Born of Vengeance
By Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2017 Sherrilyn Kenyon
All rights reserved.
ONE YEAR LATER
"Are you going to tell Bastien?"
Ember paused at Kindel's question that would have ruined her appetite for the lunch they were supposed to be having had Bastien's father not already done so an hour ago.
Her throat tightened as she blinked back tears she didn't want her sister to see, lest she be motivated to do something that could get them both arrested. "No, definitely not, and the last thing I could ever tell him is that his father's threatening to disinherit him."
"First, it'd kill him to know that. He loves and respects his father. Second, you know the man. Bas would go off, half-cocked and confront his father, then all hell would unleash and who knows how that would play out." She envisioned everything from Bastien shooting his father to him eloping with her and then growing to hate her years from now once he realized what all he'd given up to marry her.
No matter the scenario, they all ended with them miserable. And with Bastien hating her for coming between him and his family.
"I don't know what to do."
"Do you love him?"
"More than my life." Ember bit her lip as a single tear slid past her control. Gah! This would be so easy if she was the gold-digging bitch his family thought she was.
Then she could let go and not look back. Or marry him and not give a single shit what they thought. Because what his father didn't know was that Bastien had already told her how much money he'd inherit on his wedding day. He didn't need his father's inheritance. Or approval. His grandparents had all left him with a staggering amount of property and creds. The unbelievable mass of wealth stymied her best mathematical abilities to comprehend.
But the money didn't matter to her any more than it did to Bastien. Since she'd never had that kind of wealth, she couldn't wrap her head around it.
Besides, it was his, not hers. All she cared about was Bastien. Not his titles. And no amount of cred could replace his thoughtfulness or unique views. The way he could brighten her day by simply entering a room. Make her smile with nothing more than a wink and that devilish grin that made her want to rip his clothes off and hold him for eternity.
How could she give that up?
Angry that she couldn't stop her stupid, useless emotions, she wiped the tear away and drew a ragged breath. "Love can't survive bitterness, zusi. You know that better than anyone."
It was why Kindel was single. The love of her life had given up a command position to stay with her. Three years later, he'd been so angry over it as he never had another opportunity for advancement, that it'd torn their relationship apart. To this day, Justiss wouldn't even look at Kindel.
Ember didn't want that to be Bastien. The thought of his hating her ...
That was the only thing unbearable.
"What am I going to do?"
Kindel took her hand and smiled sadly. "I don't know, Em. I screwed up my life. Last thing I want to do is screw up yours."
She snorted. "Not helpful."
Her link buzzed.
Ember started to ignore it, until she saw Bastien's avatar. That goofy photo he'd made as a joke and programmed into her link a few weeks ago.
This way everyone will know what a total jack-off you date and a reminder to you that no one else will have me and my weirdness. So you never have to worry about me cheating or straying. I know the best when I see it and no one's better than my girl.
Trying not to laugh at the memory, she picked it up and answered.
Ember scowled as she heard something that sounded like blaster fire in the background. "Where are you?"
"Um ... nowhere. Just wanted to say that I love you."
"Are you under attack?"
He hissed in her ear, then made a noise that sounded like he was straining.
"Yeah ... sorry. I, uh, I'm having a little trouble hearing you."
Over blaster fire! "Oh my God! You're in a firefight?"
"Are you pinned?"
The longest pause of her life crackled in her ear before he finally answered. "Don't worry, Em. I'll be home tonight. Just wanted to hear your voice."
Her heart sank as she saw the news on a nearby monitor. It showed the attack he was in. The royal envoy his father was supposed to be in had come under Eudoran fire. But at the last minute his father had sent Bastien and Quin instead.
At the last minute ...
"Bastien," she breathed. "I love you. No matter what happens, please don't ever forget that."
"I won't." He cut the line.
Ember's hand shook as his father's words echoed in her mind. No ... it wasn't possible.
"Em? What is it?"
Swallowing her panic, she jerked her chin toward the monitor. "That's Bastien in that mess."
Kindel cursed. "You want to scramble?"
Yes, but she had more to think about at the moment and she knew for a fact that Bastien could hold his own. "Kin? Can I ask you something?"
She sat back down with a frown. "Sure."
Ember took a moment to gather her swirling thoughts before she spoke the horror that she struggled to comprehend. "Bastien's father intimated that he'd rather see Bastien dead than married to a pleb." She cut another terrified glance to the monitor. "You don't think he would have done that today on purpose, do you?"
Kindel was now as pale as she was. "Oh God, Em ... I don't know. I'd like to think no parent could even contemplate such a thing."
