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The unexpected sight of Ádan sent a giddy feeling of happiness through Korin. He raised a hand to wave before it occurred to him he maybe shouldn’t be so obvious about the fact that they knew each other.

But the movement caught Ádan’s eye, and he smiled at Korin from across the garden and changed his path to angle towards Korin and Sheluna.

Ádan looked particularly good today. His sleeveless brocade jacket hung open, and he wore no shirt beneath. It made for a fine display of his chest and shoulders, a broad expanse of dark skin with muscles rippling beneath. He wasn’t covered in jewels like most of the courtiers Korin had seen as he’d traversed the Palace this morning, but Ádan had an attitude about him, an undeniable confidence, as though he didn’t need such vulgar displays to prove he belonged.

Sheluna had also seen Ádan. Korin caught her eyes moving back and forth between them, wondered how much she saw.

As Ádan reached them, he gave a graceful bow. “Archwizard zhi Darkivel. Wizard Korin. What a delightful surprise.”

“Apparently,” Sheluna said, the glow of her eyes gone soft and speculative. “I see you two have met.”

“Of course we have. I know everyone.”

“Yes.” Sheluna’s tone had shifted back to dry . “I’m aware.” To Korin, she said, “Be aware, he’s Lysander’s pet gossip. Be careful of this one.”

Ádan clutched his hands over his heart in an exaggerated gesture. “Truly, I’m wounded.”

“You’ll survive.” Sheluna turned so she was facing Korin, with Ádan behind her. “Think about what I said, Korin. You have a great deal of potential. It would be a shame to see it go to waste,” she added with a pointed sideways glance at Ádan.

Ádan bowed again as she walked away, but his smile had fallen away and the look he directed at her back was cold.

“Ádan, I—“

Ádan straightened and put a finger over Korin’s lips. His face was still serious, but he winked. “Over here. Come on.”

Ádan dragged Korin over towards the nearest wall, into a decorative niche just large enough the two of them could fit inside, hidden from anyone’s view. Before Korin could say anything, Ádan hooked a finger in the open collar of Korin’s shirt and pulled him forward into a kiss.

Korin leaned in, slid his hands under Ádan’s vest, up the warm, bare skin of his back. He made a soft noise of protest when Ádan pulled away.

“Hi,” Ádan said, grinning.

“Hi,” Korin repeated, feeling a little dazed. Whatever he’d been planning to say was gone, so he went with, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“I could say the same. In fact, I will.” He still had his fingers curled in Korin’s shirt. His fingertips brushed lightly across Korin’s sternum. “What were you doing taking to Sheluna?” The question sounded more worried than accusatory.

“She summoned me here,” Korin answered. “She wants me to help her with…well, I’m not entirely sure. Wizard politics. I told her I wasn’t interested.”

“Good.” Ádan lowered his voice, even though there was no one anywhere near. “You can’t trust her.”

It didn’t escape Korin’s attention that Sheluna had basically said the same thing about Ádan.

“The Darkivels are monsters,” Ádan went on. “Sheluna and the Archduke—if it hadn’t been for them—” Ádan’s jaw clenched and he looked away, his entire body gone tense.

Korin put a hand on Ádan’s shoulder and sent a soft ripple of soothing magic through him. “It’s all right. I said no.”

Ádan turned back with a smile that looked forced. “I know you did. I know you wouldn’t—” He took a deep breath. “Sorry, it’s been…” He shrugged.

Korin didn’t entirely understand, but whatever was bothering Ádan, Korin was happy to distract him. “Come back to Marta’s with me. Dinner was smelling delicious when I left.”

Ádan visibly relaxed, his smile transitioning into something real. “That sounds perfect.”

It sent a thrill through Korin, the fact that he could make Ádan smile like that. It evoked a bold, wicked feeling. What else could he make Ádan do? “Yes. Definitely. Let’s go.”

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