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Through all this, his eyes were also glued to me but I couldn’t read them.
And for some reason, we stood in the preposterously elegant foyer of his preposterously fabulous country house situated in the preposterously beautiful countryside of a parallel universe and we stared into each other’s eyes, not speaking. His thoughts were cloaked. Mine, I doubted, were the same.
Then he shared his thoughts.
And if his earlier comment was an insult that landed an invisible blow, this one delivered a kill shot.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he whispered, his eyes locked to mine as I drew in breath. “You might get it.” He put his hand to the doorknob and finished, “And not want it.”
Then he was gone.
I Was Used to It
It was safe to say I was pissed.
It was the next morning after Apollo dealt his death blow.
I was in another gown that was very pretty but didn’t fit me. I was bathed, watered and fed. And a maid who didn’t speak my language had just come to my room, gesturing in a way I knew I was being summoned for something.
I’d heard horses’ hooves on the stone outside so I figured my guard was there.
But I didn’t care.
I hadn’t slept. Not a wink.
This was because, at first, I was hurt.
Wounded. Wounded was the word to describe it.
I didn’t know why. I just knew I was.
Then I started to think on things and I got mad.
Sure, one could say I didn’t want to go back to Pol and endure a life with him, walking on eggshells, taking my beatings whenever whatever was in his head would snap and he’d lose it. Then planning my escape and escaping, only to be found, beaten, dragged back and starting the process all over again and doing all this not very fun stuff until the day I died.
That didn’t work for me. As in really didn’t work.
But I’d been transported by a freaking witch to a freaking parallel universe by a man grieving his wife who was my twin. Then he got me, held me in his arms as I slept (and seriously, what was that all about?) and for some reason decided he didn’t want me (not that I wanted him, either, for God’s sake). And finally, he threw me to the proverbial wolves.
Not that there were wolves, as such. The staff seemed nice, smiling, friendly, solicitous, and it wasn’t like I was in a prison with nowhere to sleep but on cold stone and nothing to eat but moldy bread and fetid water.
So, needless to say, this all meant I didn’t sleep. Which didn’t help with me being pissed.
But I did force a smile at the maid and followed her, though I did it stomping and even that pissed me off because I still was barefoot so my stomping wasn’t very effective.
I saw him when I was halfway down the stairs and, not surprisingly, he was tall, blond, built and preposterously good-looking.
He was also wearing romance novel guy clothes.
Exhausted and in a bad mood, this annoyed me more.
As I descended the stairs, his eyes lifted to me and his mouth dropped open.
He knew the other Ilsa.
He snapped his mouth shut and wiped his face blank.
I’d seen that before.
I stomped to four feet away from him and stopped.
“I take it you’re my guard,” I guessed.
His eyes moved over my face, lingering on the bruise at my cheek (whatever!) before stopping on mine. “Yes, madam, myself and the seven men outside.”
That seemed like a lot which didn’t bode good things.
I didn’t share these musings with him.
I introduced myself, of a sort. “I take it you know I’m Ilsa.”
“I do,” he replied.
“And you are?” I asked.
“Derrik,” he answered.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I snapped.
His eyes lit and his lips twitched.
I found this a bizarre reaction, so I asked, “Is that funny?”
“Yes, seeing as you said kind words you so obviously didn’t mean and I’m not entirely certain what I’ve done in the last three seconds to earn your ire, having done nothing but stand here and greet you,” he shared.
He hadn’t done anything. I was being rude.
I wasn’t averse to being rude if a situation warranted it, say, a telemarketer called during dinner…or ever.
But mostly I was averse to being rude.
Therefore, I decided to explain.
“I’m annoyed,” I told him. “Not at you,” I added hurriedly. “At your master, or leader…or…whoever.”
He dipped his chin and looked at me from under his brow, his voice gentling. “I am of the House of Lazarus. I trained under the House of Ulfr. Apollo and I grew close, shared a bond that was strong enough that when I would have returned to my own House, I elected to stay with him and command his men in his stead when he’s absent. I’m not in line for the Head of my House therefore it’s a good position.” He grinned and lifted his chin, not letting go of my gaze. “And the women of the House of Ulfr are more pleasing to look at and not one of them is my cousin or sister.”
At his words, I felt my own lips twitching and surmised, “So you’re his second in command.”
“Yes,” he affirmed.
I decided to take this as good, Apollo leaving his second in command. I was guessing by the way this guy’s shoulders looked in his shirt, his thighs looked in his breeches, and the casual way he carried that sword at a slant in his back, he was no pushover.
So at least the jerk gave me something.
“Do you speak French, or…um, Fleuridian?” I asked.
“Haltingly, but I can make myself understood”—he paused— “eventually.”
“That’s not much of an interpreter,” I mumbled, looking at my feet.
“I’m not an interpreter, madam, I’m charged with your safety,” he returned and I looked back at him to see he looked peeved.
“Sorry,” I said quietly. “I just don’t speak any Fleuridian and it seems I’m going to be here a while so I was kind of hoping you or one of your guys could help out.”
The peeved look faded and he replied, “One of the…guys can help. In fact, three of them can.”
Finally, good news.
His eyes dropped to my mouth and pain chased its way through them before he shuttered it from me.