Centuries ago, Darcy had discovered Asgard with bright eyes and bated breath. She had loved the place and marveled at Queen Frida’s grace. Still innocent and candid, her head had been filled with stories about Prince Thor and the rumors of their eventual betrothal. She had left disillusioned.
Under the golden roof of the palace, she remembered those moments. She wasn’t prepubescent anymore, she was a Princess of Olympus, and yet it was easy to be impressed by one of the most prosperous civilization of the galaxy. A civilization that she’ll someday be a part of, as per the contract recently concluded between Zeus and Odin.
“Lord Uranus, Ladies Theia and Hebe, it’s our greatest pleasure to welcome you to Asgard,” the Allfather announced with open arms.
Darcy bowed slowly, looking through her eyelashes as her protector and ancestor embraced their host. Uranus-Erik was a scholar, not a warrior, and Odin knew it well enough to control his strength. By her side, her chaperone and best friend, Theia-Jane, greeted the Queen Frida by holding hands.
Darcy raised her eyes to Prince Thor’s face and studied his expression. She remembered a handsome man who had taken her breath away, a cocky smile that had quickened her heartbeat, and a dismissive glance that had tightened her throat. Thor was even more gorgeous than she remembered, if that was possible, but he seemed… calmer, more mature, less arrogant… His smile was softer and welcoming. Her shoulders relaxed as her heart raced again.
“My lady,” he said, bowing, “it’s a pleasure to see you after all these years. You have grown well.”
Darcy genuflected slightly. “The pleasure is mine, my lord. Time has favored you as well.”
“Hebe,” Erik called, holding a hand to her. She took it to hide the slight tremor of his fingers. Her great grandfather was weakened. He should be sitting, but appearances were a priority in politics.
She curtsied for the royal couple and smiled politely at their compliments, returning them eagerly to Lady Frigga.
They were finally invited to take place for the banquet in their honor. Thor led her to her seat, before taking place opposite her. Jane was on her right, encouraging. Unfortunately, they had the displeasure to see Loki at Thor’s side. Darcy ignored his malicious smirk and favored the Warriors Three and Lady Sif with polite nods and smiles.
As they ate, Darcy managed to strike up a conversation with her intended: “I heard you traveled a lot these last years, my lord. How is Midgard?”
“Midgard’s doing well, my lady, and I was pleasantly surprised by their development.”
“Do they still follow the old religions?”
“No, not anymore. They’re no more than myths.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Their stories were a little strange I admit, with all those incestuous relationships going on. Mother’s still pretty upset they pretended she’s Dad’s sister. It’s… disturbing.”
“But they got most of it right,” Loki interrupted – as he always did. “How are your numerous half-siblings?”
“Loki,” Thor sighed, but – as usual – he didn’t say more.
Darcy gritted her teeth and reminded herself she wasn’t going to let him get at her. She wasn’t a child anymore. “Pretty well, thank you. How is your crotch?” She sipped her wine delicately, being as nonchalant as possible. She could feel Jane holding back her smirk and, on her left, Lady Sif wasn’t even bothering to.
Apparently, the time she had shot lightning at Loki after he had upset her was as popular here as on Olympus. Good to know. Her father was always delighted by this particular story. When she had been afraid to leave home for her first trip on Asgard, he had given her one of his personal weapons. It was a much smaller, much lighter version of his feared and famous Thunderbolts, but he had been truly pleased to hear she had made “good use” of it. Mother hadn’t been so approving until Darcy told her how mean Loki had been, then she had given her candy.
“Does your father finally allow you access to anything more than a child’s toy?” Loki shot back, apparently unperturbed.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Darcy turned her attention back to Thor. “Could you tell us more about your travels?”
As Thor obliged her, Darcy relaxed a little, glad he was answering positively. He had been so distant and patronizing before, preferring to spend time with his friends to train rather than take the time to get to know his intended. She had felt insignificant with her little crush, and Loki had stepped right into that.
Considering how much more serene and self-confident in a quieter, more subdued way, he seemed, she guessed she wasn’t the only one having grown up. She was glad for it. She had feared she would grow to hate him, in this strange “love you / hate you” way that her mother had for her cheating husband. That had never seemed really healthy to her but, when she had pondered over her own feelings, she had seen the seeds of such sentiments. They only led to bitterness, and she despised that taste. She was a sweet kind of girl all the way… And Thor seemed sweeter than ever. Even his haircut with long hair and a little ponytail was attractive.
