Chapter 17 (A quick break in)
Kkaj peeked around the corner, staring at the palace’s west gate and the two guards standing there with spears held high. How long are they going to just wait there?
Both guards turned away from the other then spun to the door and stepped through the side door beside the gate, back into the palace grounds. The door, as it always did since the king was cheap, inched close, but the lock didn’t click. One reason the guards didn’t have to use a key. Though, it was a good reason to have the guards there in the first place. Several moments passed, and no new guards stepped through the door.
Kkaj stepped forward.
Something wrapped around his wrist and pulled him to a stop.
Saffer held him tight, her lips quivering. “We shouldn’t do this.”
“I already told you that my decision is final.”
“But if you get caught … .”
“What else would you have me do?” Kkaj rested his hand atop of hers and softened his voice. “Look. I have to get as much Lucidity as I can carry before King Koi-Jankorest calls another meeting of the Empty Bottle Club.”
“You could just ask him again.”
“Asking that fool is pointless.”
Roffor massaged Saffer’s shoulders. A wicked grin split Roffor’s beautiful face, and she winked at Kkaj. “You could always kill the —”
Kkaj shushed Roffor and placed a finger to her luscious lips. What would it be like to kiss her? No! Stop thinking about Roffor. You’re dating her sister, you lecher. He shook his head. “Don’t say things like that. Besides, as much as I want him dead, with his son still so young, JemKej would fall into civil war between the noble families.”
Roffor pursed her lips as if to kiss his finger, and her cheeks turned a deep crimson.
His eyes bulged, and he jerked his finger away. “Sorry.”
“No. You’re right. I shouldn’t have suggested something like that.”
Saffer harrumphed. “Both ideas are foolish.”
Kkaj pried Saffer’s fingers from his wrist then kissed the back of her hand. My girlfriend is beautiful. Stop thinking about her sister. Stop thinking about — His gaze drifted to the left, meeting Roffor’s eyes. His heart skipped a beat. Fool. He stood up straight and glanced back towards the western gate. “There’s no need for the two of you to come with me. Besides, we need horses, liquor and supplies if we’re going to make our way towards the wastes tonight.”
“Tonight?” both Roffor and Saffer asked in booming voices.
He nodded. “Of course. We have to get out of the city as soon as I take the map. We can’t risk the king catching us and retrieving the map.”
“Sounds fair,” Roffor said.
“Which is why we should give this plan up,” Saffer said overtop her sister’s words.
Kkaj edged forward then froze in place as the door beside the gate swung open.
Two new guards stepped out into the night.
Moonshine! We waited too long. Kkaj’s foot began tapping, and he stopped it. “You two head out to the noble’s market to get our supplies.”
Saffer whimpered and placed a hand on the small of his back. “But —”
“That’s an order. You have to have everything ready to make a hasty exit.”
“Fine.” Saffer stomped away.
Roffor wrapped her arms around his waist. “Kkaj … .”
Heat rushed through his veins. Think about old people. Think about old people. Think about — He inhaled through his nose. Roses. Chocolate. Rum. She smelled delicious, and he found himself getting hard. He stepped forward, trying to mask the change in his pants and coughed into his fist. “Listen —”
“No. Saffer can handle getting the supplies. I won’t let you go in there alone. Besides —”
The guards went back inside. The door didn’t lock.
“Don’t fall behind.” Kkaj sprinted forward and pulled the door open, slipping inside.
Roffor followed. The door closed behind them. Five warehouses covered the expansive ground between the wall and the palace. Unlike the main gate, there were no statues, decorations or grand staircase here. Just a simple set of stairs split by a ramp to pull food into the palace. The servants had made sure that this side of the palace, unlike the east side where the king’s private tournament grounds were, was free of all trash and carried the refreshing smell of flowers. Or was that Roffor?
Kkaj moved to the bottom of the steps.
The double doors at the top of the stairs popped open.
He reached out and took Roffor by the hand, pulling her off the stairs then behind the warehouse on the right. He pressed his body against hers and held his free hand over her mouth.
Footsteps clacked down the steps.
He edged closer to her and gripped her hand tight.
She squeezed back, digging her fingers into the back of his hand. She wrapped her other arm around his waist.
A shiver rolled through his bones, and goose bumps rose across his skin. The tension in his muscles relaxed.
The door beside the western gate creaked open then closed.
He stepped back, but she remained pressed up against him. He nodded and leaned forward. His lips inched closer to hers. Stop! He froze in place then pulled away from her. “Sorry.” Still holding her hand, he ran up the stairs and into the palace.
In pairs of two, ancient sets of armor rested around each door that lead from the purple-and-blue-carpeted hallway. Hanging lights destroyed every shadow, and the lack of people made each creak of the floor scream down the corridor. The cool air froze the light sheen of perspiration covering Kkaj’s back.
His gaze drifted to the left. He turned his head to the right. Which way?
Roffor tugged on his arm. “Kkaj, let’s —”
“Not now. I need to focus.”
Hand in hand, he led her down the hallway and walked into the third door on the left. A closet. He groaned. They backed up into the hallway and moved deeper into the palace. Six bedrooms and pantries later, they reached a new hallway, perpendicular to the one they were on.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Kkaj took a step forward.
Roffor held him in place, preventing him from moving further. She shook her head. “Not that way. I —”
Clack-clack-clack. Heavy boots pounded against the stone floor as if the carpet were nonexistent.
Second door on the right. Another closet.
Moonshine! Why didn’t I spend more time in the palace? The king’s face appeared in Kkaj’s mind, and a rumbling growl climbed up Kkaj’s throat. That was why. The king was a bastard. “I think —”
Roffor tugged against his arm. Her other hand pushed against his side. She swallowed before leaning forward and placing her lips to his.
His breath left him. Pure ecstasy turned his blood into fire, and his muscles melted. Was this what it was like to kiss the right person?
The pounding boots ran past their closet and around the corner.
She pulled away, breathing hard. “I. I. I lo— I mean I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. Words refused to form in his mouth.
“M-m-my hands are stuck, and I had no other way to shush you. I —”
He leaned forward and kissed her.
She closed her eyes and moaned.
Saffer’s face danced in his thoughts, and he jerked away from the kiss. His heart raced, and he licked his lips. “Sorry. I guess we’re even though.”
“I wish … .” Roffor bit into her lower-lip. “I wish we could —”
He pressed a finger to her soft, inviting lips. “No. We can’t talk about this. Not now.” His heart stopped for a long moment. This was what he wanted, right? This was the woman he wanted to be with, right? She was — “We can’t talk about this ever again. Your sister is … .”
Tears rolled down Roffor’s cheeks. “I know. But at least I know there’s room in your heart.”
There’s more than room in my heart for you. He tried to cut off the thought, but the kiss had dulled his resistance. “We should focus. We need to get to that map.”
“Then let me lead.”
He blinked. “Why?”
“Because I have a good idea where the king keeps the map.”
“Did you not listen to a single word I said in the library?”
He shook his head. “Yes?”
She chuckled. “I see.”
“According to the city’s architectural history, the palace has four rooms designed to store and keep treasures safe.”
“Were you planning on breaking in to steal the map?”
Kkaj leaned forward to thank her with a kiss and stopped himself a breath from her delicious, peach-flavored lips. “Lost myself in the moment. Sorry.”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
“We can’t … .”
Roffor brushed her fingers across his cheek then cupped his chin. “I know.”
He forced himself to smile. “Shall we —” His voice cracked. “— get moving?” He pressed his ear to the door. Silence. He cracked it open then peered in both directions. No one. He pushed the door the rest of the way open and gestured for Roffor to take the lead.
Next: Chapter 18