“I’ve never seen many, not when I have a fire going at night. And it’s rained recently, so this isn’t the only water. Though, you should watch for snakes.”
“I don’t like snakes,” she said, her focus going to the ground as she watched the placement of each of her steps.
“I’m not a huge fan of them, to be honest, but for the most part, you won’t be bothered by them.”
“Yes, well, sometimes in floods, they would slither into the rooms I was staying in. Fortunately, not usually poisonous ones. But…but sometimes the odd viper would pay me a visit. So, your nickname for me is somewhat fitting.”
“You don’t have to worry about snakes tonight,” he said. “I’ll build a fire now.”
“It’s hot still.”
“A precaution. The tent is this way.”
She followed him down the well-worn trail that led deeper into the trees, and out to the far side of the small lake. She stopped when she saw it. “It is not exactly a tent.”
The “tent” had permanent walls, with windows, and what appeared to be a broad canvas stretched over the roof and anchored into the ground. There was a small deck off the front that went over the water.
“What is this?” she asked.
“My escape, I suppose. Something much simpler than the palace. And quiet. I come out here whenever I visit the tribe. And sometimes for no reason at all.”
“Do you bring women here?”
She was curious. Fascinated by who Ferran was as a man. Not as the monster she’d built up in her head, and not even as the man he was around her. But the man he’d been for the past sixteen years. The man who, apparently, had a retreat. And who knew biting was a thing that could be exciting. And who undoubtedly had been kissed many times. And had lovers.
Yes, she was very curious all of a sudden, who this man was. Because she had to know her enemy. The enemy she was preparing to ally herself with.
“No,” he said. “I don’t bring women here.”
“Where do you bring women?” she asked.
She was curious now. And she wanted to know the answer. She wanted to know about these women, who knew about how it felt to be pressed up against his back, and to feel his stomach. And…more.
She despised the fascination. It was like giving in to the desire to watch a fight breaking out on the streets. To take in the horror, the anger and blood. To be both drawn to and repulsed by what she was seeing.
“Why do you want to know?” he asked.
“Because I do.”
“Because…because I am supposed to be your wife.” It was the first time she’d said it. The first time she’d felt like that position might matter. Like it might really be real. Like she was making real steps toward their treaty, rather than just standing in a holding pattern, contemplating the merit of escaping, or exacting revenge of some kind. “It seems like I should know these things about you.”
“I don’t,” he said, his tone hard.
“I don’t…conduct affairs.”
“Never?” she asked.
He swept past her and into the dwelling.
She looked inside. “This is very much not a tent. Just as your car was not a camel.”
Yes, the ceiling was swaths of draped fabric; beneath it stretched canvas that she imagined was completely waterproof, but that did not make it a tent.
There was formal furniture. It was spare, but very expensive looking. Wood and plush fabrics. Nothing as ornate as the palace. This seemed to speak more of Ferran, and not the rulers that had come before him. This was the man, and not the legacy.
At least, it was a piece of him.
She was digging for other pieces.
“I confess, calling it a tent was slightly misleading.”
“And the car?”
“Yes, that, too.”
“You’re telling me you don’t conduct relationships with women?” she asked. “I assumed…”
“Why would you assume, Samarah?”
Her cheeks heated. “I would have thought a man such as yourself would have lovers. Several of them. I remember how you were. Though, I suppose being naked with someone makes you very vulnerable to them. Sleeping with someone—they could kill you while you dreamed. I suppose…I suppose that means you have to be selective about lovers.”
She wanted to know the answer because if she really was to be married to this man then it seemed like this was important information for her. It seemed she should know how he viewed sex. Why he had no lovers. If he was being truthful. Because if they were going to be married, they would share the marriage bed and all the intimacies that entailed.