‘Let me get you some clothes,’ Artem said, hurriedly changing the subject. ‘We can’t have you wandering around like that. Take these,’ Artem said, handing Rowena a pile of clothes. ‘They’re my spares but we’re nearly back so it shouldn’t matter too much. We’ll find you something new to wear when we get to Peria.’
‘I can’t wear these,’ Rowena said as she stared, horrified, at the clothes she had just been given.
‘Because they’re men’s clothes.’ She couldn’t think what her father would say if he saw her in the trousers and shirt Artem had just given her. He would have freaked out about the navy blue dress, but this was beyond forgiveness.
‘You have some strange principles. You are willing to befriend a group of rogues, but when it comes to wearing men’s clothing or walking around in your underwear, God forbid that you should wear trousers.’ He laughed as Ena pulled a face and stalked off.
‘Fine I will wear the trousers, but I am still wearing my corset, I’m not leaving that behind. I’m not happy about this.’ Five minutes later she emerged from her hiding place, looking so unlike the princess she was, no one would recognize her. Although she didn’t want to admit it, she quite liked the trousers. She could move more freely in them than she could in a dress, and although the shirt was far too big for her, it was comfortable.
‘See that’s not so bad is it?’ Artem smiled smugly, knowing he had been right. ‘In fact I would say you looked prettier than ever.’
‘I’m dressed in one of your old shirts,’ Rowena said, not believing what he had just said. ‘And your trousers have grass and mud stains on them. It hardly says here comes the most beautiful woman in the world.’
‘Yes, but the fact that you don’t need dresses and sparkly jewellery to look beautiful only proves my point.’ There was a silence. Not an awkward one, but one where neither could take their eyes off the other.
I have to tell him Rowena told herself. If I don’t do it now, when we’re alone, then I never will.
‘Artem, there’s something I need to tell you.’
‘Good, because there’s something I want to say to you too.’ Rowena’s heart pounded. She so wanted Artem to tell her his secret first, but she knew if he told her he loved her, then she wouldn’t be able to go through with her deal with Ishak and tell him the truth.
‘Artem.’ Rowena said, building up the courage to come out with it. ‘I haven’t been completely honest with you. I’m-‘
‘Before you finish,’ Artem interrupted. ‘I feel that what I say should come first.’ He quickly closed the distance between them, taking her small hands in his much larger ones. ‘I can’t lie to you any more Ena. I told you the necklace I gave you was my mother’s. I lied.’
‘So where did it come from?’
‘I stole it. Oska was right; I was the man who broke into that house and stole the box. I’m sorry.’
‘Why did you lie to me?’ Rowena asked, not understanding why he was telling her this
‘Because I thought if you knew what I’d done then you wouldn’t think of me in the same way. I would just be a petty thief.’
‘You don’t need to justify yourself to me. Why does my opinion matter?’
'It matters because I love you.’
There was a horrid silence where neither knew what to say. Rowena was in emotional turmoil, elated that Artem had confessed to loving her, and heartbroken because she knew he would change his mind when he discovered her secret.
‘Tell me you feel the same way,’ Artem said, looking expectantly at her, waiting to hear her answer, his eyes pleading with her to say yes.
‘Of course I feel the same way.’
‘Oh thank God!’ He said, pulling her against him and holding her tightly against his chest. ‘For a moment there I thought you were going to say you didn’t even care about me. I thought I’d scared you off the other night when I tried to kiss you. I know I was being too forward but-‘
‘But I still have to say what I need to say,’ Rowena said, pulling away slightly from his embrace. ‘You’ll probably change your mind about me when I tell you what I’ve done.’
‘It can’t be any worse than anything that I have done. And it doesn’t matter to me. I love you and that’s all that matters.’
‘But I’m not the person you think I am. The truth is that-’ A crashing noise coming from the trees and the sudden appearance of Jem stopped Rowena from finishing her sentence.
‘Oops,’ Jem said when he saw Artem and Ena standing so close together. ‘I didn’t disturb anything did I?’
‘No it’s fine,’ Rowena said hurriedly. ‘It can wait and I’m tired so I think I’ll head for bed now.’ She stepped away from Artem and began searching for her blanket among her things. When she found it she sat as close to the fire as she could wrapping herself up as tight as she could to keep out the cold. The others began to climb into bedrolls around her, all muttering ‘good night’ as they closed their eyes and fell asleep. Of course the last person to be ready was Artem, who came and sat next to Rowena by the fire.
‘Do you want to finish what we started earlier?’
‘It really doesn’t matter,’ Rowena said lightly. ‘I don’t think now is the right time anyway. I’d prefer to discuss it in the morning when I’m feeling just a bit more awake.’ A cold wind came whistling through the trees, catching the dying flames of the fire and sweeping around the two huddled figures next to it. Rowena shuddered as the cold hit her hard.
‘Why do you still insist on sleeping in that thing?’ Artem asked, indicating the blanket Rowena had brought with her from the tower. ‘We’re heading further north, it’s going to get much colder and that can’t be keeping you warm.’
‘I’ve survived so far,’ Rowena said, her teeth now chattering with cold.
‘Oh my God Ena! You’re freezing,’ Artem exclaimed as he touched her cheek with his hand. ‘Come here.’ He motioned for her to move closer, and when she failed to do so, he shifted over to her and wrapped his arms around her. ‘You should sleep in Erik’s bedroll. It’s far thicker than your blanket and much more comfortable.’
‘I wouldn’t want to have anything that belonged to Erik,’ Rowena shuddered. ‘It would just remind me of what might have happened.’
‘But I can’t have you dying on me. What would I tell your father?’ It wouldn’t make much difference, she thought. He already thinks I’m dead. ‘Well if you’re not going to take the spare bedroll, then you’ll just have to get in with me.’
‘No way,’ Rowena replied instantly.
‘I can’t pretend I’m not a little bit hurt by that,’ Artem said, chucking slightly. ‘I thought you liked me.’
‘I do, but sharing a bedroll, it’s not proper.’
‘And sitting by a fire in the middle of no where, being held by a strange man is proper?’ Rowena couldn’t find an argument against it so stayed quiet. ‘Look, I promise I won’t touch you any more than is necessary. You’re wearing proper clothes and it’ll be much warmer with the two of us sharing.’
‘OK then, if it will stop you nagging me,’ Rowena conceded, unwrapping her blanket and preparing to climb into Artem’s bedroll. It was snug with the two of them in there, but Artem had been right, it was much warmer than her blanket. They lay down next to the fire, Artem’s arms wrapped around Rowena’s waist. She liked the contact, it made her feel safe and protected and loved. It was a good feeling. ‘Well good night then.’
‘Good night Ena.’