09. Push and Pull

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Reuben's first thought was: I'm in the captivity of the girl I robbed earlier today, she has sworn to have me killed, and she's the lady of the castle and has dozens of armed guards at her disposal!

His second thought was: So what? You've killed dozens of men before.

His third thought was: Yes, but not without a sword and with three arrows in my back.

His fourth thought was: At least she doesn't know who I am yet.

His fifth thought was: Emphasis on “yet.”

His sixth thought was: She's going to have me hacked into tiny little pieces if she finds out!

His seventh thought was: Wait just a minute! Did she just call me an ungrateful lout?

The tumult of his emotions must have shown on his face, because the girl asked: “What's wrong? Don't like my name, do you?”

“Well,” he said with a shrug, “in my opinion, it sounds like the name of a totally green, pompous, and bossy person who doesn't know when to shut her mouth. But that's probably just me.”

Her eyes flashed again. “Probably. Now turn around. I'll have to get these arrows out or you'll die, and we wouldn't want that now, would we?”

Reuben hesitated. In his experience, it was never a good idea to turn your back on an enemy. But in this case, he probably didn't have any choice.

“Certainly, Milady,” he said, pulling away the sheet from his impressive muscles and turning over. “Enjoy the view.”

She snorted, but it didn't sound very convincing.

Reuben allowed himself a grin. Why not? He was turned to the wall; she couldn't see it.

“So tell me,” he began, feeling her gaze bore into his back, “how does a noble lady come to know something about healing?”

“Why don't you tell me something for a change? How about your name? I've told you mine.”

Should he tell her his real name? Why not? He hadn't mentioned it while robbing her. They hadn't had time for that much polite conversation. And he wasn't really creative enough to come up with anything else.

“Reuben.”

“And what were you doing out in the forest, Reuben—besides bleeding, I mean?”

He felt something cool gently brush against his back and twitched.

“Relax,” she said.

Oh. Those were her hands. Her touch was gentler than he had imagined. A lot gentler, actually.

“You aren't one of the men of the Margrave von Falkenstein, are you?”

“No,” he said emphatically. “I'm a merchant,” he added, thinking of the man he had robbed earlier that day.

“Good,” she replied, her voice as gentle as her hands. “Because if you had been one of Falkenstein's fiends, I would have hanged you from the highest tower of my castle.”

“Lucky me.”

“Very lucky.” She tapped on his back. “Looks like these wounds didn't even come close to any vital organs. As long as they don't get infected, you'll live.” Her small hands moved away from his back, and he could feel her grasp the shafts. “Now, I'll just have to pull the arrows out...”

Reuben twisted as fast as a snake and had her hands captured in his in a heartbeat. She didn't utter a sound, just stared at his ferocious expression with undoubted fear in her bright blue eyes. She must have thought he was trying to attack her. It almost made him sorry for his reaction. Almost.

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