More Than Words
Page 28

 Mia Sheridan

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I stretched my arms and legs and picked up my coffee cup, taking a sip and blanching at the cold, bitter taste. Ben had left an hour before, and I was alone in the conference room, with instructions for locking the papers up when I was done.
My brain was starting to feel fuzzy, so I began gathering my things in preparation of calling it a day. The ring of my phone broke the silence in the room, and I started, digging it out. “Hello?”
“Hey there.” My heart did a strange little flip at the sound of Callen’s smooth, rich voice.
“Hey yourself.”
“How was your day?”
I stifled a yawn. “Good. Long. I’m hungry.”
“Good. I’m planning on feeding you. I thought we could drive into town tonight and try a different restaurant. Nick has a website crisis, so it’ll just be you and me.”
“I didn’t realize website maintenance was so full of mayhem. But dinner sounds good. We can bring something back for Nick.” Truthfully, I was glad to be getting out. As delicious as the food here was, I would like to try something new.
“Meet me upstairs in ten?”
I smiled. “Yeah. See you then.”
As I gathered the documents I’d worked on that day and made my way to the office next door, I couldn’t help but recall my time with Callen last night. I’d eaten dinner with Callen and Nick and again slept in Callen’s room. We’d kissed, and my body wanted more, but I knew Callen was right when he pulled away, not allowing things to go much further than that. Wasn’t he? Yes. Yes, of course.
Callen exercised such control when it came to how far we went physically. Part of me was disappointed that he so easily had sex with scores of other women and wouldn’t even really try with me. Then again, I didn’t want him to try, did I? No, because it would be far too easy to throw all caution to the wind and say yes to anything he asked of me. And then where would I be? Well, I guess I’d be in the exact same place I was going to be anyway: alone and mildly heartbroken. Only I’d also be devirginized, which possibly wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe I’d made too much of it, waited too long, put far too much importance on something other girls did not. Then again, wouldn’t sharing something with Callen I’d never shared with anyone else just cause our parting to hurt all the more?
I made a frustrated sound in my throat, annoyed at myself for my own waffling thoughts. I’d never been a waffler! I was always sure, steadfast. I pictured my goals and I went toward them diligently. Only … love wasn’t really like that, was it?
No, not love. Affection. Sexual attraction. Care. “Oh, good Lord.” I slammed the safe, spinning the lock before carefully clicking the picture hanging over it into place.
* * *
In the year of our Lord 1429, on the seventeenth day of June
I’m writing this entry by the bare flicker of candlelight at the end of another day of battle. More fighting will commence tomorrow, and with each passing minute my fear grows for the lives that shall be lost, for the blood that will surely be spilled, and mostly for the agony of dread that lies within my heart as I watch the army depart for battle. A battle for which my only role is the waiting, a certain torture in itself. Alone in our tent at night, Jehanne speaks her fears to me as I do to her. And strangely, though I would deign it to be the opposite, I find it comforting that she is as afraid as I. Though her insides quiver in fright—for this she has told me—she does not hesitate to lead the men straight into the fray, where they claim victory again and again. So strong is her faith, so devout is her belief, that despite her terror, she continues to live fiercely. Is this the true definition of bravery: being afraid but acting anyway? Following the dictates of your faith and your heart straight into the battle for which you’ve been called? It seems to me to be so. For how is there bravery if there is no fear?
I read the passage to Ben and he paused, looking at me thoughtfully. “It’s really profound, Jessica, because what we know of Joan of Arc tells of her extreme bravery on the battlefield, of her unfailing faith, but no one’s ever spoken of or known about her private thoughts and fears … until now.”
“Exactly. She was a military leader who led an army of men, but she was also a teenage girl.” She believed her calling so strongly that she did what few would have done, yet how could a peasant girl who’d only known a safe, provincial life not be afraid to charge straight toward enemy swords? Not be afraid that she was wrong and leading men directly to their deaths? Deaths that might be for a faulty cause?
I wandered upstairs later, the picture of the dim interior of a tent in the middle of an army camp where two young girls lay whispering together running through my mind. Two girls who were about the same age and yet played vastly different roles in the course of history—one a peasant, one nobility, one canonized, and one forgotten. And yet both were brave in their own right. I wondered what had happened to Joan of Arc’s camp assistant and if the writings would enable us to identify her and provide a clue as to her fate.
I trailed a finger over the rough plaster wall as I walked slowly down the hall, feeling the bumps and divots beneath the pad of my index finger. Was it fate that pulled the strings, that led us to our destiny? And what happened when we didn’t follow the path we were meant for? What if we were too blind to see it? What if we ran inside our house as Joan of Arc did that first day the voices came to her, but never went out again? What if we stayed locked up, safe, but avoided our calling? Did it only affect us, or did it end up altering the entire world?
And if only all callings could be as clear as a voice ringing down from the clouds with a specific mission.
“You look deep in thought.”
I jerked my head up and laughed when I saw Callen leaning against the door to my room, his hands in his pockets, so casually handsome it caused my heart to leap.
“Slumming it?”
He chuckled. “Not even close. You of all people should know that, given you literally met me on the wrong side of the tracks.”
I grinned over my shoulder, stepping inside my room. “Funny, I remember meeting you over a sparkling river in the mouth of a rocky cave deep in the Enchanted Linden Forest.”
Callen laughed, closing the door behind him. “You’re right. My memory is so unreliable sometimes.”
“That’s because of that—”
He backed me up against the wall, my breath hitching as he put both hands on the wall next to my head and smiled down at me. “You were saying?”
I cleared my throat, distracted by the solid press of his body, the scent of him right up close, and the beauty of his face looking at me as if I were the only person in his world. “That, um … spell the wicked—”
His lips came down on mine, and I could feel his smile as he began kissing me. He dragged his lips down my throat as he pressed his pelvis into mine, shooting sparks between my thighs. “The spell the wicked …”
“… Lord Blackshadow cast on you.” I moaned at the feel of his lips nipping at the tender skin of my neck, bringing my arms up and wrapping them around his shoulders so I could pull him even closer. His muscles bunched under my hands, the hard feel of his male body such delicious wonder.
I felt his lips tip into another smile against my skin. “The wicked Lord Blackshadow did cast a spell on me, and now I’m as wicked as him.” He brought his head up, looking right into my eyes. “And there’s no cure for me, Jessie.”
For some reason his words sent a shiver of hurt through me, though I wasn’t sure why. We stared at each other for a moment, something thick in the space between us. A warning? A statement? Or maybe a question. Whatever it was, I wasn’t sure how to interpret it, much less form an answer.
He broke the spell as he looked away and glanced around briefly, apparently taking in the tiny size of my stone-walled room for the first time since we’d stepped inside. “They really do have you in a dungeon, don’t they?”
“Will you rescue me, Callen?”
His expression sobered, and for just a moment we stared at each other yet again, but then Callen smiled and pulled away. “Come away with me this weekend.”