Liam froze for a second, then wrapped his arms around her and started kissing her back, hard. Eventually, he broke off and buried his face in her neck, much as she had with him a number of times. She stroked his back, gently kissed the top of his head, and gave him smooth, soothing words of comfort and praise. He still clung but his breathing gradually slowed and his desperate hold eased.

He sat up and turned, arms still around her, so his back was against the tree and she was in her more usual spot, tucked safely into him.

“Ana, I’m so sorry, I wanted to give you a happy day out and now look. I nearly kill both of us and then fall apart on you.”

Anaria smacked his chest and sat up so she could glare at him properly.

“You saved both our lives, and when the danger was over, you reacted because you were scared and you care. Don’t you dare ever apologise for that or I will make you eat my bread instead of Sarah’s for the rest of your life.”

“But I should have thought. With all the rain, the stream should have been up, and it wasn’t, I should have realised it was blocked further upstream and there could be a dam burst.”

“Could, should, maybe, might. It happened. You recognised the danger before I’d even heard it and got us to safety. You are not allowed to think of this as some sort of way of you being not good enough. If the whole stream blocking thing was so obvious, why didn’t John mention it this morning? I know you would have told him where we were going.”

Liam’s thoughtful silence told her she was right.

She sighed and shifted, “Come on, despite your fast thinking, we’re both damp and muddy and really should find a way out of here and head back to the village to dry off.”

Liam nodded and they stood, turning to inspect the destruction of the forest pool and its surrounds.

Anaria sighed, “It looks like it was so pretty before. I hope it can recover.”

Liam nodded again as he scanned the area for a passable route out, he pointed out a navigable route and, taking Anaria’s hand again, set out.

As she followed, Anaria was astounded to see he’d somehow managed to keep hold of their bag of provisions, although she wasn’t sure what state the contents would be in.

They skidded around, staying above the treeline where possible, then scrambled up a kinder part of the bank, about a quarter of the way around the clearing. Adding insult to injury, the rain decided to start up again, making their path out even more slippery.

“What would happen if we followed where the stream goes out again?”

“It goes into a rather long stretch of thorny bushes, although they’re likely more open now. I’ll have to come back for a proper check with John tomorrow.”

“You won’t do it this afternoon?”

“We’re a long way from the village and I’d rather not have you do the trek wet and cold, you’ll get sick. We’re actually heading for the second place I had planned for us today. It’s a lot closer and we can dry off there, then head back in good time without risking pneumonia.”

She looked at him questioningly as they scaled the last part of the slope and reached level ground, moving to walk side by side as Liam checked his bearings and started moving carefully through the trees, keeping to heavier foliage and trying to keep them dry, it was probably past worrying about though.

He answered her unspoken question, sort of. “That old chap who invented the bath house.”

“Patty’s grandfather.”

“Yes. Well he was a bit eccentric and didn’t always like having other people living on top of him. So he built a second little hut out in the forest a ways. Used it when he wanted to have a bit of thinking time. He usually came back with some new contraption or way of doing things, and the hut has a lot of his first attempts at things, so it’s a rather interesting spot to explore.”

“If it has a roof, walls and a fireplace, I’ll be happy.”

Liam grinned, Anaria looked at him, “What?”

“Just remembering your reactions when you first came to the village. You’re adapting amazingly fast town girl.”

Anaria fidgeted and looked down, “Not really, I’d still rather a proper house with tea and biscuits and my book.”

“You’ve not even looked at your book since we got here.”

“I haven’t had time, and really, it’s one I know by heart, I only ever read it for comfort at home, I mean in town.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s old stories. To be honest my father probably would have thrown it out of the house ages ago if he’d known exactly what it was and how much I’ve loved it.”

“What? Why?”

“He doesn’t think it’s appropriate to be filling my head with fluff and silliness like magic and fae and happy ever after. I should be using my time and intelligence to improve my knowledge of neighbouring countries, trade routes, law, languages and cultural variations.”

“That’s rather dry.”

“A lot of it is fascinating, but sometimes I just need the reading equivalent of a warm blanket and a hug and that’s what that book is to me.”

“And you’ve not been able to read it since we got here.”

Anaria squeezed his arm, “I get actual hugs here. They’re better.”

Liam smiled again and led her into a clearing. The cottage was a little weathered but in good condition and sat a convenient distance from yet another stream. Anaria eyed the latter with misgiving.

“That’s not going to explode on us as well is it?”

Liam shook his head, “This is a different one and has a much more open course further upstream. Plus I can see it’s running higher than usual, so the rain water’s coming down as it should, rather than being blocked up.”

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