As always, Darcy could count on Jane to ask the smart questions at the right times, carrying on the conversation. Unfortunately, she had to stop herself from fidgeting when the conversation became a little too smart for her. She knew that Loki knew. He was staring at her like a bloody hound, and she could see him opening his mouth for a scathing comment…
She quickly looked up to see Thor’s calm smile. “Darcy,” she said quickly, “please, just call me Darcy.” Olympians had two first names, one for public use and one for friends. To be offered the use of the second one was a show of trust but, really, it was implicit that Thor, as her future husband, could use it without asking. He had never hesitated before.
“Darcy,” he corrected himself, “is something bothering you?”
“I–” She played with her fork before deciding to be honest. “What’s… the Tesseract?”
“A fair question, my lady,” he simply said before explaining, helped by Jane.
Considering that her father had an Infinity Stone well hidden on Olympus, Darcy knew enough about them to be able to participate to the conversation and felt more at ease.
When the time came for dancing, she eagerly waited for Thor to ask her, but he was engrossed in conversation, Loki drawing his attention as much as he could. Darcy leaned towards her best friend and murmured: “Am I supposed to wait forever?”
Jane, her dear chaperone, hesitated before answering: “Well, technically speaking, you’re not betrothed yet. It wouldn’t be insulting if you danced with someone else…”
Darcy didn’t need to hear more. She put down her glass and stood up, drawing everyone’s attention around. She turned to Fandral, who was sitting just after Hogun on Sif’s other side. “My lord, would you help me remember your traditional dances’ steps? I’m afraid it has been a long time since I practiced…”
“Of course my lady, it would be my honor.” Fandral immediately stood up, always ready to dance, just as she remembered. He offered her his hand and led her to the dancefloor. With a hand on her waist, he smiled impishly and remarked: “Now, look at that, the Allfather is glaring at his sons. You have managed to get them in trouble.” Darcy raised her chin, ready to defend herself, but Fandral shook his head. “It’s not a slight, my lady. You did well, taking the initiative.”
Darcy relaxed and smiled back. “How are you and your friends, my lord? Lady Sif seemed happier, or is it my imagination?” Considering Sif had glared at her during their first meeting, the change was significant.
“Ah, that would have something to do with her engagement to Hogun.”
“Truly? That is marvelous news!” Darcy beamed. She might be a bit selfish, since she was aware that Sif had been Thor’s lover (at least the first time they had met). She looked back at the table and noticed how close they were to each other. “They make a beautiful couple, I can see it now.”
“Indeed. A couple of grim warriors, really fitting,” Fandral teased.
She poked him but her lopsided smile mirrored his. “When is their wedding due?”
“Undefined. They insisted to wait after Thor’s. And, talking about him, look who’s coming…”
The music was changing to a tune more intimate as Thor stepped forward and tilted his head at her: “My lady, would you do me the honor of this dance?”
“Of course. Thank you so much, Lord Fandral.” The warrior winked at her behind Thor’s back and gracefully stepped away.
Thor’s large hands cupped hers. “Twice now I have been remiss in my duties to you, my lady. I apologize.”
“If duty is the only thing that motivates your actions, our betrothal will be a sad one, my lord.”
He smiled softly. “I met a child, some years ago, and I’ve been told I hurt her. But she grew as a lovely young woman, and I’d like to have the opportunity to know her before I could blunder once again.”
Darcy slowly relaxed, letting the tension she had felt as he began to speak fade away. She smiled and nodded. “I’d like that too.” His arm wrapped more tightly around her waist as the music’s tempo increased, and she was pleasantly surprised when he lifted her effortlessly for a twirl. He was an excellent dancer, and their first dance together was followed by four more, until she couldn’t bear her shoes anymore.
He brought her to a balcony for a breath of fresh air. Here, they talked about each other pasts and passions. Darcy sat on the railing, swinging her legs, and felt free to tease Thor about being banished to Midgard.
He smiled and took her hand in his when she tried to play with his hair, kissing it softly. “We both matured greatly,” he noted. “I understand better today why the Allfather insists our people need to be united by a wedding, and I believe you do too.”
