“Eldrin!” Ana gasped as she ran to kneel by her husband.

Stefan quickly flung his arms around Artur to restrain him. He frowned as his older brother pulled away.

“Get up, Trainor,” Artur snarled. “So I can knock you down again.”

Eldrin rubbed his jaw and looked up at his uncle. “You hit very hard,” he said in surprise.

Ana stiffened as Artur started towards them, her blue eyes snapping in anger. The air around them suddenly grew cold.

“Yes, Ana. Do you need something?” A pleasant voice said from behind Artur and Stefan. The tall man garbed in flowing bright green robes glanced at Eldrin sprawled on the floor. “ something wrong?” His voice became cooler as he stared at the Aramis brothers.

“No, Hector.” Eldrin quickly assured him as he slowly rose to his feet. “Nothing’s wrong.” He saw Artur and Stefan eyeing Hector with barely concealed concern. “This is my wife’s uncle. Hector, this is Lord Artur and Lord Stefan Aramis from Shi’ar.”

“Really?” Hector slowly walked to stand next to Eldrin. “One would think they would have better manners.” His eyes moved up and down their bodies. “But I suppose the mountainous culture is different from ours.”

“Not so much,” Eldrin assured him. “But you could do me a great favor, Hector, and take Ana with you.”

“Of course. Where am I going?” Hector eagerly smiled.

After a pause, Eldrin smiled in return. “To oversee the preparations for tonight’s feast,” he decided. He looked at Ana. “Please.”

“Well, I don’t know, Eldrin. If they’re going to get unruly...” Hector eyed Artur’s clenched fist as though imagining it to be something else....

“Thank you, Hector, I really appreciate it.” Eldrin edged his wife and her uncle towards the door.

“Do you think it’s safe, dear?” Hector asked Ana with concern.

Ana glanced at her husband then nodded. “Yes, Uncle Hector,” she reluctantly agreed.

Hector looked over his shoulder at Artur and Stefan. “Kindly remember your manners. After all, you ARE guests here.” He smiled genially as Ana closed the door behind them.

Eldrin glanced at Artur. “Are you going to hit me again?”

“I’m tempted,” Artur snarled.

“You’re saying this is Trainor?” Stefan asked his brother in a quiet voice. “Rik’s Trainor?”

“Yes.” Eldrin spared him Artur’s reply. He smiled again. “You’ve grown, Stefan.”

Stefan shook his head. “How?” he finally asked looking from Eldrin to Artur.

Eldrin motioned them to comfortable chairs around the table. He began pouring wine, setting gold and jeweled goblets in front of them. “I’m not sure I can explain it,” he began glancing at Artur. “All I can do is tell you what happened.”

Stefan watched as Artur stalked to the window and looked outside. “Well, I’m interested even if no one else is.” He sat down at the table.

“We looked for you!” Artur snapped over his shoulder. “By all the Gods, Rik spent months looking for you! When we didn’t find your body, Rik figured you landed in the river.” He spun around and faced Eldrin. “Rik covered every inch of that damned river!”

“I’m sorry.” Eldrin’s voice was even. “But it wasn’t my choice, Uncle Artur.”

“Don’t call me that!” Artur snarled. Looking like he wanted to strangle Eldrin, he stalked across the room slamming the door behind him.

“Thank you,” Stefan grinned.

“What?” Eldrin looked surprised.

“He’s been angry with me,” Stefan shrugged. “Now he can be angry with you.” He studied Eldrin for a few seconds. “This is why Rik to stay in Shi’ar, isn’t it?”

“Of course,” Eldrin nodded. “You saw how Un...Artur reacted.” He ran his hands through his dark hair. “I was hoping we could find a way to break the news easily to Father.”

“Just how do we do that?” Stefan reasonable asked. “He thinks you’ve been dead for years. Now we’re just supposed to tell him you’re alive?” He shook his head. “There is no easy way to tell him that.” He settled back in his chair. “We’re the same age, aren’t we?” he recalled. “I don’t remember him ever mentioning you after we thought you died. Anyone who did got this ice cold look.”

