**Please note that due to the widget controls, we can't italicize internal thoughts and dialogue.
Fain felt his stomach shrink with dread as they dropped anchor and called for the Andarion contingency they were here to pick up.
I fucking hate you, Jayne. This was why he didn’t have friends. Why he didn’t want them. Because they invariably did shit like this to him.
His brother Dancer, and Dancer’s friend Jayne thought it was funny to volunteer him to be the adjutant for a female who hated his guts with the fire of a million suns.
The last time he’d seen Galene Batur, she’d shoved his ass into a public arena with all his business hanging out, and had locked the door behind him. Something he’d been beaten for, and not just by his parents who’d been horrified by the indecent display.
He couldn’t wait to see what Galene would do to him this time.
Probably shoot me.
If he was lucky.
If he was really lucky, it wouldn’t be in his balls.
Sighing irritably, he stood up to get it over with. There was no need in delaying the inevitable. He might be a lot of things, but a coward had never been one of them.
And it wasn’t like he hadn’t been shot before. At least this time, he had on battle armor. As long as she didn’t shoot him in the head or groin, he would survive the encounter.
Dignity . . . might be a problem. They were oh-for-seven on that one.
He hesitated by the door and pulled down a helmet so that he could add an extra layer of protection between his groin and whatever might go flying at a part of his anatomy he’d like to preserve. Though to be honest, he wasn’t sure why at this point. Not like he had many chances to use it anymore.
Don’t go there.
Chayden clapped him on the back. “You all right, Hauk? You look like you’re about to hurl.”
Fain cut a glare toward his friend. Hurl? No . . .
Fain’s little brother came out of the holding area to stand next to him. “I’m with Chay. You look a little green, drey.”
Fain dodged Dancer’s hand as his brother reached to touch his forehead, and barely resisted the urge to slap him. “I know you were just a kid when I ran off with Omira. But do you remember the fact that I was pledged to an Andarion female before I married her?”
Dancer’s jaw dropped. “No. I have no memory of that, at all. Who were you pledged to?”
Fain faced the ramp that was lowering in front of them. “Prime Commander Galene Batur.”
Dancer’s curses rang in his ears as Fain headed down the ramp toward the one female he was sure would gut him on the spot. As he scanned the gathered Andarion soldiers, he kept the helmet carefully positioned.
Just in case.
His gaze went straight to her, as if it was drawn there by magic. Damn, was the first thought that went through his head. As with all Andarion females, Galene had been a gorgeous teen. But the adult warrior waiting on them had to be one of the sexiest, most beautiful of her kind. Because Andarions aged much slower than their human counterparts, she didn’t appear any older than thirty.
Tall, lithe and exquisite, she was dressed in a standard red and black Andarion battlesuit. One that hugged a body made to be privately worshiped by naked activities.
He sucked his breath in sharply as an involuntary image of her wrapping those long legs around him, went through his mind. He hadn’t been this attracted to a female in a long time. Not since the last time he’d seen her.
Every part of him was alert and panting.
And he was twice as glad now for the helmet at his crotch. I should have worn looser pants. God help him if he had to sit down with a hard-on this fierce. That pain, alone, might kill him.
Something much easier said that done. What the hell had I been thinking when I walked away from that?
Young and stupid didn’t quite cover it. But then, there’d been extenuating circumstances that had forced his hand. Things that had made staying with her completely out of the question. Maybe I should have fought harder.
Yeah, right. It hadn’t been that simple.
A fight, he could have won. What they held over his head had been totally out of his control.
She looked up and met his gaze. His throat went dry as his body hardened even more and he remembered the way she used to look at him.
Like he was her cherished hero.
And I fucked her over. Badly.
Yeah, he’d earned the hell that had been his life. How he wished things could have been different. Especially between the two of them. While he’d been enamored of Omira, it was nothing compared to what he’d felt for Galene when they were kids. This was his first and only real love.
The one who’d gotten away and had haunted him every minute of his life.
His greatest regret.
The worst decisions in life are always the ones we make out of fear. He hated to admit how right his father had been whenever the old bastard had quoted that. But life had shown him just how wise his father was.
At first, her gaze swept past him, to the other Tavali trailing in his wake. She had no idea who he was.
Not until he pulled his Tavali mask down and exposed his face.
Galene was impressed by the military formation and discipline of The Tavali crew– something she’d never expected from outlaw pirates who were as famed for their blatant disregard of rules and social conventions as they were for their savagery. While they each wore different uniforms and styles of battlesuits, they conducted themselves like any disciplined army.
