The Winter King

Page 20


“I don’t like the sound of it, Wyn,” Valik declared, frowning as he watched his king pace. “You dined with the Seasons earlier. Think they spiked your food with arras leaf?” Summerlanders were infamous for their hedonistic ways, and arras leaf was one of their most powerful and renowned aphrodisiacs.
“To what purpose? So I’d plow a chambermaid? Or be off my guard for an attack that never came?” Wynter shook his head. “I’m not drugged, Valik. I didn’t leap on those little fawns Pansy and Leila.” He hadn’t felt so much as a passing interest in either of them even though he’d still been rock hard and aching from his all-too-brief interlude with the storm-eyed maid. “No, it was her. Something about her.”
He paced the length of the room again and paused beside the jeweled vanity set and the worn leather gardener’s journal Valik had removed from her skirts. Nothing about the girl made sense. Who was she? What was it about these trinkets that were so important? And what was that disturbing enchantment she’d cast over him?
“If the storm hadn’t crashed that tree branch through the window, I think I might have laid her down whether she willed it or no. Even with you in the room.” He cast a troubled glance at his friend as a new thought occurred. “Have I embraced the Ice Heart so long, I’ve become it?”
Valik’s furrowed brow smoothed. “No, Wyn,” he declared staunchly. “You might have swallowed the monster when you set out on this path, but it hasn’t consumed you yet. There’s still warmth in you. I’d know it if there wasn’t.” He clapped a hand on Wynter’s shoulder. “Forget the maid, and whatever witch’s trick she’s played on you. Claim your Summerlea bride. Breed your heir. When you hold your child in your arms, the Ice Heart will melt.”
Wynter nodded and took a deep breath. It was the longest speech Valik had made in months. And, as usual, he was right. Wynter was here to claim a royal wife and breed an heir—both for his kingdom and the one he’d spent the last three years conquering.
Fiery little maids—even dangerously enchanting ones—did not figure into his plans.
He would put her from his mind. Tomorrow, he would complete his conquest by taking one of the Seasons to wife, then he and half his army would depart. With a bit of luck and a lot of pleasurable effort, his princess would prove as fertile as she was beautiful, and he’d never set foot in Summerlea again.
Gravid, King Verdan’s steward, cast yet another disapproving glance at Khamsin’s appearance, sniffed. “His Majesty will see you now.” He nodded to the liveried footman attending the king’s office door. The footman pulled open the heavy, carved oak door and stood at attention as Newt and Khamsin passed.
They’d been forced to cool their heels in the outer chamber, waiting while the king concluded his meeting with General Furze and three lords Khamsin recognized as chief advisors of the king’s council. Khamsin had used the time to button up her dress and try to make herself more presentable. She would have liked to repin her hair, so as to avoid upsetting her father any more than necessary, but Gravid had no pins, and Newt had told him not to send a servant to fetch some. “Let her father see her as she is,” Newt had ordered.
Now, with her father’s dark, hot gaze searing her where she stood, Kham realized it made no difference anyways. Just the sight of her was offense enough to him.
Newt took every advantage to play it up, all but chortling with glee as she told him all about how she’d discovered the wayward princess acting in direct defiance of her father’s kingly will, making sure to put the worst possible spin on the entire sordid tale. “She was there, Sire, in the tower, bold as you please. Hair down, gown unbuttoned. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she was about.”
Khamsin glared at the Mistress of Servants. “I wasn’t there to seduce him and you know it, you foul-minded old bat! Tell the truth, if you’re capable.”
“Silence!” her father roared. He shot a hard look at Newt. “Leave us!” he snapped.
The woman’s face fell. She’d obviously been hoping to witness Kham’s disgrace and punishment. One hot glance from her king seared away any possible objection. She curtsied and backed rapidly out of the room.
Verdan waited for the door to shut behind her, then advanced upon his daughter, his dark eyes flashing. “Is it true? You went there to play whore to the enemy of this house?”
“No, of course not! Newt is a liar, Father. I ran into her while trying to get away from him, and she knows it.”
Her father’s brows shot up. “So you admit you were there. In the tower. When I had expressly forbidden you to leave your rooms?”
“Yes, I was there, but—” She didn’t dare say she’d gone for her mother’s things. To admit that was to admit that she’d been in the tower before, in direct violation of his long-standing royal decree.
“But what? What were you after?” His hand shot out and his fingers wrapped around the same part of her upper arm left tender by Newt’s unkind grip.
She’d be bruised for a week. It was ironic. In the last hour, she’d been manhandled by the Winter King, Maude Newt, and her father. Yet of the three of them, her family’s sworn enemy was the only one whose hands had left no mark on her.
Verdan shook her with fierce, barely restrained fury. “Are you the traitor in my midst? Are you the one who’s been feeding him information?”