A Caress of Twilight – Chapter 17: In which we learn that nudity isn’t always sexual unless you’re nude and it’s… sexual?

Chapter 17 begins with Doyle putting Queen Niceven “on hold” on the mirror to allow Merry and Co to organize themselves on her bed. Merry seats herself center of the bed with Doyle slightly behind her to her side, Rhys behind her leaning up on the headboard, nude and covered in pillows, and Frost opposite Doyle, so that the men frame her on the bed. Wait – where are Galen and Kitto? I thought they had entered the bedroom too? Doyle moves his hand a little, and the mirror resumes the call.
 
Niceven sat upon a delicate wooden chair. She was dressed up like a Barbie doll princess, complete with tiara. She was wearing a flowing sheer-white dress, so that you could see her tiny nude body underneath the layers of cloth. Sitting at her side is a large white mouse, and Niceven stroked its head like humans would a dog. Three of Niceven’s ladies-in-waiting stood behind her, each wearing a different colored dress that matched their wings.
 
Merry greets Queen Niceven, and Niceven replies that she had been awaiting this call for the past three months, saying she was surprised that it has taken Merry this long to contact her. Merry tells her that they had sought the aid of human doctors and fey healers first. She cuts to the chase and tells Niceven that “you know what I want”.
 
“You want a cure for your green knight,” she said, one hand tracing the pink edge of the mouse’s ear.
“Yes.”
“Prince Cel was most insistent that Galen remain injured.”
“You told me once that Prince Cel does not yet rule the Unseelie Court.”
“That is true, but it is not at all certain you will ever live to be queen, Meredith.”
 
Doyle realized that Niceven had dropped Merry’s title for the second time, so he moves closer to Rhys. Rhys rose from the pillows to show off his nudity to Niceven, and he begins unbraiding Doyle’s hair. Niceven’s eyes are drawn to the two men and she asks what they’re doing. “Preparing for bed” Merry tells her.
 
“It is, what … nine o’clock where you are. The night is young to waste in sleeping.”
“I did not say we would sleep.” I kept my voice even.
She drew a deep enough breath that I could see the rise and fall of her dainty chest. She tried to keep her attention on me, but her gaze kept flicking to the men. Rhys was working Doyle’s thick hair free of the braid. I’d seen Doyle with his hair free of that braid only once. Only once had it been like some dark living cloak to shroud his body.
 
So apparently Niceven is jealous of Merry’s ability to sleep with these super attractive sidhe men. Merry asks Niceven what must be done to heal Galen. Niceven says that if she aids Merry in healing Galen, then Prince Cel would hold it against her when he takes the throne. Merry responds that if Niceven does not help heal Galen, then she will hold it against Niceven when she takes the throne.
 
Niceven finally agrees to help cure Galen, because “I have already helped Cel. It will even things up.” Merry asks how they can cure him, and Niceven demands they talk price first. She asks what Merry is willing to give in order to have Galen healed.
 
Frost pipes in – “You will have the goodwill of the Queen of the Unseelie, and that should be enough.” Niceven says that is not enough, so Merry asks her what she would want from a mere princess of the Unseelie Court. Niceven again asks Merry what she is willing to offer, because these books are full of repetition. Because these books are full of repetition. Because these books are full of repetition. Because these books are full of repetition. Because these books are full of repetition. Because these books
 
Merry reminds Niceven that she once told her how she wished for a longer drink of Merry’s blood. Niceven shrugs at this, saying blood is blood, why would Merry’s be any special.
 
Now she was just being difficult. “You said that I tasted of high magic and sex. Or have you forgotten me so quickly, Queen Niceven?” I made my face fall, my eyes downcast. “Did it mean so little to you?” I shrugged, and let my newly shoulder-length hair fall across my face. I spoke behind a curtain of hair that sparkled like spun rubies. “If the blood of the heir to the throne means nothing to you, then I have nothing to offer. I turned my eyes toward her, knew the effect that those tricolored green and gold eyes could have through a frame of blood auburn hair, coupled with glimpses of skin like polished alabaster. I’d grown up among women, and men, who used their beauty like a weapon. I would never have dreamed of doing it with another sidhe, because they were all more beautiful than I, but with Niceven and her hungry eyes that followed my men, with her, I could use my own other-worldliness as she’d tried to use hers.
 
So Merry flips her hair over her face and peers through it like some kinda weirdo.
 
