Third scene from Rhys’s POV. When I asked on my FB page which scene readers would most like to see rewritten from Rhys, this scene was the winner. I was surprised, because I hadn’t considered this one, but once I got into it, I was so glad that readers had suggested it! It was so fun to get into Rhys’s head for this one. Enjoy.
I should stay away. It would do nobody any good for me to take Lord Wisen up on his offer and join them for a bit of archery. I didn’t want to watch him helping Lylin with her aim and her draw. I had no interest in watching Lylin shoot a bow and arrow. None at all.
I turned to Lorraina. “Shall we join Lord Wisen and your sister at the archery range? See if Lord Wisen lives up to his boasting?”
She gave a tentative smile. “He does seem eager to impress, doesn’t he?” She stood and placed her hand on my arm, her touch always light and tentative. Lorraina was always polite. She was intelligent and tried to be friendly, but I could tell that her friendliness was forced, as if she didn’t have much practice and had to remind herself to engage in conversation.
We walked out of the castle and across the lawn. The archery range came into view just as Lylin let an arrow fly from her bow. My mouth went dry. I didn’t notice where her arrow landed. I was too distracted by the way she stood in perfect archer’s stance, her dress hugging her legs as a breeze swept by.
I gave myself a mental slap, and reminded myself to breathe. We stepped under the awning that was set up over the equipment just as Lord Wisen stepped up behind Lylin, one hand snaking out to rest on her back while he pretended to help her with her aim. Instead of helping, it made her flinch and her arrow burrowed into the grass.
Wisen said something and she laughed. I remembered that laugh all too well. She turned toward Wisen but caught sight of her sister and me instead. Her laughter stopped and she just stared for a moment, her lips parted.
Wisen noticed me, his brow raising. I didn’t know why he was surprised. He had invited me, after all. He walked over, sticking out his hand. “I’m glad you decided to join us.”
I took his hand and shook it, wondering why he had invited us in the first place. My eyes moved to Lylin and I felt a sudden need to prove something. I turned back to Wisen. “Perhaps a little competition?”
His brow bounced, obviously interested.
“That’s hardly fair,” Lorraina said from her place at my elbow. “I’m bound to lose.”
I almost laughed at her matter-of-fact tone. She was not in the habit of flaunting her talents and she seemed almost eager to admit her faults.
Wisen shrugged, pretending a casual air that I was sure he didn’t feel. “We’ll have teams. That should even things up. And we’ll have some practice first.” He tipped his head toward Lylin. “I was just showing Princess Lylin the fundamentals.”
I nodded, though the way Lylin had held herself when she handled her bow made me doubt that she needed instruction in the fundamentals. I went to the table lined with equipment to pick out a bow, while the sisters put their heads together for some sort of private conversation. They broke apart and Lorraina quickly selected a bow before following me over to the far target where we would practice. I gestured for her to step up to the line. She did so and I stayed back so that I could analyze her stance and draw. I heard her let out a sigh before nocking an arrow. Her draw was weak and she flinched when she released. I bit back a smile when she hung her head with a sigh. I got the feeling that if she weren’t so determined to maintain her decorum, she would have groaned. Lylin would have.
My eyes glanced over to Lylin and I found her looking at me. She immediately dropped her gaze, stepping into position to draw her own bow. Wisen crowded up behind her again. Fundamentals my eye.
I forced my focus back to Lorraina, trying to give her some suggestions for improvement, but after several attempts, it was clear that she simply didn’t have the feel for it.
“Why don’t you take a shot?” she suggested, stepping back.
I happily complied, taking just a moment to sight it before hitting the center ring.
“Well,” she said, clearly impressed, “at least you’ll give us a fighting chance.”
I tipped my head toward Lylin and Wisen. “Shall we?”
I looked at the target set in front of Wisen, who had just finished showing off his adequate skill and looked far too pleased with himself.
“Shall we get started then?” I asked.
The grooms set the targets at appropriate increments and Wisen suggested that Lorraina take the first shot. Her aim was shaky and her arrow landed nowhere near the target.
“I will forever be hopeless at this,” she lamented. I got the sense that she wasn’t used to not doing things well.
Wisen indicated the line. “Lylin.”
I tensed, indignant at his casual use of her name, though he immediately corrected himself.
Lylin didn’t look the least bit put out. “I don’t mind being called Lylin,” she said and I nearly choked on the reality that she was actually inviting him to use her name. Then I was distracted as she set her feet, drew, and fired in the space of only a moment. The arrow didn’t hit center, but I wondered if that was on purpose. Her draw had been too swift, too practiced. What was she playing at?
She turned her back on me and returned to Wisen’s side. It was my turn. I nocked an arrow, but couldn’t help glancing at them as they conversed, the friendliness in their stances getting under my skin. I faced the target and fired, hitting just off center. I stepped back and nodded at Wisen to take his turn. He strutted to the line and tried to hide his fidgeting before taking his shot. It landed only a little beyond mine.
“That puts team Wisen in the lead,” I said, ready to move on.
