A small whimper and scratching sound made me look down to where the puppy had his paws up on the side of the bed.
“Aw, Mino,” I said, gutted by his huge eyes and ears pressed back.
“He is worried about you,” my husband told me. “But he will try to lick the medicine. Down, Mino.”
To my shock, at the small order from my husband, the puppy fell submissively on his back, his tail lightly wagging beneath him. I accidentally giggled for a moment, clearing my throat as I pulled my legs inward, beneath the blanket that was still wrapped around me.
“I will have the dangerous animals and insects taken off the property at once. Are you afraid of mice?”
“No,” I said.
“Good. I will keep them, so your kitten can learn to hunt and fend for herself. You named her Sphinx?”
He chuckled, and in that moment, I believed he’d never meant for me to be hurt. Then my mind turned again. He could be the most masterful liar and manipulator of all time.
“What are you thinking right now?” he asked as if he’d seen the mixed thoughts across my face.
I peered down at the blanket. My thoughts were my own.
“I’m thinking I need to dress once the ointment dries.”
“Hm.” He didn’t believe me. And rightly so.
I looked at my legs. They appeared normal, as if they hadn’t been massively swollen and red minutes ago. My husband had powers of healing—yet another wondrous, mysterious thing about him.
A small scratching sound came from the door, and it opened, letting in Sphinx. Meanwhile, Mino was still lying on his back, tail moving, staring at the end of my bed where my husband stood. The cat looked at Mino, then peered up at me on the bed with a high pitched mewl.
“There she is,” my husband said. And with that, Sphinx stared at the place where he stood, and her ears went back as her tail lowered and she slouched to the ground, then flopped over onto her back next to Mino. What sort of creature could cause such extreme submissiveness in a cat?
“Well,” he grumbled. “At least he chose well with those two.” His fingers brushed my shin, sending a shiver across my skin. “You are dry now. I take it you did not make it down to the river today?”
“No,” I admitted, curious.
“Come with me.” His hands went under me as if to scoop me, and I rolled away with a yelp. He let out an audible sigh. “You will want to see this, Psyche. Keep your hands in your lap and let me lift you.”
Damn him. My curiosity was piqued. I sat still and stiff, my knees bent, my hands clasped at my chest. And though I was expecting it, my body still wanted to jump away when those strong arms came around me and lifted me.
“Just what are we doing?” I asked.
“You will see.”
I didn’t hold back my yelp when he lifted me into the air and jumped from the window.
He placed me on my feet, facing away from the river toward the forest. It took a moment for me to gather my wits and balance.
“What are we…?” I began, but felt his hands on my shoulders, turning me. I stared at the river, which had extended itself into more of a rounded body of water. In the center, to my absolute delight, I saw two fins break the surface in gentle arcs.
“Not just any dolphins. Join them.”
It couldn’t be…a steady thud of anticipation began in my chest as I waded out into the clear waters, feeling smooth rocks and gritty sand beneath my feet. Soon, I was chest-deep, and the dolphins began to circle me, pulling a laugh of joy from my soul as they nudged and bumped me. I ran my hands over them, unable to stop smiling. And then I saw the scar, and my heart tightened.
“It’s you,” I whispered. Looking up at the shore of the waters, I saw nothing, but knew he was there, watching. “These are the dolphins from my lagoon? Truly?”
“Truly,” came his voice.
In that moment, I allowed myself to let go of every fear and negative thought, instead embracing this time that I had with the creatures from my homeland. And as we swam together, them pulling me at times, the three of us splashing and playing, I was able to nearly forget my captivity and all that plagued my heart and mind.
When I was too weary to continue, I kissed them both many times on their smooth skin, and trudged from the waters, turning to blow them kisses. Oh, how I would cherish this and miss them. I had needed their company.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
My husband cleared his throat and I realized he was behind me. I turned.
“It was the least I could do.” His voice was even deeper and gruffer than normal. He cleared his throat again, as if something were amiss. I glanced down at the way the thin, wet silk clung to my every contour, my nipples puckering upward as if begging for attention. Was he affected by me? I quickly crossed my arms and he cleared his throat a third time. And as I stood there, awkwardly, the water seeped from my skin and gown, returning every drop to the river until I was dry.
