Thank you so much to Tanya for allowing me to flaunt my beautiful girls and their fledgling romance. In this excerpt, Ekata feels stuck when contemplating her next political move, and her marriage-of-convenience bride Inkar tries to counsel her:
"Where did you go?" Inkar had a blanket pulled over her knees and the Kylmian grammar book propped upon them. Her hair fell in front of her face, making her look smaller somehow, more vulnerable.
I should have lied to her. The trial marriage would be over in four more days, and she would be gone by then. Instead, I shut the bedroom door and went to my wardrobe. "I was visiting Yannush. He'll help me in exchange for exile."
"I thought you were going to execute him."
"I still might." He'd crossed lines that should never be crossed. "Father would."
"You keep talking about him as though he is everything that matters." Inkar set the grammar book aside and drew up her knees, propping her chin on them and tucking a sun-streaked lock of hair behind her ear.
"He - it's difficult," I muttered, trying to undo the button between my shoulders. I should have called for Aino, but I'd had enough of her sniping at Inkar and making snide comments in Kylmian.
"I can help you." Inkar slid off the bed, hissing as her bare calves touched the air. A few moments later, her fingers brushed the back of my neck. My skin prickled. She slid the first button free and began to work her way down my back. Each light touch made my breath hitch.
"That's not what I meant," I said, struggling to focus. Father was far from everything that mattered, but he reached through everything that mattered. Like an illness that rooted in a specimen and spread through a population. His cruelty had become normal, and if I didn't pretend I had it, I'd be torn apart. "I can either be him or be used by people who want to be him. If those are my only options, I know what I'll choose."
She was silent for a moment as she finished unbuttoning my dress. Then she said, "My father often told me that I had to think about what kind of leader I would be. He said we would discover ourselves in battle. You have not been given many battles to discover yourself. But I do not think you will discover what kind of leader you are if you are always chasing after him."
Her hand appeared around my side, holding the long lace of my corset. I turned to take it and met her eyes. They were too close, too kind. No one in my family had eyes like that. I could see the soft fuzz on her cheek, and firelight tipped her eyelashes with gold. Her mouth was slightly parted, her brow furrowed in concern. How could she be so sincere? Among my family, such sincerity would crack us open, and the wolves would descend. I'd only been safely myself with Aino and Farhod.
I took the lace and her hand, too. "I don't have time to learn to be the right kind of leader." Every misstep brought Sigis closer to winning the coronation trials, no matter what I learned from it.
I felt Inkar's soft exhale on my cheek. Her gaze fluttered over my lips. Then she retreated, getting into bed and pulling Aino's quilt around her. "Perhaps your father was not the right kind of leader, either."
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