She lay next to him, her head on his shoulder, tucked under his chin. Her hair was just long enough to tickle his nose. It felt right, having her there. She hadn’t untied him, but he knew she wasn’t asleep either. Strange how even bound, he felt safe with her. He let out a contented sigh.
“Falling asleep on me?” She brushed a hand over his belly, barely avoiding a tickle.
“No.” Liam smiled. “Your hair smells faintly of ginger.”
Cuddled against him, she laughed. “It’s only taken you three years to notice.” She raised her head, then kissed the side of his jaw.
“I noticed the first time you used the rinse.” He raised his head to touch his forehead to hers. “Just as I noticed your eyes are like polished mahogany. Brown with a hint of fire.”
“What else do you notice?” She smiled down at him.
“That your skin is softer than the finest doeskin. And you taste of…” He gazed up at her. “Autumn.”
Slowly, she came closer, then she pressed her lips against his. He closed his eyes and drank her in, enjoying the sensation. The shadows fled at her touch. “Do you want me to untie you?”
Liam tilted his head before looking up at his bound wrists. “Do you want to untie me?”
“I…” She shifted, then sat up and put her leg over him to straddle his torso. “Not really. I like you like this.” Adaeze’s smile was playful. “You’re so tall most of the time, but here and now…” She leaned down, then kissed him softly. “You’re just the right height.” She hesitated a moment after sitting up, chewing her lower lip. “Another night, I would like to tie your legs as well. But I’ll not push you further tonight. You’re not ready.”
“I…” He took a deep breath, nodding as he realized she was right. “Thank you, Adaeze.”
“Liam…” She ran her knuckles over his cheek, then down his throat. “Tomorrow I intend to go to Uduak and tell her that I am claiming you.”
“Adaeze…” He nodded. “I have been yours since you smiled at me in a dream.”
Her eyes lit up as she bent down to kiss him again.
“I know the answer, but I have to ask.” Uduak couldn’t keep the smile off her face. “Will you agree to her claim upon you?”
“Yes.” Liam nodded.
Baako stepped forward and hugged him tightly. “And she’s already of our crew. You won’t leave us.” He smiled.
“Not for long, anyway.” Liam shook his head. Then he laughed a little. “I don’t know what to do. I want to look ahead, but I don’t. I’m afraid, and I’m not.”
“I felt the same way when I married Uduak.” Baako lowered his head and whispered loudly. “I’m still afraid.”
Uduak rolled her eyes and laughed. Then she exhaled. “Adaeze is my eldest sister’s daughter, Liam. She turned down a promotion already to stay aboard my ship, but in time, she’ll have to accept.” She sat down. “Your gift has guided us well. We have funds for a sister ship.”
“You…” He blinked. “You are suggesting Adaeze for captain?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’d give captaincy to Abeni, and promote Adaeze up third officer. She’s too young and experienced yet to be my first.” She rose again, and paced the cabin. “But with you as assistant quartermaster and her as third officer, you’ll have your own cabin. The smallest of them, but yours. By the time Adaeze is ready to be captain, Efua will be ready to serve as her shaman, and you’ll be an able quartermaster.” She nodded, more to herself than to him. “And we’ll take on a third ship.”
“You’ve a mind to be an Admiral?” Baako blinked.
“I am daughter of the queen, dear husband. I…” She smiled. “A few years ago, I would have said no.” She laughed softly. “A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be sitting here with a family I loved more than life itself.” She glanced at the cradle. “Who knows? By the time Ama is grown we may have all six ships.”
“She will be shaman, not captain.”
She almost missed Liam’s quiet words. “Liam?”
He raised his head to look at her. “She was born on the edge of the storm, and called to it with her first breath. And the storm heard her. There is power in her gaze.”
“My family has run to shamans.” Baako sat down on the bed, folding his legs beneath him.
“Well, then I’ll have to find her a good captain.” Uduak caressed her sleeping daughter’s head.
He touched his forehead to hers as they knelt together in the surf, the waves gently crashing around them. Dumisani prayed aloud, calling upon the spirits of sea and storm to witness and bless Adaeze’s claim upon him. Then salt water was poured over both their heads. Liam could see happy tears in Uduak’s eyes as she bound their wrists together with kelp.
Adaeze rose first, then took his free hand in hers, and he rose to meet her. Hand in hand, they walked to the shore. Efua lit the bonfire as soon as they both stood on dry land, and he heard the crew start letting out cheers.
With his wrist bound to Adaeze’s, she had to feed him. When he took the first bite of fish from her fork, she leaned in and kissed him.
And for the first time, he felt no need to pull away. Not from his wife.
She glared at Efua, and noted the woman could barely keep a straight face. The other crewmen were snickering, and when she glanced at Liam she noted he was trying to hide a smile as well. “Very…” Adaeze sighed, and then started snickering. “Very funny.” She looked down at the set of stilts, then tilted her head. “These are from Ocia. We haven’t been to Ocia in months.”
“We, uh…” Efua shrugged. “Thought you’d get around to claiming him a lot sooner.”
“Honestly, you took so long none of us won the betting pool.” Chidike shook his head.
“You best take good care of him.” Efua’s voice was light, but she didn’t miss the slight narrowing of the woman’s eyes. Efua might not be Liam’s blood kin, but she knew the woman loved him like a little brother.
“I will.” She smiled up at her husband.
“She will.” He nodded.
