“Dammit,” I whispered, looking around as if I could find another escape route. Which was stupid. Unless I suddenly sprouted wings, the only exit point was through the window.
A heartbeat later, Hawke stuck his head out and looked up at me. The soft glow of the lamp glanced off his cheekbone as he raised a brow.
“Hi?” I squeaked.
He stared at me a moment. “Get inside.”
I didn’t move.
With a sigh so heavy it should’ve rattled the walls, he extended his hand toward me. “Now.”
“You could say please,” I muttered.
His eyes narrowed. “There are a whole lot of things I could say to you that you should be grateful I’m keeping to myself.”
“Whatever,” I grumbled. “Move back.”
He waited, but when I didn’t take his hand, he disappeared back into the room, grousing under his breath. “If you fall, you’re going to be in so much trouble.”
“If I fall, I’ll be dead, so I’m not quite sure how I’d also be in trouble.”
“Poppy,” he snapped, and I couldn’t help it. I grinned.
Had that been the first time he’d called me that? I thought so as I carefully inched across the ledge. Gripping the upper windowsill, I ducked down. Hawke was standing by the settee, but the moment he spotted me, he moved incredibly fast. Startled, I jerked back, but I didn’t fall. He had an arm around my waist. A second later, I was inside the room, my feet on solid ground, and the journal stuck between his chest and mine. There was still a lot of full-body contact. My stomach and legs were pressed against his, and when I drew in a breath, I could practically taste his dark spice and pine scent on my tongue. Before I could say a word, he reached up and fisted the back of my hood.
“Don’t—” I started.
He yanked it down. “A mask. This brings back old memories.” His gaze roamed, flickering over the strands of hair that had escaped my braid and now fell against my cheeks.
I flushed as I tried to pull away. He didn’t let go. “I understand you’re probably upset—”
“Probably?” He laughed.
“All right. You’re definitely upset,” I amended. “But I can explain.”
“I sure hope so, because I have so many questions,” he said, golden eyes glimmering as he stared into mine. “Starting with, how did you get out of your room, and ending with why in the gods were you on the ledge?”
The last thing I wanted to tell him about was the old servants’ entrance. I tried to put space between us. “You can let me go.”
“I can, but I don’t know if I should. You might do something even more reckless than climbing out onto a ledge that can’t be more than a foot wide.”
My eyes narrowed. “I didn’t fall.”
“As if that somehow makes this whole situation better?”
“I didn’t say that. I’m just pointing out that I had the situation completely under control.”
Hawke blinked, and then he laughed—he guffawed deeply, and the sound rumbled through me, eliciting a sharp wave of hot, tight shivers. Thankfully, he seemed unaware of the reaction. “You had the situation under control? I’d hate to see what happens when you don’t.”
I said nothing to that because I doubted whatever I would or could say would do me any favors. And neither did our proximity. Like on the Rise, the way he held me against him reminded me of our time at the Red Pearl, and that was something I didn’t need help remembering. It was hard to think clearly when he held me this close. I wiggled, trying to slip free, but it resulted in our lower bodies being more in contact.
Hawke’s arm tightened around me, and his hold felt like it had changed. As if he were no longer keeping me in place but…but holding me. Embracing me. My stomach dipped as I slowly lifted my gaze to his.
He stared down at me, the lines around his mouth taut as the silence stretched between us. I knew I should demand that he let me go. Better yet, I should make him. I knew how to escape a hold, but I…I didn’t move. Not even when he lifted his other hand and placed his fingers just below the mask. Standing here, allowing this, was possibly the sweetest torture I’d ever put myself through. He hesitated, and I wondered if he was waiting to see what I’d do, what I would say. When I still did nothing, his eyes shifted to a fierce, burning amber. His fingers drifted from the mask and slowly traced the curve of my cheekbone. My skin hummed as his stare followed the path that his fingertips took. He glided them down my face and over my parted lips. I sucked in a sharp breath, my chest suddenly feeling too tight.
His chin dipped, and my breath caught as he lowered his head. Every muscle in my body seemed to tense with a heady mix of panic and anticipation. There was intent in the way his lashes lowered, and how he leaned in. He was going to kiss me. My heartbeat danced as his lips glided across my cheek, leaving a trail of fire in their wake. I knew what I should do, but I didn’t. Maybe Hawke had been right when he’d said how I could have anything I wanted when, with a mask, I could pretend that no one knew who I was. He had to be.
