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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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The Reluctant Consort - 6. Chapter 6

Duke Silver – Hottest Fire in Existence

Jihan prepared for bed, keenly aware of Duke Silver taking up half his bed. He came out of the bathroom wearing a light shirt and pants. Pushing his hair back, he stared at the man on his bed and wondered what Duke Silver would do if he slipped right next to him.

Too brave of you, Jihan thought, it will be courting trouble.

His gaze lingered over Duke Silver. It was hard not to when the Duke looked so enticing asleep on Jihan’s bed.

Jihan decided then that he had a problem. He had a thing for men with power. First, Swallow, with all his success, then Tagon with his charm and financial power, now there was Duke Silver.

Duke Silver was no Tagon, or even Swallow. It would be a very bad idea to get involved with Duke Silver. Duke Silver was the hottest fire in existence, stepping closer would lead to severe burns.

Jihan’s gaze shifted to the long couch in the corner of his bedroom.

Firuz had left a folded blanket on that long couch.

Jihan arranged the pillows and sat on the long couch. He gave Duke Silver one last glance before he stretched out and arranged the blanket around him turning it into a cocoon. He was vaguely aware of Firuz opening the door to check on him. The gas lamps went off and Jihan fell asleep, tired from a full day of hard work.

Jihan slept hard, and dreamt of the first time he learned the fear of death.

He was eleven again. On his father’s instruction, Jihan rallied the men who worked at Kamran estate to deliver silks and precious stones. They were to transport them to Vasia from Kamran Estate. Andiya, worried for him, insisted on tagging along.

Their journey was slow, the carts too many to hurry along.

Jihan hadn’t thought of rival merchants those days. He was too young, still naïve at heart. It was a shock to him when bandits attacked them right outside Vasia Town. Their blades swift with the men he brought on their journey.

Screams filled the afternoon, men fighting, swords and blood. Andiya screamed in fright when her carriage came apart. Jihan ran to his sister’s side, followed by Garren. They fought off the men trying to capture Andiya.

Jihan got the knife his father gifted him on his birthday and stabbed at the bandit grabbing Andiya’s arm. Andiya jumped out of the broken carriage and clung to Jihan.

Together, with Garren’s help, they ran to the closest loaded cart. Jihan pushed his sister against the cart when three bandits came at them. Garren took on two, Jihan the remaining one. He waited until the bandit was close enough. He stabbed into the man’s stomach with all his might and stepped back, making sure Andiya stayed behind him. The attackers kept coming. He used his knife as best he could, knowing Garren grew tired, and Andiya was frightened. Desperation filled him with every wave of attackers, his hands shaking, and cuts on his arms when he missed the mark and the bandits got him.

The nightmare grew until he was too tired to stand, and a shout escaped as he fell on his knees, his sister reaching for him in panic.

Jihan lunged to reach Andiya…

He fell hard, pain blooming on his left shoulder and hip. He opened his eyes with a soft groan and stared into amused dark brown eyes.

Duke Silver crouched over him, amused and holding a dagger in his right hand. One of the gas lamps filled the room with soft light.

“I thought we were being attacked,” Duke Silver said, when he noticed Jihan’s gaze on the dagger. “You startled me, little one.”

Jihan bit his bottom lip in embarrassment. He glanced at the couch to see his blanket had followed him to the floor. Cursing under his breath, he started to sit up, but Duke Silver slid strong arms around him and lifted him up off the floor. Jihan choked on his protests when Duke Silver walked to the bed and deposited him in the middle of it. His words escaped when Duke Silver followed him, placing his deadly dagger under the second pillow.

“So that you don’t fall off again,” Duke Silver said, when Jihan sat staring at him. “The bed is large enough for both of us, Jihan. I’m not going to eat you.”

Jihan breathed in, oddly intrigued. He was not scared of Duke Silver. He should be. He reminded his speeding heart. He slid under the covers biting back a soft moan of appreciation at the warmth that enveloped him. He clutched the blankets, as he lay flat on his back, aware of Duke Silver watching his every move beside him.

It was still dark out, though Jihan could see through the open windows that the sun would be coming up soon.

“Relax,” Duke Silver said. “You’re barely breathing. It’s too early to be so tense.”

Jihan closed his eyes and released the breath he held in, willing his heart to calm down. He clutched the blanket tighter and wondered if Firuz had found a comfortable bed to use. It was strange; he never worried when Firuz was beside him on a bed. His heart did not speed with excitement as it was now with Duke Silver.

Why was it different?

“You’re a mass of contradictions,” Duke Silver said, making Jihan open his eyes. He found Duke Silver watching him, head propped on his left hand. “You barely flinched facing that ghost warrior yesterday. Why are you so nervous lying next to me?”

“You’re no ordinary man, Duke Silver,” Jihan said, managing to find his voice.

“Please, call me Kastan. We are in a bed together. I’d say we are beyond formalities, little one.”

Jihan let out a soft breath, biting his bottom lip, he met Kastan’s dark brown gaze.

“K-Kastan,” Jihan said. The name suited the Duke. Strong and unique, just like the man. “I could go back to the couch.”

“It looks uncomfortable to me. I doubt I could fit on it, so I will not offer to save you from this situation and use the couch in your stead. Do you really want to?” Kastan asked, smiling at him.

Jihan looked away from Kastan because he liked his smile.

It lit up Kastan’s face.

“No, I would prefer to stay on my bed, thank you,” Jihan said.

“That’s more like it,” Kastan said in approval. “I like your attitude, Jihan. It’s rare to meet someone who will talk back to me.”

“Do they all run back to the long couch to please you?” Jihan asked.

“Yes, they do,” Kastan said, with a chuckle. “Save for my men who I really don’t want in my bed.”

Jihan chuckled, and shook his head.

“It’s my bed.” Jihan felt compelled to remind Kastan. “I’m letting you borrow it because you said you needed uninterrupted sleep.”

“Your nightmares woke me,” Kastan said. “You fell off the couch before I could wake you. And if we’re being technical, I seized this inn so it and everything in it, now belong to me.”

“That’s not fair,” Jihan said, shifting to his right to face Kastan. “You left me to watch over the inn.”

“I did,” Kastan agreed, with a small smile. “I owe you for saving my son’s life, so I gift the Raven Inn to you, Jihan.”

“Why?” Jihan asked, wary of gifts from an Imperial Prince.

Kastan brought his free hand up to caress Jihan’s cheek, his fingers rough against Jihan’s skin. The touch sending a thrill racing down Jihan’s spine, he closed his eyes and started to turn away. Kastan stopped him, his palm cupping Jihan’s cheek, holding him in place.

