WALES, JANUARY 1814
Katherine was exactly as James remembered. Same trim figure. Same thick foxy mane pulled into a sloppy chignon. Same scattering of freckles across a nose just a tad too snubbed and eyes the inviting shade of good cognac. And her lips . . . they were just as full, pink, and disastrously kissable as they had been five years earlier. Only her guarded gaze and defensive posture revealed the changes time had wrought. Once, there had been nothing hidden between them. They had been passionately in love—or so he’d believed.
She leaned over him, her eyes flicking between his face and his bare shoulder, and for a moment they were back in her father’s garret in Oxford, enjoying a few stolen moments together.
“Hold still,” she murmured, “this might hurt.”
He frowned. He didn’t remember her ever issuing such a warning during those sweet interludes when—bugger fucking all! A sharp pain lanced up his arm and straight to his brain. He jerked against the hands pinning him down as he stifled a scream behind clenched teeth. Closing his eyes, he counted backwards from ten. Made it to seven before the world collapsed into darkness around him.
Someone shook him awake. “Lord Duncallan? Can you hear me?” He blinked up into her face—again. “I’ve finished stitching,” she said. “You can sit up if you’re not too dizzy.”
He reached across to feel at the swath of bandages wound tight around his upper arm, and five years screamed past in a single bone-aching throb of his shoulder. He was in the godforsaken wild Welsh mountains. It was snowing like the bloody Arctic. He’d been ambushed on the road. And the topper to this perfectly horrible day bent over him, worry hovering in her eyes.
Unconsciously, he fumbled for his amulet, the chain sliding through clumsy fingers before he found and clasped the silver disk. A talisman he’d reached for over and over since they’d parted. Catching her staring, he dragged his hand away. “How did I get here?” His voice came croaky, his throat sore.
“You don’t remember?” She glanced across him to an old, stoop-shouldered woman seated at his other side. “Did you give him too much laudanum, Enid? I told you not to empty the bottle down his throat.”
The woman bristled. “I gave him the same dose as I take myself, miss, and it’s never done me no harm. I’ll go down and make him some good mutton broth. That’ll do for him.” She raked him a long, steady gaze through slitted eyes, her whiskered chin wobbling. “You’re lucky Cade was nearby to fright the nightwalkers away, boy. We’d have found naught but bones otherwise.”
She shuffled out the door, leaving him completely and terrifyingly on his own with the woman who’d ripped his heart from his chest and ground it beneath her dainty heel—Miss Katherine Lacey.
“Nightwalkers?” he asked stupidly. As sparkling repartee went, it lacked, but he was flat on his back and at a decided disadvantage. It was the best he could do.
With his good arm, he shoved himself up against the pillows of his narrow bed to glance around at the sloped ceilings and spindly cast-off furnishings of an attic. No wonder he’d been fantasizing. The last time he’d seen Katherine, they’d been in a chamber eerily similar to this one. Of course, they’d been engaged in pursuits rather more enjoyable than first aid, at least until her father arrived unannounced to break up the moment. Did she realize the similarity as well? Was that why she nervously fiddled with the basket of medical supplies and refused to meet his eye?
“Don’t mind Enid,” she finally answered, turning an empty bottle round and round. “She’s not happy unless she’s conjuring bogeymen.”
He tried concentrating on her words, but a lump on his head the size of a cannonball beat like a bass drum. Instead he focused on the all-too-familiar way Katherine had of perching upon her chair as if she might disappear at any moment, the feathery red curls beside her ears, the flush of her dusky skin. “So, how did I end up here?”
She finally met his clouded gaze with one as wintry as the air outside. “Cade found you. You’d a deep slash to your upper arm, but you’re lucky it wasn’t worse. I have some healing magic, but I wouldn’t trust your life to it.” She jerked to her feet, busying herself with clearing up, skirts swishing as she moved efficiently around the room.
He cast a worried glance toward the open door, the maid’s humming audible as she lumbered down the creaky stairs. “You didn’t do it while she . . . I mean, she didn’t see you while you were . . .”
