Read the first Chapter of Unexpected Bargain here…

A Captain, Enchanted

   She was without a doubt the most alluringly beautiful woman in all the realm! Or, at least, that was how Bilandro Metavo saw Iambre, Heiress to the Ostravahn throne, now that he finally lay eyes on her again after their time ‘apart’. Gods stand witness – and if the day itself had proven a dark and dreary disappointment, Iambre in the flesh was certainly anything but.

It had a disturbing effect on his otherwise impeccable equilibrium. It had been that way for some time now and though the gods only knew it wasn’t getting any easier, Bilan still tried to swallow those wretched feelings.

He was semi-successful – something that only served to heighten his chagrin. Iambre must surely to the gods be aware!

  But how was he to succeed? It was no foul lie to say that he’d been anticipating this moment all day. In fact, since he’d been informed at first light that he would be her acting escort for the evening banquet, he’d been restless and impatient. Did it not now seem wrong that he wished himself far away?

I am mixed up, he thought, and surely making a grand fool myself! Play forgiveness and leave; that seems a good way of salvaging some dignity, but-

Bilan swallowed painfully. He was here now; right where he wanted to be, of course. And in spite the danger of him breaking almost every protocol in the book, there was no point in regrets, for he was hardly going to leave the Realm’s only princess stranded without an escort and he’d simply have to live with his own painful performance.

Live with it? Well indeed! Here he was: gawking when he should be making his obedience; wondering how to make things better between them, when he should not dare to think the thought – rats, but if the King could see, His Majesty would flay him for poor conduct! Flay him and worse…

   Bilan grimaced. Well, at least he still owned a semblance of timekeeping. At least, he’d presented himself along with the four statutory guardsmen to form the appropriate escort as ordered – a little too well on time maybe, but just one stroke before the hour of quiet prayers, and therefore most assuredly not late…

    Bilan would have smiled at his own eagerness: but in truth, it was pathetic, for in truth it was just as poor time-keeping to arrive early as it was to arrive late, but he couldn’t very well just have stood outside as though he had no purpose, either. Indeed, he was the one who’d marched them all here like they’d been charged to relieve a century of battle-worn men about to lose a position of strategic value – and… and he needn’t have done that, of course; for fleck sake, he shouldn’t have done that, but-

Bilan flicked the thought aside. He supposed that he could’ve made them run, which of course would’ve seen him lose every shred of his hard-won respect with the men he commanded – so on that basis, he also supposed he still had a right to celebrate one small victory, but give it just a few more weeks…

No! No one would ever realise the state of him, and that was the key! And if he’d been early, Iambre’s shy, young handmaiden had answered the door promptly regardless. Good! It was all good!

Bilan tried to focus on the fact that the sight of Palea had been a surprise. The slight woman already wore the customary light veil that one associated with a royal retainer, but though it successfully served to softly obscure her facial features, her short stature gave her away as surely as her face would’ve done. Iambre only travelled with three maids of honour and they’d been on the roads for a long time: Bilan recognized each easily by now – as did everyone else for that matter. Mistress Ina was a treat to the eye, of course, but Palea was his favourite – perhaps because of her quiet, almost-eviscerating ‘servitude’, which never seemed to falter – now where ‘the Viper’ Solancei had currently slithered off to was anyone’s guess, yet always the one to get in the way, he fully expected her to appear at any moment.

‘Iambre’s Bane’, he’d secretly dubbed the difficult woman for she was always there whenever he was anywhere near Iambre: watching him… interfering…

Bilan shook his head in wonder. To find Solancei presently absent was a rather welcome relief; a relief that he tried not to linger on for too long because it opened possibilities…

He quenched the unsettling thought and smoothed his face; the handmaiden Palea knew him by now and since he’d been expected, she’d allowed him entry without caution or remark, and where Solancei’s greeting would’ve been tepid – a mere inclination of her chin so as to offer him his title’s due and not a straw’s worth more – Palea’s had been ‘court-conduct’ personified. Maybe…? Maybe the Viper was not around? Dare he hope, or…?

Bilan stared at Iambre Actarione where she stood, halted in the door to her inner chambers by her handmaiden, so to oblige the woman with one last fiddley detail. The Viper was indeed markedly absent and he was suddenly happy his men could not see him. Sure, Palea might be pretty in a porcelain doll kind-of-way, but within a speck of time, he was aware only of the princess and the way her presence seemed to make his heart glow. Alluringly beautiful… yes, she certainly was that without a doubt or contest – but it was more than that, which drew his eyes and heart. So much more…

Sadly it was not a new realisation though it still happened to slash its way through his mind a grand total of exactly three times, whilst he watched the two woman bend their heads to rearrange the wide mesh of filigree gold that sat across Iambre’s waist like a girdle.

