EXCERPT OF KISMET’S KISS
“When I go home—” Varene fended off the quaver that threatened her voice— “I’d like Sohad to come study with me for a while. He’s a good man, and cares for his patients. He has a great deal of potential.”
Sultan Kuramos closed in, his eyes narrowing as he watched her. “Potential as a physician, or as a Healer?”
She shrugged, faking indifference. “Both. Different methods, similar goals. He has strong kyrra. I’d like to help him hone it.”
He poured two glasses of pomegranate juice without looking up. “You want to bring magic into my realm.”
“I want to bring healing to your realm.”
He handed her a glass and swirled the juice in his own, brooding. “I’m sure Sohad would benefit from your teachings…”
“Why is there a ‘but’ coming?”
“Have you considered remaining here?”
Varene blinked. “In Kad?” She fought to keep her heart from quickening.
Kuramos looked away, over the stern. “You believe Sohad could benefit from studying a different method. Might there be room for you, in what you do, for learning from the masters of our medicine?”
Her lips made a wry twist. “I apologize for any offense I’m about to inflict, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the trio of physicians in the palace when I arrived.”
“Nor am I.” He set his glass on the table with a smack. “Perhaps it’s best to be forthright. Varene, I would like you to become my Royal Healer.”
She leaned back against the rail, not quite able to string words into coherent thought. To stay as his Healer. His…servant. “I already have a position in Teganne.”
“Leave it. I’ll pay triple what you earn there.”
Her hands wrapped her glass. “Teganne’s my home. My life is there.” And you are not. I need that peace.
He lifted his drink again and drained it, then surveyed the view behind her toward his palace as the ship floated downriver. “I understand. But homes can change. Lives can change.” His gaze thudded into hers. “They already have.”
Was he referring to her patients’ lives, or his and hers? No, it didn’t matter. “A generous offer, thank you. But though this place intrigues me…” Though I have fallen for you… “I’ll have to return to Teganne.” Her lashes drooped as she fingered the lip of her glass, then set it down. “You must find another Royal Physician. Sohad won’t be able to handle this on his own. Even with Priya.”
“I know. I’ve been apprised of your many patients today. People are coming because your healing works.” He lowered his empty glass to rest against hers. “When the sickness first struck, I was reluctant to request your services.” He took a long breath. “Now that you’re here, I can’t imagine being without you.”
For a stunning moment his green gaze seemed to yearn, but it had to be a trick of the failing light. He wants me to stay as a Healer, she thought. Not as a woman. Her heart curled inward.
She turned away and leaned on the rail. The sun shafted one last ray above the horizon and then rolled from sight. Night had fallen, and her world had fallen with it.
On the lower deck, servants lit small torches as people continued to talk and dance. On the upper deck, the gathering dusk cloaked Varene and Kuramos from anyone else’s gaze.
Floorboards creaked as he moved closer. All her senses blazed. He stopped behind her—near enough for her to smell the exotic scent of his skin and feel his breath fan across her nape. Her pulse hammered in her wrists as she clung to the rail.
He touched her ponytail. “This band,” he said softly. “The one that keeps your hair back. Do you always wear it?”
“Most of the time.” She put a self-conscious hand on it and accidentally brushed his fingers. She pulled away as if shocked by sparks.
Several more breaths caressed her neck, then both of his hands skimmed her gathered locks. “Such beautiful hair, Varene. As golden as Naaz’s sun. It doesn’t deserve to be so confined.”
He tugged at the band, releasing it. She heard a tiny thump as he dropped it on the table. His fingers slid into her hair, then let the tresses fall away to glide across her shoulders, her back, her breasts, trailing her skin like a thousand kisses.
He stepped close, one hand on the banister a petal’s breadth from hers, one still playing with her hair. “Better,” he whispered, his lips feathering her ear. “Now you look like a woman, not just a Healer. Why do you hide yourself?”
Her half-lidded gaze clung to the river’s moving shore. “I keep my hair back so I can see my patients and do my work. I’m not hiding—if anything, it exposes me.”
“It masks you,” he said. “You’re veiled behind the facade of the Healer. You shroud what you want, and give to others but not to yourself. What do you desire, Varene?”
There was no safe answer.
He lifted her mane from her nape, breathing in the scent of her. “With your hair down like this, you even smell like the sensual woman you are. Like roses and jasmine.”
“It’s not the lilies along the rail that you’re smelling?” How could he not hear the pounding of her blood?
“It’s you.” His finger traced the rim of her ear, skimmed her neck and across her collarbone. She moaned, wondering what his other fingers could do if she gave them leave.
He stepped close behind her, pressing his strong body into her curves. “Varene,” he whispered, “what do you want?”
Her breath quickened in the darkness. So long it had been, so very long.
Warm palms wrapped her waist and turned her until her breasts slid against the planes of his chest and her body cupped his hardness below. The long, smooth expanse of his muscled back heated her exploring fingers. She looked up into his eyes, dark in the twilight and reflecting the flickers of the first stars.
They’d started this way, three days before in the market. Where would it end? Here, her conscience urged. Now. Walk away.
But her traitorous body wouldn’t leave him. Her blood sang when she was in his arms.
His hand glided down and flexed against her backside; she nestled closer, rocking in subtle movements. As they listened to each other’s quickened breaths, the tension between them stretched and ached. He leaned until his mouth was only a sigh from hers. “Right here. Right now. What do you want?”
She shivered at his words, at the answer within her.