Making the Most of Our Moonlight

Ash hugged the bark of the nearest tree as her nerves got the better of her. Some wood flaked off against her palms, leaving them sticky and gritty. It had only been an hour or so that she’d been hiking northward up the small hill, heading toward the cottage at the top. The lamp of the cottage shone ahead of her, almost as bright as the full moon—although there was no moon tonight. Maybe a full moon would’ve been a better night to try this, but Ash couldn’t wait that long. Her boss Breaker wanted her to come home with a good score tonight, and the guards in the fancy neighborhoods in town knew her. Ash didn’t dare show her face near any of the homes she used to burgle. Now—desperate, hungry, trembling with nerves—she was picking her way up the hill to rob the maiden of the moon.

Not the best idea she’d ever had, but then Ash didn’t have many good ideas to her name anyway. If she returned empty handed, well, she probably wouldn’t even have hands after that. Breaker was all out of patience with her screw ups. He’d said as much.

She moved quiet-quick through the brush, her soft, small feet making no sounds as she crept up on the cottage. The lady of the house was not asleep in her bed as any respectable woman should be at this time of night. Instead she stood on her balcony, a robe of slippery silver fabric spilling off her shoulders. Her clothes were very fine, but they were old-fashioned robes and nothing like the blouse and cotton skirt Ash was shivering in. The woman’s hair was silver, but not grizzled like an old woman’s usually was. It hung in a shining curtain down her back. Her face was young too, unlined, serene as she stared at the sky, the starlight bathing her like a benediction.

Ash’s stomach twisted as she gazed at the silver lady. An ache started in her gut that had everything to do with hunger, but nothing to do with food.

Foolish. Ash rubbed her fingers together, nerves itching as she watched and waited. The silver-haired woman showed no signs of moving, no sign of retiring to her bed. It made Ash’s job harder but not impossible. She would just have to be very quiet—

“What are you looking at?” The woman’s voice was not silver, but a high, clear tone, like a fingernail clinking against glass. She turned her head, gazing into the line of trees where Ash stood.

Ash froze, her heart hammering, and bounced on the balls of her feet. She should run, but there was nowhere to run back to, dammit. She needed this score. Breaker’s patience for her was at an end. She might hide from him for a few days in the city, but all her friends worked for Breaker too. Tears pricked her eyes.

The woman lifted one hand, beckoning. “Come, sit with me awhile. I don’t often have visitors. And you are cold and hungry.”

Ash hesitated, blinking and shocked. Did the maiden not understand? How sheltered and naive was she? Ash and her friends had seen her sometimes in town on dark nights, nights with no moon in the sky, and always looking a little lost and alone. But just because the maiden had been to town that didn’t mean she was worldly. Would she recognize a thief if one walked up to her front door to rob her?

Ash shrugged. Ah, what the hell. Maybe the maiden would have some bauble Ash could snatch and run off with. Grab and dash wasn’t Ash’s usual style, but her usual style had spectacularly failed to keep her fed and safe. Maybe it was time to try something new.

She crunched her way out of the brush, purposefully being loud. The balcony’s floor where the maiden waited was a little above Ash’s head when she stood underneath it. She hooked a hand around one of the posts and pulled herself up. Hanging onto on the outer side of the balcony, she gazed into the calm face of the silver lady as the railing stood between them.

The maiden was very beautiful up close, her face a study of sharp lines and shadows. Ash was embarrassed by her own dirty face, her ratty clothes. The woman’s skin seemed to glow.

That’s what comes of proper hygiene, I suppose. Ash cleared her throat and forced herself to meet the moon maiden’s silver-blue eyes.

The maiden tilted her head sideways, her eyes crinkling with something that might have been a smile. “You’ve come a long way to visit with me.” The maiden held a hand out to her over the railing. Ash’s mouth went a little dry at the thought of touching that silky, glowing skin. She shook her head and boosted herself over the balcony railing so she could stand beside the moon maiden.

The maiden’s eyes fluttered. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Little Thief.”

Ash puffed her chest out, trying to look offended. “Thief? I’m…I didn’t…”

The woman snorted, and raised one eyebrow.

Ash found a laugh wheezing out almost against her will. “All right. Yes. I’m here to rob you.”

“Why me? Why tonight?” The maiden led the way to a small cache of pillows and furs piled close to the balcony doors. She reclined among the plush silk and gazed up at Ash. Curiosity made her face open, her beautiful eyes wide.

Ash tried not to be too flattered by that interest, by the fact the moon maiden was even talking to her, but it was hard not to be.

Ash sat and folded her feet underneath herself trader-style. “Well, my boss is fed up with me. I bungled a big job the other week and now the city watch knows what I look like. I can’t do my usual work in the rich neighborhoods anymore—or at least not for awhile. And I, well, I knew you were all alone out here in this fancy cottage with no guards. I thought…” Ash’s cheeks burned, and she looked away.

A soft touch on her cheek made Ash jerk, startled as the maiden cradled her face.

“I’m sorry, little thief,” the maiden murmured, “I have nothing to offer you but my warmth. Perhaps you could share some of yours as well?”

She heard the purr of invitation in the maiden’s voice, and Ash’s heart hammered. “I, oh. Um.” Was this a trick? A trap?

The maiden threaded her fingers into Ash’s hair, fingers deliciously tickling at her scalp. “Don’t overthink things, my lovely thief.”

Ash swallowed and eased back, searching the maiden’s face, still unsure even as heat began to coil in her belly.

The maiden snorted and leaned closer, her eyes hooded as she brushed her lips across Ash’s mouth. “I don’t get many visitors.”

Ah.” Ash shoved her doubts away and eased toward the beautiful silver woman, draping her arms around the moon maiden’s shoulders. “And the night is rather cold, isn’t it?”