Slumber Page 46

“You’ve come back for more punishment, Miss Rogan?” Chaeron grinned teasingly.

I raised my eyebrows in mock hauteur. “I’m nothing if not resilient, Lieutenant.”

We smiled at one another before he set about procuring me a sword. We went over a few basics again and he had a few of the men, of different heights and weight, come at me, calling out instructions on how best to deal with their attack. “See how Smythe keeps attacking low – despite my best efforts to break him of the habit – he’s trying to sneak past your defence. But now you know the pattern of his thrust and parry you can use it against him, sweep up, strike at him as his sword comes at you…”

We had only been training for a half hour when Wolfe appeared in the courtyard. The men hurried to appear vigilant, even though there was nothing about to be vigilant for.

“Lieutenant.” Wolfe nodded at Chaeron. “Why don’t you and the men take a break.”

I frowned as Chaeron nodded and gestured for the men to follow him out of the courtyard, dispersing them in seconds. “You just got rid of my sparring partners.”

Wolfe remained expressionless. “Follow me.”

I narrowed my eyes at his command. What on haven did he want? Still furious at him, I considered telling him to stick his sword where the sun didn’t shine.

But curiosity won out.

I followed quickly as he led me out of the courtyard and down the stone servant’s steps that led into the walled gardens. I hurried along trying to keep up with him, my heart thudding in my chest as I gripped the hilt of the sword in my sweating hand. What could possibly be wrong to have put Wolfe in this strange state of tense calm? When he disappeared into the high hedges that hid us from the view of the house, I’d had enough.

“Wolfe!” I called quietly, sharply, drawing to a halt. When he spun around startled, I bit my lip. Damn it, I’d used his name again. Shrugging off my embarrassment I glared at him. “Well. What is the matter? I’m not following you any longer until you tell me what is going on.”

Wolfe shrugged lazily and headed back toward me, his movements languid and sleek. Sometimes he reminded me of an overlarge cat. And like Haydyn’s cat, Z, I didn’t trust his body language - it signalled an approaching attack. “I merely wanted privacy to continue your training.”

I felt an angry flush colour my face. “I was in the middle of training. I don’t need your help.”

“I’m the best swordsman in the Royal Guard,” he said without arrogance, and I knew it was true. “Don’t you want to learn from the best?”

“I was learning from second best, which is quite alright with me.” I thrust my chin in the air haughtily, running my eyes down the length of his body with a look of distaste. “Why don’t you return to your mistress, Captain? I’ve heard she enjoys a bit of swordplay.” I don’t know what possessed me to say something so indecent!

Wolfe laughed, a true happy laugh that sent a shiver rippling through me. I took a step back but he followed until I was pressed up against a hedge, the branches pricking into my skin through my dress. He loomed over me, inches from me, intimidating me. “Are we going to spar or not?”

Determined I could withstand his nearness, I gave him a stubborn nod and pushed him back. He immediately encircled me, his arms coming around me and covering my hand on the sword.

“I’ve already been shown how to hold it,” I said hoarsely, my skin tight and sensitive at his close proximity. I could feel his breath in my ear, his hard thighs through my skirts.

“You’ve not been told to hold mine properly,” he replied in a low voice, his lips brushing my ear. My cheeks must have bloomed bright red as understanding dawned. The lascivious son of…

“Why you-” My indignation trailed off into silence at the surprisingly sweet kiss he pressed against my neck. He held me tight as if trying to offer comfort more than passion. I almost melted into him. But then… I have an excellent memory…

…I swear, I’ve never met a man who knows how to use his mouth quite so well...

Winter!

I stiffened. I remembered overhearing her one night at the palace two summer seasons ago. She and her friends had been discussing her liaison with Wolfe with pride and relish…

…I would pay all the gold in Phaedra to be showered in that man’s kisses…

Feeling stupider than stupid, I shoved away from Wolfe, hard, so he staggered a little. Turning to face him, I found his eyes bright and narrowed with frustration.

“I’m not one of your women,” I hissed, hating the sting of tears in my eyes. “It’s not like that between us. Go back to Winter.”

His face hardened immediately and he bristled. For a moment I had forgotten how much larger he was than me, his height casting me into shadow. “I’m not having an affair with Winter,” Wolfe growled. “It’s been over between us for a long time.”

I wanted to believe him. Wolfe wasn’t the kind of man who lied. And I knew, deep down, as I sneered at him and composed myself that - because it was easier this way - I was deliberately choosing to believe otherwise. I shook my head at him, the message in my eyes clear. I felt his glare burn through my back as I hurried out of the gardens and away from him.

***

Dinner was excruciating. I wore my best dress, which wasn’t saying much considering all I had packed were travelling gowns, and sat next to Chaeron hoping his soothing presence would get me through it. Winter sat at the head of the table with Wolfe at her side. As per usual she was dressed as perfectly as a doll, flawless, refined. A lady.

Wolfe and I refused to look at each other and I knew Chaeron was confused by the tension at the table. A tension that grew worse when it became apparent that Winter had cooled towards me.

The few times she deigned to speak to me it was with a tight little smile and hard eyes. My protective Lieutenant bridled beside me at her rudeness, but as Winter was Vojvodkyna and Chaeron a mere Mister, I placed a quieting hand on his arm to reassure him and received a blistering look from Wolfe for my trouble.

I had never been so thankful to get away from a room in my life. I shook off the Lieutenant’s apologies on behalf of her Grace and hurried to my room to lock myself inside.

But I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking of our journey ahead in the morning. Soon we would be in Alvernia and I would have to brave the mountains for Haydyn’s cure. But brave them I would and then hurry home to bring her back. I needed her more than ever. I refused to think of what was happening back in Silvera. If I did, I’d start to panic, and lose the little focus I had.

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