Wicked Winter

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Chapter 6

I slept restlessly that night, my dreams plagued with sickly children and bloody battles. It was mainly just snippets of gruesome battles and small children begging for food with frail hands and huge, empty eyes. Though the more I stared into the eyes of the hungry, I realized they weren’t so empty after all... It was like they were full of some terrible, negative emotion that I couldn’t put my finger on. And they were pinning it on me.

I woke with a start, my body shivering despite the warmth of the room. The Rising Bell hadn’t rung yet, so I knew it was early in the day. I threw the covers over my legs and looked down. I was still in my black leather pants and high-necked shirt. Even my boots still clung to my feet.

Everything came back with a roar of of confusion and fear. The Water Sage, Akan, knew about my secret. Not just my magically ability, but my name. I’m not sure why him knowing my name sent shivers down my spine, but it did. And to make things worse, he wanted me to stay here. To become a witch.

I didn’t want to become a witch. Yes, the idea of magic sent my blood singing, and yes, I wanted to join the Order’s forces, but not as a witch! I wanted to fight honorably. I wanted a sword, a bow, something. Something physical. Magic was just... scary to village people. It was something not everyone had a liking for. Yes, we could all learn it, but not everyone was good at it.

But magic wasn’t just easy for me. It was unnaturally simple. I didn’t struggle to pull the water’s power from the currents below us; it was as easy as breathing. Many people struggled at first, to find their element that sung to them as water sung to me. And after that, it was difficult for them to harness the elements power. Yes, I still needed to shout my spell like any other witch. I had a lot of power, or at least I could access it, but that didn’t mean I knew how to control it.

Sometimes, in the underground duels, I felt like I had a raging tidal wave in my chest, the power from the water pulling at my insides, demanding, just like an undercurrent. And as terrifying as it was, I always found myself wanting to obey, to release the water from its tomb below and set it free.

I thought of all the water under us, the underground river that stretched for miles and that nobody seemed to realize, and shivered.

With a groan, I stretched my arms high over my head, pausing to let my shoulders and spine pop. I jabbed the heel of my palm into my eyes, rubbing the sleep away and headed towards the bathroom.

The first two nights when I arrived, I hadn’t even realized the bathroom was there. But on the third night, the night before Sebastian came and got me, I realized there was a raised area of stone by the chair in the corner of my room. At first I convinced myself that I didn’t care about it. This was a witch’s room, and I was no witch. But sooner rather than later, curiosity got the best of me. I rolled out of bed and padded my way over to the wall. I fingered the area for a while, surprised when one of the rocks pushed inward, making me jump a little. There was a click, and the raised area of stone sunk backwards into the wall, then moved to the right and disappeared all together.

I gasped. Behind the raised area of stone lay a bathroom, or at least what I perceived to be a bathroom. I’d never seen one. Never had one, but I heard stories of rooms in the Bairfell Palace that were dedicated just to bathing and beauty. I guess the dorms had them too.

The floors were stone, of course, but shimmered as if tiny flecks of gold were embedded deep into the rock. The walls matched the floor, though I was surprised to see a huge part cut out for a smaller square room. This one had a nozzle that sat close to the ceiling and a drain on the floor. And a large mirror hung over a sink in the front of the room. (Yes, I knew what a sink was. Kevin had one in the Strip.)

Puzzled, I asked the maid that came to my room that night. She said that what I’d found was indeed a bathroom, and the small room in the corner was something called a shower, and that water cascades down from the spout like rain. It was apparently meant for bathing.
So there I was, in a bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror, hating what I saw staring back at me.

It was the first time I’d really stared at myself in a mirror. Back in the village, having mirrors were a luxury that nearly everyone couldn’t afford. Don’t get me wrong, I saw my reflection when I passed shop’s broken windows, or a puddle that had congregated in the middle of a low lying street. My reflections were always distorted, or so seedy that it was hard to pick out my features. I’d never seen myself in an actual mirror.

