Thom sucked in a quiet breath and forced a smile. “Well. Guess I’d better round up the rest and get to hunting.”
“Hunting what?” Phelan’s voice asked.
“Phelan.” Thom grinned as he turned. “Just the man I was looking for. And you’ve brought Thordin along, too. Excellent. We’re going hunting.”
Phelan’s brows knit even as Thom’s view of him was momentarily eclipsed by Marin, who came to him and slid her arms around Thom’s waist. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her close.
“What’s the matter?” he murmured quietly.
“Absolutely nothing,” she lied, resting her forehead against his cheek. “Nothing that can’t wait until later to talk about, anyway.”
His stomach gave an uncomfortable somersault, but he nodded anyway and glanced at Phelan. “Deer.”
“Deer,” Phelan echoed, expression deadpan. “Why are we hunting deer?”
“Because you want me to cook some kind of feast every night for the next five nights,” Tala said from behind Thom. “And I need meat for that. Venison will do the trick nicely and I’m more than sure at least one of you boys knows how to tan a hide, too.” She grinned over her shoulder at them before she turned back toward the fire. “I’m sure we can use that, too.”
Phelan made a face, glancing at Thom. “You haven’t forgotten that I almost died this morning, right?”
“Of course not,” Thom said, ignoring the sick feeling twisting in his stomach. “But you’re still alive and probably not about to drop dead in the next few hours, so we’re going to take advantage of that fact and go bring down a deer or two for dinner.”
“Make it three if you can,” Tala said, still grinning. “I can salt some of it and smoke some of it.”
“Three deer,” Thordin said, boggling at her. “You’ve got a great deal of faith in us, don’t you?”
“You guys haven’t let me down yet.” She looked toward Marin. “You want to go with them, or are you going to stay here with me and help me bake crap?”
Marin’s arms tightened around Thom for a moment and he let himself hope that she’d come along for just those few heartbeats until her arms loosened and she stepped away. “I’m thinking I should stay and help you bake,” she said, a note of reluctance in her voice. “If I go out with them, I’d just get in the way.”
Bullshit. You’re better with a bow than I am, that’s for sure. Thom glanced toward Thordin and Phelan and shook his head slightly. Phelan smild weakly.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily true, leannán, but if you don’t want to tag along, I’m not going to argue and neither are these two.” He glanced toward Tala, then toward J.T. “Don’t let Jacqueline start worrying herself over where I’ve gone.”
“I’ll tell her we threw you in the ravine,” J.T. said as he sat down near the fire, stretching. “If I manage to keep a straight face, she might actually believe me.”
Matt grinned. “I’ll keep them in line, Phelan.” His gaze drifted toward Thom, settling on him for a minute or two. “Be careful down there,” he said quietly.
Thom met his gaze and nodded slowly. “Of course. Always.” He paused, then said, “Do you think that you and J.T. could help Marin with decorating and…things like that?”
A grin blossomed on his face. “You bet. Maybe even wrangle up some little presents here and there if we’re lucky.”
“Pass the word,” Thom said, matching his smile. “It’s the season for it, and we’re going to celebrate the fact that we’re still here to be a light in the darkness of the world.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Phelan smile.
“Aptly put, fear fiach. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”