She smiled, her blue eyes sparkling with mirth, and Jase knew he had been
caught. Tana didn’t mind if men looked. If anything, she seemed to enjoy it. It
was only if you tried to touch her that there was a problem. For other men,
anyway. Not for him. And that was his problem. She liked to be held by him.
She did, in fact, go out of her way to see that it happened. At first he hadn’t
minded, but his feelings for her had changed. He couldn’t say why exactly, and
it was giving him fits trying to figure it out.
Her hair, light brown with a faint hint of red he found intriguing, was pulled
back into a ponytail, and he found his eyes wandering to her exposed neck.
With an effort he looked away, his face flushing once more.
She smiled and reached over to finger his hair. “You’ve been hiding from
me, Jase,” she said teasingly. She turned to Daris. “Hello, Captain,” she said
politely. “Where are those two young smart-mouths you’ve been training? They
haven’t been in for almost a week.”
Daris leaned back in his chair and shrugged. “Irei na koires es rei’as, kata na
dren es troblai,” he said in the Old Tongue, then translated, “The beauty of the
rose is fleeting, the sting of the thorn deep.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” she demanded.
Jase answered for him. “It means that no matter how pleasant you are to
look at, if you stick them with that sharp tongue of yours, they lose interest.”
She laughed. “You would think someone as obnoxious as Greig could
handle it. I simply told him the only sharp thing about him was his sword. If he
is afraid to come back, then maybe I was right.”
Daris chuckled, and Jase looked to see a mischievous grin splitting his face.
“Apparently, Greig isn’t the only one who’s afraid to visit your tavern,” he said,
looking pointedly at Jase.
“I’ve been busy,” he replied with a shrug. “Spring crops and such. You know
how it is.”
Tana turned to Daris, “Pretty lame excuse, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’d say so, yes.”
Jase frowned at both of them. “I’ll have an ale,” he told Tana. “Daris?”
“Well, since he’s buying, bring me something expensive.”
Daris watched until she disappeared into the kitchen. “Now that is a fine-looking
young woman,” he said approvingly, looking over to see what Jase would
All he could do was shake his head in defeat. It was no secret that Tana was
in love with him. She made it obvious every time she saw him. What made it
awkward was that he didn’t feel the same way toward her. They had been
friends since they were toddlers—very close friends, in fact—and everyone in
town assumed they would some day marry. Now that they were at the right age,
people were starting to think it should be soon. It made being around her
difficult. He loved her dearly, but he wasn’t in love with her.
“Yes, sir,” Daris continued. “The young man who catches her heart will
certainly be lucky.”
“Oh, shut up,” he hissed, looking at the door to the kitchen.
Daris smiled. “So when are you two lovebirds going to get married?”
Jase wanted to hit him. If not for the table between them, he might have.
Before Jase could answer, Tana came out carrying their drinks.
“There you go. Just holler if you want something else.” She went to check
on the other patrons.
Jase lowered his voice to a whisper. “Because I don’t love her, that’s why.
I mean I love her, just not in the way everyone thinks.”
“Oh.” Daris said sipping his drink. “And when did you decide this?”
“When I kissed her at New Year’s.”
Daris choked. “You kissed her? Miss think-about-touching-me-and-I’ll-break-your-
face let you kiss her?”
Jase stared into the bottom of his glass, wishing he could crawl in it and
hide. “Well, she sort of initiated it.”
Daris leaned forward. “And...”
“It was like kissing my sister.”