“A bit of home for you to keep,” my husband said. “You can spend time with them every day.”
My head tilted, not hearing him right. “I thought you said the animals would be taken away in the morning?”
“Only the dangerous ones.”
I looked back at the dolphins. The clearing of water was large, but it was nothing in comparison to the expanse of sea they were accustomed to. Did they have a family? It hurt to think of taking them from home and confining them here the way I was. I wanted them here with me, but I could not be so selfish.
“Please return them,” I said with regret. “They are not meant to be pets like a puppy or a kitten. They are wild and need to be free.”
“Hm.” He paused. “If that is your wish.”
“It is,” I said sadly.
“Very well, Psyche. Let us return to your chambers. Hold your hands in.”
“Wait!” I stepped back, my stomach swooping. “Can we walk?”
He chuckled. “If you insist.”
Keeping my arms crossed, we made our way into the trees. When I felt something push under my arm to tickle me, I turned, ready to kick my crazy husband, but what I found was a tree branch pulling back.
“Did it just…tickle you?” My husband asked.
I pressed my lips together.
“Unbelievable.” Was that annoyance in his voice?
We kept walking, and I had to dodge tickling branches from several of the trees, unable to hold back giggles. My husband grumbled a little and inhaled loudly when we exited the forest, letting it out in a huff.
“Why don’t you approve of their playfulness with me?” I asked, my muscles burning as we crested the hill.
“Their touches bring you pleasure.” He was definitely grumbly.
My arms tightened over my chest. “It’s nothing sensual.”
“Yes, I know. But you welcome their touches. They cause you to smile. When I touch you…”
My gut twisted a little at the hurt and jealousy in his tone. What a confounding creature my husband was. My heart gave a small ache, and I was tempted to ease his mood by telling him his touches brought me more pleasure than I wished to admit, but I bit my tongue. Why should I feel the need to ease his mind? He said nothing more, and neither did I until we returned to my bedchamber.
“I can see you are fatigued. I will draw a bath and have Renae bring your meal.”
Seconds later, the animals were on their feet, wrestling one another, and sounds of running water came from the bath. I ate and bathed in silence, feeling his presence in the large chair that overlooked my room. I pondered what he might be thinking, and then berated myself for wondering.
After my bath I dressed in a comfortable nightgown and patted my hair dry. I heard my husband stand, and I stilled.
“May I brush your hair?”
A chill scuttled over me. It was the second time he’d made the odd request. The first time I’d said no. But now, after the dolphins, guilt surged inside me at the thought of denying him such a small thing. As much as I wanted to say no, I pursed my lips instead and held out the brush.
I sat rigidly on the bench, feeling exposed as he came up behind me with the floating brush. I’d had my hair brushed thousands of times by others, so why was I so nervous?
He began in the middle, making gentle, yet firm swipes downward to the bottom. When he hit a snag, he said, “Sorry,” and kept going. Surprise razed me at the tenderness with which he stroked the brush through my hair, down my back, over my shoulders, even against my neck. The closer he got to my scalp, the closer he got to me, overpowering my senses with his honeyed breath. How did he manage to make a mundane task so sensual? Gods, I was breathing too hard.
I stood abruptly and turned, seeing the brush mid-stroke in the air. “That’s enough. Thank you.” Feeling like a fool, I rushed to the bed and climbed deep within the downy blankets, curling in tight, begging my body to calm down.
I saw the brush lower to the table, and my husband cleared his throat yet again.
“It has been a long day,” he said. “Sleep well.”
The room darkened, and I heard him rustle into the chair, letting out a soft exhale.
For an odd moment, I felt comfortable, even safe. It didn’t last long. I blinked and shook my head, forcing myself to remember my predicament. I couldn’t forget. It didn’t matter how gentle he seemed. Anyone could pretend. It didn’t matter what gifts from home he gave me. I was not safe here. My husband was a monster, and I’d do well to remember.