She meant to make her way into the night. She needed space. So much had happened in such a short time. She needed some time on her own. But Kirin seemed unaware of her need as he followed her.
“If you’re going to continue arguing with me, you can save your time and breath. My decision is final.”
“You will go back to your kingdom despite certain death?”
“Nothing in this world is certain. But, if you fear your own mortality, you are free to part company with me. There will be no hard feelings.”
“I guess I’m easy to leave behind when a crown is dangled in front of your eyes.”
She turned around and was glad to find they were out of earshot of the rest of the camp.
“Is that what this is about? You think I’ve chosen a trinket over you? Over all of my men?” “Of course. We’ve fought beside you for years. Put our trust and lives in your hands. We’ve
been your family when your family wouldn’t have you. But now we aren’t good enough? You’d choose a kingdom of ungrateful peasants over us?”
“If I do not go back and set things right, I will be a target for the rest of my life.”
“You always have been and always will be a target. Greatness paints a bull’s-eye on your back. It may not be fair, but that’s the way it goes.”
“I want....” She shook her head. “I need to set things right. I need to protect my people. My stepfather does not have their best interests at heart. He never has. And with my mother gone....” She paused as the words made her eyes burn again. “With my mother gone, they have no one.”
He spit on the sand near her feet. “Already you’ve changed.”
“I will not tolerate this abuse.” She pointed a dagger at his heart to emphasize her words. “And I haven’t changed.”
“You want to go home for vengeance. You want the walls to run with his blood and your people to finally have to admit they chose the wrong side.”
Her blood heated with pleasure at the picture his image painted.
“You are an assassin at heart. You live for the thrill of dispensing justice with your own hands and following your own moral code. Yet five minutes after you’ve made your decision, you’re already speaking the language of diplomacy and sugarcoating your desires.”
Her heart stopped as he leaned forward. He was going to kiss her. She could feel it in her soul. But that wasn’t the scary part. What terrified her was how badly she longed for it to happen. When he stopped a mere breath away from her, she actually whimpered with desire.
“I would follow you through the gates of hell without a backward glance.”
His warm breath fluttered across her skin and made her shiver.
“But only the true you. The assassin. And there are a million and one deaths I am prepared to watch you die. It is the nature of who we are. But I refuse to watch your spirit be cannibalized until you are nothing but a pale shadow of the woman who once held my allegiance.”
“I have been the Assassin Princess for ten years now.” She ran her fingertips over the stubble on his chin and gasped at the raw hunger that emanated from him. “But she is no more.”
“Now I am the Assassin Queen. Help me take my kingdom back. Help me find justice for the ten years I was sentenced to exile for the crime of being another man’s child.”
His teeth reflected a glint of moonlight as he smiled. “Aye. That I will do. I serve at the pleasure of the Assassin Queen.”
He ran the pad of his thumb over her cheek and then stepped back. “But if I see you’re fading into a life of politics, I will kill you myself.”
She laughed. “If you can take me in a fair battle, I deserve to die.”
“In all the years we’ve fought side by side, have you ever seen me fight fair?” He turned and walked into the night before she had a chance to answer.