"Most people don't look so terrified the day before their wedding," Tress said, sprawled like a cat in the window seat of the room they were in. Parlor? In Rath's world, it would just be the front room. The palace had rooms upon rooms upon rooms. What to call them all, Rath hadn't the slightest. He was still sorting out how to feel about the fact he lived in the palace. Lived. As in, permanent dwelling place. Home. "You're looking more terrified now."
Rath finally looked at him, heart trip-trapping.
Ordinarily, the planning alone would require a royal wedding be at least a year in the future. And the Tournament of Losers had a trial period where the winners and their prizes could get to know one another to be certain the marriage would not end up making everyone miserable.
But the king and queen had said there was little point to waiting overlong given that practically all the guests who would have been invited were already present because of the Tournament, and the few missing were already on their way in anticipation of the wedding. Also, they'd been courting the whole time and hardly needed the trial period, though that wasn't common knowledge.
Four months after being declared tournament champion, Rath still couldn't entirely believe he was betrothed to a prince, was going to be a prince. No matter how many times he tried to wake himself up, he seemed to be in a permanent state of dreaming.
"Are you going to pass out?"
"No," Rath said, but the tremble in his voice was humiliatingly apparent.
Tress made a soft, distressed noise and uncoiled from his window seat, crossing the room to crouch in front of Rath and take his hands. "Are you really so unhappy about this?"
"Given all your fancy schooling," Rath replied, dredging up a smile that only wobbled a little bit, "I would think you'd know that terrified and unhappy are not necessarily the same thing. Of course I'm terrified. This is not where I thought I would end up when I joined the tournament to pay a debt. Normally this time of year I'm working extra hours at the docks because of all the extra foodstuffs and supplies ordered to tide the city over through winter. This time of night, I'd be drinking hot ale or, if I was really lucky, eating a good bowl of soup or chowder. Instead I'm still so full from whatever we ate for dinner I don't know if I'm going to be sick or simply fall asleep."
Tress snickered. "Neither, not as nervous as you are. Though sleep would do you some good, or you'll be even more of a mess tomorrow—and if you collapse from the fits on our wedding day, I will never cease to tease you."
"Yes, you will, when I murder you," Rath replied, but his smile then didn't wobble a bit. He cupped Tress's head, running his thumbs along his cheeks, and bent to kiss him. "Brat."
"You've always liked that I'm a brat," Tress said when they finally pulled apart. "Admit it."
Rath pinched his nose. "I'm not admitting any such thing because it isn't true. I remember quite a few times when I wasn't at all amused by you."
"Generally when I was trying to be nice," Tress said.
"Doesn't mean you weren't also being a brat."
Tress grinned. "Speaking of you liking me the way I am…"
Tress pushed him back slightly and pulled something out of his jacket—his wedding gift to Rath, left in the inn where they'd had the fight that had nearly cost Rath everything. "You should open it now."
"That's unlucky!" Rath pushed the gift away.
"You and your superstitions," Tress said with a huff.
Rath narrowed his eyes.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Tress said, lifting one hand, the other still clutching the gift. "I do not think the gods will take it amiss that you open it tonight instead of tomorrow night. Come on, haven't we been bending and breaking rules all along?"
"All the more reason not to test good fortune now," Rath said, folding his arms across his chest. "A wedding gift is for a wedding night, and it's unlucky to open it before then."
Tress tucked back a curl that had fallen in Rath's face. Though the servants Rath now possessed to help him dress—which, honestly, he would never get used to being treated like a child who couldn't yet dress himself, but neither could he manage all his fancy new clothes by himself. The servants also constantly did battle with his hair, no matter how many times he told them it was a wasted effort. Thankfully, no one else seemed to mind, and even if they did, Rath wouldn't care. The only thing he cared about was how much Tress liked his curls, especially when they were messy. "Most people are one step away from passing out in terror, and most wedding gifts are minor things, like jewels, horses, knick-knacks, alcohol…"
Rath gave him a look.
Tress thrust the package at him. "Would you just open it?"
"Sorry, now I'm being a brat," Rath said, and reeled him in close, leaned up kiss him, and draped his free arm around Tress's neck. "It better not be jewels."
Tress smiled against his mouth. "I would never give you jewels." Rath relaxed slightly, and Tress added with obvious relish, "My mother would be furious if I copied her gift to you."
Rath heaved a sigh, but his smile won out as he stole Tress's window seat and slowly untied the ribbon binding the small package. It was not quite the size of his hand, rectangular, and hard. But when he pulled away the silly paper, he saw only a plain brown box. Opening that, he stared in confusion at the little book inside. "Is this more manners? Haven't I been doing well in my lessons?"
"Marvelously," Tress replied, "though I don't think I like the way your tutor flirts with you."
"He does not," Rath said absently as he pulled the book out and flipped delicately through—and laughed as he realized it was a book of erotica. "You bought me a book about sex?" He looked up through his lashes. "I think I know more about sex than you. There's probably nothing in this book I haven't done, and plenty I've done that isn't in this book." He almost started laughing at the emotions that did battle on Tress's face, contorting it in truly hilarious ways. "Are you trying not to be jealous? You've never been jealous before."
