Exhausted, Dixon halted, happy to call an end to their traveling for the day. His back hurt. His feet hurt. His head hurt. For the past two days, he and Mara had followed a scant trail up the mountain that would take them back to the main route. The going was slow.
He dropped his saddlebags and backpack, then surveyed the immediate area for kindling to start a fire. The cool night air boasted the fresh scent of pine. He flinched as a bird flew out from the nearby brush, before returning to his task. He needed to hurry, as darkness—and with it, the cold—would soon descend.
After accumulating a sizable stack of dry leaves and twigs, he reached forward and flicked his fingers. The heap burst into flames. Once done, he widened his search for fuel to add to the fire, chopping up larger dry branches for use when the fire got going well.
“Is your hand better now?”
Mara’s query surprised him into silence. After traveling for weeks now, she seemed more comfortable with him than at the outset of their journey, but she still flinched any time he got too close to her, and she rarely spoke to him unless he initiated the conversation. He continually reminded himself to allow her the space she needed and not to take personally, the fact that she kept a considerable distance between them. But his heart ached. He longed to bask in her beauty, to touch her. He couldn’t forget, even for a moment, that she’d be surprised, and maybe even frightened, if he acted with too much familiarity. From time to time he found her watching him from a distance, but each time when his eyes met hers, she averted her gaze.
“Oh, yes.” He tugged on the bandage wrapped around his left hand. “Sorry. Yes, I think it’s better.” He wanted to keep the conversation moving, but found himself suddenly at a loss for words. He thought it odd that Mara could be right at his side, yet he could still miss her so much. He wondered if it might be easier if they were actually physically separated. At least then she wouldn’t be so close, yet so far away.
“Did you say something?” she asked, turning his way.
He pulled back. Was her magic working? He certainly hadn’t meant for her to hear his thoughts. But . . . had she? He grinned.
Her eyes narrowed.
Another false alarm. He turned away. “No, I didn’t say anything.”
“It’s not infected, is it?”
He faced her. Immediately, she turned away to resume her task, grooming their mounts.
He watched in silence for a moment. “I don’t think so. I’ll take a look after we settle in.” For a moment, he found himself grateful for the injury he’d suffered when he cut his hand the previous day. At least it got Mara talking to him, if only for a moment.
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