“Look at me, little one,” Kastan said, his voice low, hard to ignore.

Jihan opened his eyes and sucked in air at the clear desire he read in Kastan’s gaze. His heart beating too fast, Jihan thought about Firuz’s question.

What was his plan?

It scared him that he didn’t have one.

Kastan was at the top of the food chain, second only to this empire’s ruler. Getting close to Kastan was dangerous. Jihan knew he should be getting off the bed and running to the long couch. It was what sane people did.

Yet…

Kastan smiled and leaned closer.

Jihan’s heartbeat escalated with every second of watching Kastan lean closer and closer. He closed his eyes when Kastan’s lips touched his, a soft caress at first, but it was enough to take his breath out of him. He gasped when Kastan fit his lips to his and kissed him again, harder this time. Kastan took his time, tasting Jihan, drawing him in to a web that Jihan knew he would never manage to disentangle. He sank into it willingly, it was hard not to. Kastan’s kiss set him on fire.

Kastan pulled Jihan into his embrace, strong arms holding him tight against a muscled chest, never once breaking their hungry kiss. Jihan felt his cock harden, pressed against Kastan’s stomach. He brought his arms around Kastan’s shoulders and held on as Kastan plunged him into a world of scorching heat.

One insane kiss, a series of kisses really, and Kastan’s hands moving over Jihan’s body, caressing fingers running over his back, under his shirt, digging into his skin, adding to the fire filling his core. Kastan kissed him with possessive desire, never letting Jihan escape too long when they managed to break apart.

Kastan kept him in a dizzying cloud of passion that had Jihan drunk with the taste of Kastan. Lost in a blissful cloud, Jihan was vaguely aware of Kastan untying his shirt, leaving his chest bare.

Kastan rolled Jihan to his back, smoothing his right hand over Jihan’s chest, down his stomach, to the trail of soft dark hair, lower still. Jihan’s fingers dug into Kastan’s shoulders when Kastan slipped his hand into Jihan’s pants, fingers stroking through secret dark hair, bringing a blush to Jihan’s cheeks. When Kastan’s warm hands wrapped around Jihan’s length, Kastan took his surprised gasp in a burning kiss.

Kastan stroked him and Jihan clung to him, caught up in a world of pleasure and Kastan’s unrelenting demanding kiss.

Lost in sensation, Jihan returned Kastan’s drugging kisses, soaring in a cloud of newfound desire he never wanted to end. Hips chasing Kastan’s strokes, Jihan sought that sweet climax, and just when he was close, Kastan broke their kiss, shifted down and pulled Jihan’s pants down.

Jihan cried out when Kastan took his length into his hot mouth, and he came apart with a harsh shout, spending in Kastan’s mouth. Intense pleasure ripped through him until he couldn’t think of anything but the man holding him. Jihan breathed hard, when Kastan pressed a kiss on the curve of his thigh, and leaned up to look into his eyes.

He knew that he should not get in deeper with Kastan, but the burning need he saw in Kastan’s gaze was hard to ignore. It had been a while since he had wanted someone this much. It was difficult to turn away, and he wanted all that Kastan was clearly willing to give.

Kastan smiled and arms braced on each side of Jihan, he leaned down and took Jihan’s lips in a soft kiss. Jihan tugged on the tie holding Kastan’s inner shirt closed, and slid his hands over hot bare skin, pulling Kastan over him.

Just this once, he thought, as Kastan pressed his weight over him.

One night will not harm anyone, Jihan thought, as he returned Kastan’s kisses.

*~*~*~*

It should have stopped after that night.

Jihan knew that, all logic told him it would have been the right thing to do, but whenever Kastan touched him, all thoughts disappeared. He forgot caution, enthralled by the pleasure he found in Kastan’s arms.

Jihan shuddered thinking about the feel of Kastan inside him, his cock hardening, almost bringing him close to a climax. It took one night for Kastan to claim his body for his own.

He was not proud of it.

Today was the twentieth day at Kin Town. Kastan spent most of those days at the border, ensuring his armies secured the border with West Nation. There had been minor marches into West Nation’s lands. Kastan had taken over about six thousand miles of West Nation land.

Jihan had heard Kastan’s generals say he had four more to go.

While Kastan waged war, Jihan spent his days making sure he fed Kastan’s armies, kept them dressed in quality armor and supplied the healers’ tents with medicine. Thanks to Garren, most of the supply routes were on automated schedules. It left Jihan with time to turn the Raven Inn into a working business. He had managed to staff it with people who lived in Kin Town, some of them worked for Kamran, but most were new faces.

Some of those faces belonged to the men in Kastan’s powerful circle.

Jihan tried not to think too hard about why Kastan’s men felt the need to insert their own people in his enterprise.

It was the best course of action because he spent most of his nights with Kastan in his bed, or at the commander’s tent at the army base. He was not proud of discovering that he had no self-control. He craved Kastan’s touch, loved the ecstasy they found in each other. So, he indulged himself, and Kastan was not holding back either.

Jihan closed his eyes and touched his lips, relieving Kastan’s kisses. Remembering how tight Kastan held him when they made love.

Wait…it couldn’t be making love.

He could not call it that…anything but that. Not when he remembered how out of control he got when Kastan took him. It was lust. He was going insane from Kastan’s touch. He lost his mind each time Kastan kissed him, or caressed him or held him. He was like a mad man. He craved the pleasure Kastan brought him, loved the mindlessness of their pleasure, felt crazed with it. They were in lust with each other.

Jihan breathed out and opened his eyes, dropping his hand away from his lips.

What was wrong with him?

Why was he acting like a novice? This was not the first time he had shared his body with a man he barely knew. He had enjoyed sex with men he met and walked away the next morning as if nothing had happened. He never stopped to wonder about them, or think of how insane they made him feel.

In the last twenty days, he had tried to walk away from Kastan several times.

The last time was four days ago, after he left Kastan’s command tent with a list of supplies needed as Kastan started his final march on West Nation’s remaining four thousand miles of land.

Afraid to think of Kastan injured, Jihan had decided that he did not need to worry about Kastan. They were not having a relationship.

Kastan only came to him to fulfill a need. It was normal. Their connection would end as soon as the war ended and Jihan returned to his life.

Jihan had left Kastan sure that he could forget all the nights that he had spent in Kastan’s arms.

That was four days ago…

There had been no word from Kastan, only news that the Akasha Empire had gained ten thousand miles of land in West Nation. It was frustrating not to know what was going on with Kastan.

