As they pushed further up north to the feet of the snow-capped mountain ranges, the nights became colder and colder until finally, one late afternoon they were forced to stop in a small, secluded town and use the remainder of Rolo’s bounty to purchase clothes for the coming cold – particularly for their youngest member who, because she had yet to experience a winter with them, had no clothes suitable for the impending climate.
She watched as he carefully counted the bills before sliding them over to the middle-aged tailor. Shivering from the draft, she tightly wrapped herself in the thick, heavy coat. She could barely see out from its folds, but at least it would protect her from the nip of winter. The only problem so far was how deeply buried her gun was, but hopefully, they wouldn’t have to use it. If everyone stayed indoors, they shouldn’t have to anyway. Or so she hoped.
They met with the others, who’d just finished buying coffee and cornmeal and whatever non-perishable foods they could get their hands on, and together, they headed for the mountains. They had heard of a small homestead by the feet, where a William Gregerson was allegedly living – a William Gregorson who, with a great deal of deduction, was eventually determined to be without nearly a doubt one Luciano Bradley, and so had taken it upon themselves to see what use they could string out of him. What they wanted from him, no one was quite sure save for the Prince himself, but so long as he knew, it didn’t quite matter. To them, money was all they sought, and if Luciano Bradley was going to give them just that, dead or alive, they’d be more than happy to oblige without so much of a question.
They stopped at the edge of the forest at twilight. Beyond the trees, they could see the shimmering glass that was the lake and the small cabin squatting on the shore. A weak stack of thin, grey smoke puffed out rhythmically as the night turned darker and darker until soon enough, there was little she could see, save the small, hidden fire they had lit.
Rubbing her hands together, she breathed on them. The tailor hadn’t had any gloves, and because she had completely ruined her previous pair, she was forced to pay for it with frozen, red fingers. Tucking them inside her coat made things better, but only slightly; no matter how thick her coat was, the cold seemed to seep in anyway, making her movements weaker and slower until it became nearly impossible for her to rub her hands together for some warmth.
She raised her head when she felt something press into either of her sides and saw the Prince and Gino sitting closer beside her, as if to lend her their warmth. Smiling briefly in thanks, she shifted to curl up tightly, when a pair of gloves materialized on her left.
When she remained still, he pressed them into her hands and momentarily wrapped his fingers around her hand, warming them. When he started to pull away, without even realizing it, she instinctively tightened her grip. A part of her wanted him to remain as he was because it reminded her of their walk along the beach – a memory she couldn’t deny she recalled with fondness. That hour when she had taken his arm and walked beside him had been something like a dream, and that brush of their hands had fleetingly revived that feeling with such intensity, she felt her cheeks warm and her heart seize in such a way that could only be explained by an undeniable attraction to the Prince.
She cursed herself. How could she let it come to this? She was above this, wasn’t she? Of course, the Prince was in every way so much better than any other man she had met, but that didn’t mean she could let this happen. She could say the same for the others; outlaws they may be, but this group of men was perhaps the best she had ever made the acquaintance of. But that didn’t mean she was in love with all of them, did it? No, it only meant she was in love with just one of them, which was one too many in her experience.
But when she woke in the morning to find him fast asleep and leaning on her, she didn’t slip away. Nor did she shake him awake. Instead, she chose to watch the silk cloth hiding his face flutter with every slow breath he took, and the peace and tranquility that she had never before seen on his face. Not even with all his stoicism had she ever seen something like this, and as she sat there, bearing his weight and enjoying his warmth, she felt her resolve softening more and more until finally, in the quiet light of the morning sun, she gave in and brushed her lips against his cheek. Closing her eyes, she kissed him chastely so that the only evidence of such brazenness was the burning sensation of her lips and the glittering of her eyes as she slowly pulled away and he stared, with wide, wide eyes that no longer held any of the drowsiness they had had just moments earlier.