Katherine raised one superior eyebrow. “Casting spells? What do you take me for? I sent her downstairs for supplies. Four times. She remains oblivious to the fact I’m Other. Unfortunately, she’s convinced I’m a scatterbrained flibbertigibbet and a pain in the rump instead. I’m not sure which is worse.”
He settled back. “Ask the chap in Shrewsbury who was murdered a few months ago. All he’d done was sell a few love potions—that actually worked. Tensions are running high between the Other and the nonmagical Duinedon right now, Katherine. Any Other with sense is lying low until the worst blows over.”
“If I’d known you’d do nothing but scold when you got here, I’d have told Cade to leave you in that snowbank,” she muttered.
“I’m only trying to look after you.”
The raking glare she gave him could have peeled paint from the walls, had there been any. “I don’t need looking after, Lord Duncallan, least of all by you.”
“Fine. Get yourself strung up by a bunch of narrow-minded, superstitious Welsh sheepherders,” James mumbled. “See if I bloody care.”
So far, this trip was turning out to be a catastrophic failure. He tried shifting his arm to a more comfortable position, but his gut rolled up into his throat and he almost passed out. Obviously Katherine’s healing magic ran short of deadening raw nerve endings or calming queasy stomachs. If only his Other gifts ran to the curative. Even a bit of accelerated healing would be nice so he could fall asleep and wake tomorrow with nothing more than a scar to mark his injury. Alas, the Fey blood running in his veins tended toward illusion. No help at all unless he felt the urge to conjure himself a surgeon and thus avoid Katherine’s future ministrations.
He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and closed it again. The conversation seemed fraught with invisible tripwires. Any hasty word could explode in his face, but the silence was even worse. It only emphasized the difference between then and now and how much he’d truly lost. He stared out the window as if he might see into the past, to the way things used to be between them, but there was nothing but swirling snow and endless night.
“What happened to you out there?” Katherine finally asked quietly, braving the tension-filled quagmire. “Do you remember anything at all?”
James closed his eyes, trying to pull memories from a mind blank as a slate. Why was it he could recall every tearstained look and shouted warning from their disastrous parting in Oxford but couldn’t remember a damn thing from a few hours ago? “I recall leaving Trefriw this morning ahead of the weather,” he said, gathering his thoughts. “Your father’s letter sounded urgent. I was anxious to hear what drove the professor to write after so many years.”
He watched for her reaction, but she did nothing more than tighten her hands around a cloth as if she were wringing a neck.
If he were being completely honest, he’d have admitted it hadn’t just been the professor’s letter that had brought him to Wales. No, it had it been the outside hope he might see Katherine again. Flaunt his new position. Show her all she’d given up when she’d tossed him away. Petty—yes. But how often did one lose everything only to return to the card table sporting the winning hand?
“The storm moved in, and I lost my way. By sunset, I’d regained the road, but a few miles past the crossroads, I heard a god-awful howl and someone or something charged me from the trees. I don’t remember anything else.”
Fear hovered in her eyes, and she glanced toward the window. “Thank the gods Cade found you. Even without the gash to your arm, you might have frozen to death. It’s snowed every night this past week.”
That name again—Cade. It had never occurred to James as he plotted his vengeful reunion that Katherine might have married. For some reason, he’d thought she would be here waiting for him . . . trapped in time like a bee in amber. “Your”—he almost choked on the horrid word—“your husband saved my life.”
She spun around, eyes wide, pink flushing her cheeks. “Cade’s not my husband. He’s our servant. I’m not . . . that is . . . I never married.”
“None who measured up?” he said, not able to keep the bitterness from his voice and disgusted at how happy the news made him. “I’m flattered.”
“Don’t be, my lord,” she snapped, “unless you count arrogance, lechery, and dishonesty as qualities worthy of admiration. I do not.” By now her cheeks were scarlet, her gaze hot. “Though perhaps that’s how one behaves among the high company you keep these days.”