It was insane, but Jihan felt as though he needed to know if Kastan was injured or having a hard time among foreign people.

Why do I care?

Jihan shook his head, and focused on the pile of work on his desk. He had not left his suite today, preferring the silence upstairs. He needed time to think and clear his head.

Picking up the first letter on the pile on his desk, Jihan smiled when he recognized Andiya’s handwriting. Breaking the Kamran seal on the letter, he got up and walked to the open window to read with the evening sunlight.

My dear An,

How have you been? I heard you helped capture the people who invaded our home. You’re always so brave. I’m both proud and worried for you. Please remember to take care of yourself too. I don’t know what I would do without you.

I can’t wait for the war to end, and for both of us to return to Kamran Estate. I miss our easy life there. The peach harvest is coming soon, and I hope we can all enjoy that week together.

An, do you know something? I think that you would enjoy living at Silver Shore valley. It is so beautiful and lush, and the Silver Lake is silver. It’s a sight to see at sunrise and in the evening, when the sun goes to rest. You love fishing, and I could imagine you sitting by the shore enjoying the view. Oh, how I would love to watch you fish here. We must visit Ishan’s aunt when all settles.

Yesterday, Ishan took me on a walk in the main town. It’s a lovely place to live and everyone seems to know each other. It reminds me of home. How we all rely on each other. Anyway, while we were in town, we ran into Duke Silver’s son, Rashan, and his Master Safan. They are just as you described, An.

Rashan is so cute. I could not resist kissing his cheek. He made a face at me, and told me I was too mushy. I told him you were my brother, and he changed his attitude. He asked me a thousand questions about you, An. I must say that you have managed to steal that little prince’s heart. He asked me to tell you that he wishes to meet you. I told him you would try your best to visit him soon. I hope that it comes to be.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I’m enjoying my time with Ishan’s family. They are kind and very generous.

Still, I long for our home in Kamran and I pray for our speedy return, little brother.

All my love,

Andiya.

By the way, no one has tried to capture me for sinister purposes. You should stop being paranoid, little brother.’

Jihan chuckled, reading Andiya’s letter twice, and then stared out into the bustling Kin Town street outside the Raven Inn. He imagined Andiya on a walk with Ishan. She liked to stop at every stall she met, talking to merchants and buying trinkets for everyone she cared for. Jihan imagined Ishan would stand with patience, watching Andiya with that silly smile he wore at times when she was around.

Ishan was no better than Firuz.

Jihan could not fault them.

His sister was a beauty with a wild spirit. It was hard not to love her.

Jihan had never thought to imagine who would end up being her husband, but Ishan was not a bad candidate. Jihan imagined he could stand the idea of Ishan calling Andiya his wife…he entertained the idea for less than a minute, then shook his head to clear his mind of that image.

It was better to think of Andiya as his sister and not someone’s wife. He doubted anyone would ever be good enough for his sister. She deserved the best.

Jihan sighed and turned to his right to find Firuz standing next to him. He handed the letter to Firuz and leaned on the wall, arms crossed against his chest.

“She sounds happy,” Firuz said, when he was done reading. “She misses you.”

“It will end soon, and we’ll be back at Kamran,” Jihan said, his tone low.

“You sound sad about it,” Firuz noted, folding the letter carefully. “Are you not ready to leave Kin Town?”

Jihan’s thoughts filled with Kastan.

Kastan’s smile when he was amused. Kastan’s scowl when one of his generals reported news he did not like, his tone of voice when he was giving orders, or when he murmured into Jihan’s ear in the heat of passion. They had spent one of their nights at the command tent playing cards. Jihan could not forget Kastan’s laugh every time Jihan caught him trying to cheat on the cards. They had stopped playing the game according to the rules, and instead played silly games that gave them reason to touch each other, to kiss, to laugh…

Jihan wiped a hand over his face and swept hair out of his eyes. He had taken to leaving it free when he was staying in for the day because Kastan liked his hair down.

Jihan cursed under his breath and turned to go find a clip to hold his hair.

“You like him,” Firuz said, remaining by the windows.

Firuz watched Jihan rummage on the dressing table, until Jihan found a long jade hairpin. Rolling his hair into a knot on top of his head, Jihan held it in place with the pin, and sighed.

“I don’t,” Jihan said, hands at his hips, the red sleeves of his gown swinging when he turned to pace. He tightened the belt holding the robe in place at his waist and sighed.

“Okay, maybe I do, but it’s not good. I’ll be honest, Firuz. I don’t have a way to shield myself with him. It will be better for all of us when I’m back at Kamran Estate.”

“I agree,” Firuz said, bringing Andiya’s letter to Jihan’s writing desk. He slipped the letter into a carved wood box that held many other letters from Andiya. “It will be better for us if we leave before you get in deeper. You don’t fall in love with the easiest of men, Jihan. This one will rip you to pieces.”

Jihan wished he could refute Firuz’s words but he could not. There was power in being self-aware. He was a great merchant. He made great money decisions, managed his staff and dealt with every business crisis that he met with precision.

Jihan had long decided that while he had been blessed with great skill in business, the powers that be had shorted him out on knowing how to deal with romantic relationships.

His emotional state when it came to relationships often left him fully incapacitated. He tended to love with all he had, heart and soul.

When his relationships fell apart, which happened often, he ended up lost.

His last relationship had left him running after a groom.

Jihan had needed to see Tagon getting married to get it through his head that they were no longer together. So, he had dragged Firuz to Sun Kingdom on the pretext of a business deal. He had arrived at Tagon’s home hours before the wedding.

Tagon had been shocked to see him at that wedding.

Jihan had hoped Tagon would change his mind, but that had not happened.

So, Jihan watched the stupid wedding, and his heart had broken when Tagon unveiled his wife with a wide smile.

Jihan drank ten large jars of peach wine after that wedding, and slept for a week unable to move or think. It took another month to recover, which was why Andiya had been worried.

Jihan sighed. He dared not let Andiya know about his relationship with Duke Silver. He hated to imagine what ending a relationship with Kastan, Imperial Prince and Commander of Armies would look like.

“Four nights ago was the last time,” Jihan told Firuz, stopping in the middle of his bedroom.

Jihan stared at the bed he shared with Kastan, his heart squeezed tight, reminding him that the four nights on that bed since he left Kastan had felt lonely. He breathed out and hoped for salvation.

“I won’t let him close again.”

“You’re lying to yourself.” Firuz started for the door. “Food is almost ready. Stop worrying about what’s already happened and come downstairs to eat. We’ll handle the rest together, Jihan.”

