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BOOK: Elizabeth Raines
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“You are sure?” Her voice shivered.

“I’m sure.” Taking her hand, he led her to the house.

Jake was just jogging out the door. “Did you hear that?”

Luka nodded.

“There was a message right before I heard it.”

“And?” Luka asked, waiting for the kicker.

“It’s Betinsa. She’s coming here. Why wouldn’t she contact us to let us know first?”

“That can’t be good.”

Drawing his lips into a thin line, Jake stared at Syla.

“She comes here for me,” Syla said.

“Probably,” Jake replied. He grabbed her hand as Luke took her other hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze.

“Let’s go find out,” Luka said. “Where’s she landing, Jake?”

“Said to go to the usual rendezvous.”

“Gotcha. Follow me.”

Leading the way through the corner of the woods, Luka took them to a small field where the supply ship landed whenever it was coming around. He had to slow his long steps so Syla could keep up.

He couldn’t calm his thoughts. After all the time he, Jake, and Syla had spent together, Luka had grown to believe the fairy tale—that they would always live here in this unspoiled country with no one to interfere with their paradise.

How immature…

The world was bound to intrude sometime. Syla was a princess. Her destiny was on Trilan, not in Montana. No matter how much he wanted to keep her and Jake bound to him, Luka was going to have to let them go. Probably today, or Betinsa wouldn’t be making the trek all the way out here.

Damn, but that thought threw him into a hellacious mood.

Betinsa’s ship
,
the
Charhock
, hovered above the grass, slowly drifting down like a lazy bird searching for a good place to land. When Betinsa finally set the craft down, Luka held Syla back when she tried to rush forward.

“Wait, honey. She’ll kill the engines and then lower the ramp.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the engines slowly wound down until they were merely hissing with the release of their heat. The side of the ship opened, and a long ramp dropped from the wing to open up the ship’s interior.

Betinsa marched down to meet them in her typical no-nonsense fashion. She was dressed casually in a comfortable caftan of her planet, which at least boded well. Had there been danger around, she would have worn black and camo and bound up that thick, wavy hair of hers. Instead, it spilled around her shoulders in a mass of heavy curls.

When she reached the end of the ramp, she bowed to Syla. “Your Majesty. I am here to speak to you.”

Syla bowed as well and then smiled. “Oracle. I am happy to see you again.”

Betinsa didn’t return the grin. “May we find a place to talk in privacy?”

Luka hated the sound of that but just because he liked to think that Syla kept no secrets didn’t mean she’d told him everything about herself. He had no claim on this woman and no right to know all her business. “Why don’t we go back to the house? We can make some tea and—”

“I cannot stay long enough for social niceties,” Betinsa replied.

Since it was so unlike her to be that abrupt, Luka’s radar ratcheted up a notch. “I guess Jake and I can just…step aside and give you two some space.”

“No,” Syla said. “Say anything you may to them you might to me say.” Whenever she was nervous, her English skills slipped—that and her cheeks had flushed to a bright pink.

“Are you sure, Your Highness?” Betinsa let her gaze fall first on Jake and then on Luka. Her lips dropped into a small frown.

Damn, but Luka had known Betinsa long enough to understand her expression. She knew Jake was on Syla’s side, but she wasn’t sure about
him.

His already angry mood blackened even more in a heartbeat. When Syla hesitated in answering, he felt even worse. After all they’d shared, how could she not know how special she was to him?

Probably because he’d never bothered to tell her. From the moment she’d arrived, he’d been less than open with her. He’d never truly given her a reason to trust him. Sure, they’d slept together—although he preferred to think of it as making love. But not once had he wanted to talk about her world or what the future held for her. Or for
them
. Not once had he let her know he was hoping to be a part of her future and Jake’s.

Jake was the one to speak. “I trust Luka with my life. If Syla needs help, we both need to know what’s going on.”

“Syla?” Betinsa asked. “Should I tell them my news as well?”

Syla gave her a curt nod.

