Alright, here we go! If you read some or all of the deleted one, this one takes a different tack and is thus significantly different in terms of plot/writing. I think it’s much better and doesn’t come off as rushed as the other one. So I do hope you all enjoy this one!
As instructed, the next day I headed west out of the city until I spotted Joe, setting up bottles along one of the fences that belonged to the Alectus’ farm. Every muscle in my body seized; Tiberius Alectus was a deadeye with a slingshot and was known to demonstrate his skill between a trespasser’s eyes.
“Early,” Joe called as I ran towards him. “Good girl. I like that.”
“Does Alectus know you’re here?” I asked urgently.
“You don’t think much of me, do ya, Blondie?”
“For reasons you don’t need to know,” he interrupted, “Tiberius and I have an understanding. I wouldn’t just walk onto the land of someone who shoots first and asks questions later. Give me some credit.”
“Sorry,” I said, feeling a bit miffed.
“Water under the bridge. Here.”
I took the oblong bundle he handed me, hoping my umbrage was visible enough. Wasn’t it obvious I was stung? How dare he simply accept my apology as if I’d admitted to wrongdoing! Couldn’t he tell I was just concerned about the situation, and how was I supposed to know he had special rights? Mostly I was just embarrassed. This handsome man was close to me and paying attention to me, and here I was making a fool of myself, acting like a kid. He wasn’t stupid. Of course he wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t safe.
I sighed heavily and unwrapped the bundle. Inside was a yew shortbow. It had recently been polished and restrung, and its flame shimmered in the sunlight. With it, as if an afterthought, was a worn old leather quiver with a clutch of blunt wooden practice arrows.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, momentarily forgetting my upset.
“Takes one to know one, darlin’,” Joe answered, tossing me a wink when I looked up.
A twinge in my core made me bite my lip and look quickly back at the weapon. “Th-This is for me?” I asked.
“It’s for you to borrow until you can make or buy your own. That’s an old one I used to use for trick shooting and close quarters.”
He walked by me, back so that he was in front of the fence, a good distance away. “C’mon, Blondie. Daylight’s burning, and I’ve got places to be.”
“Joe?” I asked, jogging over, hugging the bow and its accoutrements to my chest. With the bundle unwrapped the quiver made things a bit unwieldy.
“Um. Did you still want to kiss me?”
He turned his head to casually spit and laughed. “That was just the alcohol, kiddo. You’re too young for a guy like me.”
“Too young?” I repeated, freshly incensed.
“Wasn’t part of this whole Felix thing because he’s too old?”
“He’s older than you.”
“And you thought I was seven years older than I am,” he countered.
I shut my mouth and swallowed. It didn’t occur to me until later that he was playing with me, gauging my interest by making me the pursuer, turning himself into my trophy. It stopped working on me as I matured and figured a man who’d go to those lengths wasn’t worth the effort, but it was working like a charm on little, inexperienced me.
“It’s different,” I said finally.
“If you say so. But while we’re on the topic of Felix, I wanna make one thing perfectly clear.”
I flinched a bit at his sudden seriousness and nodded.
“You get caught doing your tomfoolery, I bear no responsibility. I don’t know why you asked me to teach you, and I don’t know this guy. Got it? If you get caught and you say even the first letter of my name, the Imperial Guard will be the least of your concerns. We clear?”
“Yessir,” I chirped. “If I get caught I’m going down alone, you don’t have to tell me.”
“Alright, then. Now, take that bow and shoot one of those bottles.”
“How?” I asked. “I’ve never done this before.”
I was starting to feel sorry that I’d started to get to know this man, and irritated that I continued to want him sexually. I didn’t know why. Part of me was aware that, at this point, I wasn’t that interested. It all came back to him playing hard to get and my being unable to stand the idea that he might not actually want me. It probably goes without saying that it’s worlds more frustrating when you don’t know that’s the case, and, if it weren’t for Jana, I might have thrown the bow down and stormed off.
Instead I laid the bundle on the ground, picked up the bow in my right hand and grabbed an arrow with my left. It was awkward. My husband is nearly completely ambidextrous and can adapt to pretty much anything, but I’m very firmly right-handed. I can wield a sword in my left hand, but that’s as far as it goes, and it took a lot of effort. The coordination required here, as a first try, was too much for my feeble dexterity, and I fumbled with the arrow and the bow’s placement until, after waiting much too long and probably enjoying every bit of it, Joe intervened.
