Regent Killian Larrestes survived a harrowing attack and the betrayal of his family by his mother, and has since worked to help them all recover, learning the complexities of protecting and commanding a large, sprawling Clan.
Shiloh Zahirris is seeking Sanctuary from a marriage he doesnâ€™t want when he ends up under the protection of Killian Larrestes. Killian takes him in, and they find themselves falling in love. But will social objections, personal insecurities, and someone seeking revenge destroy their chance at happiness?
Thirteen-year-old Killian Larrestes limped down the hall to his mother's study, followed by his little sister and little brother, as well as his father. He was bleeding from his cheek, shoulder, and groin, and his knee was twisted, but he still had his virtue, at least. His mother would not allow this insult to go unpunished. How dare Anan touch him without his consent!
He knocked on the door, ignoring the rest of his family as they asked what had happened. He looked at his father, and then glanced at his younger siblings and shook his head. His father caught on and shooed the younglings off. Whatever had happened wasn't for young ears. Killian promised them he was okay, and he'd talk to them later. His mother finally answered the knock, telling him to come in. His father followed him, for which he was glad. This way he'd only have to say it once. He felt shaky as it was.
His mother, Janet Larrestes, stood up behind her desk, with a surprised look on her face, when he and his father came in. "Killian, what happened? Were you attacked?"
He nodded grimly. "Yes, Senki, I have been, but I fought back well enough to escape Anan."
"Anan?" Janet's expression was puzzled. She shook her head. "I don't understand. Are you saying Anan attacked you?"
Killian nodded as his father put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Yes, Senki, Anan attacked me. She attempted to rape me, Senki."
"Surely there must be some mistake, Killian. Anan is your fiancee. This marriage has been arranged for a year now. I thought the two of you liked each other." Janet sat down again, not even bothering to ask how bad his injuries were.
Killian nodded again. "I thought so, too, Senki. I mean, I liked her. She has always acted properly, even if I haven't always liked the way she treats me. But this is different. This isn't a misunderstanding of two people needing to learn how to deal with each other. She tried to rape me. I had to walk home from the park in the square because I wasn't getting back into that car. Who knows what she would have done then? I had to slash her face with my dagger to get her off of me long enough to get away." His knee really hurt, but his mother had not given him leave to sit. His father had taken the first aid kit out and had busily began to clean Killian's face, and carefully removed Killian's shirt to look at his shoulder.
"Janet, this wound on his shoulder needs stitching," David Larrestes told his wife softly, as he gently checked the wound. Killian hissed and barely managed not to say every cuss word he knew.
"That can wait until we settle this." She picked up the phone. "I'm calling Anan here. We're going to sort this out."
"Can I at least take the boy to get him cleaned up and dressed properly?" David asked, silently warning his son to be quiet. Killian obeyed, giving his mother a respectful look. She was a good woman, but a bit of a martinet.
Janet held her hand up for silence. She spoke briefly on the phone, ordering Anan and her mother to come to the house to sort out this obvious misunderstanding. A cold chill went through Killian as he listened to those words. Surely, his mother believed him, didn't she?
Janet hung the phone up and looked at her husband and son. "Anan is getting her face stitched up. Apparently, you've done some damage to your fiancee." She spoke sourly.
"Good, maybe she'll learn that no means no," Killian said. "There's no misunderstanding, Senki. On my honor, I promise you. She attempted to rape me. I ran as soon as I was able to get away, and the only way I could make her let me go was to use my dagger."
"Go get cleaned up. David, see to his shoulder and get him back down here in two hours. That's when Anan and her mother will be here. We'll deal with this then," Janet ordered.
Killian opened his mouth to protest, but David gave him a quick pinch, warning his son to hold his tongue.
"Of course, Janet, two hours," David agreed.
Killian bowed his head. "Yes, Senki."
David gently led his son out of the study and helped him up the stairs. Taking his son to his own bathroom, he gently sat the boy on the side of the tub, helping him strip out of the torn and bloody pants. When the boy was nude, David saw bloody scratches on the boy's groin, including what looked like scratch marks on the boy's penis. Killian was beginning to shake. Wrapping a thick towel around his son, David hugged Killian, and then knelt in front of him.
"Look at me, Killian." He waited for his son to focus on him. "Janet isn't likely to accept your version of this incident." Killian started to protest, but David gently covered his mouth with his fingertips. "I believe you." He closed his eyes. "But she won't. Your mother just has no use for males, other than marriage fodder and to keep her comfortable."
For the first time, Killian realized there was no love in his parents' marriage--just vows honored to bitterness. He wanted to say something, but he had no idea what.
David had more to say. "Listen to me carefully. Males have rights your mother's not taught you, as she should have. But my Senki taught me, and now I'm telling you. Any male has the right to ask any woman of age to speak for him, if no one in his family will. I hope I am wrong about your mother, but I don't think I will be. Your sister isn't old enough. Normally, you could ask Anan, as your fiancee, but you are accusing her of attempted rape. You can't ask her, and her mother is unlikely to agree to. Do you understand me?"
"Speak for me how?" Killian asked, confused.
"Speak on your behalf to the Magistrate or the Council, or an Artris. Actually, you can speak to the Magistrate on your own in this case. You've been assaulted. This should be brought to the Magistrate. I don't think that your mother will do it. Get in the tub." David had started the water running as he spoke.
"Isn't this washing away evidence?" Killian asked without moving.
"The Tii-su can look into our minds, Killian. If it is brought to Magistrate, you'll be your own witness. So will Anan. Get in, my boy."
Killian obeyed this time, with his father's assistance. His knee hurt like a bitch and it was badly swollen.
David whistled. "You walked home on that? From the square?"