“It wasn’t my choice,” Eldrin wearily repeated. “Stefan, it really wasn’t.”

“So what happened?” Stefan asked calmly sipping his wine. “All I remember is you went out riding. When you didn’t return, they found your horse with a broken leg and it looked like you’d gone down the side of a ravine.”

Eldrin nodded. “My horse spooked,” he recalled. “I remember being thrown over the edge and hanging onto some rocks but they gave away and I fell. Then I remember hearing the sound of the river rushing around me.” His voice trailed off.

“And then?” Stefan prodded after a moment.

Eldrin looked at him. “I don’t know how long I was unconscious,” he continued sitting back in his chair. “When I awoke, I could have sworn every bone in my body was broken. I remember someone taking care of me...healing me. But it must have been weeks before I realized I wasn’t at Shi’ar.”

“Where were you?” Stefan asked with a frown.

“I don’t know exactly,” Eldrin admitted. “But it was a temple of the Prophet. The people there were healers...excellent healers.” He hesitated. “They said the Prophet had brought me there.” He saw Stefan’s expression. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”

“The Prophet brought you there?” Stefan carefully repeated. “A God brought you there?”

“I spoke to the Prophet...later,” Eldrin firmly continued. “He kept me safe and eventually brought me here to the Wastelands.” He rose and began to pace. “With His help I was able to rally supporters and dethrone Kasryl, the tyrant who ruled here.” He turned to look at Stefan. “You see what Dedresia is now. Seven years ago...” He shook his head. “It was a place that I think even the Jackal’s minions would have avoided.”

“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t let us know you were alive,” Stefan argued.

Eldrin looked troubled. “The Prophet said it was better my family thought I was dead,” he explained. “It would be easier for everyone concerned.”

“He did, did He?” Stefan scoffed. “Apparently He doesn’t know the Aramis’ very well.” He stood and eyed Eldrin coldly. “You could have gotten word to us if you wanted.”

“And what would have happened then?” Eldrin asked. “Father wouldn’t have let me go, would he?” When Stefan didn’t answer, he continued. “I was saved and brought here for a purpose, Stefan. This isn’t about Shi’ar anymore...or even about the Wastelands.” He glanced away. “I wish I could have told Father. But I convinced myself the Prophet was right. After all, I was only a bastard son.”

“Rik never saw it that way,” Stefan argued his dark eyes flashing. “I doubt he would have even married if you hadn’t disappeared.”

“You don’t intend to make this easy, do you?” Eldrin asked after a moment.

“Should it be?” Stefan shot back.

Slowly Eldrin shook his head. “What’s done is done,” he pointed out. “For whatever reasons.” He took a deep breath. “I can’t leave the Wastelands, Stefan. If I do, my life will end. That’s why I couldn’t come back to Shi’ar.” He slowly sat down. “If you and...Artur feel it better not to tell Father, he’ll never know from me.”

“Don’t you want to see him?” Stefan stared down at him.

Eldrin nodded. “I’ve tried to follow with what was happening in Shi’ar.” He took a deep breath. “When this is all over and it doesn’t matter any more, perhaps the Prophet will allow my life to be spared long enough to go home one more time.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Stefan snapped. “If you say you can’t leave the Wastelands, then you can’t.”

Eldrin half-grinned. “You and Artur are a lot alike,” he pointed out. He hesitated for a moment. “Will you tell me about Father?”

After a moment, Stefan sat down. “Two years after you...disappeared Rik and Artur married sisters.” He poured more wine. “It was a political alliance. Artur was miserable. I think Rik accepted what needed to be done. The following year he got his heir. Actually, he got twins, Shiloh and Cheyne.” Stefan grinned. “Rik intends for Shiloh to inherit, but I’d watch out for Cheyne if I were him. She’s a manipulative little thing.” When Eldrin grinned, he continued. “Rik’s wife died in childbirth so he left the children mostly in the care of Artur’s wife. She gave birth to twins the following year.” He glanced at Eldrin. “A girl named Jaella and a son named Trainor.”