"They're aristos and not us."
And that was what she was afraid of. His father had warned her that Bastien intended to propose, and that if he did so, there would be consequences most dire. Consequences that would guarantee her no happy ending.
The only way she wouldn't be happy was if something happened to Bastien.
She finally breathed again as Bastien and his brother emerged from the building on the monitor. Their clothes were ruffled and Bastien had dirt smeared across one cheek, but his hazel eyes were light as he assured the reporters they were fine.
"I can't marry him, Kindel." Not if it meant his life.
"He won't give up without a fight."
"I know," she choked. "But I'd rather he learn to hate me than know that I selfishly cost him his life or his family."
"Don't," she said, cutting Kindel off before she could talk her out of this. "It's what has to be done. Not just for him, but for all of us. At least he gave me a part of himself he's never given anyone else." Something his family couldn't take from her. Especially since they didn't know about it.
Yet even the very thought of being without him tore her apart.
At least he's alive this way.
Better he live with someone else than marry her and die because of it.
That's the lie I'm going to force myself to live with.
* * *
"What the minsid hell is this?" Bastien stared at the transfer orders on his link in total disbelief.
Blocking his access to the barracks where up until an hour ago he'd lived with Ember, the lance corporal turned bright red as she cleared her throat. The petite brunette handed him his tactical bag that someone else had packed with his uniforms, Gyron Force axe, and other personal items he didn't want to think about. "Sorry, Captain. Thought you knew. Orders came through first thing this morning while you were out on PT. You've been reassigned to Bletch Division."
You've got to be kidding me ...
Gaping at the bullshit, he moved his gaze from her to the two MPs behind her as if she needed backup. Like he'd ever take his frustration out on a lower-ranking soldier.
That wasn't his style. If he was going to assault anyone, it would be someone who had the authority and means to fight back, and stand a good chance at kicking his ass.
Someone like his sister whom he suspected of having done this shit to get even with him for proposing to Ember last night. And why not? Lil had been furious that he'd asked their mother for their grandmother's ring. Furious that he'd dared to even contemplate placing such a precious Kirovarian heirloom on the hand of a lowborn pleb. Lillian had been shrieking at him for days over it.
No doubt, it would thrill Lil to no end when she learned that Ember had coldly refused the ring.
That she'd left him kneeling in the restaurant like an idiot, begging for one single kind word from her.
I don't need this dritvík right now, Lil.
Bastien was still reeling from Ember's rejection. She hadn't just ripped his heart out. She'd publicly gutted him. Worse, she hadn't even bothered to return to their barracks last night. Rather, she'd gone over to her parents' house and left him alone in their bed to wallow in the misery of knowing he'd screwed up somehow.
He just didn't know what he'd done wrong.
Why he wasn't good enough for her to marry when she was everything to him.
Sick to his stomach, he took his pack from the corporal, knowing he'd have to report for his patrol soon. "Under whose command?"
Of course. Just as he suspected. "My yokken zusa." The profanity was out of his mouth before he could stop it.
She turned an even brighter shade of pink. "Yes, styrrah."
A tic started in his jaw. If Lil had really done this to get back at him for proposing to Ember last night, he'd murder her for it. In her sleep. So help him!
"Who authorized it?" It better not have been his brother.
Or his uncle.
She stammered a bit before she pulled it up on her own link. "M-m-major Wyldestarrin."
No dritvíkken way ... Bastien's breath left him in a rush as his brain struggled to grasp a reality he didn't want to face.
Ember had done this to him. Intentionally. Without a single word. Without mercy or regard? She'd transferred him over to his sister's division when she knew how much he hated being under Lil's thumb. His sister treated him like a socially-stunted toddler and lived to embarrass him in front of everyone. She went out of her way to set him up for ridicule. He'd rather slit his own wrist than be near Lil in uniform.
Or out of uniform, either, for that matter.
Damn, that was even colder than the way Ember had left him hanging last night after the proposal.
Why not just castrate me and be done with it? Why go to such extremes to punish me?
What the hell did I do to you?
Trying to salvage whatever was left of his shattered dignity for the second time in a handful of hours, he nodded. "Thank you, Corporal."
As he turned to find a transport to his new base, he slung the pack over his shoulder and tried to put it out of his mind.
Bastien couldn't. It was impossible when his entire world had crashed down on him. I didn't do anything.
Unwilling to let it go, he pulled his link out and hailed Ember.
It rolled to her voicemail in such a way as to let him know that she'd done it herself the moment she saw it was him calling for her.
