Even through the thick fur cloak and the heavy layers, the stiff set of the shoulders was unmistakable. It was not even necessary to see the rest of her to know that her arms were crossed and her head was held high as she strode through the snow ahead of him. Adan sighed at how much that hostile stance reminded him of an offended cat. He had never once suspected that of all the people on the Alisa III, Kara would be upset with him.
He wished he could pretend he didn't know why. Well, to be exact, he didn't know why she was angry with him, but he knew when she had gotten upset with him. It had been right after he had won his duel with Sumire that he discovered that within the gentle, sweet, formidably intelligent Kara was also an incomprehensible and unpredictable tigress.
The worst part was the not knowing. Every time he had approached Kara to try to figure it out, she had given him the cold shoulder. When he tried to ask what he had done, she sometimes dignified to answer him with a sharp "You know what you did!"
If I knew why you were mad, I'd know how to make you smile again, he grumped silently. He would almost rather Gwyn were the one angry with him. He had a lifetime of experience dealing with her temper, but Kara was a new sea with uncharted coasts. Once again, he tried to figure out exactly why she was angry. He knew more or less where to start.
"I want this man as my mate!"
Sumire's intense declaration brought silence to the entire chamber. Everyone stared at the lavender-haired princess in shock. Out of the corner of his eye, Adan saw the shousa gaze at her daughter with a pained look on her face, but he had greater concerns.
"Your pardon?" he asked blankly.
"You're the strongest and most beautiful man in the entire world," she replied bluntly. "I want you to father my children."
He hadn't even kissed yet, and this girl wanted him to father her children? "I refuse."
The audience began to murmur, the buzz of speculation an unpleasant background sound. Sumire's eyes had lost some of their sharp edge, but there was a possessiveness in them that Adan did not care for. Before he could say anything else, the shousa interjected. "Sumire, you did not conquer him. You cannot make him your mate."
"And you're never going to be strong enough to beat him one-on-one, so knock it off," Gwyn added. Adan eyed his twin and quietly asked himself for the thousandth time where Gwyn could have inherited her sharp tongue. He contented himself with coolly staring down his nose at the Kensai princess.
The girl's eyes adopted a cunning gleam. "There's more than one way to conquer a man," she replied slyly. "Besides, I've already made my claim! I just have to seal it."
"Adan is mine."
The source of the angry growl startled Adan as much as the statement did. Kara strode forward, placing herself between himself and Sumire, her eyes chips of light blue ice as they clashed with the Kensai princess' glare. Her cheeks were a deep crimson, but she held herself proudly, her hands on her hips, ready to pick up her slicers and use them in close combat. He glanced at his sister, but found Gwyn to be staring at the moon princess with open-mouthed astonishment. No help there.
Before he could say anything, Sumire sneered at Kara, obviously dismissing her as a threat. "I don't see your claim anywhere on him, daughter of Lune! I spoke first!"
"I've known him since I was seven! My claim precedes yours!" Kara responded hotly.
Adan held onto his composure, but only just. He could not believe his ears. Was Kara really fighting over him? He had to be dreaming this combative Kara, so at odds with the scholar whose company he enjoyed.
"She's right, you know," Gwyn suddenly said, her voice so casual that her words came as a hammer to the back of his skull. "Her claim is much older than yours. In fact, I'm more inclined to approve Kara's claim."
"I never saw her claim on him!" Sumire protested angrily. "In two days, I saw nothing!"
Kara turned her eyes to the shousa, the scholar temporarily overruling the fighter. "I feel like we're talking circles around each other. What does she mean by 'claim,' shousa?"
The shousa shook her head, keeping her silence. Adan shot his Chirper an irritated look. The girl looked at him, perplexed, before she understood. Shaking her head in dismay at what to her was ignorance, Amaya spoke up. "A Kensai's claim to a man is demonstrated through physical affection in front of others. Petting, stroking, kissing, se—"
Amaya's mother quite calmly put her hand over her child's mouth, interrupting her. "So it is."
The moon princess folded her arms, her expression complex, her complexion bright red. Adan thought it best to speak up. "I don't think it's necessary to—"
Before he could finish his sentence, Kara turned toward him, stepped in close, put her hands behind his neck, and brought his head down. He did not have any time to object, let alone prepare, before Kara had captured his lips with hers.
His mind shut down. The sweet scent of fresa filled his nose, erasing the other smells in the Kensai warren as if they never were. His eyes were filled with Kara's beauty, though her eyelids denied him the sight of those familiar, glittering blue orbs. The feel of her delicate hands vanished as her sweet, soft lips sparked fire deep within him. He forgot to breathe as his body vanished in his perception, replaced with increased awareness of Kara's figure as his arms wrapped themselves around her hips.
