Watching Calla learn with Nika and Brea has been amazing. Seeing her take to their kind of magic is wildly interesting.

I’m still not sure about it. I’m trying to picture my daughter in black, and veiled. I’m not sure I can, but I love watching her face light up as she creates small flames, or sits with her hands to the sand and feels it’s energy run through her.

I’m grateful she doesn’t have to be afraid, that she has this but doesn’t have to bear our burdens, Annalise, Marina and mine, the dreams and confusion.

“Mama, look!” Calla called over to me holding a cactus blossom in her hand. I stood up and walked over to her. “Lady Nika showed me how to make it open.”

“Really?” I said. Nika smiled indulgently at me.

“Can you make it close Little One?” Nika said gently. Calla looked at the blossom and scrunched her face very hard, which made the petals close up. Calla gasped excitedly. “Well done, Calla.”

“That’s wonderful, dearest,” I said scooping her into my arms. She yawned.

“She’s a natural,” Nika smiled affectionately, “but I think that’s enough for today. This takes a lot of energy.”

“I can do more,” Calla said eagerly.

“Listen to Lady Nika,” I chastised her and she pouted. “Do you think I when I was small I took Grandpapa’s sword and fought everyday?”

“Yes,” she said. I laughed.

“Well, I did try, but I learned that I had to build up to something so big,” I said, “or else I’d get hurt. It’s going to be the same with your magic, hm?”

“I suppose so,” she sighed. “But it is very exciting.”

“Extremely exciting,” I said nudging my nose against hers. She giggled. “Thank you Nika.”

“Yes, thank you Lady Nika,” Calla repeated after me.

“It is my pleasure,” Nika smiled and accepted a kiss on the cheek. I carried her back to our tent and she fell asleep in my arms.

“Is everything alright here?” Marina asked as I approached.

“Someone overdid it in her magic lesson,” I whispered. She smiled. “She was making flowers bloom.”

“Oh,” Marina sighed softly, “I used to do that. In the courtyard gardens.” I smiled. “It does take a lot out of you.” I went in and lay her down. I walked around and found Tristan arguing with Elodie about where we should head next and she threw up her hands and marched away.

“Wow,” I said, “you’ve become so unpleasant even Elodie can’t take it. That’s got to be special.”

“Don’t start,” he snapped. I rolled my eyes.

“Fine,” I said, “stop pouting.”

“I’m not pouting!” He insisted. I raised my eyebrows. “I’m not, I just,” he exhaled. “She left.”

“Yes,” I nodded. “And you could have gone with her, but like every junction in your life you chose the path that suits you. That’s why we all have such little sympathy for you on it.”

“Excuse me?” He said. “The path that suits me?” I nodded. “What I want is never how things turn out!”

“No,” I said, “but we were in Pantona, and you chose to be with Annalise, even though you knew it was wrong. She chose you over Eric, just asking you to be patient and you went to Marina. Marina’s responsibilities meant you couldn’t hide anymore so you went to Dorin,”

“You came up with the idea of me going to Dorin!” He said, “you and Alex,” I sighed.

“No one kidnapped you, no one forced you,” I said. “Then you married Carolina and rather than stay with her you ran off exploring, no matter how unhappy it made her. Now she’s made a choice for herself, that’s really for Annalise, and you’re acting like the whole world conspired to make you unhappy. You could have gone with Caro, it would have been difficult, but we would have figured it out. Instead you chose to stay with us. The path that suits you.” He blinked at me.

“Oh,” he whispered.

“Yes, oh,” I said. “Honestly, your lack of self perception is becoming sad, Tristan.” He glared at me. “I’m only saying.” I stood up and walked away. I found Prior who was watering some of the horses. “He’s being an ass.”

“What else is new?” He grinned. I laughed. “When we hear from Caro he’ll settle down. That usually helps.” I nodded.

“Still, it’s irritating,” I sighed.

“I need to ask you something.” He looked at me,”Annalise has been Dreaming.”

“That’s normal, out here,” I said. “We’re close to the gods.” He nodded. “What about?”

“She won’t tell me,” he said. “I don’t want to push her, but it might help, and I don’t know how to broach it.” I frowned.

“You shouldn’t have told me, to begin with,” I said. “She’s very private about it.” He exhaled.

“I know,” he sighed. “It’s frightening, though, when it happens.” I looked at him. “I want to help her.”

“You do help her, Prior,” I said. “Just being there helps.” He looked down. “Aaron says that she used to scream for hours.”

“It doesn’t go on that long,” he said. I looked at him. “I love her, Athena.”

“I know that,” I said. “You still shouldn’t have told me.” He laughed. “Aaron thinks the two of you are being foolish.” He looked at me.

“And what do you think?” He asked. “Everyone knows you were Team Harran.”

“Yes, having Annalise married to my best friend would have been convenient,” I said. He laughed. “But you’re better for her.” I gripped the fence and stretched. “But after Eric and my brother,” he sighed. “You can’t ever leave her, Prior, you can’t even think about it. I don’t think she’d survive it again, not her heart, at least. And Annalise’s heart is the best part of her. She’s already so much colder and closed than she was when we first met her.” He nodded. “When she’s with you though, I see it, she’s full of light again.”

“Her aura?” He asked.

“Cornan no,” I shook my head, “mine doesn’t work like that. I just see it, she unclenches, she relaxes, her whole demeanor changes. You’re good for her, and I disagree with Tristan that she can only hurt you, like I said, I think if you leave her, it will break her.”

“I’m not going to leave her,” he said. I smiled sadly.

“Tristan said that,” I said, “and Eric. They both did. And losing my sister, my queen, Lisette,” I shrugged, “that would be hard enough, but losing The Sword? We’d all be doomed.” I looked at him. “So, don’t leave her, and don’t hurt her.” He smiled. “And don’t tell me things she wants kept private. I’d disembowel Aaron if he went to Annalise with my secrets.”

“Aren’t you glad to know?” He asked. “Even a little?” I shook my head.

“Yes, a little,” I said. It was useful to know she was Dreaming, since Marina noteably wasn’t, beyond her vision of Amina.




“You’re allowed to be worried about her,” Prior said to me that night. I looked at him.

“She says she’s alright,” I whispered, “I can’t just say that she’s not. She knows her own mind.” He looked at me.

“You can still worry,” he said. “You don’t have to tell Marina that you’re worried about her.” I smiled and lay down with him.

“You’re very bad at this,” I said. He laughed.

“How so?” He whispered.

“You’re supposed to talk about how Marina is very strong and can stand on her own and doesn’t need me,” I explained.

“Ah,” he kissed me. “Noted.” I laughed. “But you know, I worry about you, nearly constantly, and I know there’s very little that you can’t handle.”

“You worry about me,” I said rolling over and facing him. He smiled.

“Oh constantly,” he whispered and kissed me. “If I valued my sanity I’d have found a woman with far less to worry about.” I whacked him in the chest. “I worry when I’m not with you, and when I am, I worry more, because I see what you carry.”

He saw so much. How had I found him?

“Prior,” I whispered.

“Annalise,” he whispered back.

“I think I’m falling in love with you,” I managed softly. He smiled and kissed me again.

“Took you long enough.” He murmured. I laughed and snuggled into his arms.

“Don’t be smug,” I whispered. “It doesn’t suit you.” I fell asleep wrapped up in him.

I Dreamed that I was standing on a pebbly beach, covered in snow and the sea was raging. Angry, heavy waves, crashing against icebergs and cliff shores around me.

“Rana,” I screamed out, “please say something!”

“What is left to say?” I turned my head and startled back seeing Brayton. He looked older, obviously, so it wasn’t a memory, this was real. He’d grown a beard and it had flecks of grey. “You’ve grown up, Cousin.”

“Where are you?” I asked. He cocked his head to the side.

“I know Caleb taught you better than that,” he tsked. “Coming right at me head on. Honestly, Lisette.”

“Don’t call me that,” I snapped. He smirked.

“Sensitive,” he said, “you’ve grown so beyond that?” I swallowed. “I’ve missed these talks of ours.”

“I somehow doubt it,” I mumbled. “Did she punish you?” He looked down.

“Yes,” he said.

“Was it painful?” I stared at him. He nodded. “Good.”

“Vindictive,” he said softly, “that’s new.” I sighed and looked at him. “I am not at fault for Eric of Phania leaving you. You have other enemies.”

“I am aware of that,” I whispered. “But you once told me that I didn’t know what it felt like when love went sour.” He looked at me. “I know that now.”

“You have a new love,” he teased, “or so I hear.” I glared at him.

“Don’t touch him,” I hissed.

“I’m not interested in Allred’s brats,” Brayton laughed. “Wyatt was always useless, I can’t imagine those boys are good for much either.” I frowned. “I hadn’t thought of using them for stud of course.”

“That’s disgusting,” I said. He shrugged.

“I’m not judging,” he said. “But it’s an interesting development.” I rolled my eyes and then woke up to Prior shushing me and stroking my hair while I thrashed and screamed.

“Annalise,” Prior whispered, “it’s alright love, it’s alright.” I realized he’d never seen me in a full Dream before and I started crying, clinging to him. “I’m here, sweetheart, it’s alright. Can you tell me what you saw?”

“No,” I said, “not yet, please just hold me,” he nodded and held me closer. I was shaking, my heart racing. I realized this was the first time I’d had this kind of Dream reaction with Prior in my bed. He was taking it well.

“I’m here, love,” he whispered and kissed my hair. “I’m here.” I looked up at him.

“I’m scared,” I mumbled.

“I’ll keep you safe,” he whispered. “Always.” Something deep in me, calmed. I believed him, all of me did.

The Dark Lady


As we ride to the first Westran camp that we’re visiting I notice a few things. Athena and Prior are both fruitlessly trying to cheer Tristan up, and most people wouldn’t notice because the difference between Tristan in a good mood and Tristan in a bad mood isn’t perceptible to most.

The other is that Brea and Lisette seem to be getting along.

“I think it’s a sign of the end times,” Aaron said to me, when Annalise laughed at something she said. I shook my head.

