Please welcome Guest Author L. Blankenship!
Kate faces winter with a broken heart: betrayed by one lover, the other lost to her.
Kiefan will not give up on the alliance his kingdom desperately needs — even though the Caer queen refuses to speak to him.
Anders, alone and despairing, faces the Empress’s seductive offers of power and privilege.
Each of them must carry the ongoing war in their own way, whether cold, alone, or backed into a corner. Each must patch together a broken heart as best they can. Duty will throw them together soon enough and they must be ready.
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Disciple, Part VI
ends the series early next year!
Excerpt from Disciple, Part V
She walked to him on delicate feet. He managed to sit up, trembling from the cold, from the pain, from half-remembered terror. That she was a little thing, trailing a braid of black hair thick as his arm, that her lush curves would’ve whetted his appetite anywhere else — that was all a lie, he knew in his bones. She was far more than she appeared.
“Such work to save you from the Shepherd, and you race back to his arms? You judge in haste, Anders.”
“I serve my saints,” he gasped out. “I’m discipled by —”
“You are elect, and bound to the Empress.”
His resolve steadied, in rejecting that. “I am a Blessed knight of Wodenberg. Proven in battle. I belong to Saint Woden.” He had his knight’s crest as proof, loose and straggly from melted snow but proof.
The Empress stood over him, without even gooseflesh from the cold. “And what did he give you, for your service? Blessings? A sword? Your sounding does tell it truly; you were as born to the sword as to the saddle. Woden only gilded a lily, with his claim. What you truly need, la…” She crouched down, looked Anders in the eye. “That is a true shifter, to teach you art.”
His chest ached where he’d been stabbed. Anders shifted away from her, pulse pounding in his throat. “Saint Aleks taught me. He showed me how to work it out myself.”
“Saint Aleksandr,” she said, overly patiently, “was a mere stonecutter with stars in his eyes. He did harvest his shifting charms, or I’m a scullery whore.”
Anders straightened, bristling in Saint Aleks’ defense, but the Empress held up one finger in warning. The bond in his palm tingled. Anders shut his mouth.
“Do not waste my time, sir. I am empress of eight kingdoms. I take few apprentices, and spare not my enemies. But mayhaps there is one man in Wodenberg worth sparing. And what, at home, draws you?”
Kate’s name leaped to his lips, and froze there. Her hands, glowing with kir, catching Kiefan as he fell. Stemming the fountain of his blood. Anders’ eyes closed as the pain in his chest stopped his breath. The sword had hurt, too.
When his eyes opened, they swam with tears. “I have…” Kate had said she loved him. But not even a glance at his mortal wound… had their nights together been a lie? Pity?
“For they left you to die,” the Empress said, voice softer. “And I did mend you, then. Saw your worth and bound you, Elect.”
Left him to die. And now they were finally rid of him. Anders’ heart skipped in cold terror; how happy was Kate, now that he was gone? This vulture had plucked him from the Shepherd’s shadow, done what Kate wouldn’t…
“Stay, and you will master your gifts. Which none understand as your own kind do.”
There’d been none in Wodenberg who could teach him; Saint Qadeem himself had said as much. Since Saint Aleks was killed, Anders had largely been left to his own devices. He met the Empress’ eyes, and she was all the world had left for him to choose. Because without Kate…
With her betrayal tearing a ragged hole in his chest at each breath, Anders nodded.
The Empress touched his shoulder, and his aches melted away. The cold vanished. Kir flooded in, lifting his head with a deep, cleansing breath. She stood, and a small blade spun out from one hand. His knight’s crest, she gathered up in the other. With a slash, it came away and she held the handful of flaxen hair before his face. Then dropped it.
“For you are mine. Come home.”