Part Thirty-One

"Ouch! Dammit!"

Balancing on one foot, Sydney plucked a bur from her other. A tiny dot of blood welled up from each spot pierced by its spines. Scratches and punctures marked her legs well up onto her bare thighs.

Nigel no longer felt his own feet, nor much of anything else, and the skies showed them no mercy. For the entire three hours since their arrival, rain and sleet pelted the duo, leaving them shivering and numb. Intellectually, Nigel knew they were on the verge of hypothermia, and that it was a short step from there to death. Maybe he should have been frightened, but at the moment he was too deeply steeped in regrets.

"Iím sorry, Sydney." He stumbled, somehow managing to right himself before she turned. The tough brambles of the otherwise barren moor tangled in the hairs of his calves, unwilling to let him rise again.

"For what?" she asked wearily. "Weíve been through this, Nigel. Merlin was controlling you. He orchestrated this little excursion, not you."

"No... I donít mean that. I mean, Iím sorry for everything, not just this. Iíve been dead weight since the first day we met. I duck and cower when things get dangerous. I should help you, should be a partner, not a hindrance. I could take a class in self-defense, but no... I have my nose buried in books all the time. You could be killed, and the best I manage is a good strong whine." Every word challenged him. His teeth chattered like a mouthful of jackhammers.

Sydney stopped dead, squinting against the continued downpour. "Dead weight?? Donít flatter yourself, Nigel. No matter how cute you are, Iím not going to bring you along on a relic hunt if youíre useless. Youíre an expert on antiquities, a linguistic genius, and the most reliable assistant Iíve ever had. I say Ďletís goí and you pack your bags and ask questions later. My priority isnít fighting, itís hunting for little pieces of history. Youíre a part of that passion, and youíre my best friend." Sucked in an unsteady breath. "I monopolize your life. I lay claim to your weekends, drag you around the world on a momentís notice, and on an easy night I make you grade papers until all hours. The way I see it, maybe I should apologize to you."

Neither of them moved for a moment, unless you counted shivering. Nigel found himself staring, not at the tee shirt plastered against her body, but at the pulse that raced at her slender throat, then at the blue tint of her lips.

And suddenly he was struck by the enormity of her confession.

"You think Iím cute?" he gasped.

From the way she threw up her hands and turned away in exasperation, he gathered that was the wrong thing to say. He reached out to touch her arm. "Sydney, I..."

She laid a hand over his. "Wait, I know him."

His eyes followed hers and he groaned. "Whatís he doing here?"

Merlin scowled at them. "Who in Hades are the two of you?"

Go to Part Thirty Two.

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