But most of all, I just wanted him—his arms around me, his scent smothering me, and his obnoxious heartbeat dancing with mine.
“Zadicus,” I said when he began to walk away. “Zad,” I said again when he took to the stairs.
I followed, but still, he didn’t stop.
In the hall below, Raiden stepped out from the shadows, his teeth bared as he launched himself at Zad, and they toppled to the ground.
A scream stretched my throat, trapped there, as Raiden’s fist smacked into Zad’s cheek, and then Zad flipped him, elbowing him across the nose.
Blood sprayed, and guards rushed into the hallway, but I halted everyone with the rising of my hands. “Stop.”
With a wind that rattled the sconces on the walls, leaving us in near darkness, I forced Zad off Raiden, knowing what would happen if we didn’t settle this.
One of them would die, and the result of that would be catastrophic, no matter who it was.
To me, and to Allureldin.
“I said stop,” I ground out, looking at Ainx to seize the lord, who shoved him off. “Again?” Zad spat at the ground by Raiden’s head. “You have me here again, only to have me dragged out like unwanted cattle?”
I nodded at Ainx, and he released the lord.
Adjusting his blood-splattered mask, Raiden rose from the ground, the rage in his eyes biting into my skin.
Looking at the guards, I said, “Leave us.”
They did, but only far enough to give the illusion of privacy.
“You link to my queen?” The words rolled out of Raiden’s mouth like hot flames escaping a fire. Moving closer to Zad, he sneered. “My wife? I will have your head—”
“You will not,” I said. “For I have linked with him too.”
As though he’d turned to stone, Raiden stood deathly still, his gaze on Zad, who just stood there with hard, expressionless eyes. Finally, he turned, and I wished he hadn’t.
I’d never feared the male, nor had I feared any male except my father, until that moment. With his eyes burning, his gait slow and focused, Raiden stopped before me and spat, “You hid it from me? You link with a male other than myself, and you think to hide it from me?”
“It was only recent,” I said, simply, struggling to keep my words steady, my very breath, under a gaze harsher than that of his desert sun. “On my part.”
“On your part,” he repeated, bland and unblinking.
I swallowed, choosing silence. I was not prone to driveling apologies, and I wasn’t about to start with him. I owed him nothing, especially after all he’d done.
He had only himself to blame for any upset he felt. He’d changed the trajectory of all our lives with his lies and cunning nature.
I’d half expected the lord to walk away, but I should’ve known better. He wasn’t going anywhere with the rage unfurling from Raiden, especially when he was looming over me like a curling tree about to snap during a storm.
Looking back at Zad, he asked, “When?”
“It matters not,” Zad said, words cutting like sharp shards of ice. “Now, back up.”
“Oh, but I think it does matter a great deal.” Raiden turned to him. “Considering you linked with someone who wasn’t yours. She is mine.” He jabbed a finger at his chest. “My wife. My queen. My future. Mine.”
As though he thought he’d glean some satisfaction from admitting it, Zad shrugged. “She was only fourteen, so it happened long before your painful existence was to become even a thought in her head. A stain thrust upon any of our lives.”
That gave Raiden pause.
You couldn’t trial someone for linking. It was about as natural as the sun and moon changing shifts in the sky. But when you were a royal, a high royal who sat on a throne no less, you could very well get away with doing whatever you pleased—within reason.
And it was within reason to have your wife or husband’s linked one suddenly vanish, fall irreversibly ill, or be struck in the chest with a weapon of someone who’d been hired.
The mere thought of Raiden trying to break something that could not be severed ignited a black hole of wariness inside me, the likes of which had me saying, “You needn’t worry yourself on the matter. He is but a lover. One I have chosen not to bed or entertain anymore.”
Raiden continued to stare at Zad, and then, with a glance at me, he murmured, “We’ll see.” Then he was stalking down the hall, startling a server so much so that when he grabbed two ales from her tray, the rest toppled to the floor.
A few passersby stopped to help her clean up the broken glass and beverages.
Dragging my stinging eyes off them, I gave them to Zad.
“Just a lover?” he purred, though there was no softness behind the question.
“I will say and do whatever is necessary,” I said. “You know that, and you know better.”