Home > Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(9)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(9)
Kathryn Purdie

The shame, the shock, rooted me to the spot. I sat balled with my legs bent up, the nightdress over my knees wet with tears. The rest of me was strangely dry. It had been from the moment I’d awakened. The heat from the burning convent, which had ended the lives of so many, had saved me from freezing to death while unconscious. The irony did little to bring me comfort. Neither did the man lying beside me on the thawed ground. He died after all the risk I had taken. His skin was black and blistered. His face burned beyond recognition. The remnants of his half-eaten clothes were seared to his body. I’d never seen anything so horrific. Still, I couldn’t make myself leave his side. Some part of me waited for his eyes to open, as if that could also awaken me from this nightmare.

But no matter how long I remained, his emotions didn’t stir. No one’s did but my own.

I’d often wished for solitude, to be alone with my thoughts and not bear the weight of someone else’s feelings.

I would never wish for anything again.

The sun bled through the skeletal branches of a tree in the west garden of the convent, casting long shadows that crept toward me with the fading light. I stood on shaking legs. I needed to go inside. Face Sestra Mirna. Resign myself to a life of penance. A lifetime wouldn’t be enough.

I crossed my arms over my chest to trap in any remaining warmth from my body and made my way around the convent, climbing over fallen, charred pieces of who knew what. Perhaps the bed I would have shared with Yuliya if she weren’t in the infirmary.

If there were something to be grateful about, it was that she had survived.

The debris from the fire still smoldered with heat. As it scorched my toes and became too cumbersome to climb over, I widened my circle around the convent and searched for a safe place to enter. I lifted my hem above my ankles and trudged through the snow. My nightdress was smudged with black from ash and smoke, and my hair was singed at the ends. I could only imagine how disheveled the rest of my appearance was. Sestra Mirna would suspect the worst. And she would be right.

My head hung low, my gaze trapped on the ground, when the sound of sleigh bells made me glance up. The sleigh wasn’t yet visible on the snow-drifted road, and the gate to the convent was still ajar from last night. I hadn’t troubled myself to close it. Between then and now, enough snow had melted beneath it so the gate fell wide open on its uneven hinges.

My muscles tensed as I waited for any emotion to take hold, to warn me of who might be coming—or at the very least reveal the energy of their aura, which might clue me in to their motive. We shouldn’t have visitors now. Couriers for food and supplies were the only people who came here, and we’d received a large delivery five days ago.

The sleigh bells jangled louder. Around the bend, gliding through the snow, came a brightly painted troika. The three-horse sleigh made my lips part with surprise . . . until my jaw locked as a rush of protectiveness flooded through me. I had to think of those still alive in the convent. A troika meant whoever had come here needed to do so urgently. And that someone—a man, if I’d judged correctly from this distance—was a noble. Only the highborn in Riaznin had a legal right to be the sole passenger of a troika. It was a luxury reserved for the wealthy. But why was no driver seated on the center horse? No noble would stoop to drive a sleigh on his own.

My heart quickened, but I couldn’t be certain if it was my own apprehension—I didn’t trust anyone but Yuliya—or if the emotion came from the visitor.

The man raised his arms to whip the horses, but just as he did so, his hands fell and his head lifted as he took in the view of the burned convent. The three horses slowed to a trot, and I saw the man in greater detail. He was clean-shaven like the men from Estengarde, though his features looked more Riaznian. Dark eyebrows set low near his eyes, and a long and well-defined nose centered his face. His prominent feature was a handsomely sculpted mouth, even if his upper lip was too thin. It was a mouth that didn’t look suited to smiling.

As the troika drew closer, he looked younger, no older than Nadia. His dusty-brown hair fell in well-groomed waves that reached his cheekbones. He was definitely noble born; a commoner wouldn’t trouble himself with frequent haircuts. The man brushed a lock from his eye and stared at the convent in amazement. I felt the awe of the horrible sight, the awe within him, the awe still lingering in me. As if sensing my connection to him, his gaze shifted to where I stood in the snowy field. His eyes never left me, not while the horses continued down the road, not while they trotted through the gates and kicked up snow from their hooves. I had a keen idea of what I looked like, but did my appearance reveal all I had done?

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