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Rating: PG-13

Mild sexual references, UST.

England 1570

The nights were dark and humid, not much of a difference to the temperature of the day. The sky was black, only the moon spending some light and millions of stars shimmering like diamonds.

There was no chance the dark figure that ran through the forest could be seen by anyone. The person seemed to know exactly where to go. The dark cape prevented her from being recognized.

Only when she could make out a small fire somewhere between the trees she stopped running. Carefully she approached the small clearing, finding a man sitting at the fire – her contact? Probably, but it could as well be a trap and she wasn’t very fond of the thought of spending the rest of her life in the Tower Prison.

She took a deep breath and decided that it was best to check the situation. She stepped out of the woods, approaching the fire slowly.

When the man suddenly got aware of not being alone anymore he jumped up and pointed his weapon on the dark figure.

“Who are you?” His voice was leveled and totally under control. He was obviously not afraid at all.

“I’m sorry, Sir, I got lost in these woods…” she said in the most miserable tone she was capable of.

“A woman?” He dropped his gun. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Where is your maid… or your servants?”

“I went here alone…”

“Why would you do something stupid like that?” he asked with a certain amount of amusement in his voice. She decided that they had made enough smalltalk.

“I had my reasons… what are you doing here?”

“Spending the night…” he answered unwillingly.

“Alone?” That question of hers had been wrong. His mistrust immediately returned and he looked around.

“Why – is a group of outlaws waiting in the dark to rob me?” he asked and looked at her. “Show me your face.”

“The night is too dark for the elves to light it!” she murmured the keywords and saw him stiffen.

“The day is too light for the devil to darken it.” He replied his part of the keywords. “You are my contact? A woman?”

“If you have a problem, I will go away and tell our leader that you aren’t willing to talk to a woman. We’ll see whether he will still be interested in helping you then!”

“I just didn’t expect a woman to be sent on this dangerous meeting. Where I come from a woman would be scared of going alone into the forest at day – not even to mention at night.” He replied amused and sat down.

“I am not like the other women!” she replied coldly. “Can we talk business now?”

“You’re pretty straight-forward, Miss…”

“There is no need for you to know my name.” She replied and sat down opposite to him, careful to keep her face in the shadow of her cape.

“But I’m sure they’ve told you my name. That’s an advantage for you. Another advantage would be, that you can see my face, I can’t see yours!”

“I’m just here to discuss the plan, which I will deliver to the leader then. There is no need to know more of me than that.”

“Fine, but I don’t feel comfortable talking to a person I can’t see the face of. Or, Milady, are you afraid of being too ugly to take that cape off? Well, that wouldn’t amaze me – a woman who runs through a forest at night can certainly not have the class of a true…” He interrupted himself and caught his breath when she finally revealed her face to him. Her eyes were sparkling with fury – so far she had reacted as he had wanted her to, but that was the only thing he had been prepared for. Full brown hair framed a face as beautiful as he had never seen before. She must be of his age, maybe a little younger and yet she looked breathtakingly beautiful. Her eyes, which were gleaming dark in the dim light of the fire, together with her appearance gave her the most delightful exotic look he had ever seen.

“You decide.” She hissed at his provocations and her eyes never left his.

Mental note, he thought, she must be a woman of a higher rank. No other woman he had met by now had been able to look that intensely into the eyes of a man – except for the queen herself. He almost felt sorry for her when he thought about the fate she would have. As soon as she left the clearing she would be caught by his soldiers waiting in the shadows of the trees.

“So, what is your message? When is the queen to be assassinated?”

“Who is your assassin?”

“That’s none of your business!”

“I need to know!”

“No, Mr. March, you want to know. There’s a difference!” she replied dryly and he wondered whether she was married. What was her status? It didn’t take him much time to make his decision. He got up and went around the fire to sit down next to her. She looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“I have to warn you. I may seem like a weak woman, but the moment you make any inappropriate move, you will never see dawn again.” Her voice was neutral and she didn’t seem to be afraid at all – amazing, he thought to himself. Just as she had said, she was definitely not like any woman he had met before now.

