Slumber Page 65

An hour or so later I heard the trickle of the stream in the distance and something about the wood seemed familiar. I shivered. We were close to where I’d been taken by the Mountain Man. Without explaining, I picked up my feet, almost running to get away from the spot, my skin crawling, my neck prickling. I felt as if his shadow was watching me, taunting me. I shuddered in revulsion and began to run. The sounds of Wolfe’s running footsteps grew louder and closer, but I couldn’t stop.

Abruptly, I was forced to a halt, Wolfe’s hand catching my arm and dragging me around to face him. His features were fierce with anger, the golden striations in his blue eyes prominent with passion. “What the hell were you thinking?!” He yelled, not caring if his voice carried now that we were miles from Shadow Hill.

I struggled to get out of his grip. “I just felt like running.”

“Not that Rogan,” he bit out, his jaw clenched. He looked close to violence. I struggled harder to get away from him, but he only pulled me closer. “I’m talking about you running off from Arrana, alone without an escort; about lying to me and making a fool of me; of nearly getting yourself raped and killed!”

Like always his overbearing attitude caused my knee jerk reaction – to dispute him. “Nearly. Nearly, alright. I managed well enough without you, Wolfe.”

“Well enough?! Jonas told me how he found you, Rogan, and he spared me no details!”

“Will you stop yelling? Are you trying to get us into bother?” I hissed, glancing around to make sure we were still alone.

“Stop trying to wriggle your way out of discussing it.”

Using all my strength, I tugged out of Wolfe’s grasp, my own face now red with frustration and anger. “Did you ever stop to consider I might not be ready to discuss it?”

Wolfe’s expression changed instantly. He slumped, his eyes grew anxious. “Rogan…”

I shook my head.

He nodded, his lips pinched tight. “Fine. But what about my first question? You ran away, Rogan. From me. You knew I would come after you and as far as you knew I had no way of knowing which way you went. I could have got lost up here, Rogan.”

Guilt gnawed at me, and I shook my head in denial. “No. I didn’t… I thought if you did chance into the mountains you would bring an escort; Chaeron, or a few of the men. I didn’t think you would be foolish enough to come all the way into the Mountains after me alone.”

“You’re lying,” he hissed in my face, causing me to flinch. “You knew I’d come after you, Rogan, you had to have known that.”

I clenched my own jaw trying to stop the tears that choked me. Hanging my head, I didn’t say anything in return. Was he right? Had I known Wolfe loved me enough to do that? I knew what kind of man he was. Because of my fear of being alone with him, a fear of my own damn feelings, had I selfishly put him in danger? I didn’t know. I had no response. There was nothing I could say.

All this time I’d fretted that his parentage meant perhaps he didn’t deserve me. But really… I didn’t deserve him.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I just knew I had to get this plant. For Haydyn.”

“And still she lies,” he whispered bitterly.

We didn’t speak after that.

***

The journey downhill cut the time in half. By late night Wolfe and I broke out of the trees and into Hill o’ Hope.

I chanced a glance at Wolfe. “You came through here too?”

He nodded, not looking at me. “I stayed with a man called Brint Lokam. He told me he’d sheltered a young woman with him who was looking for the Pool of Phaedra.”

My mouth fell open. “He knew I was a girl?”

Wolfe rolled his eyes but not directly at me. I harrumphed. I’d so thought my disguise had worked. Had all of Hill o’ Hope known I was a girl? My cheeks flamed with embarrassment. We crossed through the quiet hill, noise, cheer and light spilling out of Hope Tavern. Wolfe didn’t stop. He was heading for the Lokam’s shack. I shook my head in wonder at the thought of Brint. He’d been such a gentleman to me. No wonder he’d seemed so concerned about letting me go into the mountains alone. He knew I was a girl!

The door to the shack opened before we even reached it and the tall figure of Brint came out. He squinted in the dark, holding up a lantern, and then grinned when he recognised us. “Well, hullo there.”

I waved and followed Wolfe up to the door.

“Brint.” Wolfe held out his hand to shake. Brint took it heartily, grinning at us both. “Could we perhaps trespass upon your hospitality one more evening, Mr Lokam?”

“No needin’ to be askin’.” He shook us off gruffly and grinned wider at me as I passed. Brint must have seen the look on my face because he said, “Ye wasn’t thinkin’ ol’ Brint was bein’ fooled by the boy’s outfit o yers? No one was but wee Tera. She be mighty embarrassed when she be told she flirted with a girl.”

Wolfe raised an eyebrow questioningly as I blushed but I refused to tell him about the night at Hope Tavern. Not that I was sure he’d appreciate me speaking to him anyway.

Anna was happy to offer us some food and ale, and they put down blankets by the fire for us to sleep on. Wolfe was so mad at me he slept at the kitchen table.

***

I didn’t think I had ever been happier to be on flat ground in my life. I celebrated my last step off the Alvernian Mountains by rushing into the arms of Lieutenant Chaeron, who, unlike Wolfe, was happy to see me. I ignored Wolfe’s grunt as he strode past us. Chaeron squeezed me hard and I pulled back. Half the Guard filled the narrow trade road leading away from the mountains. They all pretended to be indifferent to my clothing and the fact that I was informally hugging Chaeron, treating him as a friend. But he was a friend. And I was thankful to see him again.

“Another hour and be damned Wolfe’s orders, I was coming up to get you both. I am delighted to see you are well, Miss Rogan,” Chaeron smiled wearily at me. It didn’t seem as if he’d slept much since I had left.

“You too, Chaeron. I got the plant!” I whispered excitedly.

He smiled in relief and then lifted his gaze to Wolfe, who was taking off the winter coat and replacing it with his emerald jacket. We both watched as he mounted his horse, not looking back at me.

“He’s not speaking with me,” I told Chaeron forlornly.

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