Home > Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(13)

Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(13)
Author: Ann Denton

His face radiated fury, but his posture looked like the doting husband from behind, as three tittering noble girls trotted past us on their way to the tutor. Giggles drifted down the hall behind them.

Connor didn’t acknowledge my words as he began leading us at breakneck speed across the palace. As the chief diplomatic arm of the crown, Connor generally knew where everyone was. Which also meant he knew where everyone wasn’t. We wove through the halls seeing only the minimum of people, until we rounded a corner and nearly tumbled into Lady Agatha and her portly son, Willard.

“Good morning!” Lady Agatha was decked out in white pearls and a white dress that matched her white poof of hair. The only spots of color were the rouge in her cheeks and lips. Next to her pristine outfit, poor Willard looked a mess. His manservant missed a spot shaving, so he had a little patch on one cheek. His shirt was partially untucked.

“Morning Lady Agatha, you look just gorgeous,” Connor turned on the charm.

Lady Agatha’s holdings were vast. She and her husbands held ranch lands to the northwest and raised cattle, which fed many of our soldiers or were traded with the country of Cheryn.

“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I showed my teeth at the mother and son, but I wasn’t quite certain I’d smiled. I think my fake smiling skills had grown rusty during my four-year stint outside the palace. I took a deep breath and tried harder to mask my hurting heart.

I grabbed Connor’s hand and interwove our fingers, partially because I needed his social grace to cover me in this moment and partially because I missed him that much. His hand stiffened in mine, but his face remained a mask of propriety.

“Not many beautiful days left! My old bones can feel it. The winter will be here soon enough.” Lady Agatha eyed our hands, as expected. “And you two look just as thick as thieves once more. Easy to pick up where you left off?”

“Four years later, and I’m still stunned each time she walks into the room,” Connor’s look was easy, but I recognized the tightness at the edges of his mouth. It wasn’t a compliment, but a cut. Connor was always able to find a way to say he was fine when he wasn’t. He was raised by a family who made their fortune from sales. You had to read between the lines with him. Because he would always find words to say what he truly meant. Stunned. Was he shocked I came back? Or stunned like a man who’s been smacked in the head? Dazed and hurt? He expected me to leave again, that much was clear in mother’s chambers. So, I supposed dazed and hurt each time he saw me would be accurate.

I stretched my ‘court-smile’ further and fought the tears that came to my eyes. I’d destroyed the most precious thing in the world to me. His affection.

Connor sniffs lady’s underthings.

I blinked and stared at Willard. Did he just say that? But the mousy fellow was scuffing his shoe on a crack in the floor. Lady Agatha smacked him. “You know my Willard has always spoken fondly of you, don’t you, Princess Bloss?”

I brought myself back to the conversation, struggling for an appropriate response. I came up with, “As I have of him.”

Lady Agatha grinned, so my answer must have been decent enough. But Connor’s eyes narrowed slightly.

I ignored both of of them as we continued to the large banquet hall where tea had been set out at a table long enough to seat forty.

Lady Agatha prattled something to Connor and I used the moment to think on what I’d just heard. Or thought I’d heard.

I touched my free forearm, feeling the bump of the bandage beneath. Maybe my brain was still rattled from losing so much blood yesterday. That made more sense than Weeping Willard making a snarky comment about Connor. Willard had been the kid clinging to the tutor’s legs as the rest of us had waged the wars of childhood with flying ink pots and spitballs.

Lady Agatha smacked Willard’s arm and he jumped. “Didn’t you just say yesterday how happy you were that Bloss is back?”

“Yes. Yes. Mmhmm,” Willard rubbed his elbow and scooted slightly away from his mother.

“I know the pair of you are excited by the reunion, but can I steal your bride for a moment, Connor? Girl talk, you know,” Lady Agatha linked arms with me.

Connor let go of my hand. He clapped Willard on the shoulder as if they were old friends, draped an arm over the awkward man, and led the way to a table nearby, where breakfast was laid out and steaming. It was close enough that it wouldn’t activate the distance curse and drag me across the room, but far enough that Connor escaped Lady Agatha’s attention.

