❅ Chapter 9 ❅

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I couldn't bring myself to tread back to the warm tent right at first, to some place cozy and comfortable. How could I? I'd just learned that a once orphan girl had somehow magically gained a pair of parents. Turns out, they never died. My parents never died. All I wanted to do was be blank. Cold. Numb. Something.

When the dark sky started to transform into a milky navy blue, I knew it was time.

I didn't make it back to Fritz's tent until the sun was cresting over the horizon, and prayed Sebastian or Fritz himself hadn't woken before I was able to slither back under the covers. Pale yellow light streamed over the frozen landscape, and I peered out in awe. It looked like it had frosted earlier than normal this year - the region coated in a gray-white shell.

It looked like Lady Luck was on my side because when I quietly pulled back the tent flap, two sets of quiet snores met my ears.

Tiptoeing, I carefully made my way towards the bed, shucking off and placing my boots by the chair I'd collapsed in earlier the previous day.

When I made it to the bed, I stopped. Sebastian lay nestled between the sheets, his dark hair strewn over his face, shadowing his features from view. His chest rose slowly as he breathed, his breath heavy and deep with sleep, and to my absolute surprise, I found it comforting. Carefully, I pulled back the covers and wiggled my way under.

My spot in the bed was cold, my body heat from earlier long gone, and I rubbed my hands together to create some heat. I didn't mind the cold, not at all, but I still liked to be warm. A grunt sounded from beside me, and I risked a glance at Sebastian. He twisted and turned under the covers, his face scrunched in concentration as he slept. I watched him, curious, until he reached and looped an arm around my waist. With one strong tug he managed to pull me closer to him, his body hard against my back. He mumbled something before the muscles in his face relaxed and soon he was snoring again.

I could feel the heat from his body seeping into my clothes, back into my body and I would be lying if I said I didn't love it. My heart galloped between my ribs, but with a few gulps of chilled air I managed to cool and slow my body down. Tentatively I fingered under the covers until I found his hand, and slowly brought it up into the new light streaming through the crack in the tent.

They were huge compared to my own, his fingers large and thick unlike Foster's. They were tanned and calloused, no doubt from hours of sparring with his hidden daggers, but even though I stared at them, trying to muster up the courage to hate the hands that had brought me here, I couldn't. I didn't belong here, that much was obvious, but I wasn't mad about him whisking me away in the middle of the night either.

I guess... I guess the only reasoning behind that was: if he'd never captured me and drug me here, I wouldn't be wrapped in his arms this very moment. My heart wouldn't be hammering and my mind wouldn't be contemplating whether or not it was a good thing that I could feel my forlorn, frozen heart melting for the Count of Night, Sebastian O'Neill.

* * * * * *

I must've fallen asleep, because one moment I was nestled in Sebastian's arms, and the next I was lying in a giant bed all by myself, the sheets next to me cold and vacant.

"You slept through the Rising Bell," someone said.

I sat up, my spine barking a protest, and saw Sebastian across the tent with a piece of bacon in hand. Bacon. A complete and almost unheard of luxury back in the village. The spicy, delicious scent wafted over towards me, and my stomach growled in response.

I flung the covers off my legs, almost reluctant to leave the safe haven of the bed. With further inspection I realized we were completely alone. The last time we were alone... I fought the urge to touch my lips.

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