Large purple shadows hung under my eyes, ones that hadn’t left me since childhood. My hair was in a mess around my head, white snares of twisting knots that I couldn’t even fathom brushing through. And my face was covered in filth. Dark brown circles of mud and dirt clung to my face like a layer of fog over my almost translucent skin, and I wanted to scream.

I went in front of the Sage of Water like this? In front of the maids? In front of Sebastian? Guilt stabbed my side. My cheeks flared. Why did I care if Sebastian saw me? He meant nothing. He was nothing.

Frustrated with my own appearance, I groaned and headed towards the shower, slipping out of my black clothes as I went. They fell at my feet in a heap, and I kicked them away. I stared at the silver knob in the shower, assuming that if I turned it towards the blue, I would be getting a cold shower, and to the red, a hot.

I cranked it to the red side as far as it would go.

There was something sitting on the shelf in a small white bottle that read: Hair Care. Curious, I turned the smooth plastic container in my hands, surprised when I saw something that read: Directions. Apparently I was supposed to squirt a “egg size” glob into the center of my palm and massage it “gingerly” throughout my hair, particularly the ends. I did as the directions read, and was surprised when a sweet smell floated through the air, tinted with lemon.

So it was soap made for your hair. Nothing abnormally special. We had soap in the village, but it didn’t smell anything like this. That, and it wasn’t a creamy substance that you could easily work through your hair. It was globs of some mysterious herbs and adhesive that helped get the ever present dirt off of you when you bathed.

When I finished washing the lather from my hair, I worked on scrubbing the dirt of my skin, picking mud from under my fingernails. The heat from the water burned, but I welcomed the heat. I’d never felt anything so warm. Even during mid summer, when the days could reach almost a hundred degrees in the shade, the water in the creek that ran past the northern side of the village wasn’t this warm.

I scrubbed until I was raw, my flesh an agitated pinky-red, and the hot water scorched me even more. I spent almost an hour in the shower before the water started getting chilly.

Disappointed, I turned the water off and stepped out.

The air was freezing against my raw skin, causing goosebumps to rise all over my entire legs. Internally I groaned when I realized I didn’t have a towel. I avoided the fogged mirror all together when I left the bathroom, terrified to see my reflection. Would I like what I saw, or would I be just as disgusted, or more disgusted at myself? I didn’t have the dirt to hide behind - no excuse if I didn’t like what I saw staring back at me.

The bedroom was even colder, and my teeth chatter so loud I was surprised the people in the dorm next to me couldn’t hear it. But I jumped when I saw what was on my bed.

Sitting on a perfectly folded towel was a small, paper note with my name etched on the top in sharp, but beautiful strokes.

Eve,

I walked slowly over to my bed, water from my shower soaking the floor. I eyed the small folded paper. Finally, I reached for it, unfolding it and reading what lay inside.

I’ll be here at 8 to pick you up. Wear comfortable clothes.
PS: the towels are under the chair in the corner of your room. For future purposes.
- S

My stomach churned and if my cheeks weren’t already a blazing red from me scrubbing so hard, they certainly were now. Why was he in my room before the Rising Bell even signaled anyway?

I snatched the towel off the bed as fast as possible, using the silky, plush material to wipe away the water that was still clinging to my skin.

The Rising Bell blared - the same time it did everyday. At seven o’clock, it signaled it was time to get ready for the day. Too bad I’m already up. And I still have an hour. Gah.

I sighed and wrapped the towel around my chest, marvelling on how it felt like a cloud against my skin, and finally let my mind wonder.

So today was the day apparently. I was going to start my training to become a witch, to become one of the deadliest forces known to man, and the only thing that really put a dent in the fae’s forces.

My stomach flipped at the thought, and I ran to the bathroom in fear I would vomit. I placed my palms flat on the vanity while the world swayed around me. Leaning forward, I placed my forehead against the cool glass of the mirror. But still I refused to open my eyes to glance at my reflection. The cold surface of the mirror seemed to seduce the heat right out of my body, leaving me numb and shaky, and I couldn’t stand anymore.

