You can read the entire first chapter from “Promising” on (Rebel Miller’s) website, but I’ve included a clip from the first scene below. Enjoy!
“Why are you blaming yourself for your aunt’s death?”
I whirled around, surprised by the question. “What?”
Tai’s shoulders lost some of their tension as he approached me, his head hanging low to meet me eye to eye. “You’ve been sitting in that chair in the sitting room looking more repentant with each passing second,” he said.
I had opened my mouth, ready to dismiss his observation, when I realized he was right.
“I just wonder if there’s something we could have done,” I said finally, wrapping my arms about my waist.
Tai frowned. “We did, Kira,” he said, searching my face. “We were monitoring her and her family, protecting them as best we could. Your aunt was killed while we were under attack on Septima. If you’re to blame, then you had better blame me as well.”
I knew that what he was saying was rational and the truth, but a sense of responsibility stubbornly gnawed at my mind.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Khelan?” he asked, running a palm up my arm. “I could have helped.”
I shook my head, considering him. “You could lose your rank and be imprisoned if your superiors found out that you were aware of a citizen helping the factions and chose not to report it,” I said.
He rested his palm just below my jaw, hesitating a fraction of a second before placing it there. “Helping you is my choice to make,” he said simply. I stared at him, indulging in the feel of his hand against my skin and wondering at the depths of his selflessness.
“Rhoan’s not leaving for now,” he said. “Let me take you home. You can come back tomorrow.”
I sighed, fatigue setting in. Grief and worry were taking their toll, but I had committed to staying at the farewell with my family, and I wasn’t about to change my mind.
I startled at the sound of the incoming message on my comm, and my heart skipped a beat. Grimacing an apology to Tai, I turned away to check my device.
Call me when you get home.
I smiled, and quickly replied.
His response was immediate:
I love you.
My smile grew, and I ran a finger over the three words as they faded to black.
Since Septima, Gannon had become increasingly verbal about his feelings for me. In addition to leaving me breathless, however, his declarations of love left me frustrated, initiating an internal battle. The truth was, when he said or wrote things like that, I felt like I ought to respond in kind but always resisted.
I turned slowly to Tai, still lost in thought. The intensity of his expression jolted me to the present, and I dropped my wrist.
“Gannon’s been worried about me,” I said, acting on an irrational urge to explain myself. “If I don’t respond, he’ll just call.”
Tai nodded, his guarded look slipping back into place, the change in his eyes revealing more than if he had explained the shift in his demeanor with words. As a protector, Tai was trained to be in control of all things — actions, emotions and thoughts. But since he had revealed his true feelings for me, and as our lives became more intertwined due to my family’s secrets, I found it much easier to see through his protective exterior.
He pivoted and headed toward the door, his gait so stiff I knew something was off.
“Tai,” I said, stopping him. He turned to me, his face perfectly blank. “What’s wrong? Why are you acting this way?”
His eyes narrowed, but the mask he had donned stayed put. “What way?”
I searched his face, trying to put into words what I had picked up in his expression. “Angry.”
“What do you expect?”
I cocked my head and gave him a questioning look.
“He doesn’t deserve you,” he said flatly.
I balked. That was why he was in a foul mood all of a sudden! “You have no right to be angry about that,” I said, disbelief nearly choking me. “You said you don’t want to be with me.”
He stepped toward me, fists clenched. “I choose not to be with you. I would never say I don’t want to be with you.”
I stood firm against the rising tide of anger that was overcoming his face. “It’s the same thing in the end,” I declared.
“Oh, there’s a difference, Kira,” he said, glowering now. “I know my limitations, while Gannon is choosing to flout his. He’s stringing you along!”
I shook my head. “He cares for me. You’ve said so yourself.”
“Yes,” he conceded, his shoulders set. “He does care for you, and more than I want to admit, so it drives me fucking insane that he’d continue with you like this. Hallowed Halls, how do you think this is going to end?”
I turned away, but he came to stand before me. I stared at the wide expanse of his chest, unwilling to look into his eyes as the walls of the room suddenly pressed in on me.
“Let’s play this out,” he said. “You and Gannon continue your affair in secrecy, managing to dodge family, friends, peers, officials and the rabid media. Then, five years from now, at the end of his father’s last term, he’s appointed high chancellor by Realm Council. Are you prepared to be his mistress? Because that’s all you’ll be.”
Every part of me begged to reject what he was saying, but my head couldn’t summon a solid argument.
“I’m not his mistress,” I whispered, studying the folds of his dark gray shirt.
“You certainly aren’t his girlfriend, and you’ll never be his partner or wife.”
I looked up at him, tears springing into my eyes, speechless at the ferocity behind his words. “I never said I wanted anything as permanent as that.” Actually, I had never allowed myself to even think so far ahead.
Tai shook his head, clearly unconvinced. “And what about when he finds out that Khelan, your father ¾ the one who’s a senator in hiding ¾ is supporting the factions?” he challenged. “What then?”
I stepped back and held a palm over my mouth, the truth of it all spreading a deep ache through my chest. I blinked back my tears, but a few still managed to fall past my lids and onto my cheeks.
“Fuck.” Tai reached for me, enfolding me in his arms. He ran a hand up my back and lowered his head so his mouth was close to my ear. “I hate that I’m hurting you, Kira, but I need to show you the truth,” he said, his lips brushing my cheek.
I didn’t want the truth, so I buried my face in his chest and inhaled the light scent of coffee and soap that lingered there. For a few moments, I let my tears flow and dampen the soft fabric of his shirt.
I had almost pulled myself together when the door slid open. I jumped and took a hasty step back, the abrupt movement causing Tai to release his hold on me. We both spun to face the door.
Ma stood, wide-eyed, at the threshold, holding a large box at her hip. “Forgive me,” she said, looking between Tai and me. “I didn’t know anyone was in here.”
After another quick glance at Tai, she entered the study and placed the box on the desk. Inside it was a collection of colorful objects. Avoiding my mother’s odd expression, I stepped closer, reached in and pulled out a small notebook that looked like a journal. It was leather-bound and had a fanciful floral pattern embroidered on the material. The box was filled with a number of other books just like it.
“They were your aunt’s,” Ma explained.
I looked up from the journal. “They’re beautiful.”
Her brown eyes, so much like my own, continued to assess me for an uncomfortable length of time. I shifted my feet and stole a quick look at Tai, who stood silent and observant just behind her.
“I’m planning to have them protected with a seal,” she said, drawing my focus. “I think Addy would like to have them one day.”
I nodded and smiled tightly as she turned to leave. Just before she did, she shot another look at Tai and disengaged the door, allowing it to slide shut behind her.
Tai sighed and came to me, running a hand over his short-cropped hair. “Kira,” he said, “please just think about everything I’ve said.”
I stiffened and glanced at him from the corner of my eye. “This is my choice, Tai,” I said, throwing his words back in his face. “You made yours. Let me make mine.”
Join me next Thursday when we meet M/M Romance Author and my friend A. Catherine Noon. ~Tina