The following was writter for the Sugar and Spice event for Valentine's Day over at PeopleofThedas at Dream Width. Please make sure to check out the other stories. There are some awesome fics over there by some very talented writers.

The poem in the story is actually titled Love Sonnet XVII, and was written by Pablo Neruda. (Roman numerals seemed a bit out of place, so I opted for numbers, instead.) Enjoy!.


Anders winced as he eased into the hot bath water. Maker, it felt like every muscle in his body had been pummeled, all six hundred and something of them. He never could remember just how many. Not that it mattered, since no two scholars seemed to agree on the exact number. It only mattered that he hurt…a lot.

He gazed down at his torso. At least, the bruising didn't seem so bad this time. Reaching into the Fade, the magic answered him, flowing down his nerves like sweet wine, curling out of his fingertips in a soft golden haze and around the mottled purple splotches on his arms and chest. Sighing in relief as the soreness and pain faded along with the bruises, he leaned back in the tub.

Pounce jumped up and balanced on the rounded edge, her bright green eyes intent on the soap bubbles that drifted across the top of the bath water.

"Tell me again why I decided to become an Arcane Warrior?" he asked the small gray cat.

She looked up, meowed, then sauntered along the tub's narrow wooden lip as if she were gliding down the wide stone wall that surrounded the training yard. When she reached his head, she rubbed the side of her face against his stubbly cheek.

"It's because of her, isn't it?"

Pounce replied with a purr which he took as agreement, then set to grooming herself where he'd stroked a wet finger along her shoulder.

Sighing, Anders sank further down, until the ends of his hair were drifting in the water. He'd said once, in a rare self-pitying mood, that all he wanted out of life was a decent meal, a pretty woman, and the right to zap fools with lightning. Being a Grey Warden gave him the opportunity, if not the right, to zap fools…well, at least darkspawn. And that cook from Orlais, Maker, what the man could do with the simplest ingredients. As for the pretty woman…

Pounce slipped off the edge when she turned. For a few moments, there was only flailing, wet cat, then the sloshing of bath water as he managed to scoop her up before gently depositing her on the stone floor beside the tub. Of course, she looked at him as if the entire incident was his fault, then stalked out of the bathing room, alternately shaking each paw to rid it of the offending water.

Anders sighed and ducked beneath the surface, trying not to think of how Cauthrien had trounced him…again… in the training yard. He didn't expect familiarity when she was instructing him in the finer points of how not to stab himself in the foot - or other body parts - during training sessions. He understood there was nothing personal in the aloof and detailed critiques of his performance (or lack thereof) and the snapped commands to pay attention to what he was doing, he really did. But outside the training yard…he sighed, blowing out bubbles across the surface of the water as he emerged.

Outside the yard, she paid him no more mind than any other trainee, a brief, cool smile for his greeting when they passed in the grey stone hallways of the keep if she was in a good mood or a curt nod if something pre-occupied her. The same responses she'd given him before he'd thought up this scheme to learn sword fighting in order to get her attention

I must be mad, putting myself through this, he thought, soaping up a wash cloth, then scrubbing his arms. Almost a month, and he was no closer to wooing her into his bed, or even into a kiss, or anything beyond a brief hello. A month of bruises and sore muscles and nursing his pride. Maybe he should just give it up as a lost cause and find someone else to pursue. The new recruit with the short copper-red hair and the dimpled cheeks just fresh from her Joining, perhaps? She'd certainly been giving him the eye the last week.

It seemed like a good notion. Except for one little, nagging thing.

Cauthrien was a goddess who'd prowled his dreams from the moment she'd arrived at Vigil's Keep three and a half months ago to take up a position as second to Loghain, now Warden Commander. She'd been his second when he'd commanded the armies, so her being here really shouldn't have been the surprise that it was to people.

Tall and sleek, with thick dark hair he wanted to twine around his fingers, and dark eyes he could easily spend hours gazing into. Underneath the smell of armor polish and weapon oil that lingered about her, he always scented wind and some maddening floral scent he couldn't identify. She moved like a cat, every motion sure and lithe. And Pounce liked her. More, Pounce seemed to adore her. His cat was very particular about who she let scratch her behind the ears. If Pounce's affection wasn't a ringing endorsement, he didn't know what was.

He sighed and slipped out of the tub, dried off, then slipped into clean robes, the Tevinter style he favored.