“They’re very alike,” Nika pointed out. “I’ve always assumed it was a matter of time before something broke and they became friends.” I smiled at her. “Or they killed each other, I never knew which it would be.” I laughed.

Nika and I seem to have found some balance, and I’m glad for it. I still miss her as my lover, but I’d also missed her as my friend and I have that at least.

“What changed?” I cocked my head to the side watching them.

“Damned if I know,” Harran sighed, “but it’s a relief.” I laughed. “I agree with Nika it was this or death.” I dismounted. “Is everything alright, Duchess?”

“I need to walk for a while,” I said. “I can’t explain it.” They nodded and I walked ahead of the group quickly. Trees were fewer and farther between, but I could feel the water rushing through each of them. But I couldn’t hear her, not even a whisper.

I wasn’t Dreaming. Normally in Westran the dreams flood in, I can barely focus, but it’s just silence, everything feels cut off and strange.

The off feelings started when I stopped hearing from Damian, and they’ve only gotten worse. I don’t know how to express it either, which is frustrating, there just seems to be something growing in my mind.

“Hello Little One,” I turned at the voice and saw Amina standing in front of me. Her pale skin and hair down around her shoulders and her tight black gown.

“Hello,” I said.

“You’re not afraid?” She smiled. I swallowed.

“Should I be?” I asked. She sighed.

“I should have claimed you,” she said, “why I let my sister,” she placed a cold hand against my cheek. “Things are shifting though.”

“Is that what I’m feeling?” I asked. She smiled.

“I hadn’t realized you were feeling anything else,” she said, “but I suppose so. We’ll speak again soon.” I blinked and she was gone.

“Marina,” Tristan ran over to me, “you shouldn’t go ahead like that, it isn’t safe.” I stared at him. “A messenger arrived, Caro got to Dorin.”

“I need to talk to Lisette,” I said, “and Raymond.” He frowned at me.

“Marina,” he said softly, and went to take my hand. I jerked back.

“Don’t touch me,” I said, “no one should, I can’t.” I walked back to the group and found Annalise sitting with Brea. “Lisette, I need,” I swallowed. She looked at me. “I just saw Amina.”

“What?” Annalise stood up.

“I was walking and I was trying to center, and I haven’t been able to lately,” I swallowed, “and then she was just there. She said things were shifting,” I exhaled. Brea sighed.

“The alarm that you all use around the Dark Lady is so tiresome,” she stood up and brushed off her robes. “She can’t hurt you, you’re alive. She’s frustrated by that fact, I am sure.”

“She touched me,” I growled. Brea’s eyes opened wide.

“Oh,” she said, “well, that is different, then.” I nodded.

“She touched you?” Annalise asked. I nodded. “And you didn’t faint? Or send out light?”

“No,” I said, “her hand felt cold, but then she disappeared.” I sighed. “I don’t know, I’ve been feeling something for ages, and I think it might be whatever this shift she was talking about is.”

“Do you think it’s got something to do with Rastan?” Annalise asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t know, I wish I did.” I sighed. “Can we stop for the day, or do we need to press on further?” Brea bit her bottom lip.

“I’ll check with Harran,” she said, “I’m sure we can rest for now.” She walked away. Annalise hugged me tightly.

“Why are you and Brea being friends?” I asked. “It’s really alarming all of us.” She laughed.

“I’ve decided if Prior and Tristan can be actual partners,” she sighed, “I can at least be pleasant.” I raised my eyebrows. “I’m going to try with Caro too, when she comes back.”

“That is big of you,” I nodded.

“I know,” she whispered. “Are you alright?” I shook my head.

“No,” I whispered. “But there’s not a lot to be done about it for the moment.” She sighed. “I’ll be fine, but I want to figure this out.” I sighed. “What if I’m hers now?” I said. She presses her forehead to mine, that confident smile of hers clear as crystal.

“I refuse,” Annalise says. “Even if she wanted you, wouldn’t the pledges protect us?”

“It should,” Raymond snuck up on us. “That pledge is strong magic. Marina would have to break it herself.”

“Don’t do that,” Annalise said. He grinned and looked at me and held out his hands.

“Hands, Marina,” he said.

“Do the Mastero vows do it?” Annalise muttered. He looked at her. “Make you into an insufferable bossy infant with no manners?” He chuckled as I lay my hands on his.

“You’re not carrying any shadow,” he said. I nodded. He knew it was what I was most worried about. Damian carried shadow with him for months after Brayton attacked him.

“Thank you,” I said softly. He nodded.

Interlude: Brothers

Note: So, I’ve been writing quite a few interludes lately, editing old ones, getting to stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve decided to commit to posting one once a month. First up, Aaron and Tristan, what’s their deal? They’re friends right? Brothers in Law! Aaron is the best and Tristan is the worst, how do they navigate that?


I sat in the study behind Father’s desk watching him work with Lisette, correcting her sword stance patiently, pushing her curls out of her face, gently smiling when she stuck out her tongue or snapped at him.

Sir Tristan Dugarry was madly in love with my sister and I don’t know how aware he was of it, but she was absolutely clueless. Not that I blame her, it isn’t likely that Sir Tristan declared himself and she’s had precisely one other suitor, and Harran didn’t bother hiding his interest in her. To the point that I think she found it a little intimidating.

But she seems to lean into the ways he touches her, she teases him. She likes him.

“Something interesting?” Lady Athena sat down on the edge of the desk. I looked at her and smiled.

“Not as interesting as you,” I said and closed the book I was working through. Her face screwed into anger. It’s like I enjoy the pain, or something. They’ve been here two weeks and I could have been happily buried in Kathy Sampson, but instead I wind up getting stabbed in the heart by Athena Dugarry every night.

I really should go see Kathy, but all I can think of is that I don’t think Lady Athena would like it.

“And what, your grace,” she leaned closer, “is so interesting about me?” I grinned. She was baiting me.

“Do you really want to know?” I ran my eyes up and down her. She pushed off the desk.

“Pig,” she muttered. The thing is, her body isn’t even the beginning of my obsession with Lady Athena, although it is quite nice. She’s tall and slender and I’m sure all those muscles from her fighting move quite nicely under those short dresses of hers. But she’s sharp witted and committed and the way she softens with Lisette is completely irresistible. I’d give almost anything to have her smile at me just once.

After a quick sparring match she says something to Lisette and they leave, Lisette trotting after her, giggling. Sir Tristan watched them.

“She likes you too, you know,” I said. Tristan looked at me. “Lisette, she likes you. She doesn’t know how to, but she does.”

“It isn’t like that,” he insisted.

“If you say so,” I said. “Your sister,” I started.

“Please, I beg of you, stop wasting your time,” he sighed, “and stop aggravating her. She difficult enough in a good mood.” I laughed. “How can you tell?”

“What?” I said, as I opened my ledger. “That Lisette likes you?” He nodded. “Just watch her, she does.”

“I do watch her,” Tristan frowned. “I have to, it’s my job.”

“I doubt she’ll be assassinated here, but glad you take it seriously,” I smirked. He laughed at that.

“Athena thinks you’re unserious,” he said. I looked at him. “It’s hard to tell how much you care about anything when you’re always making a joke.” I nodded.

“Thank you,” I smiled, “that’s helpful.” Tristan shrugged.

“You’re still fighting a losing battle,” he said and placed his sword back on the rack. “But you might as well be armed for it. Sincerity might at least get her to stop looking at you like you’re cow dung.”


I know I’m in over my head, when I glance over at Lisette asleep in the bed next to me. I’ve been in over my head from the moment I met her. I’m supposed to protect her, watch her, fight for her. Instead it’s this. It’s me completely unable to control myself. It’s not just that I’m thinking about her constantly it’s that I also want to be touching her and know that shortly, I will.

And there’s Marina. Since we’ve arrived at camp it’s like I lost what was left of my mind around her. I kissed her, what was I thinking? I sat up Lisette stirred.

“What’s wrong?” She asked rolling over. Gods, I want her, I love her so much.

“I can’t sleep,” I whispered. She sat up and slid her arms around my neck. “Lisette, I have to tell you something.” She kissed me gently.

“No you don’t,” she whispered. I pulled her closer.

“I swore,” I teased. She rested her hands on my chest.

“Yes,” she said softly, “but I know what you’re about to tell me,” she looked at me. “I can see the way you look at each other.” I pressed my forehead to hers.

“Lisette,” I whispered. “It’s you, though.” She nodded and kissed me. “I need to go for a run, clear my head.”

“I don’t clear your head?” She whispered. I smiled.

“You fill my head,” I whispered. “You fill everything.” She smiled. I kissed her, and she slid back. Cornan himself couldn’t pull me from this woman. She’ll have to do it, and it might kill me.

But for now I run, laps around the lake and let nothing else into my mind but one foot in front of the other. No Lisette and the world in front of her, so she’s looking away from me, no Marina, soft, sweet, always patient, who sees everything.

I get back to camp and Aaron is standing with Count Caleb.

“It’s not up to you,” Caleb says patiently, but Aaron looks angry. “If it were you’d have done what? Kept her at Pantona while the world burned?”

“She’s losing herself in all this,” Aaron sighed, “you can’t even see it! We need more time.”

“There isn’t more time,” Caleb said, Aaron frowned. “Do you really think this is what I want, Aaron? To put you and Lisette in danger?”

“Who knows what you want?” Aaron said sharply and walked over. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough,” I said. He looked even more angry with me.

“I spoke to Marina,” he said.

“Oh,” I whispered. He laughed and shook his head. “I doubt it’s what you think.” Aaron looked at me, those blue eyes of his under his dark red hair.

“Did you kiss Marina?” He asked. I sighed. “Gods, man, you have to get it together. If you were someone else I might kill you.” I smirked at that.

“You could try,” I said. He laughed. “If I fought back at all you’d wind up dead,” I paused, “but then of course Athena would kill me, so I’d be dead anyway.” We started walking. “You told Lisette?”

“Gods no,” Aaron snorted. “Marina asked me not to for one thing and for another, and I don’t need Lisette angry at me for your behavior,” he looked down. “But she deserves better, they both do.” His face is serious.

