Lady Thief Page 2

My knuckles were rubbing over my cheek before I knew what I were about. He weren’t the only one that Gisbourne and the sheriff had left marks on. The new scar I’d gotten for marrying Gisbourne to save Rob’s life were harder than the last, like something were stuck deep inside it. It were longer too. “They never do.”

He let a moment pass. “I don’t want you out here.”

“Yes, you do.”

“You need sleep.”

I just huffed at that.

“You’ll freeze,” he said.

“I like the cold,” I said, tucking my cloak tighter around me anyway. He opened his mouth to try and shake me off again, so I asked the one thing I knew would hush him. “What do you dream of, Rob?”

He glared at me, but his eyes fluttered shut and he shook his head.

I rested my leg against his. He breathed a deep sigh, but his leg eased into mine.

We didn’t talk more. We stayed quiet and wakeful in the cloisters till we were half-froze, until the sun came up and the monks walked their silent ways and I wondered if God were making Rob pay for his sins or just my own.

Chapter Two

John kicked my boot, and I jerked. It weren’t like I’d been sleeping, just tucked inside a half-frozen stillness that had settled down on my skin. Rob kicked him back for it, and John stepped free. “You really want to take me on, Rob?” he asked. John were smiling, but he were standing between me and Rob again.

“Not at the moment,” Rob allowed, standing and pulling me up, going round John to do it. He held me a moment, his hands on my arms, his face glowing heat onto mine.

John looked over his shoulder at us.

“Don’t want to be late,” Much said.

Rob let me go and I glared at Much. It weren’t like me and Rob had more than our share of soft moments.

“What?” Much asked me, but I shook my head. The boy had less sense than a wooden post sometimes.

Rob led the way, and I followed behind him, with Much behind me and John at the flank. The winter forest were different for us; the snow covered the ground and made everything in the forest a lie, a trick. Holes were covered over, once-strong branches were brittle and weak. Everything looked beautiful and clear, like the world were at peace, but what it really meant was not a thing could live upon its frightful cold.

Not even me, and I were a creature meant for no warmth, no sun, no light. The winter forest wouldn’t hide me in its branches, weren’t strong enough for me to run along the trees, and it made me stand out against its snow.

My forest had turned on me.

The closer we got to Edwinstowe, the more the thing turned into a dance. In the winter forest, you could see farther than were fair good for a thief or her friends, so each step forward were a step to the side, stepping close to a tree to blend dark clothes to dark wood.

On the edge of Edwinstowe, the others stayed against the trees while I moved forward. I were still the best at this part, moving silent and unseen through a place. I taught the others what I could, but there weren’t no teaching the shadows to welcome you in.

I stole through the rough rows of houses to the well in the center of town. I waited on the side of the nearest house, listening.

Their heavy footfalls were loud enough to announce them from far off. The knights strode through the town, the lane empty but for them. The villagers had learned to stay well below their notice; the knights were wont to take whatever they pleased.

I heard a door open in the quiet, and the footfalls stopped. “Sirs,” said a breathlike voice, so oversoft I couldn’t tell who spoke.

“Miss,” the two returned.

“Why, I was just headed to the well for some water,” the voice purred out.

“Allow us to help.”

Quick moments passed before the two knights appeared, one holding a pail and the other holding the arm of Agatha Morgan, Mistress Morgan’s redheaded eldest child. The first knight hooked the pail onto the rope and set to lowering it while Aggie leaned back against the well, batting her pretty lashes up at the second knight.

“How do the menfolk fare?” she asked sweet. “My father is one of the men rebuilding the wall.”

“Is he?” the knight asked. “I’ll ask for him and bring you news. The reconstruction goes well, and since we’ve come to town the vagabonds responsible for the destruction of the castle haven’t shown their faces.”

“Good thing,” the first knight responded, heaving back to pull up the full pail. “We’d show them what a few good English knights can do to lawless rebels.”

“Is it true the king himself ordered you to come look after us?” she asked.

“King’s away,” the first knight reminded her. He weren’t quite noticing her game.

The second knight knew what she were about, and she arched her back from the well. He grinned. “The prince sent us. The castle, the wood, and the whole county falls back to his care without a sheriff. And we promised to take very good care of it in his absence.” He stepped closer to Aggie, looking shameless at her chest as she smiled at him. “Have you good ladies missed having your men about?” he asked.

It were meant to sound saucy, I’m sure, but it were all I could do not to spit. Honestly, all the knights were pigs and Aggie were a damn fool. Not many women in Nottinghamshire—specially the married ones without their husbands—had slept peaceful and safe with their men forced to work for the Crown. And Aggie may have giggled when he touched her, running his hand up her arm, but I stepped forward.

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