She’d been told that they had their own set of laws they adhered to, but she hadn’t believed it.
This was impressive. And the one leading them was a huge warrior. Tall and broad shouldered, he was as muscular as any Andarion male.
And that swagger . . .
It was masculine and mouth-watering. Confident. She had no idea of his species, but whatever it was, he no doubt gave credit to it.
That was her thought until he stopped and stood with all of his weight on his left leg. She almost smiled at a commanding stance that was identical to one Talyn preferred, especially whenever he was uncomfortable with his surroundings.
The Tavali’s gaze held hers hostage as he slowly reached up with one hand to lower the black and red mask that concealed his face.
Andarion. That explained his white eyes.
Just as she was sucking her breath in, in appreciation of his rugged handsomeness, recognition slammed into her. Yes, he was older and now sported three days growth of his beard, but she knew that proud jaw line. Knew those perfect, gorgeous features and caramel skin that had once set her on fire.
Actually, they still did. Only instead of lust, they filled her with raw, unmitigated rage.
Reacting on pure instinct, she pulled her blaster out and fired. It landed straight in his chest where his missing heart should have been.
Total chaos erupted as he fell to the ground and the other Tavali pulled their blasters out and took aim. As did the Andarion soldiers with her.
Throwing himself in front of her, Talyn pulled the weapon from her hand. He and the ten Andarions he’d chosen as her guard formed a wall between her and the others.
“Medic!” a human Tavali called out in Andarion.
“Arrest them!” a Sentella soldier demanded.
Galene looked past Talyn’s shoulder to see Dancer Hauk, Fain’s younger brother, calling out for the soldiers to secure her and her team.
Talyn moved in closer, to protect her.
“No!” She grabbed her son’s arm to keep him from doing something even more rash than her stupidity. “Stand down!”
Talyn did, until a soldier went to cuff her wrists. “Get your hands off her!”
Before she could catch him again, Talyn had eight Tavali and two of their own bleeding on the ground at his feet. With a blaster in each hand, Talyn held the others at bay as he kept himself in front of her. “Anyone else want a free trip to the hospital and paid leave?”
“Talyn!” she snapped, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Enough! Everyone calm down.”
Dancer held his blaster angled at Talyn’s head. “I believe you started this, Commander, when you shot my brother.”
“And now I’m ending it. Everyone, arms down!”
They all hesitated.
“Dancer!” Fain growled as he rose to his feet. “Drop your weapon.” Biting his lip, he grimaced and glared a hole through her. “I deserved it.”
Only then did Dancer lower his blaster.
“Talyn,” she said gently as she ran her hand down his arm and pushed his aim toward the floor. “It’s all right.”
She felt his muscles flexing in debate before he glanced to her and let his weapons fall to the ground. The Tavali surged forward to handcuff him. Something he didn’t protest until they went to cuff her again.
Faster than anyone could blink, Talyn knocked the two guards closest to him away and used his foot to kick his blaster back into his hand. He put himself between her and the others. “One hand to the commander and so help me, I’ll fucking kill every one of you bitches!”
Fain’s gaze darkened as Talyn’s weapon went back to Dancer who was inching toward them. With unbelievable speed, Fain attacked Talyn.
Galene’s head spun as cold terror consumed her. Both Fain and Talyn were former titled Andarion Ring fighters. And right now, they fought with death in their eyes. If she didn’t do something fast, they’d tear each other apart.
Dodging their blows, she forced herself between them, and pushed them to opposite sides.
“Enough!” she roared.
Dancer moved forward to take Fain by his arm.
Holding his chest where she’d shot him, Fain spat the blood on his lips to the ground. He glared his hatred at Talyn. “Aim at my brother again, and I’ll rip your fucking spine out, punk!”
Talyn didn’t flinch at the threat. “One hand to the commander again, and I’ll rip apart every ass here, including yours and his, old man.”
She sucked her breath in sharply at the double-edged insult. Not just that Fain was older, but to insinuate he wasn’t Andarion . . . it was the worst sort of slap in the face for their kind.
Fain licked at his busted lip as he watched Galene place her hand over the heart of the soldier in front of him.
“It’s all right, courani,” she said in a gentle tone, using an endearment that called the male soldier her precious heart. “Stand down.”
The soldier’s eyes softened as he glanced at her and covered her hand with his. Lowering his head, he brought her hand to his lips, and kissed it before he stepped back.
But not so far that he couldn’t shield her with his body again if he needed to.
