Eneka put on her thick boots, gloves and heavy cloak before leaving her quarters. She normally liked stable duty, but not today. It reminded her once more how far away she was from her homeland.
Stepping outside into the blinding white, she wished she had sunglasses on to help her see her way to the stables. Not that it would matter as her view was obscured in the swirling white surrounding the complex.
Her boots crunched as she walked.
<How could people live here?> she wondered, as she shivered and hurried up the covered path.
Finally, she reached the stable and was glad to get inside. Maybe she could stop shivering as she worked. Normally, the livestock grazed outside, but today, they were inside. “Like where I want to be,” Eneka grumbled. She tried not to complain again though – she wanted to be worthy of Tandri, who had lived in A’mara all his life.
He had caught her attention the moment she arrived – when he helped her get over her altitude sickness. And although he had helped her prepare for winter, she was still not really ready for the reality. Again, she wished for the desert of her homeland!
She quickly gave each of the animals their grain, then forked out each stall as they were eating. Eneka checked each of their waterers as well – noting that they weren’t frozen solid. Apparently, the heaters worked well.
Eneka’s fingers were cold and stiff as she wrestled a bale of hay off the stack.
“You need some help?” Tandri asked.
She was torn between telling him she could do it herself and having him close to her.
“I know you can do it yourself,” he said with a grin. “But I can help you do it faster, then you can go inside and warm up sooner.”
Eneka allowed herself a smile and nodded. “Sure, then.”
“Of course, you might have to do a favor for me in return.”
She fought her warming cheeks, wondering what he’d ask of her. Eneka wasn’t sure how to reply.
“I’m teasing you, of course!” Tandri said with a grin. “I just wanted to make you squirm a little.”
She smiled her relief as Tandri pulled a couple more bales down and used his shazeknife to cut the bindings on each bale. With the help, it didn’t take much time at all to get all the animals fed.
“Thanks for your help,” Eneka said, looking at him. He was almost the same height as her – nicer than how she looked down at most of the men she’d met since leaving Yezi’im.
“Let me see your hands,” he said.
Eneka let him take her gloves off. She could barely feel her fingers.
Tandri held her dark hands in his pale ones. “Your dark skin doesn’t handle this cold so well,” he said. “So, you need a little help.” He cupped her hands and lifted them to his mouth. Tandri blew gently over her fingers, warming them with his breath. Eneka didn’t want the moment to end – his touch was intoxicating, his breath so sensual, even though there was no implied intention.
But then he pressed his lips to her fingers, making her heart soar ridiculously. How was she so crazy for this man so much her opposite?!
“You are braver than I gave you credit to begin with,” he said. “Many people can’t brave a winter up here – most leave after the first dusting.”
“My roommate was one of them,” Eneka replied.
“The Çtaráni?” he asked.
“Tropical climate. Almost as hard to adjust to our mountains as coming from your desert.”
“I refuse to let the mountains defeat me,” Eneka added.
“Good attitude – and one that might even make you happy up here – in time.”
“Let’s go to the greenhouses. It’s usually a little warmer in there,” Tandri suggested.
“Sure,” Eneka replied, eager to extend her time with him a bit longer – and maybe warm up at the same time. She put her gloves back on. She fastened her cloak around her body before they went outside.
Surprisingly, he caught her hand as they left the stable, trudging through the deepening whiteness outside. Somehow, just having his hand helped to warm her frigid body as they approached the greenhouses.
Even though she had been in the greenhouse before, Eneka was pleasantly surprised at how warm it was. She unfastened her cloak and let it flow around her as freely as Tandri’s golden cloak did.
“It’s a beautiful cloak,” Tandri said, touching the hem in front. “So many yellows and tans, swirled together – a little like outside.”
“It’s tribal – like those of Kri’enden.”
“Which tribe are you from?”
“Like the bride-stealing bands?” he asked.
“Yes. My mother was stolen when she was much younger than I.”
“I can’t imagine!”
“Did the Almara never practice strange marriage rites?” Eneka asked.
“If they did, we don’t know about them.”
“What about the Balan? They bond in bed, not with words or promises. Is that not just as strange?”
“I am not Balan. A’mara is more civilized.”
Tandri seemed to pout. His gold cloak almost pouted with him.
“Certainly civility is in the eyes of the enemy? What would your neighboring Balan say about A’mara?” she asked.
“You may be right. But I didn’t bring you in here to argue about marriage customs.”
Eneka wasn’t sure what to say. She hadn’t intended to talk about marriage customs at all. Her cheeks burned with what she knew would be red if her skin were pale like his.
“I am curious though,” he said, looking at her intently, his eyes shifting to her lips, then back to her eyes.
Eneka tensed, wondering with equal amounts of excitement and apprehension if he intended to carry through.
Tandri pulled her closer. She barely closed her eyes before his lips touched hers. She quickly answered with her own kiss given back. Her hands found his soft brown hair at the back of his neck. Her fingers tangled in it, holding onto him, lest he try to pull away again.
His tongue dipped into her mouth momentarily. He released her a moment after. “Yes… you taste good to me…,” he murmured.
Eneka met his mouth again, more eagerly now, savoring his taste. He had been the reason she hadn’t left after the first cold dusting… the reason she put up with the shivering this morning. His love would make all the suffering worth it… his warmth in the cold.
As they kissed, the only other sound in the greenhouse was the soft plinking on the roof above.