Michigan Territory, 1828
In Which Our Hero & Heroine are Stranded Together Following a Pirate Attack...
“Edwin Laurent must be very important to you,” she cautiously phrased, sensing the need to delve carefully. “Do you wish to protect him? Or to see him held responsible for his crimes?”
He cast her a slightly reproving look. “If you believe the former, then you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”
She nearly smiled. It was a compliment, despite its circuitous delivery. She didn’t hear them often enough not to appreciate one when received, no matter how grudging its presentation.
“Why are you hunting him?” she broached, genuinely curious.
“He took something from me.”
It was a simple enough answer. Too simple. “And you’re trying to get it back?”
“No.” His voice calcified. “I can’t ever get it back.” His gaze cut away, but not before Juno witnessed an expression so bitter and unforgiving that it made the small hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. “But I can certainly make him suffer for taking it in the first place.”
The last came out in a menacing scurry of words. It came from the same dark place as where the funeral laughter resided and left her feeling equally unsettled.
Unsettled, but also sympathetic. Tragedy had hardened him. She knew this without asking. The finer details of his features were still indistinct in the dark, but the sharp angles of his face clearly stood out. His skin was pale from the cold and resembled something fashioned by stonemasons, aloof and indestructible and impervious to the ages.
And lonely. Terribly so. She suddenly craved to touch his jaw, to reshape it and watch it transform from architectural frieze to the warm flesh of the man he was meant to be.
Juno knit her brow. She was often guilty of fanciful thoughts, but that was a bit ill-considered, even for her. She prudently laced her hands together to quash any wayward impulses.
“How are you acquainted with him?” she asked, quickly delving back into the mystery of Edwin Laurent.
“You’re meddlesome,” he baldly announced, turning toward her suddenly. “And vexing. I’ve already lost count of the number of questions you’ve asked me tonight. Are you normally this intrusive?”
She did smile then, a quick little grin that she disguised by pretending to swipe at her cold nose. She wasn’t meddlesome, not usually. Usually she was passive and obedient and not at all exasperating. She was only asking so many questions now because…
Her smile vanished. She squirmed with guilt. But then her interest in Edwin Laurent was warranted, wasn’t it? This man had no way of knowing that she had knowledge that could aid his search, but Juno didn’t plan on revealing that important detail until absolutely necessary. Her wits already warned her that some sort of leverage would be required before this night was over.
“I’m simply curious,” she lied.
He slipped her an assessing look, possibly sensing her deception. “Edwin Laurent and I grew up together,” he finally disclosed, evidently finding nothing duplicitous in her expression.
Her lips slowly parted in surprise. That was unexpected. “Is he your kin?” She whispered the inquiry. For some reason, it seemed necessary to speak softly now.
“We’re no more than elbow relations.”
He was lying. Juno didn’t know why she unconsciously knew this, but Edwin Laurent was no distant relation. She would gamble he was someone much, much closer, but instinct also warned it wouldn’t be wise to reach too deeply into this man’s dark secrets.
This man? She was weary of the vague designation. “I’ll have your name now,” she insisted, this from a woman who never insisted upon anything.
His mouth twisted wryly. “Oh, you will, will you? It’s Malcolm Moreau,” he supplied, a heavy sigh capping off the introduction. It was a peculiarly disappointed sound, as if he was disgruntled by his failure to remain anonymous. “I shouldn’t want to disappoint such a meddlesome little tadpole by withholding my name any longer.”
And it was a name she liked immensely. It fit easily into her mind, reminiscent of a seed sowing itself, to be recalled for years hence. A strange notion, that.
“I’m Juno Brock,” she readily offered in turn, even though it hadn’t escaped her notice that he hadn’t asked.
She dissected the expression on Malcolm’s face. It was a strange distortion of disbelief, surprise, and laughter, but not the nice kind. "Jupiter's wife?" His eyes flashed entertainingly. "All this time, the queen of heaven was right here beside me? I don’t see your armor, Mighty Juno,” he teased, his head tilting in a leisurely inspection of her figure. “Where are you hiding it?”
She detected no unseemliness in his gaze, nor did she think he’d intended his words to resonate with flirtatious overtones. It was an unexpected moment of playfulness from a man unaccustomed to levity, but her body didn’t know that.
The surface area of her skin reacted shockingly to the sweep of his gaze. Her exhausted body was no longer exhausted as capillaries heated and plumped with the eager flush of attraction. The force of it took by her by surprise. Malcolm Moreau was a man who knew how to give looks, even when aforesaid looks weren’t meant to be taken seriously.
She pretended a sudden, keen interest in the owl feather. “Very few people are familiar with the reference,” she modestly dismissed. Beyond Cecil, of course, who seemed to think a Roman namesake for one such as she a great hilarity.
“I would imagine not,” he ruminated, still rudely amused. “You’re the first Juno I’ve ever met.”
She ran her thumb down the feather’s contours, finding comfort in the feel of individual barbs fringing and separating. “And now that we’ve met and been properly introduced,” she reflected, petulance creeping into her tone, “you needn’t refer to me as frog spawn any longer.”
“And deprive me of your delightful reaction whenever I do so?” His face had already returned to its customary somber proportions, but that made a small smile cavort along the edges of his too-serious mouth. “I think not, tadpole.”