Accompanying her on the journey is Lance, a Kandrithan to whom Sara owes her life. Lance despises the nobility, and is determined to resist his desire for Sara, despite her attempts to entice him into divulging the secret of his magic.
Soon their travels become fraught with peril, and Sara discovers she's fallen victim to the ultimate betrayal. To end a war between two nations, she will have to make the ultimate sacrifice...
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Sara's stomach compressed into a hard knot as the tall, cadaverous high priest of Nir, the God of War, strode in to the banquet hall.
Seeking reassurance, Sara touched the crossbow she'd secretly had mounted to the underside of the head table. Hidden by the blue tablecloth, her fingers found the crossbow bolt she'd loaded, the cord she'd cranked back still taut, ready to fire as soon as she gave a hard pull on the lever.
Her mouth felt as dry as the desert. The circular hall's white dome seemed to press down on her as if she were an insect trapped under a bowl. Eight long tables radiated out from the head table's dais in the middle, each seating two hundred men and women. The rise and fall of so many people talking battered her ears like a sea of sound, most of them ignorant of the drama playing out.
They would assume Nir had come, like the other priests, to confer a blessing on her father, the new Primus of the Republic of Temboria. Was she the only one who noticed the way Nir ignored protocol and headed straight toward her father? All high priests were called by the same name as their god, but Nir seemed to believe he was the God of War incarnate.
Her hands felt icy. Now that the time was at hand, her contingency plan seemed inadequate.
When Primus Vidor died unexpectedly two weeks ago without heirs, the Senate had been divided between two candidates: the wealthy Lord Favonius and General Pallax, whose military victories had won Nir's favor. No one had been more shocked than Sara when Aleron Remillus had emerged as the compromise choice after four days of deadlock.
In one stroke, her father had elevated their minor House to a major power, secured the future of Sara's beloved younger brother and rid their family of crippling debt, but he'd also made enemies, most notably the priest from the powerful Temple of Nir.
Her father believed he'd placated the temple with a large "thanks offering" immediately after his selection, but, unlike her father, Nir was not a consummate politician. His response to the Senate's failure to vote as he wished was apt to be a lot more...direct. And violent.
Sara's nerves tightened at Nir's approach. He scowled as he was forced to wait for the diminutive priest of Cepi, the God of Small Favors, to grant his benediction.
Archers stood watch on the second-floor inner balconies to guard against assassination, but most legionnaires worshipped the God of War. She did not trust them.
Again, her hand went to the crossbow lever. If Nir drew his sword, she would
A man's hand slid up her thigh. Sara flinched, barely sucking back a shriek.
"Lady Sarathena, have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?" young Lord Claudius Pallax asked from his seat on her right. He leaned in close to be heard over the clank of dishes, blue eyes soulfully wide.
The compliment left Sara cold. Claude seemed to think paying homage to her beauty gave him the right to paw her body. "No, tell me." Only Aunt Evina's strict instructions kept a smile on Sara's lips as she peeled his hand off her leg for the third time that evening.
The wild hoyden that still lived inside her wanted to punch the leer off Claude's overly red mouth, but Sara no longer had the luxury of ignoring political realities.
Her demand stymied Claude for a moment. He paused to eat a honeyed fig. "You look...like a goddess," he said at last.