Nathaniel narrowed his eyes. "Why? you ask me why I react like this when you met with a man alone on the balcony?"
He swatted her hand away and advanced till her body was caught between his and the railing. "It would be so much easier putting you in a cell to visit when I feel like it. But I was nice. I took care of you when you had nothing, even when you treated me like an enemy."
His words were spoken through gritted teeth, patience hanging on a thread. "I know this is a fake marriage, but as long as you are in this, there will be no meeting other men. Never! You are not the only person with pride. I won't tolerate you trampling over it."
Katherine's eyes went wide. His accusation caught her unprepared. "You think I am cheating on you?! Do I look like someone so disloyal? Nathaniel!"
"I know what I saw." His eyes burned holes into her head as if he wanted to see her thoughts to know why she was faking her ignorance.
"What did you see?" Katherine was furious. She didn't do anything wrong, she only helped! Why was she always the bad one? This wasn't fair!
As he remained staring down at her in silent distrust without saying a word, her temper exploded. She had enough of being wrongly accused. She would show him once and for all how wrong he was! "Did I pull him down like this?"
She pulled on Nathaniel's collar till he was hunched over and had to support himself on the railing in her back. Their bodies were pressed against each other, face only ten centimeters away.
"Katherine", he warned.
"No!" She looked like a valkyrie, her black hair dancing with the night wind and eyes filled with fighting spirit. He was right, the time for being nice was up! If he didn't want to hear, he had to feel!
With a harsh pull on his collar, she crashed her lips onto his.
He had no time to shy away, noticing it only when it was too late. His heart stopped for a second.
Her teeth dug into his lower lip, the pain telling him that this was real. Warmth and softness met his skin, a hot temptation. With a curse he tore away, grasped her chin and hastily inspected her face.
"Nathaniel" Her violet eyes were greedy. This wasn't enough. He pulled back way too soon. She never knew kissing felt so good. His hand caught hers before it could touch his neck.
"No", he mumbled absentmindedly, unknowingly copying their conversation from before. His other hand moved her head from side to side, then raised her chin up to inspect her throat. Strangely, her skin had a faint glow. No dark spots.
"Nathaniel!" Now indignantly, she shook her head, escaping his grasp. "What are you doing?!"
"Seeing if your brain got flatter." He couldn't believe that she was completely fine after touching his skin. It was a miracle. He still feared to see darkness creeping down her neck. Or maybe it started eating on another part of her body? His gaze wandered to the wide dress that hid waist and legs. Should he ask her to lift it up?
"Your brain is flat!", Katherine stomped her feet. She couldn't look him in the eye. She kissed him! What had she been thinking to do something so stupid? To prove her loyalty? Her affection? Laughable! The only comment he had was that her brain must be flatter!
Blinking rapidly, Katherine wiggled out of his arms and stormed off the balcony. "Idiot!"
Nathaniel didn't run after her. He leaned on the railing, confused and bewildered. What happened here? Why didn't she get poisoned? Was she just lucky that the darkness was still suppressed from her last healing? But being weak normally didn't stop the darkness from hungering after meat.
While pondering, he unknowingly sucked his lower lip in his mouth, tasting an unusual flavor mixed with a light metallic taste. His tongue swiped over the small crack her teeth caused when he pulled away. Such a fierce seductress.
His lids lowered. She had been like a hot flame in his arms, nearly burning him with her touch. He hadn't felt someone's skin for years. After the first fright was gone, his body reacted strongly to the memory.
He couldn't stop himself from licking his upper lip to taste her once more. Over the years, he had forgotten how skin-contact felt. The real thing was so much more tempting than his memory. He felt like a starving man that just received a single bite of meat.
"What should I do?", he whispered and gazed up to the stars. Never did it feel so difficult to back off. He didn't even want to anymore, but he was rational enough to know that being lucky once didn't mean that his problem was solved.
Even worse for his crumbling will was knowing that Katherine wanted him, and only him. Her kiss was too passionate to be out of calculation. She had been caught up in emotions and was angry that he didn't trust her. She wasn't doing this only to marry him.
It had been hard enough to get the 'Yours only' out of his head and that was only a letter. Now it felt like heaven was on his fingertips but if he dared to reach out it would turn into a hellish nightmare.
It was pure torture.
Burying his head in his arms, Nathaniel sighed. Staying still and distanced wouldn't work anymore. He didn't feel distanced and she was bound to provoke him when he tried to gain his cool back. To get him to react, this stubborn woman even stopped following the social code. Kissing him was definitely breaking the unwritten rules of courtship. There were only two save ways to react: Telling her the truth, and making her hate him by other means.
He didn't like those options. If he took the first one, he would not only reveal that their relationship was impossible but most likely also make her realize that he was the patient and lied to her for such a long time. Or at least that both his magic ability and the patient's poison were the same. She might hate him for that, or worse, pity him. There was a small possibility that she would refuse helping him because he lied.
The second option wasn't any better. If she only lost her affection for him, it was good, but as soon as she hated him enough to breach their agreement, he would be the one losing out.
"I dug myself a pit", he grumbled in his arms. If he had trusted her in the beginning, he wouldn't be in this predicament now. But back then he didn't know how loyal she was.
"You have to tell her", the shadow that had appeared behind him said.
"I know." It was the only option. He just didn't want to. "Sam, am I too selfish?"
The shadow moved forwards to the railing, standing with his hands behind his back. The pose looked a bit mismatched with his dark cloak and hood on. He resembled a scholar more than his real profession. "Selfishness is human. Selflessness is also human. Most people are only generous when it doesn't harm them or makes their friends, family or beloved happy instead, bringing them themselves benefits. So most 'selflessness' can be counted as selfishness, too. What is really important is the harm it brings to others. Will it cause harm if you do what you want to?"
That wasn't a question. Each second Katherine didn't know about his curse she was in danger. Especially now, that she dared to touch him without warning. He had to stop being selfish.
The imagination of her flinching back whenever she was near him tortured his mind. Would she also think of him as a monster?
"She isn't your mother", Sam reminded him. The queen's mind had always been unstable, even before she married into the royal family. It had only gotten worse with time.
"I know." Still, it wouldn't be the same. She wouldn't look at him with the same sparkling eyes. Their one kiss would be their last. He should have indulged in it a more. The taste on his lips would soon be gone.
But not yet.
Suddenly, he remembered that now wasn't the right time to tell her. "It's her birthday soon. I don't want to ruin it beforehand. I will... just keep this secret a little longer."
Though Nathaniel himself already felt guilty saying that, Sam only nodded. He also didn't want to see Nathaniel suffer. He knew that whatever Katherine decided to do after knowing, their relationship would definitely change. She might not be able to take his hand casually afterwards. "Do you want to hear about the operation?"