He lowered his face to hers, until they were only inches apart. He felt her reaching for something and caught her wrist in his.

“Listen to me!” he demanded before she could stab him – or whatever had been in her mind. “I am not Mr. March.”

She looked into his eyes, obviously knowing what his revelation meant. “So then I take it that March is dead, you tortured him for the information where to meet me and now you’re here to arrest me. Nice… what’s your name?”

Her ability to put the pieces together was unsurpassed, he had to admit that silently.

“Bristow. My team of fifty soldiers is waiting in the forest to arrest you as soon as you leave this clearing.”

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She looked at him, her expression not changing. “So then I’m going to die…”

“You’re a woman, Miss…?” He looked at her, the question standing in his face. When she didn’t react he couldn’t help but grin amused. “Don’t you think this would be a good time to tell me your name?”

“There’s never a good time for that when talking to one of the bastards who serve the queen. So, what do you expect from me? You are certainly not telling me all of this for no reason.” His eyes – good god – she had never seen beautiful eyes like his. It felt like she was drowning in them like quicksand – the more she struggled against it, the faster she sank.

“No, you’re right. I’m telling you because I offer you to work for us as a mole. You’re a woman and I would hate to see you tortured.”

“You’re helping me… interesting. What do you expect me to do? Share your bed?” she challenged with a hint of disgust in her voice and looked away into the darkness of the trees. It shocked her how much she liked just thinking about the possibility to go to bed with this man – a man she didn’t even know!

“Your opinion of me is not the best, is it?” he asked. “I want to help you and spare you the torture and prison, in return I want you to help me in securing the queen. Help me bring the rebels down, as my contact.”

“You’re asking me to save my own life by betraying my people and ideals! No man with the slightest hint of honor in his blood would agree to an offer like that!” she hissed into his face and he smiled.

“I appreciate your honesty – not to mention your loyalty towards yourself. You’re an amazing woman, …” Again the hidden question for her name. She sighed.

“Irina…” she murmured. “That’s the only name you get from me.”

“Irina…” he repeated and before she knew what was happening, his lips touched hers in the lightest kiss. “I promise, all you have to do is inform me about the plans of the rebels. That’s all I expect…” The next kiss was deeper, more playful and set their blood to fire. When they broke apart, he let go of her wrist.

“What’s your answer?” he asked and she smiled.

“My answer is…” She looked into his eyes for a moment. “…that I can’t be bought, Mr. Bristow. It’s a gracious offer, but no thank you!” Her thumb stroked over his lip in a soft gesture, then suddenly she pushed him away hard, jumped up and fled into the darkness of the forest.

He moaned in a mixture of pain and surprise and got up to go after her, when he heard the forest coming to life. Obviously his soldiers were already taking care of her. He sighed. Never ever had there been somebody contradicting him. At court the men never did question his orders or offers and the women usually wanted to draw his attention. But she was different – she was honest. The first woman who had pushed him away – not only literally, but also practically. By doing so she had caught his interest.

About half an hour later the captain of his soldiers entered the clearing.

“Sir, she’s gone!”

“What do you mean by gone?”

“Well… she sort of disappeared!”

“Was there an army of rebels defending her?” Being asked that sarcastic question, the captain shook his head. Jack Bristow was calm, his expression neutral – which was very dangerous. “Then how can she just disappear? You were fifty soldiers against one single woman!”

“I don’t know! We’ve searched everywhere!”

“Well then search again! I want you to find her and take her to pris… no, take her to me! I want to talk to her!”

“Yes, Sir.”

The man hurried away and Jack sighed. After all, it was his fault. What had been the matter with him telling her that this was a trap? He couldn’t blame his men. If he hadn’t told her, but arrested her first, then offered her to work with him, she wouldn’t have been able to flee. But somehow her charm had enchanted his reason – which was the most amazing thing since she hadn’t even tried to be nice.

Irina, he thought. Well, she should be easy to find. Irina wasn’t a usual name and since she had been here without a horse or any other kind of transportation, she most likely lived somewhere near this forest. Next time he would be prepared for her tricks.

 

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