I sunk to the floor, the roughness of the stone digging into my bare back. “What am I going to do?” I whispered to the empty room. My world had changed, and it was determined to change me, too.

My breaths came in ragged gulps, and my vision was blurred with tears. “Get a grip,” I growled at myself through gritted teeth. “You’re better than this.” Damn right I was. Who were they to think that they could change me, to change who I was on the inside? On the inside, I would always be a scavenger, a thief, a villager, an orphan. No amount of classes or spells would change that. I was proud of my lineage.

After my tears had dried and I shivered so hard I feared my teeth would shatter like ice, I finally managed to stand and head back into my bedroom. It was the same. The note on my bed. The towel on the floor where I had dropped it.

Just get this day over with, Eve. You can do this.

I could do this. I had too. With a shaky breath I shuffled over to my wardrobe. I groaned when all I saw was fuzzy garments and silky skirts. Who took out my black pants and tunics? Frustrated, I stalked back into the bathroom and picked up my same clothes I had on the day before.

I was almost finished lacing up my combat boots when a sharp knock sounded at my door.

My heart fluttered. Eight came faster than I expected. “Wait a minute,” I called.

“It’s eight,” he called back, his voice muffled through the thick wood of the door. “You don’t have a minute.”

I glowered and finished tucking my laces into the cuff of my boot. “Then make a minute.”

The door opened with a whine.

I groaned internally when my stomach fluttered. And not the kind that made me want to puke either. He was as gorgeous as always, but instead of his normal black cloak I was used to him wearing, he was sporting a tight, ebony shirt that clung to his muscles as he moved. The sleeves were rolled to his elbows, and his dark hair was tousled; his bangs hanging in his topaz eyes. His pants were almost skin tight, and large leather boots came up to his knees. Two small, silver daggers hung on either side of his waist, their sharp edges seeming to wink at me.

“Eight o’clock means eight o’clock, Eve,” he said, startling me with my name, though I could tell by the way the corner of his mouth twitched, they weren’t his rules.

I kept my face blank. “Yeah. Sorry.”

The smirk faded from his face, his eyes intense. “Sorry doesn’t cut it around here. When you’re given a time to be somewhere, or in this case to be ready, you have to be ready. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Understand?”

“Yes, Father,” I snapped.

I thought I saw him flinch. “Follow me,” he said in a flat voice.

I did as I was told, following him down the hallway and down the staircase with flaming torches. The air was frigid when we emerged from the dormitory, and I couldn’t help but smile. The sky was a lovely, rosey pink streaked with lines of reds, yellows and oranges. Even the tree’s leaves around us seemed to turn a hue oranger overnight. Autumn was in full bloom, and that only meant winter was soon to follow. Finally.

“You’ll have to skip breakfast this morning.”

I hadn’t even realized I was hungry until he mentioned it. My stomach howled in response. “Why not?”

“Because this morning we take your element test.”

Wait, what? “What do you mean, ‘element test?’”

“Well you can’t just start training unless you know what element you’re compatible with.”

I snorted. “You’re joking, right?” He had to be. Wasn’t it obvious that water was my greatest strength?

He shrugged. I was behind him, so I couldn’t see his face. I thought I heard him snickering. “I don’t make the decisions when it comes to you. I’m just here to protect you and make sure you get to your classes on time.”

My heart stopped. Akan said he would assign me my own personal guard... “Protect me?” He sighed, picking up his pace. “Hey, slow down!”

He turned on me. “Yes, I’m here to protect you. Akan assigned me to your side to make sure you stay out of trouble. And you want to know why you have to take the element test? Because you’re not normal. Akan, just like the other Sages, like me, are intrigued to see what you can do. Now,” he held out and arm, “can we please get going? I don’t like making a habit of being late.”

I stared at him. Really, really stared at him. His eyes were hard, haunted, like normal, and his stance was rigid. As if he was waiting for something to pop out and attack us. But his mouth wasn’t curved into a half smile - it didn’t even twitch. He was serious.

“Okay,” I said, hating the taste of defeat on my tongue. “Lead the way.”

