Having survived a dangerous ordeal, Kenneth is ready to spend time at home with his partner Thorn, relaxing and recovering after his brush with death. But Enforcers rarely have time to themselves, and they must continue investigating their newfound enemy, the group calling themselves the Iris.
The looming gray mansion spread out ahead of him like the heavy arms of a prison. It didn’t inspire any comfort in Thorn. Slate-gray skies overhead and periodic drops of rain only made it worse.
But right now, his comfort didn’t matter. Kenneth’s did.
“C’mon, Kenneth.” Thorn stepped out of the driver’s seat of the carriage and held out his hand. “Easy.”
“I’m not an invalid,” Kenneth snapped, and then grimaced when he swayed in the door to the carriage, grabbing Thorn’s proffered hand as he stepped down. His grip was not as tight as Thorn was used to. “Sorry.” His voice came out breathier than Thorn would have liked. “I’m just tired.”
“C’mon, let’s get you inside. And get a doctor.” Thorn relaxed his jaw with effort, fighting to stave off the tension in his entire body.
Damn Alder. Damn that woman. Damn them a thousand times over.
Ever since leaving that cursed house and spending one night together under an open sky, they’d traveled. But Kenneth had only gotten worse. His heart pounded constantly whenever Thorn took his pulse, and he’d grown pale, weak, and was constantly tired.
Thorn didn’t understand what was happening to his lover, but he knew that only magic could fix it.
The blond man stood up straighter, taking a deep breath that ended as a sigh. They’d traveled for three days—more than twice as long as the trip should have taken, according to Kenneth. He kept falling asleep, causing the speed spell on the horses to fade, but Thorn hadn’t wanted to wake him.
Kenneth was so pale—his face milky white underneath his golden hair—and his blue eyes looked even bluer. It was an unhealthy pale, and Thorn only grew more nervous when Kenneth put his hand to his chest, the way he’d taken to doing over the past few days when his heart skipped more than a few beats.
The mark on his neck where the collar had been, at least, was finally gone.
Thorn stifled the urge to ask Kenneth again if he was all right. He always claimed he was fine. But Thorn knew better.
“C’mon,” Thorn said. “Let’s get inside. Do you think your parents got the letter that—”
“Kenneth!” A woman’s voice shrieked, and both men winced. Liveried servants dashed to their sides. One grabbed a bag from Thorn’s hand, and the others swarmed the carriage, getting their other belongings.
Thorn gritted his teeth. The last thing he wanted was for Kenneth to be overwhelmed in the state he was in.
“Kenneth, you look...” His mother, Lady Victeni, took his face in her hands, as though he was a child. She peered into his eyes, her mouth turning down. “Kenneth, fires, you look awful. What happened to you? Your letter said...is it true? You were injured?” Kenneth clearly hadn’t been completely forthcoming with details.
“Yes,” Kenneth said with a sigh. “Please, I’d like to get inside and rest, and talk with Doctor—”
“This is your fault, isn’t it?”
Thorn froze. Lady Victeni was staring at him, her gaze murderous.
“You. You let him get injured. Some partner you are.” Thorn’s heart thudded in his chest, and he felt as though she’d punched him. “He could have died because his partner is a joke of an Enforcer! You’re a talentless! You should never have been with him in the first place!”
Thorn took a step back, swallowing hard. He’d expected to be treated poorly by Lady Victeni. She didn’t like talentless like him. But it was worse than he thought.
She was partially right. It was his fault. Deep down, he knew that was true. If he had magic, or fires...if he’d thought to make a more powerful weapon...he could have protected Kenneth, and it never would have happened.
“You should go,” she hissed. “Go back to your slums. We will take care of—”
“Mother!” Kenneth closed his eyes, his shout coming out breathier than usual. “Enough. You will not”—he coughed—”talk to Thorn that way. You know nothing. He is my partner. Without him, I would have died.”
“Kenneth,” Lady Victeni said. She glared at Thorn once more, clearly fighting a desire to keep blaming him. Instead, she softened her voice, turning her back to Thorn. “The letter said so little. What happened?”
Kenneth looked away, his hand going up toward his neck before he put it back at his side. “Just...please,” he said. “In the letter, I asked you to get a doctor. Is one here?”
“She arrived yesterday. You were late, so she stayed in the guest room. Please, come inside.” Thorn stood, his stomach and shoulders tight. He couldn’t blame Lady Victeni, not really. From the way she fawned over Kenneth, it was obvious she was just a mother who was concerned about her son.
She wanted the best for him, and so did he. And right now, she and her magic could do more for Kenneth than he could. “C’mon, Kenneth,” he said. “She’s right. Let’s go.”
Kenneth nodded. He moved toward Thorn, taking his arm, and thankfully his mother kept her mouth shut.
Kenneth’s gaze was fixed, his jaw tense. Thorn stroked Kenneth’s hand, quickly moving over his wrist. The mage’s pulse was far too fast.
Kenneth met his eyes, and Thorn knew Kenneth knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t comment on it, though, and Thorn didn’t know if that was a good or bad sign.
The enormous mahogany doors swung open, and Lord Victeni stood in the foyer. Kenneth’s pulse suddenly jumped and he staggered, Thorn supporting his weight.