King of Blades (Two Thrones Book 4)
It’s autumn in the island kingdom of Hellas as Queen Danaë and King Matthias of Ypres reunite for their first wedding anniversary and the upcoming birth of their twins. But even as the Hellene capital celebrates with a week’s worth of spectacular athletic games, a pair of unexpected visits complicate the royal couple’s romantic interlude.
Meanwhile, Danaë’s brother Darius reunites with his lover Lars, only to learn that the handsome Ypresian officer has life-changing news of his own. When a series of strange accidents begin to plague Darius, he and Lars must join forces with the master Aeris mage Petyr Epilonious to investigate the source of the mischief—before the next accident kills him.
- Fantasy Romance, MF
- Word Count: 80,000
- Heat Level: 4
- Published By: Belaurient Press
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A brilliant peal of trumpets sounded in the distance and Danaë sat up. “They’re on their way.”
“Yes, that’s what a trumpet call usually means,” Darius muttered.
“Oh, shut up and look like a prince for once.”
It was difficult having to wait until Matthias and his caravan wound their way through through her capital city, but her people deserved a look at their co-ruler. And gods, he did cut a marvelous figure on horseback. She pictured him riding the roan stallion he favored, powerful thighs spread on either side of the saddle as he waved at the cheering Hellenes.
The thought of her husband’s thighs caused a pleasant little tingle between her own. It had been over a week since Matthias had been in her bed, and she missed making love with him and falling asleep in his arms. The only good thing about his trip was that neither of them would have to wake early and cross back to their own country while he was officially in Hellas.
She bit her lips to hide a smirk. Her widening waist made certain positions more challenging, but she had some delightfully naughty plans on how she wanted to wake him up in the coming week.
The first of the Ypresian royal guard rode into view. A raucous cheer arose from the crowd when Matthias appeared, looking regal if a bit weary as he guided his horse along the cobbled road. The moment he saw her, his face lit up in a wide, heartfelt smile.
She couldn’t help smiling back. Yes, you ridiculously handsome man, I love you, too.
She got to her feet, grateful when Darius lent a discreet hand under one elbow, and waddled to the bannister that overlooked the courtyard, acutely conscious of her belly going in front of her like a fully loaded trireme. “Greetings, royal husband, and welcome,” she called once the cheers from the crowds died down. “All of Hellas rejoices to see your safe return to our fair capital.”
His smile widened. “Greetings, royal wife, and thank you for your gracious welcome. All of Ypres sends its love and respect to you, and looks forward to your visit in the spring with our new heirs.” The onlookers burst into a new round of cheers.
There, formalities taken care of. She turned to head towards the stairs to the courtyard when a tall, strapping guard stepped into her path. “My queen,” he said with a bow, “forgive me, but I must remind you of the request by Prime Minister Akrolos and Commander Kostas.”
Danaë bit back a retort. It wasn’t his fault that her prime minister and naval commander were behaving like mother hens. “Very well, Phineas. Do what you must.”
Phineas bowed again, then carefully lifted her into his arms. Holding her like she was made of spun glass, he carried her down the broad stairs to the courtyard. When she was finally on her feet again, Matthias had dismounted and was giving Phineas an unreadable look.
It shifted to her. “Are you ill, my queen?”
She knew it was silly, but the mild but unmistakable jealousy in his tone pleased her. “No, but certain members of my government are convinced that my current condition renders me liable to accidents such as tumbling down a staircase.” She gestured towards Phineas. “As such, this poor young man now has the burdensome duty of carrying his ever-growing queen over uneven terrain.”
Phineas bowed. “It is no burden but an honor, my queen.”
“You’re very kind, but I know how much weight I’ve gained. You may not find it an honor for much longer.”
Matthias edged closer, sliding an arm around what little remained of her waist. “As I am here now, I will assume that duty,” he announced firmly. Phineas bowed again and retreated to the line of guards.
Glancing at the Ypresian retinue, Danaë noticed a pair of people in Ghobian robes waiting next to Matthias’s horse. “My king, do we have guests?”
“Ah.” Matthias gestured to the newcomers. “My queen, allow me to introduce my dear friends Prince Ezeudo and Princess Helene Debare of Ghobos. I’ve known them since our days together at university. They arrived in Mons just as I was leaving, and managed to talk their way into my party.”
The couple stepped forward at Matthias’s wave and Prince Debare made a graceful obeisance. “Your majesty, thank you for allowing us to travel to your beautiful country,” he announced in a sonorous baritone. “It has long been my dream to see the glittering islands of Hellas, and now that most ardent wish has been granted.”
“Quite poetic, my love.” The woman at his side dropped her veil and a rush of jealousy soured Danaë’s stomach. For a woman who had to be in her mid-forties, Princess Helene looked no more than thirty at most, with curling golden hair, wide blue eyes that held a flashing intelligence, and the peaches and cream skin that Ypresian women were famous for. Worse still, she was slender as a reed and graceful with it. “Your majesty, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. Matthias has been nothing but effusive in his praise for your beauty, intelligence, and capability.”
Matthias. Not His Majesty. Danaë covered her churning emotions with a polite smile. “I thank you, princess. Both you and his highness are both most welcome in Hellas. I’ll have a guest suite made ready for you—”
“We’re not fussy, truly,” Helene assured her. “Despite the titles, Ezeudo and I spend most of our time in a wagon leading a spice caravan.”
