An apprentice guard in the royal household of Brandishear, Chriani is a capable young warrior held back from attaining his full potential by a lifetime of dark anger. Lauresa is a princess about to be set aside as heir and married off for the sake of treaty — and the only woman Chriani has ever loved. When his mentor is murdered preventing an assassination attempt within the palace, Chriani is forced to become Lauresa’s protector, the two reconciling a forbidden passion even as they find themselves caught up in a maelstrom of political intrigue, ancient racial hatred, a society living in mortal fear of sorcery — and a decades-old plot to plunge five nations into genocidal war.
• • •
The princess faltered. Chriani saw the flick of her eyes, the gleam of blue catching the light as he twisted to follow her gaze. He’d left the dark door open behind him. In the faint light of the corridor, his eyes caught the ripple of shadow that meant movement in the distance. Footsteps, almost silent.
“You fool,” she whispered.
Chriani wasn’t listening, sheathing his sword with effort as he turned for the door, made to call out to whoever was racing toward them. No idea what he was supposed to say, but he was fairly certain that begging for mercy would be a large part of it.
Then Lauresa was moving behind him, one hand across his mouth even as the other brought the dagger up, close to his throat as she dragged him back. Chriani was startled, as much at being grabbed at all as he was at the strength in her arm. As he stumbled back, though, he felt instinct override any uncertainty. Her blade was a hand’s-width from him, more than enough space to go for her wrist. No room to get a decent strike in with the other hand, but her flank was vulnerable and in easy reach, or the soft muscle of her thigh, one sharp blow that would drop her.
But even through the instinct, through all the memory of all the hand-to-hand training he’d done at Barien’s side, he knew he couldn’t do it.
No idea what any of this was about, but he couldn’t hurt her. Not anymore.
He went for the dagger, though. No point in having his throat slit, by accident or otherwise. But even as his hand clamped around her wrist, Lauresa sang…