The kiss ended too soon, as Kara stepped out of his arms with what seemed a smile. Her eyes, however, were confusing, with conflicting emotions jumping into them faster than he could track. "I know you're not fond of public displays of affection, my prince, but I thought it a better way to end any discussion."
Her tone seemed warm, but Adan still heard the warning not to disagree. Kara turned to Sumire, who was glaring at the moon princess with undisguised rage and… was it jealousy? "Adan is mine. I hope we're clear on that."
With that, Kara had swept out of the chamber, a princess having laid down the law. Gwyn left right behind her, her face a mask.
The two days while the storm cleared had been… unpleasant. Kara's temperament had been quicksilver, either chilly ice or snapping fire. Gwyn had been inscrutable, taking Kara Orakio alone knew where for Laya alone knew what purpose, Mieu in tow. The sparks when Kara and Sumire were in the same place at the same time were palpable.
What was worse was the tangle his thoughts had become. Did Kara like him? Did he like Kara? She had refused to discuss the matter with him. Every time he tried to convince himself that Kara had simply taken action to prevent a touchy situation with the Kensai and that she was only a childhood friend failed the instant he recalled the soft touch of her lips against his, the intoxication of her scent, the passion in her kiss.
Was he in love? Did Kara love him? What did that kiss mean to Kara? It had been his first kiss. Was it hers? And why was she so angry at him in the first place?
At long last, the weather had cleared up, giving Adan the freedom of action as opposed to the painful thoughts of inaction. The shousa had wanted to fete them, but Adan had managed to convince the Kensai overlord that their mission was of pressing importance and could not wait. He was forced to agree that the successful conclusion of their mission would be an acceptable time for a fete, and that they would return then, if Laya permitted. He feverishly hoped that Laya would not permit.
Adan glanced at his escorts. He did not for a moment believe that Sumire's war band happened to be the one available to go out, and quietly suspected the Kensai princess had actively connived for the task. The tension between the moon princess and the lavender-haired Kensai girl grew worse the longer the two were near each other. Every time he sensed Sumire near him, he could also feel Kara's glare. It was like walking a path of daggers barefoot.
"Prince Adan," Wren called.
"I have detected a power source nearby. My readings match the standard emission pattern of an airstrip."
Salvation was in sight. All Wren had to do was hook himself up to the transformation gear and a small craft capable of flight would be ready for them to use. Wren would fly, while the rest of the party would be obliged to pack themselves in cheek by jowl into the small cargo hold.
"So you leave."
Adan turned to confront his nemesis. The Kensai princess eyed him, her lavender bangs framing her face in a way that brought out the beauty instead of the blade. While he had no wish to linger in the cold, courtesy forced him to at least take his leave. "I do."
"Do you plan to return?"
"If Laya permits," he replied smoothly.
Her raised eyebrow told him quite handily that she had heard his unspoken prayer. Her blue eyes looked behind him, sharpening to a deadly edge. He did not need to look behind him to know that Kara had noticed he was talking to the Kensai princess. Adan felt like he was walking across a high wire with death right behind him.
"I think I should like to see more of the other worlds," Sumire said abruptly.
The sudden comment did little to reassure Adan. "Why?"
The Kensai princess looked coy. "Perhaps I want more than to be the shousa of the Kensai."
"The land of Cille has been abandoned for many years. Perhaps you can rule there as queen," he replied firmly. The last thing he wanted was for the lavender-haired girl to show up on his door step in Landen. He suspected if such a thing happened, Kara would violate Laya's Law.
"Or perhaps I'd rather a greater land," the Kensai princess replied. He saw her smirk at him, and for the second time, he was caught by surprise as a blue-eyed woman closed in with him and kissed him.
It was rough, with none of the gentleness or sweetness in Kara's kiss. It was amazing how two kisses could be so different. Kara's kiss was fresa and moon shadows, something of velvet and passion. Sumire's was hard and fierce, ambition and desire.
The Kensai princess broke the kiss, wearing a triumphant look. Adan did not dare look behind him. Instead, he spoke loudly enough for Kara to hear. "I'm fairly certain Kara has already established a claim on me."
Sumire smirked. "She has a claim only as long as she's strong enough to keep it."
The lavender-haired girl's war band laughed as they applauded their leader's boldness. Adan said nothing as he turned his back on the girl… and was caught in Kara's gaze. The moon princess' expression was a mixture of anger and hurt that stabbed deep inside him. Before he could reach out to her, Kara turned and hurried off.
He had to think of a way to make it up to her. He had to think of a way to make her smile. The last thing he wanted for Kara was for her to weep.