This scene takes place shortly before the events of Royal Decoy. There are no spoilers, but you'll probably enjoy it more if you've read Royal Decoy, because you'll know the characters. *Note: This was first shared in my newsletter; sign up if you'd like to be the first to see content like this in the future! http://eepurl.com/gQh_aD
Mia set down the pencil, her fingers curling around the edges of her sketchbook. “All right. I’m ready.” She looked up from the open page that bore one word, her gaze colliding with Grayson’s.
She was instantly captured by his intense gray eyes. They were cool in color, and she had seen them grow even colder when others were with them. Papa. Mama. Fletcher, her guard. But when Grayson looked at her, there was a warmth in those gray eyes that touched every part of her.
He sat at the foot of her bed while she perched at the head. In the bright glow of the lanterns, she could see that the tension he’d carried when he’d entered the room was gone. After a day of enforcing King Henri’s merciless laws, Grayson was always tense. But they’d eaten dinner together, and then she had pulled out her sketchbook so she could distract him with a game.
Grayson was winning. And judging by the half smile that pulled at his mouth, he was enjoying that fact.
“Is it alive?” he asked.
“Is it a person?”
She shook her head, brown curls brushing her shoulders. “No.”
“Is it an animal?” he asked.
“Hmm . . .” He drew up a leg and draped an arm over his knee, his black gloved hand dangling. He made her bed feel small with the way he was sprawled along the base of it. One shoulder propped against the wall as he angled toward her, one leg hanging off the side of the bed.
His black hair, a little too long, curled over his ears and brow. His skin was several shades lighter than hers, even though she was the one who hadn’t seen sunlight in years. Light scars nicked across his visible skin; his forehead, cheeks, jaw, throat. A testament to all he had survived in his seventeen years.
She always got a little lost when she stared at him. His long nose, slightly crooked from being broken too many times, his strong and angular jaw. His cheekbones were high and prominent, his eyebrows dark and thick. And there was a small, barely-there freckle at the lower corner of his mouth that always managed to snag her attention.
Broad shoulders bracketed a chest hard with muscle. She had never seen him without a shirt, but when they trained or she hugged him, she could feel the strength in his carefully toned body. His waist was trim, his hips narrow, and his legs so long he towered above her. Just being near him made her feel safe. He always had, even when he was a small, haunted boy. His presence calmed her. Steadied her. She could close her eyes and inhale his scent, and she immediately felt safe; leather, sunlight, and a slight spice that came from his soap.
His sleeves were pushed up, baring strong forearms. Muscles and tendons flexed under his skin as he shifted to a more comfortable position. More scars traced faint lines over his arms. Sometimes, when they sat side by side, she would brush those marks with her fingertips. Each one hurt her.
Staring at him right now, though, hurt was the furthest thing from her mind. Her stomach fluttered and heat filled her chest. The fates had stolen so much from her, but Grayson was a gift.
Her eyes darted up, warmth flooding her cheeks. “Sorry, what?”
The corner of his mouth hiked, his eyes intent on her. “Does it fly?”
Oh. Yes. The game. Mia cleared her throat. “Yes.”
Grayson’s throat flexed as he swallowed. “Hmm . . . Is it a falcon?”
She blinked, and her jaw loosened. “How . . . How did you know?”
He lifted one shoulder, and his widening smile showed a glimpse of a dimple. “Just a guess.”
She had known Grayson for years, but it had not taken that long to fall in love with him. It had only taken a moment. A second of meeting those cautious gray eyes. A pebble, tossed between them. A kindness she had not experienced in so long. A slow, crooked smile. She had been seven. He’d been eight. She’d fallen in love with him then, and she had been falling deeper in love with him every moment since.
Not that she had told him. She couldn’t.
They were friends. Best friends. He was her light. Her strength. He taught her to fight, and she taught him to hope. She would do nothing to destroy what they had.
Grayson was still grinning at her. "I have a confession," he said.
Mia peeked up at him, her heart thumping hard in her chest. "What?" Fates, had he read her mind? Did he feel the same? Was he—?
"I saw you drawing a falcon the other day. I made a guess that it might still be on your mind."
Relief and disappointment swirled inside her. She found herself smiling, though. “You know me too well.” She passed him the book. “Your turn.”
Grayson grabbed the book, his long gloved fingers brushing hers. He snatched up the pencil as well, deliberated a short moment, then scrawled something on the page. He tipped the book away from her, a soft smile on his face as he raised his head, locking eyes with her. “All right. Go.”
Fates, she needed to focus. She pushed a hand through her loose curls and leaned back against the wall. “Is it a person?”
Her brow wrinkled. “Is it a place?”
“Is it alive?”
She frowned, considering. “Is it an insect?”
She stared at him. “I don’t know what to ask next.”
“Do you concede?”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course not, give me a moment . . .”
Grayson’s eyes flashed with humor and he bit his lower lip to reign in his smile. It tugged at his freckle and something low in her belly knotted.
She closed her eyes, forced herself to focus. Think . . . Alive, but not an animal, person, or insect . . . Her eyes snapped open. “Is it a plant?”
He dipped his chin. “Yes.”
“No. And I hate to point out the fact that you only have two questions remaining.”
“If you hate it so much, don’t look so smug.”
He only grinned.
She tapped a finger off her chin. “Is it poisonous?”
He considered that. “It can be, I suppose.”
She shook her head slowly. “Fates, I hate this game . . . Why do I always agree to play this with you?”
He lifted a dark eyebrow. “Is that your final question?”
“No.” She sighed. “Is it a reed?”
He frowned. “Are reeds poisonous?”
“Maybe some of them are,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
The corner of his mouth lifted. “I suppose you could be right. But in this case, you’re not.”
She blew out her breath. “Fine. What was it?”
“Sorry, you’re out of questions.” He snapped the book closed.
He shrugged. “I don’t make the rules.”
“Those aren’t the rules at all.” She grabbed for the book, but he held it over his head, grinning.
She snatched his wrist and tugged, unable to stop the huffing laugh that escaped her. “Seriously, Grayson, what was it?”
“Do you really want to know?”
Impatience won out. Her fingers attacked his side and he gasped and doubled over, laughing as she tickled him.
The book lowered, and she snagged it. Flipping open to the page, she stared at what he’d written. “A leaf?”
“What’s wrong with a leaf?”
She tossed the book at him, and he snatched it from the air with one hand. His grin stretched wider. “Want to play again?”
“Absolutely not. I think it’s time for a game of Assassins.”
He groaned. “You’ll win.”
“And I’ll relish every moment.”
He chuckled, and the sound was so deep it reached all the way to her toes. “Fair enough.”