Excerpt: Blood and Marriage

Morrin smiled as he read over a letter from his brother, Istari. It was mostly full of comments on his children, with a few stray anecdotes about his spouse, and the gallery Morrin had bought Istari as a wedding present. It also promised they’d be visiting soon, which was Morrin’s favorite part.

When he’d read the letter twice through, he finally set it aside with a sigh and went back to work. He had piles of notes to review for his meetings the next day, the drafts of various contracts and other agreements, and a lengthy revision to a tax law.

He was just contemplating strangling his tax minister when he heard the creak of the main door to his chambers. Such a noise would never have been tolerated by his father, but Morrin preferred to hear when people were coming.

He also limited the number of rugs in his suite, even if it meant the room was chillier. Not like the old castle ever really got warm. It, and the city, hadn’t been built with comfort in mind, and though they had undergone extensive renovations when the castle had been made the royal seat, there was only so much that could be done. Gelmere was meant for war, and like so many in the kingdom, did not adjust well to peace—but they all would, or else. Morrin was tired of all the fighting and dying.

That didn’t mean he was getting complacent, though. He’d rather deal with noisy doors and cold floors than be murdered in his sleep because of a couple of conveniences.

“Lassandra,” Morrin greeted, setting down his notes and leaning back in his seat as she sauntered lazily toward him, fancy shoes in one hand, a lumpy brown shawl that did not match her evening gown in the slightest wrapped around her shoulders, and a bottle of brandy in the other hand. “You look like you were up to no good this evening.”

“Aren’t I always, darling?” Her voice was smooth and deep, the kind of voice that perpetually sounded flirty and mischievous, no matter how serious she was being. When she was trying to be both those things, she was positively lethal. One of the things that angered people most about Lassandra was that she was breathtakingly beautiful and effortlessly seductive—and absolutely irresistible when she put those features to work. Precious few in the castle could compare.

Morrin’s mouth tipped in a faint smile. “Who did you trample over this evening? And was it figuratively or literally so I can prepare a proper statement for when I’m asked about it in the morning.”

She lifted her nose. “As if I would ever ruin good shoes on such a thing. It’s like you don’t know me at all.”

Morrin gave her a look. “You’re avoiding answering my question.”

Sighing, Lassandra replied, “Lord Boltor decided to try and get frisky with one of my maids. I reeled him in and left him sobbing. I doubt you’ll get any complaints; he wouldn’t dare.”

Morrin made a mental note to speak with Boltor himself, even if it sounded like Lassandra had dealt with the problem in her usual ruthless fashion. “I’m curious about what you did, but I’m also terrified, so I think I’ll leave it a mystery. If you didn’t come to warn me you caused trouble, then why? Did I forget you were visiting?”

“Do you not want to see me?” she asked with a smile.

“You know very well I always want to see you.” Morrin gave up on his notes for the moment. “But you came here for more purpose than a fuck. If that was all you wanted, you wouldn’t have bothered with that ugly shawl.”

She gave him a comically offended look. “Excuse you, my niece knit this shawl for me because I’m her favorite aunt.”

Morrin grinned briefly. “Is that because you tell her things and take her places her parents won’t?”

“Of course, what else is the family scandal good for?” She collapsed dramatically into a nearby chair, setting her shoes on the floor as she draped her legs over one armrest and took a healthy swallow of brandy. The nearby fire bathed her moon-pale skin in golden light and set her red hair aflame.

Appreciation pooled lazily in Morrin’s gut and faintly stirred his cock.

Giving him a horrified look, Lassandra said, “Don’t tell me you were working. It’s the twenty-fifth hour—half gone, in fact. Even you should have quit working by now, Morri.”

He gave her an exasperated look. “I have a meeting in seven hours, and that’s the first of many. I am king, Lassy. There is always work to be done. I’ll be signing papers on my death bed.”

“Don’t be morbid, I hate when you do that,” Lassy said with a scowl, and rose despite having just sat down. The combination of legs, gown, and drinking brandy should have resulted in disaster, but she moved with effortless grace and closed the space between them, pushed his chair away from his small writing desk, and sat in his lap. “You can’t rule without proper rest. Why are men always overlooking things like that? You lot seem to think you can run on coffee and determination, and that’s only true when you’re spotted youths.” Before he could reply, she fisted a hand in his hair and dragged him into a kiss that tasted of vanilla and brandy.

The first time Lassy had approached him, it had been this boldly. Morrin had been twenty to her twenty-seven, and rather surprised she’d want anything to do with a stripling like him—future king or not. He’d been bored out of his mind at a party, tired of talking to people who either hated his father, wanted a favor, or some horrible combination of both.

He’d expected much of the same when the tall, buxom, gorgeous redhead everyone loved to gossip about approached him. He’d been terrified and aroused in equal measure and resigned to a miserable encounter. Instead she’d pushed him up against the balcony railing and kissed him senseless. Minutes later, she’d dragged him into an empty bedroom and given him a thorough education in things he’d only barely explored until then. His father had been furious to learn he’d abandoned the party to fuck, especially Lassy of all people, but for once in his life Morrin hadn’t cared. He’d been too drunk on a marvelous night and the promise more would come.

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