Home > Heart on Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #3)(2)

Heart on Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #3)(2)
Author: Amanda Bouchet

   “Cassandra left our rooms at night to do unsanctioned reconnaissance. She made that decision herself, and it cost her her life before the Games even started. It wasn’t Cat’s fault.”

   Piers pales, his face turning the same shade as the knuckles on the fists clenching his reins. He looks sick, and in that moment, I realize he still hoped, maybe even believed, that Cassandra was alive. She could simply have been somewhere in Castle Tarva with us, off limits, protected behind high walls and slightly overzealous guards.

   But she’s not. She never saw either of our victories—winning the brutal Agon Games or the successful takeover of Tarva—and it was my fault. Partially, at least. My plan to enter the tournament brought her to Kitros. To the arena. She came because she believed in Griffin and me, to fight for us, for a new Thalyria, and she was the first casualty on our side since I joined this cause.

   Slowly, Piers looks away from Griffin. His dark-gray eyes land on me and spark like flint on steel.

   The heavy dose of guilt weighing on my chest makes it hard to breathe. “I’m sorry. She was very nice.”

   The moment I say it, I want to shove the weak platitude back down my throat. Two bright spots appear high on Piers’s pale cheeks, and I think he wants to shove my words back down my throat, too, along with his fist. I can hardly blame him.

   The muscles in Piers’s face twitch, and I think he’s just barely holding back the colossal tongue-lashing he wants to give me. Clearly struggling for control, he still urges his horse forward until he’s uncomfortably close. When he finally speaks, his voice is so tense and low that it vibrates like the first ominous tremors before a volcano belches up destruction from below.

   “Let me get this clear, Cat. You stole my second-in-command when I wasn’t there to stop it, got her killed, and then replaced a solid, seasoned warrior on your team with my completely untrained sister?”

   I swallow. Gods, I’d hate me, too. “Jocasta handled herself well in the ring.”

   “She should never have been in the ring!”

   “She wouldn’t have been if Cassandra had stayed put!” Damn it! I want to take that back, too.

   Piers’s nostrils flare. “You’re blaming a dead woman for putting my sister’s life in danger?”

   “Your sister volunteered,” I answer through gritted teeth. “We needed six people in order to compete. She was courageous and strong.”

   “She’d be dead if Carver hadn’t intervened in the final round. For days, we thought he’d died saving her.”

   Painful memories filled with heartache and fear hit me like a series of hard punches to the gut, nearly winding me. It was so close. If Selena wasn’t frighteningly powerful and a healer beyond compare, we could never have brought Carver back from the brink of death.

   Piers drops his reins and balls both his hands into fists, grinding them hard against his thighs. His hands are big and strong, but they don’t scare me. Sometimes, I wish he’d go ahead and hit me. Then I could show him just how unfriendly I can be.

   “I could have lost three siblings because of your impossible, insane scheme,” he bites out.

   My eyebrows fly up. “Impossible? It worked! As the victors, we got an audience with the Tarvan royals. In their own home.” Ours now, hard won, but without a long and bloody war and with only a handful of lives lost. I’ll only regret two casualties: Cassandra and Appoline, the seer princess who protected my unborn child and me at the cost of her own life.

   “I’d think my brother was dead right now if I hadn’t finally heard otherwise from news at the castle gate!” Piers seethes.

   I’m truly sorry for his loss, and his worry, but indignation starts to seethe back. Doesn’t he realize what we’ve accomplished? How many lives we’ve saved? What we’ve gained?

   “We sent a message home.” Griffin’s too-even tone means to tread carefully. He’s still holding Kaia on his lap, and his fingers flex with tension against her back. “If you’d been where you were supposed to be—both of you—you would have known we were all right. And Cassandra made her own choices. So did Jocasta. So did Carver, for that matter.”

   “And you sanctioned it! Every part of it. Cat says jump, and you all march blindly to your deaths!”

   Griffin’s face darkens with anger. I can tell he’s barely holding on to his temper, and his tolerance far exceeds mine. Personally, I feel like my head is a geyser, and steam is about to explode from my ears. I understand that Piers is protective and angry, and he has every right to be, but this is about a lot more than losing his second-in-command, or even Jocasta competing in the Games. He’s never liked me. At first, it was because I didn’t support Griffin’s ambitions, or fall blindly into his arms. Now it’s because I do? And because I have? I’ve become an integral part—no, the lynchpin—of Griffin’s grand design for Thalyria, but that’s still not good enough. Or maybe it’s too much.

   Gods! I can’t win with Piers!

   Kaia pushes up from Griffin’s chest, straightening as she wipes her lingering tears away. Her face is splotched with red. “But they’re not dead.” She bites her lower lip hard enough to turn it white. Glancing down, she quietly adds, “Except for Cassandra.”

   Piers flinches. So do I. Then his eyes blaze with anger so fierce I feel it like a physical blow. “You turned my sister into a murderer.”

   Rage rises up in me, lifting my chin a notch. “She turned herself into a warrior. You should be proud.”

   “You should be ashamed,” Piers shoots back. “Making innocent people fight your war.”

   My war? I open my mouth to argue, because really, how can I not respond to that? But Griffin has apparently heard enough.

   “You’re talking to my wife and your Alpha,” he says. “The Queen of two realms. Jocasta showed great bravery. And Cassandra wasn’t forced into anything. She came by choice, and we lost one life instead of thousands. As the person actively recruiting our army for us, you should see the bigger picture, and you should definitely respect your friend’s sacrifice.”

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