Chapter Five

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He was still half-convinced this was all some mad dream.

Was he really here, in some strange house in the middle of nowhere, with . . . well, he didn't know what Ysanne was.

It was purely by chance that he'd stumbled upon the carriage last night. He'd heard hooves clattering along the frozen road, and had emerged from the thicket where he'd desperately been trying to shelter from the snow, with the hopes of begging from whoever was in the carriage. He'd seen it stop at the fallen tree blocking the road, he'd seen it turn off the road and attempt to cut across the snow-choked countryside, and he'd seen the pack of thieves that had waylaid it.

He hadn't meant to get involved.

Men like that were the reason he'd grown up without a father, the reason he'd had to work so much harder to keep food on his family's table. When he'd seen them attack the carriage's escorts, he'd fully intended to go back to the thicket and hide there until the danger had passed.

Then he'd seen that beautiful woman emerge and face her attackers, and something had shifted inside him.

Edmond had no particular wish to lay down his life for a stranger, but he could not stand by and watch those scabbing bastards rob the woman, and then most likely use her and leave her for dead.

Only she hadn't needed his help at all.

She had slaughtered her would-be attackers, with the kind of strength and speed that no human could possess, especially not a noblewoman. Edmond's desire to help her had become fear, and he'd retreated back into the thicket, hoping that she would pass him by.

But she had found him.

He put a hand up to his neck, touching the place where she had bitten him with those impossibly sharp teeth, but there were no wounds, no marks at all. He could barely even remember the sensation of it. It was as if it had never happened, and if not for the dress and the jewelled necklace coiled in a glittering heap on the floor nearby – payment for his blood – Edmond really might have thought it had been a dream.

Who was this woman?

And what did she want with him?

Last night, he had been sure she would kill him, as she had killed those other men, but instead she had saved him from the bitter winter and brought him here. Surely that meant she had no intention of hurting him.

He picked up the necklace, running the shining diamonds between his fingers. This was his now, and Ysanne was right. It would have fed his family for years.

If he still had a family to feed.

Edmond closed his eyes, pressing a fist to his forehead.

No matter how valuable Ysanne's jewellery was, and how much it might help him in the future, it would not bring back what he had lost.

Nothing would.

He started to pace the floor, his mind racing. Should he stay, with the creature that wore human skin, but was not human? Or should he run and take his chances in the cold?

An icy breath of wind found its way through the barricaded windows, and Edmond shivered, moving closer to the fire.

No, he couldn't leave.

If Ysanne hadn't found him, then last night would have been his final one. He would have lain down in the snow and never got up again, and if he tried to run, then he would meet the same fate tonight.

Last night, he had been too exhausted, too cold, and too starving to do anything other than accept what he thought would be his fate at this strange woman's hands. But now that he had slipped through Death's clutches, he wanted to live.

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