“Uncle Artur named his son for me?” Eldrin half-whispered.

Stefan shrugged. “Artur doesn’t give explanations,” he pointed out. He hesitated when he saw Eldrin look away. “Rik didn’t seem to mind.” When Eldrin didn’t reply, he continued. “Artur’s wife died the next year. I think he was relieved.”

Eldrin gave him a troubled look but didn’t say anything.

“About three years ago, Rik married Gwyn,” Stefan grinned. “She took all four of the children in hand...along with the rest of us. It was the best thing that ever happened to Rik.”

“Then he’s happy?” Eldrin hesitantly asked.

“With Gwyn?” Stefan nodded. “She keeps him in line.” He smiled at Eldrin’s grin.

“I’ve heard a lot about Christien and his Rangers,” Eldrin remarked. “I guess I keep remembering him at a little boy. He was nine when...”

“He’s still a boy sometimes,” Stefan stood and stretched. “I’ll talk with Artur. He’ll calm down after a while.”

Eldrin also stood. “I’d like both of you to meet my son, Benami.” He met Stefan’s eyes. “But I don’t want him to pay for my choices.”

Stefan waved his hand. “I’d like to see him,” he admitted. “Artur can make up his own mind.” He suddenly laughed. “That makes Rik a grandfather. He’d never believe it.”

“I meant what I said,” Eldrin said firmly. “If you and Uncle Artur don’t want him to know about me or Benami...” His voice trailed off then he took a deep breath. “I don’t want Father to be hurt over me again.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Artur whirled around when Stefan entered their quarters. “I suppose the two of you had a nice long family reunion?” he sneered.

Stefan stared at his brother for a moment then smiled. “Yes, we did,” he admitted. “You can be surly about it if you want, but I think I can get along with him.”

Artur snorted. “I suppose he thinks we’ll all welcome him back with open arms.” He shook his head.

“I’m not saying I understand or accept his reasons for what happened.” Stefan hesitated. “And I know you were the one who stayed close to Rik after he was gone. But Eldrin’s left it up to us to decide if Rik is to know about him.”

“Are you crazy?” Artur shouted. “How do you think I can keep this from Rik? I ought to drag that pup all the way back to Shi’ar!”

“He’ll die if he leaves the Wastelands,” Stefan shrugged. “But I suppose if you drag him back to Shi’ar, that’ll make everything right, won’t it? He’ll be dead just like everyone thought.”

Artur caught himself before swinging his fist at his brother. “What do you mean, he’ll die if he leaves the Wastelands?” he bellowed. “What kind of nonsense is that?”

Stefan shrugged again. “Apparently that’s the price he pays to stay alive,” he answered. He quickly repeated Eldrin’s story watching as Artur’s face registered first disbelief and then uncertainty. “By the way, Eldrin has a son so Rik’s a grandfather,” Stefan grinned.

Artur frowned. “That doesn’t make it any easier,” he snapped. He ran a hand through his dark blonde hair. “I have to tell Rik,” he muttered. “I can’t keep this from him.”

Stefan nodded in agreement. “I didn’t think we should,” he pointed out. “Do you think you can control yourself at the feast? Eldrin was wanting to bring his son but not if you were going to start hitting him again.”

Artur scowled. “I don’t want to even see Train...Eldrin right now,” he snapped. “I’ll forego the feast.”

Stefan shrugged. “Pretty silly to not eat.” Then he grinned. “I imagine all his councilors will be there as well.”

