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       Slumber, p.7

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 

  “Any harm? Any harm?” Wolfe seethed. “She could have walked into the damn thing, for havens sake.” Blood flooded my cheeks like boiling water and I bit my tongue from screaming at him like a banshee. “Captain Stovia,” I fumed. “I am not a dol. I am perfectly capable of avoiding the sharp end of a sword!”

  “And!” He ignored me entirely, knowing how much it would enrage me further. “Lady Rogan is to be addressed as such.”

  “I asked them to cal me Miss Rogan,” I retorted.

  He growled, “Wel I’m un-asking them.” His own cheeks were flushed now as his blue eyes sparked like hot chips of aquamarine at his men. “From now on, if she asks for anything, you ask me first before you acquiesce to her request.”

  “Yes sir.” They both mumbled, heads bowing a little.

  Wolfe turned on his heel and began marching away, his spine stiff with irritation.

  “I have a name!” I caled out to him lamely. She indeed.

  As soon as he was out of earshot, Officer Reith whistled, “I don’t know what it is about you, Lady Rogan, but you’re the only one who ever makes Captain lose his composure.”

  I frowned at him and Officer Stark nudged him, his eyes teling him to shut up.

  “Oh right.” Reith swalowed, looking embarrassed and a little guilty. So they had remembered I had inadvertently had Wolfe’s father kiled then, had they?

  “Yes,” I replied wryly. “People react oddly when they’re talking to their archenemies.” I walked away, feeling deflated now. But I stiffened when I heard Reith mutter to Stark, “I’m not sure that’s what gets Captain so hot.” I grimaced and kept walking, my eyes finding Wolfe as he ordered the men back onto their horses. Of course he saw me as his enemy. Why else was he always baiting me? I wasn’t an idiot – Wolfe hated me as much as I hated him. And I’d be waiting when he took his chance for vengeance.

  If only I knew how to use a sword.

  Spoilsport.

  ***

  I wasn’t speaking to Wolfe for humiliating me in front of his men and he wasn’t speaking to me for enlisting his men’s help behind his back. He rode ahead the entire way to Peza and I glared at his back without distraction. Lieutenant Chaeron kept making amused little sounds from the back of his throat but I ignored him, somehow thinking if I stared long and hard enough Wolfe might suddenly be knocked off his horse and onto his ass.

  Having sent one of the men ahead to let Grof Kril Rada know we were arriving, we were met at the gates by Grof Kril’s guards and escorted through Peza to the Grof’s home. I stared in wonder at Peza, completely oblivious of the people and their waving and exuberant cals of welcome. I was amazed by the similarities to Silvera. It was as if Silvera had been copied by a master artisan and plunked down in Peza. The architecture was the same, the street plan was the same; even some of the market square seemed the same, if only a little smaler. The difference, however, was the awesome splashes of vibrant colour everywhere. Tapestries hung on the outsides of buildings, murals painted on brick work. I winced at the thought of having to clean and replace those tapestries, and at having to refresh the murals every few years. But this was the city of art and it made sense that the people wished to display it wherever they could The Lieutenant caught my astonished look and grinned at me. “Remarkable, isn’t it?”

  “Extremely.” I smiled, truly charmed by the colourful city.

  The Grof’s guard quickly led us out of the hubbub of the city to a gated district, where large mansions surrounded a beautiful park. When they puled to a stop outside the largest mansion, I gaped openly. The building with its pilared columns and gothic arches was a jumble of architectural ideas… and yet somehow it worked; intimidating and palatial.

  “Captain Stovia,” the Captain of the Grof’s guard announced loudly, “Vikomtesa Laurel Sans,” he pointed to the smaler mansion next to this one, “Has graciously offered her house and stables for some of your guard. The rest of your men wil find rooms and shelter with his Lordship. However, some wil have to sleep in the stables, but I assure you they are large and comfortable, Captain.”

  Wolfe nodded. “Thank you, Captain.” He turned to Chaeron. “Take some of the men to the Vikomtesa’s and introduce yourselves. Get some rest. We leave early tomorrow at sunrise.”

  “So soon, Captain?”

