Readers get a glimpse of the attachment forming between Mara and Dalin
When the stable door opened behind her, Mara automatically reached for her sword and touched only empty air. She closed her right hand into a fist, stepped her right foot back and flexed her knees. Dalin held out both palms, as he ducked into the doorway. A pointless gesture, really, she knew he was carrying at least one weapon.
“Ready to punch me again so soon?” he joked. The faint light left his face in shadow.Mara relaxed her fist. “You promised me sparring, Gaishan. Here is as good as anywhere.”Dalin appraised her attire. “While I’m sure you’re ready, even in a dress, I came out here to say good night. Sparring is in the near future though, I promise. My dad wants to work with you too.”Suddenly it occurred to Mara that people in Satri lived far from each other, not within easy reach like at Protector House. “You didn’t ride Herald,” she said. “Is your home close to here?”“Yes and no. Sometimes I just like to walk.” He moved closer. “What is it?”Throat tight, she couldn’t find the words to explain about every last thing seeming new, about meeting the Tree in her dream, about him living far away. He was a stranger and, technically an enemy, but at least he was a soldier too.“Look, I know I said you would be safer in the South. And you are, despite the fight outside the city this morning,” he said.“How are those men?” she asked, flushing with fresh guilt.“Oh settling in,” Dalin said. “Looking forward to finding work and a place to live. Did you figure out what you did?”Mara closed her eyes and swallowed hard, “I don’t know.”Dalin slid his thumb and forefinger along a loose strand of her hair. “Whatever you did, it probably saved my life. Thank you.” He wrapped one arm around Mara and pulled her sideways into his chest.
“Of course,” she said, inhaling his now-familiar smell. “You’d have done the same for me.” Standing so close, she could hear his heart beat.
Dalin stroked down the length of her braid. “Does Elana have plans for you tomorrow?”
With a sigh Mara said, “She says we need to go shopping for non-military clothes. The Browns will be looking for a Protector female and so I should try to blend in.”“She’s right, civilian clothes will help.” His arm tightened a fraction. “But I’ll get you a practice uniform from Nuwa so you won’t have to fight our dad in a dress.”Mara smiled at the image he sent of she and Jin, both wearing dresses, circling and throwing kicks.
He took her hand and spun her out and then back against him. “Have fun shopping,” he said. He gave Mara one more squeeze and stepped away. “Ask Jameson to get you a leg sheath for a throwing knife.” He tapped his temple, walked to the stable door. “You know how to reach me if you need me. Rest well.”“Rest well,” she responded as the door swung shut.
She turned and kissed her mare on the nose. “I’ll take you out soon,” she promised.
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