They spend their first nights together ashore, in a private camp for just the two of them. Various crewmembers had ensured they’d be comfortable. A large double pallet had been laid down in a cleared area. He blinked when he saw Adaeze drag it closer to some trees, then nodded before going to help her move it.
When she was finished, she put her hand on his heart. “Do you trust me, husband?”
“Yes.” He put his hand atop hers.
Liam sank to his knees in front of her, and noted that his head came up a little past her chin. She never really seemed that small to him. Adaeze caught his head, then bent slightly to kiss him. He let her, surrendering to her guidance. “I love you.” He whispered the words.
“I love you too.” Adaeze touched her forehead to his. “Lay down.” Again, he obeyed. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” He gave her his wrists as she picked up the rope.
Adaeze bound them together, ensuring the knots weren’t too tight, then bound them above his head, securing him to the tree. Then she looked down at him and smiled. And realization lit in her eyes. “Your dream.”
“I…” He blinked, then took another look. The trees were… And the night sky above. “You tied my hands above my head.”
“You knew.” She laughed, caressing his cheek. “You’ve known all along I would claim you.”
“I…” He gave a small shake of his head. “It wasn’t clear until now.”
“What happens next?” She leaned forward, raising an eyebrow as she smiled mischievously.
“I…” He tugged slightly at his wrists, then looked up at her. “I don’t know. It…” He laughed a little. “Only that it’s up to you.”
“Entirely up to me?” She sat beside him, then stroked her hand down his chest. “Will we live happily ever after, Liam?”
“It’s too far away for me to tell. So much between now and then. A hundred roads still untrod, a thousand sails still furled. I know…” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know where the journey will take us, Adaeze. I just know…” He smiled. “That I’m yours. Always.”
“Liam.” She kissed him.
Tying him the first time had been spontaneous. A sudden strike of an idea. This time, she’d planned. Considered each knot carefully. The first time had been chance, and she’d been surprised at how much she’d enjoyed it. Not just the act of tying him, but that he trusted her enough to surrender to her completely.
She’d removed his breeches before binding him, and rocked back on her heels to observe her handiwork. The ropes held him firmly, but she could free him with only a couple small tugs. None of the knots would slip or tighten. And she’d selected a rope of soft cotton to ensure it wouldn’t be unpleasant against his skin. Adaeze smiled as she drank in the sight of him, bound and naked before her. “Struggle.”
He obeyed the order immediately, thrashing and pulling at the knots. As soon as he stopped, she checked them again. They remained as she’d placed them.
Only then did she lay down beside him. He met her kiss, and for a time she just enjoyed that. Then she began caressing him. His body jerked the first time she moved her hand to his member, and she felt him go tense again. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” His voice was soft, but she could hear just a trace of fear.
Adaeze kept her caresses light, moving in slowly, letting him grow accustomed to her touch. When she caressed his member again, he tensed just a little and tested the ropes. This time, she didn’t let up. “I love you, Liam. And you are mine. I have claimed you and you belong to no one but me.”
“Adaeze.” He slowly began relaxing once more.
“You are mine.” She moved to kiss him again. “I have claimed you, and you accepted my claim. You belong to no one but me. Liam, it’s just you and I here. No one else can touch you. Not here. I won’t let them. You are mine.”
“I am.” His voice was a throaty whisper.
Gently, she shifted to straddle him. A small part of her mind noted that he was, indeed, proportional. “Surrender to me, Liam.”
His back arched under her ministrations, and she guided him into her. It hurt, just a little, as she stretched to accommodate him. For both their sakes, she moved slowly. Then she began using her hips to ride him, feeling him arch to meet her. The pain faded slowly, as Efua had assured her it would. Her left hip twinged just a little from the angles, but before she could do anything she felt him move beneath her. He shifted his position just enough, even with the ropes, to move her hip into a more comfortable position.
That was a part of his gift she hadn’t considered, and she smiled before leaning over him. “Come with me, husband.” She kissed him. “And cum with me.”
Their soft cries were nearly simultaneous.
Their second time together, she didn’t bind him. He let her guide him where she wanted him. He found it easier to follow her lead, and he could tell that she enjoyed being the one in full control. They spent the entire next day exploring each other. He found where she was ticklish, and she discovered she liked ordering him to his knees. She even tried ordering him to crawl, but that ended in them both laughing in each other’s arms. “I’ll want to try that again.” She giggled.
“You’re the one who started laughing first.” Liam held her to him tightly.
“I got this vision of putting a saddle on your back and riding you like those jousters the shore folk like so much and…”
Liam started laughing. “You’d be better to put me on two legs to ride a tilt.”
“I know. And that’s when it got really funny.” Adaeze buried her face in his chest as she laughed again. “You cantering along with me on your back and…” Her smile faded. “I wish Enu could have seen us wed.”
“I think he knew we would.” Liam kissed the top of her head. He blinked, then tilted his head and looked at her.
“What?” She looked back up at him.
“You’ll meet my brothers, one day.”
“All of them?” She sat up a little, looking down at him.
“It’s…” He gave a small shake of his head. “Jurgen soon, I think. But the others it’s still so far away it’s almost just a blur of images, shifting and spinning. I can’t focus on any of them.”
“I look forward to it.” She sat up, then shifted to sit away from him. Her smile became mischievous again, and she pointed. “Crawl over there and bring me some pineapple, husband.”
“As you command, wife.” He kissed her knee before moving to obey.