As he padded down the hall toward the keep dining room, he caught the scent of sage and onion. Pork chops for lunch, probably with those oven-roasted potatoes all brown and savory from the drippings. Pork chops also meant baked apples and hard cider. His mouth watered and he quickened his pace.


Anders leaned back in his chair and sighed contentedly. Except for a small mound of bones, his plate was clean, down to the last drop of brown gravy. He thought about another mug of hard cider, then decided against it. There were some new variations on healing spells he wanted to study this afternoon.

Oghren, sitting across the trestle table from him, wiped a hand across the back of his mouth and eyed Anders' plate.

"Damn, sparkle-fingers, you keep eating like that and they're gonna' have to roll you out of here." He belched, then poured himself a fresh mug of ale.

Anders smirked. "Like they don't get enough practice with you?"

"Heh, rollin' dwarves, maybe. Not mages." Oghren squinted at something floating on top of his ale, then picked it out and flicked it away, not looking where he aimed it.

"Hey, watch it," Anders said, wiping at his chest with his napkin.

"Oh, don't get your knickers in a twist. It's just pig fat."

"Fat stains are hard to get out." Anders pulled his robe away from his chest, scrutinizing the fabric. Satisfied, he dropped his napkin on his plate.

"So, how's the sword whackin' goin? Kill any training dummies, yet?"

Oghren pushed his plate to one side, and pulled the ale pitcher closer. Not that anyone around him would touch it. The rest of the Wardens knew better than to get between the dwarf and his ale.

"No, but I think I might have wounded a few," Anders said with a smirk.

"Still don't understand why you want to swing a hunk of steel. Those sodding lightning bolts you throw around are pretty damn good at gettin' rid of anything in yer way."

Anders shrugged, and drained the last mouthful of cider in his cup. "Let's just say I'd like to have another option besides hiding behind you when my mana runs out."

Of course, Cauthrien walked in at that moment, still wearing her armor from the morning training session. Sweat glistened on her brow, giving a sheen to skin tanned the color of honey. The stray wisps of hair that had escaped the tight bun she always wore softened her face, giving her an almost girlish look around those deep brown eyes.

Anders tracked her to the serving table where she filled a plate, grabbed up a knife and fork, then hurried away, without sparing anyone a glance.

When Anders looked back, he saw Oghren smirking at him.

"Options, yeah. Always good to have…options."

Rolling his eyes, Anders rose, wished him a good afternoon, then hurried back to his room.

Pounce, curled on a corner of blanket on the unmade bed, briefly opened one eye then settled back to her nap as he closed the door behind him, then leaned against it. Maker, if Oghren suspected his interest, then probably half the Keep was gossiping up their sleeves behind his back. Not that he minded gossip about his exploits with the feminine gender. But there hadn't been any, not with Cauthrien, anyway. Though, in all fairness, Oghren was more perceptive about some things than he let on. So, maybe half the keep wasn't snickering over his making moon-eyes at the Warden Commander's Second. Maybe only a third of them were. And if he was really lucky, it might even be less than ten percent. Not that that would last. After eating and sex -not necessarily in that order- gossip was a favorite Warden pastime.

Anders pushed away from the door, and settled at his desk, shoving a pile of scribbled notes to one side. He pulled the heavy tome on healing magic in front of him and flipped it open to where he'd left off. The woman who wrote it had some innovative ideas about making healing spells more efficient, but her dense prose and crabbed handwriting didn't make for easy reading.

He'd intended to make some progress this afternoon, he really had. But after reading the same paragraph five times, and still not making sense of it, he gave up and pushed the book to one side.

The curtain shifted inward and the scent of roses and blooming thyme drifted into his room. That's what he needed. A stroll in the garden to clear his head. Maybe he'd even have some inspiration about how to get through or around that cool exterior Cauthrien always threw up between them, since reducing training dummies to splinters and collecting an assortment of bruises didn't seem to be having the desired effect.


Being locked away in a grey stone tower had given Anders an appreciation of open spaces. While the notion of tramping through the wild woods didn't appeal to him, he did like gardens. All the benefits of greenery and color, without the fuss and bother of mud, or a dangerous creature lurking in the underbrush, ready to leap out and devour him.

Mid-afternoon, almost no one visited the large flower and herb garden tucked behind the kitchen at the back of the keep. So he hadn't expected to find Cauthrien, minus her armor now, settled on a wrought iron chair under a pear tree and reading. Close to her elbow stood a small matching table with a tray of tea things and a small vase holding a few sprigs of lilac.

