Fear that man who stands in shadows but never steps out into the light.
— Xartis Povaldin
After a night of disturbing dreams, Lily woke up with a gasp of relief. She reached out for the familiar end table she grew up with as a teenager but her questing fingers brushed against a wooden surface a few inches too high. Still dazed from waking up, she felt a pang of fear realizing she wasn’t in her home.
She sat up with a frown and stared at the unfamiliar yellow and cream walls.
The nightmares were fading quickly. Images flashed across her mind of the various scenes that had haunted her: Nirih’s dress falling apart during the show, Kendrick and Hasan dueling naked in front of all of High Society, and her being endlessly kicked out of her mother’s house.
It took her a moment to remember that she had moved. Even after a week, the frustration and sorrow threatened to rise up in the back of her throat. Night by night, day by day, the room grew more familiar. She lifted her hand slightly and ran along the carved wooden surface of the end table and picked up her schedule book.
It was Nondei, the sixth and last day of the week. No business was open which means she could spend the entire day to work on Nirih’s dress without interruption.
Lily frowned at herself. The entire week had been wasted with her inability to design a proper outfit. She had broken down on Cibdei to work on some of the other dresses but the approaching deadlines for the critical dress loomed over her thoughts.
Smiling grimly, she pushed herself out of bed and started to get dress. Twenty minutes later, she was humming a few bars of a popular melody as she sat at one of the dining room chairs and pulled on her low-cut boots.
Like all women of Society, she wore a dress whenever she considered going outside. It wouldn’t be seemly to be outfitted like a child or a man. Since the store would be closed for the day, she decided to wear a comfortable outfit of flowing material that draped from her shoulders and hips instead of the more formal outfits that required a bustle or a hoop. The material of her sun dress fluttered with her every movement, the intricate pattern of flowers and vines dancing along her pale skin.
Lily loved the outfit, it reminded her of the breezy materials she wore as a little girl, long before she became a debutante.
She finished lacing up her boots and looked them over. The black leather didn’t match the yellow floral pattern of her skirt. With a shrug, she reached down and stroked her palm against the warm material. Instantly, the black melted away into a lemon wash that brought out the delicate embroidery of her skirt. Her smile grew as the magic seeped through the stitched eye-holes and up along the laces, coloring it to the exact shade of the flowers in her dress.
Lily reached up and ran her fingers through her hair, changing the strands to an array of different blondes with hints of lemon to match her outfit. It had been years since she had a natural color, but unlike Djulian’s bland, magical coloring, she used a variety of different shades to give the impression of natural tones.
Satisfied, she stood up and grabbed a heavy bag and swept it over her shoulder. It had leftovers from the previous night, nestled inside a frozen canvas pouch. It would weigh her down for the trip to the store but she wouldn’t have to leave the store for lunch.
Her stomach rumbled to remind her that she had skimped on breakfast, but she decided to pick up a few treats on the way to her store; the jems in her bag clinked together as she pictured the honey cream pastries she discovered a few days ago.
On the table next to her, she had a dark blue hat with two plumes of feathers and a few coils of silk along the brim. She hoisted her bag on her shoulder and picked up the hat, coloring it to match her dress as she set it on her head.
Without looking at the papers piled up on the rest of the table, she headed outside and toward her store at a brisk walk.
It was already mid-morning with just a hint of a breeze carrying the perfume of flowers down the streets. Many of her neighbors were out, strolling along the walks and through the gardens as they enjoyed the rest day. The street she lived on had craftsmen and middle-class workers. During the rest of the week, their outfits were simple and functional, but for Nondei, they pulled out their finest to stroll around town and be seen by others.
Lily loved to see the different outfits. They were a stark contrast to the High Society dresses and suits. There were colors, ruffles, and frills. She liked the hints of classical patterns that had the complex parts excised into a hint of what she created. Even for the end of the week, they were as casual as her own dress with flowing material and expression embroidery that could never be shown during a Society event.
She smiled as she walked past people, enjoying the sight of rich fabrics and pale suits. The sound of heels and canes tapping against the ground punctuated the clopping of horses, the squeak of carriage wheels, and even the rumble of the strange mechanical riding devices that were becoming popular among the middle-class.
