The Kiss Of Deception Page 107

The soldiers holding him stopped, surprised and unsure what to do next. Rafe shouted the message with ringing authority. I looked at him, something unfurling inside me. How did he find me? Time jumped. Lurched. Stopped. Rafe. A farmhand. From a nameless region. I stared. Everything about him looked different to me now. Even his voice seemed different. I\ll get us both out of this. Trust me, Lia. The ground beneath my feet shifted, unsteady, the world around me rocking. The real and true swayed.

’’What\s the message?’’ the chievdar demanded.

’’That\s for the Komizar\s ears only,’’ Rafe answered.

Kaden stepped closer to Rafe. Everyone waited for him to say something, but he remained silent, his head cocked slightly to the side, his eyes narrowing. I didn\ breathe.

’’A message carried by a farmhand?’’ he finally asked.

Their gazes locked. Rafe\s icy blue eyes were frozen with hatred. ’’No. From the emissary of the Prince of Dalbreck. Now who\s the stupid sot?’’

A soldier butted Rafe\s head with the handle of his sword. He staggered to the side, blood trickling down his temple, but regained his footing.

’’Afraid of a simple message?’’ he taunted Kaden, his gaze never wavering.

Kaden glared back. ’’A message means nothing. We don\ negotiate with the Kingdom of Dalbreck not even with the prince\s own emissary.’’

’’You speak for the Komizar now?’’ Rafe\s voice was thick with threat. ’’I promise you, it\s a message he\ll want.’’

’’Kaden,’’ I pleaded.

Kaden turned to me, his eyes prickled with heat, and an angry questioning gaze blazed from them.

The chievdar pushed forward. ’’What proof do you even have that you\ e his emissary?’’ he sneered. ’’The prince\s seal? His ring? His lace handkerchief?’’ The soldiers around him laughed.

’’Something only he would possess,’’ Rafe answered. ’’A royal missive from the princess, addressed to him in her own handwriting.’’ Rafe looked at me when he said it, not the chievdar, his eyes sending me his own private message. My knees weakened.

’’Scrawl?’’ The chievdar balked. ’’Anyone could scratch on a piece of ’’

’’Wait,’’ Kaden said. ’’Give it to me.’’ The soldiers released Rafe\s arms so he could retrieve the note from inside his vest. Kaden took it from him and examined it. The broken remnants of my red royal seal were still visible. He pulled a crumpled note from his own pocket. I recognized it as the one the bounty hunter had dropped on the forest floor that I never got the chance to retrieve. Kaden compared the two notes and slowly nodded. ’’It\s genuine. Prince Jaxon of Dalbreck,’’ he read, spitting out the title with scorn.

He unfolded the note Rafe had given him and began to read it aloud for the chievdar and the surrounding soldiers. ’’I should ’’

’’No,’’ I said, cutting him off sharply. I didn\ want my words to the prince spit out with complete derision. Kaden turned toward me, angry but waiting. ’’I should ’’

I stopped and stared at Rafe.

Inspected him.

His shoulders.

His wind-tossed hair.

The rigid line of his jaw.

The redness of the blood trickling down his cheek.

His half-parted lips.

I swallowed to quell the tremor in my throat. ’’I should like to inspect you ... before our wedding day.’’

There were snickers from the soldiers around us, but I saw only Rafe\s face and his imperceptible nod as he returned my gaze.

Every tight thing within me went slack.

’’But the prince ignored my note,’’ I said weakly.

’’I\m sure he deeply regrets that decision, Your Highness,’’ Rafe answered.

I had signed the marriage documents myself.

Rafe. On that much he hadn\ lied.

Crown Prince Jaxon Tyrus Rafferty of Dalbreck.

I remembered how he had looked at me that first night in the tavern when he told me his name, waiting to see if there was any glimmer of recognition. But a prince had been the last thing I was looking for.

’’Shackle him and bring him along,’’ Kaden said. ’’The Komizar will kill him if he\s lying. And search the surrounding hills. He couldn\ have come alone.’’

Rafe pulled against the soldiers who twisted his hands behind his back to chain him, but his eyes never left mine.

I looked at him, not a stranger, but not a farmer either. It had been a clever deception from the very beginning.

The wind swirled between us, threw mist in our faces. Whispered. In the farthest corner ... I will find you.

I wiped at my eyes, the real and true blurring.

But I knew this much. He came.

He was here.

And maybe, for now, that was all the truth I needed.

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