Prince Ashwin sits up, biting down on his pain. Stop lying. I know you’re not my father. Tarek was the disappointment. He failed the empire.
No, I answer without hesitation. I meant it when I said you’re not like him.Ashwin’s voice rises with his gaze, both sharp and direct. Yet you don’t trust me. You still see him in me.
I flounder to reassure him. I cannot deny that I have seen portions of Tarek in Ashwin, attributes of an ironhanded ruler that unnerve me. If Ashwin looked like someone else, if he was anyone else’s son, I would have been more apt to trust him.His intense stare brightens with pain. I didn’t love my father, but I was foolish enough to love you.I stretch out my hand to console him, but he pulls away and leaves, slamming the door. The echo of his angry parting lands heavy on my heart. I huddle my knees into my chest, cursing myself. Ashwin is innocent of Tarek’s actions, yet I cannot work out how to separate the two.
Natesa edges in from her antechamber. Is everything all right? I heard Prince Ashwin leave. He sounded upset.I rest my chin on my knees, hugging them closer. Ashwin offered to take me as his second wife. I told him I killed Tarek.
That’s an interesting answer to a marriage proposal. Natesa comes over and lies beside me on the bed, covering her legs with the blanket. Do you want to wed Ashwin?
No . . . Maybe . . . I don’t know. I want my throne. I groan at my indecisiveness. That doesn’t make sense.Her fingers flexed and then caressed his side. Uh-huh.
Liam placed a hand on the side of her face, took a breath, and clamped on.She bucked her hips, hard, nearly removing him. Then her hand came from nowhere, her leg wrapped around and tossed him to his side. She stopped short of kneeing him in the groin, and he hesitated.
The burial starts at daybreak, before the heat of the jungle evaporates the dew and suffocates the morning breeze. Our solemn group congregates in the stern of the riverboat and watches Deven and Yatin finish tying heavy stones to the body’s ankles and wrists. Indah has already washed the deceased in almond oil, a ritual in her homeland, the Southern Isles. Pons, her beloved guard, helped her wrap the departed with white bedsheets.Natesa slips her arm around my waist. I hold on to her, shifting my weight off my sore leg. Prince Ashwin stands to the side, his head down, but I can still see his red eyes and nose.