“I’m aware of that,” I said, “Trust me that I’m trying.” Aaron nodded.


“Oh Gods!” Carolina gasped getting out of the carriage. I looked at Tristan as his wife looked at the house I’d offered, well, the second house, there were three. The first had been a large farmhouse, close to the manor, but this one, nearer town, was more of a cottage, mostly stone, with a wild garden growing over the iron gates.

“She likes it,” I said. He raised an eyebrow at me.

“Obviously,” he noted. “Is it this one Caro?”

“Well, I’d like to see the other,” she said, “but it’s so lovely, what’s it’s name?” She looked at me.

“What do you mean?” I frowned. She pouted a little. How Tristan won this adorable creature alludes me. “It isn’t like in novels, Caro,” I teased, “every house doesn’t have some charming name.”

“Well, it should,” she said as she walked down the lane to the door. Tristan looked at me.

“This is too generous, Aaron,” he said. I shrugged.

“You need to live somewhere,” I pointed out, “and Athena wants you to be here.” We walked up to the door. “It’s really William you should be thanking, he found the places.”

“I’ll skip that particular honor, thanks,” he grumbled. I rolled my eyes.

“You won that fight twice,” I pointed out. He shrugged we stepped in.

“Oh Tristan, it’s wonderful,” Carolina ran into his arms. “Thank you, your grace,” she smiled at me.

“Aaron,” I smiled back. “Please.” She smiled.

“Shall you write some fawning letter to your mother and sister,” Tristan teased her, “asking for your things to be sent here?” She nodded excitedly. “Aaron, really I know you did this for Athena but it means a great deal.” I smiled, from Tristan this qualified as an explosion of emotion.

When we got back to the manor, I saw Athena sitting in the parlor, a map spread out on the table. Lisette and Marina were in Dovetail, we’d be going to join them soon.

“Thena,” I sat down with her. She looked up at me and smiled. “What are you looking at?”

“Maps of Westran,” she said, “you have some good ones.” I smiled.

“We,” I reminded her, “Countess.” She raised an eyebrow.

“Did they pick a house?” She asked. I nodded. “Good, I was worried they’d decide to stay in Dovetail.”

“They might still love,” I kissed her neck gently.

“Aaron, don’t,” she shook her head. I sat back. “I just wish we knew where to start.”

“You know your orders were to not work on this for the next week while we get settled?” I said. She glared at me.

“To quote you, my love, ‘I don’t follow stupid orders,'” she said. I looked at her.

“Athena,” I said. She looked at me, “you need to rest. We all do.” She sighed and leaned back against me.

“I love you,” she said. I smiled. “But Aaron if you keep me from my work I’ll kill you in your sleep.” I laughed and kissed her gently.

“Just tonight,” I whispered, “Mother and Thomas are in Dovetail, Tristan and Caro will move in to their cottage, we’re on our own.” She grinned and kissed me back.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” she mumbled. I laughed. “I did want to ask though,” I nodded. “Should I keep using the whip willow?” I leaned back.

“I hadn’t,” I sighed. “Do you want to?” She sighed. “Thena,” I whispered.

“I was disappointed, last year,” she whispered, “when I wasn’t.” I nodded.

“Me too,” I said. “But you do have a lot of work to do, and a baby,” I drifted off. I wanted to have children with Athena, probably more than anything.

“Your mother managed,” she pointed out. I smiled. “But you’d be alright, if we started right away?” I smiled.

“Why are you so eager?” I asked. She sighed.

“Well, I don’t think Tristan and Caro will be waiting,” she explained. I laughed. “I want our children’s childhoods to be like ours all should have been. On top of one another and growing intertwined. Lisette and Eric’s, Lefty and Marina’s, all of us.” I kissed her.

“That’s a good dream, love,” I whispered.


Caro’s voice screaming about my betrayal is still schoing in my mind when I arrive at the townhouse in Dorin. Maybe I should have gone to the manor, but I need to see her, and I only knew to come because Alex told me. The note is smashed in my pocket.

They’re hearing the challenge. I suggest you come at once. – A

I see Carolina’s eyes full of tears and me wondering why I told her at all. All it did was hurt her. I walked up the steps and inside and was shown to a parlor. The butler returned after a moment.

“Miss Carolina has said she will not see anyone,” he said. Miss Carolina. Not Lady Dugarry. She was making her point.

“Tristan?” Emily walked in. I swallowed. “What are you doing here?” I sighed.

“Alex told me about the challenge,” I said. She raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” she said, “so that you could be in Dorin and at the guildhall. We expected you stay at the manor.” I looked at her. “Caro is very upset, still.”

“Upset enough to annul our marriage and be Andrei Arrain’s wife?” I asked. Emily frowned at me.

“Obviously, yes,” she said, “though Uncle Geno is leading the hearing so the annulment seems unlikely. The proceedings are embarrassing enough.” I’d tried that argument. It was met with a sharp hiss, More embarrassing than curtseying to your lovers for a year, befriending one of them, loving her?

“What did she tell you?” I asked. Emily sighed.

“What did you tell Athena?” She asked. “She’s my sister, she told me all of it.”

“I’m not proud of myself,” I said and stood up.

“Well, I would think not,” Emily sighed. “But I think she’s being a bit dramatic right now, if I’m honest. She loves you, and it isn’t as though she didn’t go into this with her eyes open about you and Duchess Marina.” She hadn’t though, and I knew it. She’d thought it was over. I’d told her so. I’d been lying, to myself most of all maybe.

The truth was it would never be over between Marina and me.

“The fact is, I had to come here because I need Alex,” I muttered. Emily looked at me.

“Alex didn’t negotiate your contract,” she shook her head. “Athena, oooh,” she stopped.

“The baby has to be born at Pantona,” I whispered. “She can’t travel.”

“Of course,” she sighed. “Sit down, I’ll have them bring tea.” I nodded and then sat. A few minutes passed and Caro walked in.

“I’m surprised,” she said softly. “I would have thought,” I smiled. “Is Athena alright?”

“Of course, about to pop and very cranky, but she’s alright,” I said and stood up and walked over to her and took her hands she pulled away. “Caro,” I sighed. “I’m so sorry.”

“Please don’t,” she said. Her voice was flat and cold. I’d seen her like this but never had it turned on me, I hated it. “I wish you’d stayed away, Tristan.” I looked down. “Surely Lisette has need of you.” I swallowed.

“This is more important,” I said. She looked at me. “You hate me,” I mumbled, “I don’t blame you.” She swallowed. “I’ve missed you.” She frowned. “Caro, what can I say or do?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Tomorrow after the hearing, I suppose I’ll make a decision. My father is being very stubborn.” I nodded.

“I’m taking that you’re here and not his house as a sign in my favor,” I tried. Venom again.

“My father basically sold me,” she hissed, “and is annoyed that the sale was interrupted. Why on earth would I go back to him?” I smiled at that.

“Good girl,” I said. “I’ll go to the manor, I suppose. I can only imagine the scolding I’ll get from my aunts.” That wrangled a smirk.

“If I weren’t so angry at you I’d go with you just to see what shade of purple the old man turns when he sees you,” she said. “You deserve it.” I nodded.

“I didn’t want to lie to you anymore Caro,” I said. She sighed.

“I forgave Marina,” she said, “I’m working on you.” I nodded.


“I should have gone,” Athena said crossing her arms over her chest. Her belly was so round that she could barely do it.

“How precisely did you plan to do that?” I asked. She glared at me. “Do you want me to go in your place?”

“Are you insane?” She said. I shrugged. “You hate merchant politics.”

“Yes, but I’m good at politics,” I reminded her. “And Tristan is my brother too.” She frowned.

“You’ll miss her,” she said gently rubbing her belly. I sighed. “Or him, but I think she’s a girl.” I smiled and sat down and kissed her on the head.

“I hope so,” I said. she looked at me.

“You don’t want a son?” She teased.

“No,” I shook my head, “Pantona boys are trouble.” She giggled. “I have enough trouble.” She sighed.

“What if we lose Caro,” she mumbled.

“It won’t happen,” I said softly. “If I have to drag Annalise up there to tell Angelo DuKarras and Andrei Arrain that it’s the Goddess’s own will that Caro and Tristan are married I’ll do it.” She sighed.

“I don’t know if that would be enough but it’s quite thoughtful,” she said. “I was careless about the contract. I was distracted.”

“You were not careless,” I said. “DuKarras is annoying.” She laughed. “Your Uncle will side with them.” She nodded. There was something she wasn’t telling me. I knew she would in her own time. “I can go, if it’s what you want.”

“After,” Athena whispered, leaning back against me. “After she’s here.” I smiled.


The hearing was in our favor, I was furious the whole day, and Caro was still barely speaking to me, but it was one less obstacle.

“Sir Tristan?” Some boy working under Uncle Trey walked into the office they’d set up for me. I knew I had to leave again soon, with or without Caro. I looked at him. “The Count of Pantona is here.”

“What?” I said. “You mean a messenger from my brother in law?” The boy shook his head.

“No, the count,” he mumbled, “Mistress DuCray is with him in south parlor.” I nodded, if Aaron was with Charlotte that was good. They’d argue over cattle prices for hours.

I walked in the parlor.

“I can’t force them to sheer twice a year, Lotte,” Aaron pointed out, “or to sell to you and not keep the wool for themselves.”

“Your father would have found a way to meet the demand,” she said, “I can take my business to Wyatt Allred,” she looked over, “Hello Tristan.”

“Hello,” I said, “I was thinking cattle, didn’t the Forresters have several multiple births this year?” Charlotte looked at him and raised her eyebrows.

“They aren’t selling,” Aaron said firmly, “and by all means, see if Wyatt will meet your wool needs, I’ll double the price when you come crawling back.” He looked at me. “I have news,” he was smiling.

“Is Athena alright?” I asked, though I suppose if she wasn’t, he wouldn’t be smiling.

“Extremely,” he said, “where’s Caro?” I frowned. “Never mind, may I present the official birth and naming of Viscountess Calla Alexia Annalise Johanna Olivia Pantona,” he handed me a scroll. I smiled back at him.