Like, what a super strange thing to do. She’s sitting in her bed, trying to have a political conversation, and she’s doing it through her eyes like some weird sad emo girl. This is pretty high up on my What the Fuck are You Doing, Merry? List of strange shit Merry does. This, and her tantrum at Maeve Reed’s when the guards wouldn’t let her in. It’s just all so damn weird to me.
 
Anyway, Niceven falls to Merry’s beauty and agrees to share Merry’s blood for the cure. Niceven asks if Merry will be returning home to faerie to allow Niceven to feed.
 
“Do you agree that another feeding is worth my knight’s cure?”
She nodded. “I agree.”
“Then what would a feeding once a week be worth?”
I felt the men behind me tense. The atmosphere of the room was suddenly thicker. I was careful not to look at them. I was princess, and I didn’t need the permission of my guards to do anything. I either ruled, or I did not.
 
Merry offers a taste of her blood, once a week, in order to have Galen healed and also form an alliance with the demi-fey. Frost turns to Merry, and tells her not to do this, and Merry promptly shuts that down. “No, Frost… you do not tell me no. I tell you no or yes. Don’t you forget that.”
 
Merry immediately returns to the conversation with Niceven. Niceven agrees to heal Galen for one taste of her blood, but no more.
 
“For one drink of my blood, King Kurag of the goblins became my ally for six months.”
Her delicate eyebrows raised. “That is goblin and sidhe business, and none of ours. We are the demi-fey. No one cares who we ally ourselves with. We fight no battles. We challenge no duels. We mind our business and everyone else minds theirs.”
 
Yeah, except you do the dirty work for Andais and Cel, so that doesn’t really hold up there, Niceven.
 
Merry tells Niceven that everyone leaves the demi-fey alone because they consider them all to be too small to worry about. She finds out from Niceven that when Prince Cel ordered them to harm Galen, he paid for his task with Galen’s blood, not his own. Merry asks Niceven if she has ever shared Queen Andais’s blood, and she replies that the queen only shares her blood with her lovers or her prisoners.
 
Wait, what? Why would you let a prisoner feed off of you? That makes so little sense.
 
Niceven seems angered by this conversation, angered at Queen Andais for always dismissing the demi-fey. “If only she would take some of my people to her bed, but we are…” and Merry finishes her thought with “Too small.”
 
“Yes,” she hissed, “yesss, always too small. Too small a power for an alliance. To small a power to be used except as her sneak spies.” Tiny, pale hands balled into fists. The white mouse cowered away from her as if he knew what was coming. Even the trio of ladies behind her throne shuddered as if from the brush of an icy wind.
“And now you do dirty work for her son,” I said. My voice was carefully neutral, almost pleasant.
“At least he sought us to do his work.” The anger in that small, delicate figure was frightening. Her rage made her take up more space than mere physicality could explain. She was truly regal in her rage.
“I offer you what the queen will not. I offer what the prince would not.”
“And what is that?”
“Royal blood, blood of the very throne of the Unseelie Court. Ally with me, Queen Niceven, and you will have such blood. Not only once, but many times more.”
 
Niceven wonders what either of them are to gain from an alliance. Meredith tells her that the demi-fey will gain status, as people would not longer simply dismiss the demi-fey as powers, because they would fear word getting back to Merry and Merry taking offense.
 
But none of the sidhe even give a damn about you, Merry! Literally not a single one, outside your little circle, give two shits about you!
 
Niceven asks what Merry would hope to gain from the alliance, and Merry tells her that instead of spying for Cel, the demi-fey would now spy only for her and the queen. Oh but hey, couldn’t the queen just simply order the demi-fey to continue spying for Cel? Someone didn’t think this through!
 
“He won’t like that.”
“He won’t have to like it. If you are my ally, then to injure you is to insult me. The queen has decreed that I am under her protection. To harm me now is a death sentence.”
“So he insults me, then you step in. Then what?”
“Threaten to bring your entire court out here to Los Angeles, out here to me.”
She shivered. “I would not wish to take my people out into the city of men.” She spoke as if there were only one city of men,
the city.
“You could live in the botanical gardens, acres of open land. There’s room for you here, Niceven, I swear it.”
“But I do not want to leave the court.”
“Wherever the demi-fey travel, faerie follows.”
“Most sidhe do not remember that.”
“My father made sure I knew the history of all the fey. The demi-fey are the most closely allied with the rawness that is faerie, the very stuff that makes us different from the humans…”
 
I feel like we just had this conversation.
 
