Home > The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(5)

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(5)
Mary E. Pearson

“She caught your fancy, just as I said.”

I nodded. “Yes.”

He leaned back in his chair and shook his head, waving his hand as if it was of little matter. “So you succumbed to the charms of a woman. Better that than believing yourself to make better decisions in my stead.” He pushed his chair back and stood, walking over to a tall footed oil lamp in the corner of the room, jagged crystals rimming it like a crown. When he turned the wheel to increase the flame, splinters of light cut across his face. It was a gift from the Tomack quarterlord and didn’t fit the severity of the room. He tugged the short hair of his beard, lost in thought, and then his eyes rested on me once again. “No harm done bringing her here. She’s out of the hands of Morrighan and Dalbreck, which is all that matters. And yes, now that she’s here … I’ll decide the best way to use her. The governors’ hushed surprise at a royal in their midst wasn’t lost on me, nor the whispering of servants when she left.” A half smile played on his lips, and he rubbed at a smudge on the lantern with his sleeve. “Yes, she might prove useful,” he whispered, more to himself than to me, as if warming to the idea.

He turned, remembering I was still in the room.

“Enjoy your pet for now, but don’t get too attached. The brethren of the Sanctum aren’t like the hillfolk. We don’t settle into flabby domestic lives. Remember that. Our brotherhood and Venda always come first. It’s how we survive. Our countrymen are counting on us. We’re their hope.”

“Of course,” I answered. And it was true. Without the Komizar, even without Malich, I’d be dead by now. But don’t get too attached? It was too late for that.

He returned to his desk, shuffling through papers, then stopped to look at a map and smiled. I knew the smile. He had many. When he had smiled at Lia, I’d feared the worst. The one on his face now was genuine, a satisfied smile, meant for no one to see.

“Your plans are going well?”

“Our plans,” he corrected me. “Better than I hoped. I have great things to show you, but it will have to wait. You made it back just in time before I ride out tomorrow. The governors of Balwood and Arleston didn’t show.”

“Dead?”

“Most likely for Balwood. Either the sickness of the north country finally got him or he lost his head to a young usurper too frightened to come to the Sanctum himself.”

My guess was that Hedwin of Balwood had succumbed to a sword in the back. Just as he always boasted, he was too mean for the withering sickness of the north woods to overtake him.

“And Arleston?”

We both knew that Governor Tierny of the southernmost province was probably lying in a drunken stupor in some brothel on the road to the Sanctum and would stroll in with apologies featuring lame horses and bad weather. But his tithe of supplies to the city never wavered. The Komizar shrugged. “Hot-blooded young men can grow weary of well-oiled governors.”

As the Komizar had eleven years ago. I looked at him, still every bit the young man who had slaughtered three governors right before he killed the previous Komizar of Venda. But he wasn’t so hot-blooded anymore. No, now his blood ran cool and steady.

“It’s been a long time since there have been any challenges,” I mused.

“No one wants a target on his back, but challenges always come, my brother, which is why we must never grow lazy.” He shoved the map aside. “Ride with me tomorrow. I could use some fresh company. We haven’t ridden together in too long.”

I said nothing, but my expression must have revealed my reluctance.

He shook his head, retracting his invitation. “Of course, you’ve just returned from a long journey, and besides that you’ve brought Venda a very interesting prize. You deserve a respite. Rest a few days and then I’ll have work for you.”

I was thankful that he didn’t mention Lia as the reason. He was being more gracious than I deserved, but I took note of his emphasis on Venda, a deliberate reminder of where my loyalties belonged. I stood to leave. A draft ruffled the papers on his desk.

“A storm brews,” I said.

“The first of many,” he answered. “A new season comes.”

CHAPTER FOUR

I jumped to my feet and searched the shadows of the room, trying to see what made the noise.

“Here.”

I spun around.

A thin shaft of light took new form as someone stepped forward into its soft beam.

A dusky strand of hair. A cheekbone. His lips.

I couldn’t move. I stared at him, all I had ever wanted and all I had ever run from locked in the same room with me.

“Prince Rafferty,” I finally whispered. It was only a name, but its sound was hard, foreign, and distasteful in my mouth. Prince Jaxon Tyrus Rafferty.

He shook his head. “Lia…”

His voice shivered through my skin. Everything I had hung on to across thousands of miles shifted inside me. All the weeks. The days. Him. A farmer, now turned prince—and a very clever liar. I couldn’t quite grasp it all. My thoughts were water slipping through my fingers.

He stepped forward, the beam of light shifting to his shoulders, but I had already seen his face, the guilt. “Lia, I know what you’re thinking.”

“No, Prince Rafferty. You have no idea what I’m thinking. I’m not even sure what I’m thinking.” All I knew was that even now, as I shivered with doubt, my blood ran hot, spiking with every word and glance from him, the same feelings swirling in my belly as when we were in Terravin, as if nothing had changed. I wanted him desperately and completely.

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