Immediately Irene's hackles rose, anxiety flooded her mind. What was he going to do to her? What would it be like? Did they have to go now?
She spluttered ale, laughing. "Damn right, I would." Still chuckling, she took his hand and he resumed their trek to the wedding bed. She praised all the gods that her family didn't feel the need to witness them enter and leave, although she didn't doubt one of her brothers had an eye on them. She didn't sense an audience, just her and Owen, and the bed. She hesitated again when facing it, the door swinging closed behind her.
This time, Owen rubbed her shoulders and arms. "Nothing to fear. You've lain with me before."
She scoffed. "You were unconscious and I was fully clothed."
He grew pensive for a minute. "True. I'd rather you took them off tonight."
Again, he disarmed her, making her chuckle.
"I mean, it's not a requirement, but you'd be more comfortable-"
"Stop!" she said laughing harder.
He began to disrobe and her breath stopped. She'd only seen him shirtless on that night he'd nearly frozen to death. His broad shoulders and back were both heavily muscled, making him large. It scared her how easily he could subdue and overpower her. When he turned to face her, revealing the hairy chest she remembered, he took her into his arms. She avoided looking lower, at the appendage she feared most.
"You're the one who has tried to kill me, remember. I should be the frightened one. You might cut off something while I'm sleeping."
How did he do it? She leaned her forehead into his shoulder to shake while laughing again.
"May I?" he asked, pulling at the laces on the back of her gown.
Taking a deep breath, she turned and revealed the ribbons holding the dress snug around her breasts. Once loosened she began to pull the dress over her head.
Owen's hands swept up her sides, lifting the material. She shivered at his touch. Although he had held her, even kissed her a few times, she hadn't felt his hands on her skin. They were rough with callus and warm. When the dress was removed, she still wore an underskirt, tied at the waist, but wrapped an arm across her breasts to cover them.
"What about your hair?" he asked when she turned.
Reaching up, she pulled the combs that held the arrangement in place and shook her curls free. They covered her breasts as well, and she dropped her hands to her sides.
"Nothing to fear," he reminded her, his lips finding her ear. He'd discovered that weakness very early on. "Punch me if I do anything you don't like."
She smiled and ran her hands along his back, entirely unsure what she should do. His hands seemed sure and practiced as they slipped the knot holding her underskirt and slid over her buttocks. He would know very soon just how attracted she was, no matter what lies she told him or herself.
He picked her up and set her on the bed, sliding into place beside her. "I love you, Irene," he told her, his dark eyes focused and genuine.
"I love you, Owen," she declared, her fingers tracing the ridge of his cheek, the line of his jaw.
Be sure to read all the AfterDark moments by visiting the blog.