She nodded slowly, solemn. “Father and Elder Uranus say that Thanos is a serious threat that too many people underestimate. But our planets have been allied for two millenniums now, since the Titans War ended on Olympus, I’m not sure why a wedding is so necessary.”
“Thanos is persuasive. He corrupted my brother once. No more than the most solid links will guarantee a trustful and sincere alliance. Of all your siblings, you’re rumored to be Zeus’ favorite.”
Darcy shrugged and looked down at her hands. That was what people said, but she wasn’t really convinced by it. Her father seemed more attentive to her half-siblings most of the time – he certainly loved Athena dearly – but, of course, a bastard couldn’t be married to the future King of Asgard.
“He gave you one of his personal weapons, didn’t he? I heard Ares was quite jealous.”
She grinned a little. “He was green with envy,” she admitted, “but father said it was only fitting that the intended of Mjölnir’s bearer would have his own thunderbolt at disposal.”
“He wouldn’t have lend it to anyone he didn’t deem worthy.”
“I suppose… He did train me personally for five days before letting me go. It’s the longest time I have ever spent in his presence.” He had been protective, attentive and sweet, a rare treat. “… but shooting Loki in the crotch was entirely my idea.”
Thor laughed heartily and squeezed her hand. “I remember. My brother was quite tight-lipped about what he said to upset you so. Even mother refused to heal him since he so clearly offended you. She likes you.”
Darcy smiled. “I’m glad. I like her too. She was really sweet to me.”
He nodded. “She reproached me my behavior then, and she was right. I didn’t give you a chance. I was wrong. Our betrothal is set to take place in three days. Will you allow me to court you until then?”
“I– Of course.” She stammered, caught unaware.
Thor smiled and kissed her hand. As he led her inside for more wine, Darcy smoothed out her long sky blue dress. He leaned down to kiss her temple and whispered: “You’re gorgeous.” She walked inside with a pleased smile and a blush.
When they took back their seats, Odin, Frigga and Uranus’ stares were on them, approving. Darcy dared to smile at the queen and was pleased to receive one wide smile in return.
Maybe this betrothal will be easier than she thought.
“She’s the sweetest thing ever, Jane!”
“How are you going to call her?”
“No, Darcy. You can’t call your cat by your sister’s name.”
“You’re right, Artemis is a snob. I don’t want this little ball of fluff to snob me. Mnemosyne?”
“How does naming her after my sister is better?”
“It’s so hard naming a cat! Why can’t I call her Most-Beautiful-Creature-I’ve-Ever-Seen?”
“By all means, be my guest, if you want so much to embarrass yourself in front of your intended.”
“Alright, alright… Ambrosia?”
“You want to call her after some food?”
“Well, it’s the best food in the universe…”
“…It could be worse, I guess.”
“It’s decided! You, my lovely little kitten, are now named Ambrosia!” Darcy beamed and lifted her new pet above her head, charmed by her soft grey fur, her blue eyes and her cuteness. “Asgardians have the best courtship gifts ever,” she remarked, cradling the kitten carefully.
“I take it you like my present?”
Jane and Darcy stood up at the sight of Thor walking into the palace’s garden. He was in casual clothes, a cloak draped around his shoulders and a fond smile on his lips.
“I love it! She’s cute and affectionate.”
“Mother helped me chose. One of her favorite cat gave birth recently. This kitten is part of her litter.”
“The Queen’s cats are rumored to be huge,” Jane remarked.
“They’re. They reach Mother’s hip.”
Darcy’s eyes widened. She looked at her pet with a new appreciation. Ambroisa was already as big as an adult common cat, but Darcy hadn't realize how significant it was. “Don’t grow too quickly Ambrosia, alright? I like being able to lift you.” She dropped a kiss on the kitten’s head and looked up at Thor. “It’s a marvelous gift. Thank you and please thank your mother for me too.”
He nodded. “If your afternoon is free, I’d like to show you our planetarium. You’ll find some improvements since your last visit, Lady Theia.”
Jane perked up, and Darcy chuckled. “Ooh, you said one of the big words! It’s over, I lost her. Lead the way, my lord.”
Thor offered his arms to both of them, and they conversed contently until they reached the Astronomy Center. Jane then walked ahead of them, fascinated by a million of details which Darcy understood nothing about.