Disgusted, Fain met Dancer’s gaze and shook his head. Galene had chosen quite the boytoy for herself. The kid was large, even for an Andarion. And as much as Fain hated to admit it, the bastard could fight. It was actually impressive what he’d done.
And the ease with which he’d accomplished it.
“Isn’t he a little young for you?” Fain asked her snidely.
Galene pinned him with a sneer. “I don’t think it’s any of your business who I live with.”
Fain’s jaw went slack that she’d openly admit such a scandalous relationship in front of everyone. While it wasn’t unheard of for commanders to sleep with their staff, they were usually highly discreet about it. Rarely, did they flaunt it.
He scowled at her. “Well, aren’t you full of surprises?”
She raked him with a scathing grimace. “I learned early . . . from the best.”
He took a step forward.
So did Talyn.
Galene pushed them apart again. “Boys! Enough!”
Fain curled his lip before he dropped a potent verbal bomb on them. “You do realize that you both just attacked a member of the Andarion royal family?”
Galene gaped. “Excuse me?”
Dancer quirked a smug grin. “The tadara adopted my brother.”
Fain expected that to take some of the fire out of her boytoy’s eyes. It didn’t. Defiant and reckless, he snorted disdainfully at the news.
“Talyn!” Galene snapped before the child could speak. “Not another word. I mean it!”
He inclined his head respectfully. “Yes, Commander.” But his gaze said that he was struggling to hold back his opinion.
And it wasn’t a happy one.
Fain returned his sneer with one of his own. “I should have you both arrested.”
“Try it,” the male said with an arrogant, taunting grin. “You’ll be dead before they cuff me . . . If I’m going to jail again, old man, I’m going to make it count.”
A tic started in his jaw as Galene reached up, buried her hand in his hair, and forced the boy to meet her gaze. Only then did the fire go out in his eyes.
She pressed her cheek to his and whispered in his ear before she kissed his forehead. Her hand lingered on his chin as her gaze held his a moment longer.
Finally quelled, the soldier took a step back.
Fain swept his gaze around the other Andarions here. The fact that none of their soldiers found this display odd, said it all about Galene’s open affair with her second-in-command.
Normally, Andarions never touched each other in public. Not even married couples. Unless they were fighting, it was their custom to keep a respectful distance from each other at all times.
A fierce, unwarranted hatred for the boy consumed him. He had no idea why he’d care or feel the jealousy inside his heart, but he did. And it wanted that kid’s head on a pike.
While Fain’s entire life had gone straight to hell after their last encounter, it was obvious Galene had been living quite the dream with her child-lover.
Galene stepped back as the medics arrived to tend Fain’s injuries.
She met Dancer’s glare. “We shall withdraw to my office where I will contact Tadara Cairistiona immediately and inform her what has happened. If she still wants my arrest, I’ll surrender myself to her authority. Until then . . .” She turned her curled lip toward Fain. “I hope you die painfully of your wounds.”
And with that, she walked away.
Talyn passed one more hate-filled glare at him before he followed after her. Like a dutiful puppy.
Little fucking bastard.
Yeah, okay, huge fucking bastard, but still. . . .
The medic let out a low, evil laugh as she saw Fain’s wounds. And especially the one at his eye that was already swelling, and burning like a mother. “I see you met the commander’s bodyguard. What’d you do? Speak to her in the wrong tone of voice?”
Fain gave the Andarion female an arched brow. “Does he do this kind of thing a lot?”
She snorted as she examined his eye. “Actually, he must like you.”
“You’re still breathing. He normally kills anyone who so much as grimaces in the commander’s general direction.”
Dancer sighed as Fain sat down on the stretcher and allowed them to remove his chest plate to inspect the blast wound. “I’m sorry, Fain. When you said she was a nasty piece of work, I should have listened to you. I had no idea she’d hate you this much. I thought I was the only one you motivated to this level of violence.”
Fain looked down at the bleeding wound in the center of his chest. Had he been wearing anything other than his Tavali armor, that shot would have killed him instantly. As it was, it hurt like hell and he’d be bruised for a few days, but he’d live. “I figured she wouldn’t be happy to see me again. However, I did underestimate her exact degree of hatred for me.”
“What did you do to her?” Chayden picked up the helmet Fain had been holding against his groin.
Fain swallowed hard as he met Dancer’s gaze before he answered Chay’s question. “I broke off our engagement to marry a human.”
The medic sucked her breath in sharply at his words.
As a human, Chayden had no idea what a slap that was, and what it would have cost Galene in their society. “Yeah? So?”