   What look might she afford him today, he wondered in one infinitesimal beat of the heart: the one of blazing disappointment? Or the light of betrayal that seemed to have been there whenever she’d look at him since-

Iambre lifted her gaze. Their eyes locked and suddenly the world was a blur because the tender expression on her face was unexpected.

Flushed hot and cold, Bilan’s breath caught raw in his throat.  Somehow he managed enough self-control to breathe out. Somehow…

   Iambre held his gaze as though they were moulded together and for un-noted heartbeats, they both remained thus: immobilised; locked by each other’s presence. Then she slowly pushed past Palea with a sideways murmur of thanks and his heartbeat seemed to explode like a thunderclap in his ears.

I should do something, he thought; dumbstruck. Decorum and protocol held him not five paces inside the gilded salon, but now that the Princess was in proximity, at the very least her presence demanded that he must bow – however, his body was presently unwilling to comply with statutory requirements. He waited for the change in her, but her face was carefully composed – and yet… the way she looked at him… like she was part-scared, part-penitent, part-troubled, part-

   Suppressing a sliver of wholesome need, Bilan blinked. By Jethar’Chi, if the King could see him now, indeed! Past relations and deeds aside, King Kaimar would flay the meat from his bones, then hang him, then do something obliterating to the rest of his remains – quite possibly without killing him first!

He suppressed another shudder at the thought of his monarch’s wholesome wrath, were the man to learn how his trusted Captain’s lusted for his only daughter, but as if the world stood in mockery of propriety, Iambre chose that very moment to blush and smile.

A small familiar twitch at first, it grew slowly with some kind of secret knowing, chasing away what other emotions he’d just spied and suddenly he felt stupidly relieved. Mercy… she was not angry. He’d felt sure she would still be, but that smile…

Somehow he should not have been surprised, but he was. Suddenly she was close enough to touch: suddenly-

Protocol dictated that she should’ve waited graciously for him to regain enough of his wits to approach her to within the statutory three paces, but decorum appeared to have gone a-hunting unicorns in the woods because he remained foolishly mesmerised – and Iambre was definitely not shy about her personal space. He should kneel; he should look away – holding her eye was too bold; he should-

   Iambre paused an arm’s length away, the floating bronze fabric of her skirts rustling slightly and emitting a hint of Iddian meadow flowers and rose – the scent, he’d long since learnt to be her favourite. It was alarming to realise how much it felt like… like home.

Resisting the urge to reach for her as though he had the right, yet not trusting his own will, Bilan forced himself to think of ‘home’ then; real home that was – not the one he’d made for himself in Etruia as Captain of the King’s Legion – but the former one: filled with shite, and filth, and crime, and it helped remind just where he’d come from and where exactly he did not have the breeding, nor authority, to go!

As ever, the sour perspective helped some, but not quite as well as usual. Iambre was almost tall enough to look him straight in the eye and nevertheless, she seemed only slight as she stood before him. She was much too close for comfort; indeed much too close for the level of greeting he warranted…

Bilan’s hand had moved minutely of its own accord before he managed to wrench a better grip on himself. These feelings she inspired were dreams wrought of gold dust, cobwebs and air – alluring, useless and foolish! What the fleck was he doing?

He shifted an inch on the spot, uncomfortably self-aware. He was riding too close to the flecking abyss – that was what he was doing! Too close for comfort, too close for sense, and yet-

Wrenching a hold on himself, he tore his gaze from hers. The King would have his guts! This was the flecking Heiress! It didn’t matter whether she was angry or happy with him – it didn’t matter…

   As though something released him, Bilan belatedly took a knee, respectfully bowing his head. That he knew he should have done this within a blink of seeing her, didn’t help though, because he also knew that if he’d but retained just a sliver more of his former self, he mightn’t have cared about rules, and honour, or anything else he’d once found so stupidly banal.

   He’d changed though! Changed for something better! Yet now bloody Iambre Actarione was making his newfound adult persuasions waver, not least because whenever he was around her, he had the reoccurring inkling that she wouldn’t much mind if he slipped.  

