What he said caught me off guard. “Did you really?”
His brows lifted.
“I mean, did you really check on me to ask if I…I wanted company?”
Hawke nodded. “Why would I lie about that?”
“I…” I didn’t know how to explain that not even Vikter did that when he was on duty. My guards weren’t allowed, as the Duke would see that as being too familiar. But no one checked on the old wing. Still, Vikter stayed outside, and I stayed inside, but Hawke was different. He’d shown that from the beginning. I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.”
Hawke was quiet, and when I glanced over at him, I saw that he was closer, leaning against the settee. “How did you end up on the ledge?”
“Well, that’s kind of a funny story…”
“I imagine it is. So, please, spare no details.” He crossed his arms.
I sighed. “I came to find something to read, and I stopped inside this room. I…I didn’t want to go back to mine yet, and I didn’t realize that anything about this room was special.” I eyed the liquor cabinet. That alone should have been a warning. “I was in here, and I heard the Duke outside in the hall. So, hiding on a ledge was a far better option than having him catch me here.”
“And what would’ve happened if he had?”
I shrugged once more. “He didn’t, and that’s all that matters.” I quickly moved on. “He had a meeting here with a guard from the prison. At least, I think that’s who it was. They were talking about the Descenter who threw the Craven hand. The guard got the man to talk. He said that the Descenter didn’t believe that the Dark One was in the city.”
“That’s good news.”
Something about his tone snagged my attention. I glanced at him. “You don’t believe him?”
“I don’t think the Dark One has survived as long as he has by letting his whereabouts be widely known, even by his most fervent supporters,” he responded.
Unfortunately, he had a point. “I think…I think the Duke is going to kill the Descenter himself.”
He tilted his head slightly. “Does that bother you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do, and you just don’t want to say it.”
It was so freaking irritating how correct he was…and how often. “I just don’t like the idea of someone dying in a dungeon.”
“Dying by public execution is better?”
I stared at him. “Not exactly, but at least then it’s being done in a way that feels…”
“Feels like what?”
I inhaled heavily. “At least then it doesn’t feel like it’s something being hidden.”
Hawke stared back at me, almost curiously. “Interesting.”
The corners of my lips turned down. “What is?”
He nodded and then moved, his hand striking out. Before I even knew what he was doing, he had a hold of the book.
“Don’t!” Unprepared, my fingers slipped over the leather binding, and then it was free from my hand. He had it! Oh, my gods, he had the journal, and that was worse than falling to my death. If he saw what it was about—
“The Diary of Miss Willa Colyns?” His brows knitted as he turned it over. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
“Give it back.” I reached for it, but Hawke danced away. “Give it back to me now!”
“I will if you read it for me. I’m sure this has to be more interesting than the history of the kingdom.” He opened the book.
Maybe he couldn’t read.
Please, let it be that he could not read.
The grin slowly slipped from his face.
Of course, he could read. Why was life so unfair?
His dark brows rose as he flipped through the pages. I knew what was on the first page. Miss Willa Colyns had been painfully detailed about the intimate kiss. “What interesting reading material.”
My face was burning with the fire of a thousand suns, and I wondered how mad Hawke would get if I threw my dagger at his face.
The grin returned, and so did the dimple. “Penellaphe.” He said my name with so much shock, my eyes would’ve rolled if I weren’t so incredibly mortified. “This is…just scandalous reading material for the Maiden.”
“Very naughty,” he chided, shaking his head.
Annoyance hitting a record high, I lifted my chin. “There’s nothing wrong with me reading about love.”
“I didn’t say there was.” Hawke looked at me. “But I don’t think what she is writing about has anything to do with love.”
“Oh, so you’re an expert on this now?”
“More so than you, I imagine.”
I snapped my mouth shut. The truth in that statement stung, and I lashed out. “That’s right. Your visits to the Red Pearl have been the talk of many servants and Ladies in Wait, so I suppose you do have a ton of experience.”
“Someone sounds jealous.”
“Jealous?” I laughed as I rolled my eyes. “As I said before, you have an overinflated sense of importance in my life.”
He snorted as he returned to skimming through the book.
Irritated, I turned to the liquor cabinet. A short glass remained out. “Just because you have more experience with…what goes on at the Red Pearl, doesn’t mean I don’t know what love is.”
“Have you ever been in love?” he asked. “Has one of the Duke’s stewards caught your eye? One of the Lords? Or perhaps a brave guard?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t been in love.”
“Then how would you know?”
“I know my parents loved one another deeply.” I toyed with the jeweled top of the decanter. “What about you? Have you been in love, Hawke?”
I hadn’t expected an answer, so when he gave me one after a few moments, I was more than surprised. “Yes.”
There was an odd twisting motion in my chest that I didn’t quite understand as I looked over my shoulder at him, causing me to realize that the aching coldness had eased. I had no idea what it was about him that did that to me. It probably had to do with the fact that he irritated me. “Someone from your home?”
Do you still love her?
That was the second question bubbling to the surface, but by the grace of the gods, I managed to refrain from asking that question.
“She was.” He was still looking down at the book. “It was a long time ago, though.”
“A long time ago? When you were what? A child?” I asked, knowing that he couldn’t be more than a handful of years older than I was, despite the way he made it sound as if it were an eternity ago.
He chuckled, and then his lips curved up in a small half-smile. The dimple made an appearance in his right cheek, causing the twisting motion inside me to increase. “How much of this have you read?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Probably not, but I need to know if you got to this part.” He cleared his throat.
Was he going to read from it?
“I only read the first chapter,” I said in a rush. “And you look like you’re in the middle of the book, so—”
“Good. Then this will be fresh and new to you. Let me see, where was I?” He dragged a finger over the page and then tapped the center. “Oh, yes. Here. ‘Fulton had promised that when he was done with me that I wouldn’t be able to walk straight for a day, and he was right.’ Huh. Impressive.”
My eyes widened.
“‘The things the man did with his tongue and his fingers had only been surpassed by his shockingly large, decadently pulsing, and wickedly throbbing—’” Hawke chuckled. “This woman has a knack for adverbs, doesn’t she?”
“You can stop now.”
“What?” I gasped.
“That’s the end of that sentence,” he explained, and when he glanced up, I immediately knew that whatever was about to come out of his mouth was going to burn me alive. “Oh, you may not know what she means by manhood. I do believe she’s talking about his cock. Prick. Dick. His—”
“Oh, my gods,” I whispered.
“His—apparently—extremely large, throbbing and pulsing—”
“I get it! I completely understand.”
“Just wanted to make sure. Wouldn’t want you to be too embarrassed to ask and think she was referencing his love for her or something.”
“I hate you.”
“No, you don’t.”
“And I’m about to stab you,” I warned. “In a very violent manner.”
Concern flickered across his face as he lowered the book. “Now that, I believe.”
“Give me back the journal.”
“But, of course.” He offered it, and I snatched it out of his hand quickly, holding it to my chest. “All you had to do was ask.”
“What?” My mouth dropped open. “I have been asking.”
“Sorry.” He didn’t sound sorry at all. “I have selective hearing.”
“You are… You are the worst."
“You got your words wrong.” Striding past me, he patted the top of my head. I lashed out, narrowly missing him. “You meant, I’m the best.”
“I got my words right.”
“Come. I need to get you back before something other than your own foolishness puts you at risk.” He stopped by the door. “And don’t forget your book. I expect a summary of each chapter tomorrow.”
He and I were never going to speak about this diary again.
But I did bring it with me when I followed him to the door. It was only when he reached for the handle that it struck me. “How did you know where I was?”