Maud sat on the barren balcony. Her quarters projected the screen in front of her and she scrolled through the files of the wedding party, trying to make some sense of it. Her new status gave her access to more detailed dossiers, and she was speed-reading them while she could. The wealth of additional information made her brain buzz. She was in a rotten mood.
Wind stirred her hair. Maud glanced up, and her gaze lingered on the distant mesas. She liked being high up, but the breathtaking view failed to pull her out of her unease. The Kozor and Serak were planning something, but what? They had only two hundred fighters, while the Krahr had thousands.
She’d tried to find Arland after her encounter with the overly enthusiastic best man and his yipping escort, but he wasn’t anywhere she could go. She left a message on his unit, but he hadn’t responded.
She had been spoiled. For the last few weeks, he had been at her beck and call. She only had to say his name and there he was, ready to help. Now she wanted to talk to him, and he was out of reach.
He is a marshal. I’ve been taking his availability for granted.
She missed him.
Maybe he got bored.
It was a definite possibility. She could just be a brief infatuation. He rescued her, got to be the hero, and it was exciting with the inn under siege, and now, the regular life returned, and the novelty faded. Maybe she was a travel romance.
The recording of Arland facing his mother replayed in her head. No. He loved her.
The only way to have constant access to Arland was to marry him. That’s what marriage was, at the core – the exclusive right to spend as much time with someone you loved as they were willing to give.
Her screen chimed, announcing someone at the front door. Her heart beat faster. She touched the screen and there he was. She shot out of the chair as if she’d found a scorpion in it and dashed through the rooms to the door. She took a deep breath to steady herself.
The door slid aside. Arland looked at her. To the casual observer, he would have looked fine, but she’d spent too much time studying his face. She saws distance in his eyes and it chilled her. Something happened. She frantically cycled through the possibilities. Did she embarrass the House? Did she some how hurt his feelings? Did he read her message and it pissed him off?
“My mother requests your presence at the picnic in groom’s honor, my lady.”
“I’m honored, my lord. Weapons?”
“Allow me a moment to check on my daughter.”
“No need. Lady Helen and the rest of the children have been taken to the lakeshore.”
And Lady Helen had failed to check in with her. They would have to have a talk tonight.
He stepped aside, letting her pass. They walked side by side.
“Lord Kurr?” she asked.
“He lives. Barely.”
Too bad. “I apologize if I caused any offense.”
“You didn’t. Your conduct was exemplary. You’ve exhibited remarkable self-control, my lady. House Krahr is fortunate to have the benefit of your service.”
Nope, he hadn’t read her message.
They entered a long breezeway, leading to tower, which, in turn, allowed passage to another small mesa rising on their left. According to her personal unit, the picnic was held there. Even without the unit, clumps of vampires spread across the green lawn would’ve been the dead giveaway. Once they reached the mesa, they would be in public and she’d have to kiss any chance at a private conversation goodbye. She had to clear this up now.
“Is something the matter, my lord?”
“Everything is well,” he said.
Okay, that was all she was willing to tolerate. “Then why are you impersonating an icicle?”
He glared at her. She matched his stare. She was reasonably sure they were being watched from the mesa, but she didn’t care.
The look in his eyes got to her and slipped into English despite herself. “Did cat get your tongue?”
His face iced over. “No. Lions didn’t injure my mouth. You and I have a complex relationship, my lady. These complications notwithstanding, in public you must conduct yourself in accordance with your place in the chain of command.”
“Are you pulling rank?”
She laughed and walked off. They were almost to the tower.
“My lady.” The unmistakable command suffused his voice.
“You should read your messages, Lord Marshal.”
She made it another three steps before he snarled, “Maud!”
Maud pivoted on her foot. “Is something the matter?”
He bore down on her. “You resigned. Why?”
“What do you mean, why?” It was painfully obvious. Maybe he really did have second thoughts.
“You should have at least given me the courtesy of telling me face to face,” his voice was quiet and icy.
“I tried but you were busy. The message was my only option.”
“When?” he asked, his eyes dark.
“I don’t follow.”
They definitely had an audience now. The voices didn’t carry that far, but just about everyone in the lawn was looking their way.
He forced the words out. “When are you leaving?”
It stabbed at her. “Do you want me to leave?”
“Do you think this is funny? Because I fail to see the humor. I’ve given you a place in House Krahr. You’re throwing it in my face. That can mean only one thing. You’re leaving.”
Oh, you idiot.
“You almost married Betin Cagnat on Karhari. You were in negotiations, with the contracts being drawn, and you haven’t even entertained my proposal. I told you that I’m content to await your decision. But if you have feelings for another, it is only fair that you tell me.”
I wonder when he had learned that tidbit.
“Being a knight of Krahr would have allowed you time to make your decision. It was the best option available under the circumstances.”
“Is that why you offered it to me?” she asked, keeping her voice mild.
“No. I offered it to you because you were in a dangerous situation without any authority to intervene. But after you accepted it, it felt like the best solution.”
He was trying to keep her close any way he could. He must’ve been worried she would leave and offering her an in-House position was his way to ensure she stayed.
Behind Arland a young vampire knight stepped out of the doors, a tablet in his hands. He saw Arland and broke into run, heading toward them.
“Now you’re leaving,” Arland ground out. “I just want to know why. What is it about me you find lacking? Is it that you still have feelings for another? What is it?”
“Are you done?” she asked.
“Lord Arland!” the knight called out. “I have an urgent message from Lord Soren.”
“I deserve an answer. Surely, you can give me that much.”
“The Writ of Command, Part Seven.”
He frowned. “Prohibition of fraternization between knights separated by more than three ranks? What does that have to do with anything?”
She stepped closer to him, raised her hand, and gently popped him on the forehead.
The young knight reached them and thrust a tablet at Arland.
Maud turned around and walked away.
She sped up. He couldn’t outright run after her. He would look like an idiot to the audience below.
“Get this infernal tablet out of my face! Maud!”
The moment she entered the tower, she sprinted down the stairs. As soon as they were out of sight, he would chase her, and she didn’t want to have this conversation in the tower. She wanted to have it in her or his quarters, after they had been swept clear of Nuan Cee’s bugs. She needed to get down to that lawn as fast as she could.