  We al turned towards the voice that belonged to a tal, elegant man, who drew towards us from the house, a huge wolfhound folowing at his heels. A footman opened the massive gates for Grof Kril Rada. His eyes immediately found me. “Rogan,” he caled up to me familiarly and I noted both Wolfe and the Lieutenant share a disapproving look. “It’s been a while.”

  The last I had seen Grof Kril was three years ago. I had taken him for a quiet man, watchful and inteligent. We had barely spoken, at least not enough for him to speak to me as if we were old friends. Remembering why I was there, however, I offered a polite smile. “My Lord.” I bobbed my head. “It is good to see you. I trust you are wel.”

  He smiled, his eyes traveling down the length of me. “I am now.”

  I narrowed my eyes at his open flirtatiousness. I didn’t remember this side of him.

  “Wel, someone help the Lady Rogan down from her horse,” Grof Kril snapped and Wolfe dismounted quickly, his jaw taut with anger at having to be told to act like a gentleman. For some reason that annoyed me and I reached for him without complaint as he drew me down from my horse. His eyes widened marginaly at my acceptance of his aid. He held me a moment too long, my heart picking up speed as our suspicious gazes clashed with one another. Seeming to remember himself, Wolfe shook a little and stepped back.

  “Rogan.” Grof Kril breezed past Wolfe to loop my arm through his. His eyes were half-closed, seductive, as he said, “I have such grand plans for us this evening.

  How does dinner and the Opera sound?”

  Exhausting, I thought.

  “Wonderful,” I mumbled.

  “I’l accompany you,” Wolfe’s tone drew us to a halt inside the driveway.

  Grof Kril arched an eyebrow at him. “Oh you wil, wil you?”

  Wolfe strode towards us, his face stony and dangerous. He matched Grof Kril in height and outweighed him in strength. “Lady Rogan goes nowhere without a Royal escort, my Lord.”

  The Grof sniffed, quite obviously put out. “We’l be accompanied by my guard.”

  “I said Royal escort, my Lord,” Wolfe reiterated arrogantly and then dismissed the Grof by turning to the Lieutenant. “Take the men to the Vikomtesa’s now, Lieutenant Chaeron. Have the men ready to leave by sunrise tomorrow.”

  ***

  Dinner was a strange affair.

  Over and over I was befuddled and astonished by Grof Kril’s outrageous flirting. He had never treated me with such overt flattery before; nor Haydyn even. And surely the women at court would have mentioned Grof Kril if he was such a lady kiler. No. I definitely remembered a sombre man, refined, reserved. I hadn’t known him very wel but I had thought him one of the more inteligent members of the Rada. What on haven had happened to him?

  I patted Strider’s (the wolfhound) head as it loled in my lap, his eyes staring up at me adoringly. I realy shouldn’t have slipped him that little bit of chicken. We shared a frustrated look with one another as Grof Kril told me how beautiful the ladies of the opera were this season, although nowhere near as beautiful as me, he added. I nearly snorted at that. Just what did this character want from me?

  Somehow I managed to get through dinner, despite the Grof’s appaling bad flirting and Wolfe’s monosylabic responses to questions posed by the Kril. I felt so tense I was sure one pul of the laces on my dress and I would snap like a piano wire.

  Then things got worse. I had no dress to wear to the opera so Grof Kril provided me with one. I flushed as his maids helped me into the red dress. Red. I had never worn red. And it was a deep, scarlet red in plush velvet. Not to mention I had never worn my neckline low like that before. Oh it was very fashionable, and al of Haydyn’s dresses were cut
just so, but I had never realy been comfortable with my figure, which was perhaps a little more voluptuous than some. I blanched as they puled my hair up off my neck, fastening pins here and there with an expertise that boggled the mind.

  I bit my lip as I saw the finished result in the mirror. I looked like a fashionable lady of Peza. But I wasn’t fashionable. If you were clever like Haydyn, fashionable was elegance and refinement without being flashy and bold.

  Fashionable on me was a little too dark and declaring.

  “I can’t wear this.” I turned on the two girls who had made me up so prettily. “Isn’t there another dress I could wear, in a style not so bold?” The maids gasped at me, “No, my Lady, you must wear this, you look wonderful.”

