Chapter Thirty Two
I laid flat on my back, staring up at the dark ceiling of my bedroom, watching the shadows of the moon stretch and curve as the night wore on. The bed felt like a cloud beneath me, yet no matter how I twisted or turned, I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. And whenever I closed my eyes, I saw Dad. Each image more terrible, more gruesome than the last.
Blowing out a frustrated breath, I threw the suffocating covers off and padded out of my room. Though my throat still twitched painfully, I drew in a deep breath, closing my eyes, just taking in the peaceful quiet of the large house.
When I opened my eyes, I found that I had walked outside and was standing at the threshold of the stables. My bare feet crunched over the dirty floor as I ventured further inside, my legs taking me straight to the beautiful black stallion that had been my own.
His ears flapped in my direction and he blew out a hot breath, greeting me.
“Hey, there, Warrior,” I said softly as I approached. “How you doin’, boy?” I reached my hand and ran it gently down his head to his nose.
I wasn’t exactly sure what my plan had been by coming here, but staring into Warrior’s incredibly dark eyes, I felt more at home than I had in that house.
“Something tells me you were really good at making me forget my worries,” I told him and he whinnied in response, making me smile. “You think you could help me out tonight?” I unclasped his stable door.
Warrior wore no saddle, no bridle, nothing at all. I had no idea how to fashion him in any of those things, but there was a nervous energy in my blood that insisted I get on my horse’s back immediately.
As if he had read my mind, Warrior shifted closer to a nick in the wall, just large enough for my foot to fit. Using that as leverage, I hoisted myself onto his back, running my palms over the soft hair.
“Right, so, I don’t know if you remember,” I whispered in his ear, “but I’m not so advanced at this stuff. So if you could take it easy—”
I squealed as Warrior bolted out of the stable, taking off like a bullet. His hooves pounded into the earth, shooting us off into the expansive yard of Kendon. I tangled my hands in his mane, clenching so hard my knuckles turned white, holding on for dear life as I buried my face in his neck.
But then…the air rushed through my loose hair, my nightgown whipped in the wind, oxygen filled my lungs, and an easy smile spread like butter over my face. My lids drifted closed and I sat up, leaning back, turning my face up to the night sky as I breathed the cold night air.
Warrior sprinted faster, almost as if he had needed to run as badly as I had, taking us through the trees, knowing the lay of the land better than I could’ve imagined. He easily wound through the trees until we came to a small lake, one I recognized, even in the dark, from a vision I’d had of Carter and I.
As quickly as he had taken off, Warrior stopped, stomping his foot impatiently by the edge of the lake. Slowly, I slid off his back, coming round to his face. “Why did you bring me here, boy? Hmm?”
In answer, he bent his head down to the water, drinking greedily.
“Of course.” I sighed, sitting down beside him, watching Warrior’s throat work as he drank. “Thanks, Warrior,” I said to him. “I needed that.”
I screamed, scrambling to my feet as I searched for who had spoken in the darkness.
The water rippled and I squinted to make out the dark figure. He came closer until he was standing in the light of the moon, his hands up to show he meant no harm. “My apologies, Elizabeth,” Nathaniel said hurriedly. “I did not mean to frighten you.”
I let out a breath of relief, waving my hand dismissively. “You just startled me, is all. What are you…” My voice trailed off as my eyes fully took him in and blood rushed into my face as I averted my gaze. “Are you aware that you aren’t wearing anything?” I squeaked.
Water splashed as he quickly lowered himself beneath the surface. “Oh, my—I am so—"
“It’s all right…” I peeked back up at him. He had hidden everything below his waist beneath the surface of the lake, but all my thoughts faded as I stared.
Nathaniel was much leaner than his brother, lithe and slender. But even after all his time help captive by Gretchen, strong lines still outlined hard abs and the definition in his arms was noticeable even in the dark of the night. My cheeks started blazing for a different reason.
He ran a hand through his wet brown hair, his hazel eyes shining with embarrassment. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “I like to come out here at night sometimes. It helps to get my mind off all the…concerns of the day.” He swept his arm wide, encompassing the lake. “You are free to join me if you like.”
“No!” I said much too loudly and he raised his eyebrows in surprise. Swallowing, I tried again. “I mean, no, thank you, but I’m good right here.”
He nodded, his eyes moving to Warrior who had now moved to grazing on the bits of grass surrounding the lake. “I suppose you were in need of some forgetting as well?”
“You could say that.” I sank back down, drawing my legs up and clasping my arms around them.
He swam closer, the muscles in his arms flexing as he did. He folded his forearms on the edge of the lake, resting his chin on top, his eyes gentle and concerned. “How are you, Elizabeth?”
I let out a deep breath. “I don’t know.” I paused, considering. “I thought my father had been dead for four years. Even when I saw Robert for the first time, I was sure that it couldn’t be my father because it just wasn’t possible. And now…now, I’m sure that was my father.” I bit my lip as I looked into his understanding gaze. “How do you mourn the death of someone you thought you'd already buried years ago?”