“No Thomas?” I raised my eyebrows. He laughed. “Was he angry?”

“He’s in love,” Aaron said, “we all are.” I hugged him.

“Congratulations,” I said, “truly. I’m happy for you.”

“Good,” Aaron smiled, “now where’s Caro? I want to celebrate for a few days and then bring you both home.” I swallowed.

“I sent for her,” Charlotte said.

“Sent for?” Aaron looked confused. “I thought the challenge was settled.”

“It is,” I said, “it’s a bit more complicated, but Caro’s been with Emily and Alex.” But then she came running in.

“Oh Alex, Charlotte told me in her note I’m so happy for you!” She threw her arms around his neck. “What did you name her? I know you’d both discussed your father’s names. Johanna is lovely.”

“She’s Calla,” he said and Caro nodded excitedly, “and her mother is eager for her Aunt and Uncle to see her.” She looked uneasily at me.

“Of course,” she said softly. I looked at her. “Aaron, Alex has some Brightcoast wines, but he said he also has a store of his father’s armis if you want.” Aaron smiled down at her. He and Athena had a real taste for the cold clear Rastani spirit.

“I promised him some whiskey too,” he sighed, “I should see that it was delivered.” He left.

“He doesn’t know?” She asked me. I shook my head. “I’m surprised. I’m happy for them.”

“I have to go out ranging soon anyway,” I said. “If you don’t want to see me you could still go.” She shook her head and took my hand. “Caro.”

“I want to go home Tristan,” she said. “Can’t we?” I smiled and kissed her.

“Of course,” I said, “whenever you want.” She nodded. “So you forgive me?”



I stood in our room at the keep packing my things into my trunk and mentally composing the letter to Emily I had to write I heard Tristan walk in.

“Are you going to argue with me?” I asked. He sighed.

“No,” he whispered and came to hold me from behind. “I don’t want you to go, but I won’t argue with you.” I swallowed and closed my eyes.

“You could come with me,” I said.

“I want to,” he said.

“It would be like when we were in Dorin,” I said, “we’d be away from everything. We could start over.”

“I’m going to try to come with Marina,” he said, “a few weeks after you.” I sighed.

“Oh,” I said softly.

“It isn’t what you think,” he said as I pulled away. “Caro,” he said. I turned and looked at him.

“You’re choosing her, and Annalise,” I said, “I’m not surprised, Tristan, but it’s still irritating.” He sighed and sat down.

“Caro, I can’t,” he said. I looked at him. “I have to be present to explain why I won’t be returning after these visits.” I exhaled.

“Oh,” I whispered. He nodded.

“You surprised everyone,” he said gently as I snuggled into his lap.

“I surprised me,” I sighed, “and promising Alex and Emily,” I exhaled. “I don’t know what got into me.”

“It’s quite brave,” he smiled and kissed me. I smiled. “Alex won’t object, he’ll bring you.” I nodded. “And I’ll miss you.”

“I always miss you,” I whispered, “every time you go.” He kissed me. “Brea must be furious.” He laughed.

“Probably,” he said softly, I weaved my fingers into his. “You’ll go with the messenger?”

“I think so,” I said. “I’ll have to spend at least a few days in Dorin.”

Get to, you get to spend a few days in Dorin, I’m jealous,” he smiled. I smiled. I did miss it sometimes. “Will you see your father?” He asked. I shook my head.

“Not if I can help it,” I said, “my mother though. And your aunts and uncles.” He nodded. “I’ll walk along the harbor, and go to our park.” He kissed me.

“Don’t you dare go to that park without me,” he whispered. I giggled. “Promise.” I kissed him again. “Gods, I wish I could go with you.”

“I’d let you finish undressing me now,” I said. My heart was beating quickly, remembering Tristan removing my shirt and suckling on me, unsure what he wanted with me, but desperate to be closer to him. “I have to finish packing. And then probably meet with Marina and Annalise.” He sighed and leaned back.

“I should stop you,” he said. “I know I can’t, but I have a bad feeling Caro.” I kissed him gently.

“I’ll come back later, we’ll say goodbye,” he nodded. I walked back out to where Annalise was sitting looking up at the stars. “He’s upset with me.”

“What’s that like?” She grinned and I laughed. “He worries about you. He worries about everything.” I smiled and nodded. We so rarely talked like this.

“Emily says you probably prayed for my death.” I said, wanting to fill the silence. She smirked at me.

“Not your death,” she said. “Nothing that extreme. I wished that you’d hate him, or you’d be deformed so he wouldn’t look at you or a simpleton so he’d be bored, or at least not so gods damned wonderful so I could dislike you more. Brea’s been very obliging by being unpleasant all these years.” I laughed.

“I could have been unpleasant,” I shrugged, “I once cornered Marina and screamed at her and basically called her a betraying whore.” Annalise sighed.

“I was furious with both of them about that night,” she admitted and pulled the shawl she was wearing around her shoulders. “As if it had anything to do with me.” I smiled.

“Everything we all do has something to do with you,” I sighed softly.

“Now you sound like Aaron,” she shook her head. I shrugged. “Do you agree with Tristan, about me and Prior?”

“No,” I whispered. “I don’t actually. I think he’s being ridiculous. Do you agree with him?”

“Sometimes,” she said softly, “I think I don’t know my own mind anymore. There were so many things I was so certain of, and now I’m lost.” I looked at her. “May I ask you something without any judgement?” I nodded. “William?” I looked down and laughed.

“What are you asking?” I asked. She smirked. “I’m going to make you say it, Your Majesty.”

“What is he like?” She asked. “I’m so curious. I was so innocent when he was pursuing me I didn’t even know he was doing it. I have to imagine that translates to everything.”

“He’s gifted.” I smiled. She laughed. “Very,” I smiled and leaned back, “responsive.” She nodded. “He was sweet, which, well, I’d never really had before.” She looked oddly at me. “Tristan’s always so urgent, so overwhelming. And Andrei,” I closed my eyes. “I didn’t know it then but I could have been anybody, it was just about him.”

“Marina used to say he was attentive,” she smirked at me. I smiled. “I can understand why you did it. Tristan doesn’t know what being left feels like.”

“He’s about to,” I said and she rested her head on my shoulder. “He’ll come to you. Maybe not right away, but he will, and I’m ready for that, I’ve always been ready for that.”

“I won’t take him,” she said. “Maybe I could have, but now,” she shook her head. “Now I’d be hurting Prior.” She stood up. “What do you think about Rastan?”

“I think it’s very odd that none of them came to Dovetail, ever,” I said. “And now they’ve issued an invitation that cannot be ignored.” She nodded. “I don’t trust it.”

“Me neither,” she said. “You’ll watch carefully?”

“I always do,” I smiled. I went back to my room, and saw my things already packed. I smiled. Tristan wasn’t there but he’d done something so small to support me. I curled up to sleep, and eventually he came and wrapped his arms around me from behind.

We didn’t make love, but this was better.

Another Move


“When is my daughter planning to tell me that you two have parted?” Chief Walkin asked settling in next to me. I looked at him.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I didn’t want to lie to you. But she didn’t want to disappoint you.” He nodded. “You must be very proud of Brea.”

“Brea will be an excellent leader at her husband’s side.” He said. “But she’s done little worthy of pride yet.” I raised my eyebrows. “I have always disapproved of your relationship with Nika and the choices it lead her to.”

“I am aware of this,” I said.

“Amina is unhappy with your queen’s troops in the desert,” he said. I exhaled.

“Amina should have thought of that before she imprisoned her siblings,” I said. He smiled and I giggled.

“She should have yes,” he leaned back. “Will Nika come home now?” He asked.

“You should ask Nika,” I said. “I don’t know her plans.” He nodded. “She does help us, quite a lot. Both of them do.”

“Hm,” he raised an eyebrow.

“Marina,” Athena walked over to me, “we need you.” She looked at Walkin. “My apologies Chief.” I nodded said goodbye and hurried behind her to a council chamber.

“What’s happening?” I asked. Annalise was seated, and Harran was leaning against a wall. Aaron and Tristan joined us quickly, Carolina following behind them.

“The king of Rastan is dead,” Harran shook his head. “Messenger couldn’t delay a day?” I sighed and sat down.

“We can’t skip the visits,” Annalise said. “It would be a terrible insult.”

“I agree,” Harran said.

“The messenger also brought a letter for you,” Aaron handed me an envelope. I sighed.

“I also got a letter from them,” Annalise said, “when I was crowned. Is Raniere allergic to the sea?”

“Hush,” I mumbled as I read it.

Duchess Marina Sanpierre,

My deepest regrets for not coming to you in person. My father’s health has prevented me from travelling as I ought to have. I would be most honored if you would join your cousin to celebrate my ascension and to discuss the possibility of a future together.

Please consider me. I have heard nothing but praise for your beauty, kindness and intelligence.

Yours, should you choose so,

Raniere, King of Rastan

I swallowed.

“It’s not the worst proposal I’ve ever gotten,” I shrugged. Tristan eyed me. “I have to go.”

“I need you here,” Annalise said.

“Lisette,” Aaron said. “Marina’s right. She can’t ignore a proposal from the King of Rastan, or dismiss it with a letter.”

“I could go,” Carolina said. We all looked at her. “While you all visit with the tribes, I could go to Rastan, stall, to give Marina time.”

“Caro,” Tristan said. She swallowed. “I thought,”

“I can help,” she whispered. “I can’t help on the visits, but I can go to Dorin first, and,”

“Alex’s father is Rastani,” Athena said. Carolina nodded. “He and Emily could go too.”

“It’s actually a pretty good idea,” Annalise mused.

“It’s a terrible idea,” Tristan growled. Carolina walked over to him and kissed him gently. “Caro, we agreed.”

“I can help,” she said. “We’ll come home together.” He nodded and she looked at Harran. “Has the messenger gone?”

“No,” Harran said softly. “I told him to enjoy the feast.” She nodded and swept out of the room. “That one’s a dark horse.” I smiled at him. “Are you going to be queen of Rastan now, Marina? You’re not grand enough?”

