Mo Yuan’s body thrummed with the song of the hunt. The fluttering heartbeat captured beneath his made his pulse pound in anticipation.
The Dragon’s golden gaze locked on to a light bead of sweat that trickled from a creased brow to a softly wisped hairline; a dress collar pulled open, a slender column of throat, a delicate line of collarbone, the rapid rise and fall of a curved cleavage.
Mo Yuan shuddered. There was a stimulating hint of spice to Bai Qian’s peach blossom scent now, radiating from the rising heat of her body lying beneath him.
The honey-amber shade returned to Mo Yuan’s eyes when the soft give of Bai Qian’s trembling body beneath him and the light gasps of her sweet breath in his face brought focus to his thoughts. What have I done?
Appalled, aghast, aroused by his actions, a low growl escaped from his throat before Mo Yuan could suppress it.
Releasing Bai Qian’s wrists, Mo Yuan rose off of her, slipping a hand behind her neck to help her sit up.
Bai Qian’s ears rang. The back of her head throbbed from where it had struck the floor. Foxtails that weren’t mashed beneath her lay sprawled flat and trembling just like the rest of her body. She had to focus on drawing air given the living, breathing sunlight of Mo Yuan’s body now held her pinned down, pressing hard against her chest and belly.
She shivered at the low growl by her ear. And for a moment, Bai Qian forgot where she was. The ache in her head and the pain in her tails disappeared as the shiver swept through her entire body, leaving a tingling sensation in its wake. Was it from the chill of the air? Or was it from…?
Bai Qian squeaked when she was pulled up to a sitting position by a warm hand that had slipped behind her neck. She grimaced slightly as she unkinked her tails.
“Are you hurt?” Mo Yuan’s voice was low and hoarse. Bai Qian shook her head, too winded to speak. The movement made her wince.
“Let me take a look at your head, Qian Qian.”
Pushing off backwards with her feet, Bai Qian raised her hands in a reflexive gesture of refusal… only to have her palms land flat against a pair of firm, well-defined pectorals pulsing with Mo Yuan’s powerful heartbeat.
Time froze, as did both gods. And for an infinite moment, neither breathed.
Then with a startled gasp, Bai Qian dropped her hands with a stammered, “I’m s-s-sorry! Really Mo Yuan, you don’t need to check. I’m alright!” She managed to scramble back half a tailspan before the iron grips were back, this time on her forearms.
“You will let me look, Bai Qian.” Mo Yuan’s tone held an edge she’d never heard before. “It’s not a request.”
What could she do? She’d been the one foolish enough to pounce upon the God of War. But in her defence, Mo Yuan had been the one sneaking up behind her first!
She should have trusted her fox instincts from the beginning. Her instincts had never failed her before. So attuned they were–so attuned they had to be–to her immediate surroundings. They’d been telling her all along that something was there. Why had she doubted them? Because it was the middle of the night and they’d been telling her the sun was rising behind her?
Just what was it about Mo Yuan that had her all confused?
The heat of Mo Yuan’s hands passed through her sleeves as he continued to hold her. Kunlun’s Grandmaster was waiting for her to acquiesce. Hmph, I’m not one of your disciples, Mo Yuan, she thought with a sudden touch of pique.
If he just wants to take a look at your head, Qian, then let him. It could have been worse, no? He could have shifted to his dragon and bitten your head off rather than tackle you to the ground in less than a second.
Her ears still rang a little. Never had Bai Qian experienced that kind of manoeuvre before. Nothing her father had ever taught her could have prepared her for what Mo Yuan had just done. What incredible reaction and speed! Mo Yuan could have snapped you like a twig, idiot! Just let him take a look already and be done with it.
Slowly, Bai Qian lowered her head.
Mo Yuan’s hands let go as he shuffled behind her. “Qian Qian, I need to remove your band so I can see.”
“Hold on.” She hastily tugged it over her head rather than bothering to untie it. This way she could slip it back on faster.
Hissing through her teeth when her hair was parted, Bai Qian stiffened when gentle fingertips touched her scalp at the back of her head. “It looks like there’ll be a bruise,” Mo Yuan said.
Now bruises were something Bai Qian was quite adept at healing on her own, having had lots of practice from when she was a child and still prone to bumping into things. But as she started to reach behind her head, a warm gust of breath softly blew along the exposed tender, sensitive skin raising gooseflesh over her entire body. The pain at the back of her head eased, then vanished –along with her ability to think for a minute. Her hair falling back into place, Mo Yuan shuffled forward again.
“Are you dizzy? Do you hurt anywhere else?” Mo Yuan steadied her as she rose, keeping his hands on her arms even once they both stood.
