Chapter 17: Caught in the Storm Part 2

"I feel sorry for how things turned out", Neal said. "It is my fault that we are in this situation."

I shook my head. "You cannot control the weather. Anyways, it is not so bad." I said hopefully.

"A pallet on the floor not bad? I would have never believed a lady to say that." He sat down next to me.

"I was not always as I am now. I told you when we first met."

He turned back to Chiron, but he had already disappeared into the second room. "Maybe you could tell me more about your life in Tira. We definitely have some time to spare."

I moved to sit by the fire and motioned him to join me. "Only if you'll tell me more about yours." I said with a smile.

He sat by me and I explained what my life was like a couple of years ago. I told him how I could not remember my parents, and how I had worked every day at Jenivive's estate until the day that she adopted me. After I finished, I watched his profile in the flickering light of the fire.

"That sounds like a hard childhood." He told me softly.

"It sounds that way, I suppose, but it really wasn't. I did not mind the work, and there were many people who cared about me that I did not really need parents. There were times when I missed them, but now that I have Jenivive I haven't thought of them in a long while. It is just, when you love someone, all you do is worry!"

"I can understand that," he said to himself.

"It is just- do you think she's all right? Do you think she made it back to your home? I hope she's not worried! Oh Neal, what can I do?" I dropped my head. He put his hand on my back reassuringly.

"She would not want you to worry." he said confidently.

I looked up into his dark eyes.

"She would rather that you take care of yourself. We cannot do anything while we're here."

I thought for a moment. "You must be happy to see him again." I gestured to the door where Chiron was sleeping.

He nodded. "I had not been able to take any time to visit him for a few years. As I have gotten older, my parents see that I get less and less freedom. I have all these responsibilities and rules that govern my life... you know, it is very selfish of me, but I wish that this storm would last a bit longer. Then I could stay here away from the palace and my parents for a little while, and be with you." His gaze held an intimacy that frightened me. I turned away, blushing. He dropped his hand from my back.

"I'm glad you are here with me." I found myself saying. I looked into his eyes. "Since I've come here, you have been so sweet and kind to me. There have been many times that I wonder what would have happened to me if it were not for you. You're a very dear friend."

Neal turned away from me. Had I said something wrong?

"What is it?" I asked.

He turned to me and moved closer, closing the gap between us. He hesitated, then asked, "What if I want to be more than friends?"

I looked down as my face burned. More than friends? My heart began to beat fast.

His hand cupped my chin and gently brought it up. I looked into his dark eyes. I couldn't hide the feelings trapped inside me. He leaned toward me, to kiss me, but I pushed him away. This was all too fast, too confusing. I had to catch my breath. I had to think.

"No, I- I can't. Please, give me some time to think."

Neal frowned and turned away. "I am sorry. I acted rashly," he said bitterly.

I turned to the fire, my heart beating fast, and he stood up. He grabbed his pallet violently and set it down in the far corner, his back to me. Why did I push him away? My heart was still beating fast and my cheeks felt hot. Could I be falling in love with him? Had we somewhere during these wonderful, exciting days together... fallen in love? Was it true? I wanted to dance with him again, and talk to him, and explore the city together with him. I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to kiss him. But now... what damage had I caused? I'm afraid to tell him how I feel, because I am still not sure it's real. But how would I know if it was? I've never fallen in love before. I've never been alone with a man even close to my age. I do not know what I am doing. I haven't studied love, haven't read any book on how it should feel like or what I should do when I've found it. I looked over to Neal, but he was turned away to the wall. Perhaps I would tell him tomorrow, or perhaps I would never find the courage to open my heart.

It did not matter in the end, because at that moment Neal turned to fire and saw me looked at him.

"I don't know what I'm doing." I told him. "I'm afraid."

He must have seen something in my gaze because he hesitantly crossed the distance between us. His hand gently brushed a strand of hair away from my face. "I can stop if you want me to."

I shook me head. He leaned in and I did not push him away. He kissed me timidly, carefully. I leaned into him and we kissed again, this time longer. My heart felt like it would burst from my chest. I wanted to kiss again, but he put a hand to my lips. He smiled, his eyes dancing, and whispered, "Any more and I don't think I could stop. We're alone, and if I'm supposed to protect you I should get as far away as possible from you tonight."

"If we were actually more than friends staying in a room alone does sound indecent." a new part of me answered.

"Then it will have to be our secret." He whispered, taking my hand and kissing it gently. He moved back to his pallet.

I looked at him and smiled. "I like kisses."

"I like kissing you." he responded.

"I don't know how we'll keep it a secret."

"I'll find a way. I do not way to be away from you for long."

"You're afraid I'll get into trouble without you."
"You'll get into trouble with or without me. I just want to be there to get you out of it."

I laughed quietly. "I was fine by myself before you." I said sarcastically.

"I wasn't." he answered.

"Those sort of romantic lines won't work on me."

"I am not lying."

I shook my head. "We should sleep."

"I'm afraid to. If this is a dream I'd rather not wake."

I smiled and shook my head his silliness and turned away. I tried to sleep but my heart still beat fast, the feel of our kiss still on my lips.