“I’m not accepting the proposal,” I said and sat up straight. I looked at Annalise. “Am I?”

“Of course not,” she said. “Unless you decide you want to after you meet him.” I rolled my eyes. “What’s our excuse for sending Caro?”

“Marina is nervous about leaving the country,” Aaron shrugged. I looked at him. “Given your childhood and the past few years.”

“Fine,” I said and stood up and walked out. Tristan followed after me. “What could you possibly want?” I said.

“Where are you going?” He said.

“To talk to Nika and write to Damian,” I said.

“Why?” He asked.

“Well,” I sighed, “because Nika has been lying to her family that we haven’t parted, so me leaving to answer a proposal could be embarrassing for her, and I don’t want Damian to do something stupid like try to kill the new king of Rastan when he hears he’s trying to court me.” He took my hands. “Don’t,” I said.

“She’s leaving me,” he whispered.

“Then go and talk to her about it,” I said, “I have other feelings to manage besides yours.” He frowned. “Tristan, I don’t ever expect us all to untangle this knot but let’s not make it worse. It will help us to have Caro and Alex and Emily go ahead of me to Rastan. I have to tell my lovers that a king wants to marry me and ask what they think of it.” He looked away. “If you don’t want to be parted from Caro go with her, or stay with Annalise and me. That has always been your choice. None of the three of us can make it for you.” I marched away from him and into my room.

“Rina,” Nika walked in. “Are you alright?”

“I have to go to Rastan,” I said. She exhaled. “Not right away, but, soon,” I shoved the letter at her.

“Goddess,” she mumbled reading it. “This is the biggest one, isn’t it?” I nodded. “Otto’s a crown prince, but his father is healthy.”

“And we met in person and he was as uninterested in me as I was in him,” I said. She nodded. “I have to write to Damian.”

“Of course,” she said and kissed me gently. “Are you considering it?” I swallowed and looked at her.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I know I shouldn’t be. It’s ridiculous.” I sighed. “But after these past few weeks, the idea of having a fresh start with someone who’s outside of all of my messes.” I looked down. “It’s silly.”

“I don’t think so,” Nika said softly. “Meeting you isn’t going to make him want to marry you less.” I smiled softly at her. “Oh Damian might find himself executed though. Raniere’s his friend isn’t he? He wouldn’t murder his friend.” I laughed then.

“Your father knows,” I said, “about us.” She nodded.

“Brea too,” she whispered. I nodded. “He’ll want me to come home.”

“He misses you,” I said softly. She curled up and snuggled close to me. “I’m still doing the visits.” She nodded. I threw my head back. “I hate this.”

“Me too,” Nika whispered.



I swallowed sitting beside Harran’s brothers as he and Brea exchanged their vows. He looked unbelievably happy. The blue and green gown I’d had made and the veil wrapped around my head felt itchy and like my body was rejecting it. Rian looked at me and smiled.

Harran had told me once that when he’d come to me Rian had attempted to court Brea. He seemed to be the only person besides me who wasn’t over the moon. Did he love her? Had they been together at all? Had she tried to love him and failed the way I had Harran?

Prior smiled at me and I felt my cheeks flush. He’d warned me about how he was out here, but he’d undersold it. Last night I’m surprised we hadn’t woken the whole keep with our activities in bed. And against the wall. And on the floor by the fire. And in the bath.

If Prior was at all insecure of his position in my life, he was making himself indispensable in pleasure alone.

Harran was vowing to love and honor Brea, and she was radiant, dressed in a white robe. As Nika had said, she was veiled, but it was lighly draped over her long dark hair, rather than wrapped like Nika’s or the one I was wearing.

“And so before the gods, and your tribes,” Lady Anaia said, binding their hands, “I bind you to one another. As long as your hearts beat, may you bring one another joy.” They kissed to seal the bond and we applauded.

After we were sitting at the feast and Prior came and sat beside me.

“You did well,” he grinned. “I only saw you grimace at the bride twice.”

“Most people weren’t looking at me,” I said. He leaned close to me. “Prior.”

“Everyone was looking at you,” he said, “at least everyone who’s sane.”

“You are clearly not,” I shook my head with a giggle and kissed him. “I can’t imagine you want more after last night.” He grinned. “Prior,” I said, “I can’t leave.”

“Yet,” he said, “I intend to have you every night for the foreseeable future, Annalise.” I smiled. “Now, what was that about leaving?” I rolled my eyes.

“I’ll be missed,” I said and stood up with my goblet to go have it refilled. “But if you want to go prepare for me,” he laughed and pulled me into his lap. “I need more whiskey.”

“You do not,” he pressed a kiss against my neck. “You need me.” I sighed and leaned back into him and heard Brea giggle as Harran lifted her up and music was playing. I suddenly realized what he was doing.

“Prior,” I whispered. He hummed into my hair. “I adore you for what you’re trying to do, but you cannot distract me from having feelings about this wedding with sex.” He turned my head and kissed me.

“Are you sure about that?” He whispered. I laughed.

“Yes,” I stood up. “I am.” I walked over and poured more into my goblet. Aaron walked over and looked at me. “Prior is trying to distract me with sex.”

“Well that won’t work,” Aaron said. I nodded.

“I know, I’ve outgrown that sort of thing,” I smiled.

“No you haven’t,” he snorted, “it won’t work because sex distraction is what you did with Harran.” I kicked him and he laughed. “Lisette, you’re handling this better than any of us thought you would.” I sighed.

“Thank you,” I said softly. “I don’t know how you thought I’d be handling it, because I don’t think I’m handling it well at all.” He slipped his arm around my shoulder. “If Eric announces that he’s marrying some debutante his sister in law picked out I’m not going.”

“You’ll go if you’re invited,” Aaron snorted.

“I will not,” I said. “And I’m not inviting him when I marry Prior. I’ve decided it’s cruel, to have former lovers at your wedding.”

“Mm,” Aaron nodded. “You have to invite him.” I sighed. “Well, you have to invite Elana and Daniel and then you have to welcome whoever they send. Which might not be Eric.”

“You aren’t being helpful either,” I said. “At least Prior’s tactic is fun for me.” We looked at Harran. “He looks so happy.”

“He’s in love,” Aaron shrugged.

“Not possible,” I shook my head with a smirk, “being in love doesn’t make you that happy. Being in love is torture. It’s having your heart pulled out of your chest over and over.” He looked at me and laughed. “In my experience.”

“When we were young,” Aaron said softly, “and Harran came to Pantona, I was furious with Father.” I looked at him. “It was such a risk, Lisette.” I smiled. “I was ranting and shouting about your safety and your future, and what was he thinking? And how could we trust this person?” I laughed.

“You were jealous,” I said. He shrugged.

“You were mine,” he said, “and you were following Harran around like a puppy and he liked it far too much.” I smiled. “But I remember what my father said,” I looked at him, “Aaron, we didn’t save her to keep her in a cage, we saved her so that she could live.” I smiled.

“I miss him so much,” I said softly. “He’d be so proud of you, Aaron. He’d be absurd about Calla.” He threw his head back.

“Her feet wouldn’t have touched the ground yet.” He grinned. I laughed. “We didn’t save you to keep you in a cage. But I feel like you’ve put yourself in one.” I looked at him.

“I’m not in a cage,” I said. “I do need some air though.” I rushed outside and exhaled my hand on my belly. Maybe I had had too much whiskey.

“Annalise?” I turned and saw Brea. “Are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered. She nodded and walked over. She helped me to a bench and sat me down. “Your guests.”

“Please,” she said, and waved her hand dismissively, “half the reason to marry a man like Harran is because he can handle that sort of thing.” I laughed.

“You look beautiful,” I said softly, my breath was still shallow. She nodded.

“Well, yes, I’m me,” she said. “You’re alright, keep breathing,” I nodded. “He was so glad you agreed to come. We were worried that you wouldn’t.” I looked at her.

“Really?” I said. She nodded.

“I know I’m not your favorite person,” she said. I smiled. “And I hated you for years before I ever saw you.” I laughed again. “I am absolutely serious. When he came back from Pantona all he could talk about was Lisette, this amazing girl. Ask Nika, I was furious. Who was this Cammadie girl, how dare she make him fall in love with her?” I smiled. “It took me two years to get him to see me again. And then the word came, you weren’t some farm girl who he’d shared puppy love with you were the queen. And you wanted him.” I looked at her. “I hated you for wanting him. I hated him for going to you. I hated the gods for making you queen, I hated my family for trying to comfort me.” She exhaled. “Oh and poor Rian, I hated him the most.” I looked at her. “Rian, coming to me, sitting next to me at feasts, greeting me every time we arrived. Trying to make me smile.” She exhaled. “Oh I hated him so much for that.” I swallowed. “But I’m not,” she exhaled, “I don’t get to be angry, to hate that way. I’m the shiny, bright light, I shine so that Nika can be seen.” She swallowed. “She gets to be angry and grumpy and hate people.” She looked at me. “So I smiled, and I twinkled and I hated you.” I laughed.

“I can take it,” I smirked.

“I know,” she stood up. “Meanwhile you have your own Rian to deal with.” I raised my eyebrows. “Prior Chastain is a good man, Annalise, but he isn’t the man for you.” I sighed.

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I said.

“Because it’s true,” Brea shrugged. “And you know I’m being honest because I hate you.” I smiled. “Now come on, because I cannot allow Nika to continue this ruse that she and Marina are alright.” I stifled a laugh. “What happened there?”

“Oh nothing particularly exciting,” I said as we drifted back into the hall. “Nika found her snuggling with Tristan and reached her breaking point.”

“Ah yes,” Brea said with a nod. “I could have seen that coming.” She looked at me. “I once swore to curse Marina if she ever hurt my sister.”

“Please don’t,” I said, “trust me, loving Tristan is enough of a curse.” She laughed. “I am happy for you.” She smirked at me. “Well, I’m happy Harran is happy.”

“Try not to choke,” she grinned.

