They came upon a small clearing with a pond in its center. A bubbling stream entered the pond at one end, and exited on the other, leaving inviting whirls and eddies on the surface of the water. A large boulder sat half submerged in the pond, with grass growing around its base.
Sebastian turned in his saddle, watching Jewel as she gazed at his sanctuary.
"This is where I come when I want to be alone. I can hear my thoughts clearly here." He dismounted while he was talking, and now he stood next to her mare, gazing up at her.
Jewel looked at him, a pang of nervousness washing over her at the thought of his hands on her once again.
He must have sensed her hesitation and tried to give her a reassuring smile. "Do not worry, my lady Jewel," he said. "I won't do anything you don't want me to."
She closed her eyes and bit her lower lip in consternation. It was exactly that--what she wanted him to do--that made her nervous.
Snapping her eyes open, she decided to be bold. "I am not worried, milord," she said before practically jumping down on her own. Sebastian wasn't quite ready for her and almost didn't catch her. But as soon as he did, she pulled out of his reach, walking briskly to the water's edge.
She trembled, looking out at the water, yet not seeing a thing. Taking a deep breath, she succeeded in calming herself somewhat.
"I come here for a swim sometimes as well," Sebastian stated right behind her. Jewel jumped at the nearness of his voice. She hadn't heard him walk over to her.
Again, she retreated, walking along the edge of the pond, trying to keep her distance.
"It is quite lovely," she said, glad there was a soft breeze to cool her face.
Turning to face him, she noticed he was slowly walking toward her, but not looking at her. His hands were behind his back in a most proper fashion as he studied the pebbles along the shoreline, kicking some with his boot.
He reached down, grabbed a flat stone and hurled it out toward the water. It skipped three times on the surface before plunging into the depths.
Jewel smiled at him in wonder. "How did you do that?"
"Come here, I'll show you." He beckoned innocently.
She walked hesitantly to him, ready to flee again if need be. She stopped a few feet away.
"Find a flat stone," he told her as he chose another one.
Looking around, Jewel found one and picked it up.
"Now hold it like this." He showed her how he meant to throw it. She mimicked him. "Now toss it!" He sent another stone skipping along the water.
Jewel tossed it, but it merely plunked into the water.
She placed her hands on her hips and pouted. "What happened?"
Sebastian laughed, picking up another stone, and flipped it to her.
"Try again. You just need practice." Grasping another stone, Sebastian sent that one skipping on the pond.
Jewel held the stone in her hand and threw it, once again hearing the solid plunk.
"What am I doing wrong?" she asked.
Sebastian picked up another stone and closed the distance between them. "Let me show you."
Before she could protest, he turned her around, her back pressed into his chest with his arms enfolding her, as he placed the rock into her palm.
"Hold it like this," he whispered into her ear. She shivered at his warm breath. Molding his fingers around hers, he showed her how to hold the rock.
"Then bring your arm back--" he lifted her arm, "--and toss it." With that, he swung her arm to throw the stone and finally it skipped across the pond.
"Did you see that?" she said joyfully. "It skipped. I did it!"
"Yes you did!" He laughed.
In her excitement, she hadn't noticed that Sebastian hadn't released her. However now, with the excitement gone, she was acutely aware of him, his arms tightening around her, his warmth pressing on her back.
Closing her eyes again, she fought against the urge to lay her head against his shoulder, to let him kiss her neck and the sensitive spot behind her ear. She groaned again at the thought and there was no doubt he heard it this time.
"Did you like your flower?" he asked, his breath burning her ear.
Oh God, not now. Not the flower! She remembered with clarity his romantic gesture this morning and began trembling anew.
All she could do was nod.
He chuckled. "I thought you might."
Amazingly, Jewel found her voice. "You shouldn't have done that, Sebastian..."
"Call me Bastian."
She ignored his plea. "Wh-what about the heavy fines?"
"You're worth it."
She turned her head to look at him, but he didn't give her another chance to look away. His lips were on hers in an instant, kissing her softly. Her heart jumped at the contact and she tried to pull away, but Sebastian held her fast. Her lips smoldered under his, making him groan into her mouth and deepen the kiss.
His tongue ran along her lips, urging them to open, yet she was afraid to surrender fully. Was this really happening? Was she dreaming?
No, this tingling sensation wasn't a dream. Wanting to pull him closer wasn't a dream. Wanting to press against the length of his body definitely wasn't a dream.
"Jewel, I won't hurt you," he said against her lips, sensing her reluctance. "I will never hurt you."
Remembering her bruises, remembering there was someone out there who had beaten her, and remembering it was Sebastian who had saved her, made her whimper in response to his words. She wanted to be safe, she wanted stability. She wanted reassurance that everything would be all right.
And Sebastian was offering all of it to her now.
Jewel finally surrendered, turning in his embrace without breaking the kiss, her hands finding the sides of his face to hold him there.
Opening her mouth, she let him in, let him explore with his tongue, playing with hers passionately.
She was timid at first, but then matched his ardor, giving and taking. She could smell him, feel him, taste him--at that moment her entire world revolved around him.
Her hands found their way from his face up into his hair, feeling its softness and marveling at it.
Slowly, Sebastian lifted his lips from hers to look deeply into her eyes. He was panting, and she saw the fires of passion burning in his blue depths.
"We cannot... We cannot..." he stammered, resting his forehead on her shoulder.
"Cannot what, Bastian?" She trailed kisses down his cheek and neck.
"Good God, sweet lady, I want to make love to you right here and now, I swear it!"
"You said you wouldn't do anything to me I didn't want you to do," she whispered hotly in his ear. "I don't want you to stop."