Excerpted from MARKED
Copyright Elisabeth Naughton (May 2010)
Dorchester Love Spell
Theron turned at the base of the grand staircase and headed for the king’s suite of rooms on the fourth floor of the castle. Enormous Grecian columns flanked the massive hallway. Plush furnishings, gilded mirrors, statuary and fresh flowers atop pedestals and marble tables filled the space around him as he moved. Wealth dripped from every trinket, from the velvet curtains at the enormous windows to the gold dusted doors he passed along his way.
The place so totally wasn’t him. His shoulders tightened with every step he took. How could the king or Isadora stand it? How in Hades would he manage living in this mausoleum? He could barely walk down the hall without feeling the overwhelming need to run for the nearest open door to freedom.
Just as he reached the end of the hall, the king’s door opened and Callia stepped out with her trusty bag in tow. He waited until she turned and saw him before speaking. “Callia.”
“Theron.” She tossed her dark hair over her shoulder and gave him the once-over. “I see the rumors about you were true. I smell lavender. Is there anything you’d like me to look at?”
Always the same Callia. Direct and to the point. There’d been a time—when he’d been young and foolish—when he’d been entranced by her startling beauty just like every other pubescent Argolēan, but that had quickly faded. There’d never been a love match between himself and Callia. He liked the gynaika he bedded to have a beating heart.
“No. I’m well enough.” Thanks to Casey.
He quickly pushed thoughts of the human out of his mind. “Tell me about Isadora. Her health concerns me.”
A worried look crossed Callia’s normally confident face. She cast a quick glance over her shoulder toward the king’s doorway then motioned for Theron to join her across the hallway, out of earshot.
“Yes,” she said when they reached the staggering windows overlooking the stone courtyard below. “Theron, I’m not sure how to tell you this but, there’s no other way to say it. Isadora’s dying.”
Her words should have elicited a reaction, but instead all Theron felt was…nothing.
No, that wasn’t entirely true. A tiny part of him was relieved. And that emotion angered him more than the misery he knew he should be feeling.
“You’re sure of this?” he asked. “How? She looks—”
“I’ve consulted every medical book I have, poured through the historical annals looking for something—anything—that’s remotely similar. None of the traditional healing methods have worked. Something is broken inside her, only I can’t figure out what. It’s like…”
She frowned. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Nothing could be crazier than knowing our kingdom is about to lose both its king and its heir. Don’t hold back from me, Callia. What?”
She let out a breath. “It’s almost like she’s losing that part of herself which is inherently Argolēan. Her immune system—which is normally strong—is the weakest I’ve ever seen. It’s almost like her human half is taking over.”
Theron glanced around the posh room but saw none of it. “Have you told anyone else this?
“No. You’re the only one. I mentioned her fading health to the king, but I don’t want to put more stress on him than is necessary. He hasn’t seen her since she was returned to the kingdom. I’m afraid her situation could push him over the edge.”
Theron glanced toward the cathedral window and the view of Tiyrns down the hill below. A bird flew over the parapet, swooped low into the courtyard and landed on the fountain’s edge. He followed the flap of its wings as the timeline he’d been ticking off in his mind jumped to light speed. He’d spent precious hours with Casey when he’d been needed here.
“How long?” he asked. “How long do you think she has left?”
“I’m not sure,” Callia said softly at his side. “Could be days. Weeks. Possibly longer. But one thing’s certain, Theron. She’s not strong enough to produce the heir the king so desperately wants from your union. A pregnancy would seal her death warrant.”
No, he’d been wrong. He did feel something. A shred of impending loss for Isadora. And a low, searing ache at the bottom of his heart for their race. This changed everything.
His gaze snapped to Callia. “This goes no farther. The Council cannot be told.”
“You’re the only one. As her future mate, it’s your burden to bring this to the Council of Elders when you see fit.”
He nodded, though it was a duty he didn’t particularly look forward to. He was a fighter, a soldier who commanded an elite band of guardians against those who would destroy their world if they could. He cared little of politics and status and the bickerings of the Council. If Isadora died without producing an heir—even if he did marry her—the Council would never allow him to become king. And the direction of the Argonauts would shift forever.
He looked toward the king’s bedroom door.
“Try not to stay longer than necessary,” Callia said. “He’s frail. And he needs his rest. If you have any other questions regarding the princess, come find me.”
Callia stepped around him, leaving him alone in the deserted grand hall. When she disappeared from sight, he rubbed a hand over his face, and fleetingly thought of Casey. Staying with her would have been a helluva lot easier and way more pleasurable than coming back to all this.
The king’s nurse rose from behind a large desk when he stepped into the outer sitting room. Theron waited while she checked to see if the king was up for a visitor.
When she returned, her lips were drawn down in a disapproving frown and lines creased the skin between her eyes. It was a look he’d seen often from her over the last few weeks. Not that he cared.
“Not long,” she said. “He needs his rest.”
He rapped on the bedroom door and waited. And told himself somehow he’d find a way to save Isadora. It was his duty, not only as the leader of the Argonauts, but as her future husband as well.
“Come in, son,” a weak voice called from the other side of the door. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
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