A wry chuckle escaped Katherine's lips. "I'm glad that you think I'm always doing good things. However, most of the time I myself don't know what to do. I just do what I think is best for myself and the people around me. Then I see how it works out. In my opinion, that is what everyone should do. Although there are many people who don't follow that principle."
"But...", Hazel started again with a disbelieving look on her face.
As Katherine didn't want to hear the words 'I still think you are a goddess' written in the girl's eyes, she interrupted her. "Alright, alright. Even if I were a goddess, I would still tell you I don't want you to see me as one. So what would you do then?"
Confusion surfaced in Hazel's eyes. "If you don't want me to see you as one..." One could see her will to follow the command fight with her own believe. "I... I wouldn't dare to?"
As she spoke it out aloud, there seemed to be a blockade loosening in her head. "Ah! So milady, you are a goddess undercover! Of course I won't tell anyone! I will treat you just as normal as anyone else, I promise! But does it matter if we are alone? Can't I treat you like you deserve it at least then?"
The overly exited mood and the ending question made Katherine instantly regret her words. Sadly, it was too late to take them back. Hazel obviously wouldn't believe her anymore. She was too deep into her illusions. At least like this they hopefully wouldn't affect her surroundings.
"You absolutely can't!", Katherine sighed. Unexpectedly, she'd found another thing she and her maid had in common: stubbornness.
It was evening. The sun was leaving the sky soon, the last rays shining through the window into the study. The white papers on the desk reflected the light. They were covering every inch of the wood and overflowing on the edges. Tax assessments, letters, requests for tribunals in a few cases of crime, and a whole bunch of reports concerning the state of affairs in the Dragsa and Renat kingdoms were stacked there.
Despite the workload, Nathaniel wasn't sitting on his desk. Instead, he was leaning against the wall beside the window, taking a break.
Work wasn't going well today. He couldn't concentrate. All the time his mind would wander to those red lips pressed against the leather. Unconsciously, he would rub his now glove-free hand. How would it have felt if this softness touched his skin directly? Would he have felt the same heat that was raising in his body every time he thought of this?
Of course he knew, thinking of that was useless. Thinking of her in general was. He despised his inner self for still doing it over and over. The red lips, the smiling face, the blushed cheeks, they all kept re-surfacing again and again.
There was no time for this nonsense. Exhausted, he rubbed his eyes. The reports marked this day as the one where the Renat kingdom's armies would start moving. They would need two and a half weeks until they reached here... if here really was their destination.
He hoped it was. Although he made preparations to not leave the other possible attack points unguarded. To be exact, the number of military in the other destinations was much higher than here. But he wouldn't need much here, as long as his plan didn't fail.
He really hoped it to succeed but if not, the two armies in the nearest positions would need to jump in and together with a few well-prepared traps bring the enemy's advance to a halt until the main war-force arrived. It would cost them many lives like this, so it was better if it didn't happen.
As the sky slowly turned darker, there was a knock on the door. Without shifting his gaze from the window, where the long shadows of the trees turned the flower fields into a black-and-white view, he uttered a "Come in."
Who else would it be but Sam, his trusted butler, with a silver tray in his hands.
"Your dinner, milord.", he said formally and searched for a place to put the tray down as the desk was too full. He settled with the chair for visitors in the end. It was never used by anyone besides Sam himself in the nearly two years they lived here anyway.
Nathaniel kept silent. Whenever Sam saw the earl in this mood, he would normally leave without disturbing him. It was the unspoken sign for 'I want to be alone', which Sam respected.
This time, however, was different. He had a message to deliver, too important to be left out although he himself didn't want to repeat these words. "The lady said she won't heal you anymore."
The shoulders of the earl stiffened but he didn't turn around. Guilt had clouded his gaze, making the world outside even darker. He'd been too harsh on her again. She was only seventeen this year and her temper that of a spoiled brat. Of course she'd snap when confronted with a death-threat. It shouldn't be surprising.
The really surprising thing was that he hadn't been able to control himself back then. The anger about her rubbing her lips like they'd touched something disgusting had been so big that it influenced his words, made them a venomous threat while at the same time they nearly revealed the truth. 'It might just kill you'. 'It', not he himself. Luckily, it was just a minor slip-up.
Drumming with his fingertips on the window sill, Nathaniel deliberated what she would want now. He was sure that she wouldn't simply stop negotiating with him as his threat was only valid if she tried to touch him again. No, she wanted something. And as the only thing he requested up till now was her assistance, she tried to use it to get what she wanted. Again.
If it was someone else, he might just stop this ridiculous back and forth. With her, however, he didn't have this possibility. He badly needed her skill but at the same time he knew that she needed him, too. It was like a slow dance: whenever he made a step back, she needed to follow but it was the same for him if she backed away. None of them dared to make the step too big as they feared the other would back out and cancel the deal altogether.
His lips curved upwards as he imagined them dancing. Very unlikely to happen in reality.
The theory was why he believed her claim would be manageable. However, he quite liked the arrangement as it was now, so he wouldn't make things simple for her. Equally, she wouldn't for him.
"Tell her I don't like to discuss business over a third person. Until the next date we will go by the old terms, then we can set new ones."
Finally, he turned to the butler, wearing the emotionless business-face again. A slight chill was in the air, making his words seem completely like logical conclusion at first glance. "We might decide to write a contract this time, so it would be best to have a table nearby. Furthermore, although I have a tight schedule the next days, I still need to eat. These two combined would make a dinner date preferable. Tell her the servants will prepare everything for a dinner on - oh."
He halted abruptly as if he remembered something. "It is that date again in two days, right? Then we can't do it there..."
Sam nodded approvingly. "Right, Sunday wouldn't be adequate. How about Monday?"
His thoughts already drifting to other topics, the earl answered with a curt nod. "Sounds good."
He didn't think it was that time of the year already.