Chapter 19

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Something touches my shoulder and I wake up with a jolt, a loud gasp exploding out of me. Hale steps back with a curse, pulling his hand back quickly. I have a moment of horrible, heart pounding confusion where I can't remember where I am or what I'm doing here.

"Gods Talia, you scared me," Hale whispers loudly, bracing himself against my bed. It's still dark and I have no idea what time it is.

"I scared you?"I mean to sound incredulous but it just comes out shaky. I press a hand against my forehead, trying to gather my thoughts. Struggling to cling to my dream as it dissolves, I have a strange feeling that I was dreaming about my mother.

"It's time for our training, unless you thought you'd take the day off and sleep in.'' Hale's tone of voice tells me exactly what he thinks of that.

I blink, confused. Weren't we fighting? Is this some weird thing friends do where they pretend like nothing happened? 

I'm not very good at pretending.

"Perhaps that's exactly what I plan to do. You know, being such a weakling and all, I thought I'd give up training and trying all together, and just laze around all day.''

"Oh, stop being petulant.''

"Did you enjoy getting punched so much that you're here for a second one?''

"Don' t use that snarly tone of voice with me,'' he cheerfully whispers." I brought you a present. An apology of sorts.''

"A present?'' I perk up, throwing back the blanket and sitting up to see if he's holding anything. Then I remember I'm still mad at him. "I mean, why am I not surprised you'd try to buy my forgiveness with a present? Typical male response.''

"You don't want it then?'' I can't see his eyes in the dark but I know they're laughing at me.

"No thank you.'' He gets up like he's going to leave. ''But you could just leave it here if you'd like.''

Hale chuckles lowly and something in my stomach warms. I'm still hurt but vastly relieved to see that the playful, kind Hale I've come to know is back.

"You only get your present if you get up and come train with me. It's waiting for you at our clearing.'' I don't miss the way he says ours rather than his.

"Gods, I'll give you each a present if you'll shut the hell up,'' someone that sounds suspiciously like Garth grumbles from a bed to our left.

I have to cover my face to smother my giggles, but I pull myself from the warmth of my bed and tug my boots on, lacing them up tightly.

Twice, I catch a peek of Hale's smug face as I follow him through the trees and consider turning around just to irk him. But I can't deny that I'm burning with curiosity over the "apology present". Plus, I don't have it in me to turn him away when he's clearly going through the effort to mend things between us. 

I briefly consider apologizing for punching him in the face but decide against it. He deserved it, even he can't say otherwise.

Once we reached the clearing, my eyes immediately go to the package sitting on the big boulder. It's wrapped in bulky cloth so it's hard to tell anything about it expect that it's long and relatively flat. 

I glance around. Since there's nothing else out of place, I assume it's my present. Unless he's going to have a bunch of servants bring me a huge breakfast feast. My mouth waters that the thought. I miss the way Father makes biscuits with crispy brown edges and slathers them in strawberry jam. I sigh wistfully and Hale shoots me a strange look.

He goes over to the parcel then turns to me and, for a second, looks like he wants to say something. I feel oddly nervous. I've never gotten a present from someone who isn't family and definitely never from an attractive young man.

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