The Winter King

Page 19


Newt gave the White King a tight, obsequious smile. “Indeed I do, sir. A wild, mannerless tatter who hasn’t yet learned her place.” Her fingers squeezed so tight Kham knew she’d wear a collection of bruises come morning.
She didn’t need the warning to hold her silence. The last thing she would do was let the White King know who she really was. Even facing her father’s wrath was a more welcome prospect than admitting she was an heir to the throne the Winter King had vowed to destroy.
“I hope she didn’t . . . upset you . . . Your Grace?”
Newt looked rather hopeful when she posed that last question, but to Kham’s surprise, rather than admitting he’d caught her stealing from the solar, Wynter Atrialan merely gave the Mistress of Servants a chilly look, and asked, “Do I strike you as a man who could be upset by some slip of a servant girl?”
The woman blanched and hurried to recover from her gaffe. “No, Sire, of course not.” She bobbed a rapid series of bows and curtsies. “Not in any way, Your Greatness. I never meant to imply any such thing. Please accept my apologies.” She started to back away, dragging Kham with her as she went. “Forgive me for allowing this girl to intrude on your privacy. It won’t happen again.”
He looked at Khamsin, and murmured something she could have sworn sounded like, “Pity.” But then his ice-pale eyes flicked back to Newt, and he said, “See that it doesn’t,” in a voice so cold she was sure she must have imagined the other.
“Pansy and Leila will freshen your bathing chamber, sir.” Newt jerked her chin in silent command, and the two trembling maids standing behind her bobbed nervous curtsies and fled past into the bower, all but running as if they couldn’t wait to finish their work and leave.
Her hand still clenched tight around Kham’s arm, Maude dragged her towards the stairs. Khamsin cast one, last glance back through the veil of her hair, and found the Winter King watching her. He had the strangest look on his face, something oddly wistful and bemused. Then the look was gone. He turned to reenter the bower, and the doors closed shut behind him.
“I’ve caught you now, girl,” Newt crowed with swaggering glee. “Caught you red-handed.”
Kham waited only until they were out of sight of the bower doors before yanking her arm from Newt’s harsh grip. “Get your hands off me.” The idiot woman actually tried to grab her again, but Kham evaded her and gave her a fierce glare. “Touch me again, and I’ll make you wish you hadn’t,” she vowed. Little sparks of energy popped and crackled at her fingertips. She was in no mood for further manhandling, especially not by the likes of Maude Newt.
“You won’t be acting so high-and-mighty when the king hears what you’ve been up to!” Newt snarled. But apparently the threat and the little show of power convinced her that Kham meant business, and she kept her hands to herself. “Get on downstairs now,” she snapped. “We’re going to see your father.”
Khamsin briefly contemplated the idea of running for it and leaving Newt empty-handed, but gave up the idea almost immediately. Newt didn’t need Kham in tow. She had witnesses. Half a dozen of them. Even if the White King kept silent, Pansy and Leila wouldn’t. They’d seen her distinctive hair, and their livelihoods depended on keeping in Newt’s good graces.
Her father was going to be in such a rage when he realized she’d openly defied him and entered the tower. Worse, that she’d been caught there by the White King.
Newt herded her down the tower stairs and through several levels of the palace towards the king’s private office. As they walked, Khamsin puzzled over the strange, unseemly twist her foray into the bower had taken. What had come over her? He’d touched her, and it was like electric flame—like the lightning she could summon—shooting sparks through her veins. She’d all but melted, boneless, at his feet. He was the Winter King, her enemy, a man feared for his killing coldness, yet when he’d touched her, she had not frozen. She’d burned.
Her face flamed just thinking about it. About him. His eyes, so pale, so foreign, piercing as if he could see into her very soul. His hands, commanding, callused from years spent holding sword and reins, capable of violence, yet also capable of rousing such . . . incredible sensations.
She shivered and felt the clenching in her loins that left her weak at the knees. Best she stay away from him from here on out.
Far, far away.
“What in Frost’s name that was all about?” Valik demanded as soon as the two skittish maids finished fumbling their way through their duties and departed.
Wynter stood beside the broken window, staring out at the storm-tossed sky. The maids had cleared away the broken glass, but the carpenters and glassmakers hadn’t yet arrived to replace the window. “I don’t know what happened, Valik. I can’t explain it.”
“I’ve known you since we were both infants, but I’ve never seen you act that way before.”
“I’ve never felt that way before.”
“What way?”
Wynter glanced down at the cap in his hands, surprised to find his fingers gently caressing the fabric as they’d wanted so desperately to caress the maid’s soft skin. He clenched his hands, crushing the cap, twisting the fabric in his hands.
“Driven,” he admitted. “Possessive. Enchanted, almost. I touched her and it was like . . . like fire in my soul.” He looked out into the roiling clouds. He could still see her in his mind, her flashing eyes and fierce temper, her hair like a night sky streaked with lightning. He could still smell the captivating, enthralling scents of her, the soft aroma of her skin, the heady perfume of her undeniable sexual response that even now made his body grow painfully hard just remembering it. He threw the cap on a nearby table and turned away from the window to pace the gleaming hardwood floor.