Severin, who was in the middle of gathering up his tools, paused. His expression softened as he looked to Elle. “You have no family?”

“I have a very lovely family,” Elle said. “I have my father and two sisters. But they will not think to miss me until come Christmas time as I work for the crown and spend my days away from home,” she truthfully said.

“I see,” the prince rumbled. “But shouldn’t you send word?”

Elle shook her head. “It would only worry them.”

Severin’s white fangs jutted out of his lips when he frowned. “I would think it to be their right to worry for your well being.”

Elle fluffed her cloak in hopes of taking the bite out of the chilly air. “You are correct, and they would worry, but…”

Severin watched Elle out of the corner of his eyes. “If you change your mind inform Emele and she will make arrangements,” he said.

“Thank you.”

Severin shrugged his massive shoulders. “You should return indoors.”

“It’s fine, I like the cold. Besides, Emele isn’t finished talking to Marc yet.”

“It will make you ill,” Severin said.

“An hour of the cold is hardly enough to make me sick.”

“Your breathing is labored already.”

“You can hear that well?” Elle asked, her gaze hinged on the prince.

Severin shouldered his tools. “Yes.”

Elle narrowed her eyes and stared at the transformed prince, wondering exactly how well he could hear, and what he knew as a result. When Severin eyed her she realized she was being too serious and let a smile slide across her lips. “Impressive. That’s just like a ca—,”

“No,” Severin flatly interrupted before he turned to leave.

Elle laughed at his exit before she called after him. “It was pleasant chatting with you, Your Highness.”

Severin did nothing to acknowledge the comment and disappeared further into the gardens.

Elle chuckled before she made her way back to the edge of the garden Emele was stationed in.

Emele smiled as Marc bowed, but the ladies maid startled when Elle accidentally broke the moment by sneezing.

“Excuse me,” Elle said, sheepishly wiping her nose when the gardener and ladies maid turned to face her.

Emele clasped a hand over her heart before she quickly wrote. How thoughtless of me, you must be freezing! Let us go indoors.

“I’m fine, it was just a sneeze,” Elle said.

Emele shook her head with determination and pointed to the chateau.

Elle sighed. “Very well. It was pleasant to see you again, Marc,” Elle called to the bear-man before Emele hauled her away.

The gardener bowed and returned to his work as the girls made their way to the chateau.

Chapter 7

Sickness and Health

Elle coughed and avoided looking at Emele, who was pacing in front of the roaring fireplace. “Emele, it is not your fault I caught a cold. Would you stop feeling guilty?” Elle said. She sniffled and rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands.

Emele wrung her hands, stopping to check the percolating tea infusion of water and dried hoarhound leaves and flowers.

Elle leaned back against the pillows fluffed around her when the ladies maid deemed the drink prepared.

Emele carried a cup of the infusion to Elle, hovering as Elle experimentally sniffed it. It didn’t smell like much, nor did it have a strong flavor to it, but Elle suspected she couldn’t taste well with her head as stuffed at it was anyway. She sipped the drink, downing it at an acceptable pace in between the waffling sniffles of her drippy nose.

When she finished the drink Emele took the dishes away and tenderly brushed Elle’s hair as Elle closed her eyes and relaxed in the warmth of her bed.

Elle yawned, but opened an eye with interest when someone knocked on the door. A maid entered the room, pushing a cart that was topped with a tray.

Unfit to leave her room as she was, Bernadine had made a feast to be brought to Elle. There were two kinds of soup, toasted breads, and a thin but sweet gruel.

“Bernadine is an angel,” Elle said, taking a spoonful of soup. The flavor was strong enough that Elle could taste the tang of the sharp onion.

Emele dutifully sat at Elle’s side, occasionally reaching out to pass Elle a piece of bread, a cloth napkin, or another cup of her hoarhound infusion.

The simple foods were heavenly to Elle, soothing her stomach and warming her from the inside out. “Thank you, Emele,” Elle said, drifting off to sleep after she finished her food.

She dozed, reveling in the warmth and comfort of her bed, but woke and opened her eyes to Prince Severin quietly placing a vase of daisies at her bedside.

“Where in the blazes did you get those,” Elle said, startling Severin with her abrupt wakefulness.

“There is a hothouse for vegetables and flowers,” Severin said, blending in with the shadows on the wall.