With an inward curse, Bilan pried his thoughts away from that subject too. There had to be something wrong with him. Or maybe the Gods had cursed him? The King had awarded him more than he could ever have hoped for: position, honour, trust… and this was how he repaid him? With illicit thoughts of taking Iambre on whatever plush bed, he knew to be behind that bedchamber door, and fuck her till he cried? With dreams of spiriting her away and keeping her for himself until the Province of Tuxama was no more?

Bilan swallowed hard. Traitor in thought but not in action! Wanting and doing were leagues apart and he must never move a muscle, because if he did…

Sucking in each careful breath, he tried not to think, but even staring at the hem of her dress where it skimmed the floor, her face haunted his mind’s eye; her body-

He blinked rapidly. Holy Inkar’Chi! He had to stop this! Stop it now!

   Overcome by whipping regret to be thinking such thoughts to her face, a semblance of ‘self’ returned to him. He was supposed to champion her – not mentally assault her. Gods, why could he not just get past this?!

   Suddenly beset with embarrassment at his own crude behaviour, Bilan finally managed to rouse control and apply it; a cough later, and his voice seemed to fall back under command too.

“Your Grace, Honour and Respect: as you command, I live to serve!” It wasn’t lost to him how late he’d been in speaking the traditional words of greeting and fealty, nor was he unaware how his voice carried a gruff edge, but at least his eyes stayed irreversibly trained to the floor. For mercy, protocol stipulated that he could not look up now until she gave him leave to do so – it was ‘safe’, and-

An exasperated sigh met him from above, a ripple of tantalizing colours trailing across her skirts as she moved. It was all the warning he received, next she’d suddenly bent forward to place a warm hand beneath his chin.

Breath hitching, he just accurately managed to stop himself from jumping with surprise under the unexpected touch. Kaimar will flay you! Kaimar will flay you! Kaim-

“Captain, I thank you for attending,-” her clipped Etruian voice cut into his mantra, quiet but sweet: aristocratic, but with a hint of amusement, “-but you had better not be acting like this for too long.”

“Protocol,-“ he managed to croak. She sighed again, then gently forced his head up to look him in the eye.

“I hear your greeting Captain,-” her eyes sparkled though the words were solemn, “-and now it pleases me if you would stand.”

Letting go of his jaw, she straightened once more as he moved to oblige her with wooden lack of grace.

“Palea,” she addressed the handmaiden casually, eyes still on him, “please would you be good enough to tidy the dressing room. We have a little time before duty requires our attention and I have matters of importance to discuss with the Captain.”

Things to discuss? For an impossibly long moment, he froze in astonishment, every muscle growing rigid. Gods help him! She was dismissing the handmaiden. Gods…

   Bilan looked at Palea over Iambre’s shoulder – hoping she’d stay? –  and sensed the younger woman smile pleasantly behind the veil.

He quenched a curse. Somehow, when you spend so much time around people of royal birth, you soon got used to the nuances; the feelings in the air. Palea was flecking going to oblige her lady; even if it was not exactly proper, she was going to oblige! Travelling had made everyone lax – campfires and tents did not lend themselves well to the long-term upkeep of finesse and stature; by now everyone knew each other and a certain disposal with propriety had ensued. Gods and the Viper was still absent…

As Bilan looked back at Iambre, just a shadow of weariness passed across her carefully made-up features. He might easily have missed it but…

The Captain straightened surreptitiously. Something beyond her and him troubled: he saw her gaze go vacant as she eyed the exit doors with a sudden hint of concern yet then shaking her attention back into place, and they watched in silence as the handmaiden left as requested.

For mercy, he supposed Palea managed to keep a sliver of decorum alive by failing to close the white-and-gilt doors behind her retreating form – the Viper would not have left at all – and if an open door was not much, an open door was still just what he needed. It would keep him grounded. He hoped.

Bronze-painted lips glistening, Iambre faced him, smiling in… was that relief?  “There! Now that is much better, is it not Captain Metavo?”

Bilan hesitated.

“Captain,” she nudged with gentle reproach, “Bilandro… please?”

Bilan glanced at the open doors and kept himself stiffly correct. This was no time to get ideas, no matter the woman’s tone! Even if Palea was clueless about many things, at least on the whole she had good instincts when it came to observing etiquette. If he could only take a leaf out of her book, everything would go smoothly tonight.  

“Crown Princess, you have official matters for us to discuss?” he observed, prompting her to recall her words to Palea.

