Sam hadn’t realized she wanted Braeden to say it until he said it. But…not like this. Not with sadness and regret. He told her he loved her in the same breath he pushed her away. “You love me?”
“Don’t look at me like that,” Braeden said. “Being loved by me is no blessing. If I could stop loving you, I would.”
She wanted to lash out at the sting of his words. “Am I so unworthy of being loved?”
His head snapped back as if she’d hit him. “Never say that, Sam. You’re the best person I know.” As if he couldn’t help himself, he reached out and coiled a strand of her hair around his finger. “You’re irresistible.”
Sam looked down at her wrinkled tunic and breeches. Her face was unpowdered and damp with sweat, but even if she were clean and tidy, her nose would still be too long and her face too thin, the lines of her well-muscled body too straight to be fashionable. “I’m not,” she said practically.
“You are to me.” Braeden let her hair slip from his fingers. “I have no control over my attraction to you.”
She didn’t want him to control his attraction, gods damn it. “So what?”
“It’s not an easy thing to explain.” Braeden closed his eyes. “It’s my fault the demons are attracted to you.”
“Demons are attracted to everyone.”
Braeden shook his head. “Not like they are to you. I know you’ve noticed it, too. Every time we fight them, they home in on you. As soon as they sense you, they forget anyone else is there. They want you above all others because, Sam, so do I.” He stroked her cheek with a sad smile. “You see, Sam? To be loved by me is to be cursed. Because I love you—” it was the first time he had strung those three words together—“I’ve put you in danger.”
Sam caught his wrist with her hand. “Is that a serious objection?”
He blinked. “What?”
Idiot, idiot man. “Do you think I disguised myself as a boy for five years because I wanted to avoid danger? Do you think I picked up a sword to avoid danger? You say you love me—who do you think I am?”
Braeden opened his mouth to speak, but Sam spoke first. “I’ll tell you who I’m not. I’m not some princess in an ivory tower. I’m not someone who runs scared from a fight. And I’m not the kind of girl who gives up on something she wants because of a little thing like danger.” She poked her finger into his chest. “I left home to join the Paladins because I wanted to kill demons. I should be thanking you for making it that much easier.”
Braeden stared down at the place where her finger met his chest. He grasped her finger and hand and placed it over his shoulder. He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her waist, burying his face into her hair. “I love you, Sam of Haywood.”
She laid her head against his heart and was relieved to hear it beat as rapidly as hers. “I love you, too, you know.” If she hadn’t been sure before, she was sure now. Braeden was a noble, self-sacrificing idiot, but he was her idiot.
Braeden stilled. “You can’t love me,” he said brokenly.
She squeezed him tighter. “I don’t do very well with can’t.”
He stepped out of her arms and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I have to leave, Sam.”
She gave an annoyed huff. “Why? I don’t mind a few demons, and you proved tonight you would never hurt me. The High Commander ordered you to kill me and you refused.”
YOU ARE READING
Sam is the most promising swordsman among this year’s crop of Paladin trainees...and knows it. Brash, cocky, and unbeatable with a sword (well, almost), Sam is the kingdom of Thule’s best hope against the violence wrought by demons. The only problem...