Dixon watched on, his mouth half open.
As she stole an occasional glance his way, she thought he must be accustomed to having his own way about everything. He expected others to concede at every turn to his authority. He probably thought she needed him. Well, she thought not.
The nighttime sounds became steadily louder. The hoot of an owl added a tenor to the bass of the bullfrogs and the soprano of the crickets singing through the night air. Far away, a dog barked, adding an offbeat percussion instrument to the mix.
When through with Reigna’s change, Mara tended to Eden. Then she pulled a blanket from her sack and wrapped it over her shoulders. She picked up the twins and headed to a large oak a few feet away, sat down, and leaned against it.
Several minutes passed as she fought to contain her anger. She closed her eyes. “I take it we’ll need to put the fire out shortly to avoid attracting any further attention. I’ll take second watch—if you don’t mind. It’s likely the girls will have me up by then anyway.” She situated one portion of the blanket to act as a pillow, then rested her head.
“You’re right,” he finally said, softly. His shoulders slumped.
She opened her eyes, filled with stinging tears again. She wiped them with the back of her hand. Her frustration renewed, she simply stared at him.
He looked down and shuffled his feet, then glanced off into the distance. “You’re right. I’ve blamed you and I’ve resented that you were there when I couldn’t be. I . . . had no choice. A—about being elsewhere, I mean.”
“Right. And neither did I—have any choice—about doing what had to be done,” she said quietly, but firmly. “We both did what we had to do. Now rather than explain myself further, I’m through with you.” She turned away again and closed her eyes. End of discussion.
Dixon stepped nearer. He squatted down and reached toward her, then pulled his hand back. He waited a few moments. “I’m . . . sorry. I shouldn’t have blamed you. I had no right to, and no reason to. You’re right—about most things anyway. I’m at fault. I failed Rowena.” He took in a deep breath. “But I swear, if you don’t send me away, I’ll not fail Reigna and Eden.”
Mara turned back.
His eyes rose to meet hers. “And I won’t fail you. I promise. Please,” he whispered, repeating his plea. “Please, I want to help. I need to help.”
She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. She was tired. It was so frustrating trying to keep peace with this difficult man. Every moment with him was demanding, exhausting.
She looked toward the fire, now reduced to shimmering coals. “I don’t know, Dixon. I admit I could use some help, but I’m not going to deal with your moodiness and blame.”
“Please. Please, I swear I would—” He swallowed hard. “I would do anything for those girls. Anything! I would . . . I would lay my life down for them.”
At that very moment, the ground shook.
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