He nodded, relief flooding his eyes.

We walked without talking then, following the path we took the previous night. When we passed the spot where the hellhound had attacked us, I was surprised to see nothing of the encounter remained. No cobalt or crimson blood, no tore up grass or broken twigs. I was even surprised the body was missing. The Sages had made the attack seem like a dream, like nothing happened. It was eerie, how they could erase something like that, the proof that something had been murdered. Had lived in the first place.

I’d been asleep the first time I entered the castle, apparently, so this time I took full advantage of my consciousness. As we approached, I felt the weight of the castle weigh down on me. In the distance, it looked large, yes. But never would I have imagined it to be so colossal. I felt like an ant next to Benny, like a grain of sand against a mountain, like the earth against the galaxy. It was a mixture of shiny, stained glass windows, pointed tops and dark stone walls. Though the closer we got, the more detail in the stone I could pick up. Ivy, tangled around strange creatures throats. Fire, burning animals alive. Water, drowning. Air, suffocating...

I gasped, horror painting my cheeks an even paler shade than usual. The Count of Night turned, his eyes going from me to the walls and back to me again.

Understanding crossed his features. “It’s suppose to represent the night the Great War started, seventeen years ago when the fae attacked our home.”

I tried not to flinch at the ‘our home’ part. I stared at the animals, burning, drowning. “Are those... Faeries?”

He nodded, his eyes full of remorse. “Yes. All of the species from the Winter Court; the ones who attacked us.”

“It looks like Hell on Earth,” I whispered, my heart aching, but for who, I wasn’t sure.

“It was.”

We continued on our way, the closer I got, the more details of death and destruction I could pick up. I played with the hem of my shirt to keep my hands from shaking. For some odd reason, I felt sorry for the fae. I’d never really seen one before, besides the hellhound that tried to kill us, and one when I was younger, so I guess I didn’t really know much about them besides what the Sages told us.

“Only the Winter Court’s fae attacked you?” I asked, finally finding the will to speak again.

Sebastian glanced over his shoulder at me. “Yes, they’re the only fae we have a problem with. That, and they’re the only ones whose lands boarded our own.”

I thought back to the night I failed to bring Susie back the honey and mint, the night I intentionally let one of my own die. I thought back to the doe eyed woman in the white cloak, her blue blood pooling around her angelic face. I thought back to what she said.

“I’m here under official business of the Queen.”

“Does the Winter Court have a queen?”

We’d finally reached the enormous doors that led inside the castle, the main entrance. Sebastian went rigid. “How do you know that?”

Shit. “I, um. I just know.”

He turned to look at me, his brow scrunched, watching me. “Yes, there is a queen. Her name is -”

“Queen Maeve,” I finished for him, and his eyes about bugged out of his head.

“How do you know that? No villagers are supposed to know. Did a guard tell you? A servant?” The more he talked, the angrier he seemed to get, and the more panicked.

Though my heart was hammering in my chest, I still stuck to my story. “I just know.”

His golden eyes filled with anger, dismay, alarm, and he glared at me. With an angry huff, he turned on his boot heel and opened the giant wooden doors with a single pull. He held the door open. “In,” he growled. “We’re already late.”

I didn’t have any time to gape and grovel at the beauty and wealth I saw around me. The gold, rubies, silver and iron, I couldn’t look at any of it because Sebastian held my arm tight in his grip, tugging me towards another set of large, dark wood doors. This time a pair of guards flanked either side of the entry, the Order’s seal sewn into their black uniforms. I glowered. Soon, I’d be wearing that symbol on a daily basis too.

They both wore passive expressions, their mouths sewn shut in thin, annoyed lines. They took one look at Sebastian and nodded. The Count reached for the handle. But something was bugging me, and I had to talk about it before I went in front of the Sages.

“Sebastian, wait,” I said.

He froze, his palm millimeters from the door handle. “What? We’re already late, we need to go.”

I nodded. “Yes, I know. But, I need to ask you something.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “Okay, so what is it?”

My stomach churned. Why was this tumbling through my head? Why did I have to get this off my tongue?