“Hmm… yes…” Iambre’s smile did not waver, but another shadow of something he would have named ‘less assured’ flickered into her amber gaze. Then she sighed. “Bilan… I… I… we need to talk.”

Talk?  Bilan felt a shiver race through him. When last they’d ‘spoken’ it had been a disaster…

   “Your Grace, forgive me… about what?” Bilan kept his voice pristinely level but the question was there regardless as he added, “There is nothing to report. Your staff is safely and happily installed into quarters and bunks. It did not take long after-”

“Bilan stop.” Iambre looked at him with unease but also a sting of determination. For a beat she seemed set to say one thing, then that odd shadow passed over her features again – worrying him – and when next it cleared, she simply said, “Come.”

Displaying no reserve, the Princess grabbed his hand, offering no choice as she steered them both towards a small seating area by the heavy drapes now shutting away both the fall of evening and the rain-weighted clouds.

“Your Grace,“ he tried again but she only shook her head in denial.

Turning as she reached the two high-backed chairs and a small round table sheltered in privacy by three large pots containing a selection of popular green-leafed tall-grasses, Iambre indicated towards the left seat that he should oblige her and sit.

He did. Slowly and barely able to hide a frown. The woman could not be second-guessed, but part of him feared what she wanted; part of him craved it. The last time she’d looked at him with a smile, it had been when he’d gone to her, intent on apologising for his conduct at a prior event, but it had ended badly and instead of words of apology, he’d spoken some ill-received truths. From that unfortunate point, it had of course not been long before he’d been voicing some equally ill-received advice about how she ought to act, so that she might rectify their ‘situation’ – his and Iambre’s, not the retinue’s – with minimal damage, and well…

It had been a likewise ill-advised move on his behalf, he’d already known as much as he’d ultimately spoken the words that made her face fall.

He’d thought it all for the best – only she had not!  And so she had punished him for ‘his cruelty’ from then: banishing him from her presence, using only third parties as go-betweens to convey orders, written or verbal. That event had happened just over fifteen days ago now; too hard; too cursed long to see her only from afar and be allowed never a touch, never a look, never-

“Bilan, I…“

Clasping her hands together, she stared at him with a hint of embarrassment from across the ridiculously small table separating them. Her perch on the edge of the other chair looked uncomfortable – her leaning slightly forward a precarious struggle as if gravity pulling her towards him didn’t ride well; as though she was spooked and might dash at the wrong word or move.

“Bilan I am sorry!” she burst out, holding his gaze just a blink longer than needed so that he could not doubt her sincerity before she pulled away, issuing a small sound. As if she could not decide where to look suddenly, her eyes darted around the salon, eventually landing on an ugly tapestry depicting a scene from the Chaos Wars but Bilan barely noticed her discomfort.

She was sorry? How?

   “Milady?” he questioned – slightly numb with something he realised must be shock – and when she did not answer, he questioned louder, “Milady?! Please… what-“

“I am sorry for the Wilderness, and I am sorry for hurting you!” she bit out with ugly vehemence.

Wringing her hands like a vendor that had promised one price, now pushed to admit her goods might not be top quality, she appeared oddly torn as her eyes ripped back to his.

Venom gone in a flash, hardened battle commander emerging, she said, “I was foolishly craven and needlessly mean when I should have listened to sense, but… but you are always so damn chivalrous, and Solancei is always so bloody right!”

Bilan stared, taken aback by the language and condemnation, but he did not get a chance to speak.

“Gods know it is not much of an excuse,” she carried on, sounding bitterly upset, “but between the two of you, it’s… It’s madness! Some days my head is about to implode with all your good intentions, and I am sorry. I just snapped. Even with my laughable attempt to delay us, even with our run of poor luck – which might I add, is verily not your fault at all – but yet-”

Iambre shivered violently, a half-mad expression pulling at her face. Then she exhaled and appeared to draw on her reserves. “I… that is to convey… we… well, we will soon enough reach Tuxama regardless of delays and harsh truths.  It… I…“

With a worried glance for his silence, she begged, “Please, I am dearly sorry Bilan.  Please… please say something.”

Bilan shook his head, mildly confounded. She was apologising? To him? It was a selfless admission of fault, and one he appreciated, certainly, but she was the Heiress whereas he was just a star-blinded idiot who wanted to touch the sun, yet knew he could not do so and not die.