He started and ducked down behind a heavy screen of raspberry bushes, just past a spreading maple tree. Carefully, he peeked around the edge of the bushes. Cauthrien still had her nose buried in the book. Good, she hadn't seen him. He wondered what she was reading. Probably some weighty volume about tactics or strategy, something to do with fighting. He couldn't imagine her reading one of those steamy, sordid romance things that Wynne loved. She smiled, then flipped a page.

That smile sent a little tingle through his heart. In that moment, he understood why he'd spent most of the last month embarrassing himself in the training yard. It just wasn't lust that drove him this time, or the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge. He was still trying to puzzle it out when a warm, slender hand slipped over his mouth and a strong arm encircled his shoulders pinning him against his assailant.

"Relax, my friend, I've spent the last few minutes observing you drooling over the vision of female loveliness taking tea under the pear tree. I'd like to offer you some advice, if I may," a familiar voice whispered in his ear.

Anders released the magic he'd instinctively called and his eyes slid to his left. "..evra..?"

Zevran chuckled. "The same." The assassin released him, and Anders twisted around, staying below the top of the raspberry bushes. He tugged at his robes, and kept his voice to a whisper.

"I was not drooling."

"Oh, it certainly looked like that from where I was sitting." Zevran's amber eyes glanced in Cauthrien's direction, and he smirked.

Anders resisted the urge to repeat himself about not drooling. "Just where were you sitting? I didn't see you when I entered."

Zevran rolled his eyes. "In the tree. Really, you Fereldans need to learn to look up once in a while."

"Yes… well…" Anders frowned, not quite sure how to answer that. "What were you doing in that tree?"

"Oh, a training exercise for some of the recruits." He waved his hand in the direction of the training yard. "Some of them show some talent for tracking and skulking about in shadows, so the Warden Commander decided my Warden and I should give them the benefit of our expertise during our visit."

Anders blinked. "Really? I always thought Loghain preferred a more direct approach to fighting."

"I think he prefers whatever seems to be most effective. He's quite a pragmatic man, your Commander."

Anders really wasn't in a mood to discuss politics. And he was starting to get leg cramps from crouching, though Zevran appeared quite comfortable.

"You said something about…advice?"

Zevran nodded. "Yes, I'd like to offer you the benefit of my expertise, as it were." He glanced around him. "But such things are better discussed over a glass of good wine or brandy in a more congenial location. Might I suggest the balcony in the visitor's suite?"

Accepting love advice from an assassin? He really must be desperate. But just because he listened to it didn't mean he had to take it. Besides, Anders was curious as to what Zevran had in mind.

"All right."

"Excellent. I promise you won't regret it." Then he glided back up the tree, disappearing behind the thick foliage when he was only halfway up.

Anders squinted through the leaves for a moment, trying to see the path Zevran had taken. Then he shrugged, and keeping low so Cauthrien wouldn't spot him, he sidled out of the garden and headed for the visitor's suite.


Slouched in a very comfortable chair and sipping his third brandy, Anders wondered when Zevran was going to get around to offering advice on how to win Cauthrien over. So far, all he'd heard were a series of stories centered on the assassin's own conquests before he'd left Antiva for Ferelden.

"Yes, she was quite the challenge," Zevran said, finishing his latest tale and swirling the brandy in his glass.

"Zevran?"

"Hmmm, yes?" Zevran sipped his drink, regarding Anders over the rim of his glass.

"Do all these stories have a point?"

The assassin muttered something in Antivan, then sighed and put his glass next to a slim book on the small round table between them.

"Haven't you been listening?"

"Of course, I bloody have. I just…" He waved the hand holding his glass, sending brandy drops flying in all directions. Zevran rose and gently pulled the glass out of his hand.

"First, show some respect for the brandy. It's older than you are. Second…" He settled back in his chair. "The 'point', as you so eloquently put it, is to find out what our delectable Second-in-Command is interested in and then use that to woo her."

Anders blinked. "That's it? That's your advice? Find out what she likes and…" He sprang up, waving his arms. "Fine bloody advice. I could have figured something that obvious out for myself."

Zevran leaned back, his eyes cool. "If it's so obvious, why haven't you done it, hmm? Instead of hiding in the bushes and spying on her like some love-addled adolescent who's just discovered sex?"

An angry red flush crept up Anders neck and into his face before he answered. "That was low…really, really low."

