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Copyright: Frost Kay 2018
Tehl sighed as he snuggled deeper into the blankets, relishing the sunlight warming his back.
Tehl squinted at the window. The sun was high. When was the last time he had slept in? He couldn’t remember. His stomach growled. It was most definitely past breakfast. He stretched out a hand to touch the empty spot beside him, a smile on his face. Sage had slept beside him last night of her own volition and that was truly a victory. Her words from the night before came back to him, and his smile widened further as he rolled over to stare at the ceiling.
You have a loyal heart. That one statement changed everything. It meant she cared.
Finally, after everything they had been through, she was warming up to him. Admittedly, he had thought for quite a time that she never would. And after last night’s misunderstanding, he’d expected her to cut him off completely, or possibly even stab him. But he was very surprised when, instead, she’d opened up to him and they’d been able to communicate freely and honestly for possibly the first time ever. At last, it seemed there was true hope for a friendship with his wife.
He clutched his stomach when it, once more, rumbled its displeasure. It was well past the time he usually ate. Tehl glanced again to the windows and Sage’s empty spot. He had slept better last night than he had in a long time. Normally, Sage’s nightmares woke up both of them frequently. It gutted him each time he had to reassure her that no one was hurting her, or when he had to hold her so she wouldn’t hurt herself or him. What a cruel hand they’d been dealt.
Tehl shook off the glum thoughts and rolled out of bed, stretching his arms above his head. No matter what had happened in the past, today would be a good day.
He shuffled to the vanity and brushed his black hair, splashed water on his face, smoothed his rumpled shirt, and finally, pulled on his boots. It was well past time to get his day started, but first…breakfast.
Pulling the door open, Tehl paused, looking between the guards. Addressing the redhead, he asked, “James, do you have any idea where the princess is?”
“Garreth took her for a walk a while ago, but they’ve not returned.”
“Probably training already,” he mused. After nodding to the two men, he moved down the corridor and to the stairs where his brother lounged carelessly against the banister. Moving past him, he began to descend the steps, slapping his brother’s shoulder good-naturedly as he passed.
“How are you this morning?”
Sam followed him. “Not as good as you, it seems. Why, you seem downright chipper this morning.”
He raised a brow and smiled. “It’s going to be a good day.”
“I take it things went well with your wife last night?”
“She forgave me,” he said simply.
A choking sound came from behind him. “She didn’t make you grovel or anything? Or attack you?”
“She’s not that type of woman.”
Sam sniggered. “Uh, yeah… she is. She would definitely stab you.”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant she isn’t a petty woman.”
“Then you’re a lucky man,” his brother said.
Tehl stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned to his brother with a smile. “I am. Last night resolved itself better than I ever expected. She can be so emotional at times, and yet, she can also be extremely rational. It’s remarkable and confusing.”
Sam grinned. “You act like you’re surprised. Of course, Sage is remarkable.”
Something in his brother’s tone gave him pause. There was an intimacy there that he hadn’t expected. His brows furrowed as he tried to work it out. When Sam caught his expression, he slapped the back of his head. Tehl rubbed it and glared. “What was that for?”
“Don’t be stupid. You know I consider Sage my sister. I have no feelings for her, save the sort of love and admiration a brother usually has, so stop looking at me like I’m about to steal your wife.”
“You’ve been known to steal women.” His brother’s lack of expression pulled a sheepish smile from him. “Sorry,” he offered, continuing to rub the back of his head.
“Apology accepted. It happens to the best of us.”
Now that made him snort. “Like you’ve ever been jealous. You don’t keep company with the same woman long enough to become envious.”
It was Sam’s turn to furrow his brow as they began descending the arched, airy corridor. “Well… maybe one day, I’ll find the right woman.”
Tehl stumbled, gaping at his brother.
“What?” Sam shrugged. “I’m just saying one day it would probably be nice to have a family.”
“Who are you and what have you done with my brother?”
“Very funny,” his brother said, rolling his eyes. “I’m not saying right now, just… you know, in the future sometime.”
“And what brought on this change of heart? You’ve always told me you’re not a one-woman man.”
“Things?” he asked incredulously. “What sort of things?”
Sam entered the private dining room and closed the door behind them before responding. “Sage,” he said, with a shrug.
“Sage?” he repeated plopping into his chair.
His brother paced back and forth with his hands behind his back before placing himself in the chair across from him. “Well… She’s interesting.”
Tehl waited a beat before prompting, “And?”
