Kate slipped away from a banquet to nurse her newborn son, Rafe. She hasn't seen Kiefan in months, thanks to both their busy lives.
My eye caught movement and I turned back. Kiefan stepped off the flagstone path and crossed the grass, warm light from the doorway catching on his gold band. I smiled. “You escaped.”
“It was not easy.” He put a hand on my arm and looked to be sure none watched us. We drew further around the kitchen-cottage, into the gap between it and the stockade wall. Deeper in the shadows. I put my hand out, brushed across the mud-plaster wall, and set my back to it.
Kiefan’s hand on my arm slipped up to my cheek, tipped my head and his kiss, sudden and deep, squeezed a whimper from my throat. His tongue, his whiff of lavender soap, tore open a yearning I’d half forgotten. Gently pressed against the wall, I wished I could put both arms around him. I had to settle for clenching a handful of his cote, at the shoulder.
Rafe wiggled between us, and Kiefan looked down. He slipped a finger across Rafe’s open hand, and my baby gripped in return.
“I meant no disrespect to your grandfather,” Kiefan said, voice low. “Rafe is as much his blood as my father’s. I only wanted to see you, and my son, and know you’re both well.” He tugged against Rafe’s grip as he said it. My baby’s hand opened and his arm dropped to his side as he relaxed into his work. “I’ve missed you,” Kiefan murmured.
There’d been some letters, far too limiting for what needed to be said. I’d doubted myself, as Anders and I settled into our comfortable routine. I’d worried what I’d say in this moment, to Kiefan. Feared, even, that he’d sense it. Smell Anders’ kindness on me and how it made my heart quiver.
And all this was a heartbeat too long for me to answer; Kiefan put his forehead to mine. “What do you fear?” he whispered.
My breath caught in my throat, at that. “I’ll miss you more, once you’re wed,” I managed to answer. It was part of the truth.
He wore his lamia-tooth brooch, on the shoulder of his black silk cote, perhaps to remind everyone why the monsters hadn’t sung in the forest all year. It was the sparkling cote from Solstice, I realized with a blink. I’d helped him peel it off over his head.
Slim chance I ever would again, no matter how much love lay between us. He was here to find a pair of Caer brides, after all; it was his duty. They’d know they had to share him, and weren’t likely to share him any further. Even if he were so lucky as to find twins that he got on well with…
He touched a kiss to my neck, just by my ear, and a shiver shot along my spine. The memory of his hands on my skin, his mouth — but my heart stretched, strained in my chest. It was well snared by Kiefan and dragged toward him, but felt the pull of another hook.
Anders. His little touches. How he kissed my cheek in the morning. How he’d always take Rafe, when asked, and walk him to sleep. Anders loved me, he surely wanted more, and to lead him on — and lie to Kiefan — was more than I could bear.
Rafe, tangled in the middle of it all, had his own hooks in my heart. “I have a new lord,” I whispered in kind, “and I must attend him four times nightly. I have a saint and duties to him. As do you. Once the Caer ladies are here…” I had to trail off on that thought. Kiefan deserved love.
Back cover of Disciple, Part IV
Kate can’t avoid the simple truth any longer; as much as she loves Kiefan, he’s now the king and his duties leave him precious little time for her and their newborn son. Kate’s husband Anders, the ne’er-do-well knight, is the one who kisses her cheek every morning and soothes the baby to sleep on his shoulder.
Kiefan’s protective jealousy still casts a shadow over her life. He would gladly throw Anders to the wolves if it will keep alliance negotiations from collapsing. Their homeland desperately needs these allies against the invading Empire. The kingdom barely survived the first wave of the enemy’s monstrous army and more is to come.
But Kate can’t stand by and let Anders become a victim — or let Kiefan suspect she’s falling in love with her husband.
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