“Are ya left-handed?” he asked.
“So why are you trying to shoot that way?”
I cast a reproachful glance at him as I switched the objects between my hands. It was a bit easier. That’s when I learned bows aren’t simply branches with some poor beast’s sinew bending it. There was a bead on the string, and the arrow had a notch on the end of its shaft. That I could figure out, but that bead confounded me. It was in the way of where I wanted to place the arrow…how would I place the arrow, to begin with?
I picked a spot that looked good to me, a few inches above the bead, and clumsily fit the notch in the arrow onto the string. I tried to think of how it looked when actual archers shot, but it really didn’t look like they were holding onto anything, at all. So I did what made sense to me: I held the end of the arrow with the tips of my fingers, as one would do if they were fishing something out of a narrow place. Somehow I managed to pull the string back, and I’m sure nobody would be surprised to read that it didn’t zoom towards my chosen target as much as it flopped forward and fell to the ground.
“Looks like we got some work to do,” Joe smirked.
“You just did that to make me look stupid,” I sulked. “What did you expect to happen?”
“I did it to see what I have to work with, and I had no expectations. Some people take to it from the start, others don’t, and I didn’t wanna waste my time going through the basics if you’d happened to be one of ’em.”
“Shezarr knows I didn’t intend to inconvenience you.”
“You’re cute when you pout, Blondie,” he said, “but that’s not what I said. Now do you want to learn or not?”
My chest felt like it was being compressed. I wasn’t used to this sort of frustration. Gwynne could lecture me in a pretty sharp way, but I didn’t want to sleep with her. What remaining desire I had was being drowned in a sea of embarrassment. Sedave was very good at making me feel attractive and desirable, and what was happening now seemed to shatter all of it. I was just a kid to Joe. A stupid, obnoxious kid.
“Ah, come on,” he said when he saw tears starting to well. “I would’ve thought it would take a lot more than that to make you cry.”
“Stop it,” I snapped. “Just teach me, please.”
I looked at him, wanting to just get this over with.
“It’s because I said you were too young, isn’t it?”
I exhaled sharply through my nose and fell to the ground, facing away from him. I put the bow down in the grass and rested my chin in one hand.
“What do you care, anyway?” he persisted, sitting beside me. “You pulled away.”
“I was startled, is all,” I said, finally.
“It wasn’t Sedave?”
“Well, of course it was him, too! I feel really bad for wanting to sleep with you.”
My heart stopped when I realized how much I’d let out. Of course he knew what I wanted, but saying it out loud was a little terrifying.
Joe chuckled. “You’re one of those women.”
“What? A cheater?”
“No, but you’re young, and you’ve got an admirable drive for, let us say, the ‘reproductive arts’. And you’re beautiful, and I think you know it. When a woman knows she’s beautiful she realizes the world is a feast.”
“That makes me a pretty bad person, huh?”
Joe shrugged. “I don’t get involved. Never had a wife. Never had a girlfriend. It’s a hassle, all told. I’d rather just enjoy my own feast as a desirable man.”
“You never fell in love with anybody?”
“Ah, I’ve had feelings, sure, but I figured myself out quick enough. All this to say, you do what you feel you need to do to figure yourself out. If that includes fucking me, well, who am I to argue with a girl’s attempts at education?”
I glanced over at him. “You wouldn’t tell Sedave?”
“Hell no,” he snorted. “What I do is my own business, and he certainly wasn’t doing himself any favors bragging about you.”
“Bragging about what?”
He winked and stood up, offering his hand. “C’mon, Blondie. Those bottles ain’t gonna shoot themselves.”
I let him help me up, unsure of exactly what I was feeling at that point. It was nice to know that he didn’t think I was an idiot and that he did, in fact, want me, but everything else just kind of muddled my thoughts.
“Alright, now take that bow and another arrow,” he said, and I obeyed. “You’re gonna want to stand sideways, so your shoulders form a straight line pointing towards your target. Now spread your legs so your feet are about shoulder-width apart, or close to it, if that’s not comfortable.”
Again I did as I was told. It wasn’t a huge adjustment from what I had been doing before, but it made more sense and was certainly more natural.
