Home > American King (New Camelot Trilogy #3)(6)

American King (New Camelot Trilogy #3)(6)
Author: Sierra Simone

My body man is nodding, tapping on the screen. “Anything else?”

“I want Merlin in the Residence as soon as possible.” I glance at the window by the weight machine; the pink dawn is glowing into the hot orange of morning. “He’ll be awake.”

“Done.”

We walk out of the gym together, making for the stairs to the second floor. “And Belvedere?”

“Yes, Mr. President?”

“The moment my wife’s plane from New York touches down, I want to know.”

“Yes, sir.”

I touch his shoulder, and he looks at me, his young face a combination of honored and vulnerable and wary. It reminds me so much of a young Embry that I have to swallow.

“Thank you, Ryan,” I say quietly. “For all your help. I would be nothing without you. It was true during the campaign and it’s even more true now.”

“Sir,” Belvedere stammers. “You know that’s not true at all.”

“I wish you knew,” I say with a rueful smile, “how weak I really am.” And then I leave him to start my first day in ten years without my prince.

 

I feel Merlin approaching.

It was one thing I was better than most at in Carpathia, that feeling. It’s not simply seeing or hearing, it’s not guessing, it’s not even really deduction. The ability to feel your way through a forest, through a silent village full of blinking eyes and closed mouths. To feel your way through a battle.

When I came to the capitol, it served me well. I already knew how to be still through the bullshit, through the noise, and I could feel the lies and the plans people spun around me. It’s not actually battle in the true sense of the word, and thank God for that. I’ve taken enough lives, killed enough enemies, watched enough buildings burn. Sometimes when my staff is caught up in the daily cycle of panic and exhilaration that defines life here, I remind them that this is not really war. What we do matters, but more importantly, everybody gets to live. There’s time to fix things, time to think.

Everything terrible here can be undone. That wasn’t true in Carpathia.

And if I’m honest, I crave the extra challenge. In the mountains, a person was either a friendly or a foe, and there was no other option. But here the foes are friendly, and the friends are scheming. No one fits into a black or white box, their words are layered, their intentions nuanced. It takes every neuron, every ounce of my perception and charisma and self-control to lead here. It keeps me strong. Alert.

I try to gather my perception and self-control now, using them like plaster to cover over all the new cracks in my soul. My old friend will see them anyway, as he seems to see everything, but I’d rather not make it easy for him.

“This will be short,” I say once Merlin actually walks through the door. “We’ve got the staff meeting in less than an hour.”

Merlin nods, studying me, his dark eyes taking in my undoubtedly tired-looking face, my hair still wet from my shower, the suit jacket I haven’t bothered to put on yet.

“Have a seat Merlin, please.”

I stay standing as he sits. My muscles ache from my workout, my dick aches from being hard and angry all night, my chest aches from missing Embry and Greer. I take a moment to imagine her kneeling at my feet, my hand sliding through all that silky gold hair, her face turned in to rub against my thigh, and something inside me settles.

I sit too.

“Embry quit last night. The official resignation will come from his office today.”

Merlin looks unsurprised, although he makes a noise that a less observant person might translate as shock. “How terrible. I suppose it’s to prepare to run against you?”

“Yes.”

“And his replacement?”

I pinch the bridge of my nose, a headache creeping behind my eyes. “Kay, of course. I’d like to ask Trieste to fill her spot as Chief of Staff.”

“And your new press secretary if she accepts?”

“I don’t think Uri wants it, but we’ll ask him first. When he says no, we’ll go outside staff. I want someone young and smart, and we’ve got enough white men on staff, so let’s keep that in mind as we look.”

“Agreed,” Merlin says calmly.

“Did you know this was going to happen?”

“Of course not,” he answers. He’s a good liar, but not good enough. I feel the ripple of omission in his words, the studied guilelessness of his face. He knew something. He’s never withheld anything from me politically, but Embry straddles the line of political and personal. And when it comes to the personal, I think Merlin’s withheld many things from me over the years.

I change subjects. “You told Embry he couldn’t be with me.”

Merlin lifts his chin. “It was wartime, Maxen. Sacrifices had to be made.”

“But that one?”

The mundane whoosh of the air-conditioning kicks on. Outside the window, the District is already a swamp of hot metal and steaming asphalt. Despite the whirr of cold air blowing through the vents, I feel the August heat trying to beat down the walls of the building, and I suddenly feel very, very tired.

“I told him the truth, nothing more,” Merlin says simply. “It was always up to him what he chose to do with that truth.”

“You knew him. You knew if you presented it like I needed protecting that he would protect me.”

“You did need protecting.”

“Goddammit, from what, Merlin?” I take a breath, trying to sheathe the knife of my anger. “I didn’t ask for anyone to watch out for my career. I would have accepted the consequences of loving Embry, no matter what they were.”

“You needed protecting from yourself,” Merlin replies, “from this very attitude. You were made for that war and you were made for this.” His finger comes down deliberately on the arm of his chair, indicating this room. This building. This city. “I’m sorry, but that couldn’t be wasted.”

“Wasted,” I repeat. “Wasted on what? Love? A happy life? Have you ever been in love, Merlin? Do you even know what you’re talking about?”

To my surprise, Merlin’s eyes flash a hot, furious onyx. “I’ve been in love,” he says in a careful voice. “But I always knew my life was a lonely path. I did what needed to be done, so that I could do this work with you. For you.”

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