Sheepishness finally won out. "Jealous? No. But I'm your tournament prize, and we're getting married tomorrow. I don't want to hear about all the people who helped you build those delectable skills I enjoy."
"You're absurd." Rath kissed his nose. "I don't think I signed up to win an absurd prize."
Tress bit at his lips, slid his fingers into Rath's curls and kept his head tilted up. "Beloved, the only person in this room more absurd than me is you."
"Oh, be quiet," Rath muttered, face flushing.
"Speaking of absurd," Tress said. "You haven't looked at your book properly."
"I what?" But at Tress's slight pout, he opened the book—and stopped at the inscription on the title page.
To the man who drew me from my books, but never took me from them. All my love, Tress
"This…" Rath smiled, blinking away the sting in his eyes as he looked up. "This is the book you were reading the night we met."
"Why else would I give you a book of erotica? I'm the absurd one, honestly."
Rath set the book on the window seat, stood, and pulled Tress in close. Leaning up, he kissed Tress with every bit of skill gained from years of working in a brothel, as wet and filthy as he knew, not breaking away until Tress was trembling and whimpering and rutting against him. "Are you certain that's the only reason you gave it to me? Because you are a bit of a brat."
Tress grinned and dragged his tongue across Rath's lips. "Brat, but not coy. My favorite story is number five and you do that very well indeed."
"I'm not looking to see what story number five is."
That grin just turned more wicked. "You'll look later."
"I will not," Rath muttered, and forestalled Tress's reply by kissing him again. Grabbing hold of the blue velvet jacket that had distracted him all through dinner, he turned them around and pushed Tress onto the seat. "I don't know what annoys me more: that you insist on wearing velvet, or that your clothes fit you so well."
Tress reached out and teased fingers along Rath's hard cock where it was still confined by his breeches. "I think you don't know what 'annoyed' means."
Finally getting his breeches open, Rath pulled Tress's cock out, gave it several quick, hard strokes—then let go and stepped back.
"What are you doing?" Tress demanded.
"Stopping. Why? Are you feeling annoyed?"
Tress yanked him back in close. "Get back to work or I'll show you annoyed."
Rath laughed against his lips and kissed him. "Bossy prince."
"Yes, very. Get to work enjoying your prize."
Still laughing, Rath sank to his knees, dragging Tress's pants and underclothes with him, making quick work of his stockings and shoes before throwing everything aside and turning his full attention to Tress's cock. He licked the tip, then suckled teasingly before drawing back to press kisses to Tress's thighs and along the length of his cock, then started all over again—until a hand sank into his curls and kept him on Tress's cock. Looking up through his lashes just because that drove Tress wild, Rath finally set to work in earnest. He took Tress's cock deep, tongue working along the length, cheeks hollowed as he sucked hard, head bobbing. More than a few of his tips had been the result of his mouth, and while there was many a dick he'd been glad to wipe from his memory, he wasn't sorry he had all those skills to put to use now.
Tress groaned, both hands in his hair now, urging him on without taking control, pleas and curses and Rath's name spilling out across the room. Rath tried not to think about the fact that it was a parlor, not their bedroom, and they could be caught at any moment unless Tress had been smart enough to lock the door.
A shiver ran through Tress, all the warning Rath needed before he spilled.
When his shudders finally ceased, Rath pulled gently off his softened cock, and went easily as Tress pulled him up. Tearing Rath's breeches open, Tress pulled out his cock and wasted no time in showing off his own not inconsiderable skills. Rath would have loved to drag it out, fuck his mouth until his lips were swollen and his face sweaty with exertion, but he'd spent all day caught between dying of anxiety and exploding from lust. Tress took him deep, hands on his ass, and a moment later Rath moaned his name and came down his throat.
Drawing back, Tress pulled out a kerchief from the jacket he was still wearing and cleaned them both up before kissing Rath soundly. "I do like giving you presents," he said as he went to fetch his clothes and pull them back on. "Shall we adjourn to our room and further explore your most recent? I know you're dying to find out what story number five is about."
Rath tried to look exasperated, but Tress only smiled in that evil way of his and offered a hand. Retrieving his book, Rath took it and let himself be dragged off to further distractions.
Hopefully by tomorrow he'd be too exhausted to be terrified. Or to say something stupid. Or to mess up the ceremony. Or—
"Stop fretting," Tress said. "You won a tournament, despite your best efforts to lose and various attempts to remove you. How hard can a wedding be?"
"Only a hoity-toity would think that's the easy part," Rath said with a shaky laugh. "It's very permanent. What if I'm terrible? What if you eventually—"
"Don't even say it," Tress interrupted, and stopped them in the hallway to kiss him so long that Rath was left breathless and momentarily dizzy. "I love you. You won me fair and true. If anyone is going to get fed up and walk away, it's the man who hates everything north of the bridges."
"I don't hate everything north of the bridges." At Tress's look, Rath relented, "All right, I never loved any of it. But I've been persuaded by my hoity-toity tournament prize." He opened the door to their suite, grabbed the front of Tress's jacket, and dragged him inside. Closing the door, he leaned against it and reeled Tress in. "So what's story number five?"
Tress kissed his nose, then his cheeks, then his mouth. "Come to bed and I'll read it to you."
"If you insist." Rath pushed him away and led the way into the bedroom, trailing clothes as he went.