Thursday, 3 December 2020

Welcome back to Quelondain, Sweetlings

A few months ago, I was in a shit place.  Let's face it, this year has been tough on everyone.  Everything I wrote was horrible. The writing wasn't terrible.  It was the stories...  They were dark, torturous... Now, you all know I like misery and tears in my books, but this was extreme.  

I took a bit of time and reflected on what would be the best course of action.  The first thing that popped into my head was Quelondain.  Quelondain always makes me happy.  It's my baby.  Those characters are my family. lol

But I didn't want to go to Quelondain and bring the darkness there. Quelondain is my happy place and I wanted it to stay that way.  So, instead of writing, I read.  I read the trilogy.  I read Tyler's Story.  I read Eggnog Kisses, Candy Hearts, Ghosts, and Tears of the Moons.  I read every story I had started in Quelondain that wasn't finished.

You guys... It worked.

I started to write and it wasn't all death and destruction.  Did my characters bleed?  Of course. I mean, it's Quelondain and we love our Sageden boys fierce and fighting.  But there was hope and love and happiness. 

And what was the end result?  Displaced finally got done.  Kendall's story is done.  Now, I'm working on Brice's story.  I don't have a title for that one yet.  After that one, I plan on finishing every Quelondain story I have started. 

Displaced officially releases on December 15 and is on sale for 99 cents right now.  

For now, I think we all need the peace that Quelondain brings.  So I'm going to share the first few chapters of Displaced.  

Happy reading, Sweetlings.  And welcome back.


CHAPTER ONE 

 

Kendall lay by the creek, his arms behind his head.  It was a perfect day to lie around and do nothing.  He stretched and yawned; the perfect day to be lazy.  It was one of the things he loved to do most since the war with Paradin was over; relax.  It had taken a while to get to this point.  For months after they’d returned home from fighting, he’d had nightmares of the events that had taken place.  The beings that had been injured, killed… all because of one deranged human.  He remembered the agony engulfing his body as Laif’s magic had started to rip his tiger out of him. 

He shivered then inhaled deeply to help rid himself of the thoughts taking over his mind.  Peaceful.  Things were peaceful now.  Braw was dead and the staff of Laif had been destroyed.  Things were quiet now.  Other than the odd human rogue stirring up trouble here and there, there hadn’t been much to worry about.   

“Kendall!  Are you here?”  Brice’s voice drifted out of the woods towards him. 

He sat up with a good-natured groan which turned into laugh.  “How are you doing, mate?” 

Brice grinned.  “I’m well.  You?” 

“I can’t complain.  It’s a beautiful day.” 

His friend nodded. 

Kendall brushed shaggy black bangs out of his light blue eyes.  “What brings you out to these parts?” 

“I’m on a recruiting mission.” 

Kendall stiffened.  So much for peaceful.  “What happened?” 

Brice chuckled.  “Relax. Everything is quiet.  Hayden is looking for volunteers to practice her displacement spell on.”  The blond man grunted.  “I was her target yesterday and I just managed to rid myself of the headache.” 

Kendall laughed.  Poor Hayden.  It didn’t matter that she was the most powerful sorceress in Quelondain; the poor woman was never going to master the displacement spell.  “I suppose I could take the brunt of it this time.  You’ll owe me one.  I had plans today.” 

“Oh?” 

“I was planning on staying in this exact same position until supper time.”  He stood and stretched one last time before shifting into his tiger.  He cocked his head at Brice to lead the way.  His friend smiled, shifted into his jaguar then bound into to the woods toward Hayden and Jasper’s cabin. 

“Uncle Kendall!”  

He shifted in time to catch Emma in his arms as the six-year-old threw herself in the air. 

“Hello, Sweetling.”  He gave her a hug then boosted her onto his shoulders.  Nina and Daniel, Hayden and Jasper’s other two adopted children, ran to give their own hugs in welcome.  “Is your dad home?” 

Nina shook her head. 

