“Feyrie Song”

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A footman called Rody drove the open, six-seat electric jitney from the house to the pond. Several big signs had been uncovered for the day, each announcing that the pond was reserved for the family. Though there was no fence in the woods around the pond, there was an electrically operated gate across the main graveled path into the area that was shut when the pond was closed. Rody pushed a button on an opener on the jitney’s dashboard, and the gate swung wide, staying that way only as long as it took them to drive through.

When the jitney stopped next to the spring, all the passengers got out. Gilly carried a big stack of fluffy towels over and hung them from thick wooden bars that had been carved from living tree boughs nearby, then curtsied to her mistress and got back on the jitney for the return trip.

The banks of the pond were lined with a deep layer of small, smooth pebbles stolen from rushing streams in the Mirkstone Close, and not at all tough on bare feet. There had been little discourse amongst the four on the way down, but once they had got into the warm pond, everyone relaxed.

“Gawds, this really is glorious,” Rowlock said as he sank to his neck. “There are hot springs out west, but none this big. I could live in this one.”

“It wouldn’t be hard to do, if someone brought you food once in a while,” Aleysia said.

Corbel chuckled and sidestroked over next to Peravia. “If there are minerals in the water, perhaps there are vitamins, too. Maybe you wouldn’t need food. Just become one with the water.”

Peravia smirked. “Was that an attempt at metaphysics, my lord?”

He laughed. “Perish the thought, my lady. I am the least spiritual being on the planet.”

“Of that, I have no doubt. But do you have ethics? Scruples? A sense of fair play?”

His face twisted in a wry smile. “I have a vast stock of ethics and scruples I’ve never used yet.”

She snorted. “That I can believe.”

“What about you? Do you believe in ethical behavior? In paying your debts, for instance?”

“Do you truly believe you can hold me to that outrageous wager, my lord?”

He made an overstated shrug. “Of course not, my lady. A lady would hold herself accountable for any wager she might make.”

Peravia growled and thrashed her hands in the water. “You are an unspeakable scoundrel, you know that?”

“Am I?”

“You know you are, and how you have so far escaped some woman ripping your unspeakable scoundrel heart from your chest with her bare hands is a complete mystery to me.”

Corbel grinned. “I lay that good fortune to my overwhelming charm.”

“Blind good luck is what I call it.”

“Perhaps,” he said, turning half away from her and floating on his back. “So that’s a no on the debt?”

She floated back, as well, silently watching his blue, gold-flecked eyes closely. They were at once so foreign and yet so familiar. Her yearning to reach for him was just as strong and just as palpable as her urge to hold back. His eyes and his lips enticed her, the wide, solid shoulders that drifted like floating islands in the pond drew her to him, while their power frightened her at the same time. For a moment, she held that fright in front of her mind, examining it, turning it around and around in her head, then she scowled hard and nodded.

“All right, fine!”

Corbel smiled. He had won, though she had not lost. That was the best sort of victory for him. He felt a familiar glow in his belly as he followed her to the pond’s edge. The glow was slightly dimmed by doubt of an unfamiliar and nagging sort. He tried to push it aside, but it remained. Something about her eyes stayed with him, but he refused to examine that something further. He had a promise to keep, a promise whose rightness he had no doubt of in the least. To that he clung as he trod lightly across the pebbly beach and into the wood beyond.

She stopped in the midst of a few sumac bushes beneath a copse of alder and turned to him.

“You’re a complete rotter.”

“Come here.”

“I’m not going to … ah!”

Before he stopped speaking, he had moved two of the three quick paces that separated them and grabbed her round the waist. She was not at all a weak person, and she fought to escape, though not with everything she had. He smiled and went down on one knee in the soft loam, twisting Peravia around and pushing her long, lithe body across his upraised thigh.

“Good girl. Now we’ll just have this down …”

“Ngah! Not my pants! You never said bare!”

“I do not spank a girl wearing body armor, so quit fussing.”

“Body armor? It’s a swimsuit, you flapping clodpoll!”

He laughed and wrenched the tight garment down while Peravia struggled to hold onto it, though, again, not with all her might.

“What very ladylike invective, my lady. Shall we begin?”

“No, we, ow! Drack!”

His open hand connected with her damp, rounded bare bottom with the sound of a pistol shot. Holding her waist tightly with his thick left arm, he peppered the full cheeks quickly and seriously. She kicked and wriggled, but did not try very hard to escape. After a few dozen smacks, she twisted around to glare at him.

“Is that all you’ve got?”

He laughed loudly, upped the volume a bit for a few more swats, then reached over and broke off a short, thick sumac twig. She gasped.

“Hey, no fair! No switches! Ow! Flapping drack! Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!”

Still laughing, Corbel rose, reaching under to bring Peravia with him to her feet. Both of them panting for breath, he hugged her close, and she returned the embrace.

“I could knee you in the balls right now, and you would totally deserve it,” she whispered huskily.

“Possibly. But you would regret it eventually.”

Leaning back, smiling, he cupped the back of her head and drew her lips to his. The kiss sparkled like holiday fireworks, and they pressed into each other for a long moment. Then the moment vanished, and they both leaned back, eyes wide, wondering what had happened.

Peravia recovered first and stepped back half a pace, her hands still on Corbel’s arms.

“So, uh, on the off chance that you had lost, would you have let me take your knickers down to spank you? My Lord Fair Play?”

His smile widened. “If my lady had insisted, certainly.”

“Well,” she said, drawing the syllable out slowly as she reached down to remove her swimsuit bottom completely. “I’m pretty sure I just won the right to insist.”

Corbel gasped when, her hands still near the ground after pulling her pants off, she reached up and grabbed hold of his trunks and yanked, ramming his belly with her shoulder at the same time and knocking him sprawling. He writhed on the ground, laughing and grabbing at her, though unable or unwilling to prevent her removing his swim trunks. Half dressed and waving both pair of pants above her head, she ran, laughing, back to the pond.

“It’s naked time,” she yelled, and leapt, arms wide and feet first, into the pool, dousing Aleysia and Rowlock in a huge, splashy wave.

The two, who had clearly heard the sound of one hand clapping off in the woods, to their utter delight, swiped water from their faces while they laughed. They glanced at one another, then with a shrug, removed their own swimsuits and tossed the garments onto the bank. Peravia’s bra and pants, along with Corbel’s trunks, soon followed. He stalked out of the woods stark naked, then scowled mightily as he crossed his arms, making no attempt to cover his attributes.

“I think I still owe you, milady.”

Peravia blew a very wet raspberry, then reached back and scraped her arm across the water, showering him as he stood on the bank. He grinned and ran into the pond, throwing water everywhere as he went.

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