Artur glared at Stefan who quickly turned away. I’ll be damned if I lecture him about Careen again,' Artur silently argued. 'Rik should have told him...' His thoughts trailed off as he again wondered just how he was going to tell Rik his son was alive.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Artur’s not coming.” Stefan’s dark eyes twinkled with amusement. “He’ll join us at the conference tomorrow.” He casually looked around the room. His eyes found Careen then he turned back to Eldrin. “Two questions, Eldrin.” He grinned at Eldrin’s expression. “Where’s my nephew and how did you ever get lucky enough to marry such a beautiful woman like Ana?”

“Benami will be here shortly,” Eldrin smiled. “As for Ana...she was a member of Kasryl's harem. Hector was the court magician.” He smiled at Stefan’s stunned expression. “Perhaps there’ll be time for that story someday.”

“I’ll consider that a promise,” Stefan murmured. He grinned as Ana entered with a small child. “That must be him.”

Eldrin’s face broke into a wide smile as the boy ran to him. He quickly picked him up and hugged him. “Benami, this is Stefan.” He hesitated. “Stefan is...”

“An old friend,” Stefan interrupted. He reached out and took the boy from Eldrin who hoped no one would see the more than casual resemblance between the two.

Remembering what Simon had told him, he carefully watched Stefan and Careen during the feast and after. After a few moments, he understood Stefan’s comment about Artur being angry at him. He saw Odan and Evan exchange frustrated glances when Stefan followed Careen from the banquet room.

Careen leaned against the wall in the corridor. She smiled when Stefan stopped in front of her. He carefully leaned forward bracing his weight against one hand on the wall.

“Is this supposed to be intimidating?” Careen smiled up at him.

“Is it?” Stefan’s dark eyes twinkled.

“No.” Careen shook her head. “I’ve seen far more intimidating people than you, Stefan Aramis.”

“Really?” Stefan’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a challenge?” He let one hand run down the curve of her cheek.

“It’s whatever you want it to be,” Careen purred. She turned her head and lightly bit Stefan’s thumb.

Stefan firmly turned her head back towards him. He lowered his head and kissed her fully on the mouth. He caught his breath as Careen slid her arms around his neck and returned the kiss. Stefan quickly raised his head and stared into her green eyes.

“Well?” Careen finally murmured. “What do you do now, Stefan Aramis?”

“I don’t know,” Stefan admitted. He stepped back from Careen who let her arms fall away from him. “You know I’m married.” He watched her expression. “That is not going to change.”

“Did I ask for it to change?” Careen’s head tilted to one side. She saw Macedin exit from the banquet room and give them a curious look. “Good-night, Macedin,” she called.

Stefan turned to see Macedin nod his head slightly in their direction before walking away.

“I wonder what kind of sorcery you’ve used on me.” Stefan again let his hand run down the side of her face.

“Don’t blame it on magic,” Careen warned. “You know that has nothing to do with this.”

Slowly Stefan took Careen’s hand and pulled her away from the wall. “Where’s your chamber?” he hoarsely asked.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Artur was surprised to find a large garden behind the palace. He breathed the fragrant air with sincere appreciation. The heat of the day was rapidly disappearing as the sun set. He couldn’t imagine where all the water came from to support Dedresia let alone produce the garden. He wandered through the garden following winding paths that eventually led to its center.

He was so intent upon his thoughts that he didn’t realize he’d intruded upon a young woman sitting quietly next to the fountain in the center of the garden. She looked looked up in surprise when he stood there looking at her.

“My apologies,” Artur quickly said. “I didn’t mean to intrude.” He turned to leave.

“You didn’t,” the young woman’s voice was low and cool. “The gardens are open to everyone.” She cocked her head to one side. “You’re not from the Wasteland, are you?”

Artur turned back around. “I’m Artur Aramis,” he slowly introduced himself. “From Shi’ar.”

“My name is Adriana,” the woman smiled. “You must have met my grandfather, Simon.”

Artur smiled. He sat on the bench across from Adriana. “Yes, a fine man,” he admitted. After a moment, he nodded. “I can see a little resemblance.” He appreciatively took in her pale blonde beauty.