Jihan breathed in, gave his writing desk one last glance. He needed to write his sister to let her know the progress of the war. Hoping he would give her good news soon, Jihan followed Firuz downstairs for their evening meal.

As he walked down the stairs, he counted out the days that he had spent with Duke Silver. Each one felt like double the time. His head was playing games with him. Or, was it his heart?

Which one was right?

Jihan paused on the last step, taking in the busy reception hall. The Raven Inn had come alive under his care. The kitchen was working now that they had found a skilled chef. The dining hall on the first floor was full with paying clients.

Jihan followed Firuz to a reserved private table in the main dining hall. It was tucked in the corner of the room, by the windows. Jihan sat and stared out into the evening with a sigh.

Garren and Set joined him five minutes later.

They had arrived at Kin Town to help with the supply list Jihan had gotten from Naveed, and to catch him up on news with the routes. Jihan was glad to see them both; they grounded him back to what was important in his life.

“Do you have any issues with routes?” Jihan asked, as he shredded his fish into pieces on his plate. “The merchants in this town are getting curious. They want in on the war supply. I’ve had to sit down with two of them already to negotiate deals on other ventures. I just need to make sure they are not interfering with the routes to the front.”

“We have had no trouble. Duke Silver’s Generals are seeing to our safety. We are secure,” Garren said, digging into his rice and meat stew. “This past week we gained a new source of herbs in the Iron Lands. One of our teams discovered a woman growing rare herbs and offered her a deal. Set vetted her and she’s clean. Her husband is dead and she is taking care of five children.”

Jihan nodded. He had a soft spot for struggling families. He tried to offer such families a better deal than they would get with other suppliers. At times, it bought him loyalty. They talked about the new supplier for a bit, and then Set decided to jump into the main reasons why he had insisted on meeting Jihan and Garren.

“There is news from the Imperial Palace,” Set said, lowering his voice, his gaze sharp as it took in the dining hall. There was no one to listen to the conversation so he continued. “As you must know, the war ended when Duke Silver took back the border. The ten thousand miles of land he has taken from West Nation are going to be used to negotiate a new treaty. The Imperial Palace has sent a delegation. They will want to take over supplies.”

Jihan nodded, studying the fish on his plate.

“On our way here, we saw some of the Generals in Duke Silver’s army leading their armies back to their home cities,” Garren said, eating with unbridled hunger.

“Yes, that means we’re also released from our obligations,” Set said, touching Jihan’s hand on the table. “The Black Tiger Seal needs to return to your father, Jihan. He’ll submit it to the palace.”

Jihan sighed and nodded. This was good news. He could return to Kamran Estate now.

“Why did you need to see me?” Jihan asked, looking at Set. “You could have sent a message with this information.”

“Yes, I could have,” Set agreed, letting go of Jihan’s hand. “I needed to see you because this exercise has exposed us too much. Someone from the Imperial Palace is curious. They are trying to find a way in to Kamran.”

Jihan cursed under his breath and sat back in his chair. He had worried doing well would bring scrutiny.

“Who is it?” Jihan asked.

“Duke Silver’s sister, Queen Kyra of Tanad,” Set said, making Jihan gape. “She thinks our network would serve the Emperor quietly.”

Jihan lost his appetite.

How could his fears come to life one by one?

“How exposed have we gotten?” Jihan asked, knowing Set would have an answer to that.

“Not too bad, yet,” Set said, sipping water from a goblet. He sat with his back to a wall, his gaze roaming the dining hall, occasionally resting on the exit door. “I’ve laid a trail that leads to your father in the Imperial City. I do know that you cannot meet Queen Kyra, Jihan. She’ll want to gain your promises to support the Emperor the moment she sees you. We must move.”

“What is Lord Duyi doing?” Jihan asked, curious about his father.

“The Kamran name is getting popular among the nobles,” Set said. “You have managed to survive a threat from the Empress’s family. They are curious about your family. Your father is basking in the attention.”

“The Eagle’s Claw in Vasia is seeing an increase of traffic. More people attending the evening plays, we have had to renovate to accommodate the influx of people,” Garren said. “It’s all good for business.”

“Yes,” Set agreed, then met Jihan’s gaze. “It’s bad for politics. Your father needs to be more discrete.”

“Who is he meeting?” Jihan asked.

“Lord Revi, who is said to have vast lands in the Iron Lands, he has access to large jade mines and is always looking for supply chains. There is also Lord Ranka who supports Lord Revi in the Imperial Court,” Set said. He reached for Jihan’s unfinished fish and took a healthy bite. “Our people have reported their visits into Kamran Manor twice in the last week.”

Jihan reached for his goblet of water. He drank deep, hoping to drown his fears. His father’s ambitions worried him. The fear of ending up like Lord Villes, who was now dead at the Emperor’s order, was real.

Jihan watched a young lady rush a tray holding five small jars of Gura Wine to a group of men who had commandeered a table in the middle of the dining hall.

The Eagle’s Claw was the most visible part of his business, followed by this inn. After all, Kastan had gifted it to him, and watched as Jihan brought it to life.

Jihan was not naïve. He understood the reasons why Kastan insisted on having a few of his men in the staff. They were there to understand Jihan’s business because he did not talk about it with Kastan, ever.

Jihan thought about Andiya at Silver Shore, and Ishan who was taking care of her on his behalf.

Imperial Royals were dangerous.

They took, expected loyalty, and used as needed, claiming it was for the good of the empire.

Jihan folded his arms against his chest, his gaze on the bottles of Gura Wine on the rowdy table in the middle of the dining room.

“Set, watch my father. Report everything he does no matter how minute,” Jihan said. “Garren, hide all assets not tied to the Eagle’s Claw. Direct any inquiries to my father at Kamran Manor, but keep me informed on who asks.”

“What are you worried about?” Garren asked, studying Jihan, his spoon midair.

Jihan narrowed his gaze at the men sitting at the rowdy table, some poured wine into their goblets, and they talked too loud. Then, one of them grabbed the young server’s arm. He would not let her leave.

Set got up and reached the table before Jihan could say anything. Set removed the hand holding the girl’s arm and pushed her to safety. He then leaned down and murmured into the idiot’s ear. Whatever he said made the idiot sit up straight and look around the dining hall with a wary gaze.

“Will you cause our servers more trouble?” Set asked, straightening to his full height.

“No, Sir, no trouble here,” the men at the table all agreed, nodding their heads.

Jihan dragged his attention back to Garren.

Garren waited with patience, placing his spoon on his plate of food.

