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       Slumber, p.16

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 
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  “It’s got nothing to do with that. And I am not skittish! I never skitter.”

  He roled his eyes. “You’re being skittish. But I’m wiling 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, wiling my nerves to calm. “I’m completely serious, Captain,” I told him softly, hating how he flinched as I reverted to caling 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. Finaly 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 stil chiled. 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 al year round, contrary to the heat of the sun. There was more rainfal 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 stil close enough to brewery land to smel 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 carefuly 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 nightfal.”

  I thanked the widow as did Wolfe, before Wolfe gestured to the doorway. His eyes had hardened. “Ladies first.” My instinct (cal 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 emotionaly and physicaly exhausted when we reached the city. I almost wept with relief as we crossed the beautifuly 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 briliance. On either side were wals 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 wals 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.

  As soon as we were inside the city wals, I felt Wolfe’s urgency to get to the Guard as much as my own. We hurried through the thronging masses as they hurried to and fro. The marketplace in Daeronia would be busy; they didn’t have anything to export except beer and coal, so much of the business was in import. I had to admit as I folowed Wolfe out of the main streets to quieter cobbled ones, I was impressed by the Vojvodkyna’s white stone city. It realy was spectacularly beautiful. Much like her Grace. I winced, suddenly remembering we were heading to the home of Wolfe’s ex-lover. I gulped.

  That wouldn’t be awkward at al.

  Unlike the other wealthy districts of Phaedra, the Radiant District was a waled district with a gatekeeper. When Wolfe explained who we were, one of the soldiers disappeared behind the carved wooden doors keeping us out. Wolfe glared his disapproval at the three other guards who tried desperately not to shift their feet uncomfortably. I almost sympathised with them. I knew how stinging that glare could be.

  “Captain!”

  We both turned at the sound of Lieutenant Chaeron’s voice as he came through the gates, directing the guard to open them so we could trot through.

  “It’s good to see you, Lieutenant.” Wolfe nodded down at him. Chaeron nodded back. Men were such funny things.

  I smiled brightly at Chaeron. “Lieutenant. So good to see you.”

  “You too, Miss Rogan.” He looked up at me with concern as he walked by my horse. “I do hope you are wel, Miss Rogan.” Realising he was genuinely distressed that I had been taken whilst under his protection, I sought to reassure him, “Of course, Lieutenant. Captain Wolfe and I looked out for one another.”

  We both ignored the grunt from the said Captain’s direction.

  “The Vojvodkyna has a suite waiting for you. She realises how exhausted you must be and has given you leave to retreat to your room.” Given me leave? I wanted to snort at that. I was going to my bloody room, leave or not. I didn’t say that though. That would make me sound jealous. And I wasn’t.

  Not a bit. “How kind of her.”

  Some of the guard were waiting outside of Vojvodkyna Winter’s spectacular stone white mansion that was a surprisingly smal replica of the Silverian Palace. Hmm.

  I raised an eyebrow but kept quiet. I wouldn’t have been able to comment, even if I had wanted to. The soldiers circled me and Wolfe, peppering us with questions, anxiety, remorse, until Wolfe actualy took pity on me and ordered his men aside so I could go inside.

  “Lady Rogan,” Wolfe caled to me as I walked away. I stiffened at hearing him so formal but I told myself it was only because we were among the men again. I turned slightly, face expressionless.

  “Yes, Captain?”

  “I would prefer if we stayed here for a few days instead of one. To regain our strength.” I returned his nod with a brittle one of my own. I could understand the wisdom in the suggestion, despite my desperate need to get to Alvernia… except I wondered if it was just wisdom on Wolfe’s part or if he wanted some extra time with the beautiful Vojvodkyna. Shaking off the strange pang of pain I felt, I folowed Lieutenant Chaeron who introduced me to the butler, a beautiful older woman; her auburn hair was tied back in a fierce knot, streaks of silver darting through it in the sides. I was surprised that Winter had such an attractive butler, thinking perhaps her vain enough to want to be the prettiest woman in her home. But when the butler caled for two maid servants to help me to my room, I came to a better understanding. The two maids were stunning young creatures, their auburn hair and wide blue eyes a striking counterpart to their dark work clothes. Then again, even their work clothes were the finest I had seen. It was then I realised something obvious: Vojvodkyna Winter Rada was obsessed with beauty. And so far the servants resembled her in colouring. It was a strange to say the least, and I wasn’t just being snotty because of her history
with Wolfe; I found it a little narcissistic. Not a little. A lot. As I folowed the stunning little creatures to a lovely bedroom suite where a bath already awaited me as wel as tray of food, I snorted at the maids’ beauty. The Royal Guard must be in haven here.