“I’m not dizzy. And only my ego hurts. Luckily I have a thick head, at least according to Zhe Yan.”
Mo Yuan gave no response.
“Don’t tell him what happened, please, Mo Yuan?” Bai Qian found his silence unnerving. “Otherwise Zhe Yan’s going to think me accident-prone around you… or worse… that you unbalance me somehow whenever we find ourselves alone….” She thought of the incident her first day in the garden.
Mo Yuan’s hands slipped off her arms.
“Forgive me, Bai Qian,” a contrite-sounding God of War said. “My actions this night… especially just now when… You caught me off guard and I reacted badly. It was inexcusable. I’m so very sorry.”
Why did Mo Yuan’s apology make her feel guilty?
“Maybe I should say sorry too, Mo Yuan. In hindsight, I reacted badly as well. It’s fairly obvious one should never be so monumentally stupid as to pounce on a dragon in his lair. Though do remind me never to get on your bad side, ok?”
Bai Qian knew Mo Yuan was staring at her now, given the direction and way he was breathing. The apprehension it caused her sparked her temper.
“Then again, you were the one creeping up behind me first, Mo Yuan!”
Bai Qian’s voice rose as she planted her fists on her hips. “Care to tell me just what in peach pits you were doing? Playing dragon?” She huffed in annoyance. “For that matter, Oh Great Grandmaster of Sneaking, how did you know I was out here? What gave me away?” She’d been so very careful to tread lightly on her paws past his door. Oh no… it occurred to her only now that Mo Yuan had likely seen her in her fox form.
Bai Qian’s colourful temper was like a soothing balm. It assuaged Mo Yuan’s guilt and shame over his impulsive actions of this night. The Queen of Qing Qiu, who’d just been stalked and tackled to the ground by a barely clad God of War in his own temple, now stood there scolding him as if he were some errant boy.
Bai Qian looked so lively and animated in her annoyance. Where but a moment before he’d felt remorse, how surprised Mo Yuan was to feel a belly laugh threaten to erupt from him. Playing dragon… Oh, you have no idea, Qian Qian.
Mo Yuan struggled to keep a straight face, knowing it would reflect in his voice otherwise if he didn’t.
“Qian Qian, why don’t you tell me instead just what “in peach pits” you were doing? Are you in the habit of sneaking past closed doors at night? As for what gave you away…” Mo Yuan didn’t want to reveal it had been her scent. Why? Why did he wish to keep that something private to himself? But as Fate would have it, he was spared from having to say more.
For with perfect timing, Bai Qian’s stomach gave a mighty rumble right then, complaining loudly at being ignored. Both Bai Qian and Mo Yuan started a little at the impressive sound. And Mo Yuan couldn’t tell who broke out laughing first, him or Bai Qian.
“Ok, nevermind,” Bai Qian said between laughing breaths. “I guess it’s pretty obvious what gave me away. Uh, do you think the whole mountain heard?” she asked shyly now, recalling one of Zhe Yan’s comments about how everybody on Kunlun would hear her snore.
“I’m pretty certain I was the only one,” Mo Yuan answered with a warm chuckle.
Bai Qian felt a wave of relief, not at Mo Yuan’s affirmation but rather at his laughter. He’s not angry that I traipsed through Kunlun’s temple on all fours.
“At first I thought you were coming to see me about… some matter,” Mo Yuan began to say, feeling he did owe her some kind of explanation for why he’d been following her. “Then I confess I became curious when you continued right past my door. Not wanting to startle you in the dead of night in the passageways, I thought I could just follow discreetly. I assumed from,” he cleared his throat, “the sound I heard, that you were looking to find something to eat, especially since you’d fallen asleep earlier at my table before having eaten any dinner.”
Bai Qian groaned. “It had been a really, really long day for me. Ugh, how rude a guest does all this make me?”
“Not at all,” Mo Yuan replied. “It was rude of me not to have anticipated your hunger. I should have brought food along when…” his voice trailed off.
“When you carried me to bed, covered with your blanket…of sunlight…?” Bai Qian kept that last thought to herself.
“Hmm, it may not have been proper decorum but it was the most efficient and appropriate means at my disposal. Your tails didn’t seem to mind, Qian Qian, seeing as they kept trying to wrap themselves about my legs as I walked…and you nuzzled your cheek into my neck…” Mo Yuan kept that last thought to himself.
Mo Yuan couldn’t help but delight in the sudden bright blush of a certain fox goddess’ cheeks. He found he enjoyed teasing reactions like this from Bai Qian. If he’d considered her face an open book the other day, it would appear he now had the ability to write on its pages.