The medic snorted. “She must have really loved you at one time.”
“She didn’t shoot you between the eyes.”
Galene swallowed hard as the door to her office closed, and she moved to call the queen. She’d no more than reached for the controls than Talyn finally spoke to her.
“So that’s my father.”
He sighed heavily. “There’s no other male you’d attack like that, for no reason. Only Fain Hauk.”
Tears choked her at his emotionless tone. “If you knew, why did you attack him?”
“He came at my mother. No one does that. I don’t care who or what you are.”
She could kill Talyn for his own recklessness . . . that he’d inherited from Fain. “You shouldn’t have endangered yourself for me. You know better.”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “You didn’t hesitate to protect me.”
“I’m your mother.”
“And I’m your son . . . as you raised me.”
She was torn between the desire to hug him for that, and spank his bottom like she’d done when he was a boy. “I told you to be a doctor, didn’t I?”
He gave her an impertinent grin. “You raised me to be fierce. Like you. Not to don a medic’s robe and serve others.”
“Careful,” she warned him, “you’re not so big or old that I can’t still take you over my knee.”
He snorted derisively at her threat. “I’d like to see you try.”
She popped his butt. “Impudent boy.”
The light in his eyes faded as her link buzzed. “Is that the tadara?”
Talyn gave her a sincere look that said he would be more than willing to die for her. “I won’t let them harm you, Mattara. Not for that worthless piece of shit.”
“He’s your father, Talyn. I won’t have you insult him.”
The tic returned to his jaw as he looked away.
She moved to answer her link. As predicted, it was Tadara Cairistiona.
“What happened?” she asked without preamble.
Galene bowed her head respectfully. “Forgive me, mu tadara. I was caught off guard and allowed my emotions to get the better of me. I had no idea that you had adopted a new son. You should have told me we had a new royal family member to protect.”
The look on the queen’s face was stern and lethal. “It’s just us, Galene. I want your side of this matter, before I render verdict. And I want the whole story.”
Galene’s gaze went to Talyn. “Before His Highness was disowned by his birth mother, I was pledged to him.”
Cairistiona sucked her breath in sharply. “He left you for the human he married?”
She nodded. “Because of his actions, I was abandoned by my own family and turned out in disgrace.”
“Say no more, Commander. I understand. I would have shot him, myself, in your place.”
Thank the gods the queen was so understanding. But then they had decades of history together. And an unbreakable loyalty to one another.
“I am sorry, Majesty. Had I some warning about Fain’s identity, I would have handled it better. But this is the first time I’ve seen him since the day he told me I failed to please him.”
Cairistiona’s speculative gaze went past Galene, to Talyn. “Is he Talyn’s father?”
Galene clenched her teeth. Only two people besides her knew the identity of Talyn’s father. Talyn and his great-grandmother, who’d taken her in years ago when she’d been living on the street, pregnant with him.
But it was a death sentence to lie to her queen. “Yes, Majesty.”
“Does he know?”
“I’ve never kept such secrets from my son. Talyn knows. His father does not.”
Cairistiona let out a bitter laugh. “Talyn?”
He cast a concerned glance to his mother before he stepped forward and bowed to her. “Majesty?”
“It appears you are now of royal blood, child. My grandson. A tiziran of Andaria.”
His jaw went slack. Until now, he’d lacked full lineage. As such, he’d been ineligible for many Andarion benefits, including marriage. It was something they’d both accepted a long time ago as a very bitter fact.
Now . . .
“What have you to say, Tiziran Talyn?”
He swallowed hard before he spoke. “I know not, Majesty.”
“Yaya,” Cairistiona corrected playfully, using the Andarion term for grandmother. She laughed at the stunned expression on his handsome face. “Breathe, child. Remember, you once sat in my lap to color and draw on paper, and do your homework for school. . . . I know it’ll take some getting used to. Your father is having the same trouble acclimating to the title. But you will in time.”
She returned her attention to Galene. “It appears I cannot punish my grandson for protecting his birth mother. Even from his birth father. And while I would normally have your head for this assault, the circumstances were extenuating. As such, and given the fact that Fain will live and is remarkably understanding of your motivation, I’ll let this event pass unpunished. But let’s not repeat it, shall we?”
“Cairistiona or Mattara, Galene, You are the mother of my grandson, after all. As such, I will send a contingency of royal guards for you both. And while Talyn, as tiziran, can be excused from military service, I’m going to assume that he has no intention of leaving your side while we’re at war.” She passed a questioning look to him.