The high company he kept? Ha! If she only knew the truth.
He fit into his unexpected position of Baron Duncallan like a square peg in a round hole. Not that he hadn’t tried to fill his elder brother’s shoes. It had been easy at first. He’d still been reeling from her betrayal and halfway to drunken, womanizing sot when he’d received word of Andrew’s untimely death and his ascension to the title. But neither James’s heart nor his liver had accepted his complete descent into debauchery. Refusing to let Katherine’s faithlessness unravel him completely, he’d climbed from the hole he’d dug, shedding mistresses and drinking chums as he went.
In the end, his books had saved him. He’d returned to sobriety and his interrupted studies with a renewed thirst for answers. He thought he’d exorcised his demons. Thought he’d put his sojourn at Oxford—and Katherine—behind him. Then Professor Lacey’s summons arrived, and what had he done? Dropped everything to gallop neck or nothing to the wilds of Wales.
“Just remember, Lord Duncallan,” she said, body straight as an arrow, hands fisted at her sides, “you are my father’s guest. Not mine. Don’t presume on our past relationship. That ended long ago.”
“Not that I anticipated a tender reunion, but you might at least pretend to a hint of softer emotion. I am an invalid, after all.”
Apparently unconvinced, she continued to shoot daggers at him.
He sighed. “You’re right. I didn’t travel over two hundred miles to dig up old treachery. You made it very clear then how you felt. There’s nothing more to be said.”
He found himself once again reaching for the disk hanging at his throat, temper barely in check. Only the throbbing in his shoulder and the ache in his head kept him from giving as good as he got.
Katherine lifted her chin, those damned pink lips parted as if she might speak.
“Maybe it’s best if you summon the professor,” he said, swallowing back his anger. “I’m surprised your father has allowed you to tend me unchaperoned. As I recall, his parting words were ‘Come within a mile of my daughter again, and I’ll cut your heart out with a dull spoon.’ ”
The sudden whitening of her face, the troubled look in her eyes, the overlong pause. It didn’t take a genius to realize something was very wrong. She slumped back into her chair. “I can’t. He’s missing. Father went out three days ago and hasn’t returned.”
* * *
He’d kept it. All these years the amulet she’d given James had hung round his neck. Not only that, but she’d been completely right in thinking that the symbols etched there matched those on the obelisk. Of course, had she known Father would write to James asking about it, she’d never have opened her big mouth.
She closed her eyes, drawn back to the day she’d found the amulet in the strange little shop in London. The stuffy, scented air and dusty, overcrowded shelves. The Merlinesque bearded shopkeeper muttering to his pet crow. The odd, stomach-swooping dizziness when she’d first held the shimmering charm in the palm of her hand.
“I don’t like it, Miss Lacey.” Katherine’s eyes snapped open, the memory dissolving into Enid’s frowning face as she yanked closed the thick bedchamber curtains. “First the professor goes missing and now His Lordship’s ambushed and left for dead on the road. The nightwalkers are on the prowl, I tell you.”
“You’re jumping at shadows. Lord Duncallan must have been attacked by brigands looking for a few easy coins. That’s all.”
“Mm-hm,” Enid grunted, clearly not convinced.
“Or perhaps a wildcat down from the higher peaks in search of dinner. We’ve been through this before. There’s no such thing as nightwalkers.”
Enid’s expression showed her skepticism as she helped Katherine undress. “You go on believing that if it makes you feel better, miss. I know different. The creatures are out there. My old granny saw one once while she was after a straying lamb. A great slavering beast that changed to a man before her very eyes. She hid and made not a peep or else it would have torn her limb from limb, but she never forgot and she was never quite the same after.”
Katherine had heard this story and dozens like them from Enid and countless others over the last few months. Stories of ghostly shapes moving within the heavy mists that sprang up without warning. Travelers going missing, never to be seen again. Strange sightings of enormous wolves running beneath the full moon, their cries echoing from ridgetop to ridgetop.
