“You look about as lost as I feel.”
Turning to her right, Carita saw a man leaning against a wall. Had he been here all night? How had she not noticed him sooner? She would have stepped on Azrael’s foot for one second of this man’s time.
He was everything Ruby had made it clear she didn’t want: pale, blond, and blessed with the unmistakable build of a warrior. If his clothes hadn’t made that clear, the casual strength that rippled out from him would have given it away.
This wasn’t the kind of man who got lost. His words were those of a predator stalking prey. Soft spoken to make her want to lower her guard. Each word meant to draw her in. Like a hunter readying his bow to make a kill.
Yet instead of being repulsed by this thought, Carita tilted her chin, met his gaze, and walked over to join him. He was probably more comfortable with a bow or axe in his hand than a glass of wine. Finding someone else who seemed as out of place here as she felt was refreshing.
“I’m never lost.” She took his hand in hers before he had time to respond and shook it firmly. “I just hadn’t decided where I wanted to go yet. Carita of Bel Auryn. Nice to meet you.”
“I am Lucian of Green’s Hallow, but you can call me Luc.” He brought Carita’s hand to his mouth and brushed a kiss against her knuckles. “I’d begun to think I’d have to seek you out, rather than letting you find me. I didn’t travel all this way to be told to go home.”
Carita barely heard a thing he said. The skin of her hand seemed to pulse where his lips had been. It was like every fibre of her being had rushed to that spot, trying to get through an invisible door she hadn’t known was there. She had never been drawn to a man before. If she was going to react like this when someone kissed her, she would have to be careful. It appeared lips could be used as a weapon.
When she realized he was talking about not wanting to go home empty handed, Carita stared at the stupid silk slippers covering her feet. What was she doing thinking he might be here for anything less than to win the Goddess?
“If your goal is to win Ruby, I’d be doing you a kindness telling you to leave.” Carita almost groaned when the words left her mouth. Could that have come out any worse? “I mean… You don’t have the look of the men I’ve noticed her picking. And you have the same name as the man she’s spent weeks telling me how much she hates. According to her, Lucian may mean light in our tongue, but she would change it to devil if she could.”
“So, you’re afraid of a name?” he asked, his eyes sparkling with mischief.
“I’m not afraid of anything.” Carita tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “I just think this whole thing is silly and I’d hate to be responsible for you wasting your time. If I give you a flower, I can promise Ruby will start plotting how to get rid of you the moment she hears your name.”
“But we are still having this conversation because…?” Lucian fixed her with a look that made it clear he expected an answer.
“Ruby has asked me to find someone for myself as well.” Heat started in Carita’s cheeks, then washed over her completely as she spoke. “I’m sure that’s not what you have in mind, and that’s fine. But maybe if we work to make it look like I’m why you’re here, Ruby will see that you’re not like the man she told me about.”
Lucian arched a brow at her. “You would do that for me? Why?”
“You seem like a decent man and I have one blossom left to hand out.” Carita held the flower out to him, waiting to see if he would take it. When he didn’t she feared she, rather than it, would wilt. “You want the truth, don’t you?”
“As opposed to a lie?” Something dangerous sparked in Lucian’s eyes for a moment and Carita took a step back. Ridiculous. She could take him down with ease if she wasn’t wearing these silly clothes. “That would be appreciated.”
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