Little Witch


I was standing in the main training yard of The Border Keep, stretching. My training with Tristan had been helpful. I felt stronger and focused.

“You realize you’re being ridiculous,” Elodie said as Harran walked in, I glared at her and she rolled her eyes. “No one thinks you’re a less terrifying warrior because you’ve had children.”

“That isn’t the point at all,” I said. “I used to be the best.” Elodie looked at me indulgently. “It’s a part of who I am.”

“Well, My Lady,” she sighed, “you know his old weaknesses.”

“Of course,” I said. I’ve sparred with Harran dozens of times over the years. “And his strengths. He’s bigger than me, stronger.”

“Less agile,” Elodie nodded. “But also isn’t carrying a baby.” I frowned and looked down. I wasn’t big yet, but my belly had started to swell.

“Are you ready, Countess?” Harran grinned at me.

“Of course, Chieftain,” I smirked and struck first. “To disarm?”

“As you like it,” his block was quick and strong and he shoved me back. “You can do better than that.”

“I’m trying not to bruise your pretty face before your wedding,” I grinned. He laughed. I swerved out and landed a hit against his chest. He retaliated with two against my arm.

The fight was perfect, and I was glad that I’d spent the trip working with Tristan. Before that training I would not have been able to keep up.

“Do you think your son sees your shame?” He teased, as I fumbled my spear and recovered. John stirred in my belly.

“I know your bride sees yours,” I countered. I heard Brea laugh from the side.

“She does indeed,” she called out and winked at me when I met her eyes. “No true shame to lose to The Champion, my love.”

“Who’s losing?” Harran grinned back. I struck hard against his staff, and knocked it free, and knocked him on his back.

“Yield?” I said. He sighed.

“Yield,” he shrugged. The crowd cheered and I laughed helping him up. “It’s brutal when you do that.” I laughed.

“You shouldn’t have invoked my son,” I grinned, “he got his blood up too.” Harran laughed.

“Fierce like your mama,” he pressed his hands against my belly. “Eh, Little One?” Brea walked over. “No shame?”

“Well, some,” she grinned. “I thought you’d last a little longer.” He smiled. “Countess, your boy makes me strong. I think your girl did too.” I smiled.

“Maybe,” I said.

“She’s special, your Calla,” Brea said as we walked back towards the keep. “If she were of our people my sister and I would be training her already.” I looked at her.

“Really?” I said. She nodded. “She’s too young.” Harran looked at me and Brea shrugged.

“For your Masteros and Sisters, maybe,” she nodded. “But a witch isn’t a Mastero or a sister or even a Chosen like you or your queen, or Marina. There’s more instinct to it, so you have to learn young.” Harran looked at her.

“I’ll talk to her father,” I said. Brea nodded and they walked away. I found my way to our room and saw Aaron and Calla sitting on the bed, playing a counting game. I leaned against the frame and Aaron looked at me.

“Did you win?” He asked. I shrugged. “Oh good, you’d be insufferable if you hadn’t.” I frowned at him and came and sat with them. “What is it?” He asked.

“Calla,” I said gently to my daughter, “if Lady Nika and Lady Brea wanted to teach you things, would you want to learn?”

“What?” Aaron said. I looked at him and nodded.

“What kinds of things?” She asked. “Duchess Marina said she’ll teach me hiding places when we go back to Dovetail.” I smiled. “And Uncle Tristan taught me about horses.”

“Yes,” I smiled, “I don’t know exactly, but while we’re here and in Westran, you’ll listen closely to them?” She nodded and stood up.

“May I go find Lady Nika and ask her?” Calla said excitedly. I nodded with a smile and she rushed off. Aaron looked at me.

“What is this?” He asked gently. “Is our daughter a witch?”

“Brea seems to think so,” I shrugged. “I’d rather she learn than go around in a veil of despair and fear like Marina did.”

“There were a few other factors at play there than her not knowing her power,” Aaron pointed out, “but that’s fair.” I smiled. “I suppose it makes sense. It isn’t as though her perception ever felt like what Lisette was like at that age.” I nodded. “I’m sorry we didn’t come down to watch.”

“It’s alright,” I said. “I did well though.”

“I never doubted,” he grinned. “And John?” I laughed.

“Oh he was fierce,” I smiled. “He’ll be a warrior.”

“Hm,” Aaron sighed, “a witch and a warrior. We’ll need a third, because I really do need another farmer.” I laughed and kissed him.

“One at a time, my love,” I said. He nodded. “Did she say Marina was going to teach her hiding places?”

“Oh yes,” he nodded. “Mercy too apparently.” I sighed and shook my head. “Come here,” he whispered and pulled me into his arms. “Can you settle now?”

“I suppose so,” I said, “for a while.” He kissed my neck. “Aaron,” I mumbled.

“I am sorry I missed it,” he muttered, “I like watching you fight, Thena.” I giggled and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“Do you let me win?” I asked. He raised his eyerbows.

“Never,” he said. “I’m a terrifically bad sport, you know that.” I smiled. “I’ve never been able to beat you. I’ve come close but it’s very frustrating.”

“Mm,” I nodded, “very?” I slid my hand down and started stroking him.

“Tremendously,” he whispered. I nodded. “Almost as frustrating as a wife who’s distracted because she thinks she’s not the greatest warrior to ever live anymore. When she very clearly is.”

“The greatest,” I mumbled and kissed him. He rolled me onto my back and pressed into me.

“The greatest,” he repeated. “Fiercest, strongest, and most beautiful to ever live. Annessa herself would stand and tremble at Athena Dugarry, Countess of Pantona.” I giggled. He was teasing me but I loved him for it.

Interlude: The Safe Place

Content WarningThis story contains references to and descriptions of Domestic Child Abuse. If you are aware of or suffering from Child Abuse, please contact your state CPS, (A list of United States CPS Agencies can be found at or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741


Viscount Caleb Pantona was not looking forward to dinner that evening.

“Her name is Lady Olivia Bano,” his mother had said, helping him into his jacket. He sighed. “I met her last week at the palace. I think you’ll enjoy her.”

“Carmine Bano’s daughter?” Caleb asked. His mother nodded. “Carmine Bano is opportunistic scum” His mother laughed.

“True, but that’s hardly the girl’s fault,” she kissed him on the cheek. “You need to marry, Caleb. I had hopes for you and Anne Brightcoast, but that Phanian friend of yours turned her head and she’s not coming back.” Caleb smiled. Anne would have been a good match, and her falling in love with Lestat Sanpierre was indeed inconvenient.

“So this is every night this winter then?” He asked. She nodded. “Bring on the debutantes, I suppose. Anton’s bound to disappoint a few of them.”

“That’s the spirit,” she smirked.

Caleb stood up as Carmine Bano and his daughter entered. Lady Olivia was wearing a simple white gown and her long red hair was down her back. Caleb thought he might swallow his tongue. She was almost otherworldly beautiful.

“Caleb,” his father said. Caleb cleared his throat and walked over to Lady Olivia.

“My lady,” he said, “I’m glad to finally meet you.” She raised an eyebrow as he kissed her hand.

“Your Grace,” she said, “I hadn’t realized my presence was anticipated.” He smiled. She was clever too.

“A beautiful woman’s presence is always anticipated,” he pointed out. She smirked. He spent dinner doing his best to engage her so she didn’t think he was a blithering idiot but he was reasonably sure he failed.


Olivia smiled to herself the next morning as she drank her tea thinking of Viscount Caleb. She didn’t want him, but of her father’s assortment he was certainly the best. Tall, with auburn hair that curled at the ends and clear blue eyes, he also had a boyish face and an easy laugh.

“Oh Good,” John Dugarry walked in, “you’re alive.” She looked at him and giggled. “Anton and Tom will be thrilled.”

“I didn’t realize they were so concerned about my whereabouts,” she said as he sat down. “My father wanted to introduce me to some of his friends.”

“Ah,” John nodded. “Of course.” She swallowed. “Did he hurt you again?” She looked away and shook her head. “Livvie,” he said softly. “If he does, you should.”

“He wants what’s best for me,” she said. “Are you here to escort me to the palace?”

“You don’t miss anything,” he grinned. Her father walked in. “Ah, hello Lord Bano.”

“Captain Dugarry,” he said, “may I have a moment with my daughter?” John nodded and excused himself. “What does he want?”

“The Prince wants to see me,” she went to stand up, “I shouldn’t keep him waiting,” her father grabbed her wrist and she twitched. “Papa,” she whispered.

“You aren’t some tavern wench he can summon whenever he wants you,” he hissed. “Remember that, remind him of that.” Olivia nodded and he let go. She followed after her. She pulled her sleeve down and walked out with John.

“Your father’s friends,” John said. She looked at him. “So Careton?”

“Obviously,” she said. He nodded.

“Then I’d guess, Wallace, Allred,” he smirked. She sighed and nodded. “But you haven’t been to the palace in four nights so I’m missing someone.”

“Pantona,” she said softly. He laughed.

“Well, Careton’s too old, Wallace doesn’t like women, and Allred is an idiot,” he said, “Caleb Pantona though, that’s a real threat. Anton should be worried.”

“He shouldn’t,” she said. John smirked at her. “He could have come to see me himself.”

“I told him as much,” John shrugged.

“Is he serious?” She asked. “You’d know, he tells you everything.” She looked away, she hated herself for asking.

“I think he’s considering being serious,” John said. “Tom is serious. Deadly serious.” She nodded. They’d all been friends, before. John was still her friend. She wished she could pinpoint when and what exactly had changed. And she wished it didn’t give her a knot in her stomach.


That night Caleb walked into the palace hall and looked around. He’d gone by Bano house first had been informed that Lord Bano and Lady Olivia weren’t there. He hoped they were here but he knew there was no guarantee of that either.

“Caleb?” Anne Brightcoast walked up to him, surprised. “What on earth on you doing here?” She hugged him.

“I got to town a few days ago,” he explained. “I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you.”

“Hm,” she frowned. “I’ll forgive you if you walk me in. I can’t take another night of suitors.” Caleb smile and took her arm.

“You’ll tell Les I was taking care of you,” he said. She shot him a look. “My mother is terribly disappointed, by the way.”

