Slumber Page 20

I made a face. “Would that be why I was subjected to your abysmal attempts at seduction this evening, my Lord?”

He flushed, groaning, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “I’m not a very good flirt, my Lady. Please accept the apology of a foolish man.”

“Why the flirting?”

He shrugged. “I thought if you liked me, you might be more inclined to help me.”

“With what?”

“I want you to find the woman that I love.”

I shuddered as the wave of my magic crashed through me. I felt her. Beautiful and gentle, Ariana, who worked in Javinia… as a governess. I threw Grof Krill a speculative look, glad he had no idea that my magic had already obeyed his command.

“The woman you love?” I queried softly, suddenly curious despite my exhaustion. Then I felt a spark of indignation. “You intended to seduce me to help you so I could reunite you with the woman you love?”

Grof Krill winced. “Not my brightest or nicest plan.”

I huffed. “I should say not.”

His shoulders slumped, his throat working as if trying to hold back the emotion. “I wouldn’t have, my Lady, but… Ariana. My lovely Ariana. She was a ward of my friend’s, the Baron Roe. The daughter of a friend who had died when Ariana was twelve. I hadn’t seen the Baron for years, we had been school chums. He moved back to Raphizya from Daeronia three years ago. Ariana and his daughter, Dru, were of an age, both seventeen. I fell in love with Ariana almost instantly.” He sighed. “She wasn’t like those twittering idiots at court. She’s intelligent. Quiet. Gentle, but passionate. I miss her every day.”

“What happened?” I whispered, finding myself lost in his heartbreak despite his terrible behaviour.

He smiled humourlessly. “We were like two peas in a pod. We loved one another very much. But my aunt found out about my love for Ariana, and was furious I would consider marrying someone of low birth. She blackmailed Ariana. She had somehow gotten wind of Dru’s affair with one of the stable boys and threatened to expose her.” He snorted. “So cliché, I know, but a word from my aunt and Dru would have been ruined. And Ariana loves Dru, so she took up the situation my aunt offered her and disappeared. My aunt wouldn’t tell me where she’d sent her and then my aunt died a year ago, leaving me no clues. I’ve hired people to find her but nothing. My aunt was a conniving bitch but a clever one.”

“So you want me to seek her?”

He nodded, coming towards me in his excitement. I held the dagger back up. “I won’t hurt you, Lady Rogan.”

“No, you won’t,” I bit out. I was split in two by him. Part of me ached for him, and the other distrusted him as I did most men. What if he’d hurt Ariana somehow and she had wanted to disappear, wanted to stay disappeared. A plan formed in my mind. “You better leave, Grof Krill, before I scream for Captain Stovia and you are charged with trying to force the Princezna’s Azyl to work for you.”

“No.” Krill shook his head. “I would never force you. I just want your help.”

“I can’t help you, my Lord. My duty is not to you. I work only for her Highness. Now please leave.”

I watched the light dim in his eyes, his face growing instantly haggard. “Of course, my Lady. I shall leave you in peace. I apologise for my untoward behaviour. I overstepped.”

He left quietly, the door closing behind him. Futile though it was, I turned the lock.

I sighed wearily. I would never sleep now. Instead I hurried to the dressing table and rummaged through the drawers until I found stationery. I dipped my pen in ink and quickly began my letter…

Dear Ariana,

You do not know me. I am Rogan of Vasterya, Princezna Haydyn’s Handmaiden and one of the Azyl. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the hospitality of Grof Krill Rada of Raphizya whom I am told you are acquainted with. I write to you on behalf of a desperate man who tells me he loves you. I have not informed him where you are, although the Grof did command me to seek you, so if he lies and yours was not a relationship of mutual love then fear not, he will not find you. Did you know the Grof had no inkling of his aunt’s blackmail until after your disappearance? Did you know his aunt is dead thus freeing your dear friend from any consequences of her blackmail? Grof Krill desperately seeks you, Ariana. He has been looking for three years. I doubt he will ever give up. He loves you.

If you love him… please return to him.

Yours Sincerely

Rogan

I sighed and folded the letter into an envelope, addressing it to Ariana. I snorted at my own foolishness. The girl would probably think the letter a hoax. I shrugged and pulled on a dressing gown. Still, it was the only thing I could think to do for him without putting all my trust in his sincerity. I hurried from the room, my candle flickering shadows across the walls as I made my way through the mansion and out into the cold stable yard. I shivered and rushed to the stables, coming across a man on guard whose hand immediately leapt to the hilt of his sword, before jolting in shock, in recognition.

“My Lady,” the officer whispered, rushing toward me. “What are you doing out here? Are you well?”

I nodded, my teeth chattering together. “Here.” I thrust the envelope at him. “You must find a messenger immediately and have this delivered in Javinia.” I handed over the coins to pay the messenger with.

Like a good soldier, he nodded unquestioningly. “Of course, my Lady. But please, I insist you return inside.”

I smiled. “I have every intention of doing so.” And without another word, I hurried back toward the mansion, that deep, buried, romantic part of me hoping my letter reached Ariana.

Chapter Nine

I didn’t think I had ever been so tired. The mistrustful side of me couldn’t sleep and I had sat frigidly up in bed until sunlight started to spill through the cracks in the curtains of the guest suite. By the time the maids arrived to help me dress I was already washed, a clean simple riding dress adorned, my hair back in its conservative plait. I knew they were shocked by my ‘unladylike’ behaviour – a lady who took care of herself, haven forbid - and I imagined I’d be a prime bit of gossip amongst the servants of Grof Krill’s home when I left. But by that point I was so numb with exhaustion I couldn’t really give a damn.

The Grof was not at breakfast and the butler informed me Wolfe had already eaten and was preparing his men in the stables. I scoffed down some toast and black coffee hoping it might wake me up. All it did was make me jittery. Knowing Grof Krill would not be seeing me off after last night’s embarrassing – and alright, cold – encounter with me, I made my way outside to find the Guard waiting for me. I felt annoyed that no one had come for me sooner; I hated being the one to keep everyone waiting, like I was that woman. Tiredness made me grumpier and I huffed in annoyance as Lieutenant Chaeron helped me mount Midnight with a cheery, “Good morning.”

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