Katherine had just finished her first bath after the long travel, when she heard that the earl had arrived. As fast as possible, she put on some clothes, and let Hazel make her a simple hairstyle. Then she rushed to the entrance hall. Her heart was bouncing in her chest. How long had it been since she last saw him?
The entrance hall was like a smaller version of the one in the mansion. When she reached the stairs, she could already see the earl standing down below, discussing something with Sam. His white hair shined softly in the light of the candles that had just been ignited. Relieve and joy flooded her. He looked as healthy as always!
Before she knew it, she rushed down the stairs, calling out to him happily. "Nathaniel!"
The figure in black turned around, his eyes widening, but it was too late to step to the side. Two slender arms clutched around his waist and a soft body slammed against his chest. "You're back!"
Her momentum nearly made him stagger backwards, his gaze blank with shock. Instantly, he scanned for places were their skin could touch. When he found none, his body relaxed a bit. For a second, his arms raised as if they wanted to embrace her. Then he instead placed his gloved hands on her shoulders. "Lady Katherine, you really shouldn't be this thoughtless."
Though he already grasped her shoulders, he couldn't muster the strength to push her away. She also didn't let go, but raised her head with a bright smile that made his mind instantly shut down. Her cheeks were red, but her eyes glittered with happiness. "I'm just so glad you're fine!"
He could do nothing but stare at her, stunned. Then, slowly, a smile formed on his own lips, lighting up his face. She was worried about him. The feeling this knowledge brought was like a soothing warm bath, cleaning all the filth of the day away.
His eyes turned gentle as he raised his hand to push a strand of hair behind her ear, wishing he could feel it. "You shouldn't go out with wet hair."
When she felt the leather touch her temple, Katherine blushed. Suddenly, she realized what position her impulsiveness had lead her into, and looked away in embarrassed. Her b.r.e.a.s.ts were pushed tightly against his chest, her h.i.p.s only centimeters from his. Her first instinct was to make distance between them, but she controlled it.
This isn't a mishap, she told herself. Calm down! This is a chance! For once he didn't push me away, so how can I let go of this opportunity just because I feel shy? But I still shouldn't look too desperate, lest he thinks I'm an easy woman.
Slowly, she let go of his waist, and instead seized his right arm, before looking up at him with a blinding smile. "Why don't we go to the lounge? I would love to hear about your travels."
Nathaniel, who had observed the changes on her face with rising amus.e.m.e.nt, decided to disrupt this cosy atmosphere now, before she got used to it. "Sure. As soon as you let go of me."
He also had something to discuss with her that was better told outside the palace, without spies around them. However, when he was sober he couldn't ignore the danger of her touch anymore. As good as it felt, he didn't want to see an accident happen.
His gaze fell on the silver bracelet on his wrist. Who knew if this new toy could really stop his power as long as there was no skin-contact? He didn't want to test it. Even more so when it was likely that the palace guards would try to kill him as soon as the vessel activated. Not a sight a lady should see.
With a mixture of relieve and disappointment, Katherine complied. At least he didn't threaten to kill her this time. Actually, he was so nice it was unnatural.
Her brows furrowed. That isn't right. How come he is nice? Is he a doppelganger? Bewildered, her gaze followed him when he started to climb the stairs. He looked exactly like in her memory. Tall, elegant and dark with a slight sinister charm. Maybe a bit slimmer, but that was normal after traveling for extended periods.
What am I thinking, she reprimanded herself with a shake of her head. Who could possibly replicate his special features? After all, those demonic eyes were quite rare and impossible to fabricate without hurting the eye-sight of a person. His eyes were definitely the same as before, only the emotion was completely unprecedented. Maybe Anni was right?
Gaining a bit hope, Katherine rushed to pick up her skirt and follow the earl up the stairs. Unbeknownst to her, the servants all over the house were already packing her belongings up again that had just been unpacked less than three hours ago.
In the lounge, Nathaniel sat down on a couch, while indicating for Katherine to take the opposite one. Between the two was a small glass table with bronze legs. Katherine bit her lip, then she boldly strode over to his side. Deliberately nonchalant, she straightened out her skirt, before sitting down a hand's breadth away. Then she smiled up at him brilliantly.
Nathaniel mouth twitched. She's using every opportunity to rebel, doesn't she? Suppressing the instinct to move away or reprimand her, he just slightly adjusted his posture to make talking more comfortable. Then he seized the opportunity, taking control of the conversation. "How have been?"
The unexpected advance interfered with Katherine's plan to lead the topic from the earl's travels to the unknown but powerful mage. She could only say: "Pretty good. The travel was a bit boring but at least your brother is fine now. How about you?"
"Normal", the earl brushed over it. His eyes followed her fingers that were playing with a strand of her black hair. The pure scent of fresh water and roses wafted to his nose. "What is your impression of the capital?"
Gems forming the words 'Noble Aristocrats' surfaced in her mind. Her lips parted but she took a while to form a diplomatic answer. "... it makes one curious."
Dismissing Katherine's delayed sentence as the attempt to mask her boredom, Nathaniel nodded thoughtfully. Then he straight-out informed her: "We will move to the palace tonight."
As an automatic reaction to his authoritative tone, Katherine nodded, before she halted. "Wait, what?! Into the palace? Why?"
The earl smirked. "Because I say so. Any problems?"
Agitated, Katherine raised her voice. "Any problems? Of course there are! Did you forget I'm of house Sleipnir? Not enough that I'm in the enemies capital, now you want me to live right under the king's nose? As soon as he knows, he will try to take me hostage or worse, kill me!"
"Don't be delusional. Without the support of your family, you're not important enough to be a hostage. If worse comes to worst, I will help you flee the capital." As he spoke, his red eyes took in every change in Katherine attentively.
When her family was mentioned, Katherine's anger soon turned to depression. As harsh as the words were and as much as she wanted to rebuke them, she couldn't deny the logic in it. There really was nobody to buy her out.
Nathaniel saw the idea taking root, and unnoticed by Katherine a thin, self-deprecating smile turned up his lips, before vanishing again. Loudly, he deliberated: "Think about it: either you come with me or our cooperation ends here. I will give you one day to move out. But were will you go?"
Hearing that, Katherine fell in deep thought. It wasn't that she was completely ignorant of him guiding her thought-process to a certain point, nonetheless, she felt that all his conclusions were right. She really had nowhere to go. At least as long as she still wanted revenge.
"So", Nathaniel concluded. "What compensation do you want?"