Slumber Page 43

“There you are.” The old widow smiled at me. “I hope you slept well.”

I nodded, confused. Where was Wolfe?

“Your man is out back getting washed up at the trough.”

I glowered. “He’s not my man. He’s my…” I realised I didn’t know how to finish that sentence.

Chuckling softly, the widow lay out the breakfast for us. “I’m just going out to feed my pig. Be back in a minute.”

“Thank you.” I gestured to the food gratefully and sat down, answering her cheery smile with a half-hearted one of my own. I never knew confusion could be so physically disorientating. Shrugging it off, I began to dig into the delicious food, salivating as it melted on my tongue. Perhaps we should take the old widow back with us, employ her in the palace kitchens. My lips twitched at the thought. Cook wouldn’t be amused by that turn of events. Ah Cook. I missed her. And Valena. And Haydyn… but that went without saying.

At the sound of a creak behind me, my ears perked up, and then his familiar scent hit me. I felt Wolfe behind me. The press of his lips against my neck startled me and I flinched back from him, staring at him incredulously. Immediately, Wolfe took a step back, a wary aspect flickering across his gaze. Whatever he saw in my expression made him snort in disgust and he took the seat beside me to tuck into the breakfast.

“Last night was a dream then?” he asked with a definite edge to his voice.

I took a moment, shaking off the delicious tingling sensation on my neck where he had kissed me, desperately trying to ignore the way my stomach flipped at the sight of his aquamarine eyes and wicked mouth. Finally, when I thought my voice wouldn’t come out all breathy and give me away, I replied, “Not a dream. Just a mistake.”

Somehow Wolfe managed to glare at me out of the corner of his eye, and it wasn’t hard to fall back into the way of things, bristling at the condescending look he slid on and off his face as easy as a mask. “A mistake?” he seethed, shaking his head. “I should have known you’d wake up as skittish as mouse. I shouldn’t have left.”

“It’s got nothing to do with that. And I am not skittish! I never skitter.”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re being skittish. But I’m willing to forgive your less than pleasant reaction and give you some time to think about things.”

Whatever else I had been feeling, whatever doubts, whatever confusion, rushed out of the window at his patronising conceit. That familiar heating of my blood took over my mouth. “You arrogant, condescending, arrogant-”

“You said that already.” He flicked his fork at me, amusement playing on his lips.

He thought I was kidding. He thought we were having a disagreement. I took in a deep breath, willing my nerves to calm. “I’m completely serious, Captain,” I told him softly, hating how he flinched as I reverted to calling him Captain. “I’m sorry to have misled you in any way… but what happened last night won’t happen again.”

Wolfe gazed at me a moment, perhaps trying to calculate how earnest I was. Finally he shook his head, angry confusion in his beautiful eyes. “Rogan, don’t. I know this is… difficult… but we can figu-”

“Don’t.” I stood up quickly, my plate rattling back on the table. “I’m going to wash up.” Before he could argue any more with me, I hurried out of the kitchen, brushing past the bewildered old widow. The trough was right out back, hidden in the shade of the house so the water was still chilled. It felt delicious, shocking, and refreshing as I splashed it up into my face, rubbing water droplets into my neck and behind my ears. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do. For a while I just stood by the trough, gazing around at the open land around the old widow’s home. The land here wasn’t as lush and green as Vasterya. There was a browny-bronze tinge to everything that suggested the land existed in a state of near autumn all year round, contrary to the heat of the sun. There was more rainfall in Daeronia during the summer months than anywhere else bar Alvernia. It was colder too, the further north you crept. I decided I liked the air in Daeronia, however. Not only were we still close enough to brewery land to smell the sweetness in the air but it was joined by a crisp freshness that you just didn’t get in the other provinces during the summer months. It was always so humid everywhere else.

Deciding I had prolonged my visit to the trough as long as I could, I headed back into kitchen, heart pounding, dreading what was awaiting me. Wolfe stood watching for me, his expression carefully blank.

“There you are,” he said gruffly. “I have the horses waiting.”

The old widow came bustling back into the kitchen, a pack clutched in her hands. “Here.” She thrust it at me. “Here are some provisions just in case, but you should reach Caera before nightfall.”

I thanked the widow as did Wolfe, before Wolfe gestured to the doorway. His eyes had hardened. “Ladies first.”

My instinct (call it years of disliking him) was to be peeved with him, but even I realised that I had been the one to wrong him. So I pinched my mouth closed and headed past him.

“Be patient,” I heard the old woman say and Wolfe grunted. I glanced back with a little furrow between my brows as the two shared a look – her amused, his exasperated. Curious, I threw him a questioning look and then quickly whipped back around at his ferocious glare.

It was going to be a long ride to Caera.

***

We rode the horses hard to Caera. With the two of us angry at me, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted when we reached the city. I almost wept with relief as we crossed the beautifully sculpted bridge over the River Cael and into the gates of Caera. I had never been to Caera before but I’d heard about the bridge. It was wide enough for horses and carts to pass one another and was made of thick, sturdy stone, polished to brilliance. On either side were walls made of the same stone that reached Wolfe’s shoulders in height. Massive stone statues stood guard at either entrance – two ethereal looking female mage at the entrance and two powerful male mage at the exit. Some say it was Vojvodkyna Winter’s sense of humour: Caera was a woman’s world and the rest of Phaedra was mans. Statues of winged creatures beckoned from the walls of the bridge and I stared wide-eyed. How much money had Winter put into this bridge? It was beautiful… but wasn’t it a waste? I was sure Jarvis would think so.

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