Three months later
I shoulder a thick pine log that’s been stripped of its bark and carry it over to where Ozork is working on carving divots into exactly the right places so the logs will fit perfectly once we start putting them together. The walls of the house we’re building for Ivy and me are growing steadily, and I hope we’ll be able to move on to cutting the roof shingles before the next full moon.
“That’s the last one for today,” I tell the older orc. “Thank you for working with me.”
The king has allowed me to take several weeks off my duties to build my mate the home she deserves. I’d thought it would be a lonely effort and anticipated a lot of long hours working out here on my own. But one by one, my friends have taken their days off to help me, and I must say I appreciate it beyond anything. Today, it’s Ozork who has offered to bring his skills to the project. He brought two of his teenage nephews along, too, though we let them go wash up for dinner an hour earlier while we continued the work.
“Don’t stay out here too long.” He claps me on my back. “You need a break.”
“Aye,” I say. “We made good progress today.”
He casts a look over the clearing we’d chosen for the build. We’re far enough from the horse paddock to avoid smelling the shit every day, but close enough to the Hill that we’ll enjoy all the perks of living with the community.
When I’d told Ivy my idea of building a house here, she was incredibly excited, and though she hasn’t been able to help much yet due to the nature of the work, she has already ordered cloth from the human lands to sew curtains, pillowcases, and tablecloths. It seems that our home will be very colorful indeed. I haven’t told her yet, but I also put in an order with the last caravan that traveled to the city under Ozork’s watch, and sourced some green paint for the doors and the shutters. I think the house will look lovely when it’s finished.
“Any news on how the appeal with the duke went?” I ask my friend.
The king worked with Ivy, Dawn, and the other human women of the clan to write a letter to the Duke of Ultrup, complaining of the abysmal treatment of women in his lands, but we haven’t received an official reply yet.
“Nothing.” Ozork shakes his head. “I don’t know how things will play out.”
I curse softly, hoping the news won’t disappoint Ivy too much.
He grips my shoulder. “We will solve this, my friend.”
“Aye,” I reply. “I hope so.”
He leaves for dinner, and I scrape the bark off one more log and set it out to dry in the spring sun. The days are getting longer, and the forest is teeming with life again. Ivy has been accompanying me on hunts lately, and though she is still quite loud compared to me, she’s much improved at tracking. While I set or check my traps, she gathers the early spring herbs for the infirmary, and we get to spend our days together instead of just nights.
The house was an idea we came up with one long winter evening, when we’d listened to the sounds of the animals down the hall from our temporary rooms. We’d installed a woodstove in the space, but Ivy said she wished for an open fireplace.
Marut was the one who drew the design for the log cabin we’re building. He left the Hill for the first time in years to ride to one of the villages in King Gorvor’s territory and talked to the crofters there, learning their techniques for building sturdy, warm houses suitable for this mountainous terrain. Since then, he’s been a constant visitor to the building site, scrutinizing my work with a critical eye, complaining if I deviated from his plans too much.
I couldn’t have done this without him.
We still bicker and annoy each other, but we’ve spent more time together in the past three months than we have in the last decade, so things are improving. I know we have Ivy to thank for this, which is another reason why I love my mate so much.
Sometimes, I still wake up at night, shuddering at the thought of how close I came to losing her. If I hadn’t wandered into that stretch of the woods that day, my mate would have died, and I wouldn’t have known it. I would have spent the rest of my days alone, searching but never finding her.
My insides twist at the thought, so I abandon the idea of doing more work and instead put up our tools for the night, arranging them under an oiled skin to protect them from the elements.
Just as I’m about to leave, however, I spot Ivy on the road from the Hill, half walking, half running toward me.
She waves, her beautiful face alight with a grin. On her elbow, she carries a basket, similar to the one she uses for gathering herbs, and she is a colorful vision—her wavy auburn hair gleams in the sunlight, and her blue dress is brighter than the sky. I walk toward her and catch her in a hug, lifting her off her feet to kiss her.
Ivy laughs, then yelps in pain when the basket smacks her in the hip. I let her go immediately and take the thing from her, peering inside. There’s a handful of spring greens that she must have foraged for in the woods, a wedge of sheep cheese, and something wrapped in a cloth that smells amazing.
“I thought we’d have dinner at our house tonight,” she says with a smile. “The first one, since it’s such a nice evening.”
I glance at the half-finished structure. “But we don’t even have a roof.”
“Eh,” she says. “I can imagine it’s there. Besides, I wanted to have you all to myself.”
“I can agree to that.” I grab her by the waist.
Ivy laughs. “No, no, not for that.” She pauses, thinking. “Well, perhaps later. But we need to talk first.” She enters what will soon become our living quarters and turns in place. “This is coming along so well. Thank you for working so hard.”
