Chapter 7 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

"Dunley? No," said Mattie, keeping her voice as blank and calm as she could despite her jittering insides. "My stepfather's name was Ambleson. It's the name he gave me."

Adrik laughed. "One of the things I love about you, Mattie, is that you're terrible at subterfuge. Your emotions cover you head to toe. You fell in love with me the first day, when you twisted your ankle, didn't you? My sweet girl, I would marry you no matter what your name is. I don't use my real name either."

Was Adrik in similar circumstances? Not long ago, when she lived in Reggiston and didn't have to lie about her name and didn't know whose daughter she was, she would never have considered the suit of a bastard. She couldn't very well put herself above one now, could she? She burrowed closer to him, and he hugged her tight. "If my name is not to be Mistress Adrikov, then, what is it to be?"

"I am Adrik Antremont, some day to be styled Adrin of Tremont."

"Adrin? But that's a royal name, surely you mean Adrik--Antremont? But you can't be!" A horrible supposition came to her: could he be another bastard of King Harsin's? She pushed away from him, thinking of the night at the Estate with her drunken half-brother. If she hadn't attracted Temmin's attention she'd still be Mattie Dunley of Reggiston, and here she was again with a man who might be her brother! Neya, why would you send me two of them?

"I have every right to the royal family's name. You see, you and I are cousins. My father is King Ruvin of Tremont, whose place your father usurped some forty years ago."

He knew! How long had he known? Always? She peered through the carriage curtains. The carriage rolled along a hard-packed dirt track through flat plains. Tough-looking grass poked through a light dusting of late snow. No crops, no houses, no people. Nowhere to run and no one to help her. "Where are we going?"

He smiled, but his downturned eyes did not. "We've already gone. Over the borders into the Northern Wastes, where your father will never find you."

"My father is dead," she whispered.

"Would that he were, sweetheart. Then I wouldn't be skulking about the countryside and my father would be sitting on the Tremontine throne where he belongs."

"What makes you think His Majesty is my father?"

"He's not Darwas Dunley, that's certain," he retorted. "Your uncle is a right prick, by the way, throwing you and your mother out of your tavern when your stepfather died. You are Mattisanis Dunley, or were raised as such. Your mother's maiden name was Ambler. She and the King--your father--had a brief affair when he came to the Estate for your brother Temmin's birth."

She fought down shame and increasing panic. "He's not my brother--I've even never met the Heir!"

Adrik shook her by the shoulders. "I am the Heir, not that whelp. He's still your brother whether you've met him or not. With luck you'll never meet him. He'll be dead."

Whenever Adrik touched her in the past, a warm melting flowed down her body beneath his hands. Now this stranger gripped her arms not quite tight enough to hurt her but tight enough to let her know she wasn't going anywhere, and his hands burned like ice. "You don't love me at all!" she said.

His down-tipped eyes softened; he was her lover once more. "Oh, there you're wrong, my darling, my Mattie. I do love you, though I hadn't intended to. I had intended only to woo you by stages safely and quietly, then take you away with me. When we reach my father, I will tie the marriage cord round your wrist just as I said I would. It is no hardship. I love you." Adrik dipped his head to kiss her, but she turned away. He turned her back, fingers firm on her chin, and kissed each brimming eye. "Never worry, you're safe with me. I shall not touch you until the cord is tied, and no one else shall either. I promise you."

"My mother's expecting us back. The note I left said we were coming home after the wedding."

"Don't worry about your mother, sweetheart, I have taken care of it," he answered. He tucked her into the corner of the carriage under a mound of blankets and furs. "It's cold. Now, sleep. We'll be there in another few hours."

Though she closed her eyes, Mattie did not sleep. She cursed her father for being King. She cursed Adrik for his falsity. She cursed her mother for being right about him, and she cursed herself for believing him.

They stopped soon after, but no comforting inn stood nearby; a change of horses waited on the wide, empty plains, alone but for a native groom holding their reins. The man's hair was a white-blond so pale it was almost transparent, his eyes a flat, acid blue that did not leave her even when she crouched a small distance from the carriage to relieve herself. At least Adrik and the coachmen turned away.

Nowhere to run, no one who might help her. No way to return to her mother--at least right now. She would get home to Mama somehow, and then they would go to the King and demand proper protection. He owed her at least that much as her father, and she wished her mother had demanded it from the beginning. It would have saved Mattie from whatever awaited her at Ruvin's outlaw court. Don't worry, Mama, I'll find my way back to Arren somehow.

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