Let’s try this again! Turns out, I’d shared yesterday’s snippet before (thanks to LucyQ for the catch!), which is what I get for trying to blog while the A/C people were in and out of the house, asking questions and taking over the office.
But now all of our duct work is now done, and hopefully our office will no longer be a sauna in the summer. Of course, it’ll probably be next summer before we find out if it worked, but if nothing else, we have a new, highly efficient air conditioner with a fancy allergen filter. Maybe cedar season won’t be so miserable this year.
Enjoy the new snippet, and if you’d like to preorder, I’ve left some handy links below. :)
The door to the garden slid open, and Torran made a soft sound of surprise. “This is the garden,” I said. “Keep an eye out for Luna. She likes to hang out in the corner.” I waved to the back corner with the little green arbor.
When Torran didn’t say anything, I turned around. His face was alight with something like longing before he caught me looking and wiped the expression away. “This reminds me of home,” he said simply.
I wavered, torn, then my damn traitorous heart made the decision for me. I knew longing. “Come on, it gets better.”
I led him to the arbor and gently swept aside the hanging vines. Luna was on her perch, curled into a ball with her nose tucked under her tail. Apparently she thought a nap in the greenery was better than a tour with Kee. The burbu opened one sleepy eye and chirped at me. “Go back to sleep,” I said softly. “We’re just going to be here for a minute.”
Torran stood frozen behind me, so I pointed at one of the chairs. “Sit there and relax while I gather some herbs. It helps.”
He folded his long frame into the low chair and for the first time, I saw some of the tension drain out of him. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. When he wasn’t busy glaring at everything, he really was beautifully built. I let the vine curtain fall closed before my wayward thoughts got me in trouble.
Normally, gathering basil was super quick, but I puttered around the garden for ten minutes before harvesting what I needed. I returned to the arbor and peeked inside. Torran had slouched down in the chair and Luna was curled up on his chest, purring, while he gently stroked her with one hand.
A riot of emotions clamored through my system.
Sprawled in the chair like an indolent king with his distinctive Valovian eyes closed, he looked like a heartbreakingly handsome man who had been conjured from the ether specifically for me. And the illusion didn’t shatter as much as I thought it would when he cracked one eye, his expression as open as I’d ever seen it. “Finished?”
I cleared my throat, trying to find my voice. “Yes. But if you want to stay here, you can. I can manage dinner on my own.”
That brought back the emotionless mask, and I mourned the loss for a moment before I remembered why that was a cosmically stupid idea. I could appreciate that he was handsome—I had eyes, after all—but I had to avoid letting my heart get involved. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of humans in a senseless war that the Valoffs had started. I couldn’t forget that.
He sat up straight, holding an arm under Luna so she wouldn’t tumble off his chest. “I will assist you,” he said coolly. He looked down at the burbu cradled in his arms and she cocked her head at him, looking for all the world like she was listening.
It was incredibly adorable.
I hardened my heart against all the soft emotions that tried to rise. No. He’d threatened me earlier. He was not adorable; he was a stone-cold killer wrapped in a pretty package.
Luna stood on his arm and shook herself. She looked at me, judged the distance, and launched herself at my shoulder. After she landed, she sent me a mental picture of her empty bowl and a wave of longing.
I laughed and scratched her under the chin. “I already fed you breakfast, you little glutton, and I know Eli gave you a treat when he put you in the galley. You’re just going to have to wait until dinner like the rest of us.”
Torran stood, bringing him far too close. Startled, I looked up at him. His irises were deep gray, nearly black, with a vibrant slash of silver running through them. Smaller streaks of copper and teal branched in interesting patterns across the dark background. The colors seemed to move and change, growing and lessening in intensity. Was that even possible?
I shivered and let my gaze drift over the rest of his face. His dark brows slashed across his forehead. A long, straight nose led to firm lips. His cheekbones were high and sharp, a Valovian trademark, but a strong square jaw balanced them out.
I shook myself out of my frozen perusal with a blink. Torran’s fathomless gaze swept over my face, his expression closed. I wondered what he thought of my eyes. They were pale blue, with a darker ring around the outside. By human standards, they were pretty. By Valovian, they were completely uninteresting.
Exactly how I liked it, I reminded myself firmly.
I stepped back and let the vines fall closed between us. The strange spell broke and I wondered if he had been messing with my mind, but I dismissed the thought almost immediately. I hadn’t felt the telltale brush of his mind against mine.
No, I feared the truth was far worse: he hadn’t done anything at all.
That was all me.
—Copyright Jessie Mihalik. All rights reserved. Coming Feb 2022 from Harper Voyager.