“Mamma!  Uncle Kendall and Uncle Brice are here!”  Daniel shifted into his wolf and loped to the house in case Hayden hadn’t heard him.  

Hayden stepped out of the house, her long dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.   

“Brice!  I told you to stay home today.”  She mock glared at her friend. 

“Aye, you did, but I’m fine.  Really.  The headache is gone.”  He smiled and pressed his lips to her forehead in reassurance.  “I brought you another test subject for the afternoon.” 

Kendall grinned and pulled her in for a hug.   

She looked up, frowning.  “Are you sure?  You were sick for three days the last time I tried displacing you.” 

He shrugged.  “Brice tells me you’ve gotten better since then.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.”  Sick was quite the understatement.  He’d been in bed, fevered, throwing up, with his head pounding for a full three days before the effects of Hayden’s magic had let him recover.   

“I don’t know…” Hayden bit the inside of her cheek, worried. 

“Really, Hayden.  You’ll do fine.”  He gave her arm a squeeze. 

“Do you want a cookie, Uncle?  I found it in my pocket.”  Emma handed a sorry looking cookie down from on his shoulders. 

Kendall took it.  “Thank you.  I’ll just put it in my pocket for later, alright, Sweetling?  I’d rather go into this with an empty stomach.”  He gave Hayden an encouraging look.  “Though I’m sure I’ll be fine.” 

“Alright.  But you need to tell me the instant you start to feel sick.” 

He nodded.  “Down you go, Emma.”  He squatted so she could climb down.  “Now, where would like me to stand,” he inquired as he stood. 

“Why don’t you jump the creek and go stand by the woods.  I’ll try to displace you to this side of it.” 

Kendall shifted and easily leapt across the flowing water.   

A quarter of an hour later, Kendall found himself still standing by the woods, his arms at his side, his blue eyes gazing into Hayden’s green ones across the creek.  He could tell she was biting the inside of her cheek. 

“Hayden.” 

She blinked and took a step back.  “Are you getting a headache?  I can stop if you want.” 

He shook his head.  “No, I’m fine.  I just don’t want you drawing blood on the inside of your mouth.”  He smiled.  “Take a deep breath and relax.  Don’t worry about me, a headache won’t kill me.  Just concentrate on the spell.” 

She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes.  “Alright.” 

Kendall watched as she mouthed the words she needed before pushing her energy toward him.  He felt the rush of magic wash over him, felt the ground disappear under his feet, and suddenly, he was free falling through the air. 

“Great job, Hayden!”   

Brice’s compliment sounded far away as he felt the grass reappear under him.  He blinked hard to get rid of the spots blocking his vision.  His gaze focused in time to see Hayden jumping up and down, clapping like a child.  He grinned despite the fact he could hear the blood pounding in his head. 

“I barely felt that one,” he lied, knowing she was watching him to judge his reaction to the spell.  “Why don’t you give it another go?” 

“Are you sure?”  Her initial excitement faded and she frowned, her eyes squinted with worry. 

“I’m fine. Really.” 

She took a deep breath and he tried to relax.   

“Alright.  But just one more time.”  She waited until he nodded before inhaling deeply to focus. 

This time, there was no waiting for the rush of magic.  Kendall grunted with the force with which it slammed into him.   

What’s taking so long?  He was sure he’d never had to wait more than a fraction of a second before finding himself back on firm land.  Five, six, seven… 

The ground rushed up under him once again and his legs buckled under the impact. 

He groaned and held his pounding head.  He’d been wrong.  He could die from a headache. The world took a wild spin and he rolled to his side in case he threw up.  His stomach churned, his heart pounded.  He kept his eyes closed, sure the pressure behind his eyes would force them out of their sockets.  It took a moment to realize he couldn’t hear Brice cheering and that Hayden still hadn’t rushed to his side to make sure he was alright.  He opened one eye at a time, hoping the sunlight wouldn’t make the pounding worse.  Why was it dark out? 

