Chapter 22

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The quiet gasp jerks me from my delicate sleep. I lurch awake, staring at the freshly swinging curtains as someone quickly leaves the room.
"Hello?" I whisper without moving, my face smooshed deeply into the lush pillow. Covers are drawn tightly around me, tucked firmly under my chin. A weight shifts on my waist, and I jump as he moves his arm slightly, still clutching my hand as my arms are tucked close to my breast. Holding me firmly against his chest.
"Connor." I say softly, using my warning tone. He mumbles something unintelligible into his pillow. "Connor!"
I grasp his hand and throw his arm off of me, his warmth seeping through the blankets, breath hot on the back of my neck.
"Mmm." He grunts, not moving.
"Wake up and get away from me!" I elbow him in the gut. He moans out loud, and I remember the broken rib. Oops.
"Jesus! You maniac-" He groans, rolling over on his back, the blankets next to me suddenly feeling empty.
"Why were you hugging me?" I sit up, cricking my neck slightly.
A pause. A hesitation.
"Because what?"
"Because... I dunno." Connor shrugs, and I stare at him in disbelief as he slides out of bed to change. There you go, the deep, physiologically superior decisions of a teenage boy. He shrugs his nightshirt off as he walks, massaging the spot on his side through the bandage. He changes quickly, walking back around and pausing to yawn.
A knock on the door, and Matty enters.
Connor leaves the room without another word, and Matty ties my corset behind the folding screen, even though there's no one else in the room.
"Was it you who came in this morning?" I ask as she pulls the hated contraption tight around my waist.
"Yes, my lady." She bites her lip, averting my gaze. I stare at her firmly, and then it all comes tumbling out in a rush, words stumbling and tripping over themselves in order to escape my gaze. "I didn't see anything, I swear! He was holding you, I seen, and I simply didn't want to wake you, and I know he is prone to a violent temper, so I was scared and I-"
"It's fine, Matty." I smile slightly at her anxiousness to prove her own faithfulness.
"I swear, miss, I won't tell no one, I swear on my life and-"
"Shh." I smile even more as her shaking hands fumble with the tie on my dress. "There's nothing to tell, Matty. It's fine."
"But then-"
"I'm scared of thunder." I admit sheepishly. "But trust me on this, Matty... it was nothing."
That day passes quickly. I go to the physician's and give him the description for Connor's medication.
"Something to help heal a cracked bone and lessen the pain." I say lightly. Martin raises a greying eyebrow at me, but tells me he'll prepare it immediately.
I wander about my own business for the rest of the day. I finish The Art of Thievery, and return it to the library. I browse around for a while, but don't find anything of interest. I think a little more about the hooded bandit, and how I could ever possibly catch whoever it was at work and somehow convince them to let me, high princess of Clockman, to join them in their ventures.
That night after dinner with the king and Connor in the great hall (a strange affair, so it seems. Our voices echo emptily in the hall, and non of us bother to talk. The servants hurriedly rush plate and platter to-and-fro, never speaking.) I report back to my chambers. Matty helps me out of the lavish gown and strangling corset into a new bedgown, again silk, this time blue, with a lacy skirt hemmed below the knees and tapered loosely around my waist.
"Good night, my lady." She curtsies respectfully, and the door shuts behind her.
I sigh, running a hand through my soft hair to slide it out of the loose braids, and it cascades in waves down my back. I glance once more at my reflection in the mirror before turning away. I see a small, sturdy girl with pale skin and a speckling of red freckles splattered like blood beneath dull blue eyes like midnight. Am I beautiful, truly? I don't see it.
Suddenly, I feel very silly for thinking so girlishly. I blame it on Connor, and emerge from behind the folding screen. He's sitting on the edge of the bed (shirtless... In case you were wondering.) and closely scrutinizing the tiny bottle in his hand that the physician's assistant must have dropped by.
"I don't trust it." He says suspiciously, shaking it slightly, as if expecting to grow arms and pinch him.
"You don't trust anything." I snort, walking around in my bare feet over the carpet, trying to find the softest section.
"True enough." He shrugs, then, with another moment's doubting hesitation, downs the contents in one gulp. He makes a face. "Ugh..."
"Get used to it. You'll be getting one of those every night for the next four weeks or so, at least until you're better." I try to suppress laughter at his horrified expression.
"And you didn't tell him who or what it was for?" He asks suddenly, eyeing me with suspicion.
"Don't you trust me?"
"No." He sighs, flopping back on his bed and staring contemplatively at the ceiling. I follow suite and locate the softest part of carpet to curl up on. Last night was a one time thing, and we both know it. I was terrified and hallucinating, he was injured... just that once.
But it was a good once.
"What're... you doing?"
Three words. And a contraction, which makes three and a half.
"Going to sleep." I mumble, already turning onto my side.
"On the floor?"
"Yeah, but we can switch places if you like." I feel my heart lurch. But of course I choose to play stupid and let him say everything he's thinking, let him trip and stumble and leave an awkward pause in the conversation.
"You... you want to stay on the floor?" He asks vaguely after a moment, trying not to make a big deal out of the matter.
"Remember the first night?" I remind him. "When you told me that's my place? So it wasn't really my choice to begin with."
We both stare at each other with the sudden realization that it's already been over a month. That first infinitely awkward night is long gone and out of the way, leaving room for more awkward nights to last us for the rest of our lives.
"I did?" He frowns, trying to remember what he could possibly have shouted in one of his rages. He shrugs. "Well, you don't have to. Anymore. If you want to do it. I mean, don't want to. I meant, if you don't want to sleep on the floor, you can.... You know. Unless you don't want to-"
"Don't want to what?"
"If you don't want to... you know."
"What?" I brush my hand to my lips to hide the smile. I just want him to embarrass himself by saying it.
"If you wanted to... like last night..." He stops suddenly, face bright red in the moonlight as he blushes. "You're making me say it, aren't you?"
I smile. Saying it just sounds awkward, even though it's nothing like it sounds. He means simply giving me a more comfortable sleeping arrangement, with impossible intimacy and privacy. Although it doesn't sound that way when he tries to say it, which I find very funny.
"You told me I needed to be a better husband. Have you ever considered trying to be a suitable wife?" He mumbles from the bed, as I crawl off the ground and climb up onto the tall four-poster.
"What do you think I've been doing all day?" I mutter. I pull the covers up around me, sinking into the sheets and sighing deeply. Then I glance back at him, and reluctantly slither back out of the covers and lie on top of them.
"What're you-"
"You slept on top last night, I'll do it tonight." I say lightly.
"I don't see why-"
"Of course you wouldn't, you're male."
He laughs, entirely nonplussed. "So you still don't trust me?"
I roll over, propping myself up on my elbow to glare at him. "No, I don't. And you don't trust me, so we're even."
"Hollie, you realize I would never try anything-"
"Connor." I cut him off, staring into his eyes and for once, not loosing focus. "I've known you for just over a month, okay? If we're sentenced to spend the rest of our lives together, we'll have plenty of time to get more comfortable later. Alright?"
He frowns, looking me up and down. "Hollie Barnersworth... You are, truly, extraordinary."
"Finally, a compliment." I grin.
"I'll be expecting one in exchange," He grunts, the covers rustling as he slides on top and and drags the covers back over me. I give him a withering look, but can't help smiling, even slightly, as I roll back over and pull the curtains back around.
Spending my entire life with Connor is going to be a pain... but maybe not so bad as I thought.

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