Does she think I would put Matthias’s friends on a pallet in a storeroom? Still smiling, she nodded at her chamberlain, who hurried down the stairs to join her. “Nidas, have the Aquamarine Suite prepared for our guests.”
Helene waved someone forward as well, a small woman swathed in pale green Ghobian robes, although her fair skin, reddish hair and hazel eyes indicated a Ypresian birth. “This is my handmaiden Eloise. She can tell your people which bags are ours.”
Eloise curtseyed gracefully. “I’ll have everything ready when you arrive, your highness.” She followed a bustling Nidas towards the palace.
Danaë had hoped to sweep Matthias off to their rooms once the public duties were done so that they could indulge in more intimate greetings, but the unexpected appearance of guests put paid to that idea. “While we’re waiting, may I offer you some refreshments?” she asked instead. “I know how dusty the road through the city can be, and we have some excellent Capresian white on ice.”
Helene’s smiles deepened. “That sounds superb, your majesty.”
“Please, call me Danaë.”
“And we are Ezeudo and Helene.” The princess tapped Matthias’s arm briskly. “Don’t just stand there, O King. It’s far too warm out here to keep your wife on her feet, especially in her condition.”
Danaë felt her smile stiffen as Matthias chuckled. “Helene is a physician, and a bossy one at that,” he said before he bent and swept Danaë off her feet. “Shall we go sample that chilled wine, my queen?”
She put her arms around his neck possessively, relishing the strength in his arms and the smell of clean sweat and leather that wafted from him. “It’s for you and our guests, my king. I’ll make do with grape juice.”
“Thank you for laying it on, in any case. It’s been a hot day and something cool will be refreshing.” Matthias carried her up the stairs towards the palace, the Debares following.
As promised, the chilled white wine and a selection of delicacies had been laid out in Danaë’s favorite sitting room. The prince and princess continued a stream of light, witty banter with each other and Matthias as they sampled the food and wine, until Eloise materialized in the doorway and gave her mistress a respectful nod.
“I think we’ve kept you from your own reunion for long enough,” Helene said, rising from her couch and giving her husband a fond look. “Both of us could do with a brief nap. Matthias said that there will be a banquet tonight?”
Yet more changes for Nidas to make. As friends of Matthias, the couple would have to be placed on a couch next to their own. “Yes. I’ll make sure that my chamberlain gives your handmaiden all the details. If you need anything cleaned or freshened, my household servants will attend to it.”
“Thank you again, Danaë. We’ll see the two of you tonight. And you,” Helene gave Matthias an imperious look, “don’t wear her out.” The pair followed Eloise from the sitting room.
Danaë had to force her jaw to unclench at the easy familiarity. “Well, they’re quite charming,” she said, hoping she sounded gracious enough. “And I’m sure Nidas can rearrange things in time for the banquet tonight.”
“I’m sorry, little bird.” Matthias had the grace to look guilty. “I should have sent word ahead telling you about them. They truly are some of my oldest friends, and when they asked if they could come along I didn’t think to say no. Thank you for making them feel so welcome.”
Oh, stop acting like a fishwife. “They’re your friends, and I’m sure I’ll adore them.” She tried to stamp out her lingering jealousy of the lissome Ypresian woman. “Speaking of that, why don’t we take a leaf from their book and have a nap ourselves?”
“You read my mind.” He gave her a hand to help her off the couch, and she wasn’t surprised when he picked her up again before setting off towards the royal apartments. Once they’d reached her rooms she expected him to put her back on her feet, but he shouldered the door open and went in, shutting it with a foot.
She kissed the side of his neck, relishing his scent. “You can put me down now.”
“Not yet. I rather like carrying you around.”
“Matthias, I must weigh the same as a pony.”
“Not even,” he said dismissively, hefting her experimentally. “Perhaps a newborn colt. A small one.”
She giggled at his brazen lying. “In all seriousness, love, put me down. I don’t want to be carried everywhere, no matter what Athena says.”
“If you insist, little bird.” He deposited her onto her feet with care, pulling her into his arms. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, t—”
She was cut off in mid-sentence as Matthias claimed her mouth. His familiar taste, tart now with the crisp white wine, still worked its wild magic on her. She wound her arms around his neck as she kissed him back, clinging to him as best she could with her pregnant belly in the way.
When they broke for breath he glanced down at her stomach. “Is it my imagination or did they grow more in the last week?”
“It certainly feels that way. Darius said I look like the full moon.”
“I’ll beat him after dinner, how’s that?”
“Oh, don’t bother. He’s being punished already.”
“Let me guess—you’re sending him to Muñoz.”
Belatedly, she remembered Darius’s request that she not mention his problems with Schrader. “I should, shouldn’t I? He hates going there—he claims all of their pious behavior makes his teeth itch. No, I’m making him write a report on his recent trip to Illium. Paperwork bores him senseless.”
Matthias nuzzled the spot underneath her ear. “My wicked queen. Why don’t we continue this discussion somewhere more comfortable? Say, our bed?”
The familiar heat between her hips built at that. “Why don’t we?”