“Bloody hell! What happened?”  He wrapped his arms around his knees and looked around slowly before attempting to stretch.  Why was he so stiff?  His formed blurred and he felt his bones move into their proper order as he shifted into his tiger.  

Kendall took in his surroundings more closely.  Even with his feline vision, nothing looked familiar.  He shifted back.  “Not even a bit,” he mumbled to no one in particular.  “What kind of plant is that, do you suppose?”  He reached over to a large blue flower growing from the trunk of a light pink tree.  “These look like the pink trees in the Wedelven forest, but I’ve never seen flowers like these growing on them before.”  He jumped back with a growl as the flower bared teeth and attempted to bite his outstretched hand.  “By the moons!  It tried to eat me!” 

He’d never heard of a plant like this one. His heart raced and he inhaled deeply a few times to try and focus.  What had happened?  Where was he?  And better yet, how was he going to get home? 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO 

 

“I need to find a town.”  Kendall ran his hands over his face and groaned.  He’d found a small deserted cave to lie in until his headache had calmed down which, fortunately, had only been a few hours. Once he’d been sure he could move without feeling ill, he’d travelled at a jog for the past hour.  

He stopped and shifted.  He was definitely getting closer to some sort of civilization.  The smell of smoke and people was getting stronger.  He turned back to his human form, unsure of what he’d find once he finally found another living being.  He took another look at his surroundings.  Now that the sun was coming up, he was even more confused as to where he might be.  There were a lot of narrow trails weaving their way through the woods though he’d yet to come across any animals that might help him ascertain which part of Quelondain he was in.  And the foliage… Though all the plants seemed somewhat familiar, they also differed drastically from what he was used to seeing.  There were more plants with teeth here than he’d ever seen before.   

A woman’s voice rang through the air. 

“I swear, Hanna, the men I meet simply get worse and worse.  Why can’t I simply find one decent man who’ll take me on as his mate?” 

“Maybe it’s where you go to meet them, Neeka.  You go to a pub, you’ll bring home a drunk.” 

“And where else am I supposed to go?  There’s nowhere in this bloody part of the land that has any decent men in it.” 

“There’s the soldiers…” 

There was a grunt.  “Right.  No better way to get loved and left.” 

“You know, you are intended to Christopher.” 

“And you know I won’t be his mate.  That was Brian’s doing, not mine.  The man scares me.  There’s something off about him.” 

The two women rounded a corner in the trail and stopped short at the sight of the man before them.  Kendall tried to hide his surprise. They weren’t wearing any style of clothing he remembered seeing anywhere in Quelondain.  Their dark red pants were loose in the leg to the point where, had he not seen them walking, he’d have thought them to be wearing skirts.  They were both holding baskets laden with fresh food.  The shorter of the two met his eye and frowned.  She adjusted the basket on her hip, the gesture pulling his gaze to her torso which, instead of being covered in a tunic, was wrapped in a cloth band, like someone had started at her hip, continued their way up, then looped it over her shoulders before moving back down and tying it in a knot along her waist.  The black shawl she wore over her hair blended in with the raven color of her long, curly hair.  The sheer material covered her head then crossed so that it wrapped around her neck before coming back around and tying around her hair at the nape of her neck.  The second woman nudged her and the light brown eyes holding his blinked. 

Kendall was the first to recover.  “Good afternoon, ladies.”  He nodded to both and was rewarded with smiles.  “I seem to have gotten off course.  Would you be so kind as to tell me where I might be?” 

The taller of the two cocked her head to the side.  “You’re not a shifter, are you?”  

“Hanna!”  Neeka shook her head.  “You’ll have to excuse my sister.  We all know that whatever shifters are left have vacated the area.  She still accuses everyone of being one.” 

“What?  Can’t a girl have a little fun?  It’s funny to see the looks on people’s faces when I ask them.  I mean, you should have seen yours.”  Hanna grinned at him. 

“Soon enough, we’ll be completely rid of the bastards.”  Neeka grunted. 