  I flinched at my reflection. I looked like someone else, and there were too many facets of my persona out there in the verse that already had nothing to do with me. I didn’t want to add another one to it. I slumped suddenly, exhausted. I just had to get through this evening and then I’d be done.

  “Fine,” I practicaly growled at them and brushed past them without a by your leave.

  As I descended the grand staircase in Grof Kril’s home, I watched on quietly as Wolfe entered the entrance hal. The Grof had obviously lent him evening wear as wel, the crisp darkness of the tailored suit making his hair burn gold under the chandelier. I stopped to gaze on him as he stared up at a huge painting of the Silver Sea crashing against the cliffs, the palace up in the distance. His eyes washed over it intensely as I studied his handsome profile. What was he thinking? He looked so stark, so alone.

  I suddenly felt as if I knew him.

  A strange flutter in my lower bely made me stumble and as I righted myself I realised I’d drawn Wolfe’s attention. I warmed uncomfortably at his unwavering stare and met him in the middle of the hal. His jaw clenched tightly as his eyes took in my attire.

  “What?” I snapped, already feeling stupid and in no mood for his quips.

  Wolfe cleared his throat, “You look beautiful.”

  I wanted to slap him. How dare he make fun of me when I felt so vulnerable?! “Can you just cease with the sarcasm for one night, Captain.” His mouth fel open at my rebuke but his riposte was interrupted by Grof Kril.

  “Rogan!” We turned abruptly as he greeted us. For a moment he looked astonished at my appearance and then he smiled - a real, genuine smile - as he took my hand and placed a gentlemanly kiss upon it. “Why, you look beautiful, Lady Rogan.”

  I relaxed, for once believing he actualy meant it. I gave him an almost grateful smile. “Thank you, my Lord.” I heard a choked noise beside me but carefuly ignored the good Captain as the Grof escorted me out.

  ***

  The opera was wonderful. The singers were breath-taking, the sets incandescent. My senses were overwhelmed by the vibrancy and decadence of the opera hal, the wealthy audience and vivacious stars that took to the stage, the scent of jasmine in the air. I had been to the opera in Silvera with Haydyn but there was something different about being at the opera in the homeland of opera. Even the stares of the nobility who recognised me from society events back in Silvera did not sway me from the stage.

  It would have been an unspoilt evening if Grof Kril hadn’t begun his insincere pursuit of me again. His hand kept finding times to brush my arms, my skirts, one time even my breast as he passed me. I threw a quick look at Wolfe but thankfuly he hadn’t noticed that one.

  At the moments when I was sinking into the oblivion of the effervescent opera crowd, Grof Kril would touch me and jar me back into the reality of his tense company, making me careful not to lean too close to him. By the end of the opera I was at once moved and exhausted.

  Grof Kril took my hand, Wolfe at our back, as he led me out of his opera box and through the crowds outside it. He began descending the stairs before me, rather than taking me down side by side, and I knew his plot instantly as he ‘accidentaly’ tripped on a stair, puling me down so I was captured in his arms.

  I grew flush with anger at his games and apologies as he kept a hold of me, pretending to balance my footing, even though I already had. I struggled a little in his arms, desperate not to cause a scene. I felt a hot grip on my arm and looked up at Wolfe who spoke daggers with his eyes as he glared at Grof Kril. I immediately let Wolfe pul me away, my arm looped through his as the three of us descended down the stairs, no one else having noticed our little tussle. My mind whirled with confusion. I knew now why Grof Kril didn’t flirt or seduce. He was awful at it! Which begged the question… why was he trying so hard to seduce me?

  I was grateful as Wolfe helped me into the carriage and sat beside me before Grof Kril could.

  And then I froze as I realised I’d been thankful to Wolfe.

  Thankful for his presence.

  Fear and shame shuddered through me and I sidled a little away from him as the carriage departed from the opera hal.

  ***

  I practicaly ripped the dress off, having shooed away the maids who were waiting for me in the guest suite. I dug through my traveling bag in an unidentified rage and drew on my nightgown, almost tearing it. I was so angry. Angry and confused and I didn’t know why. I took a breath, pouring cold water from the ewer into the basin and splashing my face. I stumbled and flopped down onto the stool by the dressing table, studying my face intently. Gradualy my eyes blurred and I grew numb as my face became more and more unfamiliar. Tears trembled on my eyelashes and I didn’t know why.

