Out of tune voices rang out from the bar and onto the street. Cups were lifted into the air, and the roar of cheers filled the room. The floating barrels of rum bobbed about. The spigots opened and closed, splashing into outstretched mugs. I smiled to myself as I finished the rest of my glass. These were my people, lost in song and covered in alcohol. They were far from the stiff and pristine atmosphere that suffocated me among the nobles.
The bar door opened and a familiar face appeared. The black-haired man scanned the room but didn’t seem to notice me. I slid off the table I was sitting on in the corner and intercepted him before he could get to the bar.
Wrapping my arms around his waist, I kissed his cheek. “Were you looking for me, Ki?”
He turned away and reached for a mug. “No. I came for a drink.”
“I can help with that.” I took the cup and held it up.
A barrel swayed over and filled it. I presented it to him and leaned against the counter.
Ki took it. “Are you trying to impress me, my prince?”
I scoffed at the remark and faced forward. “Not anymore.”
He sat down at the bar and took a swig from his drink. “Sorry to ruin your mood.”
I turned to him. Ki was a stunning man. He was a pure nomad with his dark hair, swirled colored eyes, and beautiful brown skin. I ran my hand up his arm. It couldn’t resist the temptation to touch him.
“You could make it up to me.” Our gazes met.
He shook his head. “My prince, I think that is an abuse of power.”
“If I want to abuse my position, we’d already be upstairs.” I moved closer so our lips were nearly touching.
Bowing his head, he moved back. “Someone is going to see. You’re being too careless.”
“I keep the drinks flowing for a reason. They know what will happen if someone runs off to tell the old man what I was up to.”
Ki swallowed hard. “There are others better than me.” His eyes flicked over to the women singing away just as drunk as everyone else.
I leaned into his ear. “They’re not you.” I stretched my arm out over the counter.
The bartender dropped a set of keys into my palm. I took them and pressed them into Ki’s hand. He peered down at them, trying not to smile.
I quickly kissed the side of his head. “I’ll be up right after you.”
Nodding, he tucked the keys in his pocket and down the rest of his drink. Ki glanced my way once more before making his way through the crowd to the stairs.
“You’re putting that boy at risk,” said the bartender, under his breath.
I watched Ki leave with Roman’s eyes burrowing into the back of my head.
Lifting my mug into the air, I waited for it to be filled. “My father has more to deal with than who I’m sleeping with.” I down the glass in one go. Wiping my mouth, I slammed the cup onto the counter. “Who knows he might be happy about it.” I smiled at the old nomad. “It’s not like I can get Ki pregnant and cause a fight for the throne.”
Roman’s gaze never changed. “Don’t hurt my nephew. It’s hard enough for my people already. Don’t give the nobles another reason to hate us.”
“I am you.”
The barrels dropped to the ground. The bartender jumped as the crowd voiced their concern as well.
“Or am I not pure enough for you either?” I asked.
Shaking his head, Roman grabbed a towel to clean up the spills. “I don’t want Ki getting hurt. He’s all my sister has left.”
My lips pulled back into a grin. “My magic keeps this kingdom from falling. I’m sure I can protect one man.”
His expression remained blank as he took my mug away. “I’ll hold you to it, my prince.”
Ki broke away from the kiss and groaned. “Let me rest. Some of us are mortal.”
I laughed and kissed his neck. “I’m not a god—just a man of magic.”
“A trickster.” He pushed back the stringy black hair from my face. “I think you’re more of a wizard than a street performer.”
I gave him a peck. “Perhaps. Maybe I can use my magic to give you another burst of energy.” I grabbed his sides and tickled him.
“Stop, Tolcan!” He squirmed to get away. “Tolcan, you horrible prince. Stop.”
Snatching him around the waist, I pulled the man to my chest. We looked into each other’s eyes. The characteristic swirls of blue and brown that marked his people were flowing around Ki’s irises. I ran my hand down his side.
“I could look at your eyes all day,” I whispered.
He cupped my cheek. “Yet you hid yours from me.” He kissed each lid.
I opened my eyes and released the spell that hid the light brown swirl in the right one. The left remained solid blue.
“Why do you hide it?” Ki brushed his thumb along my cheekbone. “I know plenty of people that would love to have eyes like yours.”
“I know plenty who wish I had different.”
“You’re not among those kinds of people here.” He rested his head on my chest and let out a deep breath. “We’re leaving for a few weeks.”
“The west. The fish will be migrating into the barrier. We’re going to help catch and then haul them.”
“Stay here with your uncle,” I whined.
“Is that a command or a request?”
“Whichever gets you to stay.”
Ki sat up on his arm. “I’m flattered, but I know you won’t be lonely while I’m gone. Maybe you can convince one of those proper girls from Levant to keep you company.”
“They’re not you.” I ran my hands along his back. “Even women of nobility don’t have skin as soft as yours.”
He scoffed and pushed me away. “When you say that you make me feel like I’m a whore at a brothel.”
I snatched his wrist. “And what am I? You know how I feel. I take off my clothes and the girl has more body hair than me.”
Ki arched a brow. “Use your magic and fix it.”
“I do,” I replied with a smirk. “I’m good at illusion spells. Well, some of them. Like my father says, I don’t study as much as I should.”
“No surprise there.” He laid down and moved my arms around him. “You’re not completely hairless.”
“Some of my father came through.” I rested my forehead against his.
“But not enough to grow a beard like the king.” He flicked my chin.
“My brother spends every morning shaving his off, so I’m not too upset about it.”
Ki pressed into my chest. “You are very different from them.”
“I prefer it that way. If I looked like them, my father would never allow me to wander this far from the palace.”
“What would he do if he found out you were here with me?”
I kissed his palm. “Nothing. Because I wouldn’t let him.”
Ki sighed. “You sound so sure, my prince.”
I rested my head against his. It did worry me. Eglin was where the nomads lived. For someone of my status to be seen in the lower districts would cause concern in the courts. But it was me. My father was used to my antics. He had stopped trying to control what I did years ago. His focus was solely on my brother.
I examined the face of the man in my arms. Being with Ki might be the one thing that pushed my father too far.
“Sit up for me.”
Rubbing his eyes, he did so.
I knelt in front of him. “Don’t move.” Pressing my finger to the center of his forehead, I leaned forward and whispered soft words not meant to be heard. I kissed the spot as the protection spell spread over him.
His eyes flicked open. “What did you do?”
“Something to keep you safe during your travels.” I rubbed his arms. “Two weeks?”
Ki shrugged. “Maybe more like three. It depends.”
“Be careful. I’ll become a nuisance to that uncle of yours if you take too long.”
“I don’t think he’ll mind. You do bring in the customers.”
Laying down, I guided Ki into my arms.
He gave me a coy smile. “I’ve rested enough.”
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