“Now, we’re gonna be rigid for now, and it might seem silly since you’re not out to win tournaments, but it’s easier to start this way and then find your particular comfortable place than start comfortable and learn right.”
I nodded, taking a deep breath as he got behind me.
“Now raise your bow,” he said, holding my arm lightly to make sure it was straight. “We’re gonna aim for that green rum bottle, alright? First off, stop gripping it like you’re strangling a cat. Loosen your grip, let it just rest in the cradle of your thumb. When you draw back it’ll be easier, but don’t ever start by gripping it that hard.”
I hoped he was right. As it was, letting it rest in the cradle of my thumb was fairly difficult, but I loosened my grip as best I could.
“I saw you studying that bead before our little theatrical interlude. What do you think it’s for?”
“I…um…” I stuttered. I wasn’t sure, and I felt like I’d made enough of a fool of myself for one day to wind up saying something stupid.
“C’mon, Blondie, you’re smart.”
“Is it to help pull the string back?” I asked in a small voice.
“It’s to show you where the best place is to nock your arrow and to make sure you get a consistent placement every time. There’s only one bead here, so you’ll want to place the nock of the arrow just below it.”
I nodded. “So the nock of the arrow, that’s that groove, right? On the end?”
“Good girl. Now show me.”
With my bow arm held straight out, it was a bit of a strange motion to take the arrow and place it, but I managed, and I pushed the arrow back against the string, just below the bead. Just that action alone made holding the bow much easier, and it let me relax a little bit, which was nice considering I wasn’t used to playing statue.
“Now take these three fingers-” he held up those between the thumb and pinky, “-and you’re gonna hold the arrow between the knuckles of your index and middle, and then you’ll wrap all three around the string, and draw.”
Carefully I went through the steps. I was suddenly grateful for my enthusiasm for climbing; the bow was surprisingly hard to draw. Eventually practice made my arms and shoulders stronger, but I’d seen archers before who made it look so easy. I felt Joe’s hands on my upper arms, then, and I jumped.
“Easy, Blondie,” he said. “You’re making it more difficult than it needs to be. Gonna hurt yourself or get tired real quick using just your arm to draw. Use your back and shoulders.”
“Um,” I said, having let the string return to its resting point. I couldn’t picture it, and after a few false starts, Joe’s right hand moved to my forearm.
“Squeeze your shoulder blades together rather than pulling your elbow back,” he said, guiding me.
That was easier, though holding it was still an exercise in endurance. “Do I shoot, now?”
“Find your anchor point.”
“Find a place on your face that lines up with your right hand. That will be the place you draw to, every time, so that you’re consistent. At least with this bow. They’re all different.”
As it was, my hand was in the perfect position to not correspond with any notable place on my face. I let the tension out a bit, though, just enough so that my thumbnail brushed the side of my nose. Perfect.
“Don’t think about aiming. Just make sure the arrow’s at least pointing near your target’s vicinity, and let go when it feels right.”
I closed my left eye.
“Both eyes open. If you’re out to shoot moving things you want both eyes to gauge distance.”
I did as he said, which made things a bit stranger, but still I lined up my arrow with that big, green bottle, and the moment it felt right, I let loose. The bottle wobbled a bit on the fence, but it didn’t break or fall over as the blunt arrow grazed it.
“That was close,” Joe said. “Really, not bad for your first official try.”
“Really?” I asked skeptically.
“Sure. You’ve got promise, kiddo.”
Finally, validation! I spent the next hour or so shooting, improving much more steadily than I had with lockpicking, although for a while, frustrated with a slack in accuracy, I began calculating my shots, which only made things worse. As soon as I started trusting my instincts again, though, my aim resumed improving. All the while, Joe worked to improve my form, never stingy with the praise. By the time we were done – when my hands had begun to blister and my shoulder and upper back muscles felt like they were about to liquefy – I was feeling so much better, and much more confident in just about everything.
“Good job today,” he said as I bundled everything back up. He handed over the arrows that had been fired on my last few rounds.
“Thanks,” I answered. “We still haven’t discussed payment. And I’ll pay with gold, if you meant what you said about the alcohol. Or I can steal things.”
“Think I could get a peek at those cute little tits of yours?” he grinned. “We can go from there.”
I bit my lip as I smiled, unbuckling my leather vest and sliding it down my arms. Joe stepped close, then, and cupped one in his palm.
