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The siblings scattered toward different sections of the house, their voices becoming faint as they either went upstairs or closed themselves into various rooms on the ground floor. Fara glanced at the front door. Two weeks had passed since she had seen her husband. They both lived very differently. She had adapted to Enoch’s schedule of rising before the sun, and she spent her mornings with her brother-in-law, feeding the animals and throwing down fresh hay. After that, Enoch usually went back inside, while Fara climbed onto Rusty and rode around the estate. She came in late every evening and ate dinner separately, then shut herself into her room.
Looking to either side of herself, Fara realized that she was completely alone and approached the window. She pushed aside the curtain and looked out at Marc, who was bowed over a tree so tall that Fara didn’t imagine that it would fit anywhere in the house, not even the ballroom, with its towering ceiling. He meticulously shaved off the ends of limbs that stretched out so far that they could have passed for trees themselves.
She smiled a little as he went to back up and stumbled over the sinewy arms of the pine. Putting down his saw, he reached into his pocket for a strap of velvet and put up his hair in a messy knot. Several strands slipped out and whipped across his face.
With a soft chuckle, Fara called over a maid and handed her the plate of lukewarm food. She then dressed herself in her coat and boots, and opened the front door. Once she was outside, the tree somehow appeared even more immense. Standing on one of the steps, Fara placed her hands in the pockets of her coat and called out, “You look miserable.”
Marc’s head jerked up. A moment passed that he simply looked at her, his expression revealing nothing except his surprise at her approach, and then a grin spread across his face. “My siblings are good-for-nothing brats,” he said, his eyes glowing with amusement. “They enthusiastically tore down this poor tree, and then left me with the difficult work.”
“They’re idealists,” Fara remarked.
When Marc picked up the saw and returned to his work, Fara turned away, intending to go back inside. Suddenly, something shifted in the lowest pocket on her coat, and before she could investigate, a green lizard popped out and landed on the ground with a muffled thump. He darted toward the tree, slithering away so quickly that Fara, by the time she bent down to scoop Bug back up, only grasped two handfuls of snow.
“Bug!” She cried out, jumping off of the step and hurrying toward the tree. Bug vanished beneath the blanket of needles. “Marc, Bug went into the tree!”
Marc immediately came to her side and helped her lift up a few of the branches, but Bug was nowhere to be found. “Bug!” Fara said, clicking her tongue. “Bug, come here! Enough of this hiding! This isn’t funny, you damn lizard.”
As Marc continued to dig through the branches, he laughed. “I don’t think he’ll come if you curse at him. I certainly wouldn’t. Bug knows to avoid the wrath of an angry woman.”
Rolling her eyes, Fara said, “Fuck.”
Marc’s shoulders began to shake from how hard he was laughing. “Bug, you’d better come out in the next ten seconds, or else you might be skinned and eaten for breakfast tomorrow.”
As if he somehow understood that his life was in danger, Bug burst back out from under the tree, a few needles clamped in his mouth. Fara rushed over to the lizard and made a grunting noise when she collided with Marc, who had the same idea. They tumbled to the ground, and Marc reflexively threw his hand out to the side and grabbed the lizard.
Once Bug was safely put away in Marc’s pocket, Fara took a deep breath and struggled to get up. She rubbed against the full length of Marc’s body while she sought to find the purchase that she needed to stand. He stayed perfectly still, half of him sunk into the snow. She looked up at his face, discovered that his hair had come loose and spilled all over his shoulders and chest. Flags of color turned his cheeks the faintest red.
“I need your help,” Fara said, placing one of her hands on his chest.
For some reason, she gripped him harder when he put his hand on the nape of her neck, sprinkling her in white, icy crystals. He lifted his head and placed his mouth against hers, kissing her so gently that his lips felt like velvet. As he parted her lips with his tongue, she tasted cinnamon and the bitter burn of coffee.
Fara drew back. Lowering his hand to the nape of her neck, Marc rubbed circles with the tips of his fingers. She didn’t even think about what she was saying when she murmured, “Who are you?”
Abruptly pushing herself upright, she stood and knocked snow from her clothing. Without another word, she hurried back into the house, and as she shut the door behind her, she realized that he hadn’t responded.
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