The indigenous folktales had brought Father to Wales. His research into the native beliefs sent him tramping from homestead to homestead, gathering accounts from the locals.
“It’s amazing how these myths survive, Katherine,” Father had said, shoving his spectacles up his nose as he crouched over his papers. “It’s been over a thousand years since the Imnada shifters walked among us. Over a thousand years since the clans made their refuge in these mountains. Yet the legends carry on from generation to generation.”
The more her father heard, the more he became obsessed with the nightwalkers, transcribing story after story and evaluating them against what was known about the shapechangers—which was almost nothing. A small number of ancient texts and dusty narratives. A cache of scrolls found in a forgotten archive. An illustration in a tattered grimoire. Scattered relics, all that was left of a once powerful race.
The Other had their stories of the Imnada too. Frightening tales of base treachery and battlefield betrayal. Raised on accounts of the Lost Days when Arthur, the last and greatest king of the Other, reigned over a land rife with magic, they were taught to despise the name of Lucan. They cried when Arthur was struck down from behind by the blackhearted shifter at the final battle and cheered when Lucan received his just deserts at the hands of the Fey-born, his heart ripped out, his body scattered to the crows. And if any sympathized with the doomed Imnada chieftain or regretted the vengeful carnage that followed when the Other spent their rage on the whole of the Imnada race until no shifter remained, none spoke it out loud.
The legends of the nightwalkers had excited her father, but the obelisk had become his passion. The mysterious stone carved with Imnada runes stood upon a remote ridge within a clearing. Those living nearby avoided the place, claiming the area was haunted, which of course only made Father keener. And in turn, Enid gloomier.
Then the accidents had started. Small annoyances like broken harness straps and lost supplies, which grew in severity as the months passed and Father’s work on the obelisk intensified. December brought a rock fall that nearly buried Father on an upper mountain trail. Two weeks ago, a musket shot missed him by inches as he returned from the clearing just after dusk. And then, three days past, he departed one morning and never returned. No word. No sign. As if the mountains swallowed him whole.
Each dawn, Cade had left the house to search, only to come home at sundown empty-handed. Until tonight, when he arrived carrying James’s half-frozen blood-spattered body.
Katherine’s eyes strayed to her bedchamber window. “Lord Duncallan believes Father’s sheltering from the storm and will return as soon as the weather clears.”
“For your sake, I hope so, miss,” came Enid’s pessimistic response as she drew a nightgown over Katherine’s head, tying the ribbons at her throat.
“You don’t believe it?”
“The professor’s been asking a lot of questions. Creatures out there are listening. They feel when things are stirred up, and they don’t like it.” She turned down the bedcovers. “If His Lordship knows what’s good for him, he’ll head back to London Town quick as a wink. No good ever came from mucking about with the nightwalkers. No good at all.”
Katherine sighed, taking a seat at her dressing table, brushing out her hair as a way to calm her mind and soothe her nerves. A hundred strokes. Then another. Katherine needed a lot of soothing. “We’ll send Cade north over the mountain tomorrow to ask for news.”
“And what are we to do with His Lordship?” The maid paused in putting Katherine’s clothes away to offer her a shrewd glare.
“Do with him?”
“Not proper him being here without the professor at home. Mayhap he can go stay with the French gentleman at the Hall.”
“Monsieur d’Espe? I doubt he’d appreciate an uninvited guest dumped on his doorstep. I wouldn’t worry. My virtue is completely safe from Lord Duncallan. Besides, he’s hardly in any shape to play the dangerous seducer.”
Enid sniffed. “That’s as may be, but men is men. Show me a chap that don’t take advantage of a girl on her own, and I’ll show you either a corpse or a molly.”
Katherine choked back a laugh despite the tightness across her back and the pounding at her temples. Enid had a point. James’s reputation could never have been labeled saintly, but not even the most disreputable rumors swirling around her father’s handsome student had prepared her for the raw masculinity of the actual man. He’d been every girl’s fantasy. Every father’s nightmare.