  “You’re just tired, Rogan,” I whispered to myself.

  Snick. Snuck.

  I stiled at the sound of a key turning in the lock in my door, my heart pounding in my chest. I shot to my feet, eyes wide, my hands delving quickly through my traveling bag until I drew out the dagger Matai had given me before I left. Heart racing, sweat breaking out across my shivering skin, I tip toed barefoot across the room like a skittering rabbit and took up behind the door. Slowly, sinisterly, it opened inwards. A black booted foot appeared first and then a large elegant hand on the door shut it behind him. I stood behind the familiar figure. Disgruntled at my height, or more so his, I lunged up and looped an arm around his neck, drawing him down so I could press the dagger in my other hand to his throat. He let out a startled yelp and halted, immobilised at the feel of cold metal.

  “Grof Kril,” I growled, shocked and terrified that he had come into my room. I couldn’t let him know I was scared, wiling my body not to tremble.

  “Now, Lady Rogan.” He held his hands up away from his body, the key to my room glittering in one of them. “I mean you no harm.” I pressed the dagger closer so that it pinched, and he hissed in pain. “No harm, indeed. What do you want with me?”

  “Your magic.”

  I was so taken aback by his answer I inadvertently loosened my hold and he ducked out of it, spinning to face me. I thrust the dagger at him and he took a wary step back. “What do you mean?”

  “I need your help,” he replied, his eyes sad, desperate, yet stil wary on the dagger.

  I made a face. “Would that be why I was subjected to your abysmal attempts at seduction this evening, my Lord?” He flushed, groaning, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “I’m not a very good flirt, my Lady. Please accept the apology of a foolish man.”

  “Why the flirting?”

  He shrugged. “I thought if you liked me, you might be more inclined to help me.”

  “With what?”

  “I want you to find the woman that I love.”

  I shuddered as the wave of my magic crashed through me. I felt her. Beautiful and gentle, Ariana, who worked in Javinia… as a governess. I threw Grof Kril a speculative look, glad he had no idea that my magic had already obeyed his command.

  “The woman you love?” I queried softly, suddenly curious despite my exhaustion. Then I felt a spark of indignation. “You intended to seduce me to help you so I could reunite you with the woman you love?”

  Grof Kril winced. “Not my brightest or nicest plan.”
r />   I huffed. “I should say not.”

  His shoulders slumped, his throat working as if trying to hold back the emotion. “I wouldn’t have, my Lady, but… Ariana. My lovely Ariana. She was a ward of my friend’s, the Baron Roe. The daughter of a friend who had died when Ariana was twelve. I hadn’t seen the Baron for years, we had been school chums. He moved back to Raphizya from Daeronia three years ago. Ariana and his daughter, Dru, were of an age, both seventeen. I fel in love with Ariana almost instantly.” He sighed.

  “She wasn’t like those twittering idiots at court. She’s inteligent. Quiet. Gentle, but passionate. I miss her every day.”

  “What happened?” I whispered, finding myself lost in his heartbreak despite his terrible behaviour.

  He smiled humourlessly. “We were like two peas in a pod. We loved one another very much. But my aunt found out about my love for Ariana, and was furious I would consider marrying someone of low birth. She blackmailed Ariana. She had somehow gotten wind of Dru’s affair with one of the stable boys and threatened to expose her.” He snorted. “So cliché, I know, but a word from my aunt and Dru would have been ruined. And Ariana loves Dru, so she took up the situation my aunt offered her and disappeared. My aunt wouldn’t tel me where she’d sent her and then my aunt died a year ago, leaving me no clues. I’ve hired people to find her but nothing. My aunt was a conniving bitch but a clever one.”

  “So you want me to seek her?”

  He nodded, coming towards me in his excitement. I held the dagger back up. “I won’t hurt you, Lady Rogan.”

  “No, you won’t,” I bit out. I was split in two by him. Part of me ached for him, and the other distrusted him as I did most men. What if he’d hurt Ariana somehow and she had wanted to disappear, wanted to stay disappeared. A plan formed in my mind. “You better leave, Grof Kril, before I scream for Captain Stovia and you are charged with trying to force the Princezna’s Azyl to work for you.”

 
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