“I hope you slept well.”
“Thank you. I slept very well indeed.”
She seemed to feel embarrassed by his presence and turned to leave, but his words called her back. “You have been more than generous to us, Lady. I will not forget your kindness.”
Her eyes darkened.
“It is not I but my husband who has shown you that kindness.”
“But it is you who have tended to our needs, lady, he but asked you to do so. My gratitude is therefore to you.”
A flush of colour flamed her face and she looked quickly away from him.
“Save your gratitude,” she said and her voice was suddenly bitter. “What I have done, I have done for my husband and may the gods forgive me for loving him too well.”
In two strides he was beside her.
“What do you mean by that?”
She did not answer him and tried to leave, but he held her elbow and turned her face to him.
“Let me go, you are hurting my arm,” she said in a low voice, sounding frightened, her eyes on the verge of flooding with tears.
“I mean you no harm, Lady,” Jariq assured her. “But you speak as if you would not have us willingly here.”
She looked up at him sharply.
“Willingly?” she echoed, incredulous. “No, I do not willingly entertain the murderer of innocent children. I don’t know what you are doing here and I don’t care. But don’t worry your secret is safe, I shall not betray you, I love my husband too well for that.”
For some reason the familiar accusation coming from her cut Jariq deeply.
“Never fear, Lady,” he returned coldly, “I am not in the habit of repaying hospitality with bloodshed. You are quite safe and will be pleased to learn that you will not have to put up with my presence in your house for much longer. If you would have a meal prepared, we shall take our leave as soon as we have eaten.”
He released her arm and she turned quickly away and almost ran from the room, her breath catching on a choking sob as she fled. Jariq’s mood was broken and his face was grim as he went in search of Durban. A house-slave informed him that the gentleman was in the kitchens and as he was making his way there Durban emerged from the courtyard wreathed in a cheerful smile.
“Did the lady of the house reject your advances?” The amber eyes were alight with mischief. “Don’t tell me the famous charm hasn’t worked for once, that one fair flower of Temsevar is immune to your appeal?”
Jariq was not in the mood for Durban’s humour.
“The lady of the house is of no interest to me, and, as I understand, it objects virulently to harbouring a mass murderer under her roof.”
“Alas, you are defeated by your own legend – perhaps you should give up slaughtering innocents before it ruins your love life completely.”
“I think,” Jariq returned, containing his rising temper with difficulty, “that there are more important things for us to discuss before we leave.”
If Durban noticed the harsh edge to his tone, he gave no sign of it. Instead still smiling he linked his arm in Jariq’s and started leading him towards the great parlour.
“Of course,” he said brightly. “We must have a serious discussion and where better than here with the comforts of home close at hand: food, wine -” he glanced up with arching eyebrows “and women.”
Jariq pulled his arm away.
“Death of the Gods, Durban, don’t you ever give up?”
“Not whilst there is breath in my body and the pleasure of watching you rise like a fish to the bait.” The amber eyes mocked him. “You really must learn not to be so sensitive. Just because some woman calls you names, this is no reason to sulk like a spoilt child.”
Jariq felt his tolerance slipping.
“Leave it,” he snarled. But Durban showed no sign of having heard him, he opened the door to the guest parlour and went in, dropping with a contented sigh onto a cushioned couch.
“Ah, the simple joys of life. You take things too much to heart and life is too short for that.” Durban reached out for a delicate crystal goblet and filled it with dark wine from an inlaid jug. “Now, what was it you wanted to talk about?”
“I hope you slept well.”