Dance of Thieves (Dance of Thieves 1) - Page 31

“Until I traveled to Dalbreck that I tasted one. Oranges aren’t available in Venda.”

His eyes drilled into me, knowing I was lying, and I hated that about him, that he was able to read beyond my face and words. He was quiet, and I suspected he mulled over what I said—or didn’t say. He finally asked how my feet were doing.

“Not stinging anymore. I think they’ll be fine by morning.”

It was another one of those awkward moments. Our eyes meeting, lingering, looking away. After all we had been through, it seemed there should be no awkwardness left between us, but this was different. Every pause was full, like an overfilled sack of grain, the seams strained, ready to spill, filled with something we dared not explore.

“Tell me another story,” I said.

He nodded. “First, let me get some more wood for the fire.” He eyed the chain between us. Where one of us went, so did the other. “You up to it?”

“I told you, the pain is gone, and I have these fine shoes you made me.” He stood and reached out, helping me to my feet. My soles were tender, but the discomfort wasn’t unbearable, especially with the cushion of the bandages. We walked to the cave mouth and out onto the long wide ledge that rimmed it. Coming up the hill to the ruin, I had only seen the bank and brush in front of me. Now, looking out in the other direction from the ledge, I saw a dizzying sky of stars meeting an infinite empty plain lit only by a three-quarter moon.

“Look. Up there,” Jase said, pointing into the sky. “That’s Aris’s Heart. And right next to it is—”

I turned, my head swimming, and I reached for the ruin wall. Jase grabbed and steadied me.

“I just got up too fast,” I said.

He gazed down at me, I knew, not buying it. He had known about my strange uneasiness ever since that first night when he had asked me for a riddle in the forest.

“What did they do to you, Kazi?” His voice was low, earnest. Even in the dim light, I was able to see the worry in his eyes.

I pretended I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Who did what?”

“Who made you afraid of an open world? An open sky? Was it Venda? Your parents?”

“No one did anything,” I answered quietly.

“Then hold on to me,” he said. “Let me show you the stars.”

* * *

We stood on the ledge, and he told me stories. He began with the lowest star on the horizon, Thieves’ Gold he called it, because it had a distinct goldish cast. I held on to his arm, only concentrating on the single star and not everything that surrounded it, concentrating on Jase’s voice and the story he wove around the glimmering gold nugget and the thieves who had tucked it into the sky, forgetting where they had buried their treasure.

He moved on to another cluster of stars, Eagle’s Nest, with its three bright eggs, and then another cluster, and another, until soon the whole sky was not a sky at all but a dark parchment of glittering stories, each one connected to the next. And as he spoke, some stars streaked across the sky, alive, leaving burning tails behind them, and for those he had stories too. “They’re the Lost Horses of Hetisha, abandoned when she fell from her chariot to the earth. They race across the heavens now, always circling, always searching for her. It’s said that if she’s ever found, their stars will join with her chariot once again and be the brightest in the night sky.”

I stared where a streaking star had just disappeared, and an ache grew inside me. Maybe the throbbing was for a glittering sky I had never truly seen before, or maybe it was the story he told me about the Lost Horses. Maybe it was the thought of them circling the heavens for millennia that ached beneath my ribs. They will never find her, I thought. She is gone.

“And I think…” He turned toward me. “That’s about it.” Our faces were unexpectedly close, the moonlight cutting across his cheekbone, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about stars or runaway horses.

I had forgotten that I was still gripping his arm and I loosened my hold, returning my hand to my side.

“I guess I should gather a few branches for the fire,” he said.

“I’ll help you.” I stepped forward, both of us taking quick clumsy steps, and we bumped into each other, then tripped, the ruin wall keeping both of us from stumbling to the ground. Now his face was even closer, my back pressed to the wall, his arm braced against it. There were no more diversions, no more chances to look away. It was as though we had both given in to a moment that had been circling, waiting, trying to pounce on us all along. And now it had.

He swallowed, his face only inches from mine. Long silent seconds passed, and it felt like all the world and stars and sky were closing in on us, pressing us nearer to each other.

“Do you suppose,” he finally whispered, “that this could be part of making … the best of it?”

My breath fluttered faintly in my chest. There were a hundred things I should have said, but instead I answered, “I think it could be.”

His head tilted to the side, his face lowering, and his lips barely brushed mine, tender, slowly, leaving time for me to turn away, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to. His hand slid behind my back, drawing my hips to his. Rivers of heat throbbed inside me, and then his mouth pressed to mine, his tongue parting my lips, warm, sweet, gentle. His breath grew heavy and his arms closed around, drawing me closer, the heat of his touch like a fiery brand against the small of my back. My hands glided over his shoulder blades, his skin searing my fingers, his muscles tense, hard. My head spun, but in a way that I wanted to sink into, to drown in the warmth of it. I was falling into a vast dark sky and I didn’t care. I wanted to disappear into it. I wanted more. Our tongues explored, soft, warm, and then he pulled away, his eyes searching mine, wondering, asking. Should he stop?

No, I thought. No. Don’t stop.

His gaze held, waiting, as if he needed to hear me say it aloud.

Tags: Mary E. Pearson Dance of Thieves Fantasy
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