Chapter 18: Memories

The whispered words of lovers may only last a second but is echoed for decades. — Tastin dea Darund

Lily and Kendrick walked in silence. With the late hour and the sheeting rain, there was no one else on the streets, not even carriages or beggars. The only light came from the streetlights which cast a hazy glow across the glistening cobblestones as the rain plummeted as diamonds through the beams of light.

She leaned into Kendrick’s shoulder, enjoying the strength underneath his suit and the way he easily carried her fabrics without even straining. The heat of his body seeped through the fabric, pushing away the chill. It felt like cuddling under the blankets in the middle of winter.

Lily wondered what it would be like to wake up next to someone in that situation. Almost instantly a flush rose in her cheeks as she recalled Kendrick’s naked backside. The hard muscles and scarred flesh intruded on her dreams more than once, she still ached to find out what he would feel like underneath her naked palm.

“Something wrong?”

“What?”

“You tensed.”

The blush grew hotter. She looked down at her shoes and forced her grip to relax. “No, nothing is wrong.”

He said nothing but he rested his other hand on her fingers, the electric touch caressing her nerves. She peeked up to see him smiling down at her.

“Nothing!” she said a bit too forcefully.

“You don’t have to say anything. I’m just enjoying walking the lo… you back to your house. The streets are rather wet right now and I hated to see your work ruined.”

Lily wondered how much he was just saying something to make her feel good. She didn’t want to know if he lied to her but she also craved talking to him. “I… I’m working on this dress and I can’t get it right.”

“You will.”

“It has to be perfect. She’s going to be at the Spring Lights Festival, that’s the biggest event that week. Last time I was there, about two hundred debutantes walked the platforms. The gossip rags will be there, they always are, and everyone will be talking about every tiny detail, from the perfumes to the hair to the…”

“The dresses?”

She smiled to herself. “Dresses are the first thing everyone talks about. Hair is the second. Every little thing goes into those young girl’s presentations.”

Kendrick slowed to guide her around a large puddle. “I still remember your dress. The first time I saw you, it had this frilly thing around the bottom and was kind of like an emerald shade around your waist.”

Lily stumbled. “You remembered that?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” he said it as if it was a common thing.

“It was nine years ago.”

“Not for me. Every day, every night. There was that yellow flowery thing a week later, and then the blue shimmery dress. I remember that because you had shoes that sparked this lovely sapphire color.”

Warmth flushed over her. She could picture everything about the outfits he brought up, his words dredging up memories that were masked over by the sourness that ended her prospects.

They walked in silence for another block. The rain started to subside but it still came down hard, bouncing off the invisible force above their head before sheeting down on both sides. The lightning scent lingered in the air.

He sighed. “I should have let Hasan win.”

She thought about the duel. For all the memories of the dances and social events, the actual duel remained only in fragments. She remembered Kendrick standing over Hasan, his sword at Hasan’s throat. It was raining—it was always raining when he got emotional—and it felt like half of High Society watched from the windows of her mother’s old house.

“I knew he wouldn’t let you go. Right then, when I had my sword at his throat, I could see it in his eyes.”

“You offered his surrender, you didn’t have to.” The memories were painful to bring up. Tears burned in her eyes as she remembered the horrifying glare that Hasan shot at Kendrick when he stormed off. Everything thought it was over at that point, Kendrick had staked his claim on her and she knew her father would have accepted it.

Kendrick sighed and his grip tightened. “When all those mercenaries came in, I knew it was Hasan. But…” He paused for a moment. “I thought I was being brave to defend you, to keep what I earned.”

He snorted. The water around them stopped for a heartbeat before splashing louder. “What I earned. I was a damn fool for thinking you were the prize, but that night you were my bounty and I was willing to kill to keep you.”

Lily bowed her head. It was part of being a debutante, a pretty girl being shown off to prospective husbands for a bride price and political maneuvering.

“Of course, my father had other ideas. He forbade me from presenting my offer to your father.”

Lily didn’t know that. She looked at the scowl on Kendrick’s face and felt a strange fluttering in her heart.

“I refused, of course. It was my own father’s men who stopped me only a few blocks from where your parents were staying. They beat me before throwing me on a ship to cool my heels. I remember being so angry at them, that Hasan was going to get what I won.”

Lily slid her hand from the crook of his elbow up to his upper arm. “He didn’t.”

Kendrick glanced at her. Then he rested his hand over hers, bringing back the electric touch. “Neither of us deserved you then.”

“And now?”

He said nothing for a long moment. “I don’t things have changed much since. Hasan is… waiting for you still, willing to fight at all costs. Not even his marriage—” He stopped abruptly.

“Kendrick?”

Kendrick pulled his fingers away. “This isn’t a contest for your heart, Lily. Not anymore. It shouldn’t have been one in the first place. There is only one person who can speak for you now. That’s you.”

“Then why—?”

Kendrick stopped sharply.

Lily continued another step, her hand slipping away. She looked down at her bareness and felt the cool moisture gathering around her. It felt empty and lonely, a painful contrast to the warmth that she had just enjoyed. She turned around to look at him.

Kendrick stood in the rain. It sheeted down around him despite the field that protect her. It ran down the sides of his shadowed face. “I won’t be like Hasan, Lily. As much as I want you, I won’t force myself into your life.”

She sniffed. “Don’t leave me.”

“You don’t want me.”

“You can’t know that.” She reached out for him. “Please, just stay. Talk, just be with me. Let me in.”

Kendrick shook his head. “Not tonight. Good luck with Nirih de Kasin’s dress. I know you’ll figure it out. You are the only light I can see in this city.”

The clouds opened up and sheets of rain hammered down on the streets. It came in a rush, shaking the ground and rattling the windows. His form wavered and then appeared to melt away in the downfall.

Lily cried out. “Ken! Don’t go!”

She was dry as was her dresses. They were perfectly safe from his disappearance.

Except for her tears. She wiped her cheeks and looked at the glittering moisture on the tips of her fingers. She wanted Kendrick to stay, but she couldn’t tell if it was the touch him, to kiss him, or just to hold him and tell him he didn’t have to flee.

Turning around, she realized with a start that she stood in front of her house. The water shield over her had been extended through her garden and to her front door. The ground was wet from freshly fallen rain but otherwise untouched by the hammering waters.

More tears ran down her cheeks as she picked up her bags and hurried to the door. It wasn’t until she unlocked it and set her bags inside that she realized that Kendrick knew Nirih’s name. With a start, she turned around just as the rain shield faded away and the downpour erased the sight of the street in an instant.