Jet is royally screwed.
Why can’t he keep his damn mouth shut? The king’s eyes are as round as dinner plates, his lips pressed into a thin line. Murderous. Jet thinks he should maybe say something—apologize? But no, he isn’t sorry.
How can he bribe Jet to ignore his duties? The Imperial Guard is something Jet dreamed about, something finally in his grasp. Not even the King of Gaelenheim will ruin that.
Jet stands taller, utilizing his advantage of height to tower over him. Jet glares, and His Majesty scoffs.
No backing down now.
“Captain Nott told me to stay with you no matter what, and I don’t intend to leave your side. I’ve taken my vows already, Your Majesty.” Jet lifts his fist and holds it over his heart, inclining his head in a bow. “I will defend you with my life.”
For a long, terrible moment, Viridian says nothing. Then he hisses, “See that you do,” and he’s off, back down the seven flights of stairs.
Jet lets out a quiet breath, follows in the king’s wake.
While it’s true he’s taken this job as a way to help Evie, he’s now duty and honor-bound to protect and serve.
But good god.
The thought of this asshole as his brother-in-law curls his toes.
The king makes a point of winding down halls and going through doors unnecessarily, and Jet wonders if it’s meant to tire him out. Viridian is, hilariously, out of breath and sluggish before Jet even begins to feel a tingle. Viridian’s pace is less frenzied, but he still walks with purpose; Jet can see his royal blood in the way he holds his shoulders, the arrogant tilt to his jaw, the self-assured gait of his strides. It pisses him off.
Jet’s had boyfriends with half of Viridian’s confidence that weren’t this childish.
Eventually, Viridian settles in a large room in the northern wing of the palace.
The walls are lined with clear windows and tall, full shelves. There are rows upon rows of books with crafted leather covers, hardbound and stamped with gold ink. A desk covered in maps and unfinished paperwork is in the middle, a regal, high-backed chair awaiting a visitor just beyond.
Viridian sinks into it with a heavy sigh, and Jet shuts the door, then stands with his back to the wall.
He feels eyes on him before long.
Jet inhales slowly, turns toward his king. “Sire?”
Viridian’s boots are atop the desk, and he leans back, deep into the chair, picking at something on one nail. Their eyes meet. “Have you ever hit a girl?”
He’s too stunned to respond.
Viridian continues. “You look too noble, so I’ll allow you a tip so that you can be prepared if the need ever arises. With the queen selection beginning soon there are bound to be a handful of scorned, crazy fangirls that will do anything to be my wife. If one attacks me, I need to know you won’t shy from hitting her.”
Through his teeth, Jet says, “I’m sworn to protect Your Majesty with my life. Gender is irrelevant.”
“But you haven’t answered my original question: have you ever hit a girl?”
“Ladies’ man, are you?” Viridian laughs through his nose, and Jet thinks it sounds like a honk. “How many fragile female hearts have you broken, with those strapping arms?”
Captain Nott warned Jet this might happen. He knows his rights, and he isn’t required to answer any personal questions unless ordered. He keeps his lips shut.
“You’re about to witness the heartbreak event of the century sticking by me, Jet. They narrow down my options by selecting all the prettiest and smartest girls in Gaelenheim, and then I come in. Many will enter, one will win.” Viridian shrugs. “I heard half the country cried the day my father married my mother. I’m expecting a much larger turnout.”
Don’t say a word. Not a damn word.
“I just hope it passes quickly,” the king growls.
“Aren’t you looking forward to the queen selection, Sire?”
Viridian snorts. “What’s there to look forward to? It’s nothing but a bunch of power-hungry women looking for a fairytale romance. But as my advisors have told me repeatedly, it’s my duty to choose a wife and produce an heir.”
It strikes Jet that Viridian is just as much a slave to his impending marriage as Evie, if she is selected.
For a moment Jet sees not a king but a young man, barely twenty-one, with the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders, and the eyes of the world watching him. Viridian starts, eyes wide, and blinks. “What?”
“It’s nothing, Sire.”
Viridian shudders. “Don’t stare at me like that, it’s creepy. I know it’s easy to look at me but I’m not an animal in a cage. Are you sure you wouldn’t just like to be transferred elsewhere?”
Viridian has no idea how tempting that is, but Jet forces his scowl into something more neutral and stares straight ahead. “I’m bound to your protection.”
The king jumps to his feet, a stack of papers fluttering to the floor. “I can protect myself and I’d love to show you,” he bursts. “I’ve been in self-defense classes with private tutors since I could walk. You’re nothing but a formality.”
Jet snaps, “If you can beat me in a fair match, I’ll be more than happy to leave you alone.”
“Done,” Viridian says, and he’s crossed the room and shaken Jet’s hand before he can blink, a smug smile curving his lips. “Don’t back out of your promise, Jet. I’m looking forward to wiping the floor with you!”
Fuck professionalism—Jet grips the king’s hand hard, relishes when he winces. “I look forward to it, Your Majesty.”