Steven stood at the window of his accommodations, chin resting on his hand as he watched the large tree just outside the window sway gently in the breeze.
In particular he watched the deepest shadow cast where the largest branch met the trunk by the canopy under the silvery moonlight.
He sighed and turned away from the window. It seemed that she wouldn’t be coming tonight too.
The woman was an enigma. Her motives were nebulous and the coercion to collect information on the clan Head to ease her father’s win that he expected, never came.
Instead, the night of the banquet and the two nights afterwards, all she had made him do was engage her in a chat.
The topics ranged from his clan’s customs to the social conditions in the Regiis empire. Sometimes, they segued into personal questions on his situation.
Her knowledge of his involvement in her brother’s death was like a naked sword hanging atop his head and her fickle attitude towards her brother’s murderer further added to his anxiety.
He wasn’t sleeping well at night, the natural shadows beneath his eyes were failing to hide his dark circles and his performance in the competition was sliding.
Her nightly visits were small consolation that she still required something off him and as long as that was the case, she wouldn’t expose him.
And now she hadn’t come visiting for two nights straight. He felt like tearing his hair.
A light tap at the window had him spinning around and rushing to it.
When he laid his eyes upon the branch, he found the figure that dominated his recent nightmares perched upon it, poised to throw another nut she had picked from the tree at the window.
Seeing him appear at the window, she leaned back against the trunk and popped the nut into her mouth.
His eyes couldn’t help but travel to her blood red lips as they admitted the fruit into her mouth.
Seeing them quirk upwards, his eyes snapped to hers, which were filled with a teasing expression.
Coming back to his senses, his anxiety at her absence the last night found expression in the form of anger.
“Where were you last night!?”
The infuriating woman quirked her eyebrows before covering her mouth with the long sleeve of her cheongsam and chuckling.
Her laughter was like the sound of tinkling bells as it reverberated in the silence of the nignt.
“Why?” she asked. “Did you miss elder sister?”
Sensuously hooking a finger into her collar, she slowly pulled it downwards.
Red faced, he knew not whether from anger or embarrassment, he hastily turned away.
Nightmare and coercer, she might be, but by the Gods, was she beautiful. Her skin was pale, as if it had never seen the light of day, yet it was far from sickly. The alabaster shade making her seem like a living sculpture. With her symmetrical features and figure, it was an easy mistake to make.
Long legs peeked out of the slit in her midnight black velvet cheongsam and her waist-length dark hair was thrown over one shoulder, exposing one of her black furry wolf-ears and her alabaster nape.
The finishing touch to the masterpiece was her soulful dark eyes and blood red lips. She, in Steven’s opinion was the epitome of beauty and if he had grown acquainted with her under different circumstances, he wouldn’t hesitate to hit upon her.
As it was, his anxiety tempered his lust and held his raging hormones in check. Yet, his heartbeat couldn’t help but accelerate a little.
“Don’t be shy little man. Elder sister doesn’t mind if you take a peek.” came her melodious voice, tinged with amusement.
Struggling for a moment, he turned towards her and his line of sight was immediately attracted to the patch of skin showing through her distended collar.
When the contract marking mapped into his view, he knew why she hadn’t come the night before. He knew that it had nothing to do with him and was relieved that his secret was safe for a night longer.
He knew, but he couldn’t help but feel a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach knowing that she was married. But he was slightly happy that the marking was quite light, almost pink against her pale skin.
He was just happy that his tormentor had an unhappy marriage, yeah, that must be it.
“Elder sister has awakened to her feral form for a couple of years now.” Letting go of her collar, she concealed the marking as well as her skin before leaning back against the trunk. “If she doesn’t get subdued, you call it ‘taming’ if I am not mistaken, if she doesn’t get tamed at regular intervals, you’d have a shade wolf running around in your provincial capital, injuring people. Maybe the first person to be attacked would be some naughty boy who had caused her brother’s death?”
She chuckled again at her little joke and he felt an irrational irritation at her words. The pent-up emotions in him bubbled to the surface and he snapped.
“Stop it! Just, just get it over with already. Or is this how you plan to make me suffer!? Keep me on edge until I collapse from the strain? What do you want from me? Information about the clan head so your father can win? Luring out his son so you can take him hostage? Just tell me what you want in exchange for your silence and I-I’ll do it…”
By the end of his spiel, he was panting from the effort required to squeeze out the treacherous words and make the decision to betray his clan for selfish motives. His parents too would suffer if he was exposed… he was doing it for his family… or that’s what he told himself to console his rebelling conscience.
“Fu. Fufufu. You really are an incurable scum, aren’t you? What if elder sister told you that all she wanted to do was chat?”
“You!” Steven shivered with rage as he pointed at her, red faced. “You’re still jesting with me even after I made such a tough decision!? You know what? Go ahead… Tell everyone. It’s just your word against mine. I’ll see who they believe. You or me.”
Her voice and demeanour turned frosty, “Silence! Tough decision? No. No, it was the easiest decision for selfish scum like you to make. Betraying your clan for personal benefit? You’d do that in a heartbeat. As for the credibility of my words… Has anxiety given you amnesia. Do you not remember that the wife of your clan head is a Tier 4 healer? Basically, a walking polygraph. One touch and she would know of the minutest details of your body. Good luck lying while she monitors your vitals!”
He stepped back from the window taken aback from the vehemence of her verbal onslaught. Her words a hammer rapping against his heart. He was scum, wasn’t he? B-but he didn’t want to die! The memory of the clan head shattering Young Master Lupin’s head reappeared in his mind.
Except this time, it was his head being crushed in the man’s grasp.
A chill ran down his spine and he leaned against the window sill with his clenched fists as his body shook with sobs.
Hot tears splashed on the back of his fists as the fear and the accumulated tension of days found a drain port.
He heard her sigh softly. Through his blurred vision, he saw his shadow cast on the sill under the silver moonlight start to burn.
It was as if the shadow itself was composed of dark flames. From it, a pale hand rose, wiping away one of his tears with a bent finger before retreating.
He looked up and saw her looking at the droplet on her finger with a strange expression before her red tongue darted out and licked it off.
Savouring the taste, she said, “Your little trick is good, but it could be better. Consider my direction a reward for serving as my conversation partner for these days.”
Her gaze filled with complex emotions touched with his bloodshot eyes before she turned away. Her shadow burnt with dark flames as she stepped into and through it, leaving without a trace.
Only her parting words floated on the wind.
“Sleep. Your secret is safe with me.”