Adriana smiled. “I’m told I resemble my grandmother,” she answered. “She and my parents died when I was young. My grandfather raised and taught me.”

“You’re a witch, too?” Artur said in surprise noticing her apparent fragility.

“Yes,” Adriana nodded in amusement. She raised her hand when he started to apologize. “I’m stronger than I look,” she assured him. “Careen just seems more like what most believe a witch to be.”

Despite himself, Artur snorted. He flushed when Adriana smiled again.

“My grandfather mentioned how she and, is it Stefan?, were acting,” she admitted. “He wasn’t amused and lectured her.”

“Did it work?” Artur asked.

“No,” Adriana shook her head ruefully. “Both her brothers warned her to stay away from Stefan. She told them to mind their own business.” She smiled in recollection. “Sometimes I come out here to just get away from all of them. It can get rather wearying.”

“I know the feeling,” Artur replied sourly. He glanced at Adriana. “Are you one of...Eldrin’s councilors?”

Adriana shrugged. “My grandfather is,” she answered. “If magic is involved, I’m usually consulted.”

“What sort of a man is Eldrin?” Artur asked.

“A good one,” Adriana evenly replied. “He rallied those in the Wasteland who couldn’t fight the Tyrant on their own.” She smiled. “You’ll meet Macedin tomorrow. He has no patience with magic and prefers to not have it around him. He’s a former mercenary who backed Eldrin. Yet my grandfather, who is totally different from Macedin, also allied with Eldrin.” She hesitated. “You’ll find Eldrin has a talent for having different kinds of people around him. A lot of those here in Dedresia are here because they had no other place to go.” She looked around. “And, somehow, Eldrin makes it all work.”

'Like father like son,' Artur wryly thought. “And you?” he asked. “Are you here because you have no other place to go?” He caught his breath as Adriana’s eyes grew cold.

“There was a man I cared greatly for,” Adriana softly replied. “He died fighting to save this land. I stay to be sure his death was not in vain.” She stood to leave.

“I apologize,” Artur suddenly stood blocking her way. “I had no right to ask that of you.”

“No, you didn’t,” Adriana coolly replied raising her pale eyes to stare at him.

Artur smiled slightly. “I’m not used to speaking plainly around women,” he acknowledged. “And I’ve never been known for being tactful.” He hesitated. “He must have been quite a man.”

“He was,” Adriana softly agreed her eyes shadowing. “I’m certain you’re tired from your journey. And you will have quite a busy day tomorrow. Eldrin is known for rising early.”

“Really?” Artur smiled slightly. “I guess some things do change.” He saw Adriana’s quizzical look and realized she knew nothing about Eldrin’s past. “I apologize. I’m afraid I’m not in very good humor this evening.”

“I’m sure we’ll see each other before you leave,” Adriana smiled. “Perhaps you’ll be in a better humor then.”

Artur’s humor worsened later that night when he realized Stefan wasn’t returning to their quarters.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Are you leaving?” Careen sleepily opened her eyes.

“We’re supposed to be meeting with Eldrin in a few hours,” Stefan glanced out the window. Although it was still dark, he realized the sun would rise quickly over the level horizon. He wanted to be back in his quarters before then.

Careen propped herself up on one elbow and pulled the blanket over her shoulder. She watched quietly as he finished dressing. “Regrets?” she suddenly asked.

Stefan grinned. “No,” he admitted. “Why?”

Careen shrugged. “I don’t think any of our brothers are going to like this,” she pointed out.

Stefan frowned. “It’s none of Artur’s business,” he snapped.

“Of course it is,” Careen grinned. “Just like Evan and Odan will get involved. Just like you and I would get involved if we saw them doing something we think would hurt them.”

Stefan snorted. “I’m a grown man,” he pointed out. “You’re a grown woman. What we do is our business.”

“And Devora?” Careen quietly asked.