Her walk didn’t require remembering anyone’s lineage or even speaking to strangers. Instead of the necessity of addressing everyone, she and her neighbors simply nodded to each other or tilted their hats in greeting and moved on. If she stopped, she knew they would speak to her, but fear and duty kept her walking.
A few blocks away, she picked up a pair of honey cream pastries from the young man selling them from a stand. She continued along her way while eating them and then licking her fingers clean.
She lived over two miles from her work, but with the beautiful morning, it wasn’t worth the expense of ordering a carriage. She didn’t have a dedicated driver and every trip came out of her expenses; she tried to only use them when she worked past midnight to avoid falling asleep along the way.
She jumped when she heard Hasan call out to her. Turning around, she peered through the thin crowds until she spotted his carriage coming up along the road. The wake behind it told her that it had just turned around.
Hasan leaned out the window, his blond hair ruffling under the brim of a black derby. “Lily dea Kasin!”
Lily blushed slightly and stepped up to the curb as the black carriage stopped in front of her. She had to tilt her head up to look at Hasan. “Good morning, Hasan da Kasin ne Pilnok.”
Hasan wiped his brow and then lowered himself in the carriage so his arms rested on the bottom of the window. “What are you doing out here?”
Lily gestured toward the Crafters’s District. “I’m making my way to work, there are dresses to be made.” Only one, though, demanded her attention.
“On Xavdei?” He used a slightly different name for the day more popular in the southern areas of Tarsan. The guttural “X” in the back of his throat made it more exotic.
Inwardly, Lily winced. “Society doesn’t sleep one day a week. More importantly, I have a lot of work to do and a day to focus would be helpful.”
He grinned. “Surely you could take one day off.”
The knuckles of his hand turned white for a moment and his eyes darkened for a moment. Then, he released his grip on the window rail and held it out, his long fingers unfurling elegantly. “Then, at least let me offer the services of my carriage? To hurry you along your way?”
Lily almost declined, if anything to enjoy the day, but then changed her mind. It would give her more time for Nirih’s dress. With her warmest smile, she bowed her head. “I would be honored, tasire.”
Hasan beamed and pushed open the door. He withdrew his hand only long enough to pull out the window and bring it around.
Lily looked down to see him kneeling on the other side, the knees of his suit dusted with the dirt. Her heart beat faster as she drew her eyes back up to outstretched fingers. It was one thing to have a carriage door between her and Hasan, it was another to have him kneeling on the floor of his carriage as he offered to bring her inside. It felt forbidden, inappropriate and scandalous.
Blushing, she looked around but no one seemed to be watching.
Hasan smiled, his lips parting to reveal bright white teeth. He cocked his head and kept his hand out. His wedding bracelet glittered on his wrist, the intricate rope symbolizing his marriage to his wife.
Lily glanced at it for only a heartbeat, the discomfort and desire warring inside her. She gulped. She could imagine everyone seeing the sweat prickling her skin or the blush on her cheeks.
It took all of her willpower to reach out with one hand and rest her fingers on his palm. Her longest digit caressed against his wrist, just underneath his bracelet. The touch was electric. It surged along her arm, over her shoulder, and directly into her chest. The connection between them felt taut and powerful, like a burst of magic connecting them.
Slowly, Hasan wrapped his fingers around her. He easily pulled her inside the carriage, lifting himself into his seat as he did.
She followed his movement, stepping into the carriage. It rocked underneath her weight and she slid into the opposing seat from Hasan. “Thank you.”
Hasan leaned out to give directions to his driver and then closed the door firmly. It made a loud thunk as it latched shut and she jumped at the sound.
Lily expected him to return to his seat, but to her surprise, he shifted to her side and slipped between the door and her. With a thumping in her chest, she slipped to the side to give him room but didn’t quite press herself against the far wall.
When he settled down, his leg bumped against her own. The heat seeped through his trouser legs and past the thin fabric of her dress.
It spread along her skin, adding to the electrical surges that danced along her nerves. She shivered and fought the flutter between her legs, not far from where he touched her but far more private of a spot. Trembling, she wanted to grab him and kiss him. Instead, she clenched her leg muscles and folded her hands as if her hands could hide the scent of her growing desire.