Kendall’s mind was racing.  The war was over.  The humans had lost.  This was all wrong.  Were these women rogues, they wouldn’t be out in the open like this. “Um, right.  See, that’s what I’m wondering.  I was attacked a few days back and forced to travel blindfolded.  All of my things were taken…”  He glanced from one to the other, hoping he was running with the right thought.  “I’d like to know where I was dumped.” 

Neeka nodded.  “Well, you’ll be glad to know you’re still in Thistendal,” she teased.  

Hanna elbowed her.  “And she says I think I’m the funny one.  He’s been through enough.  You’re just outside the town of Jaish.” 

It took a moment for their words to sink in.  “Bloody hell.”  Kendall’s curse was loud in the sudden silence. His heart pounded in his chest and his butterflies fought to break out of his stomach.  Thistendal.  He wasn’t even in Quelondain anymore.  He was on a completely different continent!  How, in the name of the moons, was he going to get home? 

“Are you alright?”  Neeka put her basket down and reached for the canteen she had in it.  She handed it to him. 

He nodded and cleared his throat.  “I’m just surprised at how far I’ve travelled.”  He ran a hand over his face. 

“Come.  Our guardian runs the inn in Jaish.  We’ll get you a room for the night and you can get your affairs in order.” 

“I’ve no money.  Robbed, remember?  I’ll be fine, I’m sure, though I do appreciate the offer.” 

She grinned.  “You must be from farther south.  I love the accent.  Anyhow, it’s not an offer, it’s an order.  You need to eat and sleep somewhere tonight.  They say the shifters are gone from this area, but you never know if you’ll run into one.  Dangerous.  They’ll kill you in your sleep if they can.  Come along.  I insist.”  She picked up her basket and waited until he was beside her before starting off. 

His curiosity getting the better of him, he glanced down at Neeka.  “Have you ever met one?” 

“Hmmm?” 

“A shifter.  Have you ever met one?” 

She looked up at him.  “How do you meet an animal?” 

“Well, they’re human as well, yeah?” 

She shook her head.  “It doesn’t matter what form they take.  They’re all beasts.  And no.  I’ve never seen one.” 

Kendall decided to drop the subject.  Could it be that shifters here were different than the Majs and Namaels of Quelondain?  Maybe they were more animal than man.  Whatever the case was, it was obvious that to let on he wasn’t human was the worst thing he could do.  Steering clear of that particular subject seemed like a swell idea. 

“Have you?” 

He was drawn out of his thought by Neeka’s question. 

“Have I what?” 

“Seen a shifter.” 

“Oh. No.  Never.”  At least, not the kind she seemed to be talking about.  He wondered what she’d do if he told her shifters weren’t what she thought.  He took a deep breath.  It was best to leave it alone.  He’d find some supplies, some food, and take the day to try and think of how he could get home.  Who knew… maybe Hayden would somehow manage to displace him home again. 

“So, do you have a name?” 

He smiled.  “Kendall.” 

“And what do you do, Kendall?” 

“Fisherman.” 

She blinked.  “Really! Here I had you pegged as a soldier of some sort.” 

“Oh?” 

She shrugged.  “It’s the way you hold yourself; like you’re about to jump out of your skin.” 

He grinned.  “It never hurts to be prepared.” 

Neeka raised an eyebrow in his direction.  “Like you were when those men jumped you?” 

By the moons, was the woman ever going to stop asking questions?  “I was sleeping at the time.”  He breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the small town before them. 

“Come along.  The inn is this way.” 

As they wandered into town, he enjoyed the brightly colored roofs and white walls of the buildings.  The red, blue, and yellow paint made it seem like such a cheerful and happy place.  His brows drew together as he watched the people wandering the streets.  Kendall’s unease increased once again.  This was a bad idea. It was obvious that even though it was morning, a large number of people were already stumbling about intoxicated. 