In other words, Connor left me with the snottiest but wealthiest noble in the palace on my arm. Alone. A woman I’d always avoided like the plague.

Sarding Lady Agatha! Really, Connor? I grumbled internally.

Immediately, a mental image of Lady Agatha naked and kneeling on the floor came to mind. Her paunchy husbands surrounded her and she had them each lift a bare foot. She grabbed the closest foot and gave a long sniff. Her body shuddered … as if stinky feet were orgasmic. She sniffed another.

What in the shite hell?

“—were thinking that you might need additional help, what with the current issues with Sedara.”

I shook myself. Something was happening to me. I was having delusions. Hearing voices. Seeing things. Did it relate to my power? Had my father seen these things?

“—with Willard. What do you think dear?”

Lady Agatha had droned on this entire time. I had no clue what had been said.

“Of course,” I responded, smiling widely. Shite. I hoped she hadn’t asked for me to declare war.

“I’ll have the steward arrange for a meeting time for the two of you tomorrow.”

A meeting? I could handle a meeting. I caught myself before I sighed in relief.

Lady Agatha patted my hand and walked away, but as she did, another mental image flooded my mind. She was still naked, still on her knees. This time one of her husbands held a leash. “Bark for me!” he snapped. “Aarf!” “Aarf!” she yipped.

My faced turned eight different shades of red as I tried not to burst into laughter. If this was delirium, if this was how my death came, I’d gladly take it.

I inhaled and calmed down. Then I stepped into the fray. I smiled and repeated my mother’s false story ad nauseam, complimented the women’s dresses and the men’s hair and bit back insults regarding the paltry provisions half of them made for the farmers under their care. Those issues would come up soon enough.

Connor stood next to me, touched my shoulder when he passed, smiled at me when someone asked about my return. He was a wonderful actor. But there were no secret moments. He didn’t link our pinkie fingers or whisper sweet things in my ear to make me blush. He always used to let me know what I meant to him in little moments.

I was back. I was staying. I was staying for Avia at first. But Mother had given me a way to protect Connor. Protect my husbands.

I looked at Connor, laughing over some joke about corn and ‘seedy’ men that had been said a thousand times before. But his laugh was so pure. So beautiful. He lit the world around him.

I’d thought of Connor every day for four years. I’d written him. On nights when I’d wanted to quit my quest and give it up and go home, I’d pressed on. Because of him. When a Queen dies, her knights go with her.

I could never condemn Connor to that fate.

For years, I’d worried and planned and searched for ways to keep him alive.

My mother had given me an out. A way to cover for my husbands if something happened to me.

As I watched Connor, I realized I had to use the same tenacity I used on my quest.

I had to get him to fall back in love with me. Because life without him was not an option.

I decided to start small. I crossed his path more than necessary, just so I’d have an excuse to trail my fingers over his back.

With the curse, I’d have thought we would have had to stand side by side, but with the crush of nobles so eager to speak with the newly returned princess, it was quite an effort to stay near Connor.

When one of the more beautiful courtiers flirted with Connor, I gave in to my natural jealousy and hugged him, planting a kiss on his cheek right in front of her. Mother would scold me later about decorum when she heard. I didn’t care.

I gushed about him and his prowess with a bow when I spoke with several noblemen planning a hunt. They invited him to join and I pestered and teased and cajoled him until he gave in with a begrudging laugh.

“Please! I haven’t had venison in ages! I’ve been stuck eating half-frozen fish up north.”

“You don’t need me to eat venison.”

“That’s true. Why do I need you again?” I winked saucily. “Oh, I remember.”

The other nobles laughed uproariously and one of them said, “Just like newlyweds again.”

“Maybe we should lose our wife to a dragon hunt for a few years, huh?” They laughed.

Connor leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Your mother will kill you for that comment.”

I shook my head. “She doesn’t want me dead.” I reached a hand up slowly and touched his curls. Heaven. I’d dreamt of this.

“Maybe I do.”

I leaned back and searched his eyes.

He meant it.

I had to fight the chasm that opened in my chest. I deserved this. I deserved his hatred. I’d have felt the same.

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