“Milady…“ Bilan broke their eye-contact to look at his dark-tanned hands, strengthened since early youth to deftly delve into places they did not belong and in later years calloused by more than reins and sword-work. It made him feel ancient to think that whilst she got measured by three doting seamstresses and had been offered the choice between gold or silver hairpins, he would’ve stolen the very same from the Three Spirals beyond Imkarah’s infamous Lake Side district. She did not know this, but he shared her apprehension in regards to Tuxama, for what would happen? 

   He rubbed a finger over a cracked thumbnail. He’d rarely been scared, let alone petrified. ‘Petrified’ was for the stories – except these days he was flecking petrified and then some! 

He rubbed harder as though the pressure might magically mend the split in both nail and spirit. In his own twisted mind, he currently coped with the idea of Tuxama because he had changed; because he had not moved on his desires, but-

  But gods, he knew she wanted him to. Without thought for future or consequence, she wanted him to! And yet if… If he bedded her and played at calling her his for even a single day, he was not sure he would not kill to keep her…!

   Bilan closed his eyes, trying to order his thoughts.

“Bilan?” she insisted, sharply, with a sliver of dread now.

Hesitating just a blink longer, he exhaled painfully. Opening his eyes to hers, he said, “Milady, I thank you for the considerate words of apology, but truthfully, it makes no difference to the things that we disagreed on.”

“Yes, it does,” Iambre argued, leaning further forward, beseeching with both eyes and presence. “Bilan, I know what must happen.  It is my duty, but gods… how… how could you think me fickle enough to simply send you away – to send you back to father and Servangar as though it would make it all just a distant memory of… of me? Of… of us? Gods Bilan I could not send you away: I love you!”

”Princess, no!” Aggrieved, Bilan shot to his feet. Locked between sweet conflict and terror, for a moment he towered above her like an expert mime tethering on his finale. I love you…

   Iambre had never spoken so candidly before. The words did not seem to make sense and yet…

And yet he knew them true because the gods had cursed him to feel the same way about her.

   Illusion of stone shattering, he gulped-in a breath but felt suddenly sick. This was not fair!

“I know you want me.” Smoothly regal, Iambre sifted to her feet, the soft light of candles springing flashes of wealth off her gown and jewellery; off her hair. As if she saw the truth in his face, she smiled: that beautiful, bedazzling smile that made him forget anything and anyone but her.

“Is it really so bad to admit that you want to stay with me? Tell me Captain: is it?”

“Milady, you don’t understand. It’s-“ Bilan bit back the words, suddenly afraid of his own explanation and retreated clumsily, as she drew close enough to once more reach for him. If she touched him…

Iambre only smiled. She looked pleased then. Not so much a Princess and more the-

   Somehow, just like that fateful day they’d first met, he was unexpectedly ‘aware’ of everything about her. Just as it had been then, the mask of make-up did not serve to erase the truth of her emotions and at this moment she looked as raw as he felt. If he should pose the damning question would she go and never look back?

A desolate feeling of longing swept through him, but he feared the answer, and would never ask, besides. It was the kind of conviction that would prove his downfall, wasn’t it? The knowledge, that he could snap at any moment and see propriety take flight! A kiss or two was one thing, but to go further-

   And then who could live like that? Hunted… hated… outcast…? The Princess of Ostravah belonged only one place! How could he condemn her to such a life? Gods help him, but he couldn’t. And he wouldn’t. Bilan swallowed but found his mouth gone dry. He was not as ignorant as most men when it came to women. Gods, but he’d run away from women with that exact look of desperation about them when they’d clamoured to make him stay – and yet with Iambre…

But there was never a cat’s whisker of a chance that this would not end badly! It was only a question of degree, so no!

Navigating the chair’s armrests, Bilan took another step back and noted her disenchanted frown. Hurting her was hard, but protecting her was heartbreak. If she pushed, then-

At the thought, Bilan almost backed up another step. He should simply speak to her now. Tell her more of the things she didn’t want to hear: shatter the illusion. Usually, the challenge lay the other way around; usually he’d tell them things they longed to hear, but not this time!