Charmingly seductive. Heartbreakingly dangerous.
Thank the gods Enid knew nothing of their scandalous past or she’d have packed James off to the chevalier d’Espe still bleeding and unconscious.
“It’ll be all right. I grew up sharing a house with my father’s students,” Katherine explained. “Until his retirement, I spent every term with one or two undergraduate boarders. More in the summer months.”
“Aye, but you were a child then. Now you’re all grown up, and that young gentleman in the spare room don’t look like no student. A regular out-and-outer, and him with those handsome looks. Enough to turn any girl’s head, that.”
“Yes, he is rather nice to look at, isn’t he?” Katherine said with a sour smile. “But he was a student—once. One of my father’s most promising until . . . well . . . it doesn’t matter now.” She bit down hard on her words. “I know you mean well, but I think it’s best if Lord Duncallan stays. We’re awfully isolated. A man about the place might be smart when Cade leaves to search for Father tomorrow.”
Enid gave a grudging nod, her fears over nightwalkers trumping the impropriety of having a strange man in the house. “I suppose, but I’d still sleep with one eye open if I was you.”
With a final sniff, she departed, leaving Katherine alone, lip caught between her teeth as she stared hard at her reflection. Enid was right. She wasn’t a child anymore. The first blush of youth had slipped away while she wasn’t looking. Too busy staying busy to notice. She had turned all her energies to assisting her father. Making herself indispensable, whether it was keeping the household running smoothly, organizing his lectures and notes, or simply lending an ear in the long, quiet evenings when the silence grew deafening. For years, this had been enough. She had been content with her lot and with her life. But tonight, for a few minutes, Katherine had remembered the quick, vibrant girl who’d been deliciously happy and completely in love. A stupid, foolish girl who’d trusted a man and been burned for her self-indulgent folly.
A man who now slept a few tempting footsteps away.
She closed her eyes on a sigh and a roll of her neck. By the gods, but what had she done to deserve such a punishment? Since James’s betrayal, she’d been good. More than good. She’d been docile to the point of servility. Never once straying by even the slightest misstep, obeying every rule and toeing every mark. Was it too much to ask that she never lay eyes on the callous bastard again? Never look into those gold-flecked brown eyes and relive her humiliating gullibility? Never hear that smooth, deep voice and recall his endless stream of lies?
If only Father hadn’t written that dratted letter. If only James had refused the invitation. If only the blasted man had never walked into their parlor on Holywell Street six years ago with his mop of dark hair one couldn’t help but ache to run fingers through and those heart-melting, deep-set eyes. All he’d done was smile and ask her name, but that had been enough. Enough for both of them.
Giving herself a shake, Katherine stuck her tongue out at her maudlin reflection. If she’d a pound note for every regret, she’d be rich as a duchess. No, she would take comfort in the fact that an elegant man-about-town would hardly want to spend more time than necessary tramping about the mountains like a shepherd. James would quickly grow bored and flee home to London with nary a backward glance.
Just like last time.
Lying down upon her bed, she shifted from her back to her stomach, struggling to get comfortable. Punched her pillow. Stared out the window at the snow, listening to the hours tick over on the clock in the hall.
It was no use. Her mind spun in endless circles, her body too taut for sleep. It was too late to ring for a cup of tea. Enid had retired long ago. Besides, even if she appeared with tray in hand, it would most likely be accompanied by another sour dose of suspicions and plots. Easier just to do it herself.
Katherine rose, wrapping her robe tight around her and sliding her feet into slippers against the perpetually cold floorboards as she took up her candle.
The passage was dark, but a glimmer of light flickered up from downstairs. Eerie shadows leaked beneath the study door, and the wind chose that moment to moan around the house like a banshee’s wail. The ghostly combination lifted the hair on Katherine’s arms and at the back of her neck, but she merely raised her candle higher as she pushed wide the door.
