Lord of the Hunt(5)
Author:Shona Husk


    He frowned as if not understanding her reluctance. “Not everything here is a trap, Taryn. Some things are just as they appear—the trick is determining what is truth and what is a clever lie.”

    “And how am I supposed to know if you make your offer out of kindness or cruelty?” Please don’t let this be some kind of trick. She needed to learn more about Court and he was willing to take the time to help her…or was he simply playing her to learn why she was here?

    Did it matter when she still got what she needed?

    “That is your decision to make.” He looked at her for a moment too long for it to be a casual observation. Something shifted in his eyes and she glimpsed a hunger that hadn’t been there before; then it was gone as fast as if she’d imagined it—a desire that would never be filled. A desire for what? Information? Power?

    She wanted to trust him even though her mother’s warning echoed in her ears.

    Don’t trust anyone, not even the King, until the pardon is issued.

    But she had to trust someone because she couldn’t do this on her own.

    Verden didn’t pull his arm free and stalk off; he waited for her to choose. This was a one-time offer. She knew he wouldn’t make it again, but she also knew she wouldn’t be free of him. He worked for the King, and he wanted to know why she was here. That could work in her favor. Perhaps with Verden she could get closer to the King.

    When she looked at him, she didn’t want this to be about the King or anything else. She wanted to be shown the castle, and she wanted him to show her. Perhaps Annwyn wasn’t as alien and unfriendly as she first thought.

    “I’d love a tour…if you have the time.”

    He smiled, the one with warmth in it, not the other one that looked as though it had been carefully crafted to give nothing away. “For you I will always have time.”





    Chapter 3




    Verden was sure it wouldn’t go unnoticed that Taryn was walking with him. It certainly wouldn’t hurt her standing at Court if people assumed she was in favor. And for tonight she was. Before them, the castle loomed. It seemed every time he looked at it, the branches held fewer leaves.

    He glanced at Taryn. Pretty, yes, but all fairies were. It was her attitude that made him pause. He could have walked away from her in alcove, sure that she was no threat. And yet he hadn’t wanted to. She was different in a way that made him want to be around her—and there was something in her eyes when she looked at him, a glimmer that most would hide. That he could call it protecting the King’s interests was a bonus when what he wanted to do was protect his own interests.

    It would be a shame to see her fall prey to the games of the Court. Those that had treated him most viciously had been dealt with. One by one he’d taken them down. Now, no one dared cross him. Most wanted favors.

    He’d offered Taryn one and she’d almost turned it down; he’d seen it in her eyes, her confusion and wariness. He’d enjoyed that moment. He was the Hunter, but he was also a man, and it was nice to talk to a woman who wasn’t trying to get something from him. That she was untainted by Court and bubbled with life that she didn’t hide was a bonus. If she would accept, he’d offer to take her anywhere she wanted just to hear her laugh. She shouldn’t be so sad; Court could be wonderful.

    She looked at him as if studying his face before speaking. “Can I ask a question?”

    His guard automatically went up. “You can, but I may not answer.”

    She was silent for a couple paces. “A trade then. You answer one of mine and I’ll answer one of yours.” Her lips curved as if she were proud of herself for offering the trade of information.

    For most others he’d still refuse. He knew too much to be open, but he already knew what he wanted to ask of her and he doubted that she’d ask anything too revealing of him. “You have a deal.”

    Her smile faltered. “I didn’t mean to make a deal.”

    “But you have and I can’t let you out of it.” He stopped walking. He wouldn’t abuse the deal though, the way others would. She would have to learn to be more careful. “You may ask first.”

    She glanced at the castle and then at him, a frown pinching her eyebrows and tightening her lips. “Will you swear this stays between us?”

    He’d promised the King to find out why she was here. How could he keep that promise while keeping this to himself?

    “Why ask if you think I’ll tell the King?”

    She closed her eyes for a moment, obviously torn. Then she opened them. “I need to ask a favor of the King.”

    Well, that answered why she was at Court. “I think most people suspected you want something from either me, the Prince, or the King.” And he was glad it wasn’t him. No doubt she’d only accepted his offer of a tour because she thought he could help. The illusion that she had been interested in him, not what he could offer, had been nice while it lasted. “What is your question?”

    “What is the best way to go about it?”

    His eyes widened for a moment. He hadn’t expected that. He’d expected her to ask how he could help her, or even see if he would get whatever she wanted from the King—that’s what other’s would have asked of him. “I’m not sure what answer to give since I don’t know what the favor is.”

    “That wasn’t part of the deal.”

    He almost smiled. She was learning. She’d need to if she were going to survive more than a day at Court. Even as he thought it, he knew he’d do his best to protect her. No one had helped him and he’d watched others stand or fail over the years. It was a cruelty that she didn’t deserve. She knew very little about Annwyn and less about Court. At least he’d known what he was getting into. “I would proceed with caution. He has invited you to his table tonight—”

    “His table? When were you going to tell me?” She almost jumped with excitement.

    “Is that the question you want me to answer?” That grounded her. She had no idea what being at the King’s table meant or the scrutiny that would follow.

    “No.”

    “Dinner is a start. Be entertaining, witty, and charming. Be on his good side and do not press. He is…he is fair and just, but he has recently been wounded by the Queen.” And he wasn’t granting any favors at the moment. Taryn sighed and looked at the ground as though he’d just stabbed her only chance through the heart and left it for dead. “I’m not saying don’t ask, only choose your moment carefully. Is it not something that someone else can grant…say, the Prince?”

    But he already suspected what it was she wanted. He hoped, for her sake, he was wrong.

    She shook her head. “Only the King can help me.” She lifted her chin and looked at him. “Your turn.”

    He looked at her for a moment. There were a hundred things he’d like to ask her, yet only one he needed to know as Hunter. “Whom does your father serve in the mortal world?”

    She opened her mouth, then closed it, frowning.

    “You must answer. Otherwise you will become known as a deal breaker and none will trust your word. In Annwyn your word is all you have.”

    “A changeling. Why?”

    Verden gave a casual shrug. He wanted to know which changeling. “I need to make sure that no one plots against the King,” he answered without hesitation. That included Felan. Which put Verden in an awkward position of serving a dying King and yet wanting a smooth transition of power from father to son. He didn’t want the Queen’s plots to succeed. That she didn’t want her son on the throne was enough of a warning for Verden.

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