“Better than I expected,” he said quietly, “and I expected a lot.”
“Really?” I giggled somewhat nervously. The fire between my legs had re-lit, and it mingled with the guilt I’d started feeling to create a rather uncomfortable mixture.
“Oh, yeah. I said earlier Sedave tells us men some pretty nice stories. I know I’ve dreamed of a night with you, anyway.”
Joe was tall for a Breton, but, conveniently, he wasn’t as tall as Sedave. When I drew close to kiss him, I only had to raise my head a bit. He pulled me close, his hands on my buttocks, so that I could press against the hardness beneath the leather of his pants. His breath tasted of stale tobacco and drink.
“What do I owe you?” I asked quietly.
“I think a nice quick fuck would be just enough.”
“How do you want me?”
“Let’s get you over to that tree, there.”
I eagerly followed him, and when we’d arrived I watched him unlace his fly to pull himself out. It was lovely, I thought. So smooth, so long and thick. That part caused me a bit of pause, being the second I’d ever seen. It was bigger than Sedave’s, and frequently Sedave had to work at getting in. Even so, I could almost feel it already, my anticipation was so high, and I began to take off my boots to get my leathers off.
“No need for that, Blondie,” Joe smirked, idly stroking himself. “Just drop ’em a bit so you can bend over for me. Use the tree for support.”
“Oh, right,” I chuckled breathily, clumsily unbuckling my belt.
As soon as my pants hit the ground, Joe grabbed me, spun me around, and, with one hand on my head and the other at my hips, bent me at the waist. The suddenness was frightening, yet somehow exhilarating. I’d seen how very hard he was, and it wasn’t like I wasn’t aching for it, myself. That I could do that to an older, experienced man – maybe more, if Joe was telling the truth about Sedave’s loose lips – made me feel powerful.
The head of his cock pushed against me as I pressed my forearms against the tree trunk. It stung as my flesh stretched, but, as Joe pushed in slow pulses to work himself in, the stinging gave way to leg-melting pleasure.
“Mara’s mercy, girl,” he grunted. “Is there any part of you that isn’t tiny?”
I only laughed giddily. “You’ve been with Breton women, I’m sure,” I panted.
“Breton women aren’t the same as shrunk-down Imperial women, apparently.”
I giggled until a small yelp escaped my throat. Finally he gained proper entrance, and he slid deep, deep, deep, until he collided with that odd wall it seemed could only be reached from behind. It was a dull feeling that wasn’t quite an ache, like something had hit me low in the stomach and took my breath away. Like Sedave, if he noticed or cared, he didn’t show it, but it took me a few seconds to find my center again as he began to find his rhythm. Thankfully it wasn’t a rhythm that required very deep plunges.
Both his hands were on my hips, and I couldn’t tell if he was thrusting or if he was pulling me back onto him. I could feel the way I wrapped around him, every tiny bit of skin engulfed in a magical sort of fire that tingled instead of burned. But there was something else, that one thing that needed a little bit of help when I faced away. I took one arm from the tree and turned the other sideways to compensate for its loss. My now-free hand dove downwards and found it, the part of me that was getting a lot more exercise since I’d begun seeing Sedave.
Joe’s cock filled me wonderfully, and as it pumped, as he sighed and moaned, I was already so close. Quickly I rubbed myself, just on top and to the side, up and down as fast as I could. My toes spread in my boots and pushed my hips up as the electricity of my self-pleasure tightened my muscles.
“Oh, Joe!” I squealed.
“That’s it, baby girl. You gonna cum with me?”
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes!”
So close; the edge of the cliff was so close, and it seemed I only walked towards it on tip-toes. But then…
“Fuck,” he grunted. “I’m cumming, baby.”
The announcement, for whatever reason, was the hand that shoved me over the edge. His strained, muffled grunts were drowned out by my cries as if my very being burst with warm, tickling relief. I felt him throb as I squeezed him, over and over, my rapture suddenly transitioning into the realization that I’d actually gone through with it.
Suddenly I wanted to cry.
Finally, Joe slipped out, and I squinted my eyes against the usual aftermath.
“I dunno what I expected out of a girl like you, but I gotta say I liked what I got.”
I smiled weakly.
“What’s wrong?” Joe asked. “I thought you had a pretty good time, too.”
