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Chapter 9 – Clueless

“I’ve seen some BTS of the two of you during your last drama, you know. The friendship I saw then is not the same one as I am seeing now, is it?”

PD Pyo Min Soo commented nonchalantly but Shin Hye understood what he was implying. Yong Hwa, the PD noticed, seemed confused.

“You’re still pretty clueless aren’t you?” the PD looked at Yong Hwa.

The PD walked towards the door, turned and said, “Enlighten him Shin Hye! Lee Shin and Kyu Won’s bickering is about to be over! It would be hard to keep up the pretense once their love starts to grow. Solve this!”

Shin Hye, who was sitting on the hospital bed as she had during their take, leaned forward, tensely pressed her hands on the bed and grimaced in pain. Not having anyone to turn to for help Yong Hwa moved closer to Shin Hye and held on to the bed rails.

“Kwaenchana??”

Shin Hye was breathing in slow shallow gasps. Yong Hwa lifted the railing to release the catch and lower it then moved nearer to look at Shin Hye, concern evident on his face. Shin Hye frowned at him.

“Hey what’s that frown for?” Yong Hwa glanced towards the door then sat sideways on the bed, part of his leg resting on top of it so he was facing Shin Hye straight on.

“Are you okay? Do you want me to get Manager Jjun?” But Shin Hye just shook her head.

“What is PD talking about Shin Hye-ya? We can’t go back to YB days, if that’s what he means. Times have changed.”

“You’re right times have changed. So have you!” Shin Hye quipped her breathing slowly easing.

“What about you? You’ve changed too! You don’t talk to me or goof around as much as you used. I understand if you’re cautious with regards to antis so I don’t mind it anymore.”

“What do you mean you don’t mind it anymore? Do you think that’s the only reason?”

Now it was his turn to frown.

“Yah! I can’t be like Shinwoo or… be like Hongki! You know that! What about hyung?”

“Cut the crap Yong Hwa! Of course I am cautious about antis but not to the extent of not talking to you. And, that’s unfair of you to think I want you to be like Shinwoo or like Hongki. And, what has hyung got to do with us? Are you crazy? I thought we’re friends, good friends. It’s really depressing, not to mentioning humiliating, to find out that it took you ages to give me your cellphone number when everybody already has had it for the longest time you know. But hey that’s your call right?” Shin Hye shifted a little annoyed, still looking at Yong Hwa, challenge shooting from her eyes.

“What’s the use of giving it anyway? You don’t even answer back, and not once have you texted or called! Well except for that time when you called with your virtual wife!” Shin Hye’s voice was slightly rising.

“What kind of a friend are you?”

“Honestly Shin Hye-ya, do you really expect boys and girls to be just friends and stay that way always?”

“What were we before then? Acquaintances?” Shin Hye’s hurt seeped through her voice, pain clearly written on her face.

“But if I have to spell it out for you then yes I do believe that a boy and a girl can be friends. Yes, attractions are natural but you have a mind to decide what you’re going to do about them. You don’t court every girl you get attracted to!” Shin Hye paused.

“Yes I do want to be as good a friends as we were before, but who am I to make demands? I am just an acquaintance right? A stranger you happened to bump into!” Shin Hye said in a clipped tone.

“Please let me pass Yong Hwa. I’m tired. I want to go home now.” Shin Hye’s voice didn’t raise this time. Resignation dripping in every word she uttered. She started to slide down to get past Yong Hwa.

“Wait!” Yong Hwa lightly touched Shin Hye’s shoulder to stop her from moving. “Just wait a minute!”

Yong Hwa saw the sincerity and the sacrifice it took to keep all that hurt in and again now to get it out in the open. Even in pain she took the effort to talk it out with him like she has always talked things out with him before when he was a relative unknown. Shin Hye who has coached him, guided him and joked around with him and made him feel welcome… And, he turned his back on her, in a way, hasn’t he? She’s a strange girl to not think twice about having guys for friends. So am not used to the idea, and I can be a bit dense… and how could she not know that I find her er… ‘interesting’? Can I really control those things?

“Rest for a few minutes Shin Hye-ya! Lie down for awhile!” When Shin Hye did not move he added, “Yah!” He held her chin and turned her face towards him. Shin Hye still feeling the remembered hurt took a few seconds to look at him. When she did, he gave her a brisk upward, curt, nod.

