An excerpt from my novel, coming soon! Out 7/15!
I love you, too.
The plane is filled with the usual background noises of a transatlantic flight. Someone a row over has their headphones set way too loud. A slapstick comedy whispers across the dim-lit floors, the occasional burst of laughter the man muffles behind a hand. There’s a baby whimpering at the back. Three rows ahead an elderly woman is making lengthy inquiries about the breakfast menu, trying to order a plastic cup of tea ‘for now’, to help her fall asleep.
Bohdan supposes some part of him notes it. That little part always, always attuned to his surroundings. But where it would normally have driven him nearly nuts by now, the curse of sensitive ears and a mind always cataloging, always tracking… Tonight he has barely the focus to note that the flight attendant walking past him is a man, tall, decently muscled, someone to keep an eye on.
No. Bohdan is nowhere near his usual standard. The whole world is drowned out by the echo of her words.
“I love you, too.”
He’s startled to hear he has whispered the words aloud himself, but luckily no one is paying him any more attention than he’s paying to them.
He can’t tear his eyes from her face, two rows up, the seat by the aisle.
He can’t forget the choked, wistful tone of her voice.
Bohdan has known Finch since she first toddled across the north fields. Barracks training. She was two. He was nearly seven and in the middle of sparring when she came through the grasses, but even all the way back then, he had missed a step in noticing her. A tiny thing. And yet, even at two, there’d been a look in her eyes. She had started to figure it out well and away before the rest of them. That this was life. That it was to be twenty, maybe twenty-five years if they were lucky, fighting for every last day.
Bohdan had known, even at six, exactly what he was fighting for. But it was the first time, that strange spring day, when he wondered what the rest of them were fighting for.
Twelfth generation Ahkran, Bohdan couldn’t be more proud to be guard to a Queen. It is what he was born for. Just because Elana isn’t on the throne, just because the rest of his compatriots made a horrible, horrible mistake nearly seventy years ago… It changes nothing.
His father, sitting on a fallen log, whittling… He had told Bo, quite simply, “The rest of the world be damned. She is our Queen.”
And an Ahkrana is loyal to death, Bohdan reminds himself now. There is no one above an Ahkrana’s Queen. And Bohdan? Bohdan is the very last Ahkrana. And so his duty to Elana is even greater. There can be no hesitation. There can be no doubts.
He is ashamed to be sitting, slumped in this seat, even wondering:
Is he doing the right thing?
Elana sent him to “keep an eye on her.” Except keeping an eye on Finch included a request for extensive photographs. And she had wanted him to report anything “unusual.”
I love you, too.
Perhaps the words would not be unusual if they really had just been two teenage girls, parting ways at an airport. But they weren’t. Sophie Gracin is daughter of a revolutionary and a maligner. Bohdan has in this very file newspaper clippings where Amand Gracin spread dastardly lies about his Queen. Sophie follows in his footsteps. And Finch…
He has never heard her utter those words. Not to anyone.
It feels like a dangerous thing. Like this whisper bubbling up from his bowels, wondering if he shouldn’t have ‘lost’ this roll of film. To serve a Queen as Bo is meant to, as Finch is meant to… It seems a delicate balance to attempt another love. How, if you are to love the Queen with your whole heart, can you ever love another?
Bo is quite certain his father didn’t even love him as much as he loved his Queen.
And yet Finch’s whispered words still echo, spoken long after Sophie had walked away and so there can be no cause for them but this: They are the truth.
And as much as Bo would like to deny it, as much as he would like to tell Elana, no, no, Finch is only doing as she was instructed. Getting close. Keeping tabs…
It’s not true.
Even if he hadn’t heard the words, they would echo still. They are swimming through the glossy glare of these photos. So many photos and one obvious truth:
Nadya was right. Finch loves the girl.
There is no con, not unless Sophie Gracin is the one running it.
And this, of course – he slams his fist down on his own knee – and this, of course brings into question… Finch’s loyalty.
She loves a girl who loathes her Queen.
Finch is royalty too, however much they all ignore it. He hasn’t yet reached his twentieth year, hasn’t had to choose the royal Sakhanan woman to pledge his utmost loyalty to yet, he –
And he has to slam his fist down again, jar himself from the insanity.
Finch is the bastard daughter of a bastard daughter.
Elana is his Queen.
He has no choice.