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Why do you hate me so much?” Haig asked right next to her, and she sputtered. How the bloody hell did he keep doing that? Settling on his haunches, he dipped his bottle in the creek. “I knew your father, you know. The fabled Alder Crane. Royal Huntsman and master falconer. They said his arrow could hit a squirrel clean through the eye at a hundred yards.” He took a drink, then stared at the bottle in his hand. “A good man.”

“He paid for it with his life,” Aislin said thickly. All these years later and it still hurt to remember. Back then, she hadn’t understood why her father had been so determined to stay, even knowing Queen Zorana would kill him for his treachery. He could have run away, hidden here in the Elderwood like Snow White had, and Zorana never would have found him.

Haig nodded. “Do you know what he told us when he brought Snow White to our cave? He said, ‘I entrust the future into your keeping.’” A sad half-smile brought out faint laugh lines on his face. Suddenly he looked older, graver. No longer the clown and libertine, for the first time, the man sitting next to Aislin looked like a true warrior burdened by memories of death. “And there we were, outcasts and criminals, looking at this innocent young girl, and I thought, ‘The man must have lost his damned mind!’”

Aislin didn’t know what to say to that. It suddenly struck her that, were it not for the Rebel Seven, Valefort would be a much different place today. Silence stretched on as they both became lost in their thoughts, Haig staring at his hands, Aislin studying him. Perhaps there was some substance beneath that lecherous veneer after all. Aislin had seen the war take its toll on the people she knew and loved; their eyes were just as haunted as Haig’s. Those shadows couldn’t be faked, only disguised.

For a moment, she felt an involuntary kinship with Haig that somehow went deeper than shared suffering. For better or worse, they were on the same side, fighting the same battle, inside and out. They simply chose different methods. Maybe there was more to Haig than she’d first thought.

Aislin wasn’t aware of moving, but the next thing she knew, her hand was on Haig’s arm, and her lips pressed to his. She felt his sharp intake of breath, the way he tensed in surprise. Heat flooded her cheeks as she drew back, aware of how badly she’d misstepped and not entirely sure what had driven her to it.

Haig caught her elbow to stay her, pulled with gentle, inexorable pressure to bring her back. His mouth found hers, brushed back and forth, teased her lips apart. He nipped her gently, then licked between her lips, seeking entrance. Aislin forgot to breathe. His tongue played catch with hers, touching briefly, then retreating as if he was trying to lure her out. He teased, holding back and then delving deeper, but never as deep as she needed him. The maddening back and forth made her dizzy, and then he leaned away, forcing her to follow or break contact.

Aislin took the lure, shifted closer, straddled him so he wouldn’t slip away again, and then she took her due. She kissed him with a fervor utterly alien to her level-headed nature. His taste was addictive; the feel of his arms around her, his hand spearing down the back of her pants to cup the curve of her ass…

Haig groaned, curling his fingers into her flesh, bringing her hard against him. “I knew it,” he said against her lips, then rocked his hips up and kissed her again, stealing her breath before she could speak. “I knew you’d be like this. And now”—with one hand sliding deeper between her legs and the other tangled in her hair, he arched her neck to lick her pulse—“I know how to get to you.”

With his fingers playing at her wet pussy, his words were slow to penetrate, but when they did, Aislin frowned. “What?” He stroked her again, the tip of his finger dipping inside just barely, but enough to make her clench. Gods, it felt so good, she almost gave into it. Almost. Clutching his hair, she yanked him away from feasting on the sensitive spot where her neck met her shoulder to force his gaze to hers.

His drunken smile made his words all the more a mockery. “Naturally, a huntress will want to hunt. All I have to do is make you want to chase me. And then let you catch me.”

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