The kiss of deception, p.34
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       The Kiss of Deception, p.34

           Mary E. Pearson
slower 1  faster

  “And you would have betrayed Venda. But you already did that, didn’t you? When you helped me bury the dead.”

  “I would never betray Venda.”

  “Sometimes we’re all pushed to do things we thought we could never do.”

  His hands took hold of mine and squeezed them. “I’ll make a life for you here, Lia. I promise.”

  “Here? Like the life you have, Kaden?”

  The turmoil that always simmered behind his eyes doubled. Some truths whispered again and again, refusing to be ignored.

  The sentinel gave the signal for the convoy to continue. “Ride with me?” Kaden asked. I shook my head, and his hands loosened on mine, slowly letting me go. He climbed back onto his horse. I walked ahead of him, feeling his eyes on my back. I was just about to step onto the bridge when a clamor rose behind us and I turned. I heard more shouts, and Kaden’s brows pulled together. He got off his horse and grabbed my arm as a group of soldiers approached. They threw a man from their midst to the ground in front of Kaden. My heart stopped. Dear gods. Kaden’s grip on my arm tightened.

  “This dog says he knows you,” one of the soldiers said.

  Having seen the disturbance, the chievdar rode over. “Who is this?” he demanded.

  Kaden glared. “A very stupid sot. A smitten farmhand who rode a long way for nothing.”

  My thoughts tumbled. How?

  Rafe got to his feet. He looked at me without acknowledging Kaden. He surveyed my filthy bandaged fingers, my torn shirt exposing my shoulder, my bloodstained clothes, and certainly the grief that still lingered in my face. His eyes searched mine, questioning me silently, and I saw his worry that I had been harmed in ways that he couldn’t see. I saw that he had ached for me as much as I had for him.

  The good ones don’t run away, Lia.

  But now, with a new burning passion, I desperately wished he had.

  I jerked against Kaden’s grip, but his fingers dug deeper into my arm. “Let go!” I growled. I yanked free and ran to Rafe, falling into his arms, crying as my lips met his. “You shouldn’t have come. You don’t understand.” But even as I said the words, I was selfishly glad he was here, wildly and madly happy that everything I felt for him and I had believed he felt for me was real and true. Tears ran down my cheeks as I kissed him. My blistered, broken fingers reached up to hold his face as I said a dozen more things I would never remember.

  His arms circled around me, his face nestled in my hair, holding me so tight I could almost believe we would never part again. I breathed him in, his touch, his voice, and for a moment as long and short as a heartbeat, all of the world and its problems disappeared and there was only us.

  “It will be all right,” he whispered. “I promise, I’ll get us both out of this. Trust me, Lia.” I felt soldiers tearing us apart, pulling at my hair, a sword at his chest, rough hands dragging me backward.

  “Kill him, and let’s get moving,” the chievdar ordered.

  “No!” I cried.

  “We don’t take prisoners,” Kaden said.

  “Then what am I?” I said, looking at the soldier who gripped my arm.

  Rafe strained against the men who were wrestling him backward. “I have a message for your Komizar!” he shouted before they could drag him away.

  The soldiers holding him stopped, surprised and unsure what to do next. Rafe shouted the message with ringing authority. I looked at him, something unfurling inside me. How did he find me? Time jumped. Lurched. Stopped. Rafe. A farmhand. From a nameless region. I stared. Everything about him looked different to me now. Even his voice was different. I’ll get us both out of this. Trust me, Lia. The ground beneath my feet shifted, unsteady, the world around me rocking. The real and true swayed.

  “What’s the message?” the chievdar demanded.

  “That’s for the Komizar’s ears only,” Rafe answered.

  Kaden stepped closer to Rafe. Everyone waited for him to say something, but he remained silent, his head cocked slightly to the side, his eyes narrowing. I didn’t breathe.

  “A message carried by a farmhand?” he finally asked.

  Their gazes locked. Rafe’s icy blue eyes were frozen with hatred. “No. From the emissary of the Prince of Dalbreck. Now who’s the stupid sot?”

  A soldier butted Rafe’s head with the handle of his sword. He staggered to the side, blood trickling down his temple, but regained his footing.

  “Afraid of a simple message?” he taunted Kaden, his gaze never wavering.

  Kaden glared back. “A message means nothing. We don’t negotiate with the Kingdom of Dalbreck—not even with the prince’s own emissary.”

  “You speak for the Komizar now?” Rafe’s voice was thick with threat. “I promise you, it’s a message he’ll want.”

  “Kaden,” I pleaded.

  Kaden turned to me, his eyes prickled with heat, and an angry questioning gaze blazed from them.

  The chievdar pushed forward. “What proof do you even have that you’re his emissary?” he sneered. “The prince’s seal? His ring? His lace handkerchief?” The soldiers around him laughed.

  “Something only he would possess,” Rafe answered. “A royal missive from the princess, addressed to him in her own handwriting.” Rafe looked at me when he said it, not the chievdar, his eyes sending me his own private message. My knees weakened.

  “Scrawl?” The chievdar balked. “Anyone could scratch on a piece of—”

  “Wait,” Kaden said. “Give it to me.” The soldiers released Rafe’s arms so he could retrieve the note from inside his vest. Kaden took it from him and examined it. The broken remnants of my red royal seal were still visible. He pulled a crumpled note from his own pocket. I recognized it as the one the bounty hunter had dropped on the forest floor that I never got the chance to retrieve. Kaden compared the two notes and slowly nodded. “It’s genuine. Prince Jaxon of Dalbreck,” he read, spitting out the title with scorn.