An enormous humped and shadowed shape sat in her father’s chair, sending an icy shiver along her already frazzled nerves. Then the chair swiveled with a screech of rusty joints and a frustrated mutter, and she recognized James as he shoved a hand into his rumpled hair.
“Lord Duncallan, what are you doing here?” she asked, releasing her held breath even as the prickly tingle continued up and down her limbs. “You should be in bed.”
He lifted his head, the candle’s flame reflected in his dark eyes, carving hollows over his chiseled features. Even with a gray sickroom pallor, he managed to exude an easy confidence, a startling magnetism. Then he ruined it with a twitch of a smile and a brazen stare. “Is that an invitation?”
She wrapped her robe tight across her body, but it didn’t stop the tingle from spreading. “What do you think, my lord?”
“I think we know each other well enough to dispense with the formalities, don’t you . . . Katherine?”
All he had to do was say her name and butterflies the size of cannonballs bounced in her stomach, but she squashed the traitorous sensation with ruthless efficiency. “I think being alone with you is bending the rules more than enough. Enid’s certain you’re after my virtue.”
“Did you tell her she’s too late?” he asked quietly.
Fury burned her throat and churned her stomach. “What do you think?”
He shook his head as he fingered the pages of the book he was holding. “You don’t want to know, but your secret is safe with me.”
His gaze drilled straight through her, and she tightened her hand on her candle. “You’re too kind, my lord,” she replied curtly. “If I was at all concerned about your intentions, you’d be sleeping in the stables with Cade.”
He gave a snort of amusement. “I suppose you are past the age when chaperonage is strictly necessary.”
“ ‘Past the age’?” If looks could kill, Lord High-and-Mighty Duncallan would be dead ten ways to Sunday. “You know very well how old I am.”
His amusement ripened into an actual smile, as heart-meltingly dangerous as ever. “A gnarled old twenty-two last August, if my math serves.”
“Twenty-three, thank you very much.”
“I stand corrected.”
“That’s new. You were always horrid at admitting when you were wrong.”
“That’s because I never was.”
She tightened her grip on the candle, fighting the urge to beat him senseless, and yet this sparring felt better than the chilly reserve of earlier, as if something hard and hot had finally loosened in her chest. “Have it your way. I just want to know what you’re doing in Father’s study . . . James.”
“There. Was that so hard?”
She folded her arms, glaring down her nose at him.
He unfolded from his chair and came around the desk, still smiling that slow, lazy smile that had always set her stomach flipping. “My shoulder hurts like the devil, it’s too bloody quiet, and I finished my novel. I decided to review your father’s notes on the obelisk. It is why he asked me here.”
“I wish he hadn’t. I don’t know what made you answer his letter or, worse, come all this way to assist him. Not after . . . after what happened.”
There. She’d said it right out. No more beating around the proverbial bush.
“Call me perverse . . . curious . . . bored. Or all three at once. I’m sorry you didn’t want to renew my acquaintance.” He placed a hand over his heart. “I’m crushed.”
She smothered a smile. It wouldn’t do to offer him any encouragement. “I doubt that very much. You’re a wealthy titled gentleman. Women probably fling themselves at you.”
“I wouldn’t say fling, exactly. Nor would I say wealthy. Duncallan may be an old title, but it’s never been a rich one.”
As he spoke, he closed the distance between them until she had to look up to meet his gaze. He’d always been tall, but now broad shoulders complemented his height, and his face had lost the smoothness of youth to become square jawed and lean, his dark eyes and curled lip giving him an almost piratical expression. It made her very aware of her state of undress, the thinness of her robe, the lack of layers between them.
“I’m grateful for Father’s sake.” She took a step back. “Since leaving his teaching post, he’s grown very lonely. There are few here equal to discussing his work.”
He stepped forward. “He always has you, doesn’t he?”
Was that resentment she noted or wishful thinking on her part? This conversation was quickly veering into places she didn’t want to go and dredging up memories she’d thought she’d locked away. She shuffled away again. “A daughter is hardly the same as a colleague.”
