Her stomach growled again. It was the third time since they left the mountain. Nathaniel didn't seem to care. He was sitting opposite her in the carriage, reading a strategy-book.
"Ummm...", Katherine made, wanting him to notice and at the same time not wanting to disturb him. Sometimes, the temper of the earl was strange and she just couldn't be sure what would anger him.
"Yes?", he responded without looking up. He didn't sound displeased, Katherine decided, and forwarded her question.
"Do you not want to eat?" She was sure that he had a lunch pack, too, but though she was with him the whole day she hadn't seen him touch it. Was he some inhuman creature that didn't need to eat?
"I'm not hungry.", came the quiet answer. Oh, alright, forget it. When had he ever been human? However, she'd hoped for this.
"Then...", she started slowly, "Can I have it perhaps?"
A sharp glance hit her and she wanted to hide in a corner of the carriage. But with the most unlucky timing, her stomach growled again.
"Uhh..." She was twisted between shame and fear on the one side and hunger on the other. What to do?
"Haven't you learned your lesson yet? Don't eat in a moving carriage." His voice was strict and cold, leaving no room for discussion. Then, however, he knocked on the wood separating them from the driver. "Stop the carriage."
What? Was he doing this for her? Would she get to eat his lunch? She was nearly drooling already when the carriage stopped moving. However, at the same time she didn't dare believe this miracle. In wonder, she repeated her question. "Are you going to give me your lunch?"
The answer came instantly. "Of course not. I just suddenly got hungry myself. So, I'm going to eat now."
The earl surely was a devil. She didn't expect him to make up such an obvious lie only to annoy her. Whatever, she wouldn't give him the satisfaction to show her anger.
Her dress rustled when she stood up. "I'll be outside then, taking a stroll. If you excuse me."
"No.", he stopped her, "Accompany me. You were so eager to even follow me into the cave. Why are you running now?"
Was it payback time already? Katherine sighed and sat down again. Well, if watching him eat is the only punishment for disturbing him in the cave, she should just get over with it. "I wasn't running. It's just my legs. They are sore from the long ride. But if milord wants me to accompany him, I will of course stay."
Nathaniel, who was already taking out the lunch box, halted shortly. For a fraction of a second, anger flashed in his eyes, but his voice was toneless. "We're back to milord again?"
Puzzled, Katherine frowned. She had only called him by name a couple of times. Calling him 'milord' now was more instinctive than anything else. Well, maybe a bit out of annoyance, too.
In the end, the question was: why did he care? Although his tone was calm, Katherine had seen the short stop in his movements. Was he only irritated and curious about her reason or... did he like it when she called him?
She bit her lip. Maybe she should just ask him back, though that was kind of risky. It shouldn't sound like she accused him of liking her or else he might get angry again. Who knows? "Why? Do you have a preference?"
He didn't answer and when he lifted the lid of the lunch box, her thoughts diverted. Instead of cracker, there was a full meal inside. Salad and meat and... her eyes went wide. "Chocolates? You've got chocolates?!"
Though she had eaten them once or twice, chocolates were still a rare delicacy. And they were delicious, oh, delicious like clouds in the sky. The craving made her threw her decency over board and transformed her into a little kid. "Can I have some? Oh please, please give me some!"
He gave her a stern look, but it only caused her to whine even more. "Please, please! I'll do anything!"
Chocolates were her weakness. One which she followed with all her heart. Nathaniel's gaze softened when she begged and he felt the urge to pat her head like she was and adorable cat. On the outside she was proud and haughty, but on the inside very sweet.
It was a rare occasion to see her like right now, with bright eyes begging to get something. He realized that showing her soft spot wasn't something she would do in front of just anyone. If she acknowledged it or not, seeing him at his weakest had changed their relationship.
Knowing all that, Nathaniel didn't feel glad. It would've been better if they stayed as it was. She would just start to expect things he couldn't give. That was why he shouldn't be nice and give her the chocolates. However, seeing her longing he just couldn't say 'no'. He didn't want to look at her disappointed expression. So, his only option was to distract her. "What was it you wanted to discuss with me tomorrow?"
"Oh...", Katherine made unenthusiastically, her eyes still fixed on his food. She had no mind for business now... "Just some things... about the guards."
Suddenly suspicious, Nathaniel's eyes narrowed. "About the guards? Did they do something wrong?"
The picture of the guard helping her on the horse with his rough hands surfaced in his mind, letting him feel unwell. Although he didn't like to see it, after some though he had to admit that it was nothing more than a friendly gesture. But maybe it was not? That would be bad, because those two were some of his best man.
One of the reasons the punishment for the last mistake wasn't that harsh was that mistakes weren't usual for them. Especially Pete. It had been his first.
The question managed to wake Katherine out of her chocolate dream finally. She shook her head rapidly. "No, no! They're great! I really like them as my guards! Actually, I wanted to ask you if I ... can have them for myself?"
"No." The answer came fast and decisive like a cannonball, leaving a trail of devastation in Katherine's heart. He didn't even ask why or gave her time to explain.
However, she didn't waste time pouting as convincing him would be impossible with his personality. Instead, she went for the compromise. "I know you originally made them stay with me so I wouldn't run away. But I am sure you noticed now that I don't want to run. I never even tried. Why should I when I have nowhere to go?"
She made a pause to give him time to correct her statement. He gave her a curt nod of acknowledgement instead and started eating the meat in his box.
A strand of white hair fell over his eyes that were fixed on the food. It looked soft like feathers, and she suddenly wanted to reach out and touch it. How could anything on him look this tender? It was impossible, right? Would it really feel like it looked or maybe be hard and cold like steel instead? She wanted to know so badly.
As if in a trace, her hand started moving on it's own, only to be retracted instantly, when the earl looked up again, one of his brows raised in a questioning manner. Obviously, she had waited too long.
Blushing, she grabbed her hand with the other tightly so it wouldn't start wandering again. She tried remembering where she left off and finally found her line of argument. "So, their second purpose is to protect me, right? However, if they do that, we should divide between their mistakes and mine. For example, if I go somewhere I know I shouldn't be, and they try to stop me but fail, it would be my mistake. Don't you agree?"
"No." In his eyes, what she says is just an excuse to protect the guards. How can they fail to stop such a small little girl? The real question is: why does she want to protect them so badly? With her age, she shouldn't be in love with a fifty-year-old. Although he can't exclude it completely, the possibility is very small.
Was one of them already on her side and she wanted to cover him? Doing it in this way would only make him suspicious, though. "Why do you want to protect them?"
Katherine smiled with a hint of bitterness. She knew she'd lost the first fight already. "They are nice people. I don't want them to get hurt because of me. But don't misunderstand, I won't stop myself because of them either."
He knitted his brows. This request was out of sympathy? Somehow, he couldn't believe it. No aristocrat would help someone without getting something in return. Thinking like that was exactly why she would be killed in court.
Katherine sighed lightly, before filling her gaze with longing. It wasn't difficult as she really hoped he would grant the second request. Actually, she already knew that the first was biting off more than she could chew. However, it heightened her chances for the second one. "If I can't have them, can I at least have the maid? She might be a bit silly and is easily frightened, but I feel better to have one person around me I can trust... Also, she's such a mouse that she won't even be a threat to any of your plans."