Heading back down the mountain, Samir was acutely aware of Raj riding beside him. On the one hand, this awareness was good, as it meant he hadn’t forgotten anything that happened inside the castle. It meant his magic was working, and they were safe, for now, from the magic occluding the castle.

On the other hand, he hadn’t forgotten anything that happened inside the castle. Including kissing Raj, and the way Raj had looked at him after.

All he’d wanted on this trip was a chance to stretch a little, to see if he could handle being on his own again. He hadn’t been looking to make new friends. He especially hadn’t been looking for more complicated entanglements.

It had only been a few days since he and Rune had made out under the stars, at the top of the world. And now he’d thrown himself at Raj. And yes, it had been a long time. Samir had been keeping himself closed off, solid walls built between himself and anyone but Sheluna, who was safe. What he hadn’t expected was, once he started letting those barriers down, just how hard it would be not to grab at any closeness that was offered.

There was this desperate core of loneliness inside him that he’d ignored for so long because it was wrapped so tight around other pains, and if he started unravelling any of it, he was afraid he’d simply fall apart.

And Raj had known, hadn’t he? He’d pointed out he wasn’t sure Samir’s actions hadn’t really been about him. It wasn’t, except it was. The fact that Raj had been steady, kind, interesting. That he felt…safe.

A surge of fresh anger moved through Samir who was watching this vision. At least, he chose to think of it was anger, this complicated mix of bright, hot betrayal and embarrassment and fear. All this time you were lying to me. I trusted you, and you were lying to me.

Yes. Varajas didn’t even try to deny it. His voice was calm, steady. And I’m sorry. Whether or not you believe me, it’s true. I would take it all back if I could.

It was still complicated. Watching all this play out, even after Samir knew the truth—knew that Varajas was a knight, that he’d been following Samir not out of concern, but so that he could protect knight secrets—that aching loneliness hadn’t gone away. Samir still wanted, still needed, still longed to be touched and held and…

Samir focused back in on the vision. He didn’t want to think anymore about the rest.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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