He watched as one man pulled his pants down, barely making an effort to turn and hide as he relieved his bladder in the street. 

“Is there a celebration happening?” 

A woman yelled out of the window and threw a plate at the man. 

Hanna nodded.  “Some soldiers came into town late last night, swearing they’d killed a shifter.” 

Kendall’s stomach dropped.  “They had proof?” 

She shrugged.  “If a lock of white blond hair is proof, I suppose you can say they did.” 

Now, he wanted nothing more than to leave.  What was wrong with these beings?  There was never a time when he’d been out on patrols when he’d thought it alright to rejoice over a kill he’d made.  He was a soldier, not a savage. 

And what was he thinking? 

There was no way that a shifter was going to go unnoticed in a town full of humans with an obvious hatred of shifters.  He glanced back to the safety of the forest then looked down where Neeka had put a hand on his arm.  She cocked her head to the side in question. 

“I’m just hoping the crew who robbed me aren’t here.  This seems like it might be their kind of scene.” 

She smiled.  “Well, if they are, I’ll protect you.” 

He laughed despite his unease. 

“Come along.  You can’t tell me you’re not hungry.  I can hear your stomach from here.” 

He nodded.  “I could use a bite.”  He glanced at Hanna who was watching them intently.  “Careful!” 

Hanna let out a small squeal as he grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him. 

“Watch where you’re going,” he growled at the couple of drunks who’d almost crashed into her. 

Both sisters glared at the men before gathering the vegetables that had fallen out of Hanna’s basket. 

“Here.  Let me take those.”  Kendall took both baskets and followed along as they led the way to the inn. 

Here was hoping nothing happened to draw any attention to him between now and whenever he’d be able to leave. 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE 

 

“How’s your breakfast?”  Neeka refilled their coffee cups. 

“Excellent, thank you.”  He took another bite of his omelet to prove he wasn’t lying.  He wasn’t sure what kind of eggs had been used, but they were delicious.   

She smiled and sat once again.  “Once we’re done here I’ll show you to your room and you can get cleaned up.  I have to head to the stables.  It’s my turn to clean the stalls.” 

“I’ll come give you a hand.” 

She shook her head. “I couldn’t ask you to do that.” 

“Of course, you could.  It’s the least I can do to thank you for the food and room.” 

Neeka mulled the offer over for a moment before nodding.  “Alright.  Thank you.” 

He grinned.  “It’s my pleasure.” 

Though there was nothing more he wanted than to go home, he knew that simply running out into the woods wasn’t going to help with his situation.  Even if he made the trip to the coast, there was no way he could afford to buy passage on one of the Gysps’ trading ships.  He needed information.   

“You’d better hurry getting to your chores, Neeka.”  Hanna scooped up their empty plates.  “Brian will be back from the market soon.” 

Her sister nodded.  “We’re just heading there now.”  

Kendall thanked Hanna for taking the dishes before following Neeka out to the stables.  She handed him a shovel and pointed to the first stall. 

“We tie the horses inside and clean around them.  We’ve had a few instances where a horse managed to get loose when they were tied outside.  Personally, I think someone let them go, but Brian doesn’t believe me.” 

He frowned.  “This Brian, he’s what to you?” 

“My guardian.”  She moved to the end of the aisle and came back pushing a cart before entering the stall across from his.  “He’s been raising us since before I can remember.” 

Kendall tied a tall bay mare before getting to work on his stall.  “So, you’ve lived in this town all your life?” 

She nodded.  “As far as I know.”  Done her first stall, she moved on to the next.  “It’s not the most exciting town, but most of the folks that live here are decent.  There are a few who like to cause trouble, but never anything major.  It’s mostly outsiders that will do the most damage when they come through town.”  She grinned.  “You’re not going to cause any trouble, are you?” 

He laughed.  “You’ve my word, I’ll behave.” 

“Neeka, when you’re done here I want you to…”  The newcomer stopped short at the sight of Kendall. 