Yes… what he ought to do was to drive the wedge firmly back into place between the two of them so as to make certain now, that she left his side this evening feeling only anger and aversion. Yep, that’s what he should do: make her hate him even more than the last time and once and for all kill that light in her eyes…

   Breath sawing on a deep inhale, Iambre seemed to steady her emotions. She looked at him and for a heartbeat, her face – so cleverly powdered, so charmingly enhanced – showed him only an odd caricature of the woman he loved. Oddly she wore more of the powder stuff than usual and he regretted the loss of her natural, clean beauty: the elegant brows, the almond-shaped eyes with the dark-tipped golden eyelashes, the pretty sloping nose, the full wide lips…

“Bilan, I missed you.” Iambre offered, her tone just the right mixture of breathy honesty and desire that seemed to bewitch him – and there she was again: the woman beneath the title and the powders; the way she moved… some people would’ve called it elegant, he’d call it something else entirely!

   “I missed you too,” he heard himself say and saw the smile of his downfall return.

“And… you might forgive me?” she pushed, settling a palm on his chest.

Bilan startled and felt his head scramble up.

“There is nothing to forgive, Milady,” he heard someone whisper past the rush of his blood.

Iambre sighed happily and stepped into him. Mildly reproving, she purred, “Captain Metavo, I thought we were past these official titles when in each other’s company. Please… I have a name, or did you forget?”

Bilan shook his head, staring at the swag of heavy drapes as if something within might save him. The smell of her perfume in his nostrils seemed to numb his thoughts. Rose… with a hint of something lighter; intoxicating…

Part of him made a final, valiant effort to extricate himself from this danger – this was his moment, she was already half-expecting him to do this; this was the chance to tell her that she must send him away; that she must call for del’Draventar to act the escort in his place, and if…

   Well, if he could push her away right now, he might make her mended good-will shatter again, but the gods had cursed him!

“I am so very sorry for our lost time, please forgive me?” she muttered against him as if he hadn’t already said the words to reassure her, and she continued, “Bilan, I need your understanding.  It’s been hard.  I was a fool and I have felt so alone; missed you so very much.”

“Iambre, please, we cannot-” he tried, but she found his hand and squeezed it in hers, stalling his attempted distance, once again reminding him of the first time they met… really met.

Of course, most people living in or around Servangar could not have avoided seeing her from time to time – she was the Princess – but the Seat of Power was a huge place and until that tournament in Camporia, he’d never been ‘fortunate’ to set eye on her.

He’d known what they said about her though – but had paid it little mind. The realm was full of pretty, desirable lasses with soaring wits to match equally soaring fortunes and wily temperaments. What had he cared whether he’d ever clap eye on the flecking Princess of the Realm or not?  To him it just hadn’t been a matter of interest: his prime concern mainly evolving around the challenge of living up to the trust and responsibility so graciously bestowed by the King, and…

Well mercy, but the tourney field in Camporia and her subsequent invite had changed all that! Gods be good, hadn’t it just! ‘Moonstruck’, they called it…

   Bilan felt his own treasonous fingers weave themselves in with Iambre’s to bring her hand to his lips for a soft kiss and she sighed against him. Moonstruck…

   As he recalled Camporia only too-well, he hadn’t been the only ‘offender’ – like the famous beauty of her mother Queen Ishjah, Iambre lived up to expectations – and the entire time, other men would glance her way with varying degrees of adoration, hunger, and flirty cheek, and Bilan’s own curiosity had been the least of it.

Had they all fallen in love with the Heiress that week?

   Undoubtedly! 

   Had he set out to catch her eye?

So abso-bloody-lutely not – the mere audacity!

But it had been such random timing: him being there at the same time as the Princess; him winning the final tournament, snatching the honours right from underneath the much-celebrated Earl of Elarion’s very fine nose; her – and not the local magistrate’s daughter – presenting the trophy…

   He had not realised till much later that she had been watching him too, courtesy of his name and what she’d known about the circumstances that had awarded him the Captaincy of the King’s own Legion, but when she’d handed him that trophy…

   Till this day he could not recall what the prize had looked like. A cloud of magic had enveloped him, or some kind of venomous spell had found the wrong target, or…

Inhaling her scent now, he stupidly wished he’d mirrored the Earl of Elarion. He should have saddled his horse on that hour to take instant leave of the place just like the young noble had done. He also should have neglected to call when summoned to her pavilion, but the fact remained that he hadn’t left, and that he very much did attend!

   Something sawed through him: perhaps a sense that none of this could’ve gone differently. It was stupid; he’d been stupid – and intrigued by her interest; flattered by her attention, and then

   A full hour in her presence – and he’d seemed unable to remember where his next breath would come from; two hours – and he’d been done for! Good gods… he should have saddled that horse! He should have saddled it and headed for the hills; he should have! 

   He should…

 

 Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed! 💥 

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