Slumber Page 47

Finally, after having tossed and turned the sheets into a tight tangle around my legs, I shoved my way out of the bed and into a dressing gown. Winter had a library on the ground floor. I would pick out a book and read for a while; hope that it would send me off to sleep.

I was surprised to discover the sconces still alight out in the hallway, and as I walked it became apparent that the Vojvodkyna kept her house alight even during slumber hours. I clucked, shaking my head. The lady really was wasteful. I hurried through the lit hallways and tiptoed down the stairs, my bare feet cold against the marble floor. I hopped quietly from rug to rug to save my poor feet – they’d taken quite a battering already on this journey. As I drew closer to Winter’s parlour the sound of low voices drew me to a halt. Was that Wolfe?

Heart thudding in my chest, blooding rushing in my ears, I sidled along the wall until I drew up to the door. Peering tentatively around the doorframe I sucked in a breath at the sight before me. I hated that I wanted to cry. I hated that he made me feel that way.

Wolfe was sprawled in an armchair, his long arm draped over the edge, a brandy snifter dangling from his fingers. Winter stood over him, between his legs. She gazed down at him longingly.

I felt like screaming.

“Darling, you’re being impossible,” Winter purred as she leaned down, bracing a hand on each arm of the chair. “I’ve missed you. Two nights in the same house and not even a peck.” She finished by pressing her lips to his cheek.

To my horror, Wolfe groaned, that familiar groan that I thought was all mine. Stupid fool. Stupid inexperienced child.

But then he shocked me by pressing a hand to Winter’s shoulder to push her away. With a sigh, Wolfe rose to his feet, towering over the Vojvodkyna who was even more diminutive in height than I. I couldn’t look away. Even as he stared at her so intensely. I watched as he brushed his fingers gently down her cheek. Winter stared back at him wary and bewildered.

“I told you no,” Wolfe said in a low voice. “I’m sorry, Winter.”

Holding in my breath, and squashing the little voice inside me that said ‘ha, I knew he was telling the truth’, I waited for Winter’s response. She didn’t seem like the kind of woman who would take kindly to being rebuffed.

Indeed she turned from him, her spine ram rod straight. “You can’t possibly love her,” she whispered. “She’s nothing special. She’s not even beautiful.”

My jaw dropped. I may have questioned curiously who on Phaedra they were discussing but I knew how much Winter admired beauty… and I was anything but beautiful.

“I think she is,” Wolfe whispered back and I felt my heart pound so hard it was as if the organ itself was swelling. My legs trembled, my toes curled into the marble floor.

Winter shook her head and turned back to gaze at him, her eyes flashing; her lip snarled in disappointment. “I’m such a fool.” She rolled her eyes heavenward. “Even back then your eyes used to follow her everywhere. I told myself you were only doing your job, watching over her.”

“I’m sorry,” Wolfe repeated, looking helpless. I’d never seen him thus. I didn’t like it.

“Stop saying you’re sorry. So what? You’re going to give up what we could have again for a girl who doesn’t even like you?”

That awful pang resonated again and again like a vibration in my chest as Wolfe flinched. I felt like crying out to him. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him. It wasn’t that at all. I just couldn’t be with him.

“Rogan is confused.” He rubbed his forehead in that familiar way of his, and my heart beat faster. “But I’m willing to wait.”

Winter shook her head, as if she thought him a fool. Mayhap she saw something in me that he didn’t. “You actually love her?”

My breath caught.

Wolfe sighed and walked over to the table. Slowly he placed his brandy snifter on it and then straightened, reaching for Winter in a comforting gesture. “I do. I love her.”

At his pronouncement I thought I might be sick. I felt the blood rush out of my face and abandon my body. No. No.

Clutching my stomach in fear, I quietly backed away from the door and snuck down the hallway, my legs not seeming to be a part of my body as they took me upstairs and back to my room. For a while I just stared at nothing, balancing on the edge of my bed, my heart fluttering wildly.

Wolfe loved me.

Wolfe.

Loved.

Me.

How had this happened?

I thought of the way I had hurt when he told me what Syracen had done to him, what the sight of the horseshoe brand did to my heart. Of the way I had come to enjoy arguing with him so long as it meant being in his company. Of the way my stomach flipped when he turned his wicked smile on me, and the way my body came alive when he kissed me. Of the ache, deep and gnawing in my chest when I thought he and Winter had resumed their affair.

Oh, haven no. I closed my eyes, frustrated tears clogging my burning throat. I couldn’t love him back. I just couldn’t.

There were too many obstacles between us. Too much history. Too much hurt. The blood of the man who had destroyed my family ran in his veins. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t betray my family by marrying Wolfe. A Glava. I thought of Selene and her prediction. Well, I’d prove her wrong.

From now on I was putting a world of distance between Wolfe and I. Soon he’d stop loving me. He’d be fine. He was a catch. He could have any woman he wanted.

And me?

Well I only wanted one thing and Wolfe kept getting between me and it.

Focus. Utter focus on retrieving the Somna Plant.

Saving Haydyn. Just the thought of her name. I knew it would help me keep Wolfe at a distance and give me the strength to go it alone.

Chapter Twenty

He knew what I was doing. The frustration and anguish on Wolfe’s face when I gave him formal, clipped responses to his queries almost undone me. But I chanted Haydyn over and over in my head to keep me strong. And after the third hour, Wolfe finally glowered at me like he really hated me and sped off in front. Feeling Lieutenant Chaeron’s curious gaze, I stared straight ahead, my eyes blank, features expressionless. The quicker Wolfe disliked me the better this would be.

Despite the horror of the significance behind our journey across Phaedra, despite the terrible close calls I’d already had with the world’s less civilised creatures, and despite the turmoil my entire body was undergoing being near Wolfe, I actually looked forward to venturing into the coal mining district of Daeronia. I’d heard the people were close knit and friendly. So as we trotted into the first village on the main trade road, I was more than a little surprised by the chill in the eyes of the villagers as we passed through. It was dusk, and people strode quickly to their homes, covered in soot and grime. Others, clean and rugged, headed in the opposite direction towards the mine. But all of them stared up at us with hard eyes and bristling bodies. I gaped at them in confusion, my eyes drinking in their squalid little homes and their grey little world. No one stopped to greet us, and Wolfe, who rode a few metres in front, made no attempt to stop to speak with them. The lines of his own body were stiff and I noted his hand sat on the hilt of his sword. Swallowing nervously now, I kept my eyes front, my mind whirring with bewilderment. We were in the southern most village in Daeronia. It was more than possible that the evocation was gone from here. Shuddering, and sharing a glance with the Lieutenant, we shifted the horses forward at a faster trot. Wolfe crossed a little wooden bridge on the other side of the town and stopped in the clearing beyond it. He turned and the Lieutenant and I did the same. None of us said a word. We just waited for the entire Guard to make it through the village. When the last two men trotted over the bridge and joined us, I finally let go of my breath.

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