rivalry.

”I am glad you waited, ” he said. ”So, do you think this was an adequate place to leave you? ”

He took her hand and led her around the room. When they were at the window again, he glanced toward the forest and then back at her. ”You do realise we could have killed each other instead of leaving each other? ”

Celene shrugged. ”It might not be as much fun, but I can guarantee it would end up the same way. ”

He stopped and spun to face her, taking both her hands in his own. His expression turned serious. ”That is why I cannot let you go, Celene. I see how you act. You will always try to defend yourself the first chance you get. That is fine—I would prefer we fight like friends than strangers. But if I let you go, you would return to the elves and expect me to die so that you might live. If we did that, I would no longer be a man, but a thing. It would turn out far more terrible for all of us if either of those things happened. ”

She smiled and looked down, unable to speak past the lump in her throat. She was impressed by what she had seen of his devotion over the last few days. He had proved that he cared about more than himself.

He pressed on. ”But I understand the impulse. You can keep trying to distance yourself from the elves. Eventually, you may become their prisoner, or worse. ” He tightened his grip as he finished. ”Or you can promise me now that you will never hate me, and at the very least I won have to kill you. ”

For a moment she hesitated. She didn want to make another promise unless she understood where that promise might lead. ”I am not sure I would be able to control my emotions if you died, ” she said. ”Even in this life, I cannot promise what would happen to me when you were gone. ”

”What do you mean? ” he asked. ”Couldn you find comfort in Roxys arms? Or Isabeau? ”

She glared at him. ”I hope you are not suggesting you have some claim on me, Gaspard. I have to respect people for more than just being related to me. ”

”What kind of man would I be if I didn wish to be in your arms? ” Gaspard asked. ”I will admit it, Celene—you terrify me more than anyone else alive. Even Orrick seems only slightly more dangerous because he does not have so many sharp teeth. But that fear is exactly why I care about you so much. ”

She could feel the heat rise to her cheeks. She wasn even certain what she was feeling. It was too large of an emotion to contain or name. She said nothing.

Instead, he put his arms around her, pulled her close, and kissed her firmly on the mouth. The familiar sensation sent a shock through her. ”If we are going to spend our lives together, ” he whispered into her ear, ”I am glad to know you won run from me. At least not away from this room. ”

It took her a moment to pull away from him. When she did, she turned her back to him and pretended to consider the issue. Gaspard knew better than to try to speak while she thought things out. He left her to mull over her choices in silence. When he finally decided it was time for action, she found herself looking toward the fireplace again.

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