Later Raven was enjoying a dance with Rhys, while Evelyn conferred with Alain about business, of all things. How far Rhys had come in a year and a day – it was Christmas Eve when Raven had confronted him at the Mycroft Institute, where he was foisting his cherished illusions onto other kithain, robbing them of what they knew. That shape-shifters existed who could still make the change while being observed had sure shocked him! His face when he sitnessed Raven’s change had been the stuff of comedy – and Raven had savored the memory of that face through the months that had followed, as she and Finders Keepers: Gypsy, Chiller, Jeannie, Darkling, Shorty and Butterfly; along with Alain and Adrian ahd led the former Jonathan Montagu M.D. into his reawakening. There had been some tense moments, and Raven had feared they were losing him to complete personality disintegration, after all their effrorts, but at the last moment meeting Evelyn and recognizing her had brought Rhys back to his full former self. That had been at Samhain.
Since then, Raven had taught Rhys to brew ale, and Alain had reminded him about the pranks they had pulled on the pooka/satyr gang back home. Evelyn had done the rest.
“I can’t believe how much has changed since you, all of you, came into my life,” Rhys was saying. “There is so much more to life now. To think that this was possible before, when I started having the dreams …It’s really sad, when I think about it.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Raven reminded him, “You had no one near you who could help you through it.”
“But when I think of the damage I’ve done to others – particularly my three ‘recruiters’ …” here he trailed off, near despair.
“Don’t worry about them,” Raven said. “Evelyn and I have looked – we both have the second sight, not only about what is at a distance, but what will be – and we’ve seen the others coming back, too, in their own way. Mostly through recognized mates.”
At this point, Jareth slipped through the crowd and stage-whispered to both of them, “So much for mates – my dear, your darling is now in the arms of the newcomer!” and before Rhys could react to defend Raven’s honor, Jareth slipped out again, laughing that awful laugh of his. He stood there on the sidelines, leering at them and laughing.
“I’ll go, my lady,” Rhys offered gallantly, “And seek Adrian. I’ll remind him to see to your comfort.”
Raven was just going to tell him that there was no need, but he was gone.
Jareth was up to his usual pissy bitch routine. Raven had to get away from him before she let him goad her into revealing the plan she would spring on him soon. In this crowded hall, where could she go for respite?
She started across the room, threading her way through the masked dancers, when she spotted alain standing off to the side, shaking hands with a couple and saying his good-byes as they were leaving. Evelyn was not there, the business apparently having concluded. Some of th early departures had already befun, though the night was still young.
Then he turned and saw Raven headed toward him. He smiled and opened his arms.
At that point, Raven looked above Alain’s head, and sure enough, there was mistletoe. She laughed to herself, hesitated only a moment thinking, “Well, here’s where I find out for sure…” before gliding into Alain’s arms for his friendly holiday kiss.
“Of all the women here,” she said to him, “I think I’m one of only a handful whom you haven’t every kissed – yet!”
“Well, we’ll just have to remedy that situation,” he replied, gracefully slipping his arms around her waist and bringing his face to hers. His eyes glittered with mischief as he touched the tip ofhis nose to hers briefly, then turned slightly and brushed his lips tentatively against hers. Then he pressed gently and lingeringly.
Yes, it was there, all right. The legends were true – the energy felt during the kiss of true mates set the experience apart form that of any other kind of kiss – even the kiss of lovers who were not perfectly in tune. Raven felt a rush of warmth and tingle of electricity where Alain’s lips touched hers, through her throat, her heart, her solar plexus, her belly and the base of her spine; then the return as the spark completed its circuit back up, continuing past her throat, between her eyes and exploding in a shower of sparks from the crown of her head. Each of her major spinal chakras was open, in tune and resonating with his —no distance was possible between him and her, warmth between them in the joining of chakras, glowing and growing stronger and brighter with each passing second of the kiss.
Alain moved apart from her with an effort and, still holding her, looked into her face with a question in his eyes. Knocked off guard, the pooka was silent, without his usual smooth lines. Then the look in his eyes became a fierce, focused knowing.
“Do that again,” she whispered huskily, “Please.”
Without a word, Alain moved toward her and kissed her again. And there it was. Again.
So, he was the one after all. Raven relaxed in the knowledge that she had finally found him, the one for whom she had made sure to be forn a Corax, a shape-shifter, just to have some common ground. Knowing as she came down from the Autumn Lands that her lover had suffered mortal death and could not be reborn a noble, she had guessed he would choose the form of the shape-shifter, the trickster. It had fit, after all, with the personality of Alain, from the beginning when he had outwitted the pookas andsatyr who had ganged up on him, getting them back separately and together – to the way he always seemed one step ahead of any scheme they’d tried after that to bring the score back to what they considered proper. He had truly had the touch of Coyote about him, to be able to outwit pookas like that. She remembered his laugh …
She heard again, or rather felt, the echo of that laugh as Alain chuckled deep in his throat, drawing away once again and preparing to drink deeply from another kiss. He had recognized it, too.
This time, the kiss was getting physically intense as well, with Alain using his tongue to part her lips and tease at the opening of her mouth. By this time, Raven knew they must be attracting some attention – the proud and independent noble lady welcoming the embrace of the incredibly sexy courtier with the reputation for being a shameless rake with the ladies. As with other situations involving the opinion of bystanders, she just didn’t care!
In the center of the hall and out of earshot, two bystanders in particular stopped and stared.
“Well, well,” Jareth crooned to himself, “So the ‘princess’ is slumming, is she? I think this bears observation for use at some later time…”
Rhys was crossing the room at that moment as well, headed toward Evelyn with the disturbing news about Adrian and Arianrhod, when he also noticed Raven with Alain. He stopped, stared for a moment with raised eyebrows, then shook his head with a wry smile and continued his walk in the Duchess’ direction. “Well, I supposed,” he muttered to himself. “I really didn’t have to worry about her reaction to the new developments with Adrian! I wonder what Evelyn will think of all this?”