Chapter 26 - Life

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When Pimpernella excused herself from the breakfast tables for the second time that morning, her delicate skin greenish rather than its former pale tone, Cornelis felt that his game turned ridiculously easy for once.

He saw Phyllis pause between two bites before she frowned and left Philip behind in pursuit of her roommate. Philip seemed oblivious to the drama unfolding in front of him, but from the beautiful scowl she threw in Cornelis's direction, he could tell that Phyllis herself shared his observations and preliminary conclusion.

He sat a table behind them, and he held up his hands in mock defeat. If his suspicions were right, he had no hand in the matter! Stretching comfortably, he let his fingers join at the back of his head, ignoring how Ryann frowned at his smile.

"Aren't you in a good mood," Fionnan remarked. "Place is getting to you, at last."

His red-haired freckled cousin, who resembled his own wife more than he did Cornelis, grinned at him. Cornelis could only copy the gesture. Fionnan and Brenna adored Mesmer. And why wouldn't they. A lovely place. One could almost forget the outside world. If a certain Roman Optio had not chosen to go frolic around here and get caught up in the nearby drama, Cornelis might have been able to enjoy it with them.

The Optio. What he wouldn't give to be able to discuss Marcus with Phelan right now. Although, when one started describing a Roman soldier as adorable, that made solid ground for doubt on their ability to judge character. After all, Phelan fell for people easily. Maybe as easily as a teenage girl. Still, Phelan's recount of his night partying with a bunch of soldiers had, like always, granted them information Cornelis himself never would have had access to. It had also led Phelan to believe the Optio was cute.

Unfortunately, after working with Marcus for over three days, Cornelis had to admit he had his moments.

The one time he had made a move on Marcus, in the kitchen, had been no more than an attempt to rattle him. Make him loose his quiet composure and do something he would get banned for. Marcus's reaction hadn't allowed for that, but it had sure been interesting. Cornelis had no idea how to exploit the increasing amount of times he felt Marcus's eyes linger on him. At least, not in a way that would benefit his mission. Other ways of exploitation were easier to imagine...

The guy clearly had no clue of what he brought about by climbing the skeleton of the first greenhouse in one of his fluttery tunics, bare calves and even thighs, that strained whenever Cornelis or Fionnan handed him another glass plate. Marcus was the only one both light enough to walk the wooden frame, and strong enough to hold steady the heavy glass while Fionnan fitted it. The heat from the torches created fine droplets on his forehead and sometimes he stuck his tongue between his teeth in an effort not to move. Marcus rarely smiled these days, which made him a lot easier to endure. The upbeat, forced front he had held up before had been smashed to pieces. His awkward antics now where indeed rather endearing. But Cornelis had only to await the mention of Biancus's or that foolish Centurion's name to see flickers of the storm brewing underneath those uneasy flushes. Marcus was trying to work something out, that much was clear, and there was absolutely no telling where that would lead him.

Maybe he was just worried though. Phyllis clearly expected Marcus to join them on their way back to Raghnall, and while that was a problem, Cornelis hadn't acted upon it. Marcus had left Mesmer last night, to report back to his Centurion, and request leave to accompany Phyllis. Cornelis knew how that would turn out. Mesmer had been very near an outside attack. They would want their troops gathered and strong. Smooth talker he might be, Cornelis didn't believe for one second Marcus would be allowed to leave right now. Phyllis on the other hand had just told Bonny she wanted to visit her grandmother. A lie that seemed to roll of her tongue without trouble, and that had met no resistance. Because Bonny trusted him.

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