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Hanging by a Thread

Chapter Twenty

x x x

Kade realized that Kylie must have done something to regain her Lord's favor when he was given a set of oil paints. She was noticed, he was remembered, and it seemed as though someone (but who? no one had even glanced at his sketches) had decided he was ready to experiment with paints.

Usually Kylie captured his attention, but today the new medium held him enthralled. He had no idea what to do.

He had drawn a rough sketch first, faint lines on the parchment to pass the time. But now that he had finally uncapped a tube of yellow paint, he realized that the colors were all too bright, their tones too varied. How was he supposed to use colors like these?

"You're distracted today." Kylie commented. Usually, he listened carefully when she spoke, but today it seemed as though he could hardly even hear her.

"Sorry." He apologized.

"No matter." She asked teasingly, "Extra heavy pots this morning?"

That at least managed to bring a small smile to his face. "No. I just . . . I honestly don't know what to do with these paints! I mean, I've never even seen anyone use paints before and now Lord Anawar suddenly expects me to know what to do with them!" He voice was loud, flustered.

"Oh, don't worry about it." Kylie tried to comfort him. "Just take your time—I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually."

"Eventually, yes." Kade agreed. "But would you consider the younger Lord Anawar a patient man?"

Kylie grimaced, thinking about how he had grabbed her from her room this morning before she even had time to dress, just so that he could bed her before he left for a meeting. "No, not at all."

"So what am I supposed to do?" Kade rested his head in his tan, calloused fingers. He liked this hour reprieve from the everyday work in the kitchens; he had been foolish enough to hope for the life as an artist that Lord Anawar had hinted at. And now it was all going to be taken away, just because he had never been taught what to do with a set of paints . . .

"Let's see what you've got so far." Kylie got up from the window seat and moved towards him.

"Hey! Don't get up yet!" He cried out, obviously embarrassed.

She laughed, "It can't be that bad."

But it wasn't that good either. In fact, the parchment in front of Kade didn't really resemble a portrait at all. He had tried to paint Kylie, but the unnatural color he was using for her skin had driven him to try and draw the background instead, but even there he couldn't seem to figure out how to show light and shadow. The parchment was a riot of color, none of it quite right.

"It's horrible." He determined.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic." She pulled up a chair so that she could sit next to him in front of the painting. "You've just got to mix the paints, that's all."

"Can I do that?" He asked. It seemed like a waste, to spoil the colors with other colors.

"There was an artist in town, back in Fenbrooke, and sometimes on Sundays I would watch him. He was always mixing his colors together, trying to get the right shade."

Kade wasn't sure if he believed her.

"Like this." Kylie squirted a bit of blue paint onto the palette on the table in front of them, and then a bit of yellow. Plucking the paintbrush from his hand, she mixed the colors together until a green began to emerge from the mess.

"See?" She demonstrated. "And if you add white . . ." She put a drop of white on top of the green and mixed it in. "Then it becomes lighter." She paused. "I can't remember what all the colors do, but mixing certain things together gets you certain colors . . . you'll figure it out."

He stared at her, open mouthed. "You're brilliant."

She laughed. "I wish."

"I never would have figured that out."

She shrugged. "I was lucky; I didn't spend my whole life confined to this estate. Just the last year."

He couldn't keep his hands away from the paints, now that he knew their secrets. "So if I mix red with white," he combined the two colors with his fingers, two excited to use a brush. "Then eventually, I'll get pink?"

"I think so."

"Maybe I need more white."

When the paint had been mixed so that the stain on his index finger was undeniably pink, he held it up next to her face, studying the hue critically. "It's still not quite the color of your lips." He determined.

"Really?" She laughed. "Then what color are they?"

"This pink is too washed out." He decided. "Your lips have more color, more vibrancy to them." He stopped, all of a sudden aware of what he was saying, of how close they were sitting.

They were sitting so close, their legs brushed together when she laughed.

Her lips really were so much more vivid.

They were sitting so close.

She laughed, their legs touched.

They were sitting so close.

His heart was racing.

He could feel the paint drying on his finger; he couldn't take his eyes off her lips.

She realized all of a sudden, that it had been many moments since he'd said something, long seconds since he'd moved his gaze away from her face, realized that they were sitting very close.

Her bare leg brushed against his.

Her heart was pounding in her ears, beating out lub-dub, lub-dub.

"Can I kiss you?" He breathed, her voice so low that she hardly heard him over the noise her heart was making.

Lub-dub. Lub-dub.

Had he just asked to kiss her? This was the way she'd imagined it would be, a man who asked for her kiss, who knew the color of her lips instead of declaring that he owned those lips, no matter what their shade.

He had asked her.

Lub-dub.

She didn't answer.

Lub-dub.

She kissed him.

Their mouths met and joined and parted and deepened, and her whole body was tingling as she felt him, tasted him, joined him, kissed him, kissed him until he pulled away, tearing his mouth from hers.

"We shouldn't . . ." He choked out the words, but she could barely hear them over her heart, beating so loudly, lub-dub, lub-dub.

"I'm supposed to be back in the kitchens earlier today." He jumped up hurriedly, gathering the paints together as quickly as he could and leaving the room before her lips (not quite that shade of pink) could remember how to form words.

x x x

Adrian rested his head in one hand and watched Kylie sleep. She was pretty when she slept; the same copper hair, the same freckled skin, but all of it softer, calmer. When her green eyes were shut she couldn't direct those burning stares at him, when her lips parted for a breath he could scarcely believe them capable of screaming out with anger.

He wondered if this is what she used to be like: calm, peaceful, unknowingly beautiful. He smiled, a part of him glad he let the she-devil out.

He laid a hand gently on her chest, just below her throat, and watched it move with her breathing; up and down, up and down. He could watch her forever.

He let his fingers slide up her neck and stroked her cheek gently with his thumb. She stirred. "It's too early." She moaned, thinking his hand on her face was calling her to duty. It wasn't.

"Shhh." He hushed her. "Go back to sleep."

In actuality, it wasn't early at all, but the heavy snow falling outside blocked any light from the windows, making the room appear darker then it normally was at this hour.

"It's cold." She mumbled, barely lucid.

He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against him, their bodies melting together. Breakfast could wait.

x x x

They were sitting up in bed, the breakfast tray across their laps. Kylie was peeling an orange, but the peel would only come off in flakes; little orange pieces dropping onto the tray one at a time. An orange snow storm on her lap, a white one outside.

"When's your marriage?" She asked Adrian.

"Two weeks from tomorrow."

"Lets go away." She suggested.

"Go away? You mean elope, running into the sunset holding hands like that couple in the romance you were reading?"

"No!" She rolled her eyes at him. "Besides, that's not what happens. He dies in the end."

"A tragedy." He said dramatically.

"Well, it was quite sad . . . but that's not the point. We should go away next weekend."

"Where to?"

"Don't you have a cabin, not far from here?" She asked. "I heard you and Devon talking about it."

"It's about half a days ride, but we usually don't use it in the winter."

"But think how gorgeous it would be right now!" She had finished peeling the orange and slid a sliver into her mouth. "You should get away before you have to worry about the wife and kids and all that."

"I suppose it could be fun . . ."

"Just think about it! We could spend all the time we wanted riding, and walking 'round the woods, and" beneath the covers, her foot played with his. "Doing other stuff."

"What kind of other stuff?" He asked, his foot playing back.

She grinned. "You'll just have to wait and see."

"I'll talk to my father."