13 - A Girl Moment

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Xander was an idiot. No, idiot wasn't a strong enough word. Was there a word to describe someone who had thrown away every scrap of reason, then brought that reason back and strangled himself with it? If there was, it would be the right word to describe Xander.

He replayed the moment in his head. Margaret insisting the Fye walk Xander back to his horse. Fye, looking like a pagan goddess of temptation in the last rays of the evening sun. Xander, losing his mind over her flawless complexion and girlish-but-not-girlish attitude.

"He's going to have my head," Xander muttered as he dismounted his horse and handed the reins to one of the castle's servants.

"Who is?" a small voice asked from behind him. Xander turned to see Kaylin, who clutched her two favorite dolls in her arm. A piece of straw was stuck in her golden hair.

"Uh, no one," Xander said.

"Oh. Do you want to play dollies with me? Arabella said she's too old."

"I'm even older than Arabella."

Kaylin considered this for a moment. "But it's all right for grown-ups to play dollies. Just not eleven-year-olds. And you're way older than eleven. You're, like... old."

He chuckled. "Yes. Ancient. Isn't it your bedtime soon?"

She shrugged. "No. My bedtime was a long time ago, but I sneaked out of my room because I got scared."

"What are you scared of?"

"Monsters."

"Oh. I see. Let me walk you back to your room. I'll make sure none of the monsters get you."

She lifted up her arms—apparently there would be no walking involved. If Reuben saw me talking to his daughter, he would probably murder me, Xander thought. But since I've already done enough to warrant his wrath ten times over... He scooped Kaylin into his arms, and immediately she planted a wet kiss on his cheek.

"Do you think my father will come back soon?" she asked through a yawn.

"I don't think it will be too long." But I'm halfway hoping he never comes back.

"Do you know what he told me?"

"What did he tell you?"

"He told me..." Another yawn. "He told me that he will fight all the monsters for me, but he isn't here now. Are you strong enough to fight monsters?"

"I think I am."

"My father says you are, but he said that's a secret."

Xander thought he might melt. He kissed Kaylin's head. Sure, she had probably misunderstood what Reuben had said, but Xander chose to believe it for now. If Reuben trusted Xander to protect Kaylin from monsters, there might be hope for him yet.

*

13.2

Neither Fye nor Xander mentioned the kiss in the following days. Xander redoubled his efforts to train her, yelling at her with all the gusto of a commander readying troops for war. They continued their courting façade in front of other people—which tortured him, especially when Fye touched him or smiled at him—but when they were alone, Xander forced himself to be nothing but professional. No, not professional—mean.

Once, when Xander was escorting her home, Fye started talking about the time she had sneaked up on Captain Linhart and almost caused him to fall off the castle's outer wall.

Xander cut her off mid-sentence, "I don't really care." He wanted to listen to the rest of the story, wanted to laugh at Fye's impersonation of Linhart, but he couldn't. Not if he wanted to make things right by the time Reuben got back.

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