“My place is with my mother.”
Cairistiona smiled proudly. “Spoken like a true Andarion.” Her gaze returned to Galene. “If you can refrain from slaughtering the father of your child, we shall proceed as if none of this has happened. Is that acceptable?”
Galene hesitated before she spoke again. “Cairisitona . . . I’m assuming you’ll want me to step down as—”
“No. I’d like to see you continue on as the commander of our combined forces. You are still the most qualified to lead us. And I’d feel much more confident with you at the helm than a commander from one of the other nations.”
“It will be my honor, Ma . . . Matarra?”
Cairistiona smiled in approval. “Very good. And have no fear that I will tell Fain about his child. That is your place.” She sighed heavily. “For now, I will say that the additional guard is to make sure the two of you don’t attack him. However, there are certain advantages our little lorina will have as a tiziran. I’m sure both of you will want them for him. When you’re both ready, let me know and I will make a public announcement.”
Galene inclined her head to her. “Thank you. For everything.”
“Don’t thank me yet, sweetie. This has all the earmarks for disaster. We are at war with The League. If we lose, all of us will pay with our lives. We have committed treason against the organization that has reigned over all our worlds for the last five hundred years. May the gods be with us all.” She cut her transmission.
Indeed. Galene turned toward her son. “Funny, this was not how I saw the day going in my mind when I woke up this morning.”
Talyn laughed. “Nor I.”
Her gaze softened as she digested his new place in their world. It was more than deserved and she couldn’t have wished better for him. “Tirizan Talyn. It has a beautiful ring to it.”
He scoffed at her words. “I’m not a prince, Mattara. This changes nothing.”
“It changes everything. It silences all those bastards who have mocked you for being a lack-Vest. All those spiteful bitches who have turned their noses up whenever you’ve glanced their way and they learned you held only my lineage. I can’t wait to see them choke on their own bile when they hear this news.”
And still he shook his head with blatant disregard. “I’ve never cared what they thought of me.”
That was sadly true and she knew it. But he had cared what they thought of her. She’d mopped too many tears from his beautiful face when he’d been a small child. Had tended too many bloody noses from the fights he’d been in with those who had called her whore and worse.
And she’d seen the silent hurt in his teenaged eyes when females had viciously spurned him because he had no paternal lineage. Only his mother’s broken one. They had been so incredibly cruel to him.
Even his military rank had been viciously stripped from him at one time because of Fain.
He’d suffered so much as a direct result of what his father had done. That, more than anything, was what she hated Fain for. She could handle her own humiliation. She’d chosen her path with her own free will.
It was what had been unjustly given to Talyn that burned bitterest.
What her son had been forced to endure that made her crave vengeance from his father. Her proud, precious baby had deserved none of it.
Tears choked her. “You have ever been my brave champion.” When everyone else had abandoned her, Talyn had stayed by her side. Ever the dutiful son.
Maybe not verbally. He did have his father’s limited fuse, and a smart-mouth capable of lethal sarcasm that had tested her temper and restraint on many occasions.
But his heart had always been loyal. Always loving.
Always ferocious. Her fierce little lorina.
“You deserve to be a tiziran.”
“Titles mean nothing to me. You know that.”
Only his rank as her adjutant had ever mattered to him. He’d worked insanely hard to achieve his rank as fast as possible so that he could be with her and watch over her. Something that had been twice as hard for him since he’d lacked his father’s prestigious military lineage and had been under the direct command of his father’s enemies.
It was why he’d been forced to become a prize fighter for the Andarion Ring as a mere boy. With every title he’d earned, his military rank was supposed to advance to match his proven martial skills. Yet he’d had so many boulders hurled at him.
Because of Fain.
But even without his father’s lineage, even with her being harder on him than she was her other soldiers, he’d risen to become one of the youngest officers in the Andarion military. Had attained his current rank at an age when most were only beginning their obligatory service. Had risked literally life and limb to keep them all safe.
He had done her proud.
“You may think nothing of those things, Talyn. However, that’s not true of others, and I know how much you want to marry and start your own family.”
He looked away, but not before she saw the bitter yearning that lived inside him for something he’d been denied all these years.
“Exactly. I do know you, my son. As tiziran, you will have your choice now of any female who meets your fancy.”
He scoffed at her words. “If I wasn’t good enough for them without a royal title, I damn sure don’t want them because of it. Besides, I love my Felicia. I’m grateful and lucky to have her in my life.”