“No, I did! It was fantastic. I had a late night, is all, and this kinda took it outta me.”
“Gotcha. Well, I think our price is set, huh, Blondie? Get me off a few more times like that, I’ll see to it you’re a sharpshooter in no time.”
I smiled as I licked my lips thoughtfully. “You think I can? Honestly?”
“Yeah, honestly. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think so.”
“Thanks. So when’s the next lesson?”
“What’s today? Morndas,” he said, looking up and barely moving his lips as he thought. “Loredas, same time and place?”
“Sure,” I nodded. “I’ll let you know if something comes up.”
“Yep. Take it easy, Blondie.”
I raised a hand in farewell as he headed back to the main road. I grabbed my vest and the bundle with the bow and ran topless to the edge of the lake. By the time I got there, I could barely see for tears. I dropped the bundle and my vest and angrily yanked off my boots and pulled my pants and underwear off. As I knew they would, the underwear bore the tell-tale signs of a sexual encounter, and so I threw them into the water, wading in after them. I didn’t have any soap. Or a towel. But it didn’t really matter. Not only was there evidence to erase, it was dirt that needed to just come off. I washed my nether region as best as I could, and everywhere he’d touched.
It was a fun, wonderful encounter…why did it have to be so shameful? Didn’t I love Sedave? I did, I knew I did. I certainly didn’t love Joe. And, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t even really consider him a friend. I’d gotten what I wanted from him, and as long as I was taking lessons from him I suppose I’d have to keep doing it, but we weren’t going to say more than two words to each other outside of that, and I was fine with it.
I walked out of the water and sat in the grass next to my things, hoping the sun would be enough to dry me off quickly. Or not, depending on how long it took for me to stop crying.
Finally, dry enough to pull on my clothes, I made my way back to the city. I just wanted to see my boyfriend. Nobody else mattered, nothing else did, not even my archery les-
I realized that I was still carrying Joe’s bow and arrows. I knew Sedave was out taking care of some contract or another, but I didn’t know when he’d be back. He couldn’t know of my plans. So there were two secrets I was keeping from him, the boy I’d already been entertaining notions of marriage about. Or at least indefinite cohabitation.
I ran through the streets and to the docks, to my old cubbyhole. It was largely empty, now that I was living in the Headquarters, but it was safe enough, and I left the bow there for the time being.
I’m sure I was a sight, crawling back out of there, my hair flying out of its braid, my eyes red, completely out of breath and shaking. Naturally that meant-
“Wotcher, Speck!” Sedave called, running up to meet me. “What’re you doin’ in that old place?”
“I just wanted to see if something had been left behind there.”
“Have you been cryin’? What’s wrong, you look like you just come out’v a scuffle.”
“It’s, um,” I began sheepishly before telling something of a half-truth. “I think it’s about to be ‘That Time’.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s bad this time?”
I tended to get weepy when the moons make their cycles, and back then, before my daughter was born, and some blessed magician ensured that thrilling adventure wouldn’t be happening again, I would have monstrous cramps. If there was one thing that could have added that extra layer of guilt onto what I’d just done, it was a seventeen-year-old boy being completely understanding and helpful concerning a phenomenon that makes quite a number of grown men squirm uncomfortably.
“It’s just, you know, with Jana, and all.”
“I know, love,” he said, taking me into his arms. “But you said you have a plan, remember? It’ll work out.”
“And besides, I’ve got good news!”
“C’mon, Gwynne wants to see us both.”
I ran with him back to the stately old house, through the door and up the stairs to Gwynne’s office.
“Come in,” she called when Sedave knocked. “Oh, good, it’s you two. Come in, have a seat.”
I’d never been offered a seat before. Suddenly I was wondering what constituted “good news” to my boyfriend, because the guild master suddenly telling me to sit down was suspicious, at best.
“So, Miss Aria,” she said, leaning back and resting one boot on her other knee. “Sedave brought up the notion to me recently that he thought it might be a fun sort of endeavor to give you a dual assignment.”
“Really?” I asked, feeling everything suddenly lift off my shoulders.
“Yes, really. You’ve been an exceptional initiate, Aria, and if you manage to pull this off with Sedave, I’d be more than happy to make you a full member. And Sedave, you’ve certainly improved with your girlfriend here around, for whatever reason. A clear head, I assume.”
