“Lower your voice,” Kadelyn said. “I promise, Luck and Fate will still hear you, they just won’t have to cover their ears at the noise.”
Standing at the porch rail, Brance looked over his shoulder at her, slowly. His smile crept in, sneaking up on her, and maybe even on him, as he met her eye. He looked surprised at her sharpness. He looked pleased with her.
She tried not to be the one to drop his gaze.
At the end, his smile tilted up at one side, turned into something edged and honed. “I don’t have to,” he said, even as he dropped his voice to a murmur. He pushed off from the rail and took four easy strides toward the wall where she sat. With a lazy thud, he spun and leaned his shoulders back against it, hands shoved down into his pockets.
Then Kadelyn did look down, and she took a silent breath. She had won that time. She couldn’t help feeling that she didn’t know what sort of weapon she had just used on him. Or if she should have. Or if it would work the next time.
But she was grateful. The darkness seemed anonymous, and Brance carried no hesitation in bellowing into it. She knew there were people below though, tucked behind the windows in the four stories beneath them, or wandering the twisted streets at the very bottom. Haldard was only a few yards away, barely hidden in the shadow of the porch pillars where he could keep watch. Their mother’s rooms were not so far…
Kadelyn took a breath, gathered her skirts enough to wrap her arms around her knees and leaned her head back against the wall.
“You know that I’m not going to do it,” Brance said, as if she was the only one under this sky who had any sense.
“That’s what you’ve been saying,” Kadelyn returned without much inflection.
He glanced down at her. “You didn’t come here to talk me into it, did you?” She could hear the beginnings of another smile in his voice.
She blinked at the dark held behind the railing. “Why won’t you?” she asked. She almost shrugged at the end of the question, numb even as she could feel the argument coming. “Because he asked you to?”
Brance laughed then, and she wanted to like the sound, but it was a crackling thing when it was aimed at her. “Oh,” he said. “You did.”
Turning pointedly, she looked up at him.
“I’m not doing it, because he demanded it,” Brance said.
“He’s a Clan Lord,” Kadelyn said evenly, dully. “What good is that, if he can’t make demands of his own son?”
Brightly, Brance raised his eyebrows. “You should ask him that,” he told her. “Because he can’t.” His lips were still dangerously curved, his eyes narrowed, pleased with himself as he dared her to disagree.
Kadelyn wanted to stand up and slap him.
She didn’t. Then she wondered if she should have. She wasn’t sure which way that would have pushed him, if his eyes would have widened and he would have listened to her in stunned silence, or if he would have shouted at her next. Her stomach tightened.
She was grateful when time moved her past the decision. If she struck him now, he would only ask her what it was for, and having to explain would rob the motion.
“You should do it,” Kadelyn told him quietly.
“No,” Brance said.
“You should do it,” Kadelyn said, a little easier for its repetition, almost like breathing out. “And remember that one day, you’ll be Clan Lord, and you’ll be able to make a thousand demands of your own.”
Brance paused, and the quiet creakings of the night held them both, waiting.
“Why would I want that?” he asked.
Kadelyn’s eyes narrowed instantly. “Excuse me?”
Turning one shoulder to the wall, he slid down until he was crouched beside her. He held her eye and shook his head just a little, as if he couldn’t believe that was what she thought he wanted. “Why would I want that?” he repeated. “Why would I ever want to send someone scurrying out under orders the way he does? I hate it. Every time he tells to me to get on this ship or that, with this Captain that he loves, or that Captain that he trusts, and go to whatever island he needs to sink his claws back into. I hate when he asks me to clean up his messes. It would be a beautiful day if we could all just clean up our own.”
She didn’t mean to laugh in his face. But she did. “You?” she said, dumbfounded. “You want to clean up your own messes?”
He looked down, and seemed at least to understand the joke. He nodded at his hands, but met her eye easily again when he lifted his head. “The next time he sends you to talk to me…” He held up a hand as she opened her mouth. “Oh, he sent you, Kadie, whether you think it was your idea or not.”
He was close enough to slap without standing up now. She wondered which one of them Haldard would protect if she threw her elbow into his cheek.
“Next time, just tell him I don’t want anything he has to give me,” Brance said. “Orders or inheritance.”
Kadelyn’s thoughts slammed to a stop. She stared at him. “What?” she breathed.
His eyes were steady now. His mouth was relaxed into a line that tried not to show anything at all, but he drew in a breath, and she watched him roll the weight of his words on his tongue as he gathered them.
“You can have it all, Kadie,” he said.
Then he unfolded himself and pushed off the wall, stepping quietly around her on the way to the stairs. She blinked at the tops of his boots, catching the moonlight as it glinted in the polish, catching the movement. She understood he was walking away, but it took her another moment to realize he was leaving.
Then she whirled to her feet, spun on him, spine straight, skirts falling like iron around her.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she demanded.
Haldard shifted somewhere behind her.
Brance took one more step before he understand that she was stopping him. Carefully, he turned back.
She tried to imagine what she looked like to him. A shadow in her dark gown. Glints of metal in all the costly stitching of her jacket and skirts. She knew how to cow people under now, with a look and squared shoulders. She knew that rooms parted for her when she swept through, without her even trying.
He blinked at her, without a smile, without a single careless motion. He aimed for one, just a small shrug, but it seemed too heavy for him to deliver with his usual grace.
Then he slipped away between the shadows of the pillars.
And she thanked him – dark stars and holy waters, she thanked him – for not being able to say it again.