“If you don’t lie down right now, I am going to wrestle you down!” Then holding on to the back of her neck while his other hand was holding the pillow steady on the slightly raised top half of the bed, he said, “Come on, I’ll help you. Just relax!”

Shin Hye was taken aback, her eyes shut wide at suddenly seeing the quirky Yong Hwa she knew three years ago. Turning puzzled eyes at Yong Hwa her eyebrows knitting, Yong Hwa glared at her and firmly said, “Re-lax!” Shin Hye leaned as he lowered her to the pillow behind her, still puzzled at seeing the change.

“So was it the seat buckle that has bruised your side?”  Yong Hwa suddenly changing the topic.

“How did you know I bruised my side?” Blurted Shin Hye, surprised all the more that he knew.

“Shin Hye-ssi I’m sorry! I can be quite a blockhead and my Omma can attest to that, but next time, if I go zombie on you again, I give you permission to hit me okay? Scold me but don’t be cold on me okay?” He paused, then without skipping a beat said, “But I asked the question first. What happened?”

Shin Hye hit him and said, “Yah! Don’t forget you said that and don’t ever think I wont do it too!” then she proceeded to talk about her accident as Yong Hwa turned, reached for the other pillow near the foot of the bed, leaned across Shin Hye and placed it on her aching side. Yong Hwa continued sitting on the bed as they both talked and as Yong Hwa was listening to his chingu, he can’t help but think, “Shin Hye-ssi do you know how odd you are?”

There was no great reveal that happened the day after, it was not as if they weren’t talking to each other when Heartstrings started anyway, but the invisible wall that was lifted between the two was palpable ever since that night. They laugh more openly now. Shin hye no longer thought twice about hitting or pushing Yong Hwa when he is goofing or making mistakes. Yong Hwa’s playfulness increased so with his teasing and playing pranks on Shin Hye, sometimes forgetting her injuries. In the eyes of the cast and crew of Heartstrings Yong Hwa and Shin Hye’s story was wickedly imitating Shin and Kyu Won’s with things turning bright and sweet.

It certainly helped their dating scene as both collaborated and suggested things that Shin and Kyu Won might do. It was a collection of activities they, if they were dating would do. In their busy and hectic lives, those dating scenes, one could say, is the closest thing the two could get to having an ordinary date with ordinary people. In a way they did. Never mind that there was the camera and the crew and the fans looking at them or that they were just friends. Maybe they just thought of it as hanging out but the two certainly enjoyed each other’s company and shooting went smoothly.

With their last day drawing close Yong Hwa, without getting a call slip, went to Shin Hye’s location shooting.

“Hey! What brought you here?” Shin Hye exclaimed, accepting the towel that Yong Hwa took from one of Shin Hye’s assistants and held out to her as they gave each other fives, their hand signal for hello, and hugged.

“Would like to discuss something about our coming shoot at the park.”

“Oh yeah! Been meaning to talk to you about that too. Have you had dinner?”

“No. You?”

“Not yet too and a bit hungry.”

“How about we get some pizza first? I’ll ask unnie to have some delivered while you go freshen up.” Yong Hwa suggested, finely attuned to Shin Hye’s penchant for cleanliness. Shin Hye has just finished her dance shoot and was aching to have a shower so Yong Hwa circled and chatted with the group that was left behind and with Manager Jjun as Shin Hye showered.

The dance studio has been cleared of Shin Hye’s things and it was just the three of them left in the room- Shin Hye, Yong hwa and Manager Jjun, when they started discussing what they were going to do during their kissing scene. Manager Jjun, feeling ill at ease, excused himself and said he’ll just wait by the door and see to it that they were not disturbed.

They were sitting huddled side by side, their backs leaning on the mirror, their notebooks, iPad’s out, surfing the net and were discussing how they were going to do it.

“Did you and hyung discuss it this way too?”

“It was more debate than discussion.” Shin Hye chuckled.

“Google translate is terrible!”

They’ve gone through Youtube and Daily Motion and tried to compare- laughing at some and horrified at others, basically not quite knowing what to do. Then they heard the door click and saw a short chubby elderly lady in white slacks and white girly blouse walk towards them. They instinctively moved apart not wanting to be misunderstood, stood up and bowed. She had the air of authority about her that not even her short height can diminish.

“So you need a coach!”

Yong Hwa and Shin Hye looked at each other surprised then back at the lady and nodded.

“So what is the scene?”

