Slumber Page 51

“Noted.”

I nodded and turned to go into my room, disbelieving that that would be the last thing I said to him before heading into the wilderness where I might never return. I stilled as his hand wrapped around my upper arm. I glanced up nervously as he sidled closer, his eyes challenging me to stop him. I didn’t. I let him kiss me. I thought it would be a hard kiss meant to dominate, but instead he surprised me with a soft, seductive brushing of lips and tongue, meant to melt. Even as he kissed me, giving me what I wanted, I ached with longing.

When he pulled back Wolfe’s cheeks were flushed and he gazed at me again with that soft curl of his lip, bright gold in his blue eyes. “I want it noted that I don’t hate you. For future reference.”

Not able to stop it, I felt a small smile tilt up the corners of my mouth. “Noted. Although I must protest that you keep forcing unwanted kisses on me.”

“It’s the only way to get one. Unwanted indeed.” He raised a knowing eyebrow at me.

Arrogant knave.

I shook my head, feeling sad and happy all at the same time. “Why do you persist, Wolfe?”

His grin was slow and wicked as he stood back from me, allowing my body and mind to breathe again. “Strategy.”

“Strategy?”

He cocked his eyebrow. “At first I thought imposed isolation would make you miss me-”

“Why you arro-”

“-But then I realised that it’s being near me you can’t resist. And there are only so many kisses you’ll take before you give in to me completely, Rogan.”

Ignoring the flush of excited heat that shivered through me at his hoarse tone and serious eyes, I gripped the handle of the bedroom door behind me and guffawed. “We’ll see, Captain. We’ll see.”

I slammed the door in his face, growling at the sound of his cocky chuckle as he walked away.

For a moment all I could do was stare at myself in the mirror, touching a mouth that now tingled with the taste of Wolfe. I closed my eyes, hating that thrum in my body that never used to be there before he first kissed me.

I wasn’t even sorry for kissing him. I was thankful that our last moment together - before Wolfe truly did come to dislike me - was sweet, in that dysfunctional way of ours.

Shrugging him off as best I could (he still lingered in the air around me), I scrambled about, ringing the bell for a servant, and getting my coins at the ready. Grateful when a young girl in rough servants clothing appeared, I explained to her what I needed from her and showed her the coins. She stared at them in wonder. There was more money there than she probably earned in two years of hard work.

“Well?” I asked, my heart stuck in my throat.

For an answer she scooped the coins up and pocketed them, grinning from cheek to cheek. “I’ll help ye, my Lady,” she replied in the soft burr of the Alvernians.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I went over again what I needed, and then waited for her return. She wasn’t long in reappearing, a few bundles in her hand. In one was a pack with food supplies and a canteen of water. In the other was boy’s clothing, stolen from one of the stable boys. Hurriedly, the girl helped me into the trousers that hugged my figure in a way that would make me blush if Wolfe ever saw me in them, and I pulled on the overlarge shirt, waistcoat and warm overcoat to see me through the bitter cold nights in the mountains. The boots she brought me belonged to her, they were worn and soft, but still foreign to me, and I hoped my feet would cope in them. Lastly, I pinned my long thick locks in a bun and hid the hair under the woollen cap she had brought me. Hopefully in the dim light, if I kept my head low, I could pass for a boy. If I removed the overcoat no one would ever believe it. I just had to make sure I never removed it. Lastly, I stuffed the dagger Matai had given me into the pack.

Thanking the servant profusely, we hurried through the darkened house and out to the front gates where she had a horse all ready and waiting for me. Once mounted, I gave the house one last look. Wolfe was going to be furious. But I was counting on him not to be foolish enough to follow me into the mountains without the Guard. He knew my magic wouldn’t get me lost. But he didn’t know the way. The Guard would keep him right… and slow him down.

I sighed. I had to put all my trust in Lieutenant Chaeron. He wouldn’t let Wolfe leave without him.

Chapter Twenty Two

Fear wasn’t something new to me. I’d first encountered the feeling, with its dripping jaw of sharp teeth and painful unbreakable hold of gnarled fingers and claws, when Syracen killed my parents and I ran through the fields with my brother. For months, maybe a few years, that fear never really went away. And then it had shown up in little spurts these last few weeks, perhaps not as toothy as the first time, maybe not as adept at keeping a hold on me, but it had been there, smiling at me and laughing.

Now it was back.

I was blind, galloping out of the city walls and down into the valley beyond Arrana. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the night, and with my heart already racing at the thought of getting caught, I wasn’t sure my poor horse would escape me being sick on it. But I held strong, my hands biting into the reins, as I widened my eyes, desperate for them to acclimate to the darkness. By the time I had put Arrana at a fifteen minute gallop behind me, I could see more than just shapes and shadows ahead of me. I drew the horse to a stop, sorry that I didn’t know his name so I could soothe him. I could feel his tense muscles beneath me as he attuned to my own tension.

The land before us dropped into a steep valley that stretched for miles, the mountains peeking up over it in the distance.

I was all alone, I suddenly realised. I snorted at the irony of it. All I’d ever wanted was a moment of peace, to be truly alone, and now that I was, I was terrified. This land before me was alien and unknown. I didn’t know the people, I didn’t know the towns. My magic was the only thing keeping me together, that and the coat that was protecting me from the cold night air. I had never known it to be this cold at night during the summer months. Stroking the horses’ face, I leaned over and murmured soothing words in his ear. His ear flicked against my mouth, tickling me, and he scuffed his hoof back, giving a little snort. He was ready then. I smiled. At least I’d have him with me for the journey through Silverian Valley – named so because it was the one area in Alvernia, other than Arrana, that was closest in temperament to the Capital City… in Alvernia that wasn’t really saying much. I reckoned it was called so more out of hope than reality. I trembled a little; thinking of the reports from the Vojvoda that the Valley people had grown more uncommonly uncivilised. I’d have to move through it inconspicuously, in a hurry.

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