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Mad refused to sleep in Jadirel’s old bed. It was a matter of principle. But the palace was big enough that he’d been able to take a different room for himself and Kenzie, and something in his chest unfurled when he woke up with his mate curled up beside him.
Light streamed in through a large window. The room smelled pleasantly of some kind of perfume. It was warm and clean and as perfect as things got on Guerran.
Every morning should be like this.
He’d only been up for thirty seconds when the weight of everything he’d done the day before crashed down on him. He’d killed Jadirel and taken his territory. He was an exile king.
And he had a mate.
There were a hundred, maybe a thousand, things he should do. He had to figure out what exactly went into running a territory on Guerran.
If that was what he was going to do.
Kenzie was relaxed in sleep, and some of the years had cleared from her face. She didn’t look young, exactly, but she was unburdened. She’d done her job, she’d found her sister. And now she could do whatever she wanted with the future.
Did that include him?
Becoming an exile king was an accident of necessity. And there were certainly things he could fix in the territory now that Jadirel was gone. He had to make sure there were no more slaves in the palace, and he was going to kick the slavers out of the territory. Maybe it wouldn’t last if he didn’t stick around, but he had to do at least that.
Hard as it was to believe, he still had time to catch the ride off the planet that Arbyn had arranged for him. Perhaps there would be two seats for Kenzie and Carise as well. Though Jaek might forcibly board the ship to see Carise if he didn’t see her before they left.
If the mating bond had sparked in Jaek, Mad understand his urge. He couldn’t let Kenzie go, not if she would have him, not if she would allow him to love her. He’d merely been existing on Guerran until she burst into his life. For the first time in six years, he felt like he might actually have a future.
And yet that future was so precarious he felt like he was strung on a high wire and at risk of toppling over at any minute.
Kenzie made a little noise and turned over, opening her eyes and looking at him. “Good morning.”
He smiled at her. “Good morning. Especially since you’re not touching a knife.”
She rolled her eyes and shuffled up into a sitting position beside him, completely heedless of her nudity. “Killing kings is your job. Besides, my knife is right there.” She nodded towards the bedside table.
“Queens shouldn’t kill their kings.” It sounded absurd. Mad was no king. And yet he’d slept the night in a palace. He’d taken Jadirel’s territory. It could all be his.
“So I’m your queen now?” He couldn’t easily interpret the tone of Kenzie’s voice. Was that sadness? Regret?
“Only if you want to be.” Mad pulled her close. They’d slept the night together, but right now he needed to be touching her, needed to remind himself that they’d survived the impossible. Now all they had to do was take their lives into their own hands and live as they wished. “Do you want to be my queen?”
“I’m no queen,” Kenzie scoffed. But everything about her was regal in his eyes, no need for a crown. He wanted one for her anyway. She deserved to be draped in jewels and finery.
“You’re my mate. No one else will ever sit at my side.”
If anything, that made it worse. She stiffened and pulled away from him, sliding out of the bed and pulling on her clothes. “Mad—” She didn’t say anything more.
But he knew. He’d been trying not to think of it ever since the sisters were reunited. “It’s Carise, isn’t it?” His heart was heavy with the question, but he understood Kenzie’s love for her sister. How could he not? He knew what it meant to be an older sibling.
For half a second, Kenzie looked wrecked, eyes on the verge of tears, mouth open to let out an anguished cry. But she pulled it all back until her face was blank. “I’ve been looking for her for years. I’m her big sister. I have to protect her. I can’t ask her to stay on a planet where she was a slave. She’ll never be able to heal.”
Mad wrapped Kenzie in his arms. He didn’t want her hiding her emotions, not from him, not when they were alone together. “We don’t have to stay here.”
Saying it was a punch to his gut. Flying away from Guerran meant giving up every chance he had of seeing his own family again. He wouldn’t even be able to call them. At most he might be able to relay a letter to Taiana every year or so. Would she even write him back?
Would Derok remember who he was?
It hurt to think it. But it hurt even more to think of giving up his mate. Kenzie was his future, not some hope for a pardon that would probably never come. Kenzie was real and right there. He had to be strong for her.
He had to give her this future.
“We?” The tears had started to fall now, but she wasn’t hiding from him anymore.
He kissed her quickly and pulled back before passion could sweep them away in its tide. “You’re my mate. If we go, we go together.”
“But your family.” She understood. It tempered the hurt. Kenzie knew what it was to love family. She knew what it was to go anywhere to find them, just as he’d endured anything for the hope of reunification.
He couldn’t put it into words easily. How could he explain all the jumbled up emotions inside of him? If he said he was doing it solely for her, she’d never let him get away with it. He knew his mate too well for that.
Before he could say anything, there was an insistent knock at the door. He and Kenzie looked at each other in confusion.
“Were you expecting anyone?” she asked.
“Why do I have a feeling this is part of king life?” He pulled on the rest of his clothes and made sure Kenzie was mostly covered before yanking the door open and barking at the guard. “What?”
The guard shrank back. He wore rumpled clothing and didn’t look as if he’d slept all night. What had Jadirel been doing to these men that they feared a strong word? Mad would need to go through the ranks and figure out who he could trust and—well, maybe not. Not if he, Kenzie, and Carise were about to leave Guerran.
“What?” he repeated when the guard sputtered. He didn’t have time for this when he and Kenzie were in the middle of deciding the rest of their lives.
The guard took a steadying breath and managed to meet his eyes. “It’s Carise, sire. She’s gone.”
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