“It’s a kissing scene.” Yong Hwa quietly answered.

“What have you done or decided so far?”

“Er… uhm… nothing.” Shin Hye replied.

The lady looked at them, one to the other, seemingly annoyed. “I assume you have your toothbrushes with you?” The two raised their eyebrows and simultaneously uttered, “Bo?” Realizing how disrespectful they sounded, almost simultaneously too, they blurted, “ Joe-song-hap-ni-da Seonsaeng!”

“You,” pointing to Yong Hwa, “go brush your teeth first and if you have, put on some lip moisturizer.” Like a boy chastised Yong Hwa hurriedly went to the washroom attached to the room and did as ordered.

“You,” looking at Shin Hye, “sit down and tell me in the shortest possible way about you character.”

The acting coach, or so they presumed she was with both too intimidated to ask, was asking Shin Hye questions when Yong Hwa came back and it was Shin Hye’s turn to brush her teeth and Yong Hwa’s turn to explain his character and be grilled. When Shin Hye came back she was still holding her lip balm and was rubbing her lips together when she sat beside Yong Hwa facing the lady.

“You both know that Korean kissing scenes are but of two kinds- the fake and the real. Both take responsibility to execute. The fake one doesn’t need practice but I want you to do it just the same.” She walked to their side and continued talking.

“Stand up. Now turn around and look at yourselves on the mirror.” The two stood up, dusted themselves and followed as they were instructed.

“Close your mouth, relax, and then walk closer to the mirror. Go on! There’s no way out of this! Closer! Closer still, until your lips are flat on the mirror. Okay stop. Now don’t move.” It was at a slow count of 3 before the coach told them to move a step back.

“Easy right?”

“So if the fake is flat, what is the real kiss?” the lady walked to stand a step behind but in between the  two of them.

“You can do whatever exercises you want to relax your lips or not at all but the common start of a kiss is with relaxed lips. With your lips slightly open, that’s not slightly Yong Hwa. Close it a bit more. Ok that’s right. Now relax, you’re not blowing through a flute here. Look at your lips on the mirror. Now close your eyes. Can you still see how your lips look like in the mirror? Now remember that position. Open your eyes. Has your lip position changed? Do it again. Close your eyes… remember… open your eyes. Good!”

“Now step closer to the mirror. Closer till you’re about an inch away. Now I want you to kiss the mirror the way you kiss your Omma’s forehead.” Both smiled, puckered their lips and gave the mirror a resounding kiss.

“Perfect!” Then she made them kiss the mirror in a full pucker position, with lips pursed and with a floppy pucker position, asking questions on the difference each position makes. They went on to the different speeds of approach,  movement, breathing, head tilting, arm and body positions, stance, practicing on the mirror or on each other or just discussing the differences between kisses, both getting at ease in the process.

“Like music you can alter several factors of the kiss to create different varieties of kisses, like the key, the length of the note, the beat, the intensity of the sound, etc. In this case the pucker of your lips, the opening, the pressure you put on the kiss, will there be a sound, how rapid is your breathing, the urgency of the kiss, your head position, your arms, your body, your stance that too makes up the kiss.

“You are conveying your feelings to your partner when you’re kissing, whatever those feelings might be.

“Before we go to the last part, I want you each to go on opposite corners of the room.” Pointing at each end. “Go!” And, they both went- Shin Hye sat on the floor while Yong Hwa paced on his side both not looking at the other.

“You have five minutes to put yourselves in Lee Shin and Kyu Won’s shoes starting now.”

Yong Hwa was fidgety at first and the coach silently gave them 2 minutes extension to get into character. Then in a firm but quiet voice the lady said “Remember what you two have been through the whole year you’ve been away. Finally you see each other. So close, each within reach and yet you cannot bridge the gap dividing you two… each believing their actions as right… both right… both unhappy… Now slowly get up but look down…”

In a softer voice the lady said, “Lee Shin slowly look up. You see Kyu Won in front of you right? … Her heart is bleeding because of you… You know that, don’t you? … With the fame she has got and the sacrifices you two have made, is she happy? … Is that what you want for her? … Is that what YOU want? … Look at her! … See her!

“Kyu Won look at Lee Shin. He is such a stubborn ass, isn’t he? You hate how stubborn he is, but you love him still. You’ve tried so hard to hate him but never could. Now you’re scared as you see him. Will he reject you again? Are you going to be banging your head again on this hard brick wall called Lee Shin?