“Team Wisen?” Lylin questioned from behind me. “Why team Wisen? Why not team Lylin?”
She must not have realized how her sass would make me want her. It shouldn’t have, but it did.
Wisen looked at me, ready to align himself with her. “She’s got a point, you know. She does outrank me.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Lylin objected.
Wisen just gave her a winning smile and agreed to the team name. On the next round, the girls paused to talk in between their turns and I wondered what they were conspiring. Then Lorraina stepped up and actually managed to hit the target. Her smile lit up her face, softening her features. She hurried back to my side, looking proud of herself, despite the fact that she had only earned two points. I made sure to be effusive in my praise and she blushed prettily at my words. She was a lovely girl and it wasn’t right for me to be picking apart every interaction that Lylin had with Wisen when my betrothed stood ready and willing to connect with me.
I determined to shift my focus and spent the rest of our little competition being solicitous and attentive to Lorraina, trying to give encouragement and praise when praise was due. She managed to hit the very edge of the third target, lending our team a couple more points, but despite Lylin’s inconsistent aim, she and Wisen came out well ahead of Lorraina and I.
“So, what shall our prize be?” Wisen asked, puffing up his chest. Despite my inclination to dislike him, he could be amusing.
“You get to know that we won,” Lylin said.
Wisen lamented the lack of prize with such dramatics that he pulled a laugh from Lorraina which, in my limited experience, was quite a feat. Still I was shocked when she approached him, lifted up on her toes and kissed his cheek, asking if a ‘victor’s kiss’ would be prize enough.
That sobered him up. He looked downright flattered and maybe even flustered as he thanked her for it. I glanced at Lylin to see what she thought of the exchange. She looked surprised, but also pleased. How odd. Part of me wondered if Wisen and Lorraina would get along well if given the chance. What a strange thought for a betrothed man to have. I was a cad.
“But what about Lylin?” Wisen asked. “She needs her victor’s kiss as well.”
Lylin’s smile slipped and her face paled. “No, that’s not—”
“Well, go on, Lord Fallon.” Lorraina nudged my arm. “My sister has earned her prize.”
I was speechless. Had they really just commanded me to kiss Lylin? I tried to shake off my stupor. “It would be an honor, of course,” I said, knowing that any objection on my part would seem either rude or suspicious.
I approached her, trying to read in her eyes what she was thinking, if this moment felt as heavy to her as it did to me. She looked frightened, but she didn’t step back; instead her body leaned almost imperceptibly closer when I stopped in front of her.
Heaven forgive me, I slipped a hand to her waist, feeling the curve just above her hip. At least I resisted the urge to pull her closer. I bent my head, feeling the fan of her breath on my neck as I pressed my lips to her cheek. Pulling away felt like it might tear me in two, but I did it.
When I pulled back she still had her eyes closed, her lips parted as she took in unsteady breaths. I stepped away, turning my back on the group as I pulled myself together. I shouldn’t have lingered. I should have found some way not to give her her prize.
The clapping and talk from behind me gave me only a moment to recover before Lorraina asked about heading back to the castle. I walked in a half daze back to the table where we dropped our bows before returning to the castle.
“I never realized what an amusing character Lord Wisen was,” Lorraina commented.
“Have you known him long?” I managed to ask, though I felt as if I might choke.
“To be honest, I’ve never been good at acquainting myself with people. Society is often a challenge for me.”
I gave a sardonic smile. “We have that in common.”
We fell into silence and parted in the entryway. Lorraina walked upstairs and I considered my next step. I should go deal with the correspondence from Giles, or even go for a ride. But Lylin wouldn’t leave my mind. Something about the way she had used her bow and arrow didn’t make sense. She should have been better than she was. Maybe her bow was faulty.
I turned back outside. I would check over the equipment myself, otherwise I would always wonder. I suppose it was possible that nerves had thrown off her skill, but she had seemed relaxed for the most part. Almost blasé.
I trotted back to the archery range, shocked to find Lylin still there, by herself.
I was mesmerized. Her stance was perfect, her small figure somehow unearthly and alluring with a quiver fastened around her hips. She drew and aimed, a fire in her eyes that I had never before seen. Her hands were steady as she released, sending the arrow sinking into the nine point ring, just beside Wisen’s last shot.
She didn’t stop, but immediately nocked another arrow and sighted the target. Outer edge of the ten point ring. She was magnificent and beautiful, and I was torturing myself by standing here, watching her. This wasn’t someone who let nerves affect her aim. She had thrown her aim on purpose, feigning a lack of skill because…why?
It had to be Wisen. They had been there before Loraina and I had arrived. He had been showing her the fundamentals. What a farce. What a disappointment. She had pretended to lack skill in order to cater to Wisen’s need to show off.
I shook my head in disappointment and was about to turn away, but she let another arrow fly.
She let her arms drop to her sides and seemed to wilt where she stood, looking profoundly tired.
I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned away and returned to the palace, trying to convince myself that her deception was none of my business.