Because you want an answer, some part of me whispered, and I hated that part. It was always right. I shouldn’t want an answer. I shouldn’t want anything to do with him.

“Why were you in my room before the Rising Bell rang?”

The Counts tanned skin turned red with blush. “I just wanted to make sure-” He stopped. Shook himself. “It doesn’t matter.”

I bristled. “Yes it does. I was in the shower and you entered my room. And I know I locked the door.”

His embarrassment soon turned to anger. Where was the fun, mischievous guy I met just shy of a week ago? “I said it doesn’t matter,” he snapped, the tattoo under his eyes crinkling with antagonism.

“Why won’t you just tell me?” I growled back. “What am I going to do anyway? You already have me here against my will like a slave. What else can you take away from me?”

I could see the hurt in his eyes when the last of my words flew past my lips, and I instantly regretted them. I wanted to take them back, to apologize, but something inside of me wanted to scream at the idea. I shouldn’t want to apologize for hurting his feelings. I shouldn’t care about his feelings at all. Hell, I barely knew the guy.

Sebastian averted his eyes, his fingers grasping the metal handle of the door. “You’d be surprised on how much we can take away from you, Eve. You’d be surprised on how much you take for granted.”

While I stared at his profile, sorting through his words, I fought with the rising pang of annoyance. What was with him? The emotion changes? Flirty to angry. Serious to an asshole. And now riddles? It was like I never knew what side of Sebastian I would see next.

He turned his back on me. I was going to apologize, the apology practically dancing to get off my tongue, when he opened the door and I saw my fate splayed out in front of me, consisting of seven thrones and beautiful faces with eager expressions.


I stood in the middle of the seven pointed star, my knees shaking, my palms sweating, and my heart trying its best to hammer its way through my ribs.

They all sat in their thrones, eyes wide, fingers clap in their laps. All waiting to see me...

Sebastian stood behind me, his annoyance and anger pulsing off of him in waves. Surprisingly, Akan had nothing to say about us being late. He just had pride and excitement in his crystal-blue eyes.
Cautiously, I glanced around at the faces staring down at me.

In the very first throne sat a middle aged woman, in her middle or late thirties with long, wavy black hair that sat on top of her head in a silky ponytail. A golden ornament sat on her hairline, matching her piercing topaz eyes. Eyes that matched Sebastian’s. Sebastian’s mother... I thought with awe. I glanced at her tattoo below her right eyes - a crescent moon.

I averted my eyes before she caught my stare. Instead, I looked at the man sitting next to her. He was older, maybe in his fifties, with his hair tinted gray. His skin was as dark as mud, but smooth and perfect, just like everyone else in the room but me. He had a broad nose, large forehead, and lush, full lips. But what element he controlled I couldn’t put my finger on. Given his white and gold suit, I assumed either Dawn or Day.

I continued down the line.

Next came a woman with dark auburn hair, her skin as pale and lovely as the morning sun. Her cheeks were flushed, and though excitement shone in her eyes, I could tell she didn’t want to be here. One look at her stomach, and I could tell why. It was bulging, as if she’d eaten an entire pig or cow in one setting. She was pregnant. She smiled when she caught my eye, and I felt my cheeks burn.

On the other side of Akan, sat another man with a fierce look in his eye. He wasn’t smiling in a friendly matter like the others, no. He was looking at me like I was a prize, like he was a scavenger and I was the only thing that would make his horrid life into one of luxury. Given his burgundy robes embroidered with ebony vines and fierce flames, I could only guess he was the Sage of Fire. Benny always told me, don’t play with fire. I gulped.

There were only two Sages left. One being a woman with hair made of honey and gold, and the other being a woman with graying brown hair and soft cocoa eyes. They both watched me with soft expressions, as if I was a child and I got my hand caught in a cookie jar.

I glanced down at my shaking knees and soft leather boots. They were nothing, I was nothing compared to the Sages. What could they want from me? Ice magic wasn’t completely uncommon. I guessed the Water Sage knew how to wield the power of ice, and maybe even the Mages and Masters could learn it or already had.