“Lee Shin… Kyu Won… what is your heart telling you to do?”

Looking only at each other, hearing their hearts beating loudly in their ears, it felt like everything just faded away. There was just the two of them. Kyu Won took a step and another then stopped, gazing at Lee Shin, hurt, longing and fear mingling in her eyes. Lee Shin looked at Kyu Won his eyes soft, speaking… telling her ‘what have I done to deserve you? I’ve hurt you, haven’t I? I still believe that what I did was the right thing to do but right now… at this moment… all I want to do is wrap you in my arms and never let go… and tell you… show you how much I love you. Yes I love you Kyu Won!’

Kyu Won loved him unconditionally but she knows that whatever wall it is that Lee Shin has built around him only he can break it down. With her eyes she asked ‘Is your love strong enough to let go of your shield Lee Shin?’

And, with a language that only lovers whose hearts are truly bound can hear, Lee Shin showed Kyu Won his answer. He briskly crossed the distance between them finally knowing what his heart was singing and wrapped his arms tightly around Kyu Won, fearful she’ll disappear if he let go.

‘Ah Lee Shin, pabo-ya! What took you so long?’ was all Kyu Won was thinking and she hugged him just as tightly back.

“I miss you!” Lee Shin whispered. Kyu Won drew a deep breath and sighed, “I miss you too!”

Drawing away from the cocoon of their embrace almost felt like having his heart wrenched away but there is something he must tell her, and he wants her to look into his eyes when he says it. So he drew away from Kyu Won, gently held her face between his hands, looked softly at his beautiful patient Kyu Won and said.

“Saranghae!”

Her arms still wrapped around his waist, Kyu Won tilted her face up, made a nervous laugh as if saying ‘you just realized that now? Pabo-ya!’ then looked at his lips, drew in a breath and looked back at his smoldering eyes and waited.

Lee Shin lowered his head and did what he has so long ago wanted to do but never had the chance to, he kissed Kyu Won full on the lips. Their eyes closed as their lips touched, savoring the feel of the other’s lips next to theirs, finally… and, as though in a slow dance they moved- kissed, pressed their lips against the other ever so gently then pulled slightly away, only to find another part of the other’s lips to kiss, again and yet again, sometimes pulling away enough to gaze into each other’s eyes or to smile before they close their eyes again to kiss, a silent saranghae with each touch of their lips. Somewhere along the slow gentle kisses, Yong Hwa grasped Shin Hye’s waist and drew her firmly close to him, as his other hand cradled her neck. Shin Hye as though drugged and dazed has unknowingly snaked her hand upward entangling her fingers within the hair on his nape, holding on to him, as her other hand clutched at the shirt on his back.

So carried away were they that after the last time Yong Hwa pulled away and went back to kiss her, they both parted their lips and had the other’s lip between theirs. The sensation was so heady that it almost felt as if time stopped. The feel of their lips caressing the other further compounded by the feel of the pressure and the tugging of their lips, their breathing turned ragged as they continued to kiss. They do not know how they managed to stop, but stop they did. Still wrapped in each other’s embrace they tried to catch their breaths. Shin Hye hiding her face on Yong Hwa’s neck, Yong Hwa’s face leaning at the top of Shin Hye’s head. It was after awhile before they slowly moved back, both looking down, both smiling sheepishly, giggled and laughed, hit each other’s arm then looked around for their coach waiting for her comment which they would never hear for she has disappeared.

“Did we kiss that long?” Yong Hwa asked.

“I don’t know! Did we?”

They were both blushing as they looked at each other.

It was then that Manager Jjun knocked then entered. “You two not done yet?”

“Did you get in earlier?” Yong Hwa asked.

“No. Why? Did you call me? I was talking with your manager just outside.”

“How long ago has the lady acting coach left? Shin Hye asked.

“What lady acting coach?”

Confused but relieved to hear that they haven’t been seen, the two hurriedly gathered their things, gave their fives, hugged and went their separate ways.

It was a kiss they’ve never quite had in that it was sweet and tender but passionate as well. The two didn’t sleep very well that night and though their rehearsed kiss was like a dream in a way, it adversely affected the kiss that they shot- both too scared, knowing they could get carried away so they did the best that they could, under the circumstances. That lady coach would surely be mad at them, after all she has done. Well, if they ever see her again. Both their managers said they didn’t get an acting coach for them nor did they let a short lady in white get in or out of the room. The guys must have been too tired to notice.