With an irritated sigh, he waited for the buzz. "Hey, Em, it's me. I just got my orders and I'm heading to my new barracks. I know you said you needed some time to decide about the marriage, but I didn't think that meant that you were expelling me from your life entirely. You could have given me some warning." He paused as he realized anger and accusation had crept into his tone.
He wasn't really angry at her. Truth was, he was hurt. Kicked in the stones and bleeding internally.
Worse? He had no one to turn to for this. His drinking buddies wouldn't understand. They'd tell him to go nail someone else and get her out of his system. His family would think him an idiot for sulking over a pleb.
Fain Hauk wouldn't want to hear it since he was still raw about his own wife and what had happened there.
And his best friend wasn't talking to him. She was rolling his calls to voicemail.
Honestly, Bastien didn't want to yell at her. He just wanted her back. It was why he'd proposed. He didn't want to live his life without her in it.
So he gentled his tone and spoke from his heart. "I miss you, Em. Love you even more. Call me." He cut the line before he gave in to the tears that were choking him. Gave in to the misery that was about to send him to his knees.
Clearing his throat, he took a deep breath and tried to get his bearings.
He winced at the sound of Alura's voice as she came skipping over toward him. That was all he needed right now.
Like another hole in his heart.
With a ragged breath, he braced himself to face her. "Yeah?"
"You okay?" She slowed down as she neared him.
With a sympathetic frown, she placed a comforting hand on his arm. "Brandy told me about last night. You want me to give you a ride to your new post?"
Yeah, right. Ember would have a seizure on them both. While she might be pissed for the moment over some imagined slight, she'd hopefully calm down in a few days and get over it. But if she saw him with Alura that would guarantee that she'd never speak to him again. "It's okay. My sister's waiting."
She nodded. "I'm sorry, Bastien. I just wanted you to know that if you need a friend, I'm here. Anytime." She kissed his cheek.
Mumbling an insincere thanks, he quickly grabbed a transport and put as much distance between them as he could. One thing about Alura ... she had a nasty habit of chasing after her sisters' boyfriends for reasons only Alura knew. All of them wanted her head for it.
And he had enough problems with the world gossiping about his behavior. Be damned if he'd fuel that fire. There wasn't enough alcohol in the entire Kirovarian Empire and all her territories to make Alura appealing to him. Not enough alcohol in all the Nine Worlds for that matter.
I just need some time, Bas ...
His gut tightened as he heard Ember's voice from last night in his head again. It didn't make sense. Everything had been golden between them. They'd been dating for a year and never had he been more sure of anything. They rarely fought, and never over anything major. Day and night, they were together and she'd seemed as eager for his company as he was for hers.
Just trust in her. She'll come around. You know she will. She loves you. You love her. Love wins over everything else.
As stupid as it sounded, he really believed that. Most of all, he really believed in her.
Few days and everything would be back to normal. She'd get over whatever was bugging her and they'd be planning their wedding.
All he had to do was be patient ...
ALMOST TWO MONTHS LATER
"You unbelievable bastard!"
Bastien had barely stepped off the ladder of his fighter when he turned to find Ember in the hangar bay. Her cheeks flushed, she glared at him with fury in her eyes, making them all the greener. Honestly, he was so happy to see her here that he didn't even mind the fact that she'd insulted him.
At least not until a second later when she unexpectedly kneed him straight in the groin.
Pain exploded through him as he dropped his helmet and doubled over, fighting against the sudden wave of nausea that threatened to send him to ground.
"You went out with my zusa?" She ground those words out from between her teeth in an effort to keep the fight between them. But it was too late. Half the bay had seen her assault and stood frozen in curiosity.
"Not what you think," he managed to choke out past the pain.
"No?" She shoved a photo into his face that Alura had posted of them in the restaurant. One that had been picked up by a number of news agencies and broadcast all over. Ironic really that it had more coverage than the assassin's attack on his mother two days ago, or the near miss he'd had himself just yesterday. "Guess I'm hallucinating, then."
Cursing his stupidity, he righted himself even though all he really wanted to do was find an ice pack and a bed. "Why are you so mad anyway? I asked you before I did it."
And that was definitely the wrong thing to say as it sent her off into a round of incoherent sputtering that resulted in the only recognizable words being pieces of vulgar profanity that would have gotten slapped had he let them fly.
But at least it got her talking to him again. This was the longest conversation they'd had since the night he asked her to marry him. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Born of Vengeance by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Copyright © 2017 Sherrilyn Kenyon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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