Niceven eventually asks Merry how Merry plans on offering her blood when she is out in LA and the demi-fey are back at faerie. Merry offers to smear her blood on a piece of bread and send that via magic, but Niceven shakes her head at that. Niceven offers to send one of her demi-fey to LA to act as her surrogate, and Merry agrees to this. She demands the cure for Galen, but Niceven tells them they will receive the cure from the very lips of her surrogate, meaning they must wait until the surrogate arrives before they can heal Galen. Niceven says the surrogate will arrive in a few days time, and tells them to leave out a pot of flowers by the door in case they are not home when the surrogate arrives. Niceven ends the call not long after this.
 
I sat gazing into my own reflection. Movement caught my gaze, and I watched Rhys and Doyle still on their knees. Muscles worked in Rhys’s arms as he brushed Doyle’s hair. Frost didn’t so much move as just look at me in the mirror so hard it turned me to look at him.
Frost glared back. The other two seemed unaware of my attention. “Niceven is gone. You can stop pretending.” I said.
“I haven’t finished brushing out all of this hair,” Rhys said. “This is why I stopped growing mine down to my ankles. It’s almost impossible to take care of it by yourself.” He separated out another section of hair, hefted it in one hand, and began to brush with the other.
Doyle was silent as Rhys worked on his hair with the serious-faced concentration of a child. There was absolutely nothing else childish about him as he knelt nude, surrounded by a sea of black hair and multicolored pillows. His body was, as always, tightly muscled, pale, gleaming. He was lovely to look at, but he wasn’t excited. Nude didn’t mean sex to the sidhe, not always.
 
Ughhhh. Just a few chapters ago you talked about how the sidhe would appreciate a little panty-flashing around the pool. How that totally non-sexual thing was made sexual. Now, apparently, being naked isn’t always sexual. You cannot make something totally non-sexual sexual and then make it seem like it’s HUMANS who have issues with nudity. This is just so odd.
 
Merry turns to Frost and apologizes for upsetting him prior to the call with Niceven.
 
“You have made it abundantly clear that you rule here and I merely obey.” His voice was harsh with anger.
I sighed. It was early, but it had been a long day. I was too tired for Frost’s hurt feelings. Especially since he was in the wrong.
 
He may be in the wrong, but YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING to correct this sort of behavior out of your guards in the past, Merry, you dumb broad. THIS IS ENTIRELY YOUR FAULT, YOU KNOW.
 
“Frost, I cannot afford to appear weak to anyone right now. Even Doyle holds his opinion in public, no matter how unfavorable it is in private.”
“I have approved of everything you’ve done today,” Doyle said.
“I am so happy to hear that,” I said.
He gave me a very level gaze, ruined only a little by the tugging of his hair from the brush. It’s hard to look menacing when you’re being fussed with. He stared at me, until most people would have looked away or flinched. I met his gaze with my own empty one. I was tired of games. Just because I could play them, and play them fairly well, didn’t mean I enjoyed them.
“I’ve had enough power plays for one day, Doyle. I don’t need any more, especially not from my own guards.”
 
What is happening! Where did this even come from!
 
He blinked those dark, dark eyes at me. “Hold off, Rhys. Meredith and I need to talk.”
Rhys stopped obediently, sitting back among the pillows, the brush still in his hand.
“In private,” Doyle said.
Frost jumped as if he’d been struck. It was his reaction more than Doyle’s words that made me suspect we were talking about more than just a few secrets.
“It is my night with Meredith,” Frost said. His anger seemed to have vanished on the wings of possibilities he hadn’t foreseen.
 
Hahahaha what? I honestly do not even understand how any of this has happened. Meredith is chiding Frost for his moodiness, and Doyle gets all high and mighty about things? In what world would anything like this ever happen?
 
“If it was Rhys, then he would have to wait his turn again, but I have not had a turn, so I am within my rights to ask for this evening.”
 
Oh that’s right! Doyle wants his turn on the Merry fuckocycle! Bicycunt? Everybody gets a turn!
 
Frost stood, almost stumbling in his haste and the lack of space at the foot of the bed. “First you hold me back from helping her today, now you take my night in her bed. I would accuse you of jealousy, if I did not know you better.”
“You can accuse me of anything you wish, Frost, but you know I am not jealous.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not, but you are something, and that something has to do with our Merry.”
 
What? You’ve got all the signs of a jealous dude, Doyle. Don’t try to play this off as anything but.
 
