The Emerald Thief - 17 - The Deal

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He was faster than I'd anticipated. I sent a blow to his jaw, attempting to knock him out so I could make a run for it. It was hard to fight in this thin nightgown, but I was managing. Two years ago if someone had told me that I would one day be fighting Azel in hand to hand combat I would have laughed. I wasn't laughing now, I was fighting for all I was worth.

It was a good three minutes later when I slipped up. I was exhausted from the fast furious blows so when he faked to the left I moved to block it and missed his fist to my side. The air went out of me and I reeled away, trying to drag in air and not crumple to the floor.

"Stop this Maria," he said gently. "Please."

"Let me out of here," I shot back.

"No."

I responded that with a sharp kick to his shin, a dirty trick, but if you fight fair when it counts it's your loss. He swore and spun away, limping. I threw out at arm, clocking him on the jaw, but missed his arm to my stomach again. This time I did double over. He grabbed my wrist and forced me down, then grabbed my other wrist, pinning me. Azel shook his head, clearing it from my blow.

"I've been training in combat since I was ten Maria," he sighed. "You've been training for two years, you cannot beat me."

"I came damn close," I spat. "Dammit Azel let me go!"

"No," he leant down, pressing his forehead to mine. "Why can't you see that nothing's changed, you've had a difficult experience, grown up a little and now you're back. We still belong together."

"No, nothing is the same," I argued, my voice dull, he wasn't listening to me anyways. "We don't belong together Azel, we haven't for a long time."

"Yes we do." He insisted.

"He would never do this," I said, not looking at him, looking past him at the ceiling.

"What?" Azel pulled back to look me in the eyes.

"Tyce would never force himself on me."

"So now you're comparing us." He snapped, jerking up so he was sitting on my hips with just enough weight to keep me pinned.

"There is no comparison," I said quietly. "I don't feel the same about you anymore Azel, I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing," he snapped, then he laughed, a low and spine-tingling sound. "Now I wish I hadn't killed Marc so quickly, I should have dragged it out for

a long time."

I had nothing to say to that. This was a side of Azel that I'd never seen before and I didn't like it. There was a long silence before I took a deep breath and spoke.

"Azel keeping me here is not going to make me re-grow those feelings for you," I said softly. "Please just let me go."

"I've been thinking about that," he said, looking down at me. "I might let you go on a few conditions."

"Which would be?" I refused to gain home this soon.

"I had your manor rebuilt," he said, still holding my eyes. "I want you to live there again, with Draven; and I want you to come visit me here once a month, like you used to."

"That would not make me re-grow feelings either," I looked away from those intense eyes.

"We shall see," he stood up. "Do we have a deal?"

"Would you let the brothers I was escorting live there too?" I asked, not standing up.

"Does that include this Tyce?"

"Yes."

He watched me for a long moment. My heart thundered in my chest, if he said yes then I would agree. I would not mind seeing him every month, it would only hurt me that he still held hope for us. I could live with Tyce without separating our families... I could go home. I don't know how I'd react going back to the place where my family was murdered, but it was my home. I missed it. It was cruel of me, but I was secretly praying that Azel's arrogance told him that he could win my back even if I lived with Tyce, that way he would agree to my terms.

"Alright," he said finally, offering down a hand to help me up. "You may live in your house with your brother and those brothers if you come here once a month for three days."

I took his hand and let him pull me up. "We have a deal."

I don't know how Azel found them all, I knew that my brother was very difficult to find when he didn't want to be... but sure enough five hours later, all five of them were being escorted into the castle. I was in a fitted sand colored dress and was waiting anxiously on the castle front steps with Azel as the carriage pulled up.

I didn't wait for anyone, just picked up my skirts and started running down the stairs as fast as my legs would take me. By the time I made it down all those steps, they were all out of the carriage and Draven was waiting for me. I threw myself into my brothers arms, hugging him tight. He squeezed me back twice as hard.

"My God Es," he breathed. "Don't scare me like that."

"Sorry," I laughed, tears in my eyes.

"What happened?" He pulled back to look at me, hands still on my arms. "He- he didn't do it Draven. He didn't kill them."

"What?" he asked blankly.

"I'll explain everything later," I smiled, then pulled back so I could throw myself into Tyce's arms.

"I'm so sorry," he murmured, face buried in my hair. "I let them take you."

"No you didn't," I sighed happily, just being in his arms felt so good. "It's fine, it all worked out."

He was the first to pull away, but only so that he could kiss me. That kiss was so rough and perfect that I nearly pooled into butter then and there.

"Lord help me," I heard Finn mutter. I smiled and gently pulled away from Tyce.

"He already did," I grinned. "God helped us a lot today."

I told them everything, well mostly everything... I left out the fact that Azel was still in love with me. I just told them that he was guilty about what happened and needed to tell me the truth for his honor, not for love.

"I don't know what to say..." Draven murmured when I finished.

"Say that we can go home," I looked up at him. "Please."

He stared at me for a long time, then up at Azel where he still stood high on the steps, then back at me. Tears pricked his eyes and he laughed.

"Yeah Esmaria, we can go home."

I laughed too, hugging him again. It felt nice hearing my brother say my real name, hearing him say we could go home. To our real home.

"What about you four?" Draven let me go and turned to Ryder. "Are you going to take our Prince up on this offer?"

Ryder looked up at Azel too, then down at Tyce, who was staring at me, then finally back to my brother.

"I think we just might," he smiled.

Tyce grabbed me again before I could thank his brother, hugging me tight. When we started back up the stairs to where Azel was, Tyce's hand was still wrapped around mine. I knew what that wouldn't be ideal for Azel to see, but I couldn't bring myself to let go of him. I wouldn't be letting go of him at all if I had any say in it.

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