16. A Drop of Prevention

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"Don't panic," Ashley said, pulling Gerald away from the window. She tripped over a loose floorboard, her hat went flying, and they both landed on the bed, her on top. Ashley's nose nestled into Gerald's neck, which smelled of sweet hay and worn leather. The bed bounced and creaked for a few beats before it stilled.

"If you wanted to get me into bed, you could've just asked," Gerald teased.

Ashley's cheeks burned. "I was not trying to get you into bed!" Don't think about dream-Gerald. Don't think about dream-Gerald.

She totally thought about dream-Gerald.

"Your cheeks say otherwise," Gerald said.

"Impudent groom."

"Infuriating princess."

"Be quiet, and let me think," Ashley grumbled. "I think Borin is on his way to the barn."

Gerald grunted. "I'd be quieter if I didn't have this massive weight on my chest. And your hair keeps getting in my mouth." Ptaw, he spat.

Ashley drew back, scowling. "Your mattress straw keeps getting in my hair. And what are you implying about my girth, sir?"

"I think I was clear. Get. Off."

"Well!" Ashley sprang from the bed.

He grunted. "That's better. Now, I have a plan."

"What is it?"

"We run downstairs, you hide under the haystacks, and when Boring asks, I tell him I haven't seen you."

"His name is Borin."

"Is his name the matter of greatest import at the moment?"

"Look, if someone reported me, Borin would know you're lying. I'm sure the castle has a rack or an iron maiden or a choir singing endless rounds of One Hundred Bottles of Mead on the Wall or some other gruesome torture device. He'll get it out of you."

He propped himself up on his elbows. That adorable curl drew across his forehead. Damn that curl. "Well, what's your plan, then?"

Think, think, think. When in trouble, it's always best to consider your assets. Ashley mentally scanned her fairy godmother checklist. Ballroom dancing probably wouldn't be useful. Same with picking a lock and possessing tiny feet. The running could help temporarily. But perhaps communicating with forest animals would be best. "Get me a quill, ink, and some paper."

"You're going to draw him into submission?"

"Just do it. We've got ten minutes max."

Gerald rose, "oh, my poor bones," and exaggerated a limp to the wonky dresser.

"Sir, you test me."

"I'm only following your orders." The top drawer opened with a screech. A glass vial of purple liquid atop the dresser rocked and tipped over the edge. "No!" Gerald caught the bottle in the fold of his linen shirt and exhaled. "Phew."

"What's that?" She gestured toward the bottle.

"Wane & Tail."

"Wane & Tail?"

"It's for the unicorns. When the mares go into heat, the stallions go insane with lust."

"My impression was that they were always insane with lust."

"What you've seen is nothing compared to what happens when the mares are in heat. And even though unicorns are mostly monogamous, during the mares' estrus, the stallions are known to 'wander.'"

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