A flustered Bai Qian cleared her throat loudly. “Let’s make a deal?”
“A deal?” an amused Mo Yuan repeated with a touch of wariness.
“Uh huh. I’ll forget all about how I got taken to bed by you if you’ll forget all about my jumping you.”
Mo Yuan stroked his beard.
“That’s not entirely fair to you, Qian Qian. I was following you from behind.”
“You saw me as a fox.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Well then,” Bai Qian fumbled with her silk band she’d forgotten she still held. Why was she always forgetting about it in Mo Yuan’s presence? “If you forget that you saw me as a fox as well and I’ll forget you were there to see me in the first place.”
Mo Yuan frowned. He did not care for this second part of the deal. Bai Qian in her white nine-tailed fox form was a stunning sight to behold. He was about to ask what was wrong with that but the band she was slipping back onto her head changed his question.
“Why do you hide your eyes, Bai Qian?” Mo Yuan asked gently. “I saw them in your fox. They are a rich shade of brown, very bright and–”
The slight hitch in her breath and the way her nimble fingers froze for a second made him stop. A wave of sadness strong enough for him to sense came from Bai Qian before she tried to gather her wits with a blurted, “Why do you walk around at night half-dressed, Mo Yuan?” A clumsy attempt on her part to change the subject.
Don’t think this is the end of it, Bai Qian. Mo Yuan swore he would get to the truth. He would ask the Phoenix the first chance he’d get.
Mo Yuan summoned one of his blue wool tunics to cover himself. He leaned his head closer to Bai Qian. “Didn’t you know, Qian Qian… Dragons like to prowl their lairs at night with only the night currents upon their bodies.”
He was immediately rewarded by a bright blush again.
Mo Yuan straightened his shoulders, clasping his hands behind his back.
“No deal,” he declared.
“Huh?” Bai Qian had clearly not been thinking about her earlier proposal.
“Any treatise forged between Kunlun and Qing Qiu must not be done under the duress of hunger.” Mo Yuan made his stomach rumble and Bai Qian laughed as he’d intended her to.
“Shall we head to the kitchen together, your Highness?” Mo Yuan formally proposed now, “to further deliberate?”
He’d been about to light all the candles and torches in the kitchen when the realization struck again that there would be no difference for Bai Qian. So Mo Yuan only lit a few for himself. Standing in the middle of the food preparation area, Kunlun’s Grandmaster took in all the impeccably clean and well-ordered work surfaces. His Second Disciple Chang Shan ran a tight kitchen.
“There are fruits and buns in the pantry, Qian Qian. Do you have a preference for anything?” Mo Yuan asked.
Bai Qian was gliding her hands along the surface of a countertop. She’d tucked in her tails to give them a rest. They were still sore from her little tumble as she would consider it from now on.
“Actually, would it be alright if I cook something?” she asked. “When I’m up in the night at home, I often go to my kitchen and cook.” She paused in thought. “Your Second Disciple has prepared so many different dishes for me so far, perhaps I can repay the favour.” With a mischievous grin, Bai Qian clasped the sides of her dress and curtsied to Mo Yuan. “The Queen of Qing Qiu respectfully requests the use of Kunlun’s kitchen. Will the Grandmaster grant her permission?”
Mo Yuan knew Chang Shan was a little obsessive when it came to the order and arrangement of things. As long as we clean up afterwards and place everything back in its place, why not? He would make it up to his Second somehow.
“What would you care to make, Qian Qian?”
Bai Qian tapped her chin with her index finger. The next meal to be served in the dining hall would be breakfast, wouldn’t it. “Hmm, is there anything in particular your men enjoy eating for breakfast?”
Mo Yuan immediately thought of the empty platter of jianbing from the morning before. The savoury crepes Chang Shan prepared were a huge favourite and often fought over as the men tried to hoard them or steal them away from each other. His Eleventh and Sixteenth Disciples in particular had made it a sport.
“Do you know how to make jianbing?” Mo Yuan asked. Bai Qian’s bright smile answered for her.
“Perhaps now would be a good time to share a secret with you, Qian Qian,” Mo Yuan’s voice dropped to a whisper, “since you’ll be discovering it for yourself soon enough.”
“Ooo, is it a secret about the God of War? I’m all ears!” She laughed, cupping her hands behind them to prove she was listening most attentively.