“About Les?” She said. “So kind of her to be so invested in my happiness.” He barked a laugh. “Just your mother then?”

“Well, I agree with her that it would be tidy,” he pointed out, “but I do want you to be happy, and I’m not the man for that particular job.” She sighed as he glanced around the hall.

“You’re looking for someone!” She gasped. He sighed loudly. “Caleb, are you in love?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, I’m just,” he frowned. “We had Carmine Bano and his daughter to dinner last night.” She frowned. “I wanted to say hello.”

“Olivia Bano?” She said. “Well, I know where you’ll find her.” He followed as she pointed to the front of the room. Lady Olivia was sitting beside Prince Anton, who was whispering in her ear and making her giggle. She looked outstandingly lovely, her dark auburn hair piled on her head and an elaborate blue gown rustling with her every move. He swallowed. “Of course as it’s Anton, I’m sure he’ll have moved on in a week or so, he usually does, but then there’s Tom Martin.” His eyes got wide.

“Tom Martin?” He said. Anne nodded. “So you’re saying the first girl I’ve found interesting in, well, ever, is being pursued by the crown prince and Cornan’s chosen champion?”

“Unfortunately,” she sighed. “But by all means say hello. She’ll probably enjoy it. You’re reasonably good looking and charming when you want to be,” She kissed him on the cheek and floated away.


“Anton, stop,” Olivia said softly with a giggle as he kissed behind her ear gently. “Everyone’s looking.” They’d spent the afternoon in his room, she didn’t know what she was going to tell Tom, but it had been fun. She didn’t really expect more than fun from Anton, as much as she loved him.

“Let them,” he grinned, his grey eyes sparkling, “why shouldn’t everyone know I adore you?” She silenced him with a look and he leaned back. “Fine then, but you can’t disappear for a week like that again.”

“I wanted to be here,” she said, “but I can’t,” she exhaled, “my father.” She thought of the bruise forming on her wrist from where he’d grabbed her earlier. Did Anton see it?

“He doesn’t approve?” He teased.

“He has plans,” she said softly, “and I’m not sure he believes you’re serious about me.” Anton smiled. “And as I know you aren’t serious about anyone, well,” she shrugged.

“I could be serious,” he said. She picked up her wine and shook her head and laughed. “Gods, why is Caleb Pantona coming over here?” Olivia swallowed. The Viscount looked even more handsome tonight than he had before. His height and long limbs moved gracefully and his deep bow was mesmerizing.

“Your Highness,” Viscount Caleb said with a smile, but he was making eye contact with Olivia. She blushed.

“Viscount,” Anton said, he sounded annoyed. Olivia couldn’t help but be amused. “You know Lady Olivia Bano, I assume?”

“Of course, My Lady,” he took her hand and kissed it.

“Your Grace,” she said, “The Viscount’s parents had my father and me for dinner yesterday. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”

“I went to see you this afternoon but I believe you were already out,” The Viscount smiled, “but I was hoping to at least claim a dance.”

“Of course,” Olivia smiled. Anton was scowling. Viscount Caleb bowed again.

“Livvie,” Anton said, “you’re spoken for!” She straightened her shoulders.

“Am I?” She said. He growled something about being as good as. “Oh, you’re being ridiculous, it’s a dance Anton, I’ll dance with you and Tom too.”

“I don’t see what Tom has to do with it at all,” he glared. She rolled her eyes. Boys were impossible.

Olivia had had enough of watching Anton be absorbed by that Phanian girl, and she was angry at Tom for leaving without a thought to how it would effect them. She knew she had to explain something to her father. He’d be furious about Anton so she rushed into the hall.

“Lady Olivia,” Viscount Caleb of Pantona walked out of the library. She looked at him. “I didn’t realize you were still here.”

“I was looking for my father,” she said, “I wanted to say goodnight.”

“He retired about an hour ago,” he said. She exhaled. “If you’d like, I’ll walk you to your rooms.”

“I’d like that very much,” she said softly. It wouldn’t hurt to flirt with him a little. “Why are you still awake?” He laughed.

“I don’t sleep well,” he said, “so court life obviously suits me.” She nodded. “You?”

“I was waiting for Anton,” she said softly, “I lost track of time, obviously he did too.” He nodded. “Are you staying all summer?”

“No,” he said, “I have to get home for harvest at some point.” She cocked her head to the side. “That surprises you?”

“A little,” she said, “most of the men who,” she stopped, “I just assumed you spent most of your time in Dovetail, I mean.” He laughed lightly.

“Finish your thought,” he said, “most of the men your father threw at you.” She blushed and looked down. “I’m not an idiot, Lady Olivia,” he said, “I’m an excellent prospect and you’re hardly the first girl from a Dovetail family I’ve been flung at.” She giggled and looked up at him. “Most of them aren’t as pretty as you though.”

“Well done,” she said as they reached her door. “I’ve never seen anyone pivot quite that well.” He smiled.

“Not even Prince Anton,” he said, “or Commander Martin,” she blushed again. “I happen to be telling the truth,” he said and turned her face up, “but I think you know that. I think you’re quite aware you’re the most beautiful girl in every room you walk into.” She frowned. He’d been so honest and easy earlier, now it felt like he was flattering her and she didn’t like it.

“What do you want from me?” She said. “Besides what every other man does when he sees that girl walking in the room I mean.” He frowned, then.

“I don’t want anything from you,” he said, “why would I?” She bit her bottom lip. “Like I said before, I’m an excellent prospect, I can get that anywhere,” she swallowed, “I want you to see me, Lady Olivia,” he said, “All I care about is if you want me, if you want to be with me.” She swallowed and quickly turned and opened the door and rushed in. Her father was sitting in an arm chair with a glass of something brown in his hand.

“You’re late,” he muttered.

“I was waiting for Prince Anton,” she said softly, “I didn’t want to be rude.” He nodded. “And then I was coming back and ran into Viscount Caleb,” he stood up. “He walked me back.”

“The Duke of Careton went home tonight.” She swallowed. “He’s marrying some tenant’s daughter.” She looked down. “Did he apologize? The Prince. He made a fool of you tonight.” She exhaled, she wanted to say the right thing. He grabbed her chin. “Olivia, answer me.”

“No,” she said, “of course not, and it isn’t,” she exhaled, “he was only being polite, I’m sure.”

“And the Viscount? Are you more certain there?” He said. She looked down and then felt the heavy slap across her face. “Anton made you his whore, and now he’s moved on, so I suggest you fix it.” She nodded. “Go to sleep, I can’t stand the sight of you.” She rushed to her room and cried herself to sleep, not even changing out of her gown.


Caleb had gone to leave when he heard shouting from the other side of the door. Then the slap and whimper. He froze. He ought to break the door down. He’s noticed certain things. The way she flinched when her father went to touch her, bruises here or there. He hadn’t wanted to believe it. But now, well, there was just no denying it.

He went to find her the next morning and found her sitting in a courtyard reading.

“Hello,” she looked up at him with a smile, but her eyes were still rimmed with red. He looked serious. “Is something wrong Your Grace?”

“I don’t know quite where to begin,” he said, “are you alright?” She swallowed.

“My feelings are a little hurt,” she said, she was trying to tease. “Anton does get distracted, but usually not quite so seriously. And with Tom and John leaving,” she swallowed. “We’ll have plenty of time to get to know one another better, I suppose.”

“That isn’t what I meant,” he whispered, and took her hand. “You can trust me.” She swallowed and stood up. “Please, Olivia, trust me.” She looked at him.

“My father lost his temper last night,” she said, “that’s all.” He looked at her. “I just have to get through the next few months, and I thought,” he exhaled. “But if Anton isn’t,” she exhaled. “I’m engaged. My father doesn’t know, he thinks I’m still, that Anton and I,” He nodded.

“But you can’t marry Tom Martin if your father beats you to death,” Caleb said gently. She stared at him. “Does he know?” She shook her head. “The Prince?” She shook it again. “Gods.” He whispered and went to hold her. “Always come to me, I’ll protect you.” She looked up at him.

“You don’t hate me?” She said. “I’d be using you!” He smiled gently.

“You’re welcome to,” he said, “I don’t feel punished by spending time with you.” She looked up at him. “I feel a little selfish, for wanting you to hide with me.” He cupped a hand gently against her face. “But I can help you Olivia, I can keep you safe, let me.”


Olivia paced in her bedroom, Anton and Marie had announced their engagement. She was thrilled for them. Marie had asked her to served as Lady in waiting, she was honored. She’d watched the boy she once hoped to marry grow into a man who deeply loved someone, even if it was someone else.

But now she was away from the crowd and all she could feel was dread. Caleb had been watching her carefully all night, it was the only thing that had made her feel calm.

“OLIVIA!” Her father’s voice bellowed through the house. She swallowed as he opened the door, holding a leather strap.

“Papa, please,” she whispered, “please, I won’t,” but all her begging and pleading didn’t stop it, and the next thing she remembered she was standing on the front step of his house. She hadn’t changed, hadn’t done anything, just run.


“Olivia?” Caleb said opening the door. “Come inside, darling what is it?” She was sobbing. “I’ll take your cloak.” He reached for it and she flinched.

“No,” she said, “I shouldn’t have come here, but I didn’t know,” she paused. “There wasn’t anywhere else.” He carefully touched her face.

“Come along,” he said softly, ushering her to a parlor. “Do you want tea? Something stronger.” He noticed the way the cloak was sticking to her. “Gods,” he whispered, and carefully peeled it off of her and saw her ruined gown and the gashes bleeding on her back. He was furious. He’d murder her father, if he thought it would help. “You need a healer, I’ll send to the university.”

“No,” she said, stopping him from ringing the bell. “I just,” she swallowed, “I need to get cleaned up, but I was,” she looked down. “I thought he was going to kill me, Caleb, I don’t know what to do.”

“You don’t have to do anything,” he said. “You’ll stay here.” She swallowed.

