“You’re not hungry?”
She glanced down at the plate of venison and roots, but her hands remained in her lap. As mouthwatering as its fragrance was – as sharp as her hunger pains were – she abstained. Instead, she
“I advise you to eat,” he said quietly. “You need your strength. You’re still recovering, and I need you well.”
Ah, that was right. She was still recovering now, wasn’t she? From when he’d found her in that canyon, dehydrated and ill; when he’d addressed with her maiden name – a name she had never told him. And what of all those knowing looks he was giving her? What had he said to her? That she was better than that? How could he know? How could he know that she was better than that? And how was it that whenever they touched, whenever their fingers brushed one another, she felt the strongest sense of nostalgia sweep through her? As if her body remembered something her mind couldn’t.
Just who was this man? And more importantly, how did she know him?
“…I need answers.”
His chewing slowed as his silverware settled on the white tablecloth, but he said nothing. Leaning back, she looked at him evenly.
“I know this is an inopportune time, but I need to know, and I’m not going to wait a second longer. I’ve had these questions for a long time now, and if we wait until we have everyone else like you’re about to suggest, you’ll be far too preoccupied to explain. So I need to know now.”
Behind him she saw the map of the city, marked with points here and there, with one large green mark over one of the hundreds of buildings – the local jail and the holding cell of their confederates. Since their arrival in the city, they had been sequestered in their room which, while it was nice and airy and clean, seemed too tight for her. Not because she didn’t trust him; she did. She had for some time now, but after the past two nights had passed uneventfully, the dogma that had been instilled within her since childhood had finally vanished. No, the reason why the room seemed so small to her in spite of its relatively large size was due to the fact that much to her dismay, she was starting to notice acutely how, despite his outlaw status, highly she thought of him. He was fair, which she certainly appreciated, especially with his treatment and behavior of the fairer sex. Not just with her, but with everyone else; nor was he unnecessarily cruel. He spared those who surrendered to him and caused no trouble, and for all she had seen, he had a quiet dignity that left no room for overzealous bragging and hubris like so many outlaws were prone to owning.
But since the canyon, they had been left alone with no one to serve as a buffer and so noticed his tendency to study her for lengths of time when he thought she wasn’t looking, which truthfully would have unnerved her if not for the way he studied her. It wasn’t in the way that a hunter would watch its target, or the way a landowner would survey its property, but with some sad wisdom, as if he held some great and terrible secret she was oblivious to. Not only was there the matter of her curiosity, however, there was also the matter of her…interest.
It was true she had run away from her wedding. She had shown up before him in her wedding dress, having just escaped a lifetime of misery mere hours earlier, and it was true she had abandoned her fiancé. But that didn’t mean she didn’t want to be loved. Even with her cold, hardened exterior, it didn’t mean that some part of her didn’t want to be held close by a man who really, truly loved her, and with the way they had masqueraded as husband and wife… Even if it had been for a brief time, it had been jarring. More so with someone so able to convincingly portray a devoted husband. There had been a few times where, much to her shame, she had forgotten herself and had wondered if there was some part of his act that had been inspired by true feelings. But how could it be? If the past few months had taught her anything, it was that in the Black Prince’s eyes, she was no different than Xingke or Gino or even ornery Rolo. Which had its merits; she appreciated his equal treatment. As his subordinate that was.
“Why should I be preoccupied to explain later? Does that not seem a little nonsensical to you?”
“You’re just going to hide behind your men.”
“And if I give you my word? To not cower behind my men. Your allies, I might add. Would you be willing to table this matter for another, more suitable time?”
She narrowed her eyes but eventually nodded. Glancing up from his plate, he softly said, “I’d been meaning to speak to you about it anyway. It’s about time we make clear our unusual circumstances.”
There it was again. That strange look in his eyes. She couldn’t quite place her finger on the proper description, but whenever she saw it, she felt a chill run up her spine and a dull ache in her heart. It was just so uncanny, was all, how similar it was to that feeling that would possess her from time to time: that sense of loss, as if she was missing something important to her, that made her feel empty inside. Could it be that he was feeling it too? That hollowness.
Well, she’d find out in three days, wouldn’t she?