“I’ve made decisions that might hurt…”

Jihan stopped, and dropped his gaze to the table, wondering how to formulate the words he needed to say. He tried, but could not confess the nature of his relationship with Kastan.

It was important to share the truth, but this one felt too…personal.

He was sure Kastan meant him no harm, but that was no guarantee. He had no expectations with Kastan.

However, he was sure Kastan’s Imperial Family would have expectations of him for having survived this war intact.

Kastan could not protect him from the Imperial Court and the Emperor. After all, Kastan would return to his beloved Silver Shore Valley and Jihan’s place was at Kamran Estate.

Two different worlds, two different places, they did not have the right to meld into one, never would. He needed to protect the world he had built.

“I’ve made a mistake,” Jihan said. “I need to make sure everyone working in the family remains safe despite that mistake. I’m asking you to help me manage the damage without asking too many questions. We’re up against the imperial court. We’ll need to be careful. The Eagle’s Claw will face some stress, Garren. Can you handle it?”

“I can,” Garren said, with a slight frown. “What about Gura Wine?”

“No one knows we own it, not even Lord Ishan,” Jihan said, with a small smile.

Firuz slid into the chair next to him and gave Jihan a meaningful glance. Jihan scowled at his Shadow Guard.

“I’m not entirely clueless as to the nature of the relationship growing between my big sister and Lord Ishan. I’ve made sure that Lord Ishan’s financial future will be secure,” Jihan said. “Andiya’s too. Just don’t make me think about them ending up together.”

Firuz chuckled and placed the bowl he held before Jihan. It had rice porridge with abalone. Firuz pressed a spoon into Jihan’s right hand.

“You’d already asked me to keep our network hidden when we started supplying this war,” Garren said. “Jihan, you’re family to us, and we’re family to you. You don’t need to beg for help. I don’t know what has you spooked, but we’ll help you protect our Kamran business.”

Jihan nodded, glad he had Garren and Set to rely on, despite his father.

“Are you going to tell us what mistake you’ve made?” Set asked, his gaze full of curiosity.

Jihan bit his bottom lip afraid to say that he had become the fool and had jumped into Duke Silver’s embrace. He had no sure way of escaping…

No, that was not right.

It wasn’t that he had no way of escaping but that he did not want to escape Kastan. The thought shook him.

“Yes, I’ll tell you,” Firuz said, winking at Jihan and facing Set. “Jihan made the mistake of letting you have his evening meal. Now he has to eat rice porridge.”

“I didn’t ask you, Ru Ru,” Set said, scowling at Firuz.

Jihan chuckled and ate his porridge watching Set and Firuz banter. Their conversation designed to keep the atmosphere light-hearted. They meant to cheer him up, ease whatever worry was eating him up.

Jihan smiled along. He laughed, keenly aware of Garren studying him and ate his porridge until Set and Garren were ready to leave.

“Remember, you need to leave the Raven Inn before the delegations from the Imperial Palace show up,” Set reminded him, as he stood to go. “They don’t know your face. We burned all the posters from the ghost warriors. Let’s keep your identity hidden from Queen Kyra. I'll send you a note to tell you when she's close.”

Jihan nodded his understanding and sighed as he watched Garren and Set leave the dining hall, heading separate ways to fulfill their duties.

“I’ll let everyone in our camp know,” Firuz said. “We’ll work on getting everything packed to leave the moment the delegation is spotted.”

Jihan nodded his agreement, chewing on his rice porridge. He watched Firuz hurry away, and then his mood plummeted. Leaving meant giving up on Kastan.

The idea left him depressed.

Jihan asked one of the waiters to bring him a jar of Gura Wine, hoping to escape the thoughts that rushed his head. He sat at his table sipping peach wine straight from the jar long after the dining room closed for the evening. Chin propped on his left palm, he watched his staff arrange chairs over the tables, and start cleaning the floors. They worked around him. Firuz moved in and out of the dining room, getting their things organized to ship back to Kamran Estate.

Jihan and Firuz would travel light when the time came.

Jihan closed his eyes for a moment, sipping wine from his bottle. His senses numbed with alcohol, his fears long dispersed, he listened to the familiar rhythm of closing time feeling content, until the atmosphere changed.

The rhythm of cleanup stopped, nervous coughs and shuffles took over and a mop fell on the wood floor.

Jihan opened his eyes and gripped the jar he held tighter.

Kastan had entered the dining room looking fresh, and too handsome. The armor was gone. Kastan was dressed in the colors of his station. His silver coat decorated with gold embroidery, his dark trousers hugging his thighs and a new blood red cape cascading down his back with a black tiger crest right in the middle.

Jihan still kept the one Kastan had placed on his shoulders when they met the first time at the Raven Inn. He had refused to give it back.

His heart skipped in excitement, and Jihan dragged his gaze away from Kastan to the men and women who now stood on the sidelines staring at Duke Silver.

Kastan had a terrible effect on the staff.

Jihan sighed and was startled to find Kastan standing by his table watching him. Behind Kastan, his men seemed to fill the room, beasts of men, all two of them, so tall and fierce.

Temu and Naveed, Jihan remembered their names.

They were the ones who gave him the supply lists. He wondered what Kastan fed them at Silver Shore.

Placing his jar of wine on the table, Jihan looked up to meet Kastan’s inquiring gaze.

“Hard day?” Kastan asked, nodding to the jar of peach wine.

“I’m just enjoying a quiet evening,” Jihan said, unwilling to confess his mood to Kastan. “Are you hungry? Firuz? Firuz!”

Kastan pulled out a chair across Jihan and his men commandeered a table by the window. Jihan watched them place the two chairs down and sit as if this was their house.

It is, really, he thought, their master, Duke Silver’s house.

Jihan scowled, and stared at the jar of wine on the table between them.

“You’re in a bad mood.” Kastan stated. “Who caused it? I’ll help you deal with them.”

Jihan scoffed and turned to Firuz who entered the dining hall.

“Duke Silver and his men want some food. Do you think the chef will agree to make one last meal?” Jihan asked, unsure of the time.

The sundial was useless tonight. The moon was not up today.

“He’s willing,” Firuz said, squeezing Jihan’s left shoulder to reassure him.

Jihan nodded and would have picked up the jar of wine but Firuz leaned close to whisper in his ear.

“Stop drinking if you hope to keep your wits about you,” Firuz warned. “I’ll bring you tea.”

Firuz left with the jar of wine, leaving Jihan sitting at the table, with a hand over his mouth. Firuz was right. He got liberal when he was drunk.

“Are you going to tell me what has you upset?” Kastan asked, when Jihan met his gaze.

