Anna's Bonus Story
This story takes place in 1983, several years after HeartStone
“Camping?” Ké raised one eyebrow in question. “Just the two of us, alone?”
“I’ve been told,” he informed her, smiling, “that this is nineteen-eighty-three and women can do whatever they want and, what’s more, no-one will raise an eyebrow at an un-chaperoned woman alone with a man not part of her family.”
“And I’ve been told,” she countered, smiling just as much, “that of all three of the pure-blooded races, the Mara are the most traditional, and the most likely to get stuck in an archaic mindset. I’ve been told, further, that it’s unkind to shake those delusions too much, for fear of snapping a brittle, elderly mind.”
“‘Brittle, elderly mind?’ Who’s been telling you stories about the Mara?”
“Mike, of course.” She sat on the edge of the table and swung her feet, smiling sweetly at him. “I assumed the old woman was the one to know about brittle, elderly minds.”
He barked out a laugh. She was good for him, this mischievous girl, even if she was far younger than he ought to be thinking about. His dignity could probably take the damage from one girl young enough to be his great-great-granddaughter.
“So it’s not your reputation you’re worried about, being alone with a decrepit, senile old Mara? It’s this creaking skeleton’s fragile mind?” Mike might not recognize him, if he saw him along with Ké. Shit, he smiled more with her than he had in decades.
“I’m a modern woman, remember? And, Luca, considering what this place is, I’m sure whatever reputation I might have is already shot.”
He tried not to let her see the way his fist clenched on the edge of the chair when she said that, though, the minx, she probably knew what she was doing already. Ridiculous. He’d had a decades-long romance with a Daeva’s daughter; Wil had cured him of jealousy before Ké was a dirty thought and a sparkling eye. But the thought of Keaira being part of Regine’s plans made him see red.
“What? A ruined woman?” She grinned at him, to let him know she wasn’t offended, but he couldn’t seem to smile back. “A trollop?”
“No!” He didn’t shout at her, but his wings raked back a little. “I mean, I know you’re not a trollop, Keaira.”
“Good,” she grinned. “I mean, I know by the standards of your time, I’m a horribly loose woman and all, but I sort of thought you approved of me.”
“Not my standards,” he couldn’t help but be diverted into pointing out. “The Mara see things differently, and so do the People.”
“I know,” she grinned. “You wouldn’t be inviting me camping if you thought I was a trollop. So am I what?
“Pregnant,” he muttered, certain she was just doing this to torment him.
“Oh, hell, no,” she laughed. “That’s not the agreement I made with Regine.”
“Good.” Of course, Regine employed some of the best prognosticators in the world. If she knew that events would lead to Keaira being pregnant anyway, she wouldn’t have to make one of her devil’s deals. He tried to cover his jealous relief with a smile. “Where we’re going would be a little rough for an expectant mother.”
“I’ll give you rough!” She punched his arm lightly. “So where are we going? What should I pack? How long are we going to be gone for? Really just you and me? No chaperone to protect your modesty?” “Just you and I,” he confirmed. He didn’t think it bore pointing out that as a twice-married man with (at least) three sons, he had far less modesty to be concerned with than she might. “Alone in the woods,” he added, feeling mischievous, “no-one but bears and raccoons and each other for company.”
“Ooh,” she grinned, “really roughing it then?”
He couldn’t help another laugh. “What you call roughing it, my dear, would have been considered the lap of luxury where I grew up. Sleeping bags. Waterproof tents. A propane camp stove.”
She laughed back, un-chagrined and apparently not noticing his cautious term of endearment. “Old and creaky. That’s what we call progress. We have electricity now for a reason, you know.”
“Does that mean you don’t want to go?” And in how many ways would it disappoint him, if she didn’t?
“Did I say I didn’t?” She smiled widely at him and thumped his arm with her fist. “Don’t be silly. I’d love to see what camping is like with you.”
“That sounds a little bit like a challenge.”
“That’s because it is something a bit like a challenge, then. Surprise me. Entertain me. Challenge me.”
Challenge me. “Oh, really?” He gave her his best drill sergeant once-over. “Are you sure you’re up to that?”
“I’m up to whatever you can dish out, boyo. Bring it on. Put me through my paces. Let’s see what you can do.”
“I think I’m in love.”
“I know you are.” She grinned at him, the very definition of insouciance. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“Take you camping, of course.” This conversation was quickly getting out of control; what’s more, his mouth seemed to be saying things he’d had no intention of saying. He’d suspect Mike, but he’d threatened to smash the Daeva’s face in if she did anything like that, and Mike always knew when he was serious. “Romance you with wildflowers and whitewater rapids. Far away from this place and all its…”
“I was thinking politics. But bullshit works, too. Far away from all this bullshit.”
“That sounds lovely.”
“Good.” Thank what luck he’d managed to hoard. “Pack for cooler weather; we’re heading north.”
“How far north?”
“That’s part of the surprise.”
“Ooh, you!” When she stomped her foot, her wings trembled. It was adorable, but he didn’t think she’d thank him for saying that. He just grinned, figuring that was comment enough. “You love being exasperating, don’t you?”
“I was born under a contrary moon, I’ve been told.” Stubborn bastard, was more like it. Not many people had managed to budge him, and even fewer as quickly as Ké had. He wished he didn’t have the horrible sinking feeling that this was going to end badly.
“You seem to get along well enough with Mike.” From a lesser woman, he might have suspected jealousy. He wasn’t entirely certain it wasn’t, even from Ké.
“Mike and I have known each other for a long time.” I married his daughter, for a while. She knew that already, and it wouldn’t do any good to tell her again. “We get along okay, I guess.”
“It’s got to be nice to have friends like that, that you can count on through the centuries.”
“Well, ‘count on’ might be stretching it with Mike,” he laughed, before what she’d actually said worked its way through his thick skull. “You have friends that’ll be with you, Ké, don’t you?”
“I don’t know.” Her wings drooped when she was sad, even if her face barely shifted. He wondered how humans read her emotions, without those wings to guide them. “I have normal friends, you know, humans. But they won’t be there in the long run. And I have Liv, I guess. Ambrus. And you.”
Mara were not prognosticators. None of the pure-bloods were. But Luke could see that line leading somewhere dangerous, leading down a painful cliff for both of them.
“And me,” he smiled, taking her hands in his own. “And I’m not going anywhere, not in any future either of us can see.” It wasn’t an oath. But she hadn’t been Ellehemaei all that long, by his standards.
“Aren’t you going camping this weekend?” She lanced the increasingly soppy mood with a sharp grin. “‘Cause if you’re staying here, I’m not heading out to the north without you!”
“Well then go pack,” he laughed. “We’ll head out tomorrow morning, if you still want to.”
“Don’t be stupid.” She thumped him in the arm again. “Of course I want to!”
Way too late for that warning. He smiled anyway. “Great. We leave at dawn. Pack light; we’re flying.”
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