𝔄 ℭ𝔥𝔞𝔫𝔠𝔢 𝔈𝔫𝔠𝔬𝔲𝔫𝔱𝔢𝔯

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Erin's eyes expanded. For a moment she thought they might have popped from their sockets.

She knew by touch; her hand was resting on a stranger---a stranger who appeared to be holding something heavy, possibly dangerous, in its hand.

Before her mind could react and processes the face of the stranger, she bounced into action. Blood soared to her head, and she gasped. She swung her hands back, heart ramming hard into her chest. Like a startled cat, she jumped, the hairs on her standing erected up. She knew had to space between her and the intruder so her feet stumbled backwards, but her body wasn't certain where.

In her jumbled mess of fumbling feet and flinging arms, out went her balance. As she went falling, her grip loosened on the candlebra, wax flicking to her skin, and her elbow bumped into a desk, a stack of papers and books dropping.

Thud.

Thud.

Thud!

She saw each item tumbling and hitting the ground. She was expecting she was next for the hard floor impact. But she was rather even more surprised to receive aid instead of pain; she felt an arm nimbly grab her by the waist and the flames of the candle that was slipping from her was caught with the clutch of a hand around hers.

Her bobbed back a little and with the support of a stranger's hold, she was able to finally stabilized her sight.

She blinked a few times, reasonably confused.

"Well." It was a familiar man's voice. "It seems your clumsy, even without help."

It was fairly dark, but she could now see all of Ezra's features glowing from the glare of candlelight.

For first time she was actually getting a proper look at him, and it was also then, she keenly aware why everyone kept gawking. He was sweet on the eyes unlike the other 'stout' 'blubbering' 'baffoons' she had the displeasure of meeting and the pleasure of removing. There was something soft and dewy about the way his dark eyes looked, and everything that followed just seemed cut and angled so perfectly right. Strange how she could almost convince herself it could be pleasing to observe how he was in the tender spring of youth, yet wielded solid robustity.

For some reason she found it worse to add, his arm around her waist and hand clutched onto hers, made her warmer than the drops of candle wax that dried on her skin.

She swallowed, finding her senses. "Let go," she said, slightly breathless, but more so, annoyed. He caught her too smooth, she didn't like to admit it. "Let go now."

"Most certainly." He smiled, sliding his arm away and releasing her hand.

Sucking in the air with a tight chest, she adjusted the candelabra and stood straight. "What are you doing here you lowborn?"

"Me?" He asked, his tone reeking of fabricated innocence to her.

"Yes, you!" She squinted at him, thinking to the object he had in his hand earlier. "---And what were you holding when I came over? It looked heavy. Rectangular. And---." She inhaled, jumping to a conclusion. "---You are stealing!" She flung an accusatory finger at him.

"Stealing?" He furrowed his brows. "What do you mean? I wasn't even holding anything." He held out empty hands.

"No, I saw you!"

"I really wish I knew what you were talking about." He stared at her baffled. "I wasn't holding anything, and I have not come here to steal. I was lost, and I was trying to find my way out."

"Liar. You are thief. Do not deny it when I have clearly caught you."

"My lady, that is untrue. I lost my way and ended up here. I was warned this place was like a maze, and now I understand why."

"Oh, please." She rolled her eyes. "Take the pity story elsewhere. I don't care if you claim you got lost, you're still in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's only one reason that could explain why a lowborn is lurking around the head of the household's study and that's to steal. Hence, you are a thief."

"This is Lord Sutherton's study?" He glanced around, puzzled.

"Really?" she repeated with a mocking hiss.

"Yes. I know how you want it to sound, but you must understand. My lady, I could not see. I came in here thinking it was room where I could fetch some light and wax. But instead, I found more darkness, and a fight to find the door."

"Do you take me for a fool? As if that's something I'm falling for. Come on, do yourself good and fess up. What have you in your pockets, thief?" She held out her hand, ready to turn him upside down.

"I don't have anything, nor would I dare take anything from your family."

"You think I will take your word for that?" She scornfully tutted. "You're a lowborn. I'm a Sutherton, so I think that is the last thing I will do."

"I'm true when I say that I got lost and have no intentions of a bad sort, whatsoever."

Her glare glinted in the dark. "No. What is true is that you think you're sly and sleek like an eel, but you're not. You're just slimy like an eel. Give me what you've tried to steal and I'll make sure you get away with only being blacklisted for the rest of your life. That's a fair deal, isn't it?"

"Lady Erina I----." He couldn't get a word out before she interrupted.

"---Blacklisted," she pipped. "Do I need to spell it?"

"My lady, I genuinely don't----."

"You 'genuinely, genuinely' don't." She rolled her eyes again. "Blacklisted." She stared him directly in the eyes. "For the rest of your life, lowborn."

"I am not a thief," he stressed.

"Thief. Thief," she said, increasing her voice in rising increments. "Thief. Thief. Thief. Thief. Thief. Thief. Thief."

"Are you really going to keep saying that?"

"Thief! Thief! Thief! Thief! Thief---."

"---Very well." He exhaled sharply, loosening his shirt and tie with a prompt tug. "Since you don't believe me." He slid his uniform's necktie and slipped off his suit jacket.

Her eyes went wide. "What are you doing?!"

"Undressing. Is that not apparent?" He started unbuttoning his undershirt.

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