“What will telling you help?” Jihan asked. “I thought you were going to stay in West Nation for a few more days. What’s changed?”

“I missed you,” Kastan said without hesitation.

Jihan bit his bottom lip hard.

‘I missed you too,’ he wanted to say, but he could not make the words come out of his mouth. He had made a promise to himself. He needed to walk away from Kastan as though nothing had happened between them.

After Set and Garren’s visit, that was his only option now. He could give no promises, not even when Kastan looked at him as if he was a moon god.

“Jihan?” Kastan prompted. “What’s going on in your head? You make me so curious when you frown like that. I wish I could read your mind. What are you thinking?”

“I’m not thinking,” Jihan said.

Kastan chuckled and sat back with a sigh.

“You lie so easily. I know your brain is always overworking, even when you sleep, little one,” Kastan said, folding his arms against his chest. “Thinking is the one thing you never stop.”

“I’m not little,” Jihan snapped, scowling at Kastan. “Why do you keep calling me that?”

“You are to me,” Kastan said, looking around the lighted dining room. “I like what you’ve done with the place, although I’m sad that I don’t get to eat food cooked by you. I rather enjoyed our first meal together.”

Jihan rubbed his forehead, oddly touched by Kastan’s words.

Firuz returned with a cup of tea for him, and a tray of food for Kastan. Two servers followed in taking trays of food to Naveed and Temu.

“What will you drink, Your Grace?” Firuz asked, making sure Jihan took two sips of tea with a discrete glare.

Jihan took the two sips, but kept from telling Firuz that they did nothing for his drunk state. He was a lightweight when it came to alcohol. He tried never to drink in the presence of strangers. Lest he talk too much, he wished he had known Kastan was on his way.

“Why are you really here?” Jihan asked, after Firuz left them to get water for Kastan.

“Don’t you want me here?” Kastan countered, picking up his spoon to take a bite of the meat stew in his plate.

“I didn’t say that,” Jihan said, holding his cup of tea, but not making any effort to drink it. “I’m-I’m wondering, that’s all. You are supposed to be in West Nation.”

“Not anymore, I’ve done my part,” Kastan said, flashing him a small smile. “West Nation wants a treaty. I’m in Kin Town to meet palace officials qualified to make such deals. They are taking over negotiations, as per the Emperor’s orders. I’ll only oversee that both sides keep to the bargain.”

Talk of palace officials made Jihan nervous. He tried not to meet any, and left that heavy lifting to his father. Jihan breathed out, grateful that the war efforts were ending.

This was good news. He could go home to Kamran.

Why did his heart feel so heavy?

Jihan stared into his teacup.

“You look disturbed,” Kastan noted, studying Jihan.

“I’m—”

Jihan broke off and shook his head. He took a sip of his tea and sat back in his chair to watch Kastan. He sat in silence as Kastan ate. He sipped his tea, and watched his staff finish their work quickly. When Kastan finished his food, Firuz took away his tray and Jihan got up, leading the way upstairs to his suite of rooms.

It was better for everyone downstairs, so that his staff could shut down the inn for the night.

Upstairs, Jihan paused at the door, his hand on the door handle.

Kastan crowded him, and he sucked in air, heart racing again.

Kastan placed a gentle hand on his and helped him open the door. They took a single step into the room and Jihan felt his hairpin slide out of the knot on top of his head. His hair fell down his back in a heavy wave.

Jihan sighed as he turned to find Kastan closing the door, and his jade hairpin taken hostage.

“You keep doing that,” Jihan complained. “Where are you taking them? I noticed I only have that jade pin left on the dresser. You’re not being fair.”

“If it were up to me, you would never use these things,” Kastan said, sliding the one he held into his pocket. “Jihan, come here and give me a proper welcome. I’ve been going crazy these last four days. All I can think about is you, and your kisses.”

Jihan took a step back, fighting the very strong urge to rush into Kastan’s open arms. He moved to the chair by his writing desk, and touched the neat papers he kept for writing letters.

“Jihan?” Kastan prompted, still standing by the closed door.

“I heard the magistrate’s office has a fully furnished suite for your use, Your Grace,” Jihan said, hoping to create distance between them. “Why don’t you ever make use of it?”

“Why would I?” Kastan asked, a roguish smile playing on his lips. “Your suite is more comfortable. Why do you ask?”

Jihan shrugged and leaned on his writing desk. He stared at his clasped hands, searching for guidance. He had no idea how to say no to Kastan, how to push him away.

Yet, he needed to think about his family, his business, and all that was important to him.

He shook his head.

“Jihan,” Kastan said, and he looked up to find Kastan had closed the distance between them.

Dark brown eyes looked at him with concern. As though reading his doubts, Kastan stepped closer and in the next moment, he wrapped his strong arms around Jihan, enveloping him in warmth.

It felt good, and so perfect, Jihan felt tears sting his eyes.

“I don’t know what has you in this mood, but I just wanted to see you tonight,” Kastan murmured, sinking fingers into Jihan’s hair and stroking its length.

The caress had Jihan closing his eyes and sliding his arms around Kastan’s waist. He pressed his cheek on Kastan’s jacket and simply let Kastan hold him. They stood holding each other for a long time, and then Kastan shifted and lifted Jihan into his arms. He carried him to the bed and placed him right in the middle of it.

Jihan hugged his knees, watching Kastan strip out of his cloak and the jacket with its embroidery of his station. Jihan rested his chin on his knees and watched Kastan strip down to his inner trousers and simple white shirt. Kastan climbed on the bed next to him and reclined on the pillows, arranging them behind his back.

“Do you want to talk about what’s bothering you?” Kastan asked.

“No,” Jihan shook his head.

Kastan rubbed his back, and Jihan turned his head so that he could look at Kastan.

“You won’t need supplies from me anymore,” Jihan guessed, thinking of the West Nation treaty.

Kastan watched him, not confirming or agreeing. There was no need to; Jihan understood that his time in Kin Town working as head of the black tiger seal had ended.

Kastan’s war was over. It was time for peace.

“Where will you go when you’re done here?” Kastan asked, after a full moment of silence.

Jihan swallowed hard and looked away from Kastan.

“Return to running our Kamran business,” Jihan said. “I’ve had to rely on a lot of contacts, so I’ll spend a few days going around and thanking them all. Then, I’ll head home.”

“Where is home?” Kastan asked. “Everyone around you calls it the Kamran Estate. I can’t find it on any map.”