"It was meant to be." He picked up the book and tossed it into Anders lap. "I believe she was reading this when you found her in the garden."

Anders flipped it over, and read the title below a sun-burst design on the front cover. He frowned at the name, not certain how to pronounce it.

"Who is this?"

"Joaquin Canedo? An Antivan poet, quite famous, actually." Zevran retrieved his glass. "At least in Antiva. I will admit I'm quite curious as to how our rather stoic lady commander came to be acquainted with him. His poetry can be rather…passionate. You can keep that copy, if you wish."

Anders smirked. "So, you're saying she likes dirty ditties?'

Zevran rolled his eyes again. "You Fereldans. Passion isn't always about fucking, though that can be quite an enjoyable aspect. One I have indulged in many times, of course." He finished off the last of his brandy, then set his glass on the table. Leaning forward he tapped the book. "I suggest you start with the sonnet on page ten."

Zevran rose and stretched, and Anders couldn't help but notice the resemblance to Pounce in the fluid, languid movements.

"Well, best I get back to the training exercise. I probably should let them find me." Zevran paused in the doorway and turned around. "You know, I've heard a saying in Ferelden that a person is known by the company they keep. I suspect that holds true for what they read as well."

Then he was gone before Anders could ask him what he bloody well meant by that. He sighed and settled back, flipping the book open to page ten.

Love Sonnet 17

I do not love you as if you were a salt rose, or topaz

or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms

but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;

thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,

risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

So I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

He stared at the page for a long time. He wasn't quite sure what it meant, only that the poet meant something deeper than a physical coupling.

Anders frowned. He certainly wasn't 'in love' with her, not as in feeling like they were one, as the last two lines seemed to suggest. Then he thought of her smile in the garden, soft and sweet, a smile he'd never seen her show in public, but one he would like to have turned on him. And what he was doing to get it? Hiding in the bushes like a 'love-addled adolescent' and making moon-eyes in the dining hall where Oghren could smirk about it.

"Oh, yes, just bloody brilliant, Anders," he muttered to himself, then rose and headed back to his room where he spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening reading the slim volume Zevran had given him.

After he read the last poem, he leaned back and rubbed his eyes, Pounce curled up and purring softly on his lap. What was he supposed to do with this? Memorize a poem or two, then dazzle her with a recitation? Somehow, he had a feeling that wasn't going to impress her. Besides, Cauthrien had obviously not wanted anyone to know of her fondness for a certain Antivan poet. Why else would she be reading him in a garden hardly anyone visited in the middle of the day?

The line from the first poem he'd read, something about loving in secret, echoed in his head. He turned it over for a while, then smiled, a plan taking shape in his mind.


Anders skipped sideways, deftly avoiding the two-handed sweep aimed at his head. He smiled. Hey, maybe he was starting to get the hang of this. The gong sounded, signaling the end of training. Heaving a sigh a relief, he pulled off his helmet, thanked his partner for the sparring, then turned, thinking of a long, hot soak, and what flowers he was going to leave in the vase on Cauthrien's table today. The lilacs were finished, but the rose bushes still had plenty of blooms left. Maybe one or two of those deep, velvety red ones he'd seen blooming by the front door of the keep?

"Anders."

"Yes, Commander?" Maker, how did she do that? Make his name sound like a command. He turned, expecting the usual dispassionate dissection of his performance.

"You did well today." Brusque, as always. But, hey, wait, did she just compliment him?

"Uh, thank you."

She smiled, with just a hint of warmth. "I know I've been hard on you. But only because you show some promise."

He blinked. "I do?"

"Yes. I think I might be able to turn you into a decent swordsman, after all." Her fingers brushed over the pommel of her sword. "You're starting to anticipate, not just react. I think you'll be ready to start adding some of the simpler spells in another month or two."

"Really?"

Her smile deepened, reached a little higher towards her eyes. A shadow of the smile he'd seen in the garden, but he still savored it.

"Really. Now, go clean up. We can discuss the details during training tomorrow." Then she strode away, calling out to another of the recruits.

Anders stood there a moment, grinning, then turned, wanting to let loose the whoop of joy bubbling in his chest. But he managed to restrain himself, he did have a certain magely dignity to uphold, after all.

Later that day, he literally ran into Cauthrien in one of the numerous side hallways of the keep on his way to dinner. Going over his brief conversation with her after training, examining every tiny gesture, every nuance of her words, and that ambiguous smile, he didn't notice her until she bounced off him.