I tried to hide my giggle as Sedave smiled as he looked down and blushed.
“A client in Anvil wants a rather large heist. Some nobleman he has a grudge against, I don’t know. Regardless, this nobleman’s name is Marcus Severinus. He lives in a palace right on the coast, just outside of Anvil, and he’s expecting to take shipment of a load of Khajiiti artifacts and general wealth.
“The client says take what you want for yourselves, but what he’s interested in are three things, specifically: a gold crown inlaid with lapis lazuli, supposedly the Crown of Jode; a pair of jade senche that I am told are ‘not bookends’, which I take to mean they’re on the large side; and, finally, a crate of tobacco that’s supposed to be quite exquisite. I wouldn’t know; it all tastes like shit, to me.”
“It’s not all bad,” Sedave said. “There was a Redguard down at the pub the ovver day, had some what tasted nearly like cherries. I mean it wasn’t, accourse, but-“
“I’ll take your word for it, Sedave. Perhaps the client will let you sample some of his and you can tell me all about it.”
Sedave looked down, abashed, rubbing the tops of this thighs with his palms. I leaned against him, and he smiled.
“The shipment is expected in tomorrow evening. The client says, however, the palace is on a bit of a peninsula, and it’s not unusual for the target to hire private help and for them to dock right by the palace. So be aware of marine traffic. It shouldn’t be too difficult considering the relative locations of the Anvil docks and the palace.”
“How are we supposed to get there?” I asked. “…and get back, if what you said about the size of everything is true?”
“Meet me outside the city gates in an hour and a half. That should give you time to gather your things and notify anyone you’ve taken assignments from, if you need to. Obviously they can come to me if they have questions. I’ll be waiting for you at the stables with your transportation.”
“Thank’s, Guild Master,” Sedave said. “We’ll do ya proud, Aria and me.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” Gwynne nodded, bearing her odd, patronizing smile.”Hurry along, now. An hour and a half can disappear in no time!”
“Anvil!” I nearly squealed as we made our way to our bed and belongings. “Oh, I always wondered if I’d get to see it again!”
“You’ve been? What’s it like?”
“It’s warm,” I grinned, wrapping my arms around myself. “And it’s rustic and it always smells like bread and basil and lavender! Or it used to, when I was little. I hope it’s still the same.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
I shrugged. “Things change. Maybe it hasn’t been all that long, but it seems like it has.”
Sedave smiled and took me in his arms. I ran my fingers through his soft hair.
“How long has it been,” I asked, “since Jana left and you made love to me that first time?”
“Free months, maybe?”
“See, it seems so much longer.”
“It does, Speck, you’re right,” he grinned. “I reckon maybe it’s cos we’ve known each ovver so long, haven’t we?”
I leaned my head against his chest and felt his chin rest on it. Then, in a fresh fit of guilt, I slipped my arms around his waist and squeezed him. I was only just past my sixteenth, and already I’d found a guy who couldn’t be more perfect if he’d tried. I had to ask Joe if he would just take gold. I couldn’t risk losing my Sedave, no matter how appealing casual sex was. Plus, there was the whole incident with me getting mad at him for insinuating I’d use my body as currency.
“It’s still light out. Think maybe we could see Jana? Felix’s house is on the way.”
“You sure it’ll be safe?”
“She told me Felix is out most days. As long as his carriage is gone, we should be okay.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said. “It’ll be nice to see her again. You might have to keep me from draggin’ her out of there, though.”
“If you can do it without ripping her arm off, I won’t stop you.”
Sedave snorted before squeezing me one last time and kissing my forehead. “I’d hate to make her homeless again, but…”
“I know,” I said. “Let’s just call it a visit for now, and if something happens, well, it happens.”
I looked into those scarlet eyes, so full of determination. Eyes I’d fallen in love with before I even knew what love was. He’d been our protector, the older kid who could magically mingle with adults, the kid who’d put a fish he’d pilfered from someone’s bucket down the back of my shirt. Or a spider on my shoulder. Or let a rat loose into Jana’s and my cubbyhole while I was reading.
Still, he’d stick up for us if we’d been accused of something or if he suspected danger of some stripe, and I knew that just as he wanted for Jana’s freedom and safety, he would never, ever let anything happen to me, either. This strong, noble boy had chosen me, and for him I had to be the best woman I could be.