Edmund is heir to the throne of Thalassa and a wielder of Water magic. Devoted to his kingdom and his duty to it, Edmund can do nothing but acquiesce to an arranged marriage with the queen of a neighboring kingdom. The marriage and the child it is required to produce will seal an alliance between Thalassa and Aither that is vital to Thalassa’s safety, and far more important than Edmund’s personal misgivings.
Arden is the younger brother of Aither’s queen and a wielder of Air magic. Raised in the politics of the court to support his sister’s rule, he understands the alliance is important to Aither, even as he worries about his sister marrying someone she’s never met. When Edmund arrives in Aither to prepare for the wedding, Arden is tasked with helping him settle in at court. As they spend more time together, Edmund and Arden develop a close friendship, then stronger feelings, but with Edmund’s wedding approaching, they must hide their feelings, even from themselves.
When someone tries to assassinate the queen, Edmund is blamed, and Arden rescues him before he can be executed for a crime he didn’t commit. To prevent a war between their kingdoms and protect them from a dangerous enemy, Edmund and Arden will have to discover who wants to pit Aither and Thalassa against each other and mend relations between the two kingdoms as they evade those searching for them—all while finding a way to be together.
Edmund swam, long limbs slicing through the clear, warm water. His mind quieted in the repetitive motion, in the weightlessness and the comfort of being surrounded by his Element. Everything washed away, leaving him calm and relaxed, the only time he ever was lately.
If only he could stay there.
He imagined it for a moment. Spending his life swimming and sailing. All his time in the soothing embrace of the water, or at the shore or bank, feeling Water’s power, learning to use its magic. It was a lovely dream. A lovely, impossible dream. With that thought, tension—the tension his morning swim had briefly dispelled—came flooding back. He stopped swimming and flipped onto his back, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before letting it out in a long sigh.
The sigh had barely left him when he heard the scrape of a shoe against stone. He bit back another sigh and flipped over again to straighten and tread water in the center of the large pool. His secretary stood on the tiled terrace. Peregrine knew better than anyone that this time was Edmund’s and wouldn’t disturb him unless it was urgent. Disaster or grave injury were top of the list.
“Good morning, Highness.” Peregrine would never call him by name when someone else might hear, and Edmund would never try to convince him otherwise. Edmund was far too aware of the dictates of his own position. And far too grateful to have found a friend in Peregrine to quibble overly about how they had to behave in public. “I apologize for disturbing you, sir, but the king has called for you.”
A summons from Father certainly counted as a valid reason to disturb him, especially with the rising tensions between Thalassa and their neighbor, Tycen. It seemed Edmund would be cutting his swim short this morning. He struck out for the terrace where Peregrine waited, swimming with steady but unhurried strokes. He wouldn’t dawdle, but if there had been reason to rush, Peregrine would have said.
Soon enough, he reached the terrace and pulled himself up to sit on the edge. Peregrine handed him a towel. He wiped his face first and stood to strip off his soaking wet swim pants and dry the rest of him. Peregrine wouldn’t care about Edmund’s nudity, and he didn’t worry that someone else would come upon them. The pool he chose for his swims wasn’t the largest of the many on the palace grounds, but it was the most private. The terrace they stood on was the only one that connected to the palace, and it was shaded from view. The rest of the area was screened with trees and shrubbery. The smaller terraces on the side opposite them were even more secluded. He’d spent much time in the pool, which was fed by the same underground spring as the rest of the palace waterways, and on the terraces over the years.
Once Edmund was dry, Peregrine handed him the robe he’d left hanging over the back of a chair when he’d arrived. He’d also left a book there—he’d been far too optimistic about his time when he came down here, apparently. He thanked Peregrine and shrugged into the blue-green silk. It was new, something he hadn’t really needed, but he liked the color against his brown skin and the feel of the smooth, cool silk.
“Any idea what my father needs?” Edmund stepped into his sandals and picked up his book from the table.
He raised his eyebrow at Peregrine in surprise. Edmund could always rely on Peregrine for more information than seemed possible about everyone from the maids to the king. He’d long since gotten over any misgivings about Peregrine’s seeming omniscience and begun to rely on it. For Peregrine not to have an inkling of what was brewing… Odd. And slightly disturbing.
“I guess we’ll find out.”
Not immediately, of course. A summons through official channels called for more formality. Edmund couldn’t appear in the king’s presence in nothing but a thin robe and sandals. Peregrine kept pace as Edmund walked to his rooms, informing him of other court news and gossip that he might find interesting or useful as they walked.
Edmund’s rooms were a floor up from the garden pool. A guard stationed near the door jumped to open it for Edmund as he approached. He nodded but didn’t slow as he sailed through the door, Peregrine at his heels. His sandals made soft tapping sounds on the green and white tile of the entryway. His sitting room opened up in front of him, curtains fluttering in the breeze blowing in off the ocean below. He had no time to relax there or even to eat the breakfast that was sure to be laid out in the dining room. Instead, he turned left, taking the short hallway leading to his bedchamber, dressing room, and bathing room.
He went directly to the bathing room. Wide windows let in sunlight over the large tub, empty because he usually bathed after breakfast. There was no time to fill it, let alone soak. He settled for rinsing the salt from his skin with water from the basin and briskly rubbed a towel over his shoulder-length hair. Having it drip all over his clothing while he met with Father just wouldn’t do. When he’d squeezed as much of the water from it as he could, he left the towel and went to the dressing room.
