Katherine opened her mouth, but she didn't know which question to ask first. What was he searching for? What was the woman's role in this? When had all of this started? He wanted to find out since twenty years ago, he said. The same time his aunt died. Did it have to do with her murderer then?
Finally, she asked the most pressing questions: "What kind of danger? Who is behind it?" Suddenly, her thoughts turned, connecting with the events of the night. "Froseti was a warning?"
"Smart.", the earl assessed and nodded. "That woman doesn't want me here. If it doesn't work, she might use more desperate means."
"You say there are several, but you only talk about 'that woman'.", Katherine realized and thoughtfully nibbled on her lip. "Is she their leader? Who are the others?"
"I don't know." Nathaniel's eyes locked onto her mouth before looking away. Deliberately, he slipped out of her grip and sat down on the bed again. Now that she calmed down, he didn't fear her running away anytime soon. And he was getting too comfortable holding her in his arms. "At the very least she has a high-ranking position in the organization. She might be too unstable to be their leader."
"An organization..." Katherine tailed off. The suspect-list she found in the study came to her mind. If it was an organization, all of them could be in it, not only one or two. She shuddered at the thought. There were a few names that couldn't even be mentioned in the doc.u.ments. "Is the royal family involved?"
Nathaniel blinked, his back straightening. "As long as there isn't a definite proof, we shouldn't talk about this."
"Are you including me now or not?" Ready to fight for her right to help, Katherine put her hands on her h.i.p.s. "It's only the both of us here. Nobody will know. Besides, if I don't know who to be careful with, I might be set up by them. You don't want me to get hurt, do you?"
Nathaniel hesitated. He didn't like talking about his mother. "How come you are so good at persuading?"
"How come you are so good at avoiding?", Katherine asked back, laughter in her voice.
"Hm." Nathaniel acknowledged that he lost to her tenacity. He had to tell her some things or she'd never stop asking. Besides, she had a point and it wasn't like he didn't trust her. Sharing his secrets just wasn't natural to him. "Alright. I will try to explain. It might take some time though."
"You've got the rest of the night." Katherine said and sat down next to him, their shoulders touching. The inkling of embarrassment she felt a few minutes ago was gone and she actually felt like teasing him a bit. After all, she'd heard his fast heartbeat when he hugged her and if her senses weren't fooling her, he'd blushed a bit before distancing himself.
Laying her head on his shoulder, she pulled her legs up on the bed and snuggled to his side until she found a comfortable position. She felt his body stiffen under her. Yawning in an exaggerated manner, she said: "Alright. You can start now."
Nathaniel, who originally wanted to shove her aside, didn't have the heart to when he saw how 'sleepy' she was. Like she said, it was the middle of the night and opposite to him, she didn't sleep much before. Troublesome. Still, the shoulder wasn't exactly a good position if he wanted to avoid skin-contact. "If you are so sleepy, you should lie down."
With another yawn, she slid down from his shoulder onto his lap. "Better?"
That was not what he meant! Nathaniel's gaze darkened. She was lying on a very sensitive part of his body there, which he had a hard time controlling anyway. His fists gripped into the bed sheet as he held back from pulling her head away and scolding her. Was he her personal cushion? She'd better not be going around lying down on anyone else's lap.
A vein on his temple throbbed when he pictured that. "Katherine..."
"Alright, alright ", she succ.u.mbed when she heard his menacing tone and shuffled backwards until her head fell from his tight onto the bed. Her long hair was still spread over his legs though. "Now okay?"
She was still way too near. He could smell her scent with every breath he took. Slowly, he inhaled and exhaled. At least she wouldn't try anything funny if she was tired. Fighting with him must have exhausted her. Though she would most likely start all over again if necessary, just to proof her stubbornness. "Yes, that's bearable."
"Bearable you say, huh." She rolled her eyes and sighed.
His gaze on her softened. Then he blinked and looked up at the ceiling which sported a drawing of green vines. It strangely resembled the dark pattern his magic used to paint under his skin. Wasn't that the starting point for his search? However, it wasn't necessary to tell her that.
Gathering the facts in his mind, he tried to shorten the story to the important factors. "According to the clues I have, part of the royal family works with an organization that experiments on humans. Though I mostly suspect the queen, none of them is really trustworthy. Except for Aston, of course."
Katherine lightly raised her finger to interrupt him. "Umm, why exactly is he trustworthy?"
Nathaniel smiled at the ceiling. It was interesting how she suspected his brother when everyone else saw him as an harmless fool. "You just don't like him. However, let me remind you that he was the one coming to your aid when you were surrounded. Laying a trap and waiting for the enemies to fall for it before annihilating them all at once, that is originally my favorite working style. One could say his whole outward appearance is a trap we both designed to keep him save. Few know that under it he is a talented magician and swordsman, who is exceptional at reading people."
"Reading people? I couldn't tell.", Katherine said and furrowed her small brows. "Why didn't he see that lady Brandon doesn't like him?"
"It's not that he didn't see it but that he pursued her exactly because she doesn't like him.", Nathaniel mused. "He still has a playboy-image to uphold but doesn't want to go through with it all the time."
Katherine wasn't sure if she should believe that, but she didn't want to pursue the topic further. She'd filtered the important point out of his words. "So, you trust him because you know him for a long time?"
He nodded slowly. "I still remember him as a child, hardly three years old. He was very bright but got bullied a lot in the palace. Especially by his so-called siblings. When he started to outperform the crown prince while being four years younger, they tried drowning him. Later they declared it an accident. The twins were around twelve years old back then..."
Katherine shuddered at the thought. She couldn't believe that the princess she had tea with tried to drown her own brother when she was still a child herself! Even if they were half-siblings, that was unimaginable! She felt a bout of sympathy for Aston. "How come he can act as if nothing happened?"
The quarrel of Aston and the princess was still fresh in her mind.
"Well, he had to." Nathaniel shrugged. "Back then, those who believed him didn't have the power to take him away. Later, I helped him build a mask to avoid people's attention. We let it look like the near-drowning damaged his intelligence, making him underperform in everything compared to before. Because I know his mask, I am positive that he can't hide things from me. He still wears it today, though we changed a few things in the later years, resulting in his playboy image. It isn't all about defense now. Another reason I trust him so much might also be because... well, he kind of idolizes me nonsensically."
He rubbed his neck and his hair there stood up in all directions. Glancing up at him out of the corner of her eye, Katherine muttered "cute" under her breath.
"Nothing.", She pretended. "I just think I understand now why you act differently towards him. So, who else is involved in these human experiments? And what exactly are they experimenting on?"
The word 'experiment' always came with a bad taste for her, not to mention 'human experiments'. She still remembered Ethan experimenting on those poor children in the woods. However, this here was on a much bigger scale, involving even the royal family.