He followed after as if they took part in some strange silent dance. Lifted his free hand as if he might caress her cheek—or slap it, his eyes blazing with some indefinable emotion. Lost in his gaze, she swayed close, awaiting his hovering touch. To feel the press of his hand against her ribs, the warmth of his caress at the small of her back.
“Who knows, Katie love?” he murmured. “Had things worked out differently, he might have ended with both.”
A silly endearment last whispered when life stretched golden and beautiful in front of her. How dare he throw it down between them like a gauntlet? She stiffened and backed away, angry with him and furious at herself.
She crossed to the desk, absently straightening papers. Stacking books. Anything to put a safe distance between them. Enid had been right about James. Katherine would have to be on her guard. Even after all that had passed between them, he still managed to wreak havoc on her self-control. And now he knew it.
“Since you’ve taken it on yourself to muck about with Father’s papers, have you discovered anything?” She made her best attempt at breezy disinterest, though desire coiled in the pit of her stomach and her heart galloped.
His smug expression and offhand shrug told her he recognized her ploy and was amused by it. He rested a hip against the desk, one leg swinging. “He’s managed to sift through an amazing amount of information, but is he certain it points to the Imnada?”
“The nightwalker legends, the obelisk. They must have once lived within these mountains.”
“Nightwalkers—your maid blamed them for the attack tonight.” He fumbled with his bandaged shoulder, pain stabbing his gaze.
Katherine’s hands fisted against her stomach. James might have been killed. Why did that thought freeze her blood and set her limbs trembling? After all, she was more than ready to murder the arrogant horse’s ass herself. “Don’t listen to Enid. She’s never happier than when she’s prophesying doom.”
“You don’t believe there’s more to these stories than mountain superstitions? That somehow the Imnada survived the wars and live among us?” His voice dropped. “Perhaps lurking just outside the door?”
The hush of the snow-filled night and her own restless fears closed around her until a pricking between her shoulder blades shivered her chilled flesh, and she glanced quickly out the window, expecting to see a gleam of cats’ eyes.
She gave a laugh and a shrug, her gaze still locked on the open notebooks, her father’s neat script laid out in page after page of tidy rows. “Ridiculous, and you know it. The Imnada died off ages ago.”
“You mean we Other wiped them out.”
His voice from just behind her fell warm against her ear. She spun around to face him, to find his dark eyes locked on hers. “Don’t sneak up on me like that,” she scolded.
A corner of his mouth curled in a sly smile. “You used to count my ability to creep an asset—one of many you enjoyed.”
Heat stole up her neck to heat her cheeks as the cold room grew instantly stuffy. She stepped once more beyond his orbit, clearing her throat and changing the subject. “Maybe the Other were to blame for the Imnada’s extinction. But every war has its winners and losers.”
“If you call what the Fey-born did to the shapechangers a war. I call it a slaughter.”
“They betrayed their king. Their treachery led to Arthur’s death and the collapse of Other supremacy that followed.”
He gave a one-shouldered shrug, though his stare continued to pin her like a bug under glass. “There are some who say Arthur’s demise and the downfall of the Other were writ by the Fey at the birth of our world. A fate that couldn’t be turned aside.”
“Fates aren’t doled out like candies in a shop,” she said, her voice shakier than she would have liked. “We’re free to make our own destiny.”
“And free to change it?” His stare burned her skin, his words squirming her insides.
She opened her mouth to respond with a tart and cutting response when the pricking between her shoulders returned, spreading into a cold rush of fear across her back. The candle guttered and went out. A shape moved beyond the window.
“James! Outside!” She pointed. “Is it Father?”
He threw open the casement, letting in a draft of freezing wind as he peered through the stinging snow into the night.
“Who’s out there?” she asked, hugging herself against the sudden cold infecting her inside and out.
“Who, Katherine?” He lifted his brows as he closed and latched the window. “Or what?”