Mo Yuan chuckled. “Yes, well, I’m afraid cooking is not one of my… finer skills, shall we say. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. My reputation as a grandmaster would be at stake.” Bai Qian’s renewed burst of laughter gave him a warm feeling of pleasure. “As a boy, I had quite the sweet tooth but treats were rarely served in the palace. One day I got it in my head to make sweet buns all by myself. What should have been one of the easiest things to make, yes? ” Mo Yuan started laughing too. “Even with magic, it took the head steward of the palace kitchens days to clean off all the ceiling beams.”
Bai Qian’s hands flew over her mouth, trying to smother her belly laugh.
“So consider it fair warning that I can’t cook,” Mo Yuan finished. “But do allow me to be somewhat useful. Tell me what ingredients and implements you need and I’ll set them out. “
“Alright,” Bai Qian agreed. “Let’s do that. But you must allow me to try and teach you a little bit, Mo Yuan. Maybe that way you can be not only a warrior god who knows of flowers but flour as well.”
Mo Yuan seriously considered summoning his long sword.
After repeatedly getting cracked bits of egg shell in the flour and stirring up only clumped batter, Bai Qian had reached the end of her patience with him and relegated the chopping of spring onions to Mo Yuan while she alone mixed the eggs and the flour and spices.
While the balanced weight of the cleaver he held made it a viable throwing weapon to him, finely dicing vegetables with it was a whole different matter. The pieces of onion he’d slowly cut so far were nowhere near as uniform as the ones Bai Qian had made. Mo Yuan knew with his own blade he could cut with speed and the necessary precision.
Mo Yuan had watched Bai Qian intently as she’d demonstrated to him how to cut the onions just right. First, as would any competent warrior, she’d felt out and tested the weight and balance of the unfamiliar cleaver for herself, going so far as to press the flat side of its blade against her palm to get a complete sense of it. Running her fingertips along the edges of the cutting board to learn its dimensions, she’d then grabbed a bunch of spring onions from the crate he’d placed beside her as she’d asked and shuffled them on the board so that all their bulbs aligned. Mo Yuan was a little awed at how the cleaver had been made to dance upon its sharp edge resulting in a pile of perfectly diced onions in the centre of the board.
With her sleeves rolled up past her elbows, Bai Qian now made short work of cracking open another bunch of eggs and mixing them into a new bowl of mung bean flour. While she stirred this latest batch of batter, Mo Yuan put down the cleaver to go fire up the stove.
Bai Qian was rubbing the tip of her nose with the back of her hand when he returned to the counter. Her bottom lip puffed out as she blew a breath towards her forehead, something Mo Yuan had remarked her doing several times now. Paying closer attention, he noticed how some wisps of flour dust floating about her face were going behind her silk band.
He also noticed the new bunch of onions stacked in front of the cutting board. She must have grabbed more from the crate while his back was turned at the stove. Mo Yuan groaned loudly, which earned him a wry smile from Bai Qian. Then he narrowed his gaze.
“You have flour on your cheek.”
“Oh?” Bai Qian wiped at her face but the wrong side. “Ok?” she asked.
“No, the other side,” he told her. She wiped the correct cheek but too low.
“Here, Qian Qian.” Mo Yuan advanced. “Stay still a moment.” And cupping her chin without thought, he wiped away the white smudge only to reveal a blush of pink underneath.
Her skin was so soft.
Mo Yuan’s thumb gently stroked the edge of her chin where he saw there to be more flour.
Bai Qian’s quickening pulse heightened her scent with that alluring hint of spice again. Mo Yuan was completely unaware that he’d begun drawing in deeper breaths in response.
“There’s some batter caked on your band as well,” Mo Yuan said in a calm, unhurried voice.
A silent Bai Qian stood as if transfixed. Then slowly, she raised trembling fingers to her band, fingers covered in flour. Mo Yuan’s free hand gently caught hers. “Your hands are covered in flour, Qian Qian. Here, let me.” She didn’t acknowledge him but neither did she move away.
Slipping his fingers under the band at her temples, he lifted it from her head. Flour dust had indeed made its way underneath and clung to some of her lashes and parts of her eyelids. Leaning close, Mo Yuan blew softly on her lashes then cupped her face as he lightly brushed her eyelids with the pads of his thumbs.
The scent of peach blossoms washing over him now was most… intoxicating. So much so that Mo Yuan was only vaguely aware of his soft growling as Bai Qian’s body gently swayed under his touch. Slowly, Mo Yuan leaned even closer…
With a fierce snarl, Mo Yuan spun about, and Bai Qian jumped back with a gasp.
Chang Shan stood in the kitchen entryway, the disciple’s eyes growing wider as he stared into the God of War’s gaze.
煎饼 (jiānbing) breakfast crepe
⇛ Next part: 18(第十八章) Of Ill Intent
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