“I know what you did,” Darcy said with a lopsided smile. They weren’t alone and yet her chaperone was away from hearing range. There was also the fact that Jane was her best friend, and Thor just scored high points by thinking about her happiness.
Thor didn’t bother to deny anything. “Lady Theia is easy to please. Her passions are well known. You’re more mysterious.”
“Am I?” Darcy raised an eyebrow, surprised.
“You’re not a scientist and yet you often go with Lady Theia and Lord Uranus on their trips. You’re not a fighter and yet your father gave you a prized weapon. You’re not a diplomat and yet your counsel is said to be favored by both of your parents, and your presence at every reception is expected. You’re not an artist either, but some said you inspired many of them…”
At that, Darcy straightened up. “If you’re referring to rumors concerning my virtue–”
“I don’t.” Thor stopped their stroll and faced her, pushing away some strands of hair from her shoulder to better look at her eyes. “I don’t think much of those rumors and, even if I did, I would be a hypocrite by reproaching you paramours.”
“Good,” Darcy managed to answer before clearing her throat. “That being said… I don’t– I never had any… paramours. Well, nothing serious,” she explained nervously, looking down at Ambrosia and petting her to calm herself. The kitten was playing with the folds of her shining blue dress.
With a knuckle under her chin, Thor raised her head. She stared at his lopsided smile.
“I’m afraid it’s very possessive of me to say, but I’m glad to hear it.” He leaned forward to kiss her forehead. “I have the urge to teach you as much as you’d let me in the matters of the heart,” he admitted, taking a step back but raising her free hand to kiss it lightly.
Trying to contain her blush was impossible. Darcy quickly changed the subject. “Concerning your prior subject, I’d say that I’m multifaceted and polyvalent. I never excelled in anything, but I never liked to be labeled ever. I like to learn about new things, and I like to be useful. So, when someone says I can help, I go and I do my best.”
He nodded and they resumed their stroll. “It’s a mindset I can appreciate. Your willingness to learn about Asgard hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
“Oh, did I bother anyone? Jane says I’m always asking questions, but she can talk, she isn’t much better when she starts.”
“You didn’t. Fandral told me you listened to Volstagg patiently, and it’s a feat most impressive.”
“Oh, I love food. Well, I admit the part about mead got a little bit boring after a few minutes – I mean how many types have you here, really? – but I succeeded in distracting him with his kids after that. It’s nothing I haven’t had to deal with on Olympus,” she explained.
“He speaks very highly of you, now. This means that most of Asgard will hear about you soon.”
“Is he a gossip?”
“The worst, but don’t let him hear that.” He winked, and Darcy chuckled.
The day after, Darcy was walking around the palace grounds and wandered near the Bifrost Gate. “Hello?” she called under the dome.
“Good morning Lady Darcy,” Heimdall greeted her, startling her as he appeared behind her.
“Heimdall! Hi! Just who I was looking for! How are you?”
“I am well,” the all-seeing man answered simply.
Darcy restrained herself from rolling her eyes. Trying to strike up a conversation with this guy was a pain. “Well, I don’t want to bother you, I was just curious. I heard the Bifrost had been broken and finally recently rebuilt?”
Heimdall nodded slowly. “You’re correct.”
“It has been a great cause of chaos among the realms,” she noted walking to the observatory’s door. Although her people mostly traveled by spaceships, she had used the Bifrost once, when Thor had reluctantly bring her along for a peaceful trip with his friends, at his mother’s demand.
“Indeed,” Heimdall replied. She couldn’t tell if he was just laconic or unwilling to share any more information with her.
She sighed and decided to put her cards on the table. “My father asked me to ensure it runs smoothly.”
“It does. The Tesseract fixed any damage. It is now just as strong as it was before.”
Darcy nodded and hummed, looking at the long stone bridge used to support the first part of the energy beam produced in the observatory when it was activated.
The wind from the sea blew softly, playing with her hair and her white dress as she studied everything and compared it to her memories. It’s not that her father or herself didn’t trust the Asgardians on this matter, but it was an important tool for peace.
“Is everything to your satisfaction, my lady?”
She startled and spun around to see Thor stepping beside Heimdall. She had discovered since yesterday that the fair-headed warrior could be discreet when he wanted to. With the soft soles he favored in the palace, it wasn’t the first time she hadn’t heard him approach.
