Not as Expected - Rumpled Rhett Sneak Peek
To celebrate Fairy Tale Day, I am sharing a bit from Rumpled Rhett (Once Upon a Duchy - Book Three), a novel inspired by Rumpelstiltskin and the huntsmen of fairy tales. The setting is the village tavern right after Cat and Rhett's wedding. The marriage is one of convenience, and they have only known each other two days. They have just finished up their meal. As they prepare to depart, Cat's father begins loudly slandering his daughter.
I rose and claimed my bundle not a moment too soon. My husband swung me up into his arms and moved swiftly and soundlessly toward the kitchen entrance. Before I could do more than catch my breath, we were moving through the back rooms of the tavern. Rhett moved so silently that Lilly, the tavern keeper’s wife, continued scraping carrots as we passed within a foot of her.
We encountered the daughter in the corridor. She gasped. Rhett sharply shook his head at her. She closed her mouth. Then we plunged out into the sharp cold of the afternoon sunlight.
“Please put me down,” I requested. Rhett radiated heat, and I was strangely aware of him. It was hard not to be, considering how close he was. The last time anyone had carried me was when I injured my foot. Before that, no one. I didn’t like the helplessness.
“Not yet.” His breathing had barely increased as he strode around the back corner of the building. We passed behind the blacksmith’s forge. Amos’ apprentices were hard at work, but I caught no sign of the blacksmith himself. Rhett’s long strides ate up the ground as we rounded the back of the last building. It stood before the cross path that traveled through the village north to south.
“Must you keep carrying me?” I demanded. “I have legs.”
“You do, but we must move quickly. I will set you down after we leave the village.”
I grunted my disbelief, but he ignored me.
It took only a matter of moments, and we were north of the village and well on our way up the path that wound up the mountains above us. Just as I was about to point out it was time to set me down, he paused.
“Path or grass?” he asked.
“Path. Less to trip over.”
He set my feet on the path, only releasing me when I stepped away from him. Then, he matched my pace as I slowly made my way up the incline.
Around us, the afternoon sun gilded the burnished colors of autumn that covered the trees all up and down the valley. The oranges and reds were still interspersed with a scattering of green from the late turners. Even then, they only enhanced the riot of color. Farther up the mountain where the evergreen pines and their like ruled supreme, the colors were more muted but still beautiful. I breathed deeply of the clear air and counted it a blessing to be living higher up the mountainside.
“What is in the bundle?” Rhett’s deep voice interrupted my musings.
“All of them?”
My cheeks warmed. “Yes. Father refused to allow me to take my extra clothing. He said it was your responsibility to clothe me now, and Mara can wear them once she gives birth to the baby.” I glanced over my shoulder at Rhett.
Still wearing the same brown tunic from the day before, he had layered it beneath at least two overtunics. Nothing in his manner indicated that he missed the third and thickest tunic on my back. The worn belts at his waist held up a pair of knives and a short sword. A fourth weapon was strapped to his back beneath the leather satchel on his shoulders. I had not seen him with more than what he carried on his back. He clearly was a man who traveled light and moved often and quickly. How long would he stay?
The thought that I might be alone for a time was delightful. I was happiest alone anyway. I could enjoy company, I suspected, but never a crowd. Even if Rhett left for months, as was his wont, I could spend time with Louisa, perhaps convince her to train me.
“Who is Mara?” Rhett’s deep voice interrupted my musings.
“My brother’s wife.”
His mouth tightened. “The same brother who was flirting with the women in the corner?”
“I only have one.” Thankfully, I added silently.
“So, what did you bring if not clothing?” Contrary to my expectation, he didn’t sound annoyed.
I glanced over my shoulder to check his expression, but this time, my foot caught on a rock. I stumbled. Before I could find my balance again, he was at my side. His hand caught my forearm, and his arm slipped around my shoulders, locking my shoulder against his side and stabilizing me.
My heart raced. Closing my eyes, I focused on breathing deeply, but all that did was fill my lungs with mint- and clove-scented air. Plus, there was another smell that I couldn’t identify. Warm and pleasant, it teased my senses.
“You need a cane or something to help you steady yourself.” His rumbling assessment made sense, but I protested immediately.
“It would make me a target.”
“More than you already are?”
I pulled away from him, almost falling as he let me go more quickly than I expected him to. Stumbling and scrambling, I made it a few feet before realizing he was still where I left him.
“I am not going to hurt you.” He let his arms hang loosely at his sides, concern written in his eyes despite his almost impassive expression.
“I would be a target for them.” I waved at the village still visible behind him.