“Anton can’t know,” she said panicking and standing up wringing her hands. “He’ll think it’s his fault and it isn’t. Marie’s wonderful and he loves her,” she paced. “Tom is so far away and he hasn’t written in weeks.” He stood up and took her hands.

“Look at me,” he whispered, “you need a healer, or you’ll get infected. No one has to know if you don’t want them to.” She was still sobbing and gasping. He grabbed the bell and rang it. A girl with dark auburn hair walked in. “Go to The University and ask for a healer to come, a woman if you can manage it. And have a bath drawn and get one of my mother’s robes for Lady Olivia.” The girl nodded and rushed out. She swallowed and pressed her head against his chest. “Everything is going to be fine.”

“How?” She whispered. “He’s going to kill me,” she whispered.

“No,” he said softly, “I promise you, that won’t happen.”

Caleb sat watching the healer work over Olivia’s back, glaring at him occasionally. He didn’t blame her, it certainly looked as though he’d had something to do with this.

“You’ll be fine,” the healer said, “there’ll be scars but nothing anyone but a lover would ever see.” Olivia nodded and sat up. “Viscount.” The Healer slipped out. Olivia looked at him.

“Thank you,” she said softly. He nodded.

“Get some rest,” he whispered. “You won’t have to wear my mother’s things for long, yours will be here in the morning.” She nodded. He walked out of the room and then to the large Bano townhouse and marched in to where Olivia’s father was sitting, far too calmly, staring at the fire. “A moment, sir?”

“This is unexpected,” Carmine Bano looked at him. “Did you bring her back or do you intend to keep her?” Caleb looked at him and grabbed him from the chair and shoved him against the wall.

“She won’t be coming back here,” Caleb said, nearly growling, his hand around this man’s throat. “And if you ever try to get near her again, I’ll kill you, very simply, very cleanly.” He stepped back. “As far as your daughter is concerned, her father died tonight. Get whoever it is you pay to keep their mouths shut about whipping a girl nearly to death to pack Olivia’s things and have them sent to my house. This game is over.” He stood up and stalked out of the house and then back home.

He’d be damned before he let anyone ever hurt her again.


Olivia woke up and twitched. Her back was still tingling, and all she could think of was the awful sting and burn of the leather where her father had struck over and over again.

She closed her eyes. Caleb had taken care of her. He’d gotten her healed and clean and given her a place to cry herself to sleep. But she would have to go home. And she didn’t know what that would look like. Her father, his reaction to this. He’d be furious, except that he could leverage this into an engagement.

“Good morning,” Caleb said softly walking in, holding a cup of tea. “Do you?” She nodded and reached out taking it. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” she said, “Thank you.” He nodded. “I know I can’t stay here, but I appreciate it.” He looked confused. “Maybe I can go in as Marie’s lady in waiting early. She’s not technically supposed to have one yet, but,”

“Of course you can stay here,” he said. She looked at him. “I told your father as much when I saw him last night.”

“You WHAT?” She said jumping out of bed. His face was flat and serious.

“If you don’t want to, of course, we can make other arrangements,” he said softly, “but you can’t go back there, and I won’t let anyone hurt you.” She stepped closer to him. “Olivia,” he muttered cautiously.

“Caleb,” she said softly.

“Don’t play with me,” he said softly. She swallowed. “Please, I don’t know how else to say it. I’m glad to be your friend if that’s what you need from me,” he said, “but I care for you, more than I realized, and if you don’t and can’t see yourself caring for me the same way,” he exhaled, “we can’t cross that line.” She rested her hands against his chest.

“Caleb,” she smiled gently, he nodded. “Please kiss me. I’ve been thinking about you kissing me for months.” He pulled her close and kissed her gently at first. Their mouths only gently opened. She deepened her hold on him, molding her body against his and then pulled away. “Well, that was lovely,” she said softly. He smiled.

“Yes it was,” he said. They kissed again and fell back against the bed. He moved his hand to her thigh and she whimpered gently. “I’ve wanted this for a long time.” She smiled shyly.

She wasn’t an innocent. There was Tom, and Anton. But Caleb’s touch, and the way he made her feel, and the way he talked made her feel shy, like she’d never even been alone with a man, let alone had a few lovers.

“I want you,” she said softly, running her hands over his chest. He moved his kiss to her neck. He sat up, straddling over her and undressed. She leaned up on her elbows.

“Are you sure?” He asked, lowering her back down under him. “It’s the point of no return, Olivia.” She smiled and cocked her head to the side.

“I’m sure,” she whispered. He slid his hand between her legs and spread her thighs. She exhaled a whimper.

“Mm,” he said as his fingers found her soft spot. “I do like all your little noises.” She panted as he started working her gently, whimpering and writhing a bit. “Tell me what you like, Olivia.”

“This,” she groaned arching into his fingers, “I like this so much.” He moved the material off her shoulder, letting the robe fall off of her completely, then he kissed down to her chest and found her nipple and sucked on it softly. “Caleb,” she exhaled, closing her eyes. “Yes, please,” she groaned. “More.” He pulled away and then straddled her again. “Don’t stop,” she whispered.

“I just want to look at you,” he said brushing her hair off her face. “So beautiful, I can barely believe it.” She smiled as he cupped her cheek. They kissed again he pressed into her, gently, moving in and out. “Olivia,” he whispered. And he repeated it over and over again. He shuddered.

“It’s alright,” she said, “I use whip willow.” He groaned and finished. After they lay together. “I like the way you say my name.” She whispered. “You use the whole O,” he laughed, fingering her palm. “And you don’t call me Livvie, like we’re still children.”

“Olivia,” he whispered and kissed her on top of her head.

“Caleb,” she said softly.

“Come to Pantona with me,” he said, “marry me. Let me keep you safe.” She smiled and touched his face gently, he pressed his lips against her palm.

“I can’t just run away to Pantona,” she said. He sighed and stretched, still smiling but something sad in it.

“Martin?” He asked. She nodded.

“I owe him a conversation, at least,” she said gently, “I do want to marry you.” She stretched.

“How are you feeling?” He asked. She smiled.

“Fine,” she said, “good. Thank you, for being my safe place.”

“I’ll always be here,” he promised. “For you, always.” She pressed her forehead to his. “I love you,” he whispered. She exhaled, feeling safe in that declaration.

“I love you too,” she whispered.



I’ve only been to The Border Keep a few times. I usually stay in Pantona or Dovetail when the others come here. When Calla was a baby, I used the excuse of staying behind to care for her. But in reality, it’s that being here underlines every feeling of uselessness I have.

I don’t have networks out here, I don’t get reports. The tribes don’t like the Dumanis or the Guilds so everyone looks at me with suspicion, I wandered into a small room where Prior and Tristan were sitting with several other rangers, their dark green coats and shaggy hair giving them away.

“The rivers are shallow this year,” one of them, a woman from her voice sighed. “The Witches say it’s a sign that Amina is trying to frustrate the search.” I leaned against the door frame.

“It’s one explanation,” another said, “the other is that it was a dry winter. Only two storms.”

“Also a sign from Amina,” Prior pointed out.

“That isn’t how it works,” Tristan sighed.

“It isn’t how it works with Cornan and Rana,” Prior pointed out, he looked up. “Hello Carolina.” I waved.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I said. Tristan shook his head.

“We weren’t getting anywhere,” he said, “you’re dismissed.” Most of them shuffled our. Prior raised his eyebrows at him. “You too.”

“Don’t give me orders,” he said and stood up, Tristan laughed. “I’m leaving because I want to, not because you told me to.”

“Right,” Tristan snorted. “Elodie knew what she was doing putting him with me. Sometimes I think he’s actually Athena’s twin.” I laughed and sat down with him.

“You’re going to miss him,” I said softly.

“I am,” he said. “I’m going to miss this.” I nodded. “You’re worth it.” I looked at him. “Have you decided to stay with us?”

“No,” I sighed, “I mean, no I haven’t decided.” He nodded. “I love you and I want to be with you, but I can’t do my work out here and it’s frustrating.” He grinned at me.

“You aren’t changing your work?” He said. I shrugged. “Caro.”

“I can live at Pantona and have children and do my work,” I said with a smirk. He looked at me and smiled. “So no, I won’t change it. I might need to find another contact to pass messages in the area, depending on William’s attitude when I get back.” He shook his head.

“I get to actually never speak to him again now right?” He said. “I understand that in everyone’s view imperiling the future of our world wasn’t damning enough, but sleeping with me wife?”

“You never have to speak to him again,” I said. “Though Marina is one of my closest friends, so while you forgave me more easily I am still the better person.” He laughed. “Tristan,” I said softly, “I just want to be of use.”

“I know,” he said gently. “Come on, I want to show you something.” I followed him out to the training field. There, the rangers he’d been sitting with, the royal guards we’d traveled with, several of Harran’s warriors and a group of witches were all sparring and trading techniques. I smiled.

“You’re proud of this?” I said. He grinned.

“I am,” he said, “Aaron and Marina talk about building a better world. Five years ago, this would have been impossible, even before Brayton, the crown and the tribes wouldn’t cooperate like this.” I kissed him.

“It’s very Merchant, really,” I teased him. He squinted. “They’re trading.” He laughed.

“I suppose so,” he laughed. “But don’t say that too loud.” I giggled. “Caro,” he whispered.

“Mm,” I nodded leaned back against him as he wrapped his arms around me. It felt so good, he felt so good, so relaxed. The edge to our relationship had softened.

“Thank you,” he said. “For not giving up on me.”

“Oh Tristan,” I whispered. “You can’t give up on this.” He swallowed. “You can’t, it’s so good.”

“Training Althea and protecting Calla will be good,” he said softly, “our children will be good. Being with you every single day will be good.” I wanted to smile. He’s doing the right things, saying the right things.

His arms are around me and I feel so safe there.

So why don’t I believe him? Why don’t I believe that this man is giving up something he poured his heart into for me, and willingly, happily? Why can’t I stop being angry that it’s where he put his heart, instead of with me? Am I always going to resent that he built this instead of building our life together?

And why won’t that tiny, petty voice in the back of my mind go away? The voice echoing over and over again.

He built this for her. All he ever did was leave you.