Betinsa took a deep breath before speaking. “I have come to get you. You must return to Trilan. I am sorry to say that your father is dead.”

Chapter 7

 

“I have to go back,” Syla insisted, not at all surprised that both of her men were shooting daggers at her with their eyes.

How could they possibly understand? All they thought about was her and keeping her safe here in Montana. She had much more on her mind—
much, much
more.

Her people needed her. There was no way in the universe she was leaving Trilan in the hands of Thama and her despicable son. She was so concerned with her world she couldn’t even let the heartache of losing her father in. Not yet. Not until she put things to right.

“There is more,” Betinsa said.

“What
more
could there be?” Jake asked, raking his fingers through his dark hair. He was so agitated he couldn’t seem to stand still, pacing back and forth like a wild animal in a cage.

“It’s about the treason charges,” Luka said, instead of asking. “Thama wanted to be sure Syla was out of the picture entirely before she did away with the old man. Am I right?”

“Thama a bitch may be,” Syla said, knitting her brows. “But murder my father?” She shook her head. “Not she would even sink so low.”

“Don’t be naïve, honey,” Luka insisted. “This is just the last of her master plan—hers and that bastard son of hers. Don’t you see? She didn’t marry your father because she loved him—she was after power. Probably always had been from the time she came to court.”

While Syla hated Thama, she couldn’t believe anyone would be that cold, that calculating. That soulless.

When her mother died, Syla had tried to console her father, but the man was in such a deep depression, she feared he might never claw his way back out. She’d even been concerned he might be suicidal. Then Thama had made the first bold move and begun to make advances to the king. To have a woman as beautiful as Thama pursue him had been the perfect salve for his broken heart. Syla had never questioned Thama’s motives because she’d been so damned grateful to see him happy once again.

Time and distance—and charges of treason—made Syla view things in an entirely different light. Thama had been downright predatory in putting herself in the king’s path. Every time the man had left his suites, there she was, as though she needed him to see her every hour of every day. Always touching him. Always whispering secrets only they shared in his ear.

Could Luka be right? Could Thama really have murdered the king?

“I must return,” she insisted, knowing in her heart, it was the only way to save her people from that winsome snake in the grass.

“So they can execute you the minute you set foot on your planet?” Jake gave his head a shake. “No fucking way, Syla.”

“No fucking way,” Luka echoed.

“There is more,” Betinsa said.

Syla wasn’t sure she could take much “more.” Although she knew she was being rude, she gestured for Betinsa to keep speaking, tired of this whole nightmare coming out in bits and pieces.

“There is a royalist force forming against your stepmother. They have reached out to my husband Drake to ask that you come back to Trilan. They want to put you on the throne.”

Luka put his hands on his hips. “What they want is to get you killed. They’re a bunch of rebels, and Thama has enough power now to crush them like an egg.”

“They wish me to rule? They wish me to follow my father on his throne?” Syla asked. While she’d known the Trilani people loved her father and her mother, she’d never realized that love transferred to her as well. The notion of people fighting and dying on her behalf felt elating yet a bit like a blow to the gut. She didn’t want anyone’s life lost for her.

All of her father’s advice started tumbling in her brain. As his only child, she’d been told stories of battles he’d led and challenges he’d faced as ruler of their world. She’d never really stopped to think that people had fought by his side and died for his cause—for the good of Trilan.

“These people truly want me to return?” she asked Betinsa.

“Syla, you can’t be thinking—”

She cut off Luka’s scolding with a slash of her hand, much like her father used whenever he was done discussing a topic. She was, after all, her father’s daughter.

“They wish you to lead them,” Betinsa replied. “They want to remove Thama and Preval from the palace. She is to be crowned next week after your father’s state funeral. Then she plans to crown Preval as her prince and heir apparent. The rebels wish to stop the coronations.”

“Then lead them I shall.” Syla’s decision was made. If her people needed her, she would do her father proud and answer their pleas.

