In one swift move, he had rolled her on top of him, and he smiled as he heard her gasp at the way their naked bodies came into contact. They had been meeting like this for a long time, and yet she never seemed to get used to the intimacies they shared.
She suddenly giggled. “I feel something hard poking me below. Does that mean you miss me?”
It was the first time she had ever asked him such a question. It made him feel strangely vulnerable, the question causing Julian to realize that he had missed her. He had not dreamt of her for so many nights, and all that time he had felt…empty.
Fingers gently caressed his face. “Julian, what is it?” Her voice was soft and tender, an innocent genuine plea to allow her to comfort him.
Unfortunately, it only made him feel more bitter and savage, and he found himself gripping her wrist and pulling her hand away. “Don’t do that.” The words of rejection were out before he knew what he was saying.
When she started to speak, Julian couldn’t help holding his breath, a part of him already prepared for her anger – for her to be tired of his cruelty and leave him for good.
“I can’t help it, Julian. I love you. What hurts you, hurts me.” She wriggled her wrist, and Julian found himself releasing her. She touched his face again. “I feel your pain. Talk to me. Let me bear it with you.”
His eyes closed. “You can’t do anything. No one can.”
“Just try, please, Julian. For me.”
Ah, fuck. When she said it like that, it was impossible for him to refuse. “The guilt’s killing me,” he said roughly. “I can’t forget the fact that someone died because of me. I might as well have killed him—-”
Fingers touched his lips, and a moment later he tasted the salt of her tears. Julian cursed. “Don’t cry!”
“I can’t help it,” she whispered. “I can feel you hurting so badly.” She removed her fingers and replaced it with her lips. His mouth immediately opened under hers, and their tongues mated in a kiss that never failed to feel new and sweet, no matter how many times their lips touched in this world of dreams.
When they broke apart, she cupped his face and said softly, “Listen to me, Julian. It wasn’t your fault that man died.”
“You don’t know—-”
“Of course I know. I read the news, too. I follow your progress faithfully. I cried when you decided to lead one of the troops against the rebels. I was so afraid for you. And when you came back, I cried because I was so thankful to God He had saved you. It was Sgt. Johnson’s choice to take the bullet for you. You didn’t make him do it—-”
“But if I had been more careful—-”
“Only God’s perfect, my prince. You’re only human.”
“I was older than him—-”
“You’re human,” she stressed fiercely. “You keep thinking about that one time you failed, but what about all the other times you saved the lives of your men? Some of them were older than you—-”
He exclaimed disbelievingly, “How do you know that?” He had made his men swear never to tell a soul about what they had gone through. If word about his actions ever got out, the public might think he was deliberately painting himself a hero so that the world could forget Sgt. Eric Johnson had died to save his prince.
“I know everything about you, Julian. Every thought, every beat of your heart. It’s a part of me.”
The words made him sink his hands in her hair so he could pull her head down and devour her lips for another kiss. Only she made him feel wanted, not because he was a prince but because of the man that he was.
When he released her lips, both of them were breathing hard.
“Please stop blaming yourself,” she whispered.
“I want to, but I can’t—-”
“You don’t have anything to be guilty about. If you do, then I might as well blame all those wounded men for forcing you to risk your life to save them.”
He said flatly, “That’s different.” Feeling her despair, he sought to comfort her, tenderly stroking her hair, tucking the stray curls behind her ears. “I’m their prince, sweetheart. It is my birthright and duty to protect them – not the other way around.”
She shook her head so fiercely it had her whole body shaking, too. Her breasts shook with it, the movement temporarily distracting him.
“Stop beating yourself up over it, Julian. Every time we meet, you seem to be harder and colder. You can’t let your duties rule your life. You have the right to be happy, too. Or the right to make mistakes. You can’t be perfect all the time.”
Her words shook him. He didn’t like hearing her describe his flaws. Of course he damn well knew he was hard and cold – nothing like her, which was everything pure and beautiful in this world. “If I don’t change, does that mean we’ll stop meeting? That you’ll leave me?” He tried to keep his tone level even though his whole being despised the very thought of their parting.