Jihan bit into his sleeve, hiding a smile. Yes, he had paid a large sum to make sure that Kamran Estate disappeared from maps. Anyone who found it had to know someone who visited the place. The ghost warriors who had found it must have paid off one of his suppliers. Jihan had tasked Set with finding out, which one of his suppliers had let him down.

“My home is at Kamran Manor in the Imperial City with my parents,” Jihan told Kastan.

“You dare lie to me,” Kastan said, his tone light, his gaze narrowed when Jihan stole a glance at him. “Why won’t you trust me with even an ounce of you, Jihan?”

“I trust you with my body,” Jihan said, shifting to face Kastan on the bed. “I’ve let you explore every inch of me with no reserve. How much more trust do you need?”

Kastan leaned forward and pressed a kiss on Jihan’s forehead.

“You don’t trust me with your mind,” he trailed his lips to Jihan’s left ear and murmured, “not even a small part of your heart.”

Jihan leaned back to look into Kastan’s eyes.

“You’re a hopeless romantic,” Jihan decided.

“And you,” Kastan said, tracing Jihan’s lips with his thumb. “You’re too guarded for your own good. So many hidden sides to you, you drive me crazy with curiosity.”

“I’m wide open,” Jihan teased, trapping Kastan’s thumb between his teeth.

It wasn’t a bite, really, more of a stay-in-action. Kastan’s thumb tracing his lips left him wanting more. Kastan watched his lips for a moment, holding his thumb in place, and Jihan held still.

“I’ve never seen you drink wine,” Kastan said, moving his thumb until Jihan set it free.

Jihan looked away from Kastan’s probing gaze, hoping to hide all his thoughts. He was afraid that Kastan would see the truths he was hoping to hide. Truths like how much he enjoyed having Kastan in his bed. How much he wanted to belong to Kastan. How desperate he was for Kastan’s lovemaking.

Jihan let out a soft breath. Acknowledging his biggest fear, that he was afraid of Kastan’ political power and the damage it could bring to all that he loved.

“I do drink once in a while,” Jihan confessed, his shoulders tense.

Kastan combed his fingers through Jihan’s hair, making Jihan close his eyes at the warm pleasure of it. He had never realized he needed to feel this sort of comfort before. The feel of Kastan stroking his fingers through his hair was bliss.

Jihan leaned back resting on Kastan’s chest. A soft sigh escaping when Kastan brushed his lips on Jihan’s left temple.

“Are you angry with me?” Kastan asked, whispering in Jihan’s ear. “I notice you’ve made no effort to kiss me. It makes me sad, Jihan.”

“I—”

Jihan broke off, suddenly desperate to correct that small infraction. If this was the last time he got to hold Kastan, then he wanted it to be the best night of his life. The best memory for both of them, if Kastan did not remember him, at the very least, Jihan would have fond memories of this night.

“Do you not want me anymore?” Kastan asked, his voice soft, laced with an unexpected vulnerability.

Jihan turned then, cupping Kastan’s face in his hands. He met dark brown eyes that thrilled him and pressed his lips on Kastan’s like the world was ending. Jihan kissed Kastan with desperation. Kastan’s arms wrapped around him, pulling him closer, their kiss deepening. Jihan gasped when Kastan gripped his hair and held him tight as they rolled on the bed until Jihan lay on his back on the comfortable mattress.

Jihan focused only on the beauty of Kastan driving him to ecstasy with his kisses, and his talented hands moving over his body. He lost himself in pleasure when Kastan mercilessly explored him leaving him breathless. He reveled in sensation when they were both naked, tangled in each other’s arms, skin coated with sweat, soft moans filling the room and pleasure rolling through them.

He scratched Kastan’s back when he came, head thrown back in ecstasy as Kastan filled him to bursting, and he didn’t think it would ever feel so good with anyone else. Tears slid into his hair when his orgasm ended, body shaking. He held on to Kastan who kissed his tears away, murmuring soft words that sounded like endearments, they shook Jihan’s heart.

They spent most of the night immersed in each other. There were no words exchanged, no promises given, just pleasure shared until they both succumbed to exhaustion.

Jihan slept a dreamless sleep.

He woke up first the next morning to find his head resting on Kastan’s right arm. Kastan’s left over him in a protective embrace. He laid still, not daring to move afraid he would wake Kastan. He savored the absolute comfort of waking up in this man’s embrace. He entertained the idea of having Kastan daily.

Then the shadows beyond Kastan shifted and Jihan saw Firuz standing right over Kastan.

His fantasies disappeared and the reality of his life intruded.

Firuz moved, no whisper of sound from him, as he lifted Kastan’s left arm without ceremony.

“I’ve used the sleeping powder from Set on Duke Silver. He won’t wake up easily. We need to leave,” Firuz said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Set sent a note to warn us.”

“What’s wrong?” Jihan asked, sitting up as careful as he could.

Sure enough, Kastan did not stir awake. It gave Jihan courage to reach out and caress the dark stubble that had grown overnight on Kastan’s jaw. He traced his fingers in to Kastan’s dark curly hair. He brushed the soft curls, and then looked up to find Firuz watching him.

“Queen Kyra, Duke Silver’s sister, is leading the delegation heading West Nation’s treaty. She is right outside Kin Town heading here. She cannot find us.”

Jihan jumped out of bed, forgetting he was naked, then when he noticed he panicked.

I need a bath, he thought, frantic.

Firuz came around holding the red robe Jihan had used the day before. He wrapped it around Jihan and gave him a small hug.

“You can use the bath downstairs. A quick wash though, no lingering,” Firuz said. “We packed everything we have accumulated here and sent the packages on to the Eagle’s Claw and to Kamran Estate.”

Jihan nodded and tied the robe tight around his waist.

Firuz grabbed his shoulders and started to turn him away from the bed.

An insane urge to see Kastan one last time had Jihan sidestepping Firuz’s efforts. He leaned over the bed to press a kiss on Kastan’s lips. He closed his eyes wishing he could feel Kastan kiss him back one last time, but that was hopeless now.

Jihan of Kamran did not belong in Kastan’s world.

Firuz took his arm and led him out of the bedroom.

Downstairs, Jihan washed up fast enough to say he felt clean. He wore the clothes Firuz handed him, a black tunic and leather trousers for traveling. He was busy tying his leather arm bracers when Firuz returned from the back courtyard.

“The horses are ready,” Firuz said. “Our staff has moved on to the supply routes. The Raven Inn will be under the care of the men belonging to Duke Silver. It’s just as you wanted.”

“Thank you, Firuz,” Jihan said, getting out of the small bathroom.

