She awoke in an herb bar she didn’t recognize. She appeared to have slept on a pile of cushions in a corner of the bar, which was littered with similarly disheveled-looking customers in various states of disarray. She stumbled to her feet. Her head was throbbing, and she felt like she might vomit. A few deep breaths sufficed to calm her gag reflex, and she made her way to the door and into the street.
The sound was momentarily deafening. The street was packed with people who were cheering, clapping, singing, and otherwise making noises that made her head feel like it might explode. She remembered all at once that today was the day of the celebration. Well, no matter; she was in no state fit to celebrate. She managed to get back to the inn, fall in bed, and—despite the noise outside—close her eyes and slip out of consciousness.
Greyson woke her some time later, and she was relieved to find that she had just a hint of a headache left.
“What happened to you last night?” he asked, hovering over her anxiously.
She shook her head and sat up, waving him away. “I have no idea. What happened to you?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. I just stayed at the bar with Theidan and Erikson for a while. When you didn’t come back, we went looking for you but couldn’t find you.”
She looked pointedly at a gash on his right cheek. Upon closer inspection, she realized, he had cuts all down his right arm as well.
“Oh, that,” he said. “I had a minor disagreement with someone we ran into. No big deal.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Really,” he insisted.
“Well,” she said, grinning, “did you at least win the, er, disagreement?”
He grinned back. “Of course I did.”
She stood with a wince. “Do we have anything to drink?”
“No, sorry. But there are free drinks outside as part of the celebration…”
The invitation wasn’t voiced, but she smiled anyway. After all, she’d found what she wanted in Olekoth already—now she could truly relax. “Let’s go, then!”
Outside, the mead and ale flowed freely. Mugs were handed around liberally at each corner to anyone who held out a hand, and consequently each person seemed to be holding at least two mugs at any given time. Ayalah was happy to find that the drinks soothed her headache, and soon she was joining in the cheering and singing, celebrating with wild abandon the birth of a little boy she cared nothing about.
She drank one mug, and then another, and still another, and before she knew it she’d lost count of the amount she’d consumed. Greyson, for once, didn’t seem as affected by the drink, but he still sang along and followed her through the crowds with an indulgent smile on his face.
On one corner, a street band played for the enjoyment of the crowd, and Ayalah stopped to clap along to the music. Then the revelers began to dance, and she grabbed Greyson’s hand.
“Dance with me!” she shouted breathlessly. She hadn’t danced since she was a small child, when her father used to twirl her in front of the fire after dinner, but suddenly, right now, the mood struck her. She wanted nothing more than to move her feet to the beat and learn the proper steps, and she wanted Greyson to join her.
He followed her lead, and they danced about the square happily, wildly, laughing as they fumbled the dance moves and laughing again when they performed the moves correctly. Her breathing echoed the thumping of the drumbeat, and she felt so light and happy, she could almost fly. One part of the dance required that each person grab a partner and hold them close; Greyson pulled her into him, and she froze.
He was breathing heavily, smiling gaily, but when their bodies connected, his face seemed to drain of all its emotion and his eyes seemed to blaze into hers. She could feel her heart pounding in her ears as the heat from his body enveloped her.
He leaned in and kissed her. The touch of his lips on hers was exquisite, a sharp stab of desire that raced down her chest and into her fingertips. She kissed him back, hungrily, desperately, savoring each moment their lips were pressed together and gasping for more. He pulled her in even closer, squeezing her against him, and she grabbed at his waist, holding on while the world disappeared.
Distantly, she could hear the crowd cheering.
His hands were in her hair, tugging it free of its braid, and she let him back her up against a building on the outskirts of the crowd. His kisses were like fire—she felt like he was devouring her, and she loved it; she never wanted him to stop. Somehow they’d ended up in a narrow alley between buildings; she could feel the closeness of the walls around them, the intimacy of the location.
She was biting his lip now, and he was smiling and trailing kisses down her neck, and she was moaning something incomprehensible, and he was whispering her name like the most tender of blessings, the prettiest of flowers. He got down to her shoulder and came back up to her lips, and their bodies pressed together urgently through their Olekian outfits.
She wanted him to keep going.
He was lowering his hand to her waist—she was holding her breath for what came next—
They froze. There was a man staring at them.
“What d’ye think yer doin? There’s child’n here!” He indicated the crowd behind him that continued in its revelry, shouting and dancing and laughing and singing. Ayalah, dazed, didn’t quite understand what the man was pointing at.
Greyson stepped back and removed his hands from Ayalah’s body, holding them up in surrender; the stranger seemed to accept this, and he went on his way.
They were both panting now, staring at each other, looking one another up and down. Greyson, Ayalah thought, had never looked more striking: his lips were swollen and red, his cheeks were flushed, his—she blushed and averted her gaze.
But then a movement caught her eye and she understood what the stranger had been indicating. There were still flocks of people dancing, crowding the street. It was still the middle of the day! She recalled where they were all at once; she couldn’t believe they were in public—they’d made a spectacle of themselves! What if people recognized them, what if someone said something? If they had been in the inn, with no interruptions, then maybe—she flushed again.
Greyson closed the space between them and gently tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
Her hair, she realized, was in complete disarray, falling about her shoulders wildly and into her face—and her hair tie was nowhere in sight.
“Ayalah…” he whispered with a breathiness that paralyzed her.
He leaned in, and she let him kiss her once more, such a tender, loving kiss, she almost forgot herself again and gave in to the temptation. But she couldn’t. Could she? She wanted to. No—she steeled her will—she mustn’t.
She touched his cheek and met the fire in his eyes with fire of her own. But then she backed up, fled the alleyway, and ran blindly through the crowd.