  ***

  It was a wonderful sleep. Comfortable. Warm. Luxurious even. I did dream of Haydyn again, but I had given in to the idea that until I saved her, she was going to be a regular visitor in my subconscious. The next morning I awoke to a maid setting a tray over my lap. She informed me I had missed breakfast, but that once I was refreshed I was invited to join the Vojvodkyna in her parlour for tea. Not particularly looking forward to that I made an agreeable noise from the back of my throat before tearing into my toast in frustration. The maid stared at me a little wide-eyed, probably unaccustomed to a lady taking her anger out on harmless toasted bread, before giving me a tremulous smile. She bustled around the room, laying out a dress for me from the luggage the Royal Guard had kept safe. I nearly sighed happily. It would be nice to wear clean clothes.

  ***

  I folowed another pretty maid to a room with white double doors edged in gold. A handsome footman with burnished brown hair and pale blue eyes puled the door open for me and I swept inside, my gaze going back to the footman who was strangely familiar.

  “I see Arnaud has captured your attention,” a husky voice curled around me, drawing my gaze in its direction.

  Immediately my spirits depressed. I forgot the impact of Winter’s beauty. Contrary to her name, Winter was more autumn in colouring. Striking auburn hair, wide cobalt eyes and fine features. Her pale skin was the only thing about her that could be considered winterish. No wonder Wolfe had wanted this woman. Which realy made me wonder what an earth he found appealing in me. She was al sunny autumn morning and I was al… thunderclouds and rain with my black hair and dark eyes.

  Wolfe-

  Wolfe! I turned around again to stare at the footman but he was gone, the door closed behind him. The footman had Wolfe’s colouring! My gut twisted and my jaw clenched.

  “He’s rather delicious isn’t he?” Winter laughed, a throaty laugh meant for seducing boys and men.

  I frowned at her, my thoughts taken over by Wolfe. Then I realised she meant Arnaud and I replied with a half-smile, “Very.” Winter drew to her feet quickly, her white dress as stunning as a bal gown, the neckline cut low, the waist cinched so everyone could see how tiny it was. I smoothed the plain gown I wore, wondering why on earth I was letting the obvious differences between us bother me. I had never cared before.

  “Come, sit down, you look exhausted.” Winter clasped my hand gently and led me to the armchair. I took a seat slowly, surprised by the genuine concern on her face as she eyed the bruise that was now fading on my cheek. “You’ve been through such an ordeal. The Vikomt Stovia told me al about your abduction by rookery gang members.” She shook her head in disgust. “I had heard of this so-caled rookery in Vasteryan Borders but to actualy face the reality of it. You’re very brave, Lady Rogan. You are to be commended for handling it so wel.”

  I smiled in spite of myself. “Thank you, your Grace.” Wolfe hadn’t told Winter about the gypsies. He’d only told her a half truth, a truth she was already aware of.

  Good. We were sticking to the plan. Not panicking anyone with the growing unrest in Phaedra.

  “Tea?” Winter asked.

  I nodded, feeling tongue-tied. I realy didn’t know what to say to this vivacious creature. Haydyn was always so good at talking to the Rada. I winced. Then again, Haydyn was as beautiful as Winter; perhaps more so.

  “Arabele.” Winter waved a dainty hand to the maid in the corner and the girl came forward at a graceful float. She had her servants as wel trained as debutantes.

  Once tea was sorted, Arabele was dismissed and Winter relaxed more into the settee. “I do hope you slept wel last night, Lady Rogan; I gathered you might need the rest.”

  “I did.” I actualy smiled at the thought of the luxurious bed upstairs. “Thank you, your Grace, for your hospitality. It feels like sun after a very long bout of rain.” Pleased with my poetic thanks, Winter hurried on to pepper me with more questions about my welbeing until I began to feel guilty for judging her so harshly. She didn’t seem like a shalow socialite at al. In fact, if I remember correctly, Haydyn had told me she liked the Vojvodkyna. She said Winter was smart and opinionated and cared not who knew it; the kind of woman I might have caled friend…

  Just as we were discussing Haydyn’s plans to hold a bal next season in the hopes of addressing some Phaedrian issues, a knock sounded at the door and Wolfe came striding in. He looked like his old self again. At the sight of him my heart did a little thump thump I bitterly ignored.