Peregrine was there, laying out clothes.
“That isn’t your job,” Edmund said.
“I can select my own clothing.”
“I’m aware of that as well. Put them on anyway.”
Edmund laughed and did as he was told. Peregrine was only saving him time and knew what would be appropriate for him to wear, considering the meeting with Father and the day ahead. He pulled on undergarments and slim gray pants and dropped a sleeveless white shirt over his head. Peregrine held out a dark teal jacket for him, helping him shrug into the embroidered silk. Edmund murmured his thanks and fastened the jacket over his chest, fingers working quickly over the row of little silver buttons. When he was finished, he stepped into shoes and fastened the silver and aquamarine drop earrings Peregrine had just pulled from their box into his ears. It was the only jewelry Peregrine had chosen, and as he looked in the mirror, Edmund had to admit he was probably right in that. The clothing didn’t need more.
“Thank you,” Edmund said.
“My pleasure, Edmund.”
“Perhaps I should have you dress me every day. You have an eye for it. Much better than anyone else. Do you think you’d prefer it to being my secretary?”
Peregrine sent a stern frown at Edmund. “Funny.”
It was, for any number of reasons. Only one being that Peregrine was frighteningly efficient in his present position and far too good at it to do anything else. In fact, he was far too skilled to be anything except a royal secretary, and it was Edmund’s good fortune to have him.
“Shall we?” Peregrine didn’t mention that Edmund shouldn’t keep Father waiting, but he didn’t have to.
“Yes. Catch me up on any changes to my schedule as we walk.”
Peregrine did so, barely consulting his notebook. Edmund listened carefully as they left his rooms and strode through the palace corridors. His own wing, reserved for the rooms of the royal children, was quiet as it was only occupied by him and Kerenza. His sister would still be abed—she preferred to rise late when she had the opportunity—and he had no appointments that might bring anyone to his office until later in the day. When they passed out of the wing, the entrance marked by a three-tiered fountain decorated in mosaics of blue and green tiles, the corridors became more populated. But everyone gave way for the prince and his secretary, bowing as Edmund passed them.
Father’s office was near the council chambers and other administrative offices in the main block of the palace. He worked sometimes in the small private library attached to his rooms, but all his official meetings took place here. If Edmund had any doubt that today’s summons was serious and formal, it would have been dispelled by the location of the meeting.
Peregrine knocked when they arrived, and a moment later, the door was opened by Father’s secretary, who bowed and stepped aside. Edmund bowed slightly as soon as he entered the room, then walked closer to Father’s desk. Peregrine remained back near the closed door. Father looked up from the papers he was examining to study Edmund with a keen eye. Edmund was sure Father was cataloging every detail of his appearance from his attire to his still damp hair.
Father was dressed formally, as Edmund would expect. His jacket was green, heavily embroidered in gold and white, the color vivid against his dark skin. The circlet of his rank sat on his head amid black curls now streaked with gray. Edmund had not worn his own circlet, deeming it unnecessary for the day he had planned; he hoped he wouldn’t regret that decision. The set of Father’s features caused Edmund’s stomach to churn unpleasantly.
“You called for me, Father?”
“Yes. Come sit down. I need to speak with you.” The seriousness of his tone did nothing to alleviate Edmund’s sudden concern.
Edmund took the chair across from Father’s desk, hoping he properly concealed his anxiety. He’d been trained all his life to mask every emotion, so he’d best be able to. He looked at Father and waited for him to speak.
“As you know, we’ve been pursuing an alliance with Aither,” Father said.
And, of course, Edmund did know, though he hadn’t been involved in the negotiations. Aither sat at their western border. Theirs was generally a friendly border to begin with, trade flowing freely between the two countries, but Father and his council had hoped that the looming threat of Tycen’s aggression might worry Aither’s young queen as much as it had them and would tempt her into an alliance. Edmund hadn’t been informed about the state of the negotiations in some time. Had they gone horribly wrong?
“We’ve come to an agreement with Queen Hollis.”
“You—” Edmund stopped. He’d been so sure Father was going to say just the opposite that he couldn’t believe what he’d heard. “That’s wonderful, Father. Did the final agreement go as you’d hoped?”
“We got what we needed from it.”
“Good.” And yet the relief Edmund should’ve been feeling didn’t come. Father didn’t look as if he’d just concluded a successful negotiation, didn’t look as if he was pleased by the outcome. Or…no, not as if he was displeased, but too serious. “Is something wrong?”
“Not at all. However, the promises of increased trade and mutual protection were not enough on their own to secure the alliance we needed.”
Edmund wasn’t surprised, though he hadn’t been privy to the particulars of what Father wanted, aside from Aither standing with them should Tycen press their aggression. “What did they ask for?”
“Queen Hollis and her advisors required more assurance of our compliance, and truth be told, I wasn’t upset to have more of theirs. They’re Air wielders, so they’re different from us, but Water and Air are compatible. Even if I would have preferred an alliance with no deeper entanglements.”
“Father?” A rush of cold spread through Edmund’s veins.
“You and Queen Hollis will wed with the expectation of a child being born within two years. The alliance will be secured by blood and all the stronger for it.”
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.