Quick reminder: This is basically a rough draft and only temporarily available to read online. Once the book is complete, it will be revised, professionally edited, and then published on Amazon. For more details about the blog book, or to read the story from the beginning, check out the book’s main page.
I wake before sunrise. Even the birds are still asleep. Moonlight shines over the forest, casting silhouettes of branches above the tent canvas. A breeze tugs at the flap and makes the leaves of the few deciduous trees rustle in the night like a far-off creek.
Rolling over, I wrap my blanket tighter around my shoulders. The ground is cold and damp, and there’s a rock that jabs my side. When I try to shift, I find two more.
As I lie here, waiting for morning, I wonder if Lionel stayed awake all night to keep watch, or if one of the dragons sent him to get some sleep.
I kissed him.
I clench my eyes shut, internally groaning. What was I thinking?
No, I wasn’t thinking. I simply acted, so relieved that Lionel was alive.
How am I going to face him? The birds are still silent, so I must have a few more hours before sunrise, maybe more. I shiver against the cold ground, wishing I’d brought warmer clothes.
I’m torn, eagerly waiting for the warmth of morning but also anxiously hoping the sun will decide to stay asleep a little longer so I might avoid the confrontation for as long as possible.
As I lie here, reliving yesterday’s events, the remembered panic makes my pulse race.
Soon, birds begin their morning melodies. They twitter and chatter, far more eager for daylight than I am. The sky lightens the fabric of my tent as the sun prepares to crest the horizon.
Now awake, Lionel moves around outside, his footsteps quiet on the soggy ground. I don’t yet hear the dragons.
Knowing I can avoid it no longer, I dress, shivering when the cold air hits my skin.
I’ll apologize for the kiss—that’s the only way forward. I’ll explain that I was overwhelmed by the situation, and that was all there was to it.
There’s no need to read anything into it. It was a human reaction, plain and simple.
“Do you have a kettle?” Lionel asks the moment I push aside the tent flap.
I come to a dead stop. My mouth falls open, and I gape at the prince.
Lionel glances over, raising his brows as though still waiting for my answer. His wet hair is tied back, and his ripped tunic lies on a rock near the fire, yesterday’s bloodstains washed clean.
The prince crouches in front of the fire. He’s sculpted and ridged, angled and tapered like a knight. The jagged markings of the new skin on his chest are light pink. He’ll likely always carry the signs of the boar’s attack, but that’s not what has my attention.
“What happened to you?” I breathe, forgetting my embarrassment over the kiss. I walk to him, extending my hand to run it along the jagged pattern of scars along his back.
Lionel shies away, standing and turning his back from me, acting as if he’d forgotten the painful markings were there. “Nothing.”
I grasp his shoulder, yanking him around so I can take a better look. “Lionel.”
He stiffens when I trace the patterns with my fingers, but he doesn’t jerk away. From the looks of it, he was whipped—and often. They’re old scars, silvery and white, stretched as he grew.
“You were young,” I murmur, and my stomach rolls.
“Genevieve.” He turns, blocking my view. “I’m fine.”
“Who did that to you?” I demand.
He stares at me, his dark hazel eyes shielded.
“Your father,” I answer myself darkly. “No one else could touch a prince of the most powerful kingdom in Elden.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“That doesn’t make it right!” I exclaim hotly. Just the thought of it makes me nauseous.
Lionel watches me, frowning slightly.
“How could he do that!” My throat tightens as the injustice of it merges with the memory of my stepfather ordering his guards to tie me to the pyre. “What could you have possibly done to deserve that! You were a child!”
“Genevieve,” he says, his face softening.
I turn away from him, too overwhelmed. My nerves are frayed, done in by the last twelve hours. Lionel lets me compose myself, and for that, I’m grateful.
After several moments, he asks once more, “Do you have a kettle?”
I swallow the lump in my throat and shake my head. “I didn’t bring one.”
He makes a disappointed noise, and then he turns back toward the fire.
After one more deep breath, I turn around, trying to keep my eyes from wandering to his back. Unfortunately, that leaves me looking at the scar on his chest, which isn’t much better.
“Does anyone else know?” I finally ask.
“No.” He adds another split log to the crackling fire.
“Did your mother?”
He pauses before he straightens, stretching his back. “I hope not.”
My eyes travel over him once more, but for a different reason this time. I was right yesterday—any softness that he carried when he first arrived in our meadow is gone now. His shoulders are broad, and his chest powerful.
And terrifying. Lionel looks like a force to be reckoned with…someone who can kill a boar with nothing but a short sword.
I’ve mocked this giant of a man, teased him mercilessly.
I gulp, immediately turning my eyes to the fire.
Nothing could be more dangerous than falling for this wounded prince, and I won’t allow myself to even contemplate it.
Thankfully, our hunting trip has been shortened considerably. We can return to the dragons’ cavern, and I can pretend the last twenty-four hours never happened.
I glance around, realizing something rather important.
“Where’s the boar?” I ask Lionel, scanning the nearby area.
“The dragons ate it last night.”
“You called them back from their hunt,” he reminds me. “I didn’t see any harm in it. And I didn’t think you’d have much appetite for pork.”
I stare at him, resisting the urge to rub my temples.
He gives me a quizzical look and then looks back at his fire.
“Where are they now?” I demand.
“They just ate an entire grim boar!”
Lionel shrugs, unconcerned. I hold in a groan and mutter that I’m going to fetch the dried meat from my pack.
We’re not going back today.