Page 11 of The Lover's Leap

He took my hand and dragged me past the scene and toward the rear door. I blinked in disbelief, hardly feeling the fingers laced through mine as I numbly followed the distinctive long blond ponytail of Syndrian Serlo.

ChapterThree

Istumbled through unfamiliar scrub on the path, my fingers laced through Syndrian’s. The sun had already begun to set, sending dense purple clouds racing across the sky. The weather was changing quickly. A brisk wind tossed leaves and small twigs along our heels as we ran—not walked—away from Knuckles & Bones.

He led me wordlessly back in the direction of the stable, where I assumed he’d also kept a horse. But his fingers tightened on mine as three men dressed in black, hoods obscuring their faces, approached on galloping horses. There was nothing around us—no trees to duck behind, no crowd to blend into. Just a large man with unusual hair and a very out-of-place woman fleeing the scene of a violent fight. I remembered the eyes of the injured player staring blankly at the ceiling, and my knees wobbled. Perhaps the scene of a death. A murder.

A tug on my hand brought me chest to chest with Syndrian. He slipped one hand behind my neck and held my waist with the other.

“Look at me, miss,”he whispered. “Please. Just go along with it.”

I had no idea what I was supposed to go along with, but as the hooded riders came closer, Syndrian pressed his forehead against mine. My breath caught in my chest. I desperately wondered if he was going to kiss me, but his hand held the back of my head steadily, trapping the hood to hide my face. He closed his eyes and clutched me unbearably close, his lips drawn tight and his hold on me firm. To the passing riders, we likely looked like a couple giving in to a moment of passion. The angle of my hood would shield them from seeing that we were not really kissing at all.

The pounding of my heart brought the blood to my cheeks and shallow, excited breaths between my lips. I leaned into Syndrian, lacing my hands behind him and gripping him with all my strength. He lowered his face slightly, nudging my nose with his as two riders galloped past. The third, however, slowed as it approached us. Syndrian moved his hips ever so slightly against mine, holding me closer and releasing a deliciously convincing sound of passion from between his parted lips.

Under any other circumstances, the heat and dizziness I felt at that sound would have been exquisite, exciting, but desperate to convince the third rider to pass us by, I kept quiet and tried to ignore the inappropriate response of my body to his. Heat seeped through my core, sparring with tight prickles of fear. I closed my eyes and drew my lower lip into my mouth, then bit down as I listened to the slowing hoofbeats as the rider approached.

Time seemed to stand still. The wind teased the hem of my riding dress, carrying with it the scent of the man who held me. Smoke and ash and a distinctly masculine fragrance like rich almond oil filled my senses. I drew in a heated, unsteady breath as something slow and sensuous glided through my belly, powerful desire outplaying my nerves.

The horse and rider stopped uncomfortably close. A snort of the air and the stamp of hooves against the dirt let me know we were being watched, examined. But just as quickly as he’d paused, the rider urged his horse on. Once he’d ridden off toward the rest of his party, Syndrian released me.

“Hurry,” he whispered, lacing his hand through mine again and taking off at a run.

We reached the stable, and Syndrian nodded to the stableman, then tossed a quarter silver at him and wordlessly motioned for him to collect both horses. I could now pause to collect my thoughts as images, vivid and violent, rushed through my mind. The strangled sounds of the fight. The heated stench of foul breath as the gamblers cheered on the violence. I shook my head to clear the memories, but when Syndrian suddenly released my hand, I noticed the absence of his touch. And noticed too how disappointingly empty I felt without it.

The stableman averted his eyes, looking down at his feet as a flood of people streamed down the path. I now understood Syndrian’s speed and urgency. He’d had the foresight to leave before a rush of people fled the tavern. Had he anticipated the riders? Who were the hooded horsemen? Questions raced through my terrified mind.

“Hurry,” Syndrian said in a low whisper. “We’ll not want to be seen.”

I mounted Poet after a quick check to ensure her torch and water were still in place. Syndrian climbed astride his horse, adjusting a spiked mace at his waist. He led us on a brisk ride in the opposite direction of the road leading back home, taking me deep into a wood with close-growing birch.

Once the growth was too dense to pass through on horseback, Syndrian dismounted. He lead Poet and his gelding through the trees until we were hidden beneath a thick canopy of tall branches, the leaves at the ends lacing together like fingers interwoven in prayer. He reached for my hand and helped me down, then took my cask of water and handed it to me. I took a sip, then offered the same to him. He drank like a man who’d never tasted such sweet water.

“I’m finished,” I said, shaking my head and urging him to take his fill. I regretted it as soon as I said the words though. Sipping from the same cask was the closest my lips would likely ever get to his, and now I’d missed my chance.

He nodded, stowed away the nearly empty container, and rubbed his hands over his eyes. “Lady Pali…”

“I have no name here,” I reminded him, a weary half smile on my lips.

He shook his head and began pacing nervous circles. “How did you— You can’t…”

I lowered my chin and waited while he muttered, sounding furious and panicked. He rasped incomplete sentences under his breath, until finally, he strode before me and met my eyes, anguish on his face.

“Why? What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be…”

“The tournament,” I said. “I hoped to…”

I let the words die on my lips. I could not explain. No one yet knew of my impending betrothal. Only me, my parents, and Idony—and she’d sworn she would not share the information with Biko. At least, not yet. While my reasons for wanting to be here made sense to me, I couldn’t stand the thought of admitting to Syndrian what my plans were. What kind of dangerous game I was truly playing.

His bright blue eyes glittered, small points of fire in the descending twilight. “This is not the place for one like you.”

“One like me?” Indignation sharpened my words. “Nothing about me is as you may imagine,” I snapped.

“Is that so?” he huffed. He was beside me in an instant, lifting my chin with his fingers. “If you only knew the things I imagine about you.”

As if his admission surprised even him, he released me and stepped away, increasing the distance between us. My breath lodged in my chest as I puzzled over his words. Could it be that Syndrian Serlo felt something for me? The enigmatic cutler, my brother’s best friend. A man I knew so little about and yet somehow instinctively trusted. More than trusted…yearned for.

“We should return. It’s not safe here.” The coldness in his voice made me doubt any warmth I may have previously perceived in him.


Tags: Callie Chase Fantasy
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