Doyle sighed, a deep almost wounded sound. “Perhaps I thought that by making the princess wait for my attentions I would intrigue her. Today I saw that there is more than one way to lose a woman’s favor.”
“Speak plainly, Darkness.”
Doyle stayed kneeling, half-naked, his hands limp and empty resting against his thighs, surrounded by a sea of his own hair. He should have looked helpless, or feminine, or something, but he didn’t. He looked like something carved out of the elemental darkness, as if he’d risen as one of the first things to ever draw breath, before the light came. The silver ring in his nipple caught the light as he breathed. His hair had covered all the earrings, so that this one silver spark was the only color on him. It was hard to look away from that shining silver light.
“I am not blind, Frost,” Doyle said. “I saw the way she looked at you in the van, and you saw it, too.”
“You are jealous.”
He shook his head. “No, but you have had three months and there is no child. She is a princess and will be a queen. She cannot afford to give her heart away where there is no marriage.”
 
That’s also jealousy, Doyle.
 
“So you’ll step in and win her heart instead?” Frost’s voice held more heat than I’d ever heard in it, outside of the bed.
“No, but I will see that she has choices. If I had paid closer attention, I would have stepped in sooner.”
“Oh, you in her arms will make her forget all about me, is that it?”
“I am not so arrogant as that, Frost. I told you, today I realized there was more than one way to lose a woman’s heart, and waiting too long is one of them. If there is to be any chance that Meredith will not turn to you, or Galen, then something must change now. Not later, but now.”
 
Jealousssssss.
 
Merry eventually finally fucking steps into the conversation. She tells them that they are being rude, talking about her as if she was not standing right in the room, as if she had no choice in the matter about who she is fucking this night. Doyle asks her if she objects to him sharing her bed tonight, and she stops to think about it. She stares at both her men, unsure what she wants to do.
 
“I have the chance to satisfy mine and many a court lady’s curiosity tonight, Frost.”
He turned away so he couldn’t see my face. “I wish you joy in it,” but he didn’t sound like he meant it.
“I want you tonight, Frost.”
That turned him to me, with a startled look.
“With Doyle in my bed looking like that, and all the waiting, I still want you. My body begins to ache when you’re not with me. I hadn’t realized until today what that meant.” I couldn’t keep the pain out of my eyes, and finally stopped trying.
He stared down at me, raised a hand to touch my face, but stopped himself just short of my skin. “If that is true, then Doyle is right. You will be queen. And some things … you cannot be as others. You must be queen before all else.”
I laid my face against his open hand, and even that small touch made me shiver.
He drew his hand away, rubbing it against his pants as if something clung to his skin. “Tomorrow night, Princess.”
 
SO AFTER ALL THAT. THAT ENTIRE SEVERAL PAGES OF BULLSHIT. AFTER ALL THAT, FROST JUST GIVES UP TO JEALOUS DOYLE. GOD DAMMIT.
 
Frost leaves the room, and at that moment there’s a sound behind Merry, so she turns. Rhys had dropped his clothing and the stupid hair brush on the floor BECAUSE OOPS HES SO CLUMSY and he tries to excuse himself from the bedroom. He carries his clothes and stuff over to the door, which Frost had apparently shut behind him, and then asks Merry for a little help with the door. Because apparently clothing and a hair brush are so heavy SUPER MUSCLES RHYS can’t multitask and open the damn door himself.
 
The moment he asked [for help], I knew that he was feeling left out. He was flaunting his charms and I was ignoring him. A deadly insult among the fey.
 
BUT NUDITY != SEX ALWAYS, REMEMBER? REMEMBER? REMEMBER THAT?
Merry gives him a fierce, strong goodbye kiss to make up for her stupid “deadly insult” and shuts the door behind Rhys. She then freezes, realizing she was suddenly alone and about to have sex with Doyle.
 
Doyle, whom I’d never seen nude. Doyle, who had frightened me when I was a child. Doyle, who had been the Queen’s right hand for a thousand years. He’d kept me safe, guarded my body and my life, but somehow he hadn’t really been mine. Somehow he wouldn’t really be mine until I’d touched that dark body, seen all of him bare before me. I wasn’t sure why that was so important to me, but it was. By withholding himself from me, it was almost as if he was holding his options open. As if he believed that once he was with me, he’d have no more options.
 
Hahahahahaha, jesus Christ.
 

The chapter finally ends with Doyle calling her name, beckoning her to turn around and face him. He I don’t I don’

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