She looked up dazed, the half-opened rose he'd left cradled in her hand. In her other, she held the copy of one of the poems he'd placed beside it this day. It had taken him seven tries before he'd been satisfied that the script was elegant enough.

"Oh, I'm sorry…I didn't see…" he started to say, rubbing his nose where he'd bumped into her head.

She glanced at the rose, then the paper, and flushed slightly as she stuffed it into her trouser pocket. "No, it's my fault. I should have been paying attention to where I was going."

"Well, hardly anyone uses this hallway." He decided to take a chance, and motioned to the rose, grinning. "Secret admirer?"

She flushed again, then gave him a sharp-eyed look. "How do you know it's from an admirer?"

Oh, Maker, maybe that wasn't such a good idea. "Uh, it's a rose." He leaned back on his heels and tried to settle into a casual pose. "I've heard that, sometimes, a gentleman leaves such things for a lady he fancies."

"Oh?" She arched a brow.

"Yes, at least, that's what Wynne says the gentlemen do in all those…books she reads, like The Rose of Orlais."

"Oh, Maker, spare me from romance readers."

"You don't like romances?"

"No, I don't."

Well, she was nothing, if not direct. Not a bad trait, really. At least you knew where you stood with a person like that.

"What do you like?" he asked, startling himself, as well as her, judging by the way her eyes widened a little at the question.

She glanced down at the rose. "I like things with depth." He found himself falling into the velvet, brown deeps of her eyes when she looked up. "I like things that are honest and straightforward. Things that don't pretend to be something they're not." She held up the rose. "If someone is going to give me flowers, I prefer to know whose hand they're coming from."

"Maybe…" And Maker he couldn't believe he was really going to say this. "Maybe whoever left them…it…was afraid you wouldn't want them if you knew who it came from."

There it was, he suddenly realized, the reason he hadn't approached her directly. He swallowed and hoped she didn't notice it.

She smiled, like she had in the garden, as she gazed down at the rose. "Maybe he should approach me directly and find out." She looked up, some of that softness receding, but not wholly. "At least, that's what I would tell him if I saw him."

"Really?"

"Really."

He glanced at the flower in her hand, pummeling his brain for something clever to say. Through an open window, he heard the chantry bell ringing, signaling the dinner hour.

Her face settled back to the Commander he saw every day in the training yard.

"I don't mean to be rude, but I have a pile of papers on my desk. Requisitions, requests for leave…" She waved a hand. "I really should take care of it now if I'm going to get any sleep before the training exercise planned for tonight."

"Training exercise?"

"Oh, just a little something Zevran and the Warden planned for some of the recruits." She inclined her head. "So, I'll wish you good night now." Then she smiled and headed down the hall in the direction of her office.

He stood there for a long moment, thinking. It wasn't like him to be flustered about a woman, but she wasn't like any woman he'd ever tried to woo before. Still, the way she'd just smiled at him…

With a lighter step, he headed for the dining room.


Someone was shaking him.

"Mmph, go away, I'm not on duty toady," Anders mumbled, trying to crawl back into a dream about Cauthrien and a bed full of rose petals. Why was it that just as you were getting to the good part of a dream, someone always had to wake you?

Someone, smelling like spilled ale poked him in the ribs. "C'mon, sparkle-fingers, rise and shine. Cauthrien's been hurt."

Ander's head jerked up, the pillow spilling onto the floor. "Hurt?"

Zevran, standing beside Oghren, tossed the mage a pair of pants. "Get dressed. We can discuss it on the way."

Anders quickly pulled on his clothes, then followed the two hurrying down the hallway. Maker, for being shorter than him, Zevran could really move.

"Is it bad? Is she conscious?" Anders asked.

"Yes to the second," Zevran said. "As for the first, that depends." The lanterns pulled shifting shadows along the walls as they hurried down the hallway, in the direction of the infirmary.

"What happened?"

"Darkspawn showed up," Oghren said. "Nothing we couldn't handle. But the horses got spooked. Commander got thrown, then the horse stepped on her foot." He chuckled. "Still managed to take down one of them. Woman's got balls."

When they reached the infirmary, Anders breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that they'd already removed her armor. But she looked so pale, lying there, her right hand tangled in the sheets.

He swallowed when he looked at the blood soaked bandage around her foot.

"The horse…sort of pranced a bit, panicked," Oghren said.

