Second book in the Feathered Princess series will be out 12/16. If you'd like a FREE review copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send one your way.
All these months Niall has been carefully keeping away so something just like this didn’t happen. And what good did it do? Cut what little time he did have down from a year to a single night. One night in Kate’s arms. And then a year wishing he was in Kate’s arms. He could have seen the glow of her skin in the glow of a single lamp three hundred and sixty-five times. He could have seen Kate smile a thousand times. Spent hours trying to come up with a description for just what it was he used to see in her eyes when he teased her, when she was holding back that one particular smile he could never quite read the meaning behind. Only now does it hit him. And the blow drives him to his knees. That smile. That strange little half smile that would curl just the corners of her mouth, twist the right side just a hair higher than the left, her eyes endless and deep and calm. A secret smile.
Kate had loved him too, hadn’t she?
How come Niall never saw it before?
The memory is so clear now. The only time he ever saw Kate with her hair down. The early sunlight, still hazy, still a deep golden yellow stealing across her skin, lighting her eyes to a warm, rich chocolate. She was leaning over him, propped up on a single elbow, head resting in her hands. They were talking about the racketeering charges. Her free hand was drawing a gentle line down the center of his chest, resting on the rise and fall, over his ribcage… And he’d realized, in that moment… That she knew. That she knew, technically, that he was guilty of the charges, that technically, what he did for a living was precisely that. That, rather than hiding behind the rigidity of her laws, the laws she had memorized, carried with her always like a little girl and her doll, her safety blanket always slung over her shoulders like a shawl… Instead Kate had shed the safety of her laws, at least long enough to really look at him, to really look at what he did. And she was brave enough to risk all the safety she’d ever known to admit that racketeering was hardly racketeering if what you provided really was protection, and it really wasn’t protection from yourself.
Niall didn’t know what it was about her childhood - She never spoke of it. - but he knew the right and wrong and black and white of the letters of the law on paper had been nearly the only thing keeping her sane for years. And yet she’d risked it all, looked into the spaces between, the murky grey of smeared ink, just to make out his features, to be able to offer him this, now.
She was telling him how she’d finally gotten the shopkeepers to open up to her. But, honestly, he was having a hard time concentrating on anything other than the gentle hand on his chest, her lips parted in her murmur, her eyes.
Niall realizes now, he did know, didn’t he?
In that moment, he knew.
She loved him.
It’s what the shopkeepers had seen. It’s what had convinced them to tell the truth for probably the first time in their miserable lives. Not because she was his defense; you couldn’t trust anyone in the system. No. Not because she was his attorney. But because she was in love with him. And apparently absolutely everyone had been able to see it. He had been able to see it. He’d known, somewhere in the very depths of him.
And that’s why he had abandoned her.
He loved her.
And she loved him back.
And the whole world could see.
It hadn’t been conscious, the decision, not then. He remembers rolling her beneath him, holding her that one last time. He remembers fruit for breakfast, a pineapple-flavored kiss. He remembers walking down to the parking garage. He remembers she pushed the key to start her car from across the lot. He remembers the engine caught. He remembers the entire car engulfed in flames, how the ground shook, how she fell into him and he turned instinctively, to shield her.
He turned, instinctively, to shield her.
He walked away.
He didn’t speak another word to her after that day.
The woman who gave up what seemed like the only thing she’d ever believed in. For him. And he realizes now, what it was in her voice, that only handful of times she’d called him, asked, hesitantly, why he wasn’t calling back.
It was resignation.
It was expectation.
The whole world had been able to see he was in love with her.
She had been resigned to the idea that Niall only wanted that one night from her. That he’d gotten it. That he’d left. As a matter of course.
Because, of course, of course, he didn’t love her.
He’s read something of Elana since then. Kate grew up in that house. She had probably never known a day of love in her life. And Niall? He just gave her more of the same.
He feels sick with it now. How it made no difference. That he could have given her three hundred and sixty-five days of love. How he might have even started to convince her by now, that everything Elana Miloslav had ever said to her was bullshit. That she was beautiful. That she deserved to be loved. That it was he who didn’t deserve her.
He might have gotten a real smile by now, one that held no echo of pain, one that curled up both edges of her lips.