AN ORPHAN’S THRONE
Magic has broken free over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human…and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos.
Dafne Mailloux is no adventurer—she’s a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne’s ability with languages, her way of winnowing the useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.
Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no tongue she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner-queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her country, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets written there than even Dafne could suspect…
A little taste of a romantic moment for you:
The bright day blurred and I realized I wept in a steady stream, my face wet with it. Nakoa, the king of patience, made no move to go, so I tried to wait it out without wiping my tears away, unwilling for him to see me so wrecked. Despite his gentle reassurances, I wouldn’t deceive myself that he was my friend or ally. We played a game of strategy, and if I’d learned anything from Ursula, it was to keep a brave face and never let your enemies see you flinch. Unfortunately, she hadn’t taught me how to do that.
Nakoa let out a long breath and turned to seat himself beside me, facing the opposite direction, switching arms to keep one securely around my waist. I turned my face away. Then gave it up, scrubbed at my cheeks, and made myself look at him. In the bright morning, his black eyes showed lighter, like thinner slices of obsidian that might let light through if I held them up to the sun, the pupils distinct windows. He studied my face in turn, seeming to be deep in thought. Lifting his other hand, he brushed a finger under my eye, tracing the still damp skin there, metaphorically wiping away my tears.
“Sorry,” he said, mimicking my Common Tongue word. He touched one of the marks on his chest, where I’d broken the skin enough to draw a bit of blood, then the healing wound on his throat, tapped me softly over my heart, then brushed away the imaginary tear again. “Sorry,” he repeated, his tonality giving it the lift of a question.
I nodded. “Yes. Sorry.”
Holding my gaze, he bent his head and pressed another kiss to my forehead, letting his lips linger this time, cool against my brow. I might be a bit feverish from my injuries, which would help explain how fragile I felt. Nakoa moved, pressing another kiss to my cheekbone, just under the corner of my eye. With a finger under my chin, he turned my face and did the same to my other cheek. The sensation fluttered through me, warm sun on a winter’s day, cool water running over dark stone, salving my thirst. For once the memory didn’t feel quite so edged. I let my lids close, savoring the relief from fear, if only for the moment.
Nakoa kissed my eyelids, as light as butterfly wings, lifted my chin, and, after a pause, brushed my lips with his. There and gone. Then again.
I likely should have stopped him already, but Jepp’s warnings, my resolve, all seemed centuries old instead of hours. I was lonely and the kisses filled me with a golden comfort. While they lasted, I didn’t feel hollow and abandoned, but... cherished. No one had ever touched me this way, and it felt like the thing I’d longed for, waited for. One part of me stood back and knew it wasn’t, that it was all an illusion. Still, I’d made the hard choice, and indulging in Nakoa’s physical presence seemed like the one bright spot.
Kisses didn’t seal marriages. But they did feed me in a way I desperately needed at that moment.
His lips moved over mine with warm insistence, deepening the kiss, and I parted mine, allowing the flavor of him in. Desire rose in lazy, lapping waves. Not the volcanic, hard and desperate passion of our kiss on the mountain. No echo of a third heartbeat this time. Just Nakoa and me. The language of the body is one I know and communicate in very well. Nakoa would be like Jepp that way, knowing how bodies spoke to each other. His tongue touched mine, an intimate caress, and his hand trailed over my throat and down my back, petting me with long brushes, soothing and arousing at once.
I lifted my fingers to his cheek. He made an approving sound against my mouth and leaned into my touch. Encouraged, I threaded my fingers through the curls at his temple, imagining that the white locks felt different than the black, somehow more like coils of banked lightning. He echoed the gesture, touching my temple and then running his fingers through my hair, kissing me all the while, coming back to my temple when he reached the ends, combing through over and over.
Drowning in it, I let go, feeling only the warmth of his kisses and caresses, letting the fear and worry disperse. I leaned against him, his hot skin burning now, and reveled in simply being held.
Then I made myself stop.