  “Vikomt!” Winter rose to her feet, her eyes alight with happiness at the sight of Wolfe. His returning smile was wide and briliant and he bowed over her hand slowly, pressing an intimate kiss to the corner of her wrist. I felt a painful twist in my chest. Seeing them together, as they turned to me, I realised just how handsome they looked. How right. Winter was a little older than Wolfe, but with his maturity and sense of responsibility the age difference seemed inconsequential.

  “My Lady.” Wolfe nodded at me, expression blank, eyes indifferent. I felt like scowling at him in outrage. Instead, I nodded back as if I were unaffected by the difference in temperature of his greetings to the Vojvodkyna and I.

  “Oh, my Lord, it is lovely to have you to tea,” Winter said to him in that husky undertone, leading him to the settee to sit closely by her.

  I did not think it was deliberate, but now Wolfe was in the room nothing else existed for Winter, and she huddled into him, availing him of her recent deal with a factory owner in Raphizya that she swore would bring more income and work for the people of Caera. Wolfe listened aptly, his eyes never leaving her, drinking in the vivid, inteligent woman’s proximity. I felt completely cut out, and the longer they sat talking, the more irrationaly angry and hurt I grew. I felt as if a smal creature was gnawing on my ribs. I was jealous. Hatefuly, painfuly jealous, and there was nothing I could do about it. If only there was some way I could not be attracted to him. I muled over this for a moment. There was Haydyn. Once Raj administered the cure and she was wel and back to ful strength perhaps she could evoke feelings of disdain for me again. I chewed on the idea for a bit before dismissing it. No. Haydyn needed al her strength for the peace evocation. Wel that was that then. I just had to avoid Wolfe at al costs.

  “Wel.” I stood slowly, smiling brightly, falsely down at them. “Thank you for tea, your Grace, but I promised Lieutenant Chaeron I would meet with him.”

  “Oh, of course.” Winter smiled happily at me.

  “Good day, your Grace. Captain.” I managed to meet his eyes before hurrying past them.

  “Lady Rogan, wait,” Wolfe caled out in clipped, demanding tones.

  Not wanting to respond but knowing it would prove to him how annoyed I was by his attitude with me, I spun slowly and raised a condescending eyebrow at him like I used to. “Yes?”

  “Where are you going?” He demanded.

  “I just told you,” I snapped.

  Winter raised an eyebrow at my apparent display of anger and Wolfe narrowed his eyes at me. And then as I looked at them pressed together on the settee I realised I was angry. Just two nights before, Wolfe had been kissing me. Me! Now he was romancing his old lover under my nose! Arrggh! I had been correct to walk away. Correct! I had been nothing but an amusement. And Wolfe had been nothing but another Jarek.

  “I don’t remember any such plans,” Wolfe snapped back.

  “I want Lieutenant Chaeron to train me. With a sword. Considering what happened. You yourself said it wasn’t a bad idea.” He frowned. “It’s not. But I’l train you.”

  The thought of him putting his arms around me made me quail in fear. Not because I was frightened of him. But because I was frightened of myself.

  “No, thank you.” Without another word I spun ar
ound and left them to stew in the wake of my rude departure.

  Chapter Nineteen

  Training with Chaeron the day before had realy taken my mind off the Wolfe situation. I was stil not amused that Chaeron hadn’t taken my word for it that Wolfe was alowing me to be trained to use a sword and had gone off to ask permission from the man himself. But when he returned a little sheepishly I decided that learning to fight back was more important than being peevish. Chaeron had proved to be a patient and adept trainer and I realy felt as if I had learned something from him. I now knew how to hold the hilt of a sword properly, which apparently was more important than I gave credence to. He was teaching me how to use an opponent’s weight and height against them, considering most men were going to be taler and stronger than me. I was stil being backed into a corner, but I was getting there.

  “Lieutenant.” I waved to him as I crossed the courtyard. He and a few other soldiers were already busy at practice. “May I join you today?”

  “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, caling 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…”

 
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