"Marabel Solentai offered to give me a ride, but..." Killian didn't finish. His father didn't need him to; he understood that Killian wouldn't want another female to touch him.
"That was very good of Marabel," David said neutrally.
Killian reassured him. "I was polite to her, told her I'd be okay, that I'd rather walk. She just followed me in her car until I got to the house."
David nodded. He wouldn't be surprised if Marabel's husband Lyle had some questions for him the next day. Marabel wasn't an idiot. The whole village knew that tonight was the first unchaperoned date between Anan and Killian. At twenty, Anan was older than David would have liked for his sensitive son, but Janet hadn't asked his opinion. When he'd tried to give it to her anyway, she'd reminded him of his place with the back of her hand. He quickly planned on how best to help his son, just in case. While his son was in the tub, washing, almost scrubbing himself raw, David quickly went to the nursery room. His younger son Jaden was almost too old for the nursery, but his daughter Araminta would be there for another year. He gathered them close and hugged them.
"Come, be quiet, and come give your brother a hug and tell him good night. Tell him you love him. He's had a bad night."
"Will Killian be okay?" Jaden, asked, holding Araminta's hand.
David nodded, hoping he wasn't lying to his children. Never had he been as glad as tonight that Janet was as psi-blind as he; otherwise, she might know of his efforts to help his son. He suspected that his wife would try to enforce the marriage contract, and he knew his son well enough to know Killian would refuse to marry a woman who would try to rape him. Moreover, Janet might just disown him for it. He prayed to Deity he was wrong as he sent the children to their brother. He opened the bottom drawer in the antique changing table his mother had given him when Killian was born. The first time Janet hit him, after his mother's funeral five years ago, he began secreting money into the false bottom of it, carefully hoarding his pin money, without being obvious. Then Marabel's husband would deposit it for him, in an account his mother had set up for him before her death, that Janet was unaware of. Tomorrow was when he and Lyle normally had lunch, but he didn't think Lyle would be making that deposit tomorrow.
He quickly took the money out and counted it. A few hundred. It wasn't much, but hopefully it would be enough to keep the boy safe awhile. Sticking the money into his pocket, he quickly fixed everything and went back to his bathroom. Killian was carefully leaning over the side of the tub so the younglings couldn't see his groin. Araminta was staring at his shoulder. As David watched, she reached out and touched the slice on Killian's shoulder very lightly. It stopped bleeding. Then she touched it again, and it visibly healed even further. Araminta dropped to her knees, and Killian caught her awkwardly.
David jumped forward and took Araminta in his arms. Killian stared at him, then at his shoulder, and then back at Araminta.
"Better now, Kil?" she asked with a tired smile.
"Yeah, Araminta. I'm better now," Killian answered, giving her a smile, and touching her gently. As Killian touched her, he got a buzz of her tiredness, and that her shoulder ached now. While David held her, he gently pushed aside the shoulder of her nightgown, enough to see her shoulder. It wasn't marked, so he wondered if he misinterpreted her feelings.
Without a word, David took her to bed, praising her and Jaden for helping their older brother feel better.
A few minutes later, David was back, and Killian finally felt clean. David held up some antibiotic ointment and indicated Killian's groin and the scratches there. "I'd better do this, okay?"
Killian nodded, flushing. He tried to focus on something else. "What about Araminta?"
"Do not tell your mother. I'll have to think on this. The best thing is for a Tii-su to discover her, but it has to be done carefully. I have to figure out how to make sure Jaden says nothing, as well." David finished anointing the scratches, and then handed Killian his robe. "I'll get you some clothes. You're very cold right now, so I'll bring you two of everything."
Killian gave him a confused look but nodded. What was his father so worried about? He hoped Araminta came to a Tii-su's attention soon. It was important to train Tii-su from a young age, and she was already four, almost five.
His father came back with clothes for him, warm leggings to wear under clean jeans, and a T-shirt, as well as a heavier shirt and a sweater. Two pairs of socks and his heavy winter boots. What in all the worlds? Then it hit him. His father was dressing him well, in case his mother threw him out.
"She wouldn't." Killian looked at the sad, resigned look on his father's face. "Would she?"
"Deity, I hope not. I hope I'm wrong, that I'm bundling you for nothing. But for your sake, I can't take that chance. There's an estate fifty miles from here, south, held by the Jonai. The Jonai have a reputation for taking in people when they need help. If need be, get there. You'll be safe there."
David finished giving Killian exact instructions and made him repeat them. Their two hours would be up in thirty minutes.
"If that's what happens, that's what you do, Killian. There's money and jewelry in your leggings."
Killian had wondered what the flattened lump was.
"It'll get you a cab, lodging, food, whatever you need for a few weeks if you're careful with it. Just don't let any humans you come in contact with realize that you are underage, even by our standards."
Killian listened carefully, his throat swelling with the effort not to cry. He hadn't broken down when Anan attacked him, or when Janet seemed not to believe him, but his father preparing him to be thrown out was threatening his control. He looked at his father and saw he was having the same difficulty. Killian threw himself into his father's arms.
David began to cry. "I'm sorry, Killian. I don't know what else to do. I have to take care of your siblings, too..."
Killian cried, too. He understood. His father was torn between the child old enough to fight back, and the ones that weren't. He made sure he put his dagger in easy reach. Never had he been so glad before tonight that David had quietly taught him a few tricks about using a dagger. They held each other tight, saying their goodbyes, just in case.
Two hours later, Janet physically dragged her disowned son out of the house, threw him down the front steps, and slammed the door. He began walking south; following the instructions his father had given him. He tried not to think about anything, just put one foot in front of the other, with one goal in mind: the Jonai estate. He had no name. He was nothing. He was just another Namel