Life would have gone back to routine for both of them until Yong Hwa saw Shin Hye’s tweeted picture of her with Hongki and the rest of the band. Feeling Lee Shin-ish Yong Hwa called Shin Hye.

“Yoboseyo!”

“Ya! I just turn my back for a second and you’re out with other guys already?” Yong Hwa laughingly chided Shin Hye.

“And why are you jealous? You ran right back to your wife’s arms sooner than saw Hongki? Do you have to make me see you hold hands like that? At least I wasn’t holding hands with any of the boys!”

“Did you have to tell Song Seung Hyun that he’s handsome?”

“I did not say he was handsome I said he was looking good!” and the two happily bickered like they were Lee Shin and Kyo Won till Yong Hwa was called for their turn.

“Ey Shin Hye ya! Be a good girl now!”

“You too Bolmae jung! Rock em all, will you? Chal-ga!”

With smiles on their faces the two said goodbye.  Crazy Yong Hwa. Crazy Shin Hye.

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Unbridled, Chapter 4

4 ~ Old Dog

 

“If I actually did that then maybe I am- out of my mind. Don’t worry I try not to share my lemans with my serfs. Of course you could renounce your relationship with Hongki after which we need not wait for your sponsor, Fr. Mulroney,” Keun Suk drawled his words. He has never had any leman actually, finding women aplenty for the taking, but she need not know that, need she?

“Wait? You mean Fr. Mulroney’s not here? But… but,” Shin Hye stammered. “Where is he?” she continued.

“Now I didn’t think you’d be that excited,” Keun Suk teased, noticing the rising distress in Shin Hye’s tone.

“You seem to be a well kept secret. All people know about you is how good you are with animals and that seem to have stopped them from knowing more. Now what should a man of good reason make of that? Talks about you range from your being an angel, a fairy- this is by the way from a little boy whose pup you’ve nursed back from sure death, to the daughter, wife, mistress of a priest friend of Fr. Mulroney,… to a foreign princess who didn’t want to get married. The only true thing about you is that Fr. Mulroney went to see my father and begged him to take you on as a serf. Henry, the butler, said that Fr. Mulroney needn’t have begged, for one look at you and my father said yes without hesitation. What do you say to that?”

Keun Suk revealed these all the while watching her face for her reaction. He saw the delight in her eyes when he mentioned that the dog was still alive, sad on matters involving her relations to Fr. Mulroney’s priest friend and surprised at hearing the manner to which she was taken on by the old Lord.

“You’re still not going to tell me who you are or where you’re from, are you?”

Shin Hye dropped her gaze and stayed silent. Ah she is a tough cookie, he thought, the type who would rather bolt than confess. Her stance alone spells this and very stubborn too, not counting the fact that she has ignored his order for her to move closer.

“You could be a spy, a thief or a fugitive too. Now father might still be the true head but I am the one running the domain. And so, until the matter of your identity has been resolved you are to stay within the manor house until Fr. Mulroney comes.” Alarm became very evident in Shin Hye’s eyes Keun Suk noted, as though that of a wild animal that’s been caught and about to be caged.

“Fr. Mulroney has urgently left for the abbey just this morning. Apparently the Abbess has requested his presence there. He will be back on the fortnight. So you have a fortnight to plan and prepare for your escape. I reckon that seems the likeliest thing you’ll be doing, seeing girls scare easily.” A muscle twitched on Shin Hye’s jaw but she kept silent.

“In the time being since you are very good at taking care of animals, man after all is an animal; you are to take care of my father. He is ill as you may know. Let’s see how good you are in taming and training an old dog, shall we? Maybe you can conjure up a miracle.”

“But the kitchen needs me!” “They’ve done without you before you came, they very well can do without you again.”

“The foal…?” Shin Hye’s anxiety was more evident now, her eyes pleading him to reconsider. “Are you its mother?” Keun Suk looked at her, puzzled. Aren’t women more concerned with their looks, their clothes, their jewelries, embroidery, the arts? Shouldn’t she be happy to be given easier chores? Or will she miss Hongki too much?

“Must you always question what I tell you to do? Go now. You still have time left to sleep before your new chores are to begin.” She continued pleading with her eyes but he does not want to budge. She has defied him one too many times.