Because my eyes closed, and I didn’t move. Hawke had been my first kiss, but if he kissed me now, this…this would be our real first kiss. He knew who I was now. He’d seen me unveiled. He knew.
And I wanted this—wanted him.
My heart was pounding so hard as his fingers drifted to my chin. He tilted my head back, and I felt like I was falling. His mouth moved to my ear, and his warm breath sent hot tingles through me.
“Poppy,” he murmured, the word sounding rough, thick.
“Yes?” I whispered, barely recognizing my own voice.
His fingers slid down my throat. “How did you get out of the room without me seeing you?”
My eyes popped open. “What?”
“How did you leave your chambers?” he repeated.
It took me a moment to realize that he wasn’t trying to kiss me. He was just trying to distract me. Feeling about seven different kinds of foolish, I cursed under my breath and pulled at his hold. This time, he let go.
Face flaming, I stepped back. I retreated several steps, lowering the journal as I dragged in a deep breath.
I was so incredibly…stupid.
Desperate to not let him see how close I’d come to letting him kiss me or the fact that I thought he was going to, I lifted my chin. The rawness was still there, though, and I felt no relief. “Maybe I walked right past you.”
“No, you didn’t. And I know you didn’t climb out of a window. That would’ve been impossible,” he replied. “So, how did you do it?
Frustration spiked as I turned back to the window, welcoming the cool air drifting in. I was perhaps foolish enough to get caught, but I was not stupid enough to realize that I could get away with not telling him. “There’s an old servants’ access to my chambers.” My grip tightened on the journal. “From there, I can reach the main floor without being seen.”
“Interesting. Where does it empty out on the main floor?”
I snorted as I turned back to him. “If you want to know that, you have to find out for yourself.”
He lifted a brow. “All right.”
Holding his stare, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that there still wasn’t any relief. There was just…gods, there was only disappointment that he hadn’t kissed me. And if that was an indication of anything, it was that I needed to get control of myself.
“That’s how you got onto the Rise without being seen,” he stated, and I shrugged. “I’m assuming Vikter knows all about this. Did Rylan?”
“Does it matter?”
He cocked his head. “How many people know about this entrance?”
“Why do you ask?” I challenged.
Hawke took a step toward me. “Because it’s a safety concern, Princess. In case you’ve forgotten, the Dark One wants you. A woman has already been killed, and there has already been one abduction attempt that we know of. Being able to move unseen through the castle, directly to your chambers, is the kind of knowledge he’d find valuable.”
A shiver crept across my shoulders. “Some of the servants who’ve been at Castle Teerman for a long time know about it, but most don’t. It’s not a concern. The door locks from the inside. Someone would have to break down the door, and I’d be ready if that happened.”
“I’m sure you would be,” Hawke murmured.
“And I haven’t forgotten what happened to Malessa or that someone tried to abduct me.”
“You haven’t? Then I guess you just didn’t take any of that into consideration when you decided to go gallivanting through the city to the library."
“I didn’t go gallivanting through anything. I went through Wisher’s Grove and was on the street for less than a minute,” I told him. “I also had my cloak up and this mask on. No one could even see a single inch of my face. I wasn’t worried about being snatched, but I also came prepared, just in case.”
“With your trusty little dagger?” The dimple reappeared.
“Yes, with my trusty little dagger,” I snapped, about two seconds away from throwing the thing in his face. Again. “It hasn’t failed me before.”
“And that was how you escaped abduction the night Rylan was killed?” he surmised. “The man wasn’t scared off by approaching guards.”
I exhaled noisily. There was no point in lying about this now. “Yes. I cut him. More than once. He was wounded when he was called off. I hope he died.”
“You are so violent,” Hawke all but purred.
“You keep saying that, but I’m really not.”
Hawke laughed again, the sound deep and real. “You really aren’t all that self-aware.”
“Whatever,” I muttered. “How did you even realize I was gone?”
“I checked on you,” he said, running a hand along the back of the settee. “I thought you might want company, and it seemed stupid for me to stand out in the hall bored out of my mind with you inside your room, most likely bored out of yours. Which, obviously, you were since you left.”