“Devora’s my business,” Stefan replied coldly. He stared over his shoulder at Careen. “What sort of witchcraft have you used on me?” he whispered half-seriously.

“Stefan, who’s to say either of us will be alive tomorrow?” Careen’s eyes darkened. “I don’t intend to miss out on any part of living.” She shook her head. “You’d better go,” she advised with a sudden grin. “Before I use my witchcraft to make you stay.” She chuckled when he snorted again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was apparent from the looks on Artur and Stefan’s faces they’d been arguing. Of course, their angry voices had been heard for some time before they entered the conference room. Eldrin glanced uncomfortably at Evan who looked furious when he heard his sister’s name mentioned. Once they entered the room, Eldrin quickly started the conference.

“The Jackal God’s minions are searching for the Stones of Maxen,” Simon began. “Lucas of the Isles possesses one. Shi’ar has two. That leaves four to be accounted for.”

“Too bad we don’t know the exact location of Maxen’s Tower,” Duncan mused. “Perhaps some clues might have survived.”

“This is the site of Maxen’s Tower,” Eldrin quietly replied. He saw their startled looks and continued. “Once the Wasteland was as lush as Green Hills or Rhyane. I was brought here to protect Dedresia. To hold it against the Jackal God.”

“Why?” Duncan asked. “No offense, but what is so special about this place?”

Eldrin hesitated. “From what has been revealed to me, it’s possible Maxen and his family somehow survived the catastrophe they brought down upon the Tower,” he explained. “At any rate, there were other items besides the Stones that were stored within the Tower.” He smiled. “That is why there is no much magic here.”

“We’ve found nothing so far and might not,” Simon shrugged. “But we’re working quietly to see if there is anything left.”

“The question is, how much time do we have?” Macedin demanded.

“Less than we might think,” Evan frowned. “Lucas identified Careen, remember?”

Although Macedin nodded, the others frowned.

Eldrin glanced at Evan who slowly nodded. “Lucas owes allegiance to Leodin D’Nar of the Isles. Evan, Odan, and Careen are Leodin’s children,” he explained.

“What?” Josef looked startled. “We heard they...”

“Disappeared?” Evan smiled coldly. “I’m sure they preferred we had died.”

Artur shrugged uneasily as Eldrin glanced at him.

“We chose not to follow Leodin after his assault on the Misty Isles,” Evan sketchily outlined. “We’ve been here hoping to stay unnoticed.” He looked at Stefan and frowned at the expression on his face. “That’s why your...relationship with my sister is very ill-advised.”

“My relationship with anyone is none of your business,” Stefan replied coldly.

“It seems that the Isles and Green Hills will be working closely together,” Simon quickly interjected. “I understand your sister is married to the heir of Green Hills.” He looked at Josef who nodded.

“I’m to see her before going back to Rhyane,” Josef admitted. “Perhaps I’ll have some understanding then of how committed they are to the Jackal.”

The rest of the morning was taken up with practical discussions of their alliances. Eldrin gratefully suggested they adjourn until the following morning and complete their negotiations then. He watched quietly as Evan and Stefan gave each other angry stares before leaving. He half-shrugged at Simon who smiled ruefully.

Eldrin noticed that Artur waited until everyone else left before turning to him.

“You know I have to tell Rik,” Artur said harshly.

“I told Stefan...” Eldrin began.

“I know what you told him,” Artur snapped. He felt a dim rush of pleasure when Eldrin flinched at the brutal tone in his voice. “Who else knows?”

“Ana, Hector, Simon,” Eldrin answered. “There was no need to tell anyone else.” He forced himself to look up at Artur. “There’s no need for anyone else to know.”

“Rik needs to know,” Artur shook his head. “I don’t know why Stefan believes that nonsense that you’ll die if you leave the Wasteland. All I know is that I can’t allow Rik to come here and just see you without telling him first. So I’ll have to do your dirty work for you.”

