Origins (Page 20)

I wondered when she’d slipped away, remembering the feeling of her in my arms, a warmth and lightness I’d never felt before. I felt whole, and at peace, and the thoughtof Rosalyn was just a vague memory, a character in an unpleasant story that I’d simply put out of my mind.

Now my mind was consumed with thoughts of Katherine: how she pulled the curtains closed as the summer storm pelted hail on the windows, how she’d allowed my hands to explore her exquisite body. At one point, I was caressing her neck when my hands fell on the clasp of the ornate blue cameo necklace she always wore. I began to unclasp it when Katherine had roughly pushed me away.

"Don’t!" she’d said sharply, her hands flying to the clasp, making sure nothing had been disturbed. But then, once she patted the charm into place on the hollow of her neck, she’d resumed kissing me.

I blushed as I remembered all the other places she did allow me to touch.

I swung my legs out of bed, walked toward the hand basin, and splashed water on my face. I looked in the mirror and smiled. The dark circles were gone from my eyes, and it no longer felt like an effort to walk from one side of the room to the other. I changed into my waistcoat and dark-blue breeches and left the chambers humming.

"Sir?" Alfred asked on the stairs. He was holding a silver-domed platter–my breakfast. My lip curled in disgust. How could I have lain in bed for an entire week when there was a whole world to discover with Katherine?

"I’m quite well, thank you, Alfred," I said as I took the stairs two at a time. The storm from last night had disappeared as quickly as it came. In the sunroom, the early-morning light was sparkling through the floor-to- ceiling windows, and the table was decorated with freshly cut daisies. Damon was already there, drinking a mug of coffee while flipping through the morning paper from Richmond.

"Hello, brother!" Damon said, holding up his coffee mug as if he were toasting me. "My, you look well. Did our afternoon ride do you some good, after all?"

I nodded and sat opposite him, glancing at the headlines on the paper. The Union had taken Fort Morgan. I wondered where exactly that was.

"I don’t know why we even get the paper. It’s not like Father cares about anything except the stories he makes up in his head," Damon said disgustedly.

"If you hate it here so much, why don’t you just leave?" I asked, suddenly annoyed with Damon’s constant grumbling. Maybe it would be better if he were gone, so that Father wouldn’t be so frustrated. An odious voice in the back of my mind silently added, And so I don’t have to think about you and Katherine, swinging on the porch swing together.

Damon raised an eyebrow. "Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say things were interesting here." His lips curved in a private sort of smile that made me suddenly want to grab his shoulders and shake him.

The force of my emotions surprised me, so much so that I had to sit down and shove into my mouth a muffin from the overflowing basket on the table. I’d never felt jealous of my brother before, but suddenly I was dying to know: Had Katherine ever snuck up to his bedroom? She couldn’t have. Last night, she’d seemed so nervous about getting caught, having me promise over and over again that I’d never breathe a word to anybody about what we’d done.

Betsy, the cook, came in, her arms laden with plates of grits, bacon, and eggs. My stomach rumbled, and I realized I was starving. I quickly tucked in, reveling in the saltiness of the eggs combined with the sweet bitterness of my coffee. It was as if I’d never tasted breakfast before and my senses were finally awakened. I sighed in contentment, and Damon looked up in amusement.

"I knew all you needed was some fresh air and good food," Damon said.

And Katherine, I thought.

"Now let’s go outside and cause some trouble." Damon smiled wickedly. "Father’s in his study, doing his demon studies. Do you know he even has Robert in on it?" Damon shook his head in disgust.

I sighed. While I didn’t necessarily believe all the discussion about demons, I did respect Father enough to not make fun of his thoughts. It made me feel vaguely disloyal to hear Damon’s dismissal of him.

"I’m sorry, brother." Damon shook his head and scraped his chair back against the slate floor. "I know you don’t like it when Father and I fight." He walked over to me, pulling out my chair from under me, almost causing me to fall. I scrambled to my feet and good-naturedly shoved him back.

"That’s better!" Damon called with glee. "Now, let’s go!" He ran out the back door, letting the door slam shut. Cordelia used to scream at us for that offense as children, and I laughed when I heard her familiar groan from the kitchen. I ran toward the center of the lawn, where Damon had unearthed the oblong ball we’d been tossing two weeks before.

"Here, brother! Catch!" Damon panted, and I turned and leapt into the air, just in time to catch the pigskin in my arms. I pulled it tightly to my chest and began running toward the stable, the wind whipping my face.

"Y boys!" a voice called, stopping me in my

ou tracks. Katherine was standing on the porch of the carriage house, wearing a simple, cream-colored muslin dress and looking so innocent and sweet that I couldn’t believe that what happened last night wasn’t a dream. "Burning off excess energy? "

I sheepishly turned around and walked toward the porch.

"Playing catch!" I explained, hastily throwing the ball to Damon.

Katherine reached behind her, braiding her curls down the back of her neck. I had a sudden fear that she thought we were tiresome with our childish game and that she’d come out here to scold us for waking her so early. But she simply smiled as she settled on the porch swing.