Authors: C.L. Stockton
“Where will you go?”
“To my father.” My intention was to eventually find him, but only after I found the location on the map. Once I had the complete story, I could make a wise decision about my future.
“He wants the pendant. Not you.” His mouth tightened, his eyes a deep, angry cobalt. “You belong here.”
I wasn’t here to argue, but I had to make a few things very clear so he wouldn’t follow me. “I don’t.”
Our eyes met. He knew his position was weak. Sighing, he said, “At least allow me to see you safely to your father.”
I shook my head. “I want nothing from you.”
“Not even guards?” Sorin’s voice was low and hollow with disbelief.
“Nothing.” I could not leave any loose threads for Sorin to pick apart and find me.
“Thousands of soldiers cover every inch of Goran; most under orders to apprehend your father on sight. If you are with him, you will be taken, too. Have you no regard for your own life?” Always coolly in control, it took a moment to realize he was shouting. “Your life is meaningless once you leave. You will be murdered.” The enormity of his statement fell between us like a glass shattering.
Perhaps I was being foolish. I stuck out my chin and said, “My future is not your concern.”
Sorin raised a shaky hand to his brow. “Your future would be mine.”
That seemed such a long time ago. “Yes.”
“Stay and I will tell you all you want to know about your father.” I knew the cost of the words. My heart threatened to burst through the layers of betrayal holding it captive.
Or he needed me to stay in case my father decided to come for me. I shrugged. “I don’t believe you.”
His eyes narrowed. “You asked after Reybourne awhile back. Though not a Tallon, he is Sabean’s protector and those men with him are her guard. His desire to protect his wife and his desire for a kingship war within him. I do not know which way he will go.”
“Why did they kidnap us?”
“I requested the meeting at the bakery in Muckford. One of Reybourne’s men saw me with you, and when it was reported I was in the area with a Summerlynn, they decided to see what new game was afoot.”
For a long moment, I waited to see if I believed his words. What frightened me is even if they were true, I couldn’t be sure. “Judging from our past conversations, I would have to guess you’re lying.”
“I am not.”
“You have lied in the past.” I shrugged, my emotions strangely flat. “Repeatedly.”
“You lied as well.” Before I could open my mouth to protest, he shook his head. “We are both equally at fault.”
“I never told you your father was dead when he really wasn’t.”
“It was never supposed to go that far.” His shoulders dipped a little. “I was trying to protect you.”
“Please. Must the lies continue between us?” I scowled. “I know exactly who you are. I am only confused as to what it is you want.”
“Who am I?” He left the second part of my sentence untouched. Figured.
“A man as devoted to his father as I am to my own.” Or had been. Let him believe I didn’t doubt Father. That would make it easier for Sorin to swallow my story of going in search of him.
“It stands to reason, then, that the decision to inform you your father was dead was not mine to make.”
“But you knew how it would affect me!” I accused.
“I guessed you would handle it poorly; I didn’t know how poorly.” Raising a hand, he squeezed the back of his neck. “This is impossible. If you would only attempt to understand, I—“
I frowned. “Every time you say ‘understand’ you really mean stop asking questions because you have no intention of saying anything further.”
Silence. Eyes on the cream colored rug beneath his feet, he said, “A horse is waiting in front for you. A gift from my family so do not even think of protesting. If you have need of me, I will find you.” His jaw worked. His posture, always so straight and precise, wilted a tiny bit.
I nodded. He looked up. Our eyes locked. I didn’t want to know what mine revealed.
After a moment, I broke the stare. “I have to go.” I looked at the door and then at my feet. The numbness left my heart, the corners freshly burning.
“No. You want to go,” he corrected.
“Do you blame me?”
Now the moment was here, I was reluctant to leave. Which was foolishness. Straightening my own posture, I started walking past Sorin to the door, praying he would let me go with no further damage. I knew before it happened he would stop me.
Gently arresting me in mid stride, his arms grasped the outsides of my elbows, bringing me to stand in front of him. His eyes began tracing each and every curve of my face, from the sweep of my eyebrows to the tiny scar beneath my left ear. I understood the need for memorization, my eyes just as hungrily devoured his face. Though I knew we needed to part, I couldn’t stop myself from any attempt to prolong remembrance.
The force of his kiss propelled me back a step. This was no forget-me-not-sweet kiss. This was an I-hope-you-dream-of-me-every-night-for-the-rest-of-your-life kiss. Sorin might be willing to allow me to leave, but he was ensuring a piece of me always remembered what I left behind.
My arms wound around his neck as I eagerly kissed him back. As selfish as it was, I wanted my name to suddenly assail him every time he drew breath, my face to appear before his eyes, superimposed over the face of his future bride as he lifted her veil. When that day came, the fracture between us would be complete.
Breaking apart, Sorin shuddered. He buried his face in my hair, his breath loud in my ear. I, too, took a moment to savor the familiar scent, the bunch of muscles in his arms as he pulled me still closer. My fingers, tightly holding a crease in his shirt, unclenched as I made the decision to step back.
What happened next raised a fresh wound in my heart. If he would again attack, demand I listen, I would walk away knowing I made the correct decision. But he didn’t. Gently, so gently it nearly brought tears to my eyes, he kissed my forehead, my right cheekbone followed by my left, and finally, achingly, my mouth.
This time, when his head lifted, our eyes met for an incomplete moment. His were raw shards of blue. Almost violently, he pushed me away. “Go.”
I fled. There was no other word for it. If I stayed even a moment longer with his taste on my lips, I would fling myself back into his arms. My father, the twin, the pendant and the map would be forgotten. They were nothing compared to him, and that lent wings to my feet.
Barely pausing for the rucksack outside the study door, I ran down the front steps to the horse that had been prepared for me.
Do not turn around, do not turn around
, I coached myself, directing a shaky smile at the footman holding the chestnut horse.
Despite Sorin’s arguments, I did not take this journey lightly, though my concerns were different from his. Yes, I understood the armies and how soldiers behaved but I was more frightened by the threads of unknown clinging to the pendant. If it was true, and my father would murder me for the pendant, it was worth more than a human life.
But I wasn’t going to think about any of that. I needed to focus on going as far as I could this evening. After that, what happened happened.
There are many things I could tell you, many things I could explain, but only one that really matters. I love you.
If you believe nothing else, believe that.