Lady Thief Page 1

Author: A.C. Gaughen

Series: Scarlet #2

Genres: Young Adult , Historical

Chapter One

The fire breathed, the dying embers flaring and cooling in a hot pulse. I watched the cold black creep over the orange. The fire were going out.

The cold never worried me overmuch. We slept in the warming room of the monastery, and with plenty of blankets and a well-tended fire, a body never got too cold. I could see Much’s head curled over his knees, his body in a ball nearest to the fire. His arm that were missing a hand were tucked in tight, like he were trying to protect the thing that had been taken from him so long ago. John sprawled out farthest away from the fire, laid flat on his back like he’d fallen down drunk. None of the fights, the battles, the trials ever seemed to pierce through him and leave holes behind like they did the rest of us.

A bare foot away, Rob lay nearest me. Always near, always far. He slept on his stomach now, and he never used to. It weren’t many months since the now-dead sheriff had tortured him, laying him on a board fitted with spikes until they pressed through his flesh and tore. The holes on his back had been slow to heal, and the pains and infections they caused went so much deeper than his skin.

The embers went black, and then edges of gray started to emerge, and the light shrank full out of the room.

I never knew when it would happen. But it would happen. Few nights since the snows had forced us into the monastery were restful.

The noises came first—soft swishes. Thumps. Low gasps. I shut my eyes against it.

At the first yell, I sat up, moving close. My heart were too big in my chest, tight and hot and painful, and I felt water push behind my eyes. “Rob,” I whispered, scared to touch him.

He yelled loud.

Pressing my lips hard together, sucking back my fear, I touched his head, stroking his hair, wishing each touch of my fingers could weave peace into him, like a spell.

His big shoulders eased, and he took a breath, still slumbering.

My chest didn’t feel as tight but the tears weren’t far gone, and I lay down beside him, still threading my fingers in his sand-gold hair. I pushed my head against his.

Breath and sleep came easier both, and my eyes started to slip down. I let them, unafraid. Tonight wouldn’t be one of the bad nights.

I weren’t sure if it were half a breath or most of an hour later, but I woke as Rob shoved me off him, hard. I rolled on the stone, and a moment later he were on top of me, his hands wrapped around my throat.

I couldn’t see him in the dark. I couldn’t see his ocean eyes, and it were too close to my every nightmare of Gisbourne. I clawed at his hands and tried to yell but it came out a cough.

“Robin!” John roared, and I could bare see his steel-roped arm come round Rob’s neck, hauling him off. Rob’s hands pulled me up till he let go, and I fell to the ground. The room filled with light as Much flared a candle, his face fair white even in the yellow glow.

Tears ran slick on my face, and I pushed them off fair quick before Rob could catch it.

Rob slumped against the wall, his chest heaving with breath, his hands pressed against his face. John stood above him, keeping him from me.

I scrabbled over on my knees, going round John and kneeling between Rob’s spread legs. “Scarlet,” John grunted at me.

I paid him no mind as I pushed Rob’s hands off his face. He were flushed, his eyes wild. “You …,” he whispered, clutching my sides, squeezing me so tight it pinched. His head fell on my chest, and he were breathing into the space between us like it were the only bit with air.

“Much,” I said, turning a little. Him and John were just standing, frozen, watching. Not one of us knew what to do for Rob. “Give me the candle. You lot can go back to sleep.”

Much did, even as John stood still.

Rob lifted his head, still touching me. “I’m all right,” he said to John, his voice rough. “I won’t … I’m not a danger to her.” His fingers dug into my skin, and it felt like he were trying to crush me, make me shatter under his hands like an eggshell. A breath later, his fingers went gentle.

John nodded slow and wary, looking at me and turning back to his bedroll. It weren’t a full moment after that Rob’s hands uncurled from my skin and fell from me.

I stayed still, something stuck in my pipes that I couldn’t swallow down. He weren’t breathing as hard, and I reckoned that must have been a fair good sign.

His hands caught my hips again, but he didn’t pull me near like I thought he might. He pushed, gentle, moving me away from him.

He stood, and without a word, he went to the door. He swung it open and the rush of cold air were like a slap.

John looked at me, but I just shoved into my boots and grabbed up an armful of Rob’s things before going outside.

Rob were striding down the cloisters, and I ran to catch up with him.

I threw his boots down at his bare feet. “Don’t run away from me,” I snapped.

“Don’t?” he growled. He bent over and shoved one boot vengeful on his foot. “I could have killed you, Scar!” he yelled. He put the other boot on and stayed bent over, crouching down low. “I could have killed you,” he said again.

I sat on the snow-dusted stone, stretching my legs out and leaning against one of the stone pillars of the archway. “You didn’t,” I said, handing him a cloak. He stared at it. “Put it on. Anger may feel warm but it ain’t going to keep you from falling sick again.”

Rob’s jaw rolled with muscle. “I didn’t fall sick,” he snarled, swinging the cloak round his shoulders and sitting on the ground across from me. “I was laid on a board with spikes on it, and I felt it as each one pushed through my skin. And those gaping holes didn’t quite heal right, did they?”