Nathaniel scoffed and opened his mouth for a flippant reply, but the words were stuck in his throat. He wasn't able to refute her words. So, instead, he narrowed his eyes. "Are you perhaps jealous?"
Katherine was so red now that anger and embarrassment couldn't be distinguished anymore. Steam seemed to come out of her ears. Putting her hands on her h.i.p.s, she snapped: "Jealous? Me? You wish! You can do whatever you want, but don't bring my people into danger! And yes, the rabbit counts as 'my people'."
Taking in her furious attitude, Nathaniel chuckled, the ice melting away. "I see. You really are jealous."
Katherine stomped her foot. "As if! Never ever! Why would I be jealous over you?!"
His smile widened. An unknown feeling brightened up his heart, coupled with warmth and playfulness. "Gorgeous little puppy. Come here, let me pet you."
When he reached out for her, Katherine slapped his hand away and retreated. "No! I'm not a puppy!"
Unperturbed, he chased her, his arm outstretched. She didn't have much space to retreat to. When he cornered her next to the bed, he stroked her black hair, ignoring her attempts to shove him away. Smirking, he said: "Not a puppy, but gorgeous."
"I'm not -" Suddenly, Katherine stuttered. Her lips trembled. In her anger she'd only heard the puppy part. Now her ears seemed to be betraying her. "W-what did you say?"
Nathaniel's eyes twinkled and he leaned in as if about to share a secret. "Katherine, you are gorgeous."
She trembled, feeling weak in the knees. What nonsense was he saying? She couldn't believe it. It made no sense for him to say that.
As if he heard her thoughts, he repeated for a third time, his voice lowered to a whisper: "You are gorgeous, my dear. The most wonderful woman I've ever met. Strong, prideful, a beauty. But most importantly, you have a kind heart. It shines bright like the sun, warming up your surroundings."
Nathaniel halted, and laid his gloved hands on her shoulders. Katherine shyly lowered her gaze, avoiding to look at him. Solemnly, he continued: "But you know, being too good has a price. Even if it is your enemy, as long as they relent, I doubt you can stay hard. I doubt you can cut their heads off when they weep. And I doubt you can keep your emotions in check whenever an innocent suffers under them. You are a lioness, but your claws are useless against spiderwebs. They will spin you in with time. You are too good for this world... the world I'm about to pull you into."
His hands seemed to gain extra weight, pressing down on her shoulders. Katherine took a deep breath. The atmosphere had changed again, from playfulness to impending doom. Nathaniel had his eyes downcast, lips still curled up in what turned into a bitter, self-mocking smile. As soon as his outer facade was gone, there was a turmoil of emotions in him, nearly drowning Katherine with their silent intensity.
Following nothing more than her instinct, Katherine pulled him into a hug. At first, he stiffened, but then his arms locked tightly around her as if he would never let her go again.
She searched her mind for words, trying to match them to his scenario. "You... know these spiderwebs. They are familiar to you. Show me how I can cope with them. Nathaniel, spiders are witty, but they are loners. We can catch them one by one. Together. It is more than one, right?"
She felt him nod more than she saw it. Her hair moved from his breath and she wished he would lay his head on hers. Pressing her ear to his chest, she heard his heart beat rapidly, making her feel warm. He was here with her, but he still wasn't convinced.
Painstakingly, she tried to find ways she could be helpful. "They can't know me yet. I am a variable they can't plan with. Most likely, they will underestimate me, and that is where my forte lies. I can spy on them or try to find evidence without them directly suspecting me. They already know who you are, right?"
Again a nod. He laid his hand on the back of her head, making her rest on his chest. Though they were talking about spying and fighting what seemed to be a criminal group in Katherine's mind, it felt safe and cozy in his arms. So much so that she closed her eyes and inhaled his scent. He smelled like coffee, mixed with firewood. Warm. Funny that he smelled of firewood when he was more of an ice block.
She clutched his shirt in her fists. "Let me help. Please. I..." She hesitated, then she opened up her heart. If she wanted him to tell the truth, she should at least be truthful herself. "I don't want you to get hurt."
He stayed quiet for a while; his body taught. As his hand pressed down on her, she couldn't see his expression. In the end, he sighed. "Me too."
Katherine stilled as her ears perked up. Him too? He didn't want her to get hurt? She thought he didn't want her to help because she was a hindrance. This was new! Her heart sped up, matching the fast rhythm of his pulse. The coziness made way for a tingling sensation everywhere they touched. Suddenly she got very consciousness of his warm, manly body. They were way closer than society allowed. As close as real betrothed would be.
With a blush, she leaned away slightly, wavering between her sense of shame and reluctance to let him go. These moments where he allowed her near were way too rare. Her hands held on to the back of his shirt tightly. Hesitatingly, she glanced up at him. "I will try my best not to get hurt. Will you... can you promise me the same?"
She saw his Adam's apple bobble up and down. His hand on her hair wandered downwards, slowly caressing her back through the nightgown. "I'm sorry. I can't."
She stilled, pain piercing through her chest. Such a simple request and yet... her hands loosened. When she was about to step back, he suddenly tightened his grip, pulled her back in. "Let me explain!"
It sounded like a desperate plea, a cry for her understanding. Katherine's brows locked together. Though she was hurt, she decided to hear him out first. She didn't struggle against his grip anymore but neither did she hug him again.
Nathaniel took a deep breath, searching for the right words. This was unexpectedly difficult. Tonight, he was crossing many of the lines he set himself. However, with Katherine in his arms, he couldn't find the heart to regret. Not anymore. "You know... there is something I want to achieve. A truth I want to find. It's... connected to this matter. The woman is also connected to it. I wanted to find out about it for twenty years already, so that's why I can't promise you. I... "
He ruffled his hair, clearly distressed. "If it's the price to find out about it, I might not put my own safety first. Maybe I will even deliberately put myself in danger. Well, to be true, I already did that."