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Braedon ducked as the arrow whizzed past his head. That one was too close. He plastered himself to Roan, urging his stallion faster. The horse’s muscles rippled along his spine as his powerful legs kicked up even more dirt and he fell into an all out run. At least they hadn’t thrown a spell at him.How the hell had they caught up so fast? He’d lost them for almost three sevendays this time. Braedon muttered his most reliable masking spell. Hopefully it would take effect at top speed. He’d never tried it before.Roan dove into the woods, leaving the paved road. Braedon’s thighs clenched as he tried to adjust to the bumpier terrain. He gave the stallion some head to lead them where he would. Roan would be more sure of his footing that way, and he had never steered them wrong in the past.“Where did the bastard go?” The shout made him freeze for a moment, and Braedon muttered the words to his spell again. His concentration was complete this time, so there was no doubt that it would work. They would now be virtually invisible.Even if they had a mage among them, usually the mercenaries that were sent after him weren’t the brightest apples in the barrel. Overgrown meat was much more likely. Usually to Braedon’s advantage.He slowed Roan to a walk, patting his beloved horse on the neck. The stallion was sweaty, a condition Braedon was sharing. He would love to run into a descent body of water for a bath. They could both use a long drink as well.Finding an inn tonight would be out of the question. Braedon sighed. They ducked between two trees and remained still; the only noise was their breathing. He cocked his head to the side to listen, sending a prayer to the Blessed Spirit that his spell would hold.He missed Vanora. And Jorrin. It would be beneficial to forget them, or at least forget how much time had elapsed since he’d been forced to leave them. But no, his mind clung to them, and their memories. His infant son in his arms, that sweet, clean baby scent in his nose as he held the child close to his chest. His beautiful elfin lifemate, her sapphire eyes looking up at him, filled with love he saw as well as absorbed with his empathic magic. How she felt in his arms, how her flaxen hair felt against his fingertips, her long, elegant tapered ears. Her full lips against his as they kissed. Her body beneath his as they moved together.“Stop. You’re just pathetic,” he whispered to himself. Roan’s ears twitched and Braedon smirked. The horse would probably agree if he could get into his head.How long had it been anyway? Two turns, four months, three sevendays, and oh, five days. Did he know the hours? Would he admit it even to himself? Braedon shook his head, then froze. They were coming.Small branches snapping, the shifting of leaves and underbrush. All of that noise was too much disturbance to be an animal. At least not one that knew anything about being in the woods.Voices, muttering, cursing, and then shouting as they coordinated.“Where is the bastard?”“We should have brought Conroy.”“That damn mage is a fraud.”There was some more disagreement before an annoyed growl cut them off.“Shut it, you two, before I shut it for you. Just find the arse before I make you explain things to the boss.” The voice was heavily accented. The man was from the far north, like Braedon himself.He leaned down, closer to Roan. The horse’s thick mane tickled his chin. Braedon couldn’t see them yet, but the heavy hooves of their horses told him there were more in the party than the three voices he heard. His stallion’s ears twitched again and his nostrils flared. Roan smelled them coming closer. He shifted where he stood.“Shhh lad, we’re invisible.” Braedon patted the horse’s neck and held steady, praying his words were true.The stench of the mercenaries hit his nose before he saw them. Braedon made a face and took a breath he held for a moment. He amended his worry about his own body odor. There was no way he smelled as badly as the bastards chasing him.Bickering voices matched the ugly rough hewn faces as two of the men passed him. He swallowed hard, one hand on Roan’s reins and the other on the hilt of his sword. Both hands showed the white of his knuckles.He had a spell on the tip of his tongue that would expel the bastards away from him and give them a head start if his masking spell failed.His breath exited on a whoosh and he flexed his shoulders as two more rode past them with no reaction. They could not see him or his stallion. He made a fist and stopped himself from pumping it in the air in victory. He wasn’t all that proud that he’d finally succeeded in an idiot proof masking spell. The real test would come if and when he ran into other magic. Braedon would really have only succeeded if the spell was magic proof, too.He waited quite a while in the woods, between those same two trees. The men were probably long gone, but he’d not wanted to tempt fate.What was fate anyway? Was this his fate? Always Running. Away from his family? The woman he’d never considered he even deserved and the child that hadn’t been but a few months old when he’d fled? Vanora didn’t deserve this. He’d left her to raise their child on her own. His son didn’t deserve to grow up without his father.Roan’s neigh brought him from his pained thoughts, and Braedon patted his neck. “Thank you, my friend. I needed a distraction.”He pressed his knees to the stallion’s sides, and Roan bolted forward. Soon they were out of the woods and back on the paved road, but Braedon didn’t stop looking over his shoulder for a few hours. And he said his masking spell again...just in case.
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