Seth ducked lower, scrunching his body behind the tree as the chattering of the women grew louder on the other side of the trunk.
“I thought I saw him in this area,” said the first. He recognized the voice, Lady Isa – no, Ire – well, it began with an “I”. Nice enough, but her family was so desperate for a match that they pushed her to act beyond the bounds of propriety.
“He has to be around here somewhere,” said the second. Now her, he didn’t like. Lady Deva treated servants like dirt underneath her shoes. Father said he had to be nice to her since she came from a very important merchant family, so he gritted his teeth and smiled at her at formal functions. That didn’t mean he had to put up with her at any other time.
“Ladies, what are you doing standing around the garden?” And this voice was the dearest to him in the world and welcome any time he heard it.
“Kira, how nice to see you. We thought we saw His Highness and wanted to ask him if there was something special he desired for his twenty-fifth birthday. Now I’m sure he is here somewhere, since you wouldn’t be far from his side, would you? You always were so close to the prince. He’s lucky that you see to his every need.” The tone was subtle vileness, but before he could stand and make his way to the women, Kira’s arm snaked around the trunk of the tree, the forefinger pointing at him, the demand of Stay where you are undeniable.
He was busted. Might as well sit back and enjoy the show.
“Lady Deva, my charge is and always will be His Highness and His Highness alone. I am not as fortunate as you in the ability to spread myself and my favors to anyone who desires it.”
And the tension was palpable even back here. Seth cocked his head in anticipation of the next volley, but the winner was Kira as Deva backed down, saying, “We will find His Highness later. Please inform him we were looking for him.”
“I’ll be sure to do that,” Kira responded in her driest tone. There was rustling, footsteps fading, and then Kira’s voice sounded again. “It’s safe, Your Cowardness.”
He poked his head around. “They’re all gone?”
“The scary girls are no more.”
“Are you mocking me?” He looked up, up, and up. She was probably the tallest woman in the kingdom, and thank heavens he was taller than her by a couple inches or he might have had some inadequacy issues being her best friend. “How’d you get so tall? Your dad is short.”
“It’s because of how you dragged me behind you when we were kids. My legs had to stretch to keep up.” The wind picked up then, the strong wind ruffling Kira’s ponytail and whipping the red strands around her face. She smoothed them back, using the movement to cover the fact her eyes were taking in their surroundings, assessing for any possible risks or potential enemies.
She should never have been made his bodyguard. His father had been wrong to make that decision.
To keep his mind from going down that well-worn argument yet again, Seth stood and ruffled the hair she’d straightened only moments ago. “Hey!” she cried, batting at his hands and glowering at him.
“Any particular reason you are here, or is it you just don’t like sharing me with the other ladies?”
She snorted. “If they got to know you, they’d give you back in five minutes, tops.” After her hair was back to its former sleek appearance, Kira lowered her hands to her hips, her right hand resting lightly on the hilt of her sword. “As it happens, I’m here to collect you for your father.”
Great. His father and he had not been getting along recently. There were a couple obvious reasons – his father’s decision to make Kira his bodyguard one of them – but most of it was a subtext he could not decipher and could not erase. “Any possibility of you saying you couldn’t find me?”
“Sure, the same amount of possibility that Deva is going to be the next queen of the land.”
“Why do you like him more than you like me? I thought I was your best friend.”
Kira grabbed his hand, dragging him the way he so often had dragged her. “Come on. Get it over with, and I’ll let you complain to me the rest of the day about it.”
“Fine. But I’m going to be extra-grumbly.”