Winter – Chapter 14 – 01

            Neve hauled back on her reins so abruptly that Cameron didn’t realize she’d done it until he was a dozen feet beyond her.  He yanked his mount into a turn, brows knitting as he looked back at her.  “What’s wrong?”
            She held a finger to her lips, eyes on the trees lining the roadway.  Cameron’s stomach dropped like a rock.  Really?  Again?
            His horse didn’t seem to think anything was wrong as it pranced back to hers, nipped at its ear.  Cameron growled, jerking on the reins.  His mount danced sideways a few steps before settling down.
            Cameron reached for Neve’s arm.  His fingers brushed her arm and she startled, looking at him.
            “I thought I heard something,” she whispered.  She shrugged.  “I guess I was wrong.”
            “That’s been happening a lot lately.”  His hand closed around her wrist.  She seemed thinner after the past few week son the road.  Maybe she was.  She didn’t seem to sleep enough, either, even when they were staying in a settlement.
            He’d fall asleep at night with her pressed against him, her back to his front, his arms around her and her arms around his.  She’d always be awake when he stirred at dawn.  Sometimes she’d still be awake when he fell asleep at night.
            Her eyes met his.  “Don’t worry about me, Cam,” she whispered, lifting a hand to stroke his cheek.  “We’ve got more than enough to worry about.”
            A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.  “Like winter?”
            “Yeah, like that.”  She leaned toward him, the gap between them so vast that he thought for a moment that she’d topple from the saddle.  Her lips brushed his cheek before she straightened again.  “We’ve got a lot of miles to cover before it starts to get bad.”
            They’d awakened that morning to find a thin layer of snow covering the outside of their tent.  The road was slick with the slowly melting snow, though their mounts seemed to take it well enough in stride.  The air had the familiar bite of winter, though by Cameron’s estimation it wasn’t even November yet.  Every settlement they’d stopped at—all four of them—had tried to get them to stay, as if they all knew that winter was coming and it was going to be bad.
            Of course, I don’t think you need to be a meteorologist or a climatologist to know that this winter’s going to be worse than most.  Cameron squinted at the sky.  The sun was struggling to break through a mass of clouds, a dim glow beyond gray-white cotton.  “Looks like the weather might hold long enough for us to get another few miles before lunch, at least.”
            “We can get further if we eat and ride at the same time,” Neve said, starting to get her mount moving again.  Cameron looped around her, ending up the opposite side of Neve and her horse from where he’d started, nearer to the edge of the road.
            “That’s true,” he said.
            “How’s your arm?” she asked as his mount drew abreast with hers.
            “Still sore, but it’s better.”  He still couldn’t understand why he’d been in such bad shape after that fight weeks before, when she’d come to his rescue on a Canadian roadway, even with all the explanations she’d offered, that her brother and Kira had offered.  The wound itself was mostly healed, but the scar was nastier than it had any right to be and still ached dully from time to time.
            She smirked.  “Ready to actually learn how to use that sword I gave you, then?”
            He blinked at her, tearing his eyes away from the road to stare at her.  The smile she gave him was impish as she reached across the gap to squeeze his knee.
            “I gave it to you for a reason, Cam.  I was carrying it for a reason and I guess that reason was so it would find its way to you.”
            Every time I think that maybe I’m not completely insane, and that maybe she’s not insane either, she goes and says something like that.  He forced a lopsided smile at her.  “What makes you so sure that I’m supposed to have it?”
            Other than the fact that once it was in my hand, I felt like it had always been there.
            Neve shrugged.  “Instinct?”
            “Instinct,” Cameron echoed, shaking his head.
            “So are you ready to learn how to use it or not?”
            “Why the rush?”  His stomach flipped.  Is something following us again?  The last time it didn’t stop until we got to that settlement with all the burning sage.  His eyes still watered at the memory.  There had been a lot of smoldering plant life at that house, but the girl who lived there—a cheerful, slender waif of a girl named Jamie—had been kind to them.  There was a letter in one of Cameron’s saddlebags from her to someone in Michigan.
            “Not that I expect you to go hunting for her, but since you’re going there, it just seemed like a good idea to write.”
            He couldn’t say no to that, or tell her that it was a bad idea.  She hadn’t been the only one to ask them to carry letters—Kira had only been the first.  One of his saddlebags was full of mail, some that could never be delivered.
            It was the least they could do to repay the hospitality that they’d been shown.
            Neve shook her head.  “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to, mo laoch.  The fact of the matter is that we’re going to run out of bullets sooner rather than later and building you a bow like this one is impossible on the road—though I imagine by the time we get back to Teague, he might have gotten one started for you.”
            “That’s not going to be for a long time,” Cameron murmured, voice barely audible over the sound of their horses’ hooves.
            “I know,” she said.  “Hence the sword.  So are you ready or not?”
            He sighed.  “I guess so.”
            “Good.  We’ll start tonight.”
            Somewhere above them, a hawk cried.  Shivers shot down Cameron’s spine.
            It didn’t sound like any hawk he’d ever heard before.
            Drawing closer together, they continued down the road.

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