Neither the scream nor the push managed to shake Nathaniel out of his stupor. Here he thought the only thing he needed to care for was that she didn't touch his skin. How wrong he had been. He hadn't been prepared for this softness in his hands. Mind me, even though he found her mesmerizing and sweet, he always thought that she was a bit childish. Her chest, however, was everything but that. It was a big, mature ball of softness. Uncomparable to anything he'd touched before.
Always buried in his work and knowing that he couldn't go further, he didn't seek the contact with woman. Though over time more and more woman tried to cling to him, he didn't touch any of them. It was partly out of the thinking that he might be tempted more if he did, and partly because none of them interested him.
Now he was left in a stupor, because he suddenly realized that the last statement wasn't quite right anymore. He should have recognized it much sooner, yet he didn't. The fascination he had for Katherine wasn't untainted. It wasn't like the amus.e.m.e.nt over a naive girl, but ... something else. He was beginning to see her as a woman.
The thought troubled him deeply. How could he let it get so far? Him and her... him and any woman... wasn't possible.
That was why he didn't console the girl sitting in the corner, but turned to the window again, his brows furrowed deeply.
He doesn't even say sorry!, Katherine thought and felt upset. Shortly after lashing out at him, she'd realized that he wasn't really at fault. She was the one to stand up in a moving carriage. But he still touched her where he shouldn't have! To apologize was only right!
Every once and now stealing peeks at Nathaniel, Katherine thought that he was looking way too unperturbed. How could he be so calm after that incident? Was she being too consciousness? Was it normal for the earl to touch a girls b.r.e.a.s.t?
Her blush intensified. She remembered the warning he gave her in the gardens. That she was too young to play with him. Did he mean that she was too inexperienced? Looking at the situation now, maybe it was true. Maybe she really overreacted. After all, wasn't getting his interest exactly what she wanted before? Only that she'd already given up...
But the newest developments made her overthink that decision. Maybe it was still possible. She just wasn't patient enough before. And too obvious to boot. If she made it look more like coincidences - like the fall today - maybe then he wouldn't threaten her again.
Slowly, she uncoiled her position and sat up strait. But what should she talk about now?
Just then, the carriage stopped and someone knocked on the door, saying: "Milord, we reached the mountain."
The way up was still far, but it wasn't possible for the carriage to ride on the small mountain path. Nathaniel took up his bag and began to ascend in silence. In a hurry, Katherine and some of the guards followed him.
"Shall I take your bag, milady?", Jack offered with a smile.
Katherine smiled back at him thankfully. "Yes please!" What a good guard, trying to lessen her load!
Jack took over the bag proudly, looking as if he just won an award, to which Pete could only roll his eyes. Rapidly, however, the joy was muffled by a cold shiver washing over the whole company. The earl, already at an higher level, obviously wasn't pleased by their pace.
When the sun was at the highest point, they reached the mountain peak. Snow covered the ground like a thin white blanket. Untouched. Katherine was glad for bringing warm clothes. She had to thank Sam for this when she was back. They plodded through the snow, leaving a muddy path behind them.
The earl stopped in front of a cave. It seemed to be man-made as the hole was formed like a small door, rusting door hinges lying on the ground.
With a wave of his hand, the earl indicated everyone to wait here and stepped inside the cave. Katherine pouted. She came all the way here with him and now she should just wait outside? Not going to happen!
Like the proud lady she was, she straitened her back and followed Nathaniel into the darkness. Some guards may have been tempted to stop her, but when they moved, a one-eyed glare hit them hard and made them step out of the way promptly.
Pete, who noticed the manipulation, gave Jack a stare in return, which made the smaller man raise his hands in an innocent faction.
"Really...", Pete sighed. "Can you make your favoritism any less obvious at least? Troublesome."
The cave was long and dark, but small enough to touch the stone on both sides, so Katherine didn't lose her orientation. As it was an unknown territory, she walked carefully. When the cave made a turn, she couldn't even see her fingers anymore in the darkness, letting her move forward even slower.
Her curiosity raised to it's peak. What was the earls purpose? Why was he here? He said he wanted to visit someone... but who would live in this godforsaken cave where the wind was as cold as an ice pickle and the darkness as deep as a giants maw?
In the distance a small flame awoke. It was a candle, giving out a warm, soothing light, which was a bit spooky in this unmanned cave. A figure contrasted to the light. He was sitting with his head down, his back showing in Katherine's direction. Even still so far away, Katherine knew clearly that it was Nathaniel. The white hair betrayed him. Nobody else was in sight.
I knew he wouldn't visit someone, Katherine thought triumphantly. Who would want to live here out of their own volition? But what was he up to then? What was so important to climb this goddamn mountain for? Slowly, she sneaked nearer when she heard him speak. His voice was unusually soft. She needed to concentrate to understand his words.
"The years just keep on rushing by. What a shame. It's twenty years now. You know, the one who killed you still keeps living on and on and on... I wonder, are you angry about that?"
He paused, and Katherine's thoughts were overthrowing themselves in her head. Who was he talking to? He definitely said the person was dead. Was he talking to a ghost then? Katherine shivered slightly. Nathaniel was doing one creepy thing after the other these days. Furthermore, it sounded like that person had been murdered. Did it happen here? On this lonely mountain? She looked around in the darkness, suddenly feeling insecure. And did he say the murderer was still not caught yet? What if he came back?
Her heart beating faster, she deliberated if she should turn back. When she would see the guards, she would be save again. But when she threw a glance behind her, all she could see was darkness. Would the killer be waiting there for her?
Instinctively, she took a step towards the light of the candle. The earl was over there. Even if she didn't trust him fully, he still needed her. Hopefully, he would protect her if there was really someone evil hiding in the darkness. And it was better to have a candle anyways.
Slowly and quietly she neared him. But suddenly, she stopped. A figure she hadn't seen before manifested itself out of the darkness. Most likely the walls of the corridor had prevented her from seeing it up until now.
It was just a shade brighter than the surroundings and formed like a square block, standing upright in the cave. It was a tombstone.