“I worked at the laces cinched up the side of my gown. The knot ended in the pit of my arm, and I couldn’t reach it. I needed to call for a chambermaid to assist me.
The humming had stopped.
I spun, clutching my arms to my chest as though to cover myself.
Carson was on his feet and almost next to me.
Big and silent. Shadowbear.
My face went hot. I was surprised someone who couldn’t understand me could make me so self-conscious, surprised that I could feel his gaze running the length of me like it had in the barracks, on the dance floor, without looking “I can’t reach the laces,” I muttered, still clutching myself as though protecting my modesty while fully clothed. As if I still had any modesty to protect.
But being this close to him set off a flurry of butterflies within me.
It was silly, counting his toes and failing to take off my own dress. I didn’t want him to see me like this. I didn’t want him to get to know me this way.
If only I knew what he was thinking, if his face wasn’t so impassive.
He hummed that song again and stalked closer.
Almost unconsciously, I backed away from his approach.
It was a pleasant tune, reminiscent of one I’d heard before. He reached for me, cupping my shoulders in his enormous hands and turning me. He spoke, but I didn’t need words to know what he wanted. I lifted my arm.
He attacked the laces.
He did poorly.
At least it proved a formidable adversary for us both.
With each tug of the laces, the dress grew tighter and tighter. I winced on the next pull, gasped.
Carson spat out a word, another instance where his intention seemed clear.
I laughed, filing the word away for later use, in case I wanted to shock Emmett. The monk probably didn’t intend to teach me the curse words.
I said it back to him.
Carson stopped, looking at me, shocked. After a moment, he nodded and smiled. “Yes.”
“It’s hopeless. I guess it’s never coming off.”
Carson drew his knife. He held it up, his eyes shining with mock fury, grinning. “Is one way.”
Yep. That would do it.
With a flick of his wrist, he cut the leather cord below the knot.
The dress was still cinched tight enough to stay on, but now it would need repair.
He grunted and nodded with satisfaction.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m sorry.” For what? Inconveniencing him?
But the words were the ones I was now most practiced with.
He grunted and nodded again.
He was very close.
It was different when there wasn’t an audience. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him swallow.
His fingers touched my forehead, catching a loose lock of hair and brushing it back. My head followed the sweep of his hand until I finally met his eyes. I imagined that glow inside the helmet, piercing, intense. Was there no part of him that was vulnerable? Did he ever drop his guard? Even the dance was a sort of war, a competition not unlike shooting targets for Reeven peerage.
Maybe it was easier not knowing what he thought, not knowing what he wanted, just believing that he and I performed our duties, our royal and religious obligation, creating a monster-slaying child of destiny. We were two players acting out prophecy. Our thoughts and wants didn’t matter.
He lifted my wrist. “One, two.” With each number, he slid one of his fingers between two of mine. “Three, four.”
“Five,” I whispered and he closed his grip with his thumb.”
Kate Cornell is the author of Live Like Legends published on June 1st, 2020.
She is currently writing a novel. This statement is always true. At any given time, she is writing a novel. She has contributed to After Dark with Julian Clark, TMI Hollywood and Top Story! Weekly at iO West.
She likes dogs, cats, and watching television shows about conspiracy theories.