“Go! Surely you’re not waiting for me to kiss you, are you?” That got her moving.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

She heard things being thrown inside the room and someone bellowing, then Henry hurriedly slipped out of the door. He saw her and turning to her said, “I don’t know why he’s sending a lamb into the lion’s den. God bless you child!” With that she entered the old master’s room. It was dark but she could see portions of light on the walls on either side of the room streaming through the cracks in the window. The air stank of sweat, rotten fruit and damp mold, a generally stifling room. For the first time in her life, Shin Hye was grateful for having a cold for it dulled the smell in the room. Waiting to accustom her eyes to the darkness, she stood stock still just by the door, shutting out the rising crescendo of curses, orders and insults and when she could see sufficiently enough to make her way around the room, she went straight to the windows opened the heavy, hinged flat wooden slats that covered it. When she finished opening the windows she inspected the room and walked towards the fireplace. As though talking to herself, she said aloud, “Though the air outside is rather balmy and just right we will try to make the room warm enough for you sire, to make you comfortable.” So she made a small but gentle fire.

She went about the room and proceeded to pick clothes and things strewn on the floor, apparently flung there in one of the old master’s temper tantrums. Though he was having one now Shin Hye ignored him. She went out of the room to retrieve the broom and rags she’s placed there anticipating the disarray and dirt in the room that everyone has been keen to avoid. When she came back in, the Lord’s pillows and blanket were on the floor. Shin Hye smiled. Good, she thought, now I need not pry these away from him. She took the pillows and dragged the heavy blanket towards the window and looked around. Seeing Hongki she whistled, a signal they’ve devised when hunting. It was a goldfinch’s call, its pleasant trills and twitters distinctive and because its what her mother whistles when she calls her since she was young as she played in the bailey. She signaled to Hongki to give the pillows and blanket to Adel who was busy laying out the laundry. When she finished and turned around she noticed that the Lord was all quiet and was no longer in his bed but sitting on the chair facing the fireplace. Shin Hye hurriedly pulled and snatched the bed covers from the bed and threw Hongki the remaining bed linen.

All through the day Shin Hye scrubbed, dusted and wiped the whole room and when the linens have all been washed, aired and dried by late afternoon there was only one thing left in the room unwashed- its occupant. Shin Hye had wracked her brain that morning how to get the old Lord to bathe till Henry brought in his midday meal. The old lord hollered at the poor butler when he brought in the food and found that the cook included picked onions in his plate. He said the smell revolted him. How he could smell the onions over his own smell Shin Hye couldn’t understand for clearly the old lord has not bathed in awhile. Shin Hye said a little prayer before she made well her plan and was lucky enough not to have been banished from the manor when she knocked the pickled onions onto his lordships head. Of course she made sure he had a hand in the ‘accident’, flailing his arm around as she was encouraging him to taste some, but it did get him to bathe as she had hoped. Good thing he did not ask why Henry was able to prepare his warm bath so fast and the water quite warm too with scents of evergreen, the oil of which Shin Hye discovered as she was cleaning the alcove and chests in the room. There were soaps too. But the things she loves the most were the stacks of books in one of the alcoves. How she longed to open them and read but she didn’t want to give herself away so she just dusted and wiped them gently.

The old  Lord wasn’t addled. He may be ornery but amidst the noise of his scolding, rants and mumbles he observed Shin Hye work. He saw how she gingerly dusted the books almost holding them like you would a newly born pup. He saw her eyes light up seeing some of the books. Henry assisted the old lord in his bath, as Shin Hye took out his clothes to wear. She was surprised to see the Lords’ clothing, its fabrics soft, rich and luxuriant, some were even jewel encrusted. Oh well she’s only here till Father Mulroney sends word to Father Simon to get her. There is no need to understand. So her first day in the manor finished with the room and the lord clean.

Shin Hye was relatively happy for though she’s been working and cooped up inside the manor all day she didn’t have to think about the young master who had left quite early that day and no word when he will be back. After taking their evening sup Shin Hye and Hongki went to the stable to see Virginia and her foal. Shin Hye asked Hongki about certain plants and herbs but he hasn’t heard of them. She’s noticed the old lord’s knobby hands and thought that maybe it’s the lord’s joints that has gotten him so bad-tempered. Hongki was called in to help in the kitchen and left her in the stables by herself. Surely old man Thomas must have some of the wolfsbane she would need for the medicine for the old lord. If she hurries it wouldn’t be so dark when she get back, maybe just before they miss her.

