MY BLOOD RAN COLD at the three simple words, even as Senovo opened anguished eyes, straightening away from his friend's support. I was suddenly, painfully aware that, like Senovo, I was naked under the rough blanket covering me.
Oh, gods. They knew. They knew my secret.
Something of my horror must have shown on my face, because Andoc raised a hand, as one might do when faced with a wild, unpredictable animal.
"I apologize," he said. "You were unconscious and there was blood soaking your breeches. I thought you'd been wounded in an exceptionally unfortunate place. I had no way of knowing it was moon blood."
"You had no right!" I said, struggling upright on the straw-stuffed palliasse with the blanket clutched around me.
Andoc raised his eyebrows. "Well, I suppose next time I'll know to leave you bleeding in the street, in that case. Live and learn." The hint of humor in his voice set my blood boiling.
"You could at least have kept it to yourself instead of spilling my secret to the very next person you saw," I snapped. "Now both of you know!"
"I knew already, Carivel," Senovo said, sounding exhausted but looking somewhat more composed than before. Andoc's attention immediately returned to the priest. He dipped a rag in the bowl of water resting on the table next to the bed, and started wiping at the blood on Senovo's face with a sure touch.
"How could you know?" I asked derisively. "No one knew!"
"The wolf smelled the blood on you earlier," said Senovo, gently moving Andoc's hand away and taking the rag to finish cleaning off his face himself.
"The... wolf?" I asked stupidly. The wolf that I had bruised over one eye with a rock. Just like the bruise now darkening Senovo's face. The wolf that tore out a man's throat, getting blood all over its mouth and jaw. Saving my life.
"Consider it an exchange," Senovo said. "A secret for a secret."
"You're a shape-shifter?" I asked, completely taken aback. People who could transform themselves into animals were incredibly rare, and almost always rose quickly through the ranks of the priesthood to become powerful religious figures. "But... you're a priest. Why keep such a power secret?"
"Because I can't control it. Because it makes me a killer."
"Bullshit," Andoc said matter-of-factly. "I'm a killer. You're a mild-mannered religious man who happens to turn into a wolf sometimes."
Senovo's brows drew together, a furrow of anger forming between them. "I think there's at least one man lying in the street with his throat ripped out who would beg to differ with you... if he weren't already dead."
"Pfft. He was an enemy soldier. I'd've killed him myself, if I'd been here," said Andoc in a dismissive tone.
"You aren't a priest," Senovo replied.
"I imagine Carivel here is plenty relieved that he's dead, by a priest's hand or not," Andoc countered.
"Yes and no," I said cautiously, looking between the two of them. "I'm not dead, but my life here may be as good as over, regardless. Does anybody else know? About me, I mean?"
"Not as far as I'm aware," Senovo said.
Andoc shrugged. "I certainly haven't told anyone. Who you choose to be makes no difference to me."
"Well, it makes a very big difference to me!" I flared. "The horses are my life, and women aren't allowed to work with them! Speaking of which, if I ever see you yank on your gelding's mouth again like you did this morning, I'll have Jorun confiscate your bridle and make you use a hackamore until you learn to ride properly!"
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The Horse Mistress: Book 1Romance
Carivel was born female, but she has been secretly living as a boy for years in her adoptive village of Draebard. The last thing she needs is to fall for not one, but two unattainable men-a dominating warrior and a reluctant wolf-shifter with a horr...