The shifter tightened his grip on the shovel should he need to use it as a weapon.  The man, shorter than him by at least a head, though thicker in build, widened his stance. 

“Brian, this is Kendall.  Kendall, Brian.”  Neeka deftly stepped between the two men.  “Hanna and I came upon Kendall while we out gathering vegetables.  He’s been robbed and wasn’t sure where he was.  We made him something to eat and he offered to help muck stalls as payment.” 

Brian grunted.  “Well, when you’re done here, maybe he could give you a hand in room twelve.  The bastards destroyed it last night.”  Without giving them another glance, he turned on his heels and left. 

Kendall let himself relax.  “Friendly fellow,” he mumbled. 

“Don’t mind him.  He’s in a foul mood because of the mess the soldiers left the inn in last night.  Room twelve was one of theirs.” 

They went back to cleaning the stalls, though this time with less talking.  Once done, Kendall pushed the cart back where it would sit until the next day.  

“Thank you.”  Neeka smiled and led the way back to the inn. 

They stopped at the kitchen and helped themselves to water. 

“That was quick,” remarked Hanna.  She wiped a forearm across her brow before returning her attention back to the bread dough she’d been kneading.  

“It’s going to be a busy day.  Brian wants Kendall and I to take care of room twelve.”   

Hanna grunted.  “You’ll be there until tomorrow if you don’t get to it.  I was in there this morning and it I don’t think there’s one piece of furniture that can be saved.” 

Neeka shook her head in disgust.  “Soldiers.” 

“Maybe once you’re mated to Christopher you could have a chat with him about his little army’s manners.” 

Neeka scoffed.  “Not likely.  I plan on spending as little time as possible in the man’s company.”  She gave Kendall’s arm a tug to let him know they were leaving. 

Kendall glanced at her as they made their way down the hall.  “Your intended runs the soldiers?” 

She rolled her eyes.  “He likes to think he does.  We call them soldiers, but really they’re just goons with sharp weapons.  Christopher put them together to hunt for shifters.” 

“And they’re good at what they do?” 

Neeka shrugged.  “They’ve never brought one in to prove they’ve actually killed one.  It’s always a piece from whoever they’ve killed.” 

She opened the door to room twelve and Kendall stopped short. 

“By the moons, what in the world did they do in here?” 

The entire room was destroyed.  Anything that could be broken had been splintered, smashed, or ripped apart.  The floor was covered in wood, glass, and mattress down.   

Neeka let out an exasperated sigh.  “Bastards.” 

He walked to the window which had somehow been spared and glanced outside.  “Do you have a bin we could place under here?  We could simply throw everything out the window.” 

Her brow furrowed as she thought.  “I think we have one in the back.  We’ll need some bags as well.  Hanna will want the mattress down to make pillows.” 

“This happens often?” 

He opened the door and let her lead the way to wherever they needed to be next. 

Someone behind them whistled.  “If she wasn’t Christopher’s, I’d be having my way with that one.” 

Neeka’s back straightened at the comment, but she didn’t stop walking. 

Kendall, however, turned with a growl.  He found himself looking at three drunks, one of which was leaning against the wall to stay upright.   

“Just ignore them, Kendall.”  Neeka tugged at his tunic sleeve.  “It’s not worth it.”  

He reluctantly followed her once again.  “How about that?  Does that happen often?” 

She shrugged.  “It’s only words.  They all know Christopher would kill them if they touched me.” 

“But…” 

“Let’s just concentrate on cleaning this room.  I’d rather not talk about Christopher.”  

Kendall put a hand on the exit door before she could open it.  She was upset.  He could see it in her clenched jaw and her rigid posture. 

“I’m sorry.” 

She relaxed slightly then closed her eyes as he brushed his thumb over her frown. 

Whatever it was this girl was going through, it was weighing heavily on her being.  She definitely put on a brave front, but under the happy exterior, something was definitely wrong. 

“Are you alright?” 

