Life gets complicated when the empress orders Alitus to find out if a friend’s lover is having an affair. Especially since the affair is with Alitus. Passion. Submission. Loyalty. A Chosen bares his heart forever.
Alitus lives in a world full of political intrigue, and he is supremely alone. As a Better, an enhanced human, he can touch no one — his pheromones are addictive. He keeps his affair with Wulf secret, because Wulf belongs to another, a powerful man allied with the empress. When the man asks the empress to investigate whether Wulf is having an affair, Wulf’s relationship with Alitus could be exposed. Complicating matters, the empress reveals her immortality, and requires Alitus to prove his loyalty. Her test will throw him straight into Wulf’s arms, right in front of the empress and Wulf’s lover. Hiding what they are to each other has taken discipline and denial. Now, it will take a miracle.
Throughout the formal dinner, Alitus listened with polite indifference to the incredibly boring gentleman on his left and the even less interesting lady on his right. He could imagine them as demons in a level of hell where they’d be assigned to torture some wicked intellectual who craved intelligent discussion. These two would be punishment indeed. How he’d managed to draw their company in this seating arrangement he couldn’t begin to fathom.
Who on the protocol staff hates me this much? I wonder what idBot can scrounge up? I do believe this might call for revenge.
The empress sat a few chairs down, the place of honor at her side taken by the newest governor from Notidisia. The previous ruler had ended up beheaded at the Conqueror’s direction, and so far, this one’s career didn’t look promising. Around the table, two dozen dignitaries and guests from around the empire spoke to one another, their sublimely meaningless chatter undirected yet flattering. Leave it to politicians to speak at length without saying a single coherent thing.
The bright spot was an artist whom the empress was introducing tonight. Eliot Taral had created a throne carved to resemble a giant ruby dragon. When the empress sat on it, the creature’s wings looked as if they were rising up to enfold and protect her. Taral had coated the beast’s skin with rubies and garnets, and inset diamonds for its eyes. The claws shimmered with gold. It cost the budget of two small worlds, but Destoiya loved it.
Opposite Alitus and over one, next to Luc Saint-Cyr, sat Wulf Gabriel. Wulf looked pale tonight, not his usual robust self, and like Alitus, was picking at his food. Wulf drank several glasses of wine, and by the time the last course was served, seemed well on his way to being drunk. Most likely, he’d been drinking before his arrival, because his ability to hold liquor rivaled Saint-Cyr’s, who seemed to drink without effect. Being drunk was dangerous around Empress Destoiya. She tended to focus on anyone who appeared out of line.
Talk at the table turned to politics. Alitus refrained from taking part. In his position as Destoiya’s minister of imperial intelligence, listening paid higher dividends. But, when someone brought up the newly proposed Better veil requirement, part of an already long list of Better Laws, Alitus fastened his attention on the topic. As a Better, this affected him.
The law would require all Betters to cover their bodies when in public. An electronic veil would hide their faces from view and dampen the effects of their pheromones. Their voices would be rendered genderless, robotic, and mechanical.
“I think it’s high time Parliament signed that into law.” Roth Kloven, Destoiya’s minister of defense, picked up his wine glass.
Of course you do. You’re an idiot. Alitus folded his napkin and placed it alongside his nearly untouched plate.
“In fact, I propose a toast.” The fact that no one joined Kloven should have been a clue, but the man forged onward. “Here’s to freedom from Better intimidation.” He drained his glass.
“You realize, Minister Kloven–” Every eye turned toward Wulf, who had leaned forward to address Kloven “–veiling Betters won’t prevent being intimidated if you’re already a pussy.”
Soft snickering echoed around the table. Alitus bit his lips to stifle a laugh. Head down, Saint-Cyr pressed fingertips to his brow.
“Tell me, Mr. Gabriel.” The Empress placed her napkin on the table. “Don’t you fear being controlled by Betters?”
“No, Your Majesty.” Wulf settled back in his chair. “I’m more afraid of being controlled by the government.”
“Then it’s good you live in a benevolent and democratic monarchy.”
“Is that what you call it?”
Saint-Cyr tried to distract Wulf, but he plowed ahead.
“I think when the government can step in and tell someone he has to hide his face, how long will it be until they tell us who we can and can’t marry? Next thing you know, some half-wit will outlaw Betters falling in love.” Wulf looked across the table, right into Alitus’s eyes.
Alitus nearly choked. He turned his head to avoid the heat of the man’s brown-eyed gaze.
“How amusing.” The Empress stood, and everyone at the table rose to join her. “Our dear Luc must find you quite entertaining when dining at home. Perhaps you should have stayed there this evening.”
Subtle snickers and whispers rose.
Destoiya turned to the artist she was hosting. “Wasn’t this a lovely dinner, Taral? Why don’t we all adjourn to the outer room and learn about your art?”
As the guests followed Destoiya, Alitus took time pushing in his chair. Across the table, Saint-Cyr gripped Wulf’s arm, drew him aside, and spoke to him. Despite his excellent hearing, Alitus couldn’t make out the words. Wulf didn’t answer, and his expression gave away nothing, but he jerked his arm out of the man’s grasp and stalked away.
Alitus turned to go before Saint-Cyr could catch him watching.
An hour later, Alitus stood alone near a window. The night had turned cool for summer, and an earlier light rain had ceased falling. The palace courtyard trees were still dripping, their ancient and massive trunks black with the damp. Alitus shivered. He sensed rather than heard someone come close. Out of the corner of his eye, Alitus caught sight of Wulf, standing two windows down.
Wulf clutched a martini glass as he looked out. He set his brow against the window, and knocked his head against it several times.
Waiting to see what Wulf would do, Alitus turned back to the ballroom and waited, hands clasped behind him. No one else was near.
Wulf drained the martini and looked around as if seeking a place to set the glass.
Alitus crossed to him and held out his hand. “Allow me.”
“Thanks.” Wulf gave it to him. “You know, I meant what I said about Betters. And Kloven’s an ass.”
“Then that’s two things on which we agree.”
When Wulf smiled, it was like the moon coming out during a storm, shedding light everywhere. “Man, I hate these late nights. I won’t get out of here until midnight. So much for an early bedtime.”
Back in the main room, Luc Saint-Cyr beckoned to Wulf.
Alitus nodded toward Saint-Cyr. “Mr. Gabriel, I believe you’re being summoned.”
Wulf heaved a sigh. “Gotta go.”
Careful not to reveal his interest, Alitus savored the athletic beauty of Wulf as the man walked away.
Alitus is book 2 of the Tales of the Chosen series. Book 1, Wulf, is free. Alitus, and Jawk (book 3) are $3.99 each. You can order the boxed set for just 99 cents until Sept 30th, and get a bonus book, An Immortal’s Guide to Tarth, at no additional cost.
Tales of the Chosen (includes Alitus and 3 other books)
Barnes and Noble http://bit.ly/totcset-bnn