Sam tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. “She’s strong, hardworking, loyal, funny, sweet, smart…” He paused. “She’s a good person. She’s even warm and empathetic, which is hard to find. Being her friend has brought me to the conclusion that, perhaps, marriage wouldn’t be so bad after all.”
“Because of Sage…”
“Yes, she’s helped me realize that all women aren’t the same.”
Tehl plucked a grape from the table and tossed it into his mouth while studying his brother. He agreed that Sage certainly was unique. Like his mother. That thought stopped him mid-chew and a lump lodged in his throat. He forced himself to swallow. “Do you ever think about Mum?”
Sam smiled softly and dropped his head to meet Tehl’s gaze. “From time to time. Sometimes, Sage snarks something at me and it reminds me of Mum. I think she would have liked Sage.”
“Father said that, as well.”
Both men fell silent, lost in their thoughts. His mum would have welcomed his wife with open arms, he was sure. She’d always wanted a girl in their family. Tehl pulled himself from his thoughts and asked, “Have you seen Sage this morning?”
Sam blinked and shook his head. “Not this morning. She’s probably skulking around somewhere. I heard her ladies-in-waiting wanted to go to the market this morning, so I bet my horse she’ll hide out all day, just to escape the horrors of shopping.”
The brothers exchanged a look and burst out laughing. “I’ve never known a woman to hate shopping more than Sage. I tried to have new dresses commissioned, but she about ripped my head off, spouting off about ‘ridiculous and unnecessary things.’”
“Let me guess, she wanted you to use the money to fund some cause?”
“She’s predictable in that way, isn’t she?”
“Well, at least she isn’t a power-hungry money spender.”
Tehl swallowed a bit of honey cake and nodded. “She’s special.” He blinked, surprised at his own admission.
Sam grinned. “I’m glad you think so.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You’re finally seeing her worth.”
His brows wrinkled in confusion. “I’ve always seen her worth.”
“No.” Sam shook his head. “Not her worth as a consort, her worth as a woman.”
Tehl’s mind conjured up her sweet smile, the glint in her eye when she was about to do something crazy, and the curves she hid beneath linen and leather. “She’s beautiful,” he blurted. “My wife is beautiful.”
“Inside and out,” Sam said.
“Indeed,” he muttered, staring at the table. He definitely appreciated her appearance, but he had to admit it was the person she was on the inside that had finally won him over. Sage had done many things for his family, but she’d received very little in return which benefited her personally. Maybe he could change that. But what could he do for her? Despite living with her, he didn’t know her very well. All he knew was that she didn’t care for extravagant gifts and she liked weapons, but, as she was a blacksmith, she liked to make her own, so that was not an option. What did women like?
“Sam…” He eyed his brother. “What do women like as gifts?”
“Jewelry, flowers, romantic dinners, things from the heart. Sage is a little different from the typical woman, but she still appreciates things from the heart.”
What was in Sage’s heart? Her friends and family. It was that thought which sparked an idea. He smiled. “I’ve a plan,” he declared. “I’ll set up a dinner with our families at her parents’ home.”
Sam slapped a hand on the table, excited by the prospect. “That’d be a perfect gift.”
Echoing his brother’s excitement, he expounded on the idea. “I want this to be a surprise. It can be Father, Gav, Isa, Lilja and Hayjen, her brothers, her parents, and the two of us. We can spend the evening together as one united family.”
Sam leaned forward on steepled fingers. “Tehl, I must say, I think this is one of the best ideas you’ve had in a long time.”
A moment of uncertainty plagued him. “You think she’ll like it?”
“She’ll love it.”
He stood up and pushed back from the table. “I need to go see her parents and Lilja.”
Tehl felt like his smile couldn’t get any wider. “Yes, right now. I want to get this underway as soon as possible, before the summer ends.”
“Well, best of luck. Give Gwen and Colm my love.”
“Give it to them yourself. You’re coming with me.”
Sam’s face dropped. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen them since we discovered Sage at the forge, and I’m not sure they’d welcome my presence.”
“Then it’s about time to talk it out. Stop being a coward.”
“What can I say? Communication does wonders. Last night is proof of that.”
Sam sidled up to him with a wolfish grin on his face. “What indeed did it accomplish, brother of mine?”
He punched his brother on the arm, ignoring the question, and headed toward the doors to the training yard. “None of your business. What happens with my wife is private.”
“Your wife? Not Sage?”
He smiled. “Yes, my wife.”