Galene bit back a scoff at his words. While she adored Felicia for taking care of Talyn whenever he was allowed liberty, she knew the truth.
Felicia was still a paid companion— a contracted mistress who lacked full-lineage, too. One Talyn had been forced to pay top dollar to keep in a style that was unheard of for others of Felicia’s birth-standing. And the unfair terms of Felicia’s original contract still sickened Galene. No other Andarion male would have been forced to sign such a travesty, or spend the credits he did for her services.
Or to buy out her contract from her agency. Galene flinched as she remembered that particular nightmare.
But because of her and Fain, Talyn’s social-standing ranked below even that of a slave’s. It didn’t matter how many fighting titles he’d earned. How many citations and awards he gained as a military hero, he was still unable to legally marry.
Even a paid companion.
Worse? Only one companion brokerage in all of Andaria had been willing to contract with him, at all. The rest had rudely slammed their doors in his face, leaving him with no other options for a female in his life.
Title and lineage were all that mattered to their people. The purer the lineage, the better, and the more choices an Andarion had.
Had Fain married her as he was supposed to, Talyn would have had all the pride and dignity of a military prince. Instead, Fain had abandoned them and taken his lineage with him.
But now that Fain had a new family lineage, Talyn might be able to salvage the rest of his future. “Your father’s blood gives you everything I never could.”
“You’ve given me the only things that matter.”
Cupping his cheek, she shook her head. “You should have married long ago. We should be planning the Endurance for your eldest child by now.”
He rolled his eyes at her. “I don’t need a wife nagging me. I have a viciously overprotective mother for that.”
Before she could respond, her office door pulsed open. She glanced past Talyn’s shoulder to see the arrogant beast himself entering without being announced. Her lips curled involuntarily.
Talyn pulled her against his chest and held her so that she couldn’t attack Fain again. “Don’t kill him,” he whispered in her ear. “Cairistiona won’t forgive you that.”
Laughing, she hugged him close. “All right.” She kissed his cheek before she let go.
“I’ll be just outside.” Talyn passed a threatening glare to Fain. “Call me if you need anything, Commander.”
“I will, Talyn. Thank you.” Forcing herself to remain calm, she faced Fain. “What are you doing here?”
Fain watched Talyn until the door was closed behind the brat. “You just can’t keep your hands off him, can you?”
Galene arched a brow at the jealousy she heard in that deep, sexy tone of his, and couldn’t resist egging it on. “You should have been in here a few minutes ago when I was physically spanking his little ass. I think you would have enjoyed it. I know I did.”
He twisted his lips up in disgust. “You really live with him?”
“Yes. I have for years.”
“And what? Do you have to burp him after you feed him, too?”
“I’ve been known to.”
Even though he tried not to judge others, Fain was nauseated by her and her lifestyle choices. How could she be so flagrant with a boy almost half her age? Did she have no dignity whatsoever?
“What happened to you, Galene?”
“I was stripped of my family and forced to live homeless on the street. You?”
That took some of the fire out of him. “I never meant to hurt you.”
She gave him an arch stare. “Wow. If the damage you did me was without effort, I shudder at what you could do if you actually applied yourself. What did you think would happen when you left me for a human? That my parents would throw me a parade? Send flowers and celebrate?”
“I assumed you’d pledge another male. Merrell or Chrisen. Actually.”
Galene looked away as old memories flared. Had she not been pregnant . . . had Fain not been disowned over a human . . . she might have survived the scandal. But once her pregnancy showed and after his mother had publicly disavowed him as a traitor to their people, no family would accept her. Not while she carried an lack-Vest baby.
And no matter how much better her life would have been, she couldn’t bring herself to destroy her child. Nor could she have given him up. Not with what happened to abandoned Andarion children. She’d refused to save herself by sacrificing Talyn. His conception had been her stupid mistake.
While she regretted every minute she’d ever known Fain Hauk, she’d never once regretted Talyn in her life. No matter how hard or awful it’d been, one look at his precious face had made everything worth it.
“Well?” Fain asked. “Why didn’t you marry Merrell?”
“Merrell wanted nothing socially-acceptable to do with me after you left. I was a pariah to everyone, Fain. So deformed, they all claimed, that I drove the high-Caste male I was pledged to into the arms of a pathetic human female. . . . Instead of shoving you into that auditorium, I should have killed you where you stood. That would have saved my social status, and that is my sole regret in life.”
“Really? That’s all you regret?”
She laughed bitterly. “You’re right. I do have one more.”
“And that is?”
“That I didn’t aim at your head on your arrival.”