At least one resident withdrew from the ensuing conversations that followed.
Selva waited for her lord in his study for some time, watching the portrait that hung over the fireplace. When he did not come, she wandered off to gather her thoughts.
Her feet took her up many stairs. Along the way, she paused at the windows to look at the blackening sky.
She would stop first in her room and begin the ritual of dressing for the night. Her fingers worked through the long length of her hair, untangling what she could before she began to brush the strands of her hair at least a hundred times.
The maid would arrive to take her outer garments from her to be put away. The kind woman usually would fuss over her appearance until Selva dismissed her. And then, Selva would then pass through the door to the bath that lay between her room and her lord’s chamber.
Sometimes she did not knock. However, this evening she did. Hearing nothing, she slipped through the door anxious at what she might find.
The weight of the air inside was heavy. She wrinkled her nose at its stale quality while she waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of his room. Once she could see, she moved to the windows and thrust them open. She was determined to remedy this cave-like atmosphere that her lord often enjoyed.
The lady ignored the bite of the wind as it invited itself inside. It blew in noisily and told her of where it had been. When it finished, she stood while it continued to whirl around her. Perhaps it was embracing its master, meeting her here when she could not be outside. Or perhaps she simply tolerated it, hoping it might take away the unseen weights that rested upon her shoulders.
And so she failed to catch the sound of approaching steps. A pair of hands caught her, firmly pulling her against a solid, lean form. Her heart beat quickly at the smell of spice and magic. But she was a picture of calm as her lord whispered against her neck. “Should you be standing here in the cold like this?”
His sometimes monotone voice offered little hint as to whether he really expected a specific answer. A clever and brave woman, she would tease him. “Perhaps I enjoy it.”
“Do you?” His voice always turned softer when he found something in her responses that pleased him. “Shall I leave you here with the wind while I go back and smoke another pipe with the gentlemen?”
His fingers had wandered upwards to toy with her long, blonde hair.
She loathed the smell of the pipe. Selva shifted on her feet, turning to bestow a haughty smile. “Do you wish to sleep on the floor this evening?”
His eyebrow quirked and the whites of his teeth were suddenly bared. He did not laugh often, but his eyes gleamed. “If that’s where you wish to sleep, then it matters little to me.”
He tightened one arm about her waist while his other hand freely roamed the curve of her body. She shivered as his fingers discovered an opening in her nightdress.
The wind blew noisily, reminding her she was still the witch of the woods. Selva bit down on her lip and pulled away.
She risked his displeasure as she stomped towards the windows to close them. She whirled back in his direction and crossed her arms in front of her chest. Selva drew strength from the feel of cool glass against her back and matched his hungry look with a stare. “I wish to talk to you.”
“Talk?” His eyes glittered in the dark; he was neither a good conversationalist or listener particularly in situations like these. He sat down, his displeasure at being thwarted from seducing his companion quite evident. His eyes drifted past her to the window and narrowed. “I suppose you were not simply choosing to air out the room. Were you alone?”
His suspicion angered her. She bit back the temptation to answer him sarcastically. “You know I don’t allow the owls inside. They are afraid of you.”
He leaned forward in his seat, his hand retrieving a peculiar mask from the table next to him. She knew it well — it was a relic he had worn long ago. He placed it on his face and peered back at her. “It would not do for her minions to feel otherwise.”
She had despised that mask for it obscured the man behind it. She could rely only on his words to guess what he might be thinking. She guessed he felt threatened by the Snow Queen who used the owls as her messengers and spies. But lately they had come to linger about the estate, waiting for her to command them. “They are but children,” she told him. “And they won’t bother you much. I have sent them away to investigate the claims of the clergyman and the merchant.”
The wolf continued to reveal nothing as he questioned her. “Then what of the open window? Were you using magic?”
“No,” she answered faintly.
Before she could blink, he had quit his chair. The mask fell off, falling to the floor with a sharp thud. Maximilian towered over her, his arms framing her between himself and the window.
She widened her eyes, startled by the emotion burning on his face. She thought he might shout but instead he buried his nose in her hair.
“Selva.” His voice rasped. “Do you lie to me?”
He moved his nose along her neck, his lips pressing into her skin as he hunted for signs of residual magic. He knew the smell of it would always be there for she harbored a great deal of power within her. He did not fear that part of her. In fact, he was intrigued by it. But at times he could tell when it had been changed, had been used. And that knowledge infuriated him, for each use meant she gambled with her own life.
She felt pity for him, drawing her arms around his neck. “I would not deceive you on that point, my lord. Earlier, you expressly forbade me to use it.”
She had become weak in the library, enough that he felt it necessary to drag her out and demand an explanation for her behavior. He had been furious when he came to understand that she had made two trips for the humans. He knew what toll such extraordinary speed and change in shape exacted upon her body.
What he could not do then, he did now. He held her tightly. “And this evening you shall not either.”
His command could have instigated another fight. He had no right to order her, no power to make her comply. But she loved him too much to argue. “As you wish, my lord. If I might speak, then.”
He inclined his head, touching her forehead with his. He seemed impatient as his hand reached down to bunch the fabric at her waist and began to pull her away from the window. “What it is you wish to speak of?“
Quickly, she sifted through the many things she had wanted to say. Selva’s fears had multiplied greatly over the last few days. She worried over Edmund, the people in this building. And she feared the strange smell she found clinging to the wind. She hated that nagging feeling that a time of parting was inevitable. But none of these things she could speak while he led her towards the bed.
She buried her head in the space below his chin, wishing she did not have to say anything at all.
Her silence must have surprised him. He stopped moving. The hand at her waist was now cradling the back of her head. “What is it? Why do you have a look of doom and gloom upon your face?”
There were many answers to such a question, but she managed to choke out the safest of them. “Edmund wishes to leave and find out where he was born.”
“And?” Her mate demanded.
She spoke softly. “And I promised to take him. I did that when I told him I believed we were related.”
“Foolish woman,” he answered. “The world is in chaos and you two wish to leave? Surely you know better than him that this is not the time.“
She understood why he said what he did. But she was a creature of the woods and had long learned to stop being afraid of its darkness like the others. “I must take responsibility for what I promised. I gave my word.”
“And you gave me yours as well.”
“Yes,” she said matter-of-fact.
He sounded annoyed. “You intend to keep both promises somehow. Perhaps I ought to break his leg and keep you pregnant for the next ten years.”
“My lord,” she said in horror.
He caught her hands before she might beat him on the chest. “You are surprisingly gullible this evening, Selva. I will do no such thing. We will work this through with him together. But mind your promises. Every time I turn around, you are aiding and assisting another poor hapless creature with no thought to yourself.” He angled her chin so he could look into her eyes for himself. “Promise me — you shall make no more agreements without consulting with me.”
She frowned slightly before warily nodding.
Satisfied, his shoulders relaxed. “Now,” he scolded her as he inclined his head. “No more consulting.”
She tried to protest when he kissed her. She had so much more to tell him. But his kiss was not easily broken or very polite. Neither were his hands, baring her shoulders and then everything else. He marked each newly bared part of her body with his mouth until she could no longer talk.
“You are mine,” he told her as he laid her across his bed.
She forgot to disagree.
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