Reaching for the corkscrew, he opened the bottle of wine and poured her a glass. From the corner of his eye, he saw her rubbing at her head, frowning. Through the low-level shields he kept up, he could feel her vague unease. Wondering now if she had hit her head—despite the fact that she was actually very convinced she hadn’t—if she did have a head injury, and if she should be drinking the wine.
He sighed and lowered his shields. It had been years, decades…longer, since he’d attempted to use his gift on any mortal. But she couldn’t be running off on him. He’d have to stop her and that would frighten her more. She couldn’t leave his home tonight. Too much danger in the woods. And although he had it under control, his temper was balanced on a hair trigger tonight. He didn’t need to tangle with her and risk setting it off.
As he poured the wine, he took a deep, slow breath and centered himself. He’d need to touch her.
A quick touch, make sure she was open. Should be, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to feel this much from her.
As long as she was open, he could plant a gentle, easy suggestion for her to relax. Trust him. Rest through the night. It would be quick and easy, nothing he couldn’t handle. He might not use his gift, but they’d seen to it that he was trained. That was one thing he hadn’t had much choice with. Calming a tired, nervous woman who already looked exhausted wouldn’t take that much, surely.
Come morning, he’d get her pretty ass out of these woods and figure out how to handle the demons who’d set themselves on her tail.
He had a score to settle with them anyway.
Setting the wine bottle aside, he turned and gave Aileas a small smile. Easy. The one he used when he was dealing with his animals, or the few times he had to handle children. Not the crazy, just-this-side-of-maniacal smile that had made grown men piss in their pants.
“Your wine,” he said, strolling over to her. He handed it to her and casually, easy as you please, he hooked his arm through hers, guiding her to the table. “Why don’t you sit in here a bit, keep me company while I cook? Not too often I have company, you know…”
As he spoke, he pushed. Oh, she was open.
And holy fuck, the pain inside her. It screamed at him. A loss, like a bloody, gaping hole. Fear, gnawing and deep. Determination. He also sensed that taint he’d felt earlier. But it was light, just hovering on the surface…like the book had been trying to sink its evil inside her. It clung to her skin, but it couldn’t get any deeper.
Her soul…it was strong.
It called to him too, damn it. The same way her eyes did.
Ignoring that deep, relentless tug, Ren planted a suggestion, buried it inside her heart. You can relax here. You are safe. You can sleep and nothing, nobody, no thing shall harm you. I will keep you safe.
Her subconscious resisted. You can’t.
She hadn’t felt safe in a long, long time.
I can, he promised. He wanted to do more than that, actually. He wanted to cuddle her close, run his hands through that silken, dark hair and promise her all sorts of nonsense…not just that he could and would protect her, but more. So much more.
Mentally, he jerked himself back, slightly stunned at the path his thoughts were taking.
Getting a little off tangent there, mate, he told himself. Way off tangent. He just needed her calm. And asleep. So she didn’t rabbit on him. That was all.
But he didn’t believe it. Not even for a second.
You are safe, he whispered inside her heart again. Safe, I swear on my soul.
Then he retreated. It was the best he could, he told himself.
Retreating, pulling away from her, it was something he did not want to.
Only seconds had passed.
When he looked into her eyes, he gave her a smile and pulled out the chair, let her sit.
Just seconds. Mere seconds.
Yet, as he moved to the counter to work on dinner, the ground beneath him no longer felt quite so…steady.