She gazed up at him and nodded.  “I’ll be fine.”  She smiled.  “Come along.  This room won’t clean itself.” 

A strange shiver ran through him as she opened the door.  The feeling was gone before he could decide what it was and he quickly forgot about it as the day went on. 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR 

 

Neeka couldn’t help but keep looking in Kendall’s direction as they went about their day.  He was… different.  Though his story made a lot of sense, there was just something off about him.  There was his accent, for one.  It wasn’t right.  Granted, she hadn’t met a lot of people from the south, but she was sure their way of speaking wasn’t quite as different as his was.  Put that together with the way he seemed to take everything in like he was always getting ready to escape and she had a feeling he wasn’t telling her the truth. 

She smiled as a black nalden (a small cat like creature) rubbed up against his leg.  “That’s funny.” 

Kendall glanced up from scratching it behind it’s scaly ear.  “What is?” 

“We call that one Ghost because we never see him.  He hates people.” 

He shrugged.  “He seems friendly enough.”   

She took a step toward them and Ghost disappeared in a flash of black.   

“So, Kendall of… where did you say you were from again?” She handed him another board which he took without looking, his clear blue eyes on hers. 

“Here and there.  I’ve never really had a place I called home.”  

“Because…” 

“Because I’m a fisherman.” 

“Right.” 

“Right.”  

He was lying.  She could tell. Why did she care so much? She’d only known him a couple of days now and he wasn’t going to be staying much longer.  Not to mention that she was intended to Christopher. 

The thought of her future mate her dissipated her good humor. 

Kendall frowned.  “Are you alright?” 

She tried to think of a new question to add to her good-natured interrogation, but couldn’t think of any. “I’m fine.”  Nodding toward the fence they were fixing, she managed a smile.  “At the rate you’re going, we’ll be under a foot of snow by the time we’re done fixing this fence.”  

He raised an eyebrow at the fence in question.  “How many times has this been fixed?” 

She shrugged.  “I’ve lost count.” 

He grunted.  Without a word, he returned to the task at hand.   

Her eyes fell on his hands as he looped the twine around the post, snugging up the board against it.  His fingers made quick work of the knots then moved to the next one.  She could have sat here and watched him work all day.  Each movement he made was so fluid. 

He took a drink from the canteen and turned toward her. 

By the moons, he’d caught her staring.  She felt the blush rise up her neck and engulf her face.   

To his credit, he didn’t comment on her obvious embarrassment.   He was so unlike the men she was used to being around here at the inn.  He wasn’t crude, or rude.  He didn’t expect a free handout. 

Taking the water he was offering, she took a few large gulps.   

Brian took a look at them from around the corner of the building before heading back to wherever he’d come from. 

“Does he expect to find me on top of you in the muck?”  Kendall didn’t bother hiding how annoyed he was with being watched. 

“He worries.” 

Kendall scoffed.  “If he was so worried, he’d be making sure you were treated properly.” He exhaled loudly.  “I’m sorry.  I know he raised you.” 

She couldn’t help but smile at how much he seemed to care. Caring, polite, and quite the treat to look at… he definitely wasn’t like the men she was used to being around. 

“What?” 

Neeka shook her head.  “Nothing.”  She handed him the last board.   

“What’s next after this?” he inquired. 

“You do realize you’ve more than paid for your keep, yeah?”  She wasn’t lying.  He hadn’t stopped helping her since they’d found him in the woods.  “You could stay another week and not owe us a coin.” 

He smiled.  “I like to stay busy.”  

Two of Christopher’s men sauntered by and his look hardened.  One of them, who had started to say something, quickly closed his mouth and quickened his pace.   

Neeka managed to stifle her laugh.  Kendall hadn’t lifted a finger to anyone yet everyone had taken to leaving a wide berth when walking by them.  All it took was a look. Well, everyone but Ghost. 

She shook her head in disbelief as the nalden hopped onto the fence and gave Kendall’s hand and affectionate head bump. 

There was definitely something different about that man. 

 

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