So how exactly had Kennet gotten the title? There was a chance the Skojare in charge of making the decision had thought it would be best if they stuck with the Biâelse bloodline and overruled Marksinna Lisbet.
But as Kennet barely stifled his smirk, I couldn’t help but suspect he’d fought Lisbet for the title.
“Acting monarch,” Kennet corrected him, which meant he had all the power but not the official title of King. “And only until my brother is exonerated.”
I stared at Kennet evenly. “What if your brother isn’t exonerated?”
“That would only be if he is actually guilty of everything he’s accused of, and if he is, he shouldn’t be the King.” Kennet sat up straighter. “It is still a terrible mess in Storvatten, you’re right, but we’re on the right path to figuring everything out and making it a safer place.
“And that,” he said, lifting up his glass, “is all thanks to you and the Kanin. So here’s to you.”
Mina hurried to grab her glass off the mantel and raised it in a toast. “Skål!”
“Skål!” Evert shouted, then proceeded to drunkenly spill his drink all over himself.
Mina looked at her husband with pity as he tried to wipe the alcohol off his shirt. “Oh, Evert, my love. Let me help you.” She rushed over, using the length of her dress to help dry him off.
“I don’t even know how that happened.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t … I think I’m drunk.”
“I think you are, too, my King,” Mina said with a bit of a laugh and smiled up at him. “Why don’t we get you up to bed and into something dry?”
He reached out, stroking her face in a moment of tenderness that I hadn’t even known the King was capable of. “You’re so patient and beautiful. What did I ever do to deserve you?”
“All the right things,” she assured him, and then she stood up. “I’m sorry, but I hope you can excuse us both.”
“Yes, of course.” I bowed slightly.
“I’m sure Bryn and I can entertain ourselves in your absence,” Kennet said, wagging his eyebrows at me.
The very moment the King and Queen left us alone, Kennet leapt up from the sofa and bolted toward me. I had hardly a second to react before his arm was around me and his lips were on mine, but I put my hand on his chest and pushed him back.
“What are you doing?” I demanded, looking up into his startled blue eyes.
“Kissing you. Isn’t it obvious?” he asked like a guy who was used to taking what he wanted without any protests.
I pulled myself from his arm and stepped back from him. “I already told you. We’re only friends.”
“You’re saying you don’t want to kiss me, then?” Kennet asked with raised eyebrows. I turned away, walking toward the love seat. “Why not? You should at least offer me a reason.”
For one thing, I didn’t trust him. Not that I ever really had, but now with his new appointment as ruler of the Skojare and his bizarre drunken celebration with the King and Queen, I trusted him even less.
There was also the business of Ridley confessing his feelings for me, and the fact that I felt the same way, with the chance that something might be possible in the future—even the distant future. I didn’t want to muck it up by fooling around with a Prince, especially a Prince who was now acting as a King.
But the biggest reason was that I simply didn’t feel that way about Kennet. I liked him well enough, and he had been a good friend to me in Storvatten. But that didn’t mean I wanted to make out with him.
Not to mention all the other huge reasons why it was a bad idea: I could be demoted, fired, or even banished, and the risk of that was very high in Doldastam, since we actually had a functioning guard that would be able to catch us in the act.
“Well, you’re King, for one thing.” I turned to face him, offering the reason that seemed least likely to offend him. “Do you really wanna blow it all by messing around with some Kanin girl?”
“Technically, you’re not really Kanin,” Kennet corrected me, moving closer. “And you’re even technically royalty, since both your parents are. It’d be worth the risk.”
I stepped back from him. “You don’t even like me that much.”
Kennet bristled. “Don’t tell me how I feel.” He softened a little. “But I’d like to spend more time with you. You could come back to Storvatten with me.”
“For what?” I shook my head in disbelief. “What are you even doing here?”
“I came here to see you.” Kennet tried to touch my arm, but I pulled back from him.
“Bullshit.” I wasn’t buying any of it.
“I was sent here to help ensure peace between our tribes,” Kennet said wearily. “Without a true King right now, and with such a shitty guard, this would be the perfect time for someone to attack us. So I’m supposed to make sure the Kanin like us, so they can defend us if we need them to, and also so they don’t attack us themselves.”
I eyed him up, still not sure what to believe. “Who sent you?”
“Well, since I’m the acting ruler, I suppose you can say I sent myself.” He offered a small smile. “But everyone, including Marksinna Lisbet, thought it would be a good idea to make nice with you all. I gave Mina that necklace as a gesture of our goodwill.
“I did also think it would be fun to spend more time with you, but apparently I was wrong about that,” he added dryly.
“Sorry.” I relaxed and let my arms fall to my sides, trying not to look as suspicious as I felt. “You just seem a little too cavalier about everything.”
He rolled his eyes and went over to grab his drink from where he’d left it on a small side table. “You’re really great at knowing how I should act and how I should feel, Bryn.”
“How is Mikko?” I asked, switching from one touchy subject to another. I’d dropped the formal titles, since I had no idea if Mikko was even King anymore.
“I don’t know.” Kennet had his back to me as he took a drink, and I watched his shoulders rise and fall with heavy resignation. “He won’t let me see him.”
“You’d have to ask him that yourself.” He swirled the alcohol in his glass around, watching it. “I do love him. I know a lot of people don’t believe that now, maybe you included, but he is my older brother. I don’t want to see him hurt.”