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Something drove her scrambling for consciousness like a drowning man clawing towards the surface of the ocean. Gasping, floundering and disoriented, pulse pounding in her ears, blood so thick with adrenaline it felt as if her heart and head were warring over the privilege of being the first to erupt.
That she hadn’t roused from sleep with a headache proved only a minor consolation. Jess wanted to sit up and scream, pound her mattress with her fists, throw her pillows across the room.
A temper tantrum wouldn’t cure the insomnia.
With a grimace pulling at her mouth, Jess kicked off her bed linens and fumbled in the moonlit darkness for a pair of breeches and shirt. After easing into the well-worn leather of her riding boots, she pushed away from the bed. It was never too early to start cleaning stalls and mixing mash for the broodmares, after all. And the routine chores would soothe nerves frayed from … whatever had startled her awake.
Moving through the rancher towards the kitchen, the pale panels of polished wood gleamed in Letra’s waxing but feeble illumination. The single lunar Twin hung low in the sky, near to setting. Before moving from the relative shadows of the hallway, she caught the gentle sound of leather against wood. Easing backwards, she breathed through her nose and shifted her weight closer to the wall. The floorboards sometimes creaked towards the center of the hall, and she had yet to pinpoint the guilty slat.
Jess wasn’t certain if her father’s signs of insomnia were routine after so many years or recently acquired habits. The only reason she’d discovered he was often up at night lately was because she was too. Where she haunted the stables and discovered an obsession for cleanliness in the feed room, he frequently received visitors under the veil of the night. Thus far, she’d caught nothing more than dual silhouettes through the kitchen window, a flurry of movement as the visitor departed without the slightest sound. Like shadow within a shadow.
Her view of the kitchen was rather limited, but she knew Deuroff Myfala had a guest. She could feel the second person in the way the excess energy vibrated along her skin, a chill deeper than the cool, strangely charged air of late night on the prairies. Whoever it was, the individual rivaled her retired Mardonkan father for presence.
"You knew this day would come, Deuroff. The blood of House Dracon runs strong. Just like always." A contralto voice, so flat and firm it sounded devoid of femininity. Jess gave in to the shudder she felt swelling just beneath the surface of her skin, but it didn’t ease her sensitivity to the tense vibrations in the air. If anything, the feeling of excess energy ratcheted up a notch
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