Elise had thought they would only encounter a small stream, but she was clearly mistaken. As they made their way through the forest, a lake came into view, its waters cascading down in a spectacular waterfall.
“Is the water going to be too cold for you?” Rezette Kyrstan asked, his voice as monotonous as ever.
“No, it’s fine,” Elise replied, studying his face intently. It was no different from the first time she had laid eyes on him – those emotionless eyes, that meticulous nose, that stubbornly closed mouth. She could still remember vividly the heat emanating from his muscular frame when he had held her in his arms just a few days ago, despite his generally stoic demeanor.
“Just be careful not to get any water in your wound,” he cautioned her.
“I will,” she promised, nodding obediently.
Perhaps I’ll just test one thing, Elise thought, letting her cloak slip from her shoulders and fall to the ground. It hit the earth with a soft thud.
Her dress, which she had worn when she fled from Argan, was long past its prime—stained and threadbare. But in an army made up entirely of men, there were no women’s garments to be had, so Elise was forced to don an expensive linen shirt and pants, provided for the knights.
She knew whose they were. They had to belong to this man; there would be no one else willing to part with his clothes. Unfortunately, Rezette’s clothes were far too large for her, rendering her formless and sack-like.
The man simply watched as Elise unfastened the buttons on her dress, not saying a word or even turning away. I still don’t know what he’s thinking, Elise thought to herself. The only time she had ever seen a clear emotion in those eyes was when she had boldly shrugged her shoulder at him.
What about now? As her gaze remained fixed on the deep pools of his eyes, she undid the second button, revealing her slender clavicles. By the time she had unfastened the third button, her modestly curved chest was visible, and by the fourth button, her slender waist and smooth, moonlit skin were on display. Finally, the linen shirt fell to the ground, revealing her thighs as it brushed against them and landed on top of the discarded cloak on the grassy field.
A chill ran through her naked body, causing her to shiver. She couldn’t tell if it was because of the man in front of her, who was staring at her intently without blinking, or if it was due to the still-cool night air.
He showed no reaction, but she could feel his gaze moving over her body. Everywhere his eyes lingered, goosebumps rose on her skin and her cheeks reddened.
But she had to see it through to the end. Unable to contain herself any longer, Elise reached for the undergarments that clung to her waist and hips, her arms shaking.
As she tried to pull the remaining cloth down, her hand was seized. Elise was startled, and it was only then that she realized she had been holding her breath.
“What are you doing?” Rezette asked quietly, his overly intimidating gaze fixed on her.
“I- I just want to take a bath.” Elise stuttered, startled by his sudden presence.
“The water is still cold. It’s only been three days since you caught a fever.”
“B- but I need to wash…”
“And besides,” he continued, his voice low and almost threatening, “you’re still not fully recovered. Your body needs time to heal.”
Elise felt a tightness in the pit of her stomach as she stood before the man. She tried to control the twitching of her fingertips and the nervous tingling of her toes, but the cold air and his gaze heightened her senses. She desperately wanted to cover her exposed bre*sts with her arms, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it under his intense scrutiny. It took all her effort to avoid his piercing blue eyes, which seemed to strip her bare, but Elise held her ground.
Finally, the man looked away, suppressing a groan.
“Don’t test me, Your Highness,” he said. “I’ve already told you, I can’t be of any help to you.”
Rezette’s words hung heavy in the air. A month had passed since Elise had first met him, and yet this was only the second time she had witnessed the storm brewing in his piercing blue eyes.
Her hands were enveloped by his large, warm ones as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “The rocks will be slippery with moss,” he warned.
Elise remained silent, unable to find the words to respond.
“We will arrive at the village with the inn tomorrow. Can you not wait just one day?” he asked.
Again, Elise said nothing.
“Even if you catch a cold again, it will be difficult to delay the schedule at my discretion this time. You understand, I’m sure. It won’t work to delay the scheduled arrival date anymore.”
It was the first time the Grand Duke Kyrstan had spoken at such length to Elise.