by Aislinn Kerry
Amber Quill Press
Luke, prince and heir to the Samari kingdom, may have survived kidnapping by pirates and an assassination attempt, but now that he’s returned home, his troubles are just beginning. His cousin Darrin, who’s ruled as regent in Luke’s absence, has made himself comfortable on the throne and doesn’t want to give it up. His court and his countrymen refuse to accept the pirate husband that Luke has brought home. And Nume, the Ilian princess Luke was supposed to marry, has been sent across the seas with a retinue of ambassadors to insist that Luke honor their betrothal.
With his sister, Addy, becoming closer to Nume every day, Conall growing restless without a ship to sail or men to command, and the threat of political disaster hanging over their heads if he can’t figure out a way to appease the Ilians without forsaking the man he loves, Luke’s scrambling just to keep his head above water.
And someone in his court is still trying to kill him.
Luke reined his mount to a stop at the crest of a hill and wiped a trail of sweat from his brow. Beside him, Conall—former pirate, and Luke’s newlywed Rannan spouse—paused as well and stared from beneath furrowed brows out at the land that fell out below them.
“We’re almost there,” Luke said, and grinned when Conall just grunted and slanted him a dark look.
“Lad, you’ve said that near every day for the past week. I’m no longer certain I believe you.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair, letting the wind tousle it. “I’m no longer certain this place even exists. Perhaps you’re just pulling the wool over my eyes, and we’ll spend the rest of our damned lives on horseback.”
Luke circled his mount around. Just behind them, keeping a respectful but attentive distance, rode the mounted guardsmen that Ranna had sent him home with, to ensure a safe homecoming. Farther beyond them, still struggling up the hill, were the mules and wagons and teamsters that bore the provisions their company would need to sustain them on their progress. Luke spared them all a brief glance and nudged his horse closer to Conall’s, to keep their conversation private.
“Are you this crabby because you miss the open seas? Or is something else on your mind?”
Conall’s brow only knotted farther. “Of all the things I’d care to have between my thighs for days on end as a newly-married man,” he growled, “a horse is damned low on the list. I’d much rather have a ship beneath my feet and waves rolling under the bow.” He gave Luke a sidelong look and his expression warmed. “And I’d much rather have something else entirely between my thighs.”
Luke laughed even as his cheeks heated. Instinct made him want to glance back at the guardsmen and ensure that they hadn’t overheard the innuendo, but Conall would have teased him mercilessly for it. He resisted the urge. “I told you. It seems nothing but earth and grass now, but Samar City sits on the shores of a grand lake, so vast you cannot see one shore from the other. And we’ve boats we can take out when the weather’s warm—”
“A ship,” Conall groaned. “It’s a ship I want beneath my feet, not some damned boat.”
Luke flinched back from his sudden temper.
Conall groaned again and dragged both hands through his hair. “I’m sorry, lad. It’s nerves, that’s all. I know what to do with myself when there’s a ship beneath my feet and wind in my sails, but I’m no good on land.”
Luke was quiet a moment. “We really are close.” He pointed toward the hill that rose on the other side of the valley. “Samar City’s just beyond that rise.”
“And then the fun really starts,” Conall said with a wry grin.