And she'd probably been putting her weight on it too, Anders thought. In the middle of a battle, it sometimes took a while before the pain of an injury was felt. He pulled up a stool and settled at the end of the bed.

He looked up when she winced as he unwrapped the bandages.

"Hey, it'll be all right," he said. She just nodded.

He let his awareness sink into her injured foot. Five of the long bones had several cracks, but none of them seem displaced or out of alignment. Inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief. Still, even with the modified healing spells he'd been learning it was going to take at least two to three weeks for her to recover.

"How bad is it?" Cauthrien asked.

He looked up. "Five broken bones, but nothing I can't heal. In three weeks or so, you'll be kicking recruits across the training yard again."

The ghost of a smile touched her lips. "Really?"

"Really."

He set to work then, setting up a pain block and murmuring a short spell to send her to sleep. Sometime around dawn he staggered to his feet after re-wrapping her foot with clean bandages, and making sure her leg was elevated. He'd done as much as he could, for now. The rest was up to her.

He paused after checking her pulse, gazing down at her. She still slept. She looked…not fragile, exactly. Nothing about the woman was fragile. Vulnerable? No, that didn't fit, either. His belly rumbled.

He rubbed his head, trying to decide which urge was greater – falling into bed, or devouring the contents of the breakfast table in the dining hall. His belly rumbled again, louder this time. Well, that decided it, he thought, and headed out the door.

Over the next three weeks, he came by every day to see her after he finished his practice session in the training yard. He supposed it didn't hurt that he brought a lunch tray with him while he told her about the progress (or lack thereof) of the recruits. A few times, he'd found her talking with Loghain when he arrived. At those times, he quietly backed away, waiting until the Warden Commander was finished with his business before entering.

Gradually, though, their conversations began to include topics besides training issues, and he discovered a wry sense of humor and a very perceptive mind under that cool exterior. She even started telling him a little bit about her life, how Loghain had accepted her into his service when she was barely out of childhood. Taught her to read and write, along with how to wield a sword and sit a horse.

He also heard hints of passion. Granted, those came when she was discussing past battles or campaigns, but that she felt passion for something was a good sign in his opinion. And it seemed battle wasn't the only thing she had a passion for.

"Words? Really?" he said, arching a brow and grinning.

She laughed, and he shivered in delight at the sound of it. "Really." She settled back against the pillows. "Most people where I grew up never learned to read or write. When I did, it seemed…magical. All those funny squiggles meant something."

"Sometimes," he said with a shrug. "Depends, doesn't it?"

"On what?"

"On how good they are at writing, I suppose. Some people are better at it." He smiled. "Like some are much better at sword fighting than others."

She actually blushed, barely enough to notice, but there. He rose then, tugging on his robes.

"I'll let you get some rest."

"Anders?" She sounded almost hesitant as he turned to go.

His heart quickened a little. "Yes?"

"Thank you for coming to visit me. It's made being stuck in this infirmary…a bit easier."

He bowed, adding a small flourish. "It has been my privileged pleasure, my lady." And he meant every word, even if he had stolen them and the gesture from one of those silly romances Wynne was always reading.

"Oh, and thank you for the roses…and the lilacs," she said softly.

He looked up, then straightened, a sheepish smile on his face. "The hallway, you figured it out then, right?"

She smiled, like that one he'd seen in the garden, and his heart did a little skip.

"Look, I'm sorry I wasn't…more direct. But I…like you…a lot. And you always seemed like you weren't interested in any kind of a relationship with…anyone."

"The Ice Queen," she murmured, closing her eyes, then opening them. "That's what some people have called me."

"I don't think you're icy at all." He motioned to the book with the sunburst cover lying face down on her lap. "Maker, anyone who likes Canedo can't possibly be cold."

She looked up, startled. "You've read him?"

"A friend suggested him." Anders shook his head. "I can't say I understand…everything in there. But, Maker, there is passion there."

She reached out and took his hand. Her fingers were warm as they slid up his arm. She tugged at his sleeve, her eyes large and luminous, and he felt himself falling into them as he bent down.

Her lips were so soft, and when her tongue slipped into his mouth, he sighed. She broke the kiss first, her hand slipping behind his neck.

"You know, I don't know if this matters, but Pounce likes you, too…a lot."

"She does, does she?" Cauthrien murmured against his lips.

"Oh, yes, she doesn't let just anyone scratch her head. Cats can be very particular like that."

"Really?"

He chuckled. "Really."