So she ran through the forest to old man Thomas’ hut but what had initially meant to be a short trip didn’t turn as short as she’d hoped. Old man Thomas talked about herbs as though they were his children and went on and on. Shin Hye didn’t have the heart to dispose of old man Thomas’ supply of wolfsbane and be so disrespectful as to leave in a huff. By the time Shin Hye’s left it was quite dark. She may not be afraid much of wild animals but she hates falling down and scraping herself walking in the dark so she went by the longer route of walking near the forest’s rim, which she knew was just as dangerous with possible travelers, thieves or otherwise going by.

As she reached and took to the innermost border of the woods, still within sight of the road where it is brighter, she saw smoke to her left, the way to the manor is to her right. What could these people be doing here she didn’t want to know, she just want to be as far away as possible from where’s she’s at. Walking nimbly, her senses heightened she sensed someone following her as she walked some distance. She walked faster and stopped, the footsteps following her stopped too. This person’s light on his feet and quick, she doubted she can outrun him, or she could die trying but such movements would cause too much noise. Noise enough to rouse the attention of whomever those people were encamping. Both could be dangerous.

As though the forest didn’t have a sound all its own she heard more footsteps much further away than the light foot. She was about to make a run for it when a hand clamped on her mouth, grabbed her midsection, whispered “quiet” and lifted her a big step back behind the big trunk of an oak tree. It took some effort for her not to move when a short while after three men came, dressed like vagabonds but with broadswords strapped on their sides, no torches with them.

“I thought I heard something around here.”

“Well it was probably some animal, a wolf, they say there are plenty here.”

“You should eat more instead of pining for manor food so you wont hallucinate instead of complaining about our supplies.”

She was frozen on the spot. So frozen she didn’t notice that the hand was no longer on her mouth but was wrapped around her shoulders. She noticed the seeming cozy embrace when the three men had left, their footsteps indiscernible for quite some time and she said, “You can let go now!” “Quiet!” he hissed back. She still felt the tension in those arms and thought he must be serious. A few minutes later they heard a bird call and a few minutes more before his arms eased up and tensed again to whirl her around and clamp on her shoulders.

“Didn’t I tell you to stay in the manor?” Keun Suk angrily whispered. “Do you ever listen?” Anger and irritation clearly stamped in his tone.

“I just… I…” Shin Hye was still awashed with the fear and anticipation of impending trouble, relief, then irritation, and she was about to go into her tirade when her rescuer drew her to him, clamping her stubborn mouth now with his own, one hand pressing her back, holding her tightly to him in a tight embrace, his other hand on her neck cushioning her head as he kissed her passionately. She was still swimming in the feelings of indignation at his anger when she felt his tongue enter her open upturned lips. Now she was flooded with the sensations of what his lips and tongue were doing to her. He kissed her fiercely as though of a man drowning and she were pure air, air that he could not get enough of. He tasted her lips and traced the width of her lips, and she couldn’t think, caught in the passion he has aroused in her. Is it really possible for a kiss to do that to a person, to make her forget what she was about to do, what she was supposed to do, for her body to do one thing and her mind to say another? Right now, she just didn’t care. Maybe it was the fighter in her, for uninitiated as she is, she kissed him back. She kissed him back as passionately as he kissed her, her hands creeping up his neck to hold herself steady, her fingers entangled in his hair.

It was a hunger he only knows too well. It took a good measure of control for Keun Suk to break the kiss, as the seducer became the seduced. Thankfully he remembered the danger they were still in and that channeled the anger back into the right direction- her disobeying him, but mostly those men almost finding her. With that thought, he dragged his lips from hers and pressed her closer to him as they both tried to catch up with their breathing. He welcomed anger now and with teeth clenched he hissed, “follow me and be quiet!”

Shin Hye almost staggered when Keun Suk let go and ran. Shin Hye followed. He was fast Shin Hye thought and he really knows his forest as he made smooth turns and took paths she’d never have made, running after him as fast as she could. Shin hye concedes to his speed and deftness. “Here maybe, but maybe not in my forest,” Shin Hye thought, her stubborn pride peeking. After running for sometime they stopped to find Tristan. Keun Suk helped her up though there was no need to as Shin Hye elegantly and smoothly mounted Tristan. They rode in silence to the manor each immersed in their own thoughts.

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