  He unfolded the note Rafe had given him and began to read it aloud for the chievdar and the surrounding soldiers. “I should—”

  “No,” I said, cutting him off sharply. I didn’t want my words to the prince spit out with complete derision. Kaden turned toward me, angry but waiting. “I should—”

  I stopped and stared at Rafe.

  Inspected him.

  His shoulders.

  His wind-tossed hair.

  The rigid line of his jaw.

  The redness of the blood trickling down his cheek.

  His half-parted lips.

  I swallowed to quell the tremor in my throat. “I should like to inspect you … before our wedding day.”

  There were snickers from the soldiers around us, but I saw only Rafe’s face and his imperceptible nod as he returned my gaze.

  Every tight thing within me went slack.

  “But the prince ignored my note,” I said weakly.

  “I’m sure he deeply regrets that decision, Your Highness,” Rafe answered.

  I had signed the marriage documents myself.

  Rafe. On that much he hadn’t lied.

  Crown Prince Jaxon Tyrus Rafferty of Dalbreck.

  I remembered how he had looked at me that first night in the tavern when he told me his name, waiting to see if there was any glimmer of recognition. But a prince had been the last thing I was looking for.

  “Shackle him and bring him along,” Kaden said. “The Komizar will kill him if he’s lying. And search the surrounding hills. He couldn’t have come alone.”

  Rafe pulled against the soldiers who twisted his hands behind his back to chain him, but his eyes never left mine.

  I looked at him, not a stranger, but not a farmer either. It had been a clever deception from the very beginning.

  The wind swirled between us, threw mist in our faces. Whispered. In the farthest corner … I will find you.

  I wiped at my eyes, the real and true blurring.

  But I knew this much. He came.

  He was here.

  And maybe,
for now, that was all the truth I needed.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  It is hard to even begin to thank and recognize all the people at Macmillan—many of whom I’ve never met—who worked so tirelessly to get this book into your hands. They do smart and wonderful things behind the scenes, and I thank each one of them deeply and sincerely. Even if I don’t know you, I know you are there. A special shout-out to these brilliant Macmillan folks who have been so supportive: Laura Godwin, Jean Feiwel, Angus Killick, Elizabeth Fithian, Claire Taylor, Caitlin Sweeny, Allison Verost, Ksenia Winnicki, and Katie Fee. I bow to the greatness of Rich Deas and Anna Booth, who simply created magic with the cover and design. Crowns and backrubs go to George Wen, Ana Deboo, and Samantha Mandel, who slaved over this behemoth—multiple times. Thank you.

  Kate Farrell, my longtime editor, deserves a week at a spa and a royal scepter—this was a whole new animal for us and she never wavered in her enthusiasm, support, spot-on guidance, and supreme patience. I don’t deserve her, but I’m glad she’s mine. Kate, without a doubt, you are a true Gaudrellan princess. I want to be in your tribe every time.

  My agent, Rosemary Stimola, has exhausted all superlatives, yet she still manages to surprise me. Besides wearing her amazing agent hat, for this book she also put on her linguistics professor’s hat and guided me through waters lurking with dangerous things like past participles to help me create a consistent Vendan language. Ena ade te fikatande achaka. Grati ena, Ro. Paviamma.

  I am grateful to writers Melissa Wyatt and Marlene Perez for writing sprints, beta-reads, sage advice, pep talks, and regular water-cooler laughs. You two are better than chocolate. Many thanks also to Alyson Noël for offering eleventh-hour advice as I headed into revision—a much-needed beacon to remind me where I was going. My gratitude also to Jessica Butler and Karen Beiswenger for early reads, cheerleading, and many sessions of playing the idea-bouncing game with me.

  I can’t leave out Jana Echevarria, who ventured into creating a private language with me at the grand age of seven, and also joined in playing endless rounds of the telephone game with me. Together we delighted in the loss of translation. Our games planted seeds I didn’t even know were there. A nod to Mr. Klein, my fifth-grade teacher—sometimes an assigned social studies report lingers in a kid’s mind for years. Yeah, just what did happen to those Mayans?

  Big hugs and thanks to my children, Karen, Ben, Jessica, and Dan, who inspire me and keep me grounded in the things that matter, and to little Ava, who makes me smile just by saying her name. Every writer should have a dose of that on a regular basis.

  To my on-the-spot adviser for everything from word choices to mapping out kissing logistics, my deepest gratitude goes to DP, the boy who took a chance. XO

  AUTHOR BIO

  Mary E. Pearson is the author of seven previous novels for teens, including the acclaimed trilogy, The Jenna Fox Chronicles. She writes full-time from her home in Carlsbad, California, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.

  Copyright © 2014 by Mary E. Pearson

  Henry Holt and Company, LLC

  Publishers since 1866

  Henry Holt® is a registered trademark of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

  175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010

  macteenbooks.com

  All rights reserved.

  eBooks may be purchased for business or promotional use. For information on bulk purchases, please contact Macmillan Corporate and Premium Sales Department by writing to [email protected]

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Pearson, Mary (Mary E.)

  The kiss of deception / Mary E. Pearson.—First edition.

  pages cm.—(The Morrighan chronicles; 1)

  Summary: “On the morning of her wedding, Princess Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.”—Provided by publisher

  ISBN 978-0-8050-9923-2 (hardback)—ISBN 978-1-62779-218-9 (e-book)

  [1. Fantasy. 2. Princesses—Fiction. 3. Deception—Fiction. 4. Love—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.P32316Ki 2014 [Fic]—dc23 2014005163

  eISBN 9781627792189

  First hardcover edition 2014

  eBook edition July 2014

 


 

  Mary E. Pearson, The Kiss of Deception

 


 

 
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