I know, I know. Book three doesn’t even have a title and I already have a deleted scene. I just wrote this this morning and suddenly decided that, even though I like it, it probably doesn’t work. But I do kind of like it, and since it’s not really spoilery, I thought I’d post it here.

I guess there’s a chance it could still end up in the book, but it feels more like a darling that needs to be deleted. Oh, and first draft warning.

“Okay.” Aren reaches a hand down into the muck we’re crouched in. “But I don’t want you to attract attention.”

He reaches toward my face.

I bat his hand away.

“I’m wearing a cloak,” I protest, knowing exactly what he’s planning to do with the palm full of sludge.

“You won’t be,” he says, throwing the cloak off my shoulders. He grabs one of my hands before I can pull it back.

I cringe when he spreads the thick muck from my wrist to my elbow. Dirt and filth don’t normally bother me, but I don’t think this stuff is just mud. It’s a lighter brown, only a few shades darker than my skin.

“Is this really necessary?” I ask.

“You practically glow, McKenzie.” He doesn’t meet my eyes. His words could be taken at face value, an objective statement of fact because my chaos lusters do reflect off the soft rain, causing tiny halos of light to linger above my skin before they vanish into the dark. But Aren’s tone betrays him. It slides over me like a gentle kiss, making his words so much more than just a statement of fact.

He finishes painting my hands, grabs another palm full, then begins slicking it over my face and neck. I’ve missed Aren’s touch, but this… This is so not sexy.

“It smells like tar,” I say.

“It’s called pylin. It seeps up from the ground in this region, and we paint it over jaedric to harden and seal it into armor.” He sees my eyes widen, gives me a small smile. “It’ll come off with a little scrubbing.”

The fact that it’s not coming off in this light rain makes me doubt that it’ll take just a little scrubbing.

“Finished,” he says, then he looks over his shoulder at Trev and Taber. “Ready?”

Both men nod, and all three take off their cloaks, discarding them in the canal.

“Stay close,” Aren says to me. “You’re all of our eyes. If we’re separated or if this goes badly, find a dark corner to hide in and… and Taltrayn will come for you.”

If Kyol doesn’t come before then. I’m doing a better job at hiding my anxiety than he’s doing hiding his. It’s killing him, not being here to protect me.