I want to suggest how she could reward me for all my hard work, but she busies herself with taking a blanket from the basket and spreading it neatly on the floor.
“Do you know, Marut visited me today at the infirmary,” she says as she smooths down a corner of the blanket.
I frown at that. “Did he? Is he all right?”
She sits and pats the spot next to her. “You know I wouldn’t normally tell you about the patients, but he went and declared his issue to the king after our talk, so I don’t think he meant to keep it a secret.”
“What issue?” I demand, folding my legs and sitting on the blanket.
Now that my brother and I are talking again, I find that I don’t mind spending time with him. So if there’s anything amiss, I want to help.
Ivy waves her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry, nothing horrible. He only needs spectacles. He came to the infirmary once before, but that was when he was still behaving horribly to me, so I didn’t know about it until now.”
I squint at her. “Spectacles?”
“Yes. His eyesight is poor.” She takes a parcel from the basket and unwraps four meat pies that must have been baked only recently, because they’re still steaming, then adds, “I suspect it’s because he spends all his time in that archive, staring at too-small writing in poor light.”
I scratch the back of my head. “I’ve never seen an orc with spectacles. Only humans, when I went to Ultrup with Ozork and the rest.”
She narrows her eyes at me. “Does that mean you’ll be a beast to him about it?”
“Of course not,” I assure her, then grab one of the pies and take a large bite.
I don’t think I would have tried to make fun of him for that even before we buried the hatchet. He was the one always poking at me, but I have to say, he is much improved these days.
“Can he order the spectacles from the city?” I ask. “Another caravan is leaving soon.”
But Ivy shakes her head. “He’ll have to go with them. That’s why he had that talk with the king. He’ll need to visit a special shop and get fitted for the right ones. I don’t know how it works exactly, which is what I told him today.” She grins and adds, “He wasn’t happy about it, let me tell you that. He said something about his future mate, and how she won’t like him now.”
I snort, wishing I could have eavesdropped on their conversation. My twin never enjoyed the outside world, but he does love his books and scrolls. “Aye, I can imagine.” I polish off the meat pie and ask, “Is that what you wanted to talk about? My brother’s departure?”
“No, that wasn’t it.”
Ivy clenches her hands in her lap, and I suddenly realize she hasn’t touched her food. Despite her breezy words and smiling face, something is worrying her. Without warning her, I take her by the waist and lift her into my lap. She’s not as slight as other human women, but I am still much larger and stronger than her, and I love having her this close.
“What is it?” I nuzzle her neck. She smells so delicious there, of sweet clover and dew, and I can never get enough. Still, she has something to tell me, so I refrain from nibbling on her soft skin. “You know you can tell me anything.”
“Yes,” she whispers. “I know.”
She squirms in my lap and reaches for the basket, dragging it closer to us. Then she withdraws a glass jar of tea. I’ve become used to seeing it around our room because she has to drink a cup every day to avoid pregnancy. With how much we fuck, she needs it, too. Just the sight of it makes my cock hard, and I bite back a groan when she leans forward again to put the basket back on the floor. I cannot attack her like a beast when she wants to have a conversation, but it’s difficult because she smells so damn edible.
Ivy doesn’t say anything, only unstoppers the jar and lifts it to my nose. I take a sniff, confused, and stare at her, hoping for an explanation.
When it doesn’t come, I say, “That smells nice.”
She bites her lip and watches me from under her lashes. “Do you notice anything different?”
I sniff at the tea again. “Uh…”
“It’s not the same blend,” she says slowly, as if trying to help me figure it out.
“Oh?” I shrug, confused. “Are you and Taris trying out new herbs?”
Ivy groans, then drops her forehead to my chest with a thunk. “Why is this so hard to say?”
Alarmed now, I take her by the shoulders and draw her back so I can see her face. “What is?”
“It’s not the same tea, Korr,” she whispers. “This one will help me get pregnant.”
I grip her shoulders harder, my fingers digging into her flesh, then realize what I’m doing and loosen my rigid muscles. We haven’t talked about having children since that day in the hut when she informed me she wanted to wait, because I didn’t want her to think I was pressuring her. That didn’t mean I didn’t dream often how beautiful she would be carrying our child—or how much I wanted babies with her.
“I mean, if you agree,” she’s saying, her lovely face growing pink. “I haven’t had it yet, but I also didn’t drink the other one today. I still can, if you’d rather not, I just didn’t—mmph!”
I kiss her, stemming the flood of her words, and try to show her with my touch what this means to me. Then, just in case she didn’t understand it, I say, “Yes. Yes, Ivy.” My voice comes out hoarse, so I clear my throat and try again. “I told you right at the start, I will give you as many children as you want.”
She laughs, though her voice hitches a little. “That’s the thing. My parents could only have me, and only later in life, so I don’t know…” She swallows. “And it didn’t happen with my husband either. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”
I cup her face with my hands and kiss her on her pink lips. “I could never be disappointed. If we get babies, that will be wonderful. If we do not, I will cherish you until the day I die. We are enough.”
