Chapter 33 Part 1

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Drawn by the smell of blood, the demons attacked in wave after wave. It was long past dark when they were finally given a reprieve.

Sam, Braeden and Tristan dragged their tired bodies into the small rock shelter. The Diamond Coast was crawling with demons, and had they wanted to, they could have fought well into the morning. But they needed to sleep to survive, and the shelter was as good a place as any to steal some shuteye.

After her watch was over (Sam took the first watch), she made a nest for herself out of the blankets in the shelter and drew a sheet up around her neck. With the Paladins’ deaths weighing heavily on her mind, Sam fought off slumber, fearful of the nightmares that awaited her. But exhaustion won out, and she drifted into sleep, and into dream.

The flame in the fire pit had died and the moonlight was too weak to penetrate the rock walls, plunging the shelter into darkness. Sam sat up, her bone weariness gone as though it had never been.

The fire roared back to life, a high, flickering blaze, sending shadows dancing across the room. Braeden knelt beside the fire pit, tending to the coals. He looked up at her, his clear eyes reflecting the orange of the flame. “Sam,” he said. The way he said her name sounded strange, though she couldn’t pinpoint what was strange about it.

“Is it still Tristan’s watch?” she asked.

“Aye.” Braeden threw another coal into the fire pit, and the flame sparked and flared. “Are you tired?”

Sam shook her head. She felt energized, like she was going to burst out of her skin.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Braeden said, “away from the shelter for a while.”

“But Tristan…”

“Will be fine. And we won’t go very far.”

Sam nodded. “Okay.”

She followed Braeden out through the gap in the rock. Tristan wasn’t immediately outside, but she made no note of it. “Where are we going?” she asked.

“To the sea,” said Braeden. He hadn’t bothered to put his hair up in its top-knot, and it fell in straight shocks of silver to his mid-back. A light wind ruffled through his forelocks and the strands caressed his face. “It’s peaceful there.”

In companionable silence, they walked along the beach, clambering over slippery rock until the sea was almost at their feet. The aquamarine waters were indigo in the night, shot through the middle with white where the moon shone its light. The tide was stronger now, and waves rippled and foamed before spilling onto the shore.

Braeden found a large boulder that was high enough to be dry and sat down on it cross-legged. She climbed up beside him and sat so close to him their shoulders touched. For an instant, a mix of surprise and confusion flashed across his face, and then it disappeared. He smiled at her, a full, honest-to-gods smile with teeth and dimples.  Her heart stopped.

“What?” Braeden asked.

Sam was grateful that he couldn’t see her blush. “You’re smiling. You never smile.”

His smile faded. “Don’t I?”

“No! Don’t stop smiling on my account.” She ducked, hiding her face. “I wish you smiled more, that’s all.”

Braeden gazed at her pensively and she could almost see his thoughts whirling. With careful deliberation, he grasped the back of her head and placed it on his shoulder. She froze, unsure of how to react.

He stroked her hair with gentle fingertips, and eventually, she began to relax into him. “Who are you, Sam of Haywood?” he whispered into her ear.

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