Jihan took the black conical hat Firuz handed him, and gave the inn’s front hall one last wistful glance. His gaze shifted to the second floor, to the door where he knew Kastan slept. A strange pain ripped through his chest, but then it disappeared as soon as it happened. Wishing things were different; he dragged his gaze back to a worried Firuz.

“Ready?” Firuz asked him.

“Yes,” Jihan said, and followed Firuz to the kitchen and the back door.

In minutes, Jihan was mounted on a horse and riding out of Kin Town.

Firuz set a fast pace. The main road out of the small town led them past the magistrate’s office. The compound was already busy so early in the morning. After they passed the compound, Jihan noticed the red royal carriage heading in the direction of the Raven Inn first. He moved his horse to the side, and Firuz followed suit.

Jihan pulled his conical hat lower as the carriage rolled past them. Imperial palace guards and several men who looked like scholars and ministers followed the carriage, making quite a procession. Jihan had no doubt they were the people who would be responsible for the new treaty with West Nation. He also had no doubt that they were looking for Kastan.

The moment the procession passed, Jihan urged his horse into a faster pace. He needed to be out of Kin Town before Kastan woke up. It was best if they did not see each other after this, for the sake of all who worked for Kamran.

*~*~*~*

Mid-morning, Kastan sat at the table where he had found Jihan drinking the night before. The dining hall was buzzing with activity. His sister seemed to have traveled with a horde. All of them talked at once and it was enough to drive a man insane this early in the morning. He pressed two fingers into his eyes wondering how he was ever going to fight off the nagging headache.

He had woken up to chaos instead of the gorgeous man he made love to the whole night.

“Kas?” Kyra called his name and he ignored her.

She was not the person he wanted to see this morning. The person he wanted to see seemed to have disappeared like smoke.

Jihan was nowhere to be found at the Raven Inn. Not just Jihan, but his staff too.

“Kas?” Kyra tried again, and he sighed and dropped his hand away, to look at her with a scowl. “You don’t have to glare at me. I just wanted to let you know that Temu is back. He seems afraid to approach the table.”

Kastan turned to his left to find Temu hovering by the entrance from the kitchen. He waved him over with impatience.

“Well?” Kastan demanded of Temu.

“I’m sorry, Your Grace,” Temu said, bowing his head, his shoulders tense. “We can’t find him anywhere in town. He seems to have disappeared with the dawn.”

“How is that possible?” Kastan asked, glaring at Temu. “You’re in charge of three dozen elite men, the best in this empire. Those men and Naveed’s men are supposed to guard this inn. Are you telling me he walked out of here without anyone seeing him, and no one noticed? When did you get so useless? It's absurd!”

Temu winced and dropped to his right knee.

“I’m sorry, Your Grace. They used sleeping powder on everyone they had access to in the inn,” Temu said. “I underestimated his Shadow Guard. He must have planned it all last night.”

Kastan glanced at the Shadow Guard standing behind his little sister.

Damn it, he had forgotten Jihan had a Shadow Guard. Firuz with his silent steps and dedication to Jihan, how had Kastan forgotten his existence?

He scratched his head and sat back in his chair.

The best night of his life had ended with him confused and frankly, angry.

“Kas, what’s going on?” Kyra asked. “Who are you looking for? Why does he have a Shadow Guard?”

“Queen Kyra,” Temu started, eager to explain Kastan’s predicament but Kastan interrupted him.

“Make preparations to head to the border,” Kastan said, shaking his head at Temu when his right hand man looked at him. “The faster we can end this the better. I’m eager to return to Silver Shore.”

He was, but his first priority would be to find Jihan Kamran and give him a good scolding.

How dare Jihan leave his bed without a word?

How dare he walk away from him without clear answers?

“Yes, Your Grace,” Temu said, hurrying away.

“I’ve never seen you so angry,” Kyra said, when they were alone. “What’s wrong, dear brother?”

“Nothing,” Kastan said.

“Well,” Kyra said, shaking her head, amusement clear in her eyes. “You make me curious to discover who this ‘nothing’ is. For one, I should meet whoever it is and offer them a medal for flustering you this much.”

“Do you want breakfast?” Kastan asked, staring at the platter of food on the table. He had no appetite, but Kyra had just finished a journey from the palace. “You should eat.”

“I am,” Kyra said, biting into a sweet potato with relish. “You are the one who is not eating.”

“I—”

Kastan broke off.

His thoughts filled with the sound of Jihan’s laughter.

Gods, Jihan’s laugh was something he wanted to hear again. Youthful and carefree, it lit up Jihan, and tempted Kastan as nothing else could in this world. He had not known he would get addicted to the handsome merchant. He had not known that he would lose himself in Jihan so fast.

Kastan stared at his sister.

“I need to find him.”

“Who?” Kyra asked, a frown dancing on her forehead.

Kastan met his sister’s gaze with a soft sigh.

“Someone who could be Prince Consort,” Kastan said, making Kyra gape.

*~*~*~*

Character List
So, Jihan and Duke Silver are together...then apart....well, actually, Jihan just decided to run away! Hahaha. Cheers,
Sui.
Suilan Lee, 2019-2021
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Jihan and Kastan together form a perfect storm of conflicts and desire. Poor Jihan. Why must life be so complicated? Kastan was left confused and hurt by Jihan's departure. Neither of them will be happy or easy to live with for quite some time.

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Excellent chapter! Jihan knows that he’s fallen for Kastan, he also knows that Kastan has fallen for him. Jihan ran away to protect the family and friends who allow him to be very successful without any serious scrutiny by the ruling class. Jihan wants to remain mostly anonymous in his business dealings to prevent scandal and  investigations. Kamran is angry that he left without a word. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😃❤️

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hey sui,

all i can say is 'ditto' and add more 'thank you's. i am always appreciative of the stories you gift us with.

this chapter, despite (because of) the change in your schedule is wonderful. it is much appreciated!

but above all, be well, be healthy and be happy. your personal health is more important than us readers 😉

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Once again, the similarities between Jihan and Kastan jump out and grab me: their intense loyalties to the people they consider their families, their struggles to balance what is right for themselves and those closest to them, and their obsession with privacy. Unfortunately, these similarities work against them finding happiness together. Thank goodness I can have hope that @lilansui will find a way to bring them a HEA. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

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Two different worlds, two different places, they did not have the right to meld into one, never would. *sigh*

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The prologue takes on a totally different meaning in this chapter.  I know more is to come before Kastan and Jihan have resolved the problems separating them.  Great chapter though!  Now we know that Kastan is prepared to make Jihan's dreams real.

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