She rests her forehead against my collarbone and clings on, shaking. Then she lifts her face, her eyes shining with tears, and kisses me. I taste her tears on her lips and hold her close, though I don’t know exactly how to make her feel better.
But it seems this is what she needed from me, because she grins through her tears and nudges me with her elbow.
“Finish your dinner,” she urges me, even as she settles in my lap again, takes one of the remaining meat pies, and bites down on it. “We can start trying today if you’d like.”
I stare down at her. “Right now? Because I’ve been wanting to ever since you showed up in this dress, it’s spectacular.” I tug her neckline lower, almost enough for her full breasts to pop free. “If you want my cum, you only have to ask.”
She pauses mid-chew, then covers her mouth with her hand and swallows down the bite. “Gods, Korr, warn me next time before you say things like that. I nearly choked.”
“Last night, you said that when you had my cock in your mouth.” I lift her ass off my lap for a second to readjust myself, then set her back down. “Should I be concerned?”
Her shoulders shake with laughter, but she puts away her food and leans over to wrap it back up. I narrow my eyes as she squirms even more than before, her ass nestled right over my rigid cock.
“Ivy…” I grab her hips, a warning growl in my voice. “What are you doing?”
She gives me an impish smile over her shoulder. “Um…trying?”
I groan, then flip up the skirts of her dress and her lovely chemise to find that she hasn’t put on any underwear today. “Did you plan this?” I reach between her legs, finding her already wet and soft for me. “Was all this a charade to get me wild for you?”
She straddles my legs, still turned away from me. “No, I thought—oh, Korr!—I thought we’d finish the meal, but I don’t want to wait. Please!”
I curse, then tug at the strings tying my leather pants with my free hand. “I haven’t washed since morning,” I admit. “I’ve been working all day.”
“I don’t care,” she cries, rocking her hips to chase my fingers. “You smell amazing to me.”
“Fuck.” I release my cock and line it up with her sweet pussy. “Are you ready, Ivy?”
“Yes,” she bites out.
I take her hips and pull her down slowly onto my length. The slick, wet grasp of her pussy is so familiar, but every time we do this, I count my blessings, right up until the moment when all my thoughts fade out and only instincts remain. She takes all of me, in small increments, and the sound of her moans whets my appetite higher.
“Gods,” she whimpers, “you’re so big like this! Are you all the way in?”
I glance down between us and see another two inches of my cock above my knot. “Almost, little witch. You can take me.”
To help her, I reach under her skirts from behind and find her slick pearl, the spot that always guarantees me a delighted gasp from her. I’m not disappointed—she clenches around my length, then grows wetter in a rush, and I push her lower on my cock until her hot pussy meets my knot.
The sensation is incredible, and I pant through my nose to avoid coming too soon. I want this to be good for her—so good that she’ll want to keep trying and trying and trying, until she’s heavy with our child.
I don’t know if it will happen, but I will do my best to help.
Not that it’s a chore.
Being inside Ivy is what I would do each day, every day, if life would allow it. As it is, I slow down our thrusts to make this last longer, but my mate is having none of it. She braces her small hands on my thighs and rocks her hips back, taking all of me, and from the way her gorgeous body is trembling, I know she’s close.
“Korr,” she pants. “Faster!”
I grit my teeth against the sensations and allow her to speed back up, but I need her to come first. So I let go of her hip and tug down the neckline of her dress like I wanted to do earlier, and this time, I free her breasts. And I know exactly what to do. When she lifts her hips, preparing to slam down on my cock once more, I pinch her nipple, hard, and press down on her pearl with two fingers.
She screams my name. Digs her blunt fingernails into the muscles of my thighs. And comes, her entire body clenching in my arms. Her pussy clamps down on my cock like a fist, and I pump up, stroking through her aftershocks.
And then, when she grows soft and trembling in my embrace, I push her hips lower so she takes my knot. It slips inside her in one beautiful glide, lodging at her entrance, and I blow so hard, black spots dance across my vision. My cum fills up her pussy, a hot, slick wave that will drip from her after we release. The image sends my hard cock twitching, and I rock my hips up once more. I curl around her, snarling into her neck, and she comes again, crying out as she shivers in my arms.
“Ivy,” I groan. “This feels so good.”
“I love you,” she murmurs. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” I manage to say.
I kiss her neck, her shoulder, and then she turns her head enough for me to capture her mouth in a deep kiss, our tongues stroking languidly against each other. She relaxes around me, and I hold her close, my heart racing.
“Is this how it’ll always be between us?” she asks, her voice soft.
“Aye,” I promise. “Always.”
She relaxes back, leaning against me. “Well, then. I can definitely live with that.”
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