Convinced that she might have displeased her hosts by distrusting them, she cleared her throat as a light blush colored her cheeks. “Yes, yes, absolutely. I’m sorry to have bothered you, Heimdall.”
“Not at all, my lady,” the keeper of the Bifrost bowed slightly as she walked past. “I wish you a good engagement.”
Thor walked beside her but stopped when they left the observatory. They were on a parapet overlooking the sea, the wind blowing their hair around their faces.
She chose to speak first: “I’m sorry Thor, I know it wasn’t very respectful but…”
He stopped her with a hand on her cheek, his thumbs stroking her cheekbone lightly. “All is right, my lady. We know you didn’t mean anything by it. That being said, you could have simply asked for a journey by the Bifrost,” he pointed out with a gentle smile.
She blushed and fidgeted. “Yes, I could have done that but… hum… I was bored,” she blurted out, “and it sounded fun to investigate on my own.”
Thor laughed and put an arm around her bare shoulders to protect her from the wind. “I take it our training wasn’t to your satisfaction?”
“It was fun watching Lady Sif and you pummel each other for the first ten minutes, but then it became a little bit repetitive…” His chuckles gave her enough bravado to add: “If you had been bare-chested, maybe…”
He broke into another peal of laughter, his hand gently squeezing her shoulder. “I’ll take it into consideration,” he promised. “Where is Lady Theia?”
“In the planetarium. Where else? I told you what a wonderfully bad idea that was.”
“In that case… Would you care about a walk on the beach, my lady?”
She smiled appreciatively and nodded. “Would you tell me more about Midgard? And that Man of Iron who can fly?”
His hand went to her waist and his cloak on her shoulders as they took a walk. His scent surrounded her while his warm voice depicted his adventures in another world. As they watched the sea and compared tales of different cultures, his hand fell from her waist and intertwined with her fingers. The touch warmed her in more ways than one.
Darcy breathed in the night air, appreciating the smells coming from the flowerbeds and the light breeze brushing her hair. She shifted a little closer to Thor, her head on his shoulder and her bare toes under his ankles. He looked down at her and smiled softly.
“Are you cold?”
He unknotted his cloak, put an arm around her shoulders to let her nestle against his side and draped the cloak around them both.
“It’s so quiet here, and the view is beautiful. I understand why you like it so much,” she said dreamily.
“I remember Olympus being a beautiful city too.”
“Yes but, most often, there are clouds between the palace and the city, since it’s so high on the mountain, and there aren’t so many lights… That’s what I noticed my first night here, the lights…”
“It’s not good for stars watching,” Jane reminded her. Her chaperone was sitting near the guardrail of the balcony, but she was looking at the sky, not the city.
“Most lights turn off at midnight,” Thor offered kindly. “You’ll have a great view of the stars from here, better than from your rooms.”
“Oh, can we stay Jane?”
“I suppose so. We don’t need to wake up early tomorrow.”
Darcy raised her fist in victory and cuddled closer to Thor, looking up to meet his gaze as he stroked her hair with a soft smile. He was warm and reassuring. Resting by his side wasn’t a hardship, but someone woke up from her nap and suddenly jumped on Darcy’s stomach. “Outch! Ambrosia!”
Her kitten immediately sauntered away, grabbing Darcy’s silk scarf in her mouth and running away with it. “Oh no, not the scarf, you little devil! Thor, you didn’t warn me this cat’s breed was so mischievous!”
Her intended laughed good-naturally as she ran inside after her cat. She had to be cunning to take back her scarf without it being torn away, and then they were playing a game of tug-of-war with a spare bit of clothing.
Thor walked in. “Is that one of my shirt?”
Darcy grinned innocently at him. “You don’t mind right? It was already damaged anyway.”
He laughed, shook his head and came closer. Immediately, Ambrosia dropped the shirt to try and climb what she probably took for a very good looking tree. Thor poked her head and chastised her for the use of claws. The kitten immediately retracted them and meowed to be picked up. Thor indulged her. Darcy crossed her arms. “I don’t know if I should be jealous of her or you…” she admitted very seriously.
Thor grinned and held his arm out. When she snuggled against him, he murmured “here, take her” and, as she did, he adjusted her in his arms. He sat down on the sofa behind him, and she sat on his lap with the kitten safe against her. His arms went around her waist, his head rested against her ear, and he dropped a light kiss on her neck. She shivered pleasantly, warmed by his touch and Ambrosia’s content purr. He kept on nuzzling and kissing her neck, softly, between small pauses, until Jane called for them.
