What could be done? In her weakened state, she had been forced to adjust to current circumstances. Actually, she did more than adjust. She embraced and loved the camp and its busy way of life. She admired the men's jolly outlook and adventurous spirit, loved the freedom of living so far from laws and death and taxes, here under the beautiful trees and among the wild animals. She felt, for the first time in her life, that she belonged. This place was made for her.
And so, it seemed, was Will. Could he possibly feel the same way? There were lots of pretty girls all over Nottinghamshire. Why shouldn't he be in love with one of them? And they had only known each other for five days. Surely she was being a fool. She wanted to believe she was something special. Maybe, just maybe, she was enough for him, but what had she to offer? No money. She couldn't cook a meal to save her life. In the eyes of all the village women, she was a failure. Who wanted an awkward, gruff girl whose only talent was fighting? And now she couldn't even do that. If it weren't for Will, she would be dead, and she hated to a burden. She was probably nothing but a helpless child in his eyes. She didn't even want to think about what he'd do if he learned about her past.
But her heart didn't listen. It kept revisiting the feel of Will's arms, strong and protecting as he carried her. When she was too weak to walk, the sound of his steady heartbeat filled her ears as her head rested against his chest. She was in love, and reason had nothing to do with it.
Just as Alexis was picturing Will pushing a lock of hair out of her face and leaning in, closer, so close, his lips coming to meet hers, she looked up and there he was standing above her, two bowls of stew in his hand. She started and blushed, feeling the full weight of her reflections, embarrassed that their object was now looking at her. Would he ever know?
"Hello? You awake? What's so fascinating about the fire that you'll let me stand here with my arms getting tired? Here, take this." Will placed the meal in her hands and threw her a sidelong glance as he took his seat beside her, stretching out and warming his hands. The weather was getting colder, and the snappy chill in the wind told forebodingly of winter's approach. He had replaced his scarlet kerchief with an equally red scarf bundled snugly about his neck.
Alexis picked up her spoon and was flustered enough to take a mouthful of the steaming stew, burning the inside of her mouth and nearly choking on the hot meat and broth. Will clapped her on the back and asked, "Are you alright? I guess I should have warned you that it's hot. Here, drink this." And he handed her some water.
She took it gratefully, and once she had regained her composure, said, "What 'rich tyrant did you teach a lesson, and what poor, wronged peasant did you avenge,' as you so colorfully put it?" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, though, she wondered if she should have let on that she had overheard Will and Robin's conversation.
Will's reply seemed to indicate that she had nothing to fear. He said, "None, really. Gisborne decided to rip apart half of the homes and shops in Loxley, and we helped the people rebuild once the scoundrel left for the castle."
"Gisborne? Why would he do something like that?" But Alexis had to turn away as she said this. She just couldn't meet his eyes.
"He was looking for something stolen from him, but they didn't know exactly what. The thief wasn't found. And one man was cut down where he stood." Robin had answered for Will, as he sat across from them and fixed his piercing gaze on Alexis. She would have had to be deaf or daft to miss the tone of suspicion in his voice.
Alexis choked again, shocked by this bit of news and terrified by the look Robin shot at her. It wouldn't be long before one of them made the connection and realized she was the thief, and now she was responsible for the death of an innocent man. This was never what she had wanted.
"Are you alright?" Will looked worried as Alexis coughed and sputtered. "Something wrong with your throat?"
"Umm, I'm just tired. I've just been out in the cold too long. I think I'll go get some sleep now. Good night," Alexis muttered, springing to her feet and retreating into her hut.
Robin looked at his cousin, raising his eyebrows. Will lowered his gaze and fell to poking the fire.