from sound asleep to totally alert. "Good morning. Are you always so fresh-looking in the morning?" Playfully, he pulls her hair, drawing her face toward his. The kiss, when it comes, is gentle, but she feels its effect sink clear to her toes.
This gives the old expression thoroughly kissed a whole new meaning. She curls her toes tightly, holding very still so she doesn't break the spell.
Ragnar rises, picking her up and carrying her into the spacious marble-floored bath. Elbowing the water on, he efficiently strips her, then himself, stepping in with her still pressed close to his heart.
I love the sound of his beating heart. It is so reassuring. It reminds me of Cu... A sob catches in her throat...
Gradually, she puts her feet down, standing beside him, still pressed tightly to him. Impulsively, she takes a bar of soap and lathers his chest, then twirls him, repeating it on his back. But that water was icy cold, while this is deliciously Hot ... I can even feel my face heating.
Ragnar steals the bar and returns the favor, dropping ever lower in tantalizing swirls of soap and warmth.
Kneeling, she gathers soapsuds and works her fingers up his feet and legs. Soon they meet in a rising heat of passion, surrounded by water... This is what should have happened with Cu...
Shutting off the water, he snags an oversize bath towel and rolls her into it. Lifting her effortlessly, he carries her to the bed, positioning her in the center.
Looking up, Despina is surprised to see a mirror. She is fascinated with this view of his handiwork. He's beautiful. His muscles are so long and well shaped. Men probably don't like to be thought of as graceful, but he has the grace of a ballet dancer. Cu never liked being beautiful...
As waves of passion sweep over her, the focus of her attention becomes ever more narrow, and she does not think of the mirror again. They drop into slumber, awakened by the discrete knocking of a maid on the door.
"Excuse me, Your Highness, but a fellow at the desk just insists that I bring you this message at once." She passes him a message from Tore.
"Now we've done it! HE'S ALIVE, but not well, in a cave, being tended in horrid conditions. We need to bring him here for healing as soon as possible. Any ideas? -- Eric"
When Ragnar goes to tip her, he realizes the look of horrified shock on Despina's face is not because she has divined the contents of his note, but is caused by his state of dishabille. Although the maid seems to be enjoying her errand, Despina is panicking.
Ducking into her room, Despina comes up with his robe and a purse.
"Your HIGHNESS, I have no idea what the customary rate is. Would you care to pick out what you'd like to give her? In addition to the peep show, I mean. I am assuming some sort of gratuity is commonplace in situations like this. Well, that's not what I really mean. I've never been in a situation QUITE like this before. Oh, PLEASE say something. I'm all flustered by being caught out."
Passing a bill to the maid, Ragnar shuts the door on her curtsy in the middle of Despina's chatter. Placing his finger on her lips, he examines the pleasantly rumpled Despina. Sliding his finger from her lips to her neck, he rubs slowly, sensually.
Despina is still rattled. "Oh, did we sleep through your business? Is that from the Queen? Is she very irate?"
"The maid will be VERY discrete."
"Why did she call you 'Your Highness'?"
"This is the ROYAL suite, no?"
"Although you must be the only person on the planet who would actually think we'd be sleeping in separate rooms. Even if we had, nobody ELSE would believe it." He leans his forehead against hers, his lips nibbling on her nose.
"But your dress, er, lack of..." His tongue dives deep into her mouth, pushing her words aside.
Finishing a lingering kiss, he leans back until he can see her clearly, his arms wrapped loosely around her. "Was the normal way I sleep, no matter if someone is here with me, or not. What was MORE eyebrow-raising from a servant's point of view was seeing YOU enter the master bedroom, where I habitually stay when I am in Stockholm, then exit with YOUR PURSE and MY ROBE."
"Master bed... Oh, I didn't know!" She wiggles nervously.
"That's okay. I slept there, didn't I?" His tone is decidedly cocky.
Suddenly becoming aware of what her wiggling is causing, her eyes widen. "You intended to all along?"
His hearty laugh almost covers the sound of knocking.
"This seems to be a busy place this morning. Would you at least put on the robe this time before you answer?" she whispers nervously.
Releasing the ties to the front of her robe and donning his own in one smooth motion, Ragnar opens the door without checking to see if Despina has had enough time to rearrange herself, to see Mr. Paterson. Despina's face goes bright scarlet.
Well, HE'LL have no idea I'm standing in the doorway of the master bedroom!
"Oh, I bet you came for your palm pilot. I'll get it for you."
"No, that's okay. I came to see the suite, mainly." He glances curiously from one bath-robed figure to the other. "I trumped up the excuse of inviting you to accompany us on our sightseeing excursion this afternoon. Your groupies want you back. Things have been much less free and easy for them without you. Nobody else wants to do the offbeat with them. Say, someone said this suit rents for $800 a night. Is that true?"
Despina glances at Ragnar. "Uh, I'm not sure. I'm just a tag along, here."
If I'm going to show him around the suite, I certainly hope Ragnar at least thinks to pull down the covers in another bedroom! What if his clothes are visible? I can't remember where he put them... on the bathroom floor? Do they LOOK as if they were discarded in wild abandon? Can clothing tell tales just by their placement?
Arms crossed, leaning casually in the doorway to another bedroom, Ragnar watches the discussion with an amused smile on his face before he bails her out. "Would you like to follow me?" he asks, shepherding Mr. Paterson into the living room area while waxing lyrical about the attributes of the suite.
Relieved, Despina slips into the bedroom and polices the place, shoving Ragnar's pile of clothing under the bed, putting hers out as though she were going to send them to be cleaned. Should I take the time to dress?
Grabbing fresh clothes, she slips across the open area while Mr. Paterson has his back to her, admiring the view out the window as Ragnar points out salient landmarks.
Quickly, she throws back the covers and rumples the sheets by flopping down and making an indentation in the pillow with her head. Finally, she throws the covers roughly back over the now obviously slept-in bed. Dressing rapidly, she then carries her robe back to "her" room. Well, at least it's not obvious to ME that I'm in the master bedroom... Lack of experience in upscale accommodations on my part? If he really did come to check out the sleeping arrangements, at least nothing condemning is visible.
Entering the living area just as the men turn from the view, Despina continues the opening conversation as though there has been no time lapse at all.
"I'd love to go! Ragnar is here on the Queen's business, so he'd probably welcome being shut of me for a while. What time are you leaving?"
Last updated 11/8/04.