Lord of the Hunt(4)
Author:Shona Husk


    She glanced at the dogs sitting obediently at his feet. He’d sent them after her. Was she talking to the Lord of the Hunt? Her heart gave an extra beat.

    Taryn shook her head. She didn’t want him thinking she was crying over a human lover. “My family.”

    “Ah. They are in the mortal world.” He nodded as if confirming his information. How did he know? “Brownies, then?”

    “Yes.” Being a Brownie was as good as it got in the mortal world, living in the home of a changeling, or more rarely a human, and keeping the house immaculate. A home within a home. A small exchange between human and fairy sealed the ancient pact. It didn’t matter where fairies were; rank and social standing was important. She’d thought the stuffy all-girls school she’d attended had prepared her for Court. It hadn’t.

    The dogs laid down and looked relaxed, but their eyes never left her. And neither did his. He’d sought her, which meant he wanted something. What could a man with almost as much power as the King want from her? For half a second, she wanted to give him anything he asked for if he would help her get her father’s pardon. But that wouldn’t be a smart move.

    She almost smiled—she did know something about Court and Annwyn politics, but caution made her careful. She had to confirm who he was first. “Your dogs?”

    “They are, but don’t worry. They are well trained and won’t harm you.” He moved a little closer to her. “But there are plenty of others who would.”

    She tilted her chin and held his gaze. Heat flared but was smothered so quickly she couldn’t be sure it had ever existed, and she was no human who would trip into the arms of a fairy without knowing the danger.

    “But not you?” She tried to sound as though she believed those words. The Hunter was the King’s justice. He could literally do whatever he liked.

    He took a slow look at her, from her bare feet, one toe adorned with a ring, to her now unraveled hair. Compared to the Ladies of the Court, she must look like she’d just tumbled out of bed. This was not how her mother would want her to present herself, yet nothing on his face suggested disappointment. Heat crept up her cheeks. She wasn’t used to such obvious assessment and interest.

    He leveled his gaze at her. “I don’t think you are here to harm the King.”

    “Is that why he asked you to follow me?”

    He grinned as if he was having fun. “Most don’t come out and ask such questions of me.”

    “Ah, well, I don’t know your name. To whom am I speaking?”

    He gave her a fluid half bow. “Verden ap Hollis ap Lorcyn. Lord of the Hunt.”

    Being right only made her more nervous. Yes, it was definitely nerves, not attraction, making her heart flutter. Then she realized he’d given her his full name freely; she should lower her gaze or drop a curtsy or something, and yet he didn’t seem to expect either.

    “Why did you follow me?”

    “It is my job to ensure the safety of the King and Annwyn. I always seek out new arrivals for a quiet talk.”

    She almost believed that, but there was a glint in his eyes as if he were enjoying himself. Did he want to be here talking to her? No, she was imagining it simply because he was taking the time to talk to her. Men like him had their pick of women—mortal and fairy. She was just part of his job.

    “And?”

    He walked around her. “And I think you are intriguing, Taryn merch Arlea.”

    Her heart lurched as a wave of homesickness washed over her at the mention of her mother’s name. Why was he suddenly being so formal? Or was he proving he knew all about her already? Did he know why she was here and was just hoping to hear it from her lips? Too bad. She kept her back straight and waited for him to face her again.

    “I think the whole Court is going to find you interesting.”

    “I know. I could tell from the whispers.”

    “Do you want to know why?”

    “New face?” She raised an eyebrow. Telling him the reason she was here was not a good idea. Not yet anyway. Maybe he’d help; maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe the price of his help would be too high. No, she was sure it would be too high.

    “Plenty of people are crossing the veil and returning to Annwyn for safety. Few are coming to Court. And yet you did. And you were introduced, which also means it is your first time at Court.”

    She nodded.

    “That means you want something from someone at Court.”

    If he wanted to know that, he’d have to work for it. She gave a casual shrug. “How badly do you want to know?”

    He laughed. Both the dogs looked up as if startled. Did he not laugh often? That was a pity because when he laughed, his eyes lit up, and he went from beautiful to gorgeous. “I advise you not to be so bold with others. But yes, I do want to know why you are here. That is my job.” The good humor was gone.

    “I’m under no obligation to tell you.”

    He nodded. “Am I to think the worst then?”

    She stepped back. “You may think what you want, but I am here for personal reasons. I don’t want to get caught in Court games.”

    “It’s too late for that. You are here.” He touched her cheek. “And yet you don’t want to be. That’s why you were crying.”

    She looked down, aware of the cool grass tickling her toes. While she might have been born here, this wasn’t her home. She didn’t know anyone. When she looked at those beautiful faces, all she saw were hollow eyes looking for something to entertain them. For the moment, that was her.

    “It’s been an exhausting day…” Maybe she should have gone to her room. At least no one would have bothered her there. She could’ve stared at the ceiling until her brain tried to climb out of her skull with boredom. She took a step and he mirrored her movement. “I think I’ll return to the castle now.”

    “So soon?” He raised one eyebrow.

    “Weren’t you sent to drag me back to the castle?”

    “Have you done something that would warrant me hauling you back to the castle?”

    She shook her head. Not unless running and hiding was a crime here. Next time she wouldn’t venture so far from the castle…although if it meant running into the Hunter, maybe she would.

    “Perhaps we could walk back to the castle together.” He offered her his arm.

    For a heartbeat she stared at it. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse, and yet one she wasn’t sure she should take. Would it help or hinder her chances of getting the pardon? Refusing would definitely hinder. She had no doubt Verden would report back to the King.

    She swallowed. “Let me put my shoes on.”

    The dogs stretched and snapped their teeth as if impatient.

    When she stood up, he was waiting. She carefully placed her arm around his. She was sure her fingertips tingled where their skin touched, but she was going to blame the magic of Annwyn, not lust. Wanting him would lead to trouble.

    Would walking with him also bring trouble?

    She didn’t know enough to make that decision. They walked out of the alcove and onto the tree-lined path. He was returning her to the castle. He could have lied about everything and she’d have no idea.

    “If you’d like a tour of the castle or the grounds, I’d be more than happy to oblige. I know how difficult the first few days at Court can be.”

    How could he know that? Taryn stopped walking and half turned to face him. Should she accept or play it cool? The silence expanded as she debated what to say. She was going to screw this up.

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