Taking a deep breath, she drew in the scent of his cologne and the faint whiff of his sweat. It smelled good and the heat growing along her sex redoubled. She fought back a whimper and ground her clenched fingers against her belly. Terrified, she glanced at him.
He smiled and rested his hand on his thigh, his knuckles less than an inch from the thin fabric over her skin.
She trembled at the closeness. It was hard to hear anything over the pounding in her ears. Her eyes flickered down to focus on his lips. They were thin but looked soft. The urge to reach up and touch them clutched her heart.
“Is this better, my lady?” he breathed.
“Y-Yes,” she managed to stammer, tearing her eyes away. The closeness made it difficult to find the proper words, to follow the cadence of High Society.
Her eyes focused on his hand, it felt too far for her own desires. She needed him to reach out for her, to press his palm against her knee. Her skin prickled with sweat and she licked her dry lips.
It took an effort to look away from Hasan. She focused on the far door, unwilling to make it obvious that she was uncomfortable with her desires.
Hasan cleared his throat but made no further advances.
They rode in silence for a number of minutes, the bump of carriage rocking them back and forth. Her body was jostled by the movement, every time she felt movement dragging her closer to Hasan, her heart beat faster and her breath quickened. As she slid away, disappointment pricked her senses.
She didn’t know what she wanted. He was a married man but his attention and focus were firmly drawn to her. She wanted to feel his caress. Even the heat of his body was alluring, tugging on her as she rocked back and forth. It would only take a slight shift of her muscles to slid against his body, to break that tiny gap between them.
Outside, her view of houses became glass-fronted shops and seasonal stalls. They were entering the Crafters’s District.
The carriage jerked and she started to slide against him. For the shortest of moments, she resisted by planting her feet. The image of his marriage bracelet danced in her head. But then it was replaced by the heat of his body and the tingle whenever they bumped together.
When the next slip came, she lifted her foot and slid across the seat, thumping against his thigh. An electric shock coursed through her, radiating from the point where their two bodies touched. Her thin dress did nothing to diminish the heat or the tingling that came from the contact, it was as if she was naked against him.
Hasan’s sharp inhalation filled the carriage. His hand reached across the gap and rested against her knee. The long fingers caressed her skin through the thin fabric of her skirt, the touch searing and intense.
Lily’s own breath came faster as her world centered on the touch of their bodies. The tiny bolts of electricity continued to ripple along her skin, spreading across her thighs, stomach, and breasts.
He crawled his hand up her thigh, inching slowly along the thin fabric. She could picture his long fingers spreading along her inner thigh and his thumb against the outside. Every slip of his warm palm along her skin brought a faint moan rising in her throat.
“Lily…” he whispered.
Trembling, she turned to him. He was only a few inches away, staring at her with his intense eyes. The heat of his body washed over her, caressing her through the thin fabric.
“I want to kiss you.”
She froze, staring at him as his whispered words echoed in her head. She wanted to believe that she misheard, to have it as a wishful fantasy. Looking into his eyes, she knew that there was no question what he said. He wanted her.
“Lily,” he breathed and inched forward, “I’ve been thinking of you ever since I saw your name on the request. I should have never let you go, no matter what your father said.”
His fingers spread out across her thigh, almost wrapping around it as the fabric tugged against the waist and the hem rose up her shin. “Every night, every day. All I want is to go back to the way it was, that moment we had.”
Her heart pounded against her chest as a heat filled her. Her throat froze as she stared at him, silently aching for his touch even as she struggled to understand his words.
“Please. Nine years ago, I lost you. And I’m willing to do anything to get you back.”
He leaned into her. His hand slid up her thigh, dragging the fabric with it, until it was only inches from her seam. The heat washed over her, redoubling with every beat of her heart.
Hasan panted and she joined in, her body flushed with need.
“Will you kiss me?” he asked.
Lily gulped to ease her dry throat. She nodded. “Y-Y…”
When the words couldn’t come, she answered in action. She bridged the last inch between them and their lips touched. The electric spark that came from their hands touching was nothing compared to the bolt that drove through her as their lips met. She shuddered from the inferno that flamed inside her and then pressed firmly against him, parting her lips slightly as she kissed him.
There was only one other man who she had kissed, but the half-forgotten memories were blown away by the immediacy of Hasan’s embrace. He firmly pressed against her, parting only for the tiny breaths and then to come back.