“Syla, no.” Luka wrapped his fingers around her upper arm and squeezed hard. “Don’t do this. Stay here. You’re safe here.”

“I am dead here,” she insisted.

“Dead?” His eyes searched hers. “You love it here. You’ve thrived here.”

The words were difficult for her, but she owed it to Luka to explain. “This is the place I healed. I cannot stay here forever. You knew that. I must go back. No choice have I.”

Jake stepped up to them. “If you have to go, we understand, sweetheart. Luka and I will go with you—we’ll guard your back and help the rebels.”

Luka was already shaking his head. “Not me.”

“What?”

“I won’t leave Montana. I
won’t
.”

Syla couldn’t contain a gasp. After everything they’d shared since Jake had brought her here, she’d assumed the three of them would always be together. She’d even dreamed of a royal wedding where her father marched her down the long aisle of the ancient cathedral so she could exchange vows with her two handsome husbands.

But her father was dead, and Luka clearly didn’t love her.

There would be no happy ending here.

She felt as though someone had thrust a knife into her heart, and her eyes filled with tears.

Luka took her hand, and it took every ounce of her strength not to jerk it away. Anger warred with love. How dare he take her to his bed to share all they’d shared and then write her off as though she were nothing to him?

How dare he!

The intensity of her rage meant only one thing—she’d fallen in love with Luka the same way she’d tumbled head over heels for Jake. She’d given her heart to this man in three short weeks, but he’d withheld his own like some precious treasure, refusing to even let her touch it.

Part of her understood. From all Jake told her, Luka had enjoyed a good marriage with Jake and Kimini. Then his wife had been taken from him in a cruel twist of fate. How could a man with a heart so badly damaged ever open up to that kind of pain again?

Yet Jake had. Jake’s heart was big enough to love Kimini and still love Syla. He told her so. Often. And up until the moment Luka said he couldn’t leave Montana, Syla had believed that Luka would find room for her in his heart too—that she, Jake, and Luka would be together for the rest of their lives.

Once again, her naiveté had hurt her.

The time had come to grow up.

Syla straightened her spine and slowly withdrew her hand from Luka’s, not even giving him a chance to say anything. “I will gather my things.” She walked back toward the house, her head held high.

 

Jake took deep breaths to keep from punching the man he loved in the face. This wasn’t Luka—at least not the Luka that Jake knew and loved. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Luka had the audacity to scowl at him. “What’s wrong with
me?
What the fuck is wrong with
you?

Betinsa shifted her gaze between them. “Gentlemen, please…”

Jake took a threatening step at Luka. “You’d really let her go back to Trilan all alone? For God’s sake, there are people there who want her dead!”

“If I had my say, I wouldn’t
let
her do anything. She should stay here, where she belongs!” Luka took a shuddering breath before he exploded again. “I don’t want her to go back to Trilan! You brought her here for a reason, and I thought you both meant to stay! I thought we could—”

Jake waited, but Luka never let the other shoe drop. “Could what, Luka?”

Luka’s face had turned ruddy, and he was gesturing so hard with his hands he looked like a conductor trying to get an orchestra to respond. “Could…stay.”

“You knew when we came here it wasn’t forever.”

Luka shook his head.

“Oh, you
knew
all right. What you didn’t want to do was
believe
.”

“Damn you! Why did you have to bring her here? Why did you make me fucking fall in love with you again? Why did you make me fall in love with—” With a disgusted grunt, Luka stomped into the woods.

“Will you follow?” Betinsa’s voice was whisper quiet.

“Follow?” Jake snorted an acerbic laugh. “Which one? Syla or Luka?”

“That is what you must decide,” she replied. “For I fear they are now on separate paths.”

She was right, not that he wanted to
admit
it let alone
consider
it.

Thanks to the death of a king on a planet light-years away from Earth, the two people he loved were now taking journeys where Jake couldn’t follow both. He was now Solomon and forced to choose one of the people he loved over the other.

BOOK: Elizabeth Raines
8.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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