Far away, far east in another part of the Northernlands, a handsome man scowled.
As lord of the castle, Count Maximilian Wolfram should have been informed immediately of the arrival of new guests. However, this morning he had spied two new children hiding under the table. When he turned his cool gaze upon the humans and inquired after their parents, they began to cry. To his surprise they then ran off, leaving him with a crowd staring at him as if he were a monstrous beast.
He had retreated to his study in order to examine his appearance in a mirror. Assured he had not lapsed in maintaining a human shape, he began to pace the floor of his study and contemplate this latest turn of events. The Count stopped when an elderly gentleman brought a tray into the room to growl. “What keeps Lady Selva?”
The butler did not blink. Instead, Hastings began to prepare his master a cup of tea. “She has been alerted that you require her presence. She is still dining.”
The lord sighed and threw his elegant frame onto a chair. He accepted the drink Hastings offered and tried his best to put on some farce of eating while he waited.
He was not normally used to waiting on anyone. But if he was irritated, he presented only a calm, cool appearance as Lady Selva appeared at his door.
His mate was not the sort of woman to skip merrily to her lord. Rather, she paused at the fireplace mantel to run her finger across the top to inspect for moisture. Nor did she look at him. Instead, she took a moment to study the portrait of a dark-haired woman. “How unhappy she looks today,” she said to no one in particular.
The Count tapped his cane on the floor, dismissing his butler from their presence. His eyes followed the woman as she walked about the room, his eyes lingering upon her hair – its fair color intriguing him as it did most of his cousins. She was looking very well this morning. She had worn a long, flowing gown that he knew would be soft to the touch. He cleared his throat, trying to ignore the surprising temptation to grab her. “I’ve noticed several new children at breakfast. I thought you would know how this came to pass.”
She turned around, her mouth slightly open. Her eyes flickered with uncertainty as she studied her companion, but she shrugged. “The townspeople. You know they brought children with them. And I’m sure there were rather small ones. They grow rather fast.”
“Human children do not grow that fast,” he snapped back. “Do not think you can fool me with that suggestion.”
She smoothed down the front of her white gown, removing some almost invisible crinkle from its surface.
He stood, his gaze lingering upon her body before they caught up to her hazel eyes. He knew why she avoided looking at him. “You took them in.”
The smile on her face wavered slightly as she advanced towards the Count and placed her fingers on the lapel of his jacket. “Yes,” she admitted softly. “They were brought here early this morning by a man of the church who the townspeople claim to know. Their town is almost ruined. They have no parents and no place to go.”
“Selva.” He clasped her fingers, unwilling to let her distract him from this topic. “And did you think to hide this from me? Did you think I would turn them out?”
“How would I know?” She snatched her hand away and turned her eyes to the stain glass window. “You were so angry about the other family–“
Evenly he responded. “The road is still dangerous. We do not know what preys upon their town. Encouraging them to run around means they might simply die on the way. And we cannot take a stream of refugees. We don’t know what sort of people these might be.”
The pressure in the room became heavy. She stamped her foot once and whirled about. “Nonetheless they are souls in need!”
Wolfram stood his ground. She could easily kill him for his rudeness, turn him to ice with just a word. She was a strong woman of elemental magic and under the protection of a great Queen herself. And yet he knew she would not harm him or force his hand even when she thought him an idiot. For whatever reason that he did not understand, she loved him.
“I won’t turn them out as long as they do not cause trouble for the rest,” he reached out for her hand. “But to teach them to lie is unforgivable. Not in my home. Do not make me question their loyalties. Or yours.”
She glowered at him. “Do you?”
The Count’s teeth flashed in warning before he leaned forward. He liked how her hazel eyes glittered back at him as he trapped her against the wall. His lips grazed her neck as he gathered her up in his arms. “Yes. But perhaps you can convince me otherwise.”