“My father said that men must eat as men, even as the sheep eat as sheep.”
“I am neither.” He paused as though debating whether to speak his next thought. Then he said in a deeper, slower tone, “Neither are you.”
She looked into his eyes. She had meant to say something light, in keeping with this peculiar evening, but the words fled. Had she told herself that there was no desire in his eyes? That only meant she had failed to search deeply enough.
With her new, unwanted experience, Felicia judged that there was something besides base lust in Blaic’s seeking her out. She’d seen the low hunger of William Beech and the somewhat more dressy variation practiced by Sir Elswith, and this was neither.
Blaic’s eyes burned with a need that seemed unquenchable, as though he’d devour her, body, soul, and all. It was not the desire of a man for a woman but something darker, something she dared not name.
“What do you want?” she cried, starting up and overturning the chair.
A cold wind seemed to blow past her, whirling away the table, the servants, and her magnificent gown. All the enchantments vanished, except for one.
Blaic was still there.
Felicia backed away from him, fear choking her like green seawater. She clutched the throat of her robe tightly. She knocked into the stand of fireplace tools at the edge of the mantelpiece and sought blindly behind her for the poker.
He said her name and she heard only the hissing of snakes.
“Don’t come near me,” she said, her voice pleading rather than commanding.
“I swear on my father’s immortality that I mean you no harm.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe in you. Go away.”
“Put down that thing in your hand. My People cannot bear cold iron.”
“Good, then I—I have a weapon.”
“You don’t need a weapon.” A hint of exasperation crept into his voice.
“I’ll hurt you if you touch me.”
“I have no intention of touching you. Mortals! The men are bad enough, but the women! May the Powers protect me from mortal women!”
He went out like the flame of a candle in a sudden breeze.
Was it over, this dream or madman’s fantasy? Felicia searched her room for the slightest sign that would prove the reality of what she had experienced. The heavily laden table had left no marks on the floor, not even divots in her Turkish carpet. Not so much as a crumb had fallen from the white cloth, nor had the servants let spill a single drop of wine—quite the best she’d ever tasted. Even her own candles in their brackets by the mirror seemed not to have burned down at all.
Yet she could still taste what she’d eaten and feel the warmth of the wine within. Though the jewels were gone, she still felt the touch of their heavy coolness on her skin. “Either,” she said, “I have a much better imagination than I have ever suspected in myself, or ...”
Firmly, she slammed the door of her thoughts on that “or.” She methodically prepared herself for bed. If she scrubbed her neck and wrists a little more briskly than usual, there was no one to wonder why. Keeping her thoughts solidly fixed on the business at hand—cleaning her teeth, brushing her hair, rubbing away a spot of tallow that had dropped on her black gown—Felicia managed to keep at bay Blaic’s all-too-real image.
Kneeling, she said her prayers before climbing up two small steps into her bed. Taking her book of devotions from beneath the pillow, she read the day’s thought. Yet a moment after she’d marked the page with a ribbon and slid the book away again, she could not recall what she had read. That was his fault too.
“Most vexatious,” she said, leaning over to adjust the screen around the candle. The near-darkness was a comfort.
Ordinarily, she loved her deep, wide bed. The moments just before sleep, when she let her troubles slip away for the night, were the best of the day. She always positioned herself more to the side than in the
Anne Fraser / Lynne Marshall
Ann Stewart, Stephanie Nash