* * *
The rain, which had been falling in trickles, soon became a torrential downpour. Belviana, who had been standing in the same spot long after Liam had disappeared, ducked under a nearby tree, startled by the sudden increase in raindrops, and in the space of a few moments, her hair, soaked from the hard rain, clung to her cheeks and the nape of her neck. She combed her fingers through the tangles and squeezed the rainwater out of her hands to the ground.
With a sigh, her body heat turned to white smoke and dispersed into the air. Belviana kicked off her muddy shoes and sat down on a tree stump, propping her knees up.
She was shivering slightly, but she didn’t have the courage to trudge back in the rain, which was now so hard she could barely see a few steps ahead. Most of all, she didn’t want to go back to that awful place right now, where they’d be lighting up the snow to keep an eye on her. The sudden rain had probably canceled the hunt, and everyone would notice her absence once they returned to the lodge, but for now it was probably a good thing. They wouldn’t be able to find her easily, even if they scoured the neighborhood.
Liam was a little stranger than usual today. He seemed desperate, nervous, and as if his feelings for her had cooled somewhat, which was to be expected since she’d forced him to abandon all the dreams he’d worked so hard to achieve and sell his possessions.
Nevertheless, Belviana did not dare to doubt that Liam was still in love with her. Liam’s love for her was as obvious as the sun setting and rising. The love of the man she chose. And to receive that love fully. To Belviana, it was more like a natural rule, a law, a truth. A kind of blindness that could not be questioned, that must be.
With her head in turmoil and her vision blocked, Belviana was sensitive to footsteps. They sounded so different, so foreign, even amidst the pounding rain. She looked up. The faint glow of the lantern grew closer and closer, forming a human shape that quickly spat out of the dark raindrops. As she’d hoped, it was Aiden. As always, he was neatly dressed in a white shirt and black jacket. He stepped closer, as if he’d known she’d be here.
Ever since childhood, he’d founded her wherever she was. She hadn’t expected for him to find her this time, and she didn’t want to see his face, at least not right now. Nothing had gone right since he’d tangled with her. Nothing, really.
For a moment, anger surged through her. Belviana picked up her shoes to dry her feet. She felt like she couldn’t let go without punching Aiden in the bridge of his razor-sharp nose. She leaned in close and flung the shoe at him.
She threw the shoe at him with such speed that he could have easily dodged it, but he still managed to catch it. It wasn’t until the second shoe in a row that Belviana realized something was wrong. She blew out an angry breath.
“Why didn’t you dodge?”
“It would have upset you more.”
“What were you doing here?”
Despite the words, his tone didn’t sound like someone asking questions. Placing the dripping umbrella over her, Aiden quickly removed his jacket and dropped it over her damp shoulders.
“Put that away.”
“It’s cold, wear it.”
“You’re getting all your clothes wet.”
Aiden laughed crookedly, as if that was the least of his worries. He ran his fingertips through Belviana’s red hair, which was stiff with wetness. He traced her rounded forehead, the bridge of her dense nose, and her jawline. His fingers felt a little hot from the rain. Aiden’s thumb pressed against her full, blue lips, causing them to open like a flower. Belviana sucked in a sharp breath. He slipped his finger through her loosely parted gums and casually popped it into her mouth.
She thought she’d bitten his thumb, but what hit her tongue was a round pill, its bitter flavor making her tongue curl.
The familiar bitterness suggested it was her recently prescribed insomnia pill. She’d been so busy preparing for the hunt that morning that she hadn’t had time to take it. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to her that Aiden was able to figure out what was going on with her when he wasn’t even around. The pills were too big to swallow without water, though.
When she opened her mouth halfway to spit it out, Aiden grabbed her chin and kissed her. More accurately, he clamped his lips over hers, forcing the pill that was about to slip from the tip of her tongue back into her mouth. Aiden’s lips, always cooler than her average body temperature, were now surprisingly warm. His tongue slid in deep, and Belviana was caught off guard. Her breath raced. With each entwining of their tongues, a slippery stream of saliva escaped. It was bitter, tingling, and strangely sweet where they touched.
If her feelings for Liam were like a comforting blanket,
her feelings for Aiden was an overly vivid flame. An unpleasant, breathtakingly hot, over-the-top jumble of every emotion. Finally…….
When he finally touched the innermost depths of her mouth, Belviana drank the pill with a thick stream of saliva. Only after meticulously licking the bitter taste from her mouth did Aiden pull his lips away. His expression was impassive, almost unrecognizable as the man who had just shared a deep kiss. After smoothing out his rumpled clothes a few times, Aiden held out his hand.
“Let’s go back.”
Belviana stared at his outstretched hand. She was torn between being so cold that she desperately wanted to touch someone’s body heat, and not wanting to go back to the cottage. It took only a moment of hesitation for Aiden to realize what she wanted.
Lifting his head slightly, Aiden’s expression was stern, devoid of any hint of relaxation. The almost desperate look in his eyes was like a ravenous beast on the verge of communion. That hunger was caused solely by her actions, by the mere fact that she hadn’t fled, Belviana realized with a dull ache. He warned in a low, sunken voice. It cracked slightly, like a hiss, and sounded like the growl of an animal.
“You’re going to catch a cold if you stay here.”
“……I don’t care. It doesn’t matter where you do it, it’s the same horrible thing.”
The rain was falling like a hard curtain. The sky had long since sunk into darkness, like a sunken wreck, except for a single lantern.
If love is a warm, gentle emotion, as described in novels, then it must mean it is the same as her feelings for Liam; but what is this burning, hot, unending, maddening drive? She doesn’t know. Maybe it was revenge for Liam, for leaving her in this mud.
The moment Aiden’s lips met hers once more, roughly, her tangled thoughts were cut short. Belviana wrapped her arms around the back of Aiden’s neck and pulled him closer.