“Hey, watch yourself,” a voice said, and Rory looked, and then keptlooking
as a very tall man, shirtless, his face and muscular chest smeared with dirt,
rose from the middle of a patch of squash.
Marthe was instantly by his side, sword out of her belt, but the
man simply looked at her, expression blank and bored. He spread his empty hands
in front of him. “If you’re hungry,” he said, “take what you like. If you are
lost, you may stay.”
The man’s hair was long and dark, nearly shaggy, but did not
obscure the bright blue eyes that gazed out at him. A bead of sweat trickled
down his bare and undeniably dirty pectoral muscle. Rory swallowed hard. He had
never met anyone like this man before—someone rough and uncouth and utterly,
completely compelling. Rory felt his blood sizzle, like a drop of water on a
stove that had been stoked with firewood all day. He stared, mesmerized, by the
man. Was he a bandit? He certainly did not seem like one, if his offer of food
and shelter was any indication.
“Sir,” Rory said, trying to find his voice under Marthe’s accusing
stare, “we are in search of some dangerous criminals who have been looting the
supply wagons from Fontaine.”
The man gave him a disbelieving look. “Does it look like we’re
harboring bandits here?”
Truthfully, it did not. It looked to Rory that all the man was
harboring was an excellent crop of vegetables. As well as a physique that made
Rory desperate to reach out and place a palm on that firm chest, even though it
was smeared with dirt and sweat. Somehow, that made it even more attractive,
though Rory did not think that thought could possibly be logical.
But Marthe was clearly not as distracted by such a fine chest as
Rory was. Her glare was still fierce. “You will not mind if I do not take your
word for it,” she said. “I would like to search the grounds and buildings of
The man threw his head back and laughed. Rory did not know what
was so amusing, but he discovered that he was desperate to know.
“There is nothing here but my farming implements, the animals I
keep here, and the store of food to last us through the winter,” he admitted.
“But feel free to search all you like.”
“Do you have any weapons here?” Marthe asked, her hard voice
making it clear she did not believe the act. If it was even an act. Rory was
strangely inclined to believe his words, but that might have been because of
his beautiful eyes.
“A dagger or two,” the man said, leaning against his shovel. “We
have no need of weapons here.”
Marthe sniffed. “We will be the judge of that.” After throwing
Rory another reprimanding look, she marched away, clearly intending to find the
rest of the guard and do a thorough search of the farm. Rory thought she must
not have thought the man was a threat, or else she never would’ve left him
The man stared at Rory, who stared back. “Do you always travel
with a full complement of lady warriors?” he asked offhandedly.
Rory blushed. It was impossible to admit to this man, who looked
eminently capable of dispatching any threat, weapons or no, that Rory hadto,
because he could not defend himself. “It was very rude of me not to introduce
myself,” Rory said, extending a hand, “I am Prince Emory of the kingdom of
Fontaine, but you may call me Rory.”
It was as if his words changed everything. The man’s eyes went
blank, his face cold and hard, and he turned away, leaving Rory awkwardly
standing with his hand out. “Gray,” he said shortly. “Welcome to the valley.”
One of the reasons Rory had always loved reading was that he felt
an inescapable compulsion to knowthings. His curiosity was
legendary, and faced with a man such as Gray, couldn’t have been more engaged
even if he’d tried.
“How long have you lived here?” Rory asked, as Gray returned to
his squash, carefully digging around a plant. “How did you come to be here? I
have never seen this valley on a map before.”
Gray did not bother to meet his eyes as he responded, his tone
short and hard. “I have been here many years. It’s a haven for those who are
lost, a magical place not found on any maps.”
It did not make any sense at all for Sabrina to believe that the
bandits stealing their supplies would hide in a magical valley for the lost.
They might have little in the way of a moral compass, but they could hardly be lost.
“Are you lost then?” Rory asked.
Gray looked up then, eyes boring into Rory’s own. He said nothing
for a long moment. “Aren’t we all lost?” he asked.