His other hand slid behind her shoulders, cradling her against him. The lower hand, the one against her thigh, slipped over the ridge to delve between her legs. The fabric drew up with his quest.
When his hand cupped her sex, she moaned loudly.
His palm reflected the heat of her growing excitement back into her body and she inhaled sharply with a whimper.
Lily closed her eyes and let her senses focus on the touch of his body against her own. He wanted her, more than anyone else had in her entire life. The feeling of heat and desire buffeted against her pounding heart and she felt drunk on his panting breath.
Hasan shifted his grip between her legs and his wedding bracelet poked her through the thin fabric.
Lily’s eyes snapped opened to stare at his closed ones. She wanted him more, to keep going and keep kissing but she couldn’t help but feel the sharp edges of the bracelet right above the hand touching her most delicate of places.
She broke the kiss with a gasp. “H-Hasan. We should stop.”
He leaned into her, his arm pulling her close. The heat and electricity surged between them.
Lily wanted to melt into his arms, to sink into them as his fingers explored the moist heat between her legs. She couldn’t, not in the carriage. It took all of her effort to speak up again. “Hasan!”
He stopped and slowly opened his eyes. The intense brown gaze was smoldering as he stared at her. His cheeks were flushed and his lips parted.
She wanted to dive back in, to push aside her dress and let their primal side take control. But the bracelet against her mons let a small measure of willpower take control. She planted her hands on his chest. “Stop.”
He pulled his body away but his fingers were pressed lightly against the moist fabric of her dress. The buzz of his caress sent trembles coursing through her body.
“Stop,” she repeated.
She could see the resistance but he pulled away completely.
“No, you are married. We can’t do this. Hasan, I… I want you but not like this.”
He sighed and shifted until his back thumped against the side of the carriage. Delicately, he folded his hands together over the ridge bulging from his pants and nodded.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a bit of regret. She wanted it, the heat of his body replayed in her mind and she could feel the pulse still beating inside her skin. She ground her thighs together and tried not to think of the heated moisture that painted her nether regions.
“No, no,” he said in a low tone. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have done…” He tugged on his bracelet and pulled it tight against his wrist. “I shouldn’t. Mindil’s a wonderful lady and I…”
Lily watched him as his voice trailed off and his eyes unfocused. The muscles of his jaw tightened for a moment before his shoulders sagged.
“You’re right,” he said in a broken, dejected voice.
Lily turned away, regret heavy in her heart. She wanted to him to keep going, it was more than she had ever felt before, but hearing the sorrow in his voice held her down.
The minutes passed in uncomfortable silence. The steady thumped of the carriage continued to rock her back and forth, but she kept her foot planted firmly on the ground to avoid sliding back into him.
After riding a few minutes in silence, they reached her store. As the carriage came to a stop, Lily picked up her bag. “Thank you.”
Hasan shifted to avoid touching her and kept his eyes down. “I’ll be… done with your move by the end of tomorrow. I-I’m sorry.”
The guilt slammed into her. She looked at him and couldn’t help but remember the intensity of his gaze. Her heart wanted him to stay nearby, to enjoy the little touches as they worked on paperwork or just talked.
Lily made a sudden decision. “Hasan?”
He looked up as he tensed.
“I would still like help.”
“And I would like to meet your wife, though.” Lily froze, she wasn’t sure why she said that. Having his wife nearby meant that Lily wouldn’t be able to enjoy Hasan. On the other hand, it may be the divide they needed before either of them couldn’t resist their desires.
He froze, his lips parting slightly.
She glanced at them, remembering how they felt against her own and a flush rose in her cheeks. “I-I want to meet the woman who made you happy for so many years.”
“Are you sure?”
It hurt her, both the guilt that filled her and the desire for him, but she nodded. “Yes, please?”
Hasan brightened and his slight smile relieved some of the guilt. “Today?”
Lily nodded as the carriage driver opened the door. “Yes, if that works.”
“Mindil was going to join me for lunch only a little distance from here. I… I guess… no, I’ll send a carriage for you around the midday bell.”
Relieved, she slipped out of the carriage.
It wasn’t until it pulled away that she remembered that she was going to work through lunch to finish Nirih’s dress. By the time she turned around to stop him, the carriage was gone.