Nathaniel was right. Katherine did protest, and strongly so. With only the mention of a postponement of the test - and with it, their possible intimacy - she hissed and glared at him, telling him how she knew best if she was fine or not.
"Well obviously, you don't", he rebuked, not giving in an inch. "If you did, I wouldn't have to carry you back here. If you did, you might have stopped healing that man before you got so exhausted you couldn't stand. It is either you not knowing your own limits or you willingly taking the risk despite the danger for yourself. Which do you want it to be? Or is it both?"
Unwillingly, Katherine gritted her teeth. She knew that both answers would lead Nathaniel to the same conclusion, namely letting them wait again. It was so frustrating that she barely stopped herself from screaming out loud. For a second, she thought about just pushing him on the small bed in the corner of him chamber and making him feel her frustration on his skin. Already taking a step forward, she balled her fists. But at the last moment, she stopped herself. No, that would only make matters worse, like the last time. If she did that to him now, it would be betraying his trust. She didn't want to do that ever again.
Panting with suppressed rage, she closed her eyes. Despite this, one poisonous question couldn't help falling from her lips: "Are you sure you're not just afraid of trying?"
When no answer came, she opened her eyes to see inside these beautiful red orbs. They were not cold like they had always been when he rejected her in the past. That was what made her hope. The brows above were no angry swords, but knitted arches, as if he was troubled or irritated.
"Can you tell me confidently that you would be okay with trying one day?", she reformed her question, as it didn't seem he understood what she meant. "Or are you just searching for excuses because you are afraid of the result should we ever try?"
The red eyes narrowed dangerously at her, how she stood before him: in a creme colored dress with her fists balled to her sides and anger blushing her cheeks. He had prepared himself for a fight with her, reminded himself that an angry person might easily say things that weren't meant that way, but this was tip-toeing the line. Even dressed delicately, Katherine was nothing but a lioness. An angry lioness, hurt in her pride. Any weaker character might be ripped to shreds by her claws.
Suddenly he bent down, narrowing the gap between them to a mere hand width, while his finger tipped her chin upwards. "Are you calling me a coward, Katherine? Do you really think I would torture us both for naught? You should know me better than this."
She huffed, and turned her head away, but by then he already had his answer. Within her head, Katherine knew all that. She might even know it was the right thing to do, she just was so stubborn that she didn't want to give in. And suddenly, he had an idea how to dissolve her tension. A sly smile formed on his lips, as he suggested: "How about you take your frustrations out on me in the training field? I didn't confirm your progress in person yet, so this could be a perfect opportunity."
Katherine head however was still full of the things she couldn't have. She pouted. "No. I don't want to. I know you will win easily, so that wouldn't help at all."
Exasperated, Nathaniel rubbed the skin between his brows, smoothening them out. In a way, her assessment was right. He had planned to only defend, but that didn't mean she would be able to break through that. If he let her win, she would notice and be annoyed all the same. "So, what else do you want then?"
The question was a bait. They both knew he wouldn't change his decision, but maybe he could make it easier for her to accept. The first time when they negotiated, she had demanded a horse, then dating time and finally a maid. Katherine might be hardheaded, but she also knew how to take advantage of an unavoidable situation.
When Nathaniel's question rang in the room, her mind started churning. Was there something she wanted? Monetary gains didn't bother her right now. She had everything she wanted... everything but him. But the frustrating thing was that she couldn't have him because he was too stubborn. But when it was about negotiating, couldn't she...?
Between her long lashes, she glanced up at him, her cheeks blazing even more brightly. Knowing that shy but determined gaze, Nathaniel took a step back. "I told you no. Anything but myself. At least for now."
Hearing the words, Katherine's heart sped up and her tongue darted out to wet her dry lips. "So, you are saying I will get you later? When will I get you?"
Mesmerized by the sight before him, he couldn't answer directly. He was tempted. Katherine saw the swallowing motion of his adam's apple as he couldn't help but scrutinize her once more. "Maybe in a week. Maybe longer."
His gaze was so intense that it nearly felt like a touch that was coursing down her skin, over her breasts, to her stomach and... even deeper. She pressed her legs together, the small movement igniting the suppressed fire in him and making his eyes glim with hunger. It was somewhat helpful to see him tortured as well.
She opened her mouth, but when his eyes rushed up again to hang on her lips she forgot what she wanted to say for a second. She took a trembling breath. "Let's... make a bet."
His eyes remained on her, making her skin tingle. She wasn't sure if he just waited for her to explain or didn't trust his voice, so she clarified: "You'll kiss me."
When he opened his mouth to interrupt, she raised her hand. "You'll only kiss me. And if it is possible for you to do only that for... let's say a minute... I'll lose and we will postpone the tests for a week. But if you so much as touch me anywhere else, I win and we do the tests immediately. Is that fair enough for you?"
Behind this perfect face of his, she felt like she could see the gears of his mind work. He was searching for any loophole in the plan, any way she was trying to influence the result. "What is after that week? What if you are not recovered? Can we bet once more for another week then?"
She grinned with a bit of bitterness and brushed a dark wave of hair behind her ear. "Maybe. Who knows what will happen in a week? Maybe my head will be stronger than yours then or you will give in to me willingly. I would very much appreciate that."
When she said this, his eyes blazed and she knew that should he ever decide to make his move, it wouldn't be so passively as 'giving in'. But his suspicion about the bet wasn't fully dissolved yet. "Then what about you? You should be restricted by the no-touching rule as well while the bet lasts."
"Do you really think I could hold myself back like you do?" She laughed devilishly, with a hint of self-deprecating. "No, no, we are betting on your resolve and self-control, not on mine. But if you insist, I can compromise. I'm only allowed to touch you from the hip up. How about this?"
"Sounds good to me", he acknowledged, and pulled on the golden chain of his pocket watch. Looking at the time, he asked: "One minute, was it?"
When she gave a nod, he laid it on the bedside table. Amplified by the wood, the ticking noise was now clearly discernable. "Just so you know, you can't be angry anymore if I win the bet. After all, you were the one who suggested it."
Katherine huffed. "There will be no need to be angry anymore." When she saw his stern gaze, she lightly rolled her eyes. "Alright, I promise I won't be angry. Can we start yet?"
With another look at the watch, Nathaniel nodded. "The minute starts... now."