As she lied beside Thor to watch the stars, Darcy had never felt so content in her own skin. She fell asleep on her intended’s shoulder and barely woke up when he carried her back to her rooms.
The evening of their engagement ceremony, Darcy was held back when Ambrosia decided to sneak out of her rooms. With a sigh, she hastened after her despite her tight long white and gold dress. Once she had caught her, she turned around and immediately froze when she found herself face to face to Loki. She knew he was still serving his sentence after what he did on Midgard. He was only allowed to leave his cell prison for the official parties and for that he was supposed to be guarded. She couldn’t see anyone else around, which was worrying. She petted her kitten to calm herself. Probably reacting to her mistress’ unease, Ambrosia bared her fangs.
“You’re going to be late,” Loki stated, stone-faced.
“Indeed, so, excuse me…” She walked past him. He appeared several feet in front of her. An illusion. She gritted her teeth and continued to ignore him as she put Ambrosia back in her rooms and closed the door.
He didn’t need her input to talk. “The chubby little girl grew up well. You’re still lacking any sort of grace inherent to the first Olympians though, no wonder that Thor is more interested in your great-aunt.”
“What?” Darcy spluttered, despite her decision to ignore him and hurry.
“She’s way older than him, of course, there’s that,” Loki continued, ignoring her, “but then, she doesn’t look like it, right? Thanks to you, I believe. Your well-kept secret, the mysterious Fountain of Youth… And she has the benefit of intelligence…” He looked at her up and down with disdain. “And… everything else.”
Her cheeks were burning with embarrassment and rage. She tried to think of a way to get rid of him, but he was worse than a leech.
“Brother.” Darcy startled and Loki gritted his teeth as Thor appeared. “Leave, and do not try to sow chaos once again for this evening. Mother pleaded for you to be here. She will be disappointed.”
Loki looked like he had swallowed a lemon before he disappeared. Thor stopped in front of Darcy, studying her carefully. His stance was rigid, he looked guarded. “My brother’s partly right.”
“About what, my lord?”
“My feelings for Lady Theia.” Darcy felt her heart broke and promptly looked down at her hands to hide the coming tears. “There was a time when he knew everything about me. Unfortunately, that time has passed,” Thor continued, relentless. He took Darcy’s hands in his and raised her chin with one finger. Darcy kept looking down in hope to stop her tears. “I have always admired Lady Theia for her wisdom and her passion, and I always will. I harbored feelings for her for a long time, but not anymore.” He brushed her cheek and took away a few tears with his thumb. “I’m aware she has no interests in romantic and carnal relationships, and I have made my peace with it. Since our betrothal has been decided, I have been determined to uphold it at the best of my abilities. I kept my heart open and, now, it’s branded with your name, if you’ll have it.”
Left speechless by Thor’s confession, Darcy gaped at him, eyes wide and shining. “Are you… are you sincere?”
“I am. I have much affection and respect for you, your humor, your willingness and your sharp mind.” He kissed the back of her hand before turning it over to kiss the inside of her wrist. “And I much desire you and your company.”
She shivered as he looked up to her, the intensity of his gaze leaving her dazzled. She closed her eyes to inhale a calming breath. “Then, we should… go and make it official.”
At her approval, Thor stepped closer and leaned his forehead against hers. They breathed the same air in silence for a moment before he kissed her temple, her cheek and her nose. Then his lips brushed hers, soft and tentative. She tilted her head to egg him on. His hands came to her waist as he deepened their first kiss slowly. Darcy had to hang on to him, and she couldn’t stop a small whimper when his lips parted from hers. He nuzzled her nose gently. “Thank you.” She could read a lot in those two words, probably because they meant a lot for Thor too. “We should hasten,” he noted.
“I would love to, but this stupid dress forces me to take only small steps, it’s annoyi–eep!” She held tightly onto Thor’s neck while he adjusted her in his arms for a bridal carry. Although she appreciated her elevated point of view, she laughed and nudged his shoulder. “That was not an invitation to carry me, you show-off!”
The smile he gave her had this little spark of smugness she remembered, mixed to a tenderness that gave her shivers. She snuggled against him, felling lighthearted and warm all over.