Akan was the first to break the silence. “It’s very good to see you, Eve Scotts. And I see you found the bathrooms in the dormitories, yes?” The rest of the Sages gave soft chuckles, and my whole body flamed. I turned into one giant ball of blush.

Sebastian pinched the inner side of my forearm, and I bit down a hiss. I smiled through gritted teeth. “Yes, it was very nice.”

The Sages beamed at my willingness to communicate, and I glowered. I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to go home, dammit!

“You know why you’re here, right child?” asked the older woman with soft eyes. She wore dark green robes made of silk, the hems of her sleeves embroidered with forest animals made with golden thread. She had to be the Sage of Earth.

My throat felt tight. What if I said the wrong thing? I swallowed. “Um, yes, your highness. For my element test.”

She flashed a brilliant white smile, her tattoo - a small tree - crinkling with the action.

I knew my element was water, just as Akan and Sebastian knew, but some feeling in my gut whispered that I probably shouldn’t use my ice magic. Something just didn’t feel right.

The pregnant woman cleared her throat, a protective hand placed over her stomach. “You said she was special, Akan. What is it that you want us to see?”

“Get on with it, Akan,” snapped the man in the burgundy robes.

The Sage of Water raised a hand in peace. “Calm, Tavon. Watch.” Akan raised a single finger towards me, and I suddenly felt the power of the underground river come to life. I closed my eyes and let it take me. I could feel the current, feel the cool bliss as the water tugged at my limbs, but something wasn’t right. I could still feel air, the stale taste of the throne room. I wasn’t under water. No. I was in some sort of trance.

My eyes flew open, and Akan wore his winning smile. Something had changed. The look on his face was almost arrogant, as if he just proved something he knew all along.

It was then that I knew I would never get out of here. I was going to become a witch, or die trying to resist. I tilted my head up and thanked God that I had a good sense of self preservation.


“You didn’t do that bad,” Sebastian chuckled.

We were outside of the Magic Hall, the sun now resting on top of the trees in the far east, and a cool breeze blew softly through the yard. Other witches, all wearing black, lounged around the courtyard. Some were chatting, some were reading, and others were just heading to their first lesson of the day. It hit me that this was the first time I’d seen anybody but servants, Sebastian, or the Sages.

My stomach churned with boiling embarrassment. Not that bad? Akan made a complete fool out of me! And by the look on Sebastian’s face, he knew it too.

“Shut up,” I growled. “That was mortifying.”

“Well, now we all know water is your element. It wasn’t that bad.”

I felt tears prick my eyes. It was that bad, and he knew it too. “You should have seen Tavon’s face whenever you failed his request. Basic fire magic! Whoa.”

I whirled on him, my embarrassed quickly morphing into fury. “Will you shut up? I know I did bad, I know I screwed up. I was there, remember? I don’t need you here to tell me how much of a screw up I really am. Trust me, I know.”

The smile fell off his face and he placed his hands on the handles of his daggers. Cocking his head to the side, he studied me, and I felt as if his golden eyes could see right through me; right into the deepest, darkest parts of me that I prefered to keep hidden, away from praying eyes.

I fidgeted under his stare.

“What?” I snapped. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Ugh!” I threw my hands in the air, spinning on my heel, beyond frustrated. Tears stung my eyes a second time, blurring my vision. Blinking rapidly, I tried my hardest to keep the tears in, but once the first fell past my eyelashes it was like a dam broke. I brought my hands up to shield my face, but they just kept coming.

“I’m going back to my dorm,” I hiccupped, turning to flee in the direction of the dormitories. I looked up and my heart broke.

Horror, or maybe disgust controlled his features.

“Eve?”

“I’ve got to go.”

And I ran, not daring to look back.


Apparently I was supposed to go to my first lesson after my element test, but considering I flew to my room in a blubbery haste, I think it’s safe to say I missed it.

