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       Slumber, p.17

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 
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  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 folow him out of the courtyard, dispersing them in seconds. “You just got rid of my sparring partners.” Wolfe remained expressionless. “Folow me.”

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

  But curiosity won out.

  I folowed quickly as he led me out of the courtyard and down the stone servant’s steps that led into the waled 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 caled 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. “Wel. What is the matter? I’m not folowing you any longer until you tel 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 signaled 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 folowed 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 excelent 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 al I had packed were traveling 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 dol, 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.

  Finaly, 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 stil alight out in the halway, 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 realy was wasteful. I hurried through the lit halways 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 wal 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 al 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 teling 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 sweling. 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 roled her eyes heavenward. “Even back then your eyes used to folow 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 al. 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 wiling 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 halway, 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. Wel, 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?

  Wel 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 finaly glowered at me like he realy 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 cals I’d already had with the world’s less civilised creatures, and despite the turmoil my entire body was undergoing being near Wolfe, I actualy 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 vilage on the main trade road, I was more than a little surprised by the chil in the eyes of the vilagers 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 al 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. Swalowing nervously now, I kept my eyes front, my mind whirring with bewilderment. We were in the southern most vilage 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 vilage. When the last two men trotted over the bridge and joined us, I finaly let go of my breath.

  “That was chily,” I said quietly to Chaeron.

  He answered with a brittle nod and looked over at Wolfe questioningly.

  Wolfe sighed. “It’s nearly dark. We should camp here. I think we’l be fine as long as we don’t ask them for a place to sleep.” He flicked a glance at me before staring straight ahead again. “I’m afraid it’l have to be a campfire bed for you, my Lady. I hope that doesn’t distress you too much.” Oooh, I wanted to nip back at him. He had said it loudly to needle me in front of his men. I looked at him, sensing the anticipation about him. He wanted me to nip back. He wanted something, anything from me. Trembling a little, I turned away from him. “I think I can manage wel enough, Captain.” Feeling his questioning gaze on my face, I slid off my horse, letting my hair fal and cover my burning cheeks.

  “Tyler, Szorst!” Wolfe caled out to two of the men. He slid from his horse and approached them, holding out a bag of coins. “Go back into the vilage and procure us some coal. It should keep us warm at camp and perhaps soften the locals to us.” He nodded in the direction of the bridge to some of the vilagers who had come out of the vilage to peer at us making camp. Their entire bodies radiated with hostility. As the two men started off on foot I worried my lip between my teeth, watching them. Remembering the looks on the coal miners faces I decided that sending the men in alone was a bad idea. But I couldn’t very wel say that to Wolfe and I couldn’t rush off alone – that had not worked out wel in the past.

  “Lieutenant.” I approached Chaeron quietly as he settled the horses with some water.

  “Yes, Miss Rogan?”

  Teling Chaeron I thought his men were in danger wouldn’t work. The Royal Guard were somewhat arrogant about their prowess and didn’t take lightly to having it caled into question. I’d have to go about this a different way. “We’ve been riding al day and I realy would like to stretch my legs. Would you walk with me into the vilage?”

  He frowned at me, suspicion in his eyes. “Miss Rogan, you saw how unfriendly the people were.”

  “Then perhaps a few of the other men would like to stretch their legs with us,” I used my take no prisoners tone that Haydyn hated. She could never defy me when I used that tone. I usualy brandished it on her when she was daydreaming during her tutorials or refusing to get out of bed.

  I blanched at that last thought. Shaking off the familiar growing panic that thrummed continuously beneath my skin, I raised my eyebrow at Chaeron as he just stood there. As my look intensified he finaly drew himself up. “Of
course, Miss Rogan.”

  As we passed two men, Chaeron caled to them to come with us, and then informed Wolfe that he was escorting me into the vilage. Discerning the coming argument by the look on Wolfe’s face, I drew out my heaviest artilery and stiled him with a look so cold it made him pale.

  I gulped down my guilt and hurried on, my skin prickling and muscles twitching at the feel of his eyes on my departing figure.

  As soon as we crossed the bridge I felt the charge in the air, a sense of violence and anticipation. Chaeron and his men must have felt it too because suddenly we were hurrying back into the town and through the narrow streets, to get to the main vilage courtyard we’d come through. Sure enough, Tyler and Szorst stood with their hands on the hilt of their swords, surrounded by a group of angry coal miners, spitting and shouting at them. Just one spark, I thought. That’s al it would take.

  “Halt!” Lieutenant Chaeron belowed and I flinched in surprise. He sounded terrifying and intimidating, and looked it too, as he strode forward with the two guards at his back. The vilagers stumbled a little but did not move away from Tyler and Szorst who looked relieved to see us. “An attack on the Royal Guard is a high offence and wil result in imprisonment!”

  Some of the vilagers seemed to deflate, their faces drawn and wary. Others grumbled but slumped away. Others grew even more aggressive. One man, a tal stout man with a round face hardened with hatred, stood forward from the group to face Chaeron.

  “Who gives a damn about the Guard?! We’re left to stew in this forsaken place, working our fingers to the bone in 18 hour shifts in the mines under order from management! Three months ago we worked good hours, decent hours, until management started adding an hour here and there until eventualy we exist on no sleep, bad food and broken bodies. Our children grow sick! Our wives grow weary! Where is the Royal Guard in that, I ask you?!” Chaeron was as shocked as I at the explosion, and the rebel rousing yels of agreement. What on Phaedra was going on here? What this man said, it couldn’t be true? But as I looked around at the desperate faces, I found the truth in their eyes.

 
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