Eldrin stared at his uncle for a moment. “Believe what you want,” his voice shook. “I was given a choice between life and death. Despite the price I had to pay, I chose to live. I was only fourteen and I wanted to live!” He took a deep breath. “I have that responsibility on my soul...whether you believe it or not. You don’t know the price I’ve paid! You don’t know what I have to pay every day! So don’t you dare presume to sit in judgement of me!” He took another deep breath. “Tell Father whatever you want him to know. If it pleases you, tell him I’m a bastard who never deserved his consideration!” He glared at an obviously surprised Artur. “I suppose I expected too much,” he muttered before slamming the door behind him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Stefan glared at Careen as he stalked across the courtyard. She heard him coming and turned around. Her smile vanished when she saw the look on his face.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Stefan demanded grabbing her arm and squeezing it.

“Tell you what?” Careen hissed trying to pull her arm free.

“That you’re Leodin’s daughter!” Stefan shouted.

“You think that’s something I go around announcing?” Careen shouted back. She met his angry look. “Turn me loose!”

Stefan realized how tightly he was gripping her arm and released her with a shove.

Careen rubbed her arm. “Oaf,” she muttered. “Why in the world would I tell you?”

“Honesty?” Stefan sneered. “Trust?”

“I’m Leodin’s daughter,” Careen’s green eyes snapped. “I wasn’t raised to believe in honesty and trust, remember?”

“Don’t use that as an excuse,” Stefan argued. “You should have told me.”

“Why?” Careen demanded. “So you could act like this? My brothers and I left when we saw what happened on the Misty Isles. Odan risked his life to save their queen. He married her and brought her here for safety. She was so traumatized by what was done she rarely goes out...she’s so frightened now of everything. Evan went half-crazy and tried to kill Mother because he found out part of what happened was her idea.”

“And Lucas?” Stefan asked jealously. He tensed when she looked away.

“Offered me everything,” Careen replied softly. “ don’t know how much power he offered me. Odan had left. Evan was probably going to die. I could have had everything.” She smiled sardonically. “My little brother wouldn’t have been a threat.”

“Did you sleep with him?” Stefan grabbed her arm again.

“No,” Careen stared up at him. “I almost did. I would have been lost for all eternity if I had. But something stopped me.” She smiled that odd smile once again. “Maybe it was the fact I would have had to kill my little brother. Devon may be my father’s clone, but I still couldn’t kill him in cold blood.”

Slowly Stefan pulled her into the circle of his arms. Careen shivered slightly even within their protection. “There is never a tomorrow,” she murmured. “That’s why I want it all now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Several days later, they prepared to leave. Everyone looked uneasy about it. Josef and Duncan weren’t looking forward to journeying to Green Hills, Duncan refusing to let Josef go alone. Stefan obviously was unhappy about leaving Careen. Artur was dreading returning to Shi’ar and facing Rik.

Eldrin started to say something to Artur but stopped. Everything that could have been said had been said...and probably too much had been said.

Artur was surprised to see Adriana at the gate. “Eldrin thinks it’s best if either grandfather or I act as liaison with Shi’ar,” she explained quietly. When Artur nodded, she frowned. “I’ve never seen Careen crying until now,” she stared into Artur’s eyes. “Whatever you think, I believe she truly cares for Stefan.”

“He’s married to Devora,” Artur pointed out. He shook his head. “I didn’t love my wife, but I didn’t betray her either.”

“And were you happy?” Adriana asked. When Artur glared at her, she silently waited for an answer.

“That wasn’t important,” Artur finally grated.

“It should be,” Adriana replied softly. She smiled before he could reply. “Be well and safe, Artur.”

He nodded as she turned to leave. He caught sight of Eldrin silently watching him and reluctantly turned away.

Ana slid her hand around Eldrin’s clenched hand. “You know it has to be this way,” she murmured. When Eldrin silently nodded watching as they moved through the gate, she squeezed his hand.