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Chapter 35: Intrusion

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"Careful, or you'll break it," Elise says over my shoulder, watching as I stir her sauce in a pot on the stove.

"Break it? What do you mean; it's liquid," I say, peering behind.

"Like this?" Maude asks, and Elise turns to judge her knife skills. Somewhere between our offer to help with dinner and now, Elise has made dinner preparations into a cooking lesson.

"A little thinner."

"I'll cut my fingers," Maude argues.

"Not if you hold the knife like I told you to." Elise bumps Maude out of the way and takes over. "Like this—see. I can't cut myself because of my knuckles."

Maude huffs. "Can I do something else instead?"

I hear the front door open, and my chest swells. "Here," I tell Maude, "do this. I think Theo's home."

She picks up my wooden spoon as I leave it resting in the pot of brown sauce. I wipe my hands quickly on a kitchen towel and then step out into the hallway, just catching Elise's frantic, "Careful! Not too fast."

Theo is about to head upstairs when he sees me, but he turns from the staircase and comes around the railing post instead. Like every other day he's returned from Rowan, he looks exhausted—it's not easy running there and back constantly—but he still manages to grin and entertain me.

"I just thought I would welcome you home," I say in a delicate tone.

Theo lifts my chin higher for my mouth to readily receive his nerve-riling kiss, a greeting I wish would last longer as he moves back and I unhurriedly open my eyes.

I breathe in sharply and grab his hand, suddenly worried he might walk away when I'm not ready to release him.

"Is everything alright?" He asks, letting me hold onto him.

I watch my hands examine his much bigger one. "Can I come with you to Rowan tomorrow? You are going back, right?"

"I am. Is there a reason you want to come?"

"I thought I would visit my family's home and take anything Lily or I might want." I look up. "Our mom left today, and I doubt she went back there with you and all the Draven guards around, so I figured I would have one last look at the house before it's abandoned."

"And your mother left alone?"

"Lily stayed, of course. Between me and Elise, I don't think there's anywhere else she'd rather be."

"So your mother is traveling alone?" He questions.

I withhold my wince. "I'd rather not think about her all by herself on unclaimed land, but I gave my clearance for her to pass the border—if that's how it works—and she hasn't come back, so I'm assuming they let her through."

"Then she's definitely past the border," Theo confirms my authorization.

"Okay. Well, she's off to Belrose." I squeeze his hand harder. "Which is good because Lily needs to get away from her, and I..."

Theo brings me against his chest and into his arms. I breathe deeply, grateful for his embrace. "You're welcome to come with me," he says.

"Okay," I breathe, my fingers pressing into his muscled back.

"I heard you saw Kalilah and the new baby."

A faint smile tugs against my lips. "Silas was sleeping the whole time. I held him—he's a very peaceful baby."

Theo's chin touches the top of my head. "He'll be sleeping a lot—he's only three days old."

I lean back, still in his arms. "Can we talk?"

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