By the morning of the fourth day, Geoff was confident that Hunter approved of his treatment of the girl. Geoff made a point of jerking her along behind him, remarking over his shoulder to Hunter that they wouldn’t make any time if she kept falling behind. Hunter just nodded, and when her skirts tangled around her legs and she stumbled, Hunter caught her by her arm and pushed her on.
That night, Hunter scouted for game to augment their rations, leaving Geoff to guard the girl. While he was gone, Geoff grabbed the girl by the bodice of her gown and slammed her against a tree, pinning her bound hands above her head. Leaning down, he growled into her face, feeling the sound rumble deep in his throat.
She just stood there, her eyes fixed on his chin and her breathing even. He could hear her steady heartbeat, could see the regular pulse in her throat. He hadn’t fazed her at all. Hissing in frustration, he grabbed her chin and forced her face up until he could look into her eyes.
Moments passed as he stood there, no longer aware of the way his body pressed against hers, seeing nothing but her dead, soulless eyes. No one was home in her head. Something was desperately wrong with this girl.
Geoff was barely conscious of releasing her arms, and came back to himself only when he heard a stick snap behind him. He gasped in a breath, and with that came the knowledge that it was Hunter, returned from his hunt—knowledge that kept Geoff from whirling and decapitating the interloper.
“What are you doing?” Hunter’s voice, low with anger, rumbled through the little clearing.
Geoff slowly looked back over his shoulder, noting vaguely that he was trembling. The absolute emptiness in the girl’s eyes had frightened something deep inside him.
“She,” he croaked quietly, swallowing twice before he could get more words out. “Something’s wrong with her.”
The fear in Geoff’s tone alerted Hunter that what he said was true, and the larger man strode over, pushing Geoff out of the way, and without missing a beat grabbed the girl by her throat and lifted her off her feet, slamming her back into the tree. With his free hand, he grabbed her hair, pulling her head back and forcing her to meet his eyes.
Geoff watched his companion closely as the man stared into the girl’s eyes. Both of them were shaking, but their eyes were locked. The girl’s bound hands were balled into fists, and from her short, thin gasps, it seemed that Hunter’s fist was cutting off her breath.
Time passed, and to Geoff it seemed like forever. Neither of them moved or blinked, seeming spellbound. Finally, though, it was the girl who closed her eyes. Tears were running down her cheeks, and she sagged limply in her bonds and Hunter’s restraining hands.
He turned to Geoff, pulling the girl so that she was pressed against his side. She was still crying and shaking, and Hunter was breathing in deep, shuddering gasps. “Nothing is wrong with her,” Hunter growled. “She’s just made a fool of you. Haven’t I taught you enough to know when someone’s shielding?”
Geoff nodded, a little awed in spite of himself. He had rarely seen Hunter exert as much power as it had taken to crack this one little girl’s shield. He wondered who she was, to be so strong—surely not a mere gypsy. She sniffled, and almost against his will, he reached out and stroked her hair, longing suddenly to comfort her. He rationalized that now that one of them had finally gotten a response from her, he could treat her like a human being, at the very least.
Abruptly, Hunter swung her away from Geoff by her arm and slapped her hard across her face. The brutal sound echoed through the small clearing, and Geoff gasped, choking just a bit.
“What did you do that for?” He cried. Hunter ignored his companion and raised his hand again, threatening.
“Stop witching him, girl, or it’ll go worse for you!” The girl gazed up at him, deadpan again.
“Do you really believe you can frighten me?” She asked quietly. “The fate to which you escort me is far worse than any punishment you could inflict on me.” Her voice was clear and melodious, and both men shuddered hard as they heard it for the first time.
Hunter recovered first. “Look, wench,” he began, shaking her hard. He never got to finish his sentence.
The girl drew herself up, pressing her body against Hunter’s. Both men suddenly felt warmth flood though their bodies as an electric prickling swept over their skin. Her eyes, Geoff noticed vaguely, had changed from light brown to deep gold. His gaze was most drawn, however, to her full lips, and to the way her gown hugged the modest curves of her body. He moved towards the girl with hesitant, shuddering steps, reaching out to touch her as he moved. Hunter growled possessively in response, tightening his grip on the girl, but Geoff couldn’t stop himself. He kept moving forward, reaching for the girl, until Hunter’s steady growl rose to a roar and he shoved her behind him, sending her hard into the ground.