I lay on my bed, face smothered in my pillow, trying my best to conceal my sobs. I couldn’t get Sebastian’s face out of my mind, his disgust, and what pissed me off the most was that it shouldn’t have been there to begin with. I shouldn’t care. But I did.

I didn’t have a right to think of him, to miss him, to want him. He wasn’t mine, and I barely knew the guy. I let my mind drift towards the village, towards Jack, Lucas, Steevy, Milly, Emma, Buddy and Lucy. I knew it was stupid, it would only make me cry harder, but I didn’t care. I wanted to cry. I wanted to feel my heart breaking, to feel the pain. It was the only reminder that all of it was real. That my life before this, actually existed.

The door to my dorm opened with a small groan, and I risked a glance up, to tell the maid I wasn’t hungry, but when I caught glimpse of who was in the doorway, my breathing stopped.

Sebastian stood with his palms resting on the hilts of his daggers, his expression a mask, completely unreadable. For a split second, I wondered what I looked like through his eyes. A scavenger with the power of ice, so much power apparently, and I couldn’t even control my emotions. How pathetic I must look to him.

I shoved my face into my pillow again. “Go away,” I mumbled.

“Is that what you want?” he asked, and I heard his boots on my hard floor. He was getting closer, closer.

Was it? Did I really want him to leave? Ever since I got here, Sebastian was my only friend, the only norm in my life right now. Did I want him to go and leave me? No, I didn’t but I wouldn’t admit that. Never. Begging for him to stay would only show I was the weak, pathetic scavenger he thought I was.

“Yes, I want you to leave!”

“No.”

I lifted my head, using the back of my sleeve to wipe tears and snot away from my face. “What?”

“I asked you if you wanted me to leave. That doesn’t mean I want to.”

My heart swelled in my chest, but I squashed the sensation as soon as it arrived. I wouldn’t let him woo me with words, just to see how much he could play me.

“I said leave,” I hissed, trying to make the words as hate filled as possible. He stared at me, his black hair falling into his eyes, and I found myself wanting to run my fingers through those ebony strands. To see if his hair felt as soft as it looked.

“No.”

I groaned, flipping onto my back, a fresh wave of tears threatening to spill over. “Why are you so difficult?”

“I was assigned to you to protect you. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally as well. You’re distressed.”

I snorted. “Really? Through all the snot and tears, I couldn’t tell.”

The springs of my mattress whined as he sat down on the corner of my bed. “I’m serious, Eve. I’m here to protect you. I was assigned-”

“You think that makes me feel any better?” I snapped, finally making the effort to glare at him. His eyes were wide, earnest; a complete opposite man from the one in the throne room just a few hours ago. “To know the only reason you care is because you have to? Because you were assigned to me.”

I opened my mouth to say more, but he cut me off. “That’s not the only reason why I care.”

My mouth snapped shut. “Oh.”

We were silent then, him staring the the wall, and me on my back, glaring at the ceiling through my tears. When the silence got almost unbearable, he spoke.

“Come here.”

I sat up, surprised to see him standing by my doorway. I hadn’t heard him get up. I was about to ask why, but bit my tongue. Instead, I climbed off the giant bed, and made my way over to the Count of Night.

When I stopped a few feet in front of him, he reached out, grabbed my face, and kissed me.

At first I froze, completely shocked. But my surprise soon melted into complete, hot bliss. His lips were so velvety soft, so perfect, and I melted into him, wrapping my arms around his neck. I tangled one hand in his hair, the other running down his chest while his arms wrapped around me. He moaned when I caught his bottom lip between my teeth.

He pulled back suddenly, his strong, callused hands on my arms. He stared at me, confusion swirling in his eyes, tightening his face. I wanted to reach for him again, to feel his lips on mine, to feel his hands on me once more, but I restrained myself.

“How strange...” he mumbled.

“What?” I whispered, but my voice seemed to break him out of his confused trance. He shook himself and turned.

“I need to go,” he said, his voice flat.

“Sebastian,” I called, reaching for him, “wait.”

“I’ll be here at eight tomorrow to pick you up. Don’t make us late.”

And then he was gone.

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