All I had to do was move my bishop a few spaces, and I would have had Darken Rahl in checkmate. I saw the chance clear as day, but I couldn't make the play. I didn't intend on letting him win; he had beaten me mercilessly for three games before this one. I had to make a comeback…but I didn't want to lean forward in my chair to move the game-piece; my back was incredibly sore, and had been for nearly a week.

"It's your play, you know," Darken reminded me, regarding my immobile frame quizzically.

"Mm-hm," I responded distantly.

He rested his chin on his fist. "You do realize you can put me in checkmate?"

I nodded.

He arched a near-black eyebrow. "Then why don't you?"

Wincing, I leaned forward and moved the bishop, then stretched my back and flopped backward. "Checkmate."

"Is your back bothering you?"

Glancing at him out of the corner of my eye, I smirked. "What was your first hint?"

"You're not doing a very good job of hiding it, Ember," he replied, starting to line the black chess pieces up on his side of the board. "You're no master of deception," he added, smiling.

"I suppose you're right," I muttered, directing my gaze toward the window behind him.

Zedd would beg to differ.

I sighed.

Whose side am I on, anyway?

Truly, I didn't even know anymore.


I inhaled sharply and looked back at him, with a dazed expression on my face. "Yes?"

"How long has your back been bothering you?"

"About a week." I wrinkled my forehead. "Why?"

"Just wondering," he answered, shrugging. "Why didn't you say anything sooner?"

"I didn't think it was that important."

He scoffed. "You know, sleeping out in that cave isn't helping."

He had a point; everyone knows sleeping on the ground, especially the floor of a cave, is bad for the back.

I cocked my head. "Well…what do you propose I do about it, Lord Rahl?"

I still had a hard time calling him Darken.

"Darken," he corrected, smiling. He stared at the black queen for a while, turning it idly in his fingers. After this period of contemplation, he suggested, "Sleep with me."

My eyes widened, and my mouth gaped slightly.

Did he just say what I think he just said?

I blinked a few times, trying to regain composure. Finally, I was able to speak. "I'm sorry…did you just say for me to sleep with you?"

Apparently just figuring out how it sounded, Darken's eyes grew wide. Hastily, he clarified, "I didn't mean sleep with me! I just meant…you know…" he looked down, then back up. Furrowing his brow, he mumbled, "My…no matter how I try to rephrase that, it still sounds just as suggestive."

I giggled. "I know what you meant. But I think I'll just stick with the cave."

"Why? It's hell on your back, and we both know it. Besides," he added, the corner of his mouth twitching deviously, "I know a spell that could make you feel better."

I rolled my eyes. "Oh really? Like what?"

"It's a rather well-known remedy; it's called a massage."

Feeling myself start to blush, I glared at him.

He crossed his arms. "Oh, come on, Ember! I won't try anything. I only want to help you feel better. You've done more than your fair share of helping the D'Haran army…and me; the least I can do is make your back a little less sore."

Call me crazy, but I believed him. I didn't know why. Maybe it was those beautiful blue eyes…that satanic charm that I was incapable of resisting.

"Well? Have you decided?"

I exhaled slowly, then nodded.

"Yes; I'm game, but just for tonight."

Oh boy…this should prove to be an interesting evening.

So, there I was: lying on my stomach, topless, in Darken Rahl's bed. (The reason for the topless bit is that it's kind of difficult to give a massage through a leather bodice…and I had neglected to wear a chemise under it that day.) My heart fluttered as Darken (who was also topless, by the way) straddled me and gently brushed my burgundy hair to one side of my neck. As he placed his hands on my shoulders and positioned his thumbs between my shoulderblades, my muscles involuntarily tensed up.

"Relax, Ember," he reassured, sensing my apprehension. "You know I won't hurt you, right?"

I smiled and tried to loosen my tension. "Yes, Darken, I know; I trust you."

It's not you hurting me that I'm worried about. However misplaced it may be, I trust you; but I don't trust myself.

I had good reason not to trust myself. I've always been strongly driven by my emotions, and at that moment there was nothing I wanted to do more than turn around and kiss him. But, on a more practical note, I really needed that massage. Trying to ignore my rash impulses, I gazed blankly at the roaring fire.

It was near impossible to ignore those impulses, given the fact that his hands were practically molesting my back. Slowly, he methodically worked out every last knot and kink in my neck, shoulders, and back. Sighing quietly, I finally relaxed and closed my eyes. Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep.


"…Darken?" I replied, begrudgingly opening my eyes. I couldn't have been asleep for more than five minutes.

He chuckled, climbing off me and off his bed and making his way over to his wardrobe. "Glad to see you're comfortable enough to sleep," he said, opening one of its doors. Producing a black chemise top, he tossed it to me and added, "But you might want to put this on, just to avoid rolling over and showing me something you'd rather not."

"Thank you," I answered, sitting up and putting on the shirt after he had turned his back. Yawning, I laid back down. Not long after, Darken crawled in bed beside me.

"Get some sleep," he whispered, touching my back delicately before rolling onto his side.

I closed my eyes tiredly.

I have to go back to the cave tomorrow night. As much as I enjoy this, the temptation is just too great.