“Fifteen votes short in the Popular, two short in the Provincial. That’s a very close margin, and it will probably shift as the pressure from the Empire increases.”
Ean stopped pacing and turned around to see Ember’s response.
She was watching the clouds through the windows in the solarium.
“Ember, this is serious!”
She turned and met his gaze with a slight smile.
“I know. You’ve told me many times already. Strangely, you seem more afraid of my banishment than I am.”
Maybe I am. I think she is crazy.
“You were doing great until Meakrun. Why did you go after her? Your disrespect lost you some support.”
Ember cocked her head and stared off into space for a kella.
“Her question was evil. I hated it. I don’t know what else to say.”
Ean wanted to yell at her. He wanted to scream and punch a wall. Break something. Maybe one of the representatives. Maybe Meakrun.
Thek. Ember’s response had been good. It had gotten right at the truth of the issue. At their hypocrisy. He wondered if that was the reason they were going to throw her out.
Because they would get the votes for that. At some point. It would take a month or two, but they would.
And then Ember would die.
He turned to start pacing again.
Ember caught his hand and held him.
He looked at her. A grin covered her face.
“Why are you smiling?”
She smiled wider, and wrapped her hand all the way around his.
“Because you are for me. Because you care about me more than I do. Because you tear me down and build me up, even when it destroys you in the process. And because you are an idiot. I’m finding that I like your type of foolishness.”
Ember’s eyes held him in place as the roar of his heartbeat filled his ears.
Those eyes. Those shining eyes. They were setting him on fire.
Kai, I’m crazy about this woman. I have to get out of here…
She sensed it, and let go with a chuckle.
He took a step back, then stopped.
Why am I running away?
Ember just watched him, her eyes sparkling, and he watched her watching him.
Ahttah, this woman is becoming more beautiful every day. The strangeness is disappearing.
What will I do if they send her away? Now that she belongs here?
I can’t let that happen.
Is there another way to protect her? To make a place for her?
Ean steadied himself. Begged for strength. He was thinking craziness again. More craziness.
“I can still stop the Council and keep you safe from them.”
Ember tilted her head and smiled at him again.
“And how is that?”
“We could get fully married.” He pressed on before she could respond. “The Council can’t break that. They would have to throw us both out, and that would take rewriting our constitution.”
Ember didn’t stop smiling.
And she didn’t laugh.
“And what if I’m still not interested in mating with a tiny little manling?”
“It would still be political. You would never have to come to my bed.”
Ember’s smile vanished.
“Ean, your family has no political marriages. Trin told me the stories. Very romantic, very colorful, stories.” She crossed her legs and leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees. “And your people have no divorce. At least, not for anything less than actions that Kai forbids anyway.” She narrowed her eyes and pinned him with her gaze. “You would be giving me your future.”
Ean felt sweat roll down his sides. Why was she angry?
“But you would be safe.”
Ember’s gaze turned into a full glare.
“Ean Tavarin, you are a fool. I will not take your future, and your wife, and your children. Nor your descendants from Salshira, which obviously needs all the good rulers it can find. No. I will not take a place in your life for the next three hundred years that I have no right to.”
“But I want you to have it.”
Ember saw right through him. When had that happened?
She uncrossed her legs and rose from the chair. Started to walk past him.
Her caught her arm and looked at her.
She met his gaze, jaw clenched, eyes wide and brows tilted in. Her anger slammed into him so hard he almost let go right away.
But she waited, holding him locked in the moment.
“I don’t want you to die, Ember. I’ll do whatever I can to keep you safe.”
Her expression softened. Slightly.
“I know that, Ean. And I value you for it more than you know. And so, I will not accept your offer and take this